“Phhsunnnnk…Plap!” The post has is squeezed through the letter-box and lands on the hall-floor. Today there’s just one envelope – white and marked “Private and Confidential”. There are no obvious signs of bad news. No harp on the front. The return address is not Garda Charge Processing Unit, Thurles. Maybe that white van parked on the side of the road was just a white van – nothing more.
No, on the back of this envelope something far more exciting is written. “If undelivered please return to: FEXCO Centre, Killorglin Co. Kerry I think I know what this is! My hands shake as I rip it open. The top of the letter confirms my hopes. “Congratulations you are a winner” it says. This is no Readers Digest prize. This is not a chimera, a letter which says: “You could be a winner. But first, there’s some books you need to buy. If you don’t believe us, look! here’s a photo of Mrs. Dorothy Stevenson from Norwich who won £25,000 in our July draw.” No, this is the Real Deal Holyfield. At the bottom of the letter is a cheque. In the nanoseconds before I look at it, images from my new million-euro life flicker through my mind.
The very design of the cheque seems to heighten the drama. The amount is spelled out slowly in a table across the middle of it in orders of decreasing decimal magnitude. As I scan left to right, I realise quickly, that today is not the first day of the best of my life.
Millions – Zero; Hundred Thousands – Zero; Ten Thousands – Zero; Thousands – Zero; Hundreds – Zero; Tens – Seven; Ones – Five.
I have won €75 – Madam La Prize Bond, you have tortured me again. I have been through this sweet agony before. Each time when I slowly opened the envelope, I dared to believe I had won the million euro Prize Bond draw. Each time it has been the bare minimum.
Seventy-five euro is not to be sniffed at. Indeed there is no amount of hard currency I will sniff at. Unless it’s to relish the unique smell of banknotes.
The arrival of this ultimately pleasant little surprise kicks off a familiar discussion between myself and my wife. What would we do if we won the EuroMillions (about €23m) today?
The first question is: Who to tell. We agree that we should at least tell each another. Nothing ruins a fantasy quicker than the knowledge that one spouse would potentially keep a multi-million euro windfall secret from the other.
We draw up a list of names of people to whom we would distribute some money. “But they’ll need to be able to keep their mouths shut about it.” she says. We do a quick analysis of our close family and friends to see who might be in danger of disqualifying themselves due to a perceived lack of discretion.
“How much will we give them?” I ask, already grudging it. “I’m not sure,” my wife pauses as she mulls it over “…but once they get a lump- sum we tell them that’s it. No more.”
“Exactly” I say enthusiastically, “and after that they can feck off”.
We’re silent for another few moments as the image appears in both our minds of people we previously loved dearly gathering like wraiths around our pot of money, hands outstretched. I ward them off with an imaginary riding crop.
My wife interrupts my thoughts. “Look forget about them for the time being, what about ourselves – what would we get for ourselves?” We’re on safer ground here – for the moment at least. “I’d go travelling for a while anyway” she says. There’s no mention of me but I assume she thinks I’ll be busy with my comedy career. And there’s going to be some changes there too. “I’d buy a good car, nothing flashy but solid, for travelling around to gigs.” I’m picturing the car now, gliding silently along the motorway. Lots of flashing lights on the dashboard telling me things about fuel consumption that I don’t understand.
Arriving at the show, an admiring crowd gathered around. Now I’m dressed expensively, a white cravat materialises on my neck. The crowd are walking away, disgusted. I’ve alienated them. They can’t connect with me. In the back of their minds an audience knows that Jerry Seinfeld is worth millions, but for the few hours he is on stage they are willing to believe he is an Everyman. And he earned his money. If news of my windfall got out, no one would laugh at a thing I said ever again.
And so the fantasising goes on – painfully at times. Whether it’s innate pessimism or a belief that we’re not meant for the wealthy life, each facet of our fabulous imaginary life is swiftly followed by the downside.
“We’d have to move from this house.”
More effort, more worry. Now I’m sitting alone, Citizen Kane-like in a vast, empty marble pile. Somewhere in one of the wings of the house, our ten-year-old son lies on a divan. He’s just back from boarding- school where he’s been since he was a month old and his mother went travelling and father turned paranoid like Humphrey Bogart in the Treasure of Sierra Madre, shouting at shadows. Colm Junior has his head buried in a schoolbag full of cocaine.
We resume the fantasy, childless and in a smaller house. Talk turns to more sensible things like how to manage the money sustainably.
“Of course we can’t put it in the banks”
“No, you couldn’t trust any of them now.”
“We could buy gold.”
“It’s a bit of a bubble now though isn’t it?”
“Cash is always king.”
“What if the euro collapses?”
Now we’re out the back with shovels, burying sacks of Swiss Francs.
This is exhausting. I get up to leave for town.
“I’m just going to lodge that Prize Bond cheque. Will I get a EuroMillions ticket?”
“Maybe not, just to be on the safe side.”