Skip to main content

I'm a writer. I write about life with bipolar disorder - also known as manic depression - so my eponymous alter ego is MaNic Grant.

I've written more than 1 million words: it's the world's longest suicide note.

twitter.com/ManicGrant

nick@manicgrant.com

facebook.com/manicgrant

 

Intellectual Hunger

6 min read

This is a story about brain training...

Hotel food

I spent a week living in a Warsaw hotel, making sandwiches in my room, using a shoe-horn to spread mayonnaise and mustard on the long-life bread bought from a nearby convenience store which mainly sold alcohol and snacks. This would hardly be a great example of ingenuity - a sign of a brilliant mind at work - but it certainly addresses the first part of this short essay: hunger.

Hunger is not just about food, so I thought I would get the food part out of the way at the beginning.

We can be hungry for sex, love, companionship, social contact. We can be hungry for thrills; adrenalin. We can be hungry for substances of abuse, including alcohol, tobacco and caffeine. There are all kinds of hunger, not all of which can be satiated with food, although we can often try to use food to fill the gaping void inside ourselves. Comfort eating is something I find myself doing when tired, bored or otherwise hungry for something other than food.

I wanted to write about intellectual hunger.

There are some questions which don't require much brain-power to answer, such as: how am I going to feed myself cheaply for a week in a hotel that's nowhere near anything except a couple of shops which mainly sell alcohol? The answer to this question is not one requiring intellect, but instead the answer simply requires lowered standards and the willingness to suffer a little.

Another question might be: how am I going to increase my standard of living as much as possible, as quickly as possible?

Again, this second question is quite easy to answer and requires very little thought or effort of the mind. The answer to the question simply requires more lowering of standards and willingness to suffer. Ultimately, one can always sell a kidney or make bodily orifices available for sexual gratification of paying punters. Problems of this nature are not taxing or interesting, in an intellectual way.

With too much of life occupied answering trivial questions and doing the unpleasant obvious things - prostituting yourself and living in vile conditions - we arrive at a far more interesting question: why bother?

4 years ago it was obvious to me that I knew exactly what I needed to do, how I was going to do it and how long it was going to take, in order to restore myself to health, wealth and prosperity. The prospect of repeating tasks which had become so repulsively boring and easy to me, although somewhat stressful too, was doubly abhorrent because of the lack of novelty combined with the lack of intellectual challenge.

I think in many ways it would have been much easier to accept a fate imposed upon me by circumstances, and abandon the pursuit of an outcome which was almost too far out of reach; almost too unbearable to suffer while en-route.

When I say "easier" I mean intellectually nourishing.

What right do I have to spend my days talking to interesting intelligent people? What right do I have to spend my days reading interesting books? What right do I have to explore ideas, have discussions and write down my thoughts? What right do I have to publish what I write? What right do I have to be allowed readers? Why should I be entitled to have any of those things?

I suppose I accepted that a more interesting course through life was not available to the likes of me. Those who are fortunate enough to ask themselves "what kinds of things do I find interesting?" or "what would my perfect job be?" and to then use these answers to formulate a life which is compatible with capitalist society, are not in the same socioeconomic boat as me. This is not to say that I'm deprived and disadvantaged, but merely that I'm incredibly pragmatic and quite unwilling to risk a decline in my living standards, back to a time when I was sleeping rough and the most pressing question of each day was: where shall I sleep to stay dry and keep me safe from violence and robbery?

So, my 4-year writing project began. I scratched my itch as best as I could with the facilities at my disposal. I have written and published as if I am one of those entitled brats who gets to spend their time choosing from an almost unlimited menu of very pleasant options, because their socioeconomic circumstances protect them from the peril of destitution.

I'm still surprisingly far from ever being able to ask myself "what would I like to study?" or "what is my dream job?" but the vast majority of us will never be fortunate enough to be able to do anything other than suffer the coercion of capitalism, and to do unpleasant things in order to survive.

It seems churlish to complain, given that I have certainly been able to feather the nest recently, and I do my complaining in far more pleasant surroundings than a bush in a park, sleeping rough.

Although I'm time poor and nowhere near being financially comfortable enough to feel confident in risking any major alterations in my chosen life course, I am lucky enough to be emerging from an incredibly lengthy period of suffering, in order to shore up life's practical considerations: housing etc.

Theoretically, it's now a matter of months until some very real and tangible results arrive as a result of a very sustained campaign, which has been excruciatingly boring and predictable, with very little freedom of choice.

In conclusion, I appreciate that my situation is fast becoming an enviable one, and soon I will have the freedom to make choices which offer more intellectual nourishment, which has been so lacking during the 4 year period where I simply had to do whatever it took - to suffer - in order to preserve all future opportunities, and avoid any catastrophic life-changing disasters which would force me down another path.

 

Tags:

 

Clickfarm

5 min read

This is a story about modern slavery...

Computer monitors

A friend and I had been puzzling over how to stop a massive influx of spam comments from spreading all over my beloved blog. The fact that it's possible to leave a link back to your own blog - if you have one - is too much of a temptation for those who are trying to get websites to appear higher up the Google search rankings. I have done the hard work of writing more than 1.2 million words, which have been indexed by Google, and lazy individuals are attempting to profit from my labour, by associating their crappy websites with mine: so-called 'backlinks'.

Having a link from a reputable website to another website is seen as an endorsement, in Google's eyes. High-ranking websites confer some of their pagerank 'score' to other sites which they link to. It's an SEO trick that's been around almost as long as Google - trying to get links onto other people's websites... especially high-ranking ones.

Google has now punished me harshly for not staying on top of my spam comment problem and has removed me from many searches. If, for example, you were to search for my name - Nick Grant - you would have found me on page 2 or 3 of the search results, but now I've disappeared completely. As far as Google's algorithm's are concerned, this website is a contrived creation, created purely to help people promote their dodgy websites. I'm not even going to write about what the kinds of grim and immoral services these sites are offering, because to use those words would further hurt Google's algorithmic perception of me and my website.

I had presumed that it was bots leaving the comments, so a friend helped me to introduce a couple of mechanisms to stop automated comments from being left. Surprisingly, the comments kept coming - there are real people whose job it is to sit at a screen and click those annoying ReCaptcha things, and then copy-paste in links to websites along with some nonsense made up text that's supposed to look like a genuine comment.

