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

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Blogger's Digest - Day Fourteen of #NaNoWriMo2019

7 min read

Blogger's Digest: a Novel

Contents

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

Chapter Thirteen

Chapter Fourteen

Chapter Fourteen

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

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

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

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

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

This was not a holiday.

It was never meant to be a holiday.

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

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

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

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

* * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Drunk?" I asked, still perplexed.

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

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

"No, not Nikki. Moinho de Vento."

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

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

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

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

"No. That was it. Thank you."

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

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

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

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

 

Blogger's Digest - Day 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 Four of #NaNoWriMo2019

14 min read

Blogger's Digest: a Novel

Contents

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

Chapter Thirteen

Chapter Fourteen

Chapter Four

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * *

I had quit my job.

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

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

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

* * *

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

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

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

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

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

"But Katie hates camping" protested Caroline.

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

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

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

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

"MALTA DOESN'T COUNT?" I shouted.

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

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

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

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

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

* * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * *

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

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

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

* * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Next chapter...

 

Blogger's Digest - Day Three 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 Three

I'd always been a night owl, and I was so routinely late for work that my colleagues accepted it as perfectly normal and acceptable behaviour for me, but the past few days had been different.

Almost every morning since the start of my career, I had been in the habit of pressing the snooze button on my alarm clock repeatedly, sometimes for well over an hour. I had set the time on my alarm clock, wristwatch, clocks around the house and in my car to be several minutes fast, in the hope of tricking myself into becoming a more punctual morning person, but this had not proven to be successful. I tried setting a second alarm clock, some distance from my bed, with its alarm set to be the absolute "drop dead" final time at which I could get up, and not arrive at work so late that it would upset my bosses, but I still got out of bed, pressed the snooze button on that second alarm clock and returned to the snug comfort of my bed.

It would be no exaggeration to say that for five days a week, for a period of five years, I had been subjected to routine torture. To use the word "torture" lightly might sound flippant, but the considerable psychological anguish which I suffered, routinely, for prolonged periods each day of the working week, very much fit the definition of torture even if I wasn't having my fingernails pulled out by a sadist, or some other kind of physical torture perpetrated against me.

Of course, I had an extremely well paid job which had allowed me to purchase a nice house, a summer house at the bottom of my large garden, a yacht, a sportscar and enjoy numerous luxurious holidays and ski trips every year. My life was extremely enviable. My late arrival at the office was completely tolerated, because my bosses knew that I worked hard and was highly productive, and I would stay late at the office, so I worked at least as many hours as anybody else. However, there was something about the 9 to 5 Monday to Friday office job routine which was unbearable.

In investment banking, there were times which were extremely exciting, where we worked very long hours. I didn't mind when there was an important deal we were working on, which meant I was working 12 hour days, and dealing with emails at the weekends. When I was working 80 to 100 hours a week, I generally found it much easier to get out of bed and get to work at a semi-respectable time - although never before 9:30am - and my working week was far less torturous, but the workload ebbed and flowed. We were either swamped with work, or else things were quiet and I struggled to find the motivation to get up and go to work.

We had recently delivered the bank's biggest ever deal - ten times bigger than the biggest deal that our firm had ever done. I had played a pivotal role in getting that deal over the line, because I had routinely stayed at the office until 10pm, which was essential given that we were dealing with a US client. Most of my colleagues worked until 7pm, which was fairly normal for investment banking, but there were very few who were prepared to eat dinner at their desk and go home in a taxi - especially those with young children. While our bosses were sympathetic towards the demands placed upon us in our private lives - our family responsibilities - I was the 'golden boy' because I worked more hours than anybody else on the deal; unquestionably, I was the key player responsible for ensuring we all got a very big bonus that year; the bosses were thrilled.

After the deal was completed, the team all received a 'tombstone' - a kind of trophy, made out of plexiglass, which was engraved with the details of the deal. These tombstones were a badge of honour; a feather in the cap. Investment bankers like myself collected them, and proudly displayed them in our offices, as a physical representation of how many deals we had completed. Each tombstone represented a bonus which would be sufficient to buy a small house, luxury sportscar or a yacht, but to talk about your net worth was considered vulgar, and to discuss your remuneration was expressly forbidden - telling a colleague what your salary and bonus was, would be one of the worst sackable offences which you could commit, in an investment bank. So, we had our tombstones, which boasted of how many deals we had done, implying how much money we had made for ourselves and the bank.

Why couldn't I get out of bed?

