Skip to main content

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


Too Big to Jail

6 min read

This is a story about ethics...

8 Canada Square

Imagine if you or I got caught laundering the best part of a billion dollars worth of drug money. We'd get sent to jail for a very long time, right? What if a bank got caught doing it, and there was so much evidence that there was clearly a case for criminal wrongdoing that could be prosecuted? Well, maybe you'd get given a chance to get rid of some of your dodgy customers, and nobody would go to jail. Does that sound fair?

Let's think about the financial crisis of 2007/08, when reckless trading meant that the whole banking sector had to be bailed out, causing austerity for ordinary hardworking people. The people who have paid the highest price - with lower wages, job insecurity and cutbacks for frontline services - would never be able to go begging for interest free loans if they behaved so irresponsibly.

Bankruptcy is not a criminal offence. It's OK for a private citizen to run up huge debts, find out they could never hope to possibly repay their creditors, and declare bankruptcy. You don't go to jail for bankruptcy.

So, arguably, what the banks did in 2007/08 wasn't that bad. It wasn't criminal. They had their risk underwritten by governments, so why wouldn't they take huge risks with public money? They were economically incentivised to take those risks, because the precedent of the "too big to fail" bailouts meant that there was no downside risk.

But what about money laundering? What about facilitating payments for drug gangs, dealers, traffickers? If you or I were involved in any of that as a private citizen, the courts would throw the book at us. They'd lock us up and throw away the key. It's criminal.

So, what about the banks? If the biggest bank in Europe - HSBC - was well known to authorities for helping a couple of major drug gangs to launder the best part of a billion dollars in dirty money, wouldn't that be criminal too? Wouldn't people go to jail?

Well, no. Enter the concept of "too big to jail". Just like the financial bailouts that the banks received, banks can also receive Deferred Prosecution Agreements. That is to say, even though you got caught doing criminal stuff, you'll get let off so long as you take some steps to stop doing it in future.

And how long would you have to get rid of your dodgy customers? Well, say the US Department of Justice were thinking about prosecuting you in 2012, you might still be botching the IT project that is apparently 'essential' to get rid of your dodgy customers 4 years later... in 2016.

How much do HSBC really know about their customers anyway? Well, from their electronic records that they already have on file, they know about 6% of what they need to know. So basically, they don't know 94% of what they need to know.

Now, you might not be an IT project management expert, but you'd have thought that it's more important to find out the missing 94% of what you don't know, than even to bother with the 6% that you do know. Sure, it's pretty embarrassing to have to ask your customers where they live again, but what you really need to know is this: where did you get your fucking money?

In Customer Due Diligence terms, this is called Source of Wealth. You might have inherited the money (legit), you might have won the lottery (legit), you might have sold a priceless artwork (legit) and you might have trafficked vast quantities of illegal narcotics (not legit). Basically, HSBC had 4 years to ask all their customers "is your source of wealth drug money?". Did they manage this? No.

I'm quite spectacularly offended by just how badly they botched a simple project to ask all their customers to fess up: are you in the illegal drugs business?

Sure, it's true that HSBC had to cough up a couple of billion dollars in fines, but for them that's just the cost of doing business. Their profitability was barely affected.

Arguments were made to the US to defer prosecution, and to allow HSBC to keep its banking charter and continue to do business in the United States. These arguments were made on the basis of maintaining stability in the financial markets. The Deferred Prosecution Agreement came with stringent terms, that a court would appoint a Monitor to make sure that HSBC actually cleaned up their act. I can tell you now, Michael Cherkasky, that the project to clean up HSBC's customer base was a total sham. A shambolic waste of time & money, mismanaged to the point that the whole thing was laughable.

Do you think that message that is sent to "too big to fail" organisations, that they're above the law and they can never go bankrupt because they'll always be bailed out, is looking like the right one, today, now, in 2016?

The argument that has been made is that we need to prop up the share prices so that the pension funds are protected, and we need to maintain financial stability. Isn't that just utter bullshit, in the face of austerity and extreme volatility in the markets? We've had round after round of Quantitative Easing (QE) and other attempts to breathe life into markets that have lost their minds. There is nothing at all rational or efficient about the global markets that we see today.

And to round it all off, it's corrupt as hell. To allow banks to ride roughshod over the rule of law is the final step in handing over the nations of the world to the multinational corporations who have driven us into a position of financial ruin, much to the pain of the vast majority of ordinary working people. It stinks of the worst corruption ever perpetrated on Western civilisation, does it not?

Somebody has to call time on the lack of ethics and accountability for the too big to fail organisations, and their board members who are too big to jail.

When we allow the likes of Stuart Gulliver to be the CEO of HSBC, when he doesn't even keep his wealth in the bank he manages, but instead keeps it hidden in the Cayman Islands and Switzerland, clearly we have corruption right from the top down.

David Cameron, outgoing Prime Minister of the United Kingdom said, as recently as April, that "[I] can't point to every source of every bit of [my] money" but yet we would have the likes of you or I have to prove that our filthy lucre was not ill-gotten gains from some criminal enterprise. The corruption comes from the very top of both Government and organisations. It stinks.

Who is going to grasp the nettle and hold Government and large enterprise to account for having run us into economic ruin, while busily siphoning wealth offshore?

There needs to be accountability. There needs to be jail time for corrupt executives and government ministers.





5 min read

This is a story about premonitions...

Plane crash

Our perception of reality is subjective, and it is coloured by our state of mind. I'm deeply depressed, so I tend to see everything as negative, hostile, and doomed to failure.

Yesterday, I was writing a piece about how I thought the markets had over-corrected, and how I expected to see another rout in the FX and equities markets, of Sterling and the FTSE. Little did I know, that as I was writing, a terrorist attack was occurring in Istanbul, Turkey.

When your mental health is suffering, sometimes you can start making too many connections, seeing too many co-incidences. Last year I started to misinterpret events as significant in my life somehow. I started to feel overly connected to things happening around me - because I was unwell - and thought I was at the epicentre of a seismic event again, like during the Credit Crunch, when I felt at the very heart of the derivatives market and Credit Default Swaps, with JPMorgan.

Michael Cherkasky, the monitor from the US Department of Justice, still isn't happy with HSBC's customer due diligence, but nobody seems to give a shit. The share price might have dropped almost 20%, but so far as I know, nobody's going to prison for not warning the shareholders, which would be a violation of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, which has tried to force public corporations to be honest and open when things are going wrong.

The thing is, the show must go on, and everybody has a vested interest to some extent. Bear Stearns couldn't fail, because the markets were already spooked by Lehman Brothers. Greece couldn't default, because the entire stability of the European single currency and the stability of global markets was at stake.

Even now, with Britain prompting a disorderly rush for the door, and the potential for systemic collapse, as a domino-like chain of events is set off, we are still seeing a surprising amount of stability.

Market economics is supposed to weed out the weak and the reckless. The companies and governments that have gone beyond their means are supposed to be punished by the market, but actually what we have all demanded is stability, not a free market.

