Home » Backpacking in Thailand » The law of unintended consequences

The law of unintended consequences

I had to look up the meaning of the acronym, MILF.

It seems pretty demeaning to both parties, one hesitates to apply it, but it’s an entirely accurate description of my feelings toward my mother’s friend Melissa. Although she sadly died many years ago, when I was still far too young and newly married to be having such thoughts, Melissa was absolutely the woman I would idealise, now I’m far too old and frequently divorced to be having such thoughts.

Fifty-ish, blonde (not really!), elegant, intelligent, well-travelled, feisty, just a little blowsy in a superattractive kind of way – and pretty definitely up for it, as they say, Melissa was the wealthy widow of a movie director who had ended up on the cutting-room floor. As the mother of sons my own age, both of whom were far more successful than I was being at the time, she seemed perfectly unattainable. But I knew I would have my own Melissa one day, it was just a matter of the right time and circumstances colliding.

I don’t know about you, it’s probably quite common, but I seem to live my life lurching from one desired image to the next. I fix a photograph in my head of where and how I’d like to be someday, and then spend months or even years struggling (and sometimes succeeding) to actualise that image, heedless of either process or consequence. Somehow, I would one day be there, like that, doing whatever, and it was enough to motivate my getting out of bed in the mornings.

For years now I’ve had this idealised image, a framed photo of myself sitting across a breakfast table on a balcony overlooking a sparkling warm sea, sipping coffee; while opposite, wearing a sparkling white towelling robe, sunglasses perched on a strong, blonde head,  long, suntanned legs (an intriguing scar?), carelessly absorbed in a detective thriller, caught just at the moment she raises her gaze with that familiar expression of amused contempt, is my Melissa figure. It’s absurd!

Think of all the billions of points in time: the decisions, the actions, the happenstances and consequentialities necessarily leading up to, surrounding, creating and nurturing that hypothetical scene, on any one of which one has absolutely no influence, each being dependent upon and the consequence of any other, but which must precede the actualisation of such an image. Then the consequential happenstances, actions and decisions leading away from it into an unpredictable and misty future. The moving image, if you will, of the still – all the myriad stuff that’s happening outside the frame in order to define what’s inside it. The meta-narrative. The Borgesian library of interconnecting probabilities.

It’s absurd to imagine the Universe will conspire with you to eventuate whatever you choose to envision as a desired outcome of your longings; that it will somehow deliver the exact inventory of presents you prayed to Santa would be hanging by your bed when you woke on Christmas morning.

But we do. Because it sometimes does.

Many years ago, driving to work, I passed a motorcycle showroom. In the window was this gorgeous, vintage bike: a 500cc silver Sunbeam S8, the only postwar British touring bike to have shaft-drive, like a BMW. Day after day I had to pass that window, until I could stand it no longer. Stopping off, I went in, blindly signed the credit agreement and then called a friend with a bike licence to come over and drive it home for me.

I had actualised my image, of being the owner of that splendid piece of motorcycling history. The Universe had conspired with me to eventuate my desired outcome. What I had forgotten to do was to visualise myself ever actually riding – or paying for – it!

Soon after, I got a job a hundred miles from home. I still didn’t have a licence to drive a bike over 125cc, so I had the friend drive it down for me. Then I bought a shiny red British sports car, whose engine kept seizing up owing to a basic design flaw everyone but me seemed to have known about for years. That and the demands of the job took up all my time, energy and money. The Sunbeam sat in the garage of our rented apartment for a year, occasionally being taken out for a spin by friends and colleagues with bike licences.

Then (as usual) I was fired. I never found out why, although I had upset a few important people by continuing with a journalistic investigation they were uncomfortable with. Fired on a Friday, on the Monday I found my local bank account had been frozen. I returned home to London, the friend riding the bike, me driving the little cheap French car I had taken in exchange for the Triumph TR4A, which the garage proprietor wanted for spares. (A few months later, the rear French coil springs suddenly sprang through into the French luggage compartment and I sold it to a stock-car racer for £12.) Unemployed and broke, with little hope of ever taking the test, rather than seeing it rot in the garden I gave the Sunbeam away to the friend. I still hadn’t finished paying for it.

There’s an old Chinese saying, be careful what you ask for – you might just get it. Modern parlance refers to the law of unintended consequences. Luckily, I have no money. I can’t afford the balcony overlooking the sea; I don’t know any attractive blonde women of a certain age; nor can I realistically envisage one ever wanting to know me. I may never actualise the image, but Followers of this, muh li’l bogl, will know, I have got my house on the market, just in case….



Why was I reminded of the name Melissa, after all this time?

It’s a homonym!

I was planning to write, not about Melissa, but about Melisma… a musical term, referring to a passage in which the soloist affects a kind of sliding-around sound, a deliberate imprecision, bending the notes from flat to sharp and back again.

In recent years, especially, female singers of a certain school have been exploiting the melismatic style. One thinks of Maria Carey in particular, and Rihanna. Often, it sounds as if the melisma has been introduced synthetically, by the use of some digital post-recording trickery. To my ears, it is horrible. It puts me in mind of an American teenager whining for more pocket-money.

Unfortunately, the fashion has caught on among the X-Factor set, the sad fantasists prostituting their very tiny talents on reality TV shows in the hope of instant fame and fortune. Even respectable musicians are doing it – I had to switch off this morning, when a quite well-respected singer-songwriter commissioned to write a piece for radio started bending it like Beckham.

Shudder. The world is full of ugliness. Enough with melisma, let’s have more Melissas.


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