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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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My Friend The Alcoholic

6 min read

This is a story about unorthodoxy...

JPMorgan

This time last year I saw my old friend from JPMorgan in Warsaw. He'd just gotten me a job. I was almost bankrupt. Some years ago we had been propping up the bar at 4am, the last remaining men standing after all-day-drinking to celebrate me leaving the investment banking world... temporarily. We have the same attitude and approach to life: Everything to excess.

I'm writing this with a little haste, because I'm in a compromised situation.

I need to tell my friend not to kill himself - having received a number of worrisome messages and a call recently - but I can't do so in a direct manner, because it's barely more than a year ago that I tried to take my own life. I know that nobody could have talked me out of it. When I communicated, I did so to ensure that my intentions were clear: I did not want misadventure or an open verdict to be recorded by the coroner.

But.

This is not about me.

This is about a friend who sounds like he's about to end his life.

I have no idea what the emergency setup is in Poland. I have no idea whether a person can be located by their smartphone. I have no idea what the crisis intervention services are like. I have no idea what it's like to be 'sectioned' or otherwise interred for your own safety - 'committed' one might say - in Poland, and whether I might be unwittingly unloading a whole unwanted extra pile of shit on my friend's head, by raising the alarm.

I'm not ungrateful to those who contacted the emergency services on my behalf, who undoubtedly saved my life, but I'm aware that my decision-making power was taken from my hands. In fact, I clearly said at the hospital that I didn't want any medical intervention, but they decided I didn't have the capacity to make the decision to refuse treatment.

Does my friend have capacity?

He says he's drinking 2 or 3 bottles of vodka per day. I'm a borderline alcoholic, and I'd say that my judgement is pretty impaired when under the influence. I doubt I'd have so readily swallowed all those tablets during my suicide attempt last year if it wasn't for the Dutch courage of a gutful of booze.

It's easier to make the final decision when intoxicated.

Perhaps this gives me the moral authority to intervene and save my friend from himself. Perhaps it's my duty to inform the emergency services, such that my friend can sober up and then see how he feels about killing himself once he's got a clear head. How's he going to feel about being forced to sober up and face the decision to go on living in the cold light of day, with a dreadful hangover?

I can tell you all the answers to these questions.

I can tell you exactly how it feels to regain consciousness when you had hoped you'd be dead.

So can my friend.

I can't patronise him. I can't talk him out of what he wants to do. I can't approach the subject.

Strangely, I hope he has capacity enough to read this.

If he does - and I might try to prompt him into reading it - then what do I want him to know?

He needs to know that almost exactly one year ago, I was convinced that my life was totally beyond any hope of salvaging, but he salvaged my life. He got me a job, which rescued me from certain bankruptcy. He got me a job in the nick of time. He saved my bacon.

What can I do for my friend?

I remember he told me how buoyed he was by all the support I get via social media. I remember how emotional it made him feel, reading the comments section on my blog.

I want him to feel that outpouring of love from all four corners of the globe. I want him to feel anchored by connections.

My friend and I tend to value our sense of self-worth by the number of dollars, euros or pounds that somebody will press into our sweaty palms for a day's labour. My friend and I both feel valued when we're paid a lot and a company is chasing us for our skills.

It's disturbing to me that my friend knows that he can get a highly paid job in any investment bank in the world. He knows that he's needed and wanted in the corporate sector. It's worrisome that he knows that, but it's somehow not enough. I can relate. I know what that feels like.

I don't know what to offer him.

To remind him of his value and how much he's cherished is a cliché. I can't patronise him by talking about how much he'd be missed and what a huge hole he'd leave in all the lives he touches.

We're talking about the man who quite literally reversed my fortunes, exactly 12 months ago - from bankrupt to bankrolled; from rags to riches.

What can I say, except that I've written these 900 words with as much speed as I can manage, because from the tone and content of my last phonecall with my friend, he's in a very bad way. I'm very worried about him. I'm acting as swiftly as I can, in an unorthodox fashion, because I want to do something to interrupt and disrupt his behaviour, which looks to be on collision course with disaster.

I know that if anybody said to me that I lacked capacity, or was so patronising as to believe that they know better, and I should be relieved of the decision-making power to end my own life, then I would become doubly stubborn and bloody minded. I'd kill myself just to prove you wrong. Of course I would.

What can I say? I need to publish this, urgently.

I hope my friend reads this. I hope my friend - who helped me get back on my feet almost exactly a year ago - is somewhat moved by my desperation to try something, anything to move the conversation towards positive exciting plans for the future, and our next adventures.

I haven't been writing regularly, and of course I tend to be very self-centred, but I hope that I can continue to write, and include my friend as a living member of the tiny little world in which I inhabit. There are quite literally only two people who I speak to on a regular basis, one of whom is threatening to make an early departure from the party.

He might feel a little uncomfortable that I've made references that almost made him identifiable. Good. I'd rather have him angry and upset with me, than having missed an opportunity to get his attention. I'm being deliberately disruptive and provocative.

Please, mate, don't put me in this position!

Don't make me decide whether I have to call the emergency services or not!

This sucks!

 

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Safe Socks

2 min read

This is a story about retail therapy...

Supermarket Socks

My latest addiction is sock-buying. I am spending almost £16 a week on socks. My sock habit is raging out of control.

I'm not buying socks like the ones pictured above.

I've become hooked on buying stupid childish socks in bright colours and with cartoons on them. I'm getting immense pleasure from buying socks with whimsical slogans on them. I'm totally addicted to the buzz I get from choosing, buying and wearing sills socks.

I'm not a morning person.

However, choosing the socks I'm going to wear on any given day, is something that's a real highlight of my day. For something so relatively inexpensive - costing an average of £2.67 per pair - those simple socks pack a surprising punch. I feel genuine joy and happiness every time I see my growing sock collection and I pick out the pair that I'm in the mood to wear.

I have socks with an English breakfast of sausages, beans and fried eggs on them. I have socks with foxes on them. I have socks with dinosaurs on them. I have socks with hamburgers on them. I have socks with sock puppets on them, as a demonstration of the meta-stupidity I've descended into.

I know that other members of my clan of geeks have huge T-shirt collections, but it would be inappropriate for me to wear a T-shirt at work, no matter how witty and hilarious I thought its design was. My choice to wear silly socks is my way of thumbing my nose at the establishment, while also recognising that it's a pretty good idea not to bite the hand that feeds me - I'm well paid, I like my colleagues and I find the work to be increasingly tolerable.

Given the vast number of things which I could possibly become addicted, and the harmful behaviours and bodily abuse which could ensue, the sock thing seems mostly harmless.

 

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Spotlight

10 min read

This is a story about stage fright...

Chess board

I'm annoyed with myself. I feel like I've let myself down. I've squandered another great opportunity. I've wasted a good chance.

For the past 23 or 24 days, I've been writing as much as I possibly can as fast as I possibly can. I threw caution to the wind and decided to increase my daily word count in a desperate attempt to reach a million words as quickly as possible, because the end was in sight. Nobody much wants to read 2,000+ words of rambling drivel from somebody whose sole intention is to churn out enough copy to achieve an arbitrary objective. I haven't given enough careful consideration to what I want to say before I've said it. I've gotten swept up in the numbers and abandoned my longer-term objective of writing little self-contained pieces on specific subjects. Quality has suffered.

I decided I wanted to write about monkey dust because it was in the newspapers. Nobody much wants to read about addiction problems, because it brings out the ugly side of human nature. We all know very well, because of demonising tabloid news articles, that addicts can become desperate and depraved and can do dreadful things. It's impossible to write about addiction without a little of the stigma attaching itself to the author. People view you as a bit dirty and undesirable if you admit to having had substance abuse issues. It's often better to brush any addiction issues under the carpet and pretend they never happened, for the sake of avoiding stigma and demonisation.