Really, Bear Stearns should have been allowed to fail, AIG should not have been bailed out, Greece should have been allowed to default on its debts, the UK should be allowed to precipitate the collapse of the Eurozone and the inevitable failure of the Euro and debt defaults across Southern Europe.

What people seem to be voting for is the free market that we supposedly have. Where would we be, if we had bitten the bullet in 2007/2008 and not simply propped everything up? Aren't we going to have to suffer a global recession that is many, many times worse than it might have been if we'd allowed reckless companies and governments to fail earlier?

However, the politicians and the banks believe that they've been tasked with economic stability. Certainly, the Bank of England's brief is to try and maintain inflation in a certain range. It certainly runs contrary to our Keynesian understanding of economics, when central banks are actually used to prop everything up, to maintain the status quo.

Gordon Brown famously declared that we had seen the end of boom & bust, but haven't we simply made a farce of the idea that debts ever have to be repaid, and there isn't an endless supply of money?

Civilisations normally fall when the burden of debt is unmanageable, but creditors refuse to forgive debts.

The world needs to deleverage, to have a debt haircut, for debts to be forgiven. The system has failed. There's no moral hazard. Everything is too big to fail. There is no market economics anymore.

I think that what people want is either inflation, to inflate away their debts, or debt forgiveness, because they are over-burdened with huge mortgages, student loans etc. etc. People feel that they've been hurt in the pocket, and they really don't care about the stability of stock portfolios and the value of Sterling.

I see the Brexit decision as almost a vote to accept a devaluation, in the hope of stoking up domestic inflation. It's a vote to accept volatility and chaos in the financial markets, that we supposedly wanted to avoid during the Credit Crunch, but people were never asked if they were OK with a whole heap of bad banks going bankrupt.

Yes, people are probably naïve about how upset they'd be about their life savings being wiped out, and having to use a barrowload of pound notes to pay for a loaf of bread, but perhaps it's better than their lives of quiet desperation, while the rich get richer and the poor get poorer?

I'm incredibly impressed to see stability in the markets today, but I don't think that's what anybody wants. People are looking for a shake-up in the pecking order. People are rocking the boat, because they're unhappy, and they literally don't care about the global economic impact and systemic risk. Perhaps propping it all up, and forcing a very long period of austerity onto everybody wasn't such a smart move.

The next question is: how far are the wealthy prepared to go, in order to get their pound of flesh?





22 min read

This is a story about body shopping...

IT Contractor

What's the difference between a temp, a freelancer, a self-employed person, a contractor and a consultant? What's the difference between an employee and an entrepreneur?

Last year I was working for HSBC, along with a bunch of nice folks from several different consultancies, plus a handful of permanent members of staff. The teamwork was brilliant, but the surprising thing was that we all had different agendas.

Given that I had gone back to HSBC as a contractor, having been a permanent member of staff there for over 4 years, it was somewhat of a mindset change. I was also homeless and still very much in the vice-like grip of drug addiction, which wasn't a good start.

I was exhausted, and I had somewhat induced within myself, some fairly major symptoms of mental illness, which caused me to make some rather outlandish interpretations of the reality I experienced.

Imagine being plucked from the park, where you are living and contemplating bankruptcy and the coffin nail that will drive into your career, your business. Imagine facing up to the reality that everything you're qualified and experienced to do, since you started IT contracting at age 20, is now going to go down the shitter, and you're homeless, abandoned by the state - the council have sent you a one-line email saying that you're not even worth a hostel bed to them.

Then, imagine that almost overnight, you're working on the number one project for the biggest bank in Europe. You're so exhausted that you are sleeping in the toilet. Everything seems surreal, from the moment you put on your suit in the morning in a hostel dormitory paid for with a credit card you can't afford to pay off, to the moment you turn up in the headquarters of a prestigious Tier 1 bank that you used to work for, when you were clean, sober, young, happy, ambitious, energetic, enthusiastic and respected.

The challenge was to get through 60 days of working, without running out of credit completely. I had to get to work every day and pay for my hostel bed, for a whole month before I could submit my first invoice, which would be paid 30 days later. Obviously, it also looks rather unusual to your colleagues if you can't afford to eat lunch or socialise. The pressure was immense.

What does a poker player do, if they have a weak hand? They bluff, obviously.

To compensate for my fear, and the odds that were stacked against me, I turned the dial up to 11. I tried hard. Far, far too hard. I told the team that I'd take responsibility for a critical piece of work, and deliver it in a short space of time, along with an extremely capable colleague, who actually knew that it was a monster piece of work.

I should have been laughed out of the door. I can't believe that nobody particularly picked up on the fact that I was shooting from the hip, out of a combination of fear, exhaustion, drug withdrawal, mental illness and a touch of arrogance.

How on earth was my ego not going to be stoked? I had just cheated death, bankruptcy, destitution, and now I had the CIO of the number one project in the biggest bank in Europe surprising me, by naming me in person, as the team member responsible for one of the pivotal pieces of the program, in front of the entire town hall. I looked around - "is he talking about me?" - yes, it appeared he was. How surreal.

First day

As a drug addicted homeless person, you're kind of invisible. People would like it if you just crawled into some dark hole and died, quietly. You're nobody's problem but your own, and everybody pretends not to notice you, as you drag your bags through the street, swatting at invisible flies and talking to yourself incomprehensibly.

Suddenly, people not only seem to value you, listen to you, but also look to you for some kind of professional guidance, leadership. Is this the state that important IT projects have reached, where the hobo junkie is the one calling the shots? I realise that I wasn't actually calling the shots, but that's what it feels like when you've been scraped up from the pavement, stuffed into a suit and now you're working in a fancy office full of glass, steel and granite.

It embarrasses me, but also pleases me that I'm still on good terms with a few respected colleagues, and they can tease me about "the time when you said you were going to deliver X by Y". However, not everything I said was worthless tosh.

This is where the difference in mindsets comes in.

As a permanent member of staff, your best shot of getting pay rises and promotions is to raise your profile. Given an hour to do some work, you might as well spend 50 minutes writing an email about what a brilliant person you are and how clever you are, and 10 minutes actually doing some work, rather than the other way around. People who just knuckle down and get on with the work they're supposed to be doing, tend to be overlooked when it comes to the end of year review.

As a contractor, you're all about contract renewals. When your contract is coming up towards its end, you're on best behaviour. You try to shine and make yourself a key-man dependency, so that you can demand a big rate increase, because you're indispensable. Personally though, I hate making myself a key-man dependency. It's unprofessional, however you are economically incentivised to do it, so many contractors dig themselves into little fiefdoms.

As a consultant however, you have the worst of both worlds. You have to kiss the arse of both the client and your consultancy. There's a huge conflict of interests. The consultancy want you to stay on your placement, and for as many headcount as possible to be working with you on the client project, if you're working time & materials. What exactly is consulting about being a disguised employee? Where is the value-add from the consultancy, when the client wants you to be embedded in their organisation, like a permanent member of staff?

