Tuesday, March 16, 2004

You keep buying these things but you don't need them. But as long as you're comfortable it feels like freedom.

God I am skint.

I haven't been this skint since I was a student.

I have reached that point of skintness where all the cupboards in the kitchen downstairs only have ingredients but nothing you could actually make a meal out of.

The reason I am so skint is that a few months ago now I gave up the life of a salaried employee to become self employed. Actually the decision was not as hard as you might think. My employer was as happy to see the back of me as I was to go.

Now all in all things have gone pretty well. I have brought in a handful of new clients who are happy to use my freelance expertise. Now that I am self-employed they also seem to give more credence to my suggestions. Theoretically, I should now be just about better off than when I was an employee.

Except I'm not. I'm totally skint. I'm all but penniless. Actually I am worse than penniless my overdraft and credit cards are totally maxed.

The reason I am skint is this. No one bloody pays on time. Businesses are supposed to pay after one month. That is a fair system. Theoretically, if they don't then you are allowed to add interest. Except you don't because you always hope that they will pay eventually and you don't want to cause any friction that might cause them not to use your services again.

Actually most of my clients are public sector. Surely they pay on time? No, they don't.

My very first client, who I must admit I had been warned about, is a bit of a local worthy. He sits on various committees is often seen in the local papers. I worked for his own private business but much of his time is spent working with an organisation that aims to support local entrepreneurs.

Did he pay on time?

After one month I sent him a reminder.

No reply.

After six weeks I sent another.

No reply.

After two months he got in contact and asked if I would be prepared to take half of what I was owed rather than resort to taking him to court.

I wrote a furious email telling him to stick it.

Then I deleted it.

Then I wrote another. I told him I would accept. How am I, a sole trader supposed to start employing lawyers to chase after a measly £500?

So, two months after I had first billed him, I settled for £250. I needed that money just to pay the bills and put food on the table. Luckily I am the only one that eats from that table. I am not sure what I would do if I had dependents.

Time and time again we hear about governments' commitment to small businesses. The days of the massive manufaturers are over, we need, we are told, new entrepreneurs running small businesses to replace them.

Surely I am a government's wet dream as a potential employer of tomorrow. Surely it is worth their while to put in place, and properly enforce, legislation aimed at helping small businesses.

It has reached the stage where I am struggling just to keep things switched on. Everytime I log onto the computer I pray that it will connect and that BT hasn't put a block on me. The same goes for the phone. My mobile has already gone. Sky went a week ago - luckily my flatmate paid for that to go back on. He missed the Simpsons too much.

But enough moaning. I hate moaning. Or at least I hate moaning about personal problems. I rather like moaning about everything else - the telly, Pop Idols, the Government, George Bush, Lorraine Kelly, adverts, Robbie Williams etc etc etc

And there is an element of being skint that actually stirs the nostalgic soul inside me.

I used to share the grottyest of flats with two other mates. It was nicknamed the Flat of Doom by our friends. Every so often we would reach a point where we were so skint that we would pool all our individual foodstuffs to try and make something edible. What we made was Big Pie.

This basically meant putting everything we owed in a pan and boiling it up and adding stock. This would usually consist of a few greying specks of mince, some past-their-best vegetables, usually some pasta too, a tin of tomatos, baked beans, lots of herbs and lots of chilli powder. Come to think of it we added chilli powder to everything. I still do. A Pot Noodle is inedible without it.

It would then be slopped into the bottom of a roasting dish and an expanse of pastry would be rolled out over the top of it. For some reason we always saved a bit of pastry for the top so we could use it to spell out "BIG PIE".

It then went into the oven for a random amount of time before it was dished up.

It was one of those foodstuffs that you actually pretend to yourself you like. After the first moutful you make that quizical, head-on-one-side, nodding-a-couple-of-times, look. And then you'd say: "...actually it's not bad."

Then four mouthfuls later you would realise that it was foul. But you'd finish it, still pretending to everyone that it was pretty tasty. You'd usually blow it though when seconds were offered and you said "no" just a little too quickly.

Besides Big Pie would last for days so you would have plenty opportunities for another plateful.

Occasionaly you would find a little miracle pound coin down the side of the sofa and you would get to decide on what to spend it on. It was usually a toss up between beans and a loaf of bread, or three cans of Kwik Pills from the nearby offy.

Stupidly we nearly always went for the beer option. And two minutes later when they pitiful little cans were drunk we'd regret we hadn't gone for the beans. The worst thing possible for a beer thirst is a single can. We would have done better not to have bothered at all.

All in all though I am pretty lucky. I have a roof over my head. I have a flat mate who pays me rent and I have parents who I don't scrounge from, but I guess I could if I really had too.

It's a short-term problem and I know sooner or later I will be able to pay all the bills. I might even be able to afford a night out and some new clothes.

Being able to see the light at the end of the tunnel is very comforting.

Now, whose for Big Pie?

Love, light and peace,


I saw two shooting stars last night I wished on them but they were only satellites. It's wrong to wish on space hardware. I wish, I wish, I wish you'd care.