My name’s Steve Pafford and I need your help.
Christ, you wouldn’t believe how hard it is to write that.
In fact, this is something I’ve been putting off writing, admitting to, agonising over, embarrassed about, you name it… for many, many months.
As those of you who have known me for a number of years, particularly readers of the regrettably short-lived Crankin’ Out, I’m pretty hopeless at admitting failure or defeat, preferring to bury my head in the sand and hope it’s all blown over by morning. Some morning.
I can also be as guilty as the next person of living a slightly imagined life through social media, papering and glossing over the cracks and pretending everything is hunky dory.
OK (swallowing of not inconsiderable pride begins), where do I start?
How about I’m completely skint?
Or to be precise, asset formerly rich, cash poor.
Don’t ever buy a property with a partner you aren’t already married to because unless they’re the salt of the earth you will get used, abused, ripped off, taken for granted and cheated.
After I was ripped off by a certain boyfriend for over twenty thousand pounds, the same one who stopped playing his share of the rent for the Manly apartment we shared in 2015 and 2016 just a week after moving in, and then stole a number of personal items as he fled to Melbourne (is it any wonder my oldest friend Joanne ended up calling him Michael Robme), I bought a house in France.
It could have been anywhere, I just needed to get away from Australia. From memories of him and anything associated with him.
I tried to learn my lesson, and in the summer of 2017 the house in France became my first ever property purchase on my own. It started out as a potential full time proposition but quite honestly, it’s the kind of place you’d be mad to try and endure in the desolate and bleak winter months. At least I tried though.
With my remaining savings/proceeds from a previous property sale I invested 50 thousand pounds in a business investment scheme in Britain, with 79th Element. I did this because a) there was little hope of buying an investment property with the remaining funds and b) I, like many, was seduced by the interest rates which are no longer available to savers and owners of bonds etc: a 10% return every month, ie £500. £6k for a year. Not bad considering.
Despite knowing full well the risks involved, I decided to take the plunge largely because that aforementioned oldest friend Jo recommended it and had already personally invested in the scheme, arranged through her mortgage broker Shaun Ginley.
Yes, I know. Doesn’t sound legit, does it?
Well, it’s legit (of a sort) but its unregulated and outside of Financial Services Authority control.
All was fine until January this year. The monthly payments suddenly stopped without warning. As investors, Jo and I received an email a few weeks later that suggested that the company was about to be sold and that all interest payments had been paused until the sale had gone through, and that once they have completed with the new owners all capital and owed interest payments shall be paid to investors.
Ten months and numerous angry exchanges of emails and phone calls later nothing appears to be happening. I’ve raised the prospect of the police and even the BBC programme Watchdog getting involved, and in response have been told to calm the communications down because “if the directors are antagonised and close the company no one may get anything.”
Something else happened to me this year.
On May 21 I suffered a heart attack while driving on the freeway from New Hampshire to Maine.
Many of you will already know the details of what happened (here) but the one thing I glossed over was the cost.
You know, the cliché is ‘don’t ever get sick in America’. I already kinda knew that when my beloved aunt died from cancer in February, and I’m certain the stress and trauma of that and the money situation all contributed to my ticker trouble.
I had a comprehensive multi-trip travel insurance policy with Covermore, but, alas, each section of the cover was capped. The health section was capped at £1,000. The bill from York Hospital is many, many, many times more than that. In fact, I promised my mum I wouldn’t publicise the final bill to spare her worries. Needless to say it’s HUGE, despite my discharging myself early and opting for taxis over ambulances.
To try and get a grip on the financial situation I realised I had to do something with the place in France. I investigated letting it out with an agent but, alas, its countryside location seemed a bit too remote for renters.
So a few months ago I put it up for sale.
So far a fair few viewers but not a single offer, even with a reduced asking price. Come on, it’s pretty…
I know the French housing market is slow, especially compared to Oz or the UK, but I’m really struggling to think of what I can do to shift it. Even though the majority of the proceeds will go towards the hospital bills, I can’t see any alternative right now.
At the end of last month I locked the property up for winter and headed back to Sydney, stopping off in Hong Kong for a very brief stopover.
As I waited at the Genius Bar of the city’s Apple store to get my laptop looked at, I had a bit of a funny turn. In fact, I fainted.
I’ve no idea how long I was out for, but I woke up on the floor of the store a bit disorientated, and being English, more than a little embarrassed. I looked around me to see all these faces looking at me quizzically, and then I noticed the hard stone floor and was amazed I wasn’t feeling any pain. No repeat of cracking my head open in HK as in 2015 then. Phew.
As well as being taken care of by the combined talents of Apple employees Martin and Edmund, I am also incredibly grateful to Charlene Kotwall (pictured below) and her delightful mum Mamie. Charlene was concerned I was having a heart attack and offered CPR. I can’t deny it crossed my mind too, but this felt different. There were no pains or stiffness on the left side this time, so, mindful of how much yet another hospital bill would be, I politely refused offers to get me to the nearest emergency department.
Instead, staff at the IFC shopping mall brought me a wheelchair to sit in and subjected me to a few tests (nothing showed up) while I tried to make sense of it all. Charlene was brilliant and brought me a bag full of food from Pret A Manger. That did the trick. Quite simply, I slept through and missed the in-flight meal and, trying to be budget conscious in my old age, had barely eaten since.
I was so determined not to miss my flight to Sydney that I had to sign a form refusing all forms of hospital assistance, and after a while felt just about OK to make it to the airport. And I’m happy to report that I arrived in Aus with no great drama,
My mum was kind enough to pay for that particular air fare from Europe to Aus (and as it wasn’t related to any work-related shows so not tax deductible), but made it clear, “Don’t expect this to become a habit.”
Actually it was nice to re-bond with my parents this year. My aunt’s death, the heart attack and the financial woes seemed to bring us together in a funny sort of way. I stayed with them for a couple of weeks and even received a kiss on the cheek from my dad as I went to bid them farewell. That would have been the first time he’d done such a thing since I was knee-high. Pleasantly shocked was I, I don’t mind telling you.
But, as great as they are, the thing about my folks—and, indeed, many of their generation—is that they don’t really understand the life of the self-employed, the freelancer, the creative.
They’re delighted that my website is a success, and that it’s attracted advertising. But I didn’t have the balls to tell them said advertising has raised precisely seven dollars.
The thing about these google Adsense ads is that they’re not customisable, so while I would have loved ads for the latest Bowie box or a few far flung concerts, I got lumbered with all kinds of junk from women’s wear to diet plans. I think it actually put people off, with less than 300 people returning in October, down from nine and half thousand the previous month.
But all this raises a pertinent point: while I’m immensely grateful to each and every one of you for visiting—and since stevepafford.com launched at the beginning of 2017 its attracted a marvellous range of readership, in excess of 160,000 unique visitors—but, be honest, how many wondered how the site sustains itself?
Theses are precarious times for the creative industries as a whole, and as much as people on the receiving end like me long for the days when people paid to be informed, be entertained, it’s a dying art.
Which brings me to my last point. This website and indeed, myself as a writer and publisher, can only survive with your help.
Please give a thought for us this winter and do whatever you can to help this site thrive, however small. I have rent to pay in Australia just like a huge chunk of the population. In return I promise you tons more impeccably researched articles, features and interviews of the sort to which you’ve been accustomed.
For those of you that have it, this is the PayPal link, which of course if you were willing to help can be put through as a Friends and Family transaction so that Paypal don’t take a cut:
I’m also in the process of setting up a Patreon. It’s here.
The Go Fund Me link is here.
Thank you for all your support thus far.