When I was 18my father took me aside and gravely informed me that Mad Uncle Cyril had some decades earlier given away the entire family fortune to a French prostitute named Fifi.
‘How much was it?’ I asked.
‘Put it this way, I wouldn’t be wearing these neck-irons every day,’ he said, gesturing to a box of starched collars. ‘Fucking Uncle Cyril, the selfish, sex-mad bastard.’
Suddenly, it all made sense. I’d always felt different; special. Lazy, some might call it. And there it was: I’d been landed gentry all along. Just without the land. Or the money. Or the social standing. Shit it.
Papa was right: Fucking Uncle Cyril.
But I did what anyone would do and got on with my life as a pauper. How can you miss what you’ve never had? And yet, looking back, I wonder if this revelation subconsciously drove me to re-attain my semi-aristocratic status and pursue a life of leisure. Either that or I am genetically idle, which, to be fair, had been mentioned in some school reports at the time.
I went to University (fees and grant all paid for, lest we forget) and had a brilliant time studying a good-for-nothing degree. I left and moved to London where I signed on and had my rent paid. Every now and again I took a temp job in some graduate ghetto like BT for a few weeks which allowed me to pay off debts accrued. I lived abroad for a year. I went back to college and did a post grad at a Uni where playing competitive croquet was considered more important than tutorials (a fine choice).
I wouldn’t say I was relaxed about my prospects (which were zero) but I did have beer, football and girls to keep me preoccupied. I was happy. Happy in that simple way that dogs are when they’ve a basket, some water and a nice bone. Sometimes I wished I was a dog.
My favourite job during this time was delivering Time Out to colleges around London. Just me in my van, driving with the sliding door open, wearing a white capped sleeved t-shirt, telling other drivers to fack off out of it, parking like a cunt, ripping up parking tickets in front of ticket wardens, the radio turned up loud, honking, gesticulating, happy. Happy and simple.
Essentially, you might say, I spent the decade or so after University messing about.
When I was 34 I answered a tiny ad in The Guardian and got my first permanent job at a cable and satellite broadcaster. Due to the unlikely combination of the part-time work I was doing at the time, I was actually reasonably well-qualified for the role, but I think what clinched it was my age. I’d hung around long enough to become experienced. Or, at least, to look experienced.
I stayed in broadcasting for the next 10 years or so and, partly by being engaged and reasonably normal and partly because I was working on the unstoppable juggernaut that was and is ‘Digital’, I rose quickly through the ranks of various media organisations.
I learned that if you must work, it helps to do something approaching something you like or are interested in, and at which you are approaching being half-decent. That’s a good start. I was fortunate enough to be in an industry that was reasonably well-paid and I threw myself into the job and – as our friend Ivan Osman, the Corporate Deserter, puts it – played The Game. There’s no point being half-hearted about it. Not once you realise it’s a means to an end.
Your salary and any extras you may land – gifts, inheritances, winnings – are not for squandering on day-to-day existence, they are the building blocks of your future slacker palace. Sure, you may be tempted to treat yourself to cabs and trainers, crack and fetishwear – who isn’t? – but these are mere baubles compared to the promised land of doing fuck all. Or at least going down to three days a week.
I saved. I gambled wisely. I invested in technology companies I believed had a good future and which did well. But most of all, I borrowed money and bought a house.
Scratch the surface of anyone who tells you they’re an investment expert and you’ll probably find someone who simply bought a house in the ’90s or ’00s and now thinks they’re Warren Buffett. Whatever they may tell you about the housing market and their financial acumen, it’s basically down to luck.
And so, through all this, my bank balance grew fat. But this is not how I became rich.
Despite the money, the new friends, the free lunches, the status, the trips to Cannes and LA… Despite all this, I knew something was wrong. It was work. I didn’t like it.
I didn’t like going to bed early. I didn’t like getting up in the mornings. I didn’t like the admin. I didn’t like the politics. I didn’t like the repetition. I didn’t like the lack of free time and I didn’t like having to be ‘on’. I yearned for peace, for fun, for aimlessness.
One embarrassingly over-sized office I was given looked out over a Westminster Job Centre. On Thursdays I’d watch the unemployed standing in line, waiting to sign on. While they waited, someone would stick some papers together, another person would fill them with tobacco and another would sprinkle some hash on top. Then they’d smoke it in the sunshine, passing it up and down the line, smiling and chatting.
Where had my life gone wrong?
Eventually, as I have written about before on these pages, I stopped working. I tried to plug a monthly financial gap with some part-time work but in the end Mrs Raider and I decided to downsize our house and learn to live within our means.
We don’t eat out at expensive restaurants, we travel economy, we stay in budget hotels and we buy second hand. But nevertheless we feel well-off. We get up when we choose, we don’t answer to anyone, we’ve seen our children grow up. I can do things I enjoy – some music, some writing, travel, cooking (or eating, as I like to call it). I’ve become good at table tennis and even better at sitting in pub gardens. I even make some money, here and there.
Turns out I don’t like doing nothing. I just like not going to work.
I don’t recall who it was now – it might have been Larry David, or was it Keith Richards? – but someone once said, ‘If I don’t fancy doing something, I don’t do it. If I do fancy doing something, I might do it.’ That’s livin’, alright. It became my mantra as I filled my days with new, fun things to do.
And so, finally, I learned that being rich is not about having money, it’s about having time.
Perhaps this was the lesson Mad Uncle Cyril had in mind for the family when he bequeathed his fortune to Fifi: That we must discover for ourselves what is important in life, and only then will we understand the true meaning of being rich.