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The Certainty of Chance

2,072 words

“I believe in the certainty of chance,” sang Neil Hannon of The Divine Comedy in 1998, a wonderful songwriter musing on one of philosophy’s oldest conundrums. Are events pre-ordained or as yet unwritten? Do we live in a world of free will or determinism? All of us will look back on our lives and find at least one incident that changed its course and seems, on the face of it, to have been directed by chance, often classically depicted as blind.

In late November 2015, I still had a week’s holiday to take from my job in London, the city of my birth, knowing that if I did not take it, it would not carry over into the next year and I would lose it. I chose to take a week in Paris, not knowing that I would be traveling a lot further than the City of Lights.

It was a fortnight after the Bataclan massacre, and the city resembled occupied territory on two fronts. There were heavily armed soldiers everywhere, and already enclaves of the city had been rendered off-limits by Muslim arrivistes. I spent my time in and around Montmartre with my new traveling companion, an American woman I had met on the Eurostar train. Chance is also often depicted as a woman.

I had boarded the train at Paddington Station at 10:30 AM for a 10:45 AM departure, and found to my surprise that the entire carriage was empty save for me. Had the events of Bataclan really scared people off to that extent? They had not, and I soon found out why the other seats were unoccupied. Suddenly, the doors opened and a swarm of schoolgirls, 13 or 14 years old, filled each and every seat, with all the screaming, shouting, and capering you would expect from today’s children, to whom instruction to display public decorum is tantamount to oppression. I lasted about two minutes, then beat a retreat to the bar.

You can’t sit down in a Eurostar bar, but faced with the option of standing and reading for the journey or sitting in a pubescent Babylon, unable to concentrate on my book, I opted for the former. After all, in a couple of hours, I would be sitting in a Parisian café with a carafe of good wine and something delectable to eat. After a while, from a carriage in the opposite direction, an American woman entered the bar and bought a drink. She asked if she might share my table and we struck up a conversation. She was older than me (I was 55 at the time) and from Virginia, visiting France for the first time. We became traveling companions for the week. She was good company, a teacher who spent her holidays at a chalet she owned in the Costa Rican rain forest. We spent an enjoyable week together.

On my return from Paris to my job as a building manager, on a handsome salary and with an apartment by the Thames thrown in, I was immediately summoned to a disciplinary hearing by the management. I was presented with a series of trumped-up allegations and promptly fired, with a month’s notice given. I didn’t know it, but I was already fired when I stepped onto the train to Paris.

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True, I had been attempting to persuade residents to vote out the incumbent management company at their next AGM, as I believed the company to be charging a grossly inflated service charge using underhand practices, and they had discovered my machinations. Their allegations were flimsy, and I could have stayed in the apartment — to which I had previously ensured I had the only sets of keys in existence against just such an eventuality as this — and easily beaten my dismissal as what British employment law calls “constructive dismissal.” There were two reasons I didn’t do that.

Firstly, I had received a phone call shortly before I left for Paris from a man whose biography I was thinking of writing to alleviate the boredom of the job. I now know that the call was monitored and I have very strong reason to believe my employers were informed. You may have had the experience of being told one thing when it is plain that there is something ulterior happening, and the speed and vindictiveness of my dismissal, instructions to the residents not to speak to me under any circumstances, along with other information which I can’t mention due to the risk of involving a friendly party, convinced me that my phone conversation with the man about whom I intended to write was the reason for my dismissal. That man was Tommy Robinson.

I reviewed the situation for a day or so when the second reason for not fighting my dismissal arrived in the shape of another phone call. It was my American friend, seemingly keen to renew our Parisian tryst. I told her of my having been fired, although not the reason I knew to be the real one, and she suggested that it had been quite obvious to her in Paris that I hated my job. Why didn’t I come and visit her in Costa Rica on a 90-day visitor’s visa?

I told my employers that I would be staying in the apartment and fighting my dismissal, then filled a few suitcases with belongings of sentimental value and placed them with a storage company. I estimate that 80% of my worldly belongings were still in the apartment. Early one morning in January 2016, I packed a few clothes, a pair of Mexican lizard-skin cowboy boots, a bass ukulele, and my treasured copy of Heidegger’s Being and Time, and walked onto Tower Bridge just as the sun was beginning to speckle the dark water of the Thames. I looked down at the brackish river, into which I threw my telephone and all three sets of apartment keys. Then I took a train to Heathrow Airport and flew to Central America.

I arrived on January 10, 2016, the day that David Bowie died, and I have been here ever since, apart from a couple of return visits to see family and friends. My relationship with the Virginian woman drifted from a romance to a friendship, which we still maintain, and she returned to America to look after her granddaughters, the children of her daughter, who has Lyme’s Disease. My money was beginning to run low, and I needed a job.

