Friday, 29 April 2011

Silence is not golden

On waking this morning I looked from my bedroom window to see my husband tending the plants in our walled garden. While watching him go about his tasks, I realised I could not imagine myself, twenty years from now, living a life without him. This revelation came as quite a surprise to me as, in recent months, I have struggled to imagine how I can possibly live the rest of my life with him. From my vantage point I could clearly picture us together, him in his dotage, pottering about in a tiny courtyard garden while I continue to write. I visualise myself, periodically glancing out at his endeavours from a small comfortable house where the days are long, stress free and always sunny.

Today my husband has taken our three children to their respective schools, brought me five unsolicited cups of tea and watered a multitude of M & S waste sale plants recently procured for our garden. All this has been achieved before 8.30 am and before having his breakfast. Although none of these tasks have been at my request, I am in no doubt all he has done, has been in an effort to please me, to help me and to show me he cares. However, in spite of these admirable motives, no words have escaped his lips and no smile has surfaced on his emotionless face. As ever, he has gone about everything in complete silence without any visible signs of warmth towards me and not even the slightest flicker of animation has entered his blank expressionless exterior.

This absence of interaction with me has become the norm and I know he does not see it as unloving or neglectful. He is secure in his belief his actions speak louder than any words he could possibly utter. He sees these homely duties as a declaration of his love and in his mind, this declaration is at full volume when he is being at his most helpful. It has not occurred to him  this understated way of maintaining a relationship might not be enough for me. He gives no thought as to whether or not I can hear his silent proclamations. Nor does he wonder if I am, in fact, aware of his mute, dead pan devotion.

Once upon a time, before irresolvable debt screamed louder than any silent acts of affection, I loved this man for his quiet understated need to silently nurture all things, including me. Now all I see is a man who continues to be helpful by ordering oil for my Aga, arranging our insurance and even cleaning the kitchen bin rather than tell me he loves or cherishes me. However, our harsh reality dictates my idyllic vision is unlikely to be only twenty years hence but nearer a million light years away from where we are now.

It seems beyond him to offer me an occasional kind word or small sign of appreciation. A smile in greeting or in understanding, an acknowledgement which is vital to me, is simply not part of his repertoire. Every day I wonder if he has realised it is the withholding of these simple but priceless things which will eventually cost us our marriage and not the undisclosed and irresolvable debt.

Wednesday, 27 April 2011

Simple Truths

It appears, in my case, the Financial Ombudsman is not a man but instead a woman. I know this because she has written to me today advising me unless I have a strong argument to the contrary, she will not be able to investigate my complaint against the Bank of Scotland. Apparently, this is not because I have no case, but merely because it is more than the six months since I have, so say, received the Bank of Scotland's letter of final response.

Thankfully, my knowledgeable friend Chris has a different take on this and has spent a whole afternoon with me writinge a reply which hopefully illustrates I am entitled to be heard. After all, the Bank of Scotland's agents Merrils Ede have been in correspondence with me on the Bank of Scotland’s behalf, both via the CAB as well as directly with me, as recently as January 2011. I can only hope this argument of mine (and Chris's) carries weight so I able to make use of the Ombudsman's service to get to the bottom of the three questions I have been asking the Bank of Scotland since October 2008.

1. Why did the Bank of Scotland proceed with forcing the sale of our home?

  • in spite of new government guide lines discouraging this heavy handed approach,
  • in spite of their actions escalating £27,000 of arrears into £217,000 of shortfall
  • in spite of knowing we had a long term tenant willing to pay rent which covered the interest payments.

2. Why has the Bank of Scotland persisted in repeatedly seeking a payment arrangement to recover the shortfall?

  • in spite of knowing full well we have no means with which to do so
  • in spite of knowing the FSA guidelines specifically recommend lenders should not pursue people who have no money
  • in spite of having already written off our credit card on compassionate grounds because of my husband’s breakdown

3. Why has the Bank of Scotland repeatedly ignored letters from me asking for information to support my case against them?

  • in spite of being requested to do so three times in the last six weeks
  • in spite of being repeatedly sent reminders
  • in spite of being told, at their suggestion, I am taking the case to the Ombudsman

I can only hope my Ombudsman has teeth because the truth of the matter is I cannot afford the alternative. I am told it will cost £40,000 to take the Bank of Scotland to court and although I have it on good authority I do have a case against them, sadly, it does not qualify for "no win no fee" status. If this is the norm there is little wonder the Bank of Scotlands of this world have grown accustomed to riding roughshod over us mere mortals, safe in the knowledge we have no means which which to fight back. It suspect it may well be the subject of much amusement for them knowing people in my position have no real chance of being heard. 

There is, however, one aspect the Bank of Scotland has felt perfectly able to write to me about and while one might think it is some form of debt counselling or perhaps even legal or bankruptcy advice, the truth of the matter is the Bank of Scotland is extremely comfortable writing to confirm they have, at last, noted my new address. They have done this no fewer than eight times. According to the American author Henry Thoreau, it takes two to speak the truth, one to speak and one to hear. With this in mind, maybe I should stop lamenting that which the Bank of Scotland seem unable to hear and I should, instead, be taking solace in the simple truth I have, nearly two years down the line, succeeded in getting the Bank of Scotland to realise because they forced the sale of my home two years previously, I now have a new address.

Tuesday, 26 April 2011

Dumb and Dumber

I am aware I shouldn't attribute malice to that which can adequately be explained by stupidity but how else can I explain Lloyds TSBs campaign of "cruelty by correspondence". I have always had faith the art of good communication is the key to being understood and although I can only claim to be a communicating housewife and mother, I am proud to be one with an overwhelming passion for common sense.

Firmly believing the pen is mightier than the sword, it never ceases to amaze me how little store Lloyds TSB seem to value this dying art. My quest to acquire a meaningful dialogue continues to result in the often overwhelming frustration of repeatedly being unheard. I cannot for the life of me comprehend why my letters are always read but never understood nor why I only ever receive nonsensical replies peppered with a sizeable helping of drivel and inaccuracy. Todays post is no exception. It is for this reason I wish to set the record straight once and for all.

