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

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

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nick@manicgrant.com

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Erratic

11 min read

This is a story about 24-hour party people...

Oxford Tube

Here's a photo taken at 4am, capturing my journey away from everything that was good about my life - my friends, my startup, my future - back to the life that I was trying to escape; back to my wife and my house. I was in the process of separation and divorce. I was in the process of selling my house. I was in the process of beginning my life all over again - a fresh start; a clean slate.

Why am I showing you this?

It was incredibly disruptive and destructive that I had to leave my fragile embryonic new life to fulfil the mundane and trivial bureaucratic administrative task of liquidating my assets. All I wanted was to get away from the life that had become a nightmare; specifically not be dragged back into my toxic old life for the sake of something so meaningless as material possessions and money.

"Take as much as you want. Take whatever you want. Just don't destroy me" I begged of my ex-wife. All I wanted was a chance to be allowed to rebuild my shattered life. Her life was unaffected: she had her friends, her career, her home town, the support of vast numbers of people all around her. My life had been destroyed by our relationship and somewhat consequent mental health crisis. It wouldn't be fair to lay the blame at her door, but I had failed to walk away when I was strong and I had become incredibly weak and vulnerable. She was strong and I was fucked.

I tried to explain to a close friend that I felt like I was always a few hours, few days or few weeks behind where I needed to be. Everything I needed was tantalisingly within my reach, but the things I needed to happen fast were always deliberately thwarted and delayed by people who didn't give a damn whether I lived or died.

Unfortunately, I had lagged behind and I could never catch up. I was fucked.

My ex-wife demanded a £7,000 bribe in order to not sabotage the quick sale of my house. It was blackmail, plain and simple. I managed to raise £5,000 but she wouldn't accept it. She destroyed the deal I'd struck with a cash buyer who wanted to complete the house sale within 6 weeks. In the end, the house sale took 6 months because of her acts of deliberate sabotage.

I needed money but I couldn't raise enough to avoid getting into financial difficulties. I was being bankrupted by those who supposedly loved and cared about me. It was a ridiculous situation, because I was liquidating my highest value asset, which guaranteed that everyone was going to get paid back as soon as my damn ex-wife stopped sabotaging and delaying the house sale, but my "nearest and dearest" are absolute cunts, with the exception of my sister, who offered me every penny she could lay her hands on. My kind and caring sister has the least amount of savings and disposable income of anybody I know; she's the most hard-up, but she immediately grasped the gravity of my situation and was prepared to do everything in her power to help me.

I didn't borrow from my sister. I didn't borrow from my parents. I didn't borrow from my family. I didn't borrow from my friends.

I took the £5,000 which my ex-wife said wasn't enough to meet her blackmail demand, and I bought Bitcoins at an average price of $123 each. At the time the exchange rate was roughly $1.60 per £1, which equates to 65 Bitcoins. The value of those 65 bitcoins at more-or-less the same time as my house was finally sold, was approximately $80,000, which was lucky because my ex-wife was refusing to release my fucking money until our divorce was finalised.

That total cunt was trying to ruin me.

My parents were trying to ruin me.

My family - with the exception of my sister - were being a bunch of cunts.

Hence why I don't talk to any of them anymore, except my sister.

I'm a bad brother.

I'm a bad uncle.

I'm the black sheep of the family... well, almost. My parents and the wider family tried to make it stick, but they didn't manage to ruin me despite their best attempts. Despite their most thorough and diligent efforts in pursuit of my ruination, I refused to let them do that to me - to destroy me and forever have a convenient scapegoat for all the family's problems; to have successfully artificially created a failure who'd be too weak and decimated to ever defend my good name. It's nice to have somebody to blame. I've been blamed by so many. Those who blame me and point the finger far outnumber me. How could I ever stand a chance against the bullies? How could I ever hope to win when I was so outnumbered?

* * *

INTERLUDE

* * *

I started writing this blog post on Tuesday. I was feeling rushed. I had a date. I was going to the cinema. There wasn't a lot of time before the start of the movie.

I started writing this blog post and I've thought a lot about whether to delete it and start again.

I started writing this blog post, but I've had a lot of time to notice how my feelings change very much from day to day. In the course of writing a short blog post I can become enraged and bitter about things that happened in the past. Although I find writing to be therapeutic in the most part, I can kick a hornets' nest of unresolved anger occasionally. When I start with a certain thread - which many regular readers will have seen repeatedly - I re-live the injustice, frustration and abandonment I suffered, which nearly ruined my life unnecessarily, avoidably and inexcusably, because my parents are a pair of druggie aklie cunts who don't fucking listen to a word I've got to say.

Hence the blog.

I love this blog.

I've got so much to say.

So much of what I say is driven by bitterness, resent, unresolved anger and frustration, a sense of injustice and feeling 'hard done by' and the rational, logical conclusions that I would expect any reasonable person to reach, given the same set of facts.

This is a one-sided story.

I can tell you the things that I think will make you sympathise with my suffering and omit the pieces of the story which are incongruous with my narrative. I can manipulate my readers with a one-sided and heavily biased viewpoint, if that's what I want. I don't have to argue with anybody. I don't have to suffer ad hominem attacks. I don't have to struggle in the unwinnable battle, which comprises little old me against a gang of bullies.

As the days have gone by with this blog unfinished and unpublished, I've thought more and more about how I could write a more balanced viewpoint in the second half. I've thought about toning down my hateful bitter language, which lashes out at people who are very much out of reach and beyond reproach. My parents had managed to selfishly ignore me and my needs throughout my childhood so utterly completely, it's ridiculous to think that there would be any getting through to them as an adult who really needed some help during an acrimonious divorce.

It's me who's got the problem.

My sense of isolation - being ganged up on - is almost indescribably awful, but there is no sense in thinking of myself as a victim. There are a whole shower of cunts who failed in their moral duties, who lacked the basic decency of showing some fucking concern and compassion, and who spectacularly failed to put the slightest fucking effort into the minimum duty of care expected by society. I could get mad. I could get even. Instead, I simply feel no debt to those who are supposedly sworn to keep children safe, or obliged by loyalty, social convention and shared genes, to look after the weak and vulnerable members of a group, tribe, family or other such thing that exists amongst basic fucking decent people.

My mind and my mood flit wildly between rage at being let down during formative years and moments in my life when I was extremely vulnerable, and my more general worldview and philosophy that I should be rational and logical. It's entirely illogical and unhelpful to hold a grudge. It's a complete waste of effort to exert myself, expressing myself at great length and explaining my complex damaged feelings - my trauma - when I'm so absolutely certain that my words fall on the deaf ears of those who inflicted that trauma.

I've been writing almost daily for more than 3 years.

Writing helps.

I don't know what this is - this blog post - but I know that it's an accurate representation of what my inner world is like. I swing violently between moods. I feel sudden gut-wrenching sadness and bitter resentment at how much I feel like I missed out on and was denied, in terms of a healthy normal childhood, free from the kinds of things that children are supposed to be protected from - loneliness, misery, isolation, bullying, abuse, negligence, deprivation. I use those words without much caution, well aware that they carry connotations of life-ruining events for very many unfortunate fellow humans. Should I not use those words, because I took all that anger about how fucking shit it was to be bullied for so many years and I turned it into $1.3 million of Bitcoins, essentially?

This is my fucking life.

My life is full of ridiculous contrast.

You want me to be balanced and unbiased about things? You want me to be objective and empirical? You want me to consider all my experiences versus the entire range of human existence, throughout history?

My ex-wife isn't and wasn't the worst. My parents aren't and weren't the worst. My childhood wasn't the worst.

Am I able to look back and see good as well as good? Yes, of course.

Am I able to recognise that in all likelihood I should have died a horribly drawn-out painful death long ago, caused by a preventable disease, after a lifetime of hunger? Yes, of course.

* * *

PAUSE FOR BREATH

* * *

There are so many good reasons to regret what I've written. There are so many good reasons to delete this whole entire blog and allow any memory of this endeavour to be expunged from the digital archives. There are so many good reasons to proceed with life, without living in the past, being consumed by bitterness and anger, and holding grudges.

However, this blog post and indeed this whole website captures the range of moods which had become so destructive in my life as to make me completely dysfunctional. Those moods are driven by quite easily analysed and expressed things, but the resolution of the issues is demonstrably impossible, despite an individual's best efforts, where there are a greater number of others who have a vested interest in seeing somebody dead and buried.

I'm in a difficult phase of being a sore winner now. I dodged the bullets and I proved everyone wrong, with the exception of a tiny handful of very special people who saw my potential and were brave enough to support me.