Hospital discharge

The reasons for using consultancy staff, contractors, temps, freelancers, is that you can get rid of them when the project is done. However, the other reason is that you don't have all the headache of having to performance manage underperforming and difficult staff members out of your organisation. In theory, it's a lot easier to hire & fire... with the firing being the desirable bit.

It used to be the case that you could get a job as an IT contractor with just a 20 minute phone interview and start the next day. If you were shit, you'd just be terminated on the spot. Never happened to me, but that was the deal you struck... you'd be on immediate notice for the first week. Then you'd be on a week's notice. Then you'd be on 4 weeks notice, just like a permie. However, I always used to get my contract renewed, because I know how to play the game, kiss ass and keep my lip buttoned at the right time.

So, what happened? Well, stress, money, recovery from addiction, relapse, housing stresses and everything in-between conspired in my private life to mean that I was living life by the seat of my pants. I was running for my life.

After only a week in the new job, I decided that it was an impossible mountain to climb, and that there was no way that I could live in a large hostel dormitory and work on a stressful project, plus get myself clean from drugs, plus dig myself out of near-certain bankruptcy. There were just too many problems to face, working full-time in a crisply laundered shirt and a nice suit, while hiding the crippling problems in my private life.

You can't just go to your boss and say "I'm sorry I didn't mention this before, but I'm a homeless recovering drug addict, who suffers mental health problems at times of extreme stress and exhaustion, and I'm practically bankrupt as well as barely able to keep myself clean, sane, out of hospital and off the streets". Contracting doesn't work like that. Your personal life is nobody's problem but your own... you've signed that deal with the devil. You get paid more, but you're also expected to not get sick and not bring your personal problems with you to the office.

I disappeared on my second week in the job, getting mixed up with the police, thrown out of the hostel where I was living, and ending up in hospital, as the pressure was simply too much to bear, I thought that my lifeline was pretty much spent. The odds of being able to get off the streets were too slim anyway. It couldn't be done. I gave up, and relapsed.

Do you think you can just pick up the phone and say "errr, yeah, I need two weeks off to sleep, an advance of several thousand pounds, and I'd like to come back to work part-time for a little while until I'm up to full strength, because I've been dragging bags all over London, living in parks and on heathland, in and out of hospitals, rehabs and crisis houses, addicted to some deadly shit and battling mental health problems. It seems silly that I didn't mention this at the interview, as I'm sure you would have been just fine with giving me an opportunity to get myself off the street and back into the land of the living"?

Office backpack

You know what though? I did get a second chance. There's no denying that certain allowances were made for me. A blind eye was turned to the fact that I was basically either shouting at people or nodding off in meetings for the first week. I went AWOL twice. Once for a whole week where I basically decided that everything was f**ked and there was no way I could ever make things work, and once for nearly a whole day, when I was swept up in the euphoria of working with nice people and got paralytically drunk with my colleagues and couldn't face telling my boss that I was sick again.

Through my divorce, I lost heaps of friends who were shared with me and the ex. I decided to move back to London, because I knew I could find lots of work. However most of my London friends had moved out of town, in order to start a family. Also, you don't make many friends when you're living in a park sniffing supercrack, and getting hospitalised for 14 weeks a year. I can tell you more about the private life of a friendly police officer that I know, than I can tell you about some other acquaintances from that turbulent period.

Anyway, I was desperately trying to cement things - get my own flat, get some money in the bank, get into a working pattern that was sustainable - but it was too much to ask. 'Friends' sensed that I was recovering, and decided to come asking for favours : lend me some money, let me live with you, give me a job etc. etc.

When you're desperately lonely, because you've split up with the two loves of your life - your wife, and supercrack - you're vulnerable to wanting to people-please. I risked my reputation, when I got a so-called friend an interview, because he pressured me. I overstretched myself, renting a flat that swallowed up all my money, which was my safety net. I didn't even pick my flat... my friend did, and he thought he was going to get to live there rent free. I put up with a lot of shit, because I was desperate for friends, for acceptance, to be liked.

If you think all this can be boiled down to a 'drug problem' you're wrong. In order for a person to feel whole, they need friends, they need a job, they need a place to live, they need to feel that they're living independently : paying the rent, earning their money, able to pay for the essentials of life, and not always just hustling, on the run.

There are quite a lot of pieces to the puzzle that is a complete life that's worth living. Do you really think I just want to be kept alive, in a straightjacket in a padded cell. Is it unreasonable to want to work, to want to feel like I'm making a contribution, to want to feel like I'm liked, loved, to want to feel like I exist, and that I'm valued somewhere, by somebody?

I loved the instant social connection I had with the "winners" who were a group of fellow consultants at HSBC. There was good camaraderie, and they were young and enthusiastic, not bitter and jaded like me. Their enthusiasm for their job and inclusive social circle was exactly what I needed, along with cold, hard cash, and a place to go every day that wasn't a bush in a park, with a wrap of supercrack.


Somewhat unwittingly - although I don't know how much people were able to guess or find out behind my back - the Winners bootstrapped my life. Even though there were the usual commercial rules of the game, about being a disposable contractor who's supposed to keep their mouth shut and not rock the boat, there was still bucketloads of humanity there. People were kind to me. They invited me into their lives, and in doing so, they saved mine.

When a colleague texted me while I was in California, to say that we had to go back to work doing the shittiest possible work for a scrum manager we didn't have a whole heap of respect for, it was pretty clear that it wasn't sustainable. I busted my balls to get cleaned up, off the streets, into a flat of my own and to restabilise my finances. However, I've never been the best at buttoning my lip and allowing myself to be 'managed' by somebody I have barely concealed contempt for.

I knew that all I had to do to get my contract terminated was to send one or two fairly outspoken emails to the project's management team who were insecure and relatively incompetent. They'd actually started to listen and change things though, so there was no purpose to the emails I sent, other than to try and elicit an email saying "don't bother coming back to work" so that I could spend some more time with my friends in San Francisco.

The pressure of having to try and cement the gains that I had made, while still carrying some of the burdens that had been accumulated, was too much. I was in no position to be the responsible guy, picking up the phone every time things went wrong and having to mop up messes. I was in no position to be paying 100% of my rent, with a lazy flatmate who shared none of the risk and none of the financial burden or responsibility for making sure the bills got paid and the household ran smoothly. I was in no position to face months and months more, working at the kind of breakneck pace that was inevitable on a project that I had been forced to take out of desperation.

I had done far too many 12 or 14 hour days. I was on email around the clock. I never switched off. I had driven myself insane, pressurising myself to fix all the broken things in my life, and shore up the gains that I had made. Insecurity and fear had given way to delusions of grandeur. I wanted to do everything, for everybody, immediately. I was very, very sick, because of the enormity of the task of not only the project, but the problems I was overcoming in my personal life. A breakdown was inevitable.

