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

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Overdue Holiday

4 min read

This is a story about stamina...

Me

It's been over 13 months since I had a holiday. My holiday plans for last year got really screwed up. I need to have a couple of winter holidays, for mental health reasons - Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) exacerbates my bipolar, and can make me suicidally depressed, as was proven last Christmas. I ended up spending Christmas and New Year in a hospital bed, instead of on a beach, because that's what happens.

Of course I can technically keep working for years, without a holiday. The problem is, I get tired and irritable, which damages my relationship with my colleagues. Nobody wants to work with somebody who's tired and irritable.

The past 13+ months haven't just been a continuous slog at work, without a holiday. The past 13+ months have included an enormous amount of work on a very high-profile project of national importance. There's a lot of pressure. Sure, I thrive on pressure, but not everybody's going to be a fan of my style, when I'm tired and stressed, which is to not suffer any fools gladly; I can be extremely impatient and intolerant of fuckwits.

Of course, if I get the chance to keep working on the project I've been involved with for a long time, then I'm going to have to look after myself. I'm going to have to take some holidays. My health - mental and physical - demands that I take some holidays.

In a lot of ways, it's great for colleagues to have the consistency of me being around, all the time. In other ways, it's bad for me to be around all the time. Absence makes the heart grow fonder, and familiarity breeds contempt etc.

One of the bosses who I admired the most, even if I didn't particularly like him, was notoriously short-tempered and impatient. He was extremely quick-witted and blazingly quick at everything he did. I always swore I would never ape his demeanour, because it wasn't very pleasant for colleagues, but when I came to building and running my first startup, I admit that I had a very sharp tongue; I reduced my co-founder to tears.

The boss who I attempt to copy, is a guy who was a 'shit umbrella' for the team: he fended off all the pressure, and kept the workload and general demands at a reasonable level, so that the engineering team could work without unhelpful and annoying people hanging around saying "is it done yet?" constantly. He used to give estimates which were extremely conservative - being over-optimistic, over-promising, will always lead to stress, pressure, being rushed, and ultimately a poor quality, late and disappointing outcome. My ex-boss created a great environment to work in, and I'll never forget that.

As discussed at length, I'm desperate to achieve financial security, and as such there's a great temptation to never take any holiday, when I suffer a double-whammy financial blow when I take a holiday: the loss of earnings AND the cost of the holiday. Of course, it's a false economy if I end up getting sick or losing my job, because I've overworked myself, but I've always taken things to the extreme.

I have no idea how or when I'm going to take a holiday, especially in the context of a second-wave of Coronavirus and the subsequent second lockdown. Already, the UK has more new cases than the UK's own threshold for quarantining visitors from another country. I feel pretty certain that I would end up spending my entire holiday in the hotel room, under quarantine. Another consideration is that I'm now single, and as such, would be holidaying alone, which I would hate.

I do need to take a holiday, and I will always find a way to achieve something if I set my mind to it, but there are many reasons not to take a holiday - money, coronavirus - and the prospect of being abroad, alone, is not enthusing me to the idea.

 

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What Next?

4 min read

This is a story about dreams...

Penny

Here is money. Don't spend it all at once. A starving African child would be grateful to have this money. A boomer could buy a house, go out to the cinema, get a taxi home and still have change left, from this money.

A conversation I keep having with a friend who also suffers from existential angst, ennui and general loathing of the rat race, is what I'd do if I was free from the tyranny of rent/mortgage and career considerations. My friend thinks that things would be no different, except perhaps I would be bored. I disagree, but I don't have an easy answer. I have no burning desire to re-train as a landscape gardener or a vet. I have no desire to swap one career - profession - for a different one.

Having had a 23 year long career, and previously - as a child - suffered the consequences of my parents being lazy loser drop-out druggie bums, who refused to get a job and stop scrounging off their parents. My childhood experiences certainly made me want to go a very different way with my life: to be a valuable, productive member of society; to make a contribution; to have a career and a profession. Now, I want to drop out. I want to drop out of the rat race. I want to be a bum; a tramp even.

