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I'm a writer. I write about life with bipolar disorder - also known as manic depression - so my eponymous alter ego is MaNic Grant.

I've written more than 1 million words: it's the world's longest suicide note.

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Cake And Eat It

9 min read

This is a story about a completed jigsaw puzzle...

Summer house cake

When I was 28 I was so depressed that I couldn't work. I couldn't face the outside world. I couldn't face the office 9 to 5 Monday to Friday routine. I couldn't face the glacial pace that projects moved at. I couldn't face the lack of productivity. I couldn't face the wastefulness of large organisations. I couldn't face the dead wood, being dragged along by those of us who wanted to actually create some f**king software.

My behaviour became erratic. The symptoms my my mood disorder - bipolar - made me a dysfunctional individual for long enough to cause problems in an ordinary office type environment: mainly my lengthy absence due to to the aforementioned depression. Nobody had ever much cared about me being hypomanic in the office, because it allowed me to deliver very complicated projects on time, to a high standard of quality.

I quit my job in 2008 and sat in my garden making iPhone Apps - mainly games. They sold very well and I was number one in the App Store charts for a brief time. Suddenly, I was earning a lot of royalties and I was comparatively wealthy.

I decided that I hated office work and corporate IT work - I hated big software projects - but that I should start a small business. I retrained as an electrician. I did all the training, bought a van and started trading.

Electrician

My electrician business traded profitably, but I kept getting asked to do freelance software work, which paid twice as much as my electrical work, and I was obviously much better at it, given that I've got 20+ years of commercial software experience and about 18+ months of commercial electrical experience. It's a lot less stressful being a software consultant than it is being an electrician.

I decided to combine my entrepreneurial side - the iPhone Apps and the small business - to create a startup which would have a software product which could be licensed, so that I could make money while I slept: it was a scalable business model.

During all this erratic behaviour, I was making a ton of money, I designed a built a beautiful summer house in my garden, I had a wakeboarding boat, I threw lavish garden parties. I was having the time of my life, except I was in a very toxic, abusive relationship.

I ended the relationship and my life continued to improve. In fact, my life kept on improving.

Soon, I was enrolled on a prestigious startup accelerator program which takes 8,000 applicants for every place, and only offers 10 teams the chance to be mentored by senior executives from Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Amazon, Paypal and a bunch of other great tech companies, plus the opportunity to pitch on "demo day" to a packed auditorium full of venture capitalists and angel investors, and raise a huge amount of investment.

My company was already profitable enough to pay my co-founder and I a decent salary and hire our first full-time employee. That was entirely bootstrapped: the company was built from nothing. My co-founder and I built a profitable startup without taking a single cent from any member of friends or family, or risking any of our own money.

This was my cake and eat it moment.

I worked too hard for too long. On the accelerator program mentor madness was fine for the teams who just had an idea, but my co-founder and I had a profitable business to run. We had customers who needed supporting. We had sales deals which needed to be closed. The rest of our cohort were happily burning the money they'd raised - making a loss - while our startup was living within its means and growing organically... in fact it was growing rapidly organically.

The problem was that toxic, abusive relationship.

She wasn't kind. She wasn't supportive. She didn't want me to succeed. She was just plain mean and totally inflexible; uncompromising. It wasn't fair, because I had supported her when she wanted to change career, and I had also been a very loyal loving boyfriend. Of course I could have split up with her and run off into the sunset with a lovely girl from the tech startup scene who could see the potential in me and the potential of my startup, but I let loyalty and a sense of "doing the right thing" get the better of me.

Since then, there hasn't been a lot of cake eating.

Divorce became extremely acrimonious in 2013, after a harrowing period when the abuse and the trauma was sufficient to give me PTSD - I was barricaded in rooms and defecating in a bucket to avoid physical harm and at least give myself what little protection I could. Verbal abuse and violent kicking and punching of the door was so frequent it was literally torture. My abuser was keeping me trapped with threats of violence, and I starved, I was thirsty and I had to sh*t and piss in a bucket.

Mercifully, we separated in August 2013.

Trauma doesn't heal overnight.

The divorce dragged on into 2014, ruining my second startup and depriving me of all my liquid capital - my money - which I needed to start another business. The divorce ruined me every bit as much as the toxic relationship and abusive marriage did. The divorce left me so physically drained, traumatised, financially taken advantage of, exhausted and stressed, that I broke down completely. I ended up sleeping rough. I ended up homeless. I was wrecked.

Briefly, at the end of 2014 I had a nice apartment in Swiss Cottage, a lovely commute on the Jubilee line to Canary Wharf and a well paid consultancy contract with Barclays. Was I having my cake and eating it? No. The divorce and the separation had caused me such horrible PTSD and financial distress that for almost that whole year I had been sleeping rough and in a homeless hostel. My life was very fragile; my recovery was only green shoots.

In 2015 I had an amazing apartment overlooking the Thames with panoramic views of all the London landmarks. I had a great consultancy contract with HSBC. Was I having my cake and eating it? No. I was so distressed by the financial troubles I'd had that I worked unsustainable hours and got very sick, and had to be hospitalised. I had to be kept in a secure psychiatric ward for my own safety.

In 2016 I had the same apartment. I had a great consultancy contract. I was less stressed about the erratic nature of my life and the financial boom and bust, but I certainly didn't feel comfortable spending money.

In 2017 I had the same apartment and a great consultancy contract with Lloyds Banking Group. A large blood clot - a deep-vein thrombosis (DVT) - formed in my leg and it caused the complication that my kidneys failed. I nearly died. I was sick for months with agonising nerve and muscle damage. Out of desperation I took a short contract in Manchester. It was so miserable that I tried to kill myself. I very nearly succeed - I was in a coma for 4 or 5 days in intensive care. I was sectioned and kept in a secure psychiatric ward for my own safety.

By the end of 2017 and into 2018 I had recovered enough to be consulting for an investment bank in London. I was commuting from Wales and staying in crappy AirBnBs. I was well paid but it was the most miserable life. I was homeless, single and coming to terms with having survived a suicide attempt which should definitely have killed me.

Then I got a consultancy contract in Wales. I had a nice girlfriend in Wales, I had a job in Wales and I had a very nice home in Wales with panoramic sea views. I was about to have my cake and eat it.

Then, soon after booking a short holiday, my consultancy contract ended early because the project was finished - I worked very hard and delivered early.

I got another consultancy contract in Wales. I still have that consultancy contract in Wales. I have a girlfriend who I think is amazing and I'm crazy about her. I have very serious feelings for her. I was about to have my cake and eat it.

Now my consultancy contract is ending prematurely. I worked hard and managed to rescue a very important project which was running late. I was working very hard to deliver our project early.

Clearly I work very hard. Clearly, I'm lucky enough to create these opportunties where I could have my cake and eat it but so far nothing's worked out for me.

It may well be possible for me to still have that amazing holiday we've got planned, but it will always be slightly spoiled by the stress of knowing that I don't have secure income when I get home, which makes me worried about money.

You can understand why I'm worried about money, can't you?

You can understand why it's so terrible that my holidays get ruined by having my consultancy contracts unexpectedly cut short, especially when I work so hard and make such a big contribution.

Of course, I could throw caution to the wind and take that luxury holiday anyway. If there's one repeating theme in this story, it's that I always bounce back from adversity. I could risk it all and go ahead with that holiday, which I desperately need and want.

I've been lucky. I got to go to Turkish Disneyland on my own. I got to go to Tulum in Mexico. My luck ran out eventually I guess. I have a beautiful girlfriend who is kind and loving and supportive, I have a gorgeous bengal kitten, I have a very nice great big house. I have a little financial security, but paying for a luxury 2-week holiday has a major negative impact on my meagre financial resources, seen in the context of how bad things can get: months in hospital, sleeping rough and nearly dying on several occasions.

Perhaps it's just not my destiny to have my cake and eat it.

 

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8 Years Of My Life In 5 Pictures

9 min read

This is a story about peaks and troughs...

