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How to Become Irreverent

14 min read

This is a story about the values you raise your children with...

Church window

It seems like I have had the sentimental attachment most of us feel towards everything we revere in society systematically thrashed out of me. If you pick one thing that summons feelings of safety, security, comfort, respect for authority and faith in the divine/spiritual, then I will tell you how exactly how I came to question everything: every institution, everything sacred, every tradition, every profession, people who are normally considered beyond reproach and ultimately even existence and its purpose.

Starting with my birth, I'm literally a bastard. I was born outside of wedlock. My parents never married and always planned to remain unmarried, such that I took my mother's surname instead of my father's. Ironically, my mother had once been married, and I have the surname of her ex-husband instead of her maiden name. Confused? Imagine trying to explain that to your fellow pre-schoolers when you're 3 years old. I didn't really understand it at the time, but I understood that I was different; unusual.

My schools would often address letters intended for my parents to Mr & Mrs Grant, and my father would always tell me that I was the only Mr Grant in the house and therefore the letter was addressed to me. My mother would tell me that she was no longer Mrs Grant and she was Ms Grant. "Why not Miss?" I would ask, and she would explain that she had been married, and Miss was only used by women who hadn't been married. If anybody telephoned the house and asked to speak to Mr Grant, my father would hand the receiver to me and say "it's for you", which it never was, of course.

I understood that there was divorce and some of my school-friends were raised by a single parent, or a step-parent. My peers would often ask if my father was my step-father, to which I would reply "no". Nobody could understand how I came to have a different surname from my biological father, or entertain the notion that I could have been given my mother's surname, not my father's.

At some point, a fairly clear question formed in my mind: "why aren't my parents married?". 

The reasons why people get married had become quite clear in my mind, for the very simple reason that I had endured years and years of people's reactions that suggested that not getting married was very atypical behaviour. Nobody wants to feel unusual; freakish. Nobody likes to feel odd.

When I posed my question - "why aren't you married?" - to my parents, they replied with their own question: "why should we get married?". I had a pretty easy answer for them, as I've explained: because that's what everybody else does. "Do you want to be like everybody else?" my parents asked. "Yes" I replied.

[I just burst into uncontrollable sobbing. If it wasn't what you experienced, I don't think you can begin to understand what it's like to spend your entire childhood as the freakish weirdo; the odd one out... the one who's different from everybody else]

Having covered marriage there is a natural segue into the topic of religion, and the origins of my atheism.

For a number of formative and important childhood years I lived in an attractive terraced house in an area called Jericho, on one of the most desirable roads in central Oxford. These houses are the most expensive in the world, far exceeding real estate prices in London, San Francisco and Hong Kong, in terms of their affordability. However, these £1.5 million houses were bought by the first wave of gentrifiers, when academics and young professionals with families started to move into slummy areas because they couldn't afford family homes in the more desirable parts of the city.

When your immediate neighbours include an MP, a barrister, a heart surgeon, a City banker and a number of promenant Oxford dons and professors, their children were raised in an environment which was knowledge-rich and encouraged the exploration afforded by a curious rational mind; critical thinking. Nobody went to church. My friends, whose father was a consultant at Oxford John Radcliffe Hospital, went to Quaker "friends meetings" occasionally, but my peer group - the sons and daughters of the intellectual elite - had little place for God and church in their lives.

We should rewind a little bit, back to the village our family lived in before we moved to central Oxford. If one were to imagine the most quintessentially English picturesque Cotswolds village, with the manor house, the village green, the workers' cottages, the post office and village shop, the village pub, the village school, one should not forget the church and its graveyard. The church's presence and influence is not to be underestimated. My religious indoctrination began as soon as I started school, with the vicar regularly present. Village social events are very often church-linked, like harvest festival, and of course everybody who grew up in such an idyllic village wants to get married in that particular church, have their children baptised there and be buried in that graveyard.

Essentially, the church's opportunity to exploit a child's vulnerable immature mind were scuppered by my father. For everything that the church had a comforting but incorrect explanation for, my dad cited a lack of evidence and instilled in me the skepticism which gradually became integral to my developing personality: "show me the evidence".

When we moved to the centre of a city whose university is globally recognised for its academic excellence, I never encountered another simple-minded fool who had been persuaded to believe in Gods and other aspects of religion, which are so obviously irreconcilable with the pursuit of knowledge. Religion encourages ignorance but I had been raised to question everything and remain skeptical until I had seen convincing proof. "What are atoms made of?" I remember asking one of my friends who lived on my street. "Quarks" he replied. We were perhaps only 5 or 6 years old - the product of a childhood immersed in academic culture, as opposed to the sentimental and traditional.

The disturbing and unpleasant consequences of an irreverent life can impose themselves on a child at a worryingly young age. I've already been uncontrollably sobbing about just one thing - the tradition and sanctity of the institution of marriage - and I haven't even mentioned how a child deals with the concept of mortality and threat of death without the comfort of religion.

A US Air Force pilot who drank at the village pub which my parents later bought and now live in, drunkenly boasted about the ability of the United States to wipe humanity off the face of the earth. I was definitely no older than 4 years old. With my friend with whom I had discussed subatomic particles, we talked about the temperatures which could be reached near ground zero of a fission or fusion nuclear bomb, and how the radiated 'heat' (electromagnetic radiation) had instantly vaporised human beings in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, with only their shadows left behind, permanently etched into the walls of buildings.

