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

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Infamy

3 min read

This is a story about wanting to be noticed...

Why I write

This is not a pity party, and everyone has an equally valid claim to misery and depression, but it's important - to me - that I relate this part of the most influential period of my life.

At home, I could do nothing right, and was largely ignored other than as an ornament; a clothes horse; a performing animal, let out of its cage to delight the adults, as a party trick, and otherwise told to be quiet and keep out of the way.This, I think, is not unusual, but was greatly exacerbated my lack of a sibling until the age of 10, and my parents' extreme anti-social behaviour, which left me isolated in the extreme: often in very remote rural areas; far from friends and schoolmates.

At school, I could not avoid attention of the wrong kind. My parents' obsession with training me as their performing animal, for their party tricks, meant that I was either alone, or doing my routine for adults. I had no relationships with children, before school. If you want to fuck up your children and ruin their lives, it's quite easy: do everything in your power to make them different so that they don't fit in; deprive them of every opportunity to socialise; force them to act like little adults, instead of allowing them to be children - that will guarantee that they won't fit in at all at school, and they will be bullied from dawn to dusk, every. single. fucking. day.

Good manners and confidence in the company of adults did, briefly, confer an advantage in the workplace. This supposed 'maturity' was useful for making a good first impression. Employers certainly mistook me for a person who was mature beyond their years, but this was entirely superficial: a party trick learned, because it was the only way I was able to receive praise as a child - from the small amount of adult company my parents kept; those rare occasions when I was trotted out and expected to perform. However, I had no maturity at all - the social isolation, the neglect and the deprivation, was masked and hidden behind impeccable manners and precise diction; expansive vocabulary, learned from books.

As life has worn on, my age relative to my peers has become less obvious, less remarkable. Instead, those deep wounds inflicted in childhood have come to the fore. Exacerbated by extreme stress and intolerable circumstances, the socially isolated child, deprived of a social life and otherwise ill-equipped to face the world with the same skills and experience of his peers, has resurfaced. I feel as though I'm suffering the same horrors again.

In extreme circumstances, we revert to 'type'... our 'true' personality surfaces, and our mask slips.

I wonder to myself, as I write stuff which is read by thousands of people who are suffering a life-and-death crisis in their lives, whether I am flirting with infamy. Why do I not implore them to seek professional help and bombard them with crisis counselling phone numbers?

Maybe I'm evil.

[Note: I lost a few hundred words here, because of an auto-save glitch, but I can't be bothered to re-type what I wrote. I hope it still makes sense without the conclusion, as I originally wrote it]

 

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Vanity Publishing

5 min read

This is a story about a crowded market...

Art stuff

Remind me again why only certain people are allowed to make music, literature and art. Remind me again why the rest of us are banned from releasing our creative endeavours into the world. Remind me again why the creative arts are the sole preserve of the spoiled brattish kids of rich indulgent parents.

Oh yes. That's right. The internet changed all that.

Sure, the old gatekeepers are still there. Sure, if you want to get signed to a record label, a publishing house, a gallery or some other elitist institution, and publish using their marketing machine, then you'll need to kiss their arses and play by their rules.

Sure, the new gatekeepers are now in place. If you want to have a heap of subscribers on your YouTube channel, listeners on Spotify, or readers on your website, then you'll have to play by the rules of the algorithms; you'll have to comply with the demands of those digital platforms.

But.

Previously, only the likes of a multimillionaire rock star - like Brian Eno - would be able to afford professional-grade music production equipment. Previously, only the likes of a multimillionaire famous author - like Jeffrey Archer - would have been able to self-publish a book. Previously, only a multimillionaire artist - like Damien Hirst - would have been able to get their art seen by vast numbers of people.

Now.

Now is the time of self-publishing.

Sure, it's not great being locked into a platform like Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Amazon, Apple, Spotify or suchlike, in order to get your art out into the world, but it does level the playing field a little. Sure, self-promotion is hard work, and it's still impossible to give up the day job, unless you have a trust fund; the barrier to entry is still extremely high. However, in some ways, the barrier to entry is quite low.

A friend of mine has a YouTube channel, filled with 90+ minute monologues. I sometimes browse the latest videos which my friend has published, and I think "oh god, that's me, isn't it? Pumping out long insane monologues, out into the ether of the internet, where nobody really takes any notice". Not to denigrate my friend's creative output at all, but I am incredibly fearful that I'm adding nothing but noise into the world.