I solemly declare I have never made, nor do I intend to make a payment arrangement with Lloyd's TSB for £1.00 per month. If I had chosen this path I would be looking forward to having repaid Lloyds TSB banking group, in full, in a little more than two thousand years time!

However, in answer to my most recant request asking for evidence of this arrangemnet, Lloyds TSB chose to instruct their customer relations department to pen me their non-sensical a reply. After assuring me they are not mistaken  in any of their findings they are, needless to say, are unable to provide me with any documentary evidence to prove it is me that has had a senior moment rather than them. However I hasten to add is no surprise to find Lloyds TSB are in complete denial their administrative wheels could be off kilter when I hear last year’s complaints against them reached an all time high of 40,000 amounting to twice those of any single competitors!

Resigned to getting nowhere, for today as least, it remains clear from my dealings with their adminstrative incompentancy I cannot accuse anyone within Lloyds TSB Banking group of being too clever be half when my personal experience of their customers services is they are, in the words of John Major "too stupid by three quarters".

Saturday, 23 April 2011

Live and let die

I am told a person can survive almost anything........ except of course death and having recently returned from my seventy two year old aunt's funeral, it is clear, despite battling with ill health for over twenty years, she had indeed survived many things.

After the inevitably sad formal proceedings, family and friends were invited to her home of thirty years to enjoy afternoon tea in her meadow garden, view the beautiful watercolour illustrations she painted throughout her life and reacquaint ourselves with familiar faces from our formative years. Evidence of my aunt's knack for survival soon took centre stage as we gathered around the hundred foot oak tree which stood next to her cottage. Its blackened frame rose proud and charred over what remained of a greenhouse she had mistakenly set fire to earlier in the year. We concluded that, but for the help of nine firemen and a prevailing wind, she might well have been having her wake somewhat earlier!

As the afternoon wore on some of us reminisced about her cooking exploits which had, on occasion, resulted in exploding chocolate puddings and there was even more to laugh about when it came to her motorbike and side car antics. It was clear there was much to celebrate and enjoy at this impromptu family reunion on what turned out to be a beautiful spring day in a quaint Cambridgeshire village.

When proceedings came to a close, it was evident we had all taken substantial strides towards coming to terms with our loss. My cousins were left to get on with the nitty gritty of dismantling their mothers life while getting on with theirs, whereas I set off for the return home to the continued onslaught awaiting for me at the hands of Lloyds TSB and the Bank of Scotland.

During the journey back it struck me death, sad though it is for those left behind, is not necessarily the greatest loss in life. Instead, it is what we allow to die inside us while we live which is the real tragedy. My aunt had clearly lived her life fully and embraced every moment, to the very last. However, in contrast, I have allowed the Bank of Scotland and Lloyds TSB's unrelenting persecution of myself and my husband to regularly take away my love of life itself, reaping havoc with both my health and my relationship. If was me who had died rather than my aunt I am sure the mourners would not be laughing and celebrating my humour and zest for all things living but instead, would be lamenting the fact I have lived these past two and a half years as a one woman debt fighting machine locking horns day in day out with the Bank of Scotland and Lloyds TSB in a fruitless attempt to relay the hopelessness of our financial situation.

Losing sight of the fact Lloyd's TSB and the Bank of Scotland have not, and will never have a heart has cost me far more than monetary sums outstanding. However it is I who have permitted their bully boy tactics to seep into every crevice of my life and take over my existence. The passing of my aunt has brought home to me the simple fact one should never let adversity get in the way of life itself. Life, after all, is no rehearsal and no-one has ever asked for "I wish I had spent more time at the office" to be the words on their epitaph.

In the words of La Bruyere "death is a tragedy for those who feel" but can equally be "a comedy for those who think." I, like my aunt, have been capable of surviving a great many things and her passing has made me realise it is now time to stop feeling and start thinking. I believe it will prove far more fun and, who knows, may well result in some success!

Friday, 22 April 2011

Secrets and Lies

Noel Coward once said "many people are shocked by honesty while much fewer are shocked by deceit". For me it was the opposite. I was totally unprepared for the lengths my husband had gone to avoid telling me the truth. When I discovered how much I had been misled, I suffered an overwhelming sense of bereavement as it dawned on me I had lost the man I thought I knew forever.

Foolishly, I believed he was  incapable of lying to me however, I was rudely awoken to the stark reality he was, in fact, an adept liar. His ability to fool firstly himself, coupled with self given consent to realign all conventional principals and expectations when asked a question produced a shift in reality which allowed him an alternative code of conduct which to live by. Not only did it permit him to omit information if the enquirer's phraseology left room for manoeuvre, but it gave him the opportunity to create an answer he wished was true followed by private explanation to himself why it was . I saw these half truths as unforgivable acts of cowardice; he saw them as perfectly excusable acts of kindness.

These are some of the questions I asked and the answers I was given.

When I asked, "How are we were going to pay the mortgage if our house sale falls through?"

He said, "We won't be able to."

In reality he had not paid the mortgage for months and we were already £27,000 in arrears at this stage.

When I asked, "Why is the builder complaining to me he has not been paid in a very long time?"

His answer was, "I have no idea, I paid him £1,200 only yesterday and here is his signature acknowledging receipt.

In reality the builder was owed a further £40,000 most of which had been outstanding for two years.

When I asked, " Can you guarantee me my mother will receive the £25,000 she has just lent you, within the six months you promised?"

His answer was, "I absolutely can guarantee it."

When I asked at a later date how he was able to make his previous guarantee he told me he had promised himself if all else failed, he would commit suicide and was banking on his life assurance to pay her back.

When asked, “Why is the Indian man you are working with trying to take my trailer and the lawn mower my father has given us?"

His answer was, "He's trying to make it easy for me to keep builders on site by offering to work in exchange for items we no longer need."

In reality he had already signed documents, months before, to say that these items could be taken away if my husband defaulted.

When I asked, "Why is the father of one of our daughters friends so concerned about the progress of our property development that he has suggested he project manage it himself?"

His answer was, "He is keen to do a joint venture but I can't accept yet as we have to find one with enough potential profit for us both.

In reality this man had already given my husband £15,000 two years previously and suspected without his intervention he was unlikely to see it repaid.

