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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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An Apology

6 min read

This is a story about remorse...

My kitty

There's a lot of good reasons why we don't steal people's medication.

Firstly, theft is illegal. There is no defence against the crime of theft. You could rob a bank and claim that you were going to give the money to charity, but I'm afraid that's no defence. You could claim that you didn't know theft was a crime, but ignorance is no defence. You could claim that you were keeping somebody safe, by stealing something of theirs that was dangerous: perhaps you stole a fast motorbike, and your defence is that you wanted to prevent injury or death. Unfortunately, while these arguments might give the court judge cause to be more lenient in their sentencing, the crime of theft is a clear-cut thing: you simply need to permanently deprive the owner of something that they own, and you have committed a crime. No defence. It's a crime. It's that simple.

Secondly, some medications require you to have a prescription to have them in your possession. There are lots of medications which are controlled drugs and as such, to have stolen those medications would mean that you have committed a second crime: possession of a controlled substance, without a prescription. Again, there's no defence for being in possession of a controlled substance without a prescription, unless you have signed documentation proving that you are authorised to collect a prescription from a pharmacy, on somebody else's behalf.

Thirdly, some medications will cause seizures and death if the patient abruptly stops taking them. Many medications raise the seizure threshold, and when medication is stolen and the patient is forced to abruptly cease taking the pills, then the seizure threshold is lowered so substantially that the result is very bad seizures - grand mal - which can cause physical injuries as well as death. This would be gross negligence, or gross negligence manslaughter in the event of a death.

Fourthly, while incredibly ignorant people might think that they are being "helpful" by stealing medications, if their fantasies are incited by other people - abusing a position of respect and making misleading representations that they know what the f**k they're talking about - then those people become part of what's called a joint enterprise or common purpose crime. It doesn't actually matter who committed the crimes - all the parties in the conspiracy are equally guilty.

Fifthly, it does not even matter if the crime(s) are actually committed or not. If there was a conspiracy to commit a crime which was never acted upon, then that conspiracy can still be prosecuted as a crime.

In short, don't steal other people's medications, or even plan or advise to attempt such a thing, because you are breaking at least four laws. Criminal law is not based on precedent and interpretation. It's open-and-shut: you clearly broke the law, so you must be prosecuted and punished.

Because I suffer from Bipolar Affective Disorder, I am prescribed lamotrigine, which is an anticonvulsant. Epileptics are prescribed lamotrigine, because it raises the seizure threshold. It is extremely dangerous to stop taking lamotrigine abruptly, whether you are epileptic or not, because you are likely to have life-threatening seizures.

My ex-girlfriend, with incitement from 5 others acting in a criminal joint enterprise, conspired to steal a large number of different medications from me, with no fewer than 3 of the medications being likely to cause seizures, injury and death, when I discovered the theft and was unable to take my pills as normal. The theft was a smash-and-grab, where there was clearly no consideration for the immense harm that was likely to come to me, but also, medications were stolen in a manner that clearly proved that it was an act of incredible stupidity; utter recklessness and shocking ignorance.

Would you rummage through the drawers and medicine cabinet of a home in which you were a guest? If you were so incredibly rude and privacy-invading as to do so, and you happened to find items which were embarrassing, would you tell all your friends? Would you humiliate the poor person who trusted you to act with the duty of care towards their privacy, which they were owed?

It shocked me when a friend sent me a message asking about a particular medication - which it later emerged had been stolen - and was mocking and humiliating me about this. My most private, confidential, embarrassing, secret and sensitive medical information had been abused in the most horrible disgusting way. Without a single care about violating my dignity, humiliating me, embarrassing me and betraying my confidence, my ex-girlfriend carelessly boasted to her co-conspirators about the medications she had stolen from me. This medication can be bought over-the-counter in any chemist, without a prescription, has no abuse potential and has no potential to cause an overdose. Why steal it? Why boast to her co-conspirators she'd stolen it?