If you believe you live in a Godless world with no afterlife you naturally want to know what everything's made of if God didn't make it; you want to know why it's here. How did it get here? Why is it here? You start to pick everything to pieces by iteratively asking what each thing is made of: humans are made of cells, and cells are made of molecules, and molecules are made of atoms, and atoms are made of quarks and leptons... and you can in fact keep asking the question. There's good proof that the electron is not a fundamental particle, as had originally been thought.

When your schoolmates are smart-arse little shits, because their parents are brilliant academics, teachers and school loses its awe and authority. If you're being taught science that's almost 100 years old, and sometimes even 200+ years old, the whole exercise is nothing more than a box-ticking exercise to be endured.

The other thing to consider is that my parents used illegal drugs on a daily basis, and had strong views about the legitimacy and usefulness of the law, certainly in the instances that suited their own addictions. As with many drug users, they were very paranoid. They viewed the police as corrupt and not to be trusted - the enemy. My father's criminal conviction for drugs not only poisoned his views on the police, but also made him very anti-American, as he believed he would never be allowed to enter the country due to his criminal record.

[I'm crying again]

It was only because of first-hand dealings with the police that my viewpoint changed from skepticism due to lack of evidence: the police had never caused me any harm, and in fact I had never had any dealings with the police at all for most of my adult life. You might be surprised to learn I adore and respect the police. My accumulated experience of police encounters has consistently shown that they are some of the most kind, patient, empathetic, forgiving, reasonable people, who have always gone out of their way to bend the rules and simply help as opposed to ever enforcing the letter of the law.

One shouldn't mistake my respect for the men and women of the police force for reverence. I would never for a minute expect that a 999 call is somehow going to be the answer to my prayers. I don't feel safer or more secure, knowing that I can call for police assistance. I wouldn't feel any more comfortable in a stressful situation if there was a police officer present. Of the very many police men and women who I have had first-hand dealings with, they have always treated me very fairly and kindly, and it's quite clear that they deal on a daily basis with a huge number of very vulnerable and damaged people, which they do so with incredible compassion - they are the living embodiment of humanity not deities who should be worshipped and revered.

[More crying]

So if I don't revere priests, vicars, teachers, headmistresses, marriage, religion, military superpowers, soldiers, the police, the law and my own parents, what else is there left for me to lack reverence for?

Cumulatively, I've spent almost 6 months having my life saved in hospital - often in high dependency and intensive treatment unit (ITU) wards. Shouldn't I revere doctors; surgeons?

I think that if there was one thing that would make almost anybody feel more secure and happy in a stressful situation, it would be knowing that there's a doctor present. It's such a clichéd question: "is there a doctor here?".

To explain my irreverence for doctors, we merely need to explore the reasons why I have ever had to deal with one, and the outcomes of those interactions.

Having been lucky enough to escape congenital abnormality, it doesn't take a rocket surgeon to figure out what I want from a doctor and why. You don't need to spend 5 or 6 years at medical school to know that the human body has been dealing with pathogens since the species first came into existence. You hardly have to be brain of Britain to figure out whether you're dealing with a viral, bacterial, fungal or parasitic infection, and furthermore, which is likely to be treatable. In actual fact, I've never been to my doctor for antibiotics: every infection has always cleared up on its own. Fungal and parasitic infections can be dealt with without a doctor obviously: head lice shampoo is available in every pharmacy, without a prescription, for example.

At the age of 28 I went to my doctor wanting treatment for depression, but I knew which specific medications I was prepared to try and which medications I didn't want because the side effects were not acceptable. Having my choices limited only to SSRIs provided firm evidence that doctors were an obstacle to be overcome, not a panacea.

When we think about the first time I was hospitalised, do you think I didn't know that I was going to end up there and what the problems were going to be? Do you think it was an accident that I ended up in hospital?

Again, you don't need to spend 5 or 6 years at medical school to know that the human body needs water, salt, glucose, proteins, amino acids, vitamins, minerals and myriad trace elements, or else the bodily functions haven't got the fuel, carrier fluid and raw materiels they need. You don't need to be a doctor to know that human body temperature needs to be homeostatic as much as possible - much like every other measurable thing in the human body - and any extreme variation too high or too low is going to have dire consequences.

When you are making choices in full knowledge of the likely consequences, medicine ceases to be lifesaving magic, and instead it becomes another simple case of what do you want and why?

One must consider the very last time I was hospitalised to truly understand my irreverence.

Not only had I quite carefully pre-planned my suicide attempt, when I arrived at hospital against my will, I gave very clear instructions: do not put activated charcoal into my stomach, do not perform gastric lavage, do not intubate, do not provide life support and most importantly of all, do not resuscitate. "Do you know what's going to happen?" the A&E doctor asked. "Yes. I'm going to die of a combination of organ failure and serotonin syndrome, with a lot of seizures" I replied. "Do you think you'll be unconscious? Do you think it'll be painless?" the doctor asked. "No. I expect that it will take a long time to die and I'll be conscious and in a lot of pain for most of it" I replied. Then I started having seizures.

Doctors see a lot of people who are scared and they don't understand what's happening to them. They're desperate for somebody who seems to know what they're doing and what they're talking about; doctors are an authority figure. I have no doubt that for feckless simpletons and those who lack access to medicine, the arrival of a doctor or a priest/shamen/witch-doctor is incredibly soothing and comforting. If you don't know what you want and why, your reverence is misplaced, but it may still ease your passage from life to death.

