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

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Blogger's Digest - Day Nine of #NaNoWriMo2019

11 min read

Blogger's Digest: a Novel

Contents

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

Chapter Thirteen

Chapter Fourteen

Chapter Nine

The summer had felt endless at the time: stepping out of the house in light clothing; shorts and flip-flops; T-shirts and sunglasses. I completely relaxed and enjoyed the good weather, setting aside any concerns about the future, in order to soak up the enjoyment of that pleasant period. I had a tendency to be somewhat absent, brooding anxiously about potential issues, which might be weeks or months away, or indeed might never materialise.

Earlier on in our relationship, Sian would snap her fingers and say "hey? where'd you go?" noticing that my thoughts had wandered and my attention had been diverted away from the present moment, and I had retreated inwardly, ruminating endlessly about a particular future concern of mine.

I had grown comfortable with staying at Sian's house throughout the winter, and spending time on my yacht was a novelty which we enjoyed, even if it was just sipping Prosecco on deck in the marina in the evening, as the sun went down. We engaged in a bit of friendly chit-chat with the yachtie folk, in fine spirits during the summer months, when everybody seemed to be wearing a permanent smile and our skin was sun-kissed and brown, physically epitomising how good our lives were at that particular moment.

I had somewhat taken my eye off the ball.

When the weather became more unpredictable in September, but we still enjoyed a lot of good weather during an exceptional Indian Summer, it was romantic to have to dash below decks when the heavens suddenly opened and a torrent of rain lashed down; the droplets creating an almighty racket as they pelted the thin roof over our heads. We cosied up under a duvet and spooned in post-coital bliss, watching the water as it moved over the hatches and portholes, and feeling incredibly snug and warm - the only thing which could have possibly improved things would have been to have a log fire to watch, as well as the rivers of rain which swept across my deck and drained into the marina. It was better than watching television.

Again, October was upon me and I had made no preparations for the winter. I began to feel very trapped.

The first winter with Sian had been amazing. The pain of the breakup with Caroline was beginning to fade and it had been extremely welcome to be able to begin to move on. The heating situation aboard my yacht was an unanticipated problem, which had caused me a great deal of stress, and Sian had provided an almost-instant solution. Now, however, I felt it was unfair for me to expect to stay with her all winter, again, and I also felt a kind of obligation; a debt of gratitude. Sian was a very easy-going person and there was never any pressure or expectation, but I did feel a natural obligation to please her and go along with her plans, given that she was keeping me warm through the coldest months of thee year. This sense of indebtedness was not something I was used to, and it was particularly exacerbated by the fact that it was to a person, rather than a faceless organisation, to whom I owed that debt; it was a debt which was hard to define, so it was hard to know how it could be repaid. Certainly, I wanted to be relinquished of the burden; to feel free.

I considered my options, of which there were three obvious ones.

Firstly, I could retro-fit a heating system to my yacht. This was likely to be an expensive and time-consuming process, which would be unlikely to be finished until well into the new year. It would be highly costly, yet it would add no value to my yacht, because most buyers would not value it as a feature - hardly anybody lives aboard their yachts in the UK, and in fact most are pulled out of the water and kept on hard standing from approximately November to April.

Secondly, I could sell my yacht and buy another one, which had been designed and built for sailing in more northerly climes. Most of the yachts for sale Nordic countries had efficient heating systems as an intrinsic part of their original shipbuilder's design, and the interior had been sprayed with insulating foam, which was a process which could only be done before the interior of the yacht was fitted. This would be by far the better solution, because a retro-fitted heating system would be highly inefficient without the insulating foam - having to change the gas bottle every week, was an added inconvenience which I didn't want, but a well-insulated yacht would require a fraction of the gas to heat it. However, the process of selling my yacht and buying another one was not going to be quick or easy, and shouldn't be rushed.

Thirdly, I could rent or buy a house of my own. Rushing into a house purchase seemed like insanity, so the only realistic option was to rent, but there were many reasons not to rent a place. I objected to spending a large sum of money, for which somebody else would be receiving the benefits of the yield on their asset - it was dead money; lost. Also, it would be a little hard to explain to Sian why I would want to spend vast sums of money renting a place that I would almost never live in. She was sure to take it as somewhat of an insult; a slight on her hospitality, or perhaps even an indication that I wasn't fond of her, which ran completely contrary to my objectives and my feelings. I was extremely fond of her and she was wonderful host, but that's what made me feel trapped, and as though I owed her something, which was a feeling I wanted to escape.

There was a fourth, completely ridiculous idea, but it was somehow the most appealing of all of them. Because it was such a stupid idea, I tried to dismiss it.

