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The world's longest suicide note

I write about life with bipolar disorder (a.k.a. manic depression)

All opinions are my own

twitter.com/ManicGrant

nick@manicgrant.com

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Sprint Finish

10 min read

This is a story about marathon running...

Stansted Airport

I'm quite pleased that I have this blurry photo capturing the moment when a stranger borrowed my iPhone charger in an airport. That stranger became my accountant and he's been on the journey with me, from a newly incorporated business to the point where I'm now turning over a 6-figure sum of money and making decent profits. My accountant has been one of the few constants in my life during a period which has been extremely wild and erratic.

Another particularly notable feature of the 5-year journey which has brought me - finally - closer to the point of getting back on my feet, is that I've never stopped moving. Through frantic and frenetic activity I've managed to avoid death, bankruptcy and a million and one other dreadful fates. By persevering with a very simple plan - to earn a lot of money as a consultant - I've managed to weather some pretty dreadful storms.

I admit that I did try to have myself declared unfit for work and to obtain the state welfare support I'm entitled to, but most people I meet seem to quickly form the opinion that I'm perfectly fine and healthy. Most people think I'm entirely capable of rescuing myself from even the most diabolically awful situations. It's pretty obvious that I haven't been enabled by anybody, although I'd be dead as a dodo if it wasn't for my guardian angel, who helped me move from London to Manchester, then Manchester to Wales, as well as being there for me during various hospitalisations and wotnot. To say I've arrived at the point I'm at today all on my own is not true at all. Of course I wouldn't have lasted 5 minutes without help and support, but I haven't received any of the help and support from the government that you'd think would be available to a vulnerable person - the safety net simply doesn't exist.

You would think that all your taxes which you pay would give you some kind of insurance, so that you wouldn't be penniless and homeless if you couldn't work. You would think that all that tax would mean that you'd be looked after if you were incredibly sick and vulnerable. Unfortunately, the welfare state is not at all kind to anybody who appears - with a lazy glance - to be of sound body and mind. Despite letters from GPs, psychiatrists and social workers, there are gatekeepers who are so compassion-fatigued and have so few resources to dispense to so many needy people, that there's no safety net at all.

Early intervention would have saved me a lot of near-death experiences, hospitalisations, contact with the police, wasted money, wasted time, wasted energy and health damage. Early intervention would have been far more cost effective than dealing with the consequences of assuming - incorrectly - that I'd cope just fine if I was simply left to my own devices; made homeless and otherwise abandoned by a nanny state which always promised to protect me, in return for the vast sums of taxes I've paid. I wasted a lot of time and effort on the mistaken middle-class belief that the welfare state exists for the sole purpose of protecting the vulnerable members of society. I thought - as so many middle-class people do - that I simply needed to ask for help from the relevant services charged with doling out lifesaving support and I would received what I needed.

It turns out that the UK operates what can only be described as a hostile environment for anybody who falls on hard times. It turns out that vast swathes of the civil service - with a mission statement to supposedly to help society's most vulnerable - are actually acting as gatekeepers and making it almost impossible to access any kind of help or support. Instead, the rigmarole is intended to frustrate, annoy and exhaust until you become disillusioned, disheartened, discouraged and generally lose faith in a government which promised to look after you in the event of an unfortunate turn of events, in return for a hefty portion of your income. The safety net turned out to be a lie and you'd better not waste too much time being angry and disappointed, because you're still broke and homeless... you have to find your own way to survive. No wonder so many people in the UK grow and sell cannabis or peddle other drugs - the black market economy provides much needed cash to society's most vulnerable, impoverished and desperate.

I suppose the argument would be that I could walk into a job quite easily, but that's pure stupidity. It's impossible to get a job and keep it if you're homeless and you have severe mental health problems. It's impossible to get a job when you're hamstrung by addiction and alcoholism. It's impossible to get a job and keep it when you're flat broke. It's a catch 22 situation. There are plenty of people who could theoretically get back on their feet, but they'll never be able to without some initial help and support - they need somewhere to live and some money; they need treatment for their addictions and alcoholism; they need time to stabilise their medication and get counselling for their mental health issues. Allowing people to become homeless - destitute - and to commit suicide is barbaric. Yes, it might seem to the wealthy ultra right-wing conservatives like it's some brutal form of social justice - survive or die; fit in or fuck off. Personally, I want my taxes to be spent on people who can't work, even if it means that I have less money to selfishly spend on myself. I want to pay into a national insurance scheme which creates a safety net for the most vulnerable and impoverished members of society.

In the second half of 2014 it dawned on me that I was wasting my time asking for help from the state, so I complied with exactly what the hostile environment was designed to do: I tried to go back to work. Naturally it was a disaster. You can't force sick people to work. Sick people can't work.

I've struggled along working for 4 hit-and-miss years. I've had a rollercoaster ride. I have periods where I'm working out of sheer desperation, which of course makes me incredibly sick, so I crash and burn every time. Because I seem blessed - or cursed - with the appearance of a man who's got his shit together and is doing just fine, I end up quickly embedded in huge organisations doing very important project work. Because of past achievements I'm given responsibilities which nobody in their right mind would dream of giving to a homeless, bankrupt, alcoholic junkie with mental health problems. The projects are hard enough, without also having to worry about where I'm going to sleep, whether I've got enough money to survive from day to day, and of course dealing with my mood disorder and all the of the problems associated with substance abuse.

Imagine doing an opiate, benzodiazepine and alcohol detox while working a full-time job. Imagine doing drug rehabilitation while working a full-time job. Imagine undergoing psychiatric treatment for severe mental health problems while working a full-time job. Imagine living in a 14-bed hostel dorm while working a full-time job. Imagine not knowing whether you'll be able to afford to keep travelling to work until payday - the ultimate catch 22, where you can't even afford to work your full-time job. That's been my life.

Some of the practical difficulties have been eased in the short-term with vast quantities of debt. I've borrowed heavily to be able to make my living and travel arrangements more compatible with working. I've gone deep into debt on the presupposition that it will enable me to earn enough money to dig myself out of the hole. In addition to the hard problem of working when seriously unwell, I've also had mountainous debts threatening to destroy me.

All of this is exactly what the government wants. The government wants us all to be heavily-indebted wage-slaves who live incredibly insecure lives, so we're easy prey for the capitalists. The government doesn't want us to get fat, happy and lazy. The government doesn't want us secure enough to be able to demand fair and reasonable working conditions and remuneration commensurate with the value of our labour.

I've worked incredibly hard, especially so during the last 9 months. I've earned a lot of money, but none of it has flowed into my pockets - it's all gone to pay the capitalists for their loans, which was the only way I could stay afloat and keep playing the game. If I'd declared bankruptcy I'd never be able to earn a decent wage ever again, rent an apartment or buy a house. The system's set up to screw you whichever way you go; you're forced to become a slave.

With gritted teeth and dogged determination it's been possible to struggle through 9 dreadful non-stop working months and get to the point where it looks as if I'm getting on top of things. I've had a period of what appears to be stability. You could be easily fooled into thinking that forcing me to work when unwell has actually proven the right-wing ultra-conservatives to be correct - that it's OK to economically enslave people; that it's OK to tell society's most vulnerable that they have to choose between starving on the streets, or a minimum wage McJob which won't even cover the cost of incredibly frugal living.

It might not look like it but I've actually done an incredible marathon run and I'm doing a sprint finish. It might not be immediately apparent but it's quite remarkable that I've survived what I've been through and I'm still going. I need to keep going. If I can't keep going then all I'll fall back into the hole as soon as I collapse exhausted in a heap. Every time I'm forced to push myself beyond the point which is sustainable and healthy there's always a price to pay. There's a price to be paid for forcing vulnerable needy people into work.

It might not seem like things have been very hard for me if we extrapolate backwards, but we need to think about where I've come from and what I've been through, not what my current situation and prospects are. My current situation is still pretty dire - there's a long way to go before I can retain my gains permanently; I'm a long way from escaping the debt trap and being free from tyranny. My health is not reliable. My future is incredibly uncertain.

I'm having a difficult time adjusting to the present paradigm. My brain and body are built for crisis mode. I'm able to deal with an endless precession of catastrophic events and survive disaster, but I'm struggling to adjust to the present situation, where I simply need to coast along now that I've re-established myself somewhat. I'm finding it incredibly hard now that I'm no longer in the danger zone - I'm on high alert and super tense, but the worst of my troubles seem to have passed. It's been a living hell but I've beaten the odds. However, I have absolutely no ability to cope with ordinary pedestrian, plodding, slow-paced and hazard-free life. I don't think I'm able to deal with boring daily routine, because my life has been in non-stop crisis for so many years.

