Everybody is entitled to moan, self-indulgently, once a year. I had a whinge 12 months ago in Blog 158, blasting out stuff that would otherwise have festered inside.
It’s time to open a safety valve again. Here goes.
Sometimes we have no idea how lucky we are. 17 months ago, I enjoyed relatively good work and pay stability. Took it for granted.
Then, out of the blue, I was told that one of my freelance monthly writing tasks would in future be required just once every three months. The company (Croner-i) was downsizing and cutting expenses, as it shifted away from printed matter to online publications.
It was a significant financial blow, knocking more than three thousand pounds from our annual income. Not a fortune, but enough to nudge Maureen and I into more watchful mode regarding all the incidental spends formerly taken for granted: meals out, cinema, petrol, alcohol, days out and so on. Tedious but necessary.
But that minor shock was nothing compared to the crashing cataclysm of last May, when another employer, Edinburgh-based publisher NewsBase, declared itself insolvent. NewsBase had hired freelancers all over the world to write about energy markets. For some reason, my blog about this calamity produced more views than anything else I’ve ever posted on this site. It’s at https://wordpress.com/post/thebiscuitfactoryonline.com/1796
The fallout has been disastrous, potentially lethal. We are one pay cheque away from financial implosion.
NewsBase used to pay me about £350 a week, for work that I could do at home, at a time of my own choosing. Self-organising, no toes in the corporate bog. So far, I have found no way to replace that well-paid freedom. Adding to the blow, Croner-i told me later in 2019 that my services were no longer required at all.
Bringing a total of around £20,000 of income scythed away since late 2018.
Even before that happened, money had been a challenge for the best part of two decades. That’s another story, epitomised by a debt repayment programme and maximum £300 overdraft since 2006; and the parallel dance that the taxman and I have been engaged in. I have evolved into a nimble partner, shifting my arse right or left whenever his clammy, parasitical hands reach for my buttocks.
But I can’t wiggle or waltz my way out of the disappeared £20k. Maureen’s money from nannying pays for the food, the cats, clothes and birthdays. My remaining remuneration leaves us £1,000 short each month. A whole grand short of paying the bills, let alone going out. Or, fantasy of fantasies, taking a holiday.
Without me asking, my brother has filled that gap since May, God bless him. That cannot continue, nor would I want it to. Right now, an annual report job for a Belgian company is filling the lack from February to April. In May, the chasm yawns again.
The challenge is that I am already employed, with reasonable pay, in my remaining writing job, which takes up about half of each week. I have applied for other journalism posts, full and part-time, without any joy. It feels like that well of 26 years has run dry, like my enthusiasm. There may be one iron left in the fire, for a London-based company.
If not, given the much lower rates of pay for other jobs, I need to gain full-time work to claw back all that has been lost. I turn 63 next month. Have I the energy for a 60-hour week? It’s doubtful. But I keep looking.
The recent care job, looking after the elderly, would have filled some of the gap. In the end, it wasn’t for me, for reasons offered up already.
Maureen isn’t in the best of health anymore. High blood pressure, problems with her feet, and respiratory issues that give rise to breathlessness and a constant cough. She devotes huge chunks of her time to creating any manner of art. Painting, sewing, using all natural and man-made materials available to conjure up colour and beauty. I see her making the most of what’s available, but she pines for an answer to our challenges, works herself into deep upset trying to shape a beautiful plan.
Sometimes there is no obvious solution. There are no assets to fall back on. No house, no savings. Government pension three years away. Private pensions all cashed in ten years ago to keep the taxman at bay. It hasn’t prevented a new tax backlog. This is how it is. Too many bad decisions in the distant past. And no point in relying on a legacy. Dad’s house may come to us eventually, but maybe not. He may need a care home.
The psychological effect from these quandaries has been a slow draining of our optimism. There is some left – on good days a lot. There are other, super brittle days when being extra kind to each other is the only way through the mire.
Inevitably, social life has dwindled down to near-zero. We can’t afford it. We don’t make a fuss, just no longer go out to play. By contrast walking, cycling (soon) and TV are all free.
When we are in company, it is a struggle. There is less in common. We’re both introverts, and empaths, and have always sat quietly and listened, mostly. Banging on about our situation would not be in character. At times it can be galling to listen to others talk of their leisure, freedom and money. It can be difficult to raise a smile at their humour. People telling us that they are concerned is of no use whatsoever. None.
The long UK winter deepens the gloom. So many dark days, when I’ve gone to bed thinking ‘thank Christ that’s over’. Mornings when I wake and think ‘ah shit, not again’.
So downsize your rented home, has been one suggestion. Well it might, at a stretch, save a couple of hundred quid, but that’s not a game-changer. And moving costs money.
Despite all the above, there is never self-pity. I have always been resilient.
And always mindful of the upside. More time to visit my dad, look after him and cherish his remaining years. More time to meditate; and use the techniques to clear my head. More time to reflect on how fortunate I’ve been in finding somebody to love me, and to have brought up three kind-hearted, intelligent, witty children together. How fortunate in enjoying a decent standard of living all my life. Having a core group of trusted friends.
Always, every night, I write down six things to be grateful for.
We live amid rural beauty. Skies, fields, trees, flora, wildlife, local streams and rivers.
Frankie Boyle’s ‘Tour of Scotland’ makes me grin. We are nearly finished in financially helping our son, Rory, through higher education. West Ham almost stole a draw at Anfield on Monday night.
Writing the blog remains a deep medicine for the soul. Rewriting the book, ‘Out of Essex’, probably gives me more pleasure than anything on Earth. There is presently time for both. On 7 March, I’ll be at Chelmsford library, to listen to talks on how to use social networks and ways to self-publish. And to participate in a ‘writers slam’: three minutes to pitch the book to 49 other potential authors.
Instinct is powerful. Mine says something is looming, ripe and ready to open. It can’t be seen, rationalised or explained. All through life, paths forward have appeared. It has never been in my nature to chase anything, except deep intimacy. So my plan is to keep getting out of bed. Carrying on. Gritting teeth, but also letting the imagination romp and roam, unharnessed. That will keep me going. But I’ll listen to any better ideas.