Cambridge

My story begins exactly 8 years ago, on May 4th 2011. I was the CEO of a profitable startup with prestigious clients paying to use my product. It was my idea, I had designed & implemented the system and I had successfully done deals with big companies. I had just started a TechStars accelerator program in Cambridge, run by Jon Bradford and Jess Williamson, and I was about to meet 46 mentors in week of "mentor madness" which is like speed dating, to hook up startup founders with experienced successful people from the tech industry, who were kindly offering to help 10 lucky teams on the TechStars program, along with my co-founder and I.

I was surrounded by super-smart people in Cambridge. My startup was growing very fast and I had done a great job of getting the company to where it was with very little help. I was hot property - a pin-up for the UK startup scene.

My co-founder was a much more likeable and charismatic guy who once ran a karaoke bar and had a far better temprament for being CEO, but I wanted the glory of having that coveted job title for myself. I emphatically rejected the suggestion that it might be better for the company if we were to switch roles, and I was to take the position of CTO. Fundamentally I'm good at technology, but not necessarily the best people person: I had, for example, already managed to make my co-founder cry in front of a Google executive. As CEO, I was pretty vicious and ruthless, because I was so desperately ambitious.

This particular May 4th, in 2011, was a moment when my potential net worth was at its highest. This was my golden opportunity to make my millions.

London panorama

This next picture is taken exactly 5 years ago, on May 4th 2014. I had just woken up in the Royal Free Hospital, Hampstead, London. This is the view from my hospital bed. I was surprised to be awake, because my kidneys were failing, my liver was damaged, there was a lot of fluid on my lungs and my heart was not functioning healthily - I had arrhythmias and my blood pressure was dangerously low. I hadn't expected to survive the night, so it was nice to be greeted by such a pleasant view in the morning.

By this point, I'd had to resign as CEO, sell my share of the company that I founded. The company still continued to trade very profitably without me and was getting big-name clients, but I had failed, personally. My co-founder stepped in and did a great job of smoothing things over with our investors and our clients, but my own reputation was damaged and I was heartbroken; ashamed.

I had just gotten divorced and sold my house.

My dreams were destroyed: I lost my company, my wife and my house. I tried to kill myself. That's how I ended up in hospital. I was lucky to survive.

Single speed

Exactly 4 years ago, on May 4th 2015 it seemed like I was getting my life back on track. I had been doing consultancy work for Barclays, which was very lucrative. Jon Bradford - the guy who ran the TechStars startup accelerator in Cambridge - had written about how I'd "sold out" and gone back to the world of banking and the easy money that was to be made in the Square Mile and Canary Wharf, which was hurtful. I was not happy. I knew I had sold out, but I needed money to pay the bills. I was couch surfing and living in AirBnBs. My life was chaotic. I loved being in London, but it was tearing through my dwindling savings and I was still heartbroken about my divorce and losing my company.

This photo is interesting, because it predates one of the most insane moments of my life. I was so exhausted and sleep deprived, that soon after this photo was taken I started hearing voices and generally suffering a major psychotic episode. My mind completely capitulated and I was lost to madness, briefly. It seems very strange now, writing about it, when I consider myself to have pretty good mental health, but at the time - 4 years ago - I was extremely unwell.

London beach

Exactly 3 years ago, on May 4th 2016, I was skimming stones into the Thames on this little rocky 'beach' on the banks of the river, by my apartment. A lucrative contract with HSBC had allowed me to get an apartment with the most stunning views over London and my life was starting to improve.

I had been an extremely passionate kitesurfer, which had taken me all over the world, seeking out the best wind and waves. During my divorce, having to step down as CEO of the company I founded, and the period when I was very unwell, I hadn't been doing any kitesurfing. Living by the river on a part which was tidal gave me back the connection to water which had been missing from my life. A friend came to visit and was even brave enough to kitesurf from this 'beach' despite the Thames being a particularly treacherous waterway to navigate, especially without an engine - the wind was gusty and unpredictable, but he managed to kitesurf on a 'beach' right in the heart of Central London.

Soon after this pleasant evening skimming stones into the Thames, I went away on a kitesurfing holiday to a desert island off the coast of North Africa, and had a very enjoyable time. 2016 was a good year. I made a lot of money and I had some very nice holidays, as well as meeting the love of my life.

California rocket fuel

Exactly 2 years ago, on May 4th 2017, I managed to trick my doctor into prescribing me an antidepressant combo called California Rocket Fuel. I'd had a rough winter where I nearly died from DVT which caused my kidneys to fail, and consequently I had lost a lucrative contract with Lloyds Banking Group. My life had been miserable, with a great deal of pain from the muscle and nerve damage from the DVT. I hadn't felt well enough to be able to work.

The love of my life was doing amazingly well in her career - in politics - and was appearing on an almost daily basis on TV, while I was limping around on crutches and taking a lot of very powerful painkillers. I was depressed and I wanted the very most powerful antidepressant I could get, which I discovered was "California Rocket Fuel" by doing some internet research.

I have bipolar disorder. People with bipolar disorder are not supposed to take antidepressants without a mood stabiliser. Doctors are not supposed to prescribe antidepressants to people with bipolar disorder. I had to be extremely sneaky to obtain this prescription, and it was rather cruel how I manipulated the poor unsuspecting doctor into seperately prescribing me the two medications, which are combined to create "California Rocket Fuel".

The result was predictable: Mania.

I went incredibly manic and my behaviour became erratic. I broke up with the love of my life.

. . .

That's the end of the pictures

. . .

When I later regained my mental stability and reflected upon what I had done, I realised I'd made a terrible mistake and I tried to get back together with the love of my life, but my behaviour while manic had been so inexcusably awful that I had ruined any chance of that happening. Agonisingly, she said she still loved me and wanted to take me back, but her family, friends and work colleagues would've been apalled that we were back together again. "If you love them, let them go"... it's been devastatingly hard, but I've tried to come to terms with losing the love of my life, and acknowledge that it'd have been very unfair on her to pursue her after what I put her through.

I left London doubly heartbroken, having lost the love of my life, and leaving the city I've spent most of my adult life in. I love London, but it was time to leave.

Since leaving London, my life has been erratic and unstable at times, but putting the pieces of my broken heart back together again and rebuilding myself to a position of health, wealth and prosperity has been a lot easier than it was in the capital. London placed an enormous amount of stress and strain on me, to generate vast quantities of cash to maintain a high standard of living.

Today, May 4th 2019, I have a fabulous standard of living. Maybe I'm not going to be a millionaire CEO. I've loved and lost a wife and a love of my life. I've nearly lost my life during some very bad medical emergencies. I've nearly lost my mind. However, despite all the adversity, I'm wealthy, I live in a beautiful big house and I'm reasonably successful when I'm dating, so I see no reason why I'm not going to end up with a very enviable life. In fact, I already have a very enviable life.

We expect our lives to take a linear path; continually improving as we get older. My life has been chaotic and unpredictable. My life has been through boom times and and bust in the most extreme way imaginable. I'm 39 years old and I didn't expect to be alive this long. There have been devastating moments, which I thought would destroy me, but they haven't. I thought my bipolar disorder would make my life so unstable that I wouldn't be able to regain control and have a good quality of life, but my life is really awesome and it keeps getting better, although it does take a lot of hard work to maintain stability.

I suppose this overview of an 8 year period of my life, told using 5 pictures, is not going to do justice to the complete story, which is full of hair-raising gory details, as well as some moments of sheer delight, but this brief synopsis does at least give the reader a little insight into who I am, without having to read all the [literally] million words I've written and published on this website.

May the fourth be with you.

 

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So Hungry

10 min read

This is a story about rushing...

Pub grub

My life doesn't have a lot of highlights. I'm struggling to get up in the morning. I'm bored at work a lot of the time. I'm trying to eat fewer calories, so I'm skipping breakfast and having a very light lunch. My writing has become a bit of a marathon slog as I attempt to write the final few thousands words to reach my 1-million target. The only thing I've got to look forward to is my evening meal.