There was a certain time, after which I felt as though it was too late to saunter into the office. If I hadn't managed to extract myself from my bed and begin my preparations to go to work, I felt duty-bound to phone my boss and tell him that I was sick. For the past 3 days I had phoned in sick, and now I had a problem: I would need some kind of doctor's note to explain my extended absence from work. But, what was wrong with me?

It was now 11:30am on Thursday, and I had been absent on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, without providing any more specific detail other than that I wasn't feeling very well. Today had been by far the worst day, because there was more pressure than ever, to force myself to get up and go to the office. Officially, I should have phoned my boss at 8:30am - the start of our contractual office hours - in order to notify him that I wasn't well enough to come to work, but I had procrastinated each day until 10:30am. On this day, Thursday, I had left it until 11am, as I had desperately hoped that I would be able to motivate myself to go to work. My conversation with my boss had gone worse than expected, because he had explicitly reminded me that I would need a doctor's note to explain my absence. I had hoped that the formality would be waived, but he had been quite particular. Now I was procrastinating about phoning the doctor - what would I tell them?

When I spoke with the doctor's surgery receptionist, she informed me that I could have an appointment in 2 weeks, or else I could phone again in the morning in the hope of getting a same-day appointment, unless I needed an emergency appointment. "Do you need an emergency appointment?" she asked. I said I would phone in the morning for a same-day appointment. She urged me to be prompt, because there were a very limited number of slots available.

I awoke at 7:58am the following day - Friday - and began dialling the number for the doctor's surgery. At first I received a recorded message saying that the opening hours were from 8am, but after repeatedly redialing I was eventually greeted by hold music and told that I was in 3rd place in the queue, and that my call would be answered shortly. The recorded message also told me to hang up and dial 999 if I was having difficulty breathing or had any chest pains, which made me feel quite fraudulent: what was wrong with me? I still had not yet decided what to say to the doctor. I had no idea why I was struggling.

"Hello Pantheon Practice. Are you looking to make a same day appointment to see a doctor?" asked the receptionist.

"Yes, please" I replied.

"So we can pass this on to the doctor, what's the reason for the appointment, please?"

"I, err, I'm tired all the time. I haven't felt well enough to go to work. I haven't left my bed since Sunday, except to get food and use the bathroom" I said, putting into words the nondescript nature of my malaise, for the very first time.

"Ok, I've booked you in at 11:30am with Dr. Weber. Please try to be on time and let us know as soon as possible if you need to cancel or re-book the appointment."PI had been dreading being unable to get a doctor's appointment, having to phone in sick, and anxious that I would not be able to retrospectively obtain a doctor's note if I was feeling better again on Monday. I was hugely relieved that I was now able to phone my boss at 8:40am, and say that I had a doctor's appointment later that day. I struggled to control a slightly triumphant note in my voice: I had felt fraudulent earlier in the week, saying that I was too unwell to go to work, when I was merely tired and demotivated, but now this doctor's appointment gave my torturous situation some slight medically-endorsed legitimacy, although I did not yet possess the sick note that I required. I hadn't been to the doctor since I was a 13 year old boy, when I had an ear infection - 14 consecutive years had elapsed since then, without any contact with a doctor, with the exception of some travel inoculations administered by a nurse.

My appointment with Dr. Weber - a rather stern looking German lady in her fifties - consisted of a curt consultation lasting perhaps no longer than a few minutes.

"What seems to be the problem, Mr. Phillips?" she asked.

"I feel tired all the time. I haven't been able to get up and go to work all week" I replied, feeling rather ashamed that my complaint was so pathetic.

"Have you been under a lot of pressure at work recently? Working very hard?"

"Yes. We just completed an important project."

"Working long hours?" she asked.

"Yes. Very. I suppose an average of at least 80 per week". Her eyes widened in amazement. "It's quite normal in investment banking to work those kind of hours" I said, somewhat defensively.

"You are suffering from burnout, no? I'm signing you off for two weeks. What do you want me to write on doctor's note? Work stress or mental health problems?"

This was an extremely important question: a considerable number of thoughts raced through my head while I attempted to reach a decision. To say that it was work stress which had caused my absence from work was probably the most accurate, but it would suggest that I was weak and unable to handle the demands placed upon me. To be branded with the label of "mentally unwell" was also undesirable, and liable to be career limiting, if my colleagues thought I had an illness which would make me unreliable.

"I never had any health problems before. Could it be something else? I feel so tired all the time" I said, hoping for another more palatable option.

"OK I write awaiting blood test results. We do thyroid test and HIV test" Dr. Weber said, affixing a sticky label onto the sick note I needed, and scribbling in some other details. "Tell reception you need blood sample" she said, selecting a form where she ticked a number of boxes, before handing it to me, turning to face her computer, and starting to type.