When I asked, “Have we declared all our chargeable events for capital gains tax purposes and paid our taxes?"

His answer was," Yes, absolutely paid up to date."

In reality he had not and for this reason we are now facing a full investigation for unpaid capital gains tax stretching bank more than ten years.

When I asked, “Why didn't you tell me all these things before it was too late?

His answer was," You didn't ask the right questions."

When I asked, “How could you possible think I wouldn't want to know?

His answer was, “I did not consider it because it is not how I think."

When I asked,"Why didn't you tell me you thought you were experiencing symptoms of motor neurone disease?"


“Why didn't you tell me your business was crashing down around your ears?"

He said he, “I couldn't find the words."

My husband behaves as if his lies are but a thing of the past. His continued reluctance to share his thoughts are, in his mind, an occasional oversight and nothing to be feared. I believe, however, lies can be told with silence as well as words and now I live in fear his lies will continue to wreak havoc with both our lives and our relationship. Now I see his inclination to be quietly contained as an obstacle preventing him freely engaging with anyone anyone, especially me. His secrets of the past stand firmly between the two of us and I regularly wonder if the truth is still being obscured by secrets. I do not doubt the truth would have hurt me a little had he been courageous enough to share it, it appears, the consequences of his lies are to remain in our lives forever.

Wednesday, 20 April 2011

Call me Cynthia

By sharing our rented, rambling and rather drafty old farmhouse with lodgers we are able to generate the essential extra income necessary for us to live here. I can't say I mind too much. It's a little like being back at boarding school. This time around however, I have the role of matron, I make the rules and I decide the consequences if they are flouted.

I usually find employed gentlemen of over thirty five make the most suitable tenants. My criteria is narrow because  I have found it not only reduces the likelihood of damage and non payment of rent but it also seems to reduce the time they need to spend with me. I am not seeking additional friends or family members; it's all about maximising the return for minimal risk to my family life and my furnishings.  During the two years in which we have been renting this house, we have happily rubbed shoulders with a number of very pleasant transient gentlemen who seem to have enjoyed sharing with us. They have treated our home, and our privacy, with respect.....but, now there is Darryl.

Darryl moved into our home six weeks ago after his relationship failed with an older woman who I later discovered (in his own words) "found him very annoying". Deciding a change of location and a new job was the best way for him to make a fresh start, I had no reason to think he would be anything other than the perfect  replacement lodger for a long standing tenant who had moved on. Darryl was polite, well spoken and regularly overwhelmed by the slightest thing. He struggled with recycling his rubbish, washing his dishes and using plates for his food. He seemed unable to decant anything without spilling it while leaving the loo presentable after use appeared to be completely beyond him. Both I and my other gentlemen guests endeavoured to encourage him to smarten up his act but to little effect. This weekend's slovenliness was the last straw in an increasingly irritating catalogue of events.

Despite my suggesting I organise the changing of Darryl's bedding, he insisted he was happy to take care of it himself. Relieved to have one less thing to do, I gave him freshly laundered covers and pillow cases only to discover on Monday morning he had not only chosen to sleep all weekend in his bed without using  any bed linen but he had also dripped fish oil all over the carpets and left numerous empty tins of fish in his room to fester and smell. Incensed by his lack of respect for my home while angered and frustrated from two and a half years of consistently getting nowhere with HBOS, it was my intention to make sure Darryl was fully aware of my displeasure on his returned from work.

All I can say is, "Call me Cynthia Payne," because, although I gave Darryl a verbal pasting which would have had most people quaking in their boots, I got the distinct impression he rather enjoyed the venomous reprimand which came his way.  I am now left wondering if titillation in the face of the mother of all dressing downs makes it more or less likely Darryl will, in future, use his bed linen!

Unfortunately this remains an outcome I simply cannot second guess.

Saturday, 16 April 2011

The Grand Opening

Today, when my nine year old son enquired of me, "What is the best question I have ever asked?", it prompted me to think about the questions we ask of one another and the impact a simple enquiry can have.

On 2 October 2008 a good friend suggested she visit for a coffee knowing from a previous conversation I was fearful and frustrated with my husband’s behaviour and was in a dilemma as to what to do next. Suspecting a heavy handed approach would get me nowhere, I was beginning to realise something was very wrong about the way in which he was dealing with everything, including me and was at a loss where I should start.

A month previously my husband had returned to the UK from our family holiday, for what was supposed to be three days, to deal with an urgent business matter. He did not, in fact, return to the family holiday at all. Abandoned for three weeks, albeit in our beautiful but isolated apartment, in temperatures of 40C with three children and no car I knew I knew all was not well for him not to have returned. But for the kindness of neighbours I would have been unable to purchase provisions and nor would I have been able to travel to the airport for our departure. To leave my children and in this positions was very strange behaviour on  the part of my, normally, very caring husband.

On my return I discovered the urgent business issues which had been the reason for my husband's solo return not only remained unresolved but the progress on our property development was minimal compared to the claims my husband had made to while I was in Spain.. Matters were further compounded by news the sale of our home had fallen through as had the sale of an option my husband had purchased on a commercial development for a housing association. However, most worrying of all, my husband did not appear to have been opening the post and this was completely out of character.

Suspecting something was gravely wrong, I suggested we open the post and go through it together. He was quick to explain my help was unnecessary and what I saw  stacked up in the office were circulars and brochures. Desperately wanting to believe him, alarm bells began ringing in earnest when a couple of days later he stopped answering the telephone an it was at this point I insisted I be given the whole financial picture immediately. Giving me a wealth of assurances that, but for the pressures of work, he would be only to happy to give me the financial details of, in his words "a ship that was sailing close to the wind" but one he had every hope of pulling through, I waited, trying to be patient, a virtue that is not amongst one of my strengths, for an the opportunity his promise me was only a day or two away.

As the days dragged on I was still being kept in the dark. Waking up panic stricken every morning only to find him gone became the norm. Three weeks on, still no closer to getting any answers, it was my friend, who, when she came over for coffee and found me in a state of extreme anxiety, asked the right question at the right time on a dull October day in 2008. She said, "Shall we go into the office and try to find the post?" This was the best question I could ever have been asked under the circumstances. It offered me the support and understanding I required to take independent action at time when I felt paralysed by my husband’s assurances and requests to wait. It turned out to be the beginning of the most frightening time of my life but it was also the first step I took towards a resolution for our family.

