Diamonds may be a girl’s best friend, but sometimes the cheapest purchases represent the most cherished memories.


It looked like an acceptable bottle of chardonnay. It boasted a nifty little label and Stephanie, the saleswoman, promised me it tasted nice. I suspect she could tell I was not a connoisseu­r: “I’m in a hurry,” I said. “Can I chill it with ice cubes?”

She must have a hard time maintainin­g her perky smile with customers like me.

Arriving at Dr Fabulous’s dinner party, I proudly handed over my purchase. Giving it a cursory glance, he pinched up his nose and pointed to the mantelpiec­e. On it were a half dozen dusty bottles of rare French vintages “breathing”, he said.

“Well, I hope they don’t expire,” I replied, grinning. Then I trailed behind him to the kitchen where he unceremoni­ously deposited my bottle into the bin with a loud clunk.

Shaking his head, he said, “I should have served it to you, but even I’m not that cruel.”

Fabulous’s dinners were legendary and this one was no exception. Bright, sparkly guests with sensationa­l stories, feasting on sumptuous courses he’d spent days preparing.

And the wines, oh the wines! They were the liquid equivalent of diamonds and starlight, “wasted on someone like you”, he sighed in my direction. After the third glass, I no longer took offence.

I’ve been dining out on that story for decades, so has Dr Fab, although in his version I’m dancing on the dinner table even before the chocolate soufflé is served (a boldfaced lie – everyone knows I’d never delay dessert). Twenty years of value out of a $10 cleanskin. Neither he nor I can recall the vintages he served that night, but we can very clearly remember mine. It was the best wine we never drank.

Purchases are like that, their real value sometimes becoming apparent only down the track.

Displayed, for example, on our kitchen shelf is a gold-coloured tin of anchovies I paid a couple of euros for on my first Italian road trip. Years later it’s still putting a smile on my face every mealtime. Just a glimpse of the artwork transports me to the Tuscan hillsides, winding our way through forests and villages, recalling the easy friendship­s, the spontaneou­s lunches of figs, cheese and Chianti, as well as vistas of such exquisite beauty it felt like we were driving through a Fellini movie. Two euros for a thousand meals worth of smiles, a funny gold tin picturing three happy elves instantly connects me to a younger self and a life of carefree abandon. Talk about value for money.

The best things in life are free, without doubt, but the things for which we actually hand over cold, hard cash, or wave a credit card at – how many of those acquire a value that is beyond what we paid?

Value is not the same as cost. Dollars and cents (or euros, for that matter) are not the only factors in the formula determinin­g worth; there are many others.

Take my toothbrush for instance. It set me back about eight dollars. The family car cost thousands more, yet I get more joy from a good dental scrub than I do from lugging around a half ton of metal under my derriere. Ask me the car’s engine capacity and I’ll shrug, but I can easily tell you how many vibrations per minute my toothbrush does (20,000). Personal values get layered onto the things we buy (in my case, a minty-fresh mouth beats brake horsepower hands down). And while I’d report my stolen car to the police, I’d probably miss my toothbrush more.

The value of something also rises with an appreciati­on of what goes into making it. Eight dollars for a loaf of bread! Ridiculous, I cried. That is, until I started making my own COVID loaves and came to appreciate the skill required to bake a good sourdough. Same with ricotta, jams, yoghurts, pizzas, dog grooming, cocktail making and home plumbing (I advise against doing the later two at the same time).

And speaking of the pandemic, lockdown brought into sharp relief how I would have willingly parted with a small fortune just to be able to sit in a cinema or listen to live music again. Absence sharpens the desire, and it can also empty the wallet; value swells as opportunit­y shrinks.

Context, too, is important. Yesterday I had to outlay double the usual for lunch. It came, however, with a view of a honeyed sun kissing a shimmering, blue ocean on a crisp, brilliant afternoon. And then there were the chatty table-neighbours who came better dressed than my salad and who would have easily fitted into a Fabulous dinner party. Only once I realised that what I was paying for was the idyllic setting and the beautiful crowd could I stop hyperventi­lating from the extravagan­t expense.

Value, I have discovered – and yes, I am a slow learner – lies in the meaning of the purchase, not the cost. Nowadays I prefer to spend my money on experience­s because I know they’ll evoke meaningful memories long after I’ve handed over my credit card. Adventurou­s family holidays, Gaga dance performanc­es, trying out a new soup bar across town, nights out rather than new shirts or phones or shoes – okay, maybe jewellery for my wife because watching her face light up is a priceless experience.

I have more than enough things. In fact, for my next birthday party, guests will be required, as they are at Japanese weddings, to take home a gift from their host. I’ll be giving away my pre-loved shirts, books and kitchenwar­e, carefully selected for each friend to have maximum meaning. By putting a smile on the faces of the people I love, the goods’ values will instantly double; Dr Fabulous will be getting my very fancy and hardly ever used 20thcentur­y corkscrew.

As with many things, one can never fully anticipate the ultimate value of a purchase. For me, that’s part of the mystery, the great, cosmic, experiment that begins with waking up each morning. Who knows, maybe my little bottle of wine might have matured into something really great. But you know what? It already has.


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