I did get an apology from my ex-girlfriend, but I doubt she feels any remorse. I suspect it would take criminal prosecution for her to realise that her actions were wicked and wrong, and there was no excuse for the risk she placed my life in, the violation of the sanctity of my private home, the violation of my dignity, the humiliation and embarrassment she caused me by violating my confidential medical details. She's a horrible person, although I will say that without the incitement of the co-conspirators in the criminal joint enterprise, she would have been less likely to commit the crimes - although this does not forgive her behaviour, nor absolve her of her crimes.

Getting an apology out of the ex-friend who was a co-conspirator in the criminal joint enterprise, who then began to criminally harass me, sending me numerous unwanted offensive messages, emails and letters, which caused me a great deal of humiliation and embarrassment, violated my dignity, and was particularly intimidating regarding the confidentiality of my private medical details.

My ex-girlfriend's mother did feed my cat while I was in hospital, which was very kind of her, and I want to thank her, but when I arrived at my ex-girlfriend's house and demanded the return of my keys, the atmosphere was not conducive to saying thank you for the mother's kindness, which she had shown to my cat.

I suppose when you are faced with an individual who has threatened to pursue criminal charges against your daughter, the parental instinct probably kicked in and she would have denied that her daughter was a murderer, even if she'd seen her plunge the knife repeatedly into the victim's body.

Anyway, this is a simple message: don't steal people's stuff, OK. Especially medication, which is a matter of life-or death. If somebody tells you that it's "OK" or "the right thing to do" then they're wrong - they are inciting you to commit a crime, and they themselves are co-conspirators in that joint enterprise crime too, and will be prosecuted equally under the law.

 

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Heartless

9 min read

This is a story about self preservation...

Boxed up

I haven't written for over a month, but the general circumstances of my existence would have been repeated ad nauseam, as they cause me untold amounts of stress & anxiety, for reasons I am about to explain.

I have two more months of paid employment and then I'm potentially back hunting for work again. Even in the best case scenario, where I work every single day between now and the end of March, all that money is accounted for - somebody wants it: the taxman, a bank, a landlord... some vulture or parasite.

My rusty old car has bitten the dust and must be scrapped. I managed to limp it along, spending very little money on it, but it finally became uneconomical to repair it, despite the problem being as seemingly simple as a single broken bolt.

What does a 40 year old man who doesn't own a house or a car, or have a job, have to live for?

This is the question I asked myself on December 19th, when I noticed that my urine was full of blood, and later turned dark brown in colour, with a noxious scent. Later that day, I noticed that my bladder was no longer filling and I knew that my kidneys had failed.

The usual response of a healthy happy person when faced with a life-threatening medical emergency is to hastily make their way to hospital. My response was to wonder how long it would be before the waste products in my body would build up to a sufficient level to trigger a cardiac arrest. I imagined that 3 or 4 days would be adequate. I began the wait.

By December 23rd I was suffering from seizures, blackouts, confusion, muscle pain, abdominal pain, weakness and a host of other symptoms related to multiple organ failure, the complications of having highly toxic blood and massive fluid retention.

Against my will but without protest, I was taken to hospital by ambulance, where I spent two and a half weeks having dialysis for many hours a day, in the hope - the doctors' hope, not mine - that it would save my life. My only concern was that my life would be saved but my kidneys would not, thus rendering me dependent on dialysis sessions, 3 times a week, 4 hours per session, for the rest of my life, in order to remain alive. Of course, under those circumstances I would have committed suicide at the earliest possible opportunity.

I was discharged from hospital to discover that my cat had urinated on almost every single item of clothing that I own. My cat is incredibly intelligent, and she had managed to find a way to squat and pee in every drawer, box, bag and other container of clothing.

Kidney failure prevents the waste products from your muscles from being filtered out of your bloodstream and into your bladder, where they can be urinated away. Pickling your muscles in toxins, virtually immobile in a hospital bed, on a noisy hospital ward for two and a half weeks, was something that left me physically drained and very weak. Dealing with the mountain of cat-urine soaked clothing was a task which was beyond my capabilities, while still recuperating from the ordeal I'd suffered.

