The Year from Jahannam
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Chapter 1

Monday 3rd January 2011 – Richard Wright.

This year, unlike the last few years, is definitely going to be a memorable one for the Wright family. Don’t ask me why I know this, but as that catchy song from the Black Eyed Peas goes, ‘I gotta feeling’. You know, the kind of feeling you get when you just know something is about to happen and then moments later it actually does. Well that’s the sort of feeling I have about 2011.

I’m not sure why I agreed to writing this blog, as I’m not really a public person. I much prefer keeping myself to myself and letting other people get on with these modern pastimes. I am such a Luddite when it comes to social networking that I don’t even have a Facebook page. Needless to say, this is the first time I’ve written a blog entry in my life, so please excuse me if I’m not very good at it.

Sarah, my incredibly sociable and techno-savvy wife on the other hand, organises her whole life on the Internet and knows exactly what all of her friends are up to. She tweets and updates her Facebook status, to what seems to me, like every minute of the day. Well at least it keeps her busy.

Sarah felt the blogging experience would be quite therapeutic and relaxing for me too. She told me it would provide a respite from my somewhat hectic schedule and allow me to reflect on what’s been happening recently. I think she means that it would be a good way for me to get out my daily frustrations, rather than subjecting the family to my loud and angry ranting. I can sometimes see why the kids call me ‘Victor Meldrew’, after that grumpy old man that used to be on the telly. Although even they have to admit that I’m much younger and better looking.

I didn’t see the point in arguing too much with Sarah over this. After all she’s a Psychology graduate and a Counsellor with the local council. As much as it pains me to say this, she is unquestionably the subject matter expert in this area.

Well I can’t be more contented and de-stressed at the moment, now that our life seems to have completely turned around. I feel so fulfilled after what’s been a really tough couple of years for us financially. Well the bulldog spirit has prevailed and we made it through all the difficulties by pulling together as a family and making some necessary sacrifices.

On Monday 15th September 2008, our world had come crashing down with an almighty jolt. I had spent almost all of the previous day anxiously pressing ‘F5’ on my keyboard, refreshing the news pages. The reports that I feared eventually came through. Takeover talks between my employer and an interested party had failed totally. The thought of what that would mean for us, had kept me up the whole night.

Although it had started like every other day, it was a day that I will never forget for as long as I live. I left for work at 7:05am from our 3-up 2-down terraced house in Hanwell, West London. I took my usual twenty minute walk to Ealing Broadway Station on what was a typical grey, autumn day in London. I caught the Central line along with hundreds of other jaded, colourless commuters. I managed to find a seat on one of the further carriages and settled down to reading the gloom-laden ‘Metro’ newspaper. I changed onto the Jubilee line at Bond Street and arrived at Canary Wharf just after 8am.

I turned right at the station and walked towards my office in cruise control. I was so deep in thought that I almost bumped into one of the armed security guards, who had been stationed outside of our building since 9/11. I entered the ‘25 Bank Street’ building for what may have been the last time and waited patiently for the lift to arrive. I glanced briefly at the large screen on the right of the reception desk, which was showing a news channel and caught the headlines ‘City Crisis’ emblazoned all across it.

I was the first to enter the lift and my fingers quickly moved over the buttons for the now unused 13th and 14th floors until I automatically pressed the button marked ‘15’. Although the lift filled to capacity, there was an unnatural eerie silence. I felt so strangely constrained in the lift that my claustrophobia made every second feel like an hour. Finally the doors for my floor opened and I unwittingly pushed passed several people to gratefully step out onto the office floor. I was greeted by glum faces from every direction.

We were all put out of our misery in a meeting at 10:30am, when the news that most of us knew already, was confirmed to us. Lehman Brothers had failed to be sold to another bank over the weekend and as a result, had filed for bankruptcy. And with that announcement, my world, just like that of the four thousand or so of my colleagues, changed for the worst.

I really didn’t know how to feel at that moment. I guess I must have gone through all the phases of the ‘Change Curve’, which I had often heard Sarah talk about. My initial shock quickly turned to anger at the sense of betrayal by the senior management and then I was finally hit, full in the face, by depression at the prospect of being unemployed. I had really loved working in that office and had developed some great working relationships with all my co-workers, but now I may never see any of them again.

Everyone immediately seemed to be on their mobile phones calling their family or friends. Some were already talking to head hunters or recruitment agencies, to find them a new job. Others were trying in vain, to get onto e-mail or Facebook, as the company had sneakily disabled all internet access from the building.

