Unsettling, but good

Wednesday June 14, 2006

The only snag about buying a house for cash is that, at some point in the game, you have to actually part with the money, handing it over to some other party. So, today, I popped into the bank in Minehead to arrange a transfer of the necessary funds from my current account into the client holding account at the solicitors. No actual, physical cash involved, of course. It’s a matter of electromagnetic transactions between computers, nothing more.

At the bank I was interviewed by a nice young woman, and had to provide identification, fill in a large and complicated form, and answer a series of very cleverly designed security questions. When we’d concluded the deal we smiled, shook hands, and exchanged farewells. I walked out into the sunshine of Minehead’s main street, made slightly surreal by throngs of holiday-makers munching on a variety of lunch time hand-meals. That didn’t do it. I noticed that I felt rather more tired than my efforts warranted, shrugged it off, and went about my business.

Back at the caravan, we had lunch and I settled down for my siesta, to be woken by the expected phone call from the bank’s security department, checking one last times by a series of questions that I am indeed the account holder, that I knew the detail of the transaction and approved it. “We don’t just click a large sum like this through automatically,” the young woman with a seductive southern Irish accent said. “It’s not an everyday event for a personal account customer.”

“You’re telling me, luv,” I said. “I can’t recall ever having shifted so much money around in my personal account. I’ll be glad when it’s all done so’s I can sleep easy.”

“Well, I’m glad to be making one call from the bank that you don’t mind getting.”

I was assured that the transaction would take place immediately on ending the call, and rang off feeling happy and ready to go back to sleep. That didn’t do it, either. I felt relieved, and tired, but thought nothing of it.

When I’d woken and spent a little time chatting happily with Graham before he went off for his evening stint, I connected the laptop to the Internet and surfed into my online banking account. Sure enough, the transaction had gone through, the balances on all my accounts were correct, and our house equity fund was safely back in land, bricks and mortar once more. That’s what did it, finally.

Now let’s be clear about this. House equity funds are not real, disposable assets in the normal sense of the term as it’s understand by the average man on the Clapham ‘bus. It’s Monopoly money at best.

Even so, the sudden, massive diminution in my visible fortune hit me like a sledge hammer. I’m poor once more. Not destitute, of course. I’m well within budget, and have income sufficient to sustain my position. My bank balances show me to be solvent, healthily in the black, and are strictly in line with the financial position you’d expect of a respectable lower middle class retired bloke like me. While I’ve been holding the equity fund I’ve kept it strictly ring fenced for the intended purpose and I’ve never, not for a moment, considered it as money I could spend.

Even so, it felt awfully good to have such a large set of balances and I’d gotten used to it in remarkably short order. And now it’s gone. Despite knowing it to be a very silly thing, I felt strangely depressed and saddened. You could describe it as being majorly upset.

“Oh, to hell with this, Dolly,” I said, snapping the computer lid closed. “I’m off for my evening drink.”

Within minutes I was standing at the bar, holding an ice-tinkling glass of brandy and American, and supping it at an unusually rapid rate.

“You don’t usually drink that so fast,” Graham observed. “Is there something wrong?”

“No, of course not. Not really. It’s just hit me that today I’ve signed away more cash than I’ve ever had before, and now I’m back to being poor again. I know it’s silly but I’m finding it all rather upsetting. Just for the moment, you understand.”

“Oh, you silly old sausage. Of course I understand. But you’re not poor really, you know. We own a nice house that’s already increasing in value, we both have money in the bank, neither of us owe a penny to a living soul, and both of us have a steady income sufficient for our needs. That’s not poor. It’s comfortable.”

“Yeah. I know you’re right,” I said, holding out my empty glass. “Give me another of these and I’ll believe it.”

He lifted an eyebrow at me in that slightly disapproving but completely understanding way he has. “Well, alright. Just this once. It is a special occasion, after all.”

He poured me another drink and, unusually because he doesn’t approve of barmen who drink, a half-glass of Australian Chardonnay for himself, we chinked glasses and drank to our continuing good health and that of our friends around the world.

And that was it, really. When I’d finished my second drink I wandered back to the caravan, sitting for a while on a bench overlooking the sea and watching the cloud diving down over the hills along the coast in a Turner-esque study of luminescent greys, and finished off sitting on the step with Dolly to enjoy the last of the light and the early evening air. Then I had my dinner of Co-op fish and chips [can’t recommend it—the fish was tasteless and the chips limp and pallid] and sat down to watch a little TV.

I don’t live high on the hog, haven’t done since the day I retired, but I’ve just spent a little over a month sitting right atop its back, enjoying the ride, and it felt good. Unsettling, but good.



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