There is an old saying, ‘man proposes, God disposes.’ I have recently been thinking about ‘if ‘and ‘what if’ and it has nothing to do with Mister Kipling’s poem. I reckon everybody must have moments of if and what if, not necessarily with regrets but more out of curiosity. How different would one’s life have been if or what if? For example what if my father hadn’t had his heart attack when he did and we hadn’t sold the farm, Blue Hills? Would I have never left it? Would I have married Monifay which at nineteen going on twenty was very much on the cards and now be a grandfather as well as a great uncle? When I visited South Africa in 1973 I met Monifay again, happily married to a man named John and with three kids. I was invited to dinner in their house and fell in love with the youngest who had a gravely voice like the actress June Allyson who I always had a thing about, especially as she had eyes like shining pissholes in the snow which always brings me on. I have to admit sitting at that table I did feel for a moment quite a pang of jealousy.
What if I hadn’t decided to make the theatre my career? After all there were previous ambitions, one of which was to be a vet. This was brought about by the death of my dog Casey (Casey Jones?) from distemper which as a child left me ragged with grief. But a vet I was obviously never meant to be. What if I hadn’t flunked university and had gone on to obtain degrees? There’s no answer to that one. Would I have become a school master? Who knows?
What if I hadn’t seen in a Johannesburg newspaper the article about Bud Flanagan Junior and his girl friend hitching to England and decided on the spur of the moment to join them? What if, stranded penniless in Dar Es Salaam, I had never met a good Samaritan; the Dutch school teacher who bailed me out and allowed me to continue my journey to Mombassa. What if working on the farm at Njoro I was wounded or killed by the Mau Mau? Well that would most certainly have been the end of my trip would it not? What if I hadn’t finally managed to get that steward’s job on a ship, the Braemar Castle, enabling me to complete my journey and finally arrive at King George’s docks in London two days after my 22nd birthday? I joined the Seaman’s Union as a precaution in case I needed to take another ship somewhere, anywhere, but of course I never used my book again. I still have it just as I still have a photograph of Monifay and a snapshot of Blue Hills.
What if I hadn’t gone down to the Queen’s theatre in Essex where I met Chris who has played such an important part in my life for fifty one years?
What if, when we were selling the house in Richmond Road, we had been able to buy Shepherd House in Marden, Kent, a most beautiful Georgian house we fell in love with going for £12500 which today is more than likely worth millions especially when one thinks Richmond Road is now up to the million mark? What if Jeremy Nightingale had done what he promised to do, that is attend the auction of the old Rectory at Wood Norton in Norfolk, another beautiful house, part Georgian part Victorian which had everything, and I mean everything. We planned to share it. But he didn’t attend and the house went for £35000 that, with the sale of Richmond Road, we could easily have afforded. We never knew at the time that he was in desperate financial straights but kept that to himself. So, instead, we bought the house in Farleigh Road, not a mile from the old house. What if Chris hadn’t been in ‘Cats’ and we hadn’t met Andy Leach who was a big fan and, through Andy, Tom Arthur and through Tom my going to work at James Madison University in Virginia? And it was going to America that caused us to sell Farleigh Road and move elsewhere and so we ended, having never considered that possibility for a moment, buying Hollings Farm in Yorkshire. And what if Chris had not been asked to go to Newcastle to choreograph a production of ‘West Side Story’? We would not have met Douglas who has been a part of our lives for more than twenty-one years now.
And what if I hadn’t managed to unload Richmond Road at a handsome profit which enabled me to buy Farleigh Road which enabled me to buy Hollings farm without the encumbrance of a mortgage? Well, the answer to that is simple; we would never have been able to buy the house in Vamos and so move to Crete, something else that was never dreamed of until Chris and Douglas came out on a cheap package holiday and repeated it and, finally, my coming out as well. What if they had gone to one of other Greek islands instead? Where would we be today, fourteen years later? So many ifs and what ifs and so many many more.