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

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

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I'm Impatient

4 min read

This is a story about being in a hurry...

Wrigglebottom

Wanting a girlfriend, a kitten and a house could hardly be said to be whimsical decisions that have I suddenly made with little thought put into them. I've wanted a girlfriend, a cat and a house for my whole adult life, and probably a lot of my adolescence too. My wants and needs are pretty basic; fundamental.

The amount of elapsed time it's taken me to get a house, furnish it, start dating, meet some prospective love interests and find a kitten, has not taken me very long at all... by most normal people's standards. According to my perceptions, time has been almost at a standstill: like watching a 3 hour long movie in ultra slow-motion, or perhaps having each of the 24 frames per second shown by a slide projector, one every minute. The last three months of my life have lasted 72 months, according to my warped perception of time.

I by no means want to make a hurried decision about important things such as embarking upon a serious relationship, but equally I am not a person who wishes to spend a vast amount of time, effort and money, eternally dating and never thinking about making a more earnest commitment.

My life feels quite incomplete without a feline friend. I find it improves my life immeasurably to have a furry face to greet me when I come home, and I never seem to get bored of playing with cats, and stroking them when they're in the mood for human company - the sensation of a cat's fur is instantly calming, soothing and stress relieving.

UK house prices are insanely overvalued, so I must temporarily console myself with a house owned by a bank - with a mortgage - or beholden to some other form of landlord who gets rich at my expense. However, at least I have some say over how I furnish and decorate my home, and I have the right to reasonably refuse entrance to anybody I want and feel safe behind my front door.

I might seem like a very impatient person, but you have to understand that I thought I had my life sorted at a surprisingly young age, but there were bumps in the road and I'm finding myself starting over - clean slate - in a new city and without much to show for all the struggle and effort I put in up until now. That's why I'm so impatient: I very much know what I want and I know how to get it, because I already got what I wanted once already.

I have to wait a while to pick up my kitten because bengal breeders are pretty strict about when people are allowed to have them. The waiting is agonising. I have loads of photos and I get to go back for visits, but I hate waiting. I want to start bonding with my kitten right away.

I have my future life pictured very clearly and I can easily see the steps of how to get where I want to be. I never thought "I wish I didn't get a kitten" or "I wish I didn't buy a house" previously. I'm usually pretty good at knowing what's going to make me feel like a happy, fulfilled, contented person. I'm usually pretty good at knowing what's missing from my life.

It takes time to get everything we want and need, and the waiting is horrible, but I suppose I'll get there in the end.

 

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Distractions

4 min read

This is a story about feline friends...

Black cat

The two best things about owning a house were getting a kitten and having a nice garden. The garden was not in a good state when I bought the house: the lawn was in a dreadful state, the borders were full of unattractive things which had self-seeded, the path was shoddy and the small shed was falling down.

Getting a kitten was amazing. Having a precious little fluffball to nurture was one of the best things I ever did in my life.

Working on the garden, planting an attractive deep herbaceous border in neat mulched flowerbeds, laying a straight path with nice pebbles and later building a summer house in the style of a giant beach hut, was enormously rewarding.

Today, my back garden is full of weeds and my house is empty except for me.

I miss having a cat.

The photo above is of a neighbour's cat who strayed into my garden. I went outside to say hello but the cat ran away before I even stepped out of my back door. I suppose I should leave other people's pets alone, but I see no harm in being kind to the neighbourhood cats, provided I'm not feeding them or letting them come in my house.

I knew that I wouldn't be able to resist getting a cat for very long. I lasted 2 months.

I'm hoping to pick up a beautiful little bengal kitten in a couple of weeks. She has the same name as my niece, which seemed like fate: it was meant to be. If you're unfamiliar with the bengal breed, they're like little tiny leopards - their fur markings or 'spots' are quite unlike any other domestic cat's. I never pictured myself as an owner of a particular breed, but I had been interested in a few breeds: Maine Coons and Savannahs. Everything I heard about bengals made me want to own one, and soon hopefully I will.

I have lots of nice distractions in my life at the moment. Everything seems to be going according to plan.

I'm a strange fellow. Of course I want to chase girls. Of course I want sex. However, I also have a pretty strong nurturing instinct, which seems to take the guise of being a bit of a gardener and cat 'parent'. I'm mad about cats.

I'm sure I can give a little kitty a really nice life. I'm sure no grown cat, having lived in a warm house and had a steady supply of cat food for its entire life, is ever going to tell me that it's depressed and wishes it'd never been born. I can be pretty certain that I'm not going to have chosen the world's first cat to be afflicted with existential angst.

It might seem pretty selfish wanting a cat; another mouth to feed on an overcrowded planet. The amount of meat that my carnivorous kitty is going to need to consume in her lifetime is certainly going to have an environmental impact. There are ethical questions about whether it's right to domesticate wild animals like we do: for food and for harder to define reasons, such as having a feline companion.

I worry about whether my life is stable and secure enough to guarantee that this little kitten - collected in a few weeks - can have a very happy life, where she can be loved, cared for and live in a stimulating environment where her every feline need is met.

I feel like a pretty responsible adult, having taken reproductive precautions seriously enough to reach the age of 39 without having fathered any children who by now would be asking "why was I born into this terrible world?". I'm not ruling out meeting somebody who I fall so utterly in love with that I might be convinced to start a family, but at the moment I'm glad that my nurturing instincts have been mostly curtailed with gardening and kittens.

Call it May Madness, if you like... I'm a little swept up in the joys of spring. I certainly worry that I'm making rash decisions, but I find it hard to be anything other than excited about soon collecting a little bundle of furry joy and bringing her home. You should expect a lot of cat pictures to be shared imminently, hence why I haven't shared one of the cute little kitten today... there's gonna be a lot coming soon!

 

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Not My Finest Work

4 min read

This is a story about doing a rushed job...

Cat flap

Here is a picture of my cat flap. I've been thinking about getting a cat because I miss having a furry friend and I think it would improve my life to have a pet in my life. Undoubtedly, having contact with pets is something which is beneficial to my mental health - I find it really stress relieving to stroke a cat, and I enjoy sharing my life with other living creatures. I think I would find it greatly comforting to have an animal to nurture.

I'm working very hard and my colleagues are super pleased with what I'm doing, but I can't let my job totally define and consume me.

I'm trying very hard to find a girlfriend, but such things can't be rushed. I have very limited control over when and where fate is going to match me up with somebody who's got mutual feelings for me, worth embarking upon a relationship.

I'm trying somewhat less hard to make friends outside of work, because I'm simply flat-out.

My house is filled with mountains of boxes of unassembled flat-pack Ikea furniture and all of my stuff which still remains mostly in the cardboard boxes I used when moving. Some of the boxes have been opened and rummaged through for long-forgotten treasures, but some boxes are still sealed up with tape.

My clothes are mostly organised using the floordrobe system, where dirty clothes are piled up in one part of my bedroom, and clean ones in another.