I've written a lot about writing, which is far too meta. I've really gone on and on ad nauseam about my word counts and my million word goal. I've left my readers in absolutely no doubt about my unwavering and blinkered aim and objective, which mercifully will have been achieved in the next couple of days. 997,849 words to date, and counting.

I'm annoyed.

I'm annoyed because I write about all kinds of things, and sometimes I write things I'm really pleased with. Sometimes I write things and I'm pleasantly surprised to receive messages saying that I really nailed something and it resonated with my readers. It's amazing when I write something that's good enough for people to take the time to give me positive feedback. Feedback is a kind gift. However, annoyingly I've been writing for the sake of writing, just to achieve sheer volume and as a way of coping during a quite unpleasant period of my life where I'm living out of a suitcase.

What has particularly irked me is that I've suddenly had a flood of new visitors to my blog, reading my stuff at a time when I feel like I'm writing really badly. I feel like people are getting a really bad impression of who I am and what makes me tick. I feel like I'm representing myself very poorly, given my recent spate of rushed and voluminous but otherwise not-very-high-quality crap that I've just churned out for the sake of maintaining my daily target word count.

My 'pinned' Twitter post is something I wrote about my experience of regaining consciousness in hospital, after a suicide attempt. I thought it was important to pin it because I'm approaching the anniversary of that event and it weighs heavy on my mind just how crappy I'm feeling still. I'm finding it important to revisit key moments in the past few years of my life to gauge how I'm progressing; indeed to see if I'm progressing at all. I keep having moments where I feel like I'm not getting anywhere at all, and I lose hope that I'll be able to ever have better and happier times. When I lose hope, I lose the will to live.

I re-read my Surviving Suicide post and I was appalled at the quality. For some reason the punctuation was very strange and I'd told the story in a very odd way. It wasn't my usual writing style at all. I was embarrassed and frustrated that a lot of people had read it when it needed thoroughly proofreading and editing. It was a poor representation of both the experience and the quality - or lack thereof - of my prose.

It seems totally impossible to predict when and what will engage with people on social media. Sometimes I sit down and write something which seems rambling and ranty to me, but is very well received. Sometimes I write something that's throwaway and it sparks an unexpectedly huge response.

After my suicide attempt last year, I was very unwell. I found myself discharged from hospital with no support and a whole heap of problems to deal with - I was missing my wallet, mobile phone, laptop and other devices which would allow me to get in contact with anybody. My medications had all been taken to hospital and I had to go to my doctor to re-obtain prescriptions for everything. I had to use my passport - my only form of ID - to get cash and replace my phone. It was all a very big ask of somebody who'd just survived a suicide attempt and was totally alone in an unfamiliar city. The stress and abrupt cessation of the medications which were keeping me mentally stable, tipped me into outright insanity.

A great number of people had been worried - quite rightly - about my safety and wellbeing. For several days there wasn't a lot of information freely circulating about whether I'd survived my suicide attempt or not. I feel very frustrated and upset that I was then subsequently too unwell to communicate very effectively. The ordeal I went through post-hospital-discharge destroyed a lot of my opportunity to comport myself with any dignity and give a good impression of myself; to connect with concerned and caring people.

In the 11+ intervening months between then and now, I've managed to gain some rhythm and routine and greatly stabilise myself. My life is vastly improved. Although I'm still living somewhere with very few friends and no family - no local connections - I've got secure housing and more financial security, at least. I've spent almost all of the last 11 months free from medication and substance abuse and my mental health has been comparatively stable. To be unmedicated and functional, and to have been able to keep writing throughout the journey, is something I'm very proud of. To have worked hard, held down jobs and finished important projects is something which is great for my confidence. The achievements of the past 11 months give me hope that I'll be able to have a better quality of life in the not-too-distant future.

Another great big surge of blog visitors was precipitated by a tweet which unexpectedly seemed to hit a nerve. Again, I've been left feeling ill-prepared to capitalise on the opportunity which presented itself; I've not communicated effectively. I was thoroughly caught on the hop.

What I had wanted to do was to reach my arbitrary million word target, then to have a consolidation period where I'd write at a more leisurely pace and attempt to increase the quality. Only then would I perhaps start to talk about how I'd reached my million-word goal. I didn't want anybody to really see that the final sprint to the finish line was done in a rather ugly and ungainly fashion. I feel like somebody who's started telling a joke, only to realise that they've forgotten the punchline.

It's now 998,772 words, by the way.

What exactly is the punchline of this joke anyway? Clearly having a million-word suicide note is something that's caught people's eye, but it's not a suicide note unless I kill myself, is it? Irony of ironies, having a massive flood of supportive messages from all corners of the globe has turned my sense of isolation and loneliness into happiness that I've managed to connect with so many people. Nothing could be better than something so positive that's almost completely unexpected.

I'd psychologically prepared myself for a general "meh!" response to my million word achievement, but I hadn't imagined that I'd get a massive response before I even reached 1-million words.

From what I've experienced of the battle to be heard - noticed - things are always much much harder than you could ever have imagined, and when you do manage to get a bit of exposure that you think will propel you to stardom, fame and fortune, the result is always incredibly disappointing. Having something you wrote retweeted by an account with millions of followers doesn't result in a huge surge of readers suddenly devouring every bit of content you ever wrote. Getting mentioned in the media doesn't bring vast numbers of intrigued visitors; doen't generate hundreds and thousands of new fans. It's a tough gig getting noticed and being heard.

"What are you going to do when the spotlight's on you? What have you got to say that's so important?"

These are good questions. When you get your 5-minutes of fame, what are you going to do with it? Why should anybody listen to you? Why do you deserve to be on stage? Why should anybody share their platform with you? What have you got to say that's interesting and different and profound and original and witty and funny?

Of course, you might find that when you suddenly find yourself holding the microphone, your mind goes blank. BZZZT! NEXT! YOU'RE RUBBISH! GET OFF!! GET OUT OF MY FACE!! LOSER!!!

One of the reasons why I don't really tweet is that I like to compose my thoughts in reclusive isolation, and to then share them when I feel like they're fully-formed. Instead of delivering a series of 280-character soundbites and having the distraction of wondering how each one is being received, and the subsequent discussion that follows, I can dump 2,000 words out into the world in a single lump, and then forget about it. I'm getting things off my chest with very little discourse and dialogue. In a way, I'm lecturing. It's been easier to get to this point without getting sidetracked in the comments section.

I always had a strong belief that having the weight of a vast amount of published content behind me would give me more credibility. While I might have undermined my own credibility with periods when I've been writing rubbish, the sheer volume of my creative output is hard to overlook. To keep writing and publishing and not really worrying too much about the hit-and-miss nature of things, is the only way to keep moving forwards and to become prolific enough to be notable. Perhaps my writing is all of dubious quality, but through sheer perseverance I'm getting somewhere.

999,310 words.

Some time ago I decided that 700 words was the sweet spot for a blog post - not too short and not too long. Yes, sometimes people want the occasional long read, but most of the time they like to catch up regularly and stay up to date, and that requires nice short, sharp, concise and thoughtfully composed blog posts.

I am now within 700 words of the finish line.

This is amazing.

Tomorrow, I can reach my goal at a leisurely pace. Tomorrow is the day when I want readers to be with me; crossing the line with me. Tomorrow is the culmination of 1,082 days writing an average of 924 words. Tomorrow, my arbitrary goal is finally achieved and my "headline" number has been reached.

Tomorrow I will write something good, I promise.

The pressure.

So. Much. Pressure.

The spotlight is on me.

Will I choke? Will I have stage fright and be unable to utter a word?

so want to write something good.

 

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Stuck Indoors

10 min read

This is a story about anhedonia...

Bright light

I'm not under house arrest. I'm not in prison. I'm at liberty to do whatever I want. I don't have to spend my evenings and weekends alone. I don't have to spend my working day in the office. The reasons for my choices are too subtle for anybody who makes a lazy appraisal of my life to discern.

