It was a well known fact that my pure mental mum Maddie was getting her mitts on grandfather’s fortune and we were going to travel the world spend spend spending, making everyone sick with jealousy.
But Maddie wanted to hold the will in her hand and give it a good sniff before boasting to her disinherited sisters. And I wanted to get my paws on the famous moneybags rumoured to be hidden under his bed.
Grandfather Money had the decency or bad taste to live in one of his own slums making him a prime target for every Tom, Dick and Harold who wanted to steal his moneybags according to Pearl the Swinger, who had known Old Money in the biblical sense back when she had a nose. When cancer ate her nose, I asked him to buy her a new one.
Grandfather Money had died as he had lived: in his bed; and there he was still lying on top of the whiffy four poster, inside the most expensive mahogany coffin his money could buy.
I crawled underneath, willing to risk being knocked out by the smell to get my paws on his moneybags. But even the chamberpot was empty, not even a spider to keep me company; there was nothing except Old Money’s gun which he brought home from the Somme along with a distaste for further foreign travel.
Smoke inhalation got him in the end, not the hundred a day he puffed but the one he dropped on the Ides of March when a man in a mask gave him a fright in the middle of the night. Howard Hughes, his parrot, survived the bonfire but never swore again.
It was lovely of grandfather to die just before Easter, making sure we had a bank holiday handy every year for a picnic on his grave at the Necropolis, a dead glamorous cemetery conveniently located next to the Royal Infirmary (though a dental surgery would have been even better, given the frequency of family members losing their teeth at these get-togethers).
Maddie inherited grandfather’s fortune, but the expected moneybags were never found.
Maybe they were just a myth to make us keep looking? I swapped my search for a new daydream.
I wanted to run away but didn’t know where I was going, like those people focused on getting through the tunnel without considering the weather at the other end.
Maddie looks down on anyone who doesn’t own the street they live in, but owning the city as far as her kohled eyes could see didn’t satisfy her longing for more, more, more.
She was rich enough to make people bow and scrape, but had to deal with impure and complicated jealousy.
“There was nothing improper about my relationship with my father,” she said, eyes black with mascara and a punch from her sister Winnie – known locally as The Poo – who was angry that grandfather’s suits had been given to the Salvation Army. Aunt Win liked to dress up as Old Money after an Advocaat.
Why did Grandfather Money leave everything to his lucky seventh daughter? His motive was unlikely to have been incest. The closest she gets to fornication is colonic irrigation with a monogrammed platinum hosepipe.
My guess is that Grandfather Money was just a Top C who wanted to divide his family in death as he had in life. But there are things you are allowed to say out loud – and others you are supposed to keep just to yourself.
Maddie inherited grandfather’s omnipotence along with his money. She abused her power well, controlling the fantasies of her family with a combination of treats and threats.
Her sisters took turns in lugging Maddie’s shopping and the banknotes to pay for it (credit cards being one of many things she distrusted), living in hope she would buy them an outfit. But designer swag conveniently didn’t come in their sizes.
We may hate each others’ guts, but we’re the same flesh and blood – though some of us have more flesh than others, as Mads was often fond of reminding her fat sisters.
My cousins were gifted their own homes in the slums as wedding presents, but Maddie always kept a set of keys.
My father was forced to drive around in a white Rolls Royce. People thought he was Gary fucking Glitter. Tomatoes were thrown.
My brother took the silver too, weakening his will with bossy bale-outs for the rest of his short life.
When my dad tried to hire an air hostess for my brother’s birthday, Maddie was annoyed that he’d only offered her a tenner. What would people think?! We were travelling First Class for goodness sake, we could afford a lot more than that. And air hostesses are dead common!
Being the daughter of a material girl led to an over-development of my spiritual side. Dodging into Notre Dame to light a candle, taking daisies to Diaghilev on the Island of the Dead in Venice; begging God to help me escape.
I refused to take the silver and was in and out of Mummy’s will more times than Princess Diana lost her lunch.
It’s Maddie’s money and she’ll disinherit who she wants to, despite new legislation making it difficult to excise the next of kin from your will. Children should be rewarded for putting up with their parents, but it annoys Maddie that I don’t want her money.
‘A bit of sucking up wouldn’t kill you,’ she moans. ‘Don’t you want to be rich?’
Of course I do. No one lies on their bed fantasising about being poor!
Being poor for too long makes it impossible to believe in dreams even when they happen. It’s not being able to consume and being consumed by longing for stuff that’s mainly not worth having; a thwarted greed which mirrors the faux desire of the philistine rich. Too much is never enough.
Learning not to want things you can have, that’s the trick.
And there was something that I wanted more than money: to escape. Freedom was more important to me than new toys.
While Maddie stayed up late ironing banknotes, trying to steam her money clean, I plotted my escape from the Money obsession with stinky, filthy money.
But I needed money to escape. I saved up my pocket money and hid Fry’s Creams in the saddlebag of my Chopper, unhelpfully sprayed Schiaparelli pink to make it “stand out” from the blue and yellow bikes. The last thing I wanted cycling down the London Road with my money was to stand out.
‘You can’t go anywhere without money,’ Maddie was always saying, but that doesn’t make it true.
The first place I escaped to was inside a book. Books, or germ traps, were Verboten in our house so I was dying to sneak into the library and read one!
The librarian turned a blind eye as I sat under a big plant escaping into other worlds with Gatsby and Heathcliff, finding out stuff that was news to me. Ideas are often more valuable than money.
The legacy of bad blood leaves some internal bleeding but being suffocated with maternal love makes it impossible to escape without looking back. My real legacy from the mad Money was the ingredients to become a writer.
There’s a theory that if you have an interesting childhood then you have enough material to last a lifetime. That implies that art is always autobiographical when really reinvention and imagination are more important elements, but it doesn’t hurt to have a mad family! Of course I didn’t notice until I’d escaped just how bizarre my family were.
When I was 16 I escaped from Money Street with no bank account, no credit cards and less than a hundred pounds in cash, determined not to count it.
‘Being clever will never get you anywhere,’ Maddie warned me, but it got me a diplomatic scholarship to the land of coke and apple pie, before Disneyfication ruined New York.
Now Mickey Mouse stalks Times Square putting the squeeze on tourists and making sure there’s no space for pimps, hookers or bad-tempered commuters.
Next I escaped to London where I lived in Stanley Kubrick’s caravan after a short stint sleeping in Hyde Park inside one of those big trees that impersonate people.
And I went on and on escaping from the Money until I met my husband, Dangerous, in a lift and we escaped together to Africa, a continent with a beautiful soul to match its scenery where no one speaks English and everything’s broken. And to the Middle Kingdom, known in the west as China, where communism is dead and the citizens prostitute themselves or take pride in cheating foreigners.
Now I’m home in Soho where I was always supposed to be, ‘making up lies for a living’ according to Maddie who is a bad mother but a great character.