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

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Blogger's Digest - Day Twelve of #NaNoWriMo2019

9 min read

Blogger's Digest: a Novel

Contents

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

Chapter Thirteen

Chapter Fourteen

Chapter Twelve

Moored up in a marina near Porto in Northern Portugal, I bid farewell to Ian. Porto was an ideal place for him to depart, with an international airport so he could get home and new crew from the UK could easily join me, whenever they were available.

I felt much more confident and comfortable asking inexperienced friends to help me on this coast-hugging part of the journey, which aimed to get from Porto to Lisbon. Although the route would sail right past the biggest waves in Europe, at Nazaré, the swells were settling down during summer. I felt happy that I could safely get into and out of the rivers, lagoons and other natural harbours, which would provide safe anchorage overnight, or in the event of bad weather. There was no more need for night sailing and to have at least two competent skippers on board, taking turns at the helm.

Having reached a third country, passing France and Spain, was a huge psychological boost and it enthused my friends who had been following my progress. I had lots of promises from people that they would fly out over the summer to help at various points during the journey.

The offshore sailing across the Bay of Biscay had been every bit as unpleasant as I feared it would be, and so I was glad to be safely moored up in a marina, and able to go ashore whenever I wanted, by simply stepping off the pontoon. I decided to take the opportunity for some tourism, having never visited Porto before.

Solo travelling was something that never appealed to me; it was something I'd never done. As I'd not taken a gap year before or after university, and had then quickly found my way into a lucrative career, backpacking and hostelling had never been a financial necessity - I had always been able to afford to stay in nice hotels, wherever I went. Perhaps my life would have been enriched by those experiences, but I had plenty of communal living experience during my student days, staying in chalets when skiing, and of course when doing sailing trips with every berth filled, when living quarters were particularly cramped.

My Portuguese was somewhat hampered by my excellent French, OK Spanish and basic Italian. The pronunciation seemed so disimilar to the other Latin-based Northern European languages which I'd learned, that I was quite intimidated and more hesitant and afraid to attempt to communicate, than I usually was when abroad.

I wanted for Sian to join me for a pleasant city-break style holiday, but she was busy with end-of-academic-year activities at the university, and she wanted to leave on good terms, in the hope of getting her old job back in approximately one year's time. I also knew that there was vastly more of the journey to complete before the end of the summer, and I didn't want her to decide that life on board the yacht with me wasn't going to work out, before we even reached the warmer waters of Greece and Turkey, where I hoped we would happily spend the winter together.

Some substantially intimidating segments of the journey stood ahead of me: Menorca to Sardinia, Sardinia to Sicily, and finally Sicily to Corfu. Each of these segments would be in seas which were hardly tidal and lacked the gigantic waves and fierce storms of the Atlantic, but would require night sailing a long distance from shore. I didn't want to think about any of these future challenges, including the Gibraltar Straits, whose shipping lanes would be a nightmare to navigate. I wanted to forget all about the remaining trip ahead, for a while, and enjoy some time ashore.

At first, I contented myself with establishing a routine at the marina, where I would enjoy morning coffee in a local café, and some beers in the sunshine, reading a book to take my mind off everything and relax. I was attempting to get myself into a holidaymaker's tourist mindset, instead of that of a sailor, intent on reaching their final destination.

I often forgot to stop and smell the roses, so to speak. Mainstream education had funnelled me through a pre-destined path, via university and straight into a career, without a moment to catch my breath. Summer holidays had been stolen by internships, and group holidays - such as ski trips - with work colleagues had felt a little bit like an extension of my London life. I'd had my career break, of course, but that had been frantic, as I had attempted to build a small business from nothing. Here was a rare opportunity to enjoy the total freedom I had, with no job and career to worry about, no money to be earned - yet, it took me some time to ease my way into a life of leisure, as I was so unused to life without work: academic and career; financial goals etc.

I felt incredibly self-conscious in the evenings, alone. I didn't feel comfortable eating on my own in a restaurant or going to bars in the city centre - I was sure that I'd look like a sleazy old man; a sexual predator. I was sure that people would eye me with suspicion.