I could have my yacht transported, by road or sea, to Greece or Turkey. She would be lifted out of the water, her mast detached, and then she would be put in a transportation cradle, which would hold her securely, ready to be craned onto the trailer of a lorry. The lorry could either deliver her all the way to my chosen Mediterranean port, or to a UK shipping port, where she would be loaded onto a cargo ship. I hadn't looked in detail at the costs, but the latter seemed to be the cheaper option.

What I should have done was to move her at the end of the summer - to sail her to the Med with a couple of experienced sailor friends who owed me a favour, and maybe some crew members who were looking to increase the number of logged miles they had spent at sea, in order to obtain a Royal Yachting Association Yacht Master qualification, which was necessary for anybody who wanted to work as a professional yacht skipper. Instead, I had almost forgotten entirely about the impending winter, and chosen to enjoy the summer while it lasted.

There was another consideration.

I would have to quit my job again. Human Resources would never want to re-employ somebody who had left the bank, not just once, but twice. This meant that I would have to try my luck as a consultant, hoping to gain a short contract each Spring, which would last me until the Autumn, when I could return to my yacht in the Med. The prospect of escaping the worst of the British weather each year was immensely appealing, and my friends at work were mostly employed on short contracts, earning vast sums of money. Having left my job and easily been re-employed, I felt confident that I would have no difficulty becoming a contractor/consultant to the bank, working for just 6 months of the year. However, it was a radical departure from the lifestyle I'd always known. What would I do about Sian, for example?

* * *

"You know that book you're always saying you're going to write one day?" I asked Sian, as innocently as I could.

"Yes" she replied, already a little suspicious, because I had long since become rather bored by her regular talk about her ambitions to write a book, but had never seen any sign of an attempt to put plans into action. My eyes had usually glazed over when she began to talk about her book.

"Don't you think it'll be too hard for you to write, while you're working full-time?" I asked.

"I have the summer holidays. I was planning on writing my book last summer, until you came along and messed that up!" she said with a cheeky grin. She gave me a little kiss.

"Do you think you could write your book in just a couple of months? Wouldn't you need longer?"

"Why all this interest in my book all of a sudden? I didn't think you were interested" she observed astutely.

"I was interested, but it just seemed like it might've been all talk. I'd really like it if you were able to write your book. You've always been very passionate about it, and I think it's a shame you've not had the opportunity."

"Opportunity? This sounds like you have a proposal of some kind. Why don't you stop beating around the bush and tell me what you're getting at" she said. She was incredibly perceptive and smart - which is why I liked her so much - and I appreciated her directness, but this wasn't the softly-softly approach I was hoping to take.

"Well, you know your colleague... the one who took a sabbatical in order to focus on her artistic career?" I asked.

"Yes. Shiela. It was a big flop, and she came back to work."

"Well, she didn't really lose anything, did she? I mean, they just gave her her old job back, didn't they?"

"She spent her life savings!" replied Sian, aghast at the suggestion that her colleague suffered no loss as a result of her attempt to follow her dream.

"Yes. Well. We're talking about you writing a book here, not trying to launch yourself as an internationally renowned installation artist. Shiela spent vast sums of money renting gallery space and promoting her art, didn't she? You'd just write your book on your laptop, wouldn't you? Zero costs."

"What about my mortgage?" she asked. "I don't have any savings to support myself."

"What if you rented this place out?" I suggested.

"Have lodgers? I don't want to share my house with lodgers!" she said indignantly.

"No, not lodgers. Rent the whole place out."

"Where would I live then?"

"On my yacht, with me."

"In Brighton Marina? I mean, it's alright to spend the night down there once in a while, but I wouldn't want to live there, amongst all those middle-aged men in blue blazers with gold buttons, trying to have sex with women half their age by flashing their cash."

"No not in Brighton Marina, silly" I said, even though I knew I had not fully explained my idea to her yet. "We would cruise the Mediterranean. We would hop between the islands of Greece. We would potter up and down the coast of Turkey. We would drop anchor wherever we found a beautiful secluded bay, and you could tap away on your laptop, writing your book, and then we'd sail off to a little fishing village, eat fresh fish, and wash it all down with local wine."

This was the elevator pitch. To me it sounded like the very definition of living the dream and I hoped Sian would agree, especially with the bait of her being finally able to write her book.

 

Next chapter...

 

Blogger's Digest - Day Five of #NaNoWriMo2019

13 min read

Blogger's Digest: a Novel

Contents

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

Chapter Thirteen

Chapter Fourteen

Chapter Five

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

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

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

* * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Because you removed the earth rod" I explained.

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

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

"But it was just a shock."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * *

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

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

"Why did you leave then?" she asked.

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

"You spent two years travelling?"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"I had no idea" I lied.

"It's also not a front office role"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"And you don't?" she asked.

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

"What are your salary expectations?"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Next chapter...