Amidst the grieving girls in tears and the grandiloquent guys in grey suits hugging each other, I cleared my desk of the picture of Sarah and the kids. I added it to the brown cardboard box, along with my management books and the golf trophy that I’d won for hitting the ball nearest the pin at the company’s golf day.

I watched in surprise at the queue that had formed in front of the coffee and vending machines. The now redundant staff were trying to use up all the credit on their superfluous payment cards. I couldn’t see any point in staying at the office any longer, so I picked up my box and slowly trudged down to the lift to begin the saddest and longest journey home of my life.

For several months I tried in vain to find a new job, but either I was too senior for the manager positions or lacking experience for the director ones. Many agents told me that I was going to find it tough in this really competitive market. Many of my ex-colleagues had secured their new posts using their own contacts in the City or they had just taken the first job that came along.

For two months, we tried to make ends meet on Sarah’s income and our savings. After working out our family budget, it became clear that we were going to run out of funds in October. We wouldn’t be able to meet our considerable outgoing commitments unless I found a new job, which was looking more and more unlikely by the day. Our only option was to refinance in some way.

We eventually decided that I should take a year out to do an MBA. It was a tough decision, which meant that we had to re-mortgage the house. We secured a £50,000 refinancing package to cater for all the family expenses and to pay the extortionate MBA tuition fees. Sarah’s income was thankfully just enough to cover our mortgage repayments and our monthly shopping bills.

I couldn’t ask for any more from my family, as we all made sacrifices. I gave up my golf club membership and my season ticket at Chelsea. Sarah stopped her horse riding and started shopping at cheaper supermarkets and those dreadful ‘99p’ places. Debs and Jeff had to move out of their private school and join one of the local comprehensives, while Tina, our youngest, couldn’t be more distraught at giving up her ballet classes.

I can remember how hard it was to explain to Tina that we could no longer afford many of the things that we used to. I explained to her that Daddy couldn’t find a new job, no matter how hard he tried. I reminded her to be grateful, as we were still much better off than so many. There were people that couldn’t afford to stay in their own homes or have enough money for decent clothes and food. Some were even voluntarily putting their kids into care, as they couldn’t afford to raise them. We needed to be grateful that we were all still together and had everything we needed.

After hearing this, Tina immediately offered to give up all her pocket money to the ‘Children in Need’ charity, so that those kids could stay with their parents. I told her that was very gracious of her and that we should all take part in activities to raise money for ‘Pudsey’ this November.

We raised nearly five thousand pounds as a family through book, cake and toy sales at the school, as well as auctioning off our other unwanted items on eBay. However, most of the money was raised by the 115 mile sponsored walk that I completed.

I was very proud of my seven day walk from the University of Bath to the BBC TV studios in London. I walked around twenty miles a day and by the end I was totally shattered, not to mention heavily blistered. I could still feel the pain a week after completing the walk, but it was one of the best experiences of my life. I really hope that it will make a difference to so many children, both in this country and abroad.

This was however not the only challenge that I was facing. With all this added financial pressure, there was no way I was going to fail at my MBA. Even though I hadn’t studied for any exams in nearly twenty five years, I never felt so motivated. Unlike at university, where I had met Sarah, this time I knew exactly why I was doing this.

The sense of relief I got when I passed in the summer of 2010, was immense. I immediately started to apply for several roles and after a few months, I succeeded in securing an incredible job as Head of Business Development, reporting directly to the CEO at the electronics firm, KCG plc.

The impact I made was instantaneous, as I set up a fantastic £30 million pound deal for my new company. I discovered that there was this small electronics company in Milton Keynes that specialised in wireless devices. They were doing exceptionally well in the international electronics market and had forged several million pound deals in the Far and Middle East They had a healthy operating cash flow, mainly on the back of a £10M deal, they had just sealed. I proposed that by acquiring this small business, our company would be able to gain an international foothold and thereby increase its opportunities for deals overseas.

David Green, our CEO, was so impressed with my efforts in negotiating and finalising the deal that he approved an immediate £200K bonus for me. I took that as a real vote of confidence in my abilities. I really felt that all that hard work had finally paid off and naturally I wanted to make things up to my family for the hardships they had suffered.