I have extremely strong views about the way a parent should behave towards their childen, the way that a wife should behave towards her husband, about the way that the strong should behave towards the weak, and the way that the gang should behave towards the isolated loner. I am extremely opinionated about the right-and-wrong of matters concerning those who are in a powerful position; who are able to ruin lives.

I picture myself as a fucked-up scared little kid who doesn't know how the world works, but has gathered incontrovertible evidence that I'm seen-but-not-heard and a convenient punchbag. "That kid fucked up my life" etc. etc.

Of course, I paint a vivid picture for artistic effect. I don't take myself as seriously as I sometimes sound. I'm genuinely well aware that the world is filled with unimaginable suffering.

I would dearly love to demonstrate greater magnanimity, but do you know what? It's too fucking soon and I'm still salty. It's my blog and I'll whine, moan, complain and be a bitter twisted miserable fucker if I want to. Fuck you. I didn't ask to be born.

In case you were wondering, some of the time I am hoping that you will laugh and none of the time I am hoping that you will cry.

 

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Universal Basic Income

7 min read

This is a story about late capitalism...

Bank notes

Having been part of the JPMorgan team who built a system to process more than a quadrillion dollars of credit default swaps per annum, and also the system to find out who was holding the pass-the-parcel when the music stopped, only to discover it was full of dog shit, I feel pretty responsible for the credit crunch and financial crisis, which has plunged us into a global recession many times worse than the Great Depression of the 1930s. I'm pretty disillusioned with capitalism.

I've had front-row seats for most of the insanity of the past 25 years - dot com, Y2K, 9/11, credit crunch, financial crisis of 2007/8, Bitcoin etc. etc. - and I was a fully paid-up subscribing member of the 2% profiting handsomely from others' misfortune with my snout deep in the trough.

By 2008 I was sickened by the way I'd turned a blind eye and ignored my moral compass, because I enjoyed the wealth and privilege. I was able to buy a house, a yacht, a speedboat, sportscars and go on enough luxury holidays to help me set aside my misgivings about what the investment banks were doing to the global economy, by creating fabricated securities such as derivatives, which were somehow valued at a vastly greater sum of money than the aggregate value of all the precious metals, gems, land, property, cattle, food, commodities, industrial plant, machinery, companies and cash that exists on the whole planet. I was shackled with golden handcuffs - who in their right mind would give up their trophy wife and pull their kids out of private school, to slum it with the hoi polloi?

I decided that I was sickened by the bullshit synthetic world of digital securities and digital bank balances, and the global computer network with all its software and data, which actually doesn't create anything real or tangible. It seemed like the infamous tulip speculation bubble in the Netherlands during the 1600s. It seemed like utter insanity to place so much importance on a bunch of binary ones and zeros which exist nowhere but as a tiny magnetic bump on a disk platter, an electron in a memory chip or a photon in a fibre optic cable. The entire weight of the internet is estimated to be about the same as a golf ball, if you add up all the electrons. It's madness to think that any of our digital scorekeeping - i.e. your bank balance - will matter at all when global warming really starts to bite.

I quit my investment banking IT job at JPMorgan and I retrained as an electrician. I wanted to build real and tangible things with my hands. I wanted to learn a trade which couldn't be outsourced or automated. I wanted to escape the virtual realm of high finance and software and into a field which could make a real difference in people's lives. Try living for a day without your lighting, heating, hot water, power shower, cooker, dishwasher, washing machine, tumble dryer, kettle, toaster, fridge, freezer and the myriad other electrical appliances which you don't even notice are there in your life, saving you untold time and physical labour.

It turns out, we don't value tradesmen as much as we value bankers.

I could've scraped a living, but it was hard work with little reward. The work was dangerous and dirty and the general public expected to get everything for virtually nothing. I didn't much fancy working my whole life with the threat of bankruptcy and my home being repossessed, never having enough spare money to enjoy what little leisure time I had. Economically, it wasn't viable to be a tradesman, except as a kind of break-even hobby. It made no economic sense to use 100% of my brains and brawn, but receive so little reward.

Subsequently, I've returned to making software systems for banks, doing so as a consultant and getting paid even more. I've been a leech on a leech, and the cash has poured in.

Throughout this journey my priorities have completely changed. Instead of aspiring to acquire and accumulate vastly more than I would ever need, and fantasising about buying bigger and better houses, yachts and other material possessions, my fantasies have taken on a completely different guise.

I've been fantasising about quitting the rat race, and having secure housing. I've been fantasising about having enough money to read books and write. I've been fantasising about having time and being free from the tyranny of the alarm clock and bullshit jobs.

I'd live in a Soviet-style apartment and have beige products - no consumer choice - if I could be intellectually free. I'd travel on the bus and give up exotic foreign holidays if I no longer had to play along with the charade of late-capitalism, where we are all commuting too far, working too many hours, and living under constant threat of losing our jobs, losing our homes and subsequently being made destitute. Given the choice, I choose equality of outcome, not equality of opportunity.

It seems pretty obvious that the equal opportunities experiment has run its course and it would be inhumane to continue. Free markets are efficient, but they are only efficient at stripping away people's security, happiness, dignity and any hope of ever feeling content or satisfied. Capitalism is - by its very nature - a force which will price gouge humanity for the basic essentials, such as food, housing, transport, healthcare, medicine and to some extent education.

Our poorest 50% struggle to afford the basics, while even the very rich are miserably struggling to attain the academic qualifications which will allow them to compete, lest they be trampled by the struggling masses, desperate to realise their opportunities. The competitive element of capitalism has turned us into slaves. Our lives our wretched and appalling.

I desperately want to drop out of the rat race, but to do so would see me persecuted. I wouldn't even be allowed to sleep rough and beg for food without being arrested and locked up. Society offers me no ability to house, feed and clothe myself, with any degree of security or quality of life. Working a zero-hours contract McJob is not going to earn me enough to pay rent and bills, buy food, travel to work and have any kind of life worth living. The theft of our time and freedom is an awful crime perpetrated against most of society. The chance to stop and smell the roses is denied to us when we do not have secure food and housing.

The only viable solution that I can see is universal basic income (UBI). I just don't see how else we're going to be able to stop the terrible decline in living standards and save humanity from the tyranny of exploitation by the capitalists. It seems like we're at breaking point when even the middle class children are becoming slaves to the capitalists, with enormous loans for their education, which might win them a low-paid job in a completely unrelated field from their university degree if they're lucky - the unlucky ones end up unemployed.

It's a sad state of affairs when our fantasies revolve around basic needs, such as secure housing.

It's not my idea of a good time, sitting at home smoking cannabis and playing computer games, but I don't see any reason why it's not morally acceptable or right to allow people to do that, and not threaten them with homelessness and starvation if they don't get a bullshit McJob and otherwise comply with the tyranny of late-capitalism.

The idea that we live in a land of opportunity and that hard work will bring rewards has been proven to be a lie, and ever more-so during each passing year. It's time to let people live lives of quiet dignity, rather than frantic futile desperation.

It's time to just give everybody enough money to live in peace.

 

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Monkey Dust

11 min read

This is a story about the food of the gods...

Monkey dust

It was a spate of sensationalistic tabloid newspaper articles which first alerted me to the fact that you can buy super-strong high purity narcotics on the internet. It seems fairly obvious that the internet would sell drugs, given that pornography and escorts are readily available to anybody who looks online. It's a simple case of supply and demand.

Your average middle-class person normally has excellent life prospects - they're likely to be able to get a rewarding secure job, buy a house and afford to raise a family. Having a nice life is an excellent protective factor against the temptations of drink and drugs, although there are plenty of wealthy people who become alcoholics and junkies. Most middle-class people are afraid of drugs, because their insulated life never exposes them to the reality of recreational drug use and they wouldn't know where to find a drug dealer even if they wanted to.

Making drugs easily available on the internet lowers the barrier to entry. Being able to conduct a frictionless e-commerce transaction and have extremely potent drugs hitting your doormat the very next day, places a whole group of people who'd never normally be able to dabble - because they're insulated - in the position where there's a mountain of choice available at the click of a button.

Addictions don't generally take hold unless there are other social and psychological risk factors present. Being stressed, depressed, unemployed, having no hope, having relationship difficulties, family difficulties, money worries and a whole host of similarly unpleasant things, predisposes a person towards drug addiction - unhappy people are much more at risk of developing a habit, because their lives are shitty.

The first wave of legal highs were not very good - the stimulant drug BZP is a an anthelmintic... i.e. it's a worming treatment given to animals.

