“Needless to say, Ypres, we can never show ourselves in that restaurant ever again.”
I was waiting with Ypres by my side in an antechamber at Coutts on the Strand. It was your typical London morning at Coutts. One percenters were busy making sure their wealth was growing at a healthy pace and not in need of a restorative vacation in a safe haven by the sea. I was here to give my banking the once over with Ypres. As my lady’s assistant, Ypres is crucial in maintaining my financial health. She often states that economics fall under her purview. What better setting to discuss economics than at Coutts, one of the world’s oldest private banks. Nothing inspires more confidence than knowing that one’s cash is in the same social circles as the architects who brought down world finance while etching out a profit. This, needless to say, includes Uncle Edward.
I was perusing the latest issue of Vogue Italia, getting my fix on the best Milan couture had to offer, when a man in a three-piece suit and a stern moustache approached. “Madam Vasa, I presume?” He carefully elocuted. I was ready with my response.
“I prefer Miss Vasa. Indeed it is more accurate and liberating than Madam Vasa. I had a waitress address me as Madam at lunch yesterday, and without going into too many details, my afternoon was rather ruined. I think there is a colossal link between the two, if that is the word I am looking for. Is it colossal, Ypres?”
“Causal would probably be more appropriate. Although correlation would be more precise.”
The moustachioed three-piece suit gave Ypres the once over and asked who she was.
“This, sir, is Ypres, my lady’s assistant. She helps me with financial matters. She has read some chap Keynes’s theory on employment, something, and something, so you can rest assured that she is well versed on all things financial. Indeed, I once saw her lecture a shell-shocked French baker on the origins of the financier.”
My interlocutor was veering towards the shell-shocked himself. My formidable introduction of Ypres might have been too much. Meanwhile, Ypres stood as mute as a marcel. She eventually offered the flustered banker a how do you do.
“I am pleased you will be able to join us, Miss Ypres. Will you kindly follow me into my office, ladies?”
The banker held the door open for Ypres, but was evidently distracted, for as soon as she had passed the threshold, he let it go and left me contemplating a near miss with a glass pane. He was laughing it up with Ypres over this fellow Keynes when we reached his office. Ypres was evidently amused. Her lips had almost parted to reveal a smile similar to one one might see on a shark cruising the ocean floor.
I made sure to sit in between Ypres and the banker. I had to stop this dangerously casual discussion over interest rates, employment and aggregated demand. I feared some of the terms were euphemisms which should better not be used in broad daylight, let alone mixed company. I took on the air of a youthful headmistress.
“You see, sir,” I started before being interrupted. “Please, call me Alistair. After all, we are roughly the same age. Aren’t we, Miss Ypres?” I could sense a wink was about to be deployed in Ypres’s general direction, so I rushed in to steer the conversation back towards myself.
“The matter at hand, Mr. Alistair, is my financial situation. My bank card was denied yesterday. I am sure the error was not on my side, but to be cautious, and to stop Ypres lecturing me on prudence, I have stopped by to check on my accounts. So if you could just give me the all clear that would be grand. I have some shopping to do in Mayfair.”
Alistair checked his records.
“I see Miss Vasa. It appears your card was denied due to a hold on your funds by Mildred Ypres. Is that you, Miss Ypres?”
“How prudent of you, Miss Ypres. Are you always this reasonable?”
I jumped in. “Yes, she is, like a tuna on a seabed. Why was this hold put in place?”
“Well, Miss Vasa, Miss Ypres put a hold on your funds once they reached a certain threshold. Your balance has been decreasing steadily. A few more months at this pace and you would no longer meet our minimum balance requirements, meaning that, everything else being equal, your account would have to be closed.”
“Ipso facto default.”
“Quite so, Miss Ypres. You have such a wonderful mastery of words.”
“Excuse me!” I interjected with faultless grace. “Are you saying that I am at risk of having my Coutts account closed? My money thrown out to a pedestrian commercial bank, all that because I may fail to maintain my minimum balance?”
“That is correct, Miss Vasa.”
“Surely there must be a solution. Can’t you bump up my interest rate on my savings?”
“Unfortunately not. We live in a low-rate world. Getting two percent or above on anything is a miracle. You’re lucky we are not charging you for holding your money. However, if you want to borrow some money we can arrange a loan with a healthy interest rate into the next couple of decades.”
“Before we go down the loan path, Mr. Alistair perhaps you can enliven…”
“Thank you, Ypres, enlighten me on how such a situation has arisen.”
“Well, your spending is acute, Miss Vasa.”
“Surely not. I am a very careful spender. I only get the essentials.”
“Your record indicates that you spent most of March in Paris shopping and dining at luxury establishments.”
“A stay in a suite at the George V with the odd meal at Maxim’s and browse at Hermès is not lavish, Mr. Alistair. I only went to the Opéra Garnier twice. I slept through Cyrano de Bergerac at the Comédie-Française so that doesn’t really count.”
“You flew business from Heathrow and hired a chauffeur while you were there.”
“There is a simple explanation for that. First, I don’t like trains that go underwater. Tunnel or not. Obviously, I could not take the Eurostar. Second, I don’t trust public transit in Paris. They are either always on strike or pretend they can’t understand your French.”
“You also seem to be dining out a lot in London and taking in a number of shows.”
“A girl can’t be blamed for enjoying London, sir. London is a beacon. London is the world. London is love. London is life. After all, sir, if you are tired with London you are tired with life, for there is in London all that life can afford!”
“That’s rather the point, Miss Vasa you can’t afford it.”
“Nonsense! Check my income! I can afford it all!”
“The allowance you receive from Mr. Edward Vasa does not cover your expenditure. At this rate your capital is steadily eroding.”
“I am conundrum consultant and a successful author, Mr. Alistair. My Mayfair Conundrum was well received. Once reviewer called it ‘readable in a pinch’. It has become the beacon of the hostage situation reading community. It could soon be upgraded to beach reading. Numerous copies have sold.”
“Five copies. Although we should deduct those two returns.”
“Not now, Ypres!”
My injunction might have proved a bit brusque. Both Ypres and the moustache on the banker stood silent. I took a deep breath.
“What if I fire, Ypres? Can I still shop in Mayfair and go to the Royal Opera House?”
“Miss Ypres’s salary is actually one of your smallest expenditures. Annually, you spend more than twice her salary on handbags.” The banker carefully coiffed his moustache. “In the short term the best solution, aside from reducing your expenses, is to get a paying job.”
I composed myself. This would be my Churchillian moment. In adversity I would gain strength. I was being called upon to shed blood, sweat, and tears in the pursuit of financial sustainability. I would rise victorious, or fall defeated. Victory would spell a return to ordinary life. Defeat would mean settling down into the banalities of middle-class life. It would probably lead to my moving out of Mayfair into Notting Hill, or worse, Battersea. Never! I swore I would never surrender!
I rose from my chair full of new found confidence and prepared a roar.
“Very well, I shall do the unthinkable! I shall get a job!”
Chapter V will be published Monday, 10 October 2016, at 12:00 EST 17:00 GMT. Vasa and Ypres’s first full-length adventure, Vasa and Ypres: A Mayfair Conundrum, is available on Amazon. If you enjoy Vasa and Ypres, please share on social media. Vasa and Ypres is on Twitter. You can also join over 1145 WordPress followers. Should you be desperate to part with your money, and, in the process, fund Uncle Edward’s Vasa Assurances, a donation button is available on the homepage. Donations will help keep the Vasa and Ypres project going.