When I was younger, rich people were mysterious. They existed behind tinted windows, and velvet ropes. I knew nothing about them other than what I could glean from portrayals on TV: Joan Collins as Alexis in Dynasty sweeping down staircases in furs, and demanding the sinking of her rivals’ oil tankers; Pam Ewing zooming through the gates of Southfork in her sports car in Dallas; Jan Howard selecting her favourite pantsuits for international travel in Howards Way. I knew I would never be one of them, but you know what they say: out of sight, out of mind.
Now, rich people aren’t out of sight at all. They no longer have the decency to revel in their filthy lucre behind the heavy doors of badly decorated stately homes; they’re out flaunting their financial curves in public, their Bentleys gliding menacingly behind the bulldozers that slice through the slums being cleared for their luxury penthouses, spreading backhanders and gentrification like gold-plated, porcelain-toothed crop sprayers. Social media is blamed for much of society’s ills, mostly unfairly, but perhaps one of its most egregious crimes is the inescapable coverage of people with too much money having ‘experiences’. They’re out-#bliss-ing one another on idyllic getaways. They’re posing in exclusive neighbourhoods in expensive suits and soft leather shoes, resplendent and poreless thanks to ethical, aspirational skincare regimes. They’re clinking champagne glasses in bars on the zillionth storey of a skyscraper. They’re shopping. So much shopping. Where do they put everything?
One thing I would never do, rich or otherwise, is go to the sky pool. What is the sky pool? It’s a transparent, long swimming pool that stretches between the top floors of two tall London towers – I was willing to say skyscrapers for the sake of argument, but this is Vauxhall, not Manhattan, and on further inspection, I see these buildings are a ‘mere’ ten storeys tall, so pretty much dwarfed by the numerous tasteless slivers popping up along the river. I remember seeing an ‘artist’s impression’ of the sky pool development years ago and thinking it was an April fool, but a fool of any month can soon be parted from their money with little persuasion and they’ve actually gone and built the thing. Needless to say, it’s one of those joyless developments that features something like 0.007% affordable housing accessed via a trapdoor on the southbound platform at Vauxhall tube station, with the rest being charmless, cavernous, plush ‘dwellings’ with three ovens, two concierges, but nowhere to hang your washing, ready furnished with six-star hotel fixtures and fittings that look rented by the hour. Access to the sky pool is reserved for A-grade residents of these apartments only – those in affordable housing have to make do with dipping each toe in a glass of water.
So why is the sky pool suddenly burned into my consciousness? As temperatures soared this week after what felt like months of weather misery, news crews were dispatched to find pictures of Brits soaking up the sun. Along with traditional shots of ‘lovelies’ splashing about on Brighton beach or red-faced motorists sweltering in bank holiday traffic, a new heatwave standard panning shot came in the form of the celestial glamour of the sky pool. A helicopter whirred above revellers as they splashed in their perspex piss-pot in the sky, gently broiling in the late spring sun like the last frankfurters on a hotdog cart. I cannot swim, I do not like heights, I would never go anywhere near the sky pool, there is nothing there of interest to me. And yet its very existence feels, for some reason, like a personal slight, a reminder that I will never be well off enough to even turn down the chance of owning a sky pool-accessible apartment.
I will never troop up to the rooftop from my McMansion in the sky to make sure I get value from the exorbitant service charge. I will never experience the comedown after my awkward swim in a fridge salad drawer suspended in the sky, slinking back down in the lift in my soggy Orlebar Browns, towel dragging on the floor, a snail’s trail of chlorinated pool water behind me as my (now ruined) fur-trimmed Gucci sliders shuffle along the landing, carpeted in luxuriant pile in the exact shade of a bank statement. But I realise this makes me lucky. What must the world look like to these window-fetishising hedonists? What next high would they have to chase to top the feeling of midair paddling among CEOs in bikinis that cost more than a year’s Council Tax and hedge fund managers holding their stomachs in just in case that really is Helena Christensen on that sun lounger in the corner? I wonder how they feel as they look out over the other high rises, the actual affordable housing, some just a few hundred metres away, nothing but worn out lift machinery on their rooftops. Can they see the green heart at the top of Grenfell over in west London? Do they understand that not all towers are created equal? And what about down below, into the deep air beneath their exclusive bain-marie? Do they observe the ordinary folk milling about oblivious or, better still, looking up in awe at the saggy bollocks and smooth ass cracks of the millionaires above. I don’t know about you, but I have a feeling it might be a good time to buy shares in guillotine manufacturers.
Effortless glamour this is not – this is glamour giving itself a hernia, constipated, straining, and breathless, with something to prove. I sound like an envious old crow and of course I am – I quite fancy giving being rich a go. I think I would be quite good at it. I would be tasteful, and decent enough to stay out of everyone’s way, peeking out at the world from whichever ivory tower my bespoke estate agent manages to sell me, or dark corners of unfashionable restaurants. Tall gates and high fences not to keep intruders out, but myself in. My casual observations tell me that once you become rich, a switch flicks in your head that changes your behaviour. You start believing you’re important just because you have money; you have the uncontrollable urge to push to the front of queues; you start buying T-shirts three sizes too small from Selfridges, ones with squashed up juice cartons on the front that cost £4,000.
I’m still trying to work out what it is I hate so violently about the sky pool, and find it hard to explain, other than dreary class envy. I’m not here to try to stop rich people enjoying themselves or frittering away their generational wealth or hard-earned dollars on an apartment in a building that looks like it was designed by someone wearing oven gloves and recovering from conjunctivitis – like they’d give a shit what I think anyway, they don’t even know I exist – but I’d just like to introduce a bit of jeopardy somehow, a small blight on their day. Maybe they could stub their toe on the way in, or have chlorine irreparably dull the sheen on their emerald anklet. I don’t really hate-watch TV shows, so I guess this as close as I can get. It feels like an amalgamation of every customer who was rude to me when I worked at McDonald’s as a student. It is the aquatic equivalent of a neighbour who mows their lawn at 7am on a Sunday. It doesn’t say excuse me as it brushes past you, it barges into the lift without waiting to see if anyone’s getting out. It snaps its fingers at waiters, and crosses out the service charge on the bill. It’s that person you meet once, at a wedding, and think, ‘Oh wow this person is a lot, and kind of awful, and strangely this has been a fun evening because they are so out there – but if I saw this person again I’d have to strangle them for the sake of humanity’. It’s intrusive, and ugly, and it doesn’t care what you think, because it’s in the sky, way above you, and not even a stray Elastoplast floating on its surface can dent its sheen, because a crisp polo-shirted minion with a butterfly net is never far away. The sky pool, in concept at least, always has a car waiting outside, and a grenade in its inside pocket to chuck behind it if necessary.
And yet after all that, the experience of the pool itself is about as glamorous as taking a paddle in an empty ice cream tub on the hare shoulder of the M25. Videos shot by lucky insiders show a below average panorama of other identikit apartment blocks and the God-like perspective straight below treats you to the sight of badly laid out paths and people eating complex carbs out of sustainable packaging. The hanging gardens of Babylon it is not – more like the hangnail of Nine Elms. Of course, what actually matters is not that it’s good, but that it’s expensive, this is the whole point.
Let’s promise each other, no matter what successes come our way, to always keep our feet on the ground, rather than floating above it, treading water in the pool that taste forgot.
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Uh-oh, I’ve got a book out
My second novel THE MAGNIFICENT SONS is out in paperback now! Buy by clicking on the pic or find your favourite retailer here. As Elton John once said (but about something else, not this book): ‘It’s a little bit funny.’
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