I offer you a quote (as I very rarely do) which I often think about:

"[George] Orwell feared those who would deprive us of information. [Aldous] Huxley feared those who would give us so much [information] that we would be reduced to passivity and egoism" -- Neil Postman, Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business

I think we are living in Huxley's feared dystopia, in the context of being overwhelmed with information. The 4th industrial revolution - the information revolution - has created the most complicated man-made object: the internet. I often worry that the internet is a curse, not a blessing, given that I end up empathising with the plight of a Fijian villager whose prize pig was stolen, literally on the other side of the world. I rarely leave the house; I rarely talk to my neighbours, but every morning I wake up to an inbox full of people asking me "what's the best way to kill myself?" and "why are you not dead?". The internet is a mixed blessing.

I might look back on this period of creativity with cynicism, bitterness and a jaded outlook, which causes me to think that I was wasting my time. I might - feeling depressed and anxious - reflect that my writing wasn't very good; that I was making a fool of myself in public. The whole endeavour might seem very cringeworthy and embarrassing, with retrospect.

The internet doesn't forget, very easily. I'm somewhat etched into the fabric of the internet now. Stuff I've written is quite literally etched onto metal with lasers, and buried in the Arctic, to preserve it for posterity. Not, I might add, at my own expense. My vanity and ego are gigantic, but not quite big enough -yet- to embark on such a folly as burying some digital keepsakes beneath the frozen tundra; a monument to my own stupidity.

Of course, nobody in their right mind spends 5+ years of their life, writing and publishing 1.3 million words, which remained for the vast majority of that time, largely unread; unnoticed. I am, obviously, more unhinged than my friend with a YouTube channel: at least they didn't have to go to the effort of painstakingly constructing pleasing prose, checked for spelling and grammar, and accompanied by a hand-chosen photo which was Photoshopped to improve it, before publishing. Only a madman would go to all that effort, unpaid; unrewarded.

 

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What Next?

4 min read

This is a story about dreams...

Penny

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Give Me One More Chance

3 min read

This is a story about begging for forgiveness...

Path

Relationships are brutal battlegrounds. Relationships are full of push-and-pull; games; mindfuckery. Relationships are an energy-sapping, life-force-sucking, second-guessing, head-wrecking, confusing and altogether mostly time-wasting exercise.

Sure, I love company. Sure, I love to socialise. Sure, I like my friends. Sure, I like companionship.

However.

I don't need the hassle of anyone disloyal. I don't need any backstabbers. I don't need any parasites. I don't need any spongers. I don't need anyone who's going to give me grief, when I'm just going about my business; trying to get on with my life.

From what I see, including my own first-hand experience, an extraordinary amount of time is wasted on people who are undeserving of our time and attention; people who are manipulative time-wasters.

I've screwed up a relationship, or maybe two, which were really worth saving. Through my own stupidity and foolishness, I've thrown away a really good relationship. I regretted it, for a short while, and I admit that I tried for a short while to see if it was salvageable, but I quickly realised that I was wasting my time... it was too late. I haven't wasted any time on regret since then, but I do think it's a shame. If I could live my life over again, perhaps that's something I might do differently, but I can't, so I don't waste time on impossible hypotheticals.

Not living with regret is liberating. Instead of being made to crawl over broken glass by despicable shits, who aren't worth the time of day, instead, I move on with my life. Nobody's got any hold over me. I don't owe anybody anything, except a debt of gratitude to kind and loving friends, and exes, who offered their love and care unconditionally.

I've been a very lucky guy. I've had some lovely girlfriends. I've been loved.

Only a couple of my ex-girlfriends have been... difficult; unpleasant. I've been treated very well.

I find myself estranged from my parents, which has been such a huge improvement to my life that I struggle to find the words to express how liberating it's been to cut those sociopathic, antisocial, alcoholic, addict, selfish shits out of my life. I'm on good terms with my sister, so I can do family... provided it's not toxic.

I'm divorced, but I've had plenty of fulfilling, rewarding, happy long-term relationships. I can do relationships... provided I'm not getting punched in the face.

I've fallen out with friends, which was sad, but inevitable given how chaotic my life was; how unwell I was. I've drifted out of contact with friends, which was inevitable given that they are consumed with spawning brats to replace themselves with. I have old friends and new friends, so I can do friends... providing we stay somewhat within sight, and within mind; I know from being moved around 8 different schools in my childhood, that no friendship really survives geographical hurdles.