The time I spent homeless was chaotic, traumatic and stressful at times, but I have very fond memories of a lot of the time, where I connected with people, community; I had a social life. Life was enjoyable. Now it is not.

The friends who I have, who are free from the tyranny of a bullshit job which they can't afford to lose, lest they lose their home, their money, their credit rating and their dignity... they are not bored. They are busy. They spend time talking to people, about stuff other than how horrible the commute to the office is, and other job-related stuff. They find people they like and they hang out with them, instead of being coerced into spending the vast majority of their waking hours, corralled together with people who are equally resentful about having the prime years of their lives robbed so cheaply.

The gap-year-university-I-built-a-school-in-africa-yah-boo-jolly-hockey-sticks brigade are perhaps happy with their lives, because they had pleasant privileged upbringings, in private or selective schools, surrounded by other socioeconomically advantaged kids at all stages, including when they went to university, which continued into first jobs... marry the girl of your dreams and you've always got plenty of money for a house, car, holiday, and school fees for the next generation to carry on doing what you've always done - the best of everything, always.

We must consider that I never went travelling and I never went to university. Couldn't afford it.

I enjoyed a bit of the London young professional scene, but it's quite an uphill battle if you don't have your group of university buddies as a social group.

I found a group of kitesurfers, who became my social group, which was wonderful.

But it all went wrong. They've all got kids now, but I'm divorced. The childless man, who doesn't fit in anywhere. People have moved on with their lives.

Being homeless was great. Homeless people are a community. It's important to be part of a community.

Obviously I don't aim to be homeless, but I am considering it. Such is the extreme level of my misery, that I feel like I'd be happier homeless; cut loose from the tyranny of capitalism, rent/mortgage, career, salary, job, office, commute and all the rest of it, which makes no sense when none of the rewards are there - I'm not supporting a family, I'm not raising children, I'm not benefitting from any work-related social life.

What next? Seriously, I just want to drop out, and to find other drop-outs; other people who couldn't stand the rat race so much, that they ditched their mortgages/rent, careers and other things which are like a miserable trap, unless you are coerced into that system, because you need to provide a decent home for a child to grow up in, which my parents never did. I can be a nomad and at least I won't be fucking up any children's lives.

 

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Antisocial

3 min read

This is a story about FOMO...

Street art

Saturday night. Saturday night is supposed to be the highlight of the week. Saturday night is supposed to be special. For me, I dread Saturday night, and indeed the whole weekend. I used to live for the weekend. What happened?

In order to dig myself out of a desperately dire situation, I had to knuckle down and work super hard, for a very prolonged period. I was sick for 9 months out of 12, for a few years, which cost me a fortune in rent and bills, when I had no income to pay with. I've been paying a heavy price for simply being alive. I was being crushed under the enormous financial burden of breathing, sleeping and eating.

I've dug myself out of the hole now.

However, I'm still running scared.

In order to get well and truly out of the hole, I've not been on holiday, I've not travelled, socialised, or made any purchases. I've been living a monastic life.

Seriously.

In the space of nearly 6 months, I saw three people. That's about half a person per month. I've been seing less than one person every month, for half a year. That's crazy.

It's not that I haven't wanted to socialise, but my life got pretty smashed to bits, plus lockdown made things complex. Lots of people endured lengthy lockdowns, seeing very few people, but nobody's had a lockdown quite like me. Nobody who's working and seemingly functional, I must say... I'm sure there are lots of elderly people who have a greater claim to loneliness and isolation than I do.

Why aren't I doing anything about it?

Well, it gets difficult in later life. I moved away from London and Bournemouth, where I have most of my friends. Making friends in a new city is hard at the best of times, and worse still when you're 41 years old; worse still in the middle of a global pandemic.

I have my cat. She's lovely. She's my companion; my furry friend. She keeps me company.

