Life Fail (by )

For too many years now, it's seemed like we've being dragged from situation to situation, at the whim of events rather than steering our own course...

A year and a half ago, we seemed to be recovering from the consequences of our house flooding; we were getting back into the house, and I'd landed some lucrative contracting work that covered our living expenses with a reasonable amount spare to start clearing off the debts. The downside was that all this work was coming through one person, and that it entailed me spending half of my working days in London, away from home. But, it paid enough that we could hire Sarah's father Len to come and look after my family for me while I was away. This also had the benefit of relieving him from his previous job of working late nights in a health centre for a pittance (hardly healthy work for an ageing diabetic), and helped to financially support Sarah's parents; and it gave them a break from looking after each other (neither of them are very well, in different ways).

However, it didn't stay like that for more than a few months. The source of my work had a new idea, that he'd form a new company and employ me; so he tailed off the contracting I was doing through him and started seeking funding for the new company, but of course, it took months to do that, during which I was then struggling to make ends meet. And then when the new company was founded and the funding agreements made, it turned out that the people funding it weren't happy about paying me at contracting rates, and the best I could get wasn't enough to break even; but I now had little choice, as a passing recession dried up the contracting market for a while. And hey, if I managed to hang in there long enough, the company might sell and earn me something on my share options (maybe). We could manage on a monthly basis, but I'd have to take on extra work in the evenings and weekends in order to save up for impending tax bills.

But, it meant no more hiring Len. We'd promised we'd be able to pay him at least up until Christmas, so we limped along until then by paying him the money that should be being saved for tax bills, as we weren't going to be able to save up for them by the time they were due anyway.

Thankfully, he could still come for a while for free; so, we struggled along for a bit.

But now he can't afford the travel any more, so it's going to have to stop.

The problem is, while this is happening, Sarah's health has been deteriorating; she ended up under too much stress, and became very ill, so she's been advised to avoid all sources of stress for a while, before slowly adding things back into her life one at a time to find out just how much she can realistically deal with, so she can't cope with Jean and the housework on her own. Yesterday, for example, she worked too hard and ended up exhausted and in pain; she then dropped her dinner because she was weak and shaky, and then realised she couldn't open a tin to organise something else.

Even if we had a way of getting Jean to and from preschool on the days when I'm away, we can't afford to have her at preschool for any more days - and if we moved things so that she's in preschool on the days I'm away, then I'd have a hard time getting any work done on the days I'm at home, as I'd be having to help look after Jean (who is very... interactive); while, at their home, Angie's going to be stuck with ensuring Len eats, sleeps, and takes his medication on time (while she's on a cocktail of medications that make her sleep odd irregular hours), and without enough space for him to do his woodwork.

And so, yet again, I find myself stuck between a set of inexorably advancing crushing walls. I can't keep putting off paying the tax bills (currently, it looks like I'll be dragged to court in another two months if I don't; I've saved up enough to pay the accountant to work out the relevant end of year paperwork, so as soon as I get some time to gather all my receipts and records and send them to him, I'll at least know how much I need to pay, and can at least pay off whatever money I have in order to keep the wolf from the door). I can't keep going to London, as my sick wife and growing child need me at home. But I can't work from home very well on two working days of the week if Jean's not in preschool and there's nobody else to help Sarah with Jean 🙁

Things will improve a bit in September, when Jean starts school, which is FREE (apart from some uniform and other expenses, but they're not too bad) and a short walk from home; and one of our loans finishes then, which will free up some budget towards paying off tax and other debts, and Jean will be taken care of for at least part of the day (although she'll only be on half days for the first few months).

But, yet again, we're going to be struggling along in a difficult situation, on the basis that Things Will Get Better In A Few Months When X Happens. Except that every time we've been in this situation before, something else has gone wrong, and we find ourselves struggling along in a new difficult situation, while still slowly gaining debts... every time we've slowly chewed a few thousand off of the credit card balances, we have some disaster (vehicle breaks, house floods, etc) that means we need to spend some money fast to avert Cascading Life Fail. And so on.

And we still don't know what to do between now and September. Do I give up my job in London and try to find something I can do from home? I doubt I'll be able to find something that pays well enough at short notice. But I would dearly love to not be spending half of my life away from my home, my wife, and my child. Living on a sofa bed in an office, with no space I can actually call my own, is hard to cope with; setting down roots means a lot to me, and I've watched my motivation levels slowly sliding over the nearly two years I've been doing this.