Managing things elegantly was unlikely to happen. I dropped hints about needing a holiday, but I needed to be firm, to assert myself. People expected me to manage my own personal needs, but what they didn't realise was that my needs were conflicted: I needed a financial safety cushion just as much as I needed some time off. When the offer of overtime was wafted under my nose, and the management team wouldn't stop phoning me up at weekends, they didn't have to twist my arm very hard to get me to work Saturdays, Sundays, nights. I needed the money, and I needed to feel like I was important and valued again, having only just escaped being an invisible homeless bum, tossed out of civilised society, never to return.

My experience as an IT contractor, my seniority as somebody who's run large teams, as a Development Manager, an IT Director, a CEO... I'm no fool. I knew that I was working at an unsustainable pace, making myself sick, but what choice did I have? I had so much to fix, and money and hard work can fix most problems. I knew that I needed a holiday, but I was vulnerable to being pressured into doing things that I would never do, under normal circumstances, due to the fragility of my situation.

My colleagues were kind enough to drop hints, and to tell me the tricks that they were employing to avoid management pressures and the general panic that was endemic on the project. They could see I was tired, and going slightly mad. They were worried, and it was kind of them to think of me, on a personal level. However, they didn't really know just how bad things were in my private life. They didn't know just what a journey I had been on. They didn't know what I was running away from.

When I snapped, I didn't know where to run for safety. I thought the safest place would be hospital. I was desperate. I could easily have run for drugged-up oblivion again, even though I was 5 months clean at that point, and one month sober. I could easily have run for the kitchen knife, and slit my wrists in the bath. I was desperate. So close to recovery, and yet so far.

I needed to chuck my freeloader flatmate out of my apartment. I needed to quit my contract and get something easier. I needed to not have the expectation, the weight of responsibility I had unnecessarily brought upon myself, in my desperate insecurity and desire to feel wanted, needed, useful, important, after my entire sense of self had been smashed to a pulp by the dehumanising experience of destitution.

Hospital was a safe place to do it.

Then, unable to grasp the nettle of what needed to be done, which could have been as simple as saying "I need another two weeks off work, to go on holiday, because I'm fucked", I decided to just run away. I booked a flight to San Francisco, leaving myself just a few hours to pack my bags and get to the airport. What was my plan? I had no idea. Even suicide seemed preferable to continuing to live with such crushing pressure, fear and hopeless odds stacked against me.

After a few days amongst friends, I decided that I wanted my contract terminated, immediately. I fired off a provocative email to the CIO. Jackpot! The guy who was responsible for us consultants emails me to say that he wants to see me... in Wimbledon, miles away from HSBC headquarters. I mail back to ask why, but he deftly avoids telling me my contract is terminated via email, despite me pressing him on the matter. Does nobody get the hint?

Nick in black

I come back to London, pissed off that nobody has had the guts to actually call me out to my face, or even by email, and that I've not been able to extend my stay in California. Out of spite, I decide to embarrass the consultancy and the management team, by going into HSBC HQ, blagging my way in even though my security pass has already been deactivated. I march up to the program director and ask him if he's happy with my work, is there a problem? In front of the whole team, he says he's happy with my work and there's no problem, he's pleased to have me back at work.

I milk a few hello-goodbyes with colleagues who I like and respect, while watching the people who want me gone squirm with discomfort. I'm loving every second of watching who's got integrity, humanity, and who's decided that I'm no longer flavour of the month. It's a masterclass in office politics, even though we're all contractors, all consultants. I'm committing every exquisite detail of my final minutes in the office to memory, as I deliberately waste time having my breakfast, before making my way to Wimbledon to wind up the poor messenger whose job it is to try and help the consultancy and the management team save face, by terminating my contract.

By this time, my access to email has been revoked, even though a colleague who accompanies me out of the building, pretends like everything is normal and like we're just having a friendly chat - as opposed to being escorted off the premises by a security guard. I know. Do they know I know? Surely they must.

Unable to send a goodbye email, I ask a colleague who is also called Nick Grant, but who works in Leeds, to send an email on my behalf to a mailing group that contains everybody on the project. It's naughty as hell, but I'm enjoying twisting the knife. What is it that I've really done wrong, other than getting sick and having to go to hospital? What is it that I said, other than what needed to be said, the truth? But I know the game. I know that nobody wants a loose cannon. Nobody wants anybody rocking the boat. I didn't play by the rules. Does anybody realise that this is my way of quitting with immediate effect, and without having to work my notice period?

It might seem like sour grapes. I needed that job. I liked my colleagues. I loved that social scene. That contract saved my life.

However, how do you reconcile your social life, your personal difficulties, your needs, with the role you've been forced into?

What's the difference between a contractor and a consultant? A contractor knows they're a mercenary. They're there to earn as much cash as quickly as they possibly can, and they accept that they can be terminated at the drop of a hat. A consultant just doesn't realise they're getting a bum deal. There's no such thing as an IT consultant. It's just a made-up thing now that software houses and long-term IT contractors have fallen out of favour, with the dreadful rise and rise of outsourcing and this stupid idea that software is ever going to be cheap and easy.

So, to the Winners. Thank you for saving my life. Thank you for putting up with my rocky start, my dreadful ego, my shouting. Thank you for putting up with my arrogance, and for laughing at my over-ambitious ideas. Thank you for trying to keep me humble, and remind me of the rules of the game. Thank you for taking me into your lovely social world. Thank you for the emotional support. Thank you for treating me like a human being, not a software robot. Thank you for dealing with the fallout that I inevitably caused, when implosion happened. Thank you for not hating me, as I wandered into the territory of delusions of grandeur and heroics, and self-important jumped-up craziness.

You might not realise this, but you saw a rather twisted, weird, screwed up version of me, as I clawed my way up a cliff face of recovery, from the bankrupt, homeless, junkie, friendless, single, lonely, unhappy, insane husk of a man that I was, in mid-June last year.

It's been quite a year. God knows what happened with the Customer Due Diligence project, but I'm glad the due diligence on me didn't work, because the Winners and HSBC ended up unwittingly saving my life and getting me back on my feet. I don't think I would have ever had that opportunity if my dark private life was known in advance.

I'm sorry if it feels like I used you. Hopefully, it feels like a good thing happened. Hopefully you feel happy to have played a role in bringing a person back from the brink, even if I was a sneaky bastard, and somewhat underhand about the whole thing, as well as going a bit bonkers at times.

Silver linings, eh?

Glass lift

The photos I've put up include some rather unflattering images of a rather battered and bruised body, that just about hung together with sticky tape to somehow carry me through some brutal times. My private life wasn't exactly 'healthy' leading up to last June.



Paper Trail

3 min read

This is a story about covering your ass...

Box files

If I was to mention the name of the project I'm working on and the name of my client, I would be picked up by paranoid people doing web searches. It's already happened to one of my colleagues. Naturally, I don't want to draw attention to the ups and downs that I've documented here, as I need the contract more than anybody realises.

