It was my accountant’s fault. “You have far too much money,” he said. “You need to get rid of it. For tax purposes.”
“How?” said I.
“Well, accountancy fees are tax-deductible. I’d be doing you a favour by doubling them.”
“Thanks,” I replied, warmly.
“But I’m afraid that’s only the start. You need to embark upon some breathtakingly wasteful undertaking. Something to mop up all the spare cash that’s currently slopping around in your accounts, driving the Revenue into a feeding frenzy.”
I frowned. “Like what?”
“Well, how about privately financing a manned mission to the Sirius system?”
“I don’t know the first thing about astrophysics,” I pointed out.
“Better still! There’ll be lots of colossally expensive catastrophes to write off.”
“Can’t I do something a little less… grandiose?”
My accountant was visibly disappointed. Then he brightened. “You could always go for a course of reconstructive dental prosthetics, and join a gym.”
And that’s exactly what I did. Looking back, now, from my packing case beside the Regent’s Park Canal, I can’t help thinking I might have overcooked it a bit. Still, it certainly kept the taxman off my back, so I mustn’t grumble.
First came the dental work.
When I was 15, I paid a visit to my dentist in Middlesborough. This was remarkable in itself – back in 1965, dentistry hadn’t really caught on in Teesside. It was regarded by the populace with the same scepticism as fortune telling and flying saucers.
As luck would have it, my appointment was on the day that my dentist had his nervous breakdown. I remember him charging manically about the surgery, covered in gore and uttering loud oaths. He tore four perfectly healthy molars from my gums, condemning me to a lifetime of discomfort and embarrassment.
So you can imagine that the prospect of possessing once again the proper complement of teeth was an alluring one. Like a lamb to the slaughter, I signed up for the orthodontic equivalent of the Sirius mission.
Only last month, my shiny new Hampstead dentist told me as I came round from the double bone graft, “See you in February for the implants. Bring six thousand pounds.”
I haven’t been able to run since that day. The grafts came from a bone bank in San Francisco and were granular. They’re held in by little plates of Teflon, but they still hurt like buggery if I so much as get out of bed in a hurry. Not that it’s made much difference to my training, since the Alpine 78K last summer turned my hamstring into a sort of pain-sensitive stalactite.
In any case, I’ve joined The Gym. All chrome and mirrors and black leatherette, it’s like something Damian Hirst might have dreamed after visiting a bondage club, then eating cheese too late at night.
There are no weights – just rows of diabolical machines, each wringing sweat and moans from its apoplectic victim.
As far as I can gather, the Code of Gym Etiquette forbids any verbal communication between male victims beyond a kind of grudging, testosteronal grunt.
Members of the opposite sex are to be completely ignored – even when they’re contorting their lissom, Lycra-encased torsos into the most impossibly provocative positions. And that’s just the men.
I find myself watching the others out of the corner of my eye, and wondering what they do during the rest of the day. My curiosity was rewarded when I bumped into a particularly finely-sculpted weightlifter outside the environment of the gym.
I’d often admired and (I admit it) envied him as, to an anthem of primeval groans and grunts, he’d pushed twice his own considerable weight on the bench press. Then, last week, I caught him writing me a parking ticket outside my local Waitrose. I can’t imagine why such a magnificent specimen of manhood should be reduced to such a humble occupation.
Perhaps he has the same accountant as me.