Did you know that it was a biscuit that caused the break up of The Beatles? I didn’t.
According to BBC Radio 4’s The Unbelievable Truth, the presence of Yoko Ono had already caused tension among the members of the group, she had brought a bed into the studio and was offering comments three of the Fab Four found unwelcome. The last straw is said to have been when she took George Harrison’s digestive biscuits, prompting an outburst from the normally gentle and eirenic guitarist and precipitating a row that led to the world’s most successful music group to fall asunder.
It seems odd how sheer chance moments can initiate chains of consequences that no-one could have anticipated, how words or actions can cause unintended hurts, how whole lives can turn upon single moments that would be avoided if they could be lived again.
At a scale that is miniscule when compared with the end of The Beatles, I remember a sprig of mistletoe being a turning point in my own life. It was December 1979 and the young woman who was my girlfriend approached me with mistletoe. Instead of a gracious embrace, I pushed her away and a row ensued. We broke up.
Perhaps the break up was the first effect of the deep depression that deepened during the following months, perhaps it was part of the cause. The question can never be answered, but in one moment, on a December’s day, life changed.
The struggle with depression brought a year long withdrawal from college and a seeking after voluntary work for that year. The voluntary work was with the Sisters of the Sacred Heart, assisting in the care of boys with what was then called “mental handicap”. The sisters were mostly Irish and their stories from home brought a desire to visit the place they described with so much love. Without that turning moment, I might never have set foot in Ireland. The whole of my life had turned on a single sprig of mistletoe.
The Player in Tom Stoppard’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead is right, “Life is a gamble, at terrible odds—if it was a bet you wouldn’t take it.” Who would have bet on a biscuit breaking up The Beatles? How many people are there who have had similar experiences, when the most trivial of things have had adverse consequences no-one could have foreseen? The problem is in knowing what the catalysts for disastrous change might be, if they are as small as a stolen biscuit, how can they be avoided?