What we found in the office was beyond belief. Letters hadn't been opened for months. There must have been hundreds of them. They were stuffed in carrier bags, hidden under chaos on the desk, on the floor in boxes, hidden in cupboards and stacked on the window sills. A few days after "the grand opening" I even discovered bags full of them in my husband’s car. Once I saw for myself what was obviously a long standing problem, I knew what I had to do and so, with my friend’s encouragement, we opened the post. It took us all afternoon and all morning the next day.

The contents were nothing short of mind numbing. Court case after court case, bailiff's letters, tax penalty notices and arrears statements were amongst the contents of nearly two hundred envelopes. My husband had been spending on forty four credit cards, a good many of which were in my name, and running up debt with any supplier who would let him. It took me further two days to wheedle out of him figures for even more debt relating to our Limited Company, of which I was a Director. He never ever did tell me everything. It was left for me to discover over the subsequent months. I don't think he really knew himself how big the problem was because it had got so out of hand he had become too afraid to look.

How I dealt, and continue to deal, with what I found is my ongoing story but undoubtedly the best question I have ever been ask was the one asked by dear friend Karen because it gave me the courage to take control of my life by embarking on The Grand Opening.

Tuesday, 12 April 2011

Jeremy, Me and Lloyds TSB

"Banks are a danger to any economy"  a guest on Newsnight recently declared. This statement followed news the government funded Independent Commission for Banking will be announcing regulatory proposals aimed to avoid a repeat of the September 2008 banking crisis. Unsurprised to hear Jeremy Paxman could not persuade any bankers, including 43% taxpayer own Lloyds TSB Banking Group, to debate proposed banking guidelines, I am nothing short of amazed, if my case is anything to go by, if he ever manages to extract any form of meaningful communication from them at all. 

The lack of response to Jeremy Paxman's requests has only strengthened my belief there is little hope I will ever achieve any kind of dialogue with anyone within the Lloyds banking Group however hard I try. To date they have ignored all mine and the CAB's efforts to inform them of our unfortunate position and even my doctor's letter referring to my husband suicidal thoughts has secured no respite from their daily threats. I can only assume the LLoyds TSB's executives to whom I repeatedly write asking for respite from this bombardment have elected to willfully disconnect from the everyday world. It seems clear the financial distress of the individual has no interest to those enjoying comfortably appointed Ivory Towers from which to focus on next year's bonuses

Having never been "won't pays" but now, to our great shame, "can't pays" I find it incomprehensible a bank, who has itself been rescued from the brink of financial ruin, is now so unprepared to offer us a lifeline of any sort. While the government, via the tax payer, has seen fit to cover the debts of HBOS to aid economic recovery, for the individual with his back against the wall, banking giants Lloyds TSB and HBOS are compassionless. Thankfully for us they are the exception  rather than the rule. All other creditors have now written off our debts and wished us well in our endeavours for the future. In contrast both Lloyds TSB and HBOS have picked up the very pistol which was once pointing at them, given the order to take aim at my husband and I, and for the past two and a half years, left us on death row, waiting for their final order to fire. 

I can't help wondering if Jeremy Paxman is unable to encourage them to communicate, then how the devil can I? 

Monday, 11 April 2011

Not for all the tea in China

The single trait I have struggled to deal with throughout the duration of our financial demise was my husband's apparent lack of remorse.  No amount of explaining how heart breaking it was for me to discover where he had led us prompted any form of apology. He watched every hair on my head and body fallout from the stress and said nothing. If anything it made him more detached.

Periodically accusing me of distancing myself from a situation which was as much of my making his, I lived in hope he might one day behave differently. After all it is not easy to explain to someone how and when to show compassion if they have always found it difficult to engage with their feelings. It's even more tricky if you are the proposed recipient. However, it's nigh on impossible if the individual concerned believes the part he played in our financial is insignificant when compared to all other contributing factors.

Befroe our financial demise I had no idea my husband was incapable of accepting responsibility for even the smallest indiscretion, nor did I know he regards every question, however innocuous, as criticism.  It has come to light he is only comfortable with making statements and when doing this he calls it conversation. Sadly, these days I say much less and anticipate very little from him. Our marriage hangs by a thread, glued together by our debt and our children but not much more. I know one day neither of these will be with us and then, I suspect, our marriage will be over unless, of course, something changes.

I have no idea if my husband has similar thoughts as he would prefer to argue and be derogatory rather than evoke any feelings in himself. He says he has no idea what to do to make amends and as he would not know where to start he chooses not to think about it.  In the past year, however, there has emerged one small positive sign. It is the only sign I have he wishes to have me in his life. In all other ways I could be a housekeeper/nanny or even just another adult in a house share. This sign has come in the form of a constant stream of tea.  It appears, through this vehicle alone, he feels able to demonstrate a little warmth for me and so I now find myself the recipient of many, many, mugs of tea.

Tea flows in abundance towards me day in day out despite is not being a tea drink himself. I find it in a flask at my bedside if he leaves before I awake and it can arrive in quantities of four or five cups before breakfast time if he is at home. It waits outside my shower or sits next to my computer. It can even be found in the car if I am to embark on journey. It is constant and comforting in an way that gives distance to the contentious issues which surround our seventeen year marriage. It is this small gesture, and this gesture alone which gives me hope that one day there might be more to our relationship than debt and the giving of tea. Not for all the tea in China will I give up on him while there is still a chance our marriage might once again be whole.

In the meantime I have settled for his plentiful offerings of hot milky tea.

The Time Traveller's Wife

On reading Audrey Niffenegger's Time Travellers Wife I became instantly aware of a parallel between the love affair portrayed in her book and my own relationship with my husband and although, today, my husband has been an integral part of family life and performed his favourite role of helpful husband and loving father, this is not how life is every day. Today he has both spoken to me and sympathised with the debilitating migraine which has tormented me for hours. I know, today, I exist in a world we both share but, as a Time Traveller's Wife, I have grown to accept there are periods throughout our seventeen years of marriage when the situation is completely different and on these occassions my husband will be absent for days.

