The Coronavirus Pandemic, Control, Obsession and Buy to Let – A Personal Story

 The Coronavirus Pandemic, Control, Obsession and Buy to Let – A Personal Story

This is a story which is about me. It is a story about control, a story which is about a bit of sickness, it is about coronavirus and it is about how you can learn about yourself. It is very different to most of my blogs on here, but it is a sort of personal testimony, which also takes in the odd times we live in.

I also look at the Covid19 virus – and present a number of links to real information that suggest the extensive ShutDown of the economy was not needed – and will be more harmful to people’s health.

I hope you will find it useful. If, by reading it, it teaches you something about yourself – that would be great. Please let me know. You can add a comment here or you can privately email me.

First a question: Did you ever think that maybe you were different to most other people when you were growing up?

Hopefully you thought you were unique.

But maybe you were always a bit surprised at what other people did, what they would accept and what their beliefs were.

Teams and Team Leaders

When I left university and started “serious work” in 1983, I was surprised how very many creative people I knew would do very boring work and try to “look happy” about it and also do lots of crazy, dull things to endear themselves to the boss – such as going out to pointless work-evening “jolly” events.

I found such things bored me to tears. Lots of my colleagues looked permanently half-scared – worried that their face “might not fit” at any time, that they might get a bad review or suddenly be deemed surplus to requirements.

You may have noticed, too these days, how words like “Supervisor” and “Work Group” have been replaced by words like Team Leader” and “Team”. Everyone has to be in a “team” it seems.

I rather like teams. It is all very redolent of sport, which I like.

The only sport I’m any good at is tennis – not because I got any great training, but mainly because when I was a kid, I liked to hang out at our local tennis club because there were girls to meet there. Plus, of course, between doing that, I did play some tennis.

But I far prefer team games like football and rugby. Certainly, I enjoy watching them far more than watching “singular sports” like tennis, golf and skiing.

I play football too today (or I would if it were not for this so called “lockdown”). But despite playing 5 and 8 a side football twice a week for 40 odd years I’m still nowhere near as good as I am at tennis (and I hardly ever play tennis today). I just find team games better fun to play as well as to watch. It is the fun of working with other people toward an end point (to win), even if the teams are picked on the night from people we all know. I also like the respect at the end after the game has finished. (Will we ever be able to shake hands again?) And then there is the pub after – much more fun having banter with a group of lads than say a maximum of three after tennis (if you play tennis doubles).

So, I’m a team player. But then again, in work, I’m not.

At work, working for other people in a big organisation, I never really felt that I could be a part of a team where full membership of that team involved identifying with company goals and targets. I just couldn’t. My feelings towards work varied between “enduring it” and actively “despising it” and wanting to do something else. But what else?

So, whilst I thought about it, I took a 2-year part time (evening) MBA at Cass Business School. At least, I thought, it would help me and give me a leg up on others on the greasy corporate pole.

And I kept thinking about other ways I could make money – ways which I would find more fun and which perhaps would appeal to the more singular aspects of my personality in business.

When I First Heard About Buy to Let

In 1989 and 1990 I began to hear about the possibilities arising from the government’s loosening of restrictions on the private rented sector, which by 1989 had collapsed to around 8% of the total stock, mainly due to ludicrous restrictions such as rent controls and repossession rules which had meant a landlord would have a very hard time ever recovering possession of his property. (The sector, which had formed 50% of all housing stock, immediately post WW2, had fallen a long way, which was, in turn, making labour mobility very hard because people could not easily move for jobs if getting accommodation was so hard to do).

I remember Johnson Fry (now long gone and gobbled up by rival Legg Mason) had a series of funds, (configured a bit like investment trusts I recall), which invested in what we would now call buy to let property.

It looked good, but I wanted to do things on my own, not invest in a collective fund, so I started delving in and researching a bit more. I had already bought and let a large house to lodgers and this had whetted my appetite for more of this.

I looked at the risks, I looked at the returns and decided it was definitely a goer.