When shit goes bad, who are you going to turn to? If you have to pick your team of people to survive on a remote island, who are you going to pick and why?

Why revere anyone? Why kiss anyone's arse and tell them they're great because they did the study and training that you could've done if you wanted to. You could have passed those exams. You could have gained those qualifications. You could have followed that path if you wanted to. If you wanted it bad enough, you could put on that uniform; you could get that job title; you could prefix or suffix your name with the bit that tells the world just exactly why everyone should drop to their knees and worship you.

Nothing's sacred to me. I could do your job if I wanted to.

I'm not smarter than anybody. I'm not better than anybody. That's the whole point: I'm lucky enough to not have anything that's holding me back; limiting my potential.

I really don't recommend telling your kids they can follow their dreams and be anything they want to be. I really don't recommend telling your kids to question everything, and understand everything about how the universe works, to the point where they reach the very bleeding edge of scientific research. I really don't recommend raising your kids to challenge the status quo and resist the urge to fit in with wider society and their peers.

Take it from me: there's a mind-destroying kind of cold uncaring "nothing matters" bad feeling that comes from being too rational; too much of a free-thinker. Take my word for it: understanding the absurdity of existence will destroy your mental health.

You should probably experiment with hard drugs. That's probably way less likely to fuck up your life than going down the rabbit-hole of picking everything to pieces and trying to reason from first principles and pure logic.

 

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I'm Sick of Moving

9 min read

This is a story about putting down roots...

Cardboard boxes

It looks like the smartest short-term decision for me right now is to go back to London. Third time lucky, maybe.

London was amazing the first time, so I guess third time lucky is not really accurate.

London was pretty amazing when I went back, but my damn acrimonious divorce and evil ex-wife conspired to disrupt and destroy my chances of re-establishing myself back in the capital. I'd reconnected with lots of old friends, incorporated a company and had started doing business. The last thing I needed was the distraction of the divorce, so I went and sold my house to a cash buyer - I had the sale organised within a few hours, and should have completed with cash in the bank in about 6 weeks.... except my evil ex-wife sabotaged the whole thing and put it back on the market with the worst estate agent she could find, and accepted an offer - for the same amount as I'd already agreed with the cash buyer - from some clueless idiots who were part of some horrible chain.

Said same evil ex-wife then tried to screw me over with the division of the house sale proceeds, which was a more than fair and reasonable 50:50 split. The contracts had been exchanged and the deposit had been paid. I was quite happy to have us both get sued if she wanted to drag things on any longer... she'd already delayed everything by 3 or 4 months. My final signature was needed for completion and if I didn't give it, we'd have breached our contract. So, I didn't give it until I had it in writing that she'd take her 50% and let me get the hell on with my life. She's an idiot, because I'd have gladly paid more if she'd just let me get on with rebuilding my life in London.

So, that changed the complexion of my second jaunt back to the capital completely. Gone was the momentum of my new business. Gone was my new girlfriend. Gone was a holiday I'd been planning on treating myself to. Gone was every bit of optimism and energy, wasted on worrying about cashflow and legal wranglings with one of the most thoroughly unpleasant individuals I've ever had the misfortune of dealing with.

I never quite caught up. You need a lot of money behind you if you're going to get ahead in London. If you haven't got the working capital - the comfortable financial cushion - you'll never be able to handle the challenges of the city AND fret about money.

Out of pride and stubbornness, I tried and failed and tried and failed again. I kept almost but not quite reaching the point where I was financially comfortable, only for the stress and effort of it all to finally scupper me, plus some bad luck too. I lost a contract simply because I refused to kiss the arse of one guy who thought he was indispensable. They terminated my contract, and then the guy who did it got the sack for getting rid of me. Another time, I was just too exhausted from living in a hostel while working on one of the most demanding projects - and indeed important projects - I've ever worked on in my life. I got myself out of the hostel and into my own apartment, but the stress and exhaustion of it made me very unwell. I tried to get myself sacked while I was on holiday in San Francisco, so I could stay for longer, but they didn't take the bait - I got sacked as soon as I walked back into the office, which I knew I would.

I took a shitty contract in a shitty part of Greater London. That was awful, but I did it out of necessity.

Finally, I got a great contract, great team, great project, great company... then my kidneys failed and I was on emergency dialysis on a high dependency ward for weeks. DVT in my leg. Nerve damage. Unbelievable pain.

That was me done for. Broke. Game over. I was lucky to escape bankruptcy.

Now, I've had a little taste of small town provincial life, and it's OK. I liked it when I could drive to work and walk to my girlfriend's house. I liked it when my income was 20 times as much as my rent, and I was living like a king... or at least I'd have been able to if the gravy train had continued to run on it's scheduled timetable.

There's no opportunities here. It's a small place. I was lucky to have a few months when I had it all, but I always knew that when it came to an end, there wouldn't be anything else here for me that's comparable.

No girlfriend. No job.

Gone off the place a bit.

I had a look at what London has to offer and I'll be increasing my already obscene income by 50% if I go back there. Make hay while the sun shines. Get rich quick, or die trying. The number of jobs I'd be a perfect match for was quite staggering... so reassuring to know that I've got the right skills that still command such high remuneration.

There's nothing round here. At least, nothing for somebody who's trying to get ahead. I'm sick of being behind. I'm sick of playing catch-up.