I am given no indication when and for how long he will be gone in spirit, if not in body. If pressed he would say we have a communication problem but in truth he is simply not here.  Oblivious to conversations with him about friends and family he is at best dismissive or disinterested when he is "away", however more often than not he is completely unhearing. Lost in a Walter Mitty existence where he forges ahead with experimental endeavours and moneymaking schemes, he has no idea I am left unacknowledged for days. Noticing nothing about me, our children or our environment, he remains absorbed and silent in thought and when, on his return, he finds me angry at his neglect, he is hurt and confused. Firm in his belief he has not only been present but engaged and communicative of his dreams when in reality he has not.

Perceiving himself to be a craftsman of conversation and annoyed when I cannot follow his fragmented train of thought, he sees only someone finding fault rather than a wife attempting to piece together Time Travelling adventures he has embarked on without her. Knowing himself  to be a loving man and the source of much affection, he has no notion I have lived my life in silence for days while he has been frequenting his own separate world alone. 

Day in and day out I live with the fear he may be planning to set sail on yet another reckless voyage believing he has my approval.  Terrified he might, in the blink of an eye, travel once again to a place where he is confident of his chances of financial success not realising I am neither at his side and nor have I agreed to the trip. The man I married knew I feared debt, yet time travelling provides him the means with which to justify his decision to journey into treacherous debt infested waters. For him, it was a calculated risk taken in a land where his decisions were always good ones and his status as a businessman invincible. I have no doubt, in his mind, I was at his side urging him on, fully aware of all the dangers.

Alone yet again, today and every day I take up arms in my communication battle with his creditors. Isolated by both his absences and his inability to engage with our problems has discouraged me from sharing any facet of my debt fighting crusade with him. Now, I too have a parallel universe in which he plays no part. Fully aware of the dangers of time travel, I have ensured my own feet remain firmly planted in the here an now. I can only hope while I try and make the best of a very bad lot, my husband is not silently planning more business gambles in a land which is completely foreign to me, in a place where I have no wish to be a visitor.

Thursday, 7 April 2011

Enemies in high places

Never in my wildest dreams did I ever expect to be responsible for £1,000,000 of unsecured debt and even now I find it beyond belief so much borrowing could be acquired by just one individual.  Initially, I could not comprehend there was to be no way in which to repay it and despite a reasonable understanding of the financial world, it's taken me a long time to accept a sum of this enormity is simply beyond us. Now the penny has dropped for me, I am faced with the unsavoury task of trying to convince the unlistening banks they too must accept this unfortunate situation.

Despite the Bank of Scotland and Lloyds TSB being informed or our dire financial circumstances by the CAB at precisely the same time as our other creditors, these two banks have chosen to react in a completely different way to the way in which their more compassionate competitors did. Although one  might have thought they would wish to halt the expensive administrative onslaught they have launched on us once notified of our insolvency, if only for the sake of their share holders, it seems the Bank of Scotland and Lloyds have instead embraced a "persecute the vulnerable for persecutions sake" policy instead of one of logic and understanding.

Having written to the Chief Executives of every lender in pursuit of us over the past two years to be met only with sympathy and good sense I can only conclude, in the case of Eric Daniels and his successor Antonio Osorio Horta C.E.O. of Lloyds TSB and Bank of Scotland, either a decision has been made to punish, bully and torment those who have an inability to pay or these CEO's have been too busy spending their sizable remuneration packages to worry whether their staff have instructed debt collectors to torment the less fortunate purely for sport.

To "B" or not to "B"

The question is have I chosen the best course of action? Was it sensible to fight for my good name while endeavouring to persuade my husband's creditors to see reason rather than succumb to the dreaded B word?

Having been sent an article in the Guardian today about someone who has made the decision to go bankrupt as a way of drawing a line under his debt problems  I can imagine his feelings of relief knowing his days of dealing with angry creditors and dodging their predatory phone calls are now numbered . He unlike me is now free to consider his future. However, for me, this route proved a distasteful, irresponsible and cowardly way in which to move on from the past. I have to add, as my husband, unlike me, appeared to attach no dishonour to bankruptcy himself.

My stance, however, has always been, once a discharged bankrupt, always a discharged bankrupt and I do not ever wish to acquire membership to this club. I hasten to add every professional adviser I have consulted has urged me to elect bankruptcy as a solution but from a purely financial perspective, I cannot understand the reasoning behind this. 

Why pay would I pay £1,200 (which I haven't got so would have to borrow) to achieve bankruptcy status for my husband and I personally, not to mention an additional equally substantial sum to achieve the same status for our company, when I can, if I keep my countenance, advise our creditors of the same sorry tale a receiver would have done, with virtually no financial outlay on my part at all, save the cost of stamp. I appreciate the task is not a pleasant one but isn't this what being a grown up is all about?

While this was the motivation at the start of my journey from hell, two and a half years on and I have identified another far more valid reason for continuing this fight. I have gained an insight into how underhand some money lenders can be and have discovered not only do they regularly flaunt their regulatory authority’s guidelines but are happy to ignore  government directives as well. and corresponding with them in a reasonable and professional manner provides them with the opportunity to put outrageous things in their responses and to my initial surprise this precisely what they do. 

For example, how else would I have discovered the Bank of Scotland openly discriminate against married women? Neither would I has guessed Lloyds Banking Group rarely reply to letters of complaint and on the few occasion they do they fail to respond appropriately because they regularly missunderstand the point. I would never have discovered Lloyd TSB were prepared to concoct a fictitious payment arrangement agreement with regard to my husband’s accounts. Neither would it have come to light Nat West would try to over ride a court decision on an unrecoverable debt by both sending payment demands themselves an enlisting the help of a debt collector.

Had I not chosen to engage in a communication battle with the banks I would have been, by default, condoning the banks tried and tested method of distancing themselves from their actions and neatly sweeping their irresponsible lending and unreasonable debt collecting practises under the carpet. I believe bankruptcy courts are another way to perpetuate a banking culture which is already rife with denial. With 8 out of 10 debt defaults pointlessly reaching the courts, not using the "B" word, and instead insisting the lenders communicate with me in person, I have acquired a voice, albeit a very small one and feel confident one day soon I shall be heard.

