Finding a Happy Medium…

Posted on April 17, 2013

A funny thing happened to me the other day (well actually it wasn’t funny as in ha! ha!). It was when  I was in the process of discussing with a car salesman the possibility of breaking down the barriers of frugality that has halted any personal extravagance since the the 2008 financial crash.

As I put down the phone with my mind still not made up, I had a knock on my door and I was greeted with the news that my neighbour, aged 40, had inexplicably died of a heart attack playing in a charity football match. I am not claiming some great friendship here, but he was a likable bloke who was easy to chat to and share a joke with, so it still, temporarily at least, rocked me to my foundations, especially as he had a four year old son. That’s how cruel life can be; it was a great reminder of mortality and had a far bigger impact on me than the death of an 87 year-old former Prime Minister.

This had me wondering what we actually live for, save for and ultimately die for. It me had wondering whether the temporary thrill of buying a new car should be a reward for years of battening down the financial hatches or whether it was a just a needless mid-life crisis of a purchase that could wait a few more years. It also got me thinking another thing…what it is it that really gives us pleasure in life and where do we get the desire to get up every day and enjoy what our beautiful planet has to offer us?

Many of us regard money as the absolute solver of all problems and the provider of all the good things we should wish for in life; to have millions of pounds is the ultimate dream to many. However, having witnessed at one end of the spectrum, the extreme wealth of people who I tenuously know from the City of London and then the abject poverty of the slums of Mumbai, I am not convinced who the real winners and losers are. Aggressive capitalism in the West might not be as wonderful as we believe (though I am the first to admit I would give it a crack.)

I say this because on the same day as the car/death incidents, the Reading Football Chairman, John Madjeski was spouting his mouth off in public about some delusional idea that football clubs across Britain should more or less be forced to observe a minutes silence before last weekend’s matches in honour of Maggie Thatcher. Dave Whelan, another Thatcherite from Wigan FC was saying the same thing. Whatever your political persuasion, to have a minutes silence for a lady who had divided Britain in places such as Newcastle, Liverpool and Stoke is just about as ridiculous as it gets.

What’s that got to do with wealth I hear you say? Well it has you see, because John Madejski is wealthy, very wealthy, courtesy of nicking a magazine idea from the States and introducing it as the Autotrader in the UK before selling it for a cool £300 million. Fair play to the bloke I wish I had thought of it, I begrudge no-one a lucky entrepreneurial break and the riches it brings. However, John Madejski is not qualified to spout off to the world of football (a subject he knows nothing about) what supporters should and shouldn’t do; he has no right to dictate to the masses, yet he thinks he has because he is rich. John Madejski is no more intelligent and probably less intelligent than the majority of the readers of this post. Yet because he has got lucky, he sincerely believes it is his right to preach.

This is a fantastic example of how some people who get so ludicrously wealthy act; they become self-titled people’s poets who think that they can dictate to their perceived mere mortals because of their wealth. A documentary a few years ago showed Madejski as a pretty sad individual, paranoid of being turned over and too scared to marry or even establish a relationship with anyone except a dubious dalliance with the beautiful Liverpudlian, Cilla Black. I found it really sad that someone who seemingly had everything actually had nothing except a big empty house full of art and the penthouse in his self-titled hotel. I am not envious of the bloke, I am sad for him really; well I was until his recent proposal. Pathetic was the first word that sprung to mind.

So compare this to when I was lucky enough to visit Mumbai a few years back. After day three of the Test match v India, we decided to walk back to our hotel rather than take a taxi. Anyone who has been to Mumbai will understand that the difference between wealth and poverty in India is beyond comprehension. When we left the air conditioned area of pompous restaurants full of serious people,  it wasn’t long before we reached the shanty suburbs. This was such a pivotal moment in my life that I can remember it like it was yesterday. All around were children screeching and laughing, playing self-invented games like cricket with makeshift bats, balls and stumps; there wasn’t a Game Boy, Xbox or Playstation in sight. What was this about then?  They were supposed to be miserable weren’t they?

Conversely, I once knew a lovely couple in Hampshire (Well I kind of still do) who I socialised with on a reasonably regular basis. He is a house husband and she travels to the City every day to earn what I would regard as fabulous amounts of money as a financial director. She has a mathematical brain that could launch a rocket to Venus and along with it a lovely and friendly personality. Because of her immense brain power some people found it hard to talk to her but because of her warm nature, I always made a special effort. I always found her great company, particularly  because as soon as she saw it in my eyes that I was on the verge of intellectual meltdown and could no longer cope; she would switch the conversation to cricket or the welfare of my children as I switched my brain off, counted to ten and switched it back on again.

Anyway, she told once me that she worked with a guy who was earning in excess of something like £20 million, a staggering amount of money I think you will all agree (unless you are footballer or something). She also told me that he had never married, had no children and absolutely no empathy with anyone. Apparently he had not a charitable bone in his body and had a pitiful part-time relationship with a repressed woman who he would sit in cattle class on business trips whilst he quaffed Champagne further up the aisle. Not only that, she also told me that he was not particularly unique and that the majority, rather than the minority of these egotistical men behave in a similar manner; bizarre frugality with extreme wealth being like a curious badge of honour. How odd is that? That can’t be happiness can it?

Compare that to the Indian boys playing cricket and you begin to wonder what it is all about. Personally speaking, I would love a bit more cash and a slightly nicer house but I have learnt that the great pleasures in life come from simplistic social interaction with others you have a mutual trust with. I also get a pleasure from things what I do for community purposes such as the cricket club, a place where I have met many new friends of all age groups. I have other basic pleasures like going to a pub to watch a band or going for a nice meal with my girlfriend, all of which I enjoy immensely. In my working life I always do my best to please clients and always show appreciation to people who put work my way. It’s amazing the positive response this simple attitude gets.

I was going to say that, ultimately, the best things in life are free, but I cut my toe open yesterday and that cost nothing so it is not strictly true. However, when you compare a lot of the things above, it is a fact that having friend’s, hobbies and activities is something far more self-fulfilling than anything else, especially when you compare it to the miserable miserly existence of some of the mega-rich. Most of the people I choose to mix with seem to naturally take on the theory that as we get older the flowers smell sweeter and the most pleasure we get comes from giving friendship and love to others and enjoying the reciprocal rewards that it brings. There is not a lot better than putting a smile on someone’s face and having the compliment returned. Having a laugh, a joke and showing friendship costs nothing.

Did I fall for the materialistic trap and buy the car?

Of course I did.

1 Reply to "Finding a Happy Medium..."

  • Nick
    April 19, 2013 (1:45 pm)

    Very thought-provoking Bob, as usual. The system we live in relies on you buying the odd car so that doesn’t seem to be much of a problem. I would be more interested in “Why did I buy the car?” and “Who did I buy the car from?”

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