I sat, a little shocked at how quickly and abruptly things had gone, and uncertain as to whether the consultation was over.

With a barely disguised sigh of frustration, Dr. Weber turned to me and asked "was there anything else I can help you with today Mr. Phillips?"

As I stepped outside the doctor's surgery onto the street, I noticed that it was a pleasant late-Spring day; unseasonably warm. I felt a huge weight lifted from my shoulders. The relentless pressure which had been inescapable since the day I started school, and especially the period where I had important exams, had carried through to university and then my full-time career. For the first time in 16 or maybe 17 years, I held in my hand a medically sanctioned piece of paper which excused me from the enormous pressures I had faced both academically, and in the world of work.

It felt terrific, knowing that I could spend the next two weeks free from the tyranny and torture of the alarm clock and its snooze button.

 

Next chapter...

 

Blogger's Digest - Day One of #NaNoWriMo2019

11 min read

This is a story about a novel...

Hospital bed

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

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

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

Wish me luck!

* * *

Blogger's Digest: a Novel

Contents

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

Chapter Thirteen

Chapter Fourteen

Chapter One

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Week on Friday" replied Rich.

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

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

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

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

 

Next chapter...

 

Step 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.

 

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Step Three: Rinse & Repeat

6 min read

This is a story about repetition...

Bottles

Drug addicts and alcoholics know a lot about relapses. What dreadful consequences they suffer when they fall off the wagon. Am I immune from such things? Am I the first person in the history of humanity to outsmart addiction? No. Of course not.

Readers who have followed any of my story might wonder if I've started drinking again, or have become addicted to sleeping pills again. No. No I have not.

I went to the supermarket yesterday - a big fancy supermarket with lots of lovely things to choose from - and it was difficult to stay away from the alcohol aisle, but not impossible. The whole point about being an alcoholic or an addict is that you're powerless over the substance(s) that you're abusing. I do not offer my successful self control as evidence of my immunity to addiction and alcoholism, but it does prove that I'm in control, which cannot be said of those unfortunate wretches who are in the grip of active addiction and/or alcoholism.

Rehabs are full of charlatans who claim that they have a magic cure for addiction and/or alcoholism, but all recovery comes from within - how bad do you want it? I'm not saying that those who are killed by their addiction and/or alcoholism didn't want to be clean and sober, but they clearly wanted to be drunk and high more than they wanted to avoid their inevitable demise, or else they wouldn't have died. Unfortunately, the self-reinforcing draw of addictive substances can overpower the best of us, and although I do view addicts and alcoholics as "victims" of a disease, it's also demonstrably clear that people who have no problems with drink and/or drugs - including those people 'in recovery' - were simply lucky enough that the scales were tipped marginally in their favour.

My life has potential which would be churlish to deny. It's not fair for me to say "everything is ruined so I give up" when clearly I have high earnings potential, and with money comes opportunities to escape a miserable life and get a better one. Sure, I can get overwhelmed and decide that I don't have any energy left to keep fighting, and I would quickly be wrecked and ruined by our over-competitive coercive and exploitative society, which would dearly love to trample me underfoot, but I stand a better chance than most people of escaping the rat race.

Yep, I cheated a couple of times this week. I used a sleeping pill on a couple of nights to help me force my sleep pattern into the one which capitalism demands. I used a sleeping pill to combat the incredibly negative side-effects of social jetlag, caused by the toxic demands of office hours, contrary to human health and welfare.

Did I relapse? Nope.

What does relapse even mean for me? I've never been an alcoholic.

What does relapse mean in terms of mental health episodes? My mania-driven achievements are widely celebrated and cheered on by the capitalists who've been assisted by my immense productivity, which has been almost superhuman, but has come at great personal cost. My mental illness has been on public display for many years, yet my paymasters don't care because I'm delivering the goods - so long as I keep up the successful results, my violent mood swings are tolerated, and the results of my manic episodes are highly prized by all involved, especially by those who provoke me into doing high-pressure projects with unrealistic deadlines.

I hope - eternally - that the repeating patterns are not on a downward trend. I attempt to learn from each mood cycle, and to hold onto the gains and not give up so many losses. I try to limit the downright outrageous negative consequences of unrestrained mania, and I try to fight through the devastating depression that follows, forcing myself to keep inside the artificial constraints of some reasonable tramlines, knowing that it will be ultimately beneficial for me and help me to escape from the boom and bust... most importantly to escape from the bust!

