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.