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My name is Nick Grant and I have manic depression. I write every day about living with bipolar disorder. I've written and published more than 1.3 million words

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Blogger's Digest - Day Eleven of #NaNoWriMo2019

9 min read

Blogger's Digest: a Novel

Contents

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

Chapter Thirteen

Chapter Fourteen

Chapter Eleven

Tim had very kindly agreed to assist with the first leg of the passage - from Brighton to Roscoff. He would then take a ferry back to the UK. It was no more than a couple of days, but it was all the time he could spare, away from his family duties. I was very glad to at least start the lengthy journey with 3 experienced skippers aboard.

The logistics were torturously complex. I had to collect Tim from his home in Hampshire, bring him to Brighton, then he would be collected in Plymouth by his poor wife, who'd have been left home alone with the children for 3 nights. For Tim, it would hardly be much fun, given that a substantial part of our crossing would be at night and none of us could get drunk, but he seemed to enjoy offshore sailing.

I did not enjoy offshore sailing.

The English Channel has busy shipping lanes and strong tides. The currents around the Channel Islands were extremely fast and dangerous. The Channel crossing from England to France sounded like enough fun to tempt Tim, but I was dreading it. At least with experienced help aboard, I felt far less weight of responsibility on my shoulders.

As we approached the Cherbourg Peninsula - some distance offshore - we were intercepted by a French customs vessel, which loud-hailed us and instructed us in French to switch to a specific VHF radio channel, whereupon they told us to prepare to be boarded. Mercifully, my French was quite good and Ian possessed a particular International Certificate of Competence, which they were very keen to see. The UK has no regulation of who is allowed to take to the water in a sailboat or motorboat - akin to allowing people to drive on the roads without a license - so the French were particularly careful about who they allowed to cross from international water into French territory, especially if they were most probably from the UK. Incompetent UK skippers would often be ordered to get out of French waters.

Having dropped Tim off in Roscoff, Ian and I took the opportunity to have a couple of restaurant meals, drink some wine and a good night's sleep, before we set off on the next leg of the journey.

Crossing the Bay of Biscay was the part of the entire trip which I was dreading the most, because we would be further offshore than we were at any other point. To hug the coast of Western France and Northern Spain would be a huge and unnecessary detour, adding a great deal of travel time, but I was prepared to do it in order to be close to a number of ports, if we decided that we wanted to stop for rest or shelter. Ian convinced me that we would be able to manage the crossing between just the two of us, dividing each 24 hour period into 6 watches, lasting 4 hours - this would allow us to sail continuously and arrive at the tip of North-Western Spain without being too sleep deprived. "It will be a slog" Ian said, "but it will be worth it to make good progress".

The forecast predicted plenty of westerly wind, which was encouraging. I was hopeful that we would be able to make the crossing in good time.

I had not considered the rain.

Each 4-hour watch was quite punishing and unpleasant. With the wind and waves hitting the yacht at a 45 degree angle, the bow slammed quite heavily into the choppy water, and vast amounts of spray and rain were driven into the skipper's face. Facing backwards helped immensely, and was necessary to check for any large cargo vessels, cruise ships, tankers and other large ships which approached rapidly from behind. However, it was also necessary to keep looking forwards as much as possible, to keep an eye on the instruments and a look out for any large ships coming in the opposite direction.

As a pleasure-cruising yacht, designed for comfort as a 'floating caravan' she was ideal when moored up in a marina, or for short trips in fine weather, but lacked any of the equipment which she needed for offshore sailing. Without radar and an auto-helm system, which worked well when the wind and waves were unpredictable, she was entirely reliant on her skipper to be far more alert and in control, than any vessel which would ordinarily undertake such a long offshore passage.

To save the hull and rigging from the worst of the constant pounding by the waves, Ian and I steered my yacht up and down the crest and trough of every wave individually, trying to minimise the number of times when the bow would come clear out of the water, and come crashing back down, violently shaking the whole yacht.

Because of the wind direction, it was more important - more efficient - to keep the direction aligned with the wind direction, than to steer the most direct course. We could travel one or two knots - nautical miles per hour - faster if we kept the sails filled with wind from the correct direction, by constantly steering the boat, hunting for the optimal angle. Over the course of the 500 nautical mile leg, this would equate to 12 hours or maybe even a whole 24 hours saved. Perhaps it might not sound worth the saving to an ordinary person, but to competitive sailors like Ian and I, we were keen to cross the Bay of Biscay in the quickest possible time.

Taking it in turns to rest/sleep below decks, alternating as skipper at the helm, we hardly spoke for the whole journey, besides exchanging a few pleasantries. At the end of each watch, enough spray and rain had penetrated our wet-weather gear, that we were damp and cold, and desperate to peel off the soggy clothes and warm up in bed, sheltered from the wind.

It was not at all fun.

As we passed well beyond the point of no return, where it would have been completely pointless and counter-productive to turn back, I spent an entire 4 hour watch having a mild panic attack, feeling as though I had made a huge mistake and that we should turn back. Why was I putting myself through this, I asked myself. I had plenty of money to have my yacht delivered by either a professional crew, or else I could have her transported by road or sea. Why had I done this?

"Change of plan. I'm going to spend the summer in Bordeaux" I said to Ian, as soon as he arrived on deck to swap over with me.

"You've never been this far offshore have you?" he asked.

"No. It's bloody terrifying" I admitted.

"I had the exact same reaction you're having, the first time I crossed the Bay of Biscay. It's natural. It'll pass" he said, reassuringly.

"But this is miserable" I complained.

"At least we've got wind. We were becalmed for two days when I did it."

"Sure, but it's right on the nose. Close-hauled all the way" I whined.

"Call yourself a racer?" Ian joked, with a huge grin. The upwind leg of any race was always the most exciting, when every sailboat would be tacking backwards and forwards, and each time your path crossed with another competitor, you knew whether you were ahead or behind in the race. The upwind leg was where races could be won and lost, by pinching a little bit more, and squeezing a little more performance out of your sailboat than your competitors could. Ian was right: viewed as a very long race, I should have been loving the sailing.

"It would be stupid to give up at this point, wouldn't it?" I asked.

"Yes. This is the hardest part. You don't want to bail out now and spend your summer in Bordeaux. If you keep going, at least if you decided to bail out halfway you can spend your summer in the Balearics, and pay a visit to the Côte d'Azur."

He was right. I didn't want to spend my summer still stuck on the Atlantic Coast; I didn't want to spend my summer in Bordeaux. I wanted to get as far south as possible and into the sheltered warm water beyond the Gibraltar Straits.

"Thanks, Ian" I said. Below deck, I realised that I was finally now committed to an idea which had seemed so appealing in principle, and I knew would be rewarding in the end, but I had always been aware would be a huge challenge. My life had been quite easy in many ways, so I suppose I wanted to challenge myself like this; I wanted the sense of achievement. However, when faced with the enormity of the task ahead, I most definitely wanted to take the easy way out. I was glad that Ian had talked me out of abandoning the trip. I felt a little ashamed that I wasn't as dedicated and committed to sailing - and its occasional hardships - as my friends.

As I settled down to attempt a nap, I thought about how authentically my friend Tim had lived his life: pursuing his passion for sailing, instead of chasing money and sacrificing his pleasant life by the sea, for city living. He seemed happy and contented. I wondered if I had made the right choices in life, as I fell asleep in my bed, which was being fairly violently shaken as Ian steered us expertly through the waves.

 

Next chapter...

 

Blogger's Digest - Day Ten of #NaNoWriMo2019

9 min read

Blogger's Digest: a Novel

Contents

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

Chapter Thirteen

Chapter Fourteen

Chapter Ten

I knew that I would find my old schoolfriend, Tim, at the London Boat Show in January. He had stayed in Hampshire his whole life, to be close to the sea, attempting to scrape a living in the marine industry. Undoubtedly the most talented sailor in the sailing club when I joined, as a child, he came from a long line of men who had worked at sea and on rivers. His father, who had taught him to sail when he was a very little boy, was a member of the London Fire Brigade working aboard one of their two fire boats. On his father's four off-duty days, he was a volunteer crew member for the RNLI, on the local lifeboat. Salt water ran in his veins.

I had several ulterior motives for attending the London Boat Show.

I had planted the idea in my friend Ian's head, that we should pay a second visit to see a particularly fast racing yacht, built with classic lines, which he had taken a great deal of interest in at the Southampton Boat Show back in September, when we had been granted a much-coveted viewing appointment. The yacht he had taken an interest in had recently featured in a James Bond movie, and there were very many members of the public who wanted to have a tour, but who were not serious buyers. Ian had the money and had always wanted to buy his way into the prestigious invitation-only racing, which happened in the South of France every summer: the price of entry was to own a yacht which was either an authentic classic, or a modern classic, judged by the race organisers to be just so, which rather nebulously meant that you had excellent taste and the decency not to be vulgar with your wealth.

I wanted, at the appropriate moment, to convince Ian to help me sail from Brighton to Corfu, over the course of the summer. I knew that he would not, and could not commit to doing the entire voyage all at once, so I hoped to persuade him to help me for a week or two at a time: the South Coast of England to the South Coast of Portugal, then onwards to Sardinia or maybe Sicily if the wind was kind to us, before finally completing the final segment of the trip. I knew that the prospect of doing a seriously long sea journey would be appealing, and he owed me a favour or two after having crewed for him on many occasions, but he would have regattas and other racing events over the summer which he wouldn't want to miss. I would have to convince him that he could fit my trip in, around his other commitments.

I had asked a number of other great sailors I knew, who I imagined would have been very happy to spend several weeks with me, moving my yacht from Brighton to Corfu. However, none had been forthcoming with any help whatsoever. Besides a cordial catch-up on how our lives had been progressing since I had originally left the bank and subsequently left London, post-divorce, our friendships had dissipated and I could tell that they had no interest in any serious ongoing friendship. My old London friends were too consumed by their demanding city lives, trying to placate their demanding trophy wives who had insatiable designer handbag buying habits, wanted increasingly large houses in Kensington and Chelsea, nannies, au pairs, and other hired help, and wanted the children to go to the best private schools: long gone were the days when we used to enjoy countless after-work drinking sessions.

