I’m an organiser, I like to organise. I often think that I should give up what I’m currently trying to do and become an event planner. I’m pretty sharply disciplined when it comes to my organisational skills. A few days ago I made 4 phone calls to 4 separate people. The first was to my friend and saviour, Mark. “What time do you need to be there?” I asked. When the answer came, I back tracked on the timings and called the other three people with their pick up times, 0915, 0925 and 0935. “Mark, we must leave by 0900” I told him. The car was ready, the rear seats were now locked into their intended position after having been in the folded flat configuration since December 2016, a sign perhaps, of the transient and broken existence I have been living in the last 9 months. We did indeed depart at 0900 and all my timings were correct. The five of us arrived, sharply dressed and bang on time, at Steve’s funeral.
Steve was a Firefighter. He was a Father, a Brother, an Uncle, a friend and a Son. He was lots of other things too. An Ex Soldier, a skilled carpenter, a brilliant Scrabble player and a member of Mensa amongst a myriad of other titles. His heartbroken Mother and Father sat crying in the front row of the beautiful, wood panelled chapel which overlooks a meadow surrounded by tall green trees that were naturally sprinkled among a carpet of bluebells and fern. The chapel has a huge floor to ceiling, glass panelled wall behind where the lectern stands to face the room, and, where the floral arrangements now lay. The ancient trees could be seen swaying gently in the breeze, and the bluebells lit up the wall of the chapel with their electric blue light show as the gravely tones of Kelly Jones singing ‘Step on my old size nines’ gently overpowers the sniffing, weeping sounds emanating from the crowd. Over three hundred people crammed themselves into a space only ever designed for about a hundred and fifty to hear readings from family and friends about his life, loves and the reason he lays before us in his cardboard, natural burial casket, at a woodland burial site in the South of England.
Some days earlier I received an early morning call from Mark asking if I had seen Steve. “No mate, not since last night, Why, whats up?” Mark explained how Marie, Steve’s partner of 5 years, had been called by the Fire Brigade to ask about why he hadn’t shown up for his night shift the previous evening. Marie explained that he had indeed departed for work at the normal time and that she would start making calls to locate him. Mark was one of those calls and in turn Mark called me and the pyramid effect of phone calls cascaded across the UK’s mobile phone networks. After all possible options of where and with who, he might be had faded, a day of horrible, soul turning silence took over our group of friends while the Police Service carried out their ‘hospital checks’ and cross border enquires with neighbouring and linked uniformed colleagues. A reply from Marie to one of my texts that day simply read “I fear the worst”.
His body was found later that evening by a local resident, hanging from a heavily overgrown Oak tree in a tiny village church yard, 6 miles from where I last saw him, just the night before.
300 people all dressed in bright colours and Fire Brigade uniforms wound their way like a Chinese carnival dragon, from the chapel in the bluebells, through the dense woodland tracks, and onward toward his final resting place under a tree fittingly chosen by his daughter.
So what has this got to do with my bankruptcy? Well, I’m an organiser and I was entrusted by the family to go through Steve’s affairs and do all the immediate post death ‘Admin’, like contacting banks, credit card companies and the like. My stomach turned as I opened envelope after envelope, flicked through ream after ream of letters and found at least 10 different loan companies, credit cards and money lenders, including two ‘pay day loans’ with interest rates at well over 1000%, all of which he was defaulting on. I found debt collection company letters, bailiff letters, unpaid accounts, ‘bounced’ payments and final demands. Steve owed a lot of money to a lot of people and upon seeing his pay statements and all the deductions for child maintenance, insurances, credit unions and tax/NI, he was left with only a 3 figure number every month to service his 5 figure debts. My friend Steve took his own life at the age of just 48 due to money worries, and every person now stood 10 deep around this astro turf encircled hole in the ground, knew it.
I have kept a copy of his death certificate in my ‘Bankruptcy file’ as a reminder of the terrible stresses, strains, heartache and ultimately the results, that can occur from financial difficulty, however that difficulty manifests itself. I’m an organiser and the 99p blue file I purchased a few weeks ago is filling slowly but increasingly with the ‘UNPAID’ letters that I have been expecting. It also contains 4 halves of credit cards and a Debit card that once allowed me ‘Premier’ banking due to the nice salary I was lending them to invest and make money on every month, that of course I paid for. My debts are not that big and are only to a very small number of creditors, mainly my bank, as my overdraft and a loan are with them. I am not in the same position as my friend Steve, I have no partner anymore, no children or a home to service. I have no employment or assets and I’m writing this from a single, fold out bed in the back bedroom of Marks flat. As well as buying me a wonderful paper diary for Christmas 2016, Mark is also allowing me to live under his roof, rent free until I can rebuild my life again – Like i said, my saviour.
Mark was Steve’s best friend and he’s heartbroken too, He’s in the front room as I type listening to Steve’s favourite song on constant repeat. Steve’s death certificate is right here by my side and looking at it, I tell myself that I am still doing the right thing by sending back the forms that the UK’s insolvency agency sent me yesterday – the day we buried our friend Steve.