During the two and a half weeks when I was in hospital, I had three visitors: my ex-girlfriend, a work colleague and a friend. My ex-girlfriend was staggeringly out of touch with reality and stubbornly refused to drop her fantasy ideas about what the National Health Service is. She visited a few times at the beginning and then I never saw her again. My work colleague reminded me that I'm well liked and respected at work, and that's incredibly valuable. My work gives me a great deal of pride and a sense of identity. My friend reminded me that for all my years of struggle, I've been playing a rigged game all along, and I'm the only one who's been playing by the rules; not cheating.

It seems inevitable that in the not-too distant future, for one reason or another, my temporary employment will end and I will lose not only my source of income, but also any reason to remain in both this city and this country.

I have no relationship to stay here for: that's over.

I have work colleagues here, who are wonderful, but I always maintain a degree of separation between my work life and my private life, notwithstanding this blog (which serves as an invitation for anybody who really wants to be my friend to reach out).

I do love my cat, but she urinates on everything made of fabric or otherwise porous, and destroys anything else which she takes a disliking to: my houseplants, my carpet, my furniture, cables, anything fragile etc. I'm sure that I can find her a loving home where her misbehaviour will be tolerated.

My existence appears to be that of an anti-social hermit, but I assure you that there are hundreds of people who I have to deal with on a professional basis, who find me to be a pleasant and affable fellow; a good colleague. I have a very select few close friends who I maintain regular contact with via phone, email, SMS and other text, voice and video services.

Estranged from my family for over 6 years, with the exception of my sister, and single, this might be cause for loneliness and unhappiness, but I live for my work at the moment, which provides ample social contact, and it seems sensible that I move somewhere where I have at least one close friend - I'm in no mood to become one of those tragic 40+ men who join some kind of club or society in the desperate pathetic hope of gaining a social life.

What about suicide? Well, if the opportunity to die - passively - presents itself again, then I certainly won't be phoning the emergency services. It's barely a month ago that I had a few days to contemplate the fact that I was about to die, and I was quite calm; I was looking forward to the rest and relaxation of being dead.

My priorities remain the same as they always have: to repay my guardian angel and attempt to achieve some kind of financial and housing security, and to reconfigure my life so that the vast amounts of stress, anxiety, boredom and misery heaped upon me by the rat race - causing untold depression - can be replaced by either an alternative, or early death (i.e. suicide).

Thus, I might appear heartless, but it's all a practical necessity to maintain the slim chance that a life worth living might eventually present itself; otherwise the choice is clear: immediate suicide.

I sometimes wonder: am I tough? Am I mean? Am I a sociopath? Am I antisocial? Do I lack empathy? Do I mistreat people?

I think the answer to all those questions is: no. I spent the best part of three weeks in hospital with some people who were just as sick as I was, if not more so, and they really wanted to live. They were tough. I was tough too, but we're all tough, so that means I'm not particularly tough. None of us are tough. The answer to the rest of the questions is clearly no, because the evidence points overwhelmingly to the contrary. I'm just surviving; that's all I'm doing - I'm doing what needs to be done to get through every miserable, awful, unbearable day.

If you think I owe you something, believe me I know about it. Believe me, I think about it more than you think about it. Does that mean that you're going to get a gift-wrapped package in the mail with a red ribbon on it, containing what you're 'owed'. No f**king way. Get to the back of the queue, buddy. Do you think I spend a lot of time thinking about what I'm owed? Sometimes I realise that if everybody who's picked my pocket coughed up their debts to me, then I'd have that financial security that I so desperately need, but I'm happy with the way that I've lived my life; I don't regret trusting people and taking chances.

So, where are we? Ah yes, self preservation. I basically need to work every single day I can for two solid months, just to have a bank balance of zero pounds and zero pence and not owe anything to anybody, and not have any valuable assets to my name. When I wrote "self preservation" at the top of this blog post, I did so with extreme sarcasm, because my life is literally preserved without my consent; if it had been up to me, I wouldn't have been born, I wouldn't have been 'saved' all those many times; I wouldn't have survived at all, and I'd be glad of it, because I would be resting in peace.

I do of course have people - and cats - who I love and I would 'miss' (although this is an oxymoron, obviously, to imagine that the dead are capable of missing anybody) and who would miss me, but it's selfish to want people who are in pain to go on living, when their quality of life is intolerable: this is why we euthanise our pets with no qualms; it's more humane.