So, I'm sprinting to the finish line. I never manage to find steady sustainable consistent marathon pace.

 

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Chore

11 min read

This is a story about strict routine...

Washing machine

I don't feel like writing today. I saw something in the news which I wanted to write about and I even started a blog post, but then I kinda lost my way when doing a bit of research. I had selected a photo - different from the one above - and I started to feel that it was unwise to use it because it shows my face without my cunning and infallible disguise. I'm starting to think more and more about how people perceive me and the damage I could do to my own reputation if my blog was read by my work colleagues.

There are certain things that will cause people to look at you in a completely different light. There are prejudices that are so powerful that they can warp reality and turn good people into twisted grotesque imaginary monsters. To write about addiction is to bracket myself with baby-eating, granny-mugging, child-raping, ethnic-minority-murdering, every-other-bad-thing-you-can-think-of, demonised people who are blamed for all the ills in society. Your average injecting crack and heroin addict is going to commit a hundred or maybe even two hundred crimes every year to feed their habit. However, it's a non-sequitur to think that everybody who's experienced a period of drug addiction in the past is an immoral murderous criminal. "Death's too good for 'em! String 'em up!" cries the tabloid press and the public lap it up, even though the vast majority have never been a victim of crime, nor are they aware that the so-called character flaws which potentiate addiction live inside all of us.

I was going to write about that oft-used song lyric: "there's a monkey on my back". I can't say that I ever felt like I had a monkey on my back when I was a drug addict. "I'm waiting for my man" is another famous addiction-inspired song lyric, which again is something I can't relate to at all. In fact I can't relate to any of the addiction references in popular culture. I've never 'scored' drugs from a dealer. I've never been part of a drugs 'scene'. I never adopted a drug as part of my identity - I never wore clothing with a cannabis leaf or some other drug reference advertising my addiction.

There's a lot I don't understand about drug addicts even though I was one myself. I don't understand why many addicts buy crack cocaine when they could easily make it themselves with baking soda. I don't understand why addicts buy their drugs in small quantities. I don't understand why addicts buy impure and weak products at hugely inflated prices. I don't understand why there are heroin addicts when they could easily bulk-buy fentanyl, which is much more powerful. I don't know why addicts don't just stop being addicts and get rich - like me - whenever life gets tough.

Of course, I do understand all those things. I understand that the only difference between me and an injecting crack and heroin user, is that they were exposed to a drug 'scene' which brought them into contact with dealers, street drugs, needles and other drug paraphernalia. Addicts are caught in the never-ending cycle of scoring drugs, turning tricks, petty crime and everything else that's part of the chaotic life of an injecting drugs user, and the only difference between them and me is that I know that there's some hope that I can escape a miserable life of poverty. What hope does your average crack and heroin addict have of earning a 6-figure salary a month after they quit drugs? What hope do they have of ever earning a decent wage?

I've been able to use my wealth, intellect and other privileges - such as my science and technology skills - to research and obtain high purity drugs of the maximum potency at rock-bottom prices. Instead of messing around with £10 bags of crappy cut heroin, I'd do the research and find out what the chemical with the biggest bang for my buck would be, and then buy it in bulk.

What happens when you have access to a practically unlimited amount of drugs and a practically unlimited amount of time to use them, is that you discover the meaning of the word: practically. It's practically impossible to satisfy a desire for addictive drugs. Given enough drugs and enough time, you just die. Eating, drinking, sleeping, personal hygiene, bathroom breaks and other bodily functions are put on hold for as long as possible. There are some addicts who are perfectly functional - they go about their daily business under the influence of drugs and they can carry on like that for years. That's not really addiction though. Addiction specifically means harmful drug use. Smoking, for example, harms the health of the smoker and the health of those who have to breathe their second-hand smoke. Arguably a pill-popper isn't an addict at all, if the pills are not causing health damage. My own addiction took the form of the very worst kind: the insatiable appetite for a drug to the exclusion of everything else, including the basic necessities for human survival.

At some point drug-taking either becomes a chore - it's something which has to be done to stave off the unpleasant withdrawal symptoms - or it becomes so destructive that destitution and death become certainties. I'm sure there are a handful of homeless people who could see that their addiction was making them unable to work and unable pay their rent or mortgage, and they would be evicted eventually, but they didn't want to stop the drugs: they'd rather be homeless, living in a tent or otherwise sleeping rough, and able to carry on with their addictions. Most homeless addicts probably couldn't see any hope of avoiding homelessness if they quit - there was no incentive. The drug-taking becomes a chore and there's no hope of escaping the dreadful circumstances when you fall too far; the health damage is too severe and the behaviour patterns are too entrenched... rehabilitation would take years, and the best possible hope for those people who dropped out of mainstream society for a long time, is that they could become burger flippers, shelf stackers, toilet cleaners and street sweepers. I have nothing against the untouchables on the bottom rung of civilised society, who do the worst jobs for the worst pay, but it's hardly an enthralling prospect to be shackled to a dreadful job which doesn't pay enough to cover rent and bills, and robs a person of their time and freedom. Given the choice, I'd rather be begging on the streets.

My life is a chore. I'm doing things which I've done a million times before - so there's no doubt that I'm extremely capable of doing my job - and I'm working on projects which are exactly the same as every other project I ever worked on. It doesn't matter if it's Space Invaders, torpedo guidance, stockbroker share prices, computers for schools, public transport, investment banking, government... whatever. Same shit different day. I make systems which are just like the old systems. It's like painting a white wall with white paint, over and over and over again.

Life's a stupid pathetic pointless game. Money is the 'score' and the more you have of it the better player you are, supposedly, but everybody starts with a different amount and the ones with the most are cheating the most. There are other ways to score points, such as academic qualifications, but again, those who start with the most money have the most leisure time to pursue academic interests and surround themselves with people who'll help them obtain those qualification. Winning a game of chess doesn't mean you're smarter than your opponent if the game wasn't on the clock. Winning a game of chess doesn't mean you're smarter than your opponent if you were raised by chess grandmasters and your entire childhood was structured around a single purpose: to make you into a brilliant chess player.

As we scurry around desperately trying to comply with the rules of the game, which mostly means being exploited by capitalists and living in constant fear of losing our job, our home and our children, we surely must stop and think that this is insanity. Why would mortal creatures waste their precious time playing a rigged game, for the benefit of the rentier class who oppress them and profit from their labour?

It must surely be due to drugs and drug addiction that the present situation is allowed to continue. How else are people able to buy alcohol, cigarettes, tea and coffee if they don't have miserable exploitative jobs? How else could we tolerate the intolerable except with massive amounts of anti-depressants, anti-anxiety drugs, tranquillisers, sedatives and sleeping pills? Why would we bother with the miserable commute and the horrible work, unless there was the promise of some artificial and chemically induced bliss during our breaks and at the end of the working day?

You can have as many slaves as you want, but they won't work without coca leaves, khat, betel leaves, areca nut, tobacco, tea and coffee. Fear, intimidation, pain and torture will only get you so far. There needs to be carrot as well as stick.

If you watch enough X-Factor and Pop Idol on TV then you'll see that all anybody has ever wanted for their whole entire life - more than anything else - is to be a singer. Why then are those who succeed against the odds in becoming a rich and famous pop singer, are very often afflicted with addiction problems and many die young?

Consider how hard it is to escape from the poverty trap. Consider how hard it is to escape the rat race. Consider how hard it is to accumulate enough wealth to be truly free. Consider the effort and exertion necessary to break the chains and liberate yourself from the shackles of capitalism and bullshit jobs.

Unfortunately, most people's idea of freedom is flawed. Are you looking forward to your retirement? Why? You'll be old and your health will be declining... why didn't you retire when you were young and fit? Are you looking forward to fame? Why? You'll be working for your sponsors; you'll be working for your fans. Are you looking forward to being rich? Why? What are you going to do when you are? If you spend your money you'll be poor again, and you'll be just as much of a slave as you ever were, except you'll have developed expensive tastes.

Drugs strip away all of capitalism's artificial constructs. A £10 bag of heroin will get a billionaire just as high as a homeless penniless person. Drugs can - in a way - become a way of life which has much more meaning than the pursuit of wealth. However, the insatiability of a drug addiction; its intrinsic destructiveness and lack of meaning beyond the internal experience of the drug addict, leads inexorably to the desire to use drugs as a form of protracted suicide.