I'm not even going to share the kinds of comments that these clickfarm people leave, because it would again detract from the 1.2 million words that I have painstakingly written in clear plain English, with good grammar and highly considered sentence construction. I have taken the time to structure my writing into concise sentences and paragraphs, and express myself with great clarity, while there are an army of people leaving comments which are almost but not-quite nonsensical.

Google's natural language analysis is able to tell that what I write is genuine human-generated content, but it's also fooled by stuff written by people whose job it is to write generic comments for the purposes of search engine optimisation (SEO). The volume of text that Google scrapes from the web and indexes includes vast swathes of nonsense from social media, where literacy standards are woeful, but the majority of content on the internet is at least user-generated. It's hard for a search engine like Google to punish the spammers and the scammers, while also making sure that an ordinary member of the public who builds, maintains and publishes to their own 'home-brew' website, is not caught in the same net.

The same friend who has been helping me with my spam comment problem was also associated with a popular forum which had millions of visitors, at one point in time, until the site was completely over-run by bots. It's hard to battle bots and suchlike, when you're just a tech enthusiast who's making their small contribution to the body of internet text, and you don't have heaps of spare time to innovate and stay one step ahead of the spammers.

For me to comb through all the comments that have been left on my blog and delete the spam ones would be something which would either be a time-consuming manual task, or a time-consuming and technically difficult job to automate. Obviously, automating the task seems like the smart choice, so that the job of deleting all the spam is easily repeatable, but it would be work that's very similar to my day job - the whole point of writing for pleasure is because I have no opportunity to do so in the office. Doing "office work" in my spare time seems like an unfair burden, given that all I want to do is write and publish my thoughts, for the benefit of genuine readers - why should spammers benefit from my efforts?

Ultimately, the spammers might sink my website, just as spam Twitter accounts almost sank my social media presence. I can't help it if I don't have the resources to painstaking delete, ban, block and otherwise defend myself against those who are making money off the back of my effort, energy and generous contribution.

I do feel a little sorry for the poor people whose job it is to click on fire hydrants and traffic lights, and paste gibberish into comment sections of a website. In fact, I feel very sorry for them. That's a terrible job to have.

Anyway, any website link you leave now will not link anywhere except back here, so I'm sorry spammers: you're wasting your time. Leave me alone. Not that you read my blog anyway.

 

Tags:

 

A Fool And His Money

5 min read

This is a story about wartime thrift...

Paradise

There are a couple of sayings which really annoy me, because they are untrue and misleading. The first is "if you watch the pennies the pounds look after themselves" and the second is "a fool and his money are easily parted". The people who quote these sayings most often are terrible advice givers whose own wealth - if they have any at all - has not come from thrift or lack of foolishness. The people who quote these sayings are absolute idiots.

We can use other common sayings to demolish the idiocy.

"You've got to speculate to accumulate" and "buy low sell high" are both pretty obvious and self-explanatory, aren't they? These sayings are far more useful than the former ones, but there's a problem: most people don't have any spare money.

I placed a sizeable bet yesterday which looked as if it was going to provide a decent return on my investment. In fact, I lost the bet, but I was able to hedge my position and as such I didn't lose more than I was prepared to risk. In no way was my betting foolish. In fact, my betting was very smart because I was in a position where I stood to make a considerable capital gain, and my risk was hedged. The main thing we should remember though, is that I was not only able to afford to place the bets, but I was also able to afford to lose the money. Most people do not have the luxury of being able to speculate like I can, because they don't have the 'disposable' income.

Other things I've spent substantial sums of money on in the last year include my house, the furniture within it, a bengal kitten and a lot of cat supplies, a holiday to Turkish Disneyland and a holiday to Tulum in Mexico. I consider none of this money to have been wasted.

It probably seems pretty whacky for a 39-year-old single man to go on holiday to a theme-park resort, but what the hell is wrong with you if you don't want to ride rollercoasters, water slides, surf artificial waves as well as enjoy some winter sunshine in a place which was created with precision engineering to bring absolute delight to its visitors? I laughed with joy at so many of the little surprise things on that holiday, including the delightful theme-park hotel which was designed very much for children, but I assure you can be enjoyed just as much by any adult. That whole holiday was perfect, except that I felt a little lonely and out of place as a single man in a family resort.

My decision to go to Tulum in Mexico was taken on a whim, because my [ex-]girlfriend had told me that she had dreamed of going there for years, but she didn't possess the financial means for that trip to ever come to fruition for her - she would never have been able to save up enough money to visit one of the most desirable holiday destinations on the planet. The arrangement worked well for me, in that I was able to get some more winter sun and do some kitesurfing, plus all the Mayan ruins and stuff were very cool. Some people might say that I was taken advantage of financially, given her complete lack of monetary contribution, but it was a manyfold times more enjoyable trip because I had her company and I took pleasure from taking her to her dream holiday destination.

I've been spending lots of money eating out in restaurants, getting takeaway deliveries and I just booked another holiday. It's been over 6 months since my last holiday, so I think I've earned it.

I spend a lot of money.

Money flows in-between my fingers, as if I was grabbing handfuls of fine white coral sand on one of the beautiful beaches where I sometimes take my holidays. Does it bother me that I spend vast sums of money instead of hoarding as much as possible; living like a miser? Does it bother me that all I have to show for the money I've spent is an amazing house, a beautiful kitten and some incredible memories of unforgettable experiences? No. I'm no fool.

I've ploughed money into seemingly lost-causes, such as donating small sums of money to a friend who I'm trying to financially support through a difficult period of his life, to the point where he can hopefully be self-sufficient. It's damn hard escaping poverty. I feel as though it's my duty to spread the wealth. I feel as though it's very unfair that I can make lots of money because I already have plenty of money. Those who have the most money make the most money. The rich get richer and the poor get poorer. That's unfair.

I think it's victim-blaming to say that the poor would become rich if they were more careful with their money, and I find that kind of thinking very offensive.

 

Tags:

 

Help or Hinder

6 min read

This is a story about giving a hand up not a handout...

Empty cupboard

In my 39 years on this planet I've come across a few people whose lives I've tried to intervene in to produce a positive outcome. I'm somewhat undecided as to whether I'm helping, hindering, or making no difference except to myself, because I've wasted time, energy and money where it might otherwise have been invested in my sister, my niece or my friends and other important close relationships.