My attention span and ability to concentrate during periods of extreme boredom is very poor. My perception of time is warped to the point of being unbearably and agonisingly slow. I just want it to be December already. I want to press the fast-forward button and skip all the monotonous bullshit between now and then. I know where I'm going and I know how to get there, so there's absolutely zero enjoyment of the journey; in fact it's pure torture.

My summer has been spent at a desk, in a hotel room, or lying on my sofa. My whole year has been characterised by endless suffering in a desperate attempt to get back on my feet financially. I'm out of the danger zone, I bought a car and rented an apartment. Those are the highlights of my year. Now I'm just going through the motions until I have enough cash to clear my debts. I'm well paid and my financial position is improving rapidly, but my perception of the passage of time is so messed up that it doesn't feel like I'm getting anywhere. When I do the maths and work out how far I've still got to go, it seems ridiculously far away considering how much suffering and sacrifice I've gone through to get to this point. Suicidal thoughts are back.

It might seem like I've got the leisure time and the money to do anything I want, but I would never have survived as well as I have done if I hadn't had periods where I suffered. It's the suffering that equates to cold hard cash. Do you think they pay 6-figure sums of money for doing work that's fun? Do you think you get rich by doing stuff that you love? That's a fantasy for rich spoiled brats. Most of us have to suffer if we want to make a quick buck. The more you suffer, the more money you make.

"You can do anything you want. Follow your dreams" people say to me. It's not true. I have responsibilities and moral obligations. I'm trying to make things right and that requires a great deal of suffering. There are plenty of people who'd run away from their problems, and I'd know about that because I'm owed thousands of pounds by people who seem to think that it's OK to pick my pocket. I'm trying to do the right thing. I'm trying to do the honest and honourable thing. I'm doing things the hard way.

I have enough money at my fingertips to live a life of profligate luxury, but all that money is accounted for. I'm not living in a hovel on bread and water, sure, but I'm certainly denying myself a lot of lifestyle choices which would seem like just reward for my suffering. The whole point of doing a job that you hate is because it earns you a lot of money. One simply has to choose between a rewarding and fun career, or work that's extremely lucrative, and usually requires a high living standard to justify the awfulness of putting up with the dreadful day job. You can be a penniless artist, or you can sell your soul to the devil: that's the choice we all have to make.

Perhaps my job and the work I do is not wholly objectionable, but it jars with my psychological make-up. There's zero excitement and creativity; nothing is novel or interesting; I'm not challenged. The challenge is simply in withstanding the boredom and the monotony. I live with unbearable amounts of dread: I dread the intolerable boredom. I dread the endless waiting. All I seem to be doing at the moment is just waiting; killing time.

I feel momentarily excited by the prospect of spending a bit of money. I want to buy a microwave and a dehydrator for the kitchen. I want to buy some more wine glasses. I want to want to buy stuff, but I know that I'll feel buyer's remorse, so I rein myself in. That's unusual for me.

I try to get excited about how much money I'm able to save each month, but it's not exciting at all. Each day is such a struggle that I end up feeling depressed about how little I'm earning, even though I earn an obscene amount of money. I should be happy about how quickly I'm managing to dig myself out of the hole, but instead I'm depressed about how slow time is passing and how long it's going to take. December seems like an eternity away.

The problem is that I'm solving problems I've already solved. I'm doing things I've already done a million times before, so there's no doubt that I'll be able to do them again. I already invented very successful strategies for becoming rich and successful, and it irks me that I'm having to start my life over. I feel like I already won - which I did - so somebody should just give me my damn gold medal already, rather than making me run the marathon again.

Of course, I pissed away a huge fortune. I had the enviable pleasure of going on a total rampage for years, doing whatever the hell I wanted. I bought whatever I wanted, travelled wherever I wanted, never had to wait for anything and generally spent money like it was going out of fashion. Arguably, I've had the fun so I should now pay the price.

In fact, most of my financial woes come from a very miserable and mundane period of my life, where the money was spent on nothing more than general living expenses: rent and bills etc. When I've splashed the cash with gay abandon, I've always had a lot more of a memorable and exciting experience, than simply lining the pockets of the capitalists. My impulse purchases have always brought an amount of pleasure that was commensurate with the price tag. Whenever I get excited about something, there's usually an angle which is financially beneficial.

My life is austere. I'm not excited about anything. I'm saving a lot of money, but I'm thoroughly miserable.

My last big spending spree was buying everything I needed for my apartment - plates, bowls, saucepans, cutlery, kettle, toaster, kitchen knives, utensils and the myriad other things which are essential for daily living. There was little joy in it, because I already had a house that was packed full of everything I'd ever want or need. I was repeating something I'd already done and there was no pleasure in it. You'd be surprised how hard it is to start over from a completely blank slate. You take for granted so many little things you've accumulated over the years.

My life is hyper-efficient. I'm living the minimum viable life. If I break or lose something it's fairly catastrophic, because I have exactly as much as I need, and nothing more. Sure, my apartment is ludicrously large for my needs. Sure I could use public transport instead of owning a car. Sure, I could live even more frugally, but I don't think you're talking about a viable reality. There are homeless people who struggle to even protect a single backpack with some precious belongings, and they manage to survive. Sure I could survive with a single backpack, but it wouldn't be compatible with other parts of my life, such as working a full-time job in an office. If you're a homeless person sleeping rough, that life isn't compatible with civilised society. Society expects me to have fresh socks every day and a crisply ironed shirt... although I've managed to avoid buying an ironing board and iron so far [I use the one in the hotel].

I've temporarily halted any attempt to have a social life. I took some time out from dating and relationships. I'm estranged from my family, except my sister who I exchange a handful of messages with each year. I've put everything on hold until I'm in a better position.

I hated it when I was dating earlier this year, and I was being pummelled with questions about what car I drove and whether I owned a house. At the time I was living in somebody's converted garage, effectively homeless. At the time I was carless. At the time I was virtually bankrupt. Every question that was designed to tease out whether I'm rich and successful - and a good provider - was in fact a dreadful reminder that I'm not yet a secure member of civilised society. In the blink of an eye, I could be back on the streets.

Pride and self-esteem are at stake, but also people just can't cope with the idea that somebody's been through rough times and lost everything. People would think there's something wrong with me and I wouldn't be able to get a job or get laid. How many times have they hired a homeless person where you work? Never. I've survived because I've been sneaky enough to never let on that I've had incredibly awful stuff going on in my personal life, and nobody would ever suspect a thing because it just doesn't happen - no homeless person would ever be so audaciously brazen as to apply for highly paid jobs, as if they're a regular ordinary person.

This protracted pantomime, where I'm having to pretend like everything is A-OK in my personal life when in actual fact I've been one tiny slip-up away from begging on the streets for the whole goddam year, has been indescribably exhausting and trying. You might think that I'm being too proud, but I really promise you that my personal life problems would not go down well in the office; my run of financial fortune would be quickly curtailed if anybody knew how desperate I am.

I'm stuck indoors and it looks like a choice, but it's not a choice. Nothing in my life is a choice. It's all carefully calculated and necessitated by circumstances. My circumstances dictate my behaviour, and the constriction and constraint affects more than just my decision about where I work and what kind of work I do. The circumstances dictate my mood, and my mood is every bit as miserable and depressed as you'd expect of any slave and prisoner.

At least you can win a race. I'm not part of the rat race; I'm just trying not to lose.

 

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The End of Privacy

7 min read

This is a story about data protection...

Messenger bag

Congratulations. You found me. Somehow you managed to figure out my real identity and hack my personal data. Somehow you've managed to discover all my most closely-guarded secrets. You've compromised my privacy and discovered all my data that was held securely in the vault.

