Skip to main content

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

twitter.com/ManicGrant

nick@manicgrant.com

facebook.com/manicgrant

 

I Let My Friend Commit Suicide

8 min read

This is a story about playing god...

Phone

On the 10th of December 2017, a very close friend of mine got me a job at an investment bank. He knew that I was virtually bankrupt. He knew that I had very nearly managed to commit suicide. He knew that my self-esteem was at rock bottom and that I had nothing going for me: no fixed abode, no money, mountainous debts, alcoholism and large gaps on my CV which were difficult to explain.

My friend rang me up and asked if I was sober enough to create a piece of software for the bank he was working for. I said that I could be as drunk as a skunk and still make a decent software system, but that I wasn't in too bad shape - he could count on me to deliver a successful project, if he recommended me as a freelance software engineer to his boss.

If you're particularly interested in the more identity-theft worthy items of my story, I present to you above, the proof that I had proudly put on my suit and gone to work in the Square Mile - also known as the City of London - thanks to the endorsement of my friend. I had spent the day before with my friend and his boss in Warsaw, where they were based, and I was allowed to work in the London office, which is pictured.

A year later my friend phoned me and told me that he was going to commit suicide, by taking an overdose of insulin. I asked him how much insulin he possessed and in what form - vials and 'rapid delivery' pen cartridges - so I could calculate how many doses of insulin he had, and whether it was a lethal dose.

Insulin aspart units is what the layman needs to understand. One 10ml vial might contain 1,000 units. One 3ml pen cartridge might contain 300 units. The important thing is to add up all the vials and cartridges that somebody has, and then you can work out how many units of insulin aspart they have in their possession. My friend confirmed that he had many thousands of units of insulin aspart. The highest recorded survival of an insulin overdose was much lower than the amount my friend possessed, and that patient was left very badly brain damaged. In short, it was a credible suicide threat.

(FYI: people have made surprisingly frequent disclosures to me that they plan to commit suicide by overdose, but this was the first credible overdose plan I'd heard)

So, having scoured the medical literature for the LD50 - the dose that will kill 50% of people - and found that my friend could definitely commit suicide with his insulin, I then did further reading about how long it would take him to die, how long he would remain in a state where he could be saved, and how much suffering and pain he would endure.

Incidentally, he phoned me on a Monday morning while I was at work. I was in Wales and he was in Poland. I was frantically doing this research as rapidly as I could, while trying to keep my friend talking to me; stalling him from following through with his plans.

My research concluded that he would suffer a short period of panic and disorientation - including extreme hunger - before blacking out. He would quickly fall into a hypoglycaemic coma, and would suffer no pain.

Far more disturbingly, my research concluded that he could be 'saved' by rapid medical intervention - an intravenous infusion of glucose - for a substantial period of time: 2 or even 3 days would be 'survivable'. The worst possible outcome would be that he would be 'saved' after 12 to 36 hours, when he might still be in a coma, but he would have suffered terrible brain damage. The case study I had read of the patient who holds the 'record' for the highest ever insulin overdose which was survived, was left with terrible brain damage. All my research led to a single conclusion: if my friend injected all his insulin then I had to call the emergency services IMMEDIATELY or wait until he was beyond the point of 'saving'.

This sounds like playing god, doesn't it?

You remember that time your kid was choking on a bit of Lego and you whacked them on the back so they coughed it up? That was playing god. You remember when your dog was getting old and sick, and you decided they had no quality of life anymore, so you had the dog euthanised? That was playing god.

I'm not a doctor.

I'm not a vet.

I'm not a parent.

What exactly qualifies a person to make a life/death decision?

In this instance, I knew that my friend's diabetes had ruined his circulation and his feet were becoming gangrenous, that he was becoming jaundiced and that his eyesight was failing, because of his mismanagement of his diabetes. In short, he struggled to go about his ordinary daily business, and his health was rapidly deteriorating. I'm not a doctor, but I'm not a magician either - nobody can wave a magic wand and make the chronic irreversible health damage from alcoholism and diabetes disappear. I'm not a doctor, but I know that they don't give liver transplants to alcoholics. I'm not a doctor, but I know how long somebody has to live once their liver is starting to fail and they continue to drink multiple bottles of vodka every day.

Ultimately, it wasn't my decision to make.

My friend phoned me because he knew that I would understand the situation and that I wouldn't panic and phone the emergency services. He knew that he could say goodbye to me, and I would let him die with dignity; in the manner of his own choosing.