The second wave of legal highs was a huge improvement. Meow meow - methcathinone, mephedrone or M-CAT - swept the nation at a time when the average purity of street cocaine was less than 20%. Street drugs were terrible quality because of prohibition and the pressure on dealers to maximise profits, because of the risk to their life and liberty. Legal highs were the obvious solution in a capitalist society driven by supply and demand.

Methylone - βk-MDMA or beta-keto-MDMA - was the legal version of ecstasy, and for people who used to go clubbing in Ibiza when they were younger, it proved to be very tempting for former ravers, including myself. Being able to legally obtain an ecstasy-like drug via the internet, enabled me to resume safe recreational occasional weekend drug-taking, which had no negative effect on me or those around me. This was legal, victimless drug-taking in a capitalist society, where the drug was simply a product being produced in a factory and sold by a vendor to the customer - me - in exactly the same way as people buy Nike trainers.

Then, the government banned meow meow and methylone, along with a whole host of other chemical analogues.

For a while, I didn't care.

I went back to my drug-free existence.

I wasn't addicted.

But.

18 months later, I was incredibly stressed and I was having horrible relationship problems. I was depressed and suicidal. I was at risk of addiction.

I went onto a legal high website that I'd used 18 months previously and I looked for a product that was similar to methylone; similar to ecstasy. I wanted to feel better. I wanted something to lift my mood. I didn't know it, but I was very vulnerable to addiction getting its hooks into me.

I bought the number one bestseller on that website.

It was called "NRG-3".

I had no idea what it was.

I'm not stupid, so I did my research. I was away from home a lot because I was trying to raise investment for my startup. I researched this "NRG-3" stuff and it sounded horribly dangerous, so I decided to throw it in the dustbin as soon as I got home - it was sitting on my dining room table in the padded envelope it had been delivered in.

I went to a wedding.

I had an almighty row with my partner.

I decided I was going to kill myself.

I drove home from the wedding in the middle of the night, trying to build up the nerve to drive my car into a concrete bridge pillar at 100mph+. I had turned off the airbag in my car. I wasn't wearing my seatbelt. I figured I'd die instantly if I crashed at that speed into an immovable object.

I got home. I wasn't dead, but I was still suicidal.

There was the envelope.

...

The rest as they say, is history.

...

But what is "NRG-3"?

In America they call it bath salts. Sometimes it's sold as Ivory Wave. Now it seems to be called monkey dust, in the UK. There are also nicknames like flakka, gravel and zombie drug. It's all the same stuff. I call it supercrack.

The reason why I call "NRG-3" supercrack is because I don't really want to write anything online that makes the connection. I've written at length about how potent supercrack is, with a dose of 15mg lasting circa 18 hours, which means that 1 gram of supercrack is 67 doses. This drug is so ridiculously strong and so incredibly cheap that it seemed irresponsible of me to inform anybody of what exactly it is. This drug messed me up so badly that I didn't want anybody else getting curious and falling into the trap that I did.

The active ingredient in monkey dust is alleged to be a chemical called MDPV, but this seems very unlikely given how effectively the Chinese and UK customs have cracked down on the laboratories and supply chain, such that MDPV does not exist in the wild anymore. When the newspapers report that monkey dust is MDPV, they're just plain wrong.

Another chemical called a-PVP - α-PVP or alpha-PVP - is so similar to MDPV it's almost indistinguishable. When the Chinese shut down all the labs producing MDPV, they simply switched to producing a-PVP. Now, a-PVP has gone the same way as MDPV and it doesn't exist in the wild anymore.

There are zillions of analogues of MDPV and a-PVP, so monkey dust could be anything, but it's certainly related to MDPV and a-PVP. Monkey dust is not MDPV, as misreported by the newspapers, but it certainly has all the same effects, such as inducing stimulant psychosis - users hear voices and hallucinate. The psychosis is so powerful that people climb buildings and run through traffic to get away from the monsters in their head. The psychosis has lead to a number of grizzly deaths, hence why the tabloid newspapers have decided to run sensationalistic stories about the crazy escapades of monkey dust users.

The trend towards ever more powerful and ever cheaper drugs is a natural consequence of capitalism and drug prohibition. I'm definitely not pro-legalisation given that it does increase the risk that vulnerable people will become addicts if they have easy access to any drugs they want, but we have created a situation where those with crack, heroin and crystal meth addictions are beginning to realise that there are cheap alternatives, and the new drugs from the Chinese labs are incredibly pure.

Carfentanil can be bought via the Dark Web, which is a synthetic opioid so powerful that an amount the size of a pin head is enough to cause respiratory failure and death. Carfentanil is so powerful that it's considered to be a potential weapon of mass destruction, were it turned into an aerosol and sprayed in a crowded area. The Russians famously pumped carfentanil into a theatre full of Chechen rebels and hostages, killing at least 170 people.

The combination of Bitcoin, the Dark Web, Chinese factories, late-capitalism, austerity, prohibition and drug policies based on vote-winning and public opinion, instead of risk and good science, is creating a perfect storm where increasingly powerful drugs are becoming ubiquitously accessible at an increasingly cheap price. The situation is so bad that the US President has seen fit to declare a state of emergency. Emergency workers in the UK have declared the use of monkey dust as "an epidemic"

The synthetic cannabinoids - sold as Mamba and Spice in the UK - have ruined countless millions of lives and are used by almost the majority of homeless people and prisoners. The ubiquity of these psychosis-inducing cannabis replacements seems unaffected by the New Psychoactive Substances Act, which makes possession in a prison illegal, as well as criminalising the supply of the drugs. In such a depressed economic climate and with the dismantling of the welfare state, of course there will be countless millions who will become addicted to something which has proven far more addictive and destructive than the cannabis it was invented to legally replace.

All the trends point towards an ever-increasing proportion of society struggling with drug addiction, alcoholism, mental health problems, suicide, money worries, insecure jobs and insecure housing. Homelessness rates are soaring, living standards are declining, death rates are climbing and life expectancies are falling. It's a scandal. It's a disaster. It's a tragedy.

I struggle with addiction problems, although I've been 'clean' for a couple of months. Knowing that drugs are always readily available at the click of a button, but a secure job and a place to live are not, it seems obvious that the odds are stacked against people like me who are struggling. What's the best a person can hope for in such a dreadful economic climate? If you're suicidally depressed, of course drugs are going to seem more attractive than the life that's pushed you to the point of killing yourself. Drugs are simply a more protracted and drawn-out form of suicide, and most addicts know exactly what they're doing; they're choosing to kill themselves with drugs, because there's no better life on offer.

I read in the tabloid rags that a small bag of monkey dust can be bought for £2. I used to pay £27 for 2 grams of "NRG-3" which would last me anywhere between 2 and 3 months, so I imagine that a £2 bag of monkey dust lasts for 4 or 5 days, which - in an addict's mind - is incredibly good value for money, even if it's causing them to suffer powerful stimulant psychosis.

I've got a huge scar on my right leg where I fell through a glass roof in a classic monkey-dust story. I hid 80 feet up a tree with a massive shard of glass protruding from my leg, before descending and hiding in a bush in very unsanitary conditions. It's a miracle that I didn't bleed to death or subsequently die of septicaemia, shock or infection. It was exactly as the newspapers describe: superhuman strength, feeling no pain, hearing voices, hallucinating and being wide awake for days and days, with accompanying paranoia and strange delusional thoughts.

That I've been able to recover is only due to the fact that I've been able to somehow continue to work doing very highly paid jobs and the money I've earned has conferred considerable advantages. I've been very lucky to have had a guardian angel looking after me, helping to smooth over the enormous and virtually insurmountable difficulties associated with breaking the habit, detoxing and getting rehabilitated. Unleashing a powerful drug like monkey dust onto impoverished people is consigning them to an incredibly awful fate with little or no hope of escape. It's no wonder our emergency services, social services, police and mental health services are over-stretched, dealing with an avalanche of people who're using drugs like Spice, Mamba and monkey dust, because their lives are so shit, depressing and hopeless.

The social decay that we see and the conspicuous addiction and mental health problems that are putting such a strain on our first-line services, is a direct result of the collapse of our living standards and demise of any opportunity to work hard for a better life. The prospect of becoming crushed by spiralling debts, working zero-hours contract McJobs and not being able to afford rent and bills, is not something I'd wish upon my worst enemy. Of course people are going to become dysfunctional addicts when they're treated so appallingly, and there's so little hope of them ever owning a house and being able to afford to raise a family; there's so little hope of ever having the dignity of earning enough money to feel happy and secure.

