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A haemorrhaging Dick

Two four-packs of beer for £7. Cheaper than buying two separately. Cheaper, in fact, than buying none at all, and so I actually spend more by keeping money in my pockets! True – you do the maths.

If you’ve come here expecting a lecture on applied logic then you may have come to the wrong place.

So then, honesty in anonymity, let’s be open about the idiocy that has infested this wallet since I was first allowed financial independence. Here are some examples of the times reason has taken a back seat, then fallen asleep and woken up confused in the wrong country. Dick here has over the years lost

  • £444 – the deposit on a grim flat I left early, calculating that my sanity and emotional well-being were worth more than staying to the end of the contract
  • roughly £250 spent on one of those dubious charity treks to the developing world, which combine an illusive sensation of adventure located safely within someone else’s parameters with a liberal smugness and a poncy holiday. I registered with this during a brief flaring of a feeling that I should take more risks and seek the unpredictable. Having come to my senses I found the payment was non-refundable. Yikes!
  • £500 spent on the deposit in an abortive house-share. The guy said several times he would pay me back but somehow never did. I learnt then the evidential value of paperwork, and to never trust anyone again.
  • circa £150 on a distance-learning course in journalism. Following the first assignment – wherein the tutor wrongly accused me of having made a spelling mistake – I thought at length how best to respond. In which time the period in which to cancel had run out and, once again, no refund.
  • whisper this, yes, whisper it with your breathiest whisper, somewhere between £60 and £80 on a session of hypnotism. Admittedly a low point in the tale thus far, but had it actually worked it wouldn’t be so bad. As said above, never trust anyone – especially never trust anyone who owns books on Reiki.
  •  two occasions when, due to poor time-keeping plus other issues in life generally, I had to get a taxi home from central London. The friendly sedative of time has worked its magic here and made me forget just how much I spent each time. I really don’t want to know.

And, rest assured, there are other occasions when seemingly significant sums of money have just dribbled through my fingers like easily renewable and non-valuable sand, many of which have been lost to the future observers of society. I somehow maxed-out my credit card in New York, then spent four years paying it off. Which time I decided would be a good occasion to punish it some more, in not-as-cheap-as-you’d-think-it-would-be Greece. A responsible adult might have looked with horror (and maybe even self-disgust) at the subsequent bill. Exchange rates, blah blah, so much voodoo. I abstained from calculations on the grounds that my maths wasn’t what it should be (a D at A level, I ask you), and that I was on holiday and so should be exempt from common sense.

Plus there is the modern system of shuffling money that doesn’t exist from one fictitious node to another. So a number appeared on my bank statement on the day I was paid? And now another number appears in another column? I have not seen this money, these virtual earnings. Show me precisely why I should tremble at the movement of arbitrary symbols from one column to the next. This is all a fiction. Money is a lie. I feel no threat from numbers. I’ll ride this baby until the wings fall off!

In my next post I’ll show you why this is true.

Ambition

I have said that I lack the imagination to better my position. Again, it is not lack of interest or dedication, but maybe the splitting of attention: there is too much to think about, so much to focus on that the beam of attention becomes diffused, a watery light illuminating so little you might as well wander through the marshes at midnight with a guttering candle. Someone – Dickens maybe? – was said to have died of ‘congestion’ of the brain. I know how he felt.

The problem with thinking too hard about a problem is that the very intensity of your thinking can cloud your vision. You become too close to the matter to be able to see it clearly. I am good at knowing when thinking is no longer profitable and thus when I should give my mind a rest with some soothing spider solitaire.

And here is my amazing plan of action. Before going to bed I tell – I COMMAND – my unconscious mind to think about matters while I am elsewhere. Just think about stuff, I say, and wake me when you’ve come to a conclusion.  Any problem. Just ask and await the answer. What job to look for? How do I overcome this impasse in my dissertation? How can I expand my social circle without any real effort? And you’d be surprised how often an answer is forthcoming – at least you would if you weren’t particularly in touch with reality.