Because I try to do my writing before I go to the gastropub to eat, I'm always in a bit of a rush. It's a challenge to write ~2,000 words in between a full day at my desk in the office, and the ideal time to arrive at the pub in order to get a table and eat. I write doubly quickly, because I know that the sooner I've finished my daily blog post, the sooner I can go and choose my meal. With that incentive, I have no difficulty pounding out the words very rapidly on the keyboard, before rushing off to enjoy the highlight of my day - pub grub.

You shouldn't do your supermarket food shopping when you're hungry, because you will strip the shelves of products and buy far more than you could ever hope to eat, before the expiry date of the perishable groceries which you've purchase. My eyes are always far bigger than my belly when I've been hungry for a while. I think that being hungry also affects the speed with which I do everything, and my attention to detail. I'm rushing everything and being sloppy, because I just want to get things done as quickly as possible.

I need to earn money, lose some weight and cut down my drinking, but I expect instant results. My writing target is within spitting distance now, but I'd have never reached this point if I tried to do it too quickly - I've had to pace myself. My finances are improving but I'll never get financial security if I don't keep turning up at the office every day - even though it's torturously boring - for many many more months. I'm really not enjoying my semi-sobriety, but I'm not going to feel the benefit unless I keep it up for a decent length of time.

It's been a month since I started my new job in a new and unfamiliar city. For a whole month I've been living in a hotel midweek and eating in the same pub every night. For a whole month I've been dividing my time between the city where I have my apartment and the city where the office is.

In the last month I've managed to quit the sleeping pills and painkillers I was using to cope with stress and anxiety. In the last month, I've managed to cut down my drinking drastically. In the last month, I've stopped being so antisocial and wasting the whole summer indoors drinking wine. I've earned some more money, which is slowly making a dent in my debts. It's reasonable progress.

I don't feel particularly good.

My working day is a struggle. My living arrangements are a struggle. My life lacks an adequate amount of things to look forward to; moments of joy. I keep losing hope that I'll be able to maintain the stability and keep up the routine, because there are so few moments when I'm happy and content. The struggle to get up in the morning is not just a phase - it's going to be a struggle every morning for months, if not years. The struggle to get through the working day is not just a temporary struggle... it'll be permanent while I remain trapped in a career which I outgrew very quickly when I was young.

There's no obvious reason why I shouldn't be able to keep up the routine. What's so bad about a well-rehearsed sequence of actions which starts with me washing and ironing my clothes for the week ahead, packing my bag, driving to the office, checking into the hotel, eating in the pub, driving home. What's so hard about that? The problem is the lack of all the other 'stuff' which makes a liveable life. Where's my social life? Where are the holidays? Where are the hobbies and interests? Where's any of the 'stuff' which gives my life any meaning?

Work is meaningless because it's the same old crap that I've been doing full-time for 21+ years, which was easy and boring when I was in my late teens, let alone now. Work cannot be the thing which defines me and is all-consuming, because that's unhealthy and I know I'm never going to find fulfilment as a member of a huge team in a gigantic organisation. I feel a lot better about the morality of what I'm doing since I quit investment banking and moved into the public sector, but the waste is pretty sickening. Of course the public sector was never going to be particularly dynamic and fast-paced, but it's not that much slower than most of the big private sector organisations I've worked for. I know that startups are too demanding and too much risk though, and they'll make me sick by using and abusing me.

I need to get to the point where I've served my time and been thoroughly miserable for enough years that I have a substantial sum of money saved up, such that I can dare to dream. Perhaps things will be better when I'm financially secure enough to be able to spend my boring days in the office planning my next holiday. The misery of the unchallenging office job was much more tolerable when I spent my weekends kitesurfing, and I was jetting all over the globe looking for the best kitesurfing locations in all kinds of exotic locations. Perhaps my misery is largely due to the fact that all I do is work work work - I'm on a very tight budget.

There's no rushing my finances, unfortunately. There's no way I could earn money any quicker than I am doing. Money floods in at a fairly obscene rate, but I was very very deep in the hole, so it also costs a lot of money just to stand still. I can't believe how much money I'm earning, but yet it's still taking agonisingly long to get ahead.

Playing the waiting game is awful. I'm clock watching all the time. My alarm clock is the most dreadful intrusion on my day - the worst moment. Sometimes I'm not even tired, but knowing that I have to go and sit at a desk and be bored out of my mind is thoroughly depressing in a way which is soul-destroyingly exhausting. Mid-morning I panic about how slowly the day is dragging. Lunchtime is over in the blink of an eye, especially since I started having a super-light lunch which always leaves me still feeling hungry. The period from 2pm to 3:45pm is the very worst - at 2pm I can't believe how much of the day there still is to go, with nothing to occupy or entertain me. I often think I'm going to have to walk out, because I can't stand it. It doesn't matter how much I'm earning - it's not enough. Finally, it's a respectable time to leave the office - even though I'm frequently late for work - but all I have to look forward to is another long wait until it's a respectable time to eat my dinner. It's 6:23pm right now, which is very early for an adult with no children to eat.

My evenings were also unpleasant, and especially so since I've drastically reduced my alcohol intake. My cravings for booze were pretty incessant and it was hard to read or watch TV when all I could think about was how much I wanted to get a glass of wine. However, I've found some stuff that I'm enjoying watching and I'm starting to find it easier to relax and enjoy my solitary leisure time in my hotel room, without getting drunk.

I had planned to get drunk every single night until I'd regained financial security. Getting drunk was going to be my reward for doing a job I hate in a place where I don't want to be, all alone living in a hotel. I was prepared to put my entire life on hold so I could earn as much cash as possible as quickly as possible, and I'd have virtually unlimited quantities of alcohol to help me white-knuckle my way through to the end. The problem is that my health was being destroyed surprisingly rapidly - I was putting on weight and feeling very unfit and unwell. If I'd kept drinking as much as I was until the end of my contract in just over a year's time, I wouldn't be able to enjoy my hard-won wealth because I'd be fat and quite possibly have some very serious health issues to deal with as a consequence.

Comfort-eating is my only pleasure at the moment, as I'm single, living away from home, trying not to drink, not socialising and generally in a temporary state of suspended animation. I can fulfil the very few demands of my day job with less than 1% of my brain and I'm just waiting for enough paydays to restore my financial security. I've stopped everything except for the few core things which keep the hamster-wheel turning.

It's not particularly as if it's worthwhile making friends and getting a local girlfriend. It's not particularly worth investing in life in a place where I have no intention of staying beyond the maximum I absolutely have to in order to achieve my purely financial objective.

I pound out the words on the keyboard every evening after work, in groundhog day repetitive scenario. I pound out the words because it's a fleeting distraction from the endless waiting. Waiting for the money. Waiting for the end. Wishing my life away.

Some people would imagine that I'm impatient and impulsive, because of my mental health problems and my struggles with addiction. Stimulant abuse is particularly bad for damaging the pre-frontal cortex of the brain, which is responsible for executive decision-making, and importantly the ability to curtail stupid impulses. In fact, I spend my whole day suppressing the nearly-overpowering instinct to get up and walk out; to walk away from the torturous bullshit boring job. In fact, I'm one of the most patient people you know. Why do you think I get paid so much? If my job was pleasant and easy, everybody would be doing it.

I spend all working day in front of the keyboard and screen, then I flip open my laptop lid and spend some more time in front of the same type of keyboard and the same type of screen. The clock is in exactly the same position in the top-right hand corner of the screen, which my eyes instinctively flick up to, constantly aware of the slow passage of time.

Since I wrote what time it was, nearly 20 minutes have elapsed. I'm 20 minutes closer to my meal. I'm 20 minutes closer to the day when I've earned enough money to start to dare to dream. I'm 20 minutes closer to the moment I die, when I can finally enjoy some peace from this torture.

I'm off to the pub. I'm tempted to have a drink.

 

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Trashing Tech

3 min read

This is a story about sabotage...