I don't have enough friends. I don't see my sister enough. I don't have the social life and support network that I need. However, I've learned to cope. My shitty childhood taught me to cope with my relationships being ruined by my alcoholic, addict, waster, loser parents, who kept moving me around; 8 different schools.

I think to myself "that's a shame" when I think about "the one that got away" but... I'm used to rebuilding; I'm used to starting over again.

 

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Easiest Way to Kill Yourself

9 min read

This is a story about dying with dignity...

Bottle of pills

Continuing on with the theme of giving my readers what they want, I've decided to write about the most searched for thing which brings visitors to my website.

I lied.

I'm not going to write about the easiest way to kill yourself but instead, I'm going to write a detailed account of when, why and how I'm going to kill myself.

***

UPDATE 20th October 2020: the latest thing I wrote about suicide is here.

If you came here looking for suicide methods, I wrote about that at length here.

If you still want more detail, have a read of this.

***

Firstly, we need to acknowledge that life can be pretty damn abysmal, if luck doesn't go your way. Sure, if you're reading this then you're lucky enough to have access to a computer, tablet and/or a smartphone, and you're able to read. For many, that would be considered a privilege, but in reality it's a curse: it would have been far better to remain stupid and ignorant, and not be troubled with existential angst.

Secondly, we need to acknowledge that there's no legal or moral requirement to continue living, if life is hell. There's no reason why we have to die of 'natural causes' in old age, which pretty much means dying in agony from cancer or some other dreadful disease, or otherwise dying when your body parts become completely worn out. Why would anybody go through life with uncertainty - a surprise death hanging over them at some unpredictable future date - and the inability to plan ahead?

Thirdly, we need to acknowledge that the freedom to choose is what makes us different from the beasts - the animals - who are driven by instinct; driven to survive at all costs. Why would we choose to act in a bestial way - barbaric and primitive; animalistic - when we are blessed with a huge brain and the tools of cognition and reason; advanced thought and language. We are able to plan, so why do we not plan our lives to include a predictable and known date of death?

Of course, my ideas are not original. There are plenty of dystopian novels, films and other art forms which depict fantasy worlds where euthanasia is part of those imagined societies. Of course, I'm not talking about euthanasia for you I'm talking about euthanasia for me.

If we recognise that the world is overpopulated, overcrowded, over-competitive, and that the natural resources of the planet are being over-utilised, then it seems like a very selfless and generous act, to quit living before becoming a burden on the healthcare sector. Of course, I'm talking about me and me alone here. I very much wish any older people who want to live as long as humanly possible, a long and healthy life. If you want to live, good for you... but I very much think that if you came to this website then you're not 100% sure that living is for you. Anyway, this is about what's right for me, and me alone.

As soon as I'm dead, my estate can be given to my sister and niece. My death frees up the resources that I possess, such as housing and a job, that could be utilised by a younger person. The money I hoard - arguably to protect myself from any period of unemployment, and for my retirement - can go into the hands of the living, instead of being hoarded in the hands of the dying. I can much more accurately plan for how much money I need if I know when I'm going to die.

I've decided that it's too expensive to buy a house and have a pension. I had a series of major setbacks in my life, which wrecked my finances, and now it doesn't make financial sense to plough all the money I need today into things which I might need tomorrow. If I'm going to live until I die of natural causes, I might need a lot of money, and in order to ensure my pension pot goes as far as possible, it'd be better if I owned my house and wasn't paying a mortgage or rent anymore. Having a pension and a mortgage-free house would rob me of money which I need now while I still have my health. Why do I want to have housing security and financial security during a period of my life when I'm old and senile, in pain and discomfort; dying?

Also, suicide is a form of protest. Why should my parents enjoy dying before me, when they ruined my childhood, and consequently my later life? Why should my parents' generation die without seeing the horrors they have inflicted upon the younger generation? Why should the capitalists continue to delude themselves that capitalism is a good system, when clearly it exploits people and the natural resources of the earth, to the point of irreversible devastation and destruction of our only habitable planet?

There's nothing worse than playing by the rules of the game, when everybody else is cheating. Being an honest player in a rigged game is torture.

I've done the calculations. There's no way I can keep playing this stupid game. I quit.

Did I mention dignity?

Dignity is important.