Monkey dust is a hell of a drug, but there's no point in me warning people not to use it, because it's toxic circumstances that corral people towards addiction, not bad life choices or bad character.

 

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Penblwydd Hapus i Mi

7 min read

This is a story about early retirement...

Birthday cake

I was pretty pleased with my life's achievements by the time I hit the age of 30. I'd earned a lot of money and been able to enjoy a lavish lifestyle, and I had plenty of material possessions as status symbols to attest to my accomplishments. My income vastly exceeded my expenditure and I'd amassed enough savings and assets to be able to support myself without a job for many years, without having to tighten my belt or live frugally.

I decided to quit the rat race and be my own boss. I retrained as an electrician and set myself up in business as a one-man operation: just me and my van... and my customers. Turns out that you always have a boss, whether you're a salaried employee or the founder and CEO of your own company. There's always somebody who you're dependent on for your money, like investors and customers who have to be kept happy. Perhaps only trust fund brats are truly free from the tyranny of having to kowtow to anybody, but even they have to kiss the ass of the trustees if they want to get their hands on more cash than their already more-than-ample unearned lifelong income.

My subsequent attempt to use my software smarts to earn money while I slept didn't turn out much better than my attempt to become a traditional tradesman. Realising that customers were harder to extract money from than I'd anticipated, and that I was going to end up giving away a substantial amount of equity and control to investors, I burned out and became very depressed about life.

I tend to win more than I lose when software's involved and my most recent attempt at earning money in my sleep was quite successful, when I bought Bitcoin miners which I kept in my summer house. I also ploughed every pound and penny that I could beg, borrow or steal and I bought Bitcoins, which then appreciated in value a hundredfold or more. Sadly, I needed to liquidate my assets to settle an acrimonious divorce, hence why I'm not [yet] a multimillionaire... well, and also to be honest I didn't think the value of Bitcoin was going to go much beyond $5,000 but that's another story.

To be fully retired and spend my days wandering around National Trust stately homes - or whatever it is that retired folk do - I think would be quite torturous and tedious. I was dragged around enough stately homes as a child, with my pushy parents mistakenly believing that educational leisure experiences would be somehow beneficial to me and my future.

Software is the gift that keeps on giving and I've worked an average of 3 months per year, during the last 4 or 5 years. That's pretty close to semi-retired. The remaining 9 months of each year have been spent sleeping rough, living in hostel dorms, in and out of hospital, locked up on psych wards or otherwise generally living a life which most people would not consider to contain much rest and relaxation.

I'm pretty exhausted to be honest.

I'm 39 years old and I'm knackered.

During the last 9 years I've done all the things which my parents told me not to. I've followed my dreams and I've ended up in a few nightmares too, but I've finally been able to experience life. I was a very well-behaved boy and young man: I was the well-mannered sensible child who did all the right things and was achieving all the things that grannies and aunties like to hear about when your parents phone or write to brag. There's a lot of snobbery in my family and I felt duty-bound to comply with very boring, rigid and old-fashioned ideas of success. I'd spent my life up to the age of 30 living somebody else's idea of how I should live my life. Then, I rebelled.

I really rebelled.

It took me a while, but I caught up. At the age of 32 I had been a straight-laced boring conformist who'd never stepped out of line and had never experienced life, in all its its horror as well as its beauty. By the time I reached my 35th birthday I was pretty much ready to start gently pressing the brake pedal. Now I'm only a year away from turning 40 I've got both feet on the brakes and I've pulled the handbrake too.

I don't think you can really say you've lived until you've been arrested, thrown in the back of a paddy waggon, locked in a police cell, sectioned, locked up on a psych ward, been hospitalised, been in critical care / intensive care, been on a high dependency ward, had organ failure, had dialysis, had a horrific injury requiring general anaesthetic and major surgery, become homeless, slept rough, lived in a hostel dorm, run out of money, been physically addicted to drugs and all the other things which came about when I decided to abandon all caution and just do whatever the f**k I wanted for a few years.

I really made up for lost time, but I don't regret any of it. If I have any regrets, it's only that I listened to my parents and I behaved myself and I was sensible. I wish I followed my dreams earlier. I wish I did what I wanted sooner, rather than attempting to please my parents and gain their approval, which turned out to be impossible anyway.

To continue my life in the way I had been living it until a year ago would be quite disgraceful. There's no dignity in being 40+ years old and doing the kind of crazy s**t that I've been doing during a lot of my thirties... in fact I think it's a real shame to see people who haven't been able to stop the madness when they've reached an age where they should supposedly know better.

In light of the fact that I only have a year until my 40th birthday, I am now semi-retired. I have almost fully retired from my life of crime, drugs and insanity. Now, my life consists of a cushy government job which requires very little thought or effort and gives me a lot of disposable income and leisure time. Life is a lot less exhausting without the police cells and the hospital beds.

Over the coming months I'm going to complete my 1-million word writing project, pay off all my debts, replenish my savings and write a new chapter in my life: the comfortable semi-retired existence of a highly paid consultant doing government work; the return of some of the lavishness of the lifestyle I used to enjoy when I was a much younger man.

I am a little sad to say goodbye to the version of me who could say and do whatever he wanted, but the consequences almost killed me on numerous occasions and my luck was going to run out sooner rather than later.

39 isn't the usual age where people start a laid-back life of semi-retirement, but I think it's appropriate in my case to dial back the insanity from 11 to a much more reasonable 3 or 4.

I hope the previous 12 months I'm writing about this time next year are much more becoming of a gentleman celebrating his 40th birthday. I'm pleased that I've got a year to get things sorted in my life, so I don't feel like a total failure.

Happy birthday to me. 39 today.

 

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Goodbye, Jinxed January

8 min read

This is a story about the bitter end...

Urine bottle

For a devout atheist, I can be surprisingly superstitious. I seem to have survived Jinxed January without losing my job, becoming homeless, going bankrupt, being hospitalised, getting sectioned, getting arrested, getting anybody pregnant, committing any crimes, taking any illegal drugs, contracting a terminal illness or dying. Epic win.

I looked in my photo archives to see what I was doing this time last year. Apparently I was pissing in a bottle, hospitalised on a high dependency ward with kidney failure. On my blog, I was writing about "what would Jesus do?" so I was clearly pretty deranged, but then I was on dialysis for several hours a day, which was not exciting so I'm sure my mind must have been wandering a lot. On Facebook I was jabbering about a cocktail of painkillers, sleeping pills and tranquillisers I was taking to try to get some sleep on the ward. I feel relatively sane and happy by comparison - my life looks quite peachy compared to that unfortunate period.

I looked back two years ago to see what was going on at the end of January and there's a gap. I simply ceased to exist for a few days, before popping up and writing over 3,000 words about all manner of things. It looks pretty conclusive that I was in the vice-like grip of madness and shenanigans.

I can't look back three years on my blog, because I only started two and a half years ago, but I do know that three years ago today I was staying with friends in County Cork, Ireland. My contract with Barclays had been terminated early, I'd broken up with my girlfriend, lost loads of friends because of the breakup and I had been evicted from my apartment in Swiss Cottage. I needed to escape from London for a bit, because I couldn't take any more, and so my friends looked after me in rural Ireland. Not so jinxed, but pretty jinxed because my life was still totally messed up.

I can see from an email that four years ago I was receiving inpatient treatment for dual diagnosis - bipolar and substance abuse - after the messiest and most acrimonious divorce you can imagine. My life was profoundly dysfunctional - I'd only just managed to escape "the poison dwarf" and the relationship that nearly killed me. My stuff was in storage and I was living with friends in Kentish Town. My new business had been put on hold because the divorce and house sale had been too much for me to handle. I'd been surviving by mining bitcoins, but the price had crashed and I was in big trouble, even though I'd managed to cash in at $1,100 per bitcoin.

I can't see my email from five years ago, because I lost my original Google Mail account, which I'd had since soon after GMail launched for public beta testing. I can see that I was late for my appointment to see a psychiatrist who I'd found (albeit a week later) so I imagine that things were pretty dire... although I clearly had the presence of mind to find a private psychiatrist and arrange my own treatment, so I'm guessing this was the beginning of the descent into Hell. This time five years ago - roughly - my new wife told me that she wanted to be a widow and that she wouldn't let me have the treatment I needed. This time five years ago, I was trying to find people to help me, while my wife and my parents broke my heart. This time five years ago, I realised that I needed to get my parents and my wife out of my life at all costs - I realised they're toxic people and that if I wanted to have any kind of future, they couldn't be part of it.