Let's not fuck about here: sitting doing nothing, waiting for your friend to die before you ring the emergency services to go and get the body before it starts decaying, is an awful, awful, awful thing to have to do.

Can you imagine knowing that your friend is dying, and that the best thing to do is to do nothing? Every single moment of your childhood, you were told to dial the emergency services if somebody was sick or dying. There was no ambiguity about what to do when somebody's life's in danger: ring the emergency services. EMERGENCY! EMERGENCY!

If I phoned the emergency services too soon, my friend would have been 'saved' and then would no longer have had the opportunity to end his life in the manner of his own choosing. He probably would have been extremely brain damaged, and therefore unable to attempt suicide again. He would have lived out his short remaining time in a hospital bed, dying of liver failure, which is a very unpleasant way to die. Sure, the hospital would have made him as 'comfortable' as possible, but what comfort is there in being bedridden, watching your friends and relative weep and wail about your imminent inevitable demise. My friend had considered all these things.

Did I mention we discussed all this? We discussed all this at length. I went to a great deal of effort to persuade my friend of more positive alternatives. I tried my very best to convince him that it might be much better to use the short time he had left - before liver failure killed him - in order to take a trip of a lifetime, and/or see loved ones.

We have to understand that this was his decision, based on the terrible choices he faced. There were no 'good' options. He had to choose between a quick painless death or a slow painful one, with all of his family, friends and co-workers by his bedside, watching him slip away.

What my personal opinion of the 'right' choice was, is of no concern. My friend asked me to keep it a secret that he was killing himself, until he was dead, and that's what I did. I honoured his wishes. I was a loyal friend who did a very difficult thing, because I knew it's what my friend wanted.

"Oh but your friend really wanted to live" or "it was a cry for help" or "you should always phone the emergency services; you're not qualified" etc. etc. are all the very many opinions I have to defend myself against. Bullshit. Bullshit. Bullshit.

I spent 3 days, not sleeping, not able to think about anything other than the fact that my friend was dying, and then I phoned the emergency services to go and retrieve my friend's lifeless body and notify his next of kin. It was the hardest thing I've ever done in my life. It was also the right thing to do because it was the dying wish of my friend. There were no good options. I chose the least bad option.

Today is the anniversary of the phone-calls, the discussions and the decision. Today is the last time I spoke to my very dear friend. For exactly one year, I've had to live with the guilt of knowing that I kept a terrible secret, for just long enough that my friend could pass away painlessly.

It's a terrible thing, but I let my friend commit suicide, and I did nothing.

 

Tags:

 

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 Ten of #NaNoWriMo2019

9 min read

Blogger's Digest: a Novel

Contents

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

Chapter Thirteen

Chapter Fourteen

Chapter Ten

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Next chapter...

 

Blogger's Digest - Day Eight of #NaNoWriMo2019

11 min read

Blogger's Digest: a Novel

Contents

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

Chapter Thirteen

Chapter Fourteen

Chapter Eight

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Next chapter...

 

Blogger's Digest - Day Seven of #NaNoWriMo2019

10 min read

Blogger's Digest: a Novel

Contents

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

Chapter Thirteen

Chapter Fourteen

Chapter Seven

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Next chapter...

 

Blogger's Digest - Day Six of #NaNoWriMo2019

14 min read

Blogger's Digest: a Novel

Contents

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

Chapter Thirteen

Chapter Fourteen

Chapter Six

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"What are you saying?" she asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"I'm sure we'll manage."

I laughed at the ridiculousness of the notion.

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

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

* * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Next chapter...

 

Blogger's Digest - Day Five 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 Five

I was sat in a small meeting room in the headquarters of the investment bank from which I had resigned.

"Why do you want to come back to work for us?" asked the lady from Human Resources, who was interviewing me.

I had passed three rounds of interviews, and this was the final interview, which would include salary negotiations. It was also an opportunity for Human Resources to veto my re-employment, if they felt that there was any reason why I should not be allowed back into the firm. This lady from Human Resources was giving me a grilling.

* * *

After nearly two years of back-breaking labour, spent covered in brick dust, plaster and with fibreglass insulation irritating my skin, earning a modest income as a self-employed electrician, I'd had quite enough of living the dream; being my own boss wasn't all it was cracked up to be.