Art is the only known antidote, but art is denied to the vast majority of humanity. Only wealthy spoiled trust-fund brats are truly free enough from the tyranny of capitalism to be artists. Of course many of the spoiled brat offspring of the ultra-rich will become drug addicts, because they're too stupid to appreciate the incredible privilege it is to be able to be an artist.

Perhaps the other choice is to bury ourselves in bestial behaviour. If you're blessed with enough stupidity and ignorance to be happily consumed by your reproductive efforts, all the best to you - enjoy yourself. Sadly, this isn't an option for those who've read too many books and newspapers, and have become aware of the absurdity of existence - ignorance is bliss, and there's no returning to those blissfully ignorant times once your eyes have been opened to the stark reality of human life.

In a godless world with no afterlife, free from magic, spiritual and otherwise ethereal non-existent mumbo-jumbo, there's little which is comforting and inviting in a hostile universe which obeys strict mathematical laws. Just a few hundred kilometres away there's the vacuum of space, where you'd just turn into a frozen corpse and float around weightlessly for billions of years. And you're worried about losing your minimum wage zero-hours contract McJob cleaning toilets just so that you can give every penny you earn to a capitalist, even though you already give every waking hour of your life to a different capitalist? Don't you feel conned; cheated?

I don't feel like doing much, but is that really surprising? Is it so surprising that life feels like such a chore?

 

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Forced to be Free

10 min read

This is a story about normality...

Psych ward garden

Most people want a secure job, secure housing and to feel prosperous. Most people don't care about freedom of speech and a free press. Given the choice between security and freedom, most people would choose security every time. It's only a handful of paternalistic elites who dictate that we the people care a very great deal about freedom, when in actual fact this is not true at all.

Freedom has a very narrow definition. When we talk about freedom of speech and a free press, we do not also acknowledge the freedom to be hungry, the freedom to be homeless, the freedom to be marginalised, excluded and abandoned by our "fit in or f**k off" culture. While we might enjoy freedom of speech and a free press, those luxuries are only useful to a privileged few; the wealthy elites; the rich and powerful. While you are theoretically free to run for political office or broadcast your opinions, you are not at all free in practice.

The only freedoms that ordinary people have are the choice between virtually identical minimum wage zero-hours contract McJobs; the choice between conformity or social exclusion. You can be a free tramp, if you choose: you can be homeless, penniless, destitute and free, or you can be enslaved to the capitalists... it's up to you; you're free to choose.

Further, for those who are not neurotypical you have to choose between social exclusion, stigma and poverty or the chemical straightjacket of powerful psychotropic medications. You're free to accept the diagnoses and swallow the pills, and allow yourself to be 'normalised' so that you fit the rigid static definition of how a 'normal' person should think and act, or you can choose to be excluded from most economic and social activity because you don't fit in.

Many of us willingly and indeed eagerly beat a path to the door of our doctors, demanding medications that will return us to 'normality' when we find that we are deviating from what we perceive to be the norm. We see millions of others around us getting up at dawn, commuting to bullshit office jobs and being uncomplaining, so when we're troubled by depression, anxiety and other disruptive changes which force us to confront the purposelessness of our absurd existence, we 'choose' to be made normal again by psychiatry.

Society should be constantly adapting to the changing needs of the people, such that the stress and exhaustion in our lives is reduced or at least kept constant, but instead we see that the people themselves believe that they are the ones at fault. Students take amphetamines, modafinil and methylphenidate in order to artificially increase their concentration spans and stay awake during marathon exam-cramming sessions. Workers drink tea, coffee and energy drinks in a desperate attempt to stimulate their brains and fend off tiredness. We take antidepressants and anti-anxiety medications so that we can withstand the horrors of a society which places greater and greater demands upon us, while also giving us less and less security: our jobs are under threat, our homes are under threat, we and our children are under threat. Where has the feeling of prosperity and the sense of optimism gone? We presume that it must be us who have faulty brains, as opposed to seeing that it's society itself which is failing to deliver the things we need.

As is oft-quoted: "it is no measure of health to be well-adjusted to a profoundly sick society"

When more than 50% of the population are categorised as suffering from some sort of mental disorder, we must surely accept that it's the minority group who are the sick ones. Why should society continue only to serve the ones who are not suffering? Why should our idea of what is 'normal' be based on something which is abnormal because it is less common? Why are we trying to conform to such unrealistic and impossible ideals, which do not serve the majority of people?

"I'm miserable, so you have to be miserable too"

I think the above quote accurately sums up the attitude of powerfully influential figures in our society, who are blocking any progress towards a better way of life for all our citizens. I had the misfortune of making the acquaintance of a doctor who hated their job, their commute, the daily grind and - seemingly - their patients. This doctor made it their mission in life to deny time off work to anybody they could. Their reasoning was simple: because they were miserable and hated their job, they were going to make everybody within their power suffer too. A doctor has the power to dispense medications which might temporarily mask the symptoms of a sick and broken society, or to sign a piece of paper which excuses a person from the charade of having to go to their bullshit McJob every day. A doctor has the power to inflict misery on potentially thousands of people every year, and we must presume that as many doctors are as miserable as the general population as a whole, which means that more than 50% of doctors are perpetrating this kind of awfulness on the people they have power over.

We worship medicine and medics as a force for good, but in the increasing absence of organised religion in wealthy western democratic countries, we are seeing doctors elevated to a social status beyond what is reasonable, creating demi-gods who abuse their power. Just as with organised religion, we have suspended rational thought, cynicism, curious inquiry and skepticism, and have placed blind faith in the medical establishment to cure the ills of society. We reject politics and politicians as corrupt self-serving liars and we have lost faith in the ability of our vote and other democratic instruments to be able to influence our lives for the better.

The only thing we believe we're able to change is ourselves, with the assistance of doctors who can give us "magic bullet" pills to alter our mood and perceptions, as well as keeping us youthful and protecting us from death. We have fake tits, white teeth, hair implants, botox and numerous other procedures to alter our appearance, because we're powerless over anything except our looks. We can be reasonably sure that our lives are protected by hospitals and medicines, but our power to influence anything else in life, such as our socioeconomic prospects, is precisely zero.

While a sharp-elbowed tranche of middle-class society obsesses about their children's exam grades, places at the most desirable schools and universities, internships, graduate training programmes and otherwise attempting to give their precious little darlings a head start in life, this blinkered myopia ignores the fact that the baby boomers are getting older and older but living longer and longer, while also amassing asset portfolios well beyond their means, and preventing those precious little darlings from having any hope of having secure jobs and secure housing. In order to pay grotesquely unjustified and disgustingly greedy defined-benefit pensions to the generation who've contributed the least - except to national debts, global warming and a decline in living standards - the pension funds demand that workers are paid pitiful wages for longer hours in terrible working conditions, so that profits, capital gains and dividends can keep sustaining the unsustainable, unrealistic and ridiculously greedy selfish demands of those who are taking out far more than they paid in.

A small segment of society is free to write, paint, photograph, travel and generally enjoy the freedoms that we would all love to have, but the very vast majority of us are too busy trying to survive in an ecomony which is built to benefit the few, not the many. Only the old and wealthy are free, and they did not work hard to earn their freedom: they have stolen that freedom from the young and from the future generations who will inherit all the problems of today and tomorrow.

If you're an artist and/or an academic and you enjoy your life and your job, you need to remember that the position of privilege you're in is very rare and a very high price is paid by a huge number of people, so that you can swan around having a lovely time. Your freedom ends where mine begins, so if your freedom is disproportionately large compared to the rest of society's then you're being greedy and antisocial; you're an enemy of society. While it's very trendy to talk about freedom being important, we must be mindful that most people want security, not freedom. Think about the price that's paid by the whole of society for your luxury privileges.

To be truly free and happy, we might have to re-evaluate our priorities. We can't demand cheap food and cheap goods if we want to be free, for example, because those things are only made possible by the exploitation of workers. We can't demand passive labour-free unearned income, for example, because that's only made possible by tyranny, economic slavery and exploitation of the vulnerable. Most importantly, we can't expect to feel contentment and security, when we need unhappy, insecure people in order to sell consumer products and to keep our entire workforce on the treadmill, by heavily indebting them and denying them social housing or the ability to buy/build their own home.