Five years of insanity is a hell of a long time. In those five years, things got a lot worse before they got any better. In those five years, I sorely missed my house and my cat. In those five years, I sorely missed the life I'd built for myself, with my friends and my good reputation and my good job. I threw away a lot, taking a gamble that I'd be better off in the long run. The last five years have been insane, but I don't see how I could have extricated myself from the situation any better. I've played the best I could with the cards I was dealt.

I'm sick and tired of Jinxed January, and I hope I've seen the back of it; I hope I've broken the curse.

Of course I tempt fate by saying that now I've had one un-jinxed January then I've got things sussed and it'll all be plain sailing from here. Of course there are going to be Foul Februarys and Miasmic Marches but January has been my nemesis for so long. I don't want to get cocky and complacent, but it's a big deal that I've beaten this dratted month. February and March are going to be dreadful, but at least I have a few quid in my pocket, no imminent threat of homelessness and nothing particularly awful on the horizon. I have another month of paid work ahead of me. For once, I have a few things going in my favour.

You might see that my biggest fight is with myself. Of course, there's work available year-round and my skills mean that I'm never going to go hungry and homeless, except through spectacular self-sabotage. It seems obvious that I should just quietly and obediently pop the pills and behave myself. It doesn't look that hard to just get my head down and concentrate on working hard to get myself back into a position of financial security. To say that by the end of the year I could be well and truly wealthy again, seems like no time at all to you. However, you must remember that I march to a different beat. My timescales are not the same as your timescales.

I'm not going to get paid for the whole of February. A very Frugal February beckons. The weather's just as dark and miserable in February and my job will be just as isolating, lonely and boring. The unfavourable conditions very much remain unpleasant and unconducive to any mood improvement. However, the so-called short month of February does seem like a less daunting proposition than Jinxed January was. I'm cautiously optimistic.

Another month without an almighty fuck-up is a huge achievement, in the context of my messed up 5 years of Jinxed Januarys. If I'm being superstitious, so be it, because it's helped me to avoid going off the rails.

I'm really pleased with where I'm at actually. Drink and drug free, unmedicated, as sane as I'll ever be, relatively settled in my home life, regular(ish) income and gainful employment. There aren't too many loose ends to tidy up. I'm on top of my taxes and my paperwork. To be in this position, at this dreadful time of year, where I don't have anything looming that's of major concern, is a really big deal.

I submitted another invoice to my client, and even though I lost over £4,000 of potential earnings this month, I'm still in profit after expenses. The money's not in the bank yet, but it's on its way. Perhaps it will be good to spend another month being a little thrifty - money after all, can be something that's triggering.

Of course, I'm getting ahead of myself. I'm imagining that by the end of February, my financial woes will be mostly ended. I'm imagining that by the end of March I'll be feeling positively wealthy again. I'm projecting into the future, and that's bound to end up making me miserable. I still have a whole month more of my miserable boring contract to do. I need to start looking for the next job, at some point sooner rather than later. I can't make tomorrow come any sooner, and I shouldn't wish away today.

What can I say, except I'm slightly glad that I didn't throw away a perfectly salvageable situation. I'd still rather be dead, because it's been a lot of stress and hassle, but I'm alive so I'll carry on for a bit longer and see what tomorrow brings.

 

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Tortured Soul

9 min read

This is a story about the brain drain...

Daily photo of me in a suit

I should keep photos of myself wearing my ordinary work clothes off my blog. I should take more care to separate my professional identity from my blogging identity. I should ensure that Nick "Manic" Grant and the name that's written on my CV can never be connected.

To even write my proper name - as it appears on my passport and birth certificate - onto this website would risk appearing at the top of Google searches that prospective employers might do. I've been careful to separate my LinkedIn and never mention my consultancy company name. I rarely mention client names, and certainly not the names of clients who I wish to continue working for.

However, I'm starting to slip. I'm starting to not care so much. I'm starting to prefer my real identity to the fake one that's necessary to get a well paid job. I was finding it cumbersome to try to pretend like everything was A-OK in my world, and attempt to stop rumours spreading about me in the companies I used to work for. It was exhausting, trying to cover up my indiscretions. It's been exhausting, leading a double life.

One of the biggest double life issues I have is that I have nothing but contempt for capitalism and banking, and I completely fail to see the utility of computers and apps and software and data. Yes, in our super tech-heavy world, it seems inconceivable to say such a thing, but I definitely think humanity's headed in the wrong direction. The mechanisation of farming and the industrialisation of food production are two examples of tech's potential to feed the world's hungry, but we're not using tech to do that, are we? Instead, we're using tech to create artificially inflated asset bubbles and an ever greater rich:poor divide. It eats me up inside that I'm involved, but I'm also shackled with golden handcuffs to the cash cow that provides a hefty income. What am I supposed to do?

Many people think it's churlish that I bite the hand that feeds me. Many people seem to think it's not possible for me to have ethical concerns about what I'm involved in as a day job. Why don't I quit and do something else? It certainly seems to upset me and cause me a lot of angst and anguish.

As I've written before at length, I'm economically incentivised to get the most bang for my buck. I'm economically incentivised to sell my labour to the highest bidder. I need a place to live and food to eat, don't I? So of course I'm going to plump for an employer who's going to give me enough money to live, rather than one who would leave me starving, homeless and impoverished.

I should be rich & retired by now. Here's how my strategy to become rich went:

2005

Me: I'm going to invest all my money in gold

Her: no

Result: gold plus exchange rate of US dollar would have delivered 500% return on investment

2008

Me: I'm going to quit my job and write iPhone apps

Her: no

Result: we broke up. I made enough money from my iPhone apps so I didn't have to work... until I got back together with her

2011

Me: I'm going to be CEO of a tech startup worth millions of pounds

Her: no

Result: my company continued to trade profitably and win big customers... without me

2012

Me: I'm going to invest all my money in Bitcoin

Her: no

Result: each Bitcoin is now worth $15,000. I would have paid about $5 for each Bitcoin. A $5,000 investment would now be worth $15 million

2013

Me: I'm going to invest all my money in Bitcoin

Her: no

Result: we separated and divorced. I've hardly had to work since then.

In the absence of any good ideas to get rich quick, I always fall back on IT consultancy. I was getting £40 an hour when I was 19 years old, and then £470/day when I was 20. I was on-track to retire at 40, if I stuck with the consultancy gig, even though it was soul destroying.

Now, it galls me that I've been so close to serious wealth so many times. It galls me that my ex-wife was such a toxic person that she's fucked up a whole bunch of very decent ways I could've made a fortune. It galls me that I'm back doing the soul destroying day job, because my ex-wife held me back and sabotaged some very smart and shrewd plans I had. It galls me that I'm doing a job that I mastered a long time ago. It fucking sucks to only earn six figures and have to work like, maybe 35 whole hours or whatever, doing a really easy job.

Of course, I'm deliberately writing in such a way that might cause offence. Many people dream of earning decent money, or having a shot at getting rich. Well, here's the solution: do a job you really hate.

I hate my job so very very much. I can't believe just how flipping easy it is. I also can't believe just how awful it is to be part of the capitalist machinery that's wrecking the planet and the wellbeing of humanity. I'm involved in legal loan-sharking. I'm an accessory to murder. I'm guilty by association.

I started out my career in defence - the military - so I'm no stranger to the ethical dilemma of working for a weapons manufacturer. I had to wonder to myself how I'd feel when lives were inevitably lost as a result of my software. It seemed wrong to think that I'd succeeded as an engineer, if I successfully brought about the death of the so-called 'enemy'. My software was very definitely going to be used to kill people; nothing defensive about it at all.

What should I be doing? Working for a charity? Working for an NGO or some other kind of humanitarian cause? What, like your chum Hugo from private school, who went off and built a school in Africa... he put that on his CV and now he works for a fucking bank because he's not fucking stupid. Hugo tells all his chums that he's done important work in the developing world, because he's an insufferable tosspot; he's a smug spoiled little shit, who's never known anything other than wealth and privilege.

You might hear my posh accent, or see the big name multinational companies I've worked for on my CV, and you might be mistaken for thinking I'm posh and spoiled and entitled and all the other things you don't like very much. In fact, I've had to spend my whole career with ethical conflict in my heart. I'm a bleeding-heart liberal who puts on a sharp suit and pretends to be a banker. I have to think about the part I played in the 2007/8 financial crisis. I have to think about my part I played in the whole stinking shitpit that is capitalism. I could hide behind the defence: "I'm just an engineer" but I can't.

"I make the rockets go up. Where they land is not my department"

I don't think it's a valid defence for an engineer to say that they're apolitical; amoral. I write software that's unopinionated, but I know what it's going to be used for. I know that I'm donating my brainpower and brawn to an evil cause. I know that ultimately, I'm helping the rich get richer.

