It is generally believed that the saying “call no man happy until he is dead”, attributed to Herodotus [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Herodotus], was originally uttered by Solon [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Solon]. Perhaps. Many believe that the saying dates back only to the 19th Century. At any rate, the saying has stood the test of time. The basis of it certainly has.
How often have we seen the spectacle of the “famous”, the wealthy, the “happy” or those we perhaps imagine should be happy, brought crashing down, often to obscurity as well as ruination? It was ruminating on this that caused me to write today. Some may think (assuming much, as many do) that I am thinking of myself, once a barrister, once living in (at various times) a Little Venice house, a penthouse apartment, a Caribbean villa, a large English country house with 26 bedrooms, but now cast down and living in extremely reduced circumstances, on a limited income etc and having to give thought to what things cost and so on.
I am sorry to disappoint those who hate me (usually without reason). My life has been one of considerable ups and downs, particularly financial. Every one of my luxurious habitations was supported, as by bookends, by relative and occasionally absolute poverty at each end. Such irregularity fosters a philosophical and perhaps stoical and/or fatalistic attitude missing in those who, having always known wealth and entitlement (or who achieved the same from humble origins) find their lives as well as livelihoods swept away by Fate. These are those who jump off buildings, massacre their families before shooting themselves etc. People with my attitude just think “tomorrow is another day”.
If even my thoughts and feelings are not truly me, in the Egoic sense, if my body is not me, then how little is my bank balance me, how little are my cars, former dwellings and (now long gone!) Rolex watches “me”? Scarcely at all; not at all.
A few examples:
- Terry Ramsden, now completely obscure (and, presumably, broke, or maybe not: you never know with his type) but “famous” in the 1980s, and so wealthy that he could bet £500,000 each-way on his own horse at the 1986 Grand National (it came fourth; Ramsden profited by £1 million).
- Tara Palmer-Tomkinson, born into a wealthy family and with every possible material advantage. Judging purely from what I saw occasionally on TV, I thought her useless and brainless, but others thought quite highly of her, I am told. It was reported that she died alone, having not seen anyone for days.
- Various national leaders: Gaddafi (killed by a mob of Libyans, who first shoved a pipe up his rear end); the Shah of Iran (deposed and everything he had worked for destroyed; died in exile); Adolf Hitler (shot himself when the forces of East and West, that is to say Sovietism and finance-capitalism, burst into his capital, having battered down by air and land everything he had built); Stalin (died surrounded by sycophantic ghouls who feared and hated him; a ghastly death, dragged down by unseen forces).
I think too of others, people I have known personally. For example, in my own class and/or year at school, there have been a variety of outcomes (to date: that is one race still not at the finishing post).
One boy became a police officer, at least one an Army officer; a third became a helicopter pilot, later Captain of the Queen’s Helicopter Flight and, later still, the personal pilot of King Hussein of Jordan (he must always have had the makings of a royal servant, having had at school the nickname “Crawler”…). I suppose several boys became office bods, accountants etc. One unacademic but amusing fellow became a banker in Switzerland, of all things; another one, actually part-(francophone)-Swiss, became a structural engineer with his own firm in Paris. Another became, eventually, a chartered surveyor who has written a series of property-conversion manuals. Several no doubt inherited their families’ businesses. A number became BBC producers etc. Some did time in prison (all for GBH, oddly: was it something in the water?) or so I heard. In fact, that last sentence is wrong, because I did read in the Daily Telegraph about one boy (an Organ Scholar, if I recall aright, who used to play the massive school organ), who became a music teacher and (hence the interest of the Press) when in his thirties was convicted of sexually assaulting one of his piano pupils.
Life is always surprising. Who knows where my next port of call will be?
Afterword [19 July 2018]
In fairness to the school I last attended,
it has, since the 1970s, become rather more organized in sending its charges on their way. In fact, reading “Old Blues’ News” [https://www.rbcs.org.uk/old-blues-association/] and the other newsletters they put out about activities and careers etc is alone enough to make one fatigued, so active and driven seem the sharp-elbowed middle classes reported upon. The ranks of former pupils are now replete with quite well-known and even famous people to add to the commanders of ships and heads of economic enterprises: actors and actresses, TV people, film people, and the odd “celebrity” who is “famous” enough to be known even to me (I suppose that those “Old Blues” would include TV presenter Jeremy Kyle and MP Alok Sharma).