If you think I'm heartless and lack empathy, you are mistaken, you are a fool, and you're no friend of mine.

 

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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 Eight 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 Eight

The Round the Island Race was a fairly self-descriptive event. Each year, thousands of yachts would race around the Isle of Wight in Hampshire. Obviously, the fastest circumnavigation wins the race, but in yacht and dinghy racing, there is a handicap system, so that vessels of different class can compete - theoretically the best sailor in the worst vessel should still win the race, and an average sailor in the best vessel should have no unfair advantage conferred by the vast amount of money that they've spent on the very best racing yacht or dinghy.

Much like the London Marathon the fastest yachts would start first, and the slowest would start last, for two obvious reasons. The first reason was for safety: having extremely fast racing yachts overtaking vast numbers of slow-moving pleasure craft, would be a recipe for collisions. The second reason was to create the illusion of competition on the water: overtaking another yacht of the same class was a minor victory, and being first in your class was a victory in and of itself, even if you might not end up winning the race, after your circumnavigation time was adjusted based on your handicap.

The sport of Formula One motor racing is an opportunity for car manufacturers to demonstrate what they can achieve when money is no object, and there is a lot of attraction the general public feels towards the passtimes of the rich and famous. Yacht racing is no different, with the America's Cup yachts costing $10 million dollars or more, and the research, development, plus the cost of their professional crew, adding an exorbitant amount more to the price tag for the privilege of competing in the world's most prestigious sailing championship.

The great attraction of the Round the Island Race, was that anyone could enter. Anyone with a yacht, that is.

Imagine being able to drive your ordinary family car around a Formula One track, straight after the Formula One cars have just finished their race. It might not exactly be an everyman accessible sport, open to the masses, but it was a brilliant opportunity to be part of a flotilla of thousands of yachts - a spectacle; a tourist attraction - all racing around the Isle of Wight, attempting their circumnavigation in the fastest possible time: one single 'lap'.

I had done it once before, when I was 23, in my small racing yacht. My crew were all experienced sailors and competitive dinghy racers. We were young and foolish; we were brave and stupid. We sailed well and finished 7th in our class, which was a great achievement, because it was mostly semi-professional sailors who finished ahead of us.

This time, my crew and I were moored up Portsmouth, getting very drunk and having a delicious meal, but I was very anxious. My crew were all amateurs, and we were going to be racing my 'floating caravan' which had been my home for well over a year. It did not feel at all as though my mobile home should be subjected to a punishing race at sea. I felt my crew were woefully ill-prepared, which was my own fault for inviting them. When I had entered the race I thought it would be fun. As we drew closer to the start, I thought it was going to be hell, for all involved.

* * *

Sian was a level-headed lady and she did not enjoy sailing at all.

She enjoyed visiting me when I was moored up in the marina, and she enjoyed motoring through the dock, out of the marina, and up to the breakwater, where the sea was flat and calm. However, she hated things when even the gentlest of waves began to cause the yacht to wallow slightly, and she hated things even more when the sails were up and the yacht began to lean over - to "heel" in the yachtie parlance - and she felt sure that we were about to capsize at any moment.

Poor Sian never lost the instinctive feeling that whenever the yacht was not completely flat and level, that we were sure to sink straight to the bottom of the sea. The moment the yacht heeled over - leaning as the wind caught the sails - she would grab the nearest handrail and cling on for dear life; her knuckles literally turning white, as she gripped to tightly.

A catamaran - with its two hulls - might appear to offer more stability than a single-hulled vessel, but any yacht sailor will tell you that a capsize is much more likely in a catamaran than a regular single-hulled yacht. To capsize a catamaran yacht would be catastrophic, as the mast would be smashed to pieces and it would end up fully inverted - upside down - and the crew would require rescuing by the coastguard, or anybody responding to a mayday distress call. Sian often asked why I didn't get a catamaran, which she felt sure she would prefer, and I explained repeatedly, as many different ways as I could think of, and as patiently as I could, but she persisted in her mistaken belief that my yacht was capable of capsizing at any moment, and that a catamaran would be much safer.