It's really really tempting to just chuck it all in and go bankrupt. We don't have many assets worth taking; there's little we own that's not a living essential or tools of a trade, both of which are exempt from being sold off by insolvency practitioners to repay debts. Claim carer's allowance and Jobseeker's Allowance and housing benefit and all that while having a relaxing life living with my family, sorting our home out, helping Sarah rebuild her life, no longer living with the pain of knowing that Jean wakes up from nightmares that I'm being eaten by spiders when I'm away from home, and spending my newfound spare time (perhaps several hours a day!) working on writing books and software, until that brings in enough money to support us again!

Ok, I paint a rosy picture of it - but we're already living on cheap food and few luxuries, and just about any change from all this stress and worry would be a relief, at least for the first several months...


  • By cakemix, Fri 19th Jun 2009 @ 4:58 pm

    i so wish i felt better and was just round the corner to come round to give you all the biggest cuddles you loads x

  • By Ulrike, Sat 20th Jun 2009 @ 9:16 am

    If Sarah and Jean would like to come up and spend the next two months with us, it would be fine. We will try and clear out more space on the top floor, and they could have some sort of extended vacation.

    While it has never been as bad for us as it has been for the three of you, I know what it is like to always have that sword of damocles hanging over your head. If we can help out in that way, please do let us know.

    Sending hugs out to the three of you, if you want to talk, we are there.

  • By Sarah, Sat 20th Jun 2009 @ 2:28 pm

    Thankyou! But part of the problem is how much time Alaric is spending away from me and Jean - its really eating into him 🙁

    Plus yours and Robs party is within that time frame!

    I am also seeing the Dr alot at the Mo so don't want to interupt that.


  • By Sarah, Sat 20th Jun 2009 @ 2:28 pm

    Thanks Cakemix

  • By Becca, Sun 21st Jun 2009 @ 6:15 pm

    Hey guys, I know you guys haven't had the best run of luck in recent years. A lot of people are struggling financially at the mo (including us with two houses!!!!). To tide us over I have been slowly selling off random stuff I own (old books, textbooks, gadgets and things I haven't used in a while). I managed to sell £150 worth of stuff on ebay in about 2 weeks. Olly is happy I'm sorting through our stuff LOL! I'm sure you guys could do the same.

    The other thing is that Sarah may be eligible for incapacity benefit

    and then also be eligible for housing benefit and council tax reduction. That would relinquish most of your living costs.....

    Also Al, have you considered working for a University rather than industry? There are a few in your region!

  • By Ella, Mon 22nd Jun 2009 @ 9:23 am

    Hi Al,

    I'm not surprised that you've had enough with the awful one week on, one week off working issue. I think that if you're not being paid contractor rates then it simply isn't worth your time to continue working there (unless you can work out a deal where you work from home and only go to London, say, one day a week). I'm not that, even if you are being paid contractor rates, it's worth it.

    I would suggest that you work out your finances, see how much benefits you can claim, then leave your previous job and look for contracting positions where you are. If you can get enough benefit to cover your food/petrol/childcare for a few months that is. Can you persuade Barbara to stop charging you rent whilst you sort things out? You could go to a temp agency in Chelt. whilst you look for something else.

    On a, perhaps less than useful note, Oli reckons IBM would employ you as a contractor in a shot and he could give a good reference for you. I could ask him if they're hiring (as in on the closed market). But, for that to solve the problem, it would mean you and your family relocating to Hampshire, otherwise you'd still be commuting.

    I hope you can work something out. I think if you make the move back to Chelt. then you'd find something.

  • By angie, Mon 22nd Jun 2009 @ 6:26 pm

    Alaric, Len hasn't stopped coming down. We are in the process of getting the cheapest ticket possible for next Tuesday. We will just have to play each time by ear. I would like to come down towards the middle of July, and am working towards doing this. It is time that Sarah's benefits were applied for. She has been unwell now since before Jean was born and should have been claiming all this time. She may not have worked but she did the University course. Time to apply. Nothing ventured, nothing gained. We have not and will not desert the pair of you. My having gone into hospital again caused a severe hicough.

    It is hard at present but it is not always going to be like this. However, much some of your so called friends do not understand the relationship between you and Sarah and you and Jean, this can last because Len and I still have this relationship after 30 years +.

    Hopefully, Len will be down Tuesday 1st till the 5th. We miss you all.

    love Angie

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