If your parents and the wider world have not given you the opportunity to have dignity - to live as an independent adult with an acceptable quality of life - then personally, life is not worth living. Sure, if your parents are neglectful, abusive, selfish, narcissistic shits who took no interest in helping you achieve an acceptable quality of life - helping you to live independently - then you might still have the opportunity to pull yourself up by the bootstraps; you might have the opportunity to work hard and get yourself to where you deserve to be, through sheer force and determination. However, you need to do the calculations. If your calculations tell you that you'd need to work 25 hours a day, 8 days a week, 13 months a year, for the next 250 years, in order to achieve financial security, housing security and other basic human needs, then you are playing a rigged game. This is not a case of petulantly blaming everything on our parents, although it's undeniable that they deserve the lion's share of the blame. No, this is not about expecting that the world owes you a living. This is simply saying that no matter how hard you work you have to run just to stand still; the game is rigged and you won't accept it; you won't play a rigged game anymore.

So that's the why.

When is easy: my career spans four decades. It'll soon be time for me to have a long-overdue career break. In the absence of any new route to earn money, which is not part of the capitalist society which I refuse to prop up any longer, I refuse to continue to play the game. Therefore, I just need to do the calculation to work out how long I can maintain an acceptable quality of life; how much does my minimum standard of living cost? With that number calculated, I can then set a very precise date for when I need to be dead by.

What about the how?

How is probably easiest of all. I often thought about cutting a carotid artery or jugular vein, but it seems far easier to simply swallow a deadly poison, such as cyanide, which is easily obtained. The how is really the most boring part of it all. Swallow something highly toxic, and it's done... easy!

It gives me a great deal of comfort knowing that the remaining period of my life will not fall below a minimum acceptable quality. It's greatly comforting to know that no poverty or destitution awaits me in old age. It's great to know that pain, discomfort, illness, senility, incontinence and other dignity-robbing ailments of old age, will be completely avoided.

I know that some people want to live as long as possible, in order to see their children and grandchildren growing up and experiencing major life events - births and marriages - but not living so long that they see their houses get destroyed by rising sea levels and hurricane force winds, and other destructive effects of man-made climate change. I know that some people want to live as long as possible, but not so long that they see their grandchildren selling their bodies in order to fund their education, and killing themselves because their zero-hours contract McJob doesn't even pay enough money for them to feed themselves, let alone live with any dignity.

Nobody's ever going to look me in the eye and ask "why the fuck did you decide to have kids, when you knew that the old people fucked up the planet good and proper, and robbed all the money and property, and expected to sit idle in their massive houses while all the young people killed themselves because they have no prospect of ever living independently with any dignity and an acceptable quality of life?". I'll just be dead.

Of course, suicide's not for everyone. My essay is only about why I - personally - am planning on committing suicide. I absolutely - and without exception - discourage anybody and everybody from doing what I'm planning on doing.

 

That's all about me, me, ME! I wrote some other stuff about suicide methods and how to kill yourself and the first part which I wrote second, also about suicide. if you're in the mood to keep reading. Please keep reading or get in contact if you're in crisis... or do something to pass the time. I find it incredibly therapeutic to write: it's kept me alive (by a whisker) for many years.

 

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Something to Take the Edge Off

5 min read

This is a story about crutches...

Office chair

Trawling through my photos from the past three and a half months, I found very few which would be suitable to accompany what I wanted to write today. The photos on my phone are mostly of my cat(s) and not much else. However, this photo does - rather cryptically - allude to what I am now writing about.

When I started the lockdown, I decided that I wasn't going to bother with a desk or an office chair at home; that I would muddle by with my laptop on my lap. I decided - wrongly - that it wouldn't be worth the effort of setting up a proper office at home.

As I already wrote a few days ago, I started the lockdown drinking copiously. Every day after work, I would pour myself a large glass of wine. I would estimate that my alcohol consumption was somewhere in the region of 8 to 10 bottles of wine per week.

As I already wrote a few days ago, I started the lockdown physically dependent on medication. Every night I took sleeping pills. Every day I took tranquillising sedatives.

Then, it became obvious that there would be dire consequences to my physical health.

I didn't want to finish lockdown as a fat alcoholic pill-popper with a hunched back.

Because I delayed setting up my home office, I didn't have a lot of choice for a desk and an office chair, hence why the ugly garish monstrosity - pictured above - has become part of my home office. The desk is super ugly too. However, it's good to have a more professional set-up instead of reclining on my sofa.

The health improvements to my life don't feel like they're paying dividends. I still feel overweight, unfit and I still crave alcohol. Ostensibly, I feel much the same as I did when I was guzzling booze, popping pills and spending 16 hours a day reclining on my sofa. However, we must acknowledge that there is a very significant difference between an alcoholic pill addict, and somebody who drinks in moderation at the weekends, and is entirely medication free. That I have stabilised myself and found almost liveable and almost bearable sustainable routine without my crutches, is not an achievement which should be underestimated.