Resistant to the idea of hiring a professional skipper to help me, or taking a gamble on an amateur who I might hope to stumble upon, I racked my brains and came upon a possible solution: my old school-friends who had continued to sail. Tim was the obvious first choice. I knew from social media that he was still an incredibly active sailor, and we had the pretence that we had stayed in touch, when in fact we hadn't seen each other for almost two decades.

London has a strange habit of dividing us. To those who abhor the concrete jungle - the big smoke - the M25 motorway ring-road is a kind of force field, which kept them out; they never went near the place and specifically avoided it, wherever possible. Meanwhile, for those whose career ambitions could only be pursued in a place like London or New York - in the Square Mile or on Wall Street - everything outside London suddenly seemed backwards and twee; provincial. It was difficult to avoid a certain amount of snobbery, which prejudiced those of us who felt we were at the centre of the universe, against those who had chosen a more ordinary family life, at a sedate pace. Like oil and water, London folk and the rest of the British didn't really mix: wealthy Londoners couldn't understand that most restaurants and bars served terrible quality food and drink, and didn't accept card payments, while non-Londoners couldn't understand why anybody would live somewhere which cost £10 for a pint of beer and a modest-sized family home some distance from the centre would cost upwards of £1 million.

From social media stalking, I knew the name of the company which Tim had been working for, at least at some point fairly recently - it was always possible that he had moved on since he had updated his profile. The marine industry is fairly small, and I knew that it was probable that even if Tim no longer worked for that company, somebody would know which company he'd moved to, who would also most likely have an exhibitor's stand here at the London Boat Show.

As luck would have it, I spotted Tim quite easily, lingering near a rack of glossy brochures full of stainless-steel yacht rigging parts, which the company he worked for manufactured and sold.

"Tim! Fancy seeing you here" I joked, knowing that his career in the marine industry meant that he'd spent the last couple of decades attending boat shows.

Rather cynically, I had prepared a game plan for us to become fast friends again. My background research - social media stalking - told me that he had married his girlfriend who he'd been dating the whole time we'd known each other, and he had two children, one of whom had recently started secondary school and the other I estimated to be 2 or 3 years younger, still at primary school. I also knew that he and his wife had won a number of dinghy races during the previous season, and I knew what class of dinghy he was sailing in. From my many dismal, boring, depressing years working in offices, I knew that a surefire topic of conversation, guaranteed to create a bond with a colleague, would be to show an interest in their kids, first and foremost: extra points for remembering names, ages, and whether they were into ponies or whatever particular things their doting parents were encouraging them to do.

I knew that it would be very hard for Tim to get time off work, as well as leaving his wife looking after their kids, but that he was always a sucker for any seagoing adventure: at school he often played truant when a local fisherman offered to take him out on their trawler.

Having spent a long while catching up on Tim's life events, since we'd parted company so many years ago, I then said enthusiastically that I would love to come and visit; that we should rekindle our friendship. We had been very good friends at school, but our lives had gone in very different directions since I had gone away to university, and Tim had never left our home town in Hampshire.

With a great deal of happy excitement and promises to stay in regular contact, and make definite arrangements to see each other again soon, I was about to make my departure; we began saying our goodbyes.

"Oh, er. I'm moving my boat from Brighton to somewhere a bit further south for the summer. Cross-channel sort of thing. Been asking around to see if I can find another qualified skipper but haven't had any luck. You don't know any trustworthy chaps who'd be up for a few days at sea, do you?" I asked, casually.

"No not really, but I might be able to swing a few nights away from home - boys' trip - if I play my cards right with the wife. I'm owed some nights off after she went away on a hen do last year" Tim replied.

"Well, chat it over with her and let me know what dates might work for you - I'm pretty flexible" I said.

We shook hands and then, exchanging a simultaneous grin, we gave each other a spontaneous hug. I think we really had missed each others' company, over the many years, and we were glad about the prospect of re-entering each others' lives. Making and keeping friends had proven to be so difficult, in adult life.

Ian had been ridiculously easy to convince to join me on my trip. The only sticking point for him was that I paid for his flights, which I naturally agreed to. It seemed a little ridiculous that he was seriously considering purchasing a yacht which would cost him the best part of £1 million, yet he wanted to make sure I would cover his travel expenses. I wondered if the reason why Ian was so much more wealthy than me was not because my career had been disrupted by my depression, but because he was a notorious tightwad.

 

Next chapter...

 

Blogger's Digest - Day Seven of #NaNoWriMo2019

10 min read

Blogger's Digest: a Novel

Contents

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

Chapter Thirteen

Chapter Fourteen

Chapter Seven

How does one set about making new friends in a new city, when you reach an age where everybody has coupled off and settled into their cliques? This was the question which weighed heavily on my mind, acutely aware as I was that my Brighton colleagues' life priorities were completely different from most of those who I'd worked with in London. Maybe I was just getting older, but it seemed like everybody was married with at least a couple of children. Trying to arrange a night out required a lot of notice and pre-planning - childcare arrangements and what little remained of parents' social lives became a logistical nightmare, and the a well-attended social function could not be held on an ad-hoc basis.

There was a thriving sports and social club, which catered for 5-a-side football, squash and badminton, and a smattering of other sports. As part of my efforts to calm the hyper-competitive side of my personality, I decided to avoid sports, which left me with few other social opportunities which were workplace-related. There was a company Christmas party, a department Christmas party and a a team Christmas party, but for the other 11 months of the year, there was nothing. From 'getting to know you' casual conversations with my colleagues, I understood that their entire lives were spent ferrying their children from party to party: an endless procession of parties and social functions for kids, but an adult night out was something which parents only enjoyed a handful of times each year.

I gravitated towards a group of alcoholics, who had either been quietly relocated from London to Brighton, having spent a month drying out at The Priory rehab, paid for by the company, or some of those whose behaviour was slightly more disgraceful were now kept on a tight leash: short employment contracts and zero tolerance for their prior antics, which had often involved going AWOL for days or even a whole week, and returning to work in a very bedraggled state.

The tolerance of workplace alcoholism was ubiquitous in investment banking. At a certain level of management seniority and age, I couldn't think of a single individual who wasn't excessively partial to their particular drink of choice: red wine, whiskey or vodka. Physical features of these senior colleagues told the whole story: red noses, liver spots, bags under their eyes, beer guts and a haggard look which added ten or fifteen years onto their appearance. They were some of the most brilliant, entertaining and hyper-intelligent people I ever had the pleasure of working with. It was a crying shame that none of them seemed to live beyond their mid fifties, and many were dead by their mid-forties. Given that I had known so many of my former colleagues die from alcohol-related illness, I was certain that investment banking must have a problem far in excess of the national average - alcoholism was practically institutionalised.

During the summer, I had a brilliant time. My new group of friends knew lots of wonderful beer gardens and other sun-traps where we could enjoy several pints of beer or cider, before staggering back to the office. After work, there were delightful terraces to sit on, drinking, while the sun went down. Looking out at the holidaymakers enjoying the beach and the sea, we vicariously partook of their wholesome activities - we felt like we were part of their healthy lifestyle, when in fact we were drinking vast amounts and going home incredibly intoxicated every night.

I suppose that wearing the so-called "beer jacket" meant that when late September arrived and there was a chilly morning, I was a little shocked. I hadn't put a lot of thought into what life would be like aboard my yacht, during the winter.

With a fan heater on a timer switch, I was able to make the bathroom warm enough to make showering bearable. With thick quilts, blankets and warm clothes, I could keep myself cosy enough throughout October. However, as the temperature dropped lower and lower, it was clear that I needed to make a drastic change - my ability to heat the yacht, and its insulation, were woefully inadequate for the UK winter.

One of the reasons for purchasing the yacht had been that I knew I would be able to live aboard it very comfortably in the Mediterranean, or other more southerly and pleasant climates, if my job didn't work out - I owned a truly mobile home. But, the voyage would now be unbearably unpleasant and quite dangerous, with winter almost upon us - gale-force winds regularly swept eastwards from the Atlantic, along with gigantic waves and an immense amount of rain.

Sailing during the late Spring to early Autumn period was amazing in the English Channel, which is one of the windiest places on the planet. Force 4 wind with gusts of force 5 can be very enjoyable for an experienced sailor - exciting - but wet-weather gear is still required even at the peak of summer, because the spray, rain and wind-chill can quickly turn life at sea into a very cold and hostile environment. With the autumn bringing monster waves and storm-force winds, along with biting cold wind and water which feels like ice, there is nothing at all enjoyable about sailing after the end of October.

The prospect of being hit by repeated storms as I battled my way south, attempting to reach the Gibraltar Straits and the warmth of the Med, or perhaps the Canary Islands, was nigh-on suicidal. If I didn't break my mast and have to be rescued, perhaps I would be seriously injured, killed, or at the very least spend a very long time freezing cold and regretting ever having left port. Any crew member who agreed to help with the passage would either be mad or inexperienced and incompetent - it wouldn't be responsible of me to even ask anybody to undertake such a dangerous trip with me.

Meanwhile, I had met a girl - Sian - using a dating app, and I had been spending an increasing amount of time at her house, motivated in no small part by the fact that she had central heating and double glazing. We were an odd couple, given that she was a Gender Studies lecturer at the University of Sussex, and everybody had assumed that she was gay, including her parents. She was also extremely left wing and a regular participant at protest marches: particularly anti-capitalist marches. I thought that my investment banking background would mean that we'd be entirely incompatible, but she was well read, well travelled and had some fascinating opinions which she expertly articulated, so she was incredibly entertaining company. She also enjoyed frequent sex, which was unusual for somebody who'd had so few partners that her nearest and dearest assumed she was deep in the closet.

I suppose the guilt I had carried my whole career, particularly around my direct involvement in investment banking during the financial crisis of 2007/8, meant that I had become more left-leaning and somewhat of a skeptic, regarding capitalism. I knew that people had lost their homes, businesses and vast numbers of people had become dependent on food banks, as a result of the irresponsible actions of people like me. I had suffered no hardship - ever - in my adult life, and I was never going to be forced into a zero hours contract job at McDonalds or to become part of the 'gig economy' delivering takeaway food on a bicycle. I had profited handsomely during the boom years, and I had continued to enjoy an exceptionally high standard of living, without interruption. Guilt had driven me to educate myself about the hardships faced by ordinary British people, and I now read The Guardian as well as The Financial Times; I read the New Statesman as well as The Economist magazine. Having been surrounded by Conservative voters throughout my life, I had lately become more open-minded about Labour policies. I had begun to read books which were harshly critical of the many failings attributable to Neoliberalism, and made a convincing case for socialism, social enterprises and sustainability; the green agenda.

Sian also really liked wine and movies, which was great. It was an ideal way to spend the winter: snuggled up watching challenging award-winning subtitled films which had achieved much critical acclaim in liberal arts circles, getting drunk, having a debate about how to fix the world's problems, and then having great sex.

While she was naturally reluctant to introduce her investment banker boyfriend to her friends, many of whom were right-on feminists, activists and viewed every act of coitus with a man as a victory for the patriarchy, and a terrible defeat for the oppressed minorities, we were - in a strange way - quite compatible. Perhaps it was a relationship of convenience, and it certainly allowed me to defer the problem of how to heat my yacht.

Sian had sudden bursts of uncontrollable excitement. "You MUST take me out on your boat!" she would say. At other times, she remembered that my yacht and my luxury-brand car were emblematic symbols of everything that was wrong and unjust about the world. She asked me to park around the corner from her house, lest one of her friends notice that she was dating a wealthy man, and worse still, an investment banker.

I had the sense that our fundamentally different paths we had taken through life - her through academia and me through an investment banking career - meant that we were never destined to have a long-lasting relationship. I liked her a lot and I certainly never thought or acted as if what we had was casual but there wasn't the same pressure that I was used to, when I had been looking for the right woman to marry and have children with. We were content, snuggling under our blanket, sipping wine and watching subtitled movies; we weren't grasping and reaching... constantly struggling to achieve more and more. It felt nice. It felt healthy and normal.

Equally, I wondered how Sian would be received if I received an inevitable invite for dinner with my boss and his wife, once word got around that I had a girlfriend. My drinking buddies had been seeing less and less of me, until the point where they no longer bothered to ask me if I was going to join them for after-work drinks. They were sure to tip off our gossip-hungry colleagues, and I wouldn't be able to brush off their questions by saying "it's nothing serious" or "it's early days" for very much longer.

If Sian was appalled by my two obvious vulgar displays of wealth and status - my car and my yacht - then she was going to struggle when we went for dinner with my boss and his wife, at their home, which might as well have been wallpapered with £50 notes and built with gold bullion bars, because it screamed "I'M RICH!" at the top of its nouveau-riche voice. I dearly wanted to spare poor Sian an evening of biting her lip, while my boss' wife no doubt wanted to complain about the difficulties of selecting a good private school, and the expense of stabling their horses, with the tactlessness of a woman who's never encountered an ordinary person in their entire life.

I was content, however; content to see out the winter in this fashion. Life was good; life was treating me very well.

 

Next chapter...

 

Blogger's Digest - Day Six of #NaNoWriMo2019

14 min read

Blogger's Digest: a Novel

Contents

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

Chapter Thirteen

Chapter Fourteen

Chapter Six

I was completely unable to relate to people who had sensible grown-up calm and amicable break-ups, where they remained friends with their ex. It felt to me as though it was a betrayal of my whole "jump in with both feet" ethos, regarding the pursuit of love, to simply drift apart and then one day decide to separate: a simple and straightforward life decision like any other, akin to purchasing a refrigerator, or switching energy supplier. In my version of a breakup, there needed to be tears and passion, breaking up, making up, taking a break, getting back together - it needed to be messy and complex, and emotional. Where was the love if two people just decided one day to go their separate ways, and then divided their possessions and moved on with their lives?

"Falling out of love" was something I was a little familiar with, but not something I would tolerate. I'm not an idiot: I know if somebody is deliberately picking fights with me, or sulking, or otherwise acting in a way that suggests that they'd really like to end the relationship - probably because they are flirting with somebody else - but they are too spineless to do the honourable and honest thing, and take the plunge before having secured their next relationship. I'm not the kind of person who wants to have anything to do with anybody who's continuously trying to 'trade up'; lacking in any loyalty or moral fiber.

I took my relationship commitments pretty seriously. I'd never had a casual girlfriend. In fact, I'd only really had Caroline. I'd been on some dates and had a fling with a friend while Caroline and I were on a lengthy 'break' but I was quite unfamiliar with anything other than monogamy and it never occurred to me to look outside the relationship for anything extra, or better.

One of my friends had an open marriage for a few years, and another friend had a girlfriend who was very promiscuous, which he seemed to grudgingly tolerate, but on the whole, my entire circle of friends and colleagues were all married, engaged, or in serious long-term relationships: I was never aware of any infidelity, and break-ups and divorces were virtually unheard of. Of course, investment bankers often tended to be regular patrons of strip clubs, escorts and many had a mistress, which was handled extremely discreetly. None of that was my 'scene' - I wanted a plain vanilla monogamous committed lifelong relationship with somebody who I was head over heels in love with, and I knew that it would require non-stop work to keep a great relationship alive.

The death of my relationship with Caroline had begun with how she had reacted when I got sick, when I quit my job, when I wanted to be an electrician and when I wanted to move to Brighton. Each time, she had made it abundantly clear that our relationship was predicated on an unspoken agreement, which I had never signed up for: I was expected to remain healthy and earning big bucks in investment banking, supporting her in her underpaid charity job in London, and to not expect any such reciprocal arrangement. I often thought of the marriage vows "for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health" and this was the standard to which I tried to adhere. Caroline wasn't at all supportive when I quit my job or started business as an electrician - in fact, she constantly complained about the decline in our living standards, however her blanket rejection of any better paid job was something I'd had to accept. She'd flatly refused to discuss moving to Brighton.

She'd paid little or no attention to the appointments I had been attending, over the years, since the first visit to my local doctor's surgery in my adult life. At first, I hadn't wanted to worry her, but it had become increasingly apparent that she just didn't care about my health or wellbeing: she just wanted me to bring home a massive income, doing a job which was killing me. She placed the lifestyle to which she had become accustomed as the top priority, and the delivery of all of the extra anticipated things she would be getting in future - an extravagant wedding, a private school education for our children, a bigger house, trust funds for university - were non-negotiables. She wanted what she wanted, and the only route to getting that was me or somebody else, but she certainly wasn't going to compromise one little bit.

Left with no other options, I confronted Caroline with the opinions of my doctor, psychiatrist and therapist.

"Caroline, I'm not sick. I need to make lifestyle changes, because this life - London and investment banking - is making me unwell. I'm not saying I want to move to Brighton because it's a selfish dream of mine. It would have been great if I could have carried on with our old life, but it wasn't sustainable."

"What are you saying?" she asked.

"I tried all the different anti-depressants, but they didn't work. It wasn't safe. I was suicidal. I tried switching a different way of making money, but I simply couldn't earn enough money to support the lifestyle you want; I can't give you the future you want. I've found a compromise: this job in Brighton pays incredibly well and we'll be able to afford a much bigger house than in London. I can work fewer hours. I can work from home sometimes. It's so much better for my health."

"But all our friends are in London. Everything is here. What about my job?"

"You're a solicitor. You can work anywhere. There are plenty of legal firms in Brighton" I replied.

"I like my colleagues. I like my clients. I like the charity I work for. I'm not doing it. I'm not moving. I'm not discussing this. No. The answer is no."

"This isn't brinksmanship. This isn't an ultimatum. I don't like it any more than you do, but this is the situation. The only way I can earn enough money to maintain our standard of living and give you everything you want, and not kill myself, is to take a less stressful job in Brighton."

"You could take a less stressful job in London" she suggested.

"You don't understand. You can't leave before your boss. Leaving at 7:30pm is considered early. People are answering emails at all time of the day. All the banks are moving their middle office and back office functions out of London. This is the only chance I have to keep my London salary, without having to keep the London working hours and the pressure of the front office."

"Tell Human Resources that you're not well. Tell them you need to work part-time."

"You don't understand. That's career suicide. I'd be paid off. They'd offer me a hefty amount of cash to leave, but I'd never be able to work in investment banking again. I'd be blacklisted."

"They can't do that! There are employment laws!" she bristled.

"Yes. We would get a very large financial settlement, but I've done the maths and it doesn't add up: it's not enough money to support the lifestyle ambitions that you have. We won't be able to get the house in Zone 2 with a large garden, like you wanted. We won't be able to afford private school for three children. We won't be able to send three children to university, without them having to go into debt. We won't be able to buy them their first car. We won't be able to pay the deposit on their first home. We won't be able to pay for their weddings."

"I'm sure we'll manage."

I laughed at the ridiculousness of the notion.

"MANAGE! I've had to put up with nothing but complaint after complaint ever since I quit my job, about how much pain and suffering it's causing you, having to tighten our belts" I retorted, unable to keep my built-up frustrations and resentment under control.

"So how do you propose we split everything? 50:50?" she asked. The coldness of her tone - the lack of emotion - utterly enraged me. I could not have felt more used. I felt like nothing more than a walking wallet. I was completely speechless that she could segue so effortlessly into a discussion about who was going to get the crockery and who was going to get the vacuum cleaner. It was heartless. It was brutal.

* * *

Life in the marina was unusual, but it was novel. Instead of having supermarket shopping delivered, I had to drive to the supermarket, buy my shopping, drive back to the marina and load the bags into a trolley, which I would then wheel through a security gate and down to the pontoon where my yacht was moored.

I was not supposed to discharge my yacht's toilet while moored within the marina, but I was damned if I was going to walk all the way to the toilet block every time I needed to use the loo. Out of paranoia of being reported by a busybody fellow berth holder, I ran the shower every time I pumped out the contents of my toilet. A little seawater circulated every time the marina's lock was used, but the water was essentially a stagnant pond, so the discharge of raw sewerage - my untreated bladder and bowel movements - was quite an antisocial practice. I justified my actions, because very few people lived aboard their boats, and fewer still used them on any regular basis.

Caroline hadn't the money to buy me out of our shared mortgage on our London house. Her wealthy family were notoriously stingy and had refused to lend her the money, despite the huge financial gain she stood to make. I could have bought her share, but having no use for a London home anymore, I knew that she would try to manipulate me into allowing her to stay there rent-free, or at least at a hugely discounted rate: she had already made several attempts to emotionally blackmail me, saying that she had made terrible sacrifices for me, when I had quit my job and become an electrician. Essentially, she felt entitled to a vast sum of money - who knew how much she felt entitled to? It was my closest friends who begged me to be firm but fair, and to take back the hefty initial deposit which I had paid, and to split the remaining sum equally. In fact, my friends begged me to give her a share in proportion with her contribution, which was my legal entitlement, but I didn't want to face the court battle which she was threatening, and neither did I particularly begrudge her the hefty extra sum of money, if she was enough of a bad person to demand it - she could live with the guilt of knowing she picked my pocket, but I could not live with the guilt of knowing that she would struggle with the sudden drastic change in her financial circumstances, without a golden parachute, gifted to her by me... not that she was grateful, of course.

I was left with easily enough money to buy a very nice house in Brighton, with very little mortgage, if any. London property prices were so vastly over-inflated versus the rest of the country. However, I wanted to keep my options open. Perhaps I wouldn't like it in Brighton. Perhaps I would miss London. I decided to defer housebuying, and instead bought a yacht.

My new - but second-hand - yacht, was large and well appointed, but more akin to a floating caravan than anything luxurious. I bought it because of its spacious interior: enough space to sleep 6 in 3 cabins, with extra beds in the saloon too. The bathroom, galley and other aspects of the yacht were a world apart from the small yacht I had purchased when I was 22 years old. There was a fridge, a shower, an oven. With mains-voltage shore power hook-up, I could use regular household appliances without worrying about draining the batteries. There was enough headroom to accomodate my 6 feet of height, in most parts of the vessel, although I did have to duck through doorways and shower in a rather awkward position.

Life aboard the yacht lived up to my expectations mostly. There were minor inconveniences, such as having to cart anything I wanted to load onboard or take off, having to be done using a trolley. Putting out the rubbish became something which I did little and often, on my way to work, as opposed to carting heavy black bin liners all the way to the marina refuse dump. Shopping was an almost daily chore, because the fridge had such little capacity and I had no freezer.

There were problems which I had not anticipated, which were a little more difficult to deal with. My colleagues had begun to notice that I smelled of diesel fuel. The smell had entirely escaped my notice, because it lingered with me constantly. A small amount of diesel fuel inevitably ends up in the bilges of any vessel, and it's virtually impossible to eliminate the smell, which permeates all soft fabrics. Yacht owners are quite used to the smell, and no longer notice it after a while, but to my colleagues it was a topic which nobody had been brave enough to broach - it was only by chance that I overheard one colleague saying to another "you mean the guy who smells of diesel" in a context where they could only have been referring to me, that I realised there was a problem. My solution, of keeping all my work clothes at work - my suits and my shirts - required an extra locker, and I had to get up earlier than I would have done normally, in order to be able to shower and get changed at the office in the morning.

The thin, light and strong walls of the hull of my yacht were a quite ideal building material for a seagoing vessel, but provided inadequate sound insulation for a home. As the spring turned into summer, and an increasing number of people decided to have parties on their gin palaces, the noise pollution became rather problematic. I purchased an excellent pair of earplugs, but these were so effective I was often unable to hear my alarm clock in the morning, and they irritated my ear canals, causing inflammation and pain.

My new life in Brighton, despite its teething problems, was on the whole a very happy one. My commute was short, I worked far fewer hours, and the atmosphere in the office was generally less competitive and high-pressure than it was in London. The laid-back attitude of my staff rubbed off on me, and I felt that the culture was much better for my health and wellbeing. I was optimistic that I might have found the route to a sustainable and contented life. I was hopeful that I had seen the last of depression and suicidal thoughts.

 

Next chapter...

 

Blogger's Digest - Day Four of #NaNoWriMo2019

14 min read

Blogger's Digest: a Novel

Contents

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

Chapter Thirteen

Chapter Fourteen

Chapter Four

Caroline and I were driving northbound on the M6 motorway. Matt & Kate, and Paul & Cath followed behind, in our convoy of three vehicles: my van and their two cars. Caroline and I were having an argument.

"I thought you said you wanted a family" she said, half pleading and half accusing me of deception.

"I did, but then circumstances changed" I replied, attempting an apologetic tone.

"So you don't want to start a family anymore?" she asked rhetorically. Her voice betrayed her frustration and she spoke her words a little aggressively.

"No, that's not it. I just don't know at the moment. Things are changing and it's a big decision" I said, evasively.

"But we had made the decision. I started taking folic acid. I stopped taking the pill. We were trying to get pregnant."

"Yes, I agree. That's what I wanted at the time. That's what we wanted. Then things changed."

"You mean you selfishly decided to quit your job and pursue this stupid hare-brained idea of yours. THAT'S what you mean" she said, gesticulating with annoyance at the van we were in.

* * *

I had quit my job.

I had quit my job because even after trying every anti-depressant that my doctor could prescribe me, I still found that my life was intolerable. I felt trapped by my career. The prospect of spending the next 20 or 30 years working a 9 to 5, Monday to Friday office job felt like a fate worse than death, quite literally: the anti-depressants had brought so little relief, and suicidal thoughts plagued me with ever-increasing frequency, such that I felt I only had two choices: resign or kill myself.

There was, of course, a third option. I could have opted to be off work sick on a long-term basis. The investment bank had a generous policy for anybody who was sick for more than 6 months, allowing them to retire early. The income would be a tiny fraction of what a successful investment banker who continued to work into their late forties or early fifties, would expect to retire with. If I chose to resign and keep my reputation intact, I knew I would be welcomed back into the investment banking world with open arms. I knew that being pensioned off early due to ill health would be a career-ending move: a reputational stain which would follow me around until my dying day.

Getting an investment banking job is paradoxical - you can't get a job in investment banking without experience, and you can't get the investment banking experience without the job: Catch 22. I had been lucky enough to get a highly sought-after summer internship, due to a distant relative being a senior executive at a City firm. Without connections, it was impossible to get a foot in the door. I knew that I was incredibly fortunate to have my career, and to have been rapidly promoted. I was liked and respected by many colleagues. I would not struggle to get my old job back, or find another investment bank which wanted to hire me. However, I could not carry on working in an office anymore.

* * *

"It's not a 'hare-brained idea', Caroline" I said, speaking her name with a condescending tone. I was annoyed and beginning to get angry. I spoke through gritted teeth. "I am a qualified electrician and the business is quite profitable. I am a skilled tradesman whose services are in demand in the local community."

"Profitable!" she snorted. "You had to sell the boat and the MG which you bought for me as a birthday present, because you said you couldn't afford the upkeep."

This made me furious. I was about to angrily reply, but she hadn't finished.

"We are going to Wales on holiday"  she said, putting particular emphasis on the word "Wales" as if we were taking a break from our pleasant lives to suffer the torments of Hell - a vacation to the underworld - or embarking on an excursion to a warzone. "Matt & Katie just got back from Florence, and Paul & Cath are going trekking in the Atlas Mountains in a few weeks."

"Yes, that's the whole FUCKING POINT" I replied; my temper was barely under control and my voice was raised. "The main reason for this trip was so that I could teach Paul & Cath some of the mountaineering skills they're going to need, and so they can test their equipment. It was YOU who has managed to turn the trip into a couples' romantic luxury getaway and insisted on us renting a gigantic converted barn with a hot tub. Paul, Cath and I were going to sleep in tents until you hijacked the trip."

"But Katie hates camping" protested Caroline.

"It's not about Katie. It's not about Matt. It's not about you. None of you were even invited. I offered to take Paul and Cath on a trip to Snowdonia to help them prepare for their expedition to Morocco."

"I needed a holiday, Gavin. I'm not going to spend my holiday, in the middle of February, freezing cold in a tent. We're not going skiing this year, which will be the first year where we've not had at least one ski trip - our friends are devastated that we're not joining them, and I'm devastated too. Skiing is the only time when I get to catch up with a lot of our friends. We haven't had a holiday since last year and we haven't booked a single holiday for this year."

"This is a holiday, isn't it? YOU wanted to make this into a holiday by renting a luxury converted barn. We went on holiday in November, which was only three months ago" I said with exasperation.

"This doesn't count. Malta doesn't count."

"MALTA DOESN'T COUNT?" I shouted.

"Yes, it was a last-minute deal and the hotel was grotty - you said so yourself. It was a short-haul flight with a naff airline and it was cloudy half the time. You ended up having to buy a jumper and a pair of trousers on the day we arrived, because you were cold, remember? Besides, a week doesn't even count - that's what I'm saying. A holiday should be at least 2 weeks or else it doesn't count."

"DOESN'T COUNT?" I sputtered with rage.

"Yes. By the time you've unpacked and settled in, it's time to start packing up your stuff and getting ready to leave. It's hardly a holiday is it? It's more of a mini-break, except we went to Malta instead of somewhere exciting like New York or Rome."

"We've been to New York and Rome."

"I was just giving examples of proper mini-breaks. You get my point" she said, folding her arms as if the matter was settled and she had won the argument.

* * *

It was true - we had been forced to dramatically change our lifestyle since I had quit my job and become a self-employed electrician. Caroline's job as a solicitor working with asylum seekers, earned her only a fraction of what she would be able to earn if she joined an international law firm - like her father's - but she wanted to make a worthy contribution to society; she wanted to help the needy and vulnerable. She refused to countenance the idea that she could become the main breadwinner if she set aside some of her lofty principles and instead took the highest paying job she could find. However, she said it would break her heart to leave the charity she worked for; she couldn't live with the guilt, knowing that she could be helping clients with gut-wrenchingly awful stories, fleeing persecution.

For such a nice, kind and charitably-minded person, Caroline's version of a "normal" life had been shaped by her privileged upbringing. The enviable lifestyle which we had hitherto enjoyed together had been a continuation of what she had experienced throughout her life, without any interruption. When I bought her a highly collectable classic British sports car for her 25th birthday, she was thrilled - having dropped hints that it was something she'd always wanted - but lavish gifts weren't particularly exceptional in Caroline's family. Some years ago, her mother had given her father a hand-built limited edition Morgan sportscar, which she'd been on a waiting list for several years to obtain, to celebrate him becoming a partner at his law firm.

My decision to become an electrician had been motivated, in no small part, by how guilty I felt about being an investment banker. Caroline was helping asylum seekers to escape torture and murder, and was comparatively poorly paid. Meanwhile, I was helping the wealthiest 1% to become richer and richer, while also becoming quite rich myself. I felt no 'warm fuzzy feeling' about the work I did. Often there were very ethically questionable things which I had to accept as part and parcel of the job. Mergers and acquisitions offered the opportunity for cost-cutting "restructuring" which inevitably meant redundancies. I was responsible for thousands of people people being sacked, while Caroline was heroically saving families from tyrannical regimes.

I had seen many colleagues squander their wealth, attempting new ventures, only to gratefully return back to their investment banking career after their startup companies and angel investments quickly gobbled up their wealth. An investment banker's entire career is spent scrutinising the accounts, forecasts and business models of their clients, to whom they are lending money or helping to float on the stock market - it's so easy to mistakenly believe that doing business is easy, when it's not your money or your company. Returning colleagues had gained nothing of any value - a very expensive lesson; a costly mistake. They all said they regretted ever leaving their comfortable investment banking careers. We used to make jokes about being kept in "golden handcuffs".

I decided that I wanted to retrain. I decided that I wanted to be qualified in something other than banking, but I felt certain that my age would count against me in law and accountancy: I should have chosen a different profession at a much younger age. I considered dentistry and medicine, which required a substantial amount of amount of time and money before I could expect to earn a high income. The living standards, which Caroline and I had enjoyed for many years, would be decimated; our plans to start a family would be delayed by 5, 6 or 7 years... or maybe more.

I chose a new trade instead of a new profession. Relatively speaking, the training to become an electrician was cheap, quick and easy. The expense of setting up my business as a sole trader - the van and the tools - didn't seem like very much money at all: less than the cost of what Caroline would count as a holiday, which met her expectations. If I did have to go back to my investment banking career, I would have lost very little money.

* * *

I sulked, bitterly, thinking Caroline was spoiled and entitled; that she was a bad person and that her expectations were unreasonable. I wanted to criticise her for wanting luxury holidays, when her asylum seeker clients were so desperately impoverished, but I knew that it would be desperately hypocritical of me - I had wanted luxury holidays just as much as she had. I had chosen to sell my soul, doing the devil's work as an investment banker. I could hardly lecture her for wanting the lifestyle to which we had both become accustomed. I wanted to tell her that it wasn't fair: she could feel smug about the good work which she was doing in the world, while I felt guilty about my own immoral profession. However, her choice to do low-paid charitable work was not to blame for my troubled conscience and depression.

The other thing I wanted to tell her, was that I wasn't sure if I wanted to carry on living. I wanted to tell her that I didn't want to become a father, and then decide to kill myself. It seemed like too much of a gamble: to hope that my depression would lift and my suicidal thoughts abate, as soon as we had children. I wanted to discuss all these things with her, but I didn't want to upset and alarm her. How do you renege on a promise to provide a wonderful life: a big wedding, children, a huge family home, private schooling, luxury family holidays, and enough trust fund money set aside to bankroll the children through university.

How can you admit that you've tried your hardest to keep going with an extremely well paid career, but the job makes you want to kill yourself, so the dream life we had imagined is over?

* * *

"Is this place we're going to be staying nice?" I asked, trying to make peace and restore a pleasant atmosphere in the van.

Caroline's face lit up. "Oh it's gorgeous. Every room has its own log burning stove. There's an Aga. The main living space is to die for - tall glass walls on both sides with panoramic views of the mountains, set in acres of private land. It's cosy AND luxurious. The barn is hundreds of years old and has its original oak beams, but the conversion was done by an award-winning architect. It's featured in lots of magazines. Did you not see the pictures I sent you?"

"Nope. So you're looking forward to it?"

"Yeah. Can't wait. Katie has brought a goose and Matt had found a butcher on the way who's got half a lamb for us to collect. We spent a small fortune on food and wine in Waitrose. This is going to be fantastic fun."

This was not what I had in mind originally. I had brought some packets of dried pasta and dehydrated sauce, which could be cooked on a camping stove, with melted snow, to prepare Paul and Cath for their trip to the Atlas Mountains.

"You should have brought the fondue set" I said, with barely concealed sarcasm.

"One step ahead of you! It's in Matt & Katie's car. I was going to surprise you - I know how much you love fondue."

"I wonder how many mountaineers carry kilos of cheese and a fondue set up a mountain in their backpacks" was the immediate reply which sprung to lips, but I managed to hold my tongue. "Oh yes, lovely surprise darling. We're going to have a lot of fun" I said instead, with the very best forced smile which I could muster.

I glanced backwards at the pile of rucksacks in the back of the van. When I had been loading everybody's rucksacks into the van it briefly reminded me of the expeditions I had been on with my university mountaineering society. I had been eagerly anticipating re-living some of those happy memories of time spent in the mountains. Now I felt as though my miniature expedition had been hijacked by Caroline and Katie's desire for a luxury jaunt into the countryside.

As we continued our journey towards Snowdonia National Park, I wondered if we would even leave the comfortable confines of the palatial barn conversion, and venture into the mountains at all.

 

Next chapter...

 

Blogger's Digest - Day Three of #NaNoWriMo2019

11 min read

Blogger's Digest: a Novel

Contents

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

Chapter Thirteen

Chapter Fourteen

Chapter Three

I'd always been a night owl, and I was so routinely late for work that my colleagues accepted it as perfectly normal and acceptable behaviour for me, but the past few days had been different.

Almost every morning since the start of my career, I had been in the habit of pressing the snooze button on my alarm clock repeatedly, sometimes for well over an hour. I had set the time on my alarm clock, wristwatch, clocks around the house and in my car to be several minutes fast, in the hope of tricking myself into becoming a more punctual morning person, but this had not proven to be successful. I tried setting a second alarm clock, some distance from my bed, with its alarm set to be the absolute "drop dead" final time at which I could get up, and not arrive at work so late that it would upset my bosses, but I still got out of bed, pressed the snooze button on that second alarm clock and returned to the snug comfort of my bed.

It would be no exaggeration to say that for five days a week, for a period of five years, I had been subjected to routine torture. To use the word "torture" lightly might sound flippant, but the considerable psychological anguish which I suffered, routinely, for prolonged periods each day of the working week, very much fit the definition of torture even if I wasn't having my fingernails pulled out by a sadist, or some other kind of physical torture perpetrated against me.

Of course, I had an extremely well paid job which had allowed me to purchase a nice house, a summer house at the bottom of my large garden, a yacht, a sportscar and enjoy numerous luxurious holidays and ski trips every year. My life was extremely enviable. My late arrival at the office was completely tolerated, because my bosses knew that I worked hard and was highly productive, and I would stay late at the office, so I worked at least as many hours as anybody else. However, there was something about the 9 to 5 Monday to Friday office job routine which was unbearable.

In investment banking, there were times which were extremely exciting, where we worked very long hours. I didn't mind when there was an important deal we were working on, which meant I was working 12 hour days, and dealing with emails at the weekends. When I was working 80 to 100 hours a week, I generally found it much easier to get out of bed and get to work at a semi-respectable time - although never before 9:30am - and my working week was far less torturous, but the workload ebbed and flowed. We were either swamped with work, or else things were quiet and I struggled to find the motivation to get up and go to work.

We had recently delivered the bank's biggest ever deal - ten times bigger than the biggest deal that our firm had ever done. I had played a pivotal role in getting that deal over the line, because I had routinely stayed at the office until 10pm, which was essential given that we were dealing with a US client. Most of my colleagues worked until 7pm, which was fairly normal for investment banking, but there were very few who were prepared to eat dinner at their desk and go home in a taxi - especially those with young children. While our bosses were sympathetic towards the demands placed upon us in our private lives - our family responsibilities - I was the 'golden boy' because I worked more hours than anybody else on the deal; unquestionably, I was the key player responsible for ensuring we all got a very big bonus that year; the bosses were thrilled.

After the deal was completed, the team all received a 'tombstone' - a kind of trophy, made out of plexiglass, which was engraved with the details of the deal. These tombstones were a badge of honour; a feather in the cap. Investment bankers like myself collected them, and proudly displayed them in our offices, as a physical representation of how many deals we had completed. Each tombstone represented a bonus which would be sufficient to buy a small house, luxury sportscar or a yacht, but to talk about your net worth was considered vulgar, and to discuss your remuneration was expressly forbidden - telling a colleague what your salary and bonus was, would be one of the worst sackable offences which you could commit, in an investment bank. So, we had our tombstones, which boasted of how many deals we had done, implying how much money we had made for ourselves and the bank.

Why couldn't I get out of bed?

There was a certain time, after which I felt as though it was too late to saunter into the office. If I hadn't managed to extract myself from my bed and begin my preparations to go to work, I felt duty-bound to phone my boss and tell him that I was sick. For the past 3 days I had phoned in sick, and now I had a problem: I would need some kind of doctor's note to explain my extended absence from work. But, what was wrong with me?

It was now 11:30am on Thursday, and I had been absent on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, without providing any more specific detail other than that I wasn't feeling very well. Today had been by far the worst day, because there was more pressure than ever, to force myself to get up and go to the office. Officially, I should have phoned my boss at 8:30am - the start of our contractual office hours - in order to notify him that I wasn't well enough to come to work, but I had procrastinated each day until 10:30am. On this day, Thursday, I had left it until 11am, as I had desperately hoped that I would be able to motivate myself to go to work. My conversation with my boss had gone worse than expected, because he had explicitly reminded me that I would need a doctor's note to explain my absence. I had hoped that the formality would be waived, but he had been quite particular. Now I was procrastinating about phoning the doctor - what would I tell them?

When I spoke with the doctor's surgery receptionist, she informed me that I could have an appointment in 2 weeks, or else I could phone again in the morning in the hope of getting a same-day appointment, unless I needed an emergency appointment. "Do you need an emergency appointment?" she asked. I said I would phone in the morning for a same-day appointment. She urged me to be prompt, because there were a very limited number of slots available.

I awoke at 7:58am the following day - Friday - and began dialling the number for the doctor's surgery. At first I received a recorded message saying that the opening hours were from 8am, but after repeatedly redialing I was eventually greeted by hold music and told that I was in 3rd place in the queue, and that my call would be answered shortly. The recorded message also told me to hang up and dial 999 if I was having difficulty breathing or had any chest pains, which made me feel quite fraudulent: what was wrong with me? I still had not yet decided what to say to the doctor. I had no idea why I was struggling.

"Hello Pantheon Practice. Are you looking to make a same day appointment to see a doctor?" asked the receptionist.

"Yes, please" I replied.

"So we can pass this on to the doctor, what's the reason for the appointment, please?"

"I, err, I'm tired all the time. I haven't felt well enough to go to work. I haven't left my bed since Sunday, except to get food and use the bathroom" I said, putting into words the nondescript nature of my malaise, for the very first time.

"Ok, I've booked you in at 11:30am with Dr. Weber. Please try to be on time and let us know as soon as possible if you need to cancel or re-book the appointment."PI had been dreading being unable to get a doctor's appointment, having to phone in sick, and anxious that I would not be able to retrospectively obtain a doctor's note if I was feeling better again on Monday. I was hugely relieved that I was now able to phone my boss at 8:40am, and say that I had a doctor's appointment later that day. I struggled to control a slightly triumphant note in my voice: I had felt fraudulent earlier in the week, saying that I was too unwell to go to work, when I was merely tired and demotivated, but now this doctor's appointment gave my torturous situation some slight medically-endorsed legitimacy, although I did not yet possess the sick note that I required. I hadn't been to the doctor since I was a 13 year old boy, when I had an ear infection - 14 consecutive years had elapsed since then, without any contact with a doctor, with the exception of some travel inoculations administered by a nurse.

My appointment with Dr. Weber - a rather stern looking German lady in her fifties - consisted of a curt consultation lasting perhaps no longer than a few minutes.

"What seems to be the problem, Mr. Phillips?" she asked.

"I feel tired all the time. I haven't been able to get up and go to work all week" I replied, feeling rather ashamed that my complaint was so pathetic.

"Have you been under a lot of pressure at work recently? Working very hard?"

"Yes. We just completed an important project."

"Working long hours?" she asked.

"Yes. Very. I suppose an average of at least 80 per week". Her eyes widened in amazement. "It's quite normal in investment banking to work those kind of hours" I said, somewhat defensively.

"You are suffering from burnout, no? I'm signing you off for two weeks. What do you want me to write on doctor's note? Work stress or mental health problems?"

This was an extremely important question: a considerable number of thoughts raced through my head while I attempted to reach a decision. To say that it was work stress which had caused my absence from work was probably the most accurate, but it would suggest that I was weak and unable to handle the demands placed upon me. To be branded with the label of "mentally unwell" was also undesirable, and liable to be career limiting, if my colleagues thought I had an illness which would make me unreliable.

"I never had any health problems before. Could it be something else? I feel so tired all the time" I said, hoping for another more palatable option.

"OK I write awaiting blood test results. We do thyroid test and HIV test" Dr. Weber said, affixing a sticky label onto the sick note I needed, and scribbling in some other details. "Tell reception you need blood sample" she said, selecting a form where she ticked a number of boxes, before handing it to me, turning to face her computer, and starting to type.

I sat, a little shocked at how quickly and abruptly things had gone, and uncertain as to whether the consultation was over.

With a barely disguised sigh of frustration, Dr. Weber turned to me and asked "was there anything else I can help you with today Mr. Phillips?"

As I stepped outside the doctor's surgery onto the street, I noticed that it was a pleasant late-Spring day; unseasonably warm. I felt a huge weight lifted from my shoulders. The relentless pressure which had been inescapable since the day I started school, and especially the period where I had important exams, had carried through to university and then my full-time career. For the first time in 16 or maybe 17 years, I held in my hand a medically sanctioned piece of paper which excused me from the enormous pressures I had faced both academically, and in the world of work.

It felt terrific, knowing that I could spend the next two weeks free from the tyranny and torture of the alarm clock and its snooze button.

 

Next chapter...

 

Blogger's Digest - Day Two of #NaNoWriMo2019

13 min read

Blogger's Digest: a Novel

Contents

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

Chapter Thirteen

Chapter Fourteen

Chapter Two

My girlfriend, but perhaps more her family than her, made me feel very insecure and inadequate. Caroline was a brilliant girlfriend - one of the kindest, nicest people you could ever hope to meet, and surprisingly humble considering her privileged background. However, her family had wealth and status, the likes of which I had never encountered in my life. Her father was a partner at an international law firm and her mother was a doctor in general practice, which meant they were very well-off already, but Caroline's mother's family were exceptionally rich. Her grandfather had owned a paper manufacturing company, specialising in tissue paper and toilet rolls, which was the UK's number one brand and had floated on the London Stock Exchange in the 1970s. Caroline's two uncles were board members and her grandmother had become the biggest shareholder of the company, after the death of her husband.

The family lived in Surrey, close to the estates of the De Beers family - famous for their South African diamond mines - and the billionaire oil tycoon J. Paul Getty. Caroline's two brothers had attended boarding school at Christ's Hospital, while Caroline had boarded at Marlborough College. Caroline's parents - her mother in particular - had fought the family very hard to resist the pressure for the children to be sent to public school. Caroline's grandfather had been a Harrow boy, as had her two uncles. Caroline's mother had attended Cheltenham Ladies' College. She always suspected that she had been able to achieve the necessary exam grades and study medicine at Cambridge, not because of academic merit, but because of nepotism - Cambridge had made her a generously low offer, meaning she did not need top grades. Her time spent in hospital and in general practice had brought her into contact with many ordinary members of the public, as well as doctors who hadn't enjoyed the benefit of an expensive private education, which left her feeling a little guilty that her own path through life had been beset by very few of the difficulties in the lives of the people with whom she dealt with on a daily basis.

Caroline's family owned a sizeable luxury yacht, designed and built by the renowned and revered Camper & Nicholsons, which Caroline and her family referred to simply as "the boat" which caused me considerable annoyance.

* * *

My own nautical background began when I was eleven years old, at a school in Hampshire, near the Solent. One of my favourite teachers was an enthusiastic dinghy sailor and offered to introduce 4 of her pupils - the maximum she could fit in her car - the opportunity to learn to sail, under her tutelage. Why I was chosen, I do not know, but perhaps she took pity on me that I was one of the misfits. My birthday was the 2nd of September, making me the third youngest child in my school year, and the youngest boy. Throughout my school years I had been one of the smaller boys - not small for my age, but small because, all the other boys were older than me. Little legs cannot run as fast as longer legs, so I was largely excluded from sports, and an easy target for bullies.

The dinghies I learned to sail in were made of plastic and practically indestructible. They were designed to be sailed single-handed, and they were very simple to rig and operate. They were, however, surprisingly easy to capsize. Other dinghies had been designed with the intention of being used to teach sailing, and these were much harder to capsize, but they were bigger, slower and required a crew member as well as a helmsman. I was very glad to learn in the more exciting single-handed dinghies, because they were more exciting to sail and the occasional capsize and cold water dunking provided the incentive to learn very quickly how to control the sails, and how to deal with a capsized dinghy. Soon, I was able to react quickly enough to my dinghy capsizing, that I would dive over the side of the dinghy, stand on the centerboard fin, and then dive back into the dinghy when she came back upright again - a so-called dry capsize because it avoided being dunked into the cold water.

I joined the youth section of a prestigious sailing club a few years later, having begged another teacher who liked me if he would propose me as a member - the sailing club was quite snobby and membership was usually by invitation only. My prior dinghy sailing experience meant that I was immediately allowed to be a helmsman and to represent the club at regattas. Although I had no experience sailing two-handed dinghies, the club gave me their best dinghy and best crewman, and we won third place - I can claim no credit for the achievement, because my crew, who was just a young boy of 9 years old, told me exactly what to do for the entire race. My third place finish at the regatta brought me a great deal of unexpected congratulations and a couple of the girls at the sailing club took an interest in me, which was novel and most welcome, as I was extremely unpopular at school, and dismally unsuccessful with girls - I'd never had a girlfriend.