We hadn't been out sailing more than a handful of times before the entry deadline for the Round the Island Race was fast approaching, and I foolishly thought that Sian would soon find her sea legs. She seemed enthusiastic about the idea of sailing around the Isle of Wight - she imagined that it would be a romantic trip, like going on a cruise. I managed her expectations very badly and was exceedingly over-optimistic about my ability to convert her into an enthusiastic sailor.

Having invited Sian to be my first crew member, and buoyed by my ambition to introduce a group of amateurs to the joys of sailing, I proceeded to invite three other people who had expressed a keen interest in crewing for me. I hadn't really done much sailing all year, given that I thought of my yacht more of a floating home than as a racing vessel which I would gain much excitement from sailing. My 'floating caravan' did not enthuse me to go sailing, but the prospect of introducing some people to the sport was something I was motivated to do.

* * *

The voyage from Brighton to Portsmouth, the day before the race, was the first time I had assembled the entire crew aboard my yacht. This was the only opportunity I'd had to attempt to train my crew to work together to complete a handful of fairly simple manoeuvres. My yacht was built for comfort, not for speed, and had a number of convenient features which meant I could sail her without crew. However, during the Round the Island Race, the helmsman - me - could never leave the wheel unattended, because of the vast number of other yachts which we might collide with. Only I had the skill and experience to steer us safely through the start of the race, and around the Needles, during the first leg, when all the yachts in our class would be tightly bunched together and vying for position. Only I knew the 'rules of the road' and therefore who had the right of way. Only I knew how to spot and avoid collisions. For the most part, my crew would simply be pulling ropes, while I barked instructions at them.

The pre-race passage was a great success for my crew - they literally learned the ropes very quickly, and their confidence soared. The sailing conditions were very kind to us and we bonded well - the crew worked very well together as a team. There were more yachts than usual, making their way westwards, but it was very relaxing and easy sailing for me, without any of the close-quarters manoeuvring of racing, where yachts and dinghies would clump together, sometimes inches apart, and sometimes colliding. It was a leisurely trip and it was great to know that my crew understood the basics, but I knew that they were hopelessly ill-prepared for the race.

Sian was sulking, because she had imagined that the trip would be a romantic getaway, but she hadn't reckoned on how different it felt to be aboard my yacht with other people. It's often said - figuratively - that a boat gets a foot shorter every day that you're on board. Sian and I had had sex on board before, in the marina, and she wasn't too bothered about being overheard by the neighbouring berth holders, but it was pretty clear that any pre-race nookie was going to be somewhat spoiled by the fellow crew members sleeping in close proximity, with only flimsy thin wooden doors in-between us.

My other crew were in fine spirits, although they didn't seem to appreciate that we would have to leave our mooring and make our way to the race start at approximately 7am, in order to arrive at our allotted time. The moorings near the start/finish line were impossible to book in advance, and were reserved entirely for serious professional racing teams. We were lucky to be as close as we were. In my younger days, I would never have entertained the idea of racing with a terrible hangover, because of sheer competitiveness, but now I didn't want a hangover because I knew that it was going to be a very long day - something I wasn't able to impress upon my well-lubricated crew, who were drinking as if we had finished the race, not about to start it early the next day.

Still, I knew I could take care of getting us most of the way to the start/finish line of the race, with minimal help, if my crew needed to sleep off their hangovers. Unfortunately, the rules of the road said that a yacht without its sails up - using its engine - has to give way to a yacht which is sailing, which I knew would mean having to weave in-between vast numbers of yachts, if my crew were not awake and doing their job, as we got closer to the start of the race.

I really wanted to be a good skipper and ensure that everybody had a thoroughly enjoyable time, but there was a certain amount of telling people what to do by shouting at them, which was unavoidable. There wasn't a skipper in existence who hadn't had to shout "pull the red rope! no the red one! no that's a green one! the red one! the other one! yes that one! pull that one!" or words to that effect, when somewhat under pressure to avoid colliding with other vessels and keeping an eye on all the other crew members, to make sure that nobody was doing anything stupid and/or dangerous.

