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 Amid all this argy-bargy about how to fix the economy and put a few coppers back in our collective pockets, may I make a plea for whichever party prevails to sort out the latest stealth tax? I refer, of course, to the huge amounts I’m having to shell out to friends and acquaintances participating in this year’s London Marathon. Virtually my entire address book seems to be running it this year, and each fresh appeal for sponsorship involves a particularly deserving cause. What’s more, my friends’ entreaties leave me in no doubt as to what’s expected, and it doesn’t leave any change out of 50 quid. The culprit, I suspect, is Eddie Izzard. Anyone who watched the recent documentary in which Britain’s most celebrated cross-dresser completed 43 marathons in 45 days (or was it the other way round?) can be in no doubt that running for charity, once the province of the seasoned athlete, is now an acceptable pastime for middle-class dilettantes. And damned expensive it’s proving, too.
The first to catch me unawares was an old mate who emailed out of the blue last month. Zoe is an actress of uncertain years with two children, a fondness for Tunnock’s Teacakes and a long-standing condition she alludes to as “a poorly groin”. The only time I’d seen her break into anything resembling a run was when she thought she was going to miss out on the promotional Twixes being distributed outside our local Tube station.

Yet this email announced her participation in this year’s marathon, and went on to express the hope that “I’d dig deep for an old mate”. Her round-robin may have been larkiness itself, couched in the “Oh my goodness, I’m sure I’ll need an iron lung at the end of it” faux-gaucheness of the occasional jogger: but this was no haphazard appeal. On the contrary, her correspondence was highly sophisticated, complete with estimated finishing times and mission statements from her chosen beneficiaries.

That was only the start. The following week, I saw Colin at a party. I should have seen the warning signs – the mineral water in place of the pint, the glowing complexion, the self-righteous smirk. Within seconds, he’d happened to mention that he too was running in this year’s marathon, and five minutes later I was another 30 quid down.

Like Zoe, Colin had gone digital. No longer the dog-eared sponsorship form, produced sheepishly from a back pocket. A simple scrawled promise to offer up 50p per completed mile was no longer enough. Now I had to use my BlackBerry to log on to some specialist website called while he stood over me with a beatific smile.

With a week still to go, I’ve now been tapped up by so many friends and colleagues that I’m thinking of applying for an emergency loan from the IMF to get me through. And with such vast sums being transferred, even before the starting gun has been fired, the question I want answering is, what happens if they don’t complete the course? Do I get my money back? And how will I ever know?

Of course, I could always go down to the finishing line next Sunday with a stopwatch and a camera, just to check for myself. But, sadly, that won’t be possible. Not that I’ve got anything else on; it’s just that I can no longer afford the Tube fare. 

by Michael