I try not to over-invest in anyone or anything. I'm heavily invested in work, but I still treat it like a job and I don't work too hard or take things too personally - work is just a means to an end; an efficient way of complying with capitalism's coercion.

There are two individuals who I have invested a significant amount of time, effort, energy and money into helping. I should qualify what I mean by "significant" when it comes to money. I expect that to most of my readers "significant" does not have the same meaning as it does for me. The only sums of money which have had a significant impact on my life have been related to my divorce and £8,000 of unpaid rent and bills which an ex-flatmate owes me. This is not a boast - it's simply the honest truth about my good fortune in life.

The first individual was a homeless alcoholic man I met in a park. He was making a great deal of effort to deal with the clusterf**k of issues he faced, which were bereavement trauma, commensurate self-medicating alcoholism, physical health issues related to sleeping rough, and the general reluctance of the welfare state to see his life as valuable. He had been repeatedly denied the holistic care that he needed: bereavement/trauma counselling, a residential alcohol detox, a residential rehabilitation program, a hostel bed and welfare payments to allow him to eat without begging until he was physically and mentally well enough to be able to work.

It seemed as if this first fellow was worth helping, because I could at least get him off the streets, into a hostel, and provide as much support as possible to help him navigate the maze of state services in order to get the alcohol detox and rehab that he desperately needed, as well as navigating a further maze of state services in order to get welfare payments to give him a meagre income while he recuperated.

To my mind, it was worth the money of renting a room for this guy and meeting him every day, to help support him through interminable meetings with the local council and various bureaucrats who act as gatekeepers, stopping sick people like him from becoming well and getting back on their feet.

The second individual was a young cocaine addict I met at a rehab. He was mostly adhering to the rehab program, although he had failed a drugs test on a couple of occasions and was obviously not committed to an unrealistic level of abstinence from drugs and alcohol. I felt sorry for this young chap because he'd already badly screwed up his life by getting a criminal record, yet he was clearly an intelligent and enterprising fellow. I suppose the second individual's issues were more complex, having to do with upbringing and the company he kept, which was liable to keep him forever in a life where recreational use of drugs was commonplace, and drug dealing was also an ever-present temptation, for easy money. I wouldn't be able to give an oversimplification of the underlying issues, so I won't even try - it would do a great disservice to that young man.

To my mind, it was worth the money of providing financial assistance to the second guy, because I hoped that he would see me as a friend, instead of a parent or other authority figure; I hoped that he would naturally arrive at the conclusion that it's a good idea not to abuse the kindness of friends, and begin to change from the mindset of "borrowing" and stealing from friends and family to feed a drug habit, to a new form of behaviour where he would see that some people are kind and patient. I thought he could use another person in his life who wasn't going to get fed up with his lies, his dishonesty and eventually his behaviour being so resistent to change that he would end up abandoned. I felt I could help because I have deep pockets and a lot of patience.

With the first individual, he got his hostel bed, his alcohol detox, his rehab, and now he's lived 5 years clean and sober, he got married and he's starting his own business. He's my big success story.

With the second individual, he's managed to rent a room. That's about where the good news ends. The second individual has had vastly more financial investment from me, which seems to have made very little net difference... in fact, he seems to be more in debt now than when I started trying to help him. My tireless patience and refusal to abandon him seems to have only ever once become apparent to him, when he asked me why I kept forgiving him, which was a wonderful moment. At least if I'm the one and only person in his life to have never abandoned him, and that's caused him to question whether he should "borrow" and steal from his friends and family until they cut ties with him and abandon him, then that's progress of a sort.

I'm conflicted about whether I should continue to support the second individual. I suppose I made a decision early on that the way I was going to help him was to not abandon him, so in a way I'm committed. What can be said for certain is that he is exceptionally talented at p*ssing off his friends and family and losing any source of income, such that he regularly becomes destitute, so there will probably be many more occasions where he will slowly realise that it's very useful to have me as a loyal friend who's decided to support him no matter what, purely for the point of teaching him the lesson that not everybody will abandon you: there is some value in treating certain loyal friends with more respect than everybody else.

My girlfriend tells me that I'm being used and that I should abandon the second individual, given his repeated demonstrations of an inability to learn, and an inability to recognise a golden opportunity to receive assistance. I've regularly offered to help in life-changing ways - to break the cycle he's stuck in - but he's been impossible to persuade. You can lead a horse to water but you can't make it drink.

This essay is not about what a worthy and wonderful charitable individual I am, but in fact about the ethical dilemmas I face about whether I'm helping or hindering; whether I'm investing my considerable resources in the right places.

 

Tags:

 

Seemingly Unimportant Decisions

7 min read

This is a story about success and failure...

Baked beans

There was a time, almost exactly a year ago, when I covered my windows with thick paper - so my bedroom was in complete darkness - and I ate baked beans out of a can with a business card as a makeshift spoon. There was nothing particularly wrong with my life at the time. I was earning a fabulous amount of money, my home had amazing panoramic sea views, I had a lovely girlfriend. What could possibly have brought about this rather dire turn of events?

It's important to me to feel like I'm succeeding. It's important to feel like I'm making progress. It's important for me to be able to picture a future that goes beyond the next week or the next month. I need to be able to see a clear pathway to a life that I will find happy and sustainable; fulfilling.

Of course, my path has never been blocked by any insurmountable obstacle. I never doubted for a single moment that my kidneys would start working again when they failed. I never doubt that I'll be able to find well paid work. I never doubt that at some point, eventually, I'll be able to quit the rat race.

The question is: how long will it take to achieve my modest and reasonable desire to feel secure in a happy, sustainable and fulfilling life? How many times will I have to move house, move city? How many times will I have to get a new job? How long until I own my own house again? How long until I have adequate cash reserves to pursue my dreams?

For many people, they already have their answer: they will never escape poverty. For the vast majority of people on the planet, they will be poor for their entire lives, and they will live a miserable, stressful, hand-to-mouth existence.

I'm not most people.

I'm not special or different.

I'm not entitled to any preferential treatment.

I don't deserve to be able to pursue rich-man's hobbies, such as writing, art and indulging academic fetishes.