My relationship with Sian had been thoroughly pleasant, and we had never quarrelled. I desperately wanted to avoid her ever seeing my bad side, but I knew that if there was ever a situation which was guaranteed to bring out somebody's less desirable character traits, it was when they were in charge of a yacht. I prided myself on being a patient teacher who was calm in a crisis, but I knew that the build up to the start of the race, and the first leg - down to the Needles out of the Solent and out into the English Channel - would be incredibly stressful for me, trying to avoid colliding with any other floating caravans, which were also taking part in the Round the Island Race, and were probably crewed by equally incompetent amateurs.

My anxiety about the impending race and my sulking girlfriend didn't fully dampen my spirits, and I had a thoroughly enjoyable evening, getting drunk with my crew.

I awoke at 6:30am, dreadfully hung over, and was immediately struck with the horrifyingly embarrassing memory that Sian and I ended up having drunk sex when we had returned back to the yacht. We had been exceptionally noisy and it had lasted far longer than it should have done, because I was so inebriated. I tried to shrug off the shame and began my preparations to set sail for the start of the race.

 

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 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...

 

Rock Bottom; Soft Landing

5 min read

This is a story about having nothing to complain about...

Cone of shame

I woke up this morning and I was almost overwhelmed by depression. I think yesterday was a double-whammy of bad stuff, with the uncertainty around my ongoing employment and income - and the belief that I was being screwed over - plus the news that parliamentary democracy is being destroyed by a old Etonian Bullingdon Club public schoolboy elitist establishment Tory, who has no mandate, yet seems to have found a way to thwart the will of our elected representatives.

Perhaps I shouldn't have been so upset yesterday, because things have worked out OK, at least so far as my contract is concerned. However, this contract stuff has dragged on for months, and it takes its toll.

I had booked a lovely holiday when I got the news that my contract, which was supposed to finish at the end of the year, was being cut short by 6 months. The holiday looked like an expensive mistake, when seen in the context of ending up without an income.

I went away on holiday thinking that I would have to find a new contract when I got back. The anxiety surrounding having to find a new contract didn't completely spoil the holiday, but it weighed heavily on my mind the whole time. It was very hard to forget how much money I was losing, due to not working, and how much money I was spending. It was very hard not to worry about having to go back to London in order to find work, given that there are fewer large organisations who might need my services, outside the capital.

I came back and the carrot of another couple of months work was dangled, but it took a long time to materialise as an actual contract, and then yesterday it looked like I was getting screwed over. Perhaps the middle-man just wanted to squeeze me for a bit more profit, by paying me less, but it also looked like I might have been strung along only to be left with nothing at the end of the week; out of a job.

As it turns out, I've got an extra couple of months, but I'm still two months short of what I had back at the beginning of the summer, when my contract was extended to the end of the year and it looked likely that there was enough work to last into 2020. I never count my chickens, but I did have ink dry on a contract when suddenly that income security was yanked, in a fairly incomprehensible way, given that I had a good grasp of deadlines and what was achievable, but a manager is a person who thinks that 9 women can have a baby in one month.

I woke up and I thought I couldn't face work; I couldn't face taking my kitten to the vet to be 'fixed'. I thought I couldn't face anything - I was too burnt out from too much stress and anxiety - and I knew that if I was laid low with depression, then my life would quickly collapse; destroyed by rent and bills.

My job is interesting, my colleagues are great, I like the city where I live, my house, my girlfriend, my kitten. Life can be good when it's good, and I'm definitely in my comfort zone in terms of my work and my daily routine, but there's a heap of uncertainty, stress and anxiety, which have nothing to do with anything except being thwarted. I know I can easily do the job that's asked of me. I know that I can competently and capably deliver, provided nothing and nobody thwarts me. I know all the steps between here and the finish line. The only thing that's going to throw me off is being deliberately thwarted by somebody.

I know I repeat myself endlessly at the moment. It's kind of like a mantra, repeated to ward off evil spirits. I feel completely powerless to influence my own life. Day-to-day living is easy - a paint-by-numbers exercise that I've done a million billion times - so it's the f**kwits who are sent to thwart me who constantly threaten to destroy everything, who I'm powerless to stop.

This is my life: fed to me in two-month chunks, in a perpetual state of anxiety and stress, doing easy stuff that I've done millions of times before, but with the constant threat of ruin hanging over me; no security and no respite from the pressure.