I have more Ikea furniture arriving soon and I need to at least assemble a guest bed before I have my first visitor.

I'm hurriedly writing this, well aware that my sleep patterns have gotten out of sync with the corporate demands of capitalist society. It's late. I'm tired.

I'm not saying a whole lot that's very interesting or insightful, but these are my thoughts after a pretty punishing - although productive - week at the office. I veer violently from suicidal despair to arrogant delusions of grandeur, depending on whether I'm doing some really cool piece of work at the office, or whether I'm struggling to secure myself a romantic companion via the local dating scene.

I'm spending money like crazy, but it seems unavoidable given my need for a furnished home, plus I need to phone all the utility companies and tell them that it's just me living here in this giant house all on my own, so they stop charging me zillions of pounds for supplying energy, water and other services which I barely use. I'm spending money on dating. I'm spending money on replacing some of my threadbare worn-out clothes.

It seems crazy to get a kitten, but it also seems like something which would bring a flood of much-needed oxytocin, given my rather isolated existence. It seems like something I could be in control of: I just need to find a kitten for sale locally and adopt it, and then I can immediately enjoy my new pet. Having a little kitten to lavish attention on, and to brighten my day, sounds so lovely. I think I would be really overjoyed to come home from work every day and be greeted by a tiny furry friend. I think my life is sorely missing an outlet for my nurturing side.

I'm producing great work at the office and I'm not doing too badly in the dating game, but both things are unhealthy to do obsessively, and neither can be rushed.

Sometimes the sun shines, like it did this evening, and I feel like life is going really well. Most of the time I feel overwhelmed by the enormity of the task of meeting new friends and getting a girlfriend, which are going to be essential pieces of the puzzle if I'm going to have a happy life here in this new city.

My writing is suffering, but I'm trying my best to juggle everything. It's pretty impressive that I've done so much in such a short space of time, but it's still unfortunately not quite enough to have yielded a life which meets my basic ordinary and realistic needs, such as secure relationships, financial security, stability and suchlike.

It's well past my bedtime. I'm struggling to catch up. The extra demands placed upon me have tipped the balance unfortunately to the point where I'm not quite managing to stay on top of everything. I'm balancing on a knife edge.

 

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Blogging at Work

9 min read

This is a story about office life...

Image within an image

Look closely at the image above. It appears like I already wrote this blog post. It certainly feels like that. Haven't we been here before? Deja vu?

When you get stuck into a cycle, how do you break out of it? When the loudspeakers scream with feedback, because the sound that the microphone captures is being amplified and re-amplified, how do you reset, without cutting the power?

My behaviour might look self-sabotaging, but I'm actually deliberately burning bridges so that I have no line of retreat back to the places that made me unhappy in the first place.

When I worked in the City the first time around, I used to have 3 or 4 strong macchiato coffees every day. That's 12 espresso shots. I used to get drunk most lunchtimes and after work. I needed 2/3rds of a bottle of red wine to get to sleep, after all that coffee.

Uppers and downers, round and round. We rode the rollercoaster nonstop until we were sick. Every day, every week, every month, every year... they were the same.

When I was in my early 20's it wasn't such a big deal. We used to tank up on caffeine, churn out a load of code that would form the backbone of the world's economy, and then go get drunk to try and calm down a bit. We thought we could carry on like that forever, with our uppers and downers.

I saw colleagues get sick with stress, anxiety, depression, alcoholism. Some of my colleagues needed liver transplants. Some of my colleagues died. The system chewed us up and spat us out.

By my mid 20s I'd owned a yacht, a speedboat, sportscars... for some reason no amount of material possessions and status symbols seemed to quench the massive insecurity and frustration with life. Take a socially awkward, unpopular geek, sprinkle in wealth and the illusion that you're being 'successful' in life, and you wind up with a pretty confused adult.

While my schoolfriends paired off with lifelong partners and started to have children, I would suddenly decide that a loving relationship would be my salvation. I moved to a Surrey commuter town with a girlfriend, and started to play golf and generally start to think & act like a middle-aged family man. That was a bit of strange thing to do for a 21 year old.

Back in London after my first experiment into becoming a happy adult had failed, I satisfied myself with extreme sports, Internet discussion forums and lots of holidays and weekends away with nice big social clan. The London Kitesurfers 'club' was a lovely thing to be part of for several years. However, I still felt that I was missing that 'love' piece of the puzzle.

Some nice scientist kitesurfer girl seemed to tick all the boxes, and I launched myself with great intensity at a long-distance relationship that was never going to work. Relocating to the South coast, I quickly got involved with a geek girl who was into adventure sports: she seemed ideal, on paper.

I set about building the framework for a comfortable family life: the house, the steady job, the sensible car. However, I ignored the massive red flag: my girlfriend was a mean person.

I'm not easily dissuaded from my goals. Whatever obstacles I encounter, I just go around them. I'm a completer-finisher. I try to fix, improve, change, rather than throw things away or start again.

Anyway, I was flogging a dead horse. No matter how many times I painted a perfect picture postcard of how life could be, I'd found somebody who was stubbornly resistant to the idea of being nice and kind and supportive of the person who potentiated a 5-star luxury lifestyle for both of us. There was plenty of space for us both to shine, but sadly, she wanted me to be subdued and subserviant. She had gotten used to being showered with praise and being top of her class. She wasn't used to sharing the stage. She wasn't prepared for both of us to be happy.

I abandoned that life. I lost my business, my reputation with the major employers in the local area, my house and a substantial chunk of my wealth. I was fighting for survival, so I didn't have the time to go and carefully unpick the things that I had spent years building. I had no need of a house and shedful of things. What was I going to do with all that stuff? It was an unncessary millstone around my neck.

Now I find myself following a tried-and-trusted formula for wealth and 'success'. I'm rapidly putting together a lovely home again. I'm rapidly rebuilding my cash position. I'm rapidly rebuilding my reputation. However, I've seen it all and done it all before. I'm just going through the practiced motions.

"How did you know that was going to happen?" my colleagues ask me, like I'm some kind of clairvoyant. My ability to 'predict' the future is nothing more than making educated guesses, because I've been seen it all before. It looks prescient, but it's no more amazing than somebody who's learned from their mistakes.

That means my day job is pretty dull. I finish people's sentences, and I take great delight in giving people things they need before they ask for them. I'm ahead of the game. In the oft-quoted words of Wayne Gretsky, I'm skating to where the hockey puck is going to be.

I'm aware that this seems very arrogant. I'm not delusional. I know I'm not special or different. I know I'm no smarter than your average Joe.

I've done a 'gap' analysis, of my unsatisfying, unfulfilling and depression-filled life, and it seems like I need a dog, a cat, some kids and a loving supportive partner. If you ask children to draw a picture, they'll normally draw a house, the sun, some clouds, their parents and brothers & sisters, their pets. It seems like a pretty tried-and-trusted formula for life.