Most of my friends, still struggling up the greasy corporate pole, still hating the boss, still going for those dull nights out with the boss, still fearful at work, would point out all the things that could go wrong with my plans. What if the tenants did not pay? What if things needed fixing? What if the tenants called in the middle of the night?

I decided these things were all manageable things. I could do it. And because I was motivated by being alternatively ambivalent about or actually hating my day job, I was very motivated too.

So, in my spare time I got into the world of what is now called “buy to let”. Very slowly at first too. Back in those days, it helped that there was very little of the rules and regulations that now control the sector – and the tax treatment was kinder too.

My First Buy to Let

When I bought my first proper standalone buy to let, the mortgage interest rate was 9.5% but the gross yield on the property (Gross rent divided by value of the property) was a whopping 13.5%. I still have that property. Today the rent is just over two times what it was when I bought it, but the property is now worth roughly seven times what I paid for it. The mortgage rate I now pay on it is 1.75% over the (lifetime) base rate tracker I signed up for years ago – so 1.85%, (base rates today being a record low of 0.1%). All in all, this first one and the ones that followed have been great investments.

Despite my slow but gradually growing success through the years, all my friends stayed in their day jobs – they still seemed to think that running their own small property business was too much hassle, too much risk for their safety conscious minds. But back then and still today they are in those same dull jobs, waiting for retirement, which being in their late 50s and early 60s, is coming soon for them now. They still spend lots of time complaining about how they are not valued by their companies and how their boss is a jerk – oh and still going out for those boring nights out with the boss. Less fearful they may be but they are also regretful they never did anything else, anything they actually enjoyed.

But I was doing very well.

A Health Problem Comes Along

But some three and a half years ago, I developed an asthma condition. I’m not sure of the origin of it or why it started, but it did. Apparently, adults frequently can develop asthma in middle age or later.

I suddenly kept finding I was really badly out of breath immediately after playing football. It also happened when I did a bit of high intensity running. Then it happened at night too that I was out of breath. This all got me very worried. I could not sleep at all a few nights.

I still think I may have developed it by breathing in some dust whilst clearing out an enclosed, dusty space. The fact is, I don’t know and I never will. 

The waiting list to see my GP was two weeks, then another wait of six more weeks to see the asthma specialist at my doctors for a proper lung function check. When I turned up for the test, it turned out the NHS, (the UK’s health service, usually reverently referred to by Brits as “Our NHS”), had “mucked it up”, because the person on that day was not trained in using the specialist equipment needed. No one had thought to check.

This is fairly typical for our underfunded and arguably badly structured NHS, who can be at times be brilliant, but at times maddeningly inefficient and careless too. Could I re-book for the next day? No, they were full and I would have to wait another six weeks.

All of this time I was very worried because I had spotted the hospital scan notes had suggested “Possible COPD” – a serious health condition. After all this buggering around with our much vaunted NHS, I had enough and sought a private consultation. This assured me that the condition was not serious, but I had indeed developed mild asthma. I have been on and off an inhaler ever since but I could now manage the asthma. Life could continue.

But the trouble was it didn’t continue exactly as before.

A New Health Problem Comes Along

The stress of waiting for the treatment and the effect of being breathless had got me so worried that the frequent nights of nil sleep that had occurred with the asthma continued as before.

I had sorted out the asthma, but now I had a new problem on my hands. I felt I was losing control of the ability to sleep. Now there were many nights of no sleep at all, sometimes as many as 12 or even 15 in a single month. Sometimes the insomnia would ease off, then come back again.

And so it was like this for a long time.

I read lots of books and devoured hundreds of articles to try to understand this horrible insomnia condition. I eventually got on two sets of 5-week talking-therapy group courses ran on and via the NHS with other sufferers – though I had to wait another 4 months for them to start. I went on a six week mindfulness course. I also had about 15 private therapy sessions – not cheap. I got some homeopathy sessions. I tried a lot of different prescription drugs.

