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Haunted by If Only

Apparently many of us wake in the night and obsesses over things we can do nothing about.

It’s a common affliction, this descent into a nocturnal hades littered with mistakes that cannot be corrected, echoing to the sound of words said that cannot be unsaid, and haunted by the ghosts of missed opportunities.


In the bleak small hours when a surfeit of caffeine, an itch or a pain keep sleep at bay, the gremlins and goblins arrive in their droves from the miserable land of ‘If-Only’.

Three major tribes inhabit that unspeakable place, they include the If-Only Thises, the If-Only Thats and the If-Only Others.


Travelling in droves under the cover of night the spider-like creatures move from bedroom to bedroom listening for the rumblings of unease. Once they detect a hint of insomnia they crawl to the foot of the bed and wait till the twisting and turning tells them there’s a game on.


The more opportunistic like to ambush the most unsuspecting, particularly those answering a call of nature before resuming their sojourn among the soft and downy folds of slumberland. As the intended victim sinks back into the bed the wily If-Onlys, swarm on to the pillow. With picks and shovels in hand the crawl through the ears and make their way to the core of the skull. There they dig up every fault, failing and regret buried in the landfill of the mind, hauling these lumps of toxicity to the front of the consciousness to taunt and disturb until the afflicted sleeper can’t sleep anymore.


No-one is immune to the ‘If onlys’. Even the long-suffering and saintly are affected. Speaking of the long-suffering and saintly, I sometimes wake to find the current consort propped up against the headboard, leafing through the pages of her latest read or scrolling through the Twitter feed in the hope that something will silence the gremlins.


What keeps many awake at night are the ghosts of missed opportunities; the horse you didn’t back that came in at 33/1, the job you didn’t take that would now see you in pensioned clover, that parcel of ground you didn’t buy when it was for sale at the right money, or the parcel you bought at the wrong money. And, of course, there are the eschewed choices, which could have significantly changed our lives, those times we took the road more travelled, rather than the one with a sparser foot-fall and richer possibilities.

Isn’t it amazing how we let the goblins and gremlins of the night lead us, again and again, on repetitive and pointless journeys through the junkyard of our minds to be haunted and tantalised by things we can do nothing about?


What brought all this on? I suppose these last few months have given the world a crisis and an opportunity. In fact, as has been noted a few times in this column, the Greek root of the word crisis means decision or turning point. While our personal record of missed opportunities might keep us awake at night, what if the world misses this key opportunity to recalibrate our relationship with the planet , with one another and with the future generations?


The sight of a vaccine on the horizon is like the star of Bethlehem for believers, it is full of promise, signifying a new beginning. But, looking around, the portents for this new dawn are not good. No sooner is the news about the vaccine announced than we see Michael O’Leary splashing out billions on another blast of planes, signifying to the world that things are going back to the way they were.


Meanwhile, the British Education Secretary, Gavin Williamson is gracelessly gloating about British exceptionalism as the UK becomes the first country to roll out the miracle cure. He conveniently ignores the fact that the medicine was developed by a German/American collaboration and is manufactured in Belgium. Even Covid with all its horrific consequences isn’t enough to broaden the perspective of puerile exceptionalists.


Closer to home, we see our government turn down an opportunity to be gracious in its refusal to pay student nurses for working all the hours they could while putting their lives on the line in the fight against the virus. The disappointment and hurt on the faces of these heroic young people should haunt our decision makers.


The hope that the pandemic might have taught us some crucial lessons is looking increasingly vain. We could be sleep-walking through a time when the human race is being afforded its greatest opportunity to save itself. In a nightmare scenario we will all wake up to find ourselves at the airport with Michael O’Leary when the boat comes to rescue us.


First published in the Farming Independent, Tuesday, December 8th 2020



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