A DOG'S LIFE

I wrote last week about receiving infantile and patronising letters from commercial outfits. And boy, did that strike a chord. Can you guess how many letters, phone calls and emails of endorsement came flooding in from the reading public? None. Not one. I am officially the only person who dislikes having electricity companies addressing me by my first name and assuming I have the intelligence of furniture. Ah well. Pass the Chateau Bonne Nuit.

This week I got a very different letter from a commercial outfit. It came from a life insurance company. I do not have life insurance. Indeed I have compared taking out life insurance to betting on a horse with no legs. But when I read this letter the horse of my imagination went cantering off into the lushest meadows of possibility.

Dear Mr Bennett, it began, which in the light of last week's column is a cracking start. And it got better still. "Are you, by any chance, the Julian Bennett last known of at ... " and it gave an address in Queensland.

The letter didn't specify quite why they wanted to locate Julian Bennett of Queensland but I bet, because the human mind is an incorrigible optimist, that you're already thinking what I immediately thought. I thought that Julian of Queensland was going to prove the beneficiary of a life insurance policy. And I briefly wondered whether I could possibly pass myself off as him. Having a passport in the name of Julian Bennett seemed a good start.

Advertisement

There is, or there used to be, a card on the Monopoly board: "Bank error in your favour. Collect $200." I always liked it.

Long-shot hope ... like a fleet of ships that constantly sails towards us, each ship promising to
Long-shot hope ... like a fleet of ships that constantly sails towards us, each ship promising to "heave to and unload all good into our lives. All we are owed for waiting so devoutly and so long." Image / Getty Images

When you turned it over it felt like what it was, a windfall, a demonstration of benign chance. Fate doesn't only cut us off at the knees. It can also, sometimes, if rarely, give us a boost up on to the horse of unexpected happiness. And it was especially nice to think that it could do so through the medium of a bank.

We depend on banks. We trust them with the money we love. We dread their failure. When banks go under chaos is come again. Banks' prosperity and stability are essential to our peace of mind. But ooh, how we hate them. We hate their smug success, their colossal profits, their calculating nature, their cool and rational intelligence, the reasoning they employ to ensure they always bloody win.

Banks know this, of course. Which is why they spend millions trying to convince us they are likeable, human-faced and full of feeble soft emotions just like us. But they're faking it. Emotion is a bank's worst enemy. The emotional bank is the one that goes rupt.

Which is why the Monopoly card is so pleasing. That the bloodless bank can err at all is lovely. That we should profit from that error is lovelier still. It's a tear in the funereal cloth that lets in a thin and single shaft of hope. And without hope, well, there's nothing much ahead of us on earth but banks going on going on making money.

The meanest bit of legislation in the world is the one that takes away our rights to a bank error. If, in the real non-Monopoly world, a bank inadvertently credits your account with a million bucks and you withdraw it and emigrate before they spot their error they can and will come after you and you can be biffed into jail. Even though the bank is at fault. And even though it can readily afford it. And even though by letting you get away with it the bank could actually improve its likeability and probably win new business. It's a law against long-shot hope.

And how we love long-shot hope. It's what keeps Lotto going. It's the thought that somewhere out there may be a childless aunt you didn't know you had who's desperate to find a nephew to leave her millions to. Or that there's a life insurance policy that has borne fruit and that fruit has your name on it. These things happen to some people so by rights they should happen to us.

Philip Larkin, prince of poets, was good on long-shot hope. He compared it to a fleet of ships that constantly sails towards us, each ship promising to "heave to and unload all good into our lives. All we are owed for waiting so devoutly and so long".

Advertisement

"But," he goes on, not entirely atypically, "we are wrong."