But sometimes my lazy mind conjures something in that interregnum twixt night and day. Just recently – I could have been nodding off on an especially tiring Saturday afternoon – happened I thought of a

SITCOM IDEA

Here we are, we’re looking at a tent, a big tent. Think a cut-price Gadaffi. Now this tent travels through time. (These days the physics behind time travel is so rehearsed as to be painfully banal, as we, armchair savants that we are, tediously wait for technology to catch us up). It is piloted by an enigmatic robot, possibly in evening dress, who never speaks. And the crew:

  • Raoul – dressed, when first we meet, in a Travolta-style vision of the 70s – white suit, big lapels, bright red flappy shirt and an ever-present Martini glass. (For the hair think Keith Lemon. And for the clothes. And everything else). Raoul is a former history student who, given access to the means to travel within the space-time continuum, seeks to alter the past at every opportunity. His professed aim is to ‘fuck shit up’. Hardly a difficult task, we connoisseurs of the relevant literature might say: the slightest change to the past and all that. But no, he discovers to his great chagrin. The thing about history is that it is over. It can’t be changed. Things have happened a particular way, we know for a fact, and their very happenedness means they can never be otherwise. We see a bitter Raoul attending a lecture of one of his former teachers who remarks that, all things considered, history is even more like itself than ever before.
  • Jork (come on, you think of a better name – think Blake’s Seven, Star Wars, and any et ceteras you care to mention). Jork’s contribution is more mature. He feels himself to be a representative of the future, and to carry this momentous responsibility at all times. Thus he has  a duty to represent the future in a good light. To do this he wears a silver suit (obviously with no lapels), carries a not very scary or convincing-looking weapon and drapes his head with a haircut that looked somehow okay in the 1980s. Jork is aware of the burden he carries in his dealings with the mass of history.

But what are two such characters doing in possession of a time machine? To put it shortly, they stole it. Let’s assume the louche Raoul was behind the theft, and that Jork – a known stickler for convention and the forces of order – was somehow roped in, in such a way that  he had to comply. (There you go, comic muse – think about that. While I sleep, obviously). Maybe Raoul was running from something – poor exam results, perhaps. But why don’t the government of the time (whenever this is set) do something about it? Well now, the government of Britain (or whatever futuristic or pseudo-ancient name I might choose to employ – Albion, Logris, Brittanica, North-West Sector 7) resents the theft but is powerless to act. The Timetent is a secret, you see. Thus it must be kept a secret, and it is thought the safest thing to do with such low-level criminal types is to allow them free rein, knowing (as we all now know) that this way they can do no harm whatsoever.

When first we see them they are accommodating a woman (Daphne, or Daf) who, on the run from some situation, chooses the tent as a hiding place. She pulls a gun on the amiable Raoul who asks her why she is so panicky. She has stolen something, she says, from an ex-lover. What has she stolen, he asks. A gun, she replies.

They take her with them, of course, enacting the travelling mechanism of the tent as her pursuers approach. (Just imagine the comical looks on their faces as the tent disappears!) But where to?

Dallas, 22nd November 1963, she says. Or the day of the battle of Waterloo. Or, no, 1066, Hastings, etc.

Raoul fiddles with the guidance system, and they step outside the tent into –

A field, apparently somewhere in the Midlands, early in 1407.

‘And this is interesting because?’ Daf asks.

‘Just watch this’, Raoul says, as he entices a man of the past, a knight,  into the tent.

‘Now,’ says Raoul, ‘this here is a photocopier.’ The machine makes that humming noise that the present day is all too familiar with and light spills out the side.

‘By the Gods,’ the knight says. ‘Truly this device makes swift and accurate copies of any of our manuscripts. What enchantment is this?’

‘Shut up,’ says Raoul, ‘you idiot.’

