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Money Means Choice
"Money doesn't buy happiness," my father would tell me whenever I complained that all my friends received a larger allowance than I did. "A beggar is as happy as a king in his castle."
For years I was brainwashed to believe that. All the time my late husband and I were struggling to get ahead, I'd tell myself we were just as happy as our friends with no children who were living on two salaries. I was convinced of it until the first time he took me to Paris and we stayed in a suite at the Crillon. Sitting in the marble bath tub surrounded by gold fixtures and mirrors sipping Comtes de Champagne out of a crystal glass, I decided this kind of life style was far preferable to drinking coca cola out of a bottle in a trailer in the middle of a cornfield in South Caroline while my engineer husband supervised the construction of a pipeline – that only lasted two days before I found a hotel, but I haven't forgotten it.
I realize, of course, it is not politically correct to say money brings happiness. People lift their noses at people like Jordan and Posh with their huge oversized diamonds and continually size–changing breasts. We look with middle class superiority at those footballer wives and girlfriends who never read a book and spend most of the time shopping at Armani and Chanel. In these times of climate change and global terror, we feel they should be doing something more worthwhile with their time than buying the latest Prada handbag or Manolo shoes.
Don't misunderstand, I was never rich enough to private jet around the world. I have, however, travelled on the Concord which was far more luxurious than flying first class by Virgin or British Air. Luggage was immediately taken upon arrival, after which you were ushered into a lounge and given a glass of champagne. The plane wasn't as comfortable as one might expect, but the flight only took three and a half hours to New York and on your arrival a limousine would be waiting to whisk you off to wherever you were staying. If the plane was delayed because of some mechanical problem, which happened to me once, you were put up in the finest hotels in London, Paris or New York. You didn't have to lie on a hard bench in an unheated terminal and have sandwiches and a bottle of water thrown at you while you waited eight hours for your flight... and yes, that happened to me while flying economy.
Being rich gives you more choices. You can pass that expensive restaurant in Mayfair without envying the people dining inside because you know you could afford to be there if you so desired. A pizza with a friend after seeing a film will be fun because that's what you wanted to do and not because it was all you could afford. I love premier cru wine, but drinking plonk out of a oversized bottle while eating lobster on a beach in Maine is a memory as vivid in my mind as that first time I ate in one of London's best restaurants. Of course the opportunity to do this was because I was staying at friend's house just down the beach from the George Bushes.
When you have money, you don't have to wait for a sale to buy that black cashmere sweater that would be perfect with your velvet trousers you also didn't purchase on sale but because you wanted them. Not that my friends with money don't enjoy a bargain as much as they did when they didn't have any. It's just that they don't have to depend on sales and then end up buying something they didn't need because it was cheap. And when you enter that designer store in Knightsbridge, the sales people are all smiles and treat you like a queen. Unfortunately, it can be dangerous if you become too friendly with the staff as I found out when I was questioned by the police about a gruesome murder committed by one of the salesmen working in one of those exclusive boutiques . Later a book came out, including descriptions of his various clients (customers to you and me) which included a woman with her two Westies (me).
Unfortunately, there is a double standard about being rich. A male investment banker can drive around in a Porsche with a gold Rolex around his wrist and we assume he's worked hard for it. Any woman he's with whether wife, mistress or girlfriend is considered fortunate. We even admire him if the woman in his life is twenty to thirty years younger. But if that investment banker is a woman and supports a younger man, we forget how successful she is and smugly look down on her because she didn't find someone her own age. And when the woman, like Heather Mills, does the noble thing and speaks out against land mines, we don't take her seriously because after all she wouldn't be in the public eye if she hadn't married Paul McCartney for his money. We can forgive Princess Diana who was born and brought up in luxury and married a Prince, but not someone like Heather whose jet set life style was won by brains and yes, slyness for want of a more descriptive word.
Now, I'm not criticizing Diana or even defending Heather. Frankly, as a writer, I'd prefer to make my money the J. K. Rowling way. Oprah is also one of my heroes and as an actress, wife and mother, there are few I admire more than Julia Roberts. What I admire most about Roberts, and few people know this, was that during her single days she helped at Paul Newman's camp for ill children without the public knowing, unlike some celebrities who tout their good deeds in every newspaper and magazine in the country. I admire Rowling, Oprah and Roberts because they are talented women who work hard at what they do. They didn't depend on anyone but themselves to get where they are.
Of course, money can't save you from life's downside. Illness, death of a loved one, a husband , wife or lover walking out on you for someone else, all hurt whether you live in a castle or a one bedroom apartment. Millions of dollars in the bank won't take away the pain caused by deceit and disloyalty. Frankly, I would live as a pauper the rest of my life if it meant my children and grandchildren would reach a ripe old age and never have any serious illnesses or have to live in a world destroyed by man's selfishness.
I do count my blessings every day. Still, I must confess, that's easier to do in a lovely apartment looking out at the Thames than it would be in a high rise with only a view of someone's balcony and washing strung across it.