The talking therapies helped a lot, but probably one of the best sources of help I found was via a site called If you have insomnia, sign up and the author sends some v useful tips to your email box each day. There is a link at the end of the post.

Slowly and surely over the next two to three years I got better. But it took time.

I mentioned before that I like running a bit. Not too much, not too far, just enough to keep my older bones fit enough for midweek football. And yes, also because I just like to get out in the fresh air.

Control, Control, Control – We All Want It, Some Want It Too Much

One day at the end of a run about a year ago, just as I neared the end, a big thought suddenly hit me. Well, actually a stream of thoughts, all in one, in a few seconds.

The thought was about the past, it was about control and it was about obsession. That is how I best can describe it.

So I stopped and took it all in. And then I spent a large part of the next week thinking hard about it.

Basically it was like this.

I was bought up in an ostensibly happy family, but for reasons that I’m not able to go into too much, there were a few holes. Not really bad ones. I wasn’t abused. My Mum and Dad did not hit me. They sort of loved each other (in the funny sort of way many couples do).

But some aspects of their personalities, especially that of my Mum, made me lack confidence and fear for my security and meant that I became a person who likes to control events and situations. She did not do anything wrong, she did her best, but she often gave the impression she wanted to be somewhere else, in a different situation, with a different man possibly. Many people may recognise something similar in their parents. But, I think in relation to other people, the way I was raised was OK and actually better than many experience.

Now I have always liked to be secure and control events, but this does not mean I like to control people. Far from it. And I am not a leader either. Nor am I hugely “driven” for massive success and riches, spirituality is also important for me. But for the reasons of those things going on at home when I was young, I craved a degree of security. For this reason I do like some degree of control.

I was reasonably academically successful. I got into a grammar school, did OK at O and A levels, I was always about a third the way down in the class. Not a top performer, not a stand out at sport or academically, fairly quiet, not in with the cool crowd, not bullied, but not a bully either, I kept my head down. I was just an OK, middle-of-the road kid!

When I got to about 15, I started to develop more confidence and when I got to university I made a lot of friends. I got an average degree, (my generation would call it a “Desmond” – after Desmond Tutu, a 2 ii) and four years later did the part time MBA too, which involved studying in the evening.

I have always thought that graduating from my first degree in 1983, when unemployment was rampant at about 12% of the available workforce and jobs, including for new graduates, were scarce held back my generation for life. (Indeed studies have shown that graduates a year and two years later fared far better than us).

But, as I said, aspects of my childhood were still with me. For these reasons, I always wanted security. I like certainty. I like to feel safe. I guess that is true of many people.

But back to the park that day and what was it that had hit me? What was this blinding thought? What was the blinding revelation?

Well, I suddenly realised that this insomnia thing I was still grappling with at that time was all about control and security. I wanted to control sleep. I worried I had lost the ability to sleep. (Newsflash – you can’t!). So one spends time obsessing about it, one spends hours researching it, one worries about whether you will have a nil sleep night that coming night.

And I realised at the end of that run that day, that at five or six other times in my life, other issues had come along that troubled me –  when I thought I had taken the wrong course at university, when hard personal relationship decisions had to be made or when I was stuck in a job I hated. I handled these by becoming obsessed about whatever the issue was, thinking about it all the time.

The insomnia was just another situation like these past situations.

All the past situations had, of course, eventually resolved themselves in time.

And so, this one would too.

So, there we are. That was it.

Just realising my controlling, slightly obsessive nature existed was enough to get better.

Wanting security and control helped me start and run my property business, but one needs to be careful one is not too controlling, too obsessive. Maybe you recognise yourself in that description?

Control and the Coronavirus – Back to The Present

The current “virus” panic has huge control issues in it – which is why I want to link up this personal story with that.

Coronavirus, or as I prefer to call it CoronaPanic. (I also tend to use the words ShutDown or House Arrest instead of Lockdown – as the latter to me evokes a prison and having done something wrong, which I certainly haven’t).

