Steak pies and Aston Martins

The little story I posted on Facebook about the expensive steak pies and the Aston Martin DB9 has had quite a response and has left me pondering that age old question of what makes us rich. I know it’s been done to death in books, films, songs and even, I’m fairly sure, by me in previous blogs, but I was never one for turning away the opportunity to flog a dead horse.

The story, for the benefit of anybody who is sensible enough not to go anywhere near Facebook, was about us declining to buy steak pies from a local butchers because they were ridiculously expensive but then seeing a man emerge from the same shop and drive away in an Aston Martin DB9 thus confirming our station in life. Of course it was a joke and we could have bought the pies, but maybe not the car, but being rich isn’t about money is it? Or is it?

If Aston Martin made pies….

I know there is a point at which lack of money will make you miserable in a world where money is king and nothing for free comes easy so I am assuming that what I am considering here is wealth beyond the basic needs of food, shelter etc. So the question is; if we have enough money not to have to worry about the basics what does more money add to our lives? Gill and I are not poor by any means but I wouldn’t like to have less surplus income than we have now and I’m pretty sure that applies to most people irrespective of how much they have. Isn’t that the conundrum? What is it about money and possessions that fools almost everybody into thinking that they need more than they already have? Or than somebody else has for that matter.

I think money is like an empty garage or loft. Indeed just about any empty space in a house that just gathers more and more stuff until it’s full, we just expand to fill the void. In a similar way we adapt to make use of whatever spare cash we have and convince ourselves that we couldn’t really do with any less and a little bit more would be lovely. I am always amazed to read stories of people who have won fortunes by some means or other and managed to change their lifestyles so dramatically that they have been able to spend the lot and become poor again. Dedication to the cause indeed.

Home sweet home
‘Grace’ – Somebody’s pride and joy

Travelling on the canals is like viewing a microcosm of society. There are people on boats worth far more than ours but for them it’s just a play thing for weekends or maybe a two week trip twice a year if the sun comes out. They are always friendly and cheerful and happy to chat with us when we come across them. Then there are what look like derelict craft covered in debris and green algae, roofs piled high with old wood and all manner of worn out possessions. The windows in their crumbling rusty frames are well beyond being see-through, grubby tatters of curtains hang listlessly and it’s obvious that the boat hasn’t moved in months or even years. It’s hard to imagine that anybody could be living in such conditions but the wisp of smoke curling from the chimney says there are. Occasionally a scruffy, grubby individual will emerge from one of these wrecks as we pass by and invariably they are smiling and friendly and, as far as we can tell, happy. I’m pretty sure that the people with the fancy boat wouldn’t want to swap places with them. But what about the unshaven, dishevelled old man on the tatty boat, would he want to swap places with them? I’m not so confident of the answer to that question. What makes him happy, if he is? Certainly not money.

It sure is a tricky business finding that happy compromise of enough but no more. We are all chasing happy, but happy can rarely be purchased and I think we all know this deep down but it’s so hard to believe it. Money pulls and pushes us, it lures and beguiles us and constantly whispers in our ears, “just a little bit more”. I don’t crave an Aston Martin but flipping heck, those steak pies did look good.

How to win the lottery without buying a ticket

So the genuine winner of the thirty three million pound lottery prize has finally been found and now there are a few dozen very nervous false claimants wondering if they are going to prison rather than on a Caribbean cruise. These Lottery stories seem to capture the imagination of the public every time they come around and spark off another succession of conversations that start with, “what would you do with x million pounds?” I don’t feel qualified to contribute to the debate because I have never bought a lottery ticket and don’t ever intend to. Why would I put myself through all that false hope and then disappointment when I already feel rich? Gambling is one way of getting rich but the odds are long and even those that win don’t always get what they want. Search the internet for “Lottery winner stories” and you will find numerous sad accounts of couples and individuals who found that untold wealth is no guarantee of happiness and many who ended up losing everything they won. There are even a few tragic cases that led to suicide.

Of course it does work for some people but if you read the stories of those that did cope with a big win they all talk with great satisfaction about giving money away, helping others and, in many cases, being able to do voluntary work and to support charities. In other words it is the giving rather than the gaining that has actually brought them happiness.

Personally, rather than hope in vain for a huge bank balance I choose to think about what defines being rich.

