One of the first things people tell you about money is that it’s an illusion. It’s notional. If you give someone a dollar bill it’s not ‘worth’ a dollar – it’s ‘worth’ a small piece of paper and a small amount of printer’s ink – but everyone agrees, everyone subscribes to the illusion that it’s worth a dollar, and therefore it is. All the money in the world only means what it does because people subscribe to the same illusion about it. Why gold, why platinum? Because everyone agrees to place this value upon them. And so on.
You can probably see where I’m leading. The other world illusion, the other thing that exists simply because everyone agrees to place a certain value on it, is love. Now you may call me a jaundiced observer, but that’s my conclusion. And I’ve just been pretty close up to it. I’ve had my nose rubbed in love, thank you very much. I’ve put my nose as close against love as I put my nose to the screen when I’m talking it over with money. And it seems to me there are parallels to be drawn. Love is only what people agree exists, what they agree to put a notional value on. Nowadays it’s prized as a commodity by almost everyone. Only not by me. If you ask me, I think love is trading artificially high. One of these days the bottom is going to fall out of love.
Oliver used to carry around with him a book called The Consolations of Philosophy. ‘So, so consoling,’ he used to coo pretentiously, and give the cover a patronising tap. I never saw him reading it. Perhaps he just liked the title. But I’m the one with the title of today’s book, the up-to-date version. It’s called ‘The Consolations of Money’. And believe me, they work, those consolations.
People find me more interesting now I’ve got more money. I don’t know if I am – I’m probably not – but they find me so. That’s a consolation. I like buying things and owning things and throwing them away if I don’t like them. I bought a toaster the other day and after a week I didn’t like the way it looked so I chucked it out. That’s a consolation. I like employing people to do things for me that I don’t feel like doing myself – washing the car, cleaning the apartment, doing the shopping. That’s a consolation. While I have a lot less money than some of the people I deal with, I have a lot more money than many of the people I deal with. That’s a consolation. And if I go on earning at the rate I seem to be doing at the moment and invest wisely, then I shall be able to live comfortably from the time I retire until the time I die. Money, it seems to me, is a good deal more consoling than philosophy when it comes to worrying about that stretch of one’s life.
I’m a materialist. What else is there to be, if you’re not a Buddhist monk? The two great creeds that have ruled the world this century – capitalism and communism – are both materialist; one’s just better at it than the other, as recent events have proved. Man likes consumer goods, always has, always will. We may as well get used to it. And the love of money isn’t the root of all evil, it’s just the starting-point of most people’s happiness, most people’s consolation. It’s much more reliable than love.
What you see is what you get. What you get is what you pay for. That’s the rule in the world of Kim and Kelly and Shelley and Marlene. I don’t mean that there aren’t cheats. Of course there are, just as there are girls with diseases and girls who turn out to be boys; it’s like any other business, there are frauds and bad buys. But go to the right people, pay the right price, and you get what you want. Reliably, professionally. I like the way they have their little codes when they arrive. How can I be of assistance? What do you have in mind? Is there anything special you’d like? No doubt with other customers this leads to prolonged bargaining before the metallic crunch of the credit-card machine they carry in their bag along with contraceptives. But my bargaining is always simple. When they ask me if there’s anything special I want, I never bother them with schoolgirl outfits and whips or whatever. I just say that I want them to call me Darling afterwards. Just once, that’s all. Nothing more.

Talking it Over.
Julian Barnes.

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