One may debate whether the ShutDown is really necessary for quite a long time I guess – and still not agree.

But I think we may be able to agree on some basic things…

  1. That the NHS was not in great shape before this crisis began, following years of spending cuts and also the failure to organise the UK’s health care system better. (Many other countries in Europe achieve a much better range of health outcomes than the UK at a lower cost).
  2. That there was a staggering lack of preparedness in terms of numbers of PPE kits, despite ample warning that a cold or flu based pandemic was coming.
  3. No one appears to have planned a road map in which large scale testing of the right people could be rolled out very quickly.
  4. The government has done nothing much over many years to prevent large parts of the UK population getting fat – and hence more in danger from viruses like this.

There will be an enquiry – that is for sure. We can be confident that it will be chaired by an ex-senior judge who will be very well recompensed on a day-rate (and therefore with no incentive to work too fast) and that it will take years of gathering evidence before it reports. Well paid quango bosses in the likes of NHS England will probably be blamed as should ministers likes the hapless Matt Hancock. By then most of the guilty will have already retired to very attractive pensions or to the House of Lords or both.

The ShutDown has taught us that we are not in control.

The government, in their wisdom, decided that they had to introduce a lot of silly laws, presumably because they think the British public are too thick to be just told to keep 2 metres distance. So to help us British further, there are laws about driving to beauty spots, about how far you could drive to exercise, how long you could exercise for, whether you could sit on a park bench, whether your park was even open etc.  (France, Spain and Italy adopted even more repressive laws).

And then there was the sight of CovidReich enforcers flying drones to shame single walkers on remote Derbyshire hills, there were taped up park benches, we saw folks being told their kids were not allowed to play in their front garden and single sunbathers hundreds of meters distant from other people being told they had to “move on”. A lot of this enforcement has been aided and abetted by snoopers and narks via specially set up web pages where these modern Nazi and Stalinist neighbours could inform on offenders who break the rules.

Each Thursday evening one was obliged to stand outside one’s house to clap the NHS for a few minutes. Others can drum or hop for Boris, or do whatever it takes.

In Sweden, there are no such laws. Their state just asks and trusts its citizens to keep a safe distance from each other. Bars and restaurants and small shops there never closed.

Reading the news, it seems the rest of the world and most of the world’s hysterical media desperately wishes the Swedish approach fails, so it does not make the rest of the world look stupid. The world’s media are very keen to compare Sweden’s death numbers (a lax ShutDown) with Norway a (harsh lock down) and other Nordic states. An odd and invalid comparison.

They’re not so keen to compare Sweden with countries with similar death rates but which have crippled themselves with harsh lock downs (UK, France, Belgium, Spain, Italy say). When the evidence points to Sweden managing rather well, they like to find excuses – these range from Sweden having a smaller household size, a more rural population even to Swede’s not being as naturally touchy-feely as other nations are.

Coronavirus and Control

In the UK and most of the rest of Europe, this strange seizure by the state of parts of our lives really will make many of us feel that we are not in control any more.

Those of us, like me, who like to control things – often we are already our own bosses, will find this especially hard. Possibly, like me, we started our own businesses because we wanted freedom from the big company and from the state. Now the state and the CovidReich and an army of informers are “all over” our lives and telling us what we can and cannot do and how we should do business, even if we can even open our businesses at all.

It wouldn’t be so bad if all the rules made sense – except they often don’t.

The problem with so much of this control, (and many of the ShutDown rules are pointless, inconsistent with each other and nonsensical), is that it has all come as a bit of a shock to many of us. So much of what the state and much of the media now says about Covid19 is so odd and unintelligent and just plain wrong that we feel the ground is almost sinking under us.

Some go further and wonder if this is part of a wider and more sinister game, pointing to the likes of people like Bill Gates, Neil Ferguson and Anthony Fauci as somehow being behind a move for state control of everything that we say, what we do and even where we go. They worry that soon, access to basic privileges like travel and jobs will be reserved for only those who have passed a health test, agree to carry a tracking app or who have been vaccinated.

