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Chapter 7

IT DOESN’T SEEM he has, though, because on Saturday, I receive a card of a pre-Raphaelite girl looking coyly over her shoulder. Inside, Tarquin has written:


Many apologies for my uncouth behavior. I hope to make it up to you. Tickets to Bayreuth—or, failing that, dinner?




Dinner with Tarquin. Can you imagine? And what’s he going on about, anyway? I’ve never heard of Bayreuth. Is it a new show or something? Or does he mean Beirut? Why would we want to go to Beirut, for God’s sake?

Anyway, I’ve got more important things to think about today. This is my sixth day of Cutting Back—and, crucially, my first weekend. David E. Barton says this is often when one’s frugal regime cracks, as the office routine is no longer there as a distrac-tion and the day stretches empty, waiting to be filled with the familiar comfort of shopping.

But I’m too strong-willed to crack. I’ve got my day completelysussed—and I’m not goingnear any shops. This morning I’m going to visit a museum and then tonight, instead of wasting lots of money on an expensive takeaway, I’m cooking a homemade curry for me and Suze. I’m actually quite excited about it. My entire budget for today is as follows:


Travel to museum:

free (I already have a travelcard)




£2.50 (David E. Barton says you can make a wonderful curry for four people for less than £5.00—and there are only two of us.)

Total daily expenditure:



That’s more like it. Plus I get to experience culture instead of mindless materialism. I have chosen the Victoria & Albert Museum because I have never been to it before. In fact, I’m not even sure what they have in it. Statues of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, or something?

Anyway, whatever they have, it will be very interesting and stimulating, I’m sure. And above all, free!



As I come out of South Kensington tube, the sun’s shining brightly and I stride along, feeling pleased with myself. Normally I waste my Saturday mornings watchingLive and Kicking and getting ready to go to the shops. But look at this! I suddenly feel very grown-up and metropolitan, like someone in a Woody Allen film. I just need a long woolly scarf and some sunglasses and I’ll look like Diane Keaton.

And on Monday, when people ask me how my weekend was, I’ll be able to say, “Actually, I went to the V&A.” No, what I’ll say is “I caught an exhibition.” That sounds much cooler. (Whydo people say they “caught” an exhibition, by the way? It’s not as though all the paintings were thundering past like bulls at Pamplona.)Then they’ll say, “Really? I didn’t know you were into art, Rebecca.” And I’ll say, “Oh yes. I spend most of my free time at museums.” And they’ll give me an impressed look and say . . .

Come to think of it, I’ve walked straight past the entrance. Silly me. Too busy thinking about the conversation between me and . . . actually, the person I realize I’ve pictured in this little scene is Luke Brandon. How weird. Why should that be? Because I table-hopped with him, I suppose. Anyway. Concentrate. Museum.

Quickly I retrace my steps and walk nonchalantly into the entrance hall, trying to look as though I come here all the time. Not like that bunch of Japanese tourists clustering round their guide. Ha! I think proudly, I’m no tourist. This is my heritage.My culture. I pick up a map carelessly as though I don’t really need it, and look at a list of talks on things likeCeramics of the Yuan and Early Ming Dynasties. Then, casually, I begin to walk through to the first gallery.

“Excuse me?” A woman at a desk is calling to me. “Have you paid?”

Have I what? You don’t have to pay to get into museums! Oh, of course—she’s just joking with me. I give a friendly little laugh, and carry on.

“Excuse me!” she say’s, in a sharper voice, and a bloke in security uniform appears out of nowhere. “Have you paid for admission?”

“It’s free!” I say in surprise.

“I’m afraid not,” she says, and points to a sign behind me. I turn to read it, and nearly keel over in astonishment.

Admission £5.00.

I feel quite faint with shock. What’s happened to the world? They’recharging for admission to a museum. This is outrageous. Everyone knows museums are supposed to be free. If you start charging for museums, no one will ever go! Our cultural heritage will be lost to a whole generation, excluded by a punitive finan-cial barrier. The nation will be dumbed down still further, andcivilized society will face the very brink of collapse. Is that what you want, Tony Blair?

Plus, I don’t have £5. I deliberately came out with no cash except £2.50 for my curry ingredients. Oh God, this is annoying. I mean, here I am, all ready for some culture. Iwant to go in and look at . . . well, whatever’s in there—and I can’t!

Now all the Japanese tourists are staring at me, as if I’m some sort of criminal. Go away! I think crossly. Go and look at some art.

“We take credit cards,” says the woman. “VISA, Switch, American Express.”

“Oh,” I say. “Well . . . OK.”

