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August 23, 2016



It was daring of you to ask whether J had any regrets. The question is more complex than it initially seems and deserves deconstruction. Despite the fact that the supposition is mostly incorrect, it's difficult to dispel the notion that the questioner felt that the questionee did have regrets. Otherwise why put the question?

Not that this matters. It has become obligatory for the questionee to insist - often forcefully - that he or she has no regrets. This has to be a fib, a life without regret hints at unhealthy perfection. (Hastily, and in parenthesis, I must add I'm not for a moment saying J was fibbing; he was responding to a specific and pared-down application of regret, for which his "No." was legitimate, believable and sympathetic)

A variant of this question regularly appears in Q/A format interviews with celebrities in The Guardian: "Is there anything in your past life you'd like to change?" The interviewees, possibly hag-ridden by sci-fi tales which dwell on the horrific outcome of tinkering while time-travelling, are usually even more insistent. "No!" they say, and you can almost sense the exclamation mark.

We nod sceptically. Was there never a time when intervention was possible and the questionee would have wished to cut off the sequence that left him/her presently over-weight, poorly educated, in debt or whatever? Imperfect as we all are our resentment stops short of the speculative option that just might be beneficial.

Thanks, Bill.

Robbie, of course you are right, and both the question and answer were limited and simplistic, with a world of greyness (and readers' legitimate curiosity) lying in-between. But in addition to being a slice-of-life anecdote, this is a piece of prose writing, a story, if you will, and as you know well, I had to make decisions about how to handle it, within the confines of the task I'd set myself. Hell, there's probably an entire novel that could be written about a life such as briefly sketched here.

Interesting post and comments. Indeed such a question is full of tricky implications and a novel could be built around it. I love singing Je Ne Regrette Rien with the conviction it deserves but of course it's not true. Even Piaf must have regretté plein de choses.

I read this with great pleasure and enjoyed the photographs, too,

Beautiful, Beth. Words and images both.

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Who was Cassandra?

  • In the Iliad, she is described as the loveliest of the daughters of Priam (King of Troy), and gifted with prophecy. The god Apollo loved her, but she spurned him. As a punishment, he decreed that no one would ever believe her. So when she told her fellow Trojans that the Greeks were hiding inside the wooden horse...well, you know what happened.