You might teach your children that a strong work ethic and academic excellence are the route to getting ahead in life, but it's not true. Being a compliant hard worker means you will be exploited, and obtaining academic qualifications incurs a substantial amount of debt. Servicing debts and paying rent is a form of tyranny which has encroached on personal freedom to the point where only a tiny fraction of society enjoys any kind of meaningful freedom at all. Your children will not be able to escape the trap; there's no hope. The depression and lack of optimism for the future is driven by a rational, reasonable and sound assessment of our younger generations' prospects.

Our heavily indebted and heavily medicated society is also controlled by draconian laws which were ostensibly introduced to counteract terrorism and industrial unrest, but have been abused to undermine the strength of trade unions and prevent the establishment of any counter-cultural movements which might challenge the status quo. While we should be living in an age of alternative lifestyles and people dropping out of a society which clearly no longer serves the majority of people's needs, we are instead witnessing a miserable dystopia, where we're all trapped on the treadmill because the only alternative is hunger, homelessness, persecution and social exclusion.

Yes, I'm free to write whatever I want, provided I do not defame the powerful figures who are responsible for maintaining this miserable state of existence for so many millions, but those in power are quite comfortable in the knowledge that my ranting is safely confined to an echo-chamber filled with so much noise that, as Aldous Huxley predicted, the truth is drowned in a sea of irrelevance - information overload.

We are somewhat hoisted by our own petard. Almost none of us of us demanded freedom, but we have collectively made freedom of speech into something useless; toothless. We are not free at all and we have no mechanism by which to affect any meaningful change. What is supposedly our most powerful tool to speak truth to power - the freedom to express ourselves - has in fact become the reason why our voices are not heard and our suffering goes ignored.

All that's left is the freedom to be hungry, homeless, persecuted and excluded.

 

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An Austere Life

5 min read

This is a story about simplicity...

Glass roof

"Work sets you free" according to the tyrants; the capitalists; the elites who never have to lift a finger; those who earn their money without labouring themselves. Our lives are controlled by those who were born destined for greatness: privately educated, public schoolboys, trust fund recipients and the sons & daughters of political, industrial and commercial dynastic families. Somebody who'll never work a day in their life has decided that work is good for you, so you'll have to work until the day you die.

My life is pretty basic at the moment. On a Monday morning I drive for 90 minutes to get to the office, I spend 3 nights in a hotel, eating my dinner in the pub next door, then I drive home on Thursday evenings and work from home on Fridays. Each evening I drink too much and try to keep my mind distracted with Netflix. Each morning it takes a huge effort to motivate myself to get up and go to my desk. Each weekend, I wonder if I'm going to be motivated to do something with my free time, but I never am: the boredom and the monotony and the prospect of months and years more misery seems to sap every bit of energy from me. I'm either at work, hating it, or I'm dreading having to go back.

Most people would seek social contact. Most people would quit jobs which caused them significant anguish. You'll find plenty of night owls who work in restaurants or bars, because they simply couldn't tolerate an office job. You'll find plenty of people who work outdoors because they couldn't tolerate being chained to a desk. You'll find plenty of people who create real and tangible things because they couldn't stand to be pushing paper for a so-called living.

It feels like I'm committing an act of self-harm by persevering with choices which are incompatible with my sense of wellbeing, contentment and happiness, but I've swallowed the propaganda that work will set me free. It seems - on paper at least - as though I only have to suffer in the short-term and I will then reap the long-term rewards.

I could pay off all my important debts today, but then I wouldn't have the working capital to be able to get to work, pay for accommodation & food, pay my bills. I could liberate myself from the tyranny of capitalism, but the alternative is homelessness and destitution. The road out of civilised society is a one-way street. Everything in mainstream society is set up to deny access to anybody who's taken an alternative path: with a bad credit score, no fixed abode, bankruptcy and other 'black marks' against your name, you'll never be able to rent a place to live or get a good job; you'll be trapped into poverty forever.

I'm trying as much as I can to shut off my brain, getting through the next few months in an intoxicated state as much as possible. I try to be drunk or unconscious whenever I can, desperately trying to make the time go quicker.

I'm repeating a life I've lived a thousand times before. I'm doing things I can do in my sleep; muscle memory. There's nothing novel, new or interesting in my life.

I was homeless again from September last year through to March. I rented another apartment, which briefly made me happy, but it's something I've done so many times before: moving house, renting or buying a place to live. Shelter is a basic human need.

I wasn't working from September through to November last year. I got another job, which briefly made me feel relieved to have an income again, but I've had so many jobs before. There's nothing new, novel or interesting about doing the same kind of job that I've done for 21+ years full-time.

I expect I could re-do any of the many things that I've done thousands of times before in my life, and cumulatively all those things will add up to a complete and functional life, but I'm pretty exhausted by the destructive cycle of losing jobs, losing my home, losing my friends, losing money and being on the brink of exclusion from society the whole time; living on the margins. It's exhausting, constantly having the threat of a 'black mark' against your name, which will ruin your chance of ever re-entering civilised society.

Sometimes I feel happy about the progress I've been making, but other times I feel depressed about the time & effort still required to reach the point where I feel free. All I'm trying to do is get back to zero; to get square; to make things even.

I'm attempting to travel the shortest distance between where I am and where I want to be. I'm attempting to travel via the fastest route possible. In my desperation to reach my goal as quickly as possible, I'm jettisoning almost everything which seems superfluous. My life is basically unliveable; intolerable... but I keep telling myself that it's just for another few months... another few months.

What will I do when I get my freedom? I don't dare to dream at the moment. There's too much suffering in the short-term to waste time dreaming about the future.

 

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Payday

5 min read

This is a story about triggers...

50 pound notes

Having money burning a hole in your pocket is thought to trigger relapses, but I think it's the period of poverty that precedes it that causes the problems. Flush with cash after such a long struggle trying to make ends meet and not go bankrupt, who wouldn't be flooded with relief and be significantly affected by such a rollercoaster ride? Our boom and bust, feast and famine world is highly destabilising to our mental health.

Back in September I found myself jobless, homeless and without enough cash to afford to rent a place to live and support myself for long enough to get to payday. Mercifully a friend managed to get me a job in Warsaw in the nick of time, and I was just barely able to afford to be able to live in AirBnBs until I got paid - I escaped bankruptcy with just £23 left in my bank account the day before my pay finally started to arrive.

Back in February I had to buy a car so that I could get to my new job, tax it and insure it. That nearly wiped me out.

Back in March I had to rent a place to live, and paying the first month's rent, deposit and letting agent fees again nearly wiped me out.

I've spent April praying that nothing goes wrong - that I don't lose my job and that my car doesn't break down. I couldn't afford any unexpected bills - I've been running on fumes, although it wasn't quite as bad as when I got down to my final £23.

My financial distress dates back to December 2016, when the Christmas and New Year period delayed me from getting back into work, and by the time January arrived I was very unwell - I spent 3 weeks in hospital on dialysis and promptly lost the job I'd just managed to get. Things got worse and worse, peaking in July when I had a very large tax bill to pay and I had to leave my apartment in London because I could no longer afford the rent. Out of desperation I took a job in Manchester, which turned out to be disastrous - I didn't know anybody in Manchester and my entire life was in the hands of a company which ended up treating me very badly indeed. I tried to commit suicide.

Working in Warsaw and London during December, January and February, meant I was incurring a lot of expenses, with flights, hotels, train travel, AirBnBs and the other costs of living out of a suitcase. I tried to live off pot noodles and other things that can be prepared without a kitchen, but economising can become impossible when you have to travel around from place to place - I had to re-buy all the things you generally keep in the kitchen cupboards, or carry food around with me without the contents of the open containers leaking and turning everything into a horrible mess.

Finally, I managed to rent an apartment but it didn't have a single saucepan, plate, glass, mug, utensil or cutlery item, let alone all the other myriad things which make a house a home, such as toilet brushes and a million other things you take for granted.

To go on the journey from having less than nothing, to re-entering civilised society and having enough money to keep the wolf from the door, has been extremely stressful and exhausting. I'm still in the process of setting up my standing orders and direct debits so that the council tax, TV license, gas, electric, water, sewerage, broadband and all the other various utilities can be paid regularly every month. I'm still in the process of re-stocking the cupboards with all the things that are needed for daily living.

Yes, my situation seems to be rapidly improving, but there's still so much work to do and I'm still a long way from being comfortable and having a financial cushion in case there are any unexpected problems - there are many more sleepless nights ahead.

