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5 October 2022

It is just as my resources run dry that direct debits make a direct line for me

I’m still being billed for a dating site I last used 15 years ago – perhaps I’m not allowed to quit until I find lurve.

By Nicholas Lezard

I am writing this on 28 September. For those of a certain income, this is the most exciting time of the month. It’s like a slow bicycle race but with money. Can I slow my spending enough before getting paid without falling over? Although this is a slow bicycle race unlike any other: imagine, if you will, being beset, towards the finish line, by hooligans running out trying to push you over into the mud. These are the pending payments, the phone bills and the standing direct debit orders that come out to make your life a misery just when you thought you’d made it.

The direct debits are the worst. These are usually from companies that have taken the art of extracting money from people without providing anything in return and have honed it to a fine edge. To give a couple of examples, I’m still being billed for some antivirus software I last used on a laptop during Gordon Brown’s administration. Then there’s a dating site on which I don’t even currently have a profile.

[See also: As Trussonomics looms, when will I be able to afford to eat eggs Benedict again?]

And then there are the unidentifiable ones. One hesitates to cancel these because they might be something important; on the other hand, they might very well not be. They could be most unsavoury. Look, we all buy dodgy stuff online when drunk. I am capable of doing almost anything after the second bottle. I once wrote three poems and sent them off to a very well-respected poetry magazine one night and forgot all about it until a few weeks later, when I got an email from them beginning “Dear Contributor” and telling me they’d be published in the next issue.

After this I quite fancied myself as the next Li Bai, rapt with wine and moon, one of the Eight Immortals of the Wine Cup, and one night sent a poem to my poet friend K— after (OK, during) a session and she replied: “Unpublishable.” Of course, she was right, but our friendship has never been the same since. And I’d even gone to the trouble to make it rhyme, damn it.

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But back from the matter of poetry to the sordid business in hand. Trying to cancel these direct debits is not easy. I rang my bank. “It’s very easy, just contact them and tell them you want to cancel.” “But tell me,” I want to say, “O wise woman of the (Nat)West, how do I unsubscribe from somewhere whose company details are murky, to say the least.”

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I have – I think – managed to unsubscribe from the antivirus software because I spoke to someone on the phone; the dating site is another matter, though. I filled in an increasingly enraging form (“How did this make you feel?” is one of their questions, for crying out loud) and sent it off, but I’ve yet to receive any indication I have succeeded.

[See also: My brush with King Charles 22 years ago still feels like it was yesterday. It was that bad]

(The only time I used the site was 15 years ago, when I started chatting to a woman who, after a couple of weeks, admitted she wasn’t looking for lurve but was in fact an artist collecting men’s creepy replies for an art installation she was making. She said that as I hadn’t said anything creepy she’d introduce me to someone who was after a partner, and that is how I ended up going on a date with Boris Johnson’s first wife. Nothing happened, but we’re still on good terms.)

But here I am, two days to go before I get paid – if I get paid, because you can’t always take that for granted – and I have £40 left, which is enough for me to live the life of Riley (and a reader sent me some cash in the post: I cannot stress how much this helped or how much I encourage this practice) until Friday. But it still feels a bit like squeaky-bum time even when you saw, in the middle of the month, that you had just £200 left, and you have been managing to husband your resources on a daily basis fairly well since then – apart from that time you got sick of living off pasta and bought the Singapore Fried Noodles for £5.90 and blew a hole in the budget below the waterline.

And meanwhile there are other matters to consider: such as the cost of boiling the water for your pasta, the fact that you will never be able to afford a bath again, which is almost as distressing a thought as the fact that you will never get laid again (and not having a bath again makes the prospect of sex even less likely than it already was, ie as likely as going on a trip to Proxima Centauri)… and then there are all those surprise charges waiting for you as mentioned above, waiting for you like the monsters under the bed you feared as a child, only this time they are actually there.

Things get slightly more complicated at this end because if I am not exactly an alcoholic, I am somewhat dependent on the stuff to be able to relax, think fruitful thoughts, slow down the brain enough to concentrate on telly, and eventually sleep – and one needs at least a bottle and a half these days to achieve these ends. I’ve been limiting myself to one bottle a night for the last few days – and one night off – but the poetry you write on such a paltry regime isn’t worth a damn.

[See also: Even when the country is circling the plughole, pleasant things can happen]

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This article appears in the 05 Oct 2022 issue of the New Statesman, Crashed!