Thursday, July 16, 2015

The Price of Love

From penultimate section of my book Broke: A Life of Small Change



Why do women spend money on men? Why do they give them money they haven’t a hope in hell’s chance of getting back?
Take Alan, my Hungarian, Australian, Jewish dentist. We met when I was lying on my back (obviously) and he was doing x-rays for my new porcelain veneers. I’d gone in only for a check-up, but as he offered a special price of £500 for the cosmetic surgery and I fancied him, I readily agreed.
On our first date, we went for a pizza in Soho. It was the only thing he ever paid for.
Alan was recently separated and had two young sons, who lived with his ex. A month into our relationship, I spent £200 on an electronic chess set for his birthday. He loved his chess, but he specially liked his new toy; so much so, that he had far less time for me, as he was too busy playing with it.
Then I financed a trip for us to take his kids to see Sooty, who was shooting on location in Chiswick Park, where I was to be granted a one on one interview with the famous glove puppet. As this was the first time I would be meeting the boys, I bought a lovely white linen suit, which, on the beautiful sunny day in question, made me look rather glamorous.
The four of us arrived at the park at 8am, when the photographer suggested that I get the photos out of the way before filming began. So, over I went to Matthew Corbett (who was Sooty’s owner until 1998), who was chatting to Sooty in a black box in his hand.
I had my notebook out and was engaging with the puppet (absurdly excited to meet him at long last), when Matthew started to talk about the weather.
“It’s such a hot day, isn’t it? Sooty thinks it’s a hot day, Sooty’s very hot, Sooty thinks Jaci looks really, really hot . . . “ (I thought I was looking rather hot myself that day). “What’s that, Sooty . . . You think she needs cooling down?”
Sooty’s paw reached into the box, pulled out his familiar water pistol and squirted me all over my face. Round and round and round. My perfectly blow dried hair was drenched. The exquisite make-up I had spent two hours doing that morning was ruined; black mascara dripped onto my white suit. I wanted to cry. The small group of children who had gathered to watch thought it hilarious. 

“Isn’t Sooty a funny bear!” I squealed, while thinking: “I’m going to rip your sodding head off, you stupid piece of inanimate fluff.”
The dentist finished with me shortly after that. One day, he said: “I’m falling for you in a big way.” The next morning he woke up with a facial rash and said we were over.
Alan was positively on the poverty line of my generosity compared to Dick (yes, let’s call him Dick). I met him at the 1999 Bafta Awards, where he had won a craft/technical award and gave what was possibly the worst, incompetent, rambling speech in the history of the Awards; in fact, any awards. Ever.
I was living in something like my tenth Soho apartment in as many years, even though most of the pine had now migrated to Bath, where I moved after my Dad died to be nearer Mum. Having made a loss of £8k on my Belsize Park flat, I did very well in Bath, catching the market at the right time to purchase a six bedroom detached house for £250,000. It was on for £275,000 and I had set my limit at £225,000, but it was the only house I have ever owned that I felt I couldn’t live without.
Conversation among my friends had taken a dramatic turn. Having spent our twenties bemoaning the lack of potential partners on the market (although men never seemed to have a problem finding women as women did men), by our late thirties we spoke of little but the property market: how we had bought at the bottom and sold at the top, moved quickly to accumulate more equity, bought a second property as an investment, bought overseas because the euro was strong and we needed a place to escape the British weather. We were high on the seemingly easy means of getting rich quickly and couldn’t wait to tell our stories, forever engaged in a property one-upmanship that seemed the only real barometer of our success.
By comparison, Dick had very little. Divorced, he had a small house in Kent and was struggling to keep his business afloat. I quickly discovered that he had very expensive tastes but no money to satisfy them  - or so he said. At this point, I had the Bath house, the London rental, and had, yet again, rented a place in Cardiff, all financed by several jobs in print and on TV. I felt sorry for him and met up with him every day in Soho near his office, and gave him emotional support by treating him to drinks and lavish lunches, not only for him but for the increasing number of friends he started to bring along. 

One lunch in Signor Zilli’s in Brewer Street cost me £650. Dick even ordered a bottle of Bollinger (on my tab) to send over to some attractive women sitting at another table.
Then he asked if he could borrow money as he needed to keep his French bank account in credit. I remember crossing Oxford Street to go to my bank and feeling sick, as I would have to go overdrawn in my UK account to help him out. But I did it anyway. Five months down the line, I was already in excess of three grand down. 

In addition to meals and the free loan, I took him to Paris and the south of France, and pretty much kept him in a manner to which he had never become accustomed. In retrospect, the high living was really only a smokescreen to hide the reality. 

I had hit 40 and thought I was in the last chance saloon of love. 

“He’s not funny, interesting, or articulate. He’s boring, overweight, and he’s got ginger hair. He’s mean; he keeps me waiting for hours. He’s raiding my bank account, and the sex is awful,” I told my friend Simon. 

“Then dump him,” he said. 

“But he’s 34 and single,” I wailed.

Simon: “But it doesn’t mean he’s the right 34 and single.”

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