* * *

My inadequacies and insecurities, bred during my difficult school years, where I was ignored by the girls and bullied by the boys, led me to my decision to try to earn as much money as possible. I wanted to be rich and I wanted to have status symbols, as a prop for my fragile self-esteem. I decided that investment banking would be my ideal career choice.

Having graduated with a 2:1 in Maths from Sheffield, having failed to achieve the grades to get into any of the red-brick universities I had applied to, I managed to get onto the graduate training program of a small investment bank in the City of London, thanks in no small part to the hiring manager being a keen sailor - he was more keen to have another valuable member of the company sailing club, than he was to hire a better candidate. I had achieved a major objective: I was now an investment banker, working in the Square Mile. I immediately purchased a red 2-seater sports car.

I remained profoundly unsuccessful with women, despite my burgeoning wealth and the boost that my ego and self-esteem received from becoming a City banker, albeit a graduate trainee.

I met Caroline at a speed dating event. Vicki, one of my department's administrators, had press-ganged a group of the shy single men in our department into attending the speed dating event. I never had a speed date with Caroline, who was one of Vicki's single female friends. Vicki decided to play matchmaker at the end of the night. The following day, I asked Vicki for Caroline's number, having been too shy and insecure - and afraid of rejection - to ask her myself.

Sailing was the main thing that Caroline and I had in common, except she had only sailed yachts and I had only sailed dinghies. I felt very confident about my dinghy sailing abilities, knowledge and experience, but the world of yachting was entirely alien to me.

"The boat" which Caroline talked about all the time used to give me an unpleasant jolt every time she said it. I knew her family were fabulously rich, and I felt as though she was using the term "boat" in place of "yacht" in order to pretend that she was less privileged and wealthy. I accused her of attempting to down-play how affluent her family was, using an ambiguous term "boat" which could conjure up an image of a rowing boat, or an inflatable boat, or any number of quite ordinary and affordable watercraft, when we both knew that this particular "boat" was worth as much as a well-appointed 4 or 5 bedroom house in a desirable location. Given that my salary, as a recent graduate, was barely adequate to purchase a tiny ex-authority flat in an ugly concrete block of flats, in some highly undesirable part of London's Zone 3, I was a little outraged that Caroline and her family referred to their yacht as some mere "boat".

In fact, my insecurities ran far deeper. My ignorance about the world of yachting was a source of great unhappiness - I was extremely sensitive about any suggestion that I knew very little about yachts, navigation, sea crossings and suchlike. My sailing knowledge was confined to tiny dinghies, racing around small courses, close to shore. I hated that one of the few things I felt self-confident about was of no use to me - when Caroline and her family shared stories from their time on "the boat" I was baffled by a lot of the terminology, and I was unable to relate it at all to my own sailing experiences.

* * *

In secret, I enrolled in night school to learn about navigation at sea. I learned how to read nautical charts, how to plot a course and account for tidal flows. I learned how to identify what different buoys were for, and what their purpose was. I learned how to use a sighting compass to triangulate my position. I learned the "rules of the road" and how to avoid collisions. I learned what different lights meant, and how to navigate at night, in theory. I learned a heap of things which I had been completely ignorant of, as a dinghy sailor.

Then, I booked a week of holiday off work and enrolled on a Royal Yachting Association training course which would qualify me as a yacht skipper. I lived aboard a yacht - night and day - for a whole week, putting all the theory into practice, as well as learning how to manovre a yacht in a marina: something no dinghy sailor would ever do, given the lack of an engine. The sailing parts were mostly straightforward as a dinghy sailor, but the idea of setting out to sea without having quite literally set sail was a very strange concept. I had to learn how to put the sails up at sea, and the sails on a yacht are much, much larger than those on a dinghy.

The instructor had the lower part of his leg missing as well as three fingers one one hand, which were both caused by yachting accidents. A substantial portion of his leg was stripped to the bone when a coil of rope was wrapped around it, and the sail which it was attached to suddenly filled with wind, causing the rope to tug with tremendous force, flinging him overboard. He was lucky to survive, as it's very difficult to pick up a man overboard, when the waves are large and the wind is blowing strong. His fingers were lost when he wrapped a rope around a winch, trapping them, and then the sail filled with wind. You might have thought he'd have learned his lesson the first time, but he was the perfect instructor to demonstrate how dangerous yacht sailing can be, even for an experienced dinghy sailor who wouldn't realise the power that huge sails have, and how much force there is in the ropes when the wind fills the sails.

Having qualified as a skipper, I then immediately bought a yacht. Of course, my comparatively meagre wealth wouldn't allow me to purchase a large luxurious yacht, like the one owned by Caroline's family, but given the expense of mooring and maintaining a yacht, it's somewhat of a buyer's market and a relatively large second-hand yacht can be purchased for roughly the price of a new car. I bought a small racing yacht, which had a frugal interior, but with enough space to sleep 4 people in relative comfort. I was now a yacht owner and qualified skipper, which greatly relieved the crushing insecurities I had been carrying around since the start of my relationship with Caroline.

* * *

All of my dinghy sailing and my week-long training course had left me over-confident and ill-prepared for yacht ownership. My first attempt to leave the yacht broker's mooring, where I had purchased her, nearly ended in disaster when the engine cut out and I was unable to raise anything but the main sail, in order to limp to the nearest pontoon. I was at first berated by a yacht club member for tying up where I should not have done, but he took pity on me and pointed out that I had failed to open some critical valves, which had starved the engine of fuel and air. He also asked why I had not installed the headsail, to which I replied I thought I would do that at sea. "Did you learn to sail on a racing yacht?" he asked. I confirmed that I did, and he patiently explained that the yacht I had just bought had a convenient labour-saving mechanism, which allowed the headsail to be set with incredible ease - I just needed to set it up properly before setting out to sea.

Swallowing my pride, my second attempt to go to sea aboard my new yacht, I invited Caroline aboard for the first time. She quickly took charge and it was a humbling experience, to be taking instruction from my girlfriend, who was an absolutely brilliant patient teacher. I hadn't invited her out for the maiden voyage, because I was afraid that I would react badly if my own incompetence was exposed and I was embarrassed. I thoroughly enjoyed that first voyage with Caroline, and I felt as if I had achieved what I always wanted: a girlfriend who shared my passion for sailing.

Life was good. I had my well paid job as a City investment banker, with a glittering future career ahead of me, a red 2-seater sports car, a yacht, and a girlfriend who loved sailing. At 22 years old, I felt incredibly proud of what I'd achieved at a young age. I had vanquished the miserable bullied school years, and dealt with my unhappy and insecure single years, when I had been so hopelessly incompetent and abysmally unsuccessful at getting a girlfriend.

I imagined that we would buy a house, have kids and live happily ever after, enjoying all the luxuries of wealthy people: multiple holidays to exotic locations, skiing in the winter, a second home in the countryside, a nanny and a housekeeper, and beautiful children who we would send to good schools to receive a quality education, to become whatever they wanted to be in life and reach their full potential.

What could possibly go wrong?

 

Next chapter...

 

Step Nine: Prioritise

8 min read

This is a story about the critical path...

Backpacks

Having attended 8 different schools and basically had my sense of stability and security snatched away from me at every opportunity, by my selfish parents, during an upbringing where they prioritised their own antisocial desire to take drugs in isolation above everything else, I've learned the hard way what's important and what's not.

I place a very high value on loyalty, but I know from bitter and disappointing experience that there are extremely few people who are at all loyal in the world. I very rarely encounter anybody who I would describe as loyal, let alone trust. Because my parents forcibly removed me from anywhere I was becoming settled and secure, on so many occasions, it was necessary to find a coping mechanism for the destruction wrought upon any relationships; any attachments which I had formed. Through no fault of my own, and indeed through the wickedness of my parents, I was forced to become able to remain emotionally detached from people, such that I could disentangle myself without the heartbreak, repeatedly perpetrated against me, while my parents pursued their antisocial selfish drug-taking lifestyle.

Repeatedly moving house also destroys a child's sense of security in their home and their bedroom. What's the point in getting attached to a place if your parents are going to wrench you from it, the moment you begin to feel at home? Again, I was forced to develop coping mechanisms for the selfish antisocial drug-taking lifestyle, which perpetrated such an unsettled home life upon me, leaving me with no sense of 'home' or 'belonging' - these things are meaningless terms to me.

"Where are you from?" people often ask me. How on earth do I answer that question? I have had a childhood which no child should've had to suffer. Children need stability and security; consistency. Children need their friends; children need their house and their school and they need a place which they can call home - be it town or village. If you rob your child of this, you are an evil and wicked person.

Where I currently sit, on my sofa with my cat snuggled next to me, there are approximately ten books which I haven't read, six board games which I haven't played, a few other items of furniture and some fake plants, all of which I would consider entirely disposable. If my house burned down and I lost every single possession, it would be a mere inconvenience to process the insurance claim - there is nothing in my life which I'm emotionally attached to. Even my cat, who I adore, could be re-homed and live a very happy life. It would, I admit, be hard for me to return to cat-free existence and I would soon seek to get another cat at the earliest practicable opportunity, but while I do love my beautiful kitten, I know that her loyalties lie with whoever is feeding her; cats are not loyal and they do not truly reciprocate love, because they are simple creatures, although incredibly beautiful and loveable.

Why have I led this essay with such a bitterness-filled tirade? Well, it sets the scene for the important point I'm about to make.

If you need to achieve something very, very hard, you have to know what you can afford to lose.

To go on the journey from penniless and homeless, abandoned by friends and family - or at least given a temporary wide berth because they mistakenly and misguidedly believed they needed to protect their families from "that homeless guy" who they used to call their friend or relative - then you need to know what is on the critical path, and what is not.

