Must be funny, right? Wrong. It’s the worst joke in the poorest taste when the woman at Thompsons tells me that, to put my money onto a travel card to use abroad, I’ll have to pay 2% (which doesn’t seem like much, until you work out 2% of £2000…) So what this coiffed brunette was explaining, in her scripted, slippery manner was that, after saving up all this money for my travels, I would have to then pay to take it with me.
Now I’ve never cared about money. I’m a writer so I never expect to really have any (unless I marry rich, but rich people are annoying, they never stoop to the simple tastiness of the odd Maccy Ds, you know?) But living in London, I feel an edgy protectiveness over my handbag everywhere I go. Not because I’m afraid of mugging or attack, but because I’m afraid of that third more common crime – daylight robbery. I’m afraid of those Oyster card charges, those phone call fees, the bank fines when I tumble into an overdraft that I don’t have.
Money has become necessary to existence, and without a LOT of it, my weekly wage slips straight through my fingers. We forget how many things we pay for, constantly. Taxes are everywhere, even when we die. We pay for food, water, shelter. We pay to socialise (because when is the weather ever good enough in Britain for a picnic?) We pay for our hobbies, our fitness, our skills, our education. The money just never stops. It’s a wonder that we’re not all homeless, sprawled across the ground with everyone else who just couldn’t afford another bill, another fine, another expense. It’s a wonder that there are any trees left to print the notes from, that we can’t hear the constant chinking of coins rattling in pockets, in drawers, loose at the bottom of handbags with every forward-marching crowd stomping its way through Covent Garden or the shopper’s brigade of Oxford Street.
I hate it. I hate money. I hate that I would love to have it. I hate that I rely on it so much, that I never feel I have enough, that with each hour that I work, I count and measure the time in terms of pay. How many pounds have I just earned? What’s the cheapest route home? Which is the most reliable website selling the cheapest version of a second hand smart phone? When I have a stable bank account, I never feel happy in the situation and ready to spend. I feel the pressure of those digits, I feel the need to shovel it all away into an ISA that I do not touch, and I wait for the rainy day when I will have to spend it all on another thing that I do not want to buy, but have to – some kind of insurance, or fixture, perhaps a course to add to my CV or some more painful, awkward dentistry under those bright shiny lights.
Money doesn’t make me happy, is essentially what I’m saying. Earning it, spending it – the whole process is more stressful than it’s worth. If I won the lottery, I’d probably have a mental breakdown from the pressure of deciding what the hell to do with such a hefty bank account. What can I buy that will be worth so much money? What secret key to happiness can be purchased for this sum? What if I buy the wrong key?
Most people panic about money. I know a lot of people who plan their lives around it. I don’t know if they’re happier than I am but I doubt it. The key to happiness can’t be bought, we all know this (although few of us are brave enough to accept it). The key is usually in the peculiar shape of another human being. Next time I’m cancelling another dinner plan with a friend I haven’t seen in weeks, because of that nightmarish image of the bill at the end of the evening, I’m going to stop myself. I do have the money, really. And although it means I won’t have as much for as long, all I’ll have to do is to look at the friend across the table and realise: actually, I am incredibly wealthy.