The backdrop to the past four months has been the global pandemic which has claimed hundreds of thousands of lives, and threatens the livelihoods and living standards of hundreds of millions, if not billions of people. If there was ever a time to feel insecure about money, work and housing, it would be now.

I wouldn't describe myself as a particularly anxious person, but the past 5 years of my life have been spent with the threat of destitution hanging over me. I've been forced to generate vast amounts of money each year in order to protect my credit rating and employability, as well as to simply pay rent, bills and service debts. The amount of money needed to escape my predicament was so vast that I was forced into high-risk high-stress situations, which were potentially high-reward. Eventually, perseverance paid off. There was no other choice: a crappy salaried job would have inevitably led to bankruptcy; the books simply didn't balance with some crap paying job.

So, I've suffered 5 years of incredible, immense stress. I've suffered 5 years of living on the edge of ruin.

When the pandemic started to get very bad in Europe my mood improved considerably. The havoc wrought by the pandemic has brought the stress and suffering that I was enduring into the lives of vast numbers of my fellow people. Suffering collectively is far more bearable than suffering alone.

At some point, I want to stop talking about the difficulties in my past and to talk about the future. I want to put some distance between my past and the present. I want to have a period of wealth and security, which clearly delineates 'now' from 'then'.

I note that my abysmal childhood became unimportant when I started to have success and get ahead in life, in my late teens and early twenties. My rapidly growing bank balance, exotic travel, status symbols - like houses, cars and boats - and adventurous hobbies, felt like I could forget about past transgressions against me: the bullies and abusers were rotting, and I was thriving, so I wasn't bitter and angry; I had broken free from the misery of the past.

My rage at my parents - which has been a repeated theme of the past 5 years - and sad memories of a ruined childhood, which has caused me vast amounts of problems... all becomes irrelevant again, as my health and wealth are regained, and my quality of life improves manyfold.

Yes, my crutches are going to change from alcohol and medications, to be luxury holidays and other trappings of wealth, but I don't care. Alcohol and medications lead to misery and death - they're a dreadful trap, which leads nowhere positive.

I still have suicide as my 'retirement plan' but that's a simple matter of practicality, given that I'm now unable to be likely to accumulate enough wealth to enjoy a comfortable retirement before my health starts to deteriorate. It's something I'm going to have to learn to live with. Or rather, it's something that's going to kill me. C'est la vie. C'est la mort.

 

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Tabula Rasa

5 min read

This is a story about starting over...

Missing cat

My cat is missing. She's been missing since 26 June. I've posted leaflets through the door of hundreds of homes in the vicinity. I've posted all over social media. I've alerted all my neighbours through private messaging groups. I've spent countless hours walking around, calling her name, shaking her food. I've put her litter, her blanket and her favourite toys around outside my house, in the hope that she'd smell the scent.

All to no avail.

She's gone.

Was she stolen? Was she hit by a car or a train, and the incident didn't get reported; her body wasn't found? Has somebody started feeding her and taken her in as their own? Was she stolen for profit by an unscrupulous rogue? Is she out there somewhere, lost and hungry?

Whatever has happened - and I'll probably never know - she's gone.

Of course, I can play the coulda woulda shoulda game. In the course of my search for her, I've found out that there are lots of cats just like her which are living quite happily in this safe neighbourhood. We live in a leafy, wealthy suburb, plus the streets have been extra quiet and safe because of the Coronavirus lockdown. Perhaps I could have turned my house into some kind of maximum-security cat prison, but why did I need to worry? I live in a nice place and I have nice neighbours; plenty of cats just like her live very happily in this area.

Whatever has happened, she's gone and I can't do anything about it now.

I don't have a time machine. If I did, would I go back and change anything? It's not realistic to put a metal grille over your windows. It's not realistic to install air-lock style security doors. It's not realistic to secure every skylight, window, door and air-vent, which your determined would-be escapee might use in their bid for freedom. I'm trying to live my life, not become a prison warden to a cat, living in some kind of concrete bunker with bars on the windows and heavy metal cell doors.

If I was messing around with time travel, maybe I should go back further and not get the cat.

Maybe I should go back further in time and not give my first cat to my parents, during the messy divorce.

Maybe I should go back further and fix my marriage.