 

Blogger's Digest - Day One of #NaNoWriMo2019

11 min read

This is a story about a novel...

Hospital bed

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

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

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

Wish me luck!

* * *

Blogger's Digest: a Novel

Contents

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

Chapter Thirteen

Chapter Fourteen

Chapter One

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Week on Friday" replied Rich.

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

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

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

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

 

Next chapter...

 

Step Eight: Be Selfish

10 min read

This is a story about looking after number one...

Safety card

I just spent about half an hour searching for a specific picture which I know I took, because I have a photographic memory. I quite clearly remember the harrowing scene depicted, of the person crawling out of a burning aircraft. Perhaps I have muddled up some parody/meme image with my constant snapping of everything vaguely interesting, but I am certain that it was a photograph which I took and have uncharacteristically misplaced.

Why the hell is this important?

Well, every day I have to think of a title, introductory line, a rough outline of what I plan to write, and I choose what I think is an appropriate photo to accompany my piece. It might often seem like the pictures are unrelated, but very often a photograph is the thing which prompts what I'm going to write.

In today's instance, I knew what I was going to write, and I knew which photo I wanted to accompany the piece, but I couldn't find it despite a thorough search.

I imagine that many people are quite thorough and meticulous about organising their lives, and I am too, but in my own unique way. I can quickly lay my hands on on what I need, given that I have taken the various essential tasks of my life and turned them into efficient processes, despite not spending an inordinate amount of time on systematically organising stuff.

I deal with a substantial amount of stuff. I run my own business, which requires me to do monthly payroll submissions to HMRC, quarterly VAT submissions, annual accounts, self-assessment tax return, corporation tax, dividend tax, income tax, national insurance, annual shareholder statements, board meeting minutes, dividend certificates, professional indemnity insurance, 3rd party liability insurance. I live an ordinary life, which brings rental contracts, house inspections, gas and electric meter readings, tenant insurance, home contents insurance, pet insurance, car insurance, car tax, car roadworthiness testing, car servicing, car maintenance, cleaning the house, feeding the cat, scooping my cat's poops and replacing her kitty litter, recycling, bin day, mowing the lawn, composting, buying food, preparing meals. None of this is unusual, but it's not insignificant.

With the continuous unrelenting pressure to do a good job at work, and impress my colleagues, combined with the constant threat of ending up bankrupt, homeless, penniless and destitute, it's an intolerable amount of stress and anxiety, heaped upon me. Although I'm not drowning in ever-growing debt - my income far exceeds my expenditure - I don't have any job security, housing security or financial security. The position I find myself in is immutable: there are no alternative choices I could take.

"Why don't you take some time off?" or "why don't you do some unpaid voluntary work" or "why don't you switch careers?" or "why don't you study something interesting?" are all as utterly ridiculous as asking me why I don't just wave my magic wand and turn a pile of house-bricks into a pile of gold bullion. My situation is completely, rigidly, unalterably dictated by my circumstances. There is no other way to structure my life, other than the way I have done it - my life is like a prison.

Of course, I could always drop out of society, live in a tent under a road bridge, beg for money, eat at soup kitchens. Of course I have the option of becoming totally feral, and foraging for food in the forest, covered in dirt and clothed in rags. Yes, I suppose those are options which are available to me, but we must be aware that society operates a strict one-way street. Once I left society, I would never be permitted to return.

"So Mr Grant, what have you been doing for the past 6 months?" asks the interviewer. "Living in a cave" comes my reply. "Where should we write to you if your application for the job is successful?" the interviewer asks. "I have no postal address" comes my reply. Thus endeth any attempts to re-enter society, once a person has dropped out. I suppose I could get a cash-in-hand job washing cars for illegal immigrants, and sleep rough on the streets, but I think I would rather go back to my cave than suffer such a fate.

The point of this rant is that my life is finely balanced: it doesn't take much extra demand placed upon me, to push me beyond what I can cope with, given that I've already endured such incredible hardship to get here.

My journey has already included rough sleeping, hospitalisations and being locked up in secure psychiatric institutions. My journey has already included recent periods where I had no money and I had no income which is a pretty difficult place to come back from. My journey already took me to the limit of human survival, where I was in an intensive care ward of a hospital on life support in a coma, suffering from multiple organ failure.

I'm feeling pretty fit and healthy, relative to how I was before. I'm feeling pretty financially prosperous, versus the time when I had no money and no income. I'm feeling as thought I have a realistic prospect of re-entering civilised society, as opposed to crushed beneath its heel, like a bug. However, it really wasn't very long ago that I was in dire trouble, relatively speaking.