I try to concentrate on working hard, knowing that if I do that then everything else should fall into place, and if it doesn't then there was nothing I could do about it anyway, but it's bloody awful having the carrot dangled for years and years but always being thwarted, just at the moment when a breakthrough seems almost within reach. F**k my life.

I was very nearly consumed by suicidal depression, but things improved today. I got up. I took my kitten to the vet. I did my work. I secured a whopping two whole months more income; marginally postponing the day when I'm forced to discover that there's no f**king work near where I live.

 

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Oversharing

5 min read

This is a story about being laid bare...

Phone box

My Facebook friends are a mish-mash of former colleagues who have become friends, former colleagues, old friends, acquaintances, close friends, my accountant, random people who I friend requested, random people who friend requested me, and some people I've had business dealings with. In short, many of my Facebook friends are not friends at all, and some of them are quite powerful and influential, and it would be a bad idea to make a fool of myself in front of them.

Facebook is a place where I've let various crises play themselves out, with little to no filtering. It's been fairly apparent to anybody who's friends with me on Facebook that I've had a major life crisis, which has not been handled with elegance, dignity and poise. It's fairly apparent on Facebook that I've completely lost my mind, at times. It's been fairly apparent on Facebook that I've been through some dreadful adversity and horrible events.

There's a feature on Facebook which shows you "memories" of things that happened "on [the anniversary of] this day". This feature never fails to remind me of just how utterly insane I've been in the past, during various crises. There are moments from 2015 and 2017 which are particularly cringeworthy, although remarkably I was working during a lot of that time. I look back and I think "sheesh! My mental health was in a really bad state".

I keep worrying that my perceptions are all warped and that I'm actually just as mad as ever, but I'm unable to see it in myself. I keep worrying that I'm repeating the same old pattern - the same episodes of mental illness - and I'm not really recovering at all. I do have very good evidence, in the form of those Facebook memories, that my state of mind is completely different, and I'm much more sane, healthy, in-control and generally sorted out... but I worry that I've lost perspective and I'm unable to perceive my own madness correctly.

If I'm having a moment of sanity, I wonder if it's only temporary and I'm about to be plunged into insanity at any moment. Sure, I can spot some of the same problems: the propensity to do crazy things, spending massive amounts of money and zooming around the world in airplanes, plus the ever-present thoughts of suicide. I can see that I'm inflicted with the same mental illness I've had all my life - bipolar disorder - but I don't know whether it's going to become unmanageable, or whether I've got it back under control. I had my bipolar under control for the vast majority of my life, so it seems feasible that I'm managing my illness, like I always managed to do, but I do worry that life will get the better of me and I'll be unable to cope.

I regularly examine past behaviour, and although I understand what I was thinking at the time, I think differently today and I would act differently. I can't justify my past behaviour and I'm very embarrassed, full of regret and remorse, but I know that in the midst of a fully-blown mental health crisis, a person doesn't make the same well-informed, well-considered and carefully pre-planned correct choices. This is not to defend my past actions or excuse them... merely to explain them, although it pains me that it was the same me - physically speaking - who said or did things, it doesn't seem like it was me at all. I know things made sense to me at the time, and I can understand the illogical thinking which led to my behaviour, but I can also see the strange flaws, just as we might imagine a recovered paranoid schizophrenic might come to realise that the voices they heard were not real.

I live a strange existence, where I'm hoping to break out of the perpetual nightmare of recent years, and to re-enter civilised society. I commute to the office, I feed my cat, I hang out with my girlfriend, I go on holiday - my life seems very normal, but I live with the knowledge that things went very badly wrong during a series of dreadful crises, and I struggle to reconcile that with the ordinary, pedestrian, plodding, calm, normal, humdrum, workaday, boring, predictable, civilised and obedient lives lived by most people, and especially the people in my middle-class peer group; my colleagues etc. There is no way I can talk casually about the more lurid and colourful aspects of my past in the office, for example - these are things which are simply not talked about, because my sheltered colleagues would be afraid of who I am - or rather who I 'was' - if they really knew the stuff I've been through, even though they have spent an extraordinary amount of time in my company and they know who I am.

