The Arriva Wales train went up through the valleys - though given it was raining the views were not as impressive as they could have been. And an hour from Cardiff, here we were - the final stop.
In 1984, my dad came home from work to tell us that his employers would probably be relocating from Eastleigh to Aberdare, and so we would have to move from the New Forest to the Welsh Valleys.
As the train came in at Aberdare, I reminded myself that in the parallel world where his employers didn't decide to stay in Eastleigh, this would have been the journey home. Wherever I had been, I would have got on a train at Cardiff Central and feel that my journeying for that day would have neen over. That if, in this parallel world, I had still gone to St Andrews' University, then there would have been the train ride home through the border counties of Shropshire and Herefordshire, as well as down the North West of England.
It was raining and I walked down from the railway station, across the Cynon and over a main road into the town centre. All the time reflecting on how this could have been my hometown. The shopping area is more extensive than Hythe.
Feeling hungry, I passed the library and found a Wetherspoon near to the river Dare (which I assume gives the town its name) and ordered dinner there. I found a table and asked a man at the next table to keep an eye on my rucksack. And one thought struck me - if life had gone slightly differently, and I had moved to Aberdare, this would be someone I knew whom I was asking to keep an eye on it. And at the bar, had a look round and realised that if I had moved there I would have known most people there. But I didn't know them. And they didn't know me. And in a curious sense they didn't know that they didn't know me - you know the classic sci-fi trope of a parallel universe and A saying to B "in another reality we were friends".
By the time I'd finished, I needed to get back to the station for the last train I could take to get back to Southampton in reasonable time (if I go to somewhere where I go through Salisbury or change there, I find it easier to get a slow train back and get off at Millbrook).
And then yesterday was my birthday meal with friends, old and new. Some I've known for a few months, others since school days. And this is the real world. This is where I've been placed. I wonder whether the circumstances which led to me becoming a Christian would have happened if I had lived in Aberdare?
I do speculate how life would have been if something different had happened - I love counter-factual histories as long as they're sensible (e.g. Liberal/Social Democrat Alliance pushes Labour into third place at the June 1983 general election - what happens next? Former Labour deputy leader Roy Jenkins, politically distant from the Gang of Three, decides to stand as a Liberal in a by-election in the 1979-83 Parliamennt and returns to the House of Commons) and not the writer's fantasy (e.g Iain Macleod doesn't die in July 1970/William Whitelaw wins the February 1975 Conservative leadership eleection and we see a Butskellite Conservative party return to power where the word "monetarism" is never heard).
As I was having lunch and then we were standing on the pavement having ice-cream, I was just thinking that if I'd moved to Aberdare then these would have been strangers - and not only that, their names would have been unfamiliar to me. Those friendships would not have existed. Yet, here we were, in reality, with people whose only connection was me and God, meeting.
And, that is God's providence. You may not end up where you want, but you end up where He wants.