From The Book of Regrets
Compiled by Juliet Solomon as a fundraiser for the National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery
JR Books Ltd 2007
Having been fortunate in my life as a historian, writing the books I wanted to write and lecturing about my work to audiences worldwide, I have no regrets about the past. But on three occasions, each long ago, I missed opportunities that make me smile as I imagine what they might have led to. The first was in 1959, the second 1962 and the third in 1972.
In 1959, I went to Poland on an Oxford University student exchange. The first stop was Poznan Trade Fair. One stall was the display of a Polish pickle manufacturer, hoping to find an export outlet for his wares. How I laughed at the idea of Polish pickled cucumbers finding a British or an American market. Not for me a modest contribution to the Polish export drive.
In 1962, during a prolonged trip through the United States, I reached the desert city of Phoenix. I marvelled at the beauty of the desert landscape of cactus and scrub. On the far outskirts of the town, land was being offered for sale at $50 an acre. I had just received twice that amount as an advance for my first book. How I laughed at the idea of buying such a remote and dusty plot of land for all my earnings. Today, such an acre commands $1million at the least.
Ten years later, in 1972, I was at a dinner with businessmen who knew a thing or two about the retail food trade. Among the guests was a man who was singing the praises of California wines and offering investment opportunities. I had just been appointed Churchill biographer and had some cash in hand. How I laughed at the idea of wine from California being able to compete with the wines of France or Italy in the British market.
Do I have any regrets? Of course not – until I go into my local Waitrose and see those Polish pickles and Californian wines, or I travel to Phoenix (as I did recently) and marvel at the building boom.
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