There was a bar in the marina where I felt among my own kind at least - yachtie types - and I stayed there until I was quite drunk from the strong Portuguese lager, whereupon I would return to my yacht to prepare and eat a simple meal. With Ian, we had been eating meals which could be prepared while under way, meaning whatever could be cooked in a single saucepan, which was held firmly to the gimballed stove. Having got into the bad habit of tipping ingredients from packets and tins into a pan, until a passable meal was ready to be eaten, I continued with this, washed down with lashings of red wine.

I was quite lonely, but I knew that an amazing summer stretched ahead of me, with the opportunity to see some fabulous ports, harbours, lagoons, coves, islands and a whole heap of wonderful things along the way. I knew that there would be no shortage of friends who wanted to join me along the way, to help me on my mammoth voyage to Corfu.

There were other British sailors in the marina, of course. My ears instinctively picking up the mother tongue, whenever I heard it spoken. I knew that there would be random crew - with varying degrees of experience - who frequented marinas during the pleasant months of the year, and happily took the opportunity for a change of scenery when it arose, happy to add sea miles to their log books, as well as the free bed & board. I was wary of taking my chances with strangers, however - I didn't mind dishing out orders to my friends, but I felt I wouldn't be comfortable with a stranger aboard.

On my third night spent alone at the marina bar, engrossed in my book, a young woman in her mid-twenties came and sat at my table.

"You're English aren't you? Hi, my name's Nicki" she said, offering a handshake. She beamed the happiest and most disarming smile I had ever encountered. "Come and join us for a drink" she said, nodding at a group of friends her age, who beckoned us over with great enthusiasm.

Nikki had dark hair but her tanned and heavily freckled complexion told me that she was a sailor. Her self-confidence and overwhelming friendliness led me to join her and her friends without hesitation. This was an uncharacteristic of me, as somebody normally quite reserved and quiet, and certainly not prone to any rash or sudden acts. For a moment, I noticed that Nikki was a very attractive young woman, and her demeanour could have been mistaken for somewhat flirtatious, but I decided to suppress that doubt and trust my instinct that this was a gesture of pure friendliness, given that my social isolation was quite conspicuous.

It emerged that the group Nikki was with were all her students, who had just completed a sailing course and were celebrating. Nikki was an RYA Yacht Master - a highly coveted qualification - which surprised me, as the Yacht Masters I had met had all been men in their 50s, and looked like typical salty sea dogs, with grey beards.

Had it not been for the high spirits of Nikki's group, and their enthusiastic warm welcome into their group, I think I would have quickly made my excuses and left. It was strange, but it felt a little bit like cheating because the attraction I felt towards Nikki was immediate and intense: here was the perfect partner to complete the voyage from Portugal to Greece, and indeed to sail anywhere in the world with. With a qualified Yacht Master on board, my fear and anxiety surrounding those difficult, stressful and dangerous legs of the passage, would be alleviated and I would be free to enjoy myself, with hardly any sense of responsibility.

At the end of a very boozy evening, I staggered back to my yacht on very unsteady feet. I was pleased with myself that I hadn't asked Nikki for any kind of contact details, or indeed proposed that I hire her as a professional skipper to accompany me for the remainder of my trip. Although I tried to convince myself that the motivation would purely be to reduce my stress levels and increase my enjoyment of the journey - in terms of appreciating the pleasant sailing which lay ahead - I knew that it would also be amazing to have such a beautiful young woman, who was a lot of fun to be around, in charge instead of me.

I hoped I wouldn't bump into her again, but part of me also hoped that I would. I felt very guilty about poor Sian, none the wiser about this chance encounter, back at home in Brighton.

 

Next chapter...

 

Blogger's Digest - Day Eleven of #NaNoWriMo2019

9 min read

Blogger's Digest: a Novel

Contents

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

Chapter Thirteen

Chapter Fourteen

Chapter Eleven

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

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

I did not enjoy offshore sailing.

