My take on Bill, Hillary ... and Anna

PUBLISHED : Friday, 25 June, 2004, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 25 June, 2004, 12:00am

Of all my lifelong regrets, the biggest has been ignoring the advice imparted in childhood by an aged great uncle. Quaffing what was undoubtedly the umpteenth whisky of the day, he turned his ruddy face in my general direction, focused long enough to put his hand on my shoulder, and said: 'Lad, don't let a chance go by.'

Occasionally, over the years since, I have tried to take heed of those words. There was the time when New Zealand dollars were earning unbelievable interest and going through the roof. Then there was the Asian economic miracle, promising riches to even the stupidest investor.

But, like the property boom, the information technology share bonanza and the chance to see Air Supply performing live, I let them all pass by. Now, in my middle age with school fees and food bills for my two overactive sons, I regret to the hilt my fiscal conservatism.

I blame my genes. Those teeny bits of my cellular makeup got in the way, yesterday, of my biggest missed opportunity to date - the chance to buy a copy of former American president Bill Clinton's autobiography, My Life. The money was in my wallet and, having liked the man - partly for his politics, but mostly for the fact he was as warts-and-all flawed as the rest of humanity - my mind was saying: 'Go for it.'

The book sat fatly before me, all 900 pages begging to be picked up and thumbed through in search of the bit where he realises there is more to Washington intern Monica Lewinsky than her keen interest in baseball cards.

Here was a story calling out to be devoured so that the mind of the man could be grasped. His is an amazing tale, in the best American tradition, of how a child born into poverty and a broken family became the most powerful person in the world. It's better than a fairy tale.

Then it happened. Just as my hand was about to reach out for the greatest story ever told, my genes kicked in and I noticed on a nearby shelf Unanimous Presents the Unofficial Story of Anna Kournikova, which I decided to bundle with the Anna Kournikova 2004, 16-month wall calendar.

Game, set and match, and once more I let a chance go by.

It is shocking, when you think about it. For the sake of some perhaps questionable words about a tennis star who just happens to be one of the sexiest women alive, I rejected the opportunity to read the innermost thoughts of one of the key figures of contemporary history.

Mr Clinton oversaw the economic miracle of the 1990s, tried to broker peace in the Middle East and with North Korea, and was instrumental in the ousting of Yugoslavian dictator Slobodan Milosevic. When he took office in 1993 at just 47, he represented an image of vitality rarely seen in a world leader.

Whatever his achievements, though, the generations his policies influenced will remember him best for his affair with Ms Lewinsky. Not only were the details lurid and a national debate sparked over whether his wife, Hillary, should file for divorce, but the scandal almost cost him the presidency.

Reviewers say My Life does not shed terribly much new light on the incident. Mr Clinton repeats the oft-heard line that he was 'disgusted with myself for doing it', and we are left to wonder at the forgiving powers of Mrs Clinton. She is now a New York senator who, some pundits predict, will one day also take the presidency.

That aside, my inner voice kept whispering - as I considered it all in the bookshop - that a $279 contribution to Mr Clinton's retirement fund was a little unnecessary, given that he got a US$10 million advance for the book and earns $200,000 a time for speaking engagements.

So, my chance gone by, I am now happily devouring the tome on Ms Kournikova. From what I have seen of the calendar, months of guaranteed pleasure await.

Peter Kammerer is the Post's foreign editor