However, I even feel guilty about my cat living with my parents because he comes from a broken home. My cat, Frankie, has had to move house once in his kitty life, and I feel bad about the disruption and stress I caused him. I would love it if Frankie could live with me, but it would be cruel to make him live in a 4th floor apartment in a busy city. Having Frankie adopted by my parents, with their generous garden and surrounding Cotswold countryside, was the least bad option, but I still feel guilty.

Can you imagine how bad I'd feel if I had kids and they had a stressful home life? Can you imagine how guilty I'd feel if I knew that I selfishly chose to have children because they would give my life purpose and meaning, but I failed to adequately consider that the world I bequeathed to them is dying?

I'm running in autopilot at work. My brain is on tickover, doing my job. This unfortunately leaves a lot of time to consider the plight of the world's poor and struggling people. I have a lot of time to think about war and preventable diseases. I have a lot of time to think about inequalities and morality. I seem to be like a sponge, sucking up all the pain, suffering, cruelty, anger, hostility, selfishness, greed and immorality that seems to characterise the human race.

I could cut myself off from reading the news, but what would I do all day while I'm bored at work?

I can read the news, and if I get caught then nobody's really that bothered because I'm on top of my work and performing well. If I write my blog and try to stay on top of these feelings that threaten to overwhelm me, then I'm always nervous that my mask is going to slip.

I'm flirting with disaster anyway, wearing a semicolon tattoo just behind my ear, that advertises my struggle with depression, anxiety, addiction, self-harm and suicidal thoughts and suicide attempts.

When you have a problem, you can try to solve the root cause, or you can find a workaround. I know what the workarounds are. I know what the root cause is. I'm just not really satisfied that I can either do much about human nature and a selfish race intent on destroying itself, and neither am I very happy to attempt to insulate myself from reality, using drugs and money to put myself into a protective bubble

Begging is illegal in the City of London. Canary Wharf is a private estate, so undesirable members of society can actually be thrown out of the rich little enclave. You can kid yourself that there aren't any problems in the world, because you don't see them - out of sight out of mind - but that's why we got in this mess in the first place.

What happens next is as much a question of morality as it is a question of personal survival. Is it better to have lived life with some values and standards, rather than just saying "I was just doing what everybody else was doing" as if that's some kind of defence.

I know this is very lecturing, and once you've got skin in the game you have no choice but to try and do the best for your tiny tots, but I have a choice. I actually choose not to get a dog, because they're polluting (dogs need to eat masses of meat) and I choose not to have a family, because I can't make any guarantees that there's going to be a liveable planet for them to grow up on.

It doesn't make me a morally superior person. It's just the way I personally think. I know parents are racked with worry about the kind of world that their kids are going to inherit. I do empathise with the stress and challenges faced by families. Doesn't mean that's an excuse for me to join in though.

 

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Human Lives are Cheap

5 min read

This is a story about pets...

Frankie in my jumper

I love cats. Cats love me. My cat, Frankie, is so comfortable with me that I can zip him inside my jumper to keep him warm and he just happily snuggles up.

I read the other day that it took less than an hour to raise thousands of pounds for a cat that needed an operation at the vet. I've always taken the precaution of having pet insurance, because I would never want to have to make a cold hard financial decision about an animal that I kept as a pet, because I'm very emotionally attached - bonded - to Frankie.

A friend of mine has cycled thousands of miles across Europe to raise money to buy bicycles for impoverished families in Africa. These are not bicycles for leisure. They are an essential mode of transport for rural dwelling people, in order to be able to access education, employment and markets, without having to walk for hours and hours in blistering heat. Each bicycle can literally transform the prospects of an entire family overnight.

My friend who has so far covered about 2,000 miles, in over a month, has raised less than 25% of what the needy moggy managed to raise in less than an hour. I'm sure you'll agree, that cycling thousands of miles in some of the steepest parts of the Alps, surely shows that it is not through lack of effort that his fundraising attempt has not been more fruitful so far.

It's certainly not my intention to criticise or take anything away from his incredible feat, working so hard for such a good cause, to raise money for World Bicycle Relief by cycling across Europe. I'm totally in awe of what my friend is doing.

However, what saddens and disappoints me is how readily people will reach for their wallets when they think of a poor suffering furball, rather than a fellow human being.

Both my friend and I have been homeless. There seems to be an assumption that human beings are architects of their own demise, and animals are innocent creatures that need our protection. There seems to be an assumption that charity and governments are somehow working, to redistribute wealth and protect the needy and vulnerable. That simply isn't the case.

Why do people wait, until their friends and relatives are in hospital or dead, before they say "I wish we knew what to do, before it was too late" and "if we knew things were that bad, we would have done something"?

Frankly though, this is horse shit.

We have a culture where we believe we are engaged in a desperate struggle just to "look after our own". It's simply not true.

It might feel like a desperate struggle, to prepare the kids packed lunches and hang the laundry out. It might feel like a desperate struggle to think that you might not get to take 3 foreign holidays this year if you or your partner loses your job, which you're not going to. Things might feel like a desperate struggle because you've been reading too much damn tabloid journalism.

Until you've slept rough, barely been able to keep yourself clean, except with the occasional public shower, and barely been able to keep the clothes on your back from turning to dusty rags, you know fuck all about desperate struggle. However, even when you're homeless in the UK, you still don't tend to go without at least one hot meal a day: there are always soup kitchens and the Hare Krishna.

I don't know what it takes to trigger some empathy, and the goddamn impulse to get up and do something but I'm fairly outraged by the pocket change that gets stuffed into a charity collection bucket, simply to salve a middle-class conscience.

You've probably completely misread my own situation. I live in a flat that costs me twice as much as a hostel bed, which is totally excellent value. I work a job that brings in enough money to pay down the debt that I ran up supporting myself when I was sick. Yes, that's right. Instead of claiming incapacity benefit, housing benefit, council tax deductions and every other kind of government handout that I'm totally entitled to because I have major mental health issues instead I've funded it all out of my own pocket, and impoverished myself in the process.

Why would I do that? Well, because it's easier to get the money you need to survive when you have fur, whiskers and paws.

I mean, for fucks sake, Syrian children are having to print out pictures of themselves with Pokémon so that we give a shit about them.

Sorry for the condescending tone. I'm just a bit pissed off that our idea of "helping our own" is a few likes and shares on Facebook.

The end.

 

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What Do I Tell My Kitten?

6 min read

This is a story about bad news...

Frankie the kitten

First and foremost, I'm a member of the human race, living on planet Earth. We all have the same needs: oxygen, food, water, warmth. The needs of our species are no different, depending on where you were born. We are virtually genetically identical, no matter what your passport says, and what colour your skin is.

Secondarily, I belong to the continent of Europe. I could probably swim across the English Channel to get to the mainland, and I'm certainly considering it in light of recent events. I don't know if you remember this, but we even built a tunnel under the sea, so that we could be connected with our nearest national neighbour.

