The donkey and Miss Jones

All I can think about is Liz Jones, the Daily Mail columnist who feeds her 17 cats on cod (and, according to one report, organic Marks & Spencer prawns, but that can't be true). After confessing to being hugely in debt, as a result of her mind-boggling profligacy (first-class plane travel, drinking only mineral water, high-end fashion, etc, etc), and despite apparently being paid a six-figure sum not beginning in 1 for her column, 4,100 Daily Mail readers wrote to her, offering her money.

Ms Jones has enough psychological problems for a whole conference, so I will not say anything nasty about her, but I must admit I am quite impressed. I've been making hints to you lot for some time now and all I've received is a truckle of cheese, a £20 note and a strangely fetching red shirt from a French charity shop. I suppose New Statesman readers are made of sterner stuff than Mail readers.

At least I am not as deeply in the shit as Ms Jones. I am also somewhat proof against the depredations of bailiffs. My only material possessions that are worth anything, I once wrote in this column, are a beautiful red Baldwin guitar and a laptop; and now I no longer, pro tem, even have the laptop. Not that it would have earned me much on the open market. There is a weird permanent smear across the lower-right corner of the screen, which is what happens, I have discovered, when you spill half a glass of port on the keyboard. The q and a keys disappeared when a hardback copy of Albert Goldman's disgusting book about John Lennon fell on them from an overhanging bookshelf; when this happened I worried that every column and article I wrote thereafter would be like an Oulipo exercise (think of Georges Perec's novel La disparition, written entirely without the letter "e"), but as it turns out, if you stab at the little plastic nub underneath the key, you can eventually produce the desired letter. The rest of the keyboard is a mass of fag ash, tobacco strands, miscellaneous scurf, and for some reason it connects to the web about as fast as computers connected to the web in 1997. And because I learned my craft on an old-fashioned manual typewriter, the space bar, which I hit unusually hard, works only one time in four. Now, after three years of horrific abuse at my hands, it has undergone a nervous breakdown and is currently being fixed by my great friend Toby, computer guru to the stars. (Although I did expect rather better. My previous laptop survived for ten years, even though it had viruses the way a ripe old cheese has mites, and had to be started with something not unlike a voodoo ritual every morning. And a matchstick.)

Carrot gold

However, I would like to stress that from now on I am going to abandon all attempts to wring sympathy or cash out of this magazine's readership.
For one thing, as the occasional correspondent has noted in the letters pages, there are a lot of people much worse off than myself; and for another, Liz Jones has raised the bar for this kind of thing so high that there is simply no point in even trying to compete with her. I mentioned her case to Charles Boyle, who, as a poet and an independent publisher, knows a thing or two about being broke, and he said the real money is in donkey sanctuaries, because apparently the country is stuffed with rich people who are more moved by the plight of the decrepit Equus africanus asinus than by that of the, shall we say, impecunious freelance hack.

I toy with the idea of changing my name to "The Donkey Sanctuary" and asking whoever does the layout here to replace my byline photo with that of a particularly ill-used quadruped. (I have form in this respect because I once went a bit mad when trying to finish a book in the countryside and started writing and signing all my emails in the persona of one Carrots the Donkey. I rather miss him.)

But I decide against it. Send your money to Ms Jones. Her need is greater than mine.

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 31 May 2010 issue of the New Statesman, The war on the veil