However, I can tell you how long it will take to be able to free myself from the coercive tyranny of capitalism, and the answer is not "never". I'm fortunate, very fortunate that I do have a route to freedom; a route which most people do not have - they'll never escape the clutches of poverty.

Perhaps my decisions to black out my windows and eat cold beans from a can with an improvised spoon were part of a petulant tantrum; a result of impulsive impatience, in the face of a long and unpleasant waiting game. This is probably the closest approximation to the truth.

If I thought that my quality of life was going to remain below an acceptable minimum for any great length of time, and that the number of years of unpleasantness I was facing were too many for me to bear, I would make decisions... I would make decisions with drastic consequences.

It might seem illogical to you that I would make decisions with terrible consequences, when there are literally billions of people who would kill to trade places with me. However, it also seems illogical to me to make a decision with terrible consequences, such as continuing to tolerate an intolerable life, or worse still, inflicting that intolerable life onto some children knowingly brought into the world in awful circumstances. Surely we have to acknowledge that suicide is an option. Surely we have to acknowledge that contraception and abortions are preferable to miserable deprived hungry children, raised in filth and squalor.

Who am I to decide what the minimum viable quality of life is for somebody else, or the children they spawn? You're right: I can't make that decision for anybody except myself.

As things stand, the quality of my life is pretty exceptional, but there is still an unacceptable level of precarity. There is a greater risk of me falling below the minimum threshold for continued existence, than there is for my peers. I'm lacking vital things, such as a local support network, a supportive family and the willingness to re-endure suffering which I've already experienced beyond the amount I'm prepared to accept.

Of course, it would take a perfect storm, losing my girlfriend, my job, my money, my house and my health, for me to decide that I've had enough. However, I know how easily my flimsy, fragile life can collapse with alarming speed. This is not due to anything specifically weak about myself and my situation, but entirely due to my first-hand experience of calamitous life events.

It's probably true that if something bad happened in my life, I am now in a much more robust position and able to quickly remedy the situation before things collapsed. It's probably true that I'm better prepared than almost anybody to deal with adversity - I have the experience and I've dealt with dreadful things plenty of times. The question is, how much would it take for me to decide I couldn't be bothered to fight anymore?

As it stands, I work very hard to mitigate risks. I think the unthinkable. I anticipate theoretical problems and solve them before they even present themselves in reality. I know where my most vulnerable areas are, I've imagined my reaction, and I've imagined exactly what positive steps I would take in the event of disaster.

I'm quite insecure and anxious, but it's understandable. I don't have the luxury of anybody underwriting my risk. Ultimately, I know that I can fall very, very far. That's my life: a high-wire tightrope walk without a safety net.

Imagine the young trainee doctor I wrote about last year, who killed himself when he thought he was going to be declared unfit to practice medicine. He could have gotten a job at McDonalds. He could have been a beggar. Surely it can't be that bad to be alive, fit and healthy, can it? Surely he should have been happy that he wasn't a starving African child with mutilated genitals? That's not the way it works, I'm afraid. There are people who have terrible lives, but that doesn't mean that other people can't have terrible lives too, even if they are not absolutely terrible. Terribleness is relative to our lived experiences. Terribleness is a function of our very real and tangible hopes and dreams being dashed to pieces on the rocks.

My lived experiences encompass sleeping rough in Kensington Palace Gardens as well as dining nearby on a private terrace overlooking a lush green roof garden with flamingos, and London's skyline providing the backdrop for me proposing marriage with an exorbitantly expensive engagement ring, before clinking glasses with finest champagne. That is an example of the range of my life experiences, from utter failure and destitution to incredible wealth and success. It's impossible to un-experience those things, and to reset the "minimum viable quality of life" to a level of my own choosing.

Could I be poor and happy? Quite possibly, but I very much doubt that I would be happy flipping burgers, getting paid minimum wage on a zero hours contract McJob and giving all my hard-earned money to capitalist leeches for the privilege of being alive.

If you flip burgers and you are happy, then I'm pleased for you. If you're a starving African child with mutilated genitals and you're happy, then I'm pleased for you. Please also recognise that I cannot un-experience what I have experienced in my life and I cannot choose how to feel.

 

Tags:

 

Domestic Bliss

9 min read

This is a story about basic human needs...

Tiny kitten

For a very long time I've been complaining about how slowly life has been progressing. It has been a source of immense boredom, frustration, annoyance, irritation, loneliness, unhappiness, dissatisfaction, exasperation, exhaustion and a general waste of my limited mortal lifespan, to have to sit around waiting for the hands of the clock to move; for the grains of sand in the hourglass to fall one-by-one through the narrow opening, at an agonisingly slow rate.

I've viewed life's core problems as fourfold: work, money, love and home. I can survive without a job, but I'm on borrowed time - eventually my savings and credit will be exhausted and I'll become destitute. I can survive without money, provided some good Samaritan is kind enough to offer food and lodgings for free. I can survive without love, but without it life seems pointless and unpleasant; not worth living for. I can survive with quite primitive shelter, but it's immensely damaging for my sense of wellbeing and self-esteem to be sleeping rough in Kensington Palace Gardens, for example.

Getting a job is probably the easiest of all the problems to solve. I've always been very employable and I command a high rate of remuneration wherever I am. My skills can be put to good use almost anywhere, mercifully.

Getting money follows as a natural consequence of getting a job. So long as I'm well enough to work, money will quickly follow. Mercifully, money flows in at a rapid rate, which can relatively quickly replenish my depleted savings and enable me to spend money on other things which are very cash-hungry, such as housing.

Getting a nice house is a little bit trickier sometimes as I'm occasionally classified as "self employed" and expected to prove to an unreasonable degree that my earning potential is far in excess of my financial obligations. I've previously been asked to pay an entire year's rent in advance, which is particularly unreasonable. To tie-up an entire year's rent in a single lump-sum payment poses significant cashflow problem, even for a high earner, especially if there is furniture to purchase and other moving-related expenses. To furnish my house with just the basics has been expensive and exhausting, and my bedroom still lacks a wardrobe and a chest-of-drawers. There is a long way still to go with furnishing my house.

