Home » Backpacking in Thailand » Look out, you’re being Followed! #2

Look out, you’re being Followed! #2

Is this the most isolated person not actually in solitary?

In line with my policy of not doing that stiff-upper-lip British thing of never admitting to anyone that you have a problem, even under torture, I’d like to tell you about my problem.

It’s a policy that sometimes pays off, in that someone gets to hear about your problem and steps in with practical help and advice.

You see, ancient as I am, I have this even more ancient mother….

We’re both grown up and can take responsibility for our own lives. Thanks to my boarding-school era, we’re friendly, not close. We’re separated geographically, and by the 32 years of my two marriages. We call one another every three months or so and I visit whenever I can find the money, the energy and an opportunity. It’s three or four times a year, anyway. Always at Christmas.

My visits are usually characterised by watching daytime TV together, cooking meals I don’t need to eat and drinking too much. Ninety-one years old, far from ‘liking a drop’ my mother is hard at it from ten in the morning, and I’m too polite not to join her. She also smokes heavily, which means that after two days I return home kippered, and the next day starts with coughing up grey phlegm.

Drinking and smoking are my mother’s pain-management regime. She takes about twenty pills a day for various conditions, but none of it helps and I remind her that my father had to do the same until one day he thought ‘fuck it!’ and threw them away and did okay for another ten years, he and his furred-up arteries lived to be 83.

My mother has conditions of the elderly. Having been an Equity card-carrying actress all her life, she used to keep herself supple like a dancer. Those exercises can come back to bite you in old age; the tendons in her feet have contracted so she has difficulty walking without support. Her spine is crumbling: she has osteoporosis, and spondylitis causing her vertebrae to compact and press painfully on her sciatic nerves. She’s a cancer survivor, although it wasn’t a bad one, and has an undefined heart condition I think of as disillusionment.

A notably beautiful woman in her day, she made films that included one cult movie after which she became a black gay icon in Brixton, not being either black or gay; did TV plays, and was a shoo-in for Lady MacB at the Old Vic, but sadly never an A-lister; possibly because at the point when success beckoned, she decided to look after me.

And still not bad. It’s a shame she can no longer visit the hairdresser; I’m not sure there is one locally anymore. Getting her hair done and looking nice is important to a woman, even at 91. But a trip to the West End and a £100 price tag have put it out of the question. So she’s had to go for that grey and witchy look.

But she’s tough-minded and independent. Okay, she tells me the same things over and again, but not because she’s losing it; her life is so circumscribed now, she doesn’t have new experiences to replace the memories. She’s sharply opinionated, and sometimes although I think I am the least politically correct animal, she will appall me with a sudden remark about someone or something she disapproves of, in ways which nowadays you’re not supposed to. It surprises both of us when she takes after her mother like that.

I’ve long known her age and mobility issues would one day become a problem that whisky and Chesterfields and old episodes of Miss Marple wouldn’t be enough to fix. That day has come, and I simply have no answers; no power or knowledge to fix anything.

Because my mother lives on her own, in a cluttered, second-floor, two-storey walk-up flat, up five flights of concrete steps she can no longer tackle unaided, in the middle of London. It’s the area where she has lived at least since I was born, around and about the borough of Kensington; until she remarried and settled where she is, over fifty years ago.

The only person she sees from week to week is a cleaner, a slightly dimwitted African lady who doesn’t clean – I find three-months-old food in the fridge – but can at least help with shopping, and bringing up the post from downstairs.My mother has to pay her £10 an hour; it’s more than I earned from editing books. And she’s not on the Internet; no Broadband, doesn’t have a laptop to keep her in touch.

Social Services seems to be aware of my mother, at least, although they’re not doing anything much about her situation. So, as I said, I don’t like to be around her too much or they might decide there’s someone taking care of business, which I’m not – I can’t at this distance – and pull back even the minimal help she gets now

Besides, I’ve lost touch with the city of my birth. After thirty-five years away I have no idea where anything is anymore. Where would you buy anything, there are no big supermarkets handy, no DIY stores – Harrod’s? Let alone solicitors, doctors, removal men, storage facilities… undertakers. I need to ask staff to help just buying an underground train ticket, I don’t have an Oyster card or even a contactless payment card!

It’s all changed.

