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11 May 2022

I understand the concept of paying bills promptly but I still struggle with them

I don’t know what the moral here is. I mean, the moral of this column is constant: “Don’t be me.”

By Nicholas Lezard

A day of profound anxiety. The rent is due; a letter from my energy supplier was slipped under my door and it contains the phrase “by force if necessary”; and there is a text from the bailiff which begins with the words, “This is your final opportunity.” These are not the only bills I have to deal with. Southern Water is making a bit of a fuss but it’ll just have to join the queue.

But toujours gai, toujours gai, and I satisfied the bailiff and dealt with the threat of violent entry from the energy company. I went for a walk to the bank to get a new card reader and also to swan about the place in my new photochromic shades. As a young man passed me he said, “Nice glasses.” I detected neither sarcasm nor anyone else near me wearing glasses so I’ll take that as a win. When, if ever, have you been complimented on your glasses? It’s a new experience for me, and I like it. Except I now will expect it every time I go out wearing them. When they go dark they look like the shades that at least one of the Beatles wore in 1966, and anyone with any sense will agree that the Beatles in 1966 were the coolest Beatles.

But that’s not all. I’d written a piece for another publication yesterday and sent off an invoice today before departing for the bank. When I got there the young man – and he was seriously young – asked me, in the kindly manner of a nurse asking a senile and demented patient if he’d gone to the potty today, if I had the bank’s app. Of course I’ve got the f***ing app, I didn’t say. I was much more polite but any good feeling still lingering after my compliment on the glasses curdled in my heart. “Not only do I have the app,” I wanted to say, “but in case you had not noticed, I am wearing a pair of glasses that make me look like George Harrison on the back sleeve of Revolver.” I didn’t say that either. And I remembered that it was only a couple of years ago that I finally gave up the struggle to insist on calling it an “application”.

[See also: Asparagus is the sexiest of vegetables, so I can’t bear to eat it alone]

Where was I? Oh yes, my invoice. The young man at the counter wanted to show me that I didn’t need a card reader, just the app, and as I opened it and glanced at my balance I saw that something was wrong. I was in credit. This is only the case at the beginning of the month, in those fleeting moments between being paid by this magazine and paying my rent. As it happened, I had not yet paid my rent but even if I had, I would still have been in credit.

To put it mildly, I reeled. The only explanation I could think of was that a distant and hitherto unsuspected relative in Australia had died and left me a small bequest, as if from a sheep farm that had two or three sheep, but a bequest is a bequest. I walked away in a daze and when I checked the account it turned out that the magazine I’d invoiced not 20 minutes before checking had actually paid me.

Twenty minutes! I’m not exaggerating. This beats all records into a cocked hat. The other day I came across a marvellous line from the Prophet, Peace Be Upon Him, which said: “Pay the worker what he is due before the sweat dries on his brow.”

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

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As it happens I do not break into a sweat on the brow when I write – under certain circumstances, and if I think what I am writing is unusually good, there might be a certain dampening of the armpits – but if I did, I am confident that my payer would have satisfied even this metaphorical injunction. (I can all too readily imagine an aggrieved labourer quoting this back at his recalcitrant and notionally devout boss, only to be told, “Ha ha, that’s just a figure of speech, you’ll be paid at the end of the next calendar month. If you’re lucky, and stop making a fuss.”)

I don’t know what the moral here is. I mean, the moral of this column is constant: “Don’t be me.” I might have said something along the lines of “act promptly to deal with your bills and whatnot and the universe will treat you kindly” but that’s not the whole story, considering that the mess I have got into with all bills apart from rent (which gets paid as immediately as it can be) would not have existed if I had paid them in the first place.

In my defence, and as I might have mentioned before, this is the first place I have ever lived in – and I was born at a time when the Beatles were still three years away from having cool shades on the back cover of Revolver – where I have had to deal with utility bills on my own. I once had to pay poll tax in Westminster and that was only £60 or so but I still refused to pay it. But that was on principle, and I took legal advice. It was a childish position to take, but I’d do it again and, damn it, I practically was a child. And it’s not a defence I can use again until I am old beyond hope and a kindly nurse is checking my Tenas.

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

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This article appears in the 11 May 2022 issue of the New Statesman, Stalling Starmer