Tuesday, 5 April 2011

Talent spotting

As a mother of five and grandmother of six I am regularly asked questions which use all my cerebral powers to answer. This week’s question was, "How do you find your talent?" Having explained to the enquirer it is usually something which is revealed by trial and error, I found myself wondering if this has been true in my case.
I am frequently being told by friends who know what has happened to us if it wasn't for me, our lives would have been even more difficult. This only leaves me thinking," If it wasn't for him our lives could have been much less difficult." For this reason I have been left wondering what is it I have done and what is my talent?
Struggling to identify the answers to both of these questions because talent, like beauty, is more easily identified in the eye of the beholder, the question, for me remains, which beholder?  Finding it hard to reconcile any attributes with the words I heard from my husband when I made the decision to take over our financial affairs I am none the wiser.

  • Where a friend would say I have been justifiably angry and upset, my husband declared I'd had a break down and completely lost the plot along with my hair.

  • Where my doctor said she sees a strong and remarkable women who has stepped up to the mark in a crisis, my husband has seen a drama queen who has distanced herself from something she has played a substantial part in.

  • Where our business bankers have described me as business like, and straightforward to deal with, my husband has seen me as short sighted, overly dramatic and a woman who has "become a caricature of herself".

  • Where my solicitor has seen me as a facilitator of a seamless transition from a middle class stay at home mother and home owner, to tenant, landlady, business woman and one woman debt fighting crusader, my husband has seen a control freak who has kept all the kudos from our re-grouping success to herself.

  • Where many of our creditors have seen me as professional, efficient and informative, my husband has complained I have been reactionary and unnecessarily quick to divulge personal information to enable me to have an opportunity to "slag him off".

  • Where I have needed to be totally honest about our position in all my business dealings and in so doing have secured a roof over our heads, a modest income stream and bursaries for our children's education, my husband has only seen a women dinning out on our dirty washing.

  • Where an Indian conman saw a woman who would not listen to his thinly disguised begging and bullying for cash flow assistance to secure my husband an amazing business deal, my husband sees a woman who has thwarted his chances of getting on by not being courageous enough to invest in him and his plans to save us.

  • Where a builder who has been owed £40,000 for more than three years sees a woman who is not flinching or frightened when he arrives uninvited on her doorstep and speaks of his convictions for grievous bodily harm and his reluctance to see anyone put a claw hammer through her husband’s head, my husband sees a woman who drinks coffee with her friends and goes dog walking with neighbours when he is at work.

  • Where the Citizens Advice Bureau see a determined woman who deserves extra funding to help her communicate with debt collection companies over her husband's enormous credit card debts, my husband sees a woman who has regained her leisurely lifestyle because all these issues were resolved years ago.

  • Where my closest friends see a woman who has, against all odds, made the very best of a bad lot where her husband had failed for many years, my husband sees nothing he couldn't have done equally well, if not better, had he been given the chance.

  • Where I have religiously answered every letter and phone call received endeavouring to explain our circumstances and asked people to write his debts off, my husband has complained that I am wasting time and energy communicating with creditors who don't deserve a reply.

  • Where I have lain awake at night humiliated and shamed by our financial position, my husband has been amused by the fact the financial institutions have allowed him to borrow so much with so little supporting evidence.

  • Where I have been horrified to discover my husband has shown creditors over our home behind my back and allowed them to list my personal possessions as security in the event of him defaulting, he has seen a woman who is over reacting to a scenario he said he had only agreed to in the knowledge it could not be enforced.

  • Where my children see a woman who dealt with being held hostage in her home by verbally abusive Polish tradesmen by calling the police who arrived, en mass, in full riot gear with sub machine guns, my husband sees an issue which was not of his making that has already been dealt with, so needs no further discussion or comment.

If listing these circumstances has revealed any commendable qualities about about me I can only conclude they must have had something to do with my strong sense of honour in the face of adversity and my overwhelming need to overcome. Whether or not this is this a talent is to me irrelevant as, all I did was attempt to save my family by ensuring I kept my head when the world around me appeared to be losing theirs.

Monday, 4 April 2011

Me, myself and I

Having read through my postings again today, I think I may have given the impression I have been left by my husband to handle this mess on my own. It is most definitely not the case. Despite being advised we needed to sort our financial problems out together, I was unable to entertain this idea because I was devastated by the foolhardy and irresponsible actions of my husband and no longer trusted him to assist in rectifying anything.
I took the matter on myself and in so doing incensed my husband when I began the task of contacting all the people he owed to explain our position. He saw it as slagging him off and ruining our chances of recovery. I saw it as damage limitation.
Early on in my voyage of discovery I often wondered if I was doing the right thing. I was grappling with his mountain of unruly papers in an effort to acquire an understanding of all the things he had called business projects and single handedly making all the decisions with the help of impartial professionals. It would have been so much easier just to ask him some things but as I could not bring myself to trust the answers, I decided there was no point. My motto became "Fool me once shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me." 
The last straw came on the day he insisted I was destroying our last chance of recovery by not using the only remaining money we had to our name to do two things. He wished me to summit a planning application for the shell of a property he had built without planning permission, as well as pay for an Indian "friend" of his to fly out to his homeland to secure my husband an "amazing job". I refused to do both and instaed used the money to live on and move house when we had nothing.
I am pleased I resisted these instructions because, even with the full weight of our very supportive business bank behind us planning permission was never forthcoming despite the £120,000 which was spent on building the shell. In addition I later discovered  the Indian "friend "was a con man whom I eventually had to ask the police and my solicitor to deal with.
It was and still is a very lonely way to exist but I am convinced I need to go this alone if I am to effect a recovery of any kind. I, after all, have been to the school of "if you think it sounds too good to be true, it probably is" and my husband has not.
Because, in my dealings with our creditors, I have refused to hide behind my husband’s belief his actions have not been pivotal to our financial demise, I have had no alternative but  to close ranks and get on with the matter in hand without him. He has had any number of reasons for why it was the business his business failed and not him. These are some of them.

