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7 September 2016updated 07 Sep 2021 12:05pm

Down and Out

Apparently, bankruptcy is great – it clears your record, as it were. A bit like confession.

By Nicholas Lezard

Right now I have two pressing worries. What’s interesting – and I am using the word in its loosest possible sense – is that they are entirely unrelated. Normally my worries are locked together in formation, like a ring of skydivers. And even if there is no causal link between the worries they often simply fit well, in a pleasing fashion, like the panels of a parquet floor. I have found, for instance, that being skint and Not Getting Any – to pluck two occasional but recurring worries from the air – go together like eggs and bacon.

Worry number one right now is that the elder son has gone off to Amsterdam with four of his friends. They are 19. They are male. What, I ask myself with a wild wobble of panic in my voice, could possibly go wrong?

Amsterdam and I have some history. I once had a friend who moved there and she’d seemed fine before she got there, but when I visited one day, at the end of a long tour of Italy on the back of a motorbike, she pooed in front of me while I was brushing my teeth. I like to think of myself as a broad-minded man, but thirty years have done nothing to erase the memory.

I have since been to Amsterdam a few times and have never failed to marvel at the place. I was once invited to a hen party as the only male, and the immediate presence of half a dozen young, attractive and, in one case, determinedly predatory women unhinged me a bit. It’s a long and rather complicated story but it ends with me being wheeled (literally) on to the plane by a wife so incandescent with fury, you could have read by her in the dark. That was when she told me to stop drinking for a month or she’d leave. (Which I managed, and surprisingly easily, too, in case you’re wondering.) And there were other times of which I shan’t give even a bowdlerised account (largely to protect the reputation of others, I hasten to add).

Now my elder boy is going and among his luggage is a fair amount of my DNA. Lezard DNA is unusual in that it basically splits us into either Jekylls or Hydes. My brother has grown a rather fetching goatee, like Evil Spock’s in the mirror universe in Star Trek, but anyone wondering who the Evil Lezard is won’t have to hang around me and my brother for too long in order to work it out. My elder boy plays his cards close to his chest and has a saintly manner, but I have been watching closely, and have seen the cloven hoof pop out, usually for comic effect. If he is capable of mischief, now we will find out. I have a horrible vision of a darkly adult sequel to The Inbetweeners, where a bunch of schoolmates egg each other on into ever-escalating patterns of debauchery, until even the famously tolerant Dutch police weigh reluctantly in to sort out the mess.

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The other worry is money-related, but here one finds that the word “skint” doesn’t exactly cover it. This is about the notice served on me by a bailiff the other week, which I dimly recall mentioning in this column. When I got it (and I would like the record to state that, like a true Englishman, I said “thank you” automatically as I accepted the envelope) I noticed my name at the top, the sum at the bottom, and the bit in bold saying I had 18 days to do something about this.

That was two weeks ago, and yesterday I did indeed send off a letter saying that, on reflection, I would rather not be declared bankrupt, but as I looked more closely at the document I noticed it was actually dated a month before it was handed to me.

This has put me into a bit of a flap. Bankruptcy has something of a stigma about it, does it not? I know Donald Trump has been declared bankrupt a few times but there are people who say this was a shrewd move. Yesterday evening was pretty much all about me being too scared to type “what happens when you’re declared bankrupt” into the Google search box.

In the end I did, though I was only able to look at the screen through slightly parted fingers. I did see, I think, something hinting that bankruptcy was great, in that it cleaned one’s record, like confession, but I don’t buy it.

Meanwhile, until I hear from the good people of HMRC, I am in a curious limbo, like Schrödinger’s financially irresponsible cat: I both am, and am not, bankrupt, and the wave function will collapse only when I get a reply. For which there is no rush at this end.

So there you go. Two unrelated worries. I’m amazed I slept last night. 

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