I spend my days somewhat outraged that my time's being wasted on trivial bullshit, that contributes nothing to society except for improving the apparatus that oppresses the planet's poor people - tools to better extort money out of the 98%. I spend my days frustrated - I want to be doing something worthy, but I can't.

Of course I'm not going to jack in my job and go work for a charity. Charities pay shit money. Of course I'm not going to work for charity. Charities have failed to deliver any meaningful change. Impoverishing myself is the world's most stupid first step towards any meaningful change.

I'm frustrated and upset, because my ingenuity was thwarted so many times by my ex-wife that I'm now exhausted. I'm not a young man anymore. I was lucky enough to have a couple of moments of glory that proved my point - I can build valuable stuff that works - but now I don't have the energy or the financial security to make another foray into something more worthwhile than the bullshit that passes for my day job.

I'm trapped by debt that I ran up when I got sick. I'm trapped by the capitalist trap of high living costs. I'm trapped by the need to speculate to accumulate, but I've got nothing to speculate with. I'm hoisted by my own petard. The irony is not lost on me, of course.

It's torturous agony, working a job that I mastered 21 years ago. It's torturous agony, solving the same problems that I already solved a million times over, knowing full well that everything is doomed to the same fate. Of course the global financial markets are going to collapse again, imminently. Of course, the whole bullshit system can't be propped up anymore. Of course, the bubble has to burst. Bubbles always burst eventually. It's physically painful in a way that's hard to describe, knowing that the whole ridiculous house of cards is going to come crashing down again at any moment. I know it's just anxiety and stress and depression, but it's not made any better working for an investment bank, doing the same bullshit job that I was doing - I was so close to ground zero when the whole fucking financial crisis happened. I was feeling ethically challenged 10 or 11 years ago. I was feeling ethically challenged 21 years ago. Fuck my life, that I'm back doing the thing that I hate most, because it's an economic necessity.

Who's to blame? Me presumably.

Fine, pin it on me. I'll take the rap.

Imma kill myself.

 

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The Fractional Part of the Cubed Root of the First Sixty-Four Prime Numbers

4 min read

This is a story about going insane...

Barricaded door

What does this even mean? Who on earth can follow what I'm going on about?

When you take a very large dose of a stimulant drug, often you can be compelled to take things to pieces to see how they work. Famously, many stimulant abusers have dismantled their televisions and radios. I once spent the best part of a couple of days - without sleep - wondering how to design a more efficient electric motor.

If you're not going to come up with a new and novel invention, you can amuse yourself by reverse-engineering other people's. Something that holds much fascination for me are the secure hashing algorithms designed by the United States' National Security Agency. I love one of those algorithms so f**king much that I went to the trouble of writing my own software simulation of a central processing unit (CPU) just so I could study how each individual binary bit flowed through the processor and memory.

What's most compelling about my little venture into the world of pulling that puzzle apart, is that I feel transported into that room where a bunch of computer scientists and mathematicians sat down and tried to design what's called a one-way algorithm - a piece of computer code that produces an unpredictable result; unique to every piece of starting data. In theory, it should be impossible to predict the result of a seemingly trivial change, because of cascading complexity. What's the relationship between "AA", "AB" and "AC"? It should be easily predictable. Computers are very predictable. But, is it possible to obfuscate the relationship between those trivial changes and the end result?

You know all that boring maths stuff that you didn't really get at school? Well, guess what... I didn't really get it either. There just didn't seem to be any purpose to it, you know?

Well, guess what? Whoever solves the problem of solving the secure hashing algorithm known as SHA-256 gets to win a quarter of a trillion dollars. By solve I mean to come up with an algebraic equation and a number of coefficients that allow a person to compute - in a single calculation - the answer for a given number.

At the moment, a computer processor has to iterate 111 times to produce an unexpected result. Each iteration has 18 instructions. That's more or less 2,000 computer instructions to find an answer that should be as simple as doing a sum. Whoever solves the riddle will be the richest man (or woman) in the world.

An idea occurs to me: perhaps this little puzzle has been set deliberately. Whoever solves it may inadvertently be destroying the privacy we take for granted in the modern world. Our governments are very keen to break encryption so they can snoop on us. Governments are so keen, in fact, that they could have invented something like Bitcoin, to economically incentivise the very finest minds to attempt to crack the uncrackable.

It hurts my brain and it makes me feel physically sick. Of course, I'm well aware that I can make myself unwell by thinking about such problems. Perhaps it's even a sign that I'm becoming unwell, that I'm thinking about this particular head-scratcher again. I can almost hear the voice of a very trusted friend in my head, saying "banana" which is my 'safe' word, warning me that I'm getting hypomanic again.

Of course I'm getting hypomanic. I've been living with a gun to my head for so damn long. I have to spend all weekend waiting to see if I get paid on Monday. If I get paid, all my financial woes are over. If I dont, I can't even afford to get to work. F**k my life.

 

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Gawker

6 min read

This is a story about the gutter press...

Ordinary world

It was some time in 2009 or 2010... I forget exactly when. My life consisted of a mortgage, a house, a cat and an Apple Macbook laptop computer. Thanks to an alarmist sensationalistic tabloid newspaper, my attention was drawn to what were commonly referred to at the time as "legal highs".

In a game of cat & mouse, the government attempted to legislate against clever chemists, who could cook up concoctions that would evade the laws more quickly than they could be passed. "Meow meow" became an iconic drug of choice, for grown adults who have a right to choose what they put into their own bodies. We don't have policemen at the bottom of mountains and cliff faces, telling climbers that it's "too dangerous" for them to scale the treacherous heights.

The irony is, that I was a posterboy for a life of conformity that we are all supposed to aspire towards - I had the millstone of debt around my neck and a life of indentured servitude to look forward to. Despite my hefty income, I was destined to spend over 20 years - the prime of my life - servicing the unreasonable debts that I had been forced to incur, simply to have a secure place to live.

A decade earlier, there had been a nightclub - The Chunnel Club - which ran an event every Friday called Trinity which had two railway arches in London's Vauxhall. Under each arch, DJs played very distinctly different dance music. A drug dealer stood by the toilets and for £10 per tablet, one could purchase a 'Turbo Mitsubishi' which packed a powerful punch of 3,4-Methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA)... more commonly known as ecstasy.

Had it not been for the tabloid newspaper printing articles about the legal drugs accessible for sale online, I would have been blissfully unaware of what treasures there were to be bought on internet. I quickly discovered that an analogue - a chemical cousin - of MDMA was readily available for next-day delivery via the Royal Mail.

By 2012, the long arm of the law had abolished the purchase and sale of most of the chemicals that posed little significant risk to my health and wellbeing. Thankfully, Gawker (a website) had published an article that pretty much provided a step-by-step guide on how to access the dark web, and the Silk Road drugs marketplace. I was in a position that no wealthy middle-class person would expect to find themselves: with an unlimited choice of illegal drugs available at my fingertips.

It should be noted at this point that I've never had a drug dealer. This should be re-iterated: although I purchased drugs off one reliable dealer in a club in London, I never knew his name nor have I ever scored drugs from a dealer in the conventional sense. For the uninitiated, this means having a bunch of phone numbers stored in your contact list, and ringing round to see if the narcotics that you desire can be supplied - to 'score' in the colloquial vernacular.

When one 'joins the club' of middle class guffawing overpaid twats, very often one is insulated from the seedy world of illegal narcotics the scruffy shitholes where drugs are sold from, by the most enterprising individuals who can't quite escape the life of poverty that seeks to forever keep them in their tracksuits and council estates.

God bless the internet - provider of drugs to people who would otherwise not have a fucking clue where to get them from.

It cannot be understated, the role that the media helpfully played, in drawing my attention to matters that I would otherwise have been blissfully unware of. I had no idea what "meow meow" was or that it could be bought online just like a product that one might purchase from Amazon dot com. I had no idea what Tor and the Silk Road were. I was familiar with Bitcoin, but only as a digital currency that happened to tickle my geek gland in around 2010. These terms might be gobbldegook to you and I applaud your ignorance, for it has protected you from an underworld that you never want to plumb the depths of.

From Tor and the Silk Road, arose the Black Market Road, Agora, Alphabay, Hansa and Dream Market, plus a million other wannabe imitators. Silk Road 2 - the sequel - was briefly the best place to purchase narcotics online.

