Happiness Is Not For Sale

I sometimes dream of being rich. We all do, right? It’s shallow of me I know but I can’t help it. I was thinking about being rich the other night while watching the movie Match Point. It’s a great Woody Allen film (he wrote and directed it) about love, murder and morality and it’s beautifully shot in London and in the English countryside where the family at the centre of the story has a nice big house.

The patriarch of the Hewett family in the film is Alec Hewett played by Brian Cox. No not the astrophysicist, I’m talking about the other Brian Cox, the older one, who is a fine actor.

As Hewett he doesn’t seem to do much other than lavish money on his family, move between a swish London abode and a country residence where he is preparing for the grouse shooting season. I love this movie and Scarlett Johansson and Jonathan Rhys Meyers are excellent in the lead roles. This time around though I was mainly fascinated watching Brian Cox play out my fantasy of being rich.

“I could do that,” I commented and my wife and son both nodded and then shook their heads as if to say: “He’s off again.”

“No I really could,” I said.  I could swan around London running my business empire. I could lounge around my country estate in suede trousers and tweed jackets. I really could do that.”

There’s the little matter of having the money to do so but of course that’s a mere technicality.

One of my problems is that at one point in my life we did have money, quite a lot of money. We lived the colonial high life with servants and chauffeur who used to drive us to school in my father’s Jaguar XJ6. That idyll only lasted for a few years but, frankly, I’ve never quite gotten over it. Since then I’ve had champagne tastes on a beer budget, which is hard to reconcile at times.

So I fantasise about being wealthy. Not that we’re not comfortable. In fact really we don’t want for anything and I should be grateful for what I’ve got and sometimes, after watching the television news, I am.

But there’s still that part of me that wants to win the lottery and chuck it all in, live the rest of my days in a spacious mansion. There I would wander around in a smoking jacket  and sit in the deep leather armchair in my private library reading Somerset Maugham and puffing on a cigar.

It’s just a fantasy though, one lived vicariously watching movies such as Match Point or series like Downton Abbey after which I invariably get the urge to dress for dinner when in reality my meals  tend to be taken in front of the television in a tartan dressing gown.

It’s not exactly the high life but when I think about it, it’s really enough.

Besides money can’t buy happiness. I know that. Still, I like to daydream. Anyone for tennis?

PHIL BROWN
Arts Editor – The Courier-Mail

 

THE PILGRIM’S PROGRESS

Have you ever been on a pilgrimage? I listened to a documentary on the radio the other day and they were discussing pilgrimages – The Hajj (to Mecca) and The Camino de Santiago (in northern Spain), among others.

This made me wonder whether I had ever undertaken any pilgrimages. I decided that I had, kind of.

The one that first came to mind was a pilgrimage to Scotland I made for my 40th birthday.  Scotland is where my mum’s forebears came from and I had always hankered to visit. I decided it would be an ideal place to celebrate that significant birthday because I had been to a friend’s 40th  the year before and another mate had arranged one of those Strip-O-Grams for him. Considering there were mums and aunties present it was a little inappropriate, to say the least.

Anyway, I didn’t want the same thing happening at my 40th so I decided to go as far away as possible – Culloden, just outside Inverness, to be exact. This was something of a pilgrimage because it included a visit to the site of the famous Battle of Culloden, which I’d been interested in ever since seeing Peter Watkins’ 1964 docudrama about this tragic battle in which the British defeated and slaughtered the highland clans under Bonnie Prince Charlie.

A pilgrimage needs to be a journey that has some spiritual or moral significance and I think that fitted the bill.

I would count a visit to the famous Abbey Road studios in London and a stroll across the famous pedestrian crossing outside (the one featured on the cover of The Beatles album Abbey Road ) as another pilgrimage, of sorts.

I consider the trek my wife and I took many moons ago on in Nepal another pilgrimage and the one that involved the most actual walking. Real pilgrimages seem to involve going on foot.

We spent 12 days trudging in the Himalayas and high in an alpine valley near the border with Tibet we reached our ultimate destination, the hamlet of Kyanjin Gompa, where we visited and paid homage to the local Tibetan lama who lived not far from a glacier.

During our brief audience with him he told me how much he admired my sunglasses and I got the hint but didn’t want to part with them. Anyway, I promised to send him a pair as soon as I got home and I did although I never knew whether he got them or not. Yak mail is notoriously unreliable.

That was a pilgrimage, wasn’t it?

There have been others of varying degrees of significance but I’m wondering now if there’s something I have missed. I haven’t been to The Vatican yet so I should put that on the list and I would also like to make a pilgrimage to the Taj Mahal. I did think about the Camino de Santiago but that’s around 800kms. Yikes. I suppose I could drive it. Does that count?

WHO THE HELL AM I?

Have you ever wondered who you are – I mean really wondered? I’m not talking about a vague philosophical pondering … I’m being quite literal.

This happens to me from time to time. Maybe it’s just low blood sugar rather than a real existential crisis. I don’t really know.

It occurred most recently at a very inopportune moment and may have been a result of stress. I was in the Concert Hall at QPAC for an evening of classical music, which most people would find relaxing. I like to sit on the end of a row and feel quite claustrophobic in the centre so when I found myself wedged in the middle I wasn’t happy.

Slowly the punters (that may be the wrong word) filed in. On one side of me sat a world famous medical researcher (a lovely bloke) while on the other was a gracious lady of a certain age.

I struggled to get comfortable and retain a sense of decorum. Then, not long after the music started, I had one of those coughing fits that seem to occur only in a hushed auditorium. As I stifled the hacking  I broke into a sweat and then, suddenly, my mind went blank and a general feeling of disassociation ensued. It was at that moment that I wondered who the hell I was. Who was this witnessing the concert? What was it that constitutes me?  My consciousness? My personality? My receding hairline? Did I exist outside of me as some sort of ethereal spirit or was I doomed to be eternally myself? Of course while I was experiencing this everyone else just enjoyed the music.

This doesn’t happen often but, as I said, it has happened before. The most memorable occasion was once in my twenties when I was staying with friends in Toowoomba. Maybe it was the altitude? Anyway, I was in a spare room in a dinky single bed and I woke in the middle of the night and could see myself in a mirror on the door of the adjacent cupboard. I looked at myself, alarmed and thought – who the hell is that?

This question can, of course, lead to other questions about God and the nature of universe – questions which really can’t be fully answered except perhaps by Stephen Hawking. But as Woody Allen once said: “Can we actually ‘know’ the universe? My God it’s hard enough finding your way around Chinatown.”

Humour really is the best response to existential angst, including questions of identity. Whoever the hell we might be, we are stuck with ourselves. My favourite quote on this conundrum comes – not from Lao Tzu or Nietzsche but from The Goons, an episode entitled Dishonoured- Again, in which Neddie Seagoon (Harry Secombe) has stolen some gold is urged by his nemesis,  Hercules Grytpype-Thynne, to surrender.

“Give yourself up Neddie!” Grytpype-Thynne demands, to which Neddie replies: “No, I can’t break myself of that habit.” Deep, huh?

Phil Brown

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