What even is a nation anyway? What are these fake divisions that we create? What are these lines on maps?

Do you think I can tell Frankie - my kitten - that he needs to stay within some kind of imaginary zone, whenever I let him out into the garden? Do you think he'll understand that he's allowed to play with cats who were born on a certain patch of dirt, and not others? Do you think Frankie feels proud when he sees a Union Jack flag?

How do I explain recent political events to my cat?

Frankie was rather fond of the French and German cat treats, but now that we have to import them and the value of the pound has plummeted, he may have to settle for bland English cat snacks. How do I make him understand that somehow this is because a bunch of people voted to cut themselves off from our neighbouring nations? How do I deal with his sad eyes, when he sees that he's not getting his favourite food anymore? Do you think he's pleased that I'm "buying British" and feels proud when he sees the little Union Jack on the can or packet of food?

Also, people are starting to be mean to poor Frankie, because he's half black. Just because of the colour of his fur, people are shouting angry abuse at him. He doesn't know why. He poops on everybody's garden equally - he doesn't discriminate based on fur colour. In fact, he's kinda colour blind because he's a cat.

How am I supposed to console poor Frankie, when he comes home meowing with sadness, because he feels less welcome in his own home than he used to? It's not fair that he lives in a world of black & white, when he is neither pure black, or pure white... he straddles a border that has been invented by people who want to divide us all.

Shouldn't kittens everywhere be free to roam, as if there were no borders between one garden and the next? Isn't it better for a kitten to be able to play with whichever cats he wants to, without having to check their pet passport, and ask to see their family tree?

Where do we draw the line? I'm not even sure of Frankie's ancestry, because he's a cat, and we don't keep a record of the births, deaths and marriages of cats. For all I know, his parents were Pakistani stowaways and here in the country 'illegally'. He doesn't look like an alien, he looks like a cat, but perhaps he's not welcome, because of which particular bit of dirt he happened to be born on at any one time.

Cat attack

How do I explain to him, that because of his fur colour, people assume that he's not British, and he's therefore unwelcome in the place of his birth? How do I explain to him, that a bunch of people want to "send him home" when he's already home? Where the hell is his home, anyway? Where do you want to send him, you beastly idiots?

As the parent of a kitten, how am I supposed to explain any of this to such an innocent creature? He doesn't want to hurt anybody. He just wants to eat cat food, sleep in the sunshine and shit in your flower bed. He doesn't even want to hurt a mouse - he just likes playing with them and leaving them as little presents outside the back door.

Chucking Frankie out of 'your' country, because he's got a bit of black fur won't help you. Discriminating against my cat is not going to get you a job, it's not going to get you a council house, it's not going to reduce the queue at the doctors or reduce the class size at your school.

I have a cat because he improves my life. All those fluffy cuddle times. The relaxation I get from stroking his lovely soft fur. My life is better with a black & white cat in my life. I'm glad he's here.

Yes, sure, I'm scared about my job security, and whether any human children I might have will have everything their heart desires. But, I know that being mean to a bunch of innocent kittens isn't going to solve the problems in this country.

Cats enrich our lives, wherever they were born. Cats come over here, eat our food, take up space in our favourite seat, don't even work. But, I'm certainly grateful for what cats bring to my life. I'm happy to see their little whiskery faces, no matter what colour their fur is and where they were born.

Yes, OK, maybe it's not you who is being mean to cats, but your actions certainly legitimised the abuse of poor kittens. Because you sided with the bunch who want to discriminate against cats of a certain fur colour, you ended up supporting their cause. Because of your selfishness, cats like Frankie don't feel welcome in their own home, just because he's got some black fur.

You might think that you voted in the interests of your own kittens, but all kittens are equally fluffy, cute and loveable. Why do you think it's OK to be mean to my kitten, by trying to put the needs of your kitten ahead of the whole of the rest of kittendom?

All cats should be treated equally, and dividing them along lines that they can't even understand is barbaric. Cats can't read the nationality on their pet passport. Cats can't read maps and understand the concept of national borders. Cats can't sing national anthems or salute the flag. Cats are scared by the sound of guns. Cats aren't able to stupidly glorify war and killing.

Can't we all just celebrate the joy that cats bring to our lives?

Think of the kittens.

Garden Frankie

Look at the sadness in those eyes. Heartbreaking

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Death or Glory

16 min read

This is a story about the value of life...

Camden Pirates

According to my anecdotal observations, people are taking more and more unnecessary risks with their lives and health. I've been heavily involved in this trend, since my teens, when I fought a fairly cowardly childhood with some fairly extreme stuff.

Everything from adrenalin sports to body modification seems to be going through exponential growth. The limit of what is survivable by a human seems to inspire a new generation of people who are pushing the envelope further than ever thought possible.

Let's talk about extreme sports, firstly. The guy who taught me how to rock climb had himself learnt using unimaginably dangerous equipment. The ropes had no stretch to them, and a fall could break your back just from the hard shock of the rope stopping you so suddenly. A lot of the equipment was improvised: large engineering nuts were threaded through with a bit of thin rope. People didn't even use harnesses to abseil and belay a lot of the time, they just let the rope slip around their bodies.

Kitesurfing might look extreme to you, but 15 years ago you basically hooked yourself up to an enormous kite that you couldn't release in an emergency, and you couldn't 'de-power'... that is to say that you couldn't let the wind go out of it in a strong gust, you were just yanked into the sky or dragged along.

I can't really talk about skydiving too much, as I've only done 21 jumps, but I was pulling my parachute at 5,000ft... plenty of time to pull my reserve parachute if I had a malfunction. Special care was taken to ensure that every skydiver was far apart from each other in the air, and it was scary when somebody fell past me and then opened their parachute only a few hundred metres away. If somebody crashes into you at 125mph, thousands of feet in the air, it's not going to end well.

Now we have climbers who will happily jump off a suspended platform and fall the whole length of their climbing ropes, just for the thrill... like a bungee jump. They trust their equipment so much that they actually choose to fall. Most of what I was taught as a climber by my old-school mentor was simply "don't fall".

Now we have kitesurfers who are jumping over hard objects that could kill them. One of the UK's best known kitesurfers famously jumped over Worthing Pier. I've had two close encounters with a pier myself, one of which destroyed my kite, and the other involved a jet-ski rescue of a friend's kite. When I learnt to kitesurf, the idea was to stay away from rocks, cliffs, buildings and anything hard that you might be splatted against by the pull of your kite.

Now we have skydivers who are wearing wingsuits and flying within a couple of feet of rocks, trees, cable cars, bridges, roads, houses... just about anything on a steep mountainside. When they open their parachute, they have barely enough time to unzip their arms from their wingsuits so that they can grab the control toggles, let alone pull the cutaway and reserve handle... but the reserve parachute would never open in time if they had a malfunction anyway.

Given that a parachute will malfunction every 10,000 jumps, and there's hard data that supports that statistic, then you can precisely say what the probability is of you dying from a BASE jump or wingsuit flight with a low canopy opening.

