A few weeks ago, a self-isolating family asked if I could swing by the community centre food scheme on their behalf. It’s run by Your Local Pantry in roughly 50 UK locations, and allows low-income households to pick up food that would otherwise go to waste at a discount, using a system of hearts and diamonds (you’re allowed a certain amount of each). It’s straightforward, and requires no impromptu maths or frights at the till when the bill is higher than expected and the customer has to take back items in front of tutting queuers.
(To this day my most fabulous, viva-la-revolución-badass-tough-lady moment was snapping at a guy bemoaning the wait to pay for his crossword book. “I’ll give you a clue,” I fired. “Five letters, it’s what a rose has – and you are.” It was only the next day I remembered that roses have thorns, not pricks. Damn!)
There’s lots to say on this matter – namely, the horrors of food poverty while food waste piles high – but my mind keeps wandering to the kind euphemism of hearts and diamonds, and how much easier it is to say, “I’m out of diamonds” than it is, “I’m out of money.”
Is there anything as difficult to talk about as money? Is there any taboo as deep-seated? I thought that I was taboo-immune, a learned superpower from years in the Bad Asian Daughter zone (see: being an unmarried woman talking about “embarrassing” things like sex, anxiety, and how much I genuinely appreciate Danny Dyer).
But when I tried to tell a good friend how much money I had in my account in exact numbers – not vague terms like “a good or slow month” – I felt my heart race and skin go cold, words choking in the icy grip of the taboo.
It seems my work is not over. I have met my taboo Final Boss. Money talk, perhaps our biggest adversary yet.