307. Contrasting fortunes

I met Rod in a Norwich pub. He was a mate of a mate. The beer was flowing on a Saturday night in the Fat Cat.

Rod sat on an adjacent stool. A friendly guy, confident but not arrogant. We got chatting.

It was spring 1994. Margaret Thatcher’s notions of a share- and property-owning democracy had taken root – and Rod was gripped by an idea. Owning not just one but a whole string of houses. He had started by using the ‘free money’ available from the British government’s initial privatisations of public utilities: British Telecom, British Gas and so on. He would apply for as many free shares as possible in each state company being flogged off, and then cash in by selling them.

He would put the profits towards a house deposit, buy a small property and get some tenants in to pay the mortgage, with some rent left over that went towards the next house deposit. And so on.

I was on a wilder track, obsessively refining a betting system with the aim of enriching myself. He correctly thought I was misguided and unlikely to succeed. I thought he was unknowingly helping to rip away some of the socialist fundamentals that held much of the UK together.

But each to their own path.

We spent an enjoyable hour in each other’s company and that night was the last I ever saw of him.

Our mutual friend Jonny Price told me three years ago that Rod had died, age 62, of suspected heart trouble. At the time of his passing, he owned “about” 103 properties with tenants.

I’m 65 now, no property to my name. My wife and I live with and care for my father, whose vascular dementia is steadily increasing. It is treacherously hard going at times, but Maureen and I usually get to sit in the morning sunshine and make each other laugh. A pleasure not to be under-estimated.

Meanwhile, the fullest fruits of privatisation are about to smash British life this autumn, as energy prices go ballistic. It won’t be pretty. Countless families will be choosing between heat and food. Some will borrow unaffordably to afford both. An estimated quarter of a million Brits are already homeless, many unable to pay the rents charged by private landlords.

Funny how things turn out. I’m not sure there are even any rules. We all play the hands we were dealt. As best we can. The cookie crumbles as it will.

Here’s a caricature of Rod drawn by a fellow ornithologist in the 1980s. I’m glad I got to meet him.

13 thoughts on “307. Contrasting fortunes

  1. Signs of life in the old dog my internet friend Kevin.

    I was getting anxious as was expecting a cycle ride pub tour of your little part of your outer city. The son of a family friend of my parents now lies at rest in a eco friendly coffin in a private burial ground owned and run by a local undertaker in your Manor.

    I have been taking respite from this beautiful weather within the stone walls of my Parish Church in South Shoebury, a place of worship for nearly a 1000 years, unfortunately I no longer can enjoy the estuary and it’s beaches as when I was younger. Things change.

    Glad to read you are well and Eric is keeping you busy. Yours fraternally Ed.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. The Shoebury church sounds blissful Ed. No cycling for me this year – the roads out of Brentwood are too full of fast cars. I walk 4 miles a day instead, over at South Weald country park. Hope you’re still growing your spuds and other vegetables. Best, Kevin


    1. You’re probably right Moisie. I think I would be far too reasonable and kind with my tenants. The last 4 landlords we have known have either not maintained their properties or decided to make large deductions from our deposits when the tenure ended. ❤️


  2. Wow, Rod really did it, didn’t he? But was it worth it, I wonder? To check out at least 20 years prematurely? Of course, the heart issues could have been genetic, having nothing to do with constant deal making and maneuvering and stress. Who knows. You do have a nice memory, though, that lives on forever.
    My dad turned 94 on Thursday, and I thought of you and yours, Kev. I’m sorry to hear things are getting worse. I guess I wished, on some level, there’d be a stabilizing medication. But it sounds like you guys still experience your small joys. I live for the small ones. 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Is your pop still golfing? He sounds like a magnificent human specimen. It’s a big learning curve with my pa. I’d like to blog about it but keep making excuses……the main one being that it would be like regurgitating my internal organs! Too intimate and painful. But also, I guess, very cathartic. In the meantime, let’s keep feeling the small joys Stace.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Providing you have been told your Dad’s early years experiences why not start there? He must have left his mark in Hackney E 9 Homerton, as 3 ladies in Kenworthy Road by the age of 16.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. He still goes out there to hit balls. I think he’s stopped doing the whole in the cart with a group of guys thing. It’s only been the last 4 years or so, really right when he turned 90, that he started to REALLY slow down. Like he has to be careful on stairs, etc. But still, yeah, not bad! He is pretty damn amazing. The story of your father will be a heart-wrenching one, Kev. I would probably be delaying it indefinitely, lol !! Cheers to the small joys. Take care 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Sorry, missed seeing this post. Though it’s often preferable to be old and rich, you’re one of those rare beings that sees silver linings and gems money can’t buy. Years ago, I read this editorial by writer Michael Ventura, who hits on a few of the points you made. Cheers, chin up, and may untold riches come your way.
    “Every generation is like a ship casting off under sealed orders, on a mission fraught with dangers; only the captain knows: There will be no survivors. That’s the thing about getting old: One day you look around at your contemporaries and it dawns: there were will be no survivors. One by one, you’re all going down.
    Why the only certainty in the world comes as sort of a surprise is a mystery beyond my powers to penetrate.
    It’s a very democratic arrangement: Everybody dies, rich and poor alike.
    Anthony Powell said “Growing old is like being increasingly penalized for a crime you haven’t committed.”
    In a society that tends to disregard and/or discard the old, you may wonder what you’re still here for – especially when something always hurts, mental and physical agility decrease by the year (so do looks), and people you care about – people who care about you – die or are lost. It’s too late for a do over, a comb over perhaps…
    …If you walked a few blocks from your apartment to Washington Square Park and you sat on a park bench for a while – and looked upon your fellow sharers of the day, especially the young – looked upon them with generosity, with benevolence, beholding their beauty, wishing them well, you’d be doing something – concrete and useful – giving energy and a kind of power to those around you and to the day itself. Jaz calls it ‘the power of beholding.’
    I used to think the end of my ability to write would be the end of my life. If age dried up my capacities, why outlive my purpose? Then slowly I came to believe something that I wrote in a long-ago column when I was “only” 55:
    Beauty cannot exist on its own. Beauty cannot do its work unless we meet it and absorb it and carry it. Take responsibility for it. Make it our responsibility, individually, our very own. When we perceive and value beauty we make beauty stronger, we become a node of the network through which beauty fulfills its function, to hallow and transmute everyday experience so as to redeem ourselves from the catastrophe we call “life, history.” You needn’t be mystic to see the obvious fact that every human being radiates being. Some time before he died my friend became a ghost. A being that was and was not there. That’s what he died of.
    The park bench is not for people who get bored. (A hypothesis: People who get bored are afraid of their own minds.) For those who don’t, the park bench is a fine and honorable place to end up. It costs nothing. I look forward to it. Now and again someone young or old, fat or skinny, turned out or down, will look back at me and their eyes will brighten as though to say, “Oh, I get it! This is the only day in the world. Every day is the only day in the world.” They might even give a knowing wink—we share a secret.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I really enjoyed this story Kev and I wish yourself and Maureen to keep seeing the silver lining, keep loving, laughing and doing healthy things like the 4 mile walks. Wealth isn’t monetary it’s about heart and soul X big hugs


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