So, I have to be careful about being too competent and capable, taking on the world's problems; boiling the ocean. Only a few months ago I shunned anything and everything which would add more complexity and stress to my life, cutting things back to the bare essentials, so that I could cope. I'm little more capable of dealing with extra stuff now, but it's easy for me to get carried away. Vast amounts of my precious time can be eaten up when I try to help with some "simple" task, which is always anything but.

It's hard to say "no" as an engineer. We are, by our nature, problem solvers who like fixing stuff. We have dogged unshakeable determination to follow a complex set of tasks through to completion. What use is a half-finished engineering project which doesn't work? What use is half an aeroplane? What use is half a bridge?

I don't really know what my wants and needs are, but I know that it's very important that I fend off things of no value: things that drain my time and energy, disproportionately versus any reward I receive. My blog is an engineering solution to a problem I had, where lots of people wanted to be kept updated about my woeful life, but nobody was offering any useful practical help, so it was a massive waste of time speaking to the rubberneckers who wanted to know every gory detail, despite being completely useless, and indeed counterproductive because it was valuable time wasted which could otherwise have been put to good use, earning money or securing a place to live. If you want a soap opera - human drama - then you can read the pages of this blog, but don't bug me for your own personal show, because I don't have the time.

Of course, I love my online friends and they are very supportive, but only one or two have ever stepped forward to ever offer any real tangible thing of any use. Only one or two have ever made effort and taken risk, in order to help and support me. This is not to say that all the messages of support I receive aren't lovely, and the concern that's felt for me does lift my spirits, but I have to balance that proportionately against the effort involved. Lots of "sorry to hear you're having a hard time" messages won't pay my rent, if I'm in a financially precarious situation, so I have to prioritise work and other practical matters ahead of maintaining online friendships.

As a group of supportive individuals, of course my Twitter followers - and one in particular - were instrumental in getting the emergency services to me and saving my life, so it would be churlish and mean-spirited to complain about the 'burden' of having people who are interested and concerned my welfare. Of course I want more friends, not fewer. Of course I want to maintain a good relationship with as many people as practicably possible, but I have to offset that with the effort involved and the probability of useful, practical payoff. I could never have predicted that Twitter followers would be so swift in delivering the emergency services to me in the nick of time - although I still nearly died - and I could never have predicted that I would receive vital practical things that I needed, exactly when I needed them, due to people who've read my blog. I could never have predicted that my blog would bring me new friends, who make the effort to come and visit me. All of these things are positive, but I also need to be careful, because social media is mostly a black hole, swallowing vast amounts of time and energy, and giving very little back in return.

So, I say this as a reminder to myself: my blog is the way that anybody who's interested in my life can stay up to date, without excessively burdening me. It seems unfair to ask for your own personal update, when I spend so much time and effort crafting these written updates, for the express purpose of keeping anybody who's interested informed.

Of course 1.3 million words are far too many for anybody to read in order to "get to know me" but also somehow too few... either way, I'm struggling to survive day to day through my essential tasks of: work, sleep, eat, write.

It might sound selfish or antisocial, but this massive piece of writing contains everything you might ever want to know, if only you can be bothered to look. Don't ask for me to look for you, because that undermines the very point of having gone to such a great deal of effort in documenting years of my life. There's a search box at the top and I tag every post. Knock yourself out. Go digging. Explore - there's plenty there.

Meanwhile, I just need a simple, basic, undemanding life at the moment, because things are demanding and overwhelming and stressful enough. I don't need any extra work, especially if it's unrewarding versus the effort expended.

This lengthy blog post has taken me all day to finish, because of various interruptions, some of which were very welcome - like a phonecall from a close friend - and others were questionably useful, when I might otherwise have been spending my time doing something more beneficial for myself. Spare time feels very scarce at the moment, so it should be used wisely and efficiently. I went to a great deal of effort to provide a vast trove of information, so it irks me if that effort is not delivering what I want it to, which is to avoid having to repeat myself.

Anyway, I need as many friends as I can get looking out for me, but I have very little "spare capacity" to offer at the moment, and it's wrong to ask too much of me - the resources are out there; you just have to look.

I need to protect myself. I'm no good at saying "no!" and "enough!".

 

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Step Seven: Every Time Is Different

5 min read

This is a story about learning through doing...

Supermarket basket

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

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

Every day, I am learning.

Every time I write, I am learning.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Step Four: Compensate

6 min read

This is a story about harm reduction...

Supplements

I've been sober for 33 consecutive days now. It's not a particularly important number that demonstrates anything of much interest, but I thought I should remind readers of how I'm getting along without alcohol. The plan, which I will easily achieve, is to be teetotal until at least the end of October, under the guise of the "Go Sober for October" sponsored charity event, if anybody asks.