Being close to the top people’s clubs and classy department stores, handy for the West End theatres, the royal parks and not too far from Parliament, the City and the admin buildings of Whitehall, the area went through a new gentrification – parts of it having been gentrified in the 1930s – in the 1970s; so that even the old stable-boys’ and servants’ quarters became pricey, ‘des. res.’ mews cottages and apartments. It was a villagey sort of area, I remember, where artists and writers and businessmen and politicians and people with country houses and a pad in town mixed together amicably. And there were small shops, a butcher’s on the corner. My stepfather’s sisters rented or owned several properties there. It had a familiar feel.

But long gone. Nothing compares to today, with quite ordinary – though luxuriously appointed – two-bedroom flats fetching crazy prices in the many £millions; endless redevelopment. Bought as investment commodities, those places aren’t even lived-in. The little shops I knew are gone, new ones coming and going with dizzying rapidity; pavement cafes like a street in Beirut, many Arabs sitting out enjoying their nargilehs, Arabic music blaring out late into the night.

Could anywhere as expensive look so cheap?

At night the area away from the main drag is like a ghost town. Few lights are on above basement level, and the backstreets are empty but for bored chauffeurs hanging around, lined up in their blacked-out SUVs waiting for the Kuwaiti princelings to leave the restaurants, private clubs and brothels in the early hours. Many of the little cottages have been bought by Russians; bristling with satellite dishes, there’s no-one to watch the screens.

A ‘statutory tenant’, meaning her rent is capped by the local authority, and with a tenancy for life, my mother’s landlords refused to carry out any repairs and maintenance, or even to install heating and insulation, for thirty years; until the flat deteriorated into an actual slum, with mould on the walls and in the bathroom, worn-out carpets, rainwater spurting in around the window-frames. Parts of the electricity circuit weren’t working, my mother relying on a handheld LED light to go to the bathroom at night.

Trapped in the wealthiest borough of the wealthiest city on the planet, unable to leave her flat without help, my mother has no money to change anything; and nothing changes, except the slowfast drip of time.

How come?

In 1985, my mother found some incriminating photographs in the bureau whose nature even I will not go into here, and divorced her second husband of twenty years. Although his family owned a C15th manor house with its own village, mysteriously he had no income and no assets; until she took him to the High Court and broke his family Trust fund.

She was awarded a one-off lifetime settlement. Having no idea about investment, she sought his advice (peculiarly they remained friends, he liked to be verbally abused) and was introduced to his syndicate at the world-famous insurance brokerage, Lloyd’s of London, in which my stepfather had been a sleeping financial investor, known as a Name, for many years.

Some of you may guess what’s coming.

My belief is that she was corruptly induced to become a Name. Totally ignorant of the workings of the insurance market, my mother was told, probably truthfully, that Lloyd’s syndicates had never declared a loss in the 200-year history of the company.

The fact was that while ‘Those lovely young men in red braces’, the Underwriters were serenading her over an agreeable lunch in the City, they knew that coming down the line imminently was a loss grossing $6 billion, that they were not capitalized to meet; many of the existing Names having mysteriously resigned.

Under the unique ‘three-year’ rule whereby Lloyd’s were not obliged to file accounts annually as other businesses are, they were able to hide the loss from the up-and-coming punters with a few bob earned from new soft-growth areas like the media, showbiz, advertising, design and architecture; people in my mother’s position, who were at the time being persuaded to invest their newfound wealth in Lloyd’s: a surefire vehicle offering high returns and prestigious dinners in the City.

I have bogled on this before: how for years, in my understanding, Underwriters had been bundling up and selling on to one another (‘reinsuring’) for fat commissions, loss-making policies in the US market – many of them taken out on workers in the West Virginia rustbelt mining industries who had contracted asbestosis, mesotheliomas and other occupational diseases, on whose behalf (or their surviving relatives’) the unions had been winning class actions.

And how, fearing a collapse of confidence in the City of London, despite numbering a good few Names in their own ranks, the government of the day had overruled calls for an independent inquiry, and instead allowed Lloyd’s to investigate itself, with totally predictable results. After which, the old Names returned and took up the business again of making their fortunes, oblivious to the suffering they had caused.

Many people, including my mother, were bankrupted. And when my grandmother died three years later, the principle of Unlimited Liability which Names have to accept in exchange for bigger dividends, meant that Lloyd’s took her house as well, leaving my mother destitute, clinging on to her ex-husband’s flat and with no legal redress.