Getting love seems like the final hurdle. I have very low self-esteem if I'm not working, earning, able to spend money and living somewhere lovely. So many people will ask "what have [I] got to offer anybody?" and tell me that I should be single, but those people are wrong. Sure, it might be a mistake to be in a bad relationship purely because of being too afraid of being alone, but it's so often those who have been happily married for years, who have forgotten how truly awful it is to be lonely, who offer the unsolicited advice that being single must be brilliant fun. It's not. I hate dating.

There are two important things I need to write about.

Firstly, I can settle for temporary relationships of convenience and turn a blind eye to red flags. I can make things work with a person who ultimately I can see I have no long-term future with. However, I never take my eyes off the prize. I know when I meet somebody very special - an incredibly rare event - and I know the difference between love, lust, temporary infatuation, and comfortable relationships which are only marginally better than being single. I'm quite capable of having a lovely time with somebody - something casual - but I have always maintained the hope of meeting somebody I'm really well matched with, who hopefully I can have a much more serious, loving relationship with. I have only been in love twice in my life, with a third time which was very promising but was never able to come to fruition - we'll never know what might have been. I use the word "love" very carefully and sparingly. When I say "I love you" or suchlike, a lot of thought has gone into what I'm saying, and there are deep feelings behind those words; those words are not said cheaply or easily, without a great deal of thought and scrutiny of my emotions.

Secondly, breakups do cause me a lot of distress, but I am not the kind of person who's unable to handle a breakup without it threatening my safety. Indeed, I very actively avoid the situation where I feel as though my world would be destroyed, leaving me suicidal, if I lost the love of my life. It's extremely unwise to over-invest in something so fragile as a human relationship, even if it appears to be fully reciprocated. I've been through divorce, so I know that even the most solemn of vows and binding of legal contracts, with the lengthy preceding relationship, is not enough to give any guarantees of security. I don't like unpleasant sudden surprises which will cause my life quality to be massively adversely affected, hence why I was so shaken by the events of last week, but even somebody who I'm totally in love with is not duty-bound to stay with me, for fear of me committing suicide. I would never say "if you leave me I'll kill myself" or commit suicide in direct response to a breakup.

Last week, my job was going incredibly well, my finances were in great shape, my house was looking amazing and my romantic relationship was awesome. I had a long weekend planned, which was going to begin with getting a kitten, and be spent in a state of domestic bliss, with the girl of my dreams, in an amazing home, loads of money in the bank, brilliant job and with a cute little fur baby scampering around.

Then, things looked like they were going to get ruined.

It's not that I was going to lose the relationship which was the sole reason why I went from on-top-of-the-world to suicidally depressed, but that the accompanying awfulness was too much to bear, as a sudden shock. Of course, I wouldn't have lost my money, my house or my job, but the approaching weekend - which I had been looking forward to so much - had a completely different complexion, as a suddenly single man.

What actually happened was that my girlfriend and I drove to pick up my little kitten, full of excitement and anticipation, drove the delightful little furball back to my amazing house, had delicious wine and Chinese takeaway and spend an amazing evening with my playful affectionate new pet. We woke up with a purring fur baby in bed with us. We spent the weekend on the sofa, eating delectable food, sharing our passion for similar cultural entertainment, and making a fuss over the cute little kitten... the most perfect weekend imaginable.

The difference between what actually happened and what could have happened might not seem great enough to have prompted the decision to not get a kitten and to hang myself, but we must be aware that it has been a very long hard journey from sleeping in a bush in Kensington Palace Gardens - utterly destitute - to get to this point.

Breakups have caused me a great deal of trauma in the past, with my divorce being the most extreme example, which tore through my life destroying nearly everything, myself included. However, I know what love is and I know what kind of life I want. I know the core elements that will make my life pleasant, liveable, sustainable and full of joy. I'm no fool: I know what I've got to do, and I've been patiently rebuilding my life, choosing very carefully.

As I write this, I have my little kitten peacefully napping on my chest, as I'm lying on my chaise-longue in a parquet-floored period home, with huge high ceilings and massive bay windows. I've had a great day at work and I've earned a lot of money. I have a beautiful girlfriend who I think is amazing, who will be coming to see me later. My life is exceptionally awesome.

How will I react if the relationship ends? Who can say? What I can say with certainty though, is that I've dealt with exceptional adversity in my life and survived, and of course I am incredibly unlikely to hurt myself while I still have the energy to keep fighting and patiently battling to achieve a decent quality of life.

Given some medical emergencies which have nearly claimed my life, and becoming totally destroyed by my divorce, perhaps I should be happy to live in a dumpster, in rags, with no love at all; perhaps I should just be happy that I'm not dead. No. I'm not content to merely be alive. I want it all: love, money, job and house... and a little kitten.

I hope that things work out with my girlfriend and I. I think she's amazing and I think we're really well matched, but who knows how things are going to pan out in future. Of course, I hope that she's "the one" but it's early days. If things don't work out, that's life - I still get to keep my great job, my great house and I still have the love of my little kitten.

This might sound quite different from how I sounded last week, but you have to understand the massive disappointment that I was facing. I would be disappointed if things didn't pan out with my girlfriend, but it doesn't have to be so devastating and shocking and sudden. Life is usually a little more stable and predictable.

Anyway, I had a great weekend of domestic bliss.

 

Tags:

 

Burn Rate

11 min read

This is a story about buyer's remorse...

Ikea bed

A large part of my day was spent buying things of a very boring domestic nature. I bought curtains. I bought a vacuum cleaner. I bought an iron, ironing board and washing airer. I bought some plastic bins which organise my recycling into plastics, paper & cardboard and glass.

I got a bit carried away and started buying things which I have no urgent need for. I bought a coffee table. I bought a couple of lamps. I even bought two deckchairs for the garden, because it's been a beautifully sunny day and I thought I should be enjoying the brief period of nice weather in the UK, instead of being indoors.

I bought extra glasses, plates, cutlery and other little things, like nice wooden coat-hangers and some tiny shelves to put my toiletries and things on in my bathroom. I bought a new toilet roll holder, because the suction pad on the old one seemed to have failed completely.

I bought pillows and bed linen.

Who knows how much I spent.

While I was in Ikea I was looking at a sofa-bed which cost £140, which sounded very reasonable to me. I am not a price sensitive person. Whether something sounds "expensive" to me has been shaped by the privileged wealthy existence I've led. More than £20 on a bottle of wine is "expensive" from a wine merchant, but does not seem expensive in a restaurant. My purchases are generally categorised as either approximately £1,000, less than £500, approximately £100, or less than £50.