If I go back to London and keep this Welsh seaside town as my primary residence, I can live on expenses - my rent, meals, travel... all that will be reducing my tax bill as well as giving me a lovely lifestyle. No more shitty AirBnBs and pot noodles. I can have my own little central London apartment and eat takeaway every night. I can take black cabs everywhere and even reclaim the expenses of having my suits dry cleaned, shirts laundered and shoes shone. What the hell am I doing, having to cook, clean and do laundry, in this sleepy seaside town where I don't know anybody except for my ex-girlfriend and some of her friends, who all hate me.

I can go on Tinder and there will be gazillions of drop-dead gorgeous highly educated well travelled professional career women, who are pretty up-front about what they want. Tinder in this Welsh seaside town has 15 identical looking Snapchat filter photos of women who look like they've put make up on with a trowel and can't string a sentence together, and then that's it - you've swiped them all left, and there's no more to swipe.

I shouldn't do the place down, because it makes sense if you've got your wife & kids sorted and mortgage paid off, plus a big fat wedge of cash in the bank, but it makes no sense at all for me to be here, single and still struggling to get back to a position of financial security.

So, at some point I'm going to push the button and the calls will come flooding in and the contract negotiations will start, and before I know it I'll be on the train back to London, except I'm not slumming it this time.

When I sign on the dotted line for my third attempt at making things work in London, I'll be going to live in a serviced apartment, and I'll be living there for the duration of the contract. I've got my little seaside retreat - my second home - where I can leave most of my stuff, but I'll also have a permanent base in the capital, where I can leave my suits and shirts and smart shoes and everything else I need midweek.

If I hesitate, I'll just burn through all the cash I've managed to tuck away during the last 6 months of nonstop hard work. If I hesitate, I'll lose all the ground I've gained. If I hesitate, I'll lose momentum. If I hesitate, self-doubt will creep in and I'll dither and dawdle.

I might be sick of moving, but as long as I'm able to keep on sending my invoices every month, and every month my net worth moves rapidly from the negative to the positive, there's a tiny glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel. I might be sick of proving myself over and over and over again, and having the stress of yet more reference checks, security vetting, credit checks and criminal records checks, but in London if one contract doesn't work out, there are literally hundreds of others. If one relationship doesn't work out, the London is literally jam-packed with mind-blowingly beautiful intelligent women who have dedicated themselves to their careers, and are making themselves known to be single via the Tinder app.

I have friends in London. I know my way around. There's a drinking/socialising culture, instead of the "going home to the wife and kids" culture of the provinces. What am I doing here in this place where I suddenly feel so out of place?

In the blink of an eye, I'll be available again - back on the market.

In 2 or 3 weeks, I'll be meeting my new team and learning about my new project; my next opportunity.

It's actually quite exciting. It's a fresh start in a place I already know and love. It's another opportunity to stick two fingers up at my ex-wife for ruining my chance to have a clean break and rebuild my life back in London. It's another roll of the dice - maybe I'll be lucky this time and I'll prove I can make it work. I've certainly tipped the odds massively in my favour.

I'm sick at the moment, of course. My mania must be plain as day to anybody who has any dealings with me. My colleagues kindly and patiently indulge my endless stream of ideas and words, delivered so fast they can't keep up, but it's good timing: things are late and everybody's stressed. To the uneducated eye, it just looks like I care a lot about the end of the project, as opposed to being in a fully-blown manic episode in the middle of an office full of mild-mannered civil servants, who normally move at glacial speed, as is the way of the public sector.

I'm sick, but I haven't pissed anybody off or burnt any bridges yet. I'm sick, but I do remember to shut up and try to act normal once in a while. I'm sick, but I obviously made enough of a good impression that I'm being given the benefit of the doubt.

I'm sick and I'm sick of moving, but move I must. I must move and I must maintain momentum.

 

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A Typically Manic Day

6 min read

This is a story about predictable unpredictability...

Man in a tree

I messaged a trusted friend at work: I'm sleep deprived and manic... can you sneak my laptop out of the building, should I make up an excuse to bunk off work, or should I just come in and pretend like everything's fine? He told me to message him in the morning.

I woke up at 4am, when presumably the deadly cocktail of sleeping pills, tranquillisers, sedatives and alcohol wore off enough that my mania re-asserted itself. Even my dreams hadn't been sweet dreams about nothing... my mind had been working overtime to find elegant solutions to hard problems.

By 7am - when I usually get up - I realised I could force myself out of bed and face the day if I wanted. However, the only restful part of any 24 hours for me, is the period when my intense dreams are done and I can have a second period of sleep, which is pure bliss. The alarm clock is perhaps responsible for more human misery than any other human invention, including bombs and guns and instruments of torture.

There were no small cans of Red Bull for sale at the office canteen, so I guzzled half a litre of high-glucose high-caffeine energy drink. As I feared, I spoke far too much; too loudly... I lost all subtlety, tact and ability to hold my tongue. In short: I was everything you don't want from a work colleague who you have to spend 40 hours a week in a small room with.

As with many engineers - or those with a tendency towards the technical - I started pulling things to bits. Something had been broken for a week or two and nobody knew how to fix it. People were losing sleep and the shiny shiny new system was starting to look like an unreliable heap of junk, not the perfect thing that everyone imagined they would create, given a blank canvas.

I skipped my lunch. I said "just give me 5 minutes" to so many people, while I continued to pursue my new obsession: I was going to be the hero who solved this problem which had defeated so many others.