A friend invited me out on Saturday evening, and we met a mutual friend. It was extremely nice. Total surprise, to be out socialising on a Saturday night. I hadn't planned for it at all. I was at home getting drunk; drowning my sorrows. Poor me, poor me; pour me another drink... lol not really, I don't feel sorry for myself except the near-impossible task of digging myself out of the aforementioned hole, but at least I have the opportunity, unlike some.

I'm not antisocial, I'm just under a lot of pressure; I'm fighting for my life; I'm trying to get back to a position of financial security - health, wealth and prosperity.

I don't suffer from Fear Of Missing Out (FOMO) because my life has been dysfunctional for so long. When I do go out socialising, I enjoy myself immensely, but I can't see an easy way to get a social life at the moment. I'm lucky that I have a handful of local friends who make the effort to invite me out, from time to time.

I'm not antisocial. I'm getting back on my feet, slowly.

 

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Repeating Myself

4 min read

This is a story about being in lockdown...

Rat race

I didn't write during the total lockdown of the pandemic, quite deliberately, because I knew that I would get very repetitive, and that I would drive myself slightly insane. Having insight into my own mind, and being able to introspect, is a great gift - at times - but when artificially constrained, such as being in lockdown, it's difficult not to overthink, and to over-fixate on the discomfort of the situation; better to just go with the flow.

I'm still in lockdown.

Of course, I can now travel to the shops, visit a café or restaurant, travel, and do lots of other things, which I previously couldn't. That's correct in theory but in practice, I'm still in lockdown. I only leave the house to buy food.

It's not through choice that I'm in lockdown, although it appears, at first glance, to be the case.

Theoretically, I'm rich again; debt free and with some savings in the bank. However, the economy looks totally screwed, forcing me to consider the security of my future income, and of course my housing security and other important essential needs. Having been homeless and slept rough, I'm more reluctant than most to go back to living on the streets, especially after working so hard to get back on my feet.

So, I'm working as hard as I can, for as long as I can. Given the opportunity to earn money in a global pandemic, and a global recession, I'm going to fill my war chest as full as I can.

It's miserable.

Most people have got their "summer holiday" heads on in the Northern Hemisphere. Most people's moods are 'artificially' lifted by the warm summer weather, despite the backdrop of a rampaging pandemic and terrible recession. Of course, things have been artificially propped up, to temporarily stave off the wave of redundancies, evictions, bankruptcies and other cataclysmic economic events, which will hit like a tsunami in the autumn. Most ordinary people are overjoyed the lockdown is lifted and are enjoying their regained freedoms, with seemingly little regard for the bleak future.

Not me.

I'm miserable.

Of course, if I've managed to "make hay while the sun shines" then I'll be somewhat better placed to ride out the storm than those ordinary people who are currently frolicking in the sun. On the flip side, they'll be happier and more well rested. I'm risking burnout and/or breakdown, pushing myself as hard as I'm pushing myself... but all I want is COLD. HARD. CASH. As much cash as possible AND I WANT IT NOW.

Waking up every morning, there's a finite amount of money I can earn, because time and energy are finite quantities. This is simultaneously a motivation ("I can earn a lot of money today") and a something which is quite depressing ("I can only earn a small amount versus what I need").

Perhaps if you saw my personal finances, you would think that my mentality is vulgar; privileged. However, my mentality is based on many years spent homeless; destitute. Of course, I'm fortunate that my life isn't ruined irreparably, and that I've enjoyed the occasional period of exceptionally high quality of life, in-between the chaos, trauma and near-death experiences.

Because it's a marathon, not a sprint, I am whinging and complaining the whole way. I try not to, but I'm not built for steady plodding. I want to get rich quick, or die trying... anything else is intolerable.

Of course the reality, compared with most ordinary people, is that I am getting rich quick. I'm absolutely sure that you would have no problem at all, thinking of really great ways that you could spend my so-called 'disposable' income. However, I don't look at that money as 'disposable'... I look at it with despair, knowing that it's not enough to give me the security I need, to protect me against homelessness, destitution, bankruptcy, and all the other things which nearly killed me.

