Charles Nevin: I'll return Biggles if you give me back my Cat Stevens

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The Independent Online

Surveys, reports: quite a few of them around, you will have noticed, if you read your newspaper with the correct attention. Favourite toothbrush colour, region of country with densest soft cheese take-up, that sort of thing. Just occasionally, though, there is one that casts a sharp light on a previously unremarked stretch of the national fabric, one that gives the thinkers among us real pause.

And this is it: according to the financial services firm Egg, the people of this country owe each other £29bn for various things they have borrowed and promised to pay back, or got someone else to pay for.

A lot of money, that. Almost the entire Real Madrid midfield. And I can appreciate the instant reaction which has seen such labels as "You Scrounging Britons". Indeed, my first suggestion for the headline above this piece was "Britain On The Scrounge: The Debt That Disgraces Us All And Should Make Us Hang Our Heads In Lasting Shame". Sadly, it didn't quite fit; but, in any case, by then, like all the great commentators, I had started to think again.

For this figure is not a national shame; no. Rather, it is an indication of the trusting nature and community spirit that imbues this great country. Indeed, I myself have paid out a large amount of it to the many unfortunate people who have come to my door after their even more unfortunate great-grandmothers have been taken suddenly and seriously ill many miles away after a collision with a runaway horse, or, sometimes, a pig. Have I once stopped to consider the coincidence that none of these relatives ever lies stricken convenient to a bus route? Or that the strickening always happens, cruelly, just as the loving grandchild has given his or her last penny to a Big Issue seller or a Bigger Mugger? I have not. No, like so many of you, I trust that any day now my doorbell will be ringing peal upon joyful peal as they return to press notes upon me in showers.

And why should I not hope? It is, after all, now 42 years since I borrowed Biggles Sweeps The Desert from my good friend, Eddie "Sea" Lyons, and there must be a good chance that I will bump into him again soon.

Moreover, every time my eye falls on that old hardback, and I've nearly finished it now, I think kindly of my old chum, and I'm sure whoever it is who has my Charles Buchan's Football Book For Boys, 1963 looks upon it and thinks kindly of me, too. Which is a nice thought, isn't it? Unless, of course, they're also sneering at my Cat Stevens album. You can keep the loons, by the way.

I have an idea. National Borrower Exchange Day. We will all assemble at given points, clutching the books, shaking the sugar, pushing the lawnmowers, shining the torches, buzzing the drills, dancing to loaned music, ready to be reunited. Many more of us will stand at bars or sit at tables, waiting. It will be affirming, and fun. All I need is some of you to help me with the start-up. Postal orders would be fine. Thank you. Of course I will.

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