Before I knew it, the cleaners were hoovering under my feet and the building was looking pretty dark and empty. I went out to the car park, where luckily my car wasn't parked, because the compound was fully secured - I was locked in.

In my mind, I achieved something noteworthy. I found and fixed the problem they said that nobody would ever be able to do - it was too hard; everything that could be thought of had already been tried.

I shared the news with my colleagues, all long-since departed home to their families. Most people write 1-liners "fixed the bug". I struggled to not write an entire essay on why the shiny shiny new system is actually a piece of shit that should be rebuilt; repainted on that blank canvas. Of course, nobody really wants to read a message with 6 paragraphs. Nobody really wants to be told that a fundamentally shit decision at the start of the project has flawed the whole damn thing. Nobody really cares that much, except me.

Actually, I'm being unfair. Some of my colleagues have been seized by manic moments and decided to embark upon one-man missions to reach that engineer's nirvana: the most elegant system imaginable. My colleagues kindly indulge me when I say "errr.... why hasn't this been done properly?" and they tell me the age-old tale of the decision to cut corners, because it's "tactical". We roll our eyes, and dream of the day when we're really given that elusive blank canvas.

A few years ago, I single-handedly rewrote an entire system - belonging to one of the UK's big 4 high street banks - over the course of about 4 days, mostly without sleep. I learned nothing. What I ended up with was elegant and beautiful, but it'd be like hanging a Monet in your 3-year-old's bedroom - it'll soon end up with crayon and felt tip pen scrawled all over it. It was an arrogant and stupid waste of time.

Today, I rebuilt what my colleagues had built, so that I could learn why they made the decisions they made. I put myself in their shoes, and I walked the same path that they must've walked, when they built the shiny shiny new system.

There's a short answer and a long answer. Tomorrow I can say: "I know where the bug is and I know how to fix it". That's the short answer, and that's the only one anyone cares about. Tomorrow I want to say: "I know where you took a wrong turn, and I know how we can make things perfect; elegant" but nobody cares... just get the damn thing running, no matter how flawed and unreliable; no matter how ugly it is when you peek behind the scenes.

It wasn't that long ago I was given a blank canvas for the first time in my career. You know what I opted for? Ugly simplicity. I built something that was the complete opposite of elegance. I built something where just about anybody could see what every nut, bolt and widget was there to do. You know what else I learned? When you've actually got to make a whole entire system from the ground up, you never ever anticipate the things that are going to ruin the perfection - the decisions that seem great at the time, but eventually mean you'll never achieve a completely elegant solution.

All I can say is, at least my mind is occupied on days like today. There hasn't been a moment to consider just how terrible I feel. There hasn't been a moment of boredom.

I'm glad I got up and went to the office, even if I've made it abundantly clear to my colleagues that I'm an unstable nutcase.

The world needs unstable nutcases.

 

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My Macbook is Kaput

3 min read

This is a story about precious objects...

First Macbook Pro

I gave my sister the second Macbook I ever bought, which was the first model with the aluminium case. However, it was also the one where the batteries always expanded and busted the trackpad when it got old. I got it fixed, but never got round to giving it back to my sister.

I had a Macbook Air, which was wonderful, but then I went through a phase of breaking it. One time it cost me virtually the price of a [working] second hand one to fix. Once it broke, so I left it gathering dust for a year or so, and then it came back to life.

I can't wait a year to see if my main mac comes back to life. Annoyingly, I only back up SUPER important stuff, so I'll be hunting through email inboxes or just damn well having to live without some of the data, until it can be recovered.

I'm back on the Mac Pro my friend brought me back from New York, saving me hundreds of pounds. It has an "enter" key rather than a "return" key, and no sign of the UK Sterling or Euro currency marks. I like that I can type a # (what Americans call pound) without having to use a weird keystroke.

Having this old mac has saved me from being laptopless while I get mine fixed, which could really have badly screwed up my week (more than it is already) and delay me applying for contracts in London, of which there are loads and they're really good ones too, so I'd better get my CV updated... see if I can secure something before my last day at the current place.

Tonight and tomorrow are going to be awful; this week is going to be awful. I've made things harder for myself than I needed to, I've seen how much work there is in London, and how much extra they'll pay now I've added a few skills to my repertoire, and it's great news: it makes me really hopeful that I can go to London, live comfortably and be able to continue to replenish the war chest. It'll be so much better to not have the constant strass and anxiety about cashflow.

If I get this old laptop out at an interview, it might raise a few eyebrows, but it does the job and it's got retro chic.

Am gutted about my Macbook, but I do have home insurance which will hopefully pay for the repair.

All in all, I've managed to make a right mess of the weekend, after a relatively uneventful Friday night, and I've really made a lot of work and suffering for myself,  as well as the risk of going into the office when in a state. Should've brought the work laptops home on Friday, but I was feeling a helluva lot better than I was on Wednesday... I'm a fucking liability.

Maybe the insurance gods will be kind and I can get a shiny new toy.

 

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Break Up With Bad People

4 min read

This is a story about relationship strategies...

Image is not related

If somebody treats you really badly, break up with them. If somebody is disrespectful about the times in your life when you nearly died, break up with them. If somebody makes character slurs and generally trash talks you, break up with them. If somebody talks shit about you behind your back, break up with them. If somebody treats you like a second-class citizen - like there's something wrong with you - then break up with them.

I really can't recommend it enough.