I'm fast approaching 900,000 words that I've written on this blog. I've written extensively about my childhood, adolescence, early adulthood, losing my virginity, first love, getting engaged and married, getting divorced, my mental health problems, my problems with drink & drugs, homelessness, near-bankruptcy, trouble with the police... I've written about everything. Everything you could ever hope to find out about a person is all documented right here, in unflinching detail.

I repeat myself.

I repeat myself because nobody fucking cares. I've written all this stuff about myself and left it out there for anybody to read, and it doesn't matter - everybody's too wrapped up in their own lives to give a shit about the details of anybody else's messy little life. I've published high-resolution photos of my passport. I've published every single detail you'd need to steal my identity, but nobody can be bothered. Most of us are far too boring and mediocre and average and uninteresting for anybody to give a shit.

Perhaps you've been so stupid as to share personal information in a way that's easily harvested in vast quantities. Maybe you're just another idiot who made their date of birth public on Facebook, or told some other popular website personal details about yourself, where you completely ignored the messages that told you exactly what data would be shared with 3rd parties.

You've got free email. Free photo sharing. Free messaging. Free document storage. Free business contacts. Free marketing. Free social networks where you can connect with your friends and meet other likeminded people. How the hell did you think any of it was funded? If the service is free YOU are the product.

The email address on the bag pictured above is my business email address. You can email it and your message will be delivered to me. I've been very careful to not mix my professional identity with my Nick "manic" Grant identity, because I work in very boring corporate environments which don't take kindly to people with mental illness who've recently been destitute and locked up on psych wards. There's a fundamental incompatibility with my true identity and the persona that allows me to get good jobs and get ahead in a corporate environment.

To write that email address in text form on the pages of this website would mean that Google would index it and make it searchable, such that my email address would be added to spam lists and my inbox would be inundated with crap. To write that word - the name of my company - on the pages of this website would tie me to any search that included my name and my company's name. I'm already on page 2 of Google, and I'd hate to make it any easier for me to be found. People already find me very quickly on LinkedIn, so heaven forbid what it's going to be like if people start digging for me on Google and stumbling on this blog.

A colleague of mine has already found my blog. I can see that he has an iPhone Plus and he uses the WiFi at our workplace to read my blog. I can see what pages he looked at and how long he spent reading them. Perhaps he doesn't know that I know this, but maybe he does now... if he's just read this. If you think I'm spying on my readers you should know that every tech company collects analytics on its users. Of course, I can't know who every individual is, but I can make very good educated guesses by looking at the IP address they visit from - which tells me their location, their ISP or workplace - and the kind of device they're using.

If you think it's unethical to spy on the people who consume content for free, you should consider whether you'd be prepared to pay for Facebook, Twitter, news websites, funny comics, interesting blogs, videos, games and all the other content you regularly consume. Would you pay for email? Would you pay to keep your photos and documents safely stored in the cloud? At the moment, you receive so much stuff for free, because your data isn't private - you consented to give it to us tech boffins so that you could get free stuf. You made the deal with the devil.

If you think you have privacy you're incredibly naïve. The details of your confidential medical consultations are discussed casually around the dinner table. The details of your life are pored over by the guardian class, who present themselves as protectors of your privacy, but are in fact terrible gossips who share all the lurid details of your most embarrassing moments with all their guffawing chums. There's no privacy - it's an illusion; a fantasy.

Having dealt with GPs, psychiatrists, hospitals, the police, security vetting people, tenant vetting people, credit check people, proof-of-identity people and numerous others who've sought to invade my privacy, I can tell you from first-hand experience that information washes around quite freely and there's very little protection of your precious privacy. The most sensitive information is casually chucked around in the most careless fashion. You're delusional if you think your data's protected.

I became disillusioned with data protection and privacy, and I decided to go public. I decided to write 900,000 words that give complete transparency about who I am and what I've done. I have no privacy. I live in the public eye - everything you could ever want to know about me, including my very worst, most embarrassing and most unflattering moments, are documented here in unflinching detail. This is what happens when you embrace the post-privacy world that we live in.

What do you want to know? Do you want to see my pornography viewing habits? Do you want to see secret webcam screen recordings of me masturbating, or maybe just picking my nose and scratching my testicles while lying on the sofa in a pile of my own filth, watching crappy TV shows? If you want to know what a person's really like behind the mask, I'll give it to you. Guess what? We're all a bit pervy and none of us is perfect; we all have flaws and stuff that we'd be embarrassed if anybody knew, but it's there - we're all basically the same.

Google does not yet read the text on images and make it searchable in the same way that it will for this word: googwebcamasturbdex. Try searching that word tomorrow, and you'll see that it's Google's top search hit. Try searching my email address and you won't find this website, however... which is how I want to keep it until the world finally accepts that we're living in a post-privacy era and we can see that we ALL have flaws.

I'm taking a HUGE risk having all this stuff about me out there on the public internet. I risk my reputation, my business, my income, my livelihood. I risk becoming unemployable. I risk being black-balled, because nobody wants a homeless bankrupt junkie alcoholic with mental heath problems working in their precious corporation. I'm risking it because it was exhausting, trying to keep my privacy in the era when privacy finally became a thing of the past; a relic.

Does privacy help you? Is it a big deal that Facebook leaked 4% of their users' data? Would you have paid for Facebook if it meant that your data was secure?

I think in time you'll come to see the world like I do - secrecy is hard work and life is better when you're transparent and open. I can highly recommend uploading yourself to the public cloud for safekeeping.

 

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Black Mark

7 min read

This is a story about disadvantages...

Semicolon sticker

There are a number of ways to get a black mark against your name. Every exam grade that's lower than a "C" is not going to be looked upon favourably. A degree of class 2:2, a third or - heaven forbid - a pass, is something that's going to follow you around like a bad smell. Any gaps on your CV are all damning indictments of your character. These are some of the least bad disadvantages that could be working against you in life.

Police cautions become spent on the day they're issued so you don't have to declare them to any prospective employer - unless you are subject to enhanced checks, because you work with children or vulnerable adults - but a criminal record has to declared up-front. Bankrupts are often compelled to admit to their financial misconduct and being a former bankrupt is often grounds for not employing a person. It even seems commonplace to perform credit checks on people now, as part of vetting for a job.

These are the disadvantages that people have, arguably because they're victims of circumstances beyond their control. The education we had, the friends we made, the wealth we've enjoyed... these are luck, not good judgement. We don't choose our parents. We don't choose to be born into poor uneducated families with a history of criminality, living in poor neighbourhoods - council estates and the like.

Then, we come to matters that are more obviously in our control - the choices we make as an adult.

What are all the things you'd think about when considering whether to get a tattoo or not? If you're a sensible chap or chapess, you'd think about all the bad fashion decisions you've made over the years, and rationally you would think that you wouldn't be able to choose a design that you'd be happy to wear for the rest of your life. Many 'tattoo fixers' are asked to erase the name of an ex - the ink was committed to skin when the relationship seemed as if it was going to last forever, but it didn't.

If you were still intent on making a permanent mark on your skin, you might consider where you're going to do it. If you get something on your foot, it's going to be visible when wearing summer shoes. If you get something on your arm, it might be visible when you roll up your sleeves. Why would anybody get a tattoo on their neck or face?

To all intents and purposes, I come up smelling of roses when the usual background checks are done. I have a fine set of academic qualifications, I have an all-star cast of multinational corporations on my CV, I don't have a criminal record, I've never been bankrupt. I enjoy a considerable advantage over many hopeful job applicants, who are paying a hefty price for something that happened years and years ago. To look at me, to study me on paper and pore over the vetting checks that are routinely done, you would see no evidence of any problems that the checks are supposed to find.

Did I say "look at me"? The careful observer might detect one little clue that I've not led an entirely blemish-free life. I have a black mark that clearly advertises that I've had problems. I write this blog, but you'd have to search for it to find it - you'd have to cyberstalk me - but there's a mark on my body in a totally visible place that you should be able to see, whatever clothes I'm wearing... I can't cover it up.

