There was an interesting conversation on Twitter recently where the question was posed “What was one thing in your childhood that made you think someone was rich?”
The answers were incredibly varied and also very telling, reflective of an individual’s generation and socio-economic background.
I recall my mother thinking that avocadoes were a huge luxury, we were instructed to never, ever touch them if she had one of these rare fruits in the fridge. I thought anyone who had a two-storey house must have been super wealthy, and an in-ground swimming pool was off-the-charts money. I asked a few of my friends what they perceived as being rich. One said a colour TV. Another thought eating out at restaurants was very grand.
But I always remember Mum raving about her new friends, Jim and Effie, who were newly arrived from Greece and had moved into the Shire. “Effie is so sophisticated. She has the most beautiful home” Mum told me as we were driving over to the couple’s house for lunch. “Her hair is always set; she is a wonderful cook, and she has gorgeous hand-stitched linen lining all her cupboards”.
I was so excited to meet Effie and see her cupboards and when she came out to greet us, wearing a pencil skirt with a matching jacket and red lipstick, I was mesmerized. She kindly gave me a tour of her home, and I ooohed and aaahhed, I must have been about six years old.
I will never forget how chic she was, I think mostly because she was so warm and lovely.
And I still find a well-organized linen cupboard more impressive than an expensive trinket.
I went on to work in the high fashion world, which was an incredible learning experience, and where I had access to people with immense wealth and privilege and taste, discovering very quickly that those three things didn’t necessarily go hand in hand.
You cannot conflate money with style.
I think the festive season always raises the question of what is truly luxurious. Is it the tallest and best dressed tree in the Southern Hemisphere groaning with ornaments, or simply a bunch of glorious Christmas bush on a wooden table?
I was breaking down the idea of affluence with a friend who worked in the luxury industry and he explained that luxury is more often a total feeling than a material object, the concept of sensory acuity and how you perceive a situation via all your senses. That rings so true, especially in terms of Christmas.
You don’t remember the best ones because of the presents. You remember the smell of the turkey roasting, the taste of salty oysters, the sound little kids laughing or splashing in the pool, the way we all laughingly teased Grandma when we discovered she drank a bit too much brandy and forgot to put flour in the pudding.
2020 has certainly sent us some challenges and as we all nervously eye off another potential lockdown, what feels rich, or luxurious, is more obvious than ever. Family, friends, health, hugs. And maybe some Christmas bush.