The sensible thing to do would maybe be to take this site down, for fear of losing my income. However, nobody really does the sensible thing in their adult life. It looks to me like adults do reckless stuff and then live in fear, trying to protect their selfish crappy little lives. It looks to me like nobody does the sensible thing.

The sensible thing to do is not to have kids, not to perpetuate the misery and suffering, not to prop up capitalism and ecological destruction, warfare. The sensible thing to do is not to legitimise imperial aggression, by demanding that politicians protect our way of life. The sensible thing to do is to say "enough" and put down your tools and go on strike, in protest over the collision course with disaster that we are all collectively taking.

I'm not sure how my views are going to change, as I start to get a little bit more comfortable. By the end of the week, the wolf won't be at the door anymore. I'm going to have a lot of pressure and stress hanging around for 6 months, at least, and it'll take another 6 months before I have some kind of safety cushion. The litmus test is what I do once I have some kind of warchest again.

When I wrote about HSBC and the Customer Due Diligence project, I hadn't dug myself out of the hole, but I had been completely exhausted by the demands that had been placed on me. I've been an IT professional for 20 years, so I know how projects go, and I know how to blend into the corporate background and not make waves. I know how to kiss ass, I know that people don't want loose cannons and they want an easy life. However, it was an important project and I had something to contribute. I also couldn't live with my conscience if I didn't act during another banking stitch-up, having been near to ground zero during the credit crunch.

Now I have an early contract termination and probably a lack of decent reference to explain away, as something that I worry about. I'm pleased that I acted with integrity and ethics, but it's definitely me that suffered most of all. I martyred myself for no benefit to anybody, probably.

Why make yourself a martyr? Why make life harder for yourself than it needs to be? Why rock the boat? Well, it's simple: somebody has to be first.

I was told to wind my neck in, keep a low profile, not stick my head above the parapet. Of course I knew it was good advice - on a personal level - but I knew exactly what I was doing. Somebody has to be brave. Somebody has to take a stand, and push back. Somebody's got to raise their voice.

I hate the collective madness. There's no safety in numbers, when your whole flock goes running off the edge of the cliff.




Advent Calendar (Day One)

11 min read

This is a story about the doors of perception...

Movember Banished

So I radically altered my appearance for over a month. I went from being the suit wearing IT Consultant working on the number one project in the biggest bank in Europe (HSBC) to being the crazy suicidal mental patient guy with a moustache and a tattoo. That how I roll [on the floor laughing].

Self sabotage and self mutilation are strange things to do, but then so is suicide. They are symptoms of a very sick society. It is no measure of health to be well adjusted to a broken system. There can be no pride or honour in being able to turn a blind eye to wrongdoing.

I knew what I was doing. I could have held back. I could have buried my feelings and kept my mouth shut. I could have bitten my tongue. However, things have been eating away inside of me, like acid dissolving the container it's kept in. It was time to vent some toxic gas.


This is all a rather extreme form of bridge burning. I'm really pretty sickened by what global banking and corporate culture is doing to the world and I want to do the right thing. I want to whistleblow on all the life-wrecking and economy destroying corrupt bullshit that I have had to endure.

It's not going to do me any favours, it's not going to make me any friends, it's not going to make me rich, famous or popular, but it has to be done. Somebody has to stand up, be counted, and do the damn right thing. It's going to hurt me, a lot.

Is this some personal grievance? Well I wouldn't be so passionate if it wasn't personal, but it's not personal in the way that you probably assume that it is. I was a Griffin Saver with Midland Bank since I was a little boy, and I've always loved HSBC and I was so proud to start work for them, age 21. Later, in 2003, I was amongst the first 8,000 people to work in the prestigious 8 Canada Square... headquarters of the HSBC Group Plc, which employs 245,000 people worldwide.

If you look after me, I will look after you. Actually I tend to do things the other way around. I will look after you on the assumption that once I have proven to you - beyond all reasonable doubt - that I am adding value to your organisation, you will look after me, to some extent. Sadly, the way the system works is to try and get blood out of the proverbial stone.

Yes, the employees of global banks are driven very hard indeed, but they share so little of the reward, in terms of the wealth that they generate for their masters. The customers of global banking pay huge sums of money for financial services, but it's them who still toil all hours to service their debts, rather than being enriched by the products they are sold.

Midland Bank

Consumers are being sold a lie. They are being told that products and services will make them happier, richer, more attractive, more successful. The truth is that the only people who will get rich are those who own and operate the pyramid schemes. There simply aren't enough pay rises and promotions for you to be able to reach the rungs on the ladder where you will be able to see your kids and sleep at night... you're going to be stuck on that treadmill for the rest of your life, sorry.

It's not market economics that is broken. The markets really are efficient. However, they are not free from political influence. They are also not immune from manipulation by exceedingly wealthy individuals and institutions. Here's how it works...

Imagine if I were to buy all the insulin producing factories. Building a factory takes quite a long time. During the time that I own and operate a monopoly on insulin production, and the time that a competitor could enter the market that I have monopolised, the demand for insulin is going to remain constant, because diabetics don't want to die. So, if I am in control of the supply, and I know that demand is constant, then I can demand practically whatever price I want. That's market economics.

We see artificial scarcity created through cartels in many industries. Diamonds are only worth as much as they are on the markets because the De Beers family has such a large monopoly that they can control the amount of diamonds supplied to the market. Oil is only worth as much as it is because the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) can artificially control supply in order to maintain high prices. They are quite open about their monopoly, their cartel.

So you can't eat diamonds or money, but we do need energy. Money is the way that energy is swapped for goods and services, like food. It's easier to grow more food or make more goods, using energy that has been generated from a power station, rather than by manpower. Welcome to the industrial revolution.

Technology has made vast efficiency gains in terms of being able to move money around to get it to where it can work most effectively, but it doesn't mean that the system can't be gamed. In fact the whole financial system is a giant game. We need to remember that it's simply a way of keeping score and deciding who - as a person - is somehow 'worth' more than another, using some arbitrary measure.

That's right isn't it? The people in the West are 'worth' a lot more than the people in the developing world. Because they have more zeros on the end of a computer system that is keeping score, they get to have all the food, shelter, medicine, education, transport etc. and everybody else is a worthless slave. The human lives in the developing world are clearly not worth anything because their electronic bank balance is as good as zero, if not negative.


You can quite clearly see from the image above, who the superior being is. Yes, it's the one with the biggest bank balance in the global casino. They're the winner. Gold medal for them, hurrah!

Actually, huge numbers of people in the developing world have been saddled with debt that they didn't even agree to. Their nation's leaders signed away their natural resources, signed huge loan agreements to pay for some multinational to come and bleed the wealth, and then mortgaged every man, woman and child to pay for it all. That's really not acceptable.

When the people inside that country get a bit p1ssed off that their leaders have sold them down the river, then the developed nations can sell a bunch of guns, tanks, artillery and warplanes to keep their people in check. It's the gift that keeps on giving.