Macbook damage

This is my laptop I have with me while visiting my friend. It's had that damage since 2010. My nice new laptop is away being repaired.

My Apple watch screen is half-covered with a big black blob. It's pretty much useless now, so I don't even wear it anymore.

I bought a Macbook Air, which got damaged, and I'd spent so much getting it repaired that when it got damaged again, I just sold it for spares and bought my new laptop - the one that's currently being repaired.

What is it about me and damaging expensive technology?

Well, it's not just hardware. I pretty much threw away an entire tech startup company. My friend and co-founder managed to repair it and keep it profitable, but I had pretty much managed to destroy that company.

It's strange. I'm away on a short weekend vacation with my old friend who, 7 years ago, I used to share a house with. We were both doing tech startup companies. We were meeting the same mentors, angel investors and venture capitalists. We were being interviewed by the same journalists. We were with each other 24x7 for a pretty damn intense and important period of our entrepreneurial tech careers.

I don't feel embarassed that I screwed up my startup. I'm pleased that my friend's succeeded.

What I feel embarrassed about is that one of my arms has scars running along its length, and a big scar that I would usually cover up with my Apple Watch. What I feel embarrassed about is that I'm using my old laptop from all those years ago, and the reason is pretty much the same as why I have all those scars and my Apple Watch is irreparably damaged. I'm a damaged person, and I've damaged so much stuff during the on/off period I've been sick, which has been most of the last 7 years.

It's geek status symbol stuff, to have the latest Macbook Pro, Apple Watch and iPhone X, and I'm the guy who threw away his valuable tech startup, so I guess it'd be foolish for me to pretend like I'm something I'm not - to waste valuable cash on status symbols which I can't really afford.

The tough thing though is, I had/have those latest gadgets, but I trashed them in one way or another, and it's the story of how they got trashed that's the difficult thing. I want to be the happy, healthy, energy-filled and motivated guy who I was 7 years ago, but I'm not. I'm this broken damaged guy, with his broken damaged old stuff.

I guess I should just be grateful I'm alive.

 

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What's Missing from this Picture?

4 min read

This is a story about unnecessary packaging...

Holiday essentials

I've had a stressful morning. I had to package my Macbook carefully so that it could be safely sent away to be repaired. I had to locate the original packaging for my Virgin broadband router and box it up so it could be sent back to them, even though it's defective junk. I then had to find a UPS parcel drop-off point and a Collect+ drop off point to drop off the respective parcels. This required a trip to purchase bubble wrap, a suitable sized box and packing tape, as well as two more trips to two different drop-off places.

While I was out dealing with those chores, I also had to purchase a piece of carry-on luggage and some flip-flops. The flip flops were sold to me in a box. I don't know why flip flops need a box - just a simple cardboard clip to keep the left and the right flip-flop together is more than sufficient.

Anyway, I'm home now. I have located my passport. I have located some leftover Euros I had from the last holiday I took... 22 months ago. I opened the box containing my new flip-flops and lo and behold, there was a discrepancy in the number of flip flops present in the box - 50% of the required number of flip-flops were missing.

Do I drive back into town, park my car, walk to the shop and explain the situation in the hope that they admit their mistake and remedy it without quibble? Do I just purchase a second pair of flip-flops and then open and check inside the box before i leave the store? Do I just abandon the whole ill-fated exercise, and buy a pair at the tiny departure airport, where the shops will probably be closed? Do I take time out from the one single whole day I get to spend with my friend, without either of us having to worry about airport arrivals/departures, hotel check ins/out and all the rest of that crap, just to go looking for some suitable summer footwear?

I don't know why this is making me upset, because I don't even know if the nerve damage to my left foot/ankle is so bad that I can even wear a flip-flop on that foot. The last time I tried, I didn't have enough sensation and motor control to keep a flip-flop on my foot.

Also, my flight's delayed - French air traffic controllers on strike or something. My flight barely enters French airspace, but whatever... everyone should have the right to go on strike for better pay and conditions.

My 'holiday' is really just a day spent with a friend who I hardly ever get to see, then we both fly home on Monday. I have another week to go before my current gig comes to an end, so I need to make sure I take the money while it's there on offer.

"Have you got any holidays planned?" asked a person I spoke to on Friday, which is code for "we want you to work solidly until you drop dead". We'll have to see how badly they want me, because I really need a holiday - a proper holiday.

It seems churlish to complain, but I've had a month of hell. Breakup, losing my local job, getting sick, holiday plans pretty much cancelled, the stress of finding a new gig, the prospect of going back to London, the never-ending pressure to generate vast sums of cash to dig myself out of the hole... the hole I can never quite escape from. FML.

What was supposed to be a romantic beach holiday with my [ex]girlfriend has now turned into a very brief weekend meetup of two old friends. It'd have been far easier for us to meet in London, as he was there yesterday. He's travelled London -> Prague -> Lisbon -> Faro -> Lisbon -> Prague, and I'm travelling Wales -> Bristol -> Faro -> Bristol -> Wales. Our carbon footprint is criminal.

Hopefully I'll be in a better mood when I wake up in Faro tomorrow and I can hang out with my old friend for the whole day, free from commitments and responsibilities... I can put up with sweaty feet.

 

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Where Did It All Go Wrong?

4 min read

This is a story about dead ends...

Sinclair A-bike

Sir Clive Sinclair is a very clever man. So also is Hermann Hauser. So is Dr. Robert Sansom. So are the fellow members of my cohort who were lucky enough to be chosen from a very great number of hopeful applicants for an opportunity to fraternise with Cambridge's tech elite. We were destined for greatness.

The pinnacle - the apogee - of an entrepreneurial career in tech would be the moment when you have the undivided attention of a packed auditorium with a total net worth of tens of billions of pounds. Even if only for 5 or 10 minutes, all eyes are on you. It's your 5 minutes of fame, insofar as any geek can ever expect to have in their lifetime.

With offensive dismissiveness, the egotistical front man who would claim credit for the meeting of these minds, said my co-founder "was last seen with twins around his ankles" (he actually has 3 young children) and that I had returned to my former career with my tail between my legs.

Whatever I do, I think I do it with dedication and I achieve results. I obsess over my goals and I work tirelessly to reach them.

However, I feel old, unwell and somewhat burnt-out; spent.

If intellect was a good predictor of wealth, we'd see a much stronger correlation between the top exam grades, first-class degrees, doctorates and those who have been lucky enough to earn their fortunes, such that they have the financial means to retire early. If you think that a high IQ and studying hard at school and university is going to help you get ahead in life, you're sadly mistaken: you'll be a wage-slave in the rat race, just like everybody else.

I thought momentarily that I had found a tolerable compromise: a way to enjoy the lifestyle of the trust-fund endowed sons and daughters who can rely on family wealth to bankroll their carefree existence, while only sacrificing a small amount of my time each week to rather boring, menial, unethical and demeaning labour. I struck a deal with the devil, as it were.

Realising, however, that I was cash rich and time poor, I started work on projects which far predated websites like taskrabbit.com and mybuilder.com. My dot com - getajobdone.com - might not have been a world-class brand, but this was soon enough after the dot com boom [and crash] that I can claim some bragging rights.

I was too young and inexperienced to profit from the dot com boom, but I was at the very forefront of the iPhone app craze.

But where did it all go wrong?

How did I end up back in my old career, as Jon Bradford so astutely [and offensively] observed?

Fuck you. That's why: fuck you.

I make simple plans which seem fairly achievable, like having a nice little apartment with sea views and a yacht in the marina. Simple plans like having a job where I can drive to work in less than 15 minutes and enjoy a 6-figure salary. Then, it all goes to shit, so fuck you. I have it, then I lose it. I get a taste of it, then it's snatched away.

Where did it go wrong? Fucking everywhere, that's where. Everywhere from breakups to losing jobs - through no fault of my own - to the fact that the world is just a crazy competitive dog-eat-dog awful cut-throat world.