I've known people who've had accidents climbing, kitesurfing and skydiving, so why would I continue to do these dangerous things? Well, there has been incredible improvement in the quality of the equipment in just the last 15 years. However, I think the main reason is that us adrenalin junkies never think that an accident is going to happen to us... we tell ourselves that we're too skilled, too careful, too lucky... accidents happen to other people because they made a mistake. We all think we're infallible.

By my mid twenties I had experienced plenty of close calls, but thankfully never been hospitalised.

Camden Tree Man

Getting into the extreme difficulty grades of rock climbing starts to be a game of russian roulette. The 'protection' that you can place to save your life if you do end up falling, starts to be very inadequate in certain parts of the climb. You have to accept that injury or death is going to occur if you fall in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Pulling off the hardest kitesurfing tricks can actually injure you pretty badly, even though you're doing them on water. One of the first times I tried to do a 360 degree spin, I accidentally looped my kite and hit the water going at about 40mph. It doesn't sound like much, but it could have easily broken a rib. The higher you go, and the stronger the wind, the more chance of you crashing into the water at high speed, and the more the water acts like a solid surface.

Waves are probably the biggest danger to a kitesurfer though, and without your kite you can be in big trouble. I once got pummelled into the seafloor down in Brighton, catching waves that had reached the size of houses. It was only because my kite pulled me to the surface and onto the beach that I didn't drown. Sadly, somebody we used to kitesurf with in Southbourne was not as lucky when he lost his kite and perished trying to swim to shore in big waves.

For a skydiver, you can obviously calculate the risk of having a double parachute failure, but most injury and death seems to occur when trying to land, when your parachute is actually open. At the place where I learnt, there was a motorway, a high-speed railway line, loads of buildings and trees and all sorts of other hard things that you could fly into, that would injure or kill you.

The very first time that I jumped, my lines were all twisted up. Not exactly a malfunction, but sometimes people have to cut away from their main parachute and open their reserve because the line twists are causing them to turn in a tight spiral downwards. Why was it not more off-putting that I actually had a problem with my parachute to sort out, while dangling in a harness, thousands of feet above the hard ground?

 

Skydive Road Junction

As you can see, I'm above a fairly major road junction, and heading towards a nearby town. The ground is approaching at over 120mph. I chose to jump out of the plane. Nobody made me do this. I decided to take the risk. An accident will never happen to me, right?

What I can say about all of this, is that personal experience is a very poor way to judge risk, but it's an unavoidably human thing to do... to base our perception of danger on our own individual lives, rather than looking at the wider statistics.

I've had a lot of hospital visits during my recent troubles, but I have no lasting health damage. Obviously, I never died. I didn't even feel much pain or discomfort that I can remember. To all intents and purposes, life has taught me that no matter what ridiculous risks I take, I seem to be immortal and virtually indestructible.

If I look at all the times I've put my life on the line, put my head in the lion's mouth, as it were... statistically I shouldn't be around to tell this tale. I should be more mindful of the fact that I'm one of the lucky ones... the one that got away, by the skin of his teeth. However, that's not how my psychology works. For every brush with death, that just seems to reinforce my belief that I can get away with unimaginable risk taking.

Why should it not be that way? For every harrowing event that you survive, why shouldn't it make you braver, less risk-averse. To all intents and purposes, the Universe seems to be speaking to you... that your life was spared, that you escaped catastrophic injury or death, just proves that you're special, you're different... you can put your life on the line and get away with it.

Here in the UK there are no predators, no wars, no unavoidable hazards. The biggest risk to your life is a road traffic accident. So, does it therefore seem logical that my latest adrenalin sport is playing in traffic? Deliberately dodging black cabs, red double-decker busses and Toyota Priuses driven by people who can barely drive.

I sawed my bicycle's handlebars down to the same width as my shoulders, so that I can fit through ridiculously small gaps, provided I keep my elbows in and ride like hell. Occasionally I see a gap, and then decide to abort at the last minute because I sense that something's not quite right. The sensible thing would be to avoid those touch-and-go situations altogether, but more often than not I'll lay my life on the line simply for the thrill of it.

Living on the Edge

I never really think that living on the edge like this is disrespectful to those who haven't been as lucky as me. I do feel guilty about wasted NHS resources where I've been treated in hospital, but when doctors have told me how close I came to dying, it doesn't really have the intended effect.

Trying to scare somebody into taking less risks doesn't work, as we have seen with smoking. Printing "SMOKING KILLS" in big bold letters on cigarette packets looks particularly ironically ineffective, when a smoker is reaching into that packet twenty times for a 'cancer stick' before discarding the empty wrapper, and purchasing another box of fags.

I mentioned body modification, right at the start of this blog post. People are willingly submitting themself to the tattoo artist's needles, or the plastic surgeon's knife. These procedures are not without danger, but they are also painful, uncomfortable, as well as producing irreversible bodily changes.

You would have thought that people would have seen tattoo disasters, or had one of their own, and decided that making a permanent alteration to your body is a foolish thing to do. However, we find the opposite... once people have one tattoo, they often get more, and some people are going further, with piercings, stretched earlobes & lips, subdermal implants, deliberate scarring of their skin.

Ok, so London is gritty and urban, but there's a whole subculture where huge tattoos are totally normal and accepted. In every hipster cafe and trendy bicycle repair shop, you're likely to be served by people who have whole arms covered in richly coloured tattoos, necks, hands... these aren't the kind of thing you can cover up.

If you earn shit wages as a coffee shop barista or whatever, and there is literally zero hope of you ever being able to afford to buy your own home, why wouldn't you do something with your money that feels good? Blast all your cash on booze and tattoos. Money is just fun tokens... it doesn't buy you a lifestyle anymore, for most young people.

The long-term hopes of people have been dashed. There's no career ladder anymore. There are no good jobs full stop. There's just student debt and some low wage, and whatever you can do to fill the empty void. The idea of saving money for a rainy day is just insulting, when it's a hand-to-mouth existence.

This counter-culture of piercings, tattoos, beards, moustaches, vibrant hair colours and extreme haircuts. This fixation on image. So many selfies... I can empathise. I feel that I know where it's coming from. What have you got, other than the skin you live in, and the clothes on your back? Feel good in your own skin, because you'll never have a home to call your own, to feel good in.

You might as well get that big tattoo on your neck, because you're never going to work in an office, hoping to get that big promotion, like your Dad did. You might as well spend all your disposable income on alcohol and drugs and expensive coffee, because you're never going to be able to afford to settle down and start having kids in a nice big family home, as a housewife, like your Mum did.

The extreme sports are pretty much banished for those on a low income, so extreme drinking, extreme drug taking, extreme risk taking on your bike in traffic, extreme sexual behaviour... extremely short-term decisions. That's the only life opportunity that's offered. People have to get by however they can, and part of getting by is seeking reward, pleasure.