And so the sitcom continues. Each week the crew visit an episode from history – chosen each time for its deliberate banality – and encounter laughs through the anachronistic meeting of ideas. Possible destinations include the signing of the Buganda agreement of 1900, boundary disputes in Norman England, a five-legged cow in Paraguay of 1727,  the day in 1872 when literally nothing happened and the case of the missing footspa in Toronto in 1962.

And, to recap, this is one of the best of the ideas which come in the no-man’s land where consciousness and sleep do battle.

Daf’s character needs some work. There are precious few meaningful roles for women in the sitcom world, and it would be nice to redress the balance, however slightly.

So, anyway, that answers the ambition question. If my unconscious would settle on a career path, that would also be welcome!

Aside

Dick’s riches

For the rich budgeting must be easy.

For the sake of clarity I define as rich anyone who earns a pound a year more than me. I recognise that, reckoned globally, I am in the richest tiny minority, with a roof, a job, clean water, etc, but this is not how we define ourselves. We measure ourselves against others, and seek cause for complaint.

I have never been motivated by money.  I would sooner take a badly paid job working with people I liked than a well paid job stuck in a cold and silent office where the thought of hanging myself increased in attractiveness in correlation with salary rises. But the notion cannot be avoided that how much you are paid is in proportion to how much you are valued, and I am aware that if I stay another four or five years in this job I might eventually reach the national average salary.  The average as it is now, anyway; five years down the line it will have risen again, and I will be like a cat chasing a torch-beam, never realising that the game is unwinnable.

I have managed to get three posts into this blog without having said a single negative word about my job. Let’s see how long we can continue. The job is untaxing, is consistent and predictable, with nothing to surprise or disturb. It could be said that a chimp could do my job just as well, and though I would have to look the other way while this is said I would not contradict it. Thirteen years out of university, a modicum of intelligence and a preternatural capacity for adapting to change, and still I am stuck at the most modest of rungs. From here the top of the ladder is shrouded in mist. There may even be vultures circling up there – I don’t have my glasses with me – that’s how distant, strange and unsettling it seems. The metaphor breaks down when you consider how many other people are in the job market. Do we each have a separate ladder? Otherwise it would get quite crowded. And if so, then how can we compete? We are at leisure to climb however far we choose and so, provided you are fit enough, it presents no trouble at all. But what’s at the top? Is it free-standing, or is there some kind of platform up there? And if we’re all busy climbing ladders then how does any productive work ever get done?

The problem is then that, able to make an adequate stab at anything I turn my hand to, I am paralysed by choice, and hindered by an inability to make out just what destination I would like to head for. Am I really the sort who lacks ambition? No – worse than that I lack imagination. If I knew what I wanted to achieve then you can be sure I would set my face towards it, would pursue it whatever the objections from logic and convention, the voices that say this is not worth chasing, to which I would reply it is the only thing worth chasing. Dedication, commitment without object. You lie awake nights aware something big is missing but not able to make out what it is, the edges are too blurred, but knowing it is huge and important, that if only you could get close enough you would see its skin and its texture and would at last be in a position to describe it.

Not that I would object to being rich. Like so much in life the desire is a means of saying, please make me matter. 

Our Hero’s Predickament

Here’s the situation.

My rent goes up next month by £20. Not a great increase but one which, given I can’t really afford it as it is, will not easily be absorbed. Every estate agent I’ve ever had dealings with has told me I don’t earn enough. Thank you, I want to say, I’m glad someone’s spotted that. But no, they mean they don’t think I’m earning enough to afford to live in a one-bedroom flat in the Home counties. But who is?

So my big spendings are rent, council tax and other bills, payments on loans (taken out to pay off previous overdrafts) and the stubborn purchase of food, to prevent death creeping in. There is also a large misty area where money just somehow leaks away, which has been examined by scientists who remain baffled. Yes, I did pay for two hotel rooms last week (and chose not to visit one of them), but this doesn’t happen often. Okay, something similar happened a couple of months ago, but on that occasion I slept in every bed I paid for, and besides, expense doesn’t count when you’re on holiday, more so if it’s your birthday. Just as calories don’t count on a Friday. My commute to work costs me nothing, and I save on entertainments by never having fun under any circumstances.

