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I write every day about living with bipolar disorder, also known as manic depression. I've written and published more than 1.3 million words

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Electronicat

5 min read

This is a story about technical stuff...

Electronics

Of all the hobbies I thought about getting into, most of them were sedentary; indoors. I thought about getting some kind of retro games console. I thought about getting a new games console. I thought about getting a gaming PC. Then, I thought about maybe doing something really geeky. I started looking into software-defined radio, with the intention of making a home-made radar, perhaps, or doing my own mobile phone base station. All of this, I decided, was expensive and wouldn't help me with my need to get outside and exercise.

I did some of the projects on the cheap. I managed to turn my 5 year old laptop into a pretty decent retro console, with nothing more than a cheap game controller pad. I got a whole buttload of electronics experiments I could do with a super cheap tiny little computer (pictured). I managed to make a home-made sonar. Not quite radar, but not too bad for a bodger.

Still, I found myself spending most of my time looking at a screen, indoors.

Also, although the projects have provided some intellectual challenge, they haven't really opened up any social avenues. I'm sure that if I got really involved in - for example - the software defined radio community, online, then I would kinda get 'social' contact out of that, but I already get more than enough online social contact. The thing I'm missing is real world social contact.

I know from past experience that when I've done something ridiculous, like suddenly deciding to get into kitesurfing, it's taken my life in a brilliant direction. I've travelled the world, in search of the best wind and waves, and made lifelong friends along the way.

My life is very nice - enviable - in a lot of ways. My beautiful cat keeps me company, and she likes company too; always wants to be nearby, getting involved with everything I'm doing, which is not always ideal when working on a microelectronics project, for example. For sure, I have options and opportunities which a lot of people can only dream of.

However.

I am also more socially isolated than you can possibly imagine. Estranged from my family, far from friends, without a support network. The litmus test is this: if you're hospitalised for a major medical emergency, who's there for you? I can answer that question. I can answer that question very well, and the answer is not good, although mercifully I did have a work colleague and a friend who happened to be visiting from abroad, who were kind enough to visit me, hooked up to a dialysis machine for 4 hours a day; a hospital stay of more than 2 weeks; a medical emergency that pretty much nearly killed me.

That's not a dig at my friends, of course. They've become used to leaving me sleeping rough or otherwise homeless. They've become used to leaving me in hospital, dying, alone. That's fine. I've come to terms with that.

I do have some VERY good friends. I am lucky enough to have one or two friends who would help me, if I asked. The rest... I'm not sure if I can even call them friends... more just people who I used to know, but now they're just strangers who I happen to see updates from on Facebook. They might as well be celebrities who I read about in tabloid newspapers or gossip magazines.

This wasn't supposed to be a dig at my acquaintances [former friends]. This is about what I'm doing to sort my life out, to make it bearable.

Possibly, by getting back into mountain biking, I have opened up the possibility of making some friends and building a support network; having a social life. We'll have to see. "Social life" might just be something which I'll never regain; I'm too old to be able to [re]build one now, having lost my old one. Anyway, I remain optimistic.

For the first time in forever, I felt motivated to start to plan for the future, in a way that's not just planning for my suicide. I've been planning what to do when my backside isn't so sore, and I can ride my new mountain bike again - where am I going to go?

Suddenly, winter doesn't look quite so bleak. I have good winter clothes and a reason to be outdoors, in the wind, the rain, and the mud. Not many people have the strange twisted kind of brain that I do, where I love extreme weather: keeps the fair-weather tourists away. On the bike ride I went on, on Saturday, there was not a single other soul on the mountain. I'd hardly describe it as "perfect conditions" but in the forests around the summit of the mountain, I hardly noticed the rain; I was going to get covered in mud anyway. It was delightful; ecstatic; euphoric... to be hammering down deserted mountain tracks, without having to worry about crashing into anybody. A far cry from the queues to get into shops, which seems to be something that the ordinary folks are spending their time doing.

Of course, everything's more fun when there's a social aspect, so I'm hoping to find some people to go mountain biking with, but people are already contacting me (which is unheard of) to arrange some biking trips, which is a good sign; a sign that I might get the healthy habits which I need in my life, along with a truckload of fun and adventure.

 

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Monetization Strategy

4 min read

This is a story about mixing work and pleasure...

Billion dollar banknote

My inbox is full of an ever-increasing number of requests for me to publish a guest blog. On closer inspection, these are really requests to pay me to put advertising on my website, or links to help other websites to improve their Google search rankings. Basically, I don't get genuine requests from people who legitimately want to share anything here... only online marketing and search engine optimisation people, trying to piggyback on my hard work.

What about that hard work?

Why would I do that hard work, if I'm not getting paid?

Well, although I have moaned about crippling debts for many years, I actually have enough money. Very nearly - once - I came within £23 of bankruptcy, but I've always managed to service my debts, pay my rent, pay my bills, buy food and otherwise pay my way in the world. I wouldn't say money has been plentiful but it has been adequate even though a lot of it has been borrowed in order to bridge the gap between the necessary expenditure to stay in the game, versus being cast out from mainstream society and trampled underfoot. I don't really need whatever pitiful sum of money I could get, by perverting my artwork into a commercial artefact.

Wut?

Yes, that's right. I prefer it that my folly - this monument to my madness and stupidity - is kept as something entirely non-commercial. That means no advertising. No selling data. No product placement. No backlinks. No quid quo pro. You can't offer me anything that I would accept in exchange for turning my idiotic endeavours into a money-making scheme. If I wanted to make money, I'd have done something else. I'm not in this for the money. I don't want to become yet another lifestyle blogger, influencer, social media expert, or other person in that particular area. I'm a writer, and I'm able to write and publish whatever I want, and reach thousands of readers every day, which surely is a writer's dream? I mean, sure, some writers have to eat but c'mon! There are so many easier ways to make money than writing! Surely nobody would be stupid enough to try to make writing into their main profession, when they could just as easily work a fraction of the time, and have the majority of their working week available - free - to pursue any writing project that a writer would want to pursue.

Okay, so I only managed to complete a single novel manuscript to an acceptable first-draft standard, in the 5+ years I've been writing 'full-time' but I also produced a couple of 80% complete manuscripts, plus a 1.3 million word blog with thousands of readers, which appears on the first page of Google for a whole bunch of things that people are searching for. I don't mean this as a boast, but merely to point out that if writing was my objective, I've managed to do plenty, without having to earn a writer's pittance of a salary.

Of course I would love to call myself, more legitimately, a writer. I wish I had the balls to give up my main profession, and pursue writing to combine passion, vocation and work into a single thing, but then, I think I would feel very insecure and touchy about my work. Anyone can tell me "your writing is shit" at the moment, and I'll know that they're wrong, but it's not professional grade either; it's a damn sight better than your average keyboard-mashing internet-dweller, so they can fuck off. If I called myself a writer by trade then I'd probably take it very personally, and get really upset. I've not been writing for long enough, nor had enough external validation, to fend off criticism of my writing, if I was doing it in a professional capacity.

So, if you're thinking of contacting me, asking if I can - basically - help you sell you or your client's product or service, don't expect to get a response back from me, other than an unpleasant one. I don't go out of my way to be unpleasant to people, but some of the people who email me are really aggressive and get unduly unpleasant when I ignore them, which is uncalled for. Also, it pisses me off when people want to use me and my artwork - my folly - to further their contemptible commercial endeavours.

You will never see any ads on this website, and I will never sell the data (what data would I even sell anyway?).

 

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I Can't Afford to Dream

3 min read

This is a story about being stuck in a hole...

Concrete beds

Why did I get so angry and upset yesterday over something so seemingly trivial? I think I'm exhausted from 3 years of uninterrupted hard work, stress and struggle. I've been battling to dig myself out of the hole I'm in, so I certainly haven't had the opportunity to dream.

For those people who are surrounded by their friends and family, comfortably in their routine: paying their mortgages, kissing their husbands/wives and kids good night, working their steady jobs, stuffing money into their sizeable savings accounts and pensions... those people can dream, because they're in a position of security and stability. Their lives are predictable, so they're able to dream. Of course, they are somewhat trapped by domestic bliss, so they kinda have to dream, because it's unthinkable that they would ever cut loose from their comfortable lives... but also, they know they really don't want to have a life of stress and insecurity like I have.

"What do you want to do with your life?" people ask me. A seemingly innocent question, but it's not. The question presupposes that I have any choice, when I obviously do not. My choices are between what I have to do - I'm forced to do - or death. Well, perhaps not immediate death, but in fact a much, much worse death.

If I don't do what I have to do, then bankruptcy, eviction, destitution and exclusion from society swiftly follow: I'll be a homeless tramp, unable to get a job, unable to rent a place to live, unable to do anything, except die from the loss of dignity and the harshness of homelessness and sleeping rough.

I'm creditworthy, so of course I could get into heaps of debt, pretending like I'm able to live a certain lifestyle without consequences. That seems to be what students do in the UK, where tuition fees are £27,000 and maintenance loans add another £30,000... £57,000 of debt, living a lifestyle you can't afford; putting off today's problems until tomorrow. I'm not going to do that. I'm not going to get myself into that much debt.

There's no point dreaming until I've got the money to pay for those dreams.

Sure, you go ahead and have your dreams. You can afford to dream. Even if you can't ditch your husband/wife, kids, mortgage and job, you can still dream, and it's harmless. You can dream about getting a new kitchen or bathroom. You can dream about re-carpeting your hallway. You can dream about whatever you want, because you're in a position of wealth and privilege; security.

My dream consists of getting enough financial security to be able to afford a nervous breakdown without capitalism destroying me; killing me.

 

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Blogger's Digest - Day Nine 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 Nine

The summer had felt endless at the time: stepping out of the house in light clothing; shorts and flip-flops; T-shirts and sunglasses. I completely relaxed and enjoyed the good weather, setting aside any concerns about the future, in order to soak up the enjoyment of that pleasant period. I had a tendency to be somewhat absent, brooding anxiously about potential issues, which might be weeks or months away, or indeed might never materialise.

Earlier on in our relationship, Sian would snap her fingers and say "hey? where'd you go?" noticing that my thoughts had wandered and my attention had been diverted away from the present moment, and I had retreated inwardly, ruminating endlessly about a particular future concern of mine.

I had grown comfortable with staying at Sian's house throughout the winter, and spending time on my yacht was a novelty which we enjoyed, even if it was just sipping Prosecco on deck in the marina in the evening, as the sun went down. We engaged in a bit of friendly chit-chat with the yachtie folk, in fine spirits during the summer months, when everybody seemed to be wearing a permanent smile and our skin was sun-kissed and brown, physically epitomising how good our lives were at that particular moment.

I had somewhat taken my eye off the ball.

When the weather became more unpredictable in September, but we still enjoyed a lot of good weather during an exceptional Indian Summer, it was romantic to have to dash below decks when the heavens suddenly opened and a torrent of rain lashed down; the droplets creating an almighty racket as they pelted the thin roof over our heads. We cosied up under a duvet and spooned in post-coital bliss, watching the water as it moved over the hatches and portholes, and feeling incredibly snug and warm - the only thing which could have possibly improved things would have been to have a log fire to watch, as well as the rivers of rain which swept across my deck and drained into the marina. It was better than watching television.

Again, October was upon me and I had made no preparations for the winter. I began to feel very trapped.

The first winter with Sian had been amazing. The pain of the breakup with Caroline was beginning to fade and it had been extremely welcome to be able to begin to move on. The heating situation aboard my yacht was an unanticipated problem, which had caused me a great deal of stress, and Sian had provided an almost-instant solution. Now, however, I felt it was unfair for me to expect to stay with her all winter, again, and I also felt a kind of obligation; a debt of gratitude. Sian was a very easy-going person and there was never any pressure or expectation, but I did feel a natural obligation to please her and go along with her plans, given that she was keeping me warm through the coldest months of thee year. This sense of indebtedness was not something I was used to, and it was particularly exacerbated by the fact that it was to a person, rather than a faceless organisation, to whom I owed that debt; it was a debt which was hard to define, so it was hard to know how it could be repaid. Certainly, I wanted to be relinquished of the burden; to feel free.

I considered my options, of which there were three obvious ones.

Firstly, I could retro-fit a heating system to my yacht. This was likely to be an expensive and time-consuming process, which would be unlikely to be finished until well into the new year. It would be highly costly, yet it would add no value to my yacht, because most buyers would not value it as a feature - hardly anybody lives aboard their yachts in the UK, and in fact most are pulled out of the water and kept on hard standing from approximately November to April.

Secondly, I could sell my yacht and buy another one, which had been designed and built for sailing in more northerly climes. Most of the yachts for sale Nordic countries had efficient heating systems as an intrinsic part of their original shipbuilder's design, and the interior had been sprayed with insulating foam, which was a process which could only be done before the interior of the yacht was fitted. This would be by far the better solution, because a retro-fitted heating system would be highly inefficient without the insulating foam - having to change the gas bottle every week, was an added inconvenience which I didn't want, but a well-insulated yacht would require a fraction of the gas to heat it. However, the process of selling my yacht and buying another one was not going to be quick or easy, and shouldn't be rushed.

Thirdly, I could rent or buy a house of my own. Rushing into a house purchase seemed like insanity, so the only realistic option was to rent, but there were many reasons not to rent a place. I objected to spending a large sum of money, for which somebody else would be receiving the benefits of the yield on their asset - it was dead money; lost. Also, it would be a little hard to explain to Sian why I would want to spend vast sums of money renting a place that I would almost never live in. She was sure to take it as somewhat of an insult; a slight on her hospitality, or perhaps even an indication that I wasn't fond of her, which ran completely contrary to my objectives and my feelings. I was extremely fond of her and she was wonderful host, but that's what made me feel trapped, and as though I owed her something, which was a feeling I wanted to escape.

There was a fourth, completely ridiculous idea, but it was somehow the most appealing of all of them. Because it was such a stupid idea, I tried to dismiss it.

I could have my yacht transported, by road or sea, to Greece or Turkey. She would be lifted out of the water, her mast detached, and then she would be put in a transportation cradle, which would hold her securely, ready to be craned onto the trailer of a lorry. The lorry could either deliver her all the way to my chosen Mediterranean port, or to a UK shipping port, where she would be loaded onto a cargo ship. I hadn't looked in detail at the costs, but the latter seemed to be the cheaper option.

What I should have done was to move her at the end of the summer - to sail her to the Med with a couple of experienced sailor friends who owed me a favour, and maybe some crew members who were looking to increase the number of logged miles they had spent at sea, in order to obtain a Royal Yachting Association Yacht Master qualification, which was necessary for anybody who wanted to work as a professional yacht skipper. Instead, I had almost forgotten entirely about the impending winter, and chosen to enjoy the summer while it lasted.

There was another consideration.

I would have to quit my job again. Human Resources would never want to re-employ somebody who had left the bank, not just once, but twice. This meant that I would have to try my luck as a consultant, hoping to gain a short contract each Spring, which would last me until the Autumn, when I could return to my yacht in the Med. The prospect of escaping the worst of the British weather each year was immensely appealing, and my friends at work were mostly employed on short contracts, earning vast sums of money. Having left my job and easily been re-employed, I felt confident that I would have no difficulty becoming a contractor/consultant to the bank, working for just 6 months of the year. However, it was a radical departure from the lifestyle I'd always known. What would I do about Sian, for example?

* * *

"You know that book you're always saying you're going to write one day?" I asked Sian, as innocently as I could.

"Yes" she replied, already a little suspicious, because I had long since become rather bored by her regular talk about her ambitions to write a book, but had never seen any sign of an attempt to put plans into action. My eyes had usually glazed over when she began to talk about her book.

"Don't you think it'll be too hard for you to write, while you're working full-time?" I asked.

"I have the summer holidays. I was planning on writing my book last summer, until you came along and messed that up!" she said with a cheeky grin. She gave me a little kiss.

"Do you think you could write your book in just a couple of months? Wouldn't you need longer?"

"Why all this interest in my book all of a sudden? I didn't think you were interested" she observed astutely.

"I was interested, but it just seemed like it might've been all talk. I'd really like it if you were able to write your book. You've always been very passionate about it, and I think it's a shame you've not had the opportunity."

"Opportunity? This sounds like you have a proposal of some kind. Why don't you stop beating around the bush and tell me what you're getting at" she said. She was incredibly perceptive and smart - which is why I liked her so much - and I appreciated her directness, but this wasn't the softly-softly approach I was hoping to take.

"Well, you know your colleague... the one who took a sabbatical in order to focus on her artistic career?" I asked.

"Yes. Shiela. It was a big flop, and she came back to work."

"Well, she didn't really lose anything, did she? I mean, they just gave her her old job back, didn't they?"

"She spent her life savings!" replied Sian, aghast at the suggestion that her colleague suffered no loss as a result of her attempt to follow her dream.

"Yes. Well. We're talking about you writing a book here, not trying to launch yourself as an internationally renowned installation artist. Shiela spent vast sums of money renting gallery space and promoting her art, didn't she? You'd just write your book on your laptop, wouldn't you? Zero costs."

"What about my mortgage?" she asked. "I don't have any savings to support myself."

"What if you rented this place out?" I suggested.

"Have lodgers? I don't want to share my house with lodgers!" she said indignantly.

"No, not lodgers. Rent the whole place out."

"Where would I live then?"

"On my yacht, with me."

"In Brighton Marina? I mean, it's alright to spend the night down there once in a while, but I wouldn't want to live there, amongst all those middle-aged men in blue blazers with gold buttons, trying to have sex with women half their age by flashing their cash."

"No not in Brighton Marina, silly" I said, even though I knew I had not fully explained my idea to her yet. "We would cruise the Mediterranean. We would hop between the islands of Greece. We would potter up and down the coast of Turkey. We would drop anchor wherever we found a beautiful secluded bay, and you could tap away on your laptop, writing your book, and then we'd sail off to a little fishing village, eat fresh fish, and wash it all down with local wine."

This was the elevator pitch. To me it sounded like the very definition of living the dream and I hoped Sian would agree, especially with the bait of her being finally able to write her book.

 

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 Five 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 Five

I was sat in a small meeting room in the headquarters of the investment bank from which I had resigned.

"Why do you want to come back to work for us?" asked the lady from Human Resources, who was interviewing me.

I had passed three rounds of interviews, and this was the final interview, which would include salary negotiations. It was also an opportunity for Human Resources to veto my re-employment, if they felt that there was any reason why I should not be allowed back into the firm. This lady from Human Resources was giving me a grilling.

* * *

After nearly two years of back-breaking labour, spent covered in brick dust, plaster and with fibreglass insulation irritating my skin, earning a modest income as a self-employed electrician, I'd had quite enough of living the dream; being my own boss wasn't all it was cracked up to be.

My customers had been mostly nice people, but one or two had formed the mistaken belief - due to watching too many sensationalistic TV programs and reading the Daily Mail - thinking that everybody they dealt with in the building trade was a rogue trader; a cowboy. There was a general impression that the work I did was easy money, when in fact I often under-charged my customers, because I wanted to build my reputation for value-for-money. I wanted to get word-of-mouth recommendations, but it took a lot of time and effort to establish my business.

It wasn't helpful that every customer thought that they were a master of price negotiations, and that my quotations included exorbitant mark-ups, on the assumption that I would be beaten down on price. Pay less; get less - that's the simple rule of thumb when dealing with tradesmen, engineers or other professionals. I'm not saying that I cut corners, but you can be damn sure that charged for every single item which wasn't on the original quote, if the customer had insisted on haggling over my original quote.

One particular awkward customer had caused an almighty scene and threatened to make a complaint to the professional body I was a member of, demanding to have me struck off as an approved and certified contractor. She was upset because the invoice I presented her with included a lot of extra things, which she had asked me to do, which had not been part of the original quote. I had told her - verbally - that I would have to charge extra for the time and materials, to which she replied "just add it to the bill". After patiently and calmly explaining that I was not operating a charity, and that she, as a first-time property developer, must understand that my time and materials must be paid for, or else I would make a loss, she continued to have a tantrum. I lost my patience and said that I would begin the process of removing all of the wiring which I had installed. She thought I was bluffing, but as took my wire cutters out and made the first moves to begin to sever all brand new cables, she quickly backed down and agreed to pay in full.

A couple of weeks after the incident with the customer who had threatened to make a complaint against me, she phoned me and begged me to come back to do some more work for her: word had got around that she was a hopeless dreadful amateur wannabe property developer. She had been effectively black-balled by the local tradesmen, who all gave her quotations which were ten times the amount they would normally charge, because she was such a pain to work for.

The customers who accepted the original quotation and paid their bill quite gladly, were unfortunately far fewer than those who tried to haggle and then grumbled about parting with their cash. It was dirty hard physical work, and there was little gratitude from the customers.

A dangerous electrical installation had nearly killed the young daughter of a customer - she had been mildly electrocuted when he had removed a vital piece of safety equipment while doing DIY. This customer was aggrieved that I had immediately cut all the power to his house until the fault was rectified. It was a very modest sum of money for the remedial work, but this man remained utterly convinced I was trying to rip him off. I feared that he would make matters worse if I left the property unsupervised. I had seen screwdrivers, spanners and pieces of thick wire, jammed into fuse-boards, where somebody had been so desperate to restore power that they decided to do away with a vital piece of safety equipment. I tried to explain that her mild electrocution could easily have been fatal, but he was hung up on the work "shock".

"She just got a shock, is all that happened" he said, repeating himself.

"Yes. The soles of her shoes, wool carpet, underlay, wooden floorboards and everything else between her and the ground insulated her from getting a much bigger shock. If she had touched something like the taps in the bathroom or kitchen at the same time as any of the earthed electrical appliance, she would be dead" I patiently explained.

"But she's not dead. She just got a shock."

"Yes. Every electrical appliance in your house that has exterior metal parts, like your kettle, your toaster, your microwave, your heated towel rail - all of these are currently live because of an electrical fault."

"Why didn't the fuse trip then?" he asked.

"Because you removed the earth rod" I explained.

"But that was months ago. Everything was working fine."

"It was working fine, but it was a death-trap waiting to happen. By removing the earth rod, as soon as you had an electrical fault, everything electrical with metal parts is now capable of electrocuting you."

"But it was just a shock."

"If you touch something live with your hand, you get a shock. It hurts. If you touch something live with your hand while your other hand is touching something grounded then you are going to die." I explained, realising that it was a futile waste of my time, but trying to be patient.

"So we'll be OK? We just won't touch anything made of metal until this gets fixed?" he asked, with his voice and face lit up with the hope that he could avoid paying the modest amount of money to rectify the fault.

"No you will not be OK. Your electrical system is lethal and I have condemned the installation. I cannot restore your power until this is fixed"

"You're ripping me off. This is blackmail."

"Sir, I assure you that all I want to do is make sure nobody is killed."

"Are you trying to tell me that just disconnecting that one skinny little green wire has broken my whole electrical system?" he asked.

"Green and yellow" I corrected him. "4 millimetres thick is not skinny, and it's a vital part of your electrical system. Without it the fault which has developed has made your entire electrical system lethal. I suppose you are correct: your whole electrical system is broken, although the remedy is quite quick, simple and inexpensive, as I explained."

"If it's so inexpensive, why don't you just do it, given that you seem to care so much about safety and wotnot?"

I'd had too many of these conversations, where customers thought I was providing some kind of free charity service. My customers were generally wealthy, reflecting the local neighbourhood, and none of them were pleading poverty: they all had the means to pay for the services which they requested and required, but they felt as though I was ripping them off, and I could not understand why.

Perhaps I was too kind and patient. Perhaps I wasted too much time trying to explain the complexities and the technicalities of the issues. Perhaps I should have just done what other electricians did, which was to simply hand over a copy of a piece of paper explaining why their electrical system was condemned, and drive off, leaving them without power. Perhaps it would have been better to let the customers come to me, begging me to have their power restored, rather than wasting my breath trying to to reason with unreasonable customers.

I had become an electrician because I thought I was providing a useful, valuable, high-quality and good-value service, which my customers would be grateful for, but on the whole, they had viewed me as a rip-off merchant rogue-trader cowboy, and I'd had enough of it.

* * *

There were 4 seats around a square table in the meeting room. I had chosen to sit adjacent to the lady from Human Resources, because it seemed less adversarial - better to have no barriers in-between us. She studied my face with a piercing gaze, sizing me up.

"Why do I want to come back?" I repeated, rhetorically. "I really enjoyed my time here. It's a fantastic place to work"

"Why did you leave then?" she asked.

"Like I said in my exit interview, I wanted to go travelling. I never had a gap year before or after university. I felt that I should see some more of the world before starting a family."

"You spent two years travelling?"

"I spent a year travelling and a year writing a novel" I lied.

Why would I lie? It seemed to me as though my time spent as an electrician would detract from my spotless CV and the fine reputation I had when I'd left the world of investment banking. I knew that it was acceptable to go on sabbatical to pursue rich-man's hobbies, such as travelling, or to work on a project like renovating a house. The ideal answer would have been to say that I had been building a school in Africa, but I wasn't prepared to lie to that extent.

"What's the book called? Can I read it?" she asked. I had the distinct impression that she was feigning interest, and merely testing me to see if I was lying.

"It's not finished yet. I'd rather not talk too much about it. I'm going to publish under a pseudonym. It's quite personal."

The Human Resources lady shuffled her notes and re-seated herself. She seemed a little irritated, but to continue to press me for more details about what I had been doing since I resigned, would be confrontational and rude. With resignation which was physically palpable, she moved onto her next topic.

"Do you think you'll get wanderlust again? Do you think you'll write another book?" she asked.

"No. The whole point of taking the career break was to get all that out of my system. I can write and travel as much as I want when I retire" I said. "I'm already going to have to work extra hard to make up for lost time" I joked, with a wry smile.

This was a pre-planned strategy. I wanted to hint strongly that I was going to be more dedicated to my career than ever, and that my focus was going to be on building up my pension pot. I needed to send an unambiguous message that I could be relied upon to never take another career break, and that I would work hard until the day I retired. This is what the Human Resources lady wanted to hear.

"Did you know that the role you applied for is based in our Brighton office?" she asked.

"I had no idea" I lied.

"It's also not a front office role"

"Yes. I knew that. I fancied a change. The front office can be a little too intense after a while. I felt that the middle office might suit me, having had some space and time to think about the direction I would like my career to go in"

"Not very many people want to leave the front office. Normally it's people from middle office who want to get into the front office roles" she said, a little patronisingly, but she was probing; trying to find out my true motivations.

"This role sounded particularly interesting though. I felt as though it might be a great opportunity for me to bring some of my front office expertise into the middle office, when - as you said yourself - so few people move from the front office to the middle office."

I was lying through my teeth. I knew that leaving the front office would be considered utter madness by almost everyone in the bank, but I had an ulterior motive, which the Human Resources lady was unable to fathom.

"I would, of course, prefer a front office role. Perhaps you're right. I think maybe I will wait for the right front office role to come up. I'm sorry I wasted everyone's time" I said, and began to stand up.

"No, no. Please hang on, Gavin. Just a second. Please. Sorry. I think we maybe got off on the wrong foot" she said, apologetically and with a somewhat smarmy manner. "We have a great deal of difficulty in finding high calibre people who are prepared to move to Brighton, let alone leave the front office" she explained.

"Oh?" I said, as casually as I could manage, feigning a little surprise. "I suppose that comes as no great shock. Most people want the prestige, the salary and the bonuses, which the London front office has to offer."

"And you don't?" she asked.

"No I do. I worked very hard to get into the front office. Like I said, I think it's best if I wait for the right front office role to become available."

"What are your salary expectations?"

"If I could come back on the same salary, before I left, that would be acceptable. I wouldn't accept any less."

"If we were to offer you a signing bonus, generous relocation allowance, and the same salary, would you consider the Brighton role?"

"I would want a more generous pension contribution, to compensate for the lower bonuses I would get in the middle office."

"Would 12% be acceptable? It's going to be a struggle for me to match the total remuneration you were earning in the front office, but it's the best I can offer."

Jackpot. This is exactly how I had planned the negotiations. Of course I wanted to move to Brighton. My relationship with Caroline was on the rocks and maintaining our London lifestyle had made a major dent in my wealth. If I was going to wear the "golden handcuffs" I was going to do it by the seaside, with a London salary - I could live like a king in Brighton. During my time as an electrician, I had learned to be a little more frugal and careful with money.

I was going back into investment banking, but in the sedate world of the middle office, I could do the job with my eyes closed and my weekly working week would be less than 50 hours - a fraction of what I had been working before.

I had sold out, again, but I was happy and excited about setting up a new life by the seaside.

 

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...

 

Loneliness

6 min read

This is a story about antisocial behaviour...

Tree in forest

What's the shortest journey between two points? If you know where you need to get to and you know the fastest route to get there, would you make that journey? What if the shortest path was also a very painful one?

A year ago I was living in a hotel close to the office. A year ago I was incredibly isolated - single, in a city where I had just one friend, estranged from family and living a pretty dysfunctional life except for my job.

Who cares... I was functional, wasn't I?

I certainly turned up in the office every day looking presentable and I did useful work, but I'm not sure I really was very functional. It's true that I was earning money, paying my bills and I was on a journey towards financial security. I was reliable; dependable; trusted. What else is there in life other than getting up in the morning, putting on some smart clothes and going to the office? What else is there in life other than earning money? I was certainly earning money. I was certainly working.

What do you suppose happens after a major event, like a near-death experience? What do you suppose happens after a major medical emergency which was life-or-death? What do you suppose happens after a lengthy hospitalisation?

Most people would like to imagine that there'd be plenty of time for rest and recuperation after a major illness that nearly killed a person, but I'm afraid the demands of life can't be paused. Unless you want to emerge from your near-death experience and be immediately hurled into bankruptcy, destitution and have life-changing black marks against your name which preclude you from ever renting a property, getting a car loan, getting a mortgage, getting any kind of credit agreement etc. etc. and indeed getting most jobs, which insist on credit checks and suchlike, then there's not a moment to spare, ever.

For sure, I'm a capitalist's wet dream in terms of how meekly I comply with capitalism's coercion and act in the way that's expected of me, selling my labour cheaply and otherwise allowing myself to be shafted by the system. Instead of doing what I absolutely need to do, which is to spend time getting better, instead I have thrown myself straight back into the workplace.

A close friend - my guardian angel - has similar mental health problems as me: depression and anxiety. She has been able to do voluntary work and quit jobs which were toxic for her mental health, and to engage with her local community. She's swallowed her pride and has accepted that she must live with her parents and spend her precious savings supporting herself, for the sake of her mental health.

For me, I've had to choose between the self-esteem destroying effects of living as somebody's charity case, or the toxic world of work. I decided that the latter option is marginally better, given that it at least offers a route towards freedom, although it's a very risky game.

Living under somebody else's roof takes the pressure off in terms of burning money on rent and bills, but there's an emotional toll for anyone who's been raised to be a considerate guest - there is considerable guilt about time spent sleeping and otherwise "treating the place like a hotel". There is a great deal of pressure to be seen to be doing whatever it is that your host thinks you should be doing. There is a great deal of pressure to please your host, which leaves remarkably little time and energy to rest and recuperate.

Working when you are too unwell to work is risky because you must present a corporate mask to your colleagues, pretending that everything is A-OK when really it's not at all. Work is the very last place on Earth that you should be, but you're in the office carrying on like you're fine and dandy. It's horrible to force yourself - day after day - into a situation and environment which is totally toxic to your mental health and is intolerable, but it's somehow possible to present a veneer of cool calm professionalism, such that your colleagues have no idea that you're on the brink of having a nervous breakdown at any moment. It's high risk, high reward - if you can wear the mask and pretend like everything's OK for long enough, your situation will improve, but it's incredibly draining and prevents you from becoming healthy and happy again, because it's so demanding.

One year later, I have my own roof over my head and a girlfriend. I still don't have any local friends to speak of, but I have ingratiated myself with my neighbours and my colleagues are sociable; one of my colleagues has even started to talk to me socially as a friend, outside the office, having found my blog.

I have the dignity and self-esteem that I wanted, in that I am paying my own way and not dependent on anybody, but it's been ridiculously exhausting and risky to take this path. So often I wonder if I should have cut my losses and given up, allowing myself to be screwed over by the system; destroyed by those who seek to exclude and marginalise vulnerable members of society.

I was struggling to find anything to watch which captivated my attention last night, so I spoke to a friend. That's unusual for me. I live a very isolated existence. I almost never speak to any of my friends on the phone, except for two very loyal friends, one of whom often phones me while I'm at the office. I must make fewer than one phone-call per week, on average.

Overall, my situation is improving, but it's pretty intolerable. I've chosen the fastest route from A to B, but it's an exceptionally intolerable and unpleasant journey, even though I know it's the most direct. I know that this suffering is only temporary and that I will reap some rewards at the end, if I can stick it out, but I do want to quit all the time.

Through this very difficult period while I've been blogging - the past 4 years - I've made some really awesome friends who are very loyal and who have gone to exceptional lengths to help me, including my guardian angel, who's visited me in hospital far too many times. Although my behaviour looks broadly the same, there are undeniable improvements to my situation. My bloody-minded bitter determination to succeed with exactly the same strategy which I've always employed, seems to be paying off, finally. It surprised and gladdened me that during a moment of loneliness I suddenly remembered that I had a whole heap of very dear friends who were available to chat to.

Weirdly, I don't feel lonely, even though I have spent the vast majority of the past 4 or 5 years enduring an incredible amount of social isolation.

 

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My Dream Holiday In Pictures

6 min read

This is a story about ludicrous luxury...

Bay

The adventure began in South Africa. I don't have any pictures of Johannesburg or the dreary wet day of my 40th birthday, but here is a picture of a nice bay south of Cape Town, from an epic road trip. Table Mountain is stunning, of course. The scenery was dramatic.

Compass House

It seems kinda vulgar and a little boring to show the inside of luxury boutique hotels rather than the sightseeing, but the holiday was supposed to be about relaxation and self-indulgence. It cost me a heap of cash, so why shouldn't I re-live a little of the pleasant places which I stayed? This place was on the steep cliffs in Cape Town, looking out to sea.

Wine Region

It was winter and it was quite chilly at night in the wine region of South Africa. I certainly wasn't going to go swimming but the missus went in the pool for the sake of an Instagram shot.

Breakfast

There's the birthday boy (i.e. me). Breakfast was incredible. I wish I took more photos at this place. The decor was amazing.

Feet up

In the Eastern Cape on safari. Loved the mosquito netting. There was floor-to-ceiling glass on all sides of this little thatched-roof lodge and I really enjoyed having my feet up on this big bed.

Bathtime

There were really great bath tubs with fantastic views at a few places we stayed, but this was probably the best. Felt surprisingly private and secluded, despite being so exposed. This safari lodge was so beautiful, with all the lovely wood.

Lion

It'd be a rubbish safari if we didn't see any animals. Saw this white lion on the very first morning, which set the tone for the whole thing. I just wanted to relax and recharge my batteries, but it was worth getting up early to see the animals.

Giraffes

Giraffes have super funny faces. Like, they look dumb but friendly.

Elephant

Spent quite a lot of time watching elephants. They're very entertaining; always playing with each other and trying to get a reaction.

Cheetahs

The big 5 game animals don't include cheetahs, but we were super happy to see these guys. We didn't see a leopard but it was pretty unlikely that we were going to. Feel really privileged to have seen as many big cats as we did.

Rhino

Rhinos are like big cows with big horns, it turns out. Cool to see one, but they just eat grass and don't do much. I was wondering if they're super endangered and I might be super fortunate to see one before they end up extinct, but our ranger said they're only endangered based on the rate that they're being poached - they're still quite numerous. This one's horn is worth many tens of thousands of dollars. Having seen the horrendous poverty in South Africa, it's easy to understand why they'd be poached.

Lioness

We saw a couple of 2-year-old lionesses hunting a warthog. That was very cool.

Infinity pool

Mauritius. The island is lush and green and the climate is brilliant. It was still nice and warm in the evenings and perfect for being outdoors in light clothing. The hotel wasn't as nice as the previous places we stayed, but it was still very special.

View

View from the balcony. Super nice to have 7 nights with nothing to do except eat, sleep, make love, swim in the ocean and do other activities, like sailing, snorkelling. I took my kitesurfing stuff but I really just wanted to chill out. I went out kitesurfing once, and the sea and wind were perfect. Probably the best place I've ever kitesurfed.

Waterfall

We did a quick tour of Mauritius, and went to some botanical gardens, the harbour and saw this cool waterfall.

Champagne

The holiday was mainly about food and drink, with incredible views to accompany. We ate fresh sea urchin, which has a lovely sweet delicately fishy flavour, a bit like lobster, which we also ate. I ate and drank with gay abandon the whole holiday and completely over-indulged, which was wonderful.

I spent a buttload of cash but it was my 40th birthday and I wanted to celebrate in style. Also, I've worked incredibly hard with very few holidays, so I felt like I deserved a big treat for all my efforts. Looking back through the photos now, I'm pleased that I spent the money even though it's left me a little more financially insecure than I'd like. The holiday really exceeded my expectations, which is great. So often holidays can cost a bomb but be quite disappointing; never quite meeting expectations. This holiday was full of surprise and delight.

You might look through these photos and think me to be quite spoiled, entitled, and completely out-of-order for ever complaining about my life. Certainly, it was an incredible two weeks and I had nothing to complain about, except perhaps my anxiety about my finances and income, with there being a great deal of uncertainty about my job.

