Wednesday, 15 April 2009

The millionaire, the mansion, and the moral tragedy

A true story.
Chris Foster had always had a fascination with fire. After seeing coverage of an oil rig disaster in which the inferno blazed for days, he invented an insulating material for valves and staked everything on a demonstration. When the flames died down, the valves were intact. He was made.

Over the next few years business boomed and the money rolled in. A £1 million manor in the rolling English countryside, blingy personalised cars, holidays in Mauritius, private school for his beloved daughter, membership of costly hunting and shooting clubs. His transformation from ordinary lad to country squire was complete.

Several years on, his position was unravelling fast. Unpaid taxes backlogged, securitized loans, mounting debts. He loses control of his company. Meanwhile, he's still compulsively spending.
He tells no-one. His wife, his daughter, his own mother unaware.

Fast forward - August 2008. Chris Foster spends time after a barbeque lovingly flicking through family photo albums in his luxury kitchen. His loved ones are already tucked up in bed. He calmly pumps oil into the basement, takes his custom-made engraved rifle and, caught on his own CCTV cameras, paces around his estate. Dispatches his dogs and his daughter's horses with single point-blank shots to the head. He does the same to his slumbering wife, his daughter. Then he lies down entwined with his spouse on the marital bed and waits for the smoke to overcome him. The bailiffs were due barely a few hours later to repossess his property. They got nothing.

His sobbing mother, a stout silver-haired lady, tries to make sense of it all. I think he did it because he loved them, she suggests. He hadn't wanted to drag them down in the fallout, lose the lives of luxury, disappoint his daughter who lived for her horses. But I still love him. You don't stop loving your child just because they do something...awful.

(I won't pretend it's word for word, I don't have the transcript. But you get the meaning).

Chris Foster's story is an extreme case of career, money, power and ego trumping everything else: most tragically, family. Without one, the other became worthless to him. And he forgot that his wife and daughter weren't possessions, on a par with the cars, the pets, the mansion.

1) What lasting value has career, ego, money and power if we sacrifice those we love in the process? This example is the most extreme (and perverse), but we can still apply what we can learn from it to our everyday lives...

2) We don't 'OWN' our children, our families. We cannot control them, dictate their lives in the same way we might lay down performance targets at work. As put by the lebanese writer and philosopher Khalid Gibran: "Our children are not our children...they are the Sons and Daughters of Life's longing for itself...we are the bows, from which our children, like arrows, are sent forth..."

P.S. Kirstie Foster was only 15...

(acknowledgements to Channel 4's programme 'The Millionaire and the Murder Mansion')


  1. I love the blog. It's so well-written. Sorry to attach this comment to a random post.

  2. Thanks, new reader, breathe live to my veins!!

  3. uhhh sorry meant "life"! well-written?!!!!

  4. I want to say the same as new reader. I recognise much of your frustration, though I am not a mother. Your son sounds adorable by the way :-) I loved his Harry Potter story, and swelled with empathic pride reading of his violin recital.
    Some of the most inspiring people I have met are housewives. I understand your aversion to the term as even writing it I feel I am doing a disservice to these women, who are simply incredible. I don't think you should feel at all hindered by your position; if you did not stay at Oxford or PwC it sounds like your intelligence and capability has not found an outlet, and when it does you will not be held back by shoddy interior decoration or a full day's worth of childcare at home? Sorry for the cod analysis; I have drawn parallels that might not be there. I have thought a lot over the past few days about where my frustration comes from. I realised yesterday that many- most- of my classmates are pregnant or mothers, at 18. A baby leads to a flat. I have prospects far beyond this, but right now I can't see where they are...
    I hope that you don't feel patronised by a teenager. Do keep writing, your descriptions of Kentish fields of an Easter have instilled a beautiful nostalgia in me, because I missed them this year. It makes me happy to know that they have been appreciated by someone else :-)
    Sorry, a bit of an essay here- I only wanted to say the same as new reader at the beginning!

  5. Newer reader - Stunning, at 18?! If I could have written like you at that age maybe I'd have had more of a future...! (Half-) joking apart, you obviously have great prospects: intelligent and articulate. Keep at it and Forge ahead! and please do come back and read more...anytime! to know I can make someone happy reading my posts is a great pick-me-up!