This week I have been powering through the final chapters of my third novel oblivious to almost all sounds and news around me. NATO bombs fall where they may, the Dow may have the summer jitters but still I pound away on the WP, stopping only to run my husband to railway station, only to find a large group of young Kosovans ? unexpectedly well-dressed in black leather jackets and Raybans ? with their possessions in laundry bags, queuing to get the London train, obviously having taken one look at their genteel new home in sunny East Lothian and said no thanks palski in fluent Albanian. After the harrowing sights on TV, I find this rather reassuring.
Then small snippets of information have filtered through, curiously animated in my mind like characters running through an early zeotrope. Thus London friends tell me that the latest miracle to come along for City charismatic evangelicals ? after they are lying on the floor having had their Toronto blessing you understand, is ? wait for it and what a delicious fusion of wealth and religion this is ? gold dust on their hair and clothes which miraculously has fallen from their Bibles! Love it. Being a meat and potatoes Anglican myself I cry Victor Meldew style ?I don?t believe it?, as I end one chapter and begin another. Yet how comforting this must be for these happy clappies. For times I learn are getting harder down south. Next I hear that three London friends have been out to dinner recently where the hosts apologised for not being able to afford meat! Curiouser and curiouser and hot on this, comes news from another expat Scot goes to a fancy charity auction held by the wife of an old Etonian chum only to find that old Etonian hubby who?s supposed to be rolling in Square Mile dosh, could not afford to bid! Shock, horror ! Finally last week the London Evening Standard reported that smart London house prices are falling. Now this explains a lot, (especially the gold dust). I permit myself a small smile of triumph as I pound away. Will my hero get the blonde? Who?s going to go bankrupt before Chapter 13? Who cares? Prices of detached houses in Wandsworth are down by 100K! There is a God!
Miscellaneous nuggets of financial information fed to wild-eyed women who are metamorphosing from reasonably sensible journalists into eccentric lady novelists do not a story make. Yet in such a state one?s picks up nuances one might normally miss. I am also filled with deja vue. There is Paul Merton on TV pushing loans for those with zero credit ratings just as Barry Norman pushed The Mortgage Corporation at the height of the late eighties property boom. And just as Michael Douglas alias Gordon Gekko trumpeted that greed is good in ?Wall Street?, so life now imitates art with Barbra Streisand hooked on Internet day trading. Only this time the figures are much much bigger.
And certainties that once were solid rocks to live one?s life by, seem to be floating away . In a recent letter to the FT a reader, deploring the lousy level of return on his pension, has decided to invest for his retirement elsewhere and wondered what the consequences would be for fat, complacent pension industry if everyone else did the same. I visit my IFA, and force myself to concentrate on our annual review. My nice ethical pension with Friends Provident has performed well, on course if I wish to maintain the lifestyle of a church mouse (minus gold dust), but another friend meeting his IFA that day finds that 1500 units on this Standard Life pension has gone AWOL without apparent explanation. To misquote Dr. Johnson there is no more glorious sight than a Scotsman who discovers part of his pension is missing.
And yet that other well touted pension strategy is also falling out of bed, as we learn that the buy-to-let stampede which has transformed the most shy unassuming people you know into rampant landlords across the Central Belt, is coming unstuck as rent levels plummet. I dream of renting in the Edinburgh New Town for at least five minutes until my agent orders me not to leave my desk. I produce 8000 words in three days (and nights) and then, in the thick fog which always comes after writing like this, a lawyer friend rings. In her early forties after a lifetime as a career mistress?s dreamgirl, she has been made redundant and now faces unemployment with a mega-mortgage and a middle class lifestyle to sustain. She reads me a postcard written by her rich mummy and daddy who are sunning themselves in the Caribbean. ?Lovely to have 3 1/2 weeks restful (underlined) holiday after recent hectic touring trips to various parts of the world.?
?Why don?t you write a piece on selfish, loaded grandparents who do b*** all for their children and swan around while we go bust!? she spits. I weakly plead finishing a novel for an excuse. For in my small fictional world, my characters are all busy being money mad and doing all the naughtiest things on the wrong point of the economic cycle. And a few days? financial fiction is a blessed relief from trying to make sense of the economic times we are living in. Antonia Swinson?s second novel The Cousins? Tale is out this week in paperback (Flame ?6.99).
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