A Crazy Life – Part 2 (Illness Strikes)
In my part 1 submission, I recounted my high-spending lifestyle, the reward for my well-paid contract employment within the telecoms and satellite industries. I and my English wife (she didn’t work) followed this extravagant lifestyle for several years in the late 90’s, oblivious to save money for the ‘rainy day’ that would inevitably happen.
(Looking back on these years, I was obviously a total ‘plonker’ for not thinking about the future. It’s hard to do when you’re enjoying the ski holidays, trips to Vietnam, Thailand, Laos, The Seychelles, Kenya etc etc, plus driving the 2-seater sports car or 4-wheel drive Benz).
In the 90’s the mobile phone industry was in its infancy. Phones were bulky, with limited battery life, and internet access was either not available or expensive and unreliable. About the only non-voice, reliable means to communicate was by using SMS text messaging.
Browsing through a ‘top shelf’ adult magazine one day (as you did in those days before internet porn), I noticed many advertisements for adult telephone chat services, typically charged by the minute on a special, high-rate phone number. These services were legal in the UK and it was common knowledge that a) the services were run by gangsters and b) the services made a lot of money.
Each service would typically employ several dozen women in an office, whose job it was to ‘sex-chat’ with the male callers and basically ‘keep them talking’, since the men were being charged a high rate for every minute of the call.
I began to wonder if it would be possible to operate a similar chat service using SMS text messaging from a mobile phone. I went one step further and mused whether one could write an Artificial Intelligence (AI) software program that would understand the meaning of the conversation initiated by the caller, and respond in kind with a flirty (or downright ‘dirty’) text message reply, encouraging the end-user to reply back and thus generate more revenue for the service.
And so it was that in a small office in Rickmansworth, just outside London, that I sat down and began to write the code for this AI program. If such a program was successful, then it could be automated, able to handle many dozens of messages at a time, and thus provide a very low operating cost when compared to employing a room full of women. The revenue would be generated by charging the user an extortionate rate of 1 British pound (or more) per text message!
I worked for about 6 months, writing the operating software framework, and then populating a database with thousands of words and phrases, so that my AI ‘chat bot’ would be able to take on the persona of a real person.
The end result was ‘Natachata’, (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Natachata) a sexy, rather naughty female chat-bot, who enjoyed ‘advanced’ sexual discussions with anyone who sent her a text message!
I placed an advertisement for my new text-chat service in the highly respected (!) ‘Daily Sport’ newspaper and waited to see if anyone would start to use the service. I didn’t have to wait long. The response was huge, with about 2,000 text messages every day. Simple maths showed that this text-chat service was earning me upwards of 30,000 pounds each month!!
Of course, it didn’t take long for the gangsters who ran the adult phone chat services to get wind of what I was doing. While they no doubt wanted to duplicate my service for themselves, my Natachata software application was too complex to easily copy. So it was that I entered into contracts with several of these gangsters, processing the text chat messages that they forwarded to me from their own service and sending back the text replies to be sent on to their customers. The gangsters were very happy and I made an extra commission from processing their text messages.
It was also an interesting test for my AI software, which proved itself capable of processing up to 30 text messages per second!
As a result of this work, I began to be drawn into further contact with these gangsters. Most of them were Cockneys from the east end of London, all happily married with kids, but all ‘enjoying’ the lifestyle that running adult services offered. I was entertained with fully-expensed trips to high-class, lap-dancing venues in Spain and the Netherlands, and found myself surrounded by beautiful Brazilian women who were eager to follow the instructions of the gangster boss when he told them ‘This posh teknical geeza is special – you gotta look afta him yea?’ On one memorable occasion, I arrived late in Madrid, was whisked to the lap-dancing club, where a stark-naked young woman immediately sat on my lap When I retired to bed in the adjacent hotel, 2 beautiful young Brazilian women were already waiting in my room to ‘take care of me because the boss had ordered them to make sure that I was happy!!’
What guy wouldn’t enjoy this lifestyle and treatment? I began to have doubts about my marriage. Truth be told, the relationship with my wife had never been close. She was a good friend, wife and mother, so long as the money was there.
Back to Natachata. The BBC ran an article (http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/magazine/3503465.stm) about ‘chat-bots’ and declared that my AI application was the only one (at that time) that could pass the Turing Test, a test of whether an AI app could fool people into thinking that it was a real person.
As a result of the publicity, an offer was made to buy my one-man company and AI algorithms, (which could also be used for other, non-adult chat services), and to employ me as the Chief Technical Officer (CTO) of a new company that would develop applications for the growing, mobile phone industry. The offer was a cool 2 million US dollars and it took me about 0.1 seconds to make a decision to accept the offer.