I live a charmed existence, by all accounts, but you should never forget the sacrifices I've made. While the rest of you have been creating clones of yourselves and lining the pockets of the banks with your mortgage interest payments, I've been cut loose in a world which views a man with no family ties with suspicion. In fact, having no family ties and no local connection to anywhere puts me at risk of destitution; total abandonment - I'm one of society's unwanted members. No safety net exists for me.

In 25 hours I'm hoping to be reunited with an old friend whose path through life might see him [incorrectly] labeled as an "overnight success" story. What a world apart, the last 6 or 7 years of our lives have been. How could we ever reconcile the differences in our experiences? Him the millionaire and me the pauper.

To divine where it all went wrong is an impossible task.

All I know is that I'm exhausted and I've got nothing to show for my efforts.

I'm not bitter though, I think. I cherish my experiences, no matter how harrowing and traumatic they've been.

 

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What Would Ben Do?

10 min read

This is a story about role models...

School photo

Many people might ask themselves "what would my mother think?" before saying or doing something stupid. My druggie loser parents - who I'm now estranged from - were not inspiring role models for me growing up. Instead, I can pinpoint the things which have given me everything good in my adult life, and I attribute those things to three friends' families, and one family in particular.

The seed of my initial interest in computers was sown by my friends Joe and Ben, whose father had an Apple Mac and whose mother was a systems analyst. Without that introduction to the pure joy of using a computer with a graphical interface and a mouse, I would not have become hooked.

With my neighbour, Julian, we used to use his dad's Apple Mac, which maintained my interest in computers and allowed me to see their practical applications beyond computer games. Julian's dad was a heart surgeon, and we played around with a heart surgery simulation game. Julian's dad also showed us a piece of software he'd developed to diagnose angina based on a set of questions the patients answered.

Then, Ben - a different Ben - taught me how to program a computer. Ben and his mum ran a computer club one evening a week at a place which compiled Oxford's most well-known "what's on" guide. Ben's dad took a group of us to the E3 computer games exhibition. Also, Ben's family encouraged creativity beyond the screen - the children were encouraged to be artistic and musical in a way that was fun, as opposed to simply an academic exercise in the interests of appearing to be a more well-rounded person when attending university interviews. Ben's dad took a bunch of us not-so-athletic geeks to play a game of basketball once.

Because I got moved around so much as a kid, I only got to spend 3 years with Ben - the second Ben - during childhood. I went back to Oxford for a visit as soon as I got a car that was reliable enough to complete the journey, but then the visits became more and more infrequent. I've only seen Ben 4 times in my adult life.

So, you'd think that it'd be pretty weird to have somebody I've seen so infrequently as a kind of role model, but that's what's happened.

My childhood had 8 different schools and 6 house moves. If I was taught anything during childhood by my parents, it was that I shouldn't get attached to my friends, my school, my room... anything. I was taught not to get attached, because the rug would keep getting pulled out from beneath my feet.

The beauty of the internet is that your friends are your friends, wherever they are in the world. I've worked for 15 different organisations all over the UK and abroad, and I've moved around an unimaginable amount - I've been quite nomadic. The only friends I've managed to hang onto are those who have an online presence, because - as I've learned the hard and painful way - when you're out of sight you're out of mind.

Ben was an early adopter of everything online, which inspired me to get into similar things. While he was building websites and a classified ads system for the aforementioned Oxford "what's on?" company, I found a similar local company and started building similar stuff. Through the internet, I always stayed roughly abreast of what Ben was doing.

A common childhood friend of ours crossed my path in Winchester, and tragically I was probably the last person in our friendship group to see him alive. Through the internet I was aware of the funeral, but it felt strange, being this lurker... this outsider. My friends had done their GCSEs, their A-levels and then had all gone off to their various universities, but I'd missed out on that - I'd been taken away from all that, as had so often happened, by my druggie loser parents.

When I did a tech startup and I was lost without a co-founder I asked Ben for advice and invited him to join me on the venture. Ben was going to be a mentor on the Springboard technology accelerator program in Cambridge, and he suggested that I apply, which I did. Ben had to go back to California to be with his family, so he didn't end up being a mentor on the program, but it often makes me think about whether I'm a bad son, because I feel like my parents can rot in hell when they get sick. I feel like I'd be there for my mum if she was on her own, but I can't deal with my parents - I had enough of dealing with them on my own from age 0 to 10; I'm too bitter about them ruining my childhood.

I think a lot about how angry and bitter I've been with my writing. I think about how Ben would never write stuff like I do; Ben would never say or do anything regrettable.

I think about how I became a complete sociopathic psycho towards my lovely co-founder, while I was on the Springboard program in Cambridge. I made my co-founder cry in front of a Google exec. Perhaps, in some ironic twist of fate, I could've made my co-founder cry in front of Ben. Ben would never make his co-founder cry. Who am I? What have I become? I feel terribly ashamed about the way I spoke to and treated my co-founder.

I read stuff that Ben writes and I get inspired. This whole blog is inspired by the fact that Ben founded the platform on which I write this - it's another one of his startups. I read Ben's blog and it often inspires me to write my own opinions on similar topics. It's a bit weird, but it's mostly harmless.

Then, there's the bitterness, resentment and pent-up anger that seems to come out of nowhere. Some really vicious, mean, angry stuff pours out of me and onto the page. Ben would never write like I do. Ben would never get mad and say really horrible things. Ben just wouldn't rip into people like I do.

I think about all the tirades I've launched on my useless druggie loser parents, and I think that I must be a big disappointment to Ben.

I hate that I disappoint Ben.

I hate that I'm letting him down.

I hate that I'm this person.

I hate that I act like this and that I say this stuff.

I wrote loads of stuff and some of it was OK. I was super pleased that I was writing regularly. I was happy to have a creative outlet and I was proud of my blog. Then, out came a lot of stuff about my mental health, addiction, recovery, detox, rehab. The stuff I was writing was OKish but I was on dodgy ground. I was ashamed to admit that stuff in case Ben read it. I didn't want to admit my failures and shortcomings.

The most recent time I saw Ben I was really unwell, but my girlfriend encouraged me to go and see him while he was in London. It was a rare opportunity to catch up. Even though I was feeling terrible, my lovely girlfriend managed to get me to go and meet up as planned. She met Ben.

But, I got more and more sick. I started being a dick on Facebook. I broke up with my amazing lovely girlfriend, and I wasn't very nice about it. In fact, I was a total dick. I was awful. I was the worst. All my friends surely must have seen what a terrible person I am, including - of course - Ben.

I started dating another girl. Then I left London and went to Manchester, stopped seeing the other girl and got another girlfriend.

Things went badly wrong in Manchester.

On Twitter I wrote "I'm sorry, my far flung friends" after I believed I was beyond the point of saving - I had ingested a massive overdose and was about to lose consciousness. Ben responded right away. I replied. I thought it was probably the last thing I'd ever do: responding to a tweet from Ben.

What have I done since then?

I feel like I've made a fool of myself. I feel like I've failed to capitalise on the opportunity to do some good. I feel like I haven't turned my good fortune - not dying - into something more meaningful. What have I done with my blog and my Twitter followers? What have I managed to do which Ben might think is a useful contribution to humanity?

I've continued to write so many things which are quite cringeworthy. I've continued to grind my axe. I've continued to act in a way that makes me think that Ben must be quite certain that I'm an unpleasant, vicious, mean, nasty, horrible piece of work. I feel like I've disappointed my role model; disappointed the person who I idolise and look up to.

I've very much lost my way. I want to have a positive role model and to act in more positive ways, but I've gone wrong somewhere, or maybe I'm a totally shitty person.

It's weird to idolise a friend from childhood, who I've hardly seen; hardly know, frankly, except what can be gleaned from his creative output on the web.

Like Ben, I've written a novel during National Novel Writing Month, and I've poured my heart and soul into my blog and my Twitter account; my online community. I've attempted to emulate his online achievements, but yet I've somehow failed, because of my lack of dignity and my sheer nastiness... I've made a fool of myself and I'm a disappointment; an embarrassment.

