Life
    Money

    A caviar life on a fish-finger budget

    27 May 2017

    DOB: It’s almost five years since I moved to London from Yorkshire; half a decade in which I have done my best to wring out every succulent drop of experience from city life. The problem is, for most of it I have existed on what might generously be termed a pittance, and what most would call absolutely bugger all. How have I maintained my mode de vie? Here follow what tricks I can pass on to other flat-broke flâneurs — if they bring a quarter of the fun I’ve had, this will have been a job well done.

    First, dress elegantly. A well-cut suit and a pair of proper English shoes give a certain authority, even in these days of T-shirt-clad billionaires. Your greatest friends in this endeavour are Savile Row and eBay, the former to inspire you through its windows, the latter to supply. For £100 or less you can look as though you spent 20 times that much — and pass unchallenged through portals at which a hedgie in trainers would be turned back. As the old saying goes, dress for the life you want rather than the life you have.

    Second, be completely shameless. Pride not only cometh before a fall, but also getteth in the way of having a bloody good time. Invited to dinner, but down to your last coppers? Then say so. London is a city in which favours are a petrocurrency. The friend giving you dinner today knows full well that you’ll be introducing him to his future wife, boss or investment angel once you’ve found your feet. But never take hospitality without dispensing amusement in return. Bores are not invited twice.

    Third, be connected. That chap you knew at school who’s now a junior reporter? Tag along with him to a drinks party. The Sloaney girl from university clawing her way up the PR ladder? Take her for the chicest lunch you can stretch to and persuade her to put you on the invitation list for her next event. Your godfather who’s something in the City? Write to him on thick, creamy paper with a fountain pen, lament your having been such infrequent companions, and ask if he could spare an hour to give you some career advice one evening. From little social acorns grow the oaks of metropolitan success.

    Most importantly, always email the people you’ve met at these beanos the very next morning. Not only is it polite, it reminds them you exist and establishes a correspondence. Every new connection is an opportunity.

    Fourth, why not become a hack? Ideally, get a job as a stringer for one of the diary columns — TMS, Londoner’s Diary, Sebastian Shakespeare in the Daily Mail, and so on. The attrition rate for diarists is extraordinary even in today’s revolving–door employment market, so it should be easy enough for anyone with half a brain and a good turn of phrase. The benefit is twofold: you will spend every night at fantastic parties, drinking and eating for free and meeting fascinating people; and you’ll be paid to do so. Remuneration for stories varies from paper to paper, but even £40 for a bottom-rung item pays for a week’s travel.

    As before, remember to enhance your address book wherever you go, and whomever you meet: today’s associate is tomorrow’s chief executive. Be charming even, or especially, to PR people; they’ll remember kind comments and send you further invitations. And never leave a party without having been introduced to the five most important people in the room and, if you possibly can, making them laugh.

    Fifth, join a club. Not one of those ghastly ‘private members’ clubs’, but a proper gentleman’s club. This is now somewhat of a misnomer as the majority have become co-ed, but the principles remain constant: good food and wines at a significant discount to normal London prices; witty conversation covering every field of human endeavour; a place to seek refuge from the tawdriness of chain bars and piped music. But do not make the mistake of thinking a club is a place in which to network: that way lies the blackball and social oblivion. Do cultivate the club accountant, in the hope of securing maximum credit for your soaring bar bills.

    Finally, most importantly, nil desperandum. When you’ve spent your sixth consecutive night dining on tinned beans, the temptation to throw in the towel and join the rat race will be great. Resist this with all your might and reap the rewards: fallow periods rarely last more than a month and are usually succeeded by weeks of exquisite delight. It will all be worth it when you’re at a thumping good party, swigging champagne, surrounded by fascinating people.

    You’ll have a moment of clarity and think to yourself: ‘Thank God I didn’t take that job at Defra.’

    *

    CS: London, as we all know, is a hellishly expensive place to live. Property prices are extortionate. One round in the pub can wipe out your social life for the rest of the month. Even getting to work eats up your salary; a recent report revealed that London’s public transport is the most expensive in the world.