“The season ticket is £15,” she says, as I reach for my purse, “but it gives you unlimited access for a year.”

Unlimited access for a year! Now wait just a minute. David E. Barton says what you’re supposed to do, when you make any purchase, is estimate the “cost per use,” which you get by divid-ing the price by the number of times you use it. Let’s suppose that from now on I come to the V&A once a month. (I should think that’s quite realistic.) If I buy a season ticket, that’s only . . . £1.25 a visit.

Well, that’s a bargain, isn’t it? It’s actually a very good invest-ment, when you come to think of it.

“OK, I’ll have the season ticket,” I say, and hand over my VISA card. Hah! Culture here I come.



I start off really well. I look at my little map, and peer at each exhibit, and carefully read all the little cards.


Chalice made from silver, Dutch, 16th century Plaque depicting Holy Trinity, Italian mid-15th century Blue and white earthenware bowl, early 17th century


That bowl’s really nice, I find myself thinking in sudden inter-est, and wonder how much it is. It looks quite expensive . . . I’mjust peering to see if there’s a price tag when I remember where I am. Of course. There aren’t any prices here.

Which is a bit of a mistake, I think. Because it kind of takes the fun out of it, doesn’t it? You wander round, just looking at things, and it all gets a bit boring after a while. Whereas if they put price tags on, you’d be far more interested. In fact, I think all museums should put prices on their exhibits. You’d look at a silver chalice or a marble statue or theMono Lisa or what-ever, and admire it for its beauty and historical importance and everything—and then you’d reach for the price tag and gasp, “Hey, look how much this one is!” It would really liven things up.

I might write to the Victoria & Albert and suggest this to them. I am a season-ticket holder, after all. They should listen to my opinion.

In the meantime, let’s move on to the next glass case.


Carved goblet, English, mid-15th century


God, I could die for a cup of coffee. How long have I been here? It must be . . .

Oh. Only fifteen minutes.



When I get to the gallery showing a history of fashion, I become quite rigorous and scholarly. In fact, I spend longer there than anywhere else. But then the dresses and shoes come to an end and it’s back to more statues and little fiddly things in cases. I keep looking at my watch, and my feet hurt . . . and in the end I sink down onto a sofa.

Don’t get me wrong, I like museums. I do. And I’m really interested in Korean art. It’s just that the floors are really hard, and I’m wearing quite tight boots, and it’s hot so I’ve taken off my jacket but now it keeps slithering around in my arms. And it’s weird, but I keep thinking I can hear the sound of a cash till. It must be in my imagination.

I’m sitting blankly, wondering if I can summon the energy to stand up again, when the group of Japanese tourists comes into the gallery, and I feel compelled to get to my feet and pretend I’m looking at something. I peer vaguely at a piece of tapestry, then stride off down a corridor lined with exhibits of old Indian tiles. I’m just thinking that maybe we should get the Fired Earth cata-logue and re-tile the bathroom, when I glimpse something through a metal grille and stop dead with shock.

Am I dreaming? Is it a mirage? I can see a cash register, and a queue of people, and a display cabinet with price tags . . .

Oh my God, I was right! It’s a shop! There’s ashop, right there in front of me!

Suddenly my steps have more spring in them; my energy has miraculously returned. Following the bleeping sound of the cash register, I hurry round the corner to the shop entrance and pause on the threshold, telling myself not to raise my hopes, not to be disappointed if it’s just bookmarks and tea towels.

But it’s not. It’s bloody fantastic! Why isn’t this place better known? There’s a whole range of gorgeous jewelry, and loads of really interesting books on art, and there’s all this amazing pottery, and greeting cards, and . . .

Oh. But I’m not supposed to be buying anything today, am I? Damn.

This is awful. What’s the point of discovering a new shop and then not being able to buy anything in it? It’s not fair. Every-one else is buying stuff, everyone else is having fun. For a while I hover disconsolately beside a display of mugs, watching as an Australian woman buys a pile of books on sculpture. She’s chat-ting away to the sales assistant, and suddenly I hear her say some-thing about Christmas. And then I have a flash of pure genius.

Christmas shopping! I can do all my Christmas shopping here! I know March is a bit early, but why not be organized? And then when Christmas arrives I won’t have to go near the horrible Christmas crowds. I can’t believe I haven’t thought of doing this before. And it’s not breaking the rules, because I’d have to buyChristmas presentssometime, wouldn’t I? All I’m doing is shifting the buying process forward a bit. It makes perfect sense.

