10 FEBRUARY 1961, Page 36


I Know a Bank . . .


I THINK it was Ogden Nash who said that marriage was a serious religious and civil alli- ance between a man who can't sleep with the win- • dow shut and a woman who can't sleep with the window open. He might have added that it was also usually contracted between a man who thinks it is immoral to worry about money and a woman who thinks nothing but cash stands between the home and the workhouse; or between two people who both assume that the other will have remembered to go to the bank. It is obvious that an enormous number of the troubles brought to them must have something to do with money from the three pamphlets issued (or reissued, as the case may be) last week by the Marriage Guidance Council: All About Your Wedding, Starting Your Family and The LSD of Marriage. Not only the last one, but all three of these incredibly sensible pamphlets deal firmly and factually with money. The colourful cover of each 2s. 6d. pamphlet is adorned with the glossy, bony-faced couple in advertisements and magazines (the fam- ily one gives an obscure impression that the happy couple have been blessed with a panda), but the information inside starts with the fundamental assumption that most couples are and all couples think they are hard up.

The LSD of Marriage tells you such things as the amount you need as a minimum for furnish- ing a house (about £160), the right proportion of your income to spend on rent (never more than 25 per cent.), the cheapest ways of getting a holiday (Youth Hostels, Holiday Fellowship and Workers Travel Association are three) and the relative costs of heating and lighting. It is interesting to know that a penny will work an electric iron for two hours or a 100-watt bulb for ten, though I wonder how often one actually stands there, penny in hand, wondering whether to have a hot bath or operate the vacuum cleaner for five hours. The only things the pamphlet does not mention, as far as I can see, are the secondary costs of setting up house : the constant trickle of money after moving in that goes on small but necessary things like waste-paper baskets and shelf paper and cuphooks—none in the least expensive but collectively accounting for pounds. (And I could add another word of advice to newly married couples : spend the wedding present cheques on furniture right away, or all you will be sitting on is crates of empty bottles. Believe me.) The LSD of Marriage does not actually recom- mend any particular system for dividing the alleged bank balance : it is admirably anxious not to lay down any rules which could in their turn become scourges. When we got married we wrote down all the systems our friends used : joint account, two accounts, allowances and so on; the best one, I remember, read : 'Borrow a fiver off your mother and I'll take you out to dinner.' But although it recommends a system- atic approach, a budget and at least some record kept of how the money drains away, it says that the dangers of too strict a budget are that it hardly allows you to be really human.

They do not, I noticed with surprise, specific- ally mention the piggy-bank, though they do allow for keeping allotted sums in teapots : I would have thought these animals almost in- dispensable. If you think of your finances as a leaky tank (and who does not?) into which money flows at the top, and instantly out again through a series of holes at the bottom (labelled rent, food, beer and so on), it is immediately evident that any attempt to save money by re- moving, from the top, what is left at the end of the month is hopeless : there won't be anything left. The only hope is to bore another hole in the tank and put a can under it : to let coins dribble into it as casually and unnoticeably as they do into cigarette machines, Woolworth's or the bar- tender's palm. And the same goes for paying off loans: you have to feel like a millionaire before you actually write a cheque for £100 to your own father, but a spattering of cheques for £10 and £15 are almost painless.

There is a basic contradiction in all matters involving money. It is perfectly clear on paper that money is not, like love or religion or the Spectator's idea of illness, a shifting, mystical thing: it is a matter of hard, cold, unalterable facts. Or so one can, intellectually, perceive. But in reality this is just not so. Reality is a tricky word—C. S. Lewis said you could use it in two ways : either by saying that all that's really hap- pening when people are in love is that two animals are obeying the mating urge. or by say- ing, of being trapped in a burning aeroplane, 'You don't know what it's really like till you've been through it.' It is in the second sense that I use it. Do people with two thousand a year feel richer than people with one thousand? No. Does a cheap snack of whisky and sandwiches cost less than a proper meal of meat and two veg in the same pub? No. If you decide not to pay twenty pounds for something, do you have that twenty pounds at the end of the year? No. Does anybody who gave up smoking to save a pound a week have a pound at the end of the week? Not on your life. In the course of our married life, for instance, we have had well- paid jobs and badly-paid jobs; sometimes one of us has been in work, sometimes the other; once we were both out of work together. And five times a year, come rain, come shine, come red, come black, we have had an identical hysterical reappraisal of our financial situation, visions of riches alternating with visions of bailiffs until the mood has worn off : our finan- cial state depending not at all on the balance (if any) in the bank, but almost entirely on things like the weather and lack of sleep.

I imagine the Marriage Guidance Council are perfectly aware of this sort of thing; and that they would say that it might be better if, we did manage to keep accounts—defining 'accounts' as any sort of record of what is spent. But I cannot help feeling that they probably realise, too, that the keeping of accounts, the discussing of finance in broad daylight, is not only a matter of keeping expenses under control. Like a peasant's ikons in the kitchen, like throwing salt over your shoulder, like the jokes religious people make about the devil, the minutiae of account- ing are there to take the spookiness out of money as the spookiness is mainly gone from twentieth- century sex and religion. They are a device for cutting the bogey down to size. It •may be the council even have a further pamphlet for the subsolvent couple : how to be happily married without keeping accounts at all.

'Doucement avec mon Château Ausone '53!'