What the hell is a 35-year-old man who works in offices for prestigious organisations doing getting a tattoo in a visible place? Surely it would be career suicide? Everybody knows that people with visible tattoos don't get hired into positions of professional responsibility. Everybody knows that people with visible tattoos are not made of the right kind of stuff to enjoy positions of senior management responsibility. Everybody knows that people with visible tattoos are trash; scum; the dregs of society.

Getting a tattoo was stupid, of course, but it was also brave. Getting a tattoo was direct action: a protest about my sister having a hard time from my parents about her inked body. Getting a tattoo has been the best way to thumb my nose at bosses who desperately want my skills and experience, but who would never dream of giving an opportunity to somebody who's been less fortunate in life. Getting a tattoo is a running gag - a joke - which attacks all the gatekeepers who are seeking to keep the riff raff from getting ahead in life. When I sit down for an interview, my tattoo can't be seen face to face - it's behind my ear. It's usually too late - I've been hired - when the bosses first notice it. So many people don't get their foot in the door, because there's a black mark that causes them to be dismissed out of hand as an unsuitable candidate.

Why a semicolon?

If I was ever asked by a colleague, my answer would be that it's a programmer thing - I finished every line of computer code I've ever written with a semicolon.

The truth is that I'd been trying various ways to restabilise my life, which mainly revolved around earning bucketloads of cash as an IT contractor. The pressure and stress of one particularly nasty IT contract had pushed me to the brink of what I could survive. I'd asked to be hospitalised for my own safety. I flew to San Francisco, leaving myself just 4 hours to get to the airport from the time I booked the tickets, and went directly to the Golden Gate Bridge. I was erratic. I had no idea what to do, so I did everything. There was one thing that was constant: writing. The idea of the semicolon has come to mean that my story - this suicide note - could have come to an end, but I chose not to end it and keep writing. I jumped on a popular bandwagon. I joined a movement. I copied something that other people were doing. I tend to zig when everybody else zags, so getting a tattoo like other people's felt really good; it felt right.

Everything seems to piece together and make sense when seen as a whole. Writing under my real name and writing without a filter - completely candidly - and declaring my every fault is career suicide. Having a visible tattoo is career suicide. Those things together are the only way that I was going to cope when constantly dealing with gatekeepers who want to check my criminal record, check my credit rating, check if I'm a bankrupt, check my academic qualifications, check my references, check my passport and birth certificate. If the gatekeepers could, they'd pry into every single part of my private life... so I'm letting them. Here it is - come and fill your boots!

Who knows where this experiment's going to lead me. Perhaps I will suffer more discrimination. I've already lost two lucrative contracts as a direct result of living my life as an open book. Perhaps the disadvantages will continue to stack up and I'll be derailed from the fast track and shunted into the sidings, like so many people who've had the misfortune of accruing a black mark against their name.

If I seem at all disrespectful towards those who don't have any choice - they have criminal records, bad exam grades, a CV full of gaps and roles that don't have fancy job titles - then I apologise. Perhaps my little game can only be played by me because I'm so privileged.

I hope that what's going to happen is a move towards a more open society, where we can be honest about our past transgressions.


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Sorry About Your Nose

2 min read

This is a story about social gaffes...

Birthday card

The world is a minefield. A misplaced foot - even in one's own mouth - could see you blown to smithereens. Safely and successfully navigating the maze of human relationships, to reach the prize of friendship, is a nigh-on impossible task for those who are prone to make innocent blunders, as I often am. It is my curse; my life's biggest hardship - that my best intentions are misconstrued and people are offended.

I am eager to impress and please the people who I meet. I do, after all, sit behind a computer screen for most of my life, and have limited opportunity for real face-to-face social interaction. Should it not be expected that I would stumble and err in the real-world environment that is almost alien to me? It sounds as though I am making excuses for my behaviour, which I am.

When we meet, I will judge you for your terrible fashion sense, the dregs of your regional accent, the uncouth behaviour that belies your lack of good breeding. "I shan't be inviting this prole to the polo club" I often think to myself, as I smile and make pleasant smalltalk with the hoi polloi, who stray across my path.

If - God forbid - you should invite me into your home, I will be making a mental inventory of everything I find to be in bad taste. I doubt a single drop of Farrow & Ball paint has touched your walls. If you don't have a picture rail AND a dado rail in every room, you might as well just bulldoze the whole house.

Apparently, some people are not as appreciative as they should be, when I offer to elevate them from the disgusting squalor and odious personal appearance that holds them back from entering high society. Even a turd can be polished, but yet some people are resistant and even hostile towards my well-meaning comments.

I often imagine that I may be beatified at some future point, for my services rendered to the tasteless individuals who I have selflessly tried to help. However, it often feels like a futile task which has made me few friends. I have even been struck from the Christmas card list of many of the individuals who I've tried to help.

The world is a strange and confusing place.

 

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Goodbye, Odd Socks

5 min read

This is a story about human waste...

Odd socks 

Here is a pictorial representation of my life in London.

Starting on the left, are socks that I purchased in a supermarket after being discharged from hospital. I was homeless and living in a hotel room paid for by the NHS, because I had only just recovered from a failed suicide attempt but the hospital needed their bed back.

Next is the spotty sock. This sock was bought when I had been homeless and nearly died a few more times, but then got myself back on my feet (sic.) - I was working again. I had just enough money left to be able to get a new suit, which was very understated and plain, so these socks were my act of rebelion - thumbing my nose at the grim reaper and saying "Ha! I cheated death and destitution".

Then comes the stripey sock. This sock was bought when I was living out of a hotel room again. I'd run away to Ireland when my life had fallen apart, and the loving family of a friend I'd met in a hostel, pieced me back together again and sent me home to the UK a new man. I had no money anymore, so I was living on business expenses, out of a suitcase and back in a hotel. This sock represents the insecurity of the time - I needed to keep my big mouth shut and not be so loud until I had money again. This sock represents a tiny bit of humility, but still some resistance to playing by the rules.

Finally comes the Burgundy sock. This sock was bought when I finally remembered how to fit in and conform; to take perverse pleasure in spending an entire week at work, blending in to my surroundings and being completely unnoticed. That's what big corporations want - they want you to fit in or fuck off. This sock represents complete capitulation. I needed the money: I had rent to pay, friends to pay back, pay bills and I had depleted my savings. My back was against the wall again, so this time I didn't push my luck. I was the corporate chameleon.

Each of these socks has lost its partner and will be discarded. I can't anticipate a time when I would be so desperate for some kind of foot covering, that I would be reduced to wearing odd socks, which would so blatantly not be a premeditated fashion decision. People would judge me as having 'problems' if I was seen wearing any combination of these lone socks.

Big bag

Here is the entirety of my wardrobe, for at least 3 months; maybe even a year. Who knows? A pair of jeans will last for 3 or 4 years. I wear my clothes until they're just rags. I was feeling stressed and anxious about transporting everything I need in my life, across the country, but now I've seen a huge pile of clothes fit into this suitcase I feel tiny and insignificant. Isn't my life so small, that you could snuff it out and nobody would even notice? I could disappear and hardly leave a trace.

Of course, I've been aggressively selling, recycling, giving away or throwing away anything I never use or wear. Like Occam and his razor, I have been shaving away parts of my life, little by little, until all that's left is the very bare minimum. Minimum Viable Person (MVP) - that's me.

I feel guilty, of course, that my ecological footprint (sic.) is still so big, as I dispose of enormous amounts of mass-produced crap, and it will probably end up in landfill. Clothes, particularly, are manufactured so unbelievably cheaply, and imported so vastly that the per capita amount of clothing is enough to allow our entire nation to cease doing any washing and just buy new clothes when the old ones get dirty. We're living in the age of disposable fashion. I don't even know why I'm taking a huge suitcase of clothes on such a long journey, when I could buy a similar size bagful of Primark garments, for the same price as the luggage, which I bought to transport my much more expensive, higher quality wardrobe.