And so, about an hour later, I emerge happily with two carrier bags. I’ve bought a photograph album covered in William Morris print, an old-fashioned wooden jigsaw puzzle, a book of fashion photographs, and a fantastic ceramic teapot. God, Ilove Christmas shopping. I’m not sure what I’ll give to who—but the point is, these are all timeless and unique items that would enhance any home. (Or at least the ceramic teapot is, because that’s what it said on the little leaflet.) So I reckon I’ve done really well.

In fact, this morning has been a great success. As I emerge from the museum, I feel incredibly content and uplifted. It just shows the effect that a morning of pure culture has on the soul. From now on, I decide, I’m going to spend every Saturday morn-ing at a museum.



When I get back home, the second post is on the doormat and there’s a square envelope addressed to me in writing I don’t recognize. I rip it open as I lug my carrier bags to my room—and then stop in surprise. It’s a card from Luke Brandon. How did he get my home address?


Dear Rebecca,it says,It was good to bump into you the other night, and I do hope you had an enjoyable evening. I now realize that I never thanked you for the prompt repay-ment of my loan. Much appreciated.

With all best wishes—and, of course, deepest sympathy on the loss of your Aunt Ermintrude. (If it’s any consolation, I can’t imagine that scarf could suit anyone better than you.)




For a while I stare at it silently. I’m quite taken aback. Gosh, I think cautiously. It’s nice of him to write, isn’t it? A nice handwritten card like this, just to thank me formy card. I mean, he’s not justbeing polite, is he? You don’t have to send a thank-you card to someone just because they repaid your twenty quid.

Or do you? Maybe, these days, you do. Everyone seems to send cards for everything. I haven’t got a clue what’s done and what’s not anymore. (Iknew I should have read that etiquette book I got in my stocking.) Is this card just a polite thank-you? Or is it something else? And if so . . . what?

Ishe taking the piss?

Oh God, that’s it. He knows Aunt Ermintrude doesn’t exist. He’s just pulling my leg to embarrass me.

But then . . . would he go to all the trouble of buying a card, writing in it, and sending it, just to pull my leg?

Oh, I don’t know. Who cares? I don’t even like him, anyway.



Having been so cultured all morning, I deserve a bit of a treat in the afternoon, so I buy myselfVogue and a bag of Minstrels, and lie on the sofa for a bit. God, I’ve missed little treats like this. I haven’t read a magazine for . . . well, it must be a week, except Suze’s copy ofCosmo yesterday. And I can’tremember the last time I tasted chocolate.

I can’t spend too long enjoying myself, though, because I’ve got to go out and buy the stuff for our homemade curry. So after I’ve read my horoscope, I closeVogue and get out my new Indian recipe book. I’m quite excited, actually. I’ve never made curry before.

I’ve gone off the tiger prawn recipe because it turns out tiger prawns are very expensive. So what I’m going to make instead is chicken and mushroom Balti. It all looks very cheap and easy, and I just need to write out my shopping list.

When I’ve finished I’m a bit taken aback. The list is quite a lot longer than I’d thought it would be. I hadn’t realized you needed so many spices just to make one curry. I’ve just looked in the kitchen, and we don’t have a Balti pan, or a grinder for grindingspices, or a blender for making the aromatic paste. Or a wooden spoon or any scales that work.

Still, never mind. What I’ll do is quickly go to Peter Jones and buy all the equipment we need for the kitchen, and then I’ll get the food and come back and start cooking. The thing to remem-ber is, we only have to buy all this stuff once—and then we’re fully equipped to make delicious curries every night. I’ll just have to think of it as an investment.



By the time Suze arrives back from Camden Market that evening, I am dressed in my new stripy apron, grinding up roasted spices in our new grinder.

“Phew!” she says, coming into the kitchen. “What a stink!”

“It’s aromatic spices,” I say a bit crossly, and take a swig of wine. To be honest, this is all a bit more difficult than I’d thought. I’m trying to make something called Balti masala mix, which we will be able to keep in a jar and use for months, but all the spices seem to be disappearing into the grinder and refusing to come back out. Where are they going?

“I’m absolutely starving,” says Suze, pouring herself a glass of wine. “Will it be ready soon?”

“I don’t know,” I say, peering into the grinder. “If I can just get these bloody spices out . . .”

“Oh well,” says Suze. “I might just make some toast.” She pops a couple of pieces of bread in the toaster and then starts picking up all my little bags and pots of spices and looking at them.

“What’s allspice?” she says, holding up a pot curiously. “Is it all the spices, mixed together?”

“I don’t know,” I say, banging the grinder on the counter. A tiny dusting of powder falls out and I stare at it angrily. What happened to a whole jarful that I could keep for months? Now I’ll have to roast some more of the bloody things.