In fact, sometimes I don't know why I don't do it sooner, when all the warning signs are there. When somebody starts getting abusive and horrible and vile and disrespectful and insulting, and starts to say humiliating and untrue things, those are the warning signs. When somebody implies you're broken and you need to be fixed; that you're faulty; that you're a freak... that's a warning sign.

I really can't urge you strongly enough to break up with those people who give off those warning signs.

If somebody's not introducing you to their family, but they're happily talking about you behind your back; if somebody's talking about you behind your back with their work colleagues; if your emails and text messages and other things like that are getting shared behind your back; if they're stalking you and gossiping about you and generally judging you, comfortable and cocky in their gang, while you're completely isolated and alone.... break up with them.

I can't emphasise this enough: if it feels wrong, break up with them as soon as you can.

Nobody could accuse me of not working really hard at my relationships. Nobody could accuse me of not being tolerant and kind and having a range of different strategies to deal with the various ups and downs of a relationship. I've had relationships that have lasted years and years. I've spent more of my adult years in a relationship than I have single. I know about relationships.

My big mistake has been in trying too hard to make things work with bad people.

Bad people are the ones who make us feel distressed and humiliated; who make us feel worthless; who make us feel insecure; who make us feel like we're a freak or a weirdo. Bad people are the ones who tell us we should be grateful to have a partner, because nobody else would have us. Bad people are the ones who keep bringing up the worst things that happened to us, again and again and again and again. Bad people are the ones who imagine us at our worst, rather than seeing our full potential and imagining us at our best.

Bad people will attack the thing that's most precious to you, and pick on you using your most intimate vulnerabilities.

If somebody's reading the really personal stuff I choose share - because I'm brave - and using it against me, they're a bad person. If somebody is taking advantage of the fact I'm vulnerable, they're a bad person. If somebody's got a problem with my blog, which is 3 years of daily writing and 900,000 words - it's my labour of love - then they're a bad person.

I was very angry and hurt about the way I was treated by a bad person. I'd let things build up. I should have broken up with them sooner. I should've walked away. I let things build up, and then the distressing, humiliating, traumatic, threatening, alarming aftermath, where I was ganged up on... that was truly awful.

I should've broken up with them before things got so emotionally charged. I should've broken up with them before I ended up - unfortunately - with a lot of unresolved resentment and pent-up frustration about the unjust and horrible treatment I'd been a victim of.

I've got a lot of work to do. I have to repair the damage to my blog - done by threats and intimidation, unwanted visits, stalking, harassment. A lot of damage was done to my blogging project by that horrible person and their gang, and I have to repair it, because my blog is the thing that keeps me alive; it's my proudest achievement.

I need to find my voice again: The voice that isn't tainted by the distress I've been feeling; the voice that isn't controlled by the threats and intimidation: My voice.

 

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I'm a victim of behaviour making me feel distressed, humiliated and threatened. I've had unwanted visits. I've been stalked online, have been bullied and threatened about what I share on my blog. I've had verbal threats. Generally I've been harassed causing me distress and alarm

 

The Man Who Has Nothing Has Nothing To Lose

4 min read

This is a story about being unhinged...

Toilet graffitti

A highly paid civil servant decided to doodle this cock onto a poster which was affixed to the toilet door, at a government agency which is responsible for the collection of £6bn in taxes per annum. You'd have thought that the kind of people who clear the stringent security vetting wouldn't be the types to do graffiti in toilets, especially the toilets at the highly secure office.

There's nothing in writing yet, but I'm getting the shove... services no longer required. Project delivered, happy client, but there isn't another project at the moment, and I'm quite expensive to have sitting around doing nothing, although the banks I've worked for have never seemed to care much about that.

It's the worst-case scenario. Contract has finished early and no extension. Nothing that's very appealing in the local area; not a lot of choice... in fact, pretty much just one contract I could apply for, which I'm pretty sure I'd hate.

If I go on my holiday instead of working, I'll lose £3,000 of potential income. That's a helluva expensive holiday, when I could just write off the £600 it cost me for the flights and accommodation. Should I work that week, and use the extra money to go on a holiday which'd be much more suitable for me now I'm single? Should I work that week and simply go on a better holiday, to cheer myself up? Should I work that week and be sensible, and save the money, given that I'm about to lose my income?

What have I got now? No girlfriend. My car is about to be declared unroadworthy. No job. I've only got 2 friends in the local area, and one of them I haven't seen for 6 months and the other I've only met twice. All my money is earmarked for debts, rent and bills. I have no surplus which I can use to have an unplanned break from work - I need another contract.

Wind back to September 9th 2017 when I tried to kill myself. Why did I go through that hospital treatment to save my life and restore me to physical health? Why did I go through that psychiatric treatment, to make me safe to release from hospital? Why did I go though the stress of moving to yet another city where I don't know anybody? Why did I work my arse off and have the misery of living out of a suitcase, staying in a different AirBnB every week? Why did I work my arse off getting security vetted and landing a cushy public sector contract? Why did I spend every spare penny I had getting a car and an apartment? Why did I wine and dine and generally woo and wow a girlfriend? Why did I bother? Why did I think that I'd get anywhere; that I'd make any progress; that I'd ever be able to get ahead in life? Why did I think I'd ever be happy; content?

I'm not sure if I'm a danger to myself, others or both. I'm unhinged. I'm mad. I'm deranged, demented and disturbed. What the hell am I going to do? How the hell am I going to react? Who or what am I going to blame?