  • The planners were misleading in their guidance whenever he approached them so  they always delayed things far more than he anticipated.
  • The banks were unsupportive and never allowed him enough money to do a good job.
  • He was always underfunded because of the banks and unforeseen circumstances.
  • The right builders were never available when he needed them.
  • He was always under pressure from me to deliver to a schedule and building work isn't like that.
·                        He  was forced to satisfy my ever increasing financial demands.
  • He thought my permanent health cover would have paid out for longer than the two years it did.
·                         Our solicitors were always slow in the selling of our properties.
·                         Alternative solicitors did not know how to do the conveyancing properly              and caused more delays and more financial losses.
·                         He had brain damage from his car accident in 2002 and people (especially     me) should have been making allowances.
·                        His workers wouldn't work fast enough and kept making mistakes.
  • He worked very hard for years and was undeserving of so much bad luck.
  • I had never taken any interest in anything to do with the business.
  • His tradesmen were disloyal and unhelpful.
  • He had too many family and child related tasks to do.
 I continue to struggle with the need for all these excuses because I think life is full of difficulties for everyone and not just my husband. Having always believed it is how the individual chooses to overcome them that defines their success or failure, I have sadly learned the hard way, the most dangerous characteristic in any businessman is an over estimation of his own abilities.

For these reasons it’s now down to me, myself and I and of course my good friend Chris...... but there lies another story!

Sunday, 3 April 2011

Mothers day

Two close friends have lost their mothers this year and it has made me realise how well mine is doing to still be here at fast approaching eighty five years old. It surprised me how compassionate she was when my world came crashing down around me as I had always thought she felt it unnecessary to offer me her support. But for this financial crisis I would perhaps never have got to know my mother in the way I do now and for this reason I am thankful that I have lived through this nightmare to tell this tale.

Reasons to be cheerful

It has been some time since I have taken stock because my focus has been on how to deal with what is constantly coming in. However, when I was lamenting the relentless creditor harassment to a friend, she quite rightly pointed out I need to remember how far I have come and celebrate the reasons I have to be cheerful. So here goes.

  • Banca Caja, in Spain, agreed to sell our apartment to our tenant if he wishes. In the meantime tenancy laws allow him to stay on as their tenant. All we have to do now is hand over the keys and then they will pay all our legal costs and settle the outstanding community fees of more than 9,000 Euros. The bank also guaranteed they will write of the mortgage shortfall which currently stands at approx 50,000 Euros.

  • Of the £446,000 credit card debt, £350,000 has now been written off on compassionate grounds by the banks themselves. Many thanks to HSBC, Barclays Bank, Barclaycard, HFC, Nat West Card Services, Royal Bank of Scotland, Bank of Scotland Card Services to name but a few.

  • Most of the individual creditors of our business have either given up hoping for a change in circumstances or written off the £75,000 owed to them for materials and labour. Those who haven't will shortly be informed again there are no funds with which to pay them when I wind up company in three months time. Most of those concerned have been sorry to see our demise on the basis of " there but for the grace of God go I."

  • The last remaining asset of our company was sold at auction on Friday for the meagre amount of £36,000 which falls a long way short of the outstanding debt secured against it. The sale frees me from my financial obligation to demolish this four bedroom house my husband risked building  four years ago without planning permission.

  • Heritable Bank have advised me it is their intention to write off the £150,000 shortfall on the business property they have just sold.

  • Now the assets of our company have been sold I will soon be at liberty to be wind up the company itself. This will mean I no longer have to spend hours trying to produce company accounts and returns (which have, for the past three years, totalled losses of £300,000 or more) in an effort avoid penalties.

  • The Debt Advisory Service and my solicitor both say that I have a case against the Bank of Scotland for breach of FSA and Government guidelines because they forced the sale of our home and created a £217,000 shortfall rather than exploring other alternatives when our arrears of £27,000 were only a fraction of the deficit we got landed with.

·        The Equal Opportunities Commission feel I might well have a case against the Bank of Scotland for discriminating against me purely because I am married. They have provided me with a contact to pursue this action.

  • The CAB believe my case may prove useful to them when offering training to their debt counselling volunteers. I have been asked if they can call on me to speak at training sessions.

  • The hire purchase company who financed our car have respond to my letter explaining our circumstances. They have rewritten our agreement at a level we can now afford so I no longer have to fear being stranded without trnasport because of repossession.
It seems an hour of contemplation has produced many stories of success on my part so my friend was correct when she said I should focus on my reasons to be cheerful. Thank you B, I can see now my cup is definitely half full. Here's to the day it "spilleth over"!

Saturday, 2 April 2011

Fame and no Fortune

I have been told by four separate professionals over the past two weeks I need to take my plight to the press and shame the "non listening" banks into seeing persecuting me is not going to be a lucrative pastime. I am not a "won't pay" just a "can't pay" and the banks themselves should fully understand the difference having only recently been bailed out, big time, themselves by the tax payer. I am sure going to the press is the right action to take because, if nothing else, it will create an opportunity to increase consumer awareness of the banks ongoing bully boy tactics and double standards. However, the idea of involving the media fills me with trepidation as I still carry a huge burden of guilt.

I fear the media may decide to add to my plight if they believe, as did a fair few people at the time, I must have known what my husband was up to but just chose to turn a blind eye to it so I could continue to enjoy a comfortable life style. After all, I am a retired financial services professional who should have recognised I was married to a man who was incapable of producing the returns he spoke of.
Not a  day goes by without me wondering if I did, indeed, fool myself into ignoring the writing on the wall. I still continue to rack my brain for clues I should have spotted which may have led to me having an earlier understanding of the reckless course he had set for us. My only defence is love must have made me blind as I did not even suspect he had or even could acquire forty four credit cards. It did not occur to me he would consider committing to, or indeed be allowed to commit to, interest payments of £25,000 per month. I had no idea a quite sensitive man such as he was capable of such madness because I trusted him implicitly and his explanations to any questions I asked were articulate and oh so plausible.

I know the time to act is nigh because I have exhausted all other avenues but I can only hope I will sound half as plausible as my husband did to me when I approach the media for their help.