Sorry for repeating myself.

 

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All You Have to do is Nothing

4 min read

This is a story about boredom...

Watch

What if I offered you a six-figure salary to do nothing? Would you take it? Of course you'd take it, right? Think of all the great stuff you could buy with a six-figure income. Think of what a great house and car you could buy. Think of all the holidays you could have. Think of all the lovely things that money would buy.

Wrong.

Firstly, going on holiday is not "doing nothing". If you're on holiday, you won't be earning your six-figure salary: you're only paid for the time you're doing nothing.

Fine, you say.

But.

You're going to have to spend some time doing nothing, in order to get your hands on the money. How much time do you think you could spend doing nothing in any given year? Assuming that you spend about 5 weeks each year on holiday, that means you'll have to spend 47 weeks doing nothing. That's achievable, right?

Wrong.

It's a lot harder doing nothing than doing something. You might not realise this - because you've never had to do nothing - but it's the hardest thing in the world. Perhaps if you work as a security guard or a solidier, you might be able to legitimately claim that you've got first-hand experience of doing nothing, but that's not true. It's well known that doing nothing is impossible, so security guards and soldiers get paired up or given 'lone worker' tasks to do, in order to break the monotony of the task.

In fact, every time you were bored, you just walked out of that job and went and got another one; every time your situation was uncomfortable, you changed it. Your entire life consists of chatting to people, making cups of tea/coffee and undertaking a variety of tasks. You never do nothing.

Doing nothing pays the most money.

Boredom is directly proportional to remuneration; the more boring a job is, the more you get paid (with the exception of being a security guard, perhaps). Maybe it's like a 'U' shape actually - there are really badly paid jobs which are boring, and the best paid jobs which are boring, and the jobs in the middle are the interesting ones.

The best thing I can do at the moment is nothing. The more I keep quiet and keep my head down, the better. Far better if I avoid trouble and don't do anything - do nothing - to earn loads of money.

It's unbearable.

Most people are led by impulse and instinct, but I have to fight my gut every step of the way. If I did what 'felt' right then I would quit what I'm doing and just figure things out - anything's better than being trapped doing nothing, bored. Of course, I would miss the 'easy' money, so I keep going, because my head says it's the right thing to do. I know that the suffering will yield vast financial compensation, even if the means of achieving it are intolerable.

I suppose you think that it's a nice problem to have but you'd be mistaken. We can all prostitute ourselves, or otherwise do work which is toxic to our dignity, sense of wellbeing, sense of achievement, mental health etc. Of course, some sex workers are happy doing what they're doing, so use your imagination: you could earn a lot of money doing crime if you wanted to.

If you think what I'm writing is entitled and whingey, fuck off. If you're thinking "we all have to suffer a little boredom occasionally" then you're right... "occasionally". When it becomes your full-time job to be bored out of your mind, then it goes beyond 'normal' and moves into the territory of an extreme health hazard; a threat to life.

Of course I can see the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, but I can also see the broken glass and razor blades I have to crawl over to get there. Sure, I probably will get there in the end, but I'm going to whine and complain the whole way, because it's a ridiculous waste of time, energy and talent, to have a person tormented - in agony - with insufferable boredom.

 

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Blogger's Digest - Day Fourteen of #NaNoWriMo2019

7 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 Fourteen

Three days of self-imposed isolation aboard my yacht, moored up in the marina, had passed with me spending 95% of my time in bed. My appetite was a fraction of what it normally was, but I had eaten almost everything which required no preparation: cold ravioli, beans, spaghetti hoops and other cans. My T-shirt had dried drips of tomato sauce on it and my hair was greasy and had a permanent cow-lick, from the position I had been mostly resting my head on my pillow.