This is, quite possibly, one of the most cringey and weird things I've ever written, but it's my wont to write whatever's on my mind without filter, and this is what's been brewing for a few days now.

I'm sorry Ben, but I think you can take it given the fact you're a public figure who's lived your life online as much as I have, writing under your own name rather than a pseudonym. Only our closest childhood friends would have any idea who I'm talking about. I hope you don't feel that this brings you any shame, in being connected with a shoddy person like me.

The other thing to address is the pressure of knowing that somebody idolises you. It's a bit weird and creepy to know that somebody reads your stuff and also credits so many of their positive life decisions as having been inspired by you. All I can say to that is: my income as a computer programmer has given me every opportunity I ever wished for, and the inspiration to do creative writing has saved my life. Living an online life as an active contributor to various social networks has given me an identity I'm proud of and has brought me numerous lifelong friendships which I treasure dearly. In short, you did a good thing, even if I take some of those gifts and abuse them sometimes... sorry about that; not your fault.

What would Ben do? Probably not write some bizarre stream-of-consciousness thing like this, but I'm glad he's there as an inspiration in my life to be a better person.

 

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Superstars and Comfortable Men

11 min read

This is a story about a life philosophy...

Maunu Kea

Here I am stood taking photographs at the summit of the highest mountain in the Hawaiian Islands - an altitude of 13,796 feet above sea level. Sea level is where I started that morning. Any mountain above 12,000 feet will affect susceptible people with dizziness, shortness of breath, weakness and could even present a life-threatening situation for somebody with pre-existing heart or breathing problems. So, dangerous, but not that dangerous. Nobody gets a pulmonary oedema up here, in this cold thin air, but very few can thrive in this oxygen-depleted environment.

There are ostensibly two ways to get up a mountain: you can walk, or you can use some kind of mechanised assistance (e.g. helicopter, cable car or even drive if somebody has made a road to the summit). I used to scoff at the idea of taking 'the easy way out'. I used to think that using cable cars and funicular railways in the Alps was cheating... you hadn't really conquered the mountain at all. However, after my first summer season in Chamonix valley, I realised there's no point nitpicking over a pile of rocks: most climbers who attempt the North face of The Eiger will use the railway to the summit, which stops halfway to let anybody out who wants to tackle its vertical wall of death. Tourists watch as men and women laden with ropes and other equipment, venture out of a hole that was made to clear the railway tunnel of snow. Are they less brave? Many have lost their lives attempting this 'easy' route up the mountain.

Summit marker

There you are, see. 13,796 feet. You can see this elevation post in the bottom left hand corner of the previous photo. But how did I get up there, more importantly?

In 2008 through to 2011, I was bootstrapping. That is to say, I was building profitable business(es) using my own money and with very little outside help. Then, I got out of my depth and I phoned a friend. I begged him to come on board with my latest venture, which promised to have the most growth potential of anything I'd done before, plus it had an overlap - in the education space - with some of my friend's expertise.

My friend told me he was a mentor on a technology accelerator program, affiliated to TechStars, which was based in Cambridge and was taking place that coming summer. I have to admit, I'd never heard of Y-Combinator, SeedCamp, 500-Startups, TechStars or any of the other myriad accelerators that were springing up. The idea was simple though: take a bunch of promising teams, incubate them and connect them with the best minds in the world of tech, have a demo day and help them to raise angel investment or venture capital (VC).

I was enthused and given a new direction. There was hope and relief that I might no longer suffer the isolation and loneliness of being 'the boss'. I really wanted to be part of this ecosystem.

I applied for TechStars Boulder, in Colorado, USA, as well as the TechStars affiliate program that my friend was going to be a mentor on, in Cambridge, UK. My company was shortlisted for Boulder, so I flew out to Denver, drove to Boulder and met with David Cohen - one of the co-founders of TechStars. My company just missed the cut for Boulder, but was offered a place on the Cambridge program, which I accepted. On demo day, Brad Feld - the other founder of TechStars - watched my pitch and I got to meet him. I was rubbing shoulders with people who had achieved, or were about to achieve, greatness.

For example: you know that robot that's in the new Star Wars movies? The one that's a ball that rolls around and makes bleeping noises a bit like R2-D2? BB-8, it's called. Anyway, the toy version of that is based on the Sphero, and Sphero were one of the teams to go through the TechStars program. I got to meet those guys in Boulder. Now they have one of the best selling children's toys, thanks to a Star Wars brand licensing deal, which was undoubtably in part due to the TechStars program... that's how it works.

BB-8

Once the TechStars program was done, I had two role models to choose between. Both had pregnant girlfriends, but they had very different aspirations and priorities.

David, co-founder of my business, was intent on making life comfortable for him and his family. He'd made a big sacrifice, living away from home while we were doing the accelerator program. He'd made a risky commitment, ploughing money into a company that - at that time - didn't really have any protectable intellectual property or reliable and significant income stream. Although I talked him into the idea of taking our company BIG and getting half a million pounds worth of investment to allow us to grow, I think he really wanted to take things a lot slower and more carefully, and more importantly, get back home to his pregnant girlfriend.

Jakub, who I had been sharing a house with for months along with his co-founder Jan, seemed to be fixated on Silicon Valley and being a BIG success. I hope he wouldn't be angry with me for spilling the beans that he really regretted coming to Cambridge, UK, when their company could easily have gotten onto one of the Silicon Valley based accelerators, which is where, ultimately, he wanted to end up. Jakub had been obsessed by the trials and tribulations of Apple Corporation, and was 100% a Mac man, not a PC. Whether or not he wanted/wants to follow in the footsteps of Steve Jobs... one only need to look at his professionally taken photograph for his online profile: holding his chin in just the same way as the man who resurrected the struggling Apple Corp, and built it to be the world's biggest company, by market capitalisation.

Schopenhauer thought that the best thing in life would be to not be born at all, and the second best thing was simply to keep suffering to a minimum. Nietzsche realised that without suffering, how can we really experience elation? If you take the helicopter to the top of the mountain, you don't get the same feeling of achievement and success as you do if you walk up there. Nietzsche said that the world needs people like Steve Jobs, who was a millionaire by the age of 23, in 1978, and was worth $19 billion at the time of his death. Nietsche talks about supermen (übermensch) and the last men. Nietsche reviled these "last men" as he called them: men who were comfortable and content with mediocrity; men who would look at the stars and blink, in his words, rather than strive to achieve the very maximum they could in life - becoming superstars themselves.

I'm now in an uncomfortable in-between place. I neither achieved the übermensch nor the life of comfortable mediocrity.

Did I give up, because I was overwhelmed by the enormity of the task that lay ahead? Did I simply make mistakes, in choosing business partners who weren't as ambitious as me; as gung-ho, committed and fearless? Was the lack of support I received from my now ex-wife, my undoing?

Or, am I - as Nietzsche feared - one of the last men. The ones who are prepared to slave along in miserable existence because I'm not brave enough; bold enough to reach for the stars; to follow in the footsteps of those who've reached the top.

I'm torn, because I believe in socialist & humanist values: I believe in wealth redistribution, state monopolies, free education, free healthcare, free housing and a whole host of other things that would see me labelled as "Marxist", "Stalinist", "Leninist", "Maoist" or some other -ist, meant in the pejorative. Sometimes, I do wonder if people would work as hard, if they didn't want big mansions, swimming pools, helicopters, private jets, superyachts and all the other trimmings of exorbitant wealth. However, I know enough successful people to know that they just wanted to see a dream realised; a goal achieved: they didn't know how to stop working so hard, and they couldn't if they tried.

Strangely, although I've been shown the way and my eyes have been opened to the possibility of achieving great wealth in my lifetime, I've been left with nothing but depression. I'm depressed because I can see that hard work is required in life, whichever path you choose, but I'm also depressed because I opened the Pandora's Box of yachts and supercars and other prized possessions of those who followed their difficult task to completion: they reached the summit of the mountain.