When buying something for around £1,000 I simply ask myself "is this a valuable thing?". For example, my laptop cost me £1,400, but I bought it without hesitation because I use it every single day and it's a tool of my trade - why would I even think twice about buying the very best available?

When buying something for under £500, I think much more carefully. Generally at this price point I make a lot more buying errors. I bought a £200 vacuum cleaner today, simply because it was a good brand. I have no need for a good vacuum cleaner - I only hoover once a month and I live alone so my house doesn't get very messy - so I could easily have managed with a £60 hoover, but my wonky thinking says "why worry about the £140 price difference? Just get the Dyson".

When buying products for circa £100, I don't make a lot of buying errors. My coffee table cost £90 and it's definitely worth £90 to me. To spend time trying to find a cheaper coffee table I like just as much would have been a waste of time. My curtains cost £90 and they're perfectly good curtains. In fact, the curtains block out the light really well and it was a really simple purchase - they were the right size and I didn't even check the price - I knew that they'd cost somewhere between £50 and £150. Perhaps if I'd got to the checkout and they turned out to be £200 I'd have felt like I made a mistake and should have thought about the purchase more carefully, but at £90 I feel like I'm much happier that I have curtains in one of my guest bedrooms, rather than no curtains - the value is hard to measure, but I'm definitely getting more than £90 worth of value out of the curtains.

Most of my purchases are less than £50, obviously. There are subtle gradations not worth exploring - for example, if I was charged £6 for a takeaway coffee I would think "damn that was expensive I won't go there again" but I wouldn't worry about it too much, but if the coffee was £4.50 then I wouldn't care. Similarly if I bought a sandwich and it cost £4.50 then I would pay the money and not worry about it, but if it was £6 then I'd be thinking "damn that's an expensive sandwich". To think about my price insensitivity at this level is too much detail to write about in the scope of this essay.

So, with the sub-£50 purchases, I spend more time thinking about things than the purchases which are circa £100. If I'm choosing a really nice bottle of wine, I'll agonise over the choices and probably buy a bottle costing no more than £25. Similarly, if I see some bed linen that I like but it costs more than £50 then I'll see it as overpriced and gravitate towards items which are priced less than £50. I bought a set of plates and bowls for £25. I bought a set of cutlery for £25. Comparable items could probably be bought for £10 less - saving me £20 overall - but I still feel like I got value for money. When I was unpacking all the knives, forks, spoons, etc. then I was thinking how much of a difference it's going to make to my life, to have an adequate amount of stuff to fill my dishwasher without leaving myself with nothing to eat with. Every purchase I made today under £50 felt like very good value for money, including an iron which will get very little use. Why do I need a fancy iron and a fancy ironing board, when I do so little ironing? It simply seemed like good value for money that I was able to buy high quality items for under £50.

Cumulatively, I've burned through a ridiculous amount of cash getting myself set up in my new house.

Most people, when they move into an unfurnished home and they don't have any kitchenware or other things like that, will buy things little by little. Most people will spend a lot of time choosing every single thing they have in their house. I'm not like that.

Of course, I'm particular about what I buy. I'm fussy about things. I'm house-proud and I like to think I have good taste. I very much wanted to share photos of all the little things which are slowly turning my house into a lovely home, but that will have to wait for another day - I don't want to spoil the surprise.

The catalyst for my money-spending and nest-making is that I have two beloved friends coming to visit soon, and I'm a house-proud person. I got this gorgeous house because I knew that it would immensely improve my self-esteem to be surrounded by some material representation of the hard work that's gone into getting myself this far in life. It might sound superficial and flawed, but it's very upsetting to be a smart person who's worked hard, but seemingly has little to show for it. If I'm showing off to my friends - that I have good taste - then I don't care. I want to look after them and make them comfortable in my home. I take enormous pleasure from being a host.

I can't stop to think about how much money I've spent getting my life rebuilt. I don't see the value in totalling up all the money I've burned. What use would it be? I could have scrimped and saved a little here and there, but I've not been profligate. Every single stupid domestic item brings me a little bit of joy, even if it's a washer/dryer, a vacuum cleaner or an iron... all these nice things cumulatively give me a nice life, which seems to correspond with the dedication to my career.

I rode my bike to meet a friend earlier in a local park for a picnic - a bike which is worth more than my car - and it brought me such a huge amount of pleasure to ride a bike which has been so heavily customised by me. The bike was one of the last purchases I was able to make before I became totally homeless, and yet I never regretted spending a significant sum of money on it. As I cycled home this evening, there was indescribable joy in the enjoyment of a bike which had spent a long time unused - when I was very sick - but has now been fixed up, and I'm able to use for the purpose I designed and built it for: urban life.

My colleague commented that my bike was "exactly what [he] expected [me] to turn up on" and that's completely the point. My home and my bike, for example, are an expression of my identity, and it's a deeply unhappy situation when we're forced - for example - to wear clothes which don't fit us and are not to our tastes. We should not underestimate the psychological damage that's done when we're forced into situations which clash with our identities.

My burn rate is obscene, but I'm aligning my identity with my surroundings, after a very long period where I was caused a great deal of distress by the economic limitations imposed upon me. Of course, I slept rough, slept in hostels and wore the cheapest clothes I could lay my hands on, in order to be alive today, but we shouldn't underestimate how intolerable that situation was at times. We shouldn't dismiss the self-esteem damage which drives people to commit suicide, as something which we can easily get over by simply suspending our identities and our need to choose our clothing, our home furnishings and decorations, which seem like such superficial things, but on closer examination, I can tell you for certain are vitally important.

I'm sorry if you're on a low income and what I have written seems disrespectful towards money, and indeed towards you and your struggles. Perhaps the money I "waste" is offensive to those who would gladly trade places with me, and would make much more considered decisions about spending... they would spend much more time bargain hunting, scrimping and saving.

I have a very unusual attitude towards money, perhaps because I can tell you precisely what exactly money is and where it comes from, because of my many years working in the banking industry, and of course because I've experienced long periods where I had more money than I needed... but please remember that I've also lived at the other extreme, where I was homeless and penniless. I do know how to live on a very tight budget, and indeed live on no money at all - I've run out of money plenty of times.

