Regular readers will know that The Escape Artist grew up in a tiny village in the back end of nowhere in rural Cambridgeshire.
Eventually my parents decided that our mortgage was not big enough so, when I was 10 years old, we moved from the back end of nowhere to the middle of nowhere.
We moved to Swavesey, a village in East Anglia which is rarely confused with Davos. It was not the sort of place where you were likely to meet the social, political or financial elite of the Western World.
Back in those days, The Escape Artist was mostly happily occupied messing around in the countryside, shooting his air rifle, making campfires and experimenting with stinkbombs at school.
But occasionally The Escape Artist would be bored. So bored that I read the newspaper. On Sundays, my parents would get The Sunday Times. Reading the glossy magazine that came with it, I learned about things like which restaurants in London were “hot” that month, trends in bikinis and celebrity mating habits.
I also learned that there was something called “The Season”, which gave rich people a series of opportunities to show off (this was before blogging). The Season included a series of summer
piss ups events such as Wimbledon, Royal Ascot, Goodwood, polo at Cowdray Park, Henley Royal Regatta and so on. For all the relevance this had to my life in East Anglia, it might as well have been describing life on Planet Zog in the Andromeda galaxy.
However, all this newspaper fluff brought the lifestyles of the rich and famous to the attention of a young and impressionable Escape Artist. The comparisons seemed dramatic between the beautiful people in the glossy magazine and the errr…more ordinary looking people around me at school or wherever. This was not so much FOMO (Fear of Missing Out)…it seemed more like COMO (Certainty of Missing Out).
The young Escape Artist can perhaps be forgiven a certain amount of shallowness. I was as smart as the next guy. Trouble was, the next guy in Swavesey was an idiot.
So for many years I retained this idea that there were parties, nightclubs and events somewhere else where people were having a better time than me. The epicentre of this glossy, glamorous world seemed to be places like The Stewards Enclosure at Henley or restaurants like The Ivy in London. Places where you wanted to go…partly because they wouldn’t let you in.
After that TV programme last week, The Escape Artist was the subject of some debate in the national press as to how “realistic” or “normal” his case is. As to realism, well you can’t get more real than what actually happened. And The Escape Artist never claimed to be normal. My teachers at school told me I was “special”. I developed an abnormally strong motivation to achieve financial security based on a mixture of “towards” and “away-from” motivations.
- “Towards” motivation is how we are attracted to things that we want. And the desires and ambitions of the Young Escape Artist were undoubtedly fed by those glossy magazine images and stories.
- “Away from” motivation is how we are repelled by things that we fear, distrust or dislike. The Escape Artist never inherited any money but he did inherit a fear of poverty.
In my teenage years, the economic reforms of the early 1980s were beginning to pay dividends…and the benefits were becoming obvious….at least in London. There were plenty of pictures of stockbrokers in dinner jackets / ballgowns doing bicep curls with bricksized mobile phones and champagne glasses. What was not to like??
It therefore seemed a sensible move for The Escape Artist to follow the money after college and relocate to London where the action was. Sadly, my experience of working in finance was that there was actually quite a lot of hard work involved. With numbers and shit. True, it wasn’t manual labour…real work like coal mining or building The Bridge on the River Kwai. But it was still hard work.
And although my salary went up very nicely, I never earned the sort of money that bought you into The Social Elite. The sort of money that makes your jokes much funnier to Paris Holiday-Inn or whoever the latest trust-funded celebrity eye candy might be.
Envy is one of the sillier and more childish of emotions. Class warriors should console themselves with the fact that, whilst life and capitalism may not always be fair, there are always costs paid by those with a high paying job. I’m not just talking about handing over half your income to the government in tax. I’m talking about the cost to your health and happiness from holding down a job that never stops making demands on you.
As the years went by, I did my share of corporate entertaining. But even when I was at peak earnings and able to afford to go to the events of The Season, I was usually too knackered to want to do so. And when I was sick of wearing a suit every day, the thought of wearing an even more ridiculous and outdated outfit to go to Ascot or Henley was not appealing.
But The Escape Artist never quite shook off the idea that some people might be having more fun than him and that this might be found at those sort of places. And now that I have time on my hands, it seemed like it might be fun to put this idea to the test.
This is all a rather long-winded lead up to telling you that a couple of weeks ago, I spent the day at Henley Royal Regatta. And, not only that, I spent it in the fancypants Stewards Enclosure.
Before anyone’s blood pressure gets dangerously high and more angry comments get left on the internet, I did not pay hundreds of pounds to get in nor rely on my high level connections. No, The Escape Artist was there working as a barman in one of the bars in the Stewards Enclosure.
In The Minimum Wage Experiment, I wrote about how I got paid to work the bar in the VIP area at Goodwood. This time I went one better and busted in to what has long been thought of as a bastion of entrenched privilege at the heart of The British Class System. And got paid to do so.
This was a fascinating experience. I had a great view of the lawn and could see the river from where I was stood. But the best part was the people watching. Its fair to say that there was certain amount of what rappers used to call “fronting and maxxing”. Or what your Mum might describe as “showing off”. There were blokes in comedy blazers and women squeezed into low cut dresses with just enough chance of costume failure to keep things interesting.
But, I have to report to you readers that my overall impression of my day spent at ground zero for so-called toffs, wealth and privilege is that what it most reminded me of was a nice pub garden of the type you might find in any English village. The punters were not really any posher, or more beautiful nor anything special really. The grass on the lawn really was no greener. There was no magic fairydust.
In fact, what it basically boils down to is:
ITS JUST A BUNCH OF PEOPLE HAVING A DRINK
This would be a let down for anyone who had spent their life furiously climbing the social or the corporate ladders to gain access to The Promised Land. Especially if the cost of doing so was sacrificing their health and relationships with real friends and family.
We often have this strange idea that we can be happy after we reach a certain level of income or net worth or social position. Or if we can get into the right clubs or restaurants, the in-places with the in-crowd. But this is bullshit. If you are not OK with yourself, its never going to be enough. Wherever you go, there you are.
The beauty of this is that if you are OK with yourself then every picnic or trip to your local pub is as good as a VIP package to Henley…or maybe better? This might take some work….but victory is very near to where you are right now.