Chance has always fascinated me and I don't mean games of chance like poker or roulette but the little incidents that can change your whole life. At the age of nine this certainly happened to me when my class teacher at school suddenly died of a heart attack. There must have been a major reshuffle, for the following Monday we had as our new teacher the man responsible up till then for the eight-year-olds. By Wednesday afternoon I found myself yearning for the late Mrs Daniels. Her replacement seemed to delight in picking on me – for talking in class, looking out of the window, doodling in an exercise book or whatever else that didn't betray a hundred percent attention to every word he said. He never slapped or cuffed me – even thirty years ago this could have got him into a lot of trouble – but he was extremely sarcastic, much to the delight of most of my classmates. Something had to be done. I decided not to give him the slightest excuse for any more barbed comments. Every time I sensed at school that my thoughts were wandering I pinched myself hard. By the end of the summer term I had risen from somewhere around the middle to the top of the class. And I kept it up for the rest of my schooldays and then at university.
Over the years I noticed how similar incidents or events, minor in themselves, changed the lives of friends and colleagues. I always thought there must be a way to make use of such incidents – to exploit chance in whatever form, even a whole chain of chance incidents. And one day I did.
It was around four months ago when I met Julia. I'd been working for a month as marketing partner for one of the ten largest management consulting groups in the country – known to us of course as the 'terrifying ten'. As the partner heading the new logistics practice, Daniel Brown, an almost unbelievably unimaginative, hulking individual – my pet name for him was 'Trucker Dan' – had started at the same time as I, we decided to hold a joint office party. Office parties . . . don't we ever learn? Successful executives, men and women, revealing themselves as unmitigated technocrats, bores or drunks. And how often have the first steps been made at these 'celebrations' on a path that ended weeks or months later with a ruined marriage or its modern equivalent? As it turned out at this party, however, that is exactly what I hoped would happen.
Julia was there with her husband, our managing partner Anthony Henderson. It took me all of thirty seconds to realise the honeymoon had been over between them a very long time. Arriving late they entered the open plan office where the party was taking place and, without a glance at each other, split up to go over to different groups. Not that she showed any particular interest in me when I engineered a tête à tête an hour later – I didn't want to make my immediate interest in her too obvious. No big smile lighting up her whole face, no hand resting on my arm, and not even hundred per cent concentration on what I said in the five minutes we talked. But other enjoyable relationships I'd had with women had started even less promisingly, and at least I found out what kind of music, books and films she liked. I already knew that she and Anthony had no children because of some obscure woman's complaint she had. So much the better: I had no ambitions to be a father, either for my own or another man's children.