• Kim F Vaughan

Want to change the world? Make a decision!

Updated: Apr 15, 2020

Some things can only be appreciated in retrospect. What seems like a simple decision can be viewed as either omniscient or throughly stupid (and all points between) when based in the context of a wider perspective in the 20-20 vision of hindsight. Assessing the likely outcome of a decision in advance is really hard. Yet we continue to make decisions and blunder on regardless.


Flashback to 1977

Back in 1977, my boyfriend and I got on a bus in Shaftesbury Avenue in London, bound for India. We had paid £70 each to travel to the sub-continent on the Magic Bus. We wanted to be cool - to show that we were about actions, not words, after endless hours whiled away in a haze of smoke, muttering about Kahlil Gibran and Timothy Leary to a soundtrack that would now be classed as historic.


A more honest appraisal would be that we were terrified of being swallowed by everyday life; the life where mortgages, marriage, insurance and full-time employment held sway. The fact that we have since done all of those scary things and remain together more that 40 years later can maybe be put down to having had many adventures together. But I digress.


We had worked hard to save up a few hundred quid, a kitty that was enhanced by the sale of my boyfriend’s motorbike (a Triumph Daytona, since you ask) to one of our housemates. We were going to be away for a year (oh yes!). Farewell to steelworks and tax office, goodbye to all that! With promises to keep a welcome in the hillsides ringing in our ears, we walked off into the sunset.


On arrival at our London rendezvous point, we looked around for the state-of-the-art coach that was going to carry us thousands of miles across the world. Expecting a Premier League football team calibre vehicle for such a journey, with toilets, reclining seats, catering hub and down-filled pillows and blankets, our eyes were set about 15-20 feet above the ground. So we missed the 1962 Bella Vista charabanc from the Manchester to Blackpool route that apologised for itself quietly at the side of the road.


I could go on and on about our breakdown on the A2 just outside Canterbury, where we lost half the capacity of the gearbox; how, on crossing the Channel, we zig-zagged across Europe to pick up more passengers; and how a loaf of bread bought in Venice kept us going until we got to Iran. What was then Yugoslavia was embraced by thick fog and we were stuck in a 250-mile traffic jam caused by several multi-vehicle pile-ups (or should that be ‘piles-up’?). The people we met, the adventures we had, the ups and downs of overland travel before mobile phones, internet and digital banking had been unleashed on an innocent world.


But I won’t. The main point of this is to say that our decision to undertake this journey had knock-on effects for global politics as well as changing us forever. A butterfly flapped its wings - or two young people hopped onto a bus - and chaos ensued. But how? I hear you ask. Let me tell you…..


Firstly, consider the route our journey followed; across Europe, into Turkey, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India and Nepal. We returned pretty much the same way (though that is another story for another day). It’s not possible now - unless you are part of the Armed Forces or NATO, or a refugee in the hands of people traffickers - though I would be happy to hear otherwise.


Then consider the date. We left London on 17 November 1977 and arrived in Kabul just three weeks later. Our return trip eventually delivered us to Cardiff on St David’s Day, 1 March 1978. Yes, I know, far short of the year we had planned! That’s yet another story……..


Here are a few historical facts for you about how the overland route to India and Nepal eventually became impassable.


In December 1978, the Soviet - Afghan friendship treaty was signed. This collapsed a year later, and all through the 1980s the mujahideen fought a guerrilla war in the Afghan hills.


In retrospect, we had seen the signs. What we thought of as the rich tapestry of ‘the world out there’ was less exotic than we thought. Soviet army uniforms worn by Afghan soldiers in Kabul. Strange encounters on trains with Afghani ‘diplomats’ who were keen to share their diverse collection of passport stamps. An Iraqi doctor, who was always hanging out in our hotel’s cafe situated next to the main army barracks in Kabul, must have been some kind of spy. (The latter told us where to go and what to ask for when seeking medication to cure the dysentery we were enduring, so I am assuming that he really was a doctor. The medication worked, though I have no real evidence for the spy hypothesis.)


The Shah of Iran was overthrown in February 1979 after a year of increasing unrest. The Ayatollah Khomeini led an Islamic revolution and foreigners left the country. Again, we had seen the signs. We felt really uncomfortable in Teheran, followed around by groups of youths looking for trouble. The Americans were particularly unpopular and we, in our jeans and cheesecloth, stood out from the crowd - especially the females with our free and easy ways. On our return journey, we had been ‘strongly advised’ to stay in a particular hotel and not leave until our bus had permission to travel (our short excursion to relieve cabin fever is another tale for another day).


The litany of turmoil in the Middle East continues to this day, but, for the record, our delight in the trip we took all those years ago does not diminish, regardless of the global fallout.


Cut back to 2020

So what has that got to do with anything? Well, in 2018, I decided to move on in my career, retire from full-time employment, qualify as a coach and share my skills and experience with others. It took a while to formulate that decision and even longer to get here, to the point where I am ready with website content, price list, and a coaching certificate in the post.


The butterfly wings of that decision have, apparently, had global consequences, just like that decision made in 1977. A small coronavirus called Covid-19 is changing the world, turning the unthinkable into reality at breakneck speed.


I accept that the virus has not been sitting back waiting for the stimulus of a decision made by me to jump the species divide and create a global pandemic, just as the Ayatollah Khomeini wasn’t waiting for me to arrive in (or leave) Teheran in 1977-8.


Making connections between unrelated events is human nature. If I tread on that crack in the pavement, the sky will fall in. If this daisy has an odd number of petals, the object of my affection will fall in love with me. If I go to India, revolution will follow. If I decide to make a career change, we will be wiped out by a plague.


Unable to progress with my plans, I look around me at the consequences of Covid-19 so far and feel grateful for the time to sit back and smell the coffee. Self-employed people everywhere are seeing their businesses dwindle. Panic buying is stripping the shelves of basic foods. Nurses and doctors are bracing themselves to withstand an unprecedented assault on their immune systems with inadequate protection. The arts, home of the gig economy, are under threat.


Yet we are talking to each other more and recalibrating our expectations. The government is eating its words about the BBC and really thinking about the value of the NHS. There are people everywhere about to create their magnum opus. There will be a lot of sadness but, ultimately, a lot of good to come from this. Once this is all hindsight, the world will be a better place. With the sky still in place.


And, I assure you, no more decisions from me.

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