For years I have been competing with my brother-in-law. He is married to my wife’s sister and each summer the four of us spend a week in Cornwall, along with all our children. For Johnny and me, this is a period of mutual accounting in which we forensically examine each other’s achievements over the last 12 months. Who’s earned more? Who’s advanced further up the career ladder? Who’s put on more weight? Not everyone’s idea of a relaxing holiday, perhaps, but if you’re an intensively competitive sort of person — as we both are — it’s quite fun.
Or it used to be. Six months ago, Johnny’s medium-sized technology company, where he has laboured for eight years, was bought by a large American competitor. As a minor shareholder, he earned more at a stroke than most journalists can expect to make over their lifetimes. I feel like a hare who has been competing in a race, just about keeping up with another hare, only to discover that he is in fact the Road Runner. I now can’t see Johnny for dust.
To give you an idea of how this has changed the dynamic between us, take my new car. I am rather pleased with this purchase, a second-hand VW Caravelle that seats eight. Perfect for a family of six. But Johnny was unimpressed.
‘How much was it?’ he asked.
‘Five thousand pounds.’
‘Five grand? That’s what I’m looking to spend on a lawnmower.’
In case the significance of this fact didn’t immediately sink in, he reminded me that his new country house is surrounded by five acres of verdant pasture. I can’t say I’m surprised that he didn’t think much of my camper van.