Self medication with the occasional sleeping pill is infinitely preferable to routine intoxication with copious amounts of alcohol, although it's easy to convince myself that neither has any long-term ill effects, clearly my health will suffer if I drink heavily on a regular basis, even if my wealth and professional reputation are not impacted.

It's all a bit boring really. Uneventful. I'm very good at putting one foot in front of the other, I just don't like it very much, especially when going on a journey I've done a million times before. There's not much pleasure left in renting a house, moving my stuff, starting a new job, impressing new colleagues or delivering a project which is exactly the same as every other project I've ever delivered in my long and illustrious career. I just do it for the money.

Some might accuse me of being a dry drunk but they are idiots. Every day that I struggle through the rat race puts a significant amount of pounds, shillings and pence into my pocket. Every day that I force myself to do the intolerable shit that I have to put up with, is a large step closer to freedom. I have no need to adopt a significantly different life at the moment, because the life I have is staggeringly lucrative, which unfortunately means that it's the quickest route to financial independence and housing security, which is the most important thing for my health and wellbeing.

Sobriety between now and the end of October is something quite welcome - it will help my health immensely. Working between now and the end of my contract, on Halloween, is something that will help my wealth immensely. It's incredibly dull and boring, but it's got to be done. It's easy, but it's repetitive. When was the last time that you put up with a shit job that you hated? Probably never. When was the last time you spent years doing boring, repetitive, easy stuff? Probably never. You just wouldn't put up with it.

 

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Sleep Engineering

4 min read

This is a story about exhaustion...

Burndown

If I get my sleep right then almost everything else falls into place. Of course, it might be the case that my sleep is right when other things in my life are going well - cause and effect have no clear relationship here - but life is very miserable when I'm having sleep problems.

Thinking back to when I first got my kitten, I was incredibly stressed that she was very restless and noisy in the middle of the night, attacking everything and anything and keeping me awake. Thinking back a little further, I struggled to get out of bed in the mornings and get to work on time. There was a period when I was heavily dependent on sleep aids - taking copious amounts of sleeping pills, tranquillisers and sedatives, as well as drinking bucketloads of alcohol. Thinking back, things are vastly improved.

I have been feeling very tired at work during the afternoons. I have worked very long days for a lengthy period of time, and it's taking its toll.

So.

I moved my bedtime back by an hour or two.

This morning I woke up before my alarm and I felt refreshed.

Jackpot.

I haven't solved everything, but getting my sleep right is a good start. Waking up feeling refreshed means no sense of dread that I have to leave my lovely comfortable warm bed and go naked into a cold bathroom to have a shower. Feeling adequately rested means that I don't get stressed about falling asleep when I go to bed, and I don't get stressed if I get woken up by my cat in the middle of the night. Getting enough sleep means that I have a pleasant moment where I'm awake and my furry friend is saying "good morning" to me, and I'm not pressing my snooze button and feeling generally stressed and anxious about having to get up.

My quality of life is loads better because of improvements to my financial situation and the fact that I'm not bored out of my mind at work. Alleviating some of the stress of the things which I'm powerless to alter - such as money and work - has given me capacity to alter things I do have control over, such as my alcohol consumption. The improvements cause more improvements; it's a lot easier to change things and make better decisions about my health when other circumstances beyond my control are more favourable. Rich people do yoga because they can - they're bone idle and have lots of time on their hands, and they're not stressed about money, so they can dick around doing stupid dumb shit like yoga, unlike the rest of us.

I do cheat a little in order to be able to sleep whenever I need it, for as long as I need it. It's so wonderful to think "I'm tired and I need 2 hours extra sleep, plus I need to get up at 7am, so I will go to sleep at 9pm" and then be able to be fast asleep on schedule. Most people don't have that luxury, but I cheat, and it helps me immensely. Wouldn't you like to be able to choose when you fall fast asleep too?

Oddly, I don't seem able to have long lie-ins anymore. My sleep patterns are quite routine, which is good. It's all too easy to get into bad sleep habits at weekends and spend the whole of the next working week getting the sleep pattern sorted again. I can see now why parents find it so easy to be early birds, whereas I've struggled my whole life to get into the office on time. I'm really not an early bird, but of course it's beneficial to my career to bludgeon my sleep pattern into whatever routine is dictated by capitalism.

I spent so much of my life with social jetlag: having somebody else's sleep pattern unnaturally imposed upon me, causing me a great deal of pain and suffering. It's been awful, but now I cheat and it's great.

I will let my sleep be as natural as possible this weekend, and hopefully I won't have to cheat next week, but I will if I need to, because my life is difficult and stressful enough without having to put up with social jetlag and the awfulness of a capitalism-imposed expectation of office hours, which is toxic to my health.

 

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