My customers had been mostly nice people, but one or two had formed the mistaken belief - due to watching too many sensationalistic TV programs and reading the Daily Mail - thinking that everybody they dealt with in the building trade was a rogue trader; a cowboy. There was a general impression that the work I did was easy money, when in fact I often under-charged my customers, because I wanted to build my reputation for value-for-money. I wanted to get word-of-mouth recommendations, but it took a lot of time and effort to establish my business.

It wasn't helpful that every customer thought that they were a master of price negotiations, and that my quotations included exorbitant mark-ups, on the assumption that I would be beaten down on price. Pay less; get less - that's the simple rule of thumb when dealing with tradesmen, engineers or other professionals. I'm not saying that I cut corners, but you can be damn sure that charged for every single item which wasn't on the original quote, if the customer had insisted on haggling over my original quote.

One particular awkward customer had caused an almighty scene and threatened to make a complaint to the professional body I was a member of, demanding to have me struck off as an approved and certified contractor. She was upset because the invoice I presented her with included a lot of extra things, which she had asked me to do, which had not been part of the original quote. I had told her - verbally - that I would have to charge extra for the time and materials, to which she replied "just add it to the bill". After patiently and calmly explaining that I was not operating a charity, and that she, as a first-time property developer, must understand that my time and materials must be paid for, or else I would make a loss, she continued to have a tantrum. I lost my patience and said that I would begin the process of removing all of the wiring which I had installed. She thought I was bluffing, but as took my wire cutters out and made the first moves to begin to sever all brand new cables, she quickly backed down and agreed to pay in full.

A couple of weeks after the incident with the customer who had threatened to make a complaint against me, she phoned me and begged me to come back to do some more work for her: word had got around that she was a hopeless dreadful amateur wannabe property developer. She had been effectively black-balled by the local tradesmen, who all gave her quotations which were ten times the amount they would normally charge, because she was such a pain to work for.

The customers who accepted the original quotation and paid their bill quite gladly, were unfortunately far fewer than those who tried to haggle and then grumbled about parting with their cash. It was dirty hard physical work, and there was little gratitude from the customers.

A dangerous electrical installation had nearly killed the young daughter of a customer - she had been mildly electrocuted when he had removed a vital piece of safety equipment while doing DIY. This customer was aggrieved that I had immediately cut all the power to his house until the fault was rectified. It was a very modest sum of money for the remedial work, but this man remained utterly convinced I was trying to rip him off. I feared that he would make matters worse if I left the property unsupervised. I had seen screwdrivers, spanners and pieces of thick wire, jammed into fuse-boards, where somebody had been so desperate to restore power that they decided to do away with a vital piece of safety equipment. I tried to explain that her mild electrocution could easily have been fatal, but he was hung up on the work "shock".

"She just got a shock, is all that happened" he said, repeating himself.

"Yes. The soles of her shoes, wool carpet, underlay, wooden floorboards and everything else between her and the ground insulated her from getting a much bigger shock. If she had touched something like the taps in the bathroom or kitchen at the same time as any of the earthed electrical appliance, she would be dead" I patiently explained.

"But she's not dead. She just got a shock."

"Yes. Every electrical appliance in your house that has exterior metal parts, like your kettle, your toaster, your microwave, your heated towel rail - all of these are currently live because of an electrical fault."

"Why didn't the fuse trip then?" he asked.

"Because you removed the earth rod" I explained.

"But that was months ago. Everything was working fine."

"It was working fine, but it was a death-trap waiting to happen. By removing the earth rod, as soon as you had an electrical fault, everything electrical with metal parts is now capable of electrocuting you."

"But it was just a shock."

"If you touch something live with your hand, you get a shock. It hurts. If you touch something live with your hand while your other hand is touching something grounded then you are going to die." I explained, realising that it was a futile waste of my time, but trying to be patient.

"So we'll be OK? We just won't touch anything made of metal until this gets fixed?" he asked, with his voice and face lit up with the hope that he could avoid paying the modest amount of money to rectify the fault.

"No you will not be OK. Your electrical system is lethal and I have condemned the installation. I cannot restore your power until this is fixed"

"You're ripping me off. This is blackmail."

"Sir, I assure you that all I want to do is make sure nobody is killed."

"Are you trying to tell me that just disconnecting that one skinny little green wire has broken my whole electrical system?" he asked.