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

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

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

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

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

I had not considered the rain.

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

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

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

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

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

It was not at all fun.

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

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

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

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

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

"But this is miserable" I complained.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Next chapter...

 

Blogger's Digest - Day Ten of #NaNoWriMo2019

9 min read

Blogger's Digest: a Novel

Contents

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

Chapter Thirteen

Chapter Fourteen

Chapter Ten

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Next chapter...

 

Blogger's Digest - Day Nine of #NaNoWriMo2019

11 min read

Blogger's Digest: a Novel

Contents

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

Chapter Thirteen

Chapter Fourteen

Chapter Nine

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

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

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

I had somewhat taken my eye off the ball.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There was another consideration.

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

* * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Where would I live then?"

"On my yacht, with me."

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

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

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

 

Next chapter...

 

Blogger's Digest - Day Seven of #NaNoWriMo2019

10 min read

Blogger's Digest: a Novel

Contents

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

Chapter Thirteen

Chapter Fourteen

Chapter Seven

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Next chapter...

 

Blogger's Digest - Day Six of #NaNoWriMo2019

14 min read

Blogger's Digest: a Novel

Contents

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

Chapter Thirteen

Chapter Fourteen

Chapter Six

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"What are you saying?" she asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"I'm sure we'll manage."

I laughed at the ridiculousness of the notion.

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

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

* * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Next chapter...

 

Blogger's Digest - Day Four of #NaNoWriMo2019

14 min read

Blogger's Digest: a Novel

Contents

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

Chapter Thirteen

Chapter Fourteen

Chapter Four

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * *

I had quit my job.

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

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

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

* * *

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

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

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

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

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

"But Katie hates camping" protested Caroline.

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

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

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

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

"MALTA DOESN'T COUNT?" I shouted.

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

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

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

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

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

* * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * *

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

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

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

* * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Next chapter...

 

Blogger's Digest - Day Two of #NaNoWriMo2019

13 min read

Blogger's Digest: a Novel

Contents

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

Chapter Thirteen

Chapter Fourteen

Chapter Two

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

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

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

* * *

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

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

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

* * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * *

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

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

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

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

* * *

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

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

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

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

What could possibly go wrong?

 

Next chapter...

 

Blogger's Digest - Day One of #NaNoWriMo2019

11 min read

This is a story about a novel...

Hospital bed

It would be far too 'meta' to write a novel about writing a novel, but I have written a 'story' almost every day, for well over 4 years, publishing the equivalent of 26 novels in that time period. In 2016 I completed the first draft of my debut novel. In 2017 I almost completed my second novel - it's 85% complete. In 2018 I didn't have such a good year for fiction writing, but I was writing my blog at the same time as trying to write my novel, and I was generally unprepared and rather over-worked with other commitments.

This year, I'm going to combine what I'm good at - blogging, telling short stories and being consistent and committed - in order to produce a novel which [hopefully] will weave together some interconnected stories and result in an interesting and worthwhile work of fiction, which succeeds as a piece of art, roughly as the author intended.

I offer the reader a picture of me in hospital suffering from multiple organ failure, which was unable to divert me from my mission to write [almost] every day. My present situation is not quite as drastic as that one, but there is still a substantial amount of effort and energy involved in motivating yourself to write at least 1,667 words per day, for 30 consecutve days, when you have a full-time job and other commitments.

Wish me luck!

* * *

Blogger's Digest: a Novel

Contents

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

Chapter Thirteen

Chapter Fourteen

Chapter One

I was woken up by the sound of a pneumatic tool being operated at the front of my house. A low-frequency rhythmic thumping and high-pitched metallic rattle, were emitted at a volume not normally heard on the quiet suburban roads where I lived, and so my slumbers were abruptly interrupted with a heart-stopping shock. My head swam with confusion in my semi-comatose state, and I was momentarily alarmed: had World War III started suddenly, overnight?

Foolishly, I had forgotten that I was having my gravel driveway replaced with herringbone-pattern bricks, and the noise must be from the builders I had hired.