Ronald Reagan - an actor - and his wife Nancy, started a completely insane moral crusade against human nature that spawned technological innovation, making it easier than ever before to access high-purity drugs at rock-bottom prices. I had no idea what "just say no" meant as a child, growing up, but by the time I reached adulthood I owed a great debt of gratitude to the Regans' legacy, of ensuring an unending supply of easily accessible powerful narcotics.

Necessity is the mother of invention, and many of the things that we take for granted today in our advanced industrialised society, were born as a result of the arms race and the space race. It seems so hilariously ironic that the attempts by the FBI, CIA, DEA and other US law-enforcement agencies, to destroy the drugs business, has resulted in a far more efficient system that can reliably deliver whatever I want, next day. God bless America, and her moral crusade to turn us all into debt-laden consuming automatons, who do not question authority and the need to relentlessly replace the shit we buy - designed to become obsolete within a year or so.

For every dark web marketplace that is shut down, another 10 will spring up in their place. The authorities' efforts should be applauded, because they are pushing the innovators to invent solutions and technologies that far outpace governments and their systems of societal control.

The founder of the Silk Road was a naïve young man who knew very little about technology - the ease with which he set up a site selling the best part of a quarter of a billion dollars of drugs per annum, is truly astounding. I mean, the guy was a fucking amateur - the trail he left is still all there for all to see, all over the internet... just Google "frosty" and "Dread Pirate Roberts".

God bless the gutter press, for keeping me informed of developments in the narcotics supply chain.

 

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Losing Everything, Again

7 min read

This is a story about the never-ending story...

New Shoes

When I lost my house in my divorce, I did a smash and grab, boxing up things that I thought would have good resale value. I had money, even though my ex-wife had tried to bankrupt me, because I sank every penny I could borrow into Bitcoin at just the right time. I had a friend's guest bedroom. I had my health. I had hope; optimism.

"Why don't you sell some stuff?" my parents unhelpfully asked, when my ex-wife demanded a £7,000 bribe so that she would stop delaying the sale of the house and trying to bankrupt me. At that time, I didn't have £7,000. I had about £3,500. I sold my car, raising about £2,000, but I knew that to spend weeks and weeks getting £100 here and £200 there, just wasn't going to raise the remaining £1,500 without a couple of months of dedicated time-wasting. If you can earn £500 to £600 a day contracting, should you spend time selling a small TV for £100, or should you go and get an IT contract instead?

I hadn't 'lost everything' by any stretch of the imagination. Losing your home is unbelievably traumatic. Moving house is one of the most stressful things you could ever do. However, I was now living with two old friends and their three lodgers. What I lost materially, I also gained by getting out of a relationship where I was either being abused or in fear of being abused (yes: having to keep yourself behind a door, when somebody is punching and kicking it and screaming abuse at you is "abuse") and I gained some new friends and regular contact with some old ones.

That old life sat in boxes in storage for a couple of years, and I didn't miss any of it. I lived with my friends, then a miserable shared house that drove me to attempt suicide, then a bed & breakfast (Camden's alternative to a psychiatric hospital), then hostels, then the park, then a crisis house, then Hampstead Heath, then hostels again, then a kind man's spare room (who was horribly abused by his wife) and then the flat where I live now.

I've learned from my mistake, and I'll be storing the very minimum I can get away with. A lot of stuff is going to be thrown away. I know it sounds wasteful, but I've tried for over two weeks to sell some things for a price that makes it more like I'm being a charity than trying to get some money. Certainly, my time has been wasted more than you could possibly imagine, for an incredibly futile amount of money. I could make more money begging.

I now don't have enough money to pay for cheap accommodation long enough to get a job, start it, and get paid. There's also the Catch 22: in London, I can earn enough to dig myself out of the hole, but I can't afford the high cost of living. In some other town or city, I can earn enough to sustain my current shitty situation, but I'll never escape. Somebody's going to lose money they're owed (e.g. my landlord) and I'm going to pay reputational cost: credit rating wrecked, county court judgements... maybe even bankruptcy.

I could feel some relief to be off the treadmill, and be able to live "poor & happy" but poor is one thing, and having a black mark against your name is quite another. You can't even rent a place in this country without a credit check.

I'm not sleeping in a shop doorway that smells of piss, and having to beg enough money for food each day, but I've got a near impossible decision to make: is hope more important, or is it more important to have less pressure to keep a good credit score and avoid black marks against my name, They're both equally shit to be honest. As soon as I start defaulting on debts, the courts will fuck me over, and all hope of a simple life will simply evaporate - I'll be working shit jobs AND paying a disproportionate amount of my salary to leeches.

I've got a new pair of shoes, and they make me happy. My flip-flops, which were my summer footwear - very much part of my identity - I can't walk in because my left foot is numb. I tried cycling the other day, and it's really hard to bunnyhop with a numb foot. But, my summery shoes have been my lottery win, in the face of unrelenting worry.

How ironic, that the last time my life collapsed, I was trying to get away from somebody who was ruining my life, and this time, the collapse has almost been guaranteed by the fact that I left somebody who was improving my life, giving me hope, supporting me and underwriting some of my risks. I'll probably never meet somebody like that ever again, and that's the hardest thing... knowing that a moment of mental illness has cost me more than it ever has done in the past, and I've lost at least 3 well paid jobs because I went hypomanic.

I can't cope. I can't cope in the slightest. I can't even begin to face the first step down a road I've walked before. I've been cutting my arm again, but going slightly deeper and with a sharper knife; figuring out how hard I have to press to open my veins lengthways. I think about those 8 grams of tramadol - all you need for an overdose - and how easy and painless it would be. I think about the relief of it all being over.

The usual admonishment is about how selfish it is to leave so many problems for the living; that no matter how tidily you leave your affairs, somebody still has the awful task of going through the detritus of your life. What can I say? Sorry? It's not like anybody ever thought to themselves "oh, better not kill myself because it's a bit selfish".

Don't ring the police or panic or anything. If it's done and there's a body, you'll know and you'll be warned, so that unfortunately, some front-line worker will have to deal with it. At the moment, I'm just trying some food and some sleep, in the hope that this feeling will pass, because it's never been this strong and it terrifies me, to know I'm so close to the limit, but the need for some peace and relief from the stress and the misery and depression is totally overwhelming me.

"Try upping your medication" - oh go fuck yourself.

"There must be somebody who can help" - yeah, that's probably you, but because everybody thinks "there must be somebody" that means there's nobody.

"What about the government?" - yawn. Go watch "I, Daniel Blake" and then you'll understand what the Tories have done to the welfare state. Ken Loach didn't even use true stories he could have done, because he wanted to represent an average experience, rather than an extreme and sensationalistic one.

I'm going to try and sleep on it, but just getting through this evening seems like too much to cope with.

 

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The Breakup

13 min read

This is a story about mismatches...

Odd Shoes

Writing is hard. More specifically, writing well is pretty damn hard. To write well every day; to finish a book; to have the discipline - that's the hardest. Lots of people write - it's our preferred method of communication these days, rather than the phone. My Facebook friends are mostly what you'd term "well educated professionals". Some of my Facebook friends are people who used to write every day on the same discussion forum as me. When I step out of that bubble, I'm reminded that it was the general populace who invented 'text speak' and still use it to this day, because writing is just a means to an end for them - to send short colloquial messages about their banal lives, where the style, grammar and intangible beauty of a well-constructed sentence has zero value to them.

When I started my blog, I didn't know where I was going with it. Then, I remembered that a friend who aspired to be an author, and has now published three books, said that he was going to blog for a year, to test his discipline and hone his art. I copied that idea.

When I started my debut novel, the idea was to write at least 1,667 words a day, so that after a month, I would have achieved a 50,000+ word count.

This year, things started going wrong almost from the very outset.

In the blink of an eye, I found myself in hospital on a high-dependency ward, with acute kidney failure. My weight had gone from 77kg to 95kg, because I had stopped urinating: my bladder was empty. I was on dialysis and generally being poked and prodded by some very worried looking doctors. I didn't have my laptop or a means to connect to the Internet - those aren't the kinds of things you take with you when you get a phonecall from the doctor you saw in Accident and Emergency saying "how soon can you get back here? Do you need us to send an ambulance?"

Like dominoes, the pillars of my life started to collapse. First, I lost my job - they couldn't wait for me to get better, even though I discharged myself from hospital after two weeks, against medical advice. Then, rent, taxes, bills, insurances and everything else started to become a matter of imminent financial implosion. Depression tore through my mind like an inferno through a building. The strong opiate painkillers, that I needed for the leg injury which caused my kidney failure, made doing anything at all quite challenging - it might not have been heroin, but I sure as hell got sick if I forgot to take my 4-hourly dose. Writing and work were replaced with lying on the sofa in a drugged-up haze, half-aware of whatever was on TV.