"Green and yellow" I corrected him. "4 millimetres thick is not skinny, and it's a vital part of your electrical system. Without it the fault which has developed has made your entire electrical system lethal. I suppose you are correct: your whole electrical system is broken, although the remedy is quite quick, simple and inexpensive, as I explained."

"If it's so inexpensive, why don't you just do it, given that you seem to care so much about safety and wotnot?"

I'd had too many of these conversations, where customers thought I was providing some kind of free charity service. My customers were generally wealthy, reflecting the local neighbourhood, and none of them were pleading poverty: they all had the means to pay for the services which they requested and required, but they felt as though I was ripping them off, and I could not understand why.

Perhaps I was too kind and patient. Perhaps I wasted too much time trying to explain the complexities and the technicalities of the issues. Perhaps I should have just done what other electricians did, which was to simply hand over a copy of a piece of paper explaining why their electrical system was condemned, and drive off, leaving them without power. Perhaps it would have been better to let the customers come to me, begging me to have their power restored, rather than wasting my breath trying to to reason with unreasonable customers.

I had become an electrician because I thought I was providing a useful, valuable, high-quality and good-value service, which my customers would be grateful for, but on the whole, they had viewed me as a rip-off merchant rogue-trader cowboy, and I'd had enough of it.

* * *

There were 4 seats around a square table in the meeting room. I had chosen to sit adjacent to the lady from Human Resources, because it seemed less adversarial - better to have no barriers in-between us. She studied my face with a piercing gaze, sizing me up.

"Why do I want to come back?" I repeated, rhetorically. "I really enjoyed my time here. It's a fantastic place to work"

"Why did you leave then?" she asked.

"Like I said in my exit interview, I wanted to go travelling. I never had a gap year before or after university. I felt that I should see some more of the world before starting a family."

"You spent two years travelling?"

"I spent a year travelling and a year writing a novel" I lied.

Why would I lie? It seemed to me as though my time spent as an electrician would detract from my spotless CV and the fine reputation I had when I'd left the world of investment banking. I knew that it was acceptable to go on sabbatical to pursue rich-man's hobbies, such as travelling, or to work on a project like renovating a house. The ideal answer would have been to say that I had been building a school in Africa, but I wasn't prepared to lie to that extent.

"What's the book called? Can I read it?" she asked. I had the distinct impression that she was feigning interest, and merely testing me to see if I was lying.

"It's not finished yet. I'd rather not talk too much about it. I'm going to publish under a pseudonym. It's quite personal."

The Human Resources lady shuffled her notes and re-seated herself. She seemed a little irritated, but to continue to press me for more details about what I had been doing since I resigned, would be confrontational and rude. With resignation which was physically palpable, she moved onto her next topic.

"Do you think you'll get wanderlust again? Do you think you'll write another book?" she asked.

"No. The whole point of taking the career break was to get all that out of my system. I can write and travel as much as I want when I retire" I said. "I'm already going to have to work extra hard to make up for lost time" I joked, with a wry smile.

This was a pre-planned strategy. I wanted to hint strongly that I was going to be more dedicated to my career than ever, and that my focus was going to be on building up my pension pot. I needed to send an unambiguous message that I could be relied upon to never take another career break, and that I would work hard until the day I retired. This is what the Human Resources lady wanted to hear.

"Did you know that the role you applied for is based in our Brighton office?" she asked.

"I had no idea" I lied.

"It's also not a front office role"

"Yes. I knew that. I fancied a change. The front office can be a little too intense after a while. I felt that the middle office might suit me, having had some space and time to think about the direction I would like my career to go in"

"Not very many people want to leave the front office. Normally it's people from middle office who want to get into the front office roles" she said, a little patronisingly, but she was probing; trying to find out my true motivations.

"This role sounded particularly interesting though. I felt as though it might be a great opportunity for me to bring some of my front office expertise into the middle office, when - as you said yourself - so few people move from the front office to the middle office."

I was lying through my teeth. I knew that leaving the front office would be considered utter madness by almost everyone in the bank, but I had an ulterior motive, which the Human Resources lady was unable to fathom.

"I would, of course, prefer a front office role. Perhaps you're right. I think maybe I will wait for the right front office role to come up. I'm sorry I wasted everyone's time" I said, and began to stand up.

"No, no. Please hang on, Gavin. Just a second. Please. Sorry. I think we maybe got off on the wrong foot" she said, apologetically and with a somewhat smarmy manner. "We have a great deal of difficulty in finding high calibre people who are prepared to move to Brighton, let alone leave the front office" she explained.

