The challenge is underway. I am not allowed to talk too much about it so that I don't give away spoilers (I don't think it will air til Spring next year) but as anticipated it is an odd, but fascinating mixture of experiences, some silly and trivial, some a little bit moving. We've spent some large amounts recklessly and some small amounts to good effect, it's sometimes been conflicting and sometimes heartwarming. I have definitely enjoyed spending money on others more than I have on myself.
I do feel a bit sorry for rich people as the luxury stuff they are forced to do to spend their cash (for those that do that rather than storing it unused waiting for an investment opportunity to make more money not to spend) is often a bit rubbish. We hired a limo which was underwhelming and a little bit uncomfortable and had a posh meal with the most expensive wine on the menu (which given this was Armenia was not outrageously expensive, but was very delicious), but ended with a cup of coffee that had been made from beans that had passed through the digestive tract of a cat. It cost a lot more than 30p, but I don't think was any nicer than the coffee we'd had yesterday. But maybe I was putting myself off by imagining it emerging from the anus of a cat. I don't think cat anus coffee is a great selling point. Anyone with more sense than money would pay less for that rather than more. But once you've paid a tenner for a coffee you have to pretend that it's really exquisite and unusual or you just look more of a fool. Even more of a fool than you did drinking cat anus coffee.
There were several experiences where we hired ordinary local people to provide services, but we weren't allowed to overpay them and alas their prices were all so reasonable that we couldn't feasibly hope to get through the cash without spending it in posher places too. But we did our best to spread the wealth to those who didn't have it. We were going to the casino and decided to rent some tuxedos, but there are no suit rental places in Yerevan (and we weren't allowed to buy suits) so instead we went to the opera house to see if they had any suitable costumes. There was some confusion from the staff what we were up to and we were delayed as we had to ask the manager for permission and then we were led to a room where a man and some tiny old Armenian women shouted at each other, then we were taken up six flights of stairs to a door, which we stood outside for ten minutes (all the time aware that we were against the clock), then taken down the stairs, then up again to the tenth floor where finally we were at the costume store.
But it turned out that the only clothes available were actual opera costumes, which weren't entirely suitable for a casino trip but which we had to hire anyway as we needed to spend the money.We were now fussed over by the two tiny women, one of whom turned out to have worked in this job for 45 years and who was utterly delightful. She was pretty choked up when we gave her about £70 for the costume hire. It hadn't been a cost effective use of our time, but it was utterly lovely. She took a shine to Dave, our cameraman and tried to fix him up with her daughter who she called down from another part of the building. The daughter came but looked rather underwhelmed with Dave, whilst her mum looked on hopefully and trying to encourage her to like him. I don't think Dave had come looking for a wife and looked equally embarrassed. It was ace (and it won't be in the show alas).
The casino trip was fascinating in a different way. We were only allowed to gamble a tenth of our budget and I thought the best way to do this would be to put it all on one number on the roulette (something I have long dreamed of doing and which this odd situation gave me the chance to do- I hoped), but the danger was that we might win, in which case we'd get 35 times our stake back and have to add that to our total. That would be £28,000, £20,000 more than we started with (and we still had a good chunk of our money left). David Baddiel and me agreed that in the spirit of the challenge that if we won we wouldn't be allowed to gamble the winnings away. It would make it nigh on impossible to spend the money. As it happened the casino limited us to bets of $500 US, which made things actually slightly riskier as we now had to bet on three numbers and risked winning around $15,000 depending on the bet.It was odd to be in a casino with a roulette wheel spinning and being terrified of winning. The staff couldn't believe it. It made them happy. They are, I suppose, so used to people who can't afford to gamble coming in and losing money and being bereft that it must make a nice change to see people who would be made delighted by a loss. In some ways our dilemma did seem to make the whole concept of money ridiculous. To be afraid of having more money might be seen as a telling satire of gambling. To treat money in this way took away much of its power. I am not saying I am Jesus, but wouldn't Christ's reaction to casinos be to give them all of his money? Unless of course we were in one of the one in twelve scenarios where one of our numbers came up. In which case we would leave depressed and burdened. Losing would liberate us. You'll have to watch to find out which one happened. It was gripping to be a part of it.
The next scenario was much more preferable though, as we had spent some money booking a room and some local variety acts and rounded up an audience. We revealed we were going to pay people for attending the show, to their bewilderment. There was much more joy in giving people something for free and then handing them a small amount of money than there was in spending £150 on a bottle of wine. Money is at its most powerful and enjoyable when it is shared. And nice to support local acts in our business too. There were a young brother and sister who did a mind-blowing limbo act. The girl manage to limbo under a pole the height of a bottle of champagne. Simon Cowell should get them over for his talent show. They were astonishing.
I have loved this so far, but there's still a little way to go. And a lot of someone else's money to get through. Is this a dream?