The truth about my sobriety is much more straightforward: alcohol was a source of a great many calories, which were causing me to gain weight, and my liver needed a break from the constant onslaught. My decision to take a break from drinking was motivated by vanity and sensible health considerations, not more interesting and lurid reasons such as a so-called "battle with the demon drink" which I find patently absurd, as a person who's been lucky enough not to be cursed with the misfortune of not being able to control their drinking.

We should, of course, spare a moment for all the alcoholics in the world who are somewhat powerless in the face of their addiction to ethanol. We should be sympathetic and understanding towards those who genuinely have very limited control over their so-called 'free will' to choose between drinking and not drinking. Alcoholics, by definition, have had their decision-making powers almost 100% impaired by the addictive qualities of alcohol, and as such, they would not be able to choose to take a lengthy break from drinking at will.

For those wishing to quit or reduce their drinking, I was in the process of writing my own version of the Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) Twelve Steps. I find abstinence-based so-called 'treatment' of addiction to be a barbaric ritual with very strong evidence to show that not only is it ineffectual, but it's actively unhelpful, unkind and needlessly unpleasant. AA is a cult, with its rituals and other cult qualities, such as the vicious ostricisation of any member who strays too far from the pack, or dares to question its efficacy. While I applaud and and am glad for those who credit AA with their sobriety, I would also remind you that many people credit their good fortune to some form of sky monster (i.e. god or whatever) - human beings are superstitious idiots, and I urge everyone to seek evidence-based treatments, not cult mumbo-jumbo.

So, what is my solution for those who drink too much?

Simple answer: compensation.

We wouldn't say to a person who complains that their diet is too bland, consisting only of gruel and dry bread, that they should instead go without food altogether, would we? The abstinence approach is not only cruel and unkind, it also creates unnecessary and intolerable suffering, which is why so few people are able to use abstinence-based approaches to achieving their goals.

Whether it's dieting to lose weight, quitting gambling, quitting drugs, quitting alcohol, or indeed altering any of our behaviours which are causing us problems, the most important thing to consider is how we are going to compensate for the thing we are giving up or reducing. Without compensation, change is impossible; only suffering will ensue.

When I quit drinking for 121 consecutive days in 2015, I compensated with dietary supplements and other health-conscious changes, which included cutting out gluten and dairy from my diet. In retrospect, that was a really dumb decision. While there was a high placebo value in the changes that I made, there was no other value. I might as well have banged a gong and worshipped a made-up monkey god, asking him to cleanse me of the demon drink - it would have had the same effect. I am neither gluten nor dairy intolerant, so all I did was waste a bunch of money on expensive food products.

This time, I have compensated by using sleeping pills and tranquillisers which mimic the positive effects of alcohol, without the negative ones. I don't get hangovers. I don't have weight gain. I don't have liver damage. However, my anxiety is reduced, my insomnia is cured and my sleep quality is improved. What's not to like?

Of course, I have swapped a nightly glass or two of wine for a tablet or two, which some might see as 'failure' but those people are idiots. I've lost weight, my kidney has had the opportunity to repair itself, plus I have avoided endless amounts of hangxiety and hangovers. Also, the tablets are a damnsight cheaper than alcohol, costing me no more than a couple of pounds every day, which is a fraction of the cost of the alcohol required to achieve the same reduction in anxiety and ability to fall asleep.

We shouldn't underestimate the danger of addictive medications, and I've certainly put off today's problems until tomorrow by using tablets to allow me to achieve a period of sobriety, but I really don't give a shit - I've lost weight and my life has been manageable; my health has improved. I see no downsides. It will be a bit of a bumpy ride when I quit the tablets again, but I have only taken them sporadically during recent weeks, so quitting will be easy enough - I will gently taper the dosage and then I will be free from all mind-altering substances, once again.

I'm one of the most substance-free people you're ever likely to meet. I don't drink (at the moment), don't smoke and I don't drink caffeinated beverages. I'm highly unusual in this regard: you and almost everybody you know, indulges in some kind of mind-altering substance use, even if it's just tea or coffee.

If my life had permitted it, of course I would have been climbing mountains or surfing, or doing some other wholesome outdoor activity, but I've had to work really really hard the past few months, and it's entirely unrealistic to imagine that I would be out in the wilderness charging around like a healthy happy person, when I'm actually incredibly stressed, depressed and anxious, under enormous pressure to deliver a very large complicated project, for a tight deadline. It's a fucking miracle that I'm as healthy as I am, given the pressure I'm under, and the demands placed upon me.

So, shove your yoga, jogging and kale smoothies up your arse. Do whatever it takes to compensate, if you need to stop a particularly unhealthy habit - find something that's less harmful. Harm reduction is better than trying and failing to achieve the impossible. Abstinence is torture and should never be inflicted upon anybody, ever, under any circumstances whatsoever.

