Drinking in the culture of contentment

Nothing tempts Fate to kick you where it hurts more than the admission that you're all right, Jack


Am I, I ask myself, staring quizzically at the palm tree on the horizon, dissatisfied with my lifestyle?

Am I, I ask myself, staring quizzically at the palm tree on the horizon, dissatisfied with my lifestyle?

The only item of news to make page one of the local British Virgin Islands press last week was the result of an internet survey claiming that 79 per cent of Brits are dissatisfied with their lifestyle. Since the majority of Net users are twenty-something males, I'm not sure how much credence you can give to internet surveys. But even if you believe only half what you read, it still adds up to an awful of lot of unhappy people. Right now I'm as happy as anyone, sailing the Caribbean in a small yacht with a bronzed six-foot-five skipper, a cook who serves up three cordon bleu meals a day, and an unlimited supply of gin, is entitled to be.

"OK," says the genie emerging unsteadily from the gin bottle. "You've hit the jackpot, you can stay here forever." No more depressing British winters, traffic jams, EU regulations, NHS waiting lists, DIY superstores, Spice Girl scandals - it's certainly tempting.

"Well," says the genie impatiently, "make up your mind, I haven't got all day. Heaven knows I've enough on my plate keeping this bottle sorted." "What's the problem?" I said. "Living in a permanently full gin bottle sounds like heaven to me." "You've got to be joking,'' snorts the genie. "It may look all right from the outside, but it's a dump. No cupboard space, no wipe-down work surfaces, nowhere for the kids to play."

The sad truth is that 79 per cent of people, British people (English speaking genies included), questioned about anything, will complain about something. The remaining 21 per cent do something about it. Like, for instance, the London cabby who gave me a free ride the other day. There was £13.70 on the meter, but he said: "Have this one on me." "Thanks," I said picking myself up. "But why?" Because I was his last ride, he said. He was retiring the next day. "Aren't you a bit young to retire?" I said. He looked about 30. "I'm 34," he said, and told me his life story, which would have made David Copperfield weep, until he got to the bit where he sells his crippled grandmother's house off the Mile End Road to a property developer, thus enabling him to dispense with British weather and the rat race for ever, and retire to a small hacienda in the Costa del Sol to play golf for the rest of his natural life.

What happened to the crippled grandmother? I asked. He said blankly. "Oh, her. Don't worry, she's well sorted."

And so am I, which is why, refreshed and relaxed, I'm ready to leave the boat in The Moorings at Tortola tomorrow and fly home to rejoin the minority of Brits who appear to be satisfied with their circumstances, or at least satisfied enough not to start whingeing when the woman with the clipboard stops them outside the supermarket. No, that's wrong. Nowadays, real people don't feature on the internet. A cartoon graphic of a clipboard woman halfway between Delia Smith and Nigella Lawson (something to please everyone) pops up in a lifestyle chat room and asks: "Do you feel: a) exhilarated; b) dissatisfied; c) satisfied; d) hacked off with your current lifestyle?

And 79 per cent of the people happily discussing woks or where to get colonic irrigation in Cheshire break off to tick b). I'd tick c). No I wouldn't. Nothing tempts Fate to kick you hard where it hurts most quicker than the admission that you're all right Jack. I've probably blown it already.

Yesterday we sailed round the small rocky island in Dead Man's Bay, where, legend has it, the notorious pirate Captain Blackbeard marooned 15 unfortunate seamen with nothing but a single bottle of rum between them. They didn't complain. They drank the rum, sang Yo Ho Ho a few times, swam to the mainland, sold the international publishing rights to a song called "Fifteen Men On A Dead Man's Chest" and with the proceeds bought attractive retirement homes with wipe-down work surfaces and cupboard space in Penzance, where 21 per cent of their descendants are still, as far as I know, living without complaint.

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