I used to play a psychological trick when climbing mountains, which is to imagine every summit that you see is a false one, and that behind it will be an even higher summit, so your anticipation of your reward never turns into disappointment, which could lead you to giving up and turning back.

Another psychological trick I played in life, was never to dream and aspire to own things that were well out of reach. I bought a house, a yacht, a speedboat and a fast car... but these were all modest items that I was able to save up my wages and purchase. I never dreamt of owning a mansion or a brand-new Ferrari, for example, although the latter was achievable if that was my one dream in life, which it wasn't. I played a psychological trick, of forcing myself to be modest with my aspirations and rein in my ambitions, and to make incremental improvements rather than shoot for the top prize.

Mountain track

Now, I take short-cuts. I cheat. I know how high I can get, but I don't want to make the effort again. It hurt too much to be on the express elevator to the top, and to start to dream about all the wonderful things I could do with that wealth, only to crash to earth and be devastated. I'd like to be comfortable, but even that hurts, because it still requires effort as well as denying that I'd really like to own a nice big yacht, a supercar and a big house.

Do I begrudge my friends their success? Of course not, but it doesn't inspire me. Maybe it does inspire others, but when I look around, most people are fighting to just hang onto what little they've got. Would I tax my friend heavily because I'm a failure and I want to grab a piece of the wealth he created? Would I expect him to be humble and give credit to the society that helped him get to the top, even though we shouldn't try to drag everybody down to an equal level - equally mediocre and comfortable, according to Nietzsche? Yes, in a way I do still stand by my politics: I prefer flat structures to pyramids. I like it when everyone gets rich because of co-operation in society, rather than just a tiny handful who get rich at the expense of everybody else. We must remember that we're playing a zero-sum game - for every billionaire, there are millions of starving mouths and people without clean drinking water.

My friend was 9 years old when communism ended in his home country. He has been deeply affected. I'm not sure what makes me so certain that wealth should be redistributed, and the vulnerable protected, but I'm certainly going to tip-toe around the subject when I see my friend Jakub tomorrow, which will be the first time I will have had to offer face-to-face congratulations on him reaching the summit: he's rich now, by most ordinary people's standards, but I will attest that he build that wealth, with his team: it wasn't gifted to him by inheritance; it wasn't stolen or conned; it wasn't embezzled. He earned it and he deserves congratulating.

I'm still torn up about that question though: is it better to have 7 billion contented, comfortable people, or 100 or so obscenely wealthy ones, and half the world in desperate poverty.

In fact, no, scratch that. I go for comfortable. I go for "the last men" even if Nietzsche so hated them. Fuck him, that pompous German twat.

 

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One Week in Hospital

11 min read

This is a story about affordable care...

Get well cards

I've been able to roll the dice a few times - following my dreams and chasing my ambitions - because of progressive liberal socialist policies put in place by the Labour government of 1945: most notably, the creation of the National Health Service.

I chose to leave an extremely well remunerated job with an American investment bank, with amazing private medical insurance and a brilliant team of occupational health doctors. That US-style of healthcare certainly gave me access to the very best treatment, whenever I needed it, but it was part of a "golden handcuffs" deal: a job that was so much better than anything I could get anywhere else, that I had to be insane to quit.

Life is a balancing act. You can have loads of money, but no time to spend it. You can have loads of time, but no money. You can have job security, but you'll be bored and constrained. You can have freedom and be your own boss, but you will carry all the risks and responsibilities. You have to choose what works for you.

While one friend has parked his tech startup dreams and has taken a salaried job, another couple of friends have just sold their tech startup. In the space of 6 years, I made myself sick with stress, trying to run my own tech startup; I went back to my old job at the American investment bank and stayed sick until I started rebuilding my life in London as an IT consultant. In the space of those 6 years, my friends had countless sleepless nights and worked relentlessly to build their startups to the point where they were worthy of investment or acquisition. In the space of those 6 years, my friend who originally introduced me to the tech startup ecosystem, built a bunch of cool tech and very gracefully pivoted into a job that really suits him, working for a company he really admires. In the space of those 6 years, my friends from the technology accelerator program we attended in Cambridge, raised millions of pounds of investment and sold their company to a tech giant.

Friends went to Silicon Valley to follow their tech dreams. One friend had to break up with his girlfriend. Another had to move his young children away from the family support network, and live with the risk that the USA would reject him and his family's request for residency. Imagine if I had moved to America. How would I ever afford the medical bills, when things have gone badly wrong? I would have been bankrupted many many times over!

Nobody's keeping a seat warm for me in a cushy job because I went to a posh school and a prestigious university. I have no trust fund or family money behind me. Running out of money has meant homelessness. Starting a business had to be profitable from day one.

There's just no way that I would have been able to pursue the opportunities that I have, without the National Health Service. In theory the UK and US are lands of opportunity, where anybody can start a business and become rich and successful. In practice, it's almost impossible unless you're already quite wealthy. The consequences of failure are just too much to bear, for most people.

My current business is consultancy. If I'm sick, I don't get paid. If I don't have a client, I don't get paid. However, I've calculated that I only need to work a few months of the year to earn the same as as the 'secure' job I gave up. It's a calculated risk. I might end up not being able to pay my tax bill. I might end up not being able to pay my rent. But, when things go well, they go really well. The odds are in my favour: if I can just get two or three contracts in a row, not get sick, maybe have some projects that run longer than expected, then I'll suddenly be way way way ahead of where I would be if I'd just plodded along with the golden handcuffs on.

I sat awkwardly on my leg and it went numb. My foot became swollen. My leg swelled up all the way above my knee. My kidneys shut down. I was admitted to hospital and put on dialysis. I haven't had any income since September. Surely this is why it's best to have a nice 'secure' job?

I've been stressed and depressed about losing a lucrative consultancy contract. I was literally about to start working again when I got sick. Contractually, I have no rights: the company could just award the contract to somebody else. I was going to have to start the search for a client all over again, meaning yet more loss of earnings.

Here I am in hospital. I've been here for a week.

I was seen by a doctor within an hour of arriving at Accident & Emergency. I've had two private rooms with amazing views over central London. I've been seen by top consultants, surgeons, registrars, nurses, phlebotomists, physiotherapists. I've been wheeled around by porters and served meals by catering staff. My bedding has been changed and I've been given clean gowns and towels. Numerous medications have been dispensed. I've had ultrasound scans and my blood has been scrubbed clean and drained of dangerous toxins by dialysis machines. My blood pressure, blood oxygen, pulse and body temperature has been monitored around the clock. Even the amount I drink and piss is meticulously recorded by the staff on the ward.

Nobody has ever asked me for my medical insurance details, credit card or discussed how I plan to pay for all this world-class treatment. Nobody is going to send me a bill when this is over.

As luck would have it, my client has decided they will wait for me to get better, so I can start my contract. Imagine if I wasn't able to take that contract in the first place, because of the risk of getting sick. Imagine if all the profit from my contract got wiped out by a humongous medical bill. How is anybody supposedly 'free' to become rich and successful, if they can't predict when they're going to get sick and how much it's going to cost?

This story is really a re-telling of three stories. The story of the friend who inspired me to follow my startup dreams and who inspired me to write about the importance of the National Health Service for social mobility; the story of the friend who succeeded, after 6 years of sacrifice, blood, sweat and tears, with countless sleepless nights and untold stress; and the story of me, who couldn't handle the chafing of the golden handcuffs, and got unwell because of the combined stress of running a tech startup with an unsupportive partner and unsupportive family.

I'm now lucky enough to have reconnected with old London friends, repaired friendships that were damaged or neglected when I got unwell, made new friends who are incredibly loyal and caring, and I have found an amazing lady who makes me feel loved to bits and completely accepted for who I am. Her family have welcomed me with open arms and most of the get well cards I've been getting have been from her family, along with offers of help to get me back on my feet.

While the welfare state is deeply flawed and it's an impossible task to get the social support that you need, as a single man whose life is imploding, the National Health Service has been the glue between the pooh, holding my shit together and just about keeping me alive. When you add in an amazing girlfriend, her family, loyal and caring friends and the rest of the social fabric that a person needs, you finally stand a chance of getting your life back.

