LEADING ARTICLE:Life in the Crescents

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The thunder rolls and the clouds part. A gigantic blue finger descends and points, completely randomly, at one of our ordinary fellow citizens. Perhaps an obviously needy, but utterly respectable pensioner, with a bushy white moustache. Or will it be the His-a-Mondeo-hers-a-Micra, one-of-each-sex couple? Luck may even strike today for the slightly scruffy, but well-scrubbed teenager; rebel with a roller-blade. You can infer their life histories from their appearances and from the interior idiom of TV advertising. They, like us, lead normal existences with breakfast at eight, DIY fixations, friends at the pub and aspirations to do just that little bit better.

So why then does the big digit keep on singling out drunks, serial divorcees and people whose families would like them dead? Mark Gardner, winner of pounds 11m, is 33 and has already left three wives. He gets through one every five years and the rate is accelerating. They are not happy with him, but his adoptive mother is even more bitter. Her bid for a share of the windfall was not calculated to succeed - "If God was in his heaven he wouldn't have given a penny to Mark," she said, adding, "I hope he drinks himself to death." He says he will buy himself a new van, so he should have enough left over.

Mr Gardner, a glazier from Hastings (last known, with wonderful irony, to be living in Robert Tressell Crescent, named after the author of The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists), is only the latest TV ad anti-hero to win big. Car thieves, petty criminals and the products of broken homes seem to have stolen many of the lottery winners headlines so far. The famous Asian victor was said to be plagued by family disputes and religious objections.

Why? We do not buy the notion of a "lottery curse", blighting the lives of winners not just after, but also before, victory.

Jealousy is another explanation. Let us thank God that Mr Gardner is no pin-up, nor is he a member of Mensa, nor can he play the viola to concert standards. It is bad enough that someone else has to win the money at all. So it is just human nature to concentrate (and exaggerate) the failings and unhappinesses of big winners.

But here is a classic thought for the day. The true meaning of the Gardner case - and the revelations about some of the other winners - is what it tells us about ourselves. The flashlight of publicity is suddenly switched on to reveal the goings-on in the Crescents, Avenues, Closes and Mewses, without discrimination. And what we find are stories that make the adulteries of politicians and the perversions of priests seem relatively straightforward and normal. Out there (in here) is a world of broken marriages, unhappy relationships, alcoholism, unstable friendships and messy, difficult lives. This is the real world.

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