Squeezed Middle: Flirting with winning the lottery

Alice O'Keeffe's "Squeezed Middle" column.

New Statesman
Alice O'Keeffe's "Squeezed Middle" column appears weekly in the New Statesman magazine.

I am queueing up to pay for petrol when my eyes alight upon a big red sign. “What would you do?” it reads, and underneath: “National Lottery. Life Changing™”. After I have finished pondering how it can be possible to trademark the phrase “life changing” (could they sue you if you applied it to something other than the National Lottery? Childbirth, for example, or death?), it strikes me as a good question. What would I do? Buy a house, obviously. And just as obviously, not the one we are in the process of buying. I have already passed several sleepless nights worrying that we are about to spend every penny we can beg, borrow or steal on a place that smells of rotting fish, has no functioning kitchen or bathroom, and needs, in the estate agent’s words, “a bit of work”.

Come on, happy thoughts: what else? I’d go on holiday abroad. Buy lots of totally unnecessary shoes. Buy my sister lots of totally unnecessary shoes. Get that ice-cream maker I’ve been lusting after. But this is all small fry. I need to think bigger. Would I move to a different area? Probably not, they’re all full of annoying rich people. Send my kids to private school? Not on your nelly. I genuinely wouldn’t need millions to possess everything I want in life. Around £200,000 would probably do it.

That’s not much, is it? Not in the grand scheme of things. Even a lucky break on the Antiques Roadshow might do it. Could that odd, trippy painting we inherited from Curly’s dad be a little-known Picasso?

My eyes stray back to the sign. “Life Changing™”. My fingers start to itch. I’m feeling lucky. Perhaps I’ll buy a ticket. I’ve never played the National Lottery before, partly because of a superstitious belief that if I hold off until I’m feeling really, really lucky, I will win first time. Perhaps today is that day. Perhaps. I’ll think about it until I reach the front of the queue.

Back when I was actually middle class – as in, not just culturally middle class, as in, I had money in my account at the end of the month – I used to scorn those who bought lottery tickets. “They’re peddling dreams,” my dad would say when that advert with the big blue hand came on the telly (“It Could Be You!”). Didn’t they know that bookies gave better odds on bumping into Elvis in the frozen goods aisle of Kwiksave than winning the jackpot? Besides, I wanted to be the author of my own destiny, not some helpless schmuck at the mercy of a big blue hand in the sky.

So anyway, I’ve changed my mind. Now I just want that big ol’ finger to point at me – me! Over here! Hello! Hello! Hello?

The man in front of me moves aside. The sales assistant smiles and takes my card. Now could be the moment, shall I say the words “and also . . .”? Am I still feeling lucky? But before I open my mouth I’m typing in my pin and I haven’t said it and the payment is accepted and I still haven’t said it and now the moment’s passed. Oh well. Perhaps I’m not feeling so lucky after all.