I’m not so sure about this, however the level of insanity and hysteria is such that sometimes part of this sinister conspiracy narrative starts to seem plausible.

What has also really shocked me is the fact that most people seem to support even the most stupid of the new rules, often demanding even more action from the state to further bully a frightened nation into submission.

Also shocking, was the level of fear, which often flies in the face of the few real statistics that emerge from the government. For example, six weeks into lock down and only 26 people under the age of 25 had died of Covid19 – and there are about 20 million people under 25 in the UK. Most of those that had died had underlying health conditions, the rest, it is a fair bet, probably had undiagnosed ones.

For any person under age 65, if they had taken time out to drive to and from Swindon every day – a round trip of 165 miles, they would have had the same risk of dying in a road accident than of dying of Covid19 with no ShutDown.

And yet these real statistics rarely emerged from the bizarre evening TV government briefings with their usual blizzard of meaningless “big scary sounding numbers”, often presented by the utterly useless Matt Hancock, the Health Secretary.

Despite the negligible risk, millions of people remained terrified, a process egged on by the relentless coverage on the main TV news channels and selective “heart breaking” stories. The main media surely have to carry particular shame for trying to use extremely rare stories of young people who had supposedly died of Covid19 to scare children and other young persons.

Many people are genuinely too scared to go back to work, though some like the famous “Blob”, (the teaching unions as labeled by Michael Gove), may be using the panic and fear to gain concessions for their members.

So, unsurprisingly, many people feel out of control.

And the fact is that actually, our fear is unnecessary anyway. It is possible to choose just not be fearful. It is possible to feel in control, not obsess and fight back.

Some Reasonable Articles (Most of Which You Won’t See on TV News)

To this end, I am going to share with you a number of links, very few of which you will have seen on the main media, (who really ought to be held to account as soon as possible for failing to adequately critique the government and its strategy and for spreading fear and panic without reason). Enjoy and prepare to alter you views.

David Spiegelhalter, in this piece above, says that total dead in the UK, after 7 weeks of ShutDown from “Covid19” who are aged under 15 is two, and those dead under 25s numbers 26. He was invited to one or two Sage meetings but was frustrated especially with the communication of the real danger (or not), so was interviewed on Andrew Marr’s show. This piece from 10 May 2020 records his comments on that show.

This piece from the BBC, above, is a rare example of the Beeb questioning the state. It includes this quote: “In the UK, they calculate that those under the age of 65 have faced the same risk over the past few months from coronavirus as they would have faced from driving 185 miles a day – the equivalent of commuting from Swindon to London.”

The piece, above, cites strong evidence from a detailed German study that case fatality of “Covid19” is actually about at most, 0.3%. The vast majority of those who die are very old and /or have very serious health conditions already.

This piece, above, is from Sweden’s number two epidemiologist. (Unlike Neil Ferguson, who the UK government followed, he actually was also a senior doctor before becoming an epidemiologist). And text of the same piece is here, (useful if you are like me and hate watching long videos) :

This piece, above, looks at what Neil Ferguson’s discredited model (which the UK followed) predicted for Sweden – and what has actually happened there. (There has been no severe ShutDown in Sweden – shops, bars, restaurants and most schools have remained open).

Finally, as per the above, from the BBC, the cost of each life saved from the virus is over £1m each – a staggering figure multiple times the usual cost that NICE uses to assess whether to pay for new drugs. The figures as follows: c£120bn is UK government help and furlough costs, at best 120K lives have supposedly been “saved” as a result of ShutDown. Do the maths! This does not include the costs to the NHS and the benefits costs following on from long term unemployment from the 5 million we are very likely to have unemployed now. (There are well established links between unemployment/low income and poor health outcomes/ early deaths).


For any insomnia sufferers, my story of how I overcame insomnia is here:


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