"Oh?" I said, as casually as I could manage, feigning a little surprise. "I suppose that comes as no great shock. Most people want the prestige, the salary and the bonuses, which the London front office has to offer."

"And you don't?" she asked.

"No I do. I worked very hard to get into the front office. Like I said, I think it's best if I wait for the right front office role to become available."

"What are your salary expectations?"

"If I could come back on the same salary, before I left, that would be acceptable. I wouldn't accept any less."

"If we were to offer you a signing bonus, generous relocation allowance, and the same salary, would you consider the Brighton role?"

"I would want a more generous pension contribution, to compensate for the lower bonuses I would get in the middle office."

"Would 12% be acceptable? It's going to be a struggle for me to match the total remuneration you were earning in the front office, but it's the best I can offer."

Jackpot. This is exactly how I had planned the negotiations. Of course I wanted to move to Brighton. My relationship with Caroline was on the rocks and maintaining our London lifestyle had made a major dent in my wealth. If I was going to wear the "golden handcuffs" I was going to do it by the seaside, with a London salary - I could live like a king in Brighton. During my time as an electrician, I had learned to be a little more frugal and careful with money.

I was going back into investment banking, but in the sedate world of the middle office, I could do the job with my eyes closed and my weekly working week would be less than 50 hours - a fraction of what I had been working before.

I had sold out, again, but I was happy and excited about setting up a new life by the seaside.

 

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...

 

Step Seven: Every Time Is Different

5 min read

This is a story about learning through doing...

Supermarket basket

The difference between an artist and a craftsman, is that a craftsman is honing their skills towards the most perfect and repeatable incarnation of a repetitive task, whereas an artist is honing their skills in general, in order to be able to express whatever they want with an intuitive fluidity. If you or I were "bad at drawing" as so many of us characterise ourselves, then we would spend most of our time grappling with the pencil and paper, instead of drawing the desired thing. The craftsman would be content to produce ever improving facsimiles or the same image, faster and faster, and with less pencil lead used. The artist would not even be aware of the pencil or paper, but instead would be free to express themselves increasingly exactly as they intended.

A reader challenged me to write about what I'm learning, as opposed to writing in my lecturing tone which features quite regularly. Unfortunately they deleted their reply, so I only have my hazy memory as a guide to what their original suggestion was, but my guess would be that they wanted me to write about my experience of learning as a way of teaching.

Every day, I am learning.

Every time I write, I am learning.

This entire exercise, of writing down my stream-of-consciousness, is a learning exercise. I write because it helps me therapeutically, but it also helps me to learn to be a better writer; to express myself in a [hopefully] ever-improving manner. Slowly, the keyboard, the screen, the website - all of this melts away and I'm able to express myself in exactly the way I intended; I put my point across as well as I could ever hope to, although I continually strive to do better.

I'm also learning to be a craftsman. There is a craftsman's psychology, which a person should possess - there are habits to develop, and you must strive towards perfecting repetitive tasks. The tiny details matter. You should attempt to iron out the imperfections and master your tools.

I promise you I am not giving a lecture, again. I'm merely telling you the things that I'm realising - learning - as I'm going along. Right now, as I pen these very words, I am having a learning experience, which I am simultaneously sharing with you.

Of course, the big piece of learning that's happening right now, is that I'm going though yet another period of sobriety. Each time I stop drinking my experiences are different. I am not writing to tell you that I have perfected the art of sobriety. I am writing to share with you my experiences of being an on/off drinker, who has spent relatively lengthy periods as a teetotaller. A member of Alcoholics Anonymous might scoff at my 121 consecutive days of sobriety, but of all my friends and work colleagues, I would be hard-pressed to find another who had equalled that record in their adult life. We might dismiss my present objective of "approximately 6 to 8 weeks of sobriety" as something insignificant and easy, but because you will probably never try to do it and if you do, you will find - as I have - that it's not as easy as it looks, it's important that I document these periods of time.

Of course I am not writing a prescriptive guide on how to stop drinking. Only charlatans and con-men promise that they have a magic cure for alcoholism. The entire rehab and detox industry thrives on its spectacular lack of success, and of course, if there was an easy way out then there wouldn't be such an insatiable appetite for addictive substances, and the corresponding so-called 'cures' for these afflictions.

