‘Nothing is enough’, said Epicurus about nothing in particular, ‘for the man for whom enough is too little’. I find myself staring at a small piece of paper, 17 centimetres by 9, and wondering.
It has travelled, according to AA Routefinder, 199 miles to be with me, setting off yesterday morning, and spending the night somewhere en route. It was probably made from the tiniest piece of birch pulp and, as from 2002, people have been out to bring it to an end. It conveys four pieces of information, of which the one in a little white box half way up its right hand edge is, for me anyway, the most immediately noticeable. It is individualised in 42 different numbers, set out in six blocks of information around the periphery of the paper. Unusually, the information on it is written, not typed, and it has two vertical lines about a centimetre apart from each other in the middle. This makes it secure.
It is a cheque, and with 81 days of the year left to run, it was probably the first one I had seen in 2018, and definitely the first one I had received.
It came in a nothing envelope. This meant that everything else in this morning’s post got opened before it, even the circulars, even the round robin from the local hardware buying group. In fact, the only reason that it got opened at all rather than put straight into the re-cycle bin was that it had my name, correctly laid out, as the addressee. In my experience, anyone who has bothered to get my name right has at least earned the right for me to open what they have sent. Physically, anyway, if not electronically.
It was for a relatively small amount, but it was utterly life-changing. In fact, I had spent most of my adult life trying to get hold of it. What it signified to me was no less than the dismantling of the architecture of my working life these last God knows how many years.
I had tried to get it four decades ago when I lived in Hong Kong, and three and a half decades ago when I came back from the Antarctic. I had written millions of words, (no exaggeration), in pursuit of it, made hundreds of phone calls, and sent thousands of emails. I had spent whole years believing that it would never come, and occasional brief evenings thinking that its arrival was so imminent as to be a done deal. I had sat in Hebridean cottages watching the rain lash against the picture window, conspiring as to how I could get hold of it. I had asked favours on its behalf, and even prostituted whatever I happened to believe in order to make its presence in my life more likely. It was only when I said ‘Sod it!’ one day, and started to speak with my own voice that I could make it out just beyond my reach, stirring in the long grass. Only when I politely told the unrelenting shadows behind my desk that they could and should depart did I know that it would happen. Not just once, but again and again.
Ironically, it wasn’t for the right amount, but that was a small oversight. There was no one in the house but Jack Russells with whom to share the news it brought with it. I just went to the kettle and celebrated in a very English way on my own with a cup of tea; it was too early for something stronger and, anyway, I was dry for the month of October. And then I climbed into my car to drive it to Midhurst for its MOT.
I could have taken it to the bank there and then, but I didn’t. Like an elderly person who keeps the order of service from the funeral of an old friend on the sideboard for a week or two out of a sense of loyalty, I have stuck it on the family notice board for the time being, to see if anyone will notice. It will go in soon enough.
It sits on the board secured by a drawing pin, there amongst the dentist appointment cards, miscellaneous receipts and old train tickets. Enough.
It is an advance against royalties.