Maybe I should go back further and not even get with that girl who I later married.

Maybe I should go back further... and not even be born.

This reductio ad absurdum reasoning leads me to conclude that it's futile to start wishing to change things in the past, not least because it's impossible anyway. It's futile and unproductive, and it leads nowhere good.

Maybe I'm just covering my ass because my cat is lost and I feel bad about that; somehow responsible. OK so my decision has led to my cat becoming lost. There. I said it. Does that bring my cat back? No.

Anyway, as is often my way, I'm making another point: there are heaps of things which are less-than-ideal in my past, but I can't do anything about them. I've had a really rough bunch of years, and it's caused me a whole heap of problems, but I can't expunge those unfortunate events from history so I'm going to have to live with everything that's happened.

I had a lengthy break from blogging and social media. I felt like it wouldn't be good to be writing every day during lockdown. I thought that the time would pass incredibly slowly if I was writing my blog during the repetitive and monotonous stay-at-home period, where I've been cooped up under the same roof for more than 3 months, with no company except my cat... who has now disappeared.

My intention is to begin writing regularly again, but I hope that my improved mental health, finances and a generally improved outlook to my life - much more stable than in recent years - will provide a backdrop for a period of writing which seems more like a normal happy life; less full of disaster and violent mood swings; less full of powerful negative emotions and terrible memories; less full of bitterness and hate.

Of course, my writing is therapy for me, and part of therapy is venting - catharsis - so I shall no doubt be launching myself into the occasional angry rant from time to time, but I'm hoping to somewhat turn over a new leaf and start with a clean slate as much as possible... although I can never escape my past, and doubly so because I intend to leave this blog in place unedited, containing all the difficulties I've been through in the 5 years I've been writing it.

I'm hoping that by writing a load of new material which is coming from a much more secure and happy place, it will put some time, space and distance between me and the bad stuff in my past.

 

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Blogger's Digest - Day Ten of #NaNoWriMo2019

9 min read

Blogger's Digest: a Novel

Contents

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

Chapter Thirteen

Chapter Fourteen

Chapter Ten

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Next chapter...

 

Blogger's Digest - Day 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 Two of #NaNoWriMo2019

13 min read

Blogger's Digest: a Novel

Contents

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

Chapter Thirteen

Chapter Fourteen

Chapter Two

My girlfriend, but perhaps more her family than her, made me feel very insecure and inadequate. Caroline was a brilliant girlfriend - one of the kindest, nicest people you could ever hope to meet, and surprisingly humble considering her privileged background. However, her family had wealth and status, the likes of which I had never encountered in my life. Her father was a partner at an international law firm and her mother was a doctor in general practice, which meant they were very well-off already, but Caroline's mother's family were exceptionally rich. Her grandfather had owned a paper manufacturing company, specialising in tissue paper and toilet rolls, which was the UK's number one brand and had floated on the London Stock Exchange in the 1970s. Caroline's two uncles were board members and her grandmother had become the biggest shareholder of the company, after the death of her husband.

The family lived in Surrey, close to the estates of the De Beers family - famous for their South African diamond mines - and the billionaire oil tycoon J. Paul Getty. Caroline's two brothers had attended boarding school at Christ's Hospital, while Caroline had boarded at Marlborough College. Caroline's parents - her mother in particular - had fought the family very hard to resist the pressure for the children to be sent to public school. Caroline's grandfather had been a Harrow boy, as had her two uncles. Caroline's mother had attended Cheltenham Ladies' College. She always suspected that she had been able to achieve the necessary exam grades and study medicine at Cambridge, not because of academic merit, but because of nepotism - Cambridge had made her a generously low offer, meaning she did not need top grades. Her time spent in hospital and in general practice had brought her into contact with many ordinary members of the public, as well as doctors who hadn't enjoyed the benefit of an expensive private education, which left her feeling a little guilty that her own path through life had been beset by very few of the difficulties in the lives of the people with whom she dealt with on a daily basis.

Caroline's family owned a sizeable luxury yacht, designed and built by the renowned and revered Camper & Nicholsons, which Caroline and her family referred to simply as "the boat" which caused me considerable annoyance.

* * *

My own nautical background began when I was eleven years old, at a school in Hampshire, near the Solent. One of my favourite teachers was an enthusiastic dinghy sailor and offered to introduce 4 of her pupils - the maximum she could fit in her car - the opportunity to learn to sail, under her tutelage. Why I was chosen, I do not know, but perhaps she took pity on me that I was one of the misfits. My birthday was the 2nd of September, making me the third youngest child in my school year, and the youngest boy. Throughout my school years I had been one of the smaller boys - not small for my age, but small because, all the other boys were older than me. Little legs cannot run as fast as longer legs, so I was largely excluded from sports, and an easy target for bullies.

