Supporting the Arts

I’ve never been over-fond of bailiffs, or burly men with clipped moustaches generally, so I applied to a fund for struggling writers. Some weeks later the phone rang. ‘I shall be travelling up from London to discuss your claim. We like to meet our writers in the flesh’.

I hadn’t been expecting this. I’d assumed they’d just take a quick gander at my work, read my tale of woe, and fork out. I had a particular sum in mind. Nothing excessive, but enough to see me through the bleak midwinter.

The following afternoon a taxi pulled up outside – I mentally docked a modest fare from the original sum – and a robust woman in a beautifully cut silk suit strode into my humble abode and plonked a couple of designer label bags on my linoleum. I was just about to eat my main meal of the day – two boiled eggs and a slice of toast – but pushed them to one side as a matter of common courtesy.

‘I can’t stay long’, she said, ‘I’ve asked the taxi to wait’. I mentally docked a less modest fare and the cost of a shopping trip from the original sum.

I’d naturally dressed down for the occasion. This was easy enough: I always dress down. I’d also cased the joint for signs of ostentation. There weren’t any.

‘Good trip?’ I asked as she flicked through her notes on my sad plight.

‘Excellent. The plane was rather crowded, but as I travelled business class’ – I mentally docked a hefty wad from the original sum – ‘the inconvenience was minimal. The hotel, on the other hand, was quite, quite splendid. And the food! They have a new chef there, one of those young French chaps with a charmingly fiery temper and three names, and my goodness, can he cook! I settled, after no small thought, for poached duck’s egg salad with crispy chorizo and Parmesan croutons, followed by grilled chicken with roasted pumpkin, pumpkin seeds and gravy, followed by a bitter chocolate pot with Charbelli biscuits. A tad conservative I would have to agree, but simplicity is the thing’.

‘Mais certainement’, I said. ‘And the wine?’

‘Heggies Viognier Eden Valley ’99′ she replied, ‘the fittest, finest, most delicious Australian viognier I’ve yet encountered. It can only be compared with the legendary, but often scandalously disappointing exemplar, Condrieu’. She leaned forward conspiratorially. ‘I was also rather naughty with the cheese board, gave the cake trolley a wide berth until pressed, and ended up with three splendid glasses of Isle of Ulay’.

I mentally docked a night at Edinburgh’s most expensive hotel with a rude French chef from the original sum. By the time I’d worked out the figures she’d snapped into business mode.

‘But enough about me’, she said. ‘Tell me a little about yourself’.

I proceeded to do so and have to admit I laid it on a bit: solitude, enforced and otherwise; penury; depression; suicide; that sort of thing. I tried my best not to make it sound too romantic.

‘To tell the truth,’ I concluded, ‘if my doggy died and my best friend ran off with my truck I’d be a Country and Western song’.

She looked up from her notes.

‘You have a truck?’

I put her mind at rest over the matter of the truck and asked if she’d like me to put my single bat electric fire on. We could huddle over it together.

‘That won’t be necessary’, she said. ‘I think we’ve about covered everything. Besides, I thought I’d take in a show before dinner’. I mentally deducted a box at the Royal Lyceum and a second night of bon mots from the hotel kitchen as she strode off to her waiting cab and said, as an afterthought, that they’d let me know. At this rate, I reasoned as I speared the yolk of my first egg with a morsel of toast, I’d end up owing her.

The news, when it eventually came, was rather better than that.

‘We regret to inform you that we feel unable to help you at this juncture. The tale of your sad plight touched all our hearts up to a point, but my colleagues felt, and I feel bound to say that I endorse their view, that two eggs was rather excessive’.


Ian Macpherson writes for radio and television and is the author of two very funny novels, Deep Probings (The Autobiography of a Genius.) and Late Again.

Copyright Ian Macpherson 2005.


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