Oh, and when the people have really had enough, then it's time to bomb all the roads, bridges, schools, hospitals, power stations, sewerage plants, factories etc. etc. so that they have to have the developed nations come and rebuild it all again using yet more lovely lovely loans.

Yes, economic slavery is the New World Order. Yes, you might not see people in physical chains toiling in the plantations in your actual country, but somebody still has to grow your sugar, wheat, cotton, coffee etc. etc. Did you grow it yourself? Did you see where it was grown? Do you know anything about the life of the people who grew your food?

We're all rather busy in our wanky make-work jobs, feeling all high powered in a suit in a swanky glass & steel office, pressing buttons in the lift and doing the photocopying... great, but how many meals does it put on the table? Has it stopped war and human suffering? Has it stopped the spread of preventable disease? Has it saved the life of sick people?

Wrong Wrong Wrong

I'm fed up of being shouted down by people with vested interests. I just wanted to do the right thing at HSBC and I got muscled out for escalating my concerns in line with my moral duty and legal responsibility to the shareholders and customers. I actually wanted to try and save jobs too.

So this is a call to action that is not some viral marketing, psychologically A-B tested, clickbait horseshit spam scam. This is not some pump and dump. This is not me grinding an axe because of a personal grievance. This is about the big picture and a sickness on all our souls, if you are part of the perpetration of the economic enslavement of the developing world.

In actual fact, the wrongdoing extends to your own doorstep. Somebody you know is in distress because of consumer lending. Their life and livelihood is under threat because they were told to borrow, borrow, borrow! Buy now, pay later! 12 months interest free credit! Low rates! Consume consume consume!

The whole ponzi scheme is set up to get people paid out by suckering other people in. Sure, my life looks fantastic with my riverside apartment, and of course I've had cars and boats and luxury holidays and hot tubs and flat screen TVs and Macbooks and iPhones and gadgets and technology galore. It doesn't make you happy, and eventually you realise the human cost. You wake up and smell the coffee.

So, as Nicholas "Mr Ethical" Wilson (@nw_nicholas) says:

I have been radicalised by HSBC/Tory fraud & corruption

Yup, I woke up one day and realised I couldn't carry on being part of something I knew was wrong, from the depths of my experience in my 19 year career as an IT consultant to global banks. It made me very sick to be living with such internal conflict. It made me upset to see talented professionals being completely ignored.

You can't buy me. You can pay for my opinion, but you don't get to choose what my opinion is. I will give you my opinion based on my experience and an objective analysis of all the evidence that I can gather. If you don't like that opinion, it's not up for debate, unless you are qualified to contest what I'm saying.

So my approach is very unorthodox, but the orthodoxy led us to the brink of economic armageddon, so why should I conduct myself in a manner which is clearly misconduct? Only an idiot expects to see different results each time they do the same thing. The only reason to play by the old rules is to protect the old system, but that system has failed.

HSBC Motivational Poster

Thankfully, there are all these motivational posters around HSBC telling you what to do if your manager isn't listening and the number one project is going down the shitter. If you're a consultant, you're specifically paid for your expert opinion... and very highly paid too. Lots and lots of shareholder money is being spent on the number one project in the biggest bank in Europe (HSBC) unsurprisingly.

So, what happens if you do speak up? Well, I'm not giving out any prizes for correct guesses.

But maybe my contribution just wasn't valued? Maybe I wasn't pulling my weight in the team? Maybe I have too much of a high opinion of my expertise?


The email from the HSBC CIO in charge of the number one project in the biggest bank in Europe reads as follows:

"I cannot thank you enough for the work you have put into this and for your commitment"

So, I'm a little bit confused. The Programme Director also told me, in front of loads of people, that he was really happy with my work... shortly before I was sacked. Curious, oh so very curious.

Anyway, I've got no mandate, no authority to communicate these things, so I'm just going to wait and see what happens. Let's see what happens with the Deferred Prosecution Agreement (DPA) and whether the US Department of Justice is satisfied with the naughty banks who have managed to allegedly commit crimes but not been prosecuted for them.

Good luck, I say to them. Like I say, I've been a Griffin Saver with Midland Bank/HSBC since I was a little boy. I'm very loyal.

Merry Christmas!

Level 9, 8 Canda Square




Reputational Damage

5 min read

This is a story about loyalty...

Griffin Saver

Midland Bank was taken over by HSBC (Hong Kong & Shanghai Banking Corporation) in 1992 and in June this year, HSBC announced that they were going to bury the Midland brand. I think that's a real shame.

I have family connections with both Sheffield, UK and Hong Kong, SAR, China. I have a very personal connection with The Bank as it's affectionately known in Hong Kong. I even learnt to speak Chinese, with the intention of furthering my career with HSBC, in the Far East.

HSBC had the 'prime' years of my life, and they taught me a hell of a lot. Not just how to drink like a fish, and prop yourself up with vast quantities of strong coffee. It might not have come across with a few of my previous blog posts, but I really do love Midland Bank and HSBC.

CIO of Global Standards

That's a snippet of an email I personally got from the CIO who is in charge of the #1 project in the biggest bank in Europe, which did $6bn of profit in the last quarter... I'm talking about HSBC of course.

So, I rather burnt myself out trying to get the #1 project back on track. Of course, heroics are never good. Projects are a team effort, and my actions were just as one tiny member of a very talented and dedicated team.

Did I make a difference? Did I make a noteworthy contribution? Emails like the one above remind me that I was pulling my weight in a big team, helping to get the #1 project over the line in time for the timetable imposed by the Department of Justice, to avoid the Deferred Prosecution Agreement (DPA) which could mean a fine of $5bn, or worse.

So, I'm sure if the project was going wrong, was running late or there were any concerns, that things would be escalated. It's really important that public companies are very careful to tell their shareholders how things are going, and be honest. Those shareholders own that company, and they need the facts in order to make their decisions about how their company should be run.

If you're a HSBC shareholder, you do attend the AGM don't you? You do ask the board some really hard, cutting questions, and demand that your company is run to the very highest standards, don't you? You do demand that your C-suite executives - the CEO etc - are all doing their job effectively and are keeping you, the owner (limited by shares) informed of everything that you need to know.

Clear Conscience

It's actually a legal requirement, and part of the role of the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) to keep public companies honest. If a group of people knew that there was a problem in a company before the public did, they would be able to sell their shares before that news became general knowledge, and as such they would be able to profit at the public's expense.

Insider dealing is a serious crime, as is knowingly withholding information from shareholders, when issues are being escalated.

For me, a clear desk is not a clear conscience. If I know that some wrongdoing is being perpetrated, the fact that it is a well guarded secret does not make it OK, for me. If you've taken the public's money, when you floated a company on the stock exchange, then you have duties to those shareholders. It's an issue of morality.

Very few white-collar criminals go to jail and I'm really not OK with that. Many people's life savings and pensions have been obliterated by white-collar criminals, who think that the law doesn't apply to them.