I was suddenly faced with several competing unpleasant thoughts. It was somewhat embarassing that the builders had started work at a socially acceptable time - 8:30am - while I was still fast asleep on a weekday, and had no intention of reaching the office before 10am, which made me feel quite lazy. It also occurred to me that I would have to walk past the builders at some point, in my office attire, and there would be no disguising the fact I had been at home and not at work, while my builders had been working hard. I wondered whether I was obliged to offer my builders a mug of tea or coffee, and perhaps even bacon sandwiches, or at least biscuits, but it felt a rather onerous task which I would very much prefer to avoid.

I tried to relax back into bed, given that I had been planning on having at least another 30 minutes of sleep, but the noise was persistent. I possessed a powerful determination to sleep as much as possible, and it was not clear whether this outweighed the extremely loud noise and rendered any attempts to stay in bed, utterly futile. I persisted for some minutes while I decided whether I could tolerate the noise, or whether to admit defeat and start getting ready to go to work.

With bitter disappointment, I decided that there was no way I could relax with the ongoing loud din, so I dashed into the shower, dressed quickly and left the house without having any breakfast. This was my usual morning routine: maximum sleep and minimum time wasted faffing around doing things that "morning people" seemed to enjoy doing. I couldn't imagine being the kind of person who reads the newspaper at the dining table, while dipping a piece of toast into a lovingly-prepared soft-boiled egg, before slowly sauntering out of the house, leaving plenty of time to beat the morning rush-hour traffic. My own routine consisted of a highly optimised dash to the office after the rush hour, meaning that I arrived at work late every single day.

"Morning! Alright, shan't detain you, I can see you're busy" I said to the builder who'd given me the original quotation, who I assumed was the boss. I dashed past him and his workmate, who had been operating some kind of pneumatic device for flattening surfaces, and jumped into my car.

My journey to work was another example of my idleness, which I felt some guilt about, but was a system which worked very well for me. My car was an expensive high-specification model from a prestigious German brand, and I enjoyed driving it, even though the walk to work would take me little more than 20 minutes and to cycle it would be as fast as my journey by car.

There were a limited number of car-parking spaces at the office, which were allocated using a combination of seniority and years of service. By virtue of rapid promotion I had found myself the proud owner of a coveted parking space much earlier than any of my longer-serving peers, which served to underline the sense of self-importance which I felt: I was ambitious, young, and talented, so it had irritated and upset me in previous jobs, when I had seen far less competent and capable individuals progressing up the career ladder, simply because they were older. Promotions seemed to be automatic, based upon the number of years spent at a certain rank or grade, which conflicted with my desire for the workplace to be a more meritocratic place, so long as it favoured me, of course.

Arriving late - as usual - my space was one of only two which were free in the car park. My colleagues had become so used to the hours I kept that the concept of 'late' did not particularly apply to me. Perhaps if I wasn't at my desk by 10am, my colleagues would begin to wonder where I was, but I was quite punctual - albeit keeping to a timetable of my own invention, and selfishly suited to my own 'night owl' personality. Obligingly, my colleagues would not book early morning meetings with me, although perhaps they had learned not to try anymore, since clashing appointments would regularly appear or I would decline invitations which would have obliged me to arrive at the office earlier than I wanted to. So, my working day began like most working days: with queue of people wanting to speak to me.

* * *

"Yep so that's 7 pizza & chips and 7 beers, please" said Ian, one of my work colleagues.

A very traditional Italian restaurant - The Taste of Venice - was sandwiched in-between a bingo hall and a furniture auctioneer, and this was the closest restaurant to our office, where a group of us would dine at lunchtime, from Monday to Thursday. The restaurant's decor was tired, worn and dated, having not been refurbished since its opening in the 1980s. Ghastly paintings of cliched Italian tourist attractions and faded fake flowers, accompanied poor-quality attempts at Roman pillars and archways, giving the restaurant the impression of an eating establishment which was cheap and tacky. Most of the tables were empty, except for two 4-person tables which had been pushed together to make an 8-seater table, where my colleagues and I were sat.

