Sarah Sands: One bounced cheque and my bank goes to red alert

In these troubled times, the mattress is probably the best place for your money
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The Independent Online

At first, the phrase "the credit crunch" had an economic grandeur to it. It took place in high, shiny buildings. It meant that investment bankers did fewer deals and that some bonuses shrank, although not as many as one would have thought. The private-plane classes talked of clouds gathering. But it was all above our pay grade.

Then we noticed house prices slipping and bills rising, and the feel-good factor waning. What I have only just started to grasp is the implications of banks being empty wells. It means they no longer hand over the money. We may chastise them for their easygoing approach to our spending in the past, but I preferred it to the sharp-faced Puritanism of now.

As a relatively high-earning and admirably high-spending customer, I have always been a favourite of my bank. They would contact me with respectful regularity asking if they could send someone to talk to me about investments (ie spending more). Like a coquette plied with drinks, I protested that mortgages and tax were probably enough for me, but I would think warmly about their offer.

Then, the other week, a cheque of mine bounced. I assumed there had been a mistake. Model customers do not have their cheques bounced if their account is marginally overdrawn for a few days. My account is not static; it is a rhythmic tide.

A letter followed that might have been drafted by a clerk from Dickens. It spoke of my "financial difficulties". It alluded to an enclosed leaflet entitled," Putting your finances in order". Most brutal of all, it referred me to the Citizens Advice website, and provided the telephone number. It gave numbers for the National Debtline and the Consumer Credit Counselling Service. So what happened to my friendly, party-spirited financial advisers? Since when did banks start thundering at us: neither a borrower nor a lender be? I thought that is what banks were for.

When I asked the wise former Chancellor Nigel Lawson recently where one should put one's money in these uncertain times, he suggested "Under the mattress". I wonder whether I should reply to my bank's chilly letter that I will not be requiring their services any more because, realistically, they haven't got any. They need to hang on to their money, and I to mine.

Janet Street-Porter is away

Clooney defies scientific explanation

Science came close to cracking the Da Vinci code this week. A study of the physiognomy of faces showed that certain features and expressions promised sex, while a flicker of variation round the eyes and the mouth threatened commitment. The history of misunderstanding between the sexes has been based on men searching for correct signals in faces as enigmatic as the Mona Lisa's.

Armed with this new decoding set, I have been examining the features of George Clooney in the papers this week. His eyes shrink and his mouth curls downwards the moment he senses a camera. This, according to science, amounts to a rejection of commitment. Unfortunately for Clooney, the warning signs can be inflammatory to the female sex. His universal flirtatiousness and refusal to succumb to the self-pitying pretentiousness endemic in his profession is irresistible.

But he also induces a dangerous hormone in those around him. In a 'New Yorker' profile, his friends talk of feeling "protective". There is only one of him, yet he is the whole world's object of desire. Protectiveness is the first step to being proprietorial. Science cannot cope with mixed messages, yet that is what Clooney exudes. He rejects commitment while appearing to need it.

Writing a book is the new rock 'n' roll

Ever since The Times agonisingly found itself in the same Murdoch stable as The Sun, journalists from the posh papers have had to accept fraternity and equality with the popular press. Now the book publishing industry is forced to offer the same rictus embrace.

The photograph last week of J K Rowling standing shoulder to shoulder with Katie Price at the British Book Awards will not, I suspect, appear on the Rowling mantelpiece.

The other culturally seminal moment of the evening was Geri Halliwell identifying with the authors in the room about hugging her finished book with pride. She shared her sense of achievement with fellow authors such as Doris Lessing and Khaled Hosseini.

After the award ceremony, I chatted to the actress Imogen Stubbs. She was taken aback to have been asked by the evening's presenters, Richard and Judy, if she had books in her house.

Reader's Digest traditionally bestows an author of the year prize, which this time went to Ian McEwan for On Chesil Beach. The prize was presented by Richard Attenborough and, since I am about to take up the editorship of Reader's Digest magazine, I had my photograph taken with him.

I flung my arm around Lord Attenborough to screen him from the Jordan end of the publishing industry. However, he quickly became restless. "Where is Geri Halliwell? I want my picture taken with her," he wailed.

Why hard graft is not enough in Zimbabwe

I was on holiday in Mozambique when the first parliamentary election results in Zimbabwe were announced.

Zimbabweans, white and black, are known for their terrific work ethic, so many are working in hotels in bordering countries.

I watched two men clasp hands after hearing on the radio of the hopeful predictions.

The following day, one of them, a waiter, jumped on to our truck heading to the airport. "I can't stay, I have to go home," he said, his broad face dimpled with constant grinning. Then he whooped: " I am a free man."

Another waiter, named Kissinger after Henry Kissinger's visit to Africa in 1976, was too timid for such audacity of hope.

He missed his family; he missed the bush; he could not get the hang of snorkelling, but he could not see why the bloody tyrant of Zimbabwe would release his grip unforced. It was up to the rest of the world.

"The tragedy for Zimbabwe," said a tough young fisherman whose father had been murdered there, "is that we have no oil."

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