Desperate people who believe they have nothing to live for - that their lives are not worth living - are dangerous, aren't they? Can you think of anything more dangerous than somebody who's got nothing to lose?

Fear of consequences is the thing that keeps our behaviour 'in check'. What possible consequence could be used to threaten me or control my behaviour? Why on earth should I behave myself? What reason have I got to give a damn about consequences? I've got nothing to lose.

I've played by society's rules and it's gotten me nowhere because the game is rigged. I've conformed and complied and it's been to my detriment, because there are so many who lie and cheat and break the rules. I had hope and I had things that I didn't want to lose, but now I don't. That's a dangerous situation. That makes me a dangerous person.

I'm liberated. Too liberated. Too liberated for society to tolerate... depending on my completely unpredictable behaviour.

Should I be locked up?

 

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Shattered

4 min read

This is a story about premonitions...

Driving License

All I needed was a run of good luck... a couple of contract extensions, or maybe two long contracts. My client in London loved me and wanted to keep me, but I hated working on my own in that office, with the rest of my team in Warsaw. Something local came up... 2 years of project work supposedly. It was a gift from the gods. It only had to last until November and I'd have been home free: debts cleared and with a healthy financial cushion again, living a very comfortable lifestyle and able to reduce my hours to part-time or take a lower-paid but more rewarding job; a more secure and stable job; a more sustainable job.

I was getting nervous. Taking a holiday before you've secured a long contract extension is always risky and I was reluctant to lose the income too. I was getting the ever-growing feeling that my luck was running out. One project was getting close to completion and there didn't seem to be another one in the pipeline.

"Would I consider staying, but getting paid less than half?" came a question, which was actually more flattering than it sounds: there would be job security and other perks. The sums just don't add up though. I can't afford to take that kind of income hit until I've cleared my debts and built up a decent pot of savings.

Anything could happen. Theoretically, I've got two more months before I need ink dry on a contract extension or a new contract, but in practice I'm only ever two weeks away from being shown the door. Two weeks to find something new. Two weeks to answer the question: "what next?".

What is next?

Do I go back to London, where there's heaps of opportunities? Do I find another coastal town or city where I can reproduce my enviable lifestyle of living close to the beach? Do I go back to the Bournemouth/Poole area, where I have many old friends who I could reconnect with? Do I cast my net wider? Why not try somewhere I've never been before? What about Nottingham? What about Cambridge? What about Bristol?

I could do nothing. I could sit and wait. I've got the skills and somebody local is going to need them sooner rather than later.

I might be worrying about nothing. I've impressed the right people. I've proven my worth. Perhaps I'll be the lucky one. Perhaps I'll be kept around, because I'm a handy guy to have around. Certainly my client in London was quite happy to pay me to sit and do nothing, just in case something came up: services retained, if you like.

Nothing makes sense to me. Why am I here? What am I doing? What do I want? Where should I go? What should I look for? What makes me happy? What do I need?

Local girlfriend, local job, nice apartment, drive to work, walk to the beach, yacht in the marina, amazing place to kitesurf just down the road... then a breakup and the job's under threat. It's not a big place where I live. There aren't a lot of different organisations to work for. It's not like the Square Mile and Canary Wharf where you just keep moving from bank to bank, going round and round, going back to where you've been in the past: a never-ending stream of projects that keep the cash flowing.

Play it cool. Don't catastrophise. I haven't actually had any bad news yet. It's all rumours.

Sit tight. Be cool.

But, what the hell? Why am I here? What the hell am I doing? What the hell would I do in the worst case scenario?

I didn't know this was going to happen, but it was my biggest worry. Everything can fall to bits in the blink of an eye. Dream shattered. Plans demolished. Hope destroyed.

Let's just say I had a premonition.

 

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Everything's Ruined

5 min read

This is a story about insight...

Greetings card

My own perceptions and judgement are very rarely reliable, so I depend on a handful of trusted people whose opinion I value so highly, that if two or more them are in agreement, I will substitute my own firmly held beliefs for theirs.

I can adamantly believe that a certain course of action is the correct one, and be completely unable to understand why anybody would not agree with me, but if two of my trusted inner circle disagree with me, I'll go with their better judgement.

I very often suffer wildly warped perceptions, which cause me suicidal depression and intolerable anxiety, but if two of my trusted inner circle perceive my situation differently - more positively - I will "tread water" in the hope that my own perceptions will move towards a more positive outlook.

My trusted inner circle is not some great reservoir from which to draw as much as I need whenever I need it. Generally, I seek a first preferred opinion and then a second to corroborate. The great paradox of the system is that I quickly make my own unwise decision to eject people from my trusted inner circle, leaving myself woefully short of the independent guidance I heavily rely upon.

Relatively recently, I've ejected three out of four people whose opinion I valued, who live locally. Two others who I'd previously been in regular contact with now have things happening in their personal lives, which puts them "off limits". I worry that my guardian angel's perceptions and judgements can be as warped as mine, so therefore I disregard their opinion, although I value them immensely as a friend. That leaves one person, presently, who can occasionally be relied upon to give me some precious guidance.

When I cast the net wider I have friends all around the world who I never speak to on the phone, and our periods of communication are patchy: sometimes we're in contact, but then there'll be long periods of radio silence. When these people speak up, I listen and respect their opinions, but my life becomes unmanageable: I have too many opinions to consider; too many contradictions; too many platitudes to filter out.

At the moment, a friend from Ireland has been phoning me and that's helped a lot to end one self-destructive aspect of my behaviour. The other person who springs to mind is a friend from New Zealand who's pointed out my repetitive, obsessive, cyclical pattern of behaviour, which I'd noticed myself but would easily ignore if left to my own devices.

The breakneck speed at which I travel, the immutability of my opinions - no matter how ridiculous - and my extremely poor judgement and impaired perceptions, create a toxic combination which leads to terrible decision making and regrettable actions, invariably making situations worse and damaging things beyond the point of repair.

As things stand, I hate where I live - both the place and the apartment - and I hate my job. I feel like my blog is ruined, which was just about the only thing I felt proud of and secure about. I feel like I'll never achieve financial security. I feel like I'll never have the social group and the partner I desperately need to be a secure and happy person. I feel like I'll never be happy. I feel like the stress and anxiety will be with me forever. I feel like there's no hope and that there's no point in anything: no point even trying.

I have enough insight to see that I've completely destabilised myself, by meddling with my brain chemistry and breaking up with my girlfriend. I have enough insight to see that hijacking my blog to grind my axe and expose my obsessive, unhealthy, repetitive, negative thought patterns, is something that would damage the relationship with my readers and particularly those who actively support me via social media. I have enough insight to see that becoming unwell has damaged the 'golden boy' image I had at work, which gave me a great deal of pride and security.

Despite that, the wind has gone out of my sails, and I genuinely believe everything is ruined. I don't feel like I've got the energy to fix things. I don't feel like I'm able to handle the things that will inevitably go wrong, or be disappointing. I can't see a workable solution; a way forward.

I should be putting myself out there, meeting new people, leveraging the many advantages I am lucky enough to have, but it seems almost impossible to muster the energy, enthusiasm and to get into a positive mindset.

I'm aware that this piece of writing is quite deflating; very negative. I'm aware that it's self-defeating, as it drives more people away. Who wants to read about somebody who feels so sorry for themselves, when it's pretty clear that most of their problems are of their own making? Who wants to read about somebody complaining that they're miserable, instead of doing things which would improve their life?

I'm astounded by the stark contrast between how I felt at the beginning of the month, when the weather started to improve, and now. I might have enough insight to see that it is my mood which is mainly at fault, but I still have to live with my warped perceptions and the unbearable unpleasantness of my feelings.

Are there any solutions? I think the best one is to act as normal as possible, pretend like everything's fine with my work colleagues, and don't do anything stupid... just sit it out and wait for the storm to pass.

 

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Lone Wolf

4 min read

This is a story about desperate men...

Doggo

If you ever wondered about the origins of extremism, you probably think it has something to do with religious fanaticism, indoctrination or some underlying hatred of a certain race, gender or other form of identity. You'd be wrong.

People strap bombs to themselves and blow themselves up because they're marginalised and they feel like they've exhausted all other avenues; their voices are silenced; they're oppressed.

Think about the "lone" part of "lone wolf" and you can see that at the very core of disturbing behaviour is loneliness, isolation... and in a lot of cases discrimination, stigmatisation. Lone wolves are pariahs. They are so often described as "loners" but do you think that loneliness was their choice?

The more we demonise and profile certain groups, lumping them together as probable perpetrators of atrocities, the more we isolate and marginalise them.

It's a self-fulfilling prophecy.

You think you can bully and abuse somebody until they do what you want? You think that the solution to the so-called bad eggs in society is to filter them, block them, ignore them, threaten them and marginalise them? You think that through fear and intimidation you'll achieve anything? You think that by excluding people from the conversation - denying them a platform - you're making the world a better, safer place?

You think you can put locks on your doors and hire muscly men with pointy sticks to keep you safe? You think you can build a wall? You think you can create an impregnable fortress, where you're safe from the dangerous fanatics; the lunatics?

I think it has the opposite effect. The more Islamophobic we get, the more at risk of terrorism we are. The more we perpetuate the lie that all men are violent murdering rapists, the more at risk of incel extremism we are. The more walls and barriers and so-called 'security' and 'defence' that we surround ourselves with - marginalising and excluding members of society - the more lone wolves we create.

If this sounds threatening, I don't mean it to. I'm sad. I'm sad that we have a society that grows more and more fearful, and more and more mistrustful. I'm sad that the net result is this unpredictable, unstable, dangerous world that we live in. I'm sad about it.

If you want to defuse and de-escalate a situation, don't bully and intimidate. Apologise first, ask questions later. Communicate. Lower the defences. Lower your weapons. Take down the fences; the barriers.

Think about who is strong and who is weak. Think about who has the power and the force, and who has none. Imagine the example of the Palestinian children throwing rocks at an Israeli army with tanks, guns, drones, missiles and the rest of its military might. Think about how pissed off those poor people, who are basically unarmed, are about being tyrannised by those with so much power. It's a pressure cooker; a tinderbox.

Why not offer an olive branch; make a peace offering? Why not be the bigger person and back down, even though you know you're far stronger, far mightier and you can crush your opponent in a humiliating defeat whenever you want?

The route to a safer more co-operative and more stable world is not bigger and better weapons, and more henchmen to threaten and bully, it's surely got to be communication, diplomacy and just downright being nice to each other - apologise first, ask questions later.

You might feel self-righteous in your insular bubble. You might feel like you have the moral high ground. It's dangerous territory though. So many tyrants in history thought that they were justified in their actions; their atrocities.

Friends close, enemies closer and all that, eh?

 

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