Yes, it was pretty ludicrous to max everything out and go 5-star all the way, but it was a very stress-free holiday and very relaxing. Thinking about it now, I realise that it was a worthwhile investment in my health, even if I could have had just as much rest and relaxation for a fraction of the price. Frankly, I'll probably never spend as much money ever again, because I simply couldn't justify it. I booked the holiday in somewhat of a manic moment, but I'm kinda glad that I did, because when else was I going to do something so spectacular and incredible? It really was the holiday of a lifetime.

I don't feel blue about going back to work, because it was a great trip and I've got great memories. Going through the photos made me realise that I'll be able to go through them a whole bunch of times, remembering all kinds of different things. It was super hard to try to pick a handful of pictures that captured the essence of what the holiday was, because there were so many cool aspects.

So there we go... travelling in style.

 

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Fish Eye Lens

6 min read

This is a story about a negative outlook...

Drowned mouse

I've been staring at the cursor for about five minutes, unsure of quite where to begin. I know that it would be wise to avoid conflict and destruction - deliberately looking for trouble - but my mind continuously prompts me to write about the situation which is causing me the most stress at the moment, which is the obscene amount of money I've spent on a holiday for my girlfriend and I, and the horrible flashbacks this is giving me from the time when I was taken advantage of and left for dead.

There's no need to publicly attack my girlfriend. She seems well-meaning enough. If I give her the benefit of the doubt, she hasn't got a bad bone in her body. However, the reality of the present situation is that she's spent a vast amount of my money and has no credible means to pay for her share. I know that the fault is mine, for getting carried away, but the situation is indisputable - she has profited handsomely from my vulnerability, which is something I've been harmed by in the past.

My brain feeds me a constant stream of negativity, because I have made overly-aggressive medication changes. I'm tormented by nightmares in my sleep, and from the moment I wake up until the moment I finally get to sleep, I suffer from invasive thoughts and an incredibly dour outlook on the future. My brain feeds me constant doom & gloom. My brain instantly leaps to the most negative possible outcomes.

I'm disappointed and frustrated that I might not get the opportunity to finish the project I'm working on. My contract is being terminated early, through no fault of my own. I had worked very hard to build a great reputation with the organisation I work for, but it's all for naught. A colleague gets paid more-or-less the same amount and has more-or-less the same job title, but that person has a fraction of my productivity - why did I burn myself out? Why did I work so hard? Why did I bother? It doesn't bother me so much that my colleague is useless and in some ways I find it kind of admirable when somebody gets paid so much for doing so little, but it bothers me that I might not get to finish what I'm working on - I like working hard and I like completing projects. It bothers me when somebody gets in the way of a successful project, by being thoroughly useless. It bothers me that I have to work much harder than I would have to if the under-performers were simply sacked. I have plenty of time and patience for my junior colleagues, but I have no patience for highly paid colleagues who're supposed to do the same job as me, who are not up to scratch and who are jeopardising a project.

I can see that my irritability and intolerance - my lack of patience - is symptomatic of burn-out. I've worked for too long at too high intensity. I've lost all balance in my life. I've lost all perspective. I've lost my health.

My colleague has the right idea. It was a mistake to get emotionally invested in my work. It was a mistake to become excessively obsessed with the project. I hate that I'm being bitchy behind my colleague's back. I hate that I hate my colleague's ineptitude.

I want to go back to the version of me who handles stressful situations with a smile.

I've faced very dangerous situations so many times that I'm usually cool and calm in a crisis.

Why am I so irritable?

I'm losing my grip.

I find myself in a precarious position. Perhaps not more so than other times in the past, but it feels more precarious than ever, maybe because I'm aware that I've got a winning strategy, but I'm still a long way from security. I've got a nice place to live and I've feathered the nest a little, but I don't feel very well - I have no idea how I'm going to avoid a breakdown and keep working at the same intensity, in order to cement my gains. I feel certain that the combination of luck and hard work is too demanding, given how burnt out I am. I needed better luck - I needed my contract to be extended, not cut short. I needed to reap the rewards of the hard work I invested into the current organisation and project... not to be having to prove myself in some new organisation; starting from scratch.

Every morning and every night I have a huge amount of dread: I have the uncertainty of a very invasive security vetting procedure hanging over me, and I have the uncertainty of the local contract market to face. I know that psychologically I'll be destroyed by relatively minor setbacks. I know that I'll find work in the private sector if the public sector won't have me. I know that my skills will be in demand somewhere but I'm sick of living out of a suitcase.

I know that my health is failing. I know that exhaustion is catching up with me. I know that when depression takes hold it will be long and destructive, leaving me unable to work, unable to get out of bed, unable to answer the phone... completely dysfunctional. I know that I'm completely burnt out.

I need to pack bags and travel. It might seem like a nice problem to have, but the holiday will leave me worse off financially and worse off in terms of relaxation. I need to spend 6 weeks in bed with the curtains closed, but instead I'm bankrolling somebody else's dream holiday; for me a living nightmare of stress and hassle.

Perhaps a lot of my perspective comes from medication withdrawal. It makes sense that I would be overcome with anxiety and insomnia, given that I was so dependent on sleeping pills and tranquillisers. It makes sense that my view of the world would be coloured by the destabilised brain chemistry, having abruptly stopped taking strong psychiatric medication.

I wonder what will happen - whether my relationship can withstand this dark mood; whether my colleagues can tolerate my irritability; whether my fragile health will collapse completely and leave me unable to work. I'm not coping at all well, and unfortunately I need to be able to cope with ludicrous amounts of extra stress at the moment. Things will get a lot worse if they're going to stand any chance of getting any better.

 

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