Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

It's Time to Play the 'What If?' Game

Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

It's Time to Play the 'What If?' Game

Article excerpt

Byline: KEITH HANN

THE "what if?" game is the historian's equivalent of "truth or dare". What if the Salic law preventing female succession to German thrones had not applied in 1837 and Victoria had become Queen of Hanover as well as Great Britain? Would the First World War have been avoided? More frivolously, and fictionally, what if Victor Meldrew had never married? Just how grumpy would he have been by the time he reached 70? My lovely young wife, as she likes to style herself, constantly reminds me that she has rescued me from a solitary old age in which I would no doubt have made Victor look like an advertisement for drug-induced jollity. What if I had not opened that fateful email on March 31, 2008, in which she responded on behalf of an improbably offline friend to my website's spoof advertisement for a wife, girlfriend or carer? Or what if I had simply deleted it, as I almost certainly would have done if she had not mentioned that she worked for a company whose chief executive happened to be a friend of mine, making it easy to check that she was a real human being and not some evil internet fraudster? All these thoughts ran through my head on Saturday as we celebrated our son Charlie's first birthday with his family and friends in Northumberland: his second major party and his fourth in all, setting a record likely to be challenged only by our own dear Queen. Admittedly, I had taken the precaution of confining the children to a largely art, antique and book free conservatory, but even so several people remarked on my preternatural calmness, as I sat there sipping Cava and nursing the head wound caused by three-year-old Nathaniel's over-enthusiastic throw of a surprisingly sharp-edged dog toy.

I have certainly become a great deal more relaxed in the last couple of years. Perhaps because, like a man caught in an avalanche, I have stopped trying to grab something solid and simply resigned myself to my fate. …

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