You'd think that after I got off the painkillers and I could walk distances again, without it causing me agony, I would be ready to find another job. Anybody who followed my story through December and January, will know that Christmas and New Year scuppered my job search. Effectively, I went through the stress twice, and then lost the job anyway through no fault of my own. I wrote about how psychologically damaging that was, having argued with the doctors so much, discharging myself and getting angry phonecalls from doctors and consultants saying I needed to go back to hospital; I was risking my life and I was still critically ill.

I didn't need concerned doctors to tell me I was still ill and in no position to work - my commute to work, with my heavy ankle brace, caused me untold pain. How was I supposed to travel every day on overcrowded public transport, and walk the final part of the journey, when it would leave me exhausted and crying in pain when I got home. I was relieved when my boss told me to take some more time off to get well; only it was him being cowardly - my contract was terminated soon after leaving the building.

Everything else from that point has been measured by that yardstick.

If it's hard and stressful to get a job - and to start that new job - under normal circumstances, can you imagine pulling out a 25cm dialysis tube from a massive blood vessel in your groin, with blood everywhere, and leaving hospital when all the doctors are begging you to stay? Can you imagine your first day in the office, except that less than 48 hours ago you were considered so sick that you might need a kidney transplant, or even die because the dialysis wasn't working effectively? Can you imagine working those first few days in your new job, getting phonecalls twice a day from different doctors saying that if I turned up at any A&E and had a blood test, they would admit me to hospital as a critical case, because of the dangerous toxins circulating in my bloodstream? Can you imagine dealing with almost unbearable pain as well as doing your job? And then what happened? I went to all that effort and I lost the job anyway.

I've been a full-time IT professional for 20 years, and to be honest I lost the love for it very quickly. I spent most of 1999 recovering from weekends of all-night raves. I spent most of 2001 to 2005 chatting with my friends on a discussion forum and organising kitesurfing holidays and weekend trips away. 2005 through 2008 I worked very hard, but I surrounded myself with alcoholics, who were some of the very best people I've ever had the privilege of working with. 2008 I thought I was pissed off with JPMorgan, but it turned out that I had simply reached the limit of what I could take with IT jobs for big companies. Ever since then, I've made my money as an entrepreneur, independent developer and IT consultant, as well as speculating in emerging technology (e.g. iPhone apps, Bitcoin mining). I work about 5 months a year, and I hate it, but it pays the bills. My last contract paid £660 a day, so you can see, I don't have to work for very long to earn what I need.

So, now I'm in the situation where I was tipped over the edge. It's not normally very hard for me to find a new contract, and I find the actual work very unchallenging; easy. To have worked so hard to get well, get out of hospital, get to that job, and then to lose it... when I fucking hate IT work anyway. It was the last straw. The company said they'd have me back as soon as I was fully recovered, but the spell was broken - I used to put up with the boredom and the bullshit, because I was earning the equivalent of well over a hundred grand a year... if I ever worked a year. I can't go back to it. You could offer me £1,500 a day, start tomorrow, free rein to work on whatever project I want, and I don't think I could do it. It's like all that hatred of the job and the politics and the bureaucracy and the insanity and incompetence of people in positions of authority, suddenly hit me all at once.

I stopped caring that I'm going to be nearly £6,000 short on my tax bill, in 27 days time. I stopped caring that I'm not going to be able to pay my rent next month. I stopped caring that if I go bankrupt I'll never be able to work in financial services again, be a director of a company, have anything except the most basic bank account, which means I wouldn't be able to - for example - rent a car. I stopped caring that I'll never be able to get another mortgage or rent my own place. I stopped caring that I would lose my excellent credit score - I have borrowing facilities of £30 grand and no debt that shows up on those credit checks. I stopped caring that many of my possessions would be sold by bailiffs for a fraction of what they're worth. I stopped caring that I would lose things that I spent years and years choosing and customising: a mountain bike I bought when I was 18, with the lightest frame money can buy, handmade and hand painted - including my name - which I have added the very best of everything to, bit by bit, until the total cost of the bike is as much as a decent car... but it's not about the cost; it's about the pride in doing that - the pride in customising something with painstaking effort over 19 years.

Now, I'm a minimalist. I'm a digital nomad. I've used all my experience as a mountaineer and Alpinist to travel light, with clothes that pack small, but they're super warm and everything either dries quick or stays dry. I have a grab bag that weighs perhaps no more than 15kg, but I could sleep quite comfortably in an extremely cold winter. I learned through bitter experience, the discomfort caused by cheap equipment: blisters, wet feet, damp clothing, sleeping mats that don't stop the cold penetrating from frozen ground, tents that get flattened by gales, synthetic sleeping bags that don't keep you warm. Everything that I carry meets the three criteria: light, strong and expensive. There's also a fourth criteria: how effective something is in terrible weather. It might be subtle, but there really is a big difference between a 'good' waterproof jacket, and one that costs well over £400; for example, are you able to use the hood but still move your head to look around? How many drawstrings are you able to operate without having to unzip anything?

There's so much crap that I just want to dump. I've ended up with paperwork that goes back to 1997. I only ever wear a few different outfits and I wear my clothes until they're threadbare. I could lose 95% of my clothes and not even miss them. I have boxes of stuff that I rescued from my house before it was sold, during my divorce. It was a smash & grab - I was paying for the man & van by the hour plus we had to get back to London before my self storage shut. I literally took no more than an hour to grab anything of real value, and a mug that my sister hand-painted for me. Can you imagine that? I dumped my books, a summerhouse that I designed and built myself, stuffed full of gardening equipment, garden furniture, tools, mountaineering equipment like ropes, ice axes, crampons, a pile of kites that probably cost me many thousands of pounds when they were new. I dumped my hot tub. I dumped games consoles, games, DVDs. I dumped kitchen knives, Le Creuset cast iron casserole dishes. I dumped my Weber barbecue, my fire pit and patio heaters. I dumped the bed I bought when I moved to West Hampstead in 2000. I dumped the oak dining table and chairs I bought when I bought the house. I dumped an antique sash window that had been turned into a mirror by my dad, as a Christmas gift. I dumped the huge wardrobe that I built to go right to the bedroom ceiling - one side customised just how my ex-wife wanted it, and another side customised just how I wanted it. I dumped a garden that I had lavished hundreds of hours on, making the grass lush and green, weeding the path, mulching the beds and tending the mature shrubs and palm trees. I dumped my electric guitar and electronic drum kit. In fact, I dumped a whole band's worth of instruments for playing Guitar Hero. Where was I going to keep all this stuff, living in my friend's spare bedroom? It was going to be ages before the house was sold and I got the money to get a place of my own again.

Now, I have a place of my own, by accident. One friend thought he was going to live with me rent free, but he hadn't done the maths - the rent was more than his salary, and he was fucking useless. The one bit of work that he was supposed to do that would have brought in some money for my company he fucked up. He hassled me for an interview at HSBC, which I wangled for him... and then I had to deny I knew him very well, as he was exposed as inept. My next flatmate didn't pay his rent for 3 or 4 months and never paid me any bills. He was surprised when I told him that he was going to find his stuff dumped on the street if he didn't get the fuck out.

If I was going to cut & run, I'd want my two MacBooks (Air & Pro) and I guess I'd take my iPad Pro too - call them tools of the trade - plus 3 pairs of high-end headphones, and my grab bag (tent, sleeping bag, sleeping mat) with my good waterproof jacket and my down jacket. I'd wear my waterproof trainers, water-resistant trousers and my fleece, with a merino wool base layer. I'd take my passport and €500 in cash that I have lying around. I'd take phone and a battery pack that can charge it 12 times. There's not a lot more that I tend to travel with, except copious quantities of benzodiazepines and Z-drugs. When you live in a hostel for a year, you learn what you need and what you don't. When you live under a bush in a park or on a heath, you learn what you're prepared to have stolen, potentially. It took my fellow homeless in Kensington Palace Gardens over a month to find my hiding place - people don't really venture into massive thorn bushes. If you're smart, you can disappear from the world, despite living in a densely populated city. People's dogs would smell my food, but their owners couldn't see me in the gloom. Hampstead Heath is somewhat more of a challenge, because people like to fornicate in the bushes, but the general rules apply: people are lazy and stick to the paths mostly, so by choosing the remotest part of the heath, you very rarely see anybody.

My life is in the process of breaking up again; disintegrating. I don't care. I am so depressed.

Let it all burn down, I say.

 

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