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You Have Wasted Your Life
On spending some time in prison for fraud
What excuse can we afford a man who, taking monthly payments from some thirty-something patrons, produces no product for their dégustation?
It is said that the greater part of a writer’s time is spent in reading, and that he may turn over a whole library in order to produce a single article; that his patron, while he receives nothing, pays instead for that period of gestation.
All this is true, but so long an absence from The Pedestrian has a more substantial excuse, and it is that I was for almost two months imprisoned for state benefit fraud.
I detailed some months ago how I went about this, and in doing so sealed my own fate. The article was not long after discovered by my Employment Coach who, morally outraged by my crime, and offended by the unflattering portrait which I had made her, swiftly reported me to the authorities.
Mother wept bitter tears as the evidence was presented at trial, severely wetting the black mourning dress which she had worn for the occasion. Whether she was more grieved by my act of fraud, or the discovery of my literary career, to both of which she was ignorant, I do not know. I thank her regardless, for I am convinced that her wretched sobbing (which occasionally collapsed into a mere screaming into her lace handkerchief) caught the judge’s attention and softened his heart to her little boy.
The Judge gave me a reduced sentence of one-and-a-half months and, seeing me frail of constitution, conceded to my lawyer’s request that I be placed in a women’s prison, where I would have less probability of meeting either battery or buggery.
I was given time to reflect, though little recourse to reading, the ladies’ prisons being less-well stocked than mens’ and consisting almost entirely of Jilly Cooper paperbacks. With the threat of buggery remote, my principal concern was losing my reputation as an Epigrammatist.
I took some pains to remedy this by having them published on my behalf, taking advantage of my conjugal visits with my legal wife to load her up with as many epigrams as I could think of. But her being unable to leave the prison with any item with which she had not entered, I could not give anything to her written. This, along with her being from La Mancha, and not much used to the English tongue, necessitated that I transmit my epigrams to her both orally and in castellano.
These she would then take to a professional translator, hispanist, and personal friend of mine who — by coincidence — also found himself in prison at the time, and to whom my wife would also have to render another visit along her way. My colleague would then translate these epigrams back to the original English, and my wife would take that final product to the closest computer where they would be published. But the epigrams being so degraded by the poor memory and double-translation, they were hardly worth publishing, and I have since deleted them out of embarrassment.
What profit have I gained from my imprisonment, then? Only the realisation that I have wasted my life in literary pursuits, which have so far brought me only destitution and a criminal record.
How I wish that, instead of being born to thirty-something parents in the nineties, I should have been born to fifty year olds. They would have discouraged me from following my interests. With wisdom and prejudice, they would have forced me to get a job in finance and purchase an acre of land. When you have a property and a plump index fund and a long garden, you can spend all the time you like painting, or writing funny stories. You are also more likely to have a friend who works at the Spectator.