As Oscar Wilde said: ‘Only the unimaginative live within their means’ [note to self: look up the correct quotation, if you have nothing better to do]. Maybe my greatest extravagance, that which tips me over the edge, is beer. This could have been included under the heading of food, but it’s arguably more important than that. Yes, food may prevent your cells eating themselves or merely suffocating, but it will never become your best friend on those long and lonely nights when it feels like the town is deserted and the sun might never rise again. Were I possessed of a soul I might claim a certain spiritual significance for Sergeant Beer which casts mock over the (roughly) £20 a week I spend on it. Unless I go to the pub as well, in which case double that.

So the one indefensible extravagance then is rent, which is about twice what I can afford. It is this which keeps me almost perpetually overdrawn, my overdraft limit – a sickly child of £1300 – frequently suffering a battering, if not being completely trampled, by the end of each month.

But this is the price I pay for living alone, for freedom, for independence. And I consider it worth paying.

(The fact that I live alone is entirely a choice and nothing to do with my personality, a fact which I hope to prove in the future by means of a series of well-chosen anecdotes which will cast me always in a good light).

To begin

‘What have you done today to make you feel proud?’

So Heather Small asked me this morning. And what is my answer? Well, Heather, today I won £53, having bet on Roger Federer (£100 at 8/15) to win Wimbledon. I know nothing about tennis and care even less, and no trace of patriotism rose in me to object to betting against Our Boy. I just had the idea that the foreigner I had heard of would beat the British hopeful, and who really believed otherwise?

So a successful gambler then. Well, not really. A hundred spat out on a dead cert – and part of me is still nagging that I should have bet more, like a thousand or something – and half that back on top might seem like good financial sense, but with me any earnings fall under the heading of Damage Limitation. I got into gambling big time with the Euros. Well, big time… I bet about £250 overall, getting £160 back, resulting in a net loss of a mere £90. This, you will see, is part of a pattern.

Now let’s do the mathematics behind this weekend. To the good – £53. And on the darker side, well. I had to be in London at 9.30 this morning. It only occurred to me a couple of days ago – long after I’d made the commitment to be there – that I could not rely on public transport for this fantastic feat of matter displacement. No matter how early I arose it was impossible for me to get to my destination in time. Wearily, with bitter laugh in throat, I looked into hotels for Saturday night. The Easyhotel in Old Street presented itself, a not too painful £40 for the night. It was a wheelchair-accessible room, as all other rooms were booked, and I decided this would be okay. As long as I wasn’t taking it away from someone truly in need then it would be a kind of quirky adventure. I booked. Total expenditure thus far: £40.

Saturday night I was preparing to leave and, as I was about to switch off the laptop, thought I’d have a look at the booking details again.  So, what’s that, small print? Only genuinely disabled people are entitled to book disabled rooms, and pretend wheelchair users may be refused? Oh-kay. I’ll just cancel then. Too late to cancel. Here comes another bitter laugh. Wearily, in the twenty minutes before the train leaves, I look for another hotel. Another Easyhotel, this time in Kensington. How much this time? £99. Yep, this is the cheapest option within accessible distance. Those fingers, by now waaay too familiar with card numbers, get to work and the room is booked.

Total expenditure: £140.05 (inc £1.05 booking fee).

But what’s going on in London at the unholy hour of 9.30 anyway? Well, it’s the London 10k, six and a quarter miles running through the centre of the city, with 35 000 other people. This will be my fourth race this year, following on from one twenty-miler, one marathon and one 5k. It’s all about the medals with me. I’m not at the height of fitness and today is a bit cold and rainy, so why here and now? Because someone I’ve never met asked on Twitter  for people willing to take part on behalf of a charity I’d never heard of. What could make more sense? Just the thought of another running event sold it for me. I love them – love the getting undressed in public and shoving my clothes into a rucksack, love the real risk of the portaloos, the weaving in and out of the slower runners (losers!) and the gasping towards the end, thinking it’ll all be over soon and I’ll never have to do this again.