Immediately we were able to repay all our loan debts and credit card bills and even had enough deposit to upsize our property. We found a gorgeous semi-detached five bedroom Georgian house in West Ealing and put an offer on it straight away. The owners, who were in their early sixties, no longer needed the additional space, as their kids had all grown up and left home. They accepted our offer on the condition that we would move in before Christmas. Thankfully our own property was sold pretty quickly and despite all the protracted paperwork and legal procedures, we managed to move into our new home on the 21st December 2010.

We managed to get Debs back into her private school for her A’ levels, but Jeff and Tina decided to stay where they were. They both seemed to be doing very well and we felt that some private tuition outside of school would be enough to help them achieve the best grades.

Tina was so pleased to go back to her ballet classes and Jeff was able to rejoin the local Rugby club. Sarah resumed her horse riding and I was so happy to spend my Sunday mornings on the golf course again.

With everything going well and the bank balance still looking healthy, we decided that we could now afford to pay another £200 per month and upgrade our lease car from a BMW 3 Series to a Porsche Cayenne 4x4. We hope to receive the new car in the next few weeks and I can’t wait to get my hands on it.

I don’t want this blog entry to sound as if I’m showing off, as I am very sensitive to the fact that there are so many people out there suffering due to the recession. I hope that our experiences can provide you all with hope, as you try your best to make it through these debt-ridden times.

Late last night after everyone else had gone to bed, I was sitting on my favourite armchair watching TV, when the whole living room seemed to shake. I felt my stomach turn like it does when you go over a steep hill in a car and then suddenly all the lights went out.

I was now in pitch darkness, but I was no longer sitting in my armchair in the living room. I reached with my feet, but was unable to feel the ground beneath me. I waved my arms around, but there wasn’t anything to hold onto. I seemed to be suspended in mid-air.

Then suddenly, I was falling downwards to a great depth. I tried to resist the gravitational pull, but was powerless to stop myself falling down vertically. Just when I thought the descent was never going to end, I felt something pull me back from around my neck and my whole body jolted to a stop.

I was hanging in mid-air again, but this time I was straining from the heavy chain that had appeared around my neck. I looked up to see what the chain was connected to, but it seemed to be totally unattached at the other end. It was stopping all the blood circulation from getting to my head. I peered down to see hot steam rising from a dark sea below me. The sea’s surface seemed to be covered by large shells. I tried to focus my eyes by opening them as wide as I could until I could finally make out what it was.

I could now see that the boiling sea was actually filled with human skulls floating on its surface, as far as the eye could see. There were literally millions of them packed against each other in the steaming sea. A few skeletal arms popped up out of the water and it dawned on me that these weren’t just dismembered skulls, but people stripped of their flesh, writhing in anguish.

I suddenly felt a burning sensation on my face and on the front of my body. I screamed in agony to find myself now lying face first upon a torrent of burning lava. I was being pulled forward face first across it by the chain around my neck, like a dog on a leash. The skin from my face was peeling off into thin black strips and dissolving on contact with the lava. I couldn’t bear the pain any longer and prayed for it to ease. All my skin had almost melted off me, but then suddenly it was restored and I was experiencing the painful torment again.

I looked up and saw Sarah and the kids standing on a tiny island surrounded by the lava. They were screaming for me to swim towards them to safety, but as I tried to move my body in their direction, the chain yanked me away from them. It pulled me further and further away until they became a tiny dot on the horizon and I lost sight of them. I closed my eyes and yearned for this torture to stop.

Just when I thought it couldn’t get any worse, I felt like I was once more being suspended in mid-air by the chain around my neck. I opened my eyes and on my left were thousands of long-necked, gigantic snakes. I could see their elongated tongues swirling towards me. I swayed away from them to escape their venomous grasp only to find that I was now within reach of something equally horrific.

On my right were a multitude of giant scorpions that were waving their stinging tails towards me. I pushed in the opposite direction to evade them, but now I was back within the reach of the snakes. I twisted and rocked from side to side to avoid these attacking terrors.

I suddenly found myself moving from side to side, back in my armchair in the living room. The lights were shining down and the TV was still playing in front of me. I could only conclude that I must have nodded off and had this most vivid nightmare. I don’t usually have any kind of dreams, but this felt so real and so distinct. I seriously considered for a moment, whether I had just been transported to this hellish place and then brought back abruptly. All night I shuddered in terror at what I had seen. I just hope this wasn’t a bad portent for the year to come, but a reflection of what we’ve already suffered.

Regardless of this unwelcome, nightmarish vision, I am still looking forward to enjoying my life again and having a wonderful 2011.

Till next time,


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