Hmm, shall I share my windfall with Boris Johnson or Tesco?

An email arrives from the chief executive of a magazine that went bust last year owing me £750. I might have mentioned this before. Well, it has been weighing upon me. It is the kind of sum Boris Johnson earns every time he writes 0.012 of one of his columns - but then he's 83.3 recurring times a better writer than I am. (This column has taken rather longer to write than usual because of (a) the hard sums I've been having to do and (b) I had to spend a lot of time weeping with pity at how he can survive on the mere £250,000 he earns a year from his opinion pieces alone - £50,000 a year of which he has been obliged to give away to charity, ever since saying, in one of those moments of light-hearted banter that have made him the best-loved politician in the history of the planet, that the former figure was "chicken-feed".)

Margin call

Anyway, where was I? Oh yes, this matter of £750. As I say, for some people this is loose change.

For me, it is hugely significant and, if you have the extremely tight margins of the freelance journalist with three children to help maintain, life-changing. It means, in short, the difference between humiliatingly having to borrow money from friends towards the end of the month, and not.

So every time I thought of this sum, which repeated calls to the receivers had confirmed was lost for ever, I felt a hollow pain within me, and although the list of creditors sent to me by the Insolvency Practitioners dealing with the case cheered me up a bit - there were people and institutions who were owed both far more than me and also, touchingly, far less (why did the £7 owed to one person affect me so much?) - there remained within me a deep, ineradicable sense of loss, which only extreme fortitude and the knowledge that we cannot take it with us when we die did anything to mitigate.

Still, I thought of it every time I walked past that excellent, unpretentious, family-owned-and-run Italian restaurant the Casa Becci on Paddington Street, because they'd stuck an adoring article of mine about them from the magazine in its window. (I once took a lady there and they were so pleased to see me they gave me absolutely heaps of food, which was unfortunate because we were splitting up, for complex reasons and with great sadness and neither of us felt like eating much.)

I had become resigned to this, hoping that one day I, too, might be so wealthy as to consider a quarter of a million pounds, let alone one one-thousand-and-thirty-third of a million, as chickenfeed.

Having not quite reached that point, despite my hard work and unflinching devotion to the economic theories and practices of the current government (gosh, isn't it just plain weird that shoving half the country into penury isn't helping the economy? Why won't the economy just see sense?), it came as a pleasant surprise when said CEO asked for my bank details and then just popped the money in, like that. It is
a piece of remarkably good fortune.

The question now arises what to do with this money. I toy briefly with the idea of sending it to Boris Johnson or whatever group of steely-eyed wonks is in charge of his re-election campaign. (As someone recently pointed out, if he loses the mayoral race, he'll go for prime minister, and that, I think, would be the greater evil.) Or do I give it to Tesco, to help plug the gaping wound left in their profit margins by Antony Worrall Thompson's brazen shoplifing? The general rule these days seems to be that only the already wealthy should have money, as giving it to the poor is an affront to the natural order.

Dinner for two

But in the end I decide that, OK, there's only one thing to do with it and that's to help plug the gaping wound that is my bank account. Which, in turn, will benefit the estranged wife and children, who very nearly had to forego their annual skiing trip, things were so tight. (It has now been so long since I've had a holiday - you know, a couple of summer weeks in Italy somewhere near a venerable city and a swimming pool - that I actually think I have forgotten how to do it. Still, as I write, whole families in my borough are being kicked out of their homes by the council for the crime of being on benefits, so I really had better not grumble.)

But before I do that, I think I will have a slap-up meal for two at Casa Becci, and I know just whom to invite. This time we will be able to stuff ourselves. There are some stories that have a happy ending, and I really do recommend their calamari, which are among the finest I have ever eaten in my life.

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 February 2012 issue of the New Statesman, The God Wars