After three full days of total isolation, which I suppose would not be unusual for a solo round-the-world yachtsman, but was particularly odd in a busy marina during beautiful weather, I felt as though I had a mission to accomplish which I was suitably motivated to pursue, such that I would have a shower, put on some clean clothes and head for shore.

Being alone with my thoughts for so long, I had somewhat fathomed what was at the root cause of this unexpected episode of depression: I was burnt out. It might sound rather odd, considering that I'd quit my job and had decided to spend well over a year in pursuit of leisure. However, I hadn't admitted to myself how heavily the long voyage had been weighing on my mind, and causing me a continuous amount of stress.

I should - of course - have paid the money to have my yacht transported to Greece, but I had dismissed the idea, because of a mixture of pride and also wanting to challenge myself. I knew that it would be a huge achievement I'd feel proud of for the rest of my life, if I managed to sail such a long journey myself, and that I would feel like a cheat and a failure, if I took the easy way out. I wondered whether I would appreciate the Mediterranean as much if I simply flew out there to join my yacht once she was delivered.

I had chartered yachts all over the world, and it was a great way to experience sailing in a different part of the world, for a short holiday.

This was not a holiday.

It was never meant to be a holiday.

I'd made the commitment to live aboard my yacht permanently, because I wanted the adventure and I relished the challenge, but I had been defeated by the UK winter. I had considered the various ways to make the British weather more bearable aboard a yacht, but the appeal of undertaking a very long journey was too much to resist, when it was simply an idea: one of several options which I was considering.

I decided to take the plunge and start arranging my epic voyage during the winter, when I hadn't been sailing for a couple of months, and I was missing being at the sea. With hindsight, I was over-confident and too ambitious. The process of making the arrangements had consumed me, and I hadn't stopped to consider whether I was making the right choice, because I was too busy persuading everybody that it was a great idea - I believed my own bullshit.

It wasn't that parts of the journey wouldn't be extremely enjoyable and well within my comfort zone. I knew that with even the most incompetent crew member, I could easily hop from harbour to harbour, without too much trouble - it would be fun, even on unfamiliar coastlines. The problem was that a sustained period of many of these short hops would have to be joined together, in order to make good progress. The problem was that the journey contained some difficult legs, in waterways which I would have ordinarily gone out of my way to avoid - I had no desire to tangle with busy shipping channels, or sail through straits which were famed for their dangerous currents and many shipwrecks. All the pressure and responsibility was on me, and me alone. I had bitten off more than I could chew.

I still desperately wanted to complete my epic voyage. I knew that at almost every point, now that I had made it to Portugal, I would be better off turning back than carrying on, if I simply wanted my yacht to be transported to Greece. The solution was quite clear to me, and I felt much happier that I had accepted my new decision and was putting it into action.

* * *

"Bom dia. Você fala inglês?" I said to man behind the desk in the Marina office. I had been memorising and practicing this one phrase - "good morning. Do you speak English?" - repeatedly for most of the morning, learning it phonetically using a phrasebook I had brought with me for this part of the journey.

"Yes of course. You're on berth C10, right? You spoke to me the night you arrived" the man replied.

"Oh, it's you. You sound different on the radio. I mean, you sound different from how I thought you would look" I stumbled.

"Ha" he said, politely tolerating my bumbling British awkwardness. "How can I help?"

"Do you know a British skipper called Nikki?" I asked, my face sweating and my hands a little clammy - this was extremely embarrassing.

A broad smile spread across the face of the man. "Yes, of course I know Nikki. She left this morning on Moinho de Vento."

"Vento?" I said in a quizzical tone. I knew that this meant wind, so I assumed he was using a colloquialism, like gone with the wind to say that she'd sailed away. I was crushed. I was also puzzled, because there was no wind and there had been none for several days. "But it's not windy" I said, stating the obvious.

"Yes sure. She's just taken some clients out to get drunk."

"Drunk?" I asked, still perplexed.

