“Regrets, I've had a few but then again too few to mention.” So the song goes. I'm fifty-four. By fifty-four most people have made something of their lives even if they have a few things they’ve regretted doing along the way. One of my childhood friends has his own yacht. Others have become solicitors and doctors. Me? I have the regrets and more than a few but is it reasonable to imagine that there was a point in my life where it all went pear-shaped? I don't believe in destiny but I do in human nature. I think that often we sabotage our own lives. We take the easy option. We don't think far enough ahead.
Here's a moment: I was standing in the middle of East Kilbride with my girlfriend and she's trying to break up with me. A part of me wanted to let her go but I did what I believed to be the right thing; I fought for our relationship only to come home five years later and find her with my so-called best friend. Did I do the wrong thing? Looking back all the signs were there and I was a fool for trying to think I could, by power of will alone, cheat the inevitable.
Here's another: When my dad talked me out of going to university did I give in too easily? Would having a degree have made any real difference? When I worked in the civil service there was a clerical assistant there who had a degree but that was the only job he could get, the same job I'd walked into a couple of years earlier with only O-Levels. When I tried to run away from home when I was eight or nine should I have tried a little harder? There are so many moments and every single one of them had consequences.
One of things I regret that I couldn't have done anything to affect is the date of my birth. Maybe 'regret' is not the right word here but you know what I mean. I was born in 1959. My parents had been married for over twenty years by that time. What if I'd been born in 1939 instead? That would make me ages with John Cleese now. Would that’ve made the difference? There are things I like about the modern world, don't get me wrong. I love computers and the Internet is an incredible tool—kids these days really don't have a clue how lucky they are—but I look at the state of the publishing industry and am quite, quite reconciled to never being famous. Not that fame was ever a goal or even a dream but it tends to become an inevitability once you've achieved a certain level of success in your given field. I don't suppose Jeanette Winterson or Ben Okri think of themselves as famous people—they're both my age—but they are recognised for doing what they do. Had I not allowed so many things to get in the road might I not be as well-known as either of them? Impossible to say. The life choices I made made me the writer I am today. Maybe if I'd started off sooner in my own life—or earlier in time—I might’ve written more books but who's to say they would’ve been better books?
People talk about reliving their lives. If they did don't they realise that they'd do exactly the same?
If I look at where I am today without considering how I got here is there anything I would change that would affect the rest of my life? Again, picking one thing would be hard but I think I’d opt for perfect health. I don't need more money, the flat we live in is fine, I'm happy with my wife but I’m definitely restricted—‘handicapped’ is too strong a word—by my physical and mental health. I don't have a brain tumour (not as far as I'm aware) or anything like that, I'm not dying of cancer (not as far as I'm aware) but I do have more than my fair share of minor irritants. I've written this whole post whilst suffering from a blinding headache. Now a headache's not going to kill me (unless I really do have a brain tumour) and everyone gets them (hell, you might even have one right now) but this would be easier to do without the headache. And the dry eyes aren't helping either. The same goes for the backache and the cold feet.
I would have to agree with Albert Schweitzer: "Happiness is nothing more than good health and a bad memory." I already have the bad memory. All I need now is the health.