Rosie Millard: Thrifty Living

Polonius was right - borrowing is always a bad idea

Don't talk to me about money for nothing, since Dire Straits is about the word for it. Last year's tax bill, this year's tax bill, my VAT bill, the nanny's tax bill. And that's just the start. Factor in an ill-advised obsession with a Serbian personal trainer (£40 an hour, I know, but he is very effective), and you will appreciate that I am well on the way to becoming a lost sock in the Laundromat of Eternity. Albeit, a fabulously toned one.

"In troubled times like these," went a song at a children's show I saw recently, "people turn to Cheese." Actually, in troubled times like these, I turn to Tony Blair. Not personally, as I'm sure a session with him is a good deal more expensive than with my Serbian, but in order to give me heart. I mean, just look at the state of his finances, or those of his party, to be more precise; it makes my problem look like a piece of thistledown. Talk about robbing Peter to pay Paul, or to be more correct, Sir Christopher Evans and Sir David Garrard.

These two gentle spirits bankrolled, sorry, loaned, the party several million, and they must now be paid back, whether with or without access to the Upper House. But the Labour Party - being about £23m in debt - is in no position to pay anything off. And then, riding over the horizon on a snowy charger, a bit like David Beckham in those Disney ads, here comes good ole Lakshmi Mittal and his £2m hand-out.

Again, there are comparisons chez Millard, since the Mittal payola is rather like those (sadly rather rare) moments when a cheque bearing several zeros from a corporate do arrives chez Millard. Cer-ching! Except poor old Blair can't use the Lakshmi millions to repay either Sir Chris (currently owed £700,000) or Sir Dave (currently owed £2.3m). Even a part-repayment of the £3m won't wash. This is because Labour has pledged none of the Mittal money will go towards repaying these loans. Why? Who knows, but whoever drew up that side of the bargain should have his wrists slapped.

All of which means that nice Lord Levy will have to do a bit more work on the repayment front.

Tony and the rest of them are learning, a mite tardily, that borrowing money off Real People, as opposed to Banks, is problematic.

"Neither a borrower nor a lender be," said Polonius to his son. That was the chosen quote for my birthday in our Shakespeare Birthday Book. It always rendered the rest of my family into helpless peals of laughter, because obviously I have been overdrawn since the age of 14. But Polonius was right. Borrowing, if not off an institution which has chequebooks as a sideline, is a Bad Idea. Even if it's a tiny amount of money. As Blair is now publicly learning, it's always rather embarrassing to be in hock to someone.

Currently I owe a friend of mine a tenner. Not a lot of money. But on the other hand, quite a handy sum to have in your wallet. A tenner is easily enough, even in prime central London, to get you out of trouble, shell out for a cab ride or pay for a chicken and some potatoes for the evening meal.

I borrowed it from her last November when I needed to register for a child's violin exam. What more worthy reason is there for a loan but a) a child, and b) a violin exam, I ask you? Paying this £10 loan back, however, has become rather tortuous. Naturally, I never have any cash on me when I see her at the school gates, but obviously sending her a cheque would seem totally weird. So I now feel I must start hiding from her, because I cannot face doing the "sorry, I haven't got any cash AGAIN on me, ha ha" number, but nor do I want her to think I have forgotten about it.

Last week, while crouching behind a table in the school office, I came up with a solution. Invite her out to lunch, then pay the bill. Great idea! Except then the problem is that we will go to somewhere like Carluccio's and have a slap-up lunch followed by a £55 bill. She will insist on going halves, although in fairness she should pay £15 and I, £35, if we are going to honour this by now exceedingly dated loan.

Blimey. Imagine doing all that social manoeuvring for £3m. You can see why Blair has ordered the House of Lords go-in as collateral. What can I offer my dear friend? A place in the 2nd South Islington Brownie Pack?