I don't think we're living in an era of hedonism at all. In fact there's a certain bleakness to everything. There's a certain amount of sorrow that is being drowned. Young people's lives are harder than you think, and those lives are very sparsely punctuated with what few highlights they can afford.

What was once a subculture, something extreme, something for the minorities, something for those who were excluded from the mainstream, is actually now becoming the mainstream. The "jocks" who are flawlessly good looking, fashionably dressed and are following the prescribed path of academic and sporting prowess, followed by a great career in a big company... these people are the freaks now.

I forget who it was who once said "if you want to be different, to stand out, then don't get a tattoo". Those words are ringing very true today.

I chose to get into extreme sports because I was bullied and ostracised a lot at school. Now it seems like anybody who's got the money is an off-piste snowboarder, kitesurfer, skydiver or whatever. It's no longer an exceptional thing to risk your life in pursuit of your little moment of happiness in an otherwise bleak existence.

Bluffing Balls

A strange thing starts to happen when you pressurise and threaten somebody who has spent a long time contemplating life and death decisions. Instead of being bullied, cowed, pushed and shoved in the way that you want them to, they double down: they will raise the stakes.

As danger approaches, I find that I run towards it rather than away. I don't try and make the last few pounds in my bank account last as long as possible... what would be the point of that? To disappear off the face of the planet with a whimper?

I'm a very bad person to play chicken with. If you think that risk of death, or anything inbetween is going to instill fear in me that will control my decisions, then you're very stupid and deluded.

If you think I'm the stupid one, you're wrong. Obviously I avoid pain and discomfort. It's actually the smart thing to do, to avoid the unwinnable battle, but at the same time to not submit yourself to a life of sustained misery. I'll avoid the fistfight with somebody who just enjoys the thrill of violence, but yet I'll use the very last of my energy, money - whatever I've got left - in some final roll of the dice that will leave me far more beaten and broken than any battering I could receive from somebody's fists.

You think that decisions like that are stupid? Well, you simply haven't calculated the odds. What do you do when you're dealt weak cards? Go all in. Push all your casino chips into the pile with an icy calm. Fortune favours the brave, and a life of cowardice is no life at all.

Some people are able to eke out a life, continuously looking over their shoulder in fear. Some people are able to live under Damocles' sword, with a continuous threat of redundancy, bankruptcy, mortgage default, reposession... not being able to feed and clothe their kids, not being able to pay the bills. Even though this miserable existence was once possible, the route is now barred. Why would you want it anyway?

Do I hanker for a time when I was drawing a regular salary, hoping for a big pay rise and bonus every year, paying my mortgage, trying to save enough money to put me ahead of the game? It's bullshit, you're never going to get your nose in front. You've been set up to fail from the start.

My instinct to nurture is rather unfulfilled, especially now that I no longer live with my cat, Frankie. However, I've got no skin in the game besides my own. There's absolutely no incentive to curtail my risk taking. There's absolutely no incentive to be subdued, beaten down into submission, and to accept an intolerably miserable existence. Of course I'd rather die.

It's not even about depression or mental illness. It's just a response to the world, to circumstances, to my environment. It's sane and rational to consider the final solution: a premeditated suicide.

Actually, when I think about my quality of life, I wouldn't give up the last few years for anything. I've had the ride of my life. If I skid into an early grave as a crumpled mess, then at least I lived. I know that "live fast, die young" is such a horrible cliché, but I 'get' it now. Having had both lives, I choose the one with extreme risk every time. Dying a long drawn out death of anxiety over whether my pension fund is big enough, is my idea of torture.

I wonder whether those young people, with their complete fixation on the short-term, share my lack of fear of death. I wonder if they have also made a rational decision to reject a life of constant anxiety over an unknowable future filled with pathetic threats... torturous death by a thousand cuts.

Why on earth would I want to be wealthy in my old age, when I'm stalked by cancer, cardiovascular disease and other age related shit that's going to make an active lifestyle increasingly improbable? I'm glad that I've lived and loved and lost, and now life hangs by the slenderest thread.

Am I being melodramatic? I don't care what you think, actually. You can call my bluff... I can't lose. I might end up without any fun tokens left, but that's all part of the thrill, the adventure... the joy of living your life, rather than waiting to die.

Wakeboard Jump

Cut the thread, and I'll fly

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Race to the Bottom

8 min read

This is a story about selling eyeballs...

Laser Eye Cat

You ever wonder why your email is free, Facebook is free, YouTube is free, most of the stuff you can find on the internet is free?

Most companies need to have either a freemium or an ad-supported business model now. Most businesses must endure an army of freetards, who demand the highest possible product standards, but aren't prepared to pay a penny. They will spend their precious time criticising you and your product, but they won't spend a single cent.

In the fierce race to capitalise a market, to monopolise, to acquire the biggest number of users, companies must invest so much in their products, and not hamper growth by introducing advertising too intrusively, or by making people pay.

There's really only one place that things can end up: the biggest players dominate everything, and have to fight over a finite amount of ad revenue and market insight data. Eventually, one tech company can do it all, own it all, dominate the entire market.

At the moment Facebook is the clear favourite for me. I spend far more time looking at curated content on Facebook, than I do searching for new content via Google or on YouTube. I'm interested in what my friends are interested in. My Facebook feed contains far more things that I'm interested in than I can possibly read and watch during my waking hours. There simply isn't enough time left for me to do my own content discovery.

Facebook has also started to take over from my use of email and instant messaging services. It's a kinda convenient one-stop-shop for staying in touch with my network of friends and family. It's all nicely bundled together in one place. You can cancel your account any time you want, but you can never leave.

Google's arse is being well and truly kicked at the moment, in terms of growth. Facebook knows so much about us, the advertising can be super targeted. Facebook knows where I've been, who I've been there with, when I went there, how often I go there. It knows where I went to school, what I studied. It knows who my family are. It knows who I stay most in contact with. It knows what I 'like' and what links I click on. It knows what videos I watch, and what content I scroll right past.

Apple Store Covent Garden

Ok, so I'm an early adopter. I sometimes queue up to get Apple products on the day they launch. Apple are presently the world's biggest company, by market capitalisation (number of shares in issue, multiplied by the share price) but they're far more anti-competitive than Microsoft ever were. Safari comes pre-installed on my Macbook and I never get asked if I would like a different browser.

Apple are trying to dominate the ad space by forcing app developers to go through their iAds platform and blocking any other advertising. They're trying to leverage their strong position as a software and hardware platform, to gain the biggest share of the lucrative advertising revenue. Eventually, they're going to land up in legal hot water.

Facebook is far better placed to become the dominant platform for advertisers and companies looking to gain market insight. It's entirely fair that when I use a free website, that the terms and conditions state that they can show me adverts and use my data. It's not fair that when I buy a £600 smartphone, it somehow limits what I can see on the internet. It's not fair if Apple start selling my private location data, my phone usage habits etc.