Every lunchtime, we all ate exactly the same thing: half a Margherita pizza, chips and a bottle of 'Italian' lager, brewed under license in the UK. Chilli oil was doused liberally on the pizza by those with less sensitive tastebuds than myself, but otherwise, this was a routine gathering for a group of between five and ten of us, who all worked together.

"When do you set sail, Ian?" asked Ollie, a tall and broad-shouldered man with sun-bleached blonde hair and tanned skin. I liked Ollie. He was one of the smartest people I knew and he'd led an interesting life. I was somewhat jealous of how effortlessly he'd seemed to attain his successes: a degree from Cambridge, a career which had taken him around the world, from New York to Japan, and an incredibly attractive wife.

"We're picking her up from Ellös in three weeks. We're going to hang out in Oslo for a few days, do a bit of sightseeing, before we drive down" replied Ian.

"Isn't Oslo in Norway?" I asked, trying to sound intelligent and attempting to impress my colleagues.

"Yes, but it takes half the time to drive from Oslo to Ellös than from Stockholm."

"But isn't Gothenburg the closest airport?" I said, pretending to ask a question when I already knew the answer, because I had checked on a map before we left the office for lunch.

"Flights to Gothenburg are a nightmare" Ian replied dismissively.

I was hurt. I had desperately wanted to be invited along to help crew on Ian's new yacht, which he was soon collecting from the shipyard where she had been built. Ollie and I were both experienced sailors, so I took a little bit of comfort in knowing that Ollie hadn't been invited either, but I felt slightly insulted that Ian had invited another sailing friend from outside our close-knit group, to help him safely deliver his new yacht to her home port.

"When are you taking us all out on it then?" asked Blair, a dark-haired man with thick stubble and a strong Scottish accent. Blair was unlike the rest of the group, because his upbringing had been more humble; less privileged. Blair was well paid - as we all were - but his cocaine habit was an open secret and had led to him being passed over for promotion on several occasions.

"You still owe me money from the winter racing series, last October" replied Ian. "You know I'm always looking for crew during the racing season."

Ian was by far the keenest sailor out of Ollie, him and myself, and he regularly left work early during the summer months so that he could race his yacht in the evening. Ian's plan was to live aboard his new yacht, during the summer, and only work during the winter months, which he was able to do because he was a consultant with very specific expertise.

"Anyway, changing the subject, when's your leaving do, Rich?" I asked.

Rich had decided to quit investment banking and study for an MBA. He had ambitions to be a startup CEO. He was a short man with a slight build and a high-pitched voice. I struggled to picture him as a CEO, given that he was the least ambitious in our group of friends, and didn't seem to demonstrate any particular leadership qualities or entrepreneurial qualities. I wondered what they were going to teach him on his MBA which might be useful.

"Week on Friday" replied Rich.

"It's going to be HUGE" said Blair, grinning with enthusiasm.

Our group of friends and colleagues were extremely well remunerated, in our cushy investment banking jobs, and alcoholism was virtually encouraged; certainly not discouraged. The reason why we only ate in The Taste of Venice from Monday to Thursday, was because from Friday lunchtime onwards we would be drinking all day, pausing only to collect our jackets and bags from the office, before returning to the pub.

"More beers, everyone?" I asked rhetorically, as I caught the restaurant owner's eye and waved my empty bottle, indicating that we all needed a refill. "Did you hear that Stephen's thinking about quitting to become a landscape gardener?"

This was our lunchtime ritual: getting drunk and discussing our plans to quit the rat race.

 

Next chapter...

 

Step Twelve: Competition Provides Motivation

6 min read

This is a story about wanting to be number one...

Marathon

"I'll quit... tomorrow" is the old joke and oft-repeated mantra of many an addict and alcoholic. For those who wish to achieve something difficult, with limited reward, it seems obvious that they would be setting themselves up to fail if they were only doing something because they were being coerced by family, friends, co-workers, doctors and/or wider society, which pours scorn on our vices. Why should we give up our vices? Why should we live without the little things which "take the edge off" a rather miserable and painful mortal existence?