I'm absolutely on the ragged edge of how much stress I can stand, having never set foot in the city I'm about to travel hundreds of miles to, or the apartment where I am to spend at least the next few months. I've had nearly 2 years where, despite everything, I've had at least one stable constant: my apartment in the city I've known longer than any place on Earth. I can navigate to and from any two parts of this densely populated and hugely diverse metropolis, with pure instinct, which has developed over the years. Even though the river meanders and is an absolutely useless reference point, I still know which way is North, when bridges and tunnels go North-South, East-West and West-East, assuming you're North of the river... which you will be if you've got any class and style.

It should be a happy moment, to be so unencumbered by material possessions, family ties and the considerations of a life partner; every lone sock that I cast aside should lighten the weight of my soul, but I've not made my mark on the world yet. Who am I and why should you even care that I once lived?

Maybe I'm the odd sock. I don't fit in. I don't pair up. I don't play nice with the others, so I should fuck off because I don't fit in.

That's the way I feel right now.

 

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Time Away From Work

18 min read

This is a story about sick leave...

Kidney operation

On my very first week at my very first full-time proper job after college - working for British Aerospace - my friends talked me into pulling a sickie so that we could go to Alton Towers for the day. This was 1997 and I didn't yet have a mobile phone. I had to call my boss from a payphone in the car park of Alton Towers. You could hear people screaming with terror, as a rollercoaster thundered by, not far away from where I was making this tense phonecall.

I didn't make a habit of throwing a sickie. I moved to the town where I worked, so I could wake up late and walk to work. My boss was quite relaxed about me turning up late, as long as the work was getting done.

No sooner had I moved to Dorchester, then BAe decided to send me off to the Defence Evaluation and Research Agency (DERA) on Portsdown Hill, near Portsmouth. A friend and colleague, who became my boss for this project, would come into my maisonette every morning and coax me out of bed. The early morning starts were agonising, especially if I had spent the weekend clubbing in London and was recovering from drug-fuelled all-night dancing. My body clock was sent haywire, but because I was only 18, I suppose I could just about cope.

I didn't have another sick day with BAe or DERA, or with the next company I moved to Winchester to work for. When I worked for Research Machines near Oxford, I even managed to get to work during the petrol crisis. I was allowed a day off when snow pretty much paralysed the country, and I went sledging in Haslemere, Surrey.

As an IT contractor by now, I realised I could use the time off between contracts to do cool stuff. I went on a week-long RYA Day Skipper course, to learn how to sail cruising yachts. I spent time with family in Devon, and did my interviews over the phone.

The dot com crash and 9/11 were rather unsettling events, so I decided to take a permanent job with HSBC, who are one of the more conservative banks. The interview process was exhaustive, testing my literacy, numeracy, reasoning and a bunch of other aptitude tests, and a grilling from various managers. "Why do you want a permanent job when you're earning good money contracting?" they asked. "Why do you want to work in banking, now that the bonuses aren't so good?" they puzzled.

HSBC Asset Management had a very familial feel to it. They had a policy of hiring a lot of former London Irish rugby players, and Surrey and Middlesex cricketers. If you were accepted, they would look after you. There was camaraderie. There was true team spirit. There was also copious amounts of drinking.

Somehow I got through some 4+ years at HSBC without pulling a fake sickie. One weekend, I ate far too many magic mushrooms, and then a team in Hong Kong phoned me up to ask why millions of pounds worth of equities settlement messages were stuck in a queue and were not being processed. The backs of my hands looked like playing cards, the walls were throbbing and swaying and everything was bathed in bright green light. I made my excuses and quickly phoned a trusted colleague, begging him to handle the support call for me, because I had accidentally gotten a bit too pissed. He laughed and I got away with it.

I had a persistent tickly cough that was annoying me. I had read somewhere that dextromethorphan - the cough suppressant - could make you have a psychedelic trip if you took enough, so I rang my boss, and said that my cough was so bad I couldn't come to work. I then downed 3 bottles of cough syrup, containing DXM. I got precisely zero thrills out of that particular mad caper.

Moving to JPMorgan, I had the perfect job. I used to work mornings and evenings, and go kitesurfing during the day. I say 'work' but what I really mean is that I used to turn the volume up really loud on my laptop, so if somebody sent me a message or an email, it would wake me up and I could see whether I needed to deal with it. JPMorgan were really cool with people working from home, especially if you were supporting their live systems, which was mainly my job at first.

I loved that job at JPMorgan, and never pulled any sickies. In fact, I would often work weekends and late nights. I was pissed a lot of the time, and there were plenty of Friday afternoons in the pub where we never went back to the office except to get our coats and laptops on our way home, but that was the culture. Work hard, play hard.

Switching to New Look - the high-street fast fashion clothing retailer - I had a long commute to Weymouth every day and they didn't really know what they wanted me to do. I spent a day working in a store, which was interesting. I spent a couple of days at their distribution centre, watching the boxes of clothes arrive from the sweatshops, and the stock being sent out to the stores. I spent some time trying to understand what the hell they wanted to do as a business, and what the hell I was supposed to do about enabling it. Eventually, I broke down and decided I couldn't face the commute. I couldn't face the job. I couldn't face anything.

Three days off... no problem... just fill in a self-certification of sickness absence form when you get back to the office.

Four or more days off... got to go to the doctor and get signed off: get a sick note.

It started with two weeks off. Then a couple more. Then I couldn't even face going to see the doctor any more.

I found out what happens if you just stop turning up for work, sending in your sick notes, answering your phone... anything. I just disappeared. The company gets scared that they're going to get taken to some tribunal and found guilty of making somebody so stressed and unwell that they can no longer work. The company is scared it's going to cost loads of money and be hard to get rid of you, so they offer you a cash payment to fuck off quietly, promising you a good reference if you just resign.

With my JPMorgan bonus, my payoff from New Look and my iPhone App income, I was having a pretty bloody good year financially, despite being laid low with depression for a couple of months. I would have continued to take time off, but my phone rang and it was an agent with a contract in Poole: about a 20 minute drive from my house. I interviewed and got the job. I was the highest paid contractor in the company, which was a joke because the company mainly did Microsoft work, and I'd specialised in completely different technology. I actually bumped into another contractor I knew - Bob - and I felt bad that I was earning more than he was, because he taught me so much and he was so much older and more experienced. Oh well, the arrogance of youth, eh?

Anyway, my boss was this cool French guy who liked the fact I could speak colloquial French quite well, so he used to send me over to their main office in Besançon very often. It was great in the winter, because I could go snowboarding in a little place just outside Geneva, before flying home. Me and a friend bought a boat and used to go wakeboarding during our lunch hour. I took my boss out on my boat. I took one of my colleagues out sea fishing. Life was pretty sweet. However, I got bored and started claiming I had illnesses like swine flu, so I could take some time off work. I took so much time off sick, that my boss asked if I really wanted the contract anymore. I admitted that I didn't, so we parted company amicably. I partly needed to get away from an annoying guy with a ginger beard who I had to work with, who irritated the shit out of me.

I then became a full-time electrician. At first, I let the customers choose when I would do the work, and filled my diary up with lots of random jobs. Then, I learned that I could block time out, to give myself a break whenever I wanted. I could tell customers that I was booked up in the mornings, so I didn't have to get up early. It should have been a dream job, which allowed me to go kitesurfing whenever I wanted, but by this stage my relationship was on the rocks and I was depressed and stressed as hell. I didn't do much of anything. I sold my share of the boat. I started to get out of my depth with the work that I was taking on.