“Because if it is, couldn’t you just use that and forget all the others?”

“No!” I say. “I’m making a fresh and distinct Balti blend.”

“OK,” says Suze, shrugging. “You’re the expert.”

Right, I think, taking another swig of wine. Start again. Coriander seeds, fennel seeds, cumin seeds, peppercorns . . . By this time, I’ve given up measuring, I’m just throwing everything in. They say cooking should be instinctive, anyway.

“What’s this?” says Suze, looking at Luke Brandon’s card on the kitchen table. “Luke Brandon? How come he sent you a card?”

“Oh, you know,” I say, shrugging casually. “He was just being polite.”

“Polite?” Suze wrinkles her brow, turning the card over in her hands. “No way. You don’t have to send a card to someone just because they returned your twenty quid.”

“Really?” My voice is slightly higher than usual, but that must be because of the roasting aromatic spices. “I thought maybe that’s what people did these days.”

“Oh no,” says Suze assuredly. “What happens is, the money’s lent, it’s returned with a thank-you letter, and that’s the end of the matter. This card”—she waves it at me—“this is something extra.”

This is why I love sharing a flat with Suze. She knows stuff like this, because she mixes in the right social circles. You know she once had dinner with the duchess of Kent? Not that I’m boasting, or anything.

“So what do you think it means?” I say, trying not to sound too tense.

“I reckon he’s being friendly,” she says, and puts the card back on the table.

Friendly. Of course, that’s it. He’s being friendly. Which is a good thing, of course. So why do I feel ever so slightly disap-pointed? I stare at the card, which has a face by Picasso on the front. What does that mean?

“Are those spices supposed to be going black, by the way?” says Suze, spreading peanut butter on her toast.

“Oh God!” I whip the Balti pan off the stove and look at the blackened coriander seeds. This is driving me crazy. Okay tip them away and start again. Coriander seeds, fennel seeds, cumin seeds, peppercorns, bay leaves. That’s the last of the bay leaves. This one had better not go wrong.



Somehow, miraculously, it doesn’t. Forty minutes later, I actu-ally have a curry bubbling away in my Balti pan! This is fantastic! It smells wonderful, and it looks just like it does in the book—and I didn’t even follow the recipe very carefully. It just shows, I have a natural affinity with Indian cookery. And the more I prac-tice, the more accomplished I’ll become. Like David E. Barton says, I’ll be able to knock up a quick, delicious curry in the time it takes to call the delivery firm. And look how much money I’ve saved!

Triumphantly I drain my basmati rice, take my ready-made nans out of the oven, and serve everything out onto plates. Then I sprinkle chopped fresh coriander over everything—and honestly, it looks like something out ofMarie-Claire. I carry the plates through and put one in front of Suze.

“Wow!” she says. “This looks fantastic!”

“I know,” I say proudly, sitting down opposite her. “Isn’t it great?”

I watch as she takes her first forkful—then put a forkful into my mouth.

“Mmm! Delicious!” says Suze, chewing with relish. “Quite hot,” she adds after a while.

“It’s got chili powder in,” I say. “And fresh chilies. But it’s nice, though, isn’t it?”

“It’s wonderful!” says Suze. “Bex, you’re so clever! I could never make this in a million years!”

But as she’s chewing, a slightly strange expression is comingover her face. To be honest, I’m feeling a bit breathless, too. This curry is quite hot. In fact, it’s bloody hot.

Suze has put down her plate and is taking a large slug of wine. She looks up, and I see her cheeks are red.

“OK?” I say, forcing myself to smile through the pain in my mouth.

“Yeah, great!” she says, and takes a huge bite of nan. I look down at my plate and resolutely take another forkful of curry. Immediately my nose starts to run. Suze is sniffing, too, I notice, but as I meet her eye she smiles brightly.

Oh God, this is hot. My mouth can’t stand it. My cheeks are burning, and my eyes are starting to water. How much chili powder did I put in this bloody thing? Only about one teaspoon-ful . . . or maybe it was two. I just kind of trusted my instincts and chucked in what looked about right. Well, so much for my instincts.

Tears start running down my face, and I give an enormous sniff.

“Are you OK?” says Suze in alarm.

“I’m fine!” I say, putting down my fork. “Just. . . you know. A bit hot.”

But actually, I’m not OK. And it’s not just the heat that’s making tears run down my face. Suddenly I feel like a complete failure. I can’t even get a quick and easy curry right. And look how much money I spent on it, with the Balti pan and the apron and all the spices . . . Oh, it’s all gone wrong, hasn’t it? I haven’t Cut Back at all. This week’s been a complete disaster.

I give a huge sob and put my plate on the floor.

“It’s horrible!” I say miserably, and tears begin to stream down my face. “Don’t eat it, Suze. It’ll poison you.”

“Bex! Don’t be silly!” says Suze. “It’s fantastic!” She looks at me, then puts her own plate on the floor. “Oh, Bex.” She shuffles across the floor, reaches up, and gives me a hug. “Don’t worry. It’s just a bit hot. But otherwise, it’s brilliant! And the nan is deli-cious! Honestly. Don’t get upset.”

I open my mouth to reply, and instead hear myself giving another huge sob.

“Bex, don’t!” wails Suze, practically crying herself. “It’s deli-cious! It’s the most delicious curry I’ve ever tasted.”

“It’s not just the curry!” I sob, wiping my eyes. “The point was, I was supposed to be Cutting Back. This curry was only supposed to cost £2.50.”

“But. . . why?” asks Suze perplexedly. “Was it a bet, or some-thing!”

“No!” I wail. “It was because I’m in debt! And my dad said I should Cut Back or Make More Money. So I’ve been trying to Cut Back. But it hasn’t worked . . .” I break off, shuddering with sobs. “I’m just a complete failure.”

“Of course you’re not a failure!” says Suze at once. “Bex, you’re the opposite of a failure. It’s just. . .” She hesitates. “It’s just that maybe . . .”


There’s silence, then Suze says seriously, “I think you might have chosen the wrong option, Becky. I don’t think you’re a Cut Back kind of person.”

“Really?” I sniff, and wipe my eyes. “Do you think?”

“I think you should go for Make More Money instead.” Suze pauses thoughtfully. “In fact, to be honest, I don’t know why anyone would choose Cut Back. I think Make More Money is amuch better option. If I ever had to choose, that’s definitely the one I’d go for.”

“Yes,” I say slowly. “Yes, maybe you’re right. Maybe that’s what I should do.” I reach down with a shaky hand and take a bite of warm nan—and Suze is right. Without the curry, it’s deli-cious. “But how shall I do it?” I say eventually. “How shall I make more money?”

There’s silence for a while, with both of us thoughtfully chew-ing on nan. Then Suze brightens.

“I know. Look at this!” She reaches for a magazine and flips to the classified ads at the back. “Look what it says here. ‘Need extramoney? Join the Fine Frames family. Make thousands, working from home in your spare time. Full kit supplied.’ You see? It’s easy.”

Wow. I’m quite impressed. Thousands. That’s not bad.

“Yes,” I say shakily, “maybe I’ll do that.”

“Or you could invent something,” says Suze.

“Like what?”

“Oh, anything,” she says confidently. “You’re really clever. Remember when the coffee filter broke, and you made a new one out of a knee-high?”

“Yes,” I say, and a tiny glow of pride spreads over me. “Yes, I did, didn’t I?”

“You could easily be an inventor. Or . . . I know! Set up an Internet company. They’re worth millions!”

You know, she’s right. There’s loads of things I could do to Make More Money. Loads of things! It’s just a question of lateral thinking. Suddenly I feel a lot better. Suze is such a good friend. I reach forward and give her a hug.

“Thanks, Suze,” I say. “You’re a star.”

“No problem,” she says, and hugs me back. “So, you cut out this ad and start making your thousands . . .” She pauses. “And I’ll go and phone up for a takeaway curry, shall I?”

“Yes please,” I say in a small voice. “A takeaway would be lovely.”






Proposed Budget:




Actual Expenditure:




Balti pan


Electric grinder




Wooden spoon






Two chicken breasts


300g mushrooms




Coriander seeds


Fennel seeds




Cumin seeds




Ground ginger


Bay leaves


Chili powder











Ms. Rebecca Bloomwood

Flat 2

4 Burney Rd.

London SW6 8FD


6 March 2000



Dear Ms. Bloomwood:


PGNI First Bank VISA Card No. 1475839204847586


Thank you for your letter of 2 March.


I can assure you that our computers are regularly checked, and that the possibility of a “glitch,” as you put it, is remote. Nor have we been affected by the millennium bug. All accounts are entirely accurate.


You may write to Anne Robinson at Watchdog if you wish, but I am sure she will agree that you have no grounds for complaint.


Our records inform us that payment on your VISA account is now overdue. As you will see from your most recent VISA card statement, the minimum payment required is £105.40.I look forward to receiving your payment, as soon as possible.


Yours sincerely,


Peter Johnson

Customer Accounts Executive

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