It’s been years since I kicked the wealth habit. I don’t do money anymore. Haven’t had any since 2005.
It’s been years since I kicked the wealth habit.
I don’t do money anymore. Haven’t had any since 2005. Nowadays, when in some choice watering hole I spy the wide boys of Mayfair braying for more, I say to myself with a faint shudder: ‘How can they put that stuff in their pockets? Don’t they know that a man’s wallet is his temple?’
Let’s face it, money is a drug. Not one of those recreational substances that get models into trouble and the Daily Mail, but the Class A kind, the mind-bending, will-destroying hallucinogen more addictive than heroin. Me? I’m on the wagon, praise the Lord. Clean, because thoroughly cleaned out. Poorer than any of the rats that ever followed Madoff. Fully rehabilitated. Skint.
Ridding oneself of the lifelong addiction was not easy. One should never believe people who say that money is something that just goes away, like a youthful predilection for crack cocaine or the common cold.
My own liberation dawned when I’d left my socially astute wife for a London prostitute, because a drastic mishap of this kind is often necessary to bring a hardened addict to his senses. The overdose of venality did me no end of good.
As far as salvation of the soul, waking up in a mess of one’s own making was more useful than all the charity events my wife and I had attended in our seventeen years of marriage.
The fashion for these events among the rich had become compulsory under Thatcher. It had permeated the fabric of London life along with the rest of the American social toxins, from political correctness and tooth veneers to junk bonds and the prohibition of tobacco.
Like a malignant liver, enlarged to the detriment of other bodily organs, money was suddenly at the heart of everything, from mixing cocktails and feeding squirrels in Holland Park to strolling in Piccadilly and meeting old friends for dinner. Suddenly an ordinary multimillionaire could identify with the destitute hero of Orwell’s Keep the Aspidistra Flying, appalled when even the girl who loves him won’t sleep with him without the rubber that he’s got no money to buy.
To feel alive, one needed to spend. To feel good, one needed to spend more than one had. Kelly bags, shatooshes, Impressionists, pink diamond cufflinks and hookers with sushi on their bellies, each of these stimulants was carefully priced just beyond the reach of the person who craved it most, thus turning every garden square in Chelsea into a frozen limbo of envy traversed by a subterranean stream of fraud.
One spent money on clothes without clothing oneself; on food that one was never grateful enough to bless; on drinks that made one sick before they made one drunk; on houses that offered no shelter from jealousy or malice; on charities whose names one could not remember.
A respite from the vicious circle was sought in Italy, and for a short while the illusion that I had shaken off the debilitating vice made me feel suitably Byronic, that is to say, disdainful of the inferno of hypocrisy we had left behind.
But the rent on the upper floors of Byron’s palazzo on the Grand Canal in Venice, where my wife and I had settled, was only slightly smaller than what we got by letting our house in Knightsbridge to American bankers; while in the years since Byron scandalized it, local society had become, if anything, more vapid, petty and mercenary than its London counterpart.
As in England, money had seeped into the stone, the sunsets and the silence; it had grown inseparable, not only from charity, but from all action and contemplation, producing the kind of synaesthesia which literary drug users of yesteryear had variously described as ‘a yawn of fire’ (Francis Thompson), ‘a drowsy numbness’ (John Keats) and ‘a self-repeating infinity’ (Thomas DeQuincey).
Thus faith, hope, charity; one shouldn’t have been surprised if their likenesses had been graven on the new European banknotes. Increasingly restless in the consumptive fog, I came to realise that every picnic in the Venice lagoon, no less than a new Caraceni suit or a bottle of Cristal at Harry’s Bar, was another nail in the coffin of individuality, and that the only way to deal with it all was to go cold turkey. Which, with the help of a cruel mistress and a casino in Curzon Street, was what I did. Thank God for the fleshpots of London.
‘I wish I had blown it at Aspinall’s,’ confides a friend who has lost a good deal of money in the current upheaval. He is a real friend, upon whose true charity I have often relied these past few years, and yet my lips curve into a gleeful smirk. Why shouldn’t I gloat when I hear of the collapse of a system that belonged in rehab, if not actually behind bars?
Why shouldn’t I rejoice at the passing of my greedy old dealer?