    Yet despite all that, people still want to live here. Every year thousands of graduates flock to the city, desperate for a slice of the capital’s action. And it isn’t just the jobs that are pulling them in. The buzziest restaurants, shows, product launches, whatever floats your boat: London has it all. But is there a way of living an enjoyable London life without ending up in huge amounts of debt? Surely there must be.

    Mind you, writing this piece as a journalist is cheating. Invitations to book parties and the like are, as David says, both fairly frequent and a reliable source of free food and booze. The Spectator throws a decent bash too. Bearing that in mind, I decided to do some social media crowdsourcing among non-journalist friends — with mixed results.

    ‘Go to Itsu for half-price sushi half an hour before closing’ sounded like a sensible tip. ‘But beware’, replied another. ‘It also comes with a risk of food poisoning … speaking from experience.’ ‘That has its own benefits though — there’s no need for a gym membership,’ piped up a third. Others were altogether less cheerful. ‘We’re all broke for life.’ ‘Sell your body and make a fortune!’ Or, of course: ‘Marry someone who works in the City’.

    If you look around, though, there are bargains to be had — or relative bargains — that really can boost your quality of life. Entertainment-wise, there’s plenty going on that’s actually free. The Gresham Lectures, at Gresham College in Holborn, are free public lectures on subjects ranging from the Queen to heart surgery. The BP Summer Big Screens has three evenings of live broadcasts from the Royal Opera House to Trafalgar Square and other screens across the country: the Royal Ballet’s Mixed Programme, which includes The Dream / Symphonic Variations / Marguerite and Armand on 7 June; the Royal Opera’s La traviata on 4 July, and Turandot on 14 July.

    Also free of course, and very therapeutic for the hard-up, are the beautiful evensong services in most of London’s finest churches. The BBC still films some programmes in London and is always looking for audience members — again, for free — for shows from the Reith Lectures to Strictly,while both the Science Museum and the Natural History Museum put on free after-hours ‘lates’ on topics ranging from robots to wildlife.

    Want to keep fit without spending oodles on gym membership? Apps like the free Nike+ Training Club are your saviour; or if you insist on going to the gym, then membership of the online club ClassPass could be the solution. For every friend you refer to the club, both you and they receive £30 of gym classes — so if you have enough friends then the gym is your oyster. Or you could simply run home from the nightclub, fulfilling the double role of burning off the alcohol and saving the Uber fare home.

    Of course, if you want to take this lifestyle to extremes then you can. The single most expensive outlay for most twentysomethings in London is rent — but even this can come at a knock-down price if needs be. Some London landlords will reportedly offer free rent in exchange for sexual favours or, I quote, an ‘adult cuddle once a week’. One advert found on the online advertising forum Craigs-list reads: ‘Free room for a girl in exchange for housework and your worn knickers (Fulham)’. Another — posted by some claiming to be ‘an open-minded gentleman’ — states that he is ‘happy to accept other alternative arrangements in lieu of rent (such as: domestic chores and other adult activities).’

    Obviously, I’m not going to recommend this kind of arrangement. Such people should be given a very wide berth.

    But there are also those who are willing to accept much lower rent as a swap for socially acceptable duties such as babysitting, gardening or doing the daily school run, for example, and looking after the house when owners are away. That all sounds much more civilised.

    Going back to being invited places, it isn’t just journos who can make the most of the ‘free grub and grog’. Brush up your art credentials and get your name on the email lists of various galleries, so you’ll be invited to their private views. Or keep an eye on the ‘Skint London’ website and Twitter account (@SkintLondon) which track the best deals and free events across the city so you don’t have to.

    One final piece on advice? Non-Cuban cigars from mainland Europe are, I hear, about a fifth of the price of Cuban ones, and can be ordered online. There you are, David: don’t ever say The Spectator doesn’t have your best interests at heart.