June 22, 2012 7:45 pm

The cheque is in the washing machine

Anyone over the age of seven who says things are unfair needs a reality check, but it is difficult when clients drag their feet over payments
Illustration for 'The cheque is in the washing machine'©James Ferguson

We wash our own hand towels. My Culinary Colleague (so called for her ability to turn out Michelin-star-worthy cooking despite having a full-time job, family and so on) communicated this salient fact recently to a potential supplier with whom she was negotiating. The message was clear – we are a small business. We don’t have a large budget.

This particular supplier is bigger than us but still not vast, and one thing we shall do if we use them is pay them promptly. Most of our clients are hundreds of times our size, and vary somewhat in the promptness of their payments. This became particularly acute late last year when – or so it seemed to me – many large companies simply decided without any discussion to double the time they sat on invoices before settling them. In other words, we were providing their working capital.

I do have a reputation for stating quite firmly that anyone over the age of seven who says things are unfair needs a reality check, but we are not a bank, and I do sometimes feel rather helpless in the face of a big company that has decided to drag its feet over paying us.

One day we might get bigger. Then we could start throwing our weight around. One organisation that has grown from a tiny start is the Hay Festival of Literature and the Arts, which began in Wales and now runs 15 offshoots across five continents, from Bogotá to Budapest. I have been going to Hay for 10 of its 25 years, originally as a punter. Back then, I had to find somewhere to park and queue with everyone else for ice-creams, drinks, the loo and so on. But in 2010 and 2011 I was a speaker, and found a whole new level of the Hay experience in the green room. Not only is there a garden and private loos but there’s the chance to rub shoulders with the likes of Bill Bryson.

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Mrs Moneypenny

This year I was not speaking but I did attend as a guest of Barclays Wealth. I don’t bank with them, and, if our clients continue to pay us late, I am not sure I ever will, but they hosted a dinner for journalists and I was curious to meet their chief executive, Tom Kalaris. Once inside the (unmarked) Barclays Wealth Orangery, I was delighted to be able to email my editor at Penguin to suggest meeting there. “It’s like a club-class version of the green room,” I told him. Not only did it have a dishy private chef, it also had chauffeurs to collect and deliver you to and from your accommodation.

. . .

I was escorted by Cost Centre #3 and we went to see some of the always excellent children’s authors that Hay lines up. One of our rather random selection was Jonathan Meres, an author speaking for the first time at the festival. I had never heard of him so when my editor spotted me in the queue and asked who we were going to see, I couldn’t remember anything about him. But having heard Meres speak and read his books, I predict he will be a lot more famous by the next Hay festival. He’s a former stand-up comedian, a former ice-cream van driver and even, he reminded us, a former baby. He’s very funny and I bought two books from his World of Norm series. They’re a little young for CC#3 but very entertaining and they reminded me that I’m not the only person struggling to bring up three male cost centres. Meres lives in Edinburgh, near the rather more famous JK Rowling and Ian Rankin, both of whom I presume would be in the target range for the splendid Orangery.

On my return from Wales, Long-suffering Lily presented me with some bills that needed paying – one of which, I’m embarrassed to say, was the invoice for my accommodation at Hay in 2011. I have taken a year to pay this bill? I apologise wholeheartedly, and have now found a moment between hand-towel washing to send a cheque.

mrsmoneypenny@ft.com

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