Friday, 1 April 2011

Getting by with a little help from my friends

I have always known a crisis reveals who your friends are but nothing could have prepared me for the kindness I have been shown over the past few years.  So many people from all different walks of life have helped and continue to help in spite of us having no financial way of repaying them. These are just some of the things which have touched my heart and helped to keep me whole.
  • Within days of finding out we were to be homeless five people offered us somewhere to live. These offers came completely unsolicited through friends of friends and each and every one of them provided us with a comforting solution when we had nothing.
  • The auctioneer I instructed to price and sell our possessions was adamant I should think carefully before disposing of everything. He insisted I was the kind of person who would bounce back. Because I shared with him an idea I had had, he tracked down the owner of a house he knew of which would both house our furniture and be large enough to accommodate a bed and breakfast business. This act of selfless kindness enabled us to move into a place we could  immediately call home, surrounded by our own furniture and minimised my children's sense of loss at the prospect of loosing all things familiar. In doing this my auctioneer forfeit all his commission as I was no longer faced with having to sell everything I owned but his actions gave me the opportunity to generate an income which      supported us while my husband was without work and allowed us to take a huge initial step towards re-establishing ourselves. 
  • Our landlord's agreed to substantially reduce our rent and allow us to have lodgers in their property as a way of making it affordable for us to stay. They also agreed to take personal references from local people who had known us for years instead of the usual bank and credit references which all the agencies I had spoken to insisted upon. They took us on in the full knowledge of our dire financial circumstances and have always treated us more like family than tenants.
  • The headmistress of my children's school called me into her office to ask me to accept her help and support both personally and professionally through our difficult times. She hugged me and said I should take pride in the knowledge my children were happy and faring well in spite of our financial difficulties. Her kind words helped me focus on the fact our traumas had not impacted badly on the children and helped me be a little less hard on myself.
  • The Bursar of my son's school rang and wrote on more than one occasion kindly offering the schools financial support in providing my son's future education. He repeatedly told me I should feel no shame in accepting the help they were happy to be able to provide in our time of crisis and in so doing helped me feel better about accepting their offer.
  • The account manager at Mortgage Express who dealt with me in a compassionate and sympathetic way throughout and in so doing helped us reach an acceptable outcome which saved my daughter’s home.
  • The HSBC executive who lived up to their claim of being the "listening bank". He read my letters, collected the evidence of our financial demise and not only wrote off the sums we owed directly to HSBC but also arranged the write off of all the loans HSBC managed totalling £90,000. He wished us well for the future and said he hoped his actions would play a small part in our recovery.
  • The kind words from Barclays and Barclaycard were humane and restorative in nature when they informed me they did not plan to pursue our debts. They gave me evidence early on not all banks wanted to punish and bully us for not being able to repay them.
  • Our friends in Spain brought all our furniture back to us in England free of charge so we could set ourselves up for taking in lodgers without incurring any costs. They found us a buyer for our apartment and liaised with all parties to make the purchase possible. It spread my work and worry load at a time when it would have not been possible to retain any control at arm’s length. They enabled us to make the best of a bad lot and have continue to be kind and supportive in spite of the distance between us.
  • Very real compassion came from the two estate agents who were jointly instructed to provide a forced sale buyer within a matter of days. They both treated me with genuine kindness throughout and have willingly helped me wherever they could. It made a very undignified exit from our dream home as bearable as it could be.
  • Our accountant to whom we owed a considerable sum wrote off our debt to him saying he wanted to do it as repayment for the support I had offered him when he first set up in business on his own twenty years previously.  His words helped me retain my self esteem when accepting his generous and charitable solution to the nonpayment of his fees.
  • Our business account manager at Heritable Bank held my hand for two and a half years while he supported and guided me through the sale of our business assets. He endured my naivety at every turn with both patience and empathy while readily offering his much valued expertise whenever I needed it.  I shall miss his clear thinking, quick wit and kind words when this is all over.
  • My caseworker at the CAB secured an increased budget so he could write endless letters on my behalf for more than a year and a half to all our creditors. It was at a time when I was too overwrought to do it myself and his actions helped me keep my sanity by gaining respite from the bombardment, accusations and bully boy tactics of the banks.
  • A school friend that I have known for 42 years emailed me jokes regularly because she didn't want me to be without the opportunity to laugh. This became my ready remedy when I felt panic ridden and it helped me to refocus when things were getting to me.
  • A neighbour rang out of the blue to invite me out to lunch and to a fashion show, all expenses paid, because she thought it would do me good.
  • Retired friends who moved to France invited us to visit on mass (5 of us) for a weeks all expenses paid stay in their lovely home because they wanted to give me some distance from the onslaught.
  • The Inland Revenue and Corporation Tax people who have spent two years helping me unravel my husbands tax anomalies have been kind and sympathetic in their dealings with me. They have put up with my lack of tax knowledge and guided me patiently towards a satisfactory conclusion which I now understand.
  • Family have regularly checked up on us making sure we are OK when picking up the phone to them or visiting was beyond me. They have given us holidays and lunches out, bought many a item for our children and just generally made sure we know we are loved and they are thinking of us.
  • I could list many, many more examples of acts of kindness which have come our way all of which have enabled me to hang on to the belief that one day there would be life after debt.  However, there are two friends who deserve a special mention because they made the decision to step up to the mark, full time, when I needed them most. The time they spent with me and the wisdom they shared helped me save my family life, my marriage and my sanity not to mention help me deal with our creditors. Both of them originally came into my life on a commercial basis and have, since my "Grand Opening" in October 2008, freely spent hours of their time and energy listening (often daily) encouraging  and supporting me when the shock of my discoveries would not allow me to retain a grasp of our situation on my own. The first lady I have known for 25 years  and the second I have known for little more than 25 months but without these two friends I know I would have completely lost the plot, perhaps for good. Thank you JS and CJ. How can I ever repay you?
Now, on good days, I realise I was wrong to think I would never recover from the shame I felt when I discovered I had become a debtor. Instead I can see I actually have much to be thankful for and many people not only wish us well but have been happy to do something to help us in our hour of need. I also believe it is quite possible I would have remained completely unaware of the kindly abundance that flows freely from our fellowmen but for the crisis I and my family have lived through over the past few years. Rather surprisingly, I find I actually feel richer now than I have ever felt at any other time during my 53 years and yet now I have no money and we still owe £1,000,000.