After becoming too sick to work, I had a couple of months doing nothing, and then a tiny bit of holiday cover work for a friend turned into some iPhone development work, which then exploded into my idea for a startup: Roam Solutions. I decided to create a software house specialising in mobile apps for enterprise. I threw together a hunk of junk proof of concept and we exhibited at the Learning Technologies conference, at Olympia. Somehow, in the space of a couple of months, there was a working app on iPhone and Blackberry, a fancy website and some glossy brochures. A whole exhibition stand had to be designed and built, allowing people to play with the phones but not steal them. There was so much branding to do. So much design.

I wasn't actually that passionate about what Roam Solutions did, which turned out to be mostly digital agency work. Rebranding as mePublish, then Hubflow; rewriting all the software and creating an Android version - those were momentary distractions. Sales meetings were stressful. Supporting your software 24x7 with just you and a mate is stressful. Getting any money out of our customers was like getting blood out of a fucking stone.

We managed to get about £16k out of a couple of customers and raised another £10k by selling a few percent of the company's shares. In return, me and my mate got to go on a 13-week 'accelerator' program. The program was fantastic fun, but exhausting. By the end, I didn't turn up for a couple of days because I was 'sick'. The truth was, I was burnt out.

I should have swapped roles with my business partner. He made a great CEO in the end, when I stepped down. Anyway, I just disappeared for months, and my friend helped to tidy up the mess and calm the shareholders down. I was almost out of cash. I needed a job.

I went to work for a company that helped people who'd got into debt problems. Not one of those debt consolidation places - we actually wrote to the creditors and negotiated debt-write offs, freezing the interest and lower repayments. We helped people avoid bankruptcy or IVAs. It was a cool company, but they wanted me to be IT director without actually vesting me in or letting me sit on the board. I wrote them a brilliant IT roadmap. They ignored it. I had an argument with the CEO. I went off on a sickie. The private equity firm that owned the company liked me and sacked the CEO. But then I got paid off because I couldn't face going back. The following year, I was at a conference, and there was the bloody CEO of the parent company, who'd followed my fucking IT roadmap to the letter, telling the delegates how well it worked. I felt proud, vindicated, but also I know deep down that it would have taken a lot of hard work to implement, and I was no part of that, so I can't really claim credit.

After the London Olympics, I went back to JPMorgan. I was not a well man. I was limping along.

I managed to fix one of JPMorgan's major issues that was threatening to cause a major catastrophe - front page of the Financial Times stuff - and then I disappeared, never to be seen again. I got a phonecall from my boss, saying I'd received an extra bonus in recognition of the important work that I'd done. I felt like a fraud, thanking him for that, but knowing that I was so sick that I wouldn't be able to go back to work.

My GP signed me off for 5 weeks, and my first thought was literally this: "I can get fucked up on drugs for 4 weeks and have 1 week to recover enough to go back to work."

There was The Priory. There was the separation from my wife. There was the realisation that the rumours of my mental health and drug problems were well known to everybody I knew in Bournemouth and Poole. It's a small place. I used to ride a tiny folding bicycle invented by Sir Clive Sinclair, for the 10 minute trip to work, but yet this had not escaped the notice of all kinds of people whose path I crossed. I was becoming known as a rather odd and eccentric character - a nutty professor; a madman; a drunk; a junkie. It was time to go somewhere so big that those kind of labels couldn't follow me around: London.

I put my back out picking up my niece to put her on the swings at the playground, so I had a week working flat on my back at home, while I was working for Barclays. I started to slowly relapse into taking legal highs, and ended up taking another week off, where I rewrote the entire software system we were working on in a nonstop hackathon without sleep. It rather made a mockery of the whole project, as well as terrifying the hell out of the architects.

At HSBC, I had a full on meltdown after my first week, realising that it was impossible to work a demanding contract while living in a hostel. Somehow, I managed to get away with a week off work, thanks to my sister ringing my boss and making excuses for me. I did also have half a day off because I was so dreadfully hung over once. I wasn't going to bother at all, but my boss persistently phoned me. I reeked of booze, as I turned up at my desk at 2:30pm.

At a well-known leading consultancy, working for the world's biggest security firm, I didn't take any time off at all. I was a little late on a couple of occasions, and had to ask one of my team to run my morning meeting on my behalf, but I was mostly a reliable little worker bee. It helped that I had a whole week-long holiday: my first relaxing week-long break for over 3 years.

I was all set to start a new contract with a well known high-street bank, who I once worked for when I was 20 years old and Canary Wharf was mostly just a building site. However, I knackered my leg, which caused my foot to swell up and my kidneys to fail. I had to pull a sickie on the very first day. Thankfully, they've waited two weeks for me to get better; most of which I've spent on a high-dependency hospital ward, having dialysis. My leg is still fucked.

And so, I go back to work tomorrow, limping along with my robocop ankle brace and doped up on tramadol. I've got one reliable reference from the last couple of years. HSBC hate my guts. Most people at Barclays were shocked and appalled that my contract was terminated early, and my boss lost his job over his decision to fire me, but do you think I can get a good reference? Who knows.

I should have paid my rent 10 days ago. I just told the taxman that he's not getting any VAT off me for a whole quarter, and he fucking hates that. I have no idea what my bank balance is, but I'm sure that what little money I have is being frittered away at a frighteningly quick rate.

However.

I could possibly delay a few weeks and get another contract. I could have stayed in hospital, letting them do their blood tests and fretting over my kidneys - which have proven resilient so many times before - and waiting patiently for them to finally take a look at my original complaint: my fucked foot/ankle/leg. It feels like I've torn a bunch of ligaments and muscle. It feels like my old injury has suffered major complications.

But, two weeks work gives me the best part of 3 months rent. If I can limp through the contract, I go from zero to hero. I've been so depressed about having to watch the pennies and not being able to treat my girlfriend to romantic dinners and whisk us off to exotic locations, or at least make plans to have fun. My plans have all been focussed on stopping the ship from sinking.

You might think I'm mad to take such a risk with my health, but mental health is part of it. Stress is part of it. Money and the need to not run out of it, is something that has to be considered. I don't trust myself: that I'm able to knuckle down and get on with the job. I did a good job of keeping my mouth shut in my last contract and it sorted me out financially a bit. This is my chance to continue that streak of improvement, if I can hold my shit together despite my health being a bit iffy. This is my chance to get in front. This is my chance to reduce all that stress and those worries and that anxiety and that depression about having to be super careful with money.

Anyway, let's see what happens tomorrow, eh? Let's see how sympathetic people are, about the fact that I've just been discharged from a high-dependency hospital ward, where I narrowly avoided chronic kidney failure, which would have meant having to have a kidney transplant and all the rest of that kind of shit. My leg is fucked, but I've found some contraption that allows me to get around without crutches. Still though, it looks like I broke my ankle or something. Surely, I've got to get cut a bit of slack, given what I've been through.

But, it doesn't work like that with IT contracting. Nobody owes me anything. The contract is between my company and another company. It's not an employment contract. It's a contract that says my company will provide consultancy services to their company - I could send anybody I think is qualified. I could hire somebody on minimum wage, train them, and send them to go do the job in my place, and I'd earn just as much money. However, the client doesn't really want somebody like me. They want me and they want me tomorrow at the latest, otherwise they'll just find somebody else. London's not short of talent. It was an extremely kind personal favour, that they waited this long for me to get better.

It's going to be horrible, starting work in pain and so exhausted from the nights in hospital where you're repeatedly disturbed by patients yelling out in pain, nurses coming to measure your blood pressure and take your temperature, and phlebotomists coming to take blood samples. They wake you up at 7am for the crappy breakfast of dry bread and marmalade. It's going to be a struggle to stay awake at my desk, especially with all the pain medication I'm taking.

So, it might all go to shit anyway, but at least I tried. I could have taken my sweet time over everything, and let the hospital string me along, but eventually, I can't cope with the frustration anymore: the lack of control, when your destiny is in the hands of somebody who doesn't even know what they're looking at. Somebody who's hiring because there's a knowledge gap in their organisation: they're hiring somebody who knows what they don't know, so how can they know that the person they're hiring knows what they know? So many stupid interviews, where the interviewer just wants to talk about the lame crap that they have just about managed to memorise. So tedious. In the end, intolerable.