The dinghies I learned to sail in were made of plastic and practically indestructible. They were designed to be sailed single-handed, and they were very simple to rig and operate. They were, however, surprisingly easy to capsize. Other dinghies had been designed with the intention of being used to teach sailing, and these were much harder to capsize, but they were bigger, slower and required a crew member as well as a helmsman. I was very glad to learn in the more exciting single-handed dinghies, because they were more exciting to sail and the occasional capsize and cold water dunking provided the incentive to learn very quickly how to control the sails, and how to deal with a capsized dinghy. Soon, I was able to react quickly enough to my dinghy capsizing, that I would dive over the side of the dinghy, stand on the centerboard fin, and then dive back into the dinghy when she came back upright again - a so-called dry capsize because it avoided being dunked into the cold water.

I joined the youth section of a prestigious sailing club a few years later, having begged another teacher who liked me if he would propose me as a member - the sailing club was quite snobby and membership was usually by invitation only. My prior dinghy sailing experience meant that I was immediately allowed to be a helmsman and to represent the club at regattas. Although I had no experience sailing two-handed dinghies, the club gave me their best dinghy and best crewman, and we won third place - I can claim no credit for the achievement, because my crew, who was just a young boy of 9 years old, told me exactly what to do for the entire race. My third place finish at the regatta brought me a great deal of unexpected congratulations and a couple of the girls at the sailing club took an interest in me, which was novel and most welcome, as I was extremely unpopular at school, and dismally unsuccessful with girls - I'd never had a girlfriend.

* * *

My inadequacies and insecurities, bred during my difficult school years, where I was ignored by the girls and bullied by the boys, led me to my decision to try to earn as much money as possible. I wanted to be rich and I wanted to have status symbols, as a prop for my fragile self-esteem. I decided that investment banking would be my ideal career choice.

Having graduated with a 2:1 in Maths from Sheffield, having failed to achieve the grades to get into any of the red-brick universities I had applied to, I managed to get onto the graduate training program of a small investment bank in the City of London, thanks in no small part to the hiring manager being a keen sailor - he was more keen to have another valuable member of the company sailing club, than he was to hire a better candidate. I had achieved a major objective: I was now an investment banker, working in the Square Mile. I immediately purchased a red 2-seater sports car.

I remained profoundly unsuccessful with women, despite my burgeoning wealth and the boost that my ego and self-esteem received from becoming a City banker, albeit a graduate trainee.

I met Caroline at a speed dating event. Vicki, one of my department's administrators, had press-ganged a group of the shy single men in our department into attending the speed dating event. I never had a speed date with Caroline, who was one of Vicki's single female friends. Vicki decided to play matchmaker at the end of the night. The following day, I asked Vicki for Caroline's number, having been too shy and insecure - and afraid of rejection - to ask her myself.

Sailing was the main thing that Caroline and I had in common, except she had only sailed yachts and I had only sailed dinghies. I felt very confident about my dinghy sailing abilities, knowledge and experience, but the world of yachting was entirely alien to me.

"The boat" which Caroline talked about all the time used to give me an unpleasant jolt every time she said it. I knew her family were fabulously rich, and I felt as though she was using the term "boat" in place of "yacht" in order to pretend that she was less privileged and wealthy. I accused her of attempting to down-play how affluent her family was, using an ambiguous term "boat" which could conjure up an image of a rowing boat, or an inflatable boat, or any number of quite ordinary and affordable watercraft, when we both knew that this particular "boat" was worth as much as a well-appointed 4 or 5 bedroom house in a desirable location. Given that my salary, as a recent graduate, was barely adequate to purchase a tiny ex-authority flat in an ugly concrete block of flats, in some highly undesirable part of London's Zone 3, I was a little outraged that Caroline and her family referred to their yacht as some mere "boat".

In fact, my insecurities ran far deeper. My ignorance about the world of yachting was a source of great unhappiness - I was extremely sensitive about any suggestion that I knew very little about yachts, navigation, sea crossings and suchlike. My sailing knowledge was confined to tiny dinghies, racing around small courses, close to shore. I hated that one of the few things I felt self-confident about was of no use to me - when Caroline and her family shared stories from their time on "the boat" I was baffled by a lot of the terminology, and I was unable to relate it at all to my own sailing experiences.

