Terence Blacker: Like Flaubert, I say "Madame Bovary, c'est moi'

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The Independent Online

I have taken out a loan. It was not difficult – I knew the ropes, having done it in the past.

I have taken out a loan. It was not difficult – I knew the ropes, having done it in the past. In fact, one of the reasons for needing the new loan was that payments on two previous loans had become a bit of problem. Some fine tuning was required. With the help of a new loan, I could pay off the earlier ones so that, instead of having three debts, a situation which can be depressing and lead to anxiety attacks, I would have reduced them to one – and have a bit of spare cash.

This solution to my problem was so subtle, and yet so simple, that I was puzzled as to why everyone was not borrowing. Then I discovered that they are. According to the National Association of Citizens Advice Bureaux, the number of people seeking help with their debts has increased by 37 per cent over the past two years. Another report has identified something called the "Madame Bovary syndrome", a tendency among women to live a loan-fuelled lifestyle in order to be fashionable, avoid boredom and generally bolster their feelings of self-worth – to have fun, in other words.

I am tempted to say, like Flaubert, "Madame Bovary, c'est moi", but that would not be entirely true. The cause of my shortfall is not an orgy of self-esteem-enhancing expenditure but (I'll spare you the details) one of those one-off life situations. Another difference between the modern Emma Bovary and me is that she plays with a full deck of credit cards, selecting from a choice of 1,500 currently available, whereas I do not actually have one. Credit cards make your wallet bulge unattractively in the pocket and bring a nasty surprise at the end of the month.

This appears to be unusual. When I made some exploratory calls to banks and loan companies, the fact that I had no credit card account seemed to make me profoundly suspect. The loan sharks – I mean, bank operatives – talked of security, of needing to come round to look at my house. "Can't you just give me some money, like you say you will in your advertisements?" I asked. It was more complicated than that, apparently.

I took my debt elsewhere – to my bank. They have helped me before and must have discovered, down the years, that I am their dream client, with my finances forever in a containable but dependably profitable muddle. For them, I must be the sort of rock-solid investment stockbrokers are supposed to promote: my overdraft brings the bank a regular dividend and, now and then, I provide it with the extra windfall of a short-term loan.

Briefly, and in an unpardonably old-fashioned way, I felt sheepish about returning to ask for more money. Debt, I had always thought, was a bad thing, the sign of a life unravelling. I expected the bank manager to do the disappointed-headmaster thing and warn me that it was about time I pulled myself together and sorted out my general attitude.

But, in the end, he was perfectly charming. Borrowing money, it seems, is an essential part of modern life, just as lending it is no longer a shifty pawn-shop business but a booming enterprise, a central part of the national economy. The manager called up my account on to his computer screen: it didn't look too clever. I explained that I was in a bit of a situation. Then there was the taxman, forever pestering me with his impossible demands.

We crunched some numbers. We talked hard ball and ball park. Finally, we settled on one large third loan which would not only wipe out the other two loans completely but would provide enough extra funds to avoid my having to return for a fourth loan in a few weeks' time.

After all, one does have to be responsible about these things.

terblacker@aol.com

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