As was so often the case with Bertie Wooster when he faced an interview with his fearsome Aunt Agatha, I feel a sense of impending doom as I write this on a beautiful morning in late June. The roses smell sweet, the sun is shining, and a light breeze is blowing through my study window. I ought to be at peace with the world but, in a few days’ time, the chickens will come home to roost, and the prospect is making my stomach knot with an all-too-familiar mixture of guilt and fear.
My wife and her sister came into some money following the death last summer of their mother. She wasn’t a rich woman but, following the sale of her attractive bungalow in an idyllic Hampshire village, there’s a useful sum and, since both Nicki and I are financial illiterates who simply bung what money we have into the bank at a negligible rate of interest, we thought it would be a good idea to discuss it with a financial adviser.
Bob seemed an extremely nice and trustworthy fellow when he came round, and said he would return in a few weeks with a plan. There was just one downside, at least as far I was concerned. He said we should look at our expenditure and see if there were things that could be cut from the family budget. And this was when my flesh started to creep.
As regular readers will know, I have a serious Amazon habit, and spend far too much each month, mostly on CDs, but also on books, DVDs and my pathetic obsession with Grateful Dead T-shirts. Since I pay the credit-card account, my wife has little inkling of just how much I spend and I tend to write the cheque each month with a feeling of dreadful guilt and then destroy the evidence by tearing up the bill. I am flushing with shame even as I write and cannot bring myself to reveal how much the monthly total tends to be. Put it this way. I once listened, appalled, as a recovering crack addict told me how much she spent on her habit. My addiction to CDs isn’t quite as bad, and is certainly far less harmful to my health, but I suspect most readers would regard the total with the same disbelief with which I listened to that poor woman in the Priory. Put it like this. I probably spend about the same on CDs as I used to spend on the drink that finally landed me in rehab.
Nor is this addiction dissimilar in the way it operates. Most (though by no means all) of my drinking used to be done late at night, on my own in my study, after coming back from the theatre and with my wife and son safely asleep. With a night job like mine, often with an overnight review to write to a tight deadline, I couldn’t afford to get too pissed in the day. No, the night-time was the right time for the tight time. And so it is with the CD habit. I arrive back home with adrenalin sloshing round my system and know it will be impossible to sleep for a couple of hours. Browsing and buying on the Amazon site with music playing quietly on the stereo provides a relaxing and enjoyable end to the day — just as a great deal of whisky used to do. All addictions are essentially about changing the way you feel and internet shopping does the trick.
But it’s reached a point where I don’t have time to listen to the CDs, or read the books or watch the DVDs I order, which is clearly bonkers — but then addiction is a kind of mental illness. And any time now Nicki is going to check the bank statements (we have a joint account) in preparation for Bob’s second visit.
So having written my confession here, I now intend to try to deal with the problem. I need to buy records, books and DVDs as part of my job, so the total abstinence at the heart of most 12-step programmes isn’t a possibility, but I will attempt to keep the total down to £75 a month. This austerity programme seems in keeping with the spirit of our straitened times and, to help keep me on the straight and narrow, I will report back in a few months to let you know whether I have stuck to the plan. Wish me luck as I try to wave another addiction goodbye.
Charles Spencer is theatre critic of the Daily Telegraph.