I shudder to think how much I've spent recently, but I know that it's been a long time since I made a foolish frivolous purchase. Sure, I have a lot of nice things but all my recent spending has been on very humdrum domestic items.

My approach to live is the same as it's ever been: high risk, high reward. As I slowly recover from years of illness and chaotic life, my surroundings do not look humble and ordinary. Why the hell should they? One slip-up and everything comes tumbling down, so perhaps I shouldn't be splashing the cash, but at the same time, why would I want to settle for mediocrity when I've worked so hard to achieve something special? It would be the most miserable thing, to end up with a life I could've easily had, without any hard work.

Of course, in conclusion, I must add that I know how much of a charmed existence I live. Lady luck has been kind to me. I hope that if you were to really get to know me - what I've been through and how hard I've worked - and you were to see the life I lead, then you'd say that I'm not entitled or spoiled; that my lifestyle is not excessively lavish, luxurious or recklessly profligate.

I've written three times as much as I intended, whilst sipping a glass of red wine from a bottle which cost somewhere between £5 and £35... but I can't tell you how much it cost because I'm pretty price insensitive in that price range.

 

Tags:

 

Debt Made Me Rich

5 min read

This is a story about borrowing money...

Private bank

If you speak to anybody on low and middle incomes, they will tell you that debt is bad. Particularly, poor people are made incredibly poor through money-lending practices. Amongst the economic bottom 50% of people, you will hear them say things like "watch the pennies and the pounds look after themselves" and "don't borrow money" and generally disparaging comments about the whole business of going into debt.

Poor people are wrong about debt.

Borrowing money can make you rich.

The problem is that the terms on which poor people are offered borrowing facilities are grossly unfair. The richer you are, the cheaper it is for you to borrow money. The poorer you are, the more expensive it is for you to borrow money. At a certain inflection point, it becomes uneconomical to borrow money, because the terms are so bad. Generally, poor people can only borrow money on such incredibly bad terms, that it's a trap - they shouldn't take those loans, because they'll end up worse off.

Thus, we have a paradox. If you're rich, you should take the cheap loans you're offered. If you're poor you shouldn't take the "credit" that you're offered, because it's always a really bad deal which will leave you worse off.

We are living in an era of ubiquitous legal loan-sharking, where tiny debts can ruin lives and cause suicides.

Small loans - interest-free or at very low interest rates - can make an incredible difference to a poor person's life. The costs associated with being poor are horrifyingly unethical: the poorest in society will have to pay numerous punitive charges and borrow money at extortionate rates of interest, as they desperately struggle to meet very basic day-to-day costs, which would require borrowing facilities of a very meagre amount.

Imagine if we gave every poor person a £1,000 interest-free overdraft facility, for the purposes of cashflow. Of course, the worry is that people would borrow that money and spend it frivolously - on consumables - but if we study the behaviour of the poorest members of society, we can see that they are incredibly economical with their money. It's amazing how the poorest can make so little money go so far, and generally when they get into a financially distressed situation, the sum of money which has tipped them over the edge is pilferingly small.

How we stop people from using their £1,000 borrowing facility to buy themselves a stupid gadget, or spend it on drugs and alcohol, is not a question I think we need to answer. I think that we are all equally capable of being financially reckless and irresponsible, and the answer to the risk of a few, is not to impose a horrible life on vast swathes of society.

It angers me that the richer I get, the more money I can borrow, and the cheaper it is for me to borrow it. It's unjust. The poorest segment of society is being harshly punished for no good reason, except they're unfortunate enough to be poor, which is not their fault.

In fact, being able to borrow enough money to live for 2 months without a salary, and pay rent and deposit on a new place to live, would allow people who are trapped in low-paid jobs in deprived parts of the country to be able to relocate. A temporary bridging loan to cover those expenses, while the person has a gap in their earnings and extra expenses, would allow people to move, who otherwise are completely trapped because they can never miss a paycheque, and they can't afford to save up the rent and deposit necessary to move from one home to another.

Debt made me rich, because I've been lucky enough to go into debt while pursuing financial opportunities. Through borrowing, I've been able to move to find well-paid work. Without credit facilities, I'd have been bankrupted and therefore unable to work through any temporary dip in my earnings. On average, my earnings are great, but once you're in the situation where each monthly pack packet is immediately spent on rent and bills, you are completely trapped and it's impossible to escape.

Debt is dangerous, for sure, if you're using your credit cards to live an unsustainable high-roller lifestyle, but I doubt that many people are so foolish as to do that. Should so many people be made to suffer a horrible existence, because we're so afraid that people will be financially reckless if we give them the freedom to move around and get better jobs? It seems as though it's another example of capitalism not being efficient at all - people are not free to sell their labour to the most competitive bidder, because they are so horribly trapped.

 

Tags:

 

I Love My Job

6 min read

This is a story about having a métier...

Hospital bed

It feels strange to be writing this, but I'm really loving my job at the moment. I've always been a bit of a workaholic, but I often get depressed and demotivated when I'm not empowered to do my job effectively. I have often complained about being bored and unchallenged - a common consequence of working for very large organisations - but after a difficult 'bedding in' period I usually find myself in a role where I'm adding a lot of value, which I find very rewarding.

I've written so often in the past 15+ months about how much I detest the rat race and the coercion of capitalism, forcing me to work when I'm very sick. Not long ago, my kidneys failed on more-or-less the day I was supposed to start a new job. My life hung in the balance, as the amount of toxins in my bloodstream put me at continuous risk of cardiac arrest. Whether my kidneys would ever function again was doubtable and I had weeks of emergency dialysis, lasting several hours a day.

I discharged myself from hospital against medical advice, because of the coercion of capitalism. I need to work. I can't afford not to work.

That period in hospital was a major setback. I exhausted myself, persuading the company I was about to start working for to wait for me to leave hospital, which they did... but I had to leave hospital at least a week before it was safe to do so. My recovery from such a traumatic medical emergency was not straightforward - my left leg was not working properly due to nerve and muscle damage and I was in immense pain. It took months before I was able to walk very far without it causing me a great deal of agony. Work was impossible.

A company asked me to build an app for them, with a very tight deadline, which I did, but my financial situation was precarious and I was still very unwell. The pressure was too much and I tried to end my life.

