Hands up who envies me

"BLIMEY," said the thin woman, all in black - jittery, smoking a cigarette as though it were an enemy she was punishing - "Blimey; they're eating outside." Well, yes, but it was a beautiful evening: soft, balmy, you might have been in Rome except that it was just the two of them outside the restaurant, the street was almost deserted, people were thinking about bed ("Time we made a move, then") and there was no chance of me having a glass of wine because it was 11 o'clock at night. But they were eating outside, him and his girlfriend, not a care in the world you might think, and you might well be right. Made his fortune before he was 40 (nobody knows quite how), invested wisely, does slightly inexplicable things to do with keeping his fortune ("Just off to a meeting") but otherwise seems to spend most of his time pottering about. Goes to the gym, flat stomach, clean-cut jawline, grey hair and face like a tree-frog but nobody's perfect. Little flat, peppercorn rent, can't be thrown out on a whim like the rest of us. Goes to Cuba with a chum; the chum goes for the women, he goes for ... Cuba; likes dancing, likes sunshine, likes talking Spanish. ("I'm off again tomorrow, matter of fact. Eight days. If you want me to bring you back some cigars, you can give me the money now.") A good life. An enviable life. I envy it. I'd like it.

There's a doctor, too. I envy his life. Regular, you might say; house bought and paid for because the private practice is doing well, and a decent car on the horizon, been making do with a BMW for a while but had his eye on a Jaguar, the new one, very nice, thinks he can probably justify it; re-mortgaged the house, took a bit of a punt on the market, raked it in, just one of those things. Never touched the pension fund, of course; God knows you don't want to take a drop in your living standards just at the moment your time becomes your own. Nice to have enough to keep the boat in the water, travel, get to know your wife again, so you top up, do you see? Few quid a month, it piles up. Thing is at the moment, spending it. No time. Private patients, NHS work, refresher training, conferences, it's all go. And just when you have one of those bad days one of your patients goes into labour and you've a brand new baby to bring into this tough old world, cheers you up. A good life. I envy it. I'd like it.

And look over there: the woman with the briefcase full of books and doctoral theses. Decided she wanted to be a professor when she was eight and here she is now, a professor, just back from the USA, just off to Germany, lecturing, researching, writing, salary in the bank regular as you please, nice husband, nice house, bright daughter, everything as it should be. A good life. I envy it. I envy the man on the other side of the bar, too: another academic, distinguished career, took up broadcasting, made a success of it, awards, the lot; nice flat in Bloomsbury, wonderful house like a boathouse on a Thames island, a good life; I envy it as much as this man, snug in his studio, bottle at his side, canvas on the easel, paints laid out, woman upstairs in the big bed, waiting, an enviable life, as enviable as that man, suntanned, just come back from Cannes, brown as a nut, new film a succes d'estime, offers coming in, drinks on the terrace, have another - what's the rush? - an enviable life indeed.

And then yet another man, scuttling home, late with a deadline, late with another deadline, hasn't finished his book, can't finish his book, can't face it, so late it's daunting, can't afford to finish it because he never got the knack of schmoozing up his wages. Never got the knack of unpacking his things, either, so he crashes about his flat on the bare floorboards, avoiding looking in boxes, avoiding answering the phone it case it's someone else he's letting down, peers through the letterbox for enemies, no doorbell so that's a relief, but no pension fund either, no property, no boat, no car, just too many clothes, a surfeit of gadgets, a disorganised life and it's getting late, the taxman on his back and not a bean to his name. No. Untrue. A lot of beans to his name but he doesn't want them, can't even look at the cheque; it's a legacy, do you see, from his mother, the money he'd least like to have in the world, can't cash it because it'd be final, that would be that, do you see, so every time he thinks about it he starts crying because he doesn't want the money; he wants his mother. Oh look. It's me. Hands up who thinks it's a good life. Hands up who envies me. And how does this paragraph play in Kosovo?

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