Cases brought against companies are incredibly hard to fight. Big companies have big legal teams, and the cases are so hard to prosecute. Plus white-collar criminals are extremely adept at covering their arses. They will make sure they have a fabricated paper-trail that supposedly exonerates them from any personal responsibility. They will make sure that the water is sufficiently muddy that they are really hard to prosecute.

Technology is helping. We can now mine millions of emails and use data visualisation to understand the connection between keywords and people and start to build up a picture of what really went on during the run-up to the eventual downfall of an organisation.

At HSBC on the #1 project in the bank, we started to use a hashtag in our email subject line. That hashtag was . Yes, I saw a lot of that hashtag during my time working on the #1 project in the biggest bank in Europe. I didn't see a lot of , and I'm not sure if I saw any at all, but that's just from memory. I'm sure hoping that somebody tells the shareholders if there's a problem with the #1 project.

It's not my job to communicate to the shareholders. It's somebody else's. The guy in charge of communication left shortly before me. Not sure who's in charge now. I wouldn't really want that job. Jeeps! That'd be a lot of pressure to do the right thing.

I like doing the right thing though. It means I can sleep at night, when there are 245,000 jobs, 220,000 shareholders and a bank that's too big to fail on the line.

Do the right thing.

That is all.

Level 9, 8 Canada Square

I lied on my timesheets. I was actually working every hour that I was awake. I didn't sleep very much, but not because of a guilty conscience, but because of the importance of the project (September 2015)




Eyes Passim

3 min read

This is a story about turning a blind eye...

Fly's Eye

I have a moral dilemma. Do I whistle blow or go public with the things I know, tomorrow, when I lose my contract at HSBC.

How do I know I'm going to lose my contract? Well, I've rattled the cage pretty hard. The problem is that I care more about the shareholders, customers and employees, plus the stability of the global financial system, than I do about some idiots playing silly political games.

Fundamentally, I do believe that markets are efficient if they are free from political influence. Also, markets only really work if there is free trade and a single currency. Trade tarriffs, sanctions and so-called 'hard' currencies are the new way that wars are waged and nations enslaved, and I'm not OK with that.

It's pretty clear that a crash is inevitable now, but I don't want to see the baby thrown out with the bath water. The laws, financial instruments, systems and infrastructure that allow capital to flow, should not be swept away.

Anti-capitalism is wrong. It's the perversion of capitalism by 'rigging the system' like Bretton Woods, that is wrong. It's the insanity of having financial instruments that are not underwritten with collatteral, like Credit Default Swaps, that is wrong. It's the institutional investors who buy every company of a certain market cap, thus creating a market for junk stock, provided its valuation can be pumped up unrealistically with ridiculous Profit:Equity (P:E) ratios (a.k.a Price:Earnings).

If we expel the money lenders from their temples, we only set back our civilisation. There will be chaos and greater inequality as a result. Just look at how the oligarchs monopolised everything after the fall of the USSR.

I'm really cut up right now by the strong desire to do the right thing, and I know that it will probably hurt me most of all. However, I'm not out to hurt anybody. I just couldn't live with myself knowing I stood by and didn't do anything when evil deeds are afoot.

Even if they're not totally evil deeds. People are still sleepwalking right into another major crisis. This one doesn't even seem to have an elegant central system designed to help things unwind with at least a little preplanning. It's all about that lack of joined-up-thinking that will cause an unpredictable domino-effect.

So, wish me luck in the morning.

What are You looking at?

I wish I was a cat and I didn't know any better. Ignorance is bliss (October 2014)



Due Diligence

5 min read

This is a story about social engineering...

Bus Stop Club

The first rule of bus stop club is: you don't talk about bus stop club. The second rule of bus stop club is: you don't talk about bus stop club. The third rule of bus stop club is: don't jump off the bus stop... it's quite high.

I work on the Customer Due Diligence project for HSBC. We are expected to do due diligence on 48 million customers in 61 countries worldwide. HSBC is not very good at due diligence, mainly because they won't listen to the experts.

When I was employed - as a disguised employee - by HSBC to work on the project, I was no fixed abode (homeless) and I was at the limit of my overdraft and credit cards. I had no income. I guess that technically made me bankrupt... except that it took me 4 days to get the job. That's a record... it normally takes me less.

When you are honest, hard working, dedicated, an expert, passionate and have integrity, you don't tend to have a lot of problems finding work. My main problem is finding anything that I'm interested in doing. Making the lives of 48 million customers a little better, and trying to save 245,000 jobs and create 13,000 new jobs is interesting to me. That's why I got up and went to the interview with HSBC.

So, this sounds super arrogant. Yes, sorry. There's absolutely no doubt that I'm only a very small cog in a very big machine. However, try buying a Rolex watch and removing one of the little cogs and see if it still works.

Teamwork is what gets stuff done, but every member of the team needs to be valued equally. Equality is important. Valuing people is important. Everything is awesome when we are part of a team. Everything is better when we stick together.

Nick in Blue

Here's me going to my interview... just opposite the bus stop where me and my other homeless friends hung out. I actually wasn't going to go... there were far more interesting projects at Meganews Corporation, Mega Credit Card, Mega TV Station, Mega Investment Bank(s), Mega Petroleum Company... London is not short of roles for software engineers. The agent convinced me to get up, have a shower, get dressed and go to the damn interview. I was glad that I did.

The way the whole system is set up with economic incentives, meant that rules were probably bent in terms of background checks. Nobody cared that my credit score was probably terrible - living on your credit card because society has abandoned you, is not great for your computer credit score. Nobody cared that I was no fixed abode (homeless) because the whole thing was arranged via email and mobile phone.

I guess this was an experiment in social mobility. I can tell you where all the 'gates' are that will prevent the 'wrong sort' of people from getting ahead. I did nothing illegal or fraudulent. I was just trying to get myself off the streets. I was just trying to move from surviving to thriving. I was barely surviving. I had countless hospital admissions in 2014 and 2015. Living on the streets and in hostels is hard.

Imagine being in a 14-bed dormitory with your one suit. Imagine how many people there are snoring in that room. Imagine how many people want to use the one bathroom in the morning. Imagine people knocking your ironed shirt off the bunk bed where it was hanging up, onto the dirty floor. Just put it in the washing machine, right? Oh... you share that washing machine with 120 people? Oh dear.

Nice View

I used to go and sleep in Royal Kensington Park Gardens or on Hampstead Heath just to get some damn peaceful sleep. The sound of snoring and smell of sweaty bodies just gets too much to bear at times. Yes, sleeping under the stars and waking up to beautiful views like the one above is kinda sh1ts and giggles... when the weather permits.

Yes, you have to be very in tune with nature, with the weather and the seasons, if you want to survive. You also need some really high quality gear. The only reason why I was able to cope through a pretty rough patch is that I'm well trained and disciplined. I have the Dorset Expeditionary Society to thank for that.