In the bizarre world of the battles between the world's largest tech companies, you might be surprised to learn that for every Google Android phone sold, Microsoft make the most profit. That's because Google have to pay patent royalties to Microsoft. The important silicon chips inside your smartphone, make a healthy profit for a company that didn't even manufacture them. That company is ARM, who license the chip designs to manufacturers, and take a royalty payment for every chip that gets made.

The legal battles that are brewing will eclipse everything ever seen before. The amount of money that is at stake is unprecedented.

But what happens if you extrapolate? Well, basically, you will probably get given a free phone, the whole concept of paying for software or subscription services will completely disappear, but your privacy, your data will be completely up for grabs to the highest bidder, along with your eyeballs, which will be continually bombarded by targeted ads.

Ancillary industries, like music and film production, and writing, will be consumed into this dominant giant, and high quality content will only exist as the bait for your eyeballs. You won't be able to read another book without there being some kind of product placement having been woven into the plot. Authors have to eat too.

The fact is, that the era of the busker or the indie musician is over. People think that the number of Facebook fans that you have or the number of Twitter followers is somehow directly monetisable, so the idea of chucking 50 pence into a hat or paying for music is unthinkable to the freetard army.

Naturally, with all the advertising money washing around, people who are creating content, simply because they are creative individuals with time and talent on their hands, are simply drowned out in a sea of noise created by the paid content creators. You have no money to market your content, so nobody will even find it or consume it. There's no reason for it to exist, if it's not pushing some product or service.

In fact, traditional goods & services are having their revenues squeezed. Why would you buy a travel guidebook when you have TripAdvisor and a load of ad-supported websites that you can browse on your smartphone, virtually anywhere in the world? The fact that the travel guidebook at least maintains a degree of commercial impartiality is missed by many people, who will end up eating in restaurants or staying in hotels that have paid to be written about.

We don't tend to pay at all, or pay very little, for our news sources. That means that those news outlets are getting the lions share of their revenue from advertising, which exercises at least a kind of censorship over unfavourable news coverage, if not outright direction over how real life events are reported. How can you trust news sources with such commercial interests behind them?

TechStars Warner Yard

You might think that because I've hacked away at some bit of software, making an app or a website, in some trendy co-working space in the heart of Tech City, that's the reason why it's trending on Twitter, that's the reason it's 'going viral'. Actually, most social media campaigns - even the viral ones - are planned and executed by a sophisticated service industry that caters to those who wish to market themselves using the modern mediums.

I often wonder what the point of Twitter is. I have a bot that follows somebody, and their bot messages me back to say thanks for following them. Are there any real people on Twitter, or is it all bots, releasing content at strategically timed intervals, and doing their robotic interactions in a way that's been designed to appear humanlike?

We have loads of stats & data that tell us about content engagement. How much do we mould ourselves, and how we act, in order to increase that engagement? How often do we think about how many 'likes' we're going to get on a Facebook comment, just before we hit the 'post' button.

Frankly, I've tried to detach myself. I'm just writing relatively blindly. I can see how many Facebook likes I get and I can see how many link clicks I get on Twitter, but broadly speaking, I have no idea how many people read what I write, when they read it, where they're based in the world. If I did have those stats, that data, it could start to corrupt the integrity of what I'm trying to do.

That's the most interesting thing of all to me. That I've been able to write the equivalent of two novels of content, and publish it into the public domain, with barely anybody noticing. That shows just how much noise there is out there. That shows just how much content everybody is churning out, into the ether. I could have whispered all my secrets into the hollow of an ancient tree that was about to be felled, for all the difference it would have made to the world.

It felt daring at first, churning this stuff out. But now there's just this dawning realisation that everybody's doing the same thing. There's so many "me too!" folks and wannabe authors, musicians and filmmakers out there in the big wide world, that you can really say or do anything you want, safe in the anonymity of noise.

Headphones

Welcome to the global silent disco. Headphones on, zoned out

 

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Advent Calendar (Day Twenty-Three)

1 min read

This is a story about the eve of Christmas Eve...

Frankie is a gift

Frankie has done all his Christmas shopping and wrapped all his presents. He also knows what he's going to do on Christmas Day: eat cat food and sleep. Much like every other day then.

Cats don't wear clothes, have pockets, wallets, understand the concept of a job, or money, or presents or giftwrapping, or the Gregorian calendar, or the significance of certain days on the Gregorian calendar. Consumer society completely baffles them.

Meaningful

Here's a little message to keep you going until Christmas Day

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Advent Calendar (Day Four)

11 min read

This is a story about life support...

Death Spiral

I was in a metaphorical coma for 4 years. I was virtually on life support for the first 2 years, and then I woke up to find my wife and parents trying to turn off the 'machines' that were keeping me alive. Shame on them. I gave up on life and spent the next 2 years at death's door, in and out of hospital.

The first 2 years, there was nothing anybody could do. Having suffered 6 years at the hands of somebody so unfaithful, cruel and abusive, my body & mind finally gave out on me. I cracked, collapsed, capitulated. The crash was inevitable. You just can't abuse somebody for so long and expect them to just suck it up.

Two years might sound like a long amount of time to 'care' for somebody, but if all you're doing is going on dating websites and taking holidays using my money then it's not all bad. I don't even care about the money. I'm open hearted. I pay it forwards. If you take and you don't give back, then I know that you pay a debt of guilt. I know that if you have a moral bone in your body, you know what the true balance of karma is.

Actually, not a lot of caring went on. During my first hospital admission, my ex-wife didn't even ask about visiting hours, the phone number to contact me or bother making any plans to come visit. The moment I was admitted to hospital, she jumped right on those websites and started arranging to meet people. What a c**t.

Oh, sorry... I'm not supposed to be bitter about stuff. Yes, I'm supposed to be the punchbag. I'm not supposed to have feelings. I'm supposed to be a pincushion. If you prick me, I'm not supposed to bleed. I'm supposed to be inhuman. But insofar as I can tell, I'm very much human. Sorry about that.

I suppose she's human too, although it's hard to imagine when she treated me so inhumanely. I suppose she was probably a sex addict or something. Definitely some psychological problems, but who am I to judge? I'm just the guy who was nearly killed by her narcissism and selfishness.

I wonder how you can move on like that. Destroying somebody, putting them in hospital, and then just immediately thinking about the next victim. I wonder what kind of callousness, lack of empathy, psychopathy, allows you to expend a human life and move on as if it was nothing.

Happy Christmas

I suppose if you've decided that you want another boyfriend or husband because you don't like the one you've got, the best thing to do is probably abuse them until they kill themself. It's a lot quicker and easier than just breaking up with them. I guess she had moved on, which is why she thought it was OK to go on dating websites while I was fighting for my life.

What difference does having a supportive partner make anyway? What difference does having supportive parents make? It can't be very much. The parents should just support the partner who's going to be bereaved and help to finish off the sick and weakened person. Yup the sick person is a lost cause, so it's a good idea to hurry death along a bit.

