I found myself asking the What if? question the other night when I watched a TV programme called The Hudson's Bay Boys. In it, the BBC had brought together five Scots who had worked for the Hudson's Bay Company in the 60s,70s and 80s. The HBC actively sought out young Scots men to run their remote Arctic Circle stores from the 1800s to the 1980s, and thousands made their way across the Atlantic. It was a fascinating story of young men - teenagers - journeying from their homes in Selkirk, St Andrews, Dumfries and the Shetlands to seek out adventure and a new life in one of the harshest localities on earth.
|I think this is a remarkably tidy and well kept store at the|
height of summer. It would be very different in the winter
The reason I asked myself What if? is that in 1972 I answered an advert in The Scotsman asking for young adventurous men to apply to join the Hudsons Bay Company, and, about the time I was turning turf in a Roman camp in the Cheviot Hills, went up to Edinburgh for an interview. I shudder to think what kind of weedy specimen I looked to the interviewers at 16 years old, but what if I'd got the job? My life would have turned out entirely differently and I'd be a different person now. Would I have written books? Maybe I would have written them a lot earlier, because there wasn't a lot to do during the eternal winter nights apart from read, write and listen to the radio. I like to think that I would have miraculously acquired the DIY skills that elude me today, not fainted during a difficult birth and yanked out a molar without a qualm. I suspect the reality would have been very different
I don't envy them, much, though four out of the five live remarkably fulfilled lives. The welcome they received from people they hadn't seen for twenty years was a testament to their achievements, but their youth was a desperately hard existence and for every success there would have been many failures.
Still, you can't help thinking: What if?