And so I ran on behalf of Canterbury Oast Trust. You should look them up. And donate. They’re a fantastic little charity based in the South-East, who help to increase the life opportunities of adults with learning disabilities (http://www.c-o-t.org.uk/). When events are full charities always have places available. They usually ask for a minimum sponsorship to be raised, and I’ve always wondered how they police this. If you say, ‘yes, I will try to raise at least £3000’ and manage about fifty, what do they do then? Do they take you to court for wasting their time and abusing their good will, or do they just look at you with a world-weary, disappointed face, implying that no one has ever hurt them the way you have just done? To be fair, that would be enough for me. As it is it doesn’t take much for me to feel guilty. £100 was the minimum requested. A gentle-to-moderate Facebook begging campaign was set in action, linking regularly to my justgiving page, yielding… well. I started things off myself, and then interjected occasional anonymous donations to make it look like things were going more impressively than they actually were. Though things have picked up since, the day before the race I made up the balance myself, in the process donating a grand total of £80.

Total expenditure: £220.05

Oh, and travel costs, too, and food bought at Waitrose in Gloucester Road, bringing the amount expended on this weekend up to (call it my incompetence) £252.30.

And was it worth it, after all? Not having been in the best of health over recent weeks, and not having done all that much in the way of training, I wasn’t expecting a personal best. In the end I limped home with a time of 51 minutes. (In perspective, my best is 43). It was another medal, and another free t-shirt, always welcome, but did it merit the effort of getting there at all? Instead of bothering with all this, surely it would have made more sense just to give that money to charity. Then I could have missed out on all the hassle, the rain, the self-imposed abstinence from alcohol, missing out also on the race-time camaraderie and, yes, the sight of Heather Small atop a London bus, serenading us all with the devastating question ‘what have you done today to make you feel proud?’

So, Roger Federer, that drop of £53 seems like nothing very much amid the ocean of profligacy.

Welcome to the finances of a Dick.

Blather

My name, for the purposes of this blog, is Richard [Surname], and this is How to be a Dick about Money. This is one of my guilty secrets: despite being an adult in my thirties I cannot be trusted with money. At any moment in my life I am literally pissing money out of my ears. Literally. There are people I know who have things much tougher and they know how to budget and they know how much money is worth. When I hear them complaining about how hard they have it I feel guilty, very guilty indeed. Because I am an idiot with money, just how much an idiot I plan to divulge slowly here, and may perhaps learn something about myself in the process. Yeah.

Up to the age of thirty I watched my finances carefully, panicking whenever I went a pound overdrawn. And then I hit thirty and thought – I don’t care any more. Yes, it was liberating, just as calling your boss a fuckpig and then swanning out of the building for the last time ever can be liberating, but, oh, there is a terrible reckoning. Or is there? Credit limits and overdrafts mean that, however little money I actually possess, there is seemingly no end to the amount that I can piss away. Yes, there is still a roof over my head, there is still beer in my fridge, so what does any of it matter? That is one issue that this blog hopes to explore.

What I also plan to do is show how this financial incompetence is just one aspect of my wider failure to integrate meaningfully with the universe. There are many causes for complaint between skull and toes. I’m afraid it won’t all be about numbers. Some emotions may creep in from time to time, as I look frankly at myself, metaphorically (and sometimes literally) stripped naked before you, as I adopt a candour I couldn’t possibly show to those closest to me. Whoever they are!

I am a child wandering through the forest of life. Join me and we will walk hand-in-hand through the dark. Though most probably you will laugh at me with the other children. 😦 Sad face.