Steps Five through Twelve might be a bit rushed, given that there are only 9 days between now and October 31, but I will finish this series, because I think it's important that people who are suffering are given realistic and evidence-based humane alternatives, which will allow them to achieve a better life... not be expected to suffer torture and be doomed to failure, because some twat of a moralising idiot tells them that the only way to get better is through abstinence. Fuck those guys. Do what works.

 

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Give a Job to a Busy Person

6 min read

This is a story about workload...

Gas Meter

The original idiom - which I have adapted to make it more inclusive - says that if you want a job doing, you should give it to a busy man. I notice that this is fairly true, from my anecdotal observations: the busier I am, the easier it is for me to deal with extra work being given to me.

One year ago I had the intolerable task of sitting quietly trying not to get noticed, and trying to keep my mouth shut. I knew that the very best thing I could do for my career and my bank balance, was not to rock the boat; not to attempt to say or do anything useful. The best thing I could do was act as a very expensive seat warmer. I was paid for being present, not for being useful or productive.

One year ago, seemingly minor things made me exceedingly anxious. If I had to get my car tested for roadworthiness, have a haircut, deal with the gas company, or any one of a million ordinary everyday tasks, I would find it unbelievably stressful, and I struggled to cope.

I have started to work 100+ hours a week again. To say that I'm busy would be a massive understatement. I am hyper-productive for the maximum amount of hours which human physiology allows for, without sleep deprivation causing me to have a psychotic episode. Unable to sleep, it's quite usual for me to open my laptop and start working in the middle of the night. I wake up well before my alarm clock. I am running in overdrive mode at the moment, also more commonly known as a manic episode.

Of course, with mania, I get very impatient and irritable about things which are not on the critical path. For example, I was asked to update a spreadsheet which detailed the activities I've been doing during the past couple of weeks, and how long I spent on each activity. To me, this is the most ridiculous waste of my time, given that 100% of my time has been spent on productive activities for one single organisation, so I really don't give a toss about how it's sliced and diced - all my valuable time has gone to benefit the organisation who wants me to waste time on an unproductive exercise, which leaves me less time to do productive activities. It's idiotic to get your highly paid staff to spend their time doing activities which are not valuable, when instead they could be doing something useful.

The argument would be that timesheets and suchlike are the way that we calculate how much to pay people, but this is demonstrably absurd. If the number of hours worked had any kind of relationship with the value delivered, then I would agree that it's important for us to record or time worked on task accurately, but there IS NO relationship between remuneration and hours worked. If I work the same number of hours as some of my colleagues, I am paid 5 or 6 times as much. Am I 5 or 6 times more productive and valuable? Sometimes I am less valuable, sometimes I am more valuable, and sometimes - although it's exceptionally rare - my remuneration tallies with the value that I'm delivering.

One of my colleagues said to me "you've got too much time on your hands" when he saw something I'd been doing, which he thought was a waste of time. Later, that piece of work I'd done turned out to be one of the most valuable things that anybody in the team ever produced - something that benefits every member of the team every single day, and perhaps many many other members of other teams, and indeed the whole organisation.

Value and productivity are very hard to measure. "Bums on seats" culture is dreadful. The number of hours that staff spend at their place of work has no bearing on how productive and valuable they are.

In the teams I get involved with, I try to instill a culture of "think it... do it". I want people to implement any innovative ideas the moment they have them. If the ideas turn out to be duds, so what? It only takes one or two great ideas that really pay off, to more than outweigh the small amount of wasted time doing things which had little value. So much time is wasted talking about priorities, and the pros and cons of doing something, and agonising over whether it could or should be done. The culture I bring to teams and organisations is one where everybody's encouraged to build stuff, even if it gets thrown away; even if it's silly!

It's much better for people to be productive and have their brains being kept busy, than looking busy. It's so much better for people's sense of job satisfaction, sense of purpose, sense of pride, sense of ownership, and a multitude of other great qualities that we want from the people in our teams and organisations.

There's no obvious value in the text-based adventure game which I hid inside one of our systems, as an easter egg, but the value is in the cultural tone that it sets: it's OK to build stuff; don't be afraid; don't be so serious... this is supposed to be fun and intellectually challenging.

As it turned out, now we have several tools which imitate the game I built, which perform useful functions for the organisation. Instead of attempting to "win" a "game", the objective is to find and fix problems, using the available clues, which is pretty much what every IT professional does for a day job, but it's a lot better if there's a half-decent interface to help with that task. Computer games are always brilliant at having the learning curve set to make them accessible, and they take advantage of the best available features: if all you have is a computer terminal that can print text and accept typed commands, then you can still create a brilliant game, even without fancy 3D graphics and sound.

I'm busy as hell, and you might say that the 2 hours I spent writing an adventure game were wasted, but in fact it was time well spent. The 5 minutes I spent battling with a spreadsheet where I had to record the hours I spent working on things, was a total waste of time and quite corrosive to the great working culture I'm trying so hard to create.

