Finance: It's a bonus to put one over on galleryland

I'M IN Cork Street with Sash. Her mother met my mother at ante- natal classes, in case you don't remember, and we've been foisted on each other ever since.

It's a slightly uneasy friendship: she took the art-school route, and now hangs out with a lot of under-employed jewellery-makers and the like, laughing at saddos with proper jobs and living off their trust funds - and I have a proper job. But the thing is, I want to buy a painting, and Sash, I figure, is definitely my girl.

The reason I have money to burn at the moment is that my bonus has finally winged its way into my account. Let me make one thing clear: it's not what you'd call a fortune. In fact, compared with the amount of other people's money I bosh around on a daily basis it's peanuts. Apart from anything else, the bonus-earning year runs from January to December - and I only started this job in November.

You may be wondering why, if the "b-e" year runs from Jan to Dec, the "b" itself is only now arriving at its destination. To be honest, I'm not entirely sure. I think it may be something to do with the new tax year and all that, but it may be just a cunning way of making people move jobs less often.

After all, if you don't receive last year's handout until you've already accrued a third of this year's, the reasoning goes, you're less likely to jump ship.

It isn't every City institution that delays the payout like this, as far as I'm aware. You'd have had to be blind not to notice the number of new toys that everyone seemed to have in January, and not Christmas presents either. Problem is, it's hard to get accurate information about the whole bonus business. As everyone knows, size matters - so everyone lies.

In my case, the size is definitely small, but large enough to buy something to jolly up the flat. There's only so much furniture you can have, and antiques are too fusty somehow. But something to hang on the wall - well, that's a different proposition, and it's the one that's brought Sash and me to the centre of galleryland, the hip and happening centre of London's hip and happening art scene.

Only things aren't really going to plan. The problem is that Sash wants me to buy Art and I just want to buy a painting. Sash has dragged me all over the capital: we've been to Whitechapel to see a box brownie surrounded by red, amber and green lights flashing to a recording of policemen breath- testing drivers and called Speed; we've gone to Stoke Newington to see a room covered entirely with scrunched-up condom wrappers called Too Many uuuuu; we've stood next to a slide projector while it clicked through views of a car moving further and further along a city road. And now we're looking at a canvas that's completely black apart from a small red triangle in the bottom left corner - and Sash is raving about it.

"It's the dramatic tension, the integrity, the sense of space," she guffs, or that's what it sounds like since I'm too busy thinking about naked emperors to listen properly. Anyway, you can imagine Sash's delight when she walks into my flat a week later and there, hanging on the wall, is a canvas that's completely black apart from a small red triangle in the bottom left corner. She squeals and starts on about the dramatic tension and the sense of space and the integrity and how the artist is a real young hotshot and his work will be worth even more soon.

So I have to tell her. "The thing is, Sash," I say. "I painted it myself. It looks a lot like it, doesn't it."

Only, for some reason, I don't suppose it's worth as much....

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