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30 March 2022

I make sure I never run out of phone charge, so why do I run out of money?

I wonder if I became less reckless in my financial affairs I might stop dreaming about flying to Brazil to escape my creditors.

By Nicholas Lezard

Once again I find myself, at time of writing, with too much month at the end of my money. It is not entirely my fault: I have been working hard lately, more so than for some years, and I kind of like it, I have to say, as the quality of commissions is not bad. It is just that it takes a while for the payments to come through. And if you start paying your bills then who knows where it will end.

For dinner this evening I went to Waitrose and bought a potato. “Last of the big spenders,” I said to the woman at the till, on whom I have a bit of a crush (she has the nicest smile); “47p,” she said, and I said “HOW MUCH?” in a way which suggested I was joking but really, I was hoping for a bit less than that. But it was a very fine potato. On the way back, one of the very many indigents of Brighton who see me as a soft touch – and I am – fell into step with me. He started reciting what, it became quickly apparent, was (1) a poem, (2) about Ukraine and (3) loads better in terms of both technique and nuance than Bono’s on the same topic.

“Hang on,” I said, “is that one of yours?” Brighton is, after all, full of poets. Come to think of it, if you’re talking publication, and in a proper publication, I’m one too.

“Yes, it is.”

“Well, you’ve earned it,” I said, and fished out the last of my change. I didn’t look closely but I think it was about 70p or so. No bronze. The night before I’d bought some spring onions and a lump of ginger, in an attempt to turn my chicken broth into something a bit more delicious, and it came to 91p: I handed the cashier a pound coin and a 1p bit. He looked at me as if I was mad, or as if he feared he was, but I explained: “It just means you have to only give me a 10p bit in change. Less shrapnel.” And then I thought: is “shrapnel” the kind of word you need to use at this point in history, for this occasion?

[See also: A publicist asks if I’m ready for the weekend. I ask myself what that involves]

I used to go out with someone who always left various things to the last minute. The things were: the charge on her phone, the amount of battery left in her laptop, or external speakers; and, most alarmingly if you were in her car, the amount of petrol left in the tank. She lived in a rural area, so for me this was a somewhat panic-making situation. She knew what she was doing, of course, and after a while I began to suspect she rather revelled in my unease; but it didn’t really make the unease go away. If anything, it made it worse. You know how it is. One thing she did not do, however, was let her finances run out towards the end – let alone the early middle age – of her month.

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My batteries, on my devices if nothing else, are always charged. When I was in command of a petrol tank, even and in fact especially when it was one on a Moto Guzzi V50 Mark II, which had no petrol gauge, I never got close to running out of juice. Yet for some reason, money is another matter. I try to husband my resources, but now I see the word ­“husband” I begin to wonder whether this is where the problem lies.

How infuriating it must have been to be married to someone who is ultra-cautious about the small stuff but blithe to the point of idiocy about the larger issues. Except in the matter of children. I was always hawk-eyed when it came to herding them, because I have known for many years that bad things can happen to children; and there is nothing worse than that.

[See also: Surprisingly for the post-communist era, the “tankie” rises from the mists of history]

Of course, I operate a double standard here, like we all do. Going back to motorbikes for a second, some years ago my daughter expressed a wish to buy a Triumph Bonneville. Not a bad choice at all, timeless design and all that: except for the fact it is a motorcycle, and they are not safe. Naturally, for she has a keen mind and is unafraid to speak it, she commented on my hypocrisy in this matter.

“That’s not the point,” I said.

The question of the motorcycle resurfaces from time to time, but with less frequency these days, thank goodness. But now she tells me she’s going to Brazil to see her excellent and deserving friend C— for a couple of weeks. “How lovely,” I say. “Give C— my warmest regards.” But inside, I am screaming: “Brazil! Everyone who goes there gets mugged or murdered!” (My parents once had their camera stolen on Copacabana Beach in Rio de Janeiro.) It should go without saying that if someone offered me a plane ticket to Brazil I’d bite their hand off. For one thing, it would put a hell of a lot of distance between me and my creditors.

I wonder if my life would change if I became less reckless in my financial affairs. The charger socket on my phone has started to decay so I am already having to learn to live with alarmingly low battery levels. Could now be the time when I learn to live responsibly, and only run out of money in the last week of the month, as opposed to the last fortnight?

[See also: I’m not drinking and I can’t sleep. I wonder: am I living my best life?]

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This article appears in the 30 Mar 2022 issue of the New Statesman, The New Iron Curtain