Dirty cash, I want you

It is time, I have decided, to become more corrupt. Print journalism may be in a terrible state, but I still know quite a few print journalists who are getting some excellent freebies. Even the small ones sound good; I hear it takes only a moderate amount of chutzpah to claim them. And if there is anyone who needs a freebie, it is I. Another name for this column could be "I Am Broke", but one doesn't want to harp on about it every week. The condition is tedious. But I must say I am mystified as to how come I have less money than I did when I had a drug habit.

Not even alimony can account for this. Majestic may no longer do its very passable Australian Shiraz at £4.99 a bottle, but I don't drink that much, do I? And I hardly ever go to the pub these days. When I went to the Duke for the first time in ages with the Woman I Love, the Guvnor made as much fuss of us as if we'd been reprieved from death row.

My youngest son, when only five, asked of a visibly wealthy gay (and childless) couple we were staying with: "Where do you keep all your rich money?" I do not like hacks who quote cute things their kids say, but "rich money" is a phrase that has entered not only the family lexicon, but that of everyone I've used it on. Where, I ask, is my rich money?

I know this is hardly Dickensian squalor, and there are many far worse off than I, but it's got to the point where I can't even go to exhibitions I want to see. A few weeks ago, my friend the Moose suggested meeting at the show of sculpture by Jacob Epstein, Henri Gaudier-Brzeska and Eric Gill at the Royal Academy, and I whined that the expense was beyond me. He told me it was simple: all I had to do was ring up the press office and ask for free entry. This, though, is beyond me, as I can't with a straight face pass myself off as an art critic.

Meanwhile, the expenses mount up. My boots need resoling after only a couple of months, which shows how much walking I've been doing. The WIL craves a new Alfa Romeo Spider, but this is an unrealisable dream. Between us we would struggle to come up with the funds for one of its wing mirrors.

The disparity between the wealthy and me continues to cause great pain. During a tense backgammon match last week at a posh club I had better not name, a little twat called Jeremy sat down next to me and started kibitzing relentlessly while all the time playing with his BlackBerry. "Ooh look," he said at one point, "I made £7m today." I affected nonchalance, but inside I boiled. It worked, as I went quickly from a winning position to a lost one. Later on I canvassed opinion as to what I should have done and the consensus settled on a glassing, but my technique is rusty and I would probably have ended up hurting only myself.

Burger off

So how do I end up earning more, or rather some, rich money? (And no fatuous suggestions like "work more", please.) The problem is that I am too honest for my own good. A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a piece in which I praised, tongue loosely in cheek, the virtues of Burger King's Bacon Double Cheeseburger. I got an email from the press office thanking me, and asking for my address so they could send me a little something. Hang on, I replied, I'll check with my editor about the ethical position on this one. His reply: "Anything less than 500 quid and the ethical requirement is for you to phone the Burger King press office and say, 'You taking the piss?'"

I forward his remark, adding jokily that this is not necessarily to be taken literally.

The press office does not take it literally. In fact, it takes it so figuratively that all I eventually receive, in return for giving them thousands of pounds' worth of free publicity for their food is two vouchers for a meal of a burger (but not, apparently, a Bacon Double Cheeseburger), chips and fizzy drink of my choice. And the vouchers are not only of nugatory value, they are so small that I can't even wipe my arse on them. Jesus, I might even have to end up using them. But that, I think, would be A New Low.

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 08 March 2010 issue of the New Statesman, Game on