There is very little motivation, if the only achievement is to end up not doing something. What is anybody going to say to you if you're not smoking, for example? Nobody is going to congratulate you for not smoking, so what is the reward? If you don't drink, you're quite likely to be punished for your abstinence - social exclusion and peer pressure are commonplace for teetotallers.

It's hard to achieve anything if success is only measured by yourself - only you know how hard it was to achieve what you've achieved, and the fact that you aren't allowed to keep telling people how great it is that you don't drink and you don't smoke, unless you want to be hated for being horribly smug with yourself, means that you might as well not bother trying to do anything difficult, which doesn't bring praise and admiration.

We can watch with wonder as a young kid does 100 keepie-uppies with a football. We can all watch with wonder as a person wheelies their bicycle down the road. We can all marvel at the skill and fitness of sportsperson, but just looking at an average person who's not drinking, smoking or taking drugs, it's pretty hard to understand that it might be a massive achievement for them, to be avoiding those addictive substances on a daily basis.

Thus, the solution is to create artificial competition.

My first lengthy period of sobriety - 121 consecutive days - was achieved when I wanted to beat a friend's record of 100 consecutive days, and I wanted to beat it by a significant margin in order to make it harder for him to re-take the lead in our competition. Using competition in this way was extremely effective as a motivational tool.

My present episode of self-imposed abstinence from alcohol has been partly motivated by the public declaration that I would be doing this, and therefore there are friends who have been following my progress - they will feel happy that I've completed "Sober October" and they will congratulate me, which provides the necessary praise and reward to make it worthwhile.

My current sobriety began when I was chatting with a work colleague and we were discussing the damage that alcohol had wrought in the lives of people they knew, and I made a commitment to stop drinking for a period of time. The time period was unspecified, but I felt obliged to follow-through with a significant period of sobriety, because my colleague showed that they care about me, and they will be pleased that I have been taking a break from drinking.

Competition is something which I mostly hate, because it brings out the worst in people: cheating and bullying; the strong crushing the weak. I think that competition is a poor basis for a civilised society, because it's miserable for everybody except the person in first place. Competition leads to a race to the bottom. Competition quite naturally leads to an anxious state of affairs, where there is continual pressure to compete, which is toxic to any sense of safety and security, and destroys people's mental health. Competition is unhealthy.

I've used competition as I kind of "I bet you I can quit alcohol for a significant period of time" kind of thing, which has provided the motivation to allow me to give my body a break from drinking. I can tell my work colleague that I've been sober for 43 consecutive days, without being smug about it. I can tell my work colleagues that I spent the whole of October sober, without being too smug about it. I can tell you - my dear readers - that I'm doing what I set out to do, which is to maintain control over an addictive substance, which is insidious and had crept into my life too much, so I cut it out for a while.

I have friends who have decided to be teetotal for life. I'm sure they will live longer, healthier lives because of that decision, and I'm sure it will give them more money to spend and they will have more time and money. Those are fantastic benefits, but I'm quite content to remain a person who drinks alcohol, given that I cannot find adequate motivation to be a lifelong teetotaller. Wine and beer bring me more pleasure than the benefits of total abstinence, although I do need to take regular breaks - like this one - from my drinking habits.

I'm not sure when I'm going to drink again. Every day after today is a bonus: an extra day which benefits my health, but yet I feel no more obligation to remain totally sober, given that I've got another lengthy period of sobriety under my belt, which has improved my health, given my liver a chance to repair itself and helped me to lose a little weight (or at least not gain any).

I could continue not drinking, in order to achieve goals like getting fitter, losing weight and being more active, but it's cold and wet and wintery and I really can't be bothered. One step at a time. I'm struggling to get motivated about much at the moment, so I am content to celebrate this minor victory: 43 consecutive days without any alcohol and a fully Sober October.

 

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