One of the problems of living in a newly Bugaboo-fied or the 21st century equivalent of a Yuppie-fied area of London is that everyone thinks you are loaded just because you live there, when you may well be broke and there entirely by accident. They also assume you have more cash than sense and try it on. If you are like me, you prove them right about the lack of sense if not the lack of cash.
The window cleaner came around, looked over the place and said: "That'll be £40 to clean inside and out". Because he was about two inches from my face and because the windows were so filthy you could have written the sort of witty message you see on dirty white vans along the lines of: 'My other place is a caravan', I agreed, though it seemed a bit steep. When it came to paying I said: "There's your £40" and he said: "But I said £45". I would not have given it much thought except the same thing happened with the gardener who said "That'll be £50 for cutting the hedge". Then when it came to paying he said "How much did I say? Really, £50? Well actually it's £60 plus £10 for taking away the rubbish. Is that OK?" What am I supposed to say? "No, it bloody well isn't OK." I know I should have done and I know those who know me would have expected nothing less. I am known as someone who can be a bit stroppy. But instead of saying "You said fifty quid. Here's fifty quid," I paid up. Afterwards I felt angry with myself, stupid and cheated.
It continues to the point I fear our London home has developed a bad case of financial haemophilia. The oven man arrives to effect what is supposed to be a simple repair. He is perfectly pleasant and I offer him a coffee before remembering he is costing me something like £6 every four minutes (or is it £4 every six minutes, I forget) so each sip of Fair Trade Guatemalan cocoa bean is setting me back more than I paid for the entire recyclable packet. For the 'simple' oven repair I find myself writing a cheque for more than £200. He asks if I want everything put right. "What do you mean?" I reply. "For £200 I want it not only right, but singing, dancing and performing Tantric sex if necessary." He pauses and tells me to have the oven lights working will cost more. I say I want them working. This is money I do not have spare because, like the oven lights, I am no longer working, but I write the cheque because Christmas is coming and I want the oven to work and perhaps it is a good idea to actually see what is happening to the stuffed turkey while it is in the oven, though on second thoughts perhaps not.
Finally, the builder says the roof needs doing. "Can't it wait until Spring?" I wail feeling the pain of a bank account already suffering grievous bodily harm. "Hmmm...wouldn't risk it if I were you," he replies. So I find myself paying another small fortune to a couple of his mates to repair the slates and the felt and the this and that...
At the same time I have returned to a messy - and of course costly - boundary dispute with one set of neighbours and those on the other side call to complain that the builders have been fixing the roof on a Saturday morning when they want a lie-in. I explain it is an emergency because the rainstorms they can hear wailing down the chimneys are set to drench us in our own home, but I have the impression they are so angry they do not care. I am a good neighbour and I apologise profusely. I tell the builder to stop work, to patch the roof and to leave it until Monday even if it means I am flooded in the meantime. Afterwards I think: "You know, you really are stupid." I only hope I qualify as a Good Neighbour in whatever life there is after this one.
Now I am being hounded by the television licence people. I have a very cheap, very tiny and very tinny television set that has an inbuilt DVD; the latter used exclusively to tranquilise La Fille with Pingu, Kipper, Jungle Book and Cinderella - Alice in Wonderland if she is really lucky. The shop I bought it from apparently reported me. They told the TV licence people I had bought a television; they did not say I had bought a cheap, tiny, tinny thing that would have trouble recognising a TV signal if it biffed it on the aerial I do not have. As well as having no TV aerial, there is no cable as far as I know, and while I confess I do have a satellite dish sprouting like a mutant mushroom from one of the Victorian chimneys, it dates from way back and I no longer have any kind of box to receive any kind of signal from it. I do not need a TV licence because I do not watch any television and even if I wanted to see what all the fuss is about programmes I have missed while in France like 'Big Brother' or 'I'm a Celebrity' I could not. I listen to BBC Radio 4 from a equally tiny and tinny radio in the kitchen but I do not believe this needs a licence. I have explained this about a dozen times by phone and email to the people in Swansea or somewhere out in the sticks, but still they keep threatening to send someone round. "Please do," I tell them. "Stop sending letters, send a person." I do not need to buy a TV licence, but given my pathetic form over last couple of weeks I will have the cheque book ready just in case.
I ask my mother, who is staying, if there is something about me that suggests I am filthy rich. She looks at my jeans, bag-lady t-shirt, grubby socks and uncombed hair and laughs. Perhaps, I venture, La Fille has written 'Cashpoint' in felt-tip pen on my forehead.
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