It’s tax day in America.
Pushing the button that will send proof of a valid working life to the Inland Revenue Service is the culmination of days entering numbers in the correct boxes. It is a time of stark truths as those crunched numbers deliver the brutal realisation that, despite hours each day spent on the foundation of a chosen career, the three ‘Rs’ – researching, reading and ’riting – do not provide enough for the smallest garret in the least expensive city of the world. TimeOut.com tells me that for 2022 that city would be Manchester, England. Montreal, Budapest and Johannesburg would be my next three equal options. It’s an interesting list that stops at ten. St Petersburg, Prague and Porto are next, followed by Rome, Mexico City and Bangkok.
St Croix, where I currently reside, does not feature. It is not surprising. Living on an island is naturally a costly option. Having lived on a couple before – Singapore and Bioko, in the Bight of Biafra – it is perhaps something I should’ve taken into account when searching for the ideal retirement place. Retirement for my husband but not me. I’m a writer, a novelist, remember?
Out of that august list of inexpensive places I admit a couple of cities do rather appeal. Bangkok, the birthplace of my son, Edward, will always hold a large slice of my heart. Living la dolce vita in Rome does tempt me although as I’m in the throes of writing a novel based in Venice – there you go, anotherisland – it would seem the wrong option.
Budapest would entice me with its boulevards and the Danube, but Hungary is ruled by a president whose ideas on democracy do not marry to my own. It is many years since I visited Mexico City but a metropolis of over nine million people seems a bit crowded. Johannesburg. No. If I am to live in South Africa it would have to be closer to the splendours of the Drakensberg Range. The magnificence of St Petersburg could be an option but winter would be a problem – all that marble and drafty halls. And I do have an issue with Russia’s leadership. The two Ps, Prague and Porto, both appeal but I would need to do a little information mining, and there is of course the small issue of not speaking a word of Czech or Portuguese, but then I didn’t speak Thai when I moved there so that problem is not insurmountable.
I wonder how difficult it is to learn the tax code in these least expensive cities of the world? And what guaranteed do I have that in 2023 their cost of living won’t have rocketed due to people like me trying to sustain a living as a writer.
Maybe Canada would be similar to the US. And at least I speak the lingo. That being the case perhaps Montreal – the city favoured by Hollywood moguls as the ideal place to shoot movies. It’s not somewhere I have been but I’ve seen the photos of snow-covered streets. And men in earflaps. No, if I’m to live in a garret on a limited income, the thought of winter does not fill me with warmth.
I might sound English but my knowledge of the country is limited mostly to London and the West Country, and of Manchester I know little apart from Man City and Man U teams – and football is not a game that interests me. Textiles, canals and railways alway intrigue – there’s history on the doorstep – but language could again be an issue.
English comes in many shades – this is a lesson I learnt whilst living in the North East of Scotland where my use of ‘sorry, could you say that again’ became tedious. Mancunian might hold the same problem but I like black pudding and eccles cake so maybe I should put the city on a narrowing list of possibilities as I consider my options of attic living.
Or maybe I’ll just stay where I am. On an idyllic island in the Caribbean where my husband is gracious enough to support my writing, and in the belief that each new book I write is bound to be a best seller. And really, how many people can sit at a desk purportedly writing, or at least thinking of writing, whilst watching frigate birds soar and yachts manoeuvre into the crystalline harbour?
I have to believe that one day my tax report will show a healthy income, but then again, if that happens the taxman might cometh!