The offer came in 2 parts. 1 million dollars cash (nice!) and the rest in shares in the parent company, but which I would not be allowed to sell for 2 years. I signed the papers and shocked my bank manager by depositing a cheque for 1 million dollars into my bank account the next day.
Prior to signing the CTO employment contract, I enquired about what project the company intended to pursue. The details worried me greatly – it was a high-risk strategy to develop the world’s first ‘smart phone’ for a US household name company. All eggs in one basket, it seemed to me. So I negotiated a clause in my employment contract that if I were made redundant within one year, then the company would be legally bound to pay me 12 months of salary as a redundancy payment. That would be 120,000 British pounds.
The company signed the contract, I started work and at the same time, I embarked on building a beautiful house for myself and my family, high in the Chiltern Hills, just outside London. Set in 5 acres of land, this house included every expensive convenience that you could imagine, including 2 acres of vineyard and paddocks for horses. My wife refused to accept a limit of 5,000 pounds to furnish the bathroom – she actually spent 20,000 pounds just on the frigging fittings! You can understand that the 1 million dollars was rapidly depleted, albeit transformed into a multi-million dollar house.
Still, everything seemed to be going well. I had a well-paid job and 1 million dollars in company shares. What could go wrong?
The office where I worked was in central London, close to Regent’s Park. It was actually in the basement of an ornate building. That basement had not been used for many years and, as it was a basement, had no windows or natural ventilation. It also had no heating or air-con, which meant that I and my staff had to wear thick sweaters and coats during the winter, and sweltered during the summer months.
A few months after I started working in this office, I developed a cough. That cough was a minor concern at first, but rather than recovering after a few days, the cough persisted and got worst. It was an involuntary cough, meaning that I would suddenly have a coughing fit in the face of my colleagues or boss! After a few months, I was almost unable to speak, coughing almost continually. I had to stuff my hand into my mouth whilst travelling on the London Underground, lest I cough in everyone’s face.
I’m normally a healthy guy and a non-smoker. So this cough was very worrying for me. X-rays indicated that my lungs were filling with fluid and I was getting short of breath. Pneumonia as the result of this illness was identified on several different occasions. The common causes of asthma or even TB were ruled out. What could be causing my illness?
Finally, after a battery of medical tests, the culprit was identified. I had Aspergillosis, which is basically an infection of fungal or mould spores in my lungs. Those spores were present in the cold, damp and unventilated environment of my basement office.
Although medication was available to reduce the symptoms, there was no ‘cure’. Once the spores enter your lungs, they remain there, causing debilitating symptoms and leaving one open to pneumonia infections. Some people could lead a normal life, whilst others might be seriously and continuously ill, with a weakened immune system. A serious pneumonia infection could lead to an early death.
I had some serious consultations with my doctor. ‘Was there anything that I could do to alleviate the effects of this illness?’. Yes there was, but it would require a complete change of environment. The doctor said that research had indicated that the best solution to minimise the effects of the illness was to live in a hot country with a humid atmosphere. So think something like Thailand or Malaysia……..
So there it was. My illness could not be cured. Medication could reduce the effects. But if I remained in the UK then I was likely to contract pneumonia again and again, each time weakening my lungs even more. The outlook was bleak, but there was a possible solution – Thailand.
Coincidentally, my employer ran into serious financial problems. As I had feared, the US customer pulled out of the deal. With all eggs in one basket, my employer had no option but to make me and my 30 staff redundant. As per my employment contract, I walked away with 120,000 pounds.
I sat down with my English wife and had a very serious discussion about my options. To this day, I don’t think she really understood how serious the situation was. I explained the options, and pointed out to her that financially we were in a good position to start a new life in a tropical country where the effects of my illness could be minimised.
She wouldn’t buy it. She had her friends in the UK and she wasn’t prepared to uproot to a strange country, just because her husband was seriously ill…….
And so it was that – sadly – we agreed to an amicable divorce. She would stay in the $1 million house that I had financed and I would leave the UK and seek my fortune in warmer climes. I would keep in touch with my children as much as possible.
Confident that I had the skills to earn a decent living in Thailand, I handed the house over to my wife and advised her to sell it and downsize to a smaller house in the same village. She did just this, selling up for 1 million British pounds, pocketing 500,000 pounds in her bank account and buying a smaller (but quite adequate) house in the same village for 500,000 pounds.
As for me, with a bag stuffed full of medication for my lungs, a face-mask over my mouth and little else. I booked a flight to Bangkok to start a new era in my troubled life.
The author can be contacted at : [email protected]