Living in a material world

Time passes on

by Rick Johansen

As I get older – a recurring theme on this blog, I know – I’d like to think I understand and recognise the value of things better than I ever did. I’m comfortably off, probably for the first time in my life. Not rich, but I am not, as my mum was, struggling to put bread on the table. And while I occasionally dream of that elusive lottery win, that holiday home, with pool, in the hills of Tuscany, I am happy with my financial lot

It’s good, I feel, to avoid envy and I have largely been able to do that throughout my life.  I didn’t really notice we were poor when I was growing up, even if everyone around me seemed to have warmer, more comfortable houses than us, had more exotic holidays and enjoyed more variety at tea time than we did, I can honestly say I never once cast an envious glance. As time passes on, that has rarely changed.

It was brought into focus this week when I checked my Amazon gift card balance to find that, thanks to generous birthday donations, I have almost £100 to spend on anything I want. One hundred Great British Pounds. Is it just me, or does £100 still sound and feel like a whole lot of money? At the moment, it feels like so much, I don’t know what to do with it all. I know that soon I shall spend it all and then I shall, perhaps briefly, think that maybe I should have saved it for a rainy day. £100 doesn’t come my way very often. Look after it while you can.

I saw the contrast vividly exposed when the prime minister Rishi Sunak appeared on Piers Morgan’s piss poor show on some minor TV news channel that barely anyone watches and accepted a £1000 bet with the host over the fate of desperate refugees. I saw Sunak’s face as the narcissistic Morgan held out his hand to shake on the deal and in a split second the deal was done. Immediately, I knew was a man was a man for whom £1000 was something he’d likely find down the back of the sofa or perhaps find in his trouser pockets before going to the dry cleaner. Peanuts.

Later, Sunak backtracked and explained how he didn’t actually bet and was caught by surprise by Morgan’s antics. Well, let’s hope the country isn’t caught by surprise by a nuclear attack from Russia because we’d expect our leader to react rather quicker than that. Yet he does bet. As well as accepting a bet from a chat show host, he was on BBC’s test match special not long ago, boasting of his love of spread-betting and in the late 2000s he made a substantial part of his enormous fortune by betting against this country during the worldwide financial crash, in his previous job as a hedge fund operator. But my overall point is quite simple. I value everything I have and I am happy that I have the things I need in life to get by. Clearly, not everyone is like that, although I am not make a general point that everyone who wants to acquire more money is somehow wrong. That’s a different matter altogether.

It’s probably an age thing, too. Material things, apart from music and books, mean little to me. I have no desire to obtain expensive artwork, fast cars, boutique furniture; in short a bigger and, supposedly, better life. My ambitions do not include the accumulation of more money and more material items.

I remember once being on an escalator on the London Underground and on the step in front of me I saw and picked up a £20 note. I could not believe my luck. I had stumbled upon a small fortune. My first reaction was to see if there was anyone looking for something, maybe a £20 note, or if there was anyone I could hand it into, until I came to the rapid conclusion that once the person had realised they had lost the money, they would either be too rich to care or they would decide it was not bothering to report London Transport. Yes, I thought all that. And when I decided to keep the money, I felt somehow as bad as if I had stolen it from someone’s pocket. Writing about it, an implausibly long 35 years later, I still have pangs of guilt. I should have handed it in. It was £20 of someone else’s money.

I wasn’t brought up to be honest or dishonest. The subject just didn’t come up. I don’t remember anyone explaining the difference between honesty and dishonesty and once, around 50 years ago when working in the warehouse at Boots the Chemist in Broadmead, Bristol, I stole a vinyl copy of The Beatles’ classic album Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. I still have it and I have never stopped feeling guilty about that, too. We didn’t have a pot to piss in back in those days but when I resorted to theft, I knew it was wrong. I knew that I would rather have nothing, or not a lot, than something unearned or stolen.

Overthinking everything, as I inevitably do, doesn’t help matters, yet in this instance I am grateful for it, despite all the angst it has caused me. Oddly, perhaps, I never feel a wave of joy when I do something much more positive like hand in a lost wallet or purse or whatever because, in all likelihood, that’s what I should be doing in the first place. Nothing to be self-satisfied about, doing the right thing. Again, that’s how it should be.

I am glad I have retained at least an element of perspective. I haven’t forgotten where I came from or who I am, even though I often wish I was someone else and that I had done things in my life rather differently. As with most things, I learned about life and gained my moral compass through life itself and becoming aware of what I perceived to be right and wrong. And when I found £100 – a hundred quid – in my Amazon gift card account, I felt like a millionaire with a large sum of money to spend.

I’m not particularly frugal with my spending and I like to enjoy some of the nice things in life but decadence, and the crass exhibitionism of decadence (see social media), is now well beyond me. The hills of Tuscany may have to wait, possibly forever, but despite my main failings and shortfalls, I’ll wager I’m every bit as content with my material world as those who will constantly show off about theirs and maybe even more so.

Now excuse me while I head off and blow my fortune.

You may also like