A tableau vivant of the modern global economy if ever there was one at HSBC Premier Holborn branch this afternoon. I am without funds until multiple payday on the 1st of October from various clients and vassals so am raiding the riding boot in Bloomsbury Towers that I fill daily with loose pound coins and scrabbling for spare Euros kept in the silver cigarette case. Anyway, ahead of me in the queue were these two Chinoise children knee high to a grasshopper.
They snuffled towards the bank teller like those two naffing pandas that Beijing sent to Scotland to mate this year. Incidentally, is Inverness Zoo the heartbreak hotel of the Highlands? But I digress. Anyway, these children pulled a wad of notes out of their Hello Kitty rucksacks that would have made Al Capone’s eyes stand out on stalks. I counted with the teller. There must have been £10,000 in twenties and fifties. As Miss Midler would say, ‘what’s wrong with this picture?’
Well, I cashed my Euros sufficient to keep me in Prosecco for the rest of the week and shuffled off to Waitrose where – glorious tintanabulations – Champagne was on offer for £13. So there’s a silver lining to every cloud. However, on returning to Bloomsbury Towers to continue Chapter 4 of the Corfu Novel, I happened to switch on Radio 4s Money Box and my blood quite frankly boiled.
Under discussion was how one lady could claim child benefit, national insurance credits and pension credits while not working, another on how he could claim jobseekers allowance while doing cash in hand work on the sly no doubt and another mad old bat complaining that all her capital was tied up in her home and would poor Nelly starve should she have to go into a home? I felt like Tweeting in and saying ‘we could all be dead tomorrow dears so tap your troubles away and count your blessings’.
To be fair, I have never been poor. To bag a line from Barbra’s epic film On A Clear Day You Can See Forever, ‘you don’t know what it is like to be poor: simply to be without funds’. This is the nature of being a maverick writer based in Bloomsbury Square with an unhealthy relationship with J. Sheekey’s Oyster Bar and a dependence on Prosecco. However, it isn’t fun to be chasing cheques and it is terribly frustrating to know that filthy lucre is days away but one just can’t get at it today.
I know Rowley, 40 years old and I have no more clue about budgeting or saving for a rainy day – and my dear it never rains but pours – than did Marie Antoinette and we all know what happened in that unfortunate situation. Still, you can’t help shaking your fists at the sky on days like this and wondering why Chinese children have £10,000 in used notes in their tacky little bags and my Berluti wallet contains nothing but fresh air.
In a way there is some poetic justice to being on the hustle in Bloomsbury and St Giles’s. There are definitely shades of living in the novel Tom Jones or Moll Flanders about climbing and sliding down the greasy pole of London literary life. Nothing is new in the zoo…unless you count two sterile, frigid pandas. I think of Thackeray’s Vanity Fair and the villainess Becky Sharp hustling her way through London life on tradesmen’s credit and living high on the hog thanks to her numerous amours with debtors prison just a roll of the dice away.
Unlike Beau Brummell, I have not accrued gambling, tradesmen’s or banking debts. I’m one of the mugs who pays the bills on time knowing full well the people I am paying have tasty pensions and regular salaries and couldn’t survive working for themselves and being paid up to a year in arrears by certain publications. Bitter? Not likely. I wouldn’t change it for the world.
But I do think the government should be sinking to their knees in gratitude to people like I who are entirely self-sufficient, have no dependents, never claim benefits and don’t weep and moan because the money’s blown. You just get on with it knowing the sun will come out tomorrow and there will always be a dressed crab waiting at Sheekey’s when the shekels have landed in the offshore account. Kidding. I think there is something inherently noble about people who grift and graft to maintain a certain standard of living in London.
I hope you like my snaps from the film Thoroughly Modern Millie. They are appropriate to the current situation. I adore Bea Lillie as Mrs Meers the Chinoise white slaver in New York who runs an all-girl boarding house that in reality supplies Big Mary’s Tart Shop in downtown Kowloon. Her catchphrase, ‘sad to be all alone in the world’ certainly strikes a chord today.
Equally fabulous is Julie Andrews as Millie the girl who comes to New York in order to marry her boss. She’s a Modern, don’t you know. I would love to have the gumption of a Millie and go after the lolly but have learnt by experience that money not earned by oneself is not half as satisfying as payment for services rendered. That didn’t quite come out as I intended but you get the gist.
The final picture is of Carol Channing as Millie’s fairy godmother Muzzy: a merry widow whose hobbies are Champagne, sleeping with her tango instructor and who when having fun hollers ‘raspberries darlings!’ So think of me this evening in Bloomsbury Towers with my £13 Chambers leaning out of the windows giving London a great fat raspberry. Come October all will be financially tidy again but it will take an awfully long time to get those Chinese children out of my mind. Perhaps a viewing of The Inn of the Sixth Happiness or possibly The Bridge Over the River Kwai will do the trick. Until next time…