A friend recommended me to the company he was working for, to build an application for them, which I did. I had a tight deadline, which I easily met. Strangely, the company decided to extend my contract, but the work was finished so I was incredibly bored. My colleagues worked in Warsaw and I was in London, so I had nobody to talk to - I was very isolated. I was still recovering from the suicide attempt.

Another friend recommended me to another organisation. Again, there was a project with a deadline, which I completed early. I enjoyed that project, but I'd had to move house and I was rebuilding my life in a new city. The preceding events had left me in a very financially precarious situation, as well as isolated from friends. I finished the project, but my life was unstable - I got sick, broke up with a girlfriend and my personal life fell apart, although I managed to minimise the impact at work.

I started work with the current organisation. I did so out of desperation, because I was in danger of losing all the progress I'd made to getting back to health, wealth and happiness.

I lived in a hotel for months. It was awful.

It was quickly apparent that there were people I enjoyed working with, and there were plenty of challenges to keep me busy, but my personal life was very badly broken. The work was good at times, but my brain chemistry was not healthy, and some days were very torturous. I struggled to find pieces of work which would keep me entertained and motivated. My mental health was a hit-and-miss affair.

I struggled onwards, setting myself some major milestones: I wanted to take a holiday in October, to beat the winter blues. I wanted to take a holiday during Christmas and New Year, to get some more winter sun and because my relationship with my family is irreparably broken. I wanted to come back from holiday and carry on working, to cement my gains. I knew that I had to move house and settle somewhere - to have some security and put down roots.

I suppose I always manage to make myself useful in any organisation, given enough time to get my bearings and manoeuvre myself into a role where I'm empowered to make a difference. The place where I currently work seems to have gleefully put my skills to good use, and I feel like I'm in the right place at the right time. I do stuff that I think will be useful and I'm rewarded for it, even though I'm rarely doing what I'm 'supposed' to be doing.

I worry that disaster will strike. I worry that my big mouth will get me in trouble. I worry that the personal risks that I take - staking my reputation on my decisions - will backfire one day, if I make a mistake. I know that my employment is precarious; temporary. I'll be kicked out as soon as I've served my useful function.

I have a great deal of extra pressure on me now that I've made a commitment to a new city. My financial security would quickly collapse if I lost my source of income. My mental health would be likely to deteriorate very badly, with a major setback.

I'm not sure why I'd lose my job when I am enjoying it, being very productive, doing useful work and being seemingly well received - well liked - by my colleagues, but I do have a propensity for getting carried away and doing stupid stuff. The springtime has often proven difficult for me in the past. I need to work very hard to keep my mood as calm and regulated as I possibly can.

On a Sunday night when I'm usually dreading Monday morning, I'm actually feeling very happy to be starting a new working week. I feel motivated. I feel like I have a purpose. I feel empowered to do a good job.

 

Tags:

 

British Summer Time

4 min read

This is a story about the tyranny of alarm clocks...

Wristwatch

Before the clocks sprang forwards I had bludgeoned my body clock into co-operating with the social jetlag imposed upon me by society. Society is run in favour of "early birds" not "night owls" despite there being a 50/50 split between each different genetic variant. If you want to earn decent money for doing easy work, then you have to suffer the torture and torment of complying with hours of business which are incompatible with your body clock - it sucks.

Because I am unafraid to prescribe myself whatever medications I need, I have access to sleeping pills, which are a fantastic invention for "night owls" like myself, who are coerced into working office hours which are fundamentally incompatible with my DNA. It's as if I was a coeliac forced to eat exclusively gluten-containing foods, when there are plenty of other foods available but they're all prohibitively expensive. I could get a job which would better suit my body clock, but I would have to take an 80% pay cut, or maybe even more than that. Sleep medication has provided me with a solution to end the torture which I had to endure for the best part of 20 years.

The clock change - to British Summer Time - has been shockingly disruptive to my routine. Before the clocks changed I was waking up before my alarm clock and getting into work early, with great ease. Now my alarm clock jolts me out of my peaceful slumbers and I am immediately filled with dread at the prospect of having to leave my bed. One hour does not sound like a huge amount, but an extra hour in bed is hugely beneficial to my health, given that my body clock is not compatible with "early bird" office hours, at a fundamental physical genetic level.

To live in a perpetually jet-lagged state is torturous, and I am angry about capitalism's tyranny, in forcing me to comply with its schedule, rather than my own body's schedule. I'm handsomely financially rewarded for the suffering, but it often seems like inadequate recompense for the unpleasantness of every single morning, which I have to endure.

Further disruption to my schedule has been seen in my writing, where I completely forgot to write a blog post one day - it feels like I have less time in the evenings to do everything I need and want to do, after work. It feels like I have nowhere near enough time to deal with essential admin, do chores, write my blog, catch up with friends and get to bed early enough to avoid sleep deprivation.

I'm attempting to shift my body clock to the new schedule, but it's not a quick process.

I'm also attempting to reduce my dosage of sleeping tablets, which means it takes longer for me to fall asleep, and my sleep quality is much reduced. I was very late to work on Monday, Tuesday was a struggle, and today was OK but still not wonderful. I hope that by the beginning of next week my body clock will begin to comply with the new regime.

As far as having an "extra hour" of daylight after work, it is very nice to be driving home earlier, but it's still pretty chilly and the weather is changeable, so I don't yet feel enthusiastic about being outdoors in the evenings. It's going to be a while before the temperatures lift enough for me to think about making use of the local parks, or perhaps cycling somewhere. Given how little time I have for the essentials - such as meal preparation - I can't see that I'll be doing much with my evenings, while the start to my day is so painful: the alarm clock is such a rude intrusion on my sleep.

It might seem inconceivable that a single man with no children should complain about having no spare time, but my primary concern is getting enough sleep to make my 9 to 5 office job bearable enough that I don't lose my mind. It's essential that I keep in the routine of my job, because it provides the money which is digging me out of a hole, and it provides the stability which is useful for my health and wellbeing.

Ultimately, I still want to find a way to make life work for me, and no longer be tyrannised and coerced into the unpleasantness and boredom of the bullshit world of an office job, but a great deal of compromise is necessary for the foreseeable future, so I shall have to put up with it.

 

Tags: