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Intellectual Hunger

6 min read

This is a story about brain training...

Hotel food

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

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

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

I wanted to write about intellectual hunger.

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

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

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

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

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

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

When I say "easier" I mean intellectually nourishing.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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A Fool And His Money

5 min read

This is a story about wartime thrift...

Paradise

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

We can use other common sayings to demolish the idiocy.

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

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

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

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

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

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

I spend a lot of money.

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

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

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

 

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Be Careful What You Wish For

4 min read

This is a story about girls, girls, girls...

Sleeping kitten

Life is always so filled with trepidation and uncertainty. My employment contract expires soon. My housing contract currently stipulates "no pets". My relationship status is still very much "dating". I can picture some kind of nightmarish scenario where I find myself homeless, jobless, single and with a hungry kitten to feed - that would be the worst-case outcome, which is of course what I imagine will happen when I'm feeling anxious.

On the flip side, everything could work out nicely for me. My contract could get renewed. My housing contract could be amended to allow me to keep the kitten I'm getting. My romantic interests could develop into a serious committed loving relationship. All these things are within the realms of possibility.

You could characterise me as somewhat of a control freak. I like to have things nailed down. I like to have certainty.

Perhaps I should have made different choices. I could have chosen permanent employment, instead of doing consultancy. I could have bought a house with no covenants or other contractual legal sticks to beat me with. I could have married the first girl who'd have me. Perhaps all these things would give me more certainty in my life - more security - but in my experience it's not possible to use legal contracts to guarantee anything: Life is intrinsically uncertain.

Empirically, it's obvious that most marriages will end in divorce. "Forever" is not something that anybody takes very seriously when they say their solemn marriage vows, nowadays. Perhaps it's always been the case that most humans are liars and cheats, and it seems to me like there are very few guarantees that you're not going to get your heart broken.

Our lives are based upon an immensely complex and surprisingly fragile economic system, which is liable to threaten our ability to house ourselves at almost any moment. Most people live lives of economic precarity, with very little money saved up in case they lose their job - two missed paycheques and the majority of people would be in a great deal of financial difficulty.

Humans are incredibly adaptable creatures and things which seem like catastrophes are often not as bad as we initially think: we so often find a way of overcoming adversity.

A considerable proportion of my time is spent worrying about losing my job, losing my home and having my heart broken. I suppose I've already had everything bad happen that could possibly happen - losing my job, my money, my house, my wife - and it felt like the end of the world; something I'd never be able to recover from. My life is certainly not fully repaired but occasionally I dare to dream that I'm going to end up in a far better situation than I ever would have been if I hadn't lost everything and been forced to start again from scratch.

It's not particularly in my nature to be risk-averse and I think I'm happier that I'm not trapped in a bad job, a bad marriage or a bad mortgage. My life is kinda scary, which isn't great for my anxiety levels, but there's no way that I'd be in such an enviable position if I hadn't taken huge risks. I'm glad that I'm taking risks and they're paying off, although obviously I'm aware that the more risks I take, the more chance there is of something bad happening.

Empirically and anecdotally, I do seem to get everything I want though.

One week from now I should have a gorgeous bengal kitten, all things being well.

 

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Brute Force

10 min read

This is a story about feeling vindictive...

Brute force

Several nights this week I've stayed up late. I am usually very strict with my bedtimes and routine, but when some major stressor triggers an episode of mania, I struggle to stop working on whatever particular thing has obsessed me, at any particular moment. I feel as though I have spare brain capacity with which to use for a whole range of projects, virtually simultaneously. I feel as though I'm close to making a breakthrough, and with just a little more effort, I will have achieved something great.

There is some truth to what I am saying, but there is also the thing that I didn't mention: What goes up must come down. You have to pay to play.

My attempts to automate the harvesting and analysis of data from Twitter has been reasonably successful. I have managed to extract and store a significant amount of useful information, which could be analysed. The achievement is no small one, considering that I had zero knowledge of any of the technologies involved, nor did I have approval to use Twitter's developer API, which I'd never seen before. Since Sunday, I have written code which can rummage through Twitter's data and find what I want, in order to then gain the insights I want. Obviously, I also got my code to Tweet "hello world" as well as send some messages to a group of special people. Not bad, considering I had to learn a whole bunch of stuff before I could actually start building stuff.

My attempts to stay in touch with a number of friends, and to also start letting friends know that they can [and should] come visit me in my new house, have been time consuming, but incredibly worthwhile, because I'm now in touch with lots of friends - old and new - and that makes me feel very loved and cared for, during a week following a break-up, when I might perhaps have been at risk of feeling somewhat isolated and lonely. Not bad, considering that only two friends have ever made the trip from England to Wales to see me, during the whole 17 months that I've lived here. That's a long time, especially considering how few friends I've managed to make locally. I live a very reclusive life, but not particularly through choice.

My attempts to impress my colleagues and make myself useful at work have been hit-and-miss. A sense of humour driven by mania is not well matched with an open-plan office full of fine upstanding members of the community who are very quiet and mild-mannered. I made a dreadful misjudgement, which caused some upset to a very senior person, but then something else I did was recognised as really valuable, so perhaps the good and the bad cancelled each other out. I still have a job, for now.

My attempts to write something interesting and entertaining - with my usual unflinching honesty - turned into manic rants, some of which were approaching 2,000 word impenetrable essays about nothing in particular. My 'excess' energy was ploughed into writing, but I can't say that I achieved much except for maintaining my daily writing habit, which is an achievement in and of itself, not to be dismissed lightly.

My attempts to prepare for moving house were particularly demanding. Mail redirection, changing the address for several bank accounts and other financial services, arranging broadband internet installation, ordering furniture to be delivered, arranging a van to transport my belongings, boxing up my stuff, signing contracts, paying various huge sums of money to various people and keeping my current rented place tidy so that new prospective tenants can be shown around, has been an arduous task. However, my ducks are almost all lined up.

Then, there were the very many things which I became briefly obsessed about, but were a complete waste of time and effort. I was inventing jokes about theoretical physics. I was making a playlist of all the 80s synth-inspired music that I like. I was writing long ranting Facebook posts about the anti-Semitism accusations flying within the Labour party, and about the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance's definition of anti-Semitism.

I was chatting with some people who are massive fans of my favourite musical artist - Fear of Tigers - and there was an album that they were trying to download, but they were having problems. Me, being 'a little bit technical' decided that I would take a look, and quickly discovered that the website is simply purporting to have content to Google's crawler bots, which is actually untrue - the content does not exist. Angered by this honeypot, which is designed to get unsuspecting and non-technical internet users to give their name, date of birth, email address and home address, it then tries to trick the user into doing a number of other things, all of which would result in some remuneration for the owner and operator of the honeypot - the "ultimate beneficial owner" to use the legal term.

Angered by the injustice of would-be music pirates being misled by this honeypot, I decided that it would not be unethical to probe this fraudulent website for any vulnerabilities. I quickly found a couple, which I have set about the task of attacking by brute-force, in order to sabotage the fraudulent site and troll whoever set it up. I had the theoretical knowledge of how I might go about this, but it felt suddenly very important to me to learn the skills of a highly-experienced and sought-after internet security engineer (known as a pen-tester - i.e. penetration tester) or perhaps one might argue, the skills of a white-hat hacker.

Given my propensity for never abandoning tasks until I feel I have completed them to my satisfaction, I would not be surprised if my current attempt to use the most common 13,000 passwords found on the internet to break into the target server, would escalate to a full-on distributed attack to exhaust ALL possible passwords until finally I 'crack the safe' and I can then set about my act of supposedly ethical sabotage.

It's rare that I pause and think "should I stop" and even when it seems very obvious that to continue further would be inadvisable and entirely pointless, I continue, for unknown reasons. It must be something about my personality and upbringing. I particularly relish problems which are generally declared as "so hard" that they're equated with being impossible, which is untrue. Some of the very hard things I've achieved have had surprisingly positive unanticipated consequences, such as giving my life new meaning, purpose, and skills that have later turned out to be incredibly valuable.

If you imagine a lonely isolated child who's been given a hugely complicated task - perhaps even no task at all - but has a huge number of tools at their disposal and lots of raw materials, by trial-and-error that child might create something... perhaps because of sheer boredom. As that trial-and-error learning technique becomes more innate, those tools and those materials start to become understood to that child, in a way that no teacher could teach. If you can self-direct your own learning and you have developed the attitude required to keep trying and failing, but carrying on regardless, then eventually you can start to finish projects that you started, no matter how hard they seemed when they were first conceived of.

What I'm doing could be considered a vindictive vendetta, based on the false premise that the person who set up this devious honeypot 'deserves' to have a person like me vandalise it, because it's become an absurd crusade. Not a moral crusade, but a crusade against the technology that's been put in place to stop mindless vandals from doing what I'm attempting to do: To crack the security that's there to prevent total anarchy on the internet, where somebody with a grudge could cause damage to whatever they wanted, very easily.

What I'm doing is not easy. It's hard. That's more the reason why I'm doing it than any other reason, even though that reason doesn't make sense.

It was hard to get where I am, so it makes no sense to stop doing hard things. In fact, when I'm stressed I actively seek hard problems, which is why I'm always drawn back to things like theoretical physics when I'm suffering from stress-induced mania.

It seems unlikely that my knowledge of theoretical physics will ever be of any use in my everyday life, but a lot of the side projects I've busied myself in this week have very real tangible benefits, although I suppose I could technically find myself being extradited to the United States to face charges of computer trespass or some other vague and nebulous bit of US law that I've fallen afoul of, depending on whose parade I'm pissing on and how far they're prepared to to to get me back.

One thing I would advise you though: Don't get on the wrong side of the geeks, because they're the ones who look after that folder of photos you sent to your lover, which you think is well-protected. The geeks are the ones who look after all those messages you send to the person you're having an affair with. The geeks are the ones who know the most about the dark side of human nature, because the geeks suddenly got put in charge of keeping everyone's secrets. When people think they're doing stuff in private, they act very differently. When people think they're protected they do things they'd never dream of doing without the protection they assume that they have.

I like to think I'm a good person, but I'm also an unusual person. Sometimes I do stuff just to see if I can do it. Sometimes, I take things too far, but I find it hard to stop because I'm a completer-finisher, and sometimes I have to dismantle a huge complex piece of apparatus, to satisfy a mere curiosity, when in actual fact I'm terrifying the hell out of a whole bunch of people who like to believe that their barriers are impregnable. It's disturbing for society to have its incorrect notions of concepts like privacy and secrecy, openly challenged.

We feel safe, searching for whatever we want via Google. We click "private browsing" buttons that give us an extra sense of reassurance that we are entering a "safe space" where we are completely anonymous, and our privacy and secrecy is guaranteed.

Whatever contact you and your personal data have had with digital devices, you can assume that it's as good as public knowledge, I'm afraid. If somebody is determined enough, they will walk right through every barrier that supposedly exists to protect you and your privacy. If somebody is determined enough, your secrets will be known, if you've been so foolish as to let them leave your brain.

Be warned.

 

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Our Revels Now Are Ended

14 min read

This is a story about the stuff dreams are made of...

There's no bed like home

These our actors as I foretold you, were all spirits and are melted into air, into thin air. We are such stuff as dreams are made of and our little life is rounded with a sleep.

Apparently there are 125 identical bedrooms in the hotel where I've lived for most of the last year. There are always 5 pillows: Two soft ones, two firmer ones and a stupid little red one, which serves a purely decorative purpose. There's an ironing board, iron, hairdryer and kettle. There's a writing desk. There's a sofa. There are reading lights which shine directly into your eyes if you don't take the time to move them away from the position they're always left in by the housekeepers. There's a plug in the sink that always need to be pulled out and set aside, otherwise the water won't be able to drain away properly when you wash your hands. There are small pieces of information throughout the room that tell me that I can choose whichever pillows I find comfiest, that there's a place to charge my phone by my bed, and various things that tell me how much they [the hotel] cares about my stay. A place for everything and everything in its place.

How many IKEA beds have I owned? How many have I destroyed? How many have I slept in without mishap? How many times have I found myself discovering that IKEA mattresses are different from the standard UK sizes of double and king-size? How many times have I struggled to squeeze an IKEA mattress into a non-IKEA fitted sheet?

How many different beds have I slept in, during the past 5 years?

I can tell you everything about every kind of bed you're likely to encounter in the National Health Service. There are the beds in the crisis houses and psychiatric wards. There are the beds in ordinary hospital wards. There are the beds in intensive care and high dependency wards. I can tell you how to make yourself comfortable in places where somebody will shine a torch in your face every 15 to 30 minutes at night. I can tell you how to make yourself comfortable somewhere that your blood pressure, body temperature and blood oxygen saturation is being measured every hour. I can tell you how to make yourself comfortable when you have 5 canulas, a catheter and a massive femoral veinous catheter in your groin, which literally has taps you can just twist when you want to empty all the blood out of your body.

I can tell you everything about every kind of bed you're likely to encounter in a hostel full of homeless people. I can tell you about bed bugs and other human parasites. I can tell you about snoring. I can tell you about being in a room with 13 people in various states of drink and drug intoxication, and with the entire spectrum of mental health problems. I can tell you what it's like to realise that somebody rummaged under your pillow, stole your wallet, removed the cash, and replaced it back where they took it from, while you were asleep. I can tell you what it's like to have your bags regularly rummaged through in search of anything valuable. I can tell you what it's like to live for more than a year like that, with no fixed dormitory, no fixed bunk... to get woken up at 8am and told that you've got to move to another room, with another bunch of seemingly randomly-selected people who you'll be spending an unknown number of nights with.

After a while it gets tiresome.

Eventually, you figure out that when you sleep rough, if you're smart about it, then you can stay away from other homeless people, drunks, muggers, rapists and anybody who fancies doing pretty much whatever they want to you at 4:30am, because it's dark and nobody's around. Eventually, you figure out that you can have more consistency and control over your life if you find yourself some bushes or an overgrown back garden of an empty house to set up camp in. You get used to the noise of the dog walkers and the joggers. You get used to the noise of the commuters. You get used to the noise of the students and the tourists. You get used to the do-gooders, who will make their rounds to check on the junkies and the alcoholics, who cluster together in obvious places. You get used to the official-looking vehicles with their headlights, and the people wearing uniforms with their torches. You start to realise that they have absolutely no idea that you exist, because you are so inconspicuous and under their radar.

Then, you decide that it'd be nice to return to civilised society. You get a bit old to be sleeping rough. It seems somehow shameful, to reach a certain age and have dropped out.

So, you rent a series of dreadful places to live. Each one of those places has a dreadful bed: A bottom-of-the-range IKEA bed with a mattress which doesn't quite fit and slats which randomly fall off their supports, causing part of the bed to collapse unexpectedly; mattresses with a range of stains in varying hues indicating, shit, piss, vomit and blood... as well as perhaps some food stains.

You buy your own IKEA brand-new furniture, and you buy slightly better quality stuff. You buy the bed sheets that are the right size to fit, because you know exactly what size mattress you've bought. You buy a the right size mattress for the bed frame.

Then, you have to move.

How many times have I had to move?

Every time I move, I have to leave the bed behind, because I throw away the old terrible bed, which was unfit as anything more than set-dressing for a property that's being rented out as "furnished". Where would I store a shitty old bed? Where would I store a shitty old mattress? It would cost me more in storage costs, and the transportation costs of moving the shitty bed out and back, than it costs me to simply leave the replacement beds behind.

How many IKEA flat-packs have I assembled and how many have I destroyed?

How many times have I flopped down onto a newly assembled bed, exhausted?

How many times have I had to abandon any attempts at nest-making, because I have to choose my battles carefully?

It might sound like I'm sloppy, careless and perhaps have little respect for the expense and environmental impact of treating material possessions as so disposable. However, none of this stuff disappears. The problem is, that there's no shortage of supply of mattresses covered with blood, piss, sick and vomit stains. There's no shortage of damaged bed frames which do not sturdily support the bed's occupants.

What you have to understand is that I have to prioritise my survival, ahead of the pleasant choices that normal happy healthy stable people get to make. I don't choose to change my bed because I'm remodelling my bedroom. I'm not in the business of doing interior decoration for aesthetic purposes. I don't choose the colour of the paint on my walls. I don't choose my curtains. I've been grateful to have the comfort of a thin foam mattress, in a hostel dorm, on a bunk bed. I've been grateful if my bunk has happened to be close to a power socket so I can charge my phone. I've been grateful if my bunk has been near a window, so I can enjoy the ventilation. I've been grateful if my bunk has been away from the dorm entrance/exit, so people can enter and leave without disturbing me. I've been grateful if I'm not sharing a dorm with dickheads who get up at 5am and start noisily rummaging in their bags, or people with severe mental illness who have unpredictable outbursts just at the moment when you're falling asleep.

What you have to understand is that every different bed I sleep in is slightly different. There might be a family deciding to have an argument in the hotel corridor at 6am. There might be a central heating system where the pipes creak and clang at unusual times. There might be a car alarm that decides to go off all night long. There might be a fire alarm. There might be heavy traffic in the morning and evening commuter rush. There might be patients on a psych ward who want to watch TV at full volume at 7am. There might be patients on a psych ward who are kicking off, and having to be restrained, sedated and moved to 'safe seclusion', which is the modern version of a padded soundproof cell.

What you have to understand is that every bed I sleep in has a different 'vibe' in terms of how private it feels. Ground-floor bedrooms are strange to me, especially when the window coverings - blinds and curtains - aren't very good. Can people hear me masturbating? Can people see me sleeping? How much privacy do I really have? I've spent a substantial time in places where there are observation windows which can be opened by staff members, to check on the room occupant. I've spent a substantial amount of time in places where the furniture is heavy, indestructible and even bolted to the floor. I've spent a substantial amount of time where the windows don't open more than a few inches and have bars on them, and the mirrors are made out of plastic - places designed to be safe places for the care of vulnerable sick people.

Those places have been my home.

I'm about to get the keys to have a house that has 4 bedrooms, 3 reception rooms, 2 bathrooms, a garden and a shed. It's all for me. It's a blank canvas.

If I had the money, I'd have it painted.

If I had the money, I'd buy the furniture I wanted.

If I had the money, I'd buy rugs and lamps, and curtains and coffee tables and occasional tables, and a dining table and chairs and a breakfast bar and bookcases and wardrobes and chests-of-drawers and sideboards and cabinets and desks and organiser systems, where all my stuff could be neatly hidden out of view in little boxes - a place for everything and everything in its place.

If I had the money, I'd just grab the IKEA catalogue and order everything in the rooms, exactly like their designers have displayed them.

It won't be long now.

Soon, I'll have a buttload of money.

But. It's been a long journey, and some really shitty stuff has happened, like my kidneys failing.

So, I'm about to have my millionth billionth IKEA bed, and there's nothing new or novel about it. I've bought the most basic model, with plans to upgrade in future, when I can afford it. I will continue to live out of suitcases, in a house which could comfortably accomodate 2 adults and 4 children. In fact, when I have friends with kids visiting, my house should provide comfort for perhaps 3/4 adults and 2/3 children, plus 0/1 dogs.

Sorry for going on about it, but it's been a helluva journey.

Imagine all those homeless people I met when I was sleeping rough. Imagine all those people who I met when I was sleeping in those hostels. I was just like them: No money, drink problems, drug problems and mental health problems, along with the accompanying police problems.

Imagine all those people who've seen me have false-starts and almost-but-not-quite get my shit together. Imagine how much they want me to succeed. Imagine how many people I've got rooting for me, because it's supposed to be true: It's supposed to be true that we can drag ourselves out of the gutter to become rich and successful, if we work hard enough. If I can do it, can you imagine how pleased all the people - the lifelong friends I made - will be to see me doing well. I owe it to them to aim higher than sleeping inconspicuously in a bush. I owe it to them to be one of the success stories that we're told about, but in reality don't really seem to exist.

I'm pulling an incredibly high-risk manoeuvre, to get myself into a special place. What would be the point of all the hard work, suffering, deprivation and disappointment, if all it resulted in was a totally mediocre end result?  That's not a very inspiring story for my friends who've suffered disproportionately badly at the hands of fate. How awful it would be for those people who had next-to-nothing - like we all did - to see the golden boy smashed to smithereens and getting absolutely nowhere in life. Why bother, if there's no chance of a better life? Why bother, if there's no pot of gold at the end of the rainbow?

My actions might seem to have a hint of profligacy to them, and indeed some showmanship and insecure vulgar displays of wealth, but I assure you that if I was such a fool as to simply want to flaunt the fact that I can get rich 'quick' when I need to, I would simply purchase a highly desirable sports-car with a car loan, and rent the most extravagant city centre penthouse I could find, and then flaunt my materialistic lifestyle in Instagram, which would be most vulgar, crude and an insult to every value that a hard working person has.

You also have to remember that my self-esteem was very badly damaged by those years when I was sick, vulnerable and virtually penniless. Psychologically, I do not want to be living with daily reminders that I screwed up my life. For me to feel as though I've left that unfortunate period of my life behind me, it's important that I'm not dragging around 'baggage' which continuously reminds me of what might have been if only I hadn't gotten sick. I think it's a worthwhile investment, to spend a relatively small amount of cash on a home which makes me feel like I'm starting to live the life I always wanted; picking up my life again as if there was no interruption.

If you detect a hint of entitlement then you're probably not mistaken. It's my firmly held belief that hard work should result in commensurate rewards. It's my unshakeable opinion that those who have known suffering and deprivation should not suffer prejudice and disadvantages because of those misfortunes.

If we believe in a fair and just world, where hard work and dedication will allow anybody to achieve their dreams, then we must surely also believe that it's OK for my life to be good... perhaps even enviably good; desirable. Isn't it a good thing that my friends might look at me and say: He's done well and there are some parts of his life that I would like to have for myself. Isn't it a good thing that my friends who never quite escaped the life of sleeping rough, hostels and bedsits, can see that one of their own - a man ruined by divorce, drink, drugs, debt and mental health problems - could clean himself up and return to civilised society, and prosper?

If this piece has a boastful tone, I apologise. If this piece seems premature, given the amount of hard work that still lies ahead, you'd be right to caution me against complacency. If this piece is too much about me, and not enough about those who get left behind, abandoned by society, those criticisms are valid.

As it stands, I've lined up my ducks, but the journey hasn't even started yet. My bed is still in pieces in an IKEA warehouse, with my mattress rolled up tightly in the plastic which it will be delivered in. The task still remains outstanding for me: to assemble my bed, or else sleep on the floor, provided I manage to even get the keys to this dream home without a hitch, which I presently don't have enough money to be able to afford.

 

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I'm Going On A Date

12 min read

This is a story about rushing things...

Packed boxes

I never really fully recovered after getting sick, following my close friend's funeral, which required a huge round-trip across the country. That was a really terrible week, which started with me having to break up with my girlfriend, because she wasn't being very pleasant or supportive at a time when I needed to get me, my suit, my black tie and other funeral-suitable attire to a crematorium hundreds of miles away.

I had to break up with that girlfriend, because my attendance of my close friend's funeral was being jeopardised.

That was a few weeks ago.

I have something else that was being jeopardised: My shelter; my housing security.

I suppose I could have extended my rental contract, but the place was nowhere near my workplace and therefore completely impractical. I'm struggling to cope, even though I've made smart choices to ease the burden on myself, such as staying in a hotel close to my office. If I was to commute from the current home I'm renting, it would add a 3 hours of travelling onto my day, every single day weekday. That's exhausting and pointless.

So, I guess I knew that sooner or later I was going to have to move. The clock was ticking.

It made me very anxious, knowing that there was a day when my contract would simply expire and I would no longer have any legal right to continue to occupy the place I'd called home for a year. Squatters have lost most of their legal rights over the years, and I need to be a squeaky-clean citizen anyway, because of the nature of my work: I'm expected to comply with a much more stringent code of conduct and set of behavioural guidelines, than the vast majority of people - with great power comes great responsibility.

I had back-slid into that toxic relationship after I got sick. Once my friend's funeral was out of the way, I was back home, but I was vulnerable. She cyber-stalked me and found my address. She turned up and I let her in, because I was sick in so many ways. I was physically sick with diarrhoea and vomiting, and I was emotionally sick from the recent funeral of a close friend. I was weak, she turned up and I let her in.

Fast forward to Valentine's day and I had viewed a beautiful house that I wanted to rent and the landlord had agreed to accept my tenancy. I had a house to move to. I had housing security. I had some guarantee of shelter.

She wasn't very happy for me.

In fact, she told me to get out at 11pm, when I was trying to get enough sleep to go to work in the morning. I said it was unreasonable, and that I would leave in the morning. She escalated things. It was unpleasant and unnecessary, but I was not surprised: The relationship was toxic and I had resolved to try to make my escape as soon as I could. I spent the night in a hotel.

I boxed up my belongings and made my current place more presentable, so that it could be more easily rented out. I was getting my ducks in a row, so to speak, in order to keep working my full-time job AND move house. If I don't work I don't get paid, and moving house is expensive.

I thought I wasn't going be able to move for weeks and weeks.

I hate waiting.

Now, I have a date.

I will be leaving on specific date, to start my new life in a new city - a city where I've never lived before.

I bought some furniture today and arranged for it to be delivered soon after I get the keys to my new house. I still need to buy a washer/dryer and have my broadband moved, as well as renting a van or organising a removals firm to help me shift all my stuff from one city to another: Probably the best part of 2 hours drive away, in a fully-loaded truck.

I'm going on a date. That is to say, I'm going to start my new life on a specific date. I can start to look forward to that date. I can start to dream about what it's going to be like living in the beautiful house I've rented.

I've swept problems out of the way. I've refused to allow anyone or anything sabotage my plans to maintain a secure roof over my head. It was the right thing to do: To leave the girlfriend who was jeopardising the holiday I needed, jeopardising my attendance of my close friend's funeral, jeopardising my chances of finding a beautiful new home, jeopardising the stability I need - to keep working my job - while going through an incredibly tough stressful time.

Moving house is hell. Moving to an unfamiliar city is double hell. Moving with the clock ticking down, and nobody supporting me practically - actually packing, moving boxes and assembling flat-pack furniture - is triple hell.

I expect I'll probably start dating again once I'm settled in my new house, but it's low down on my list of priorities right now. Going on a date is the last thing I want to do, when all I can think about is the date when I'm going to get the keys to my new house.

I've brought the move date much sooner, because there's no point in me living in an expensive hotel when I'll soon have a whole massive house to live in. I'm so happy. It's such a relief to have secured a roof over my head. It gives me such an important sense of security, to know that I'm going to have a house that actually suits my needs, and I've managed to extricate myself from a toxic relationship that so often jeopardised the things that I need and I've worked so hard to get.

Already, friends have been getting in contact to arrange to come and visit me. I was overjoyed when a beloved Twitter follower - who I've never met in person - mentioned they might drop in on me for a cup of tea if they're in the area. I've got the opportunity to accomodate my friends and their children as my guests, because I've been lucky enough to rent a huge house.

I adore company and I love to entertain guests, but the place where I was living was a little too far away from London, where most of my friends are, and it was also even too far from places like Bristol, Somerset and Dorset, where I still have a lot of long-neglected friends.

Most of my friends now seem to have children, and I do think that little people are wonderful, even though I've been careful not to spawn any of my own with the wrong person... so I find myself in the enviable position of having the best of all worlds: I will have a large house, which will comfortably hold me and my guests, without it being any trouble at all... in fact, it'll be a joyful thing to have my house filled with life and the noises of habitation. I live a bit like a monastic monk and I wouldn't have any face-to-face interactions or 'normal' human experiences, if it wasn't for things like my day job. Nobody at work really knows the extent of my isolation; my vulnerability.

I moved to Manchester, and that was disastrous and very nearly killed me, quite literally. When my kidneys failed in 2017 and I was on a high-dependency ward, my wonderful then-girlfriend (the one who got away) arranged for me to have lots of visitors, and she was incredibly attentive and supportive. She was my rock. When my heart was broken and I was virtually bankrupt, in central Manchester, where I had no friends or family anywhere within a hundred miles, at least, it was an easy decision to kill myself. I very nearly succeeded, but for the incredible work of the resus and intensive care medical teams at Manchester Royal Infirmary, and the emergency services who got me to hospital so quickly, thanks to strangers on the internet raising the alarm.

I'm moving to Cardiff, which I shouldn't really mention because I risk being positively identified by my colleagues and people whose job it is to vet and monitor employees who have access to highly sensitive information, who might not think it's a wise idea to expose myself so publicly.

However, I'm rushing and I'm stressed and I'm tired and I'm sick and I'm terribly alone, except for the huge group of friends I have across the globe. My work colleagues are lovely, but for the sake of my career, I try to hide my mental illness and personal life struggles. I have a very serious psychiatric mood disorder, which has caused dreadful destruction to my life in the past, so I work very hard to protect my hard-won stability. Anybody who jeopardises my future happiness and security is given short shrift, hence my toxic ex got the boot on Valentine's day, which was only a day earlier than planned anyway... it just seemed heartless to break up with her on a day that has heaps of societal expectation pressure placed upon it.

So, I move to Cardiff on my own - single - which is sort of overwhelming, but at the same time it's such an unbelievably good opportunity to get all the things I need in my life, such as a secure home in a city where I can easily commute to a job which is going well, and maintain as much stability as I can.

As you can tell by the volume of text which I'm writing, and my flurry of social media activity, I've been triggered into a state of mania by the combined recent events and cluster-fuck of stresses placed upon me.

I'll be OK.

I'll just be nimble and quick.

I'll dodge my way around the people who would otherwise sabotage me and the things I work hard to make happen.

I'll cut toxic people out of my life without a second thought. I've fought too hard to get what I've got, so I'm not going to allow myself to be coerced, controlled or forced to live with oppressive insecurity and unnecessary aggravation, when I work so damn hard to ensure that stressful and difficult things happen, with smooth sailing.

I'm single, but no dates for me. I'd be rushing things too much.

Of course, I'm about to get the keys to a gorgeous huge house that I can fill with beautiful things that I hand-picked. Of course, it'd be wonderful to have the comfort and security of a partner to share that with, but if I have to do it on my own, I choose that every time even though it's difficult, because being a good partner means being supportive and making a better life together. If you threaten to sabotage the important things in my life, you'll be shown the door... sorry.

Perhaps I'm just a washed-up middle-aged nobody, with nothing to offer. Perhaps I should be feeling insecure, but I don't. I'm filled up with excitement about all the future possibilities, even though I'm a bit sick, very manic and I've got some awfully exhausting and stressful stuff to get through, which will be incredibly destabilising.

I'm planning on basing my stability on a few simple things: my daily routine, my job (which I'm really good at) and my excellent relationship with my colleagues, and a secure financial and housing situation. The safety net that allows me to do my high-wire act alone is my vast number of friends who I'm in contact with all over the world, who have my back, although I can reassure them that this move is not one of heartbreak and shameful defeat, like the time I had to leave my beloved London home, to take a shitty job in Manchester, and live in a shitty apartment.

I'm going on a date. I'm going from Swansea to Cardiff on a specific date. I know the exact date when I get my keys and I become a resident of a city that I chose to live in... this move is not driven by desperation, this time, and I get good vibes about the place. I still can't quite believe that I can afford to rent such a massive house in an amazing location... but that's Wales, it seems. Wales is my birthplace and the country seems pleased to have me back. Things have gone my way since I came back. Things have gone well, mostly.

Anyway, sorry for the manic rant, but that's what's happening in my world. I expect I'll be blathering on about it for a while, because it's part of the foundation of the stable happy new life I'm building for myself. It's incredibly satisfying to see real tangible progress towards the life I want, when I was so close to death so many times, and I was in every kind of trouble you can imagine: Debts, drugs and abandonment. For a while, my life revolved around hospitals, police stations, psych wards, hostels and sleeping rough.

If I pull this off and manage to get myself stable again, I really feel like I can hang onto things this time. Dating can wait. I feel like I've got so much to offer, so there's no rush.

 

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Why I'm Building NickBot™

8 min read

This is a story about projects...