I don't mean to moan, because I'm very lucky - things have gone my way and finally getting paid some of the money I'm owed today has a big positive impact on my life. I can loosen the purse strings a little, although I still have to be very careful.

There is of course an impulse to go mad now that I'm a bit more financially comfortable, but that's a reaction to the relief I'm feeling, after so many months of having the threat of bankruptcy, homelessness and destitution hanging over me. My main impulse is to draw the curtains and not get out of bed for a month, because I'm so exhausted and emotionally drained after such a horrible rollercoaster ride.

Because of the way I get paid, I'm not expecting another payday for another couple of months. If I can make it to the next payday it'll be a huge milestone and I'll very definitely be on the road to recovery, but I still have a very challenging time ahead of me.

I hope you don't think I'm moaning. It's always a good day when you get paid.

 

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Don't be a Martyr

6 min read

This is a story about barriers to entry...

Crash barrier

I'll admit that as a child I took the path of least resistance. Instead of dentistry, which I realised was going to be monotonously boring - if you've seen inside one mouth, you've seen them all - I chose a route that would lead to getting rich quick. Soon, I had a wonderful lifestyle and I never really had to kowtow to any gatekeepers or doff my cap in deference to the slave-owners.

I thought about what I was going to write tonight and I thought I'd come up with a really great blog post title, but it turns out I already used it. In fact, I've written so much that somewhere there's something that perfectly captures everything I'm going through.

I wrote at length about the indignity of being subjected to external scrutiny, when I consider that my 20-year career should have now put me beyond the awfulness of such a process - who the fuck are you to judge me? Of course, if you were hiring somebody for their specialist skills, how would you be able to judge whether they are competent or not, unless you yourself are an expert? One does not have a dog and bark oneself, etc. etc.

Thus, we rely mostly day-to-day on a web of trust. Somebody who is recommended by a friend is much more trusted than a total stranger. Friends of friends are our friends. We stick together. Homo sapiens is a social animal.

What happens when our social network disintegrates? How do we ever rejoin civilised society?

Speaking from personal experience, re-entering the game is very difficult. It's nigh-on impossible to get anybody to take a punt on a talented nobody, versus a talentless fuckwit who knows how to play the game. I don't begrudge the fuckwits - so long as they stay the fuck out of my way - and perhaps it's me who's got things wrong. Many colleagues of mine are qualified for nothing more than keeing a seat warm, reading the news, listening to the radio, watching videos online and counting down the hours minutes and seconds until it's time to go home. If you were hoping to get ahead in life on merit, you're going to be sorely disappointed and frustrated.

It would be unfortunate if I was mischaracterised as somebody who's not a team player. I love my colleagues and I need human interaction, although it seems like my work has a kind of purity that means there's always a right answer and a wrong answer. I'm a fucking wet dream for greedy bosses, because I deliver early and under budget, which is unheard of in my industry, but perhaps it's me who's letting the side down - I should deliberately work at the pace of the slowest worker, because of worker solidarity.

I'm rambling, but I've reached the ragged limit of what I can handle. Either things go my way, or I feel like life's not worth living. I'm blackmailing life to give me what I want, using my own life as an expendable hostage.

Whether I deserve to succeed or not, given the rough ride I've had and the effort that's been expended... these are questions of worthiness that you should answer by having two tramps fight to the death over a half-bottle of wine, just for your own sick amusement. All I can tell you is that having worked my way back from the brink of death and destitution, all I've got to say is fuck you, buddy. You think I should curtail my efforts and scrub toilets for minimum wage, living in some shithole? Fuck you. I'd rather die.

There are matters concerning loss of status and loss of dignity - these are not trivial. If somebody lives the high life and they fall from grace, it's not realistic to expect champagne and sportscars any more, but what about some dignity in labour? What about being paid a wage that reflects a person's skills and experience?

Of course I'm raising the wider question about whether anybody is really paid what they're worth. Of course, we all know full well that the value that we deliver in terms of pure pounds and pence that we put into the pockets our slave-owning capitalist tyrants, does not at all reflect our effort and our productivity, but you know what? The question still has to be asked and has to be answered.

I might seem like some bleeding-heart left-leaning-libtard who thinks they're owed a living, but the evidence doesn't support your assumption. Through all my turbulent times, I've never claimed incapacity benefits, job-seeking benefits, housing benefits, tax credits or any of the myriad forms of state support that are supposedly available to me. I'm trying to play an honest game. I'm trying to play by the rules of the conservative politics that seem to rule the day. I'm trying to work my way out of poverty and back to a position of health, wealth and prosperity.

If I fail, what does it mean? Failure could be utterly catastrophic for me. Even though I have friends who somewhat underwrite my risk, offering to give me a roof over my head, can you imagine working your bollocks off through a 20-year career and having nothing to show for it?... not even some kind of state handout. I thought it would be awful to be dependent on the welfare state, but it's actually more awful to be dependent on out-and-out charity, which could end on a whim.

I don't want to hold a gun to my own head and make my demands, but I came a long way since rough sleeping in a bush. If anybody ever had any doubts about employing an ex-homeless, ex-junkie, washed up loser weirdo who's lost everything, then haven't I proved the case for my fellow unfortunates and myself? When's a guy gonna catch a break?

I'm not trying to elbow my way to the front of the queue. I'm no more deserving than the next person who's equally needy and in distress. To the casual observer, I enjoy a whole host of advantages over the struggling masses. It's not a competition. It shouldn't be a competition.

If you think life's all about survival of the fittest and "it's a jungle out there" then fuck off and de-evolve already, you knuckle-dragging c**t.

 

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Short & Sweet

11 min read

This is a story about burnout...

Graffitti

There's a lie which we're all guilty of perpetuating: Work hard and you can improve your life; if you work hard enough you can achieve anything. It's not true and it's wicked to repeat the lie, because we end up blaming ourselves for our appalling living conditions. "If only I'd tried harder in school" so many of us wail, but "if only I worked harder" is not something that a dying person ever says on their deathbed.

It's obvious that there's a grotesque disparity between hard work, dedication, passion, productivity and personal wealth. If you're going to try and argue that the owner of a large property portfolio works harder than a nurse, then you deserve a punch in the face. If you believe that the beneficiary of a trust fund, who doesn't have to work at all, is somehow more deserving than the person who cleans toilets for a living, then you must be suffering from psychosis.

I've heard it said that life is fair, because it's unfair to everybody. Human afflictions don't care whether you're rich or poor - a billionaire still needs an ambulance and a cardiac surgeon if they have a heart problem, and money can't buy them immortality. However, this does not seem to consider the great injustice of the world: that our efforts and actions will make virtually no difference at all. It doesn't matter how badly you want to study at Oxbridge and enter a lucrative profession - if you were born into the wrong socioeconomic circumstances, you're not going to be able to achieve your potential. It doesn't matter how badly you want to elevate yourself from poverty, and how hard you work - you're trapped and you'll never escape.

The media love to shove folklore heroes in our face. The media work very hard to assist our willing suspension of disbelief. Little girls think they're going to be like Kate Middleton and marry a prince - the tale that we're told is that she's an ordinary girl and that any one of us could be plucked out of poverty, but it's bullshit... she went to a very expensive private school. Little boys think they're going to become 'self-made' men, and there are plenty of examples of entrepreneurs who claim to have not received any assistance in building their business empires, except that close scrutiny reveals that they had their risk underwritten by friends and family; they have access to wealth and connections that ordinary people don't.

You show me the success story and I'll show you the unfair advantages that the person enjoyed. Nobody got to the top on merit. Nobody gets anywhere by working hard - it's a lie.

In fact, to work hard and assume that it's going to lead to pay rises and promotions is a kind of mental illness: it's called "Tiara Syndrome". It's a bit like the fantasy of a knight in shining armour coming to rescue us - a person who has Tiara Syndrome is expecting that somebody will come along and put a tiara on their head, just because they work really hard and they're good at their job. Sadly, it doesn't happen.

Behind every fortune is a great crime. The only way to get ahead in life is to lie, cheat and steal.

"The power of enclosing land and owning property was brought into the creation by your ancestors by the sword; which first did murder their fellow creatures, men, and after plunder or steal away their land, and left this land successively to you, their children. And therefore, though you did not kill or thieve, yet you hold that cursed thing in your hand by the power of the sword; and so you justify the wicked deeds of your fathers, and that sin of your fathers shall be visited upon the head of you and your children to the third and fourth generation, and longer too, till your bloody and thieving power be rooted out of the land"

A Declaration from the Poor Oppressed People of England (1649)

So, if we've been writing about this problem for the best part of 400 years, things must be alright, mustn't they? Don't fix what ain't broke and all that. Why rock the boat?

Life expectancies are starting to fall - people are dying younger. There's a mental health epidemic. There's an opioid epidemic. Living standards are declining. Billions of people live in poverty, and within our lifetime we'll witness a Malthusian catastrophe that will dwarf any other mass extinction event seen on planet earth. If you thought the Ethiopian famine was bad, wait until you see what the next few decades have got in store for us. With high-yield modern mechanised farming techniques, we have plenty of food, but we are staggeringly bad at sharing things fairly. If you believe that the present situation of wealth disparity is acceptable, then you're signing the death warrant for billions of people - a holocaust knowingly perpetrated on the human race, for no better reason than sheer unadulterated greed.

Remember that none of the Nazis were allowed to say "I was just following orders" as any kind of defence. To fail to act and to say that you're just doing what everyone else is doing, is immoral. To be passive and turn a blind eye, or to throw up your hands and say "there's nothing I can do" is not acceptable. Yes, it's our instinct to look after our own families, but the day is coming when that selfishness will backfire. Your kids are going to need a place to live. Your kids are going to end up in debt. Your kids are facing a shitty future, and your grandkids are going to inherit a completely hopelessly screwed situation - do you think they'll agree with you, that it was right that you sat back and did nothing?

If you think you're helping your kids by instilling some kind of 'work ethic' in them and getting them to study hard, you're making a mistake. Remember: nobody ever got anywhere by working hard. Hard work can be a useful thing, but we must consider what our labour is being used for - if it's making weapons and oppressing people, then hard work is immoral when it contributes to the war on humanity. Sometimes the best thing to do is to withhold labour - to deprive the tyrants of the manpower they need to conquer and achieve world domination. Sometimes the best thing to do is conscientiously object; to nonviolently protest.

I've thought long and hard about how I can make a difference. I thought about medicine. I thought about law. I thought about politics. I thought about science and engineering. I find myself in technology, and I'm desperately disappointed. No amount of smartphone apps and websites is going to address the problems at the root cause, which appears to be competition. Why must there be competition? Why do we have to measure and grade people, and declare that some of us are not worthy of consideration? Why do we have artificial scarcity and force people to fight over an artificially limited amount of so-called 'money'? Why do we put artificial limits on the numbers of people who can pursue a certain professional discipline? Why do we want to have elitism? Why do 99% have to be told they're shit and they don't matter and they're expendable, so that the 1% can feel special?

I was on the fast-track. I was made unconditional university offers and allowed to skip entire academic years. I got onto a graduate training program 3 years sooner than any of my peers. I got pay rises and promotions so quickly that I was earning six-figures by the age of 20. I'm an example of one of those success stories that you might read about, that are supposed to make you believe that with enough hard work anyone can reach the top of the pyramid - be a CEO or a prime minister or a president, or a king or queen. It's bullshit. Why would I turn on the system that's given me everything I've ever wanted? Why would I bite the hand that feeds me?

No amount of houses, sports cars, yachts, speed boats, luxury holidays and all the other trimmings of a wealthy life can ever make you quite feel like you're content with the way things are, because you can never fully insulate yourself from the suffering and poverty that surrounds us. The fact that you're reading this on a PC, laptop, tablet or smartphone, means that you're one of the lucky ones - you're somewhere that has electricity and the internet, which means there's probably clean drinking water too. If you think about those less fortunate than yourself, they're probably considerably well below your standard of living. Wherever you are in the pecking order, there's always some unfortunate who's desperately in need of help, because we've set up society to fail people - the very process of succeeding ourselves means trampling others underfoot to get ahead in life. It's a zero sum game - for somebody to win, there has to be a loser.

Life doesn't have to be like this - so adversarial. There's no limit on the number of "A" grades we can give out, or the amount of money we can print. There's no limit on the number of doctors we can have. We live in a world that's been artificially constrained to create winners and losers. There's no need to have competition so inbuilt to society. Yes, we might see that nature is full of competition - survival of the fittest - but we're not beasts. We've become super-intelligent and capable of producing vast surpluses of everything we need. With high-yield farming techniques and agricultural mechanisation, we can feed ourselves until we burst. With mass production and factories, we can have a virtually unlimited amount of goods - clothes and shoes and building materials, as well as pointless consumer crap that we arguably don't need.

Like the many utopians who I studied while doing the research for my second novel, I can see a world that's jam-packed with all the technology that we need to improve the human condition, and elevate half the planet out of poverty. I can see that we already possess everything we need - we don't need nuclear fusion or flying cars or any other sci-fi fantasies... we already have the means at our disposal, to improve our lives.

As a person who wants to make a positive difference - to effect meaningful change - I find it very distressing that those who are working very hard to improve the world are being thwarted. Imagine all the effort put in by doctors, nurses, politicians, charity workers and myriad others who do what they do because they want to make the world a better place... but it's not working, is it? The world is getting steadily more and more fucked up.

If you think I'm seeing the world through a 'blue filter' and my depression tinges my perceptions, we only need to look at the hard data - homelessness, depression, anxiety, alcoholism, drug addiction, poverty, crime and all the other indicators we have of the health of our society are telling the same story: Things are getting worse, not better. Your kids will have to get into heaps of debt to obtain their education, and then they won't be able to afford to buy a house. Your kids are going to struggle to find work. Your kids are going to struggle, full stop. Your grandkids are absolutely fucked. It doesn't take a genius to extrapolate from the data and see where we're headed. Things aren't just going to magically improve without anybody doing anything. Don't look to politicians to cure society's problems. Don't look to charity to cure society's problems. Don't look to the church to cure society's problems. If any of the existing status quo members were going to do something to fix things, they'd have done it at some point in the last 400 years, wouldn't they?

I haven't figured out what I'm going to do yet, but the best "not in my name" protest I can think of is to kill myself. The best way I can think of to register my objection with the status quo, is to end my life.

Maybe I have a lemming-like instinct to kill myself because of overpopulation. Perhaps my genes are telling me to kill myself for the good of the species. Certainly the self-preservation instinct feels much weaker than the powerful emotions that tear through me, thinking about the futility of the oft-tried ways of making a difference.

If there's no opportunity to make a meaningful contribution, why go on?

 

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London is Full

8 min read

This is a story about immigration...

Rush hour tube

My journey home this evening took me from the western side of the Square Mile, along London Wall and past Moorgate, past Liverpool Street and into the East End. Suit-clad city workers scurried with their briefcases and brollies, desperate to return home to their families after a long day at the office. Overcoats were all navy blue, black and grey, in conservative styles designed not to attract attention; sensible haircuts, no piercings or visible tattoos.

The crappy vegetable market that used to be virtually derelict now houses every designer brand and label that you could possibly imagine, from Barbour jackets to pairs of jeans which cost in excess of £200 a pair. Money is no object in the very place where a friend of mine used to sell knock-off copies of Calvin Klein underwear, three pairs for a fiver.

The council flats - social housing - have all been sold off as part of Thatcher's right-to-buy scheme, and all that money has flown off to the Spanish Costas, where the weather is better and the cost of living has remained lower.

The East End boozer that I used to love because it was cheap and virtually empty except for a few local alcoholics, is now brimming with hipsters and charges more than £6 for a pint of beer. Instead of looking closed and disused the pub has had an expensive makeover and its customers are spilling onto the streets - standing room only.

The pie and liquor shop, which sells jellied eels, is now a tourist attraction and there are people queuing out of the door, because it represents the very epitome of East London, despite the fact that East London is now epitomised by overpaid hipsters who do a bit of web development in trendy offices that used to be warehouses used by the cloth trade.

Everything that the the slum-dwellers and council tenants wished to escape has now become fashionable and extremely expensive. To live in an overcrowded city that's noisy and full of crime and pollution, seems like utter insanity. Why do people pay a premium to live in Central London?

A hundred languages are spoken in London, which is double the number spoken in the next most multicultural city: New York. Within a ten minute walk of where I'm staying, I can eat food from at least 30 different countries. Away from the homogeny of the City of London, traditional dress indicates that there are ghettos where people are living very much as they would have done in the countries where their families originated - entire communities have been lifted and shifted to the centre of the UK's capital.

The Crossrail engineering project - the new Elizabeth line - will be jam-packed with commuters as soon as it opens. London cannot keep pace with the demands of its residents and workers. Infrastructure is creaking at the seams. Tube stations regularly have to be closed because of overcrowding. The roads are virtually at gridlock. The congestion charge and T-charge are doing nothing to change anybody's habits. Deliveroo and Uber vehicles compete with black cabs and red double-decker buses, and more lorries than ever must deliver a relentless amount of ready meals and pre-prepared sandwiches for busy office workers who are too tired and stressed out of their minds to be able to cook for themselves.

In a desperate struggle for space, gone is the spare bedroom. Gone is the place of your own. Gone is your own kitchen and bathroom. Airbnb makes every inch of spare space pay its way. Hostels and hotels are no longer viable business models. Everybody has to pay big bucks for barely enough space to sleep - we're all living on top of each other; piled high.

The official statistics say that London's daytime population is ten or even twelve million. The truth is that nobody really knows. Every runaway goes to London. Every asylum seeker; every economic migrant. All roads lead to London, and London is where everybody ends up - the gravity is inescapable.

I was working on a project which needed to work out how many people the company employed. The company who employed me thought they had about 700,000 people working for them, but the truth is that nobody really knew. You'd think such a thing would be easy, but it wasn't. We had to use biometric data - fingerprints and facial recognition - just to stand a chance. Turns out, there are always more people on the payroll than you thought; more hands in the till.

I work 0.3 miles from the Bank of England. You can never work more than half a mile from the Bank of England in the Square Mile, because it's pretty much in the middle. It's the feeding trough. All of us little piggies come to the feeding trough, because that's where they make the money, and we get to gorge ourselves on it until we are fat.

I keep coming back the City of London because capitalism keeps clinging onto power, and that means I need money. Where do you get money? The Bank of England and the City of London, of course - go and fill your pockets at the source of all the wealth in the country. The streets are paved with gold.

One thing I notice when I keep leaving and coming back, is that there are always more and more people. There are huge skyscrapers springing up everywhere. I try to walk from one place to another via the same route I would have taken prior to the year 2000 and I find my way is barred. The shitty old office I worked in on Bevis Marks got replaced by a tower block that was supposed to accommodate 8,000 people, but has 12,000 working in it. There's an insatiable appetite for financial services workers. I remember going home after the 9/11 attacks in 2001 and I'm pretty sure I had a seat on the tube. Things were civilised. There weren't crowds of people. What I witnessed tonight - and every night - is far more harrowing in terms of sheer numbers of people competing with each other to get home; to get away from this place.

When those two planes struck those two towers, we were convinced there were more planes headed for London. We were convinced that capitalism had had its day and that the subsequent stock market collapse had marked a changed mood - our appetite for the unrestrained free market had reached its limit. It seemed like the insanity of house price inflation and the asset bubble was going to burst. It didn't.

Now, we're living in a strange type of dystopia. German bombs are not falling on London, but there's a kind of resigned expectation that at some point terrorists are going to attack us. We go about our daily business with posters that constantly remind us to stay vigilant in the face of inevitable violence that will be perpetrated against the capital and its people. We are no longer living in Victorian Britain, but the slums are just as bad. Air pollution and overcrowding are terrible, and high stress jobs with long working hours has been proven to be a toxic health combo as bad as smoking cigarettes.

For some, there will be a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. London still holds the possibility of fame and fortune. Dreamers from all over the world beat a path to London, to attempt to make a name for themselves and line their pockets with money. If you can cope with the sensory overload, the invasion of your personal space, the danger and the stress, then you can get a real buzz out of pounding these mean streets. Fortune favours the bold.

I had to get a tube train this evening, but the first one that arrived was too crowded for me to board. People behind me were pressed into my back and I was teetering on the edge of the platform. I asked if I could move back away from the edge, and one of the men who were shoving at my back looked at me like I'd asked if I could take a shit in his mouth. We gave each other an impassive non-aggressive stare, of course. Grudgingly, people allowed me to take half a step back from the brink of certain death. Reluctantly, I was given a few inches to spare between myself and the speeding trains and electrified rails.

This is the world we live in. If you're not living on the edge, you're taking up too much space.

 

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Numb & Dumb

5 min read

This is a story about being medicated...

Various assorted pills

It would substantially benefit my bank balance if I was to swallow substances that would remove my brain from my skull and place it into a jar - a chemical straightjacket. My doctors are falling over themselves to give me pills that will put me into a warped kind of reality - an altered state - where my perceptions are chemically changed.

If you put your hand in a fire and it's hurting because your hand is getting burnt, you have two choices. Firstly, you could remove your hand from the fire. Secondly, you could take a drug so that you don't feel the pain or care about your hand getting burnt.

I remain absolutely convinced that I'm in a state of depressive realism that's allowing me to perceive the madness of our late-capitalist society. I see suffering and injustice everywhere I look. I see the ridiculous situation where powerful incompetent men are paid millions of pounds, despite screwing everything up, while the people who do the most essential jobs in society are paid a pittance. The poor give every penny they earn back to the wealthy men for the privilege of being alive. It's a bitter pill to swallow.

Why have we defined "functional" to mean doing jobs that we hate? Why have we defined "functional" to mean not rocking the boat; not challenging the status quo? Why are our most "functional" members of society the ones who are causing the most human misery?

To decide not to take medication is a political statement. To decline to have my body violated - simply to conform with a political system that I don't agree with - makes me into a kind of political prisoner. I'm a victim of "fit in or f**k off" culture.

It seems to me like most people depend on substances - alcohol, tea, coffee, energy drinks, cigarettes, nicotine e-liquids, antidepressants, anxiolytics, tranquillisers, sleeping pills, painkillers - and very few of us are able to live life substance-free. What is it about modern life that pushes us onto these addictive substances and keeps us dependent on them? Why should it be mandated to use psychoactive substances, just to live my life?

It seems deeply immoral to have constructed a society that's unbearable except with something to 'take the edge off'. It seems like a complete car crash of a situation that we have to reach for chemicals just to be able to function and fit in. It seems like bullying and coercion to me. I have deep ethical objections to a world that forces me to put substances into my body against my will.

I fought hard to free myself from my dependence on caffeine. Quitting coffee was challenging. Quitting tea was relentlessly difficult. Avoiding caffeinated beverages is tricky.

I had the good fortune of never becoming addicted to nicotine, except when addiction was forced upon me by my parents breathing their second-hand smoke all over me in a confined space, which was wicked and immoral.

I deliberately spend lengthy periods without alcohol, to clear my mind of all substances. Alcohol is ubiquitous and hard to avoid. There's huge amounts of peer pressure to drink.

Finally, I find myself fending off prescription medications. Without prescribed pills, life is very hard. It's almost expected that modern life is going to induce anxiety and depression in most of us, and so it's us who must change rather than us changing the circumstances that produce the unbearable mental health problems - we consent to having mind-altering substances put into our bodies, because we have little choice in the matter.

If you want money - and I imagine that you probably need it - then you're going to have to slurp tea & coffee, suck on your e-cigarette, get drunk and pop pills. We've arrived at a state where life is so utterly depressing and shit that we need all these chemicals to pretend that it isn't.

In the face of so many obvious problems in the world, is the answer to take pills that allow us to be wilfully ignorant and carry on regardless? In the face of the whole shambolic mess threatening to crumble into dust at any moment, should we be so coerced and bullied into medicating ourselves?

We live with incredible insecurity. Our jobs are utter bullshit and we could lose them at any moment. Our wages barely cover our living expenses, and in many cases they don't. Payday lenders and other legal loan sharks put us into a constant state of debt-laden fear. Our livelihoods are under constant threat; our homes. Where's the security? Where's the comfort? Where's the contentment and relaxation and happiness going to come from, in this bullshit merry-go-round of horrible jobs and insufficient money to ever escape from the rat race?

Eventually, it's all too much and we capitulate. "Give me something to make me feel better, doc" we say. We swallow our antidepressants, anxiolytics, tranquillisers, sleeping pills and painkillers because we can't afford to take time off to get better. We can't afford to drop out of the rat race. We can't afford to show any weakness. We can't afford to catch our breath.

The capitalists have got us right where they want us - numb and dumb. We're so f**king doped up that we don't realise how awful we've let things get. We don't dare to imagine a better world. We just keep chasing that ever-elusive dream that one day we'll get to quit the rat race, but we never will because we're all doped up to the eyeballs with enough drugs to tranquillise an elephant.

That's why I don't take the damn pills. That's why I'm going through the shit I'm going through - I want to experience reality and I don't want to be yet another dull-eyed slave.

 

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Rigged Game

10 min read

This is a story about value...

Cash

You think this is money, don't you? You think this paper with numbers written on it has some value, don't you? You want more of it. You think that you can earn it by working, don't you? You hoard it. You protect it. You think it's money.

This is not money.

It's a rounding error.

Did you hear about that programmer who worked for a bank, who took all the little bits of money that just disappeared and collected them all? When a bank pays 1% interest on your savings and you've got £1.50 in your account, what happens to the half a penny that you're owed? It just disappears, of course. It's a rounding error.

Banks deal with quadrillions of dollars every year. A quadrillion is a thousand trillion, which is a million billion, or a thousand million million. You can write a quadrillion like this: 1,000,000,000,000,000. It doesn't mean very much, but put it this way... a quadrillion dollars divided up between every man, woman and child on the planet, works out to be about $143,000. Do you have $143,000?

All of the cash in existence - the banknotes and coins - adds up to about $7 trillion. $7 trillion is 0.7% of a quadrillion dollars. Imagine that. While banks are dealing with quadrillions, all of the banknotes and coins in circulation in the whole world add up to less than 1% of all the 'money'. Can you see now how worthless and ridiculous those banknotes in your purse or wallet are?

I imagine you played some board games when you were a kid, and one of the ways that you could see who was 'winning' was to see who had the most fake banknotes. The board game Monopoly famously has brightly coloured banknotes of different denominations. Perhaps you played Monopoly as a child, and this introduced you to the idea that the better players of a game would accrue more banknotes, and therefore win the game. Life's a bit different.

Unlike Monopoly, when we start life, we all start with different amounts of money. Whether you start life in a desperately poor family, in a desperately poor part of the world, or whether you're born into a fabulously wealthy family in a super rich country, is not something which we can influence ourselves. However, we have a reasonable idea what kind of life any prospective offspring might be born into, before we choose to get pregnant and deliver any babies into the world.

"I haven't got any money but I really want to inflict misery on unborn infants" I hear you cry. Have you thought about just saying "fuck it" and having children anyway? Have you thought about pursuing your own selfish wants in the face of overwhelming evidence that you're a fucking idiot?

"But I want children because it'll make me feel good. It's mainly about me, you see. Fuck the fact the child's going to be miserable"

Yes, yes. You and slime mold both want to reproduce. Very good. Anyway, moving swiftly onwards.

"No. Wait. What about the fact that I could give birth to the next Einstein or Mozart?"

You really are a prize idiot, aren't you? Let's examine the Monopoly game again.

In Monopoly, all the players are given the same amount of money at the start of the game, and all the players are subject to the same rules throughout the game.

"Yes, so a player with more skill will beat a less skilful player. I'm going to give birth to a genius whose brilliance will conquer the day and they'll be elevated from poverty because they're so amazing"

Oh dear.

See what you've failed to understand is that life is not like Monopoly. The players in life sit down with different amounts of money, and those who have vast amounts of money use it to bribe and bully their way through the game. Speeding fine? No worries, just bribe somebody off. Sent to jail? No worries, just bribe your way out. Run out of money and can't afford to buy that property you just landed on? Never going to happen. In fact, some people have so much money that they can sit down at the playing table with weighted dice that roll sixes every time, and exemption from any rule that's not in their favour. Are the rich really playing the same game at all? Let's look at education, as an example.

We might imagine that with standardised testing, the rich and the poor are playing the same game, and the 'brightest' children are achieving their grades on merit. You'd be wrong.

If you think that preparatory schools, private tutoring and private schools are merely unlocking the hidden talent of a child, you're delusional. If exam grades are an intelligence quotient to measure the intellectual ability of a person, then why would vast sums of money be spent on education by the wealthy? Why is there a perfect correlation between the amount of money poured into a child's education, and their highest academic achievement? If you really believed you were having your kid because you thought they could be the next Einstein, you wouldn't have tried to queer the pitch, would you? You wouldn't have tried to rig the game.

The cash in your pocket bears as much relation to the hard work you've done, as your exam grades relate to your intellect. Those who are richer and have superior qualifications are simply better at cheating.

They tell us: don't have a childhood, because it's important to get good grades and don't have an adulthood, because it's important to work hard and save money. These are two of the most ridiculous follies of our modern times. The problem started when your parents selfishly decided to launch you into a life with no prospects.

"But my little darlings can be anything they want to be. They can follow their dreams"

No they fucking can't. Unless, of course, their dream is to work in a shitty office punching made-up numbers into a spreadsheet, in order to give all their wages to an unscrupulous landlord and sink deeper into debt, having already stressed themselves out to the point of nervous breakdown and run up huge amounts of debt just to obtain the worthless diploma that allowed your little darling to get their bullshit job in the first place. Unless your little darlings dream of having no financial or housing security, living on a polluted dying planet, contemplating their own mortality, the absurdity of existence and the immorality of perpetuating the cycle of misery, then no... no they can't follow their fucking dreams.

We might say that we could re-adjust our values so that money isn't important, but I'm pretty sure that most of us still want a roof over our heads and food in our bellies. You have to pay to play, and I'm afraid that art, poetry, music, acting and suchlike just won't allow for any following of dreams, while being able to pay rent and buy food.

The only ones amongst us who stand a chance of winning the game, are those who start with an unfair advantage. For anybody who cares to examine the mythology of the "man who started with nothing" and built themselves a business empire, or whatever trite bullshit you care to trot out as some kind of response to the bleak prospects, you'll find that those stories are utter horse-shit. Nobody gets anywhere without somebody underwriting their risk. Nobody gets anywhere without investment.

We only need to look at the lottery to understand that people's psychology is flawed. It might be you. It could be you. But, in all probability it's not going to be. Yes, people have won the lottery. What the fuck does that prove? Yes, somebody, somewhere at some time or other won the lottery. SO FUCKING WHAT? THAT'S NO FUCKING REASON TO HAVE KIDS. Just because a handful of people win the lottery every year, that doesn't mean that the system of wealth distribution isn't broken.

So, what about all this wealth distribution malarkey then?

Well, I imagine you think that hard work pays off, don't you? If you work hard, then you'll get money. No. No not at all.

If ever there was a case of inverse correlation, then it would be with wealth distribution versus hard work in a capitalist society. Those who already have wealth will accrue more, without a single day's work. Vastly more. Think about all the ways to earn money without labour: money lending, loan sharking, gambling, investment, interest, capital gain, rent, extortion, receipt of bribes, pimping, human trafficking, war, robbery, fraud and slavery. If you think you don't profit from those things, ask yourself what part you played in the building of your house and the growing of your food. Even if you built your house, the chances are that the slates on your roof were quarried in China. Where did the bricks come from? The cement? The plasterboard?

As you sit at home counting your money and thinking of yourself as virtuous for saving a few pennies here and there, one should be mindful that this is insanity. The money bears no relation to any supposed talent, intellect or hard work that you've put into life. Those banknotes are not a useful way of keeping 'score' to see if you're 'winning' because the game is rigged. How can you usefully use your pocket change as any kind of measure of wealth that's stored away, when it's quite meaningless. Is there any scarcity? No. The mint can simply print more money, and they do.

It might be easy to scoff at this essay, given your irrational attachment to received wisdom. There's also a certain smugness when you feel like you're winning the game, but you're not - get things in perspective. It might seem like I have little respect for money, and the difficulty with which people obtain and keep it, but in fact the opposite is true. I feel very sorry for those who toil and stress over money, when the very largest sums are obtained without effort for a tranche of society who have never known poverty. To criticise me for being disrespectful towards money is ridiculous, when wealth bears so little relation to anybody's efforts or the wisdom of their choices.

This is, perhaps, one of the most provocative topics that I could write upon, dealing both with the sad truth that wealth does not flow to those who deserve it, and the unpleasant but patently obvious fact that it's immoral to have children when unable to provide a good future for them; prospects. It's immoral to have children when we live on an overcrowded planet; it's immoral to have children when we can't look after the ones we've got. Are you no different from slime mold?

For the avoidance of any doubt, my tirade is directed at no one in particular. My attack is on existence and its absurdity, capitalism, banking and the unfairness of life. If you've felt something, then that might be your conscience, not a personal attack, I promise.

 

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