We live in a capitalist society (unless you are reading this in North Korea, which I very much doubt) and as such, the cultural indoctrination has been so successful that nobody will piss on you if you're on fire, because they believe that there is some cash value for their urine, or at least expect to be paid in advance for emptying their bladder in order to extinguish the flames. Thus, while it's laudable to do acts of random kindness, most people will cut off your head and shit down your throat, if they think it'll contribute 0.000001% towards getting their kid an "A" grade in their exam.

Money is at the root of everything. Concentrate on getting money and everything else falls into place. This might sound shallow. This might sound like terrible advice. Indeed, it would be terrible advice for any person who had a brilliant childhood where they were raised by normal parents, in a normal house and went to school like a normal kid. Unfortunately, for those of us who were denied that by our wicked selfish parents, we have to buy our way through life; we have to prostitute ourselves. We have no place to call home which will welcome us with open arms - we have been forced into nomadic exile; belonging nowhere and to nobody.

People have been kind to me, but people have been disproportionately unkind to me, such that the net balance means that I have suffered far more than I have benefitted. I am immensely grateful for those few loyal, generous and kind people who have treated me well. My sanity, dignity and self-esteem is only preserved by that tiny group who have chosen not to shun, marginalise, exclude, ostracise and spurn me; to eject me from society and reject me from anywhere I might gain a sense of belonging.

A man's life is worth very little, and I use the word "man" quite deliberately, because it is men who freeze to death on the streets, only to be cremated, with no mourners. There are some women, but they attract a disproportionate amount of sympathy, given that they suffer less violence, and have far better prospects than men do. You might immediately feel that I'm wandering into the territory of a misogynistic rant, but I merely present the simple facts. "Hate" facts you might call them, if there was any malice in my words, but there is not. It's simply a bleak appraisal of a life, as a man, which sees me far more likely to be murdered, assaulted, killed at work, jailed, homeless or suffer any number of horrible outcomes, than if I had been born without a willy in-between my legs.

So, what about the priorities?

Earn money. It's a practical necessity in capitalist society, and without it you will be trampled, spat on and kicked to death. There are no other priorities. Making friends is not important. Having a place to call home is not important. Having a family is not important. Everything can wait until you've got some money. That is the priority: get some money, then everything else will fall into place.

Once you have money, you will find that everything can be bought. You can attempt to persuade yourself that everything you have was not bought, but I can reassure you from bitter experience, that nobody wants to come and visit you in the gutter, if you're penniless; nobody wants to be in a relationship with you; nobody wants to help you... nobody even wants to see you. That's right, if you're poor, people would much prefer it if you were totally invisible.

How does this relate to my own personal version of the Alcoholics Anonymous Twelve Steps abstinence-based program to achieving sobriety? Well, it's pretty simple really: step nine says get rich, and don't worry about anything else. The world is full of wealthy drunks, and nobody cares about their alcohol problems. Alcoholism is a disease of the poor. If you're not poor then you're not an alcoholic anymore... you're just somebody who enjoys a drink; you're a party animal; you're suddenly a great guy or gal who's surrounded by heaps of friends.

Of course, don't be so stupid as to lose your money, which can very easily be done when gregariously and generously buying drinks for all your friends, because of course without money you're nothing but a worthless alcoholic scumbag. That's the secret, you see: stay rich and you'll be fine; concentrate on the money and everything else falls into place.

You might think that this sounds like terrible advice, and it probably is. If I screw up and lose all my money, you will laugh at me and tell me that I am a fool, and in all probability I am more likely to fail than I am to succeed, so you are making a cowardly bet, to bet against me. If I succeed, then I don't give a shit who you are or what you used to think about me, because I can do whatever the hell I want; I can have whatever I want.

In this hell-hole of a capitalist society, prioritise one thing and one thing alone: money.

 

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Someone to Look After

4 min read

This is a story about nurturing...

Kitty

My cat routine starts pre-dawn, being kicked and having my feet attacked. Then my cat shoves her head into my hands, forcing me to stroke her, while I struggle to sleep. In the shower, she wails outside the bathroom unless I let her in, in which case she will destroy the toilet rolls. As I get dressed she repeatedly attempts to go into my wardrobe to urinate. I go downstairs to feed her, and she desperately attempts to trip me up. She charges around crazily, whether I've fed her or not. She occasionally decides that she wants to play rough, and starts attacking my arms and legs.

Throughout all this human-cat interaction, I talk to her. Mostly "no!" and "stop that!" and other cries of shock and pain as she attacks me unexpectedly, but also I meow back whenever she is around. She seems to forget that I'm at home, and she meows forlornly in some distant part of the house and comes running when she hears me meow back.

If I'm pottering around doing chores, I generally chat to the cat, who is my constant companion.

I would be lonely, alone in my big house, but my cat is very entertaining.

I was very stressed about my sleep being disturbed, but I've become used to her being crazy late at night and early in the morning. She can be very annoying and make a lot of noise, attacking things and me, and zooming around at high speed - the drum beat of her paws sounding very loud at unsociable hours of the day - but it's become more normal and routine now. I can cope. It's almost nice, especially in the brief moments when she calms down and wants to be affectionate.

The two cats I've had before have mostly enjoyed sleeping. I've never had a cat with such an interesting personality; so entertaining. She's a nightmare, but I've gotten used to all the new rules I have to follow: I can't leave any paper or cardboard out, or it will get shredded. I can't have nice plants, or else they will get chewed. I can't have floor-standing paper lamps. I can't leave coats, jumpers or blankets lying on the floor, or else they will get peed on. It's kind of like having a puppy, I guess.

I take far more enjoyment out of feeding my cat than I do myself. I put more effort into choosing something that I think she'd like to eat than I do for myself. In fact, I spend far more time doing things for her than I do on self-care. I was thinking to myself about what toys I should buy for her. I have plenty of motivation to look after her, even though I'm neglecting myself.

Her cries are not quite as baby-like as a Siamese, but I was thinking how much her cries elicit an immediate desire to rush to her aid. She's definitely a child substitute, although not one that's going to grow up traumatised and tell me that I was a terrible father. She has a good life and she will be dead long before climate change makes the planet inhospitable, and she can't have any children. She is not tormented by existential angst. She is not deprived; she's spoiled.

If I was forced to leave Cardiff in order to take a contract in London, I would have to rehome her, which would be heartbreaking. Living without a cat again would be a major blow to my quality of life. However heartless it might sound, I still need to get another year of good earning and savings under my belt, to give me that all-important financial security I have worked so hard to get. It'd be awful, losing my kitty, but it's impossible to get a landlord to agree to having a pet in London. Hopefully I can extend my current contract or find another local contract, but I always plan for the worst.

Having a cat has helped me so much during this difficult period, where I'm having relationship problems, and I'm under enormous stress and pressure at work.

 

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Managing the Managers

4 min read

This is a story about work...

Devops

Building software is no longer about programming. Programming is something that I learned as a child. Programming is quite literally child's play to me. Modern software development involves very little programming. Modern software development is all about delivering massive projects, with massive teams, in massive organisations, and none of this has anything to do with programming. Remarkably little programming gets done by programmers.

I would be surprised if the average number of lines of code written by a programmer in a big organisation was more than a handful a day. In fact, I picked a colleague - a programmer - at random and looked at how many lines of code they've written in the past year - an average of 8 lines per day. That's not a lot of programming.

So what do programmers do all day if they're not writing code? Well, most of them are sitting around scratching their heads, wondering where the problem is in millions of lines of code that they didn't write.

Why are programmers looking at other people's code, trying to find the problems?

Good question.

There are people out there who write lots of code, but most of them are software architects and devops engineers: these are developers. Developers don't just write code though. Developers create systems. Developers know how all the different moving parts fit together to create an entire system. Developers can design, build and assemble the components of gigantic software projects, into working systems. Sure, some of it involves programming, but none of it requires writing programs. Programs are for children. Children write programs. Programming is child's play. Developing software systems is grown-up work, done by developers.

There's a general belief that a programmer is an interchangeable commodity. If you don't like one programmer, fire them and hire another one who "speaks" the same language. Of course, this is idiotic, because programmers in big organisations write 10 lines of code or fewer per day. Most of what is useful and valuable is the specific knowledge which relates to an organisation and its software systems, which only the experienced team members know. Throwing more programmers at a problem makes things worse, not better, because they don't have a clue about anything, except how to read code... millions and millions of lines of code which they didn't write. There's nothing worse than somebody else's code.

The diagram above shows how software is shipped these days. If we were back in the 1980s then the diagram would show copies of a diskette being made and physically distributed, so that people could install it onto their PCs themselves. How software goes from a programmer's computer to your computer is kinda important. How do you think it gets there? Well, there's a lot of magic behind the scenes. The diagram shows the magic trick, but it's so incomprehensibly complex that it remains as good as magic, even though I showed you how the magic trick is done. This is just one tiny part of being a developer: understanding how to actually get software onto people's laptops, tablets and smartphones.

There are a million things a developer knows. They know about the cloud. They know about databases and data. They know about servers. They know about security. They know about performance. All of these subjects are vast. There are experts in every one of those subjects, and there are myriad experts in the specifics of each field. There is an incomprehensibly mountainous amount that a developer needs to know.

So, managers, stuff your spreadsheets up your arse. You have no skills, experience or knowledge which is relevant or useful in the field of software development. You are allowed to exist because you are a shit umbrella, nothing more. You are doing your job if you stop anybody from annoying the developers and programmers, allowing them to do their jobs, and you are being insufferably irritating if you attempt to intervene in the business of software, because software is hard.

Yes, software is really really really hard. It's harder than Excel pivot table macros, or whatever the hardest thing you know is. It's waaaay harder than that, managers.

So, butt out.

Shut up.

Let us do our jobs.

Engineers left to their own devices will produce wonderful things. All the things we take for granted in the modern world are a result of engineers being left alone to get on with building cool shit. None of the wonderful things would have come into existence if the engineers were bothered by some know-noting busybody bloody managers, who tried to interfere.

 

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