 

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Emotionally Unstable

7 min read

This is a story about repeating patterns...

Quote

What am I doing? It feels like I'm making the same mistakes I've made a bunch of times before. It feels like I'm re-living 2015, and I didn't like how things went that year, so I'm desperate to avoid making those mistakes, but I feel like my mood disorder has got me stuck in an inescapable pattern.

Strictly speaking, I have two mood disorders: bipolar and seasonal affective disorder (SAD). The latter disorder means that I'm unable to escape a downturn in my mood as summer turns into winter, unless I head to warmer climate. The former disorder means that I'm prone to episodes of mania, which I always like to believe I'm in control of, because I enjoy the mania and find it immensely useful for creativity and productivity.

Looking back to 2015, at the time I felt like I was enjoying playing a pivotal role in the number one project for the biggest bank in Europe. In retrospect, I was very unwell indeed. My behaviour was quite erratic and unpredictable and it's kind of hard to pinpoint exactly why I feel like I was doing good work, now that I think about it. For sure, I helped bang some heads together and get things moving to meet some key deadlines, but I was definitely suffering very badly with a severe episode of mental illness, and I hadn't been working on the project for very long so I expect my contribution was negligible. This is what gives me a great deal of fear that I'm repeating the same mistakes: that history is repeating itself.

In 2015 I was working a lot of overtime. I was working most weekends. I was working extremely hard - long hours - and I had the additional pressure of moving house, given that I was homeless and living in a hostel. Also, it hadn't been very long since I had been in a dreadful state, with my brain chemistry completely messed up. I had terrible insomnia. I was a big mess.

Today, I have a house and a cat. My home life is comparatively settled, although I've had some relationship problems lately which have been very destabilising. My working routine is not too taxing - I have a short commute to the office, and the hours I work are strictly Monday to Friday. If I leave the office at 5:30pm, that's a long day for me. In 2015 I was routinely staying in the office past 9pm, and often to 11pm, and then staying up all night writing emails, which was not at all healthy or conducive to good mental health.

In some ways I feel that I'm in much better health than I was in 2015, and I stand a much better chance of getting through an incredibly stressful period at work without losing my mind. However, late on Friday I lost my cool at the office, and the emotions that have been bottled up started to come out, which wasn't very professional. I started to speak my mind way more than I should have done, and I started to send off messages with a scattergun approach. I stopped approaching problems in a calm and methodical manner, and instead I acted with desperation and superstition. I was afraid that all my hard work was in ruins. Strangely, I thought I was dreaming; or rather having a nightmare.

I suppose my sleep quality is compromised at the moment. Several nights a week I don't sleep well because there's a technical problem I can't stop thinking about. My dreams are all about my work. In fact, my dreams are nightmares, where I attempt again and again to resolve the problems I left at the office. As soon as I wake up, I rush to the office to pick up where I left off.

A colleague has mentioned in private that I should take it easy; not get so obsessed over the project. A colleague has correctly identified me as somebody who can make themselves sick through overwork - at risk of burnout; at risk of a breakdown. It's good advice - that I should try to maintain some balance. Becoming obsessed by work is very unhealthy.

Yesterday, I left a rambling garbled and emotional voicemail for a colleague, begging them to let me do something over the weekend. I spent time trying to find colleagues who would help me with a piece of work, and ended up getting somebody to do something for me at 11pm. It's too much. It's too intense. It's too crazy.

I have no idea if I'm eternally doomed to suffer from delusions of grandeur, and to repeatedly burn out, only to look back and realise that my negligible contribution was laughable; pathetic. I have no idea if my perceptions are warped and I'm unable to grasp just how bad an episode of mental illness I'm suffering from. It's hell being so functional, and having so much feedback which seems to corroborate all the apparent evidence that I'm being incredibly productive and useful, but yet I also have a whole load of evidence that the end result always seems to be the same: burnout, crash, disaster, destitution, destruction. Am I a fool for hoping that this time is the time when everything finally works out for me, and I get the glory I crave?

Looking back to 2008 and 2011, I was able to make it to the finishing line with a gigantic project for JPMorgan and a TechStars program technology startup accelerator. I was able to deliver, but at huge personal cost. Both times I ended up in a terrible state. I was too fixated on the specific delivery date, and I didn't think about what would come afterwards. I didn't handle the anticlimax well at all. The episodes of depression that followed the frantic manic energy which allowed me to deliver on time, were so destructive that all my hard work was destroyed... or was it? JPMorgan was able to process quadrillions of dollars of credit default swaps, using the software I designed and built. My tech startup was able to continue trading profitably and getting new customers, even though I was too sick to work. The cost was to me personally. I was ashamed that I couldn't continue to function at the same intensity, and I assumed that everyone would hate me for getting sick. I threw away those opportunities, because I assumed that they were ruined. I assumed that everybody saw me as damaged goods; unreliable and untrustworthy.

