herald

Saturday 21 April 2018

In which I realise being poor can make you fat

What Katie did next with Katie Byrne

A GONG is sounded before segueing into the gentle melodies of babbling brooks and wind chimes.

The mellifluous voice of a woman is leading me up and away, out of myself and into a higher state of consciousness.

"Take a deep breath," she urges. "And slowly exhale. . ."

Aaaaaaaah. I close my eyes, sink further into the bed and prepare to drift away.

"You make the most of your gifts and talents. You are able to handle large sums of money responsibly."

"Katie!" My brother is hollering at me from the staircase at a most inopportune time, but I decide to tune it out and instead focus on the woman's soothing voice and the psychoacoustic gateway ahead.

"Goodness, grace and abundance come to you as increased wealth . . . Because you have invited it. You are worthy of–"

"Katie!" (No, I didn't hear that. I am beyond distractions. I am at peace with the universe.)

"As you believe in your inherent goodness, goodness comes back to you . . . to you and the whole of humanity."

"Kaaaaaaate!"

Even the sounds of birdsong and forest streams can't tune out that roar. I pound my fists on the bed, flick off the podcast and spring to my feet.

I observe that my breathing has actually quickened rather than slowed down.

"Jesus Christ – what? I'm trying to f***ing meditate. It's the only time – the only time! – I ask to be on my own."

"Oh. Sorry about that. Do you by any chance have a score that I could borrow just until–"

"NO! I have nothing. Nada. Not. A. Bean. Why do you think I'm down here doing a 'meditation for abundance'!"

Scratchcards

I think it's fairly safe to conclude that the meditation didn't work. And that was my last resort. I've already tapped my mother, fished around the sides of the couch and bought several All Cash scratchcards.

It's a tough month. Every month is tough for everyone these days, but this month is a particularly tough one for me. The earlier part of it was spent in Abu Dhabi, hence the later part has been spent perusing Aldi deals.

"Of all sad words of tongue or pen," wrote poet John Greenleaf Whittier, "the saddest are these, 'It might have been'."

Whittier wrote that in the 1800s. Had he penned it today, I'm sure it would read: "the saddest are these, 'insufficient funds'."

Those two words are so damning, so cold. Worse, they are irrevocable. Whittier's "might" at least suggests a whisper of possibility.

Insufficient funds, however, is the financial equivalent of telling a man he has a small penis or a woman that she's travelled eastwards on the weighing scales.

In this case, the thoughts of what might have been are, in fact, the only salve. Might I not be broke if I didn't buy those three giant Toblerones at the airport?

The five stages of loss apply to the indictment of insufficient funds. Denial: "The bank has clearly made a mistake." Anger: "Universal Social Charge is ruining my life!" Bargaining: "Maybe I could cancel that order on asos.com?" Depression: "Maybe I'll just sleep until pay day."

And finally, Acceptance: you have successfully transitioned to this stage the day you bring a box of cereal to work with you. You would think being broke is good for the figure. Au contraire. I am absolutely convinced that it makes you fat.

When you feel deprived, you become hungry. That's why diets don't work. I have an almost Pavlovian response to the words "insufficient funds" – the moment I see them, my tummy starts rumbling.

Actually, while there are five stages of loss, there are six stages of penury. The sixth stage is begging.

During a tricky month there inevitably comes the point when you have to petition for a loan. Banks aren't lending. Thankfully, friends and family are.

But asking for a dig-out is by no means easy. You need the nose of a detective, the neck of a lawyer and the voice of an angel.

First, you have to ascertain who's flush – the only thing worse than asking for a loan is getting refused.

You need to analyse spending patterns and conduct undercover investigations. Who's going well? Who's holding? Who's in the money?

Once satisfied that their bank balance can oblige, you need to find out if they will too.

Some prefer to text, but I can't abide the dignity-dwindling wait. Face-to-face works for me – it's about facing penury with pride.

Etiquette

The wait is always the hardest part. You need to feign engagement with the conversation – and laugh at all the right times – when really you're wondering at what point it would be appropriate to ask about their "cash situation".

There is a rhythm to proceedings, an etiquette of sorts. You have to catch the vibe. I reckon this is why we're always so ecstatic when someone lends us a few bob.

It's not the money as such, or the fact that you can now pay your phone bill, it's the relief. You've finally swallowed your pride and asked the burning question.

Who knows, maybe that's why we end up in this situation month after month. Perhaps we get some sort of thrill out of this high-stakes game of balancing our accounts – the cut and thrust of borrowing and lending.

Life would be boring if your wages were accounted for to the day. A few days of penury makes you appreciate money when you finally lay your hands on it. Delayed gratification is always better than instant gratification.

On second thoughts, maybe the meditation did work.

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