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Donkin's World: Life's Lottery

Richard Donkin does not envy the winners of a 45 million Euro lottery prize.

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I wonder how many of us, on hearing that someone in the UK had won 45m on the lottery wondered what we might do with the money. It's a silly game, but Gill started it last night over dinner.

The worst of it was, that even though we do not buy lottery tickets, the thought of all that money was becoming a real worry. I didn't need that kind of money, I said, before deciding I would like to own my own salmon fishing beat which, on reflection, would cost a pretty sum.

We both agreed that we would "get rid of the Yaris". The poor little unloved Toyota Yaris has served us well, getting two boys through their driving test and now working at doing the same with a third. It has never broken down, it looks a bit tatty and doesn't get washed very often. It's just what we need for the boys. I suppose we could get rid of the Yaris without a lottery win. But we don't. So why should 45m make any difference?

This morning I looked around the bedroom at all the clothes slung over chairs and shoes scattered around. A lottery win wouldn't pick that lot up. I expect you could employ someone to do that but do I want an outsider rummaging through my clothes? I don't think so.

The thing that I like to do - writing - could not be improved by 45m in the bank. In fact the money would probably mean that I wrote less. I travel plenty as it is so I'm not sure I would travel more. I could travel first class too but the ticket price would upset me and I would feel guilty about those in the back. Why should money buy me a better seat? I could stay in posher hotels but the win wouldn't give me some magical access to any wealthy people's club.

If I need that access I get it already doing and writing about the kind of things that attract big money. Sailing, for example, attracts the kind of people for whom 45m is not exactly small change but who could afford to lose that amount without too much pain. It's an expensive sport and with 45m I could afford to own a modest boat - certainly not a superyacht like some of those featured here. http://www.richarddonkin.com/sailing_superyachts.shtml

It would have to be a classic-styled boat, something from this boat-maker that I visited a week ago. http://www.spirityachts.com/

And that's the problem. Journalism has already introduced me to the world of billionaires - if not a billionaire lifestyle. Owning 45m, comparatively, would make me no more than a minnow, playing in the lower leagues, rather than the premiership billionaires' club. After all, there is still much that 45m cannot buy. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/8348059.stm Yet a journalist can be one of the accessories - part of the scene in this rarefied world. You are not valued by your personal wealth but sort of tolerated or at least acknowledged, partly for your writing and partly for the access you can command.

Billionaires don't acquire their wealth through lotteries but by making deals, often with each other. You don't get to know Warren Buffet unless you are Bill Gates or the waiter at his downtown eatery in Omaha. The possession of 45m is neither here nor there to these people. Gates wants to know doctors and scientists who are pioneering treatment for malaria. People like that don't own 45m but they can tell people who do where they might be spending their money. That's why Buffet has pledged most of his fortune to the Bill and Miranda Gates Foundation. If you want to do some good with your fortune you need to place it with those who are working at and succeeding in improving people's lives.

The bottom line to wealth is that you soon get used to it. No matter how much you have, you want to invest it wisely. Yes some people who win millions blow a lot of it on fast cars, big houses, swimming pools, the usual stuff, but it doesn't buy the same satisfaction as a job well done.

Our wealth and how we are perceived is relative to the perspectives of others. As the hotel porter said to a youthful George Best ensconced in his lavish room with champagne, a wad of casino winnings and Miss World: "Where did it all go wrong George?"

The porter was probably a football fan lamenting the waste of talent in a footballing career cut short through excess. Best was put on this planet to define a special kind of genius, bringing a glow to the hearts of the thousands who paid to watch him create poetry with a round leather ball every Saturday afternoon. Nothing else mattered.

You cannot build that kind of talent with 45m but, with people like Best, you can certainly destroy it.

The stuff I like doing best doesn't cost too much money (apart from salmon fishing). It doesn't cost anything to walk on a beach, looking for fossils, or turning leaves in a wood searching for mushrooms. It costs nothing to dig over a bed in the garden but it's satisfyingly hard work. Chatting with mates over a few pints costs the price of the beer and to join in a singsong means you have to learn a few words. To capture a photograph of a misty morning you must get of bed. Money doesn't do that for you. It doesn't complete the Telegraph Crossword or remove the irritation you feel when the compiler has used a particularly obscure word.

But it does do some things. It can give you a comfortable car ride (but can't get rid of traffic jams). It can give you a bit more room for your things (some of which should just be binned). I have hundreds, probably thousands of books. Can I read them all? No, but it's nice to be able to pull together a cluster as I did the other day and make notes from each of them. More money could buy me posh bindings and first editions but I like the books I have and throwing any of them would be the hardest job of all.

Yes, money can buy you material things, but it can't buy you favourite things. It takes time to recognise favourite things - like my favourite fishing shirt that is warn at the collar and cuffs yet feels just right, or my favourite jumper that Gill shrunk in the wash. Money can't unshrink a favourite jumper. I have my favourite jacket too. No amount of jackets would stop that one being my favourite.

So that 45m would stick around, eating away at us as we worried about the possibility of it dwindling. We would worry about how much to give the children, lest it spoil their ambitions. People, even our own family would start to look at us differently. Spending money wouldn't get any easier either. We need a new boiler, two new bathrooms and a new kitchen but it's hard enough choosing what to get and then there's all the disruption and the mess when the work gets done and the niggling things that aren't done right.

No I won't be trying to win 45m in the lottery. If I can't earn it, then it should go to someone more deserving than me. I'm happy to have enough but the problem is that I'm not sure what enough is. I'm not sure I have it yet but I might not be far off. Anyway I have other riches, far more important than a pile of money. I am fit and healthy and I have my family. That kind of wealth - real wealth - is not won in lotteries because it's priceless. In life's lottery I have had some losses (how can you know true happiness without knowing what it is to suffer?), but I cannot begin to count my winnings.


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