I have no idea if I'm destined for another personal disaster. I certainly worry that I won't be able to cope with the end of my contract, and the end of my involvement with the project I'm so unhealthily obsessed with. I suppose I need to mitigate against any probable crash in my mood. I suppose I need to plan ahead.

I can't imagine I'll be able to find a good contract locally. I can't imagine how I'm going to juggle my need to find a well-paid contract, with my cat and my house rental agreement. It's a stress that I really don't want to have to deal with right now. It's stress that I really wish would go away - if only my contract could be extended for another year, that would be perfect.

My life is a rollercoaster, so we would expect my mood to be too. It's hard to unpick my mood disorder from the circumstances of my life. I like to think that my mood is dictated by the time of year and other things that are going on, such as whether I'm in a good relationship or not. I like to think that my extreme moods will abate as my life improves.

 

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Managing the Managers

4 min read

This is a story about work...

Devops

Building software is no longer about programming. Programming is something that I learned as a child. Programming is quite literally child's play to me. Modern software development involves very little programming. Modern software development is all about delivering massive projects, with massive teams, in massive organisations, and none of this has anything to do with programming. Remarkably little programming gets done by programmers.

I would be surprised if the average number of lines of code written by a programmer in a big organisation was more than a handful a day. In fact, I picked a colleague - a programmer - at random and looked at how many lines of code they've written in the past year - an average of 8 lines per day. That's not a lot of programming.

So what do programmers do all day if they're not writing code? Well, most of them are sitting around scratching their heads, wondering where the problem is in millions of lines of code that they didn't write.

Why are programmers looking at other people's code, trying to find the problems?

Good question.

There are people out there who write lots of code, but most of them are software architects and devops engineers: these are developers. Developers don't just write code though. Developers create systems. Developers know how all the different moving parts fit together to create an entire system. Developers can design, build and assemble the components of gigantic software projects, into working systems. Sure, some of it involves programming, but none of it requires writing programs. Programs are for children. Children write programs. Programming is child's play. Developing software systems is grown-up work, done by developers.

There's a general belief that a programmer is an interchangeable commodity. If you don't like one programmer, fire them and hire another one who "speaks" the same language. Of course, this is idiotic, because programmers in big organisations write 10 lines of code or fewer per day. Most of what is useful and valuable is the specific knowledge which relates to an organisation and its software systems, which only the experienced team members know. Throwing more programmers at a problem makes things worse, not better, because they don't have a clue about anything, except how to read code... millions and millions of lines of code which they didn't write. There's nothing worse than somebody else's code.

The diagram above shows how software is shipped these days. If we were back in the 1980s then the diagram would show copies of a diskette being made and physically distributed, so that people could install it onto their PCs themselves. How software goes from a programmer's computer to your computer is kinda important. How do you think it gets there? Well, there's a lot of magic behind the scenes. The diagram shows the magic trick, but it's so incomprehensibly complex that it remains as good as magic, even though I showed you how the magic trick is done. This is just one tiny part of being a developer: understanding how to actually get software onto people's laptops, tablets and smartphones.

There are a million things a developer knows. They know about the cloud. They know about databases and data. They know about servers. They know about security. They know about performance. All of these subjects are vast. There are experts in every one of those subjects, and there are myriad experts in the specifics of each field. There is an incomprehensibly mountainous amount that a developer needs to know.

So, managers, stuff your spreadsheets up your arse. You have no skills, experience or knowledge which is relevant or useful in the field of software development. You are allowed to exist because you are a shit umbrella, nothing more. You are doing your job if you stop anybody from annoying the developers and programmers, allowing them to do their jobs, and you are being insufferably irritating if you attempt to intervene in the business of software, because software is hard.

Yes, software is really really really hard. It's harder than Excel pivot table macros, or whatever the hardest thing you know is. It's waaaay harder than that, managers.

So, butt out.

Shut up.

Let us do our jobs.

Engineers left to their own devices will produce wonderful things. All the things we take for granted in the modern world are a result of engineers being left alone to get on with building cool shit. None of the wonderful things would have come into existence if the engineers were bothered by some know-noting busybody bloody managers, who tried to interfere.

 

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September 11

1 min read

This is a story about flashbacks...

Spirit yacht

I have made a habit of writing my thoughts on September 11th, with a view to how the world has changed since 2001, and how my memories of that day affect my present worldview.

In 2015 I went to the Southampton Boat Show with a friend. That was a good day.

I think I'm planning on attempting to remember good memories.

 

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