All this navel gazing has come about because of a conversation yesterday that ranged from pensions and retirement via the recent unclaimed lottery win story to some of our experiences on our ride around the coast of Britain. We met many rich people on our travels but not all of them had money. So what is wealth and how do we achieve it?

I accept that for some people money will do the trick but I really don’t think it’s the only option. When we went on our trip we had managed to set aside ten thousand pounds and in the end we spent eight thousand of it during the five months on the road. For eight thousand pounds we could have bought four thousand lottery tickets, a small basic car or a three week luxury cruise. We chose to spend it on campsite fees, simple food, a beer or two and enough memories to last us a lifetime. Here are just some of the things that we got for our money:

Priceless

Priceless

1000961

memories

150 completely unique days each of which had it’s own ups and downs in every sense.

Countless scenes that are etched into our minds for future viewing.

Acts of kindness that ranged from meals and accommodation to just an encouraging word on a gloomy day.

The satisfaction of getting somewhere by our own effort and determination.

The endless discovery of boundaries that could be stretched and broken only to discover new ones waiting for us.

The investment of suffering that adds value to pleasure and comfort.

2000 photos to re-kindle memories

80,000 written words that I can re-read when my memory struggles with the details.

A bunch of new friends that continue to enhance our lives from a distance.

A large bucket of anecdotes that I can torture people with when I am old and senile.

Never having to wonder what it would be like to ‘take the plunge” because we’ve done it and it turns out to be great. (Thanks for the reminder Gareth)

 

So my chances of winning the lottery may be non-existent but that doesn’t mean I will never be rich; far from it.

 

This is bonkers

Three things have come together today that have made me have a change of heart about my blog post. I felt that a light hearted, hopefully amusing post was due after yesterday’s reflections on death but I’m sorry it will have to wait.

The first of the three items was the announcement from Oxfam this morning that it won’t be long before 1% of the world’s population will own more than 50% of all the wealth. That is such a sad indictment on how the world is developing and it seems that it is an ongoing trend, which is even more depressing.

Secondly, my cycling and blogging friend James uploaded a monster post today all about the terrible state that we seem to have got ourselves into and the difficulty of trying to turn back the tide of self-destruction that threatens to overwhelm us.

James’ blog was all about global causes and effects but my own experience today, the third thing, involved what goes on right in our own back yard and it brought home to me what a terribly mixed up world we live in. As I drove home I was trying to think of an eloquent way to describe what I saw today but in the end I decided ‘bonkers’ did the job better than anything.

I spent the day at a re-cycling charity where they reclaim and refurbish all manner of household goods to save them from landfill and give them a second life with somebody who might otherwise not be able to afford such luxuries. I say luxuries but really, by today’s western standards, they are really considered to be necessities. I’m talking about furniture, white goods and Personal Computers all of which have been dumped because they have reached the end of their useful life in their owner’s eyes. A better, faster, smaller model has been released which they simply must have.

Image from Trasch.co.uk

Image from Trasch.co.uk

I have no doubt that in the case of the computers they probably aren’t even broken but just considered too slow and not worth spending money on. After all, three years is considered to be the maximum life of a computer these days even though it may actually go on working for ten or more.

As I mentioned the organisation I was working with is a charity and they rely heavily on volunteers to do their refurbishment work. Most of the volunteers I saw weren’t retired people doing something useful with their spare time, they were all younger than forty and I therefor concluded, in most cases, probably out of work. The irony of this wasn’t lost on me. People with no jobs, picking through the cast off goods of those who are wealthy enough to just throw the stuff away because it’s a bit tired and out of date so that it can be sold at a fraction of its true worth to people that are just marginally higher up the wealth ladder than the volunteers that repaired it. As I said, it’s bonkers.

I came away with so many questions buzzing around my head. Why does so much valuable stuff simply get thrown away and how have we reached a state where people think it is acceptable? Why does it take a charity and an army of volunteers to fix the problem when thousands upon thousands of people don’t have a job? Why can’t we legislate to make it financially detrimental for companies to build in obsolescence into their products? Why don’t we value longevity in things anymore?

The answer to most of these questions of course is inevitably about money. Which is where we came in I believe. The seemingly irreversible process of more and more wealth being accumulated by fewer and fewer people leads to a world which, to me, seems to be increasingly bonkers. There is no other word for it.

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