So how would you live if you shared an (estimated) fortune of £20bn with your ex? Probably not like Anne Wojcicki, former spouse of the founder of Google, Sergey Brin. Thanks to a thrifty hinterland when her favourite entertainment was riding the subway on weekends, the parsimonious Wojcicki still dislikes wasting money on anything. Freebies have been, and always will be, her style. She once availed herself of so much free carrot juice at work during a promotion that her skin started to turn orange.
Except that there is one thing she doesn’t care about. Parking tickets. It’s her big luxury. Wojicki just parks where she wants, and hang the consequences. Well, you probably would, wouldn’t you, what with £20bn sloshing around, and all that. “I get parking tickets all the time,” she told the Sunday Times in an interview yesterday, “But we worked out the stats and its 50/50 odds of getting a ticket, and the cost versus time saved means that I can accept it.”
Hang the notion that parking regulations are (sometimes) installed for the good of the environment; or that city streets are much easier, and safer, to negotiate without a permanent hemline of cars rammed up closely against them. Parking restrictions keep traffic moving and stop cities clogging up hopelessly. That is not important. Neither is the notion that city centres are shared spaces and that we all should basically operate under the same regulations. Scrap that idea. Parking restrictions are a bore, and ignoring them means time saved for the very busy Ms Wojcicki, who can just buy her way out of the penalties.
Of course, there will be some people, driven mad by the over-zealous enforcement of some parking rules (in hospital car parks for example), who will cheer the Google queen’s actions and wish her well in her fight against the clampers. But to ignore an arrangement just because you can afford to is a deeply disturbing attitude.
I wonder if Ms Wojcicki takes the same optional route with regard to other pesky regulations which annoyingly cause her to waste a bit of time; keeping to the speed limit, for example, or staying out of bus lanes. Those empty lanes, so tempting to use in the rush hour, and those silly speeding regulations, so problematic to keep to. What a bore they are! How nice it would be if you were so rich that you could simply ignore them and do as you please. Saves you time, you see. As does texting in the car; indeed, even searching on your smart phone for something on Google, while driving. Hang the fine, and the danger, it doesn’t matter. (The far simpler notion of getting a driver doesn’t seem to have arrived in the Wojcicki world.)
Mercifully for us all, time-poor Ms Wojcicki lives in Palo Alto, California, so you have a vanishingly small chance of being caught in a traffic jam thanks to congestion caused by her illegally parked car. Yet what if all the super-rich in Britain adopt this attitude? It’s said that staff at the American Embassy in London ignore the congestion charge, because they can’t be bothered and the attendant fine is irrelevant. How soon will it be before the all the oligarchs and aristos join in, dumping their Mercs and Audis like crisp packets along Piccadilly or the Strand. Perhaps it ought to be obligatory for such A-list vehicles to have the phone number of the owner stamped in large numbers on their (darkened) rear windows, so when you are sitting in a bus lane, fuming at the presence of a swanky saloon blocking the flow of public transport, you can text the offender and communicate your thoughts to them.
All of a flutter tickling the ivories
Tis the season for amateurish pranks on stage. And lo, yesterday I and several other innocents were gathered together at Kings Place concert hall in north London to massacre, sorry, perform, a collection of short pieces by Tchaikovsky. Before a paying audience. On a Steinway grand piano. After group hugs and lots of rousing talk, we walked out, one by one, to meet our fate.
The cast included Alistair McGowan, Niamh Cusack and Jim Naughtie. “I am very nervous” I whispered to the sanguine McGowan. “Try doing stand up,” he countered. Only Naughtie, a man described in the programme as “fearful yet public spirited”, seemed as terrified as me. “Give me a microphone and I am fine,” he quavered. “My hands are like jelly.”
In the end, the experience was indeed as dreadful as I had feared. No matter how much practise I had done (a lot), the sheer lonesome panic of being up there meant that all bets were off. Nearing the end of my piece, I found myself unable to locate it, either on the Steinway or in my brain, and so had to start again from the middle. The generous audience didn’t seem to mind, mercifully.
Well, I have nothing to lose. Yet Ed Balls, who took part in this entertaining spectacle last year, probably does. “His PR people wouldn’t let him take part this year,” said concert pianist Lucy Parham, who had invited us all. Fair enough. Given the total balls-up of my performance – and that I suspect the Shadow Chancellor is about the same level on the joanna as I am – I can see why this was so.