The credit card people have just sent you a pair of scissors ...

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Look at yourself. It's early January and you are horribly short of money after the recent mandatory purchase of a half-life-size Scalextric Monaco Grand Prix (pounds 498.99) and a complete set of Spice Girl Dolls (pounds 21.99 each) complete with fully-accessorised electric Union Jack Spicemobile (don't ask). Having failed to penetrate the intricacies of the self-assessment tax form, you face paying the Inland Revenue a penalty of pounds 100 at the end of the month. The bank are wondering, a little noisily, if your overdraft should really be creeping into five figures. The credit card people have sent you a pair of scissors in the post. The great-aunt in Palm Springs, on whose imminent demise and legacy you were pinning all hopes of affording a holiday this summer, has become more spry than ever and has gone snow- boarding in Aspen. A huge bailiff from the local council is on your doorstep, all pristine trainers and nasty haircut. What do you do?

Do what they do in America. Go bankrupt. It's a popular activity Stateside. The Visa people have just reported that 1.34 million Yanks declared themselves bankrupt last year. That's one person in 200, compared with the British figures of one in two thousand. That means 0.5 per cent of the whole American population put the financial shutters up on their lives, drew their own bottom line, cancelled most of their outstanding debts, and thumbed their noses at the IRS. It's the biggest thumbs-up for bankruptcy since the Depression, and probably beyond. And it's happening, let me remind you, in the middle of a long American economic boom.

The Visa people are tut-tutting about how irresponsibly their card-holders "are pursuing bankruptcy as a first option to solve their financial difficulty instead of as a last resort". But there's more to it than that. Bankruptcy is a form of existential heroism. Provided you aren't saddled with a half- paid-off mortgage, a wife and three kids, you can dissolve the entire fabric of your job, home and lifestyle, and relocate to New Jersey or Des Moines with a new "earning pattern" and the equivalent of a new identity. Americans, famously, feel no sense of stigma or shame about bankruptcy, while to English ears it sounds as glamorous as impotence or halitosis. But you know that, as with every American trend, this will change too. Soon we shall all be metaphorically pulling out our pockets, boasting about our lack of funds ("Went belly-up for 300 grand, old boy. Fancy a Wincarnis?") and decamping to Durham or Piddletrenthyde to start a new life.

*

Which brings us to Anthea Turner and her new inamorato, Mr Grant Bovey. Independent readers, who rarely lift their eyes from the pages of Gibbon's Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire long enough to register the existence of commercial television, may need to be told that Ms Turner is a slender, blonde, wholesome-looking person who is always photographed with her teeth clamped together, who used to front a breakfast news show with a pissed- off Ulsterman called Eamonn, but gave it up to present listless light- entertainment shows called Pet Power and All You Need Is Love, and will soon be alerting the nation on Saturday nights to the fact that they haven't won the Lottery again.

Aaaanyway, she left her retired DJ husband and manager Peter Powell last week for the handsome but shadowy Mr Bovey, and the revelation of their love has pitched the tabloid press into a fever of indignation. Anne Robinson in the Express counselled the abandoned Mrs Bovey to lose half a stone and streak her hair. When Turner's husband said he hoped his wife had a happy and fulfilling time with her new beau, Lynda Lee-Potter in the Mail crossly assured him that the wife didn't want his understanding (you idiot); what she wanted was for him "to throw her over his shoulder, hissing through clenched manly teeth, `You're staying with me.' " And The Sun dug around in Mr Bovey's past and claimed that his company had once owed money to, among others, Coutts Bank, the Nationwide Building Society, Texaco Oil and Kevin Keegan. But why this animosity to a young woman who should, by rights, be the Nation's Sweetheart? An answer may be found in the pages of the new TV Times, where a precise and pre-adulterous Anthea sits pertly on a steamer trunk, as she dilates on her "clean living-image", her lack of sex appeal, and her happiness with the epithet of "girl next door". The words "Proper Little Madam" fairly jump off the page at you. On the side of the steamer trunk, there's a sticker bearing the words "Not Wanted on Voyage". You somehow know that, in Ms Turner's journey to the top, almost anyone - husbands, grandmothers, colleagues - could all be accommodated inside it.

*

Now Twelfth Night has come and gone, I hesitate to mention the C-word again, except to award a couple of marketing initiatives. Most Inept Seasonal Advertisement was a promotion in the windows of a leading chain of bookshops that featured banners emblazoned with the words "Make somebody happy with a book". They were illustrated by a laughing face and the words "Ho Ho Ho!" Books, it implies, make you fall about. But if you examine the banners, you note that one of the books pictured as uproarious fun is A People's Tragedy, Orlando Figes's vast history of the Russian Revolution, with its cover photograph of traumatised Georgian peasants.

International Customer Relations Award goes to San Francisco Airport. Some friends who flew from there on Christmas Day report how they presented their Economy Class tickets at the check-in desk, and confidently assumed (given the day they were flying) they would be upgraded to First Class. But then about 50 other seasonal travellers turned up for the same flight, having likewise decided to fly when nobody else was doing so, all similarly keen to be upgraded. But First Class was almost full. There was one seat available. Who would get the free champagne and the personal massage? The management thought about it, and called the passengers together. "Come back at 4pm with a prepared carol," they said, "and whoever sings the best will get the seat". Dore himself would be pushed to capture the Purgatory of karaoke warblings that rang round the bureaux de change and the luggage carousels. A Japanese bloke finally won the seat with an impassioned aria by, I believe, Verdi. Those who'd struggled through all of "Hark the Herald Angels Sing" were understandably (and unseasonably) hacked off.

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