I note that vast numbers of people stumble upon my website while searching desperately to see if they can quite literally "drink [themselves] sober". I kid you not.

What can I report today, of interest? I've had the perfect storm of a heavy workload at the office, combined with my car breaking down, some horrible administrative tasks which have been very time consuming, and then there is the usual ongoing financial difficulties that I face, and the prospect that my troubled relationship is likely to be dealt a fatal blow, due to the difficulty of two people finding well paid work anywhere except London... and I don't think it would be a good idea for me to move back to London, when my life in Cardiff is going quite well, and is certainly easier and less stressful than it ever was in the capital.

None of what I've written has much to do with [not] drinking alcohol. It's Friday night and I've had a very hard working week, but perhaps my instinct to reach for the bottle to celebrate the commencement of the weekend, has been slightly de-habituated. I have found myself binging on cakes, crisps, biscuits and other salty, fatty and sweet foods, by way of compensation for my otherwise bleak existence. What human being does not reward themselves, either with sex, chocolate, shopping, or something less tolerated by civilised society, and probably more health-damaging?

It feels as though the season to be merry is fast approaching, plus I have social occasions soon where I will absolutely be partaking of an alcoholic beverage or two. I'm quite looking forward to having a cold beer with friends and/or colleagues, and there's nothing wrong about that at all. I'm quite looking forward to rewarding myself with a glass of wine after a hard day at the office, and again, there's nothing wrong with that at all.

What have I learned on my journey today? Nothing really. Except that every day is completely different, and my coping skills are constantly improving.

 

Tags:

 

Step Five: Plan & Strategise

3 min read

This is a story about being cunning...

Panorama

Where I'm currently working, there are very few occasions where it would become apparent that I'm presently teetotal. However, in the financial services districts of London - The Square Mile and Canary Wharf - a teetotaller is automatically suspected of being a recovering alcoholic, which is not a label which anybody wishes to have attached to them, let alone if it's untrue.

One dreadful mistake I made in 2015 was to agree to go to a colleague's birthday party in a cocktail bar, at the top of a skyscraper, with panoramic views over London. It was pretty obvious that alcohol consumption was very much part and parcel of the social engagement, but I agreed to go anyway. Of course, there was a great deal of arm-twisting and attempts to persuade me that "one drink won't hurt", which of course it wouldn't have done, but I pride myself on taking my commitment to challenges seriously, and not taking any short-cuts or cheating. Of course it's totally possible to have a period of so-called abstinence, but break the rules whenever you like, but what have you really achieved? You might as well not have bothered. Anyway, I had a cast-iron excuse, so I managed to swerve having to drink just to prove that I'm not a recovering alcoholic.

The watertight excuse for a period of being teetotal, which I have used before and again now, is to say that I am taking part in the "Go Sober for October" sponsored abstinence from alcohol. Thus, if I face any questions about why I'm not drinking, or pressure to drink, I can easily address that by saying that my sobriety is part of a sponsored charity event.

You might believe that simply saying "no thanks" or "I'm not drinking at the moment" would suffice, but in fact British culture, and especially London banking culture, tends to lend itself towards peer pressure and/or a grilling on your justification for abstinence. I remember one JPMorgan colleague was known throughout the organisation as "that guy who went to The Priory and is a recovering alcoholic" because he didn't drink. As I said before, those kinds of labels and reputation are extremely unhelpful, and indeed detrimental to the impression that your colleagues have of you, such that it might present an [unfair and unjustified] impediment to career progression.

My plan and my strategy is fairly simple: don't have any alcohol in the house, avoid social occasions where drinking is part and parcel of the event and have a cast-iron excuse for being [temporarily] teetotal.

What I noticed in 2015 was how determined people are to get you to drink. I had to fend off an AirBnB host's repeated offers of a drink, despite me making crystal clear that I would not imbibe a single drop of alcohol, because of the aforementioned "Go Sober for October" event. Friends and colleagues went to great lengths to persuade me that I could 'cheat' and it wouldn't matter. I withstood all that arm-twisting, but it wasn't easy, even with my well-laid plans and excellent preparations.

I suppose I'm not the best person to write comprehensively on the topic of being teetotal, because my episodes of abstinence are infrequent. Speak to somebody who's spent any great length of time - years, not days or months - and they will have much better strategies and techniques than I do, for politely declining to drink.

Anyway, it's hard, but it's possible and made easier with some careful preparation.

 

Tags: