Christina Patterson: Money talks. Except I don't speak the lingo

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Heroes, like so much else in life, sometimes emerge in the most unlikely form. Michael Forbes is a plump, tattooed, weather-beaten Scot who has managed to rile one of the world's richest men. Forbes doesn't feature in the Forbes rich list, and his gleaming pate is unadorned by a wire-wool orange comb-over (worth three billion and the best you can come up with is that?), but in one area he has trumped the entrepreneur, television star and general sleaze-ball, Donald Trump.

Michael Forbes lives in a run-down farm on Scotland's North Sea coast. It's an area of spectacular wild beauty, an area which his family has lived, farmed and fished in for generations. It's an area which, if Trump has his way, will soon be transformed into "the world's greatest golf course", complete with Victorian kitsch hotel and a massive new housing estate – because super-posh golf courses don't fund themselves. Super-posh golf courses don't usually have rusty tractors in the middle of them either, but this one just might.

For Michael Forbes is refusing to sell. "You can't put a price on it," he says. Forbes is, says Trump, 2very greedy". You might think that this was something of a non-sequitur, but in the parallel universe of the super-rich, people don't speak English, they speak money. A language in which it is impossible to value anything – peace, history, the landscape you've grown up in – over the instant acquisition of cash.

It's one thing to have a tribe of these people, flashing their complicated financial, and follicular, arrangements, at each other's parties and palaces. It's quite another when the crazed logic that dictates their world view becomes something like the norm.

But 20 years after Wall Street satirised the "greed is good" mantra dominating political life on both sides of the Atlantic, greed is back with a vengeance. And the trend for high-flyers, sickened by orgies of mass consumption, to "down-shift" to a quiet life of aromatherapy in the countryside appears to be well and truly over.

Now you give your house an eco-makeover and you sell it for a mint. Now, in fact, you can't quite make your mind up what you want. You want first-class schools and gleaming hospitals and clean, safe streets and a functioning planet for your children's children and a big house and holidays abroad. You want to stuff your face all day and look like Sienna Miller. You want the sun, the moon and the stars – and that nice dress you saw in Agnes B.

You want all this because everyone tells you it's what you should want. Including the politicians. The sleek, plump one, whose wife designs handbags that cost the same as a year's council tax, tells you it's because your forebears worked hard – and even though your forebears never managed much beyond a semi that was sold to pay for Nan's carehome, you believe him. The jowly, brooding one who's beginning to look like a well-fed Bela Lugosi, says exactly the same. He lives quite modestly, actually, and claims to believe in some kind of social justice, but that, apparently, is the love that doesn't have the bottle to speak its name.

Actually, there are some people on this planet who believe that being human involves a mix of desires and impulses, not all of which are selfish. It would be nice if our politicians occasionally remembered this, too.

It's what it means that matters...

If I want to see cracks, I can look at my bathroom ceiling, but I'm sure the one at Tate Modern's much better. So I'm still planning to pop along and join the throng who are gawping at the gaping chasm in the floor of the Turbine Hall and grappling with the issue of the day. Which is, of course, how the bloody hell did they do it?

It's a question which the crack's creator, Doris Salcedo, has refused to address. "What is important is the meaning of the piece," she says. Oh, all right. Well, could it possibly be, you know, some kind of metaphor? About, well, cracks and divisions? Don't you just love visual artists? And now, please, "the meaning" of War and Peace.

* It's always lovely when the Nobel Prize for literature is awarded to someone you've heard of. It's even lovelier when it's someone you've read and admired. It's hard to imagine a more deserving recipient than this year's winner, Doris Lessing. Not only did she inspire generations of women with her brillian depictions of female anger and desire in societies that were determined to curb their freedom. She also continued to write, and live, with huge passion and panache.

When I interviewed her, seven years ago, she had just started learning Russian. While still producing novels at a pace which would shame the average hip young gunslinger, she was also, at 80, working tirelessly for the charity she started and campaigning for the human rights causes she has championed all her life. On top of all this, she was reading, encouraging and mentoring a wide range of younger writers. Not all writers are remarkable human beings. Let's raise a glass of aquavit to one who is.

c.patterson@independent.co.uk

Comments