"Yes. She takes clients out on Moinho de Vento very often. She's the biggest yacht in the marina and she's mainly used for corporate functions" the man explained. "You don't know her?" he asked.

"Know her? I met her a few times, you know, hanging out at the marina bar" I replied.

"No, not Nikki. Moinho de Vento."

"Ah. I get you now. Tallest mast in the marina. Hard to miss her. I didn't know her name though" I said, feeling like I was making a complete fool of myself.

"Should I tell Nikki you're looking for you? I know she was trying to find you the other day. I told her which berth you're moored on. I hope that was OK?"

"Yes, fine. I mean great. I mean thanks for telling her where I'm moored, and it'd be great if you can let her know I'm looking for her when you see her."

"OK no problem. Consider it done. Everything OK? Happy? Anything else?" the man asked with big genuine smile, putting me somewhat more at ease after my ordeal.

"No. That was it. Thank you."

"Ok my friend. See you around. My name is Eduardo" the man said, offering his hand, still beaming.

We shook hands and I said "adeus" by way of a goodbye.

"My friend, I applaud you for making the effort with your Portuguese" Eduardo said.

It wasn't until I got back aboard my yacht and checked my phrasebook that I realised I had used a version of goodbye which implied I had no intention of seeing Eduardo ever again.

 

Blogger's Digest - Day Thirteen of #NaNoWriMo2019

8 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 Thirteen

I woke up feeling awful, which was to be expected - it had been a late night and I had drunk a lot, so a hang-over was inevitable. However, even the very worst hangovers wore off by mid-morning and I would become restless. Hunger, thirst or boredom - or a combination of all three - would motivate me to get out of bed by at least midday.

Midday had arrived and I still felt tired and unwell. I wondered if I had perhaps contracted some kind of bug. I didn't feel nauseous, but I was more tired than I should have been.

I felt like I should get up, but I didn't want to. The greater the pressure to get up, the more I hated it and it made me want the world to go away; leave me alone.

Outside, the weather was glorious. Although I had excellent blackout blinds for the hatch above my bed and the two tiny portholes, which couldn't be opened, on either side of the bow, in my cabin, enough light crept in though various cracks and the rising temperature indicated that it was a scorching sunny day. It felt like the most unbelievable waste, to spend it cooped up inside my tiny cabin.

I thought about all the poor underpaid overworked souls who hated their jobs and barely had a holiday. So many people would kill to have the opportunity to be in a beautiful hot part of the world, with no work commitments. Why was I so stressed and anxious about getting up? Why did I feel so much pressure?

I looked at my watch. 12:30pm. I knew I should get up immediately. I felt enormous pressure to get up immediately, given that it was now well past midday.

I wrestled with conflict within me for an extremely uncomfortable hour. Time passed both quickly and slowly. Each time I would check my watch, I would wail with disbelief at how much of the precious day I was wasting, but the time was also dragging uncomfortably, because I felt as though I should get up, but at the same time I didn't want to. What I wanted was for everything to just go away; leave me alone.

At around 2pm, I decided that it was so late that I was going to allow myself to abandon the day. I gave myself permission to give up. I admitted defeat, but I also gave in to what my brain and body were somehow yelling out for.

An enormous amount of relief swept over me, having made the decision to give up and stay in bed. All the pressure that I'd felt, from the moment I woke up until the moment I admitted defeat - deciding to stay in bed and write off the day - started to alter the way I felt, from restless and anxious, to much more relaxed. I became sleepy and dozed off.

I woke up. 5:30pm. Another wave of guilt. I had wasted the day.

It was still light and warm outside - a pleasant summer evening and a long time until sunset. However, I preferred to think that the day was somehow finished, giving myself permission to continue to stay in bed. I briefly entertained the idea of getting showered and dressed, and heading out to enjoy the evening, but the thought of those simple practicalities exhausted me, and I slumped back into my bed.