Nick Grant

I work with a whole bunch of people who will automate anything you can possibly imagine - they're obsessed with automation. I suppose I'm an unusual engineer in the sense that I don't share the enthusiasm my colleagues have for robotic, repetitive, automated processes. If I do something just once I'm often satisfied, so I start looking for the next new and novel experience. I suppose that's why my skills are always in demand: Because most engineers want to build something that they think is going to last forever, but in reality there are always unforeseen problems. I take particular pleasure from diagnosing and fixing the gremlins that were never supposed to exist, making software scale up in ways it was never designed to do, and doing the dirty work of keeping the lights on.

How I came to be working as a software engineer and how I came to be a writer, has nothing to do with the pursuit of a childhood dream. I was simply inspired by a schoolfriend. Whatever he was interested in - which was writing, journalism and computing - was something that I became interested in.

It seemed obvious to put my programming skills to good use, once I'd found a problem that I wanted to solve: How do we let people who feel worthless and suicidal know that we care that they're still alive? It seemed like technology could easily solve this problem.

I built something.

It was just software. There was a Facebook page and a Twitter account, and behind it was a little piece of software.

It worked.

But, nobody really cared.

People build cool apps every day. In fact there are thousands of new apps being released every day. When I started building iPhone apps in 2008, there were just a handful of new apps every day, and everybody with an iPhone could check out the new apps to see if there were any good ones. Now, there are not enough hours in the day to download and try out all the apps that are released. We are completely overwhelmed with a deluge of new apps and websites that spring up every single day.

So, I decided to build something that very few people could build: A project so ambitious and substantial, that nobody except an eccentric rich fool would embark upon, because it was nothing but a folly. I decided to write.

People write every day. There are millions of people who call themselves writers. Some of them will actually publish. There is vastly too much published each day, to be able to read it all: It's the same overwhelming deluge problem, faced by anybody hoping that their new app will get noticed, in a crowded market.

However, the combination of vast amounts of experience, with an enormous variety of different technologies, plus the hard work of having written and published a substantial body of text, could provide a reasonable launchpad for something.

It takes next to zero effort to set up a Facebook page or a Twitter account. Thinking of a name, choosing a profile picture, writing a short bio... all those things are easy.

Building a following is something that's fairly easy to do, but is not quick to do. You have to offer something that people want, and you have to keep giving people what they want, so they keep coming back, until you reach the point where growth becomes organic; viral.

So, writing every day is the bait; the lure. You'll see it all the time - suddenly your favourite funny meme page, cartoon strip, inspirational quote tweeter or Instagram influencer is trying to sell you something. It's the old bait-and-switch trick. Sometimes you follow artists, but artists need to eat. You might be offended that they try to sell you a T-shirt, a mug, a book or some other branded merchandise, but how the hell do you expect them to pay their rent?

So, that leaves me.

I've kinda got the time and money - as well as the skills - to take on a ridiculous project that has no profit potential: Build a folly.

But what is this folly?

Perhaps it's already built, for me, at least. I tried to kill myself but strangers from the internet saved my life. When I was about to go bankrupt, a stranger from the internet lent me money. When I was about to become homeless, a stranger from the internet offered me shelter. Lucky me.

I can't tell you to follow the same path that I did, if you're in trouble, because that would be recklessly irresponsible. I nearly died so many times. I could so easily have ended up penniless and sleeping rough.

I need to do something I hate doing: automating stuff.

It seems like a nice problem to have, to have gathered a group of people who have enough empathy and compassion to go out of their way to save another person's life, but I also know that I ended up in the situation where I was totally alone in a strange city, and I tried to kill myself. I've had enough brushes with death to know that those people we sorta-used-to-care-about can drift away and become I-wonder-what-ever-happened-to people. In fact, it's an inescapable inevitable part of persistent depression leading to suicide, that the people whose lives are at risk, will withdraw from actively staying in contact with their support network.

After a while, we get tired of tagging our friends in the Facebook comments section of things which remind us of a certain person. After a while, we get tired of sending messages that go unanswered. After a while, we get tired of 'liking' their stuff, but seemingly getting nothing back. All the attention dries up very quickly, when we go quiet and disappear into the darkness.

What I want to build is something that accumulates the longer somebody has retreated inwards, cutting themselves off from the world. What I want is to build something that focusses the attention and reminds those-who-used-to-care that there's somebody slipping away. What I want to build is something that aggregates all those people who care into a miniature ad-hoc crisis support group.

Am I explaining this well enough?

When I was in a coma on a ventilator, in a hospital intensive care ward, I had no idea that I was being discussed. I had no idea that people from all over the world had been in communication with each other, trying to find out if I was OK. Friends, old and new, learned of my predicament and they tried to find out what they could: Where was I? Was I OK? Was I alive? What happened?

However, I had a very poor prognosis. My chances of survival were 30 or 40% according to the medical team who saved my life, when I spoke to them afterwards.

It occurred to me that technology and automation could do a lot of the "heavy lifting" of figuring out who's drifting away, allowing us to respond and bring the people we care about back into safety and security, away from the dark place and the death.

Prevention is better than cure.

Suicide prevention is better done before somebody is suicidal, in my opinion, from my personal experience.

It's very hard to answer that "I wonder what happened to..." question for everybody we've ever cared about, because in the modern world we tend to travel further and move more often, in order to study, work, find love and find a place that suits us in an individualistic society, where traditional families and communities have almost ceased to exist.

The answer to the problem is to use technology to sift through the noise and find the really important pieces of information, while that information is pertinent.

It's no use finding out that somebody was horribly depressed, while at their funeral.

We have busy lives, and if I build anything, it should make our lives easier, not be another nagging, pestering and irritating thing, like spambots, chain emails and invitations to play Farmville on Facebook.

I am blessed with, what amounts to the time and the money to work on the project, as well as the people I need, insofar as I'm already well remunerated for work which I find very little effort. It will be a pleasure to work on something which I feel like the world needs, although I appreciate that sounds horribly arrogant and conceited. I apologise for the worthiness which accidentally spills from my mouth, when I speak on this topic.

Anyway, consider this a declaration of intent. My first fumbling stab at a plan. Some doodles on a napkin, so to speak.

Please write and tell me what you think of the idea.

Thanks,

Nick

 

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Don't Dare Dream

5 min read

This is a story about expectation management...

Floorplan

One year ago, I was homeless, I didn't have a car and I was roughly £52,000 in debt. I lived in AirBnBs midweek and in the converted garage of a friend at weekends. My job was over 4 hours away by train and a ticket cost £137. To get to work, the earliest train I could take left at 6:21am, and I would arrive at my desk well over an hour late. 8 hours of travelling for 8 hours of work... hence living in the AirBnBs.

In order to purchase a car, I had to go deeper into debt. The car only cost me £875 but I didn't have any money, so I had to borrow some more. The car needed taxing, which cost me an additional £125. The car needed insurance, which cost me another £500.

My debt peaked at approximately £54,000, roughly 1 year ago.

An alternative title for this blog post I was considering was "Debt Destroys Dreams" but it seemed disingenuous, because the story of the past year has been a remarkable one, with the potential to resurrect long-abandoned dreams.

The reason why I put up the picture of the floor-plan above is as a metaphor. I often choose metaphorical photographs to accompany my blog posts. All the photos I use I took myself, or are from family photo albums. This photo of a floor-plan was taken approximately one year ago, in one of the AirBnBs I was staying in.

The metaphor, if you're wondering, is the dream of escaping the maze. How do you escape from a [debt] trap? Let's imagine that your dream is to escape this maze, go outside to see the sunshine and breathe some fresh air. Seems like a pretty nice dream, doesn't it?

As you can see from the floor-plan, there are many, many doors. If the only fact you know is that one of the doors is the one that leads outside, but you don't have the floor-plan, then how are you going to know which of the doors leads outside?

It seems pretty obvious from the floor-plan that there's a main corridor running through the middle of the building. It seems pretty obvious from the floor-plan that nearly every door off the corridor leads to a dead-end. However, even with the floor-plan, it's not immediately obvious how the hell to get ouf of the building.

Now, let's assume you don't even have a floor-plan. Life doesn't come with a floor-plan. You just have to keep trying doors until you find the right one. You know that eventually, you'll open the door to the outside - thus fulfilling your dream - but you have to keep trying doors and trying to learn from your mistakes. Life has plenty of dead ends, and we often end up repeating past mistakes.

Without the floor-plan, it's not possible to know how many doors there are, so it's not possible to know how much progress you've made. If there are a thousand doors and you've tried fifty, then you're not doing very well... you'd better prepare yourself for a lot more door opening and a lot more disappointment. If there are a hundred doors and you've tried fifty, then every door you open after the 51st has a greater than 50% probability of being the one that allows you to escape, achieving your dream of seeing the sky and the sun.

But, remember, you don't have the floor-plan.

So, I live my life with a rather strange philosophy. I know the things that are most likely to improve my life, but I don't know whether they'll work or not, or when I'll achieve my goals... I just have to keep trying stuff that wiil pay off eventually. That's what I've done for a whole year.

My debt probably totals about £38,000 at the moment.

Paying off £16,000 of debt is pretty impressive, for a single year.

But it doesn't end there.

I also own a car and I've rented an apartment. I went on two very extravagant holidays. I took two trips to Europe to see one of my very best friends and his family.

I also have money in both my personal and business bank accounts, plus I'm owed some money, which I'm expecting to be paid to me in the next two months.

I also have a job which continues to bring in a fairly hefty amount of money each month.

If we do the simple arithmetic of subtracting all the money I have plus the money I'm owed, from my total debt, then we arrive at a very nice simple number: Zero.

Having zero pounds, zero dollars, zero Euros, zero yen - zero cash - sounds like a pretty dreadful state of affairs, but in actual fact I think it's like putting my hand on the correct door knob, which will open the door leading outside into the fresh air and sunshine.

I can't see the blue sky yet. I can't feel the wind in my hair.

I don't want to believe that I've found the right door.

I refuse to believe I've found the right door until I've actually stepped outside and I'm looking at the sky.

It might seem tempting to extrapolate and declare myself a winner: I'm so close to being back in the black (sic.) that it surely seems impossible for me to fail. Surely I'm going to pay off all my debt and begin to live a life without that horrible ball and chain anymore. Surely I'm going to have some financial security, very soon.

I'll believe it when I see it.

 

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Paid By The Hour

6 min read

This is a story about prostitution...

One penny

It is fashionable to describe a female prostitute as a victim, which is a claim we should examine more closely. Certainly, few of us would choose sex work instead of a so-called dream job but what would that dream job need to look like, in order to fit the bill?

The bill.

How is a person supposed to pay for a crack, meth and/or heroin addiction on ordinary wages? How is a person with the chaotic lifestyle of a drug addict supposed to be organised enough to travel to work, arrive on time, and be presentable enough for a regular job?

Turn tricks. Score. Get high. Repeat.

If we examine the behaviour of an average low-income law-abiding productive member of society, we can see the same pattern of behaviour: Work a job which is thoroughly unpleasant, get paid at the end of the week, immediately spend the money on a binge drinking session, and then start all over again.

If we examine the behaviour of a high-income professional in a so-called 'good' job, we can see the same pattern of behaviour: An entire career which feels like a dead-end bullshit job, getting paid at the end of the month and immediately spending all the money on status symbols - the house, the car - in a never-ending cycle of performance reviews, pathetic promotions, job interviews and pitiful pay-rises.

"Do something you love and you'll never work a day in your life" is more applicable to heroin addiction than it is to the pursuit of a dream job that doesn't actually exist.

What did those saintly Oxfam charity workers - who were presumably working in their dream job - infamously end up spending the charity's money on? Prostitutes.

Did we conveniently forget that sex work is well paid with flexible hours? Did we conveniently forget that somebody without academic qualifications can do sex work without having to attend a job interview? Did we conveniently forget that those who have criminal records or other black marks against their name, such that they would find themselves excluded from conventional employment, are able to earn money doing sex work?

Also, do we wish to disbelieve all the very many sex workers who tell us that they choose sex work of their own free will?

Women choose to be prostitutes for very many reasons, but some of the reasons we choose to ignore include the gratification, the reward of the job. Just as a chef likes to delight diners with gastronomic creations, and takes great pride in their work, can the same not be said of prostitutes: That they like to give pleasure? Should we simply forget the fact that sex is a biological imperative, which carries pleasurable rewards: It feels nice to fuck. We get a dopamine hit from having sex, just like eating, drinking, smoking, drinking tea & coffee and all the other vices.

Of course, it's true that if sex is your job, sometimes sex isn't sex... it's just work. We are all very familiar with those times that work isn't pleasurable. In fact, work is often unbearable.

"Oh but prostitution is so unbearable" I hear you cry. It's so relatable, the idea of an ugly fat, sweaty, smelly man, with bad breath, doing something so intimate with us - "to us" - that we struggle to imagine anything worse, short of painful torture. And yet we must confront this truth: You get a lot of buck for your bang.

If we examine every way of making money, we find an relationship between how much we get paid and how much exploitation is involved. The more unethical and exploitative something is, the more lucrative it is.

A company boss might earn a thousand times more than his employees, but this is because he or she is prepared to inflict misery and suffering upon everyone who toils on his or her behalf. A software engineer developing artificial intelligence might earn a very high salary, but this is because he or she is prepared to ignore the potential negative consequences to society. A university professor might enjoy a very intellectually stimulating life, but this is because he or she is prepared to turn a blind eye to the exploitation of the developing world, and its economic enslavement, to support a life of such incredible privilege.

We must distinguish between the slaves, the exploiters, and those who sit somewhere in-between.

We must acknowledge that, in the majority of cases where a man pays a woman for sex, she exploits the fact that he wants more sex than he can get for free, while he exploits the fact that she wants money to pay for drugs, sold by disadvantaged drug dealers who exploit the only money-earning route available to them. The drugs come from countries that are desperately impoverished, deliberately so that the labour and natural resources of those countries can be exploited by the men, who exploit the man, who exploits the man, who exploits the man, who exploits the man who's eventually managed to save up enough of his money to pay a woman for sex.

Do you really know what the company you work for is up to? Do you really know where the money in your paycheque came from?

If you follow the money, you'll see that most of the so-called economy is a massive money-laundering scheme, involving banks, accountancy firms, law firms and numerous shill enterprises, funded with dirty money, which originated in weapons, war, slavery and waste of natural resources. If you're not a slave - working for nothing - then you're probably an exploiter, so who are you to say who is doing the most exploitation?

Those who have the luxury of time to sit around pointing the finger and wringing their hands about 'victims' they know nothing about, are probably the ones who are the biggest beneficiaries of human exploitation, for how else did they achieve their opportunity for such idle talk?

Wouldn't we all dearly love to idly pontificate in some revered institution, and get paid for our trouble? Wouldn't we all choose to think, write, talk and create art, instead our daily toil, if we were given the choice?

I respect the prostitute. I respect anybody who has figured out how to get money and get what they want, by exploiting the minimum number of people. Give me your money, here is your sex. It's a simple transaction of two-way exploitation: No victim, both are slaves.

We're all junkies and prostitutes, in one way or another.

 

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Trying Not To Go Manic

6 min read

This is a story about corporate culture...

Motion blur

I've spent all year expecting my health to let me down, expecting my past to catch up with me, and expecting my mania to cause me to become intolerable in an open-plan office, curtailing my ambitions to return to a state of wealth, stability and all-round life prosperity.

Mania is a constant threat.

"You might want to keep your voice down and mind the swearwords" a trusted fellow contractor warns me in private. "You could hear me?" I ask - apparently my fog-horn voice was booming out as I was in my stride. I feel like I'm in my element, which translates to the sudden re-appearance of a cocky and self-assured version of myself who's too unguarded and outspoken to fit in well in a big organisation. This is what I've been dreading. This feels like nightmare scenarios of the past playing out all over again. This is what I hoped wouldn't happen.

There are a mountain of reasons why I'd be triggered into mania. After spending months living in a hotel, single and lonely as hell, I'm in a relationship now. After spending a whole year in desperate financial trouble, I've now almost repaid all my crippling debts. After the arduous task of getting through security vetting, credit checks, reference checks, and leaping over numerous other obstacles designed to trip people up - people just like me - I feel pretty well established at my workplace. Colleagues seek my opinion and applaud my work, but it all goes to my head and fans the flames of my ever-inflating ego. Any minor delusions of grandeur I might have been harbouring could quickly become all-consuming.

I have a quiet private conversation with another contractor. I wonder if I'm at all protected, if I reveal my mental illness. I assume that I'm not, because I'm a consultant, not an employee of the client who I'm working for. However, he reassures me that I'm afforded some protection in the law and I could consider disclosing my condition, in order to receive more lenient treatment if I can't manage to keep my big stupid mouth shut.

I take a tablet to sleep and a tablet to be able to get up and go to work - otherwise insomnia and anxiety would destroying my life and make me completely dysfunctional. Why don't I take a mood stabiliser?

I'm trying to tame the beast: I feel really physically unwell - run down - but yet my brain is fully focussed on achieving a spectacular thing at work; something I can crow about and something which will make a name for myself. I'm intent on proving a point to the world. It makes me happy, in a way, that I've dealt with enormous adversity and achieved a helluva lot in the space of 12 months. It makes me happy to travel at great speed. It makes me happy to rush along, even if I get a little burnt out.

The way that I perceive life can change completely overnight. It was less than a month ago that I thought life was pointless, boring, unfulfilling, absurd, and the task of repaying my debts, falling in love, finding a rewarding job and becoming stable and happy in a sustainable situation, was utterly impossible. Today, that dream seems to be tantalisingly within reach.

I have 4 short weeks until my next holiday.

I'm leaving the country.

Again.

In the past year I've been to Warsaw, Faro, Prague and Antalya. The more I travel, the happier I am. I'm going travelling during the Christmas and New Year holiday season, and I'm going away with my girlfriend, which is going to be incredibly nice. It would be churlish to complain about how lonely it was to spend a week in Turkey on my own, but it seems pretty obvious that I'm going to have an incredible time with my travelling companion.

It's important that I have a job to come home to in 2019. It's important that I don't fuck everything up.

Perhaps my paranoia is a little unjustified. I made it this far, didn't I? Even when I was sick in the first half of this year, I still managed to impress my clients and deliver their software projects. I've left a lasting good impression at the organisations where I've worked. I've impressed my colleagues. I probably shouldn't worry too much.

However, I must acknowledge that a little success can go to my head, and I can quickly turn into a maniac.

Need to stay sensible for the next 4 weeks. Need to keep quiet.

I could easily have worked 12 or 14 hour days all this week, but I resisted the urge. I could easily have worked today - a Saturday - when instead I should be resting and recharging my batteries. My body is physically sick, but my brain is buzzing. I'm limping along, because I need the money.

I'm paranoid because I see warning signs from years gone by. I'm paranoid because I know myself and I know my patterns of behaviour. I'm paranoid because there's a mountain of evidence that I'm spectacularly good at self-sabotaging.

I find it somewhat reassuring to look back through what I've written and published, and to see that I'm far less tired, strung out and outright bat-shit insane than I was a few years ago. I find it reassuring that I've learned a lot about my patterns of behaviour and how to manage my moods in a corporate environment. I've learned some skills for being part of a fit in or fuck off culture.

I hope I'm gonna be OK. I hope I can muddle through the next 4 weeks and go away on holiday feeling confident that I'm well-liked by my work colleagues, and they're going to welcome me back with open arms in 2019.

Can mania be bludgeoned into submission by sheer force of will? Can I use my mania to achieve what I want at work?

Only time will tell.

 

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