Always a hobbyist bass player and singer in amateur bands, I bought an acoustic guitar, played it for six hours a day for six months until I had 70 or 80 songs, and then began to pick up gigs at local bars and restaurants. In a town with a couple of rock bands and a few Latin-style guitarists, a Brit playing Kinks and Beatles songs was a novelty.

Then came coronavirus, and the political-class power grab that followed it, and the work dried up. Fortunately, I am adaptable, as everyone now must be. Aside from building management, I have been a production journalist, a restaurant bar manager, a medical supplies officer for the NHS, and a private investigator. In my leisure time, I have been a musician, a student of Tarot, and an alcoholic. Now, I eke out a living online, living some way below the World Health Organization’s famous and relativistic “poverty line.” It is possible to live like this in the Third World. Taking into a small private pension, my rent, bills, and food for me and a street cat I teamed up with comes to $50 a week.

I have never been happier. I was a recluse long before COVID-19 — which Costa Rica has handled superbly well with low infection and no lockdown — and I have revived my fascination with philosophy, in which I have a PhD. The only inconvenience, before the virus, was that non-residents like myself had to leave the country every 90 days. I used to go up to Nicaragua for a couple of days every three months, but even that is not necessary under the present state of border closures.

I have immersed myself in philosophy, many of the classics costing next to nothing, and even nothing, for Kindle. I am re-reading Nietzsche, in chronological order, Heidegger, and Plato, Renaissance philosophy, Kant, Schopenhauer, and the British empiricists, anything and everything. I have also intensified my Tarot studies: Crowley, Ouspensky, Jung, Osman-Spare, Dummett. I have lived for six months on rice, beans, onions, bananas, porridge, and fruit, and I have never been healthier. I haven’t had a drink in six months and I have never been happier.

I have also had the strange experience of watching from afar as my home country descends into a cultural Marxist police state, as well as seeing America heading towards Civil War 2.0. Here, the locals love their Pink Floyd, as they do all Anglo-American rock music, but neither know nor care about George Floyd. Latin Americans are not snot-nosed and pampered brats, and putting food on the table is more important than rioting over a dead criminal in another country who should be unmourned and his grave unmarked. BLM is a Euro-American luxury item.

There are many Americans expats here; pensionados and small business owners chasing paradise. The ones I have met have been Democrats, every one, who think “Trump’s an asshole, man,” is astute political commentary to a Ciceronian standard. Now, they are starting to panic because their adventure playground is closing down. The beaches are shut and they can’t get cocktails and watch the sun go down over the ocean anymore. It’s the rainy season, and they are desperately trying to get home, casting around for flights like doughboys scrambling onto the last chopper out of Saigon. I avoided them even before this year, preferring to drink in the local Tico bar (Costa Ricans call themselves “Ticos” and “Ticas”), where they call me El Cejudo, a complex Spanish joke based on my bushy eyebrows, or the Crazy Inglése.

Costa Rica brought me to life, politically, philosophically, and personally. It brought home to me, in stark relief, how dead and stultifying England is. I have worked here voluntarily in an animal sanctuary, played bass for rock bands, jet-skied, ridden horses, and many other things England held me back from. I’ve written a novel and a book of poetry and self-published them on Amazon. As for what I write online, much of what I have written about Islam and black culture would bring me to the attention of the UK police were I back there, particularly after the Tommy Robinson incident.  Here, if I choose to state on social media that there are two genders plus some mentally ill folk who get them all muddled, no policemen will visit my home, as they recently did that of an Englishman who wrote just that. They told the man, Harry Miller, that they were there to “check his thinking.” Britain’s hate speech laws multiply like spawn, whereas freedom of speech is guaranteed by the Costa Rican constitution.

I am currently writing a book on Tarot, and have met a wonderful Russian painter online who is designing a new deck. We hope to find a publisher next year. Tarot, of course, has as one of its elements chance, the Wheel of Fortune at the center of the Major Arcana.

I miss England, of course. Not Britain. I’m not British, I’m English. I miss my mother, my brother, and friends. I miss the old pubs. I miss the rolling hills and the coastal towns of Kent. But I can see what is coming, as can my erstwhile telephone correspondent Tommy Robinson, who has relocated to Spain.

In Anthony Burgess’s A Clockwork Orange, part of a prescient triumvirate of English novels along with 1984 and Brave New World, one of the characters, a politician, explains why the Lodovico Treatment is so important to rehabilitate jailed offenders:

“Soon, we will be needing all our prison space for political prisoners.”

I won’t take that chance.

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