That 'was' aspect suggests I'm some kind of reformed man, which of course I am not. I'm the same person I've always been. My circumstances dictate everything, and life is very different when it's nonstop crisis. My circumstances have improved, so commensurately my life has improved, and my life looks very much like anybody else's, although some of my relatively past is very different.

I'm in danger of getting defensive, so I'm going to stop now. I've shared enough.

 

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I Love My Job

5 min read

This is a story about inconsistency...

Apple Mac

I often forget that I have a mood disorder - bipolar - because I'm pretty functional and unimpaired, but clearly I'm not neurotypical. Depression seems to my 'usual' day to day mood, or perhaps it just feels like that because depression seems to last interminably long and can't go away soon enough, but hypomanic episodes are all too infrequent and very welcome.

My hypomania has, as usual, produced some useful results, in that I've been able to make fantastic progress at work on the project I've been involved with.

I was feeling disheartened about how much mess had been made and how the 'purity' had been lost of the wonderful system that I had a major hand in shaping, leaving things less-than-perfect. Then, I spent ages hacking away trying to make things better and tidying everything up, and I'm happy again; I feel like I can be really proud of my work.

Why anyone should expect me to feel consistent about things is dubious, given my mood disorder. Of course I'm going to say "I hate my job" on one day and "I love my job" on another. I wonder if the same can be said for my feelings towards life. I definitely have suicidal thoughts on a very regular basis, but it really wasn't very long ago that I had the holiday of a lifetime, which really was amazing, and I have some great things in my life like my girlfriend and my kitten, plus some great friends and a generally pretty enviable lifestyle... although of course I'm working hard and taking some pretty grim jobs in order to pay for that lifestyle.

I can decide whether I love or loathe creating software. When I wrote some iPhone apps, I never ever wanted to touch the code ever again once they were released. I was not at all proud of my code and it was quite arduous making those apps. In fact, I really got to scratch the coding itch that summer, writing code for 16 to 18 hours a day.

I think creating software can be a mood rollercoaster. Sometimes it's difficult and sometimes it's easy. When it's difficult, it can be really difficult and it can feel like a problem is impossible, but anyone who's a good software engineer will persevere and overcome horrible technical obstacles. When you solve a really hard problem, it's a major triumph, but it's emotionally taxing to have that range of mood fluctuation as an integral part of your day job. Many software developers will retreat into their comfort zone, only doing things in ways that they're familiar with; refusing to work with unfamiliar technologies, where they'll suffer the misery of technical obstacles all over again.

I'm not sure whether I love or loathe overcoming technical challenges. I love it when I succeed but I hate it when I feel like I'm not succeeding; that I've finally met my match with a particularly nasty problem.

In the organisation where I currently work, it seemed like the system I was working on was incomprehensibly huge and that the problems were so deeply embedded in the very fabric of what'd been built, that I could do little more than nurse the thing along and make very minor improvements. However, I started to become more bold and ambitious about making changes, until eventually one day I decided to rewrite it all. Everything works like I thought it would, and things are incomparably better than they were when I joined, but maybe I'm biased. I do have hard numbers to back my claims that things are better... things that were taking days take a matter of minutes now.

I always worry that I'm repeating past mistakes, where I've become full of myself and convinced that I'm a major driving force in delivering a major project for a massive organisation. Perhaps I am a major driving force, but things have not always ended well for me when I've allowed my hypomania to run riot. I need to learn those lessons of the past and not allow myself to become excessively tired, where my hypomania turns into outright mania and I start acting strangely.

Hopefully the reality I perceive is not too different from how other people see things. Hopefully I'm not suffering too badly with delusions of grandeur. There seems to be plenty of evidence that I'm doing a good job and I'm well respected, and that my contribution is valued. There seems to be plenty of corroborating evidence to support my claim that I've made a major contribution to the project and can feel proud about that.

I'm really hoping I get to stick around and see things through to completion. There's fairly significant stuff going on in October, and I really want to be part of that, seeing the stuff I've worked hard on getting used in anger. Sure, I'm over-invested and taking things too personally, but I also want to have been part of something to feel really proud about.

 

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