My parents initially refused to help at all. They refused to help either of us. Then they started abusing me too, but I can see that it was probably an ill-advised attempt at 'tough love'. Well guess what? I'd had my fill of tough love having my face smashed in by my partner.

Then my parents did what she wanted, which was to get me out of the way so she could go on dating websites as if she was single and had managed to buy a house on her pathetic salary. Yes, she quite liked the house that I paid for. She did let me have the deposit back when we divorced, but only because my solicitor fought for it. I just wanted my life. I told her to take as much as she wanted, and horrifyingly she wanted it all, including my life!

Perhaps this horrible treatment had something to do with prolonging the first terrible 2 years. I was a bit like a car running on 3 cylinders, spluttering and coughing, kangarooing down the road. There were opportunities for recovery. There were periods of improvement. However, the toxic atmosphere still persisted. You just can't recover when your partner wants you dead and your parents are co-operating with them.

I'm pretty canny. I know how to choose my battles wisely. I knew that it would drive me insane if I tried to battle the abusive shits head-on. You just can't win a battle where you're outnumbered and weakened. If you want to live, you need to curl up in a ball and protect your vital organs, and wait for the blows to stop being rained down on your head. You need to play dead.

Death Warmed Up

So my ex-wife took her loot and ran for the hills, leaving me bruised and bloody in the gutter. I don't begrudge her taking her share. She paid into our joint finances, and took far more than that, but it's not her fault that she's so sick that she can't do the basic maths. She felt entitled, to damages perhaps? But it was me who was damaged. It was me who was left fighting for my life. It was me who was nearly dead.

I just wanted her out of my life after she said she'd rather I was dead and marked my suicide note in red pen, with loads of abuse all over it (she's a teacher, you see... so that's OK, right?). She was homocidal. I'm not saying she's a murderer (that I know about) but it's pretty worrying behaviour. Certainly a breach of the "in sickness and in health" marriage vows we made to each other. What a c**t.

Oh sorry, almost a bit of bitterness there. Except it's passing now. Now that I know that I'm free, and I'm alive, and I'm somewhat recovered from where I was 2 years ago, when we finally separated. It was a very close call. Apparently probate is a lot easier than divorce. That was her preference anyway, to be widowed rather than divorced. That's what she said to me. What a c... oh, hang on, I'm now starting to feel pity for her, rather than bitterness.

Yes, I'm wondering what could drive a person to have such careless disregard for a human life. It's rather worrying. She must have had some pretty horrible stuff happen to her as a kid. Yes, I really pity her. What a sad messed up person. What a shame. She is very smart and I found her very attractive, although a lot of people wouldn't fancy her. I was totally in love with her, even though she was very hard to love.

I really hope she learnt some stuff from our relationship. I know that I did. When a recent ex-girlfriend started throwing abuse and plates and knives at my head, I dumped her immediately. She was a feisty Italian lovable little thing, but there's no future for me with somebody who thinks that kind of abuse is acceptable. When another girlfriend started using abusive language towards me, I told her I didn't like it and asked her politely to stop, and she did. That seems more normal to me, more healthy.

I think alcohol and drugs can be dangerously disinhibiting. I don't think my Italian ex was drunk at the time but she was probably high on drugs or on a comedown. I have no idea. It's just an excuse anyway. Those things are not changing your character, they are just revealing what lurks beneath the surface. They are showing you what that person is really like, under the surface.

When you get drunk or you get high, you are testing yourself to the limits. You are effectively putting yourself into an extreme situation that would never occur in normal life, except during exceptional circumstances. You are switching the mode in your brain to a state that it would normally only enter because of a response to something very unusual.

By taking drink or drugs, you are going to trigger fight or flight responses in yourself. When I got very upset with my ex-wife, I used to get in a taxi, or drive to an airport. I'm a lover not a fighter, so it's the flight response, not the fight response, that gets triggered in me. I left our joint birthday party in 2006 because she was having a tantrum and saying she was having a horrible time.

I called the cab for both of us, but she was having such a horrible time that she wanted to stay, so that everybody could see how horrible it was for her, having a massive party. What was horrible for me was seeing the girl I loved very upset. I was trying to take her away from a situation that she was telling me was horrible for her.

Another time, she was having such a horrible time, sitting on a sofa with my friends, with me excluded for some reason. It was so horrible for her, having all these friends around her, caring about her. It must be so horrible to be loved by somebody who cares and wants to make you happy and protect you from horrible things. That must be horrible. I drove to Gatwick Airport, because I didn't know what to do. The flight response.

Yes, I fly, I don't fight. I can fight, but I won't. I will take flight. Fighting doesn't achieve anything. Flying gets you out of the situation of conflict and stops anybody from getting injured. It's the more evolved response to a stressful situation.

Jimbo

I flew us around the world many times. That was my solution. I paid for tens of thousands of pounds worth of flights, to keep her happy, to keep us happy. She was very hard work, and had very expensive tastes, but she was worth it and I don't regret it. I loved her to bits.

It kind of works, having 5 star holidays all over the globe. I remember her having an absolute meltdown every time something would go wrong with our travel arrangements, and I would just have to quietly move her a safe distance away, and then go and use a charm offensive to repair the damage caused by her sour face and tantrum, before negotiating what she wanted.

Holidays were very stressful. She wanted a camper van when we went to Hawaii. The poor people who ran the camper van company just wanted to have a relaxed Christmas break, and when their camper van broke down, there wasn't a mechanic on the island of Oahu who fancied fixing it during the holiday season. I had to bust my balls, and theirs, just to keep her from throwing her toys out of the pram. It was hard work.

That's just one example. Every holiday, she was very demanding, and I was her personal tourguide, smoothing things over with the locals. Yes, she was very organised, officious, but that's not the way the world works. Things go wrong, and things don't run like clockwork. I remember getting wound up when taxi drivers would stop in the middle of the road and talk to each other in remote windswept locations that hardly any Europeans ever visit, but then I realised that it's important to embrace local culture. It's important to go with the flow. I learnt some patience, some humility.

Yes, you can go to a place and splurge your cash and expect to be chauffeur driven around by a man-servant. However, when I asked her, she said she wanted the authentic experience. As her personal tour guide, I delivered what my client asked for, always. I think she really liked the local bus we caught in Egypt, packed full of farmyard animals and cargo, with the passengers who just wanted to discuss English Premier League football with us.

Travelling is hard work, and it's stressful, when you're the one who has to figure stuff out on the ground and actually deal with the language and cultural barriers. Getting stroppy and telling people that you're disappointed and "it's not good enough" really doesn't get you anywhere. Tact and diplomacy are the order of the day.

I hope my exes enjoyed their holidays. I really poured my heart & soul into making sure they had a lovely lovely time.

He's got the whole world in his hands

13,796ft high, at the summit of Mauna Kea. Trip of a lifetime. Was she grateful? The fact she wanted me dead would suggest not (December 2012)

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