I can live small and neat. Take only photographs, leave only footprints. Park rangers used to leave me alone because I would be camping out with nothing but respect for my environment and mindful of the fact that I'm just one of millions of Londoners using the incredible green spaces.

Fundamentally, we are animals. We are animals that need to sleep and eat. We need to be warm and feel comforted by the presence of each other... we are social animals after all. We were not supposed to be isolated in a concrete jungle, surrounded by glass and steel and right-angles that would never appear in a natural setting.

I am also seasonally affected. I think it's bad enough to say that it qualifies as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). When the clocks go back and the days get shorter, I feel the need to hibernate. I get tired & depressed. Especially if my employer is not particularly supportive about me taking time out to top up the sunshine that I need to live. I'm literally solar powered... we all are.

Jungle Kitty

Frankie the cat in his natural habitat. He loved his garden. So did I (June 2007)



Epidemic of Human Greed

8 min read

This is a story of a sabbatical that I never got to take...

My Life in Clothes

Anybody who says I'm ungrateful for my life needs to have their head examined. My life has been paired down to the nth degree. Anybody who has lived aboard a 22ft boat for weeks knows how to live a small life.

In 2003, I asked HSBC if I could take a sabbatical, so that I could backpack around Australia, New Zealand and South-East Asia. The important thing about the trip, for me, was that I needed to make more friends and do a bit of independent growing up, away from the Angel Islington and Canary Wharf, which my whole life revolved around.

My old boss, an Exeter graduate who had completed an M.Phil (Master of Philosophy degree) in Epidemiology at Oxford, was a brilliant guy and did his level best to get this agreed with Human Resources. The rule at the time was that you had to have been an employee for 2 years, which I had been. It had been agreed and I started to get excited about tying my knapsack to a stick and setting off on the road to secure and happy adulthood, with some brilliant travel stories to tell when I got back.

Sadly, HR decided to change the rules under our feet, and the trip of a lifetime became a choice between resignation or cancelling my trip. I chose the latter, as I had a secure job with a conservative bank that I have loved since being a Griffin Saver, in the days of Midland Bank. Working for HSBC was very personal for me. Also, memories of the Dot Com crash and 9/11 were fresh in my memory. I valued my job, and I liked working for my boss. He's a great guy: so disciplined and inspiring.

Possibly as some kind of compensation (I'm totally speculating here) my boss allowed me to ride his coat tails into a very important project, whereupon I sulked for months and months, because I hadn't fully comprehended what he might have done, in light of the clear importance of the project that I was a part of. My boss exposed me to the very best people within HSBC, and perhaps tried to pair and mentor me - perhaps deliberately, who can say? - with people who are still to this day an inspiration in everything I think and do. I can't help but well up with tears thinking about what an amazing time that was, even if I was sullen and sulky for so much of it.

When the pressure really ramped up on the project, towards the go-live date, I flicked the switch from 'zoned out' to 'warp drive' and started putting in the hours I should have been. I had wasted a lot of time, so this was hardly anything more than working as hard as I should have been all along, but nobody should underestimate the effort that was put in, either.

Anyway, I was eventually ranked - quite fairly - on my average effort over the whole year, rather than just on the 'heroic' efforts towards the end. There was one issue that I was very very tenacious with, having to work with operations, software vendors, networks, sysadmins and security to track down a particularly nigglesome problem. This taught me some well-needed discipline, but not, however, much humility.

My boss did his very best to knock a streak of arrogance out of a jumped-up young upstart: I found it very easy to do the work that was asked of me, but I was lazy, sloppy and work-shy, to be honest. Nothing was much of a challenge, so instead, I filled my time reading the BBC News website, chatting with my friends on the Kiteboarding forums and planning my next weekend trip to the beach or overseas Kiteboarding trip.

I suppose you could say that I had my cake and ate it. I got to continue my career in London, and I also got to travel the globe and meet a set of friends who became a part my life, almost like University or "gap-yah" friends (gap year to those who don't speak posh) would be in the lives of my rich upper-middle-class white spoiled brat peers.

However, I still harboured a bitter resentment against the world for having 'conspired' to deny me a year of diminished responsibility, casual sex with sun-kissed young women with sand in their hair, and generally having fun in the playground of World's backpacking hostels. I felt I was entitled to this, like all the University-educated upper-middle-class twentysomethings in Banking.

I couldn't see that I had kind of won. I had kind of gotten both. I couldn't see that my life was awesome already.

When my boss told me that I been ranked just below the very top performing employees of the company that year, I was mighty p1ssed off. He did a very good job of staying calm and not telling such an arrogant little sh1t to p1ss off. Partly at issue, was that entitlement is bred into us by our upbringing and society around us.

We are told what to expect depending on our position in the World. Perhaps we also misunderestimate (sic.) the effort that is going on beneath the serene surface: some of us are wild swans, with our legs frantically paddling under the surface, while we glide along the surface looking cool, calm, collected & awesome.

Tony Blair told the world that 50% of people should get to go to University. I wanted to go to University, but always felt such a deep sense of responsibility to be self-sufficient and work hard, it seemed decadent and profligate to spend so much money, geting into debt, just drinking and reading books. I have always been excellent at cramming for exams and words seem to flow out of me like so much water in a sieve, so that part didn't exactly worry me.

It's always been a bugbear of mine that people think that education is a right. It's not. It's a privilege, but it is also essential to advance civilisation and humanity. It can improve lives and society more than any other gift that we can give to the developing nations. Teach a man to fish etc. etc.

People have tried to gently, and not-so-gently steer me towards teaching. I loved my teachers and I love teaching. I can remember all the names of my teachers, and I still fondly recall so much of what they taught me in life, and how they inspired me. I hated school though, because the bullying was so unbearable. But then again, I was always terrified of electricity and ended up becoming an electrician, so fears can be overcome.

I think I know now that, when I'm done with wearing a suit, I want to teach - so much that it makes me absolutely sob my eyes out as this realisation dawns on me - Physics, Maths and Design/Technology/IT working with underpriviledged kids in state comprehensive schools in Inner City London. This doesn't have to be soon. It's something to aspire to for semi-retirement, I think.

The only way that I can think to make that a reality from my current situation of zero cash, zero assets and massive debts, is by draining the swamps in banking, as an IT contractor, and by changing the political landscape of the UK so that we pay Teachers a decent living wage and top up the salary of those working in London so that they can afford to live here.

Ideally, I would like to finish the project I'm on, and deliver of a stint of many months and years of steady high-quality work for the global bank I have always loved admired and respected the most. HSBC really is a great place to work, and you really can be reassured that when we are all done, it's going to be good for another 150 years of helping people and businesses to achieve their full potential.

Maybe I'm just a hopeless dreamer. Answers on a postcard if you've got a better idea.

You are such bores

Anyone who says 'narcissist' to somebody who has decided to wear a grey suit for 18 years is going to get a punch in the mouth (Winter 2014)