A few columns of meaningless names and numbers pop up on screen. Photo: Getty
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The night the Estranged Wife and I decided to take a look at our investments

I’m not planning on retiring, but sometimes the world has other ideas, so it is wise to make plans.

Once again, we come to that time of year when the last Test match has been played, the first proper chill of autumn seeps into summer, and I celebrate, if that is the word, the anniversary of my moving into the Hovel. Seven years. Jesus. Not for the first time, I think about moving somewhere else, only now it is not so much in the way one wants to change an itchy jumper, but with the urgency of someone who smells smoke when there shouldn’t be any. A new lodger will be joining me: a young woman called Daisy, who, as one of my children observed, looks more like someone called “Daisy” than anyone else who has ever been given that name. She dresses, by her own admission, in the style of a hippie and is studying music at Soas. Oriental or African music? I asked. I wanted to prepare myself for whichever style of percussion instrument was going to haunt my evenings. Both, she said.

I think I could afford to live in Kettering, I realise after doing some research. There is always the possibility of moving to Gothenburg but although there would be the presence there of someone I really want to be with, the Swedes have a very different approach to breakfast from mine. It involves yoghurt and muesli, and a couple of slices of cheese, strictly rationed, if you’re lucky. Some establishments choose to serve the muesli in decorative bowls, but as far as I’m concerned tipping the contents of a bird feeder into a heart-shaped ramekin does nothing to alter the essential nature of the food. I also fail to see how I could persuade every publisher in the country to start mailing the books they think I’d like to review to Sweden.

Things are looking grim, then, so when the Estranged Wife calls to say she’s coming round to help me sort out my pension, I do not have the strength to say no.

A little word about pensions. As everyone in the country has worked out by now, these are things into which one pays a sum – generally around £100 a month – to a company that invests the money with all the expertise and cunning at its disposal, so that when the time comes for you to retire you will have a guaranteed income of about 50p a year.

I’m not planning on retiring, but sometimes the world has other ideas, so it is wise to make plans. The problem is, as the EW understands all too well, I have the financial acumen of a bumblebee. And not one of those brainy, hard-nosed bumblebees who have been to business school and got an MBA, but the dreamy, vacant kind of bumblebee who cares for little more than buzzing from flower to flower in search of nectar for his little ones.

In my case, my pension pot has been managed with all the skill one might expect, and I am the kind of customer (or, strictly speaking, “mug”) that a callous, neoliberal, grasping financial firm dreams of. I simply give them the money and hope for the best. But the EW, who has a 50 per cent stake in anything I own, has spotted that something is amiss in the way the sums are being invested, and has been nagging at me for something like four years now to Do Something about it.

Luckily, relations between us have reached the point where the proportion of laughter to recriminations has been reversed, and we get on well, although I am aware that if anything is going to put a strain on things, it is going to be this. I once changed the master password to my account in a panic when I feared she was going to do something unilateral, but I had misjudged her. I now know it is safer for her to have the password because invariably I forget it.

So, fortified with wine, we go down the rabbit hole and look at the eerie world of my personal long-term finance. A few columns of meaningless names and numbers pop up on screen. (Annoyingly, I had remembered the password.)

“I see our holdings in Venetian Tarmac seem to be underperforming somewhat,” I say, “although not as badly as our shares in Tongan Aerospace plc.” We stare glumly at the screen, then turn away and drink some more wine. When we look back again, we have been timed out, and I have to re-enter the password. “Damn, it worked,” I say.

In the end, we decide that we should swap some money around from one useless stock to another one that seems to be marginally less useless. God, these things are, excuse my language but it’s necessary here, such a f***ing con. I suggest, by way of a last feeble, desperate throw of the dice, taking the lot out and investing it in fine wine. And then, I do not add aloud, drinking myself to death with it. 

Nicholas Lezard is a literary critic for the Guardian and also writes for the Independent. He writes the Down and Out in London column for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 27 August 2014 issue of the New Statesman, The new caliphate

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Who will win in Manchester Gorton?

Will Labour lose in Manchester Gorton?

The death of Gerald Kaufman will trigger a by-election in his Manchester Gorton seat, which has been Labour-held since 1935.

Coming so soon after the disappointing results in Copeland – where the seat was lost to the Tories – and Stoke – where the party lost vote share – some overly excitable commentators are talking up the possibility of an upset in the Manchester seat.

But Gorton is very different to Stoke-on-Trent and to Copeland. The Labour lead is 56 points, compared to 16.5 points in Stoke-on-Trent and 6.5 points in Copeland. (As I’ve written before and will doubtless write again, it’s much more instructive to talk about vote share rather than vote numbers in British elections. Most of the country tends to vote in the same way even if they vote at different volumes.)

That 47 per cent of the seat's residents come from a non-white background and that the Labour party holds every council seat in the constituency only adds to the party's strong position here. 

But that doesn’t mean that there is no interest to be had in the contest at all. That the seat voted heavily to remain in the European Union – around 65 per cent according to Chris Hanretty’s estimates – will provide a glimmer of hope to the Liberal Democrats that they can finish a strong second, as they did consistently from 1992 to 2010, before slumping to fifth in 2015.

How they do in second place will inform how jittery Labour MPs with smaller majorities and a history of Liberal Democrat activity are about Labour’s embrace of Brexit.

They also have a narrow chance of becoming competitive should Labour’s selection turn acrimonious. The seat has been in special measures since 2004, which means the selection will be run by the party’s national executive committee, though several local candidates are tipped to run, with Afzal Khan,  a local MEP, and Julie Reid, a local councillor, both expected to run for the vacant seats.

It’s highly unlikely but if the selection occurs in a way that irritates the local party or provokes serious local in-fighting, you can just about see how the Liberal Democrats give everyone a surprise. But it’s about as likely as the United States men landing on Mars any time soon – plausible, but far-fetched. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.