* * *

In secret, I enrolled in night school to learn about navigation at sea. I learned how to read nautical charts, how to plot a course and account for tidal flows. I learned how to identify what different buoys were for, and what their purpose was. I learned how to use a sighting compass to triangulate my position. I learned the "rules of the road" and how to avoid collisions. I learned what different lights meant, and how to navigate at night, in theory. I learned a heap of things which I had been completely ignorant of, as a dinghy sailor.

Then, I booked a week of holiday off work and enrolled on a Royal Yachting Association training course which would qualify me as a yacht skipper. I lived aboard a yacht - night and day - for a whole week, putting all the theory into practice, as well as learning how to manovre a yacht in a marina: something no dinghy sailor would ever do, given the lack of an engine. The sailing parts were mostly straightforward as a dinghy sailor, but the idea of setting out to sea without having quite literally set sail was a very strange concept. I had to learn how to put the sails up at sea, and the sails on a yacht are much, much larger than those on a dinghy.

The instructor had the lower part of his leg missing as well as three fingers one one hand, which were both caused by yachting accidents. A substantial portion of his leg was stripped to the bone when a coil of rope was wrapped around it, and the sail which it was attached to suddenly filled with wind, causing the rope to tug with tremendous force, flinging him overboard. He was lucky to survive, as it's very difficult to pick up a man overboard, when the waves are large and the wind is blowing strong. His fingers were lost when he wrapped a rope around a winch, trapping them, and then the sail filled with wind. You might have thought he'd have learned his lesson the first time, but he was the perfect instructor to demonstrate how dangerous yacht sailing can be, even for an experienced dinghy sailor who wouldn't realise the power that huge sails have, and how much force there is in the ropes when the wind fills the sails.

Having qualified as a skipper, I then immediately bought a yacht. Of course, my comparatively meagre wealth wouldn't allow me to purchase a large luxurious yacht, like the one owned by Caroline's family, but given the expense of mooring and maintaining a yacht, it's somewhat of a buyer's market and a relatively large second-hand yacht can be purchased for roughly the price of a new car. I bought a small racing yacht, which had a frugal interior, but with enough space to sleep 4 people in relative comfort. I was now a yacht owner and qualified skipper, which greatly relieved the crushing insecurities I had been carrying around since the start of my relationship with Caroline.

* * *

All of my dinghy sailing and my week-long training course had left me over-confident and ill-prepared for yacht ownership. My first attempt to leave the yacht broker's mooring, where I had purchased her, nearly ended in disaster when the engine cut out and I was unable to raise anything but the main sail, in order to limp to the nearest pontoon. I was at first berated by a yacht club member for tying up where I should not have done, but he took pity on me and pointed out that I had failed to open some critical valves, which had starved the engine of fuel and air. He also asked why I had not installed the headsail, to which I replied I thought I would do that at sea. "Did you learn to sail on a racing yacht?" he asked. I confirmed that I did, and he patiently explained that the yacht I had just bought had a convenient labour-saving mechanism, which allowed the headsail to be set with incredible ease - I just needed to set it up properly before setting out to sea.

Swallowing my pride, my second attempt to go to sea aboard my new yacht, I invited Caroline aboard for the first time. She quickly took charge and it was a humbling experience, to be taking instruction from my girlfriend, who was an absolutely brilliant patient teacher. I hadn't invited her out for the maiden voyage, because I was afraid that I would react badly if my own incompetence was exposed and I was embarrassed. I thoroughly enjoyed that first voyage with Caroline, and I felt as if I had achieved what I always wanted: a girlfriend who shared my passion for sailing.

Life was good. I had my well paid job as a City investment banker, with a glittering future career ahead of me, a red 2-seater sports car, a yacht, and a girlfriend who loved sailing. At 22 years old, I felt incredibly proud of what I'd achieved at a young age. I had vanquished the miserable bullied school years, and dealt with my unhappy and insecure single years, when I had been so hopelessly incompetent and abysmally unsuccessful at getting a girlfriend.

I imagined that we would buy a house, have kids and live happily ever after, enjoying all the luxuries of wealthy people: multiple holidays to exotic locations, skiing in the winter, a second home in the countryside, a nanny and a housekeeper, and beautiful children who we would send to good schools to receive a quality education, to become whatever they wanted to be in life and reach their full potential.

What could possibly go wrong?

 

Next chapter...