Having been a Name for only 18 months, having never made an Underwriting decision in her life, having received only one small dividend payout, without the necessary capital to declare my mother had to resign, and so could not ultimately get back in the game or even claim the limited compensation available, for which you had to have remained a member. She had been fleeced of over half a million pounds, and never recovered.

Flat busted

Eventually, about six years ago the local authority housing officer stepped in and forced my mother’s landlords to make repairs. Central heating, double-glazing, properly certified electrics, everything was done cheaply and perfunctorily, in the ugliest and most practical way; really just to protect their investment in the building. The leaking roof was covered over; the roof garden my landscape-artist stepfather had made, that was causing some of the problems, removed.

Nevertheless it was done; and some security aids were added after my then 85-year-old mother, who was still working until she had a fall and broke her arm, pursued a burglar out and down into the street, yelling at the top of her considerable theatrical lungs.

And then the adjacent building was bought by developers.

For three years my mother lived with the noise, the dust and vibration, the cracks in the wall and the accidental cutting-off of her gas and TV. The hammering and drilling and pile-driving went on seven days a week as the builders dug down two floors to make a pool and a media room. The flats that eventually arose on the site were on sale for £12 to £18 million each.

Last year her landlord died, leaving the building to his children, who quickly decided to sell it. In August this year, she had a letter from a company introducing themselves as the new owners. A check on the web shows that they ‘specialise in tenanted properties and protected tenancies’; managing the rents before getting the tenants out and selling the buildings on.

The people in the flat downstairs have moved out, the owners of the commercial premises on the ground floor have been given a short, five-year lease. A defenceless 91-year-old woman has been left, stranded on her own at nights and at weekends, unable to negotiate the many stairs even to collect her post. The rent that the government is paying on her behalf is one-tenth probably of the rent the owners could be getting privately, but there’s been no offer to encourage her to leave.

I’ve made frantic enquiries about getting her out, rehousing her; she says she’s ready to go, hopefully somewhere there might be people around she can talk to, but there’s a Catch-22 in the proper sense of it.

We don’t have any money. If she is evicted, the local authority is obliged to rehouse her. They have no accommodation suitable for a 91-year-old woman with mobility issues. But she’s not being evicted, as a protected tenant she can’t legally be evicted; not while the Government is still paying her rent. So, if she were to leave of her own accord the authority is not obliged to rehouse her.

In any case, to find even a bedsit in the area, where she depends on several hospitals and her GP, would be unaffordable for the austerity-driven Department of Work and Pensions. If she does leave, she loses her rent cap. And the average rent in her borough is over £3k a month.

My own local authority is not obliged to do anything. She doesn’t live in the county, and in any case they have no accommodation available; nor do the housing associations, whose waiting lists stretch into years. Going carol-singing, I have seen some of the local accommodation for the elderly, and I’m glad of that.

My mother doesn’t need nursing, or fulltime care. She can still cook for herself, dress, bathe, put herself to bed. She’s not incontinent and does not have dementia until the fourth or the fifth Scotch of the day. Besides, they wouldn’t let her smoke.

My own tiny cottage will not suffice for both of us; I have looked at the accommodation from all angles and with steep, narrow stairs it’s not an option. A university town, private rented accommodation is at a premium, mostly infested with students and often in disgusting condition.

I sometimes find myself thinking she might not wake up tomorrow; although we wouldn’t know about it for a week or more; the cleaner doesn’t have a key, my mother doesn’t trust her with one. How paramedics would get in in an emergency, I have no idea. It takes my mother five minutes just to get from the kitchen to the door buzzer to let anyone in downstairs. The prognosis is hopeless, the problems insoluble.

What to do with all the junk, her stuff, the relentless, fifty-year accumulation of clothes and books and medicines and face-cream jars; the furniture, the unsaleable ‘antiques’? I’m no spring chicken. Who would help us get all of that out, down five flights of steps, out to the inaccessible parking, without charging a fortune; and where would it all go then?

What do people do in these family situations, your own slide into lonely old age staring you in the face? How on earth do you fix a problem like my mother?

Can it even be fixed?


2. A bonfire of the insanities

Does anybody else have the same thing? Like, the same weird experience all the time?

Like, when someone starts to Follow your bogl, only they are totally the most least likely of all people in the world surprisingly to agree with anything you like, write?

(I’m writing this Post in the vernacular, by the way. I figure that if I inject the word ‘like’ enough times, this, muh bogl will become virile on account of the dentistry of keywords. Right? I’m a businessman, I know words.)

So, last week, I found my bogl was being Followed by a woman who writes eloquently and poetically on the most exquisitely designed and fragrant web pages about her recovery from anorexia, which she attributes to the loving agency of Jesus.

(If you’re Following this, by the way, you may want to skip a day.)

Odd to find her here, as I’d just Published an excoriatingly anti-religious piece about the filthy murder of yet another open-minded human being by credulous Islamic baboons whose righteous anger was inspired because, a secular blogger, he’d ‘insulted God’ by reposting an innocuous cartoon on Facebook for the purpose of discussion.

I suggested that perhaps it was up to God to decide for Himself if He felt insulted, and to do something about it; not up to those medieval cretins to blasphemously take His name in vain.

So my general position on the subject of religions must have been quite clear.

As it happens, I welcome anyone to my li’l Church. It’s great to be reaching out to at least 35 people around the world, lost and lonely folks in need of intellectual guidance. Here is some:

It has probably not occurred to many Christians that the Ruler of an expanding universe of a septillion suns – 10 to the power of 24, an immensity your Church tried to deny for centuries –  is unlikely to care about you personally, your state of health, let alone count the hairs on your head. Even the Rulers of earthly kingdoms can’t do that, however micro-managerial they are.

Jesus unfortunately lets plenty of tragic young women die with anorexia, they don’t recover; and millions of children die every year from diseases of malnutrition and drinking filthy water, which is why I think the Miracle of the Loaves and Fishes is a bit of a myth, but people can believe whatever they want to believe so long as they don’t point a gun at me and tell me I have to believe it too.

Perhaps all those millions of young women and children gentle Jesus lets die every year from hunger around the world just didn’t pray enough, to the right God, using the right words? Perhaps He doesn’t love them as much as He loves you?

The cultural history of the world is littered with abandoned Gods, all of them almighty in their day, but who ultimately didn’t deliver when it came to people’s happiness, security and prosperity. Why should this one be any different?

And it’s a bit of an insult, isn’t it, to those thousands of decent people who’ve dedicated their lives to finding more reliably replicable cures for Humanity’s mental and physical infirmities, deliverance from suffering that doesn’t depend on which God you worship or your personal special relationship with Jesus, to say no, you’re wasting your time, Jesus loves me and will fix me good if I just pray right?

Because nine times out of ten He doesn’t. How right you must be. (But of course! He’s ineffable! ‘He moves in mysterious ways!’ Well, I’m sorry, you can’t have your cake and eat it: going from the ridiculous to the sublime, as it were. We can’t simultaneously both know and not know the mind of God unless either He is a psychopath, or we are.)

Anyway, changing the subject, my newest Follower, No. 35 (after nearly five years of agonising mental effort and typing) is a gym instructor! (Should I say Personal Fitness Coach? I never know.)

That’s right. All his (or her? Haven’t worked it out yet) Posts that I have briefly browsed on are about the joys of doing gym the right way.

Now, I’m not against gym. It’s just that I haven’t myself vaulted a horse or pumped iron for decades. In fact, I will walk extra blocks to avoid the sight and smell of a gym. The only exercise I take is walking Hunzi twice a day for an hour, singing the praises of Charlie Parker, and typing of course.

But I did mention a few Posts ago that one of the many, many sports I had tried and failed at in my life was gym.

ouhahouahaouaha… (Maybe I’ll just use a different colour for flashbacks from now on instead of that theramin-type noise, what say you, ol’ buddy?)

Sergeant Harry Rusbridger….

…was the gym instructor at my prep school. He had a firm belief that a boy’s fitness level was equated to his ability to inflate his chest with air. (That was in the days before the Clean Air Act, the air everywhere in postwar Britain was tinged with toxic Sulphur Dioxide from burning brown coal.)

He seldom failed to remind me with pride and fondness that my Uncle Richard, who had preceded me by a few years, had the biggest chest expansion he had ever celebrated in a pupil (we were ten years old!).

Under Harry’s brisk and soldierly instruction, we concentrated on shallow chest breathing, to the ruination of my subsequent singing career, in order to push our puny rib cages into some semblance of a military pout.

Sergeant Harry would go around, solemnly measuring our chests with a tape-measure on the out-breath, and then the in-breath, exclaiming over the difference: ‘Four inches!  Uncle Richard could manage four inches! Keep breathing, laddy! Chest out, bum in, that’s the way!’

The fact that I was asthmatic had not occurred even to the school doctor, who would sign me off to the sanatorium with unstoppable coughing bouts regularly twice a term with a prescription for three days’ bed-rest, plenty of cod-liver oil and thinly diluted concentrated orange-juice for my ‘weak chest’.

To be fair, I got a lot of reading done.

And I was considered too delicate for games; until, in my last summer, an outbreak of mumps carried off half the First Eleven, and I got my break as a cricketer; scoring five runs, and taking three wickets in my maiden appearance against hated rivals, Twyford.

But I always worried about the deep hollow in my breastbone, where the ribs join on, that indicated the opposite of the proud, puffed-out, hearty chestedness that was clearly so desirable in a real ten-year-old Man fit to rule an Empire.

Had my character also failed to expand in the prescribed manner? Judging by this bogl, dear Followers, and its inanities, I fear the answer is yes.


The Outing of Uncle Bogler

OMG! The BogPo has had 32 views in the last 24 hours! An enormous blue spike has suddenly appeared on the graph.

It’s not the record (47) but considering the average is only one, it’s a red-letter day alright.

How come?

Well, I can’t work out from the stats if it’s 32 different people each reading one, or one obsessive insomniac clicking through 32 Posts.

That would be great except that my output rivals Chilcot, and to read 120 thousand of the Bogler’s well-chosen words in a single night (at 4000 a pop) would be the equivalent of my own many nights spent clicking through Christopher Hitchens’ and his acolyte, Sam Harris’ fascinating clips on YouTube into the early hours, when I totter off to bed singing God’s praises.

What’s changed?

Maybe it’s got something to do with the other night, when I decided, sod it, I’m not spending another evening morosely pressing buttons, Uncle Bogler is venturing OUT for a change!

The choice consisted of wandering the streets between the intermittent heavy showers, heading for a dying pub for an overpriced glass of cheap supermarket wine, or spending a tenner on a Comedy Club evening at the University. (It was fantastic, actually, two really good standups.)

There, I bumped into one of my Followers, who soon began singing my praises to her mates.

Is that what’s happened? That BogPo has finally gone virile through word of mouth, as I have always imagined it might have to, given that I go in for no SEO?

Anyway, here’s a Classified Ad:

WANTED: Teenager.

I’ve just acquired a tablet thing, device; another birthday present to myself, and there’s no instructions in the instruction booklet telling you how to switch it on. It doesn’t actually appear to be doing anything, let alone the stuff I needed it to do.

I managed to put it on charge, after working out that the curiously squashed-together points on the mains plug all cleverly slide apart, but all it does is show me a picture of an old-fashioned U2 battery, from which I assume but can’t be certain it’s in charging mode.

All I am aware of is the Health& Safety advice that it’s designed to explode if you leave it plugged in for ‘too long’, however long that is.

Also this, muh mainframe, has started acting up. Last Tuesday I cranked it into gear, only to find all the settings had unset themselves in the night while it was switched off (it’s got a switch!) and I couldn’t remember how I’d set them up in the first place, which thingys I’d pushed, my music files were all refusing to open and I cried.*

One of my earlier suggestions Theresa May has not taken up as party policy was that we could bring back National Service, creating an army not of reluctant squaddies but of tech-savvy proxy servers with head-tufts, who could go around showing ageing dimwits such as your Uncle Bogler how to switch their Smarts on and download files that mysteriously won’t open, and whatever apps are.

Hitherto I’ve relied on the resident boy, but he’s off somewhere doing a Master’s degree  in how to run World War Three and hopes not to have to come back.

Now I’m £150 lighter, and completely helpless in the face of ironic minimalist design.


*My tears gave way to rage, when I learned that, like Santa Claus, Microsoft beanbags had circled the earth in one night, strategically ‘updating’ their dodgy Windows 10 software as a 1st anniversary ‘present’; and had fucked with everyone’s settings in the process.

I feel, frankly, violated by these unaccountable techno-cretins; and I want my fucking music files back, they’re all I’ve got. So far, no-one can tell me how to do it. What, do I have to load all 50 CDs over again? Cunts. (Can’t Undo Nighttime Transgressions, Sorry).







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