By 7pm I started to feel quite hungry. Perhaps my stomach would provide the motivation which I had lacked all day, to leave my bed at long last. The idea of preparing a meal felt wrong, as did dining out - it felt 'naughty' somehow; as though I had skived off school. Although nobody knew me here, I still felt as though I would be uncomfortable walking around - people would look at me and think "where's he been all day?". I toyed with excuses in my head.

* * *

"Knock knock!"

What the hell was that, I wondered, startled.

"Knock! Knock!" came the cry again. The carefree tone and female voice led me to immediately conclude it must have been Nikki. How the hell did she know which yacht was mine? Did I tell her my yacht's name or my berth number?

I heard the sound of somebody climbing aboard. I was aghast - this was utterly inappropriate behaviour. Not the done thing at all. Nobody ever ventured on board somebody else's boat without permission, except in special circumstances, such as needing to cross to get to shore. I was deeply unnerved.

Nikki rapped on the cockpit doors. "Coo-ee!" she yelled brightly.

Then, she slid back the coachroof and called down into the saloon: "Gavin! I know you're in there. Come out to play! It'll be fun!"

What should I do, I wondered. To ignore her further was getting extremely difficult - was she going to descend the steps from the cockpit into the saloon and knock on my cabin door, next? It was a difficult situation but I felt as though she had clearly overstepped the mark: she should never have boarded without permission, let alone slid open my coachroof so she could yell down inside. With a certain stubborn bloody-mindedness, I decided to remain silent.

"We'll be in the bar if you decide to get up and come and join us. Don't be so antisocial!" she yelled, before sliding the coachroof closed again, and disembarking.

Just as I breathed a sigh of relief she rapped loudly on the bow with her knuckles. I jumped with fright.

"See you soon, Gavin!" she yelled and cackled with laughter, which hadn't a hint of malice in it, so brought a smile to my face. She was mischievous and I had taken great affront at the intrusion, but also I was gladdened that she'd taken an interest in me and what she'd tried to do was well-meaning and kind. How did she know I had been holed up, somewhat in a pit of despair which was hard to explain.

* * *

Later that night I crept out to grab a bottle of water, a packet of biscuits and some crisps. I didn't turn any lights on and I tip-toed to the galley and back. I probably made more noise than I would have done if I had turned on a light, as I fumbled around in the dark, but I still felt very bad about not leaving my cabin all day. I wanted to retreat and be left alone. I wanted to be isolated.

As I filled my bed with crumbs I wondered what was wrong with me. Was this another episode of depression? Was I liable to be bed-bound for a substantial period of time? I didn't feel unwell, except that I was exceptionally tired.

Each time I left my bed, for example to use the bathroom, I was incredibly glad to return to bed as quickly as possible. After urinating, I considered skipping washing my hands, to save some precious wasted seconds. Why was I so keen to get back to bed? If anything, I was pretty bored and I longed to read a book or watch a movie, but I didn't want anybody to see the reading light or the light from my laptop screen; I wanted to pretend like I didn't exist.

Having napped for substantial periods during the day, I was not at all tired, and with no distractions I was trapped alone with my thoughts for a long time, in the dark and quiet of the night. The noise outside - people returning to their boats - was magnified; my ears became hyper-sensitised due the sensory deprivation I'd experienced for a long period of time. Listening to every little noise punctuated my thoughts, which continuously wondered what was wrong with me and how long it was going to last.

I was worried it was going to be the same the following day.

My first episode of depression had surprised me, in how long it had lasted. At the end of each day I had been optimistic that I would wake up and feel differently, but each morning the feelings were stubbornly persistent: there was no 'snapping out of it' or otherwise cajoling myself up and out of bed. I already knew every trick in the book for forcing myself to face the intolerable, and I knew when I was beaten, although it took me a long time to accept it.

I couldn't decide which I dreaded more: that Nikki would return and try again to cajole me into leaving my pit of despair, or that I would awake to discover that I was undeniably laid low with another episode of depression, with an indeterminate end date.

 

Next chapter...

 

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 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...