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How I nearly spent £180,000 on revolting champagne glasses

Nicholas Lezard's "Down and Out" column.

An email from the Shop Selling Expensive Wank down the road. Readers of this column whose minds are capable of retaining items of debatable nutritional worth will recall that a few weeks ago, in a bid to bankrupt it, I ordered 1,000 of its revolting champagne glasses after I noticed that its website was selling them for £0.00, plus £4 postage and packaging for each order. Four quid for 1,000 glasses, however vulgar, seemed like a good deal to me and would give whoever runs its online catalogue good cause to reflect upon the importance of proof - reading even electronic documents.

The email is succinct and professional. It points out that the price of £0.00 was “a glitch” and that the actual cost of each glass, which is handmade, is £180 but should I still wish to proceed with the order the shop would be delighted to offer a discount. It has also refunded the £4 post-and-packaging fee. I contemplate briefly a scenario in which I have to explain to the Estranged Wife that I now owe the Shop Selling Expensive Wank £180,000 and so would appreciate it if she could sell the family home. As reveries go, it is not one of the more soothing ones. You wouldn’t, for instance, use it to help you drop off to sleep if you were suffering from a spot of insomnia. Round one to the SSEW.

As it is, I find myself having trouble raising funds for a forthcoming Big Birthday Party, let alone 1,000 champagne glasses of unparalleled tackiness. We’re only talking a few cases of plonk here, not a roomful of Veuve Clicquot. Having in the past few years packed everyone off to the Duke and told them to buy their own drinks, this time I think it would be nice to splash out on some booze myself. Unfortunately, the bank balance has sustained some torpedo damage in the past few weeks, largely self-inflicted for a change: the provider of my main source of income paid me two weeks early last month so as not to inconvenience its payees during a system changeover, which was incredibly thoughtful but lulled me into a false sense of financial security.

That this magazine seems to have paid me twice in the same month – although I may have got this wrong – added to this sense and so I spent a large part of the past month thinking I was far wealthier than I was and splurging like someone demob happy. (I have not invoiced this magazine for last month because I think that will make things OK again but I am now utterly confused and if someone from the NS accounts department can clear up what’s going on, I would be most grateful.)

So, to cut a long story short, I was saved by a parental birthday cheque and a fraternal last-minute loan. (“Am I going to get this back?” he asked with pardonable suspicion as I snatched the cash from him at the Marylebone Station cashpoint and made to sprint away. Of course you’ll get it back, Tony.) That, and the great generosity of my friends, who, having worked out that if there’s one thing I like, it’s wine, brought me so much wine that I think I may even be ahead on the deal. (It would appear that Majestic accepts returns, of full bottles at least, and all it asks of you when you rent its wine glasses is a £1 deposit each, so, if broken, it’s 1/180th of the price of a glass from which even Liberace in his pomp would have thought twice about sipping.)

The rest of the month is going to be spent in lockdown mode. The Beloved, who earns even less than me, gave me a present that must have reduced her to beggary and certainly reduced me to tears when I opened it. (A Hogarth print that may well have been handled by the great man himself, if you’re wondering.) We are going to be eating a lot of pasta and baked potatoes, the Beloved and I, until a boat, whose smoke I cannot quite see over the horizon yet, comes in.

I have discovered that you can make quite a lot of rillettes from a leftover fowl. This helps. I once asked the Fromagerie – a local shop selling extremely expensive artisanal produce from, mainly, France – how much one of its tiny pots of duck rillettes costs and the next thing I knew I was being revived by the paramedics. So now I have an enormous bowl of rillettes that I can use for my daily protein allowance in the comfortable knowledge that I obtained it, in effect, for free. Against this one has to place the knowledge, which experience has taught me, that after about a week of eating rillettes one kind of wearies of rillettes. One even wearies of the word “rillettes”. I bet you have now, too.

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 May 2013 issue of the New Statesman, You were the future once