The future is just a past that hasn’t happened yet. And the past is all too dependent on our memories. Nothing proves this more than the 6 July 2019 issue of Radio Times , which carries two articles by James Burke in his inimitable* style. The first recalls the excitement of the moonshot in July 1969. The second is a reprint of the 1969 Radio Times in which Burke looks forward to covering the Moonshot.

(*and yes, I proved it is inimitable by trying to imitate it there)

Burke puts the Moon Landing in context for those who weren’t born then (and those of us who have forgotten). “In 1969, Britain had towns full of smoke-blackened buildings, half the population had no TV or cars – or inside loos. We all lived with the awareness (buried deep in our brains) that any day might bring a nuclear attack.” More to the point, he makes it clear that the Moon Shot and its TV coverage didn’t go according to plan!Check out the reprint from 1969, and you’ll see James Burke from 50 years ago telling us that after touchdown, Armstrong and Aldrin would spend two hours checking the systems before swallowing sleeping pills. “Four hours later they wake, eat and at just after seven-twelve am on Monday July 21, Neil Armstrong goes down the ladder.”

With the benefit of hindsight, 2019 James Burke tells us it didn’t go that way. “I heard them doing stuff that indicated a change of plan (preparing their moon-walk suits and not rigging sleep hammocks), so it was time for a re-think and the first-ever BBC all-night TV. “One small step” happened for a UK audience of 22 million at 3.56 am.”

Those of us too young to stay up woke the next day to Neil Armstrong’s descent being played on a loop. There was a small sense of being cheated – why hadn’t they had the courtesy to wait for British breakfast time?

But the two articles by Burke remind us that just because something’s written down, it doesn’t mean it happened that way. The whole Moon Shot was planned to the second. But there was always a chance that something could change.

22 years later, James Burke brought out a book called Chances and I found that pretty life changing.

It’s basically a book of facts. Or a book of odds. Posed as questions about everyday life. Which dogs are more likely to bite? (Alsatians, Chow, Airedale and Pekinese) What are the chances I will die before my 25-year mortgage is paid off? (For a 30 year old male, 1 in 9). The blurb on the back tells us that, “Since 1981 AIDS has killed 500,000 people. In the same period 16,000,000 have died from measles…If you are likely to be shot, poisoned or strangled it will probably happen in December and there’s a 64 per cent chance you will know your murderer…but don’t worry…you are 14 times more likely to have killed yourself first!”

There is no index or bibliography, although there is an acknowledgement “to Helen O’Leary for her meticulous research.” But then it’s not that kind of book. It was published by Virgin Publishing (remember them?) and sold for £2.99. That sounds like a pittance now – it’s the equivalent of £6.30 today. I doubt you could buy a new paperback for that price today although that might be because a modern publisher would make the book bigger – with a larger, more spaced-out typeface – to push the page count and retail price up. Holding Chances you remember that paperbacks were once – like mobile phones – a piece of entertainment you could carry in your pocket.

So why do I call Chances life changing? James Burke says at the start that, “Life is a gamble….Forecasting the future is a matter of knowing the influences that determine the outcome (of your decisions).”

Flicking through the book in the WH Smiths on Paddington station back in 1992, I came across the following line: “Are trustful people more likely to enjoy good mental/emotional health than the mistrustful?” And the answer was: “Yes. A variety of studies show that trustful people, far from being the gullible, naïve types who are victimised by others, are actually…far better liked and have far fewer mental/emotional problems.”

And next to it was the question, “Are people who mistrust others more likely to be untrustworthy themselves/” And the answer was: “Yes. According to a number of studies, people who tend to be suspicious of others are themselves more likely to be cheats, manipulators and liars.”

As I said, £2.99 seemed like a lot of money back then, so I didn’t buy the book, although I certainly took the thought away with me.

I was a pretty negative person at the time – and while this wasn’t a ‘Road to Damascus’ it did start me thinking that there was a possibility the glass might be half full instead of half empty. Or that there might be some benefit in presuming that the glass was half full. So as much as anything could be deemed “life changing” this book was it. So thank you, James Burke. Long may you write.