I read with great dismay that the US Affordable Care Act (a.k.a. Obamacare) is being repealed. What the actual fuck, America?

If you wanted a case study for a society that's as close to perfect as you're going to get in an imperfect world, we should look to London. 300 different languages are spoken in London schools. The tower blocks of Canary Wharf sit in a London borough that's 46% Muslim. There are cycle superhighways, driverless trains, an underground railway that moves 5 million people every day. The Metropolitan Police are humble public servants, who protect the vulnerable and take people to hospital, involve social services and mental health crisis teams, rather than flashing their badges and drawing their weapons. The whole city exudes tolerance, inclusion and diversity: it's in London's DNA.

You might mistakenly believe that London is a city for the rich, but it's not: because of the National Health Service. The NHS employs 1.7 million people, and funded properly - like it is in London - it shows that socialism and multiculturalism can be made to work. The last piece of Britain's nationalised socialist infrastructure, not to be wrecked by the greed of capitalism; the NHS is a fly in the ointment for the Tories who want to sell everything off for private profits and damn the lives of British citizens.

I want the railways re-nationalised. I want the energy companies re-nationalised. Most of what comes out of Westminster is good for London but bad for the rest of the UK. What we're seeing is one rule for Londoners and another for everybody else. London gets state-owned public transport where 100% of the profits are re-invested in infrastructure. London has a remarkable set of public services that create jobs as well as keeping the residents well looked after. Socialism for London and capitalism for the rest of the UK... that sucks.

In my week in hospital, I've realised that London truly offers an enticing vision of a near-utopian society, so unlike the ugly one pictured in the dark minds of the populists. London is a European city, connected by train to Paris and Brussels. London is a mercantile centre, where East literally meets West at the Greenwich meridian line: the perfect time zone to deal with both Japan and San Francisco in the same business day. The peaceful co-existence of so many cultures in one crowded city is a modern miracle. I live here because of the immigrants, not in spite of the immigrants. London simply wouldn't function without its chaotic diversity.

Getting used to living in London is hard. The congestion is hard. The clash of cultures is hard. Seeing people who look and act differently is hard. Processing the humbling fact that the world is huge and complex is hard. Realising that you're in the racial minority is hard. Living a small, neat, efficient, considerate, reserved life, where you quietly observe and ask questions, as you discover your fellow Londoners have had incredible journeys, arriving here and building their lives, is hard. It's hard damn work, letting all this chaos and complexity assault your senses.

I don't want private hospitals, private health insurance, medical bills, policemen carrying guns, offensive foreign policy and an economy that offers no hope of escape from the socio-economic background you're born into, except for a tiny handful of sports stars, lottery winners, rappers and criminals. I don't want private prisons stuffed full of black people being used as slaves. I don't want a world of "us" and "them" with torture, pre-emptive strikes, invasion of sovereign nations, regime change and covert ops to destabilise other nations.

In a week in hospital, I've benefitted from everything that's great about Great Britain in the European Union and London's huge immigrant population. Only a tiny handful of the staff who've saved my life were born in Britain. Only a tiny fraction of the medical supplies and equipment were designed, tested and manufactured in the UK. I'm a stone's throw away from mosques where alleged firebrand hate preachers are supposedly plotting against the British people. Whitechapel Market is crowded with women wearing full-face veils, but I'm just another Londoner to them. If there's an exemplary organisation to demonstrate multicultural society working perfectly, doing life-saving work, it's the National Health Service.

Affordable care not only saved my life, but it's keeping my hopes and dreams alive, so I don't have to take a zero-hours contract McJob flipping burgers, just in case I get sick.

 

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How Consultancies Ruined IT

6 min read

This is a story about body shopping...

Rainy day

Because I'm a genius, I've figured out a brilliant business plan: buy low, sell high.

It used to be the case that companies would have their own IT staff, because it made sense to have people trained up and retain their skills, given how integral information technology is to every business in this day and age. Businesses would recruit technologists as permanent members of staff, and pay them a professional-grade salary.

Then, the IT crowd figured out that there was a skills shortage and that they were being underpaid for the amount of value that they were generating for their paymasters. Some IT professionals became technology entrepreneurs and others became IT contractors, selling their skills to the highest bidder.

As the year 2000 approached and panic spread about the millennium (Y2K) bug, IT contractors could pretty much name their price. It was quite clear just how valuable IT had become to big business and the running of the technological world around us.

Consultancies started to hoover up all the graduates coming out of the Computer Science degree courses at university, and also maths, physics, engineering and other technical disciplines too. There seemed to be an insatiable demand for anybody who had an aptitude for programming, so why not corner the market in anybody with the slightest ability to write software?

If you can hire a graduate for £25k per annum, how much do you think you could charge a client for a day of their time?

IT contractors probably charge circa £500 a day. The best get £700 to £1,000 per day. The worst get £300 per day.

£25k per annum equates to a cost of less than £70 a day, but you can't ask your fresh uni graduate to work weekends, you're going to have to give them some holiday and you're going to have to train them. Let's assume that our graduate is only billable for 26 weeks of the year and they cost a shitload to train and for taxes and other overheads. That means they cost the 'consultancy' (a.k.a. body shop) about £250 a day... in the absolute worst-case scenario.

A recruitment consultant will charge a 30% mark-up on an experienced IT contractor who's been working for 10+ years and is an absolute expert in their field: the best of the best. So, assuming the contractor is getting £700 a day, the company who needs them is paying £910 a day.

How much do you think our fresh graduate is charged to clients for, given they only cost the consultancy £250 a day? Answer: £1,200 a day and upwards.

This is the consultancy model: place a shitload of inexperienced people on client sites and charge a whopping 400%+ mark-up on them. Leave them to flounder and figure stuff out at the client's expense.

The IT contractor's role is now to go around cleaning up messes left by the poor kids who have the unenviable task of doing a job that they don't have the knowledge or experience to do, while getting underpaid to do it. The IT contractor's role is that of the grown up, the nanny, the only person who's even remotely worth the money.

Most companies are trying to trim their IT budgets and they got their fingers burned by offshoring a load of roles to India and other parts of Asia. You get what you pay for, unless you're paying for inexperienced graduates in this case.

For sure, graduates are smart nice people, strong communicators and they learn quickly. For sure, when "all that IT stuff is done" then you can say goodbye to all those pesky technology people without having costly redundancies.

The reality is that there's a load of crap software out there that's been developed by a bunch of amateurs, and it will fall to bits... if it even works in the first place.

It's professional suicide to write this stuff, but everybody's too busy making easy money doing bodyshopping that nobody important is going to read this. My IT expert friends might read this and chortle "yes that's so true!" but the consultancies are only interested in bums on seats. They don't care who I am or what I have to say: they only want me when the shit hits the fan and they need somebody to come and mop up the mess, as inevitably happens.

It pains me to see IT go from being a profession filled with experts and people who take pride in doing a good job, to being seen as some kind of dirty necessity. It fucks me off when the consultancies suck up to their clients and seemingly agree that there's no long-term value in having software experts in their firm.

"Get the job done, fuck off and let us go back to doing our business" seems to be the attitude. That's why the dinosaurs are dying and the startups are taking over. IT is your business, fools. Look at Amazon: are they a retailler or a technology company, first and foremost? Do you think Amazon is going to sack all their software developers now that they "have a website that works"?

The era of offshoring was a costly mistake that was brilliant for the consultancies, because they got to build huge development centres and skill up their own graduates at the expense of greedy Western corporations. Now the body-shop 'consultancies' in the UK have monopolised the IT contract market, flooding it with inexperienced people and charging top dollar for them.

I'm hoping - and not just for personal gain - that the whole thing comes full circle, and we'll revert to an era of experts being in demand and companies recognising that they need technologists as much as any other business critical function. Software's not some crap you can get on the cheap... it's an investment in the future of your company. One day, all businesses are going to be technology companies.

 

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