I'm falling asleep and it's 5 o'clock and I didn't wake up until after 10:30am. Tomorrow's going to be fucking awful. But, think of the money. Just think of the money.

 

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The Dickhead of Docklands

9 min read

This is a story about the wanker of the wharf...

Canary Wharf towers

London's financial services sector is the gift that keeps on giving. Through Y2K, the dot com bubble bursting, 9/11, 7/7 and the credit crunch, the good times never stopped rolling.

I'm now experiencing deja vu. My very first contract in Docklands was at Harbour Exchange, working for Lloyds TSB. I wore a shirt with cufflinks shaped like taps. I thought I epitomised the height of business fashion. In my defence, I was only 20 years old.

As I look around the glimmering tower blocks on the wharf, and look at their revolving doors leading into their fancy foyers, I realise that I've done at least two tours with so many of the companies: HSBC, JPMorgan, Barclays, Lloyds and others too.

It's good that these places will have me back. Why wouldn't they? I left on good terms, with great references and a bunch of people who'd remember me and some of the things I did when I was there.

But, I've started to burn bridges.

I know how to play the game and keep my mouth shut; not rock the boat. I know that the whole banking world keeps you hostage with golden handcuffs. You're ridiculously well paid, so you try to silence the voices in your head that say: what we're doing here is just not ethical.

You can immerse yourself in the propaganda, that says that the financial products that we offer are greasing the wheels of commerce, but you know that deep down, most of what you're doing is helping the rich to hide their wealth and shield it from taxation. When you ask your customer what their source of wealth is, they're not exactly going to say that it's sweatshops and drugs, are they? They're not exactly going to confess that their family is wealthy because they embezzled a load of money, leaving their fellow citizens starving.

Even a close friend, who seems reasonably ethical banker, has helped his father - a judge - to hide the family wealth in an offshore trust. They had some problems proving that they controlled the money, in order to get a mortgage, but the bank was eventually satisfied. The people who work in banks are outsmarting the ones who work for the regulators and the taxman, so that's why the rich pay very little tax, while the poor shoulder the burden of social programs. Socialism for the rich and capitalism for the poor.

Am I a hypocrite? Am I ungrateful, when I bite the hand that feeds me? Well, the easy defence is just to say that if I didn't do my job, somebody else would. Isn't it better that I'm on the inside, trying to make things better, than on the outside where I would have very little power and influence. I could easily throw my clogs into the loom, if I thought that was the right thing to do.

Fintech is a conflation of financial and technology. Fintech tends to mean the challenger banks and ecosystem that exists outside of the long-standing institutions. Arguably, I've been working on Fintech - financial services technology - since 1998, but yet I might get mocked by my startup buddies as working for dinosaurs. Indeed, one well-respected friend from the venture capital world, even wrote a blog post which suggested that my return to Canary Wharf was an admission of defeat; a failure.

do feel like a failure. Even though I just secured yet another contract for yet another massive bank, doing some cool stuff with AI and other bleeding-edge tech, and I'm going to be exceedingly well remunerated, I still feel like I sold out. I'm also really worried about my chequered past catching up with me. Instead of popping a champagne cork in celebration of my new role, last night, instead I have butterflies in my tummy and I'm incredibly anxious about getting everything signed, starting the job and making a good first impression, without any hiccups.

My self-assured manner and my self-confidence has all been destroyed, replaced instead with self-doubt. I started looking for a new contract on the 30th of November, and it took all this time to get one. I take that pretty personally, and I worry that I'm not a competitive candidate anymore: I'm not making the grade, amongst the other contractors in the market.

Obviously, when I actually start working these contracts, I realise that there's a real lack of tech pedigree and good leadership. I realise that there is a need for my skills and experience, and I can add value.

However, I struggle to play the game anymore. I struggle to keep my mouth shut for the benefit of my career and my bank balance. I struggle to let things go, for my own personal benefit. When I see wrongdoing and incompetence, I feel that I have a responsibility to the general public, to not just turn a blind eye. I feel like I have to act ethically... not because the regulators are watching, but because it's the right thing to do.

I struggle to do the work anymore. I don't enjoy tech for tech's sake. Often times I don't really believe that tech is improving anything. Most projects are doing the same kinds of things that have been done time and time again, for years. You'd have thought that if we were solving real problems, we'd have solved them already and moved on to something more useful, like finding a cure for cancer. The banking problem - debit account A and credit account B - is not a hard one to solve.

Who the hell am I, to sit idle for the whole month of November, writing a novel instead of trying to get a job. Who am I to arrogantly assume that I'll be able to win another lucrative contract, instead of getting a regular job like everybody else does? Who am I to only work 4 or 5 months of the year? Who the hell do I think I am?

Well, you're welcome to hate me if you like. I'm a banker; a capitalist pig; a lickspittle of the wealthy elites who cause so much human misery.

However, I'm an ideological misfit. I know that I'm well remunerated, but I don't confuse that with value. I don't feel valuable, I feel like I'm wasting my time building stuff that doesn't help; it hinders. I feel bribed into doing a job, because I need the money. Aren't we all? Yes, so why work a job that's just as pointless, but get paid a lot less? Do you think that by depriving that massive corporation of yourself, you're hurting them?

Arguably, if we were to all take an ethical stance with our employment, and refuse to work for weapons manufacturers and banks, we would starve them of the manpower they need to function. However, humanity responds to incentives: if you couldn't buy guns, somebody would start sharpening pointy sticks and selling them; if you couldn't get a bank loan, loan sharks would lend money.

The problem is when you follow a set of rules to their ultimate conclusion, you get some undesirable outcomes. Free-market capitalism might work when you're conquering the Wild West and building all the critical infrastructure to colonise the New World, but what about when it's all done, and populations start exploding? Is it right that being born into wealth or poverty is not a choice: inherited wealth and ownership determine everything.

If we pressed the 'reset' button and set all the bank balances to be the same, how many would lose and how many would gain? Yes, it's unfair that some who've worked very hard would lose out, but what about those who think it's unfair that their inherited wealth shouldn't be subjected to a Robin Hood tax? Surely it's more unfair that some people have a lifelong trust fund income, while others have to flip burgers and still can't afford to raise their families. Surely, there are more people who would benefit, than lose.

So, eventually I arrive at the conclusion that we need to have debt forgiveness, or else civilisation will be destroyed. I mean, what are the wealthy even doing with all their ill-gotten gains? It's dog in a manger behaviour that's the problem here, not jealousy.

In the rigged system we've built, success is not about hard work. The fable of the girl who swept the factory floor being promoted up the career ladder until she was eventually the CEO, is total horse-shit. We know that all the best jobs go to wealthy men from a handful of powerful families. You could bust your ass your whole life, and still have nothing to show for it except the little plastic stars on your McDonalds name badge.

To say "twas ever thus" and blame human nature, is disingenuous. You don't have to look very hard to see that civilisations rise and fall, based on the satisfaction of the hoi polloi. It doesn't matter how high you build the walls: when enough people want to smash down your defences, you'll find that even the most robust barriers are too flimsy to protect you.

What do we really believe in? What cause are we fighting for?

The top echelons of society are wealthy enough to have their every whim catered for, but what do they believe in? How many of our rulers are passionately engaged in the pursuit of something more meaningful than money?

I wanted to save up and buy a house. I wanted luxury holidays and fine dining. I had become totally bourgeois.

If we leave noble causes - like the search for scientific knowledge, world peace and hunger - to a handful of charity workers, while we ourselves fret about buying a bigger house or another boat, then our most educated and powerful portion of society is consumed by the consumer economy, which is intent only on separating fools from their money.

Western civilisation will fall, as if knocked over by a feather, because we believe in nothing.

 

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