Delving still deeper into the past, and the counterfactual imaginings are getting all the more murky.
When I was studying at the Rijksuniversiteit of Ghent, I had to postpone my calling up for the national service for every year that I was due to study. So when I finally completed my studies in July 1979, I had a call-up date somewhere in the autumn of 1981 – just making sure that I had indeed passed and not having to endure the ignominy of having to resit my last year.
When I had the confirmation that I had indeed passed I could have have revoked my delayed call-up, but in the end didn’t and went to work for nearly two years at the laboratory of professor Dilewijns. What if I had decided to forego temporary employment and get my military service out of the way straight after leaving university?
It would have meant leaving the army in June 1980 rather June 1982. Would the economic situation have been better to find a job as a metallurgist? Would I ever have worked as a researcher at the university? After all this time it’s very hard to gauge which way the dice would have rolled. What’s certain is that I would have entered the job market without any practical experience (even though my job at the university didn’t seem to count for much anyway), and it’s really a toss of a coin whether I would have managed to get my foot on the first rung of the job ladder at all.
I also wouldn’t have gone on holiday to Iceland in 1981 and wouldn’t have met my wife. If I had a job in 1983 I wouldn’t have applied for a job with Iscor, and chances are that I would have stayed in Belgium. In short, this counterfactual really would have changed everything that happened later on in my life.