My house has high ceilings but I've still managed to reach the ceiling with my mountain of cardboard packaging, mostly from all the Ikea furniture I've bought. Arguably, I'm getting by with the bare minimum amount of furniture. What's the minimum amount of furniture that you could have, and lead a fairly normal life?
I lived out of suitcases and holdalls for a long time, so it seems reasonable to want a wardrobe - for hanging garments - and a chest of drawers for my other clothes. I'm sick of rummaging in bags to find the clothes I want.
I have a guest bed. It might seem like a real luxury to have a guest bedroom at all, but what was the point of working so hard for so long, if I'm not able to accomodate guests in my own home? Sure, I could rent a room in a shared house, share a kitchen, share a bathroom... but I spent enough years putting up with other people's disgustingness and inconsiderate behaviour. I think I'm entitled to a place of my own, with some space for friends and my sister to come and stay with me.
I have two sofas and a coffee table. I could probably get along alright with just one sofa but at some point I was going to want a matching pair and there's no guarantee that Ikea would have kept manufacturing the model I bought, so it made sense to buy the second sofa. Also, it does mean I can seat guests without us all having to be cramped onto the one sofa. I don't think it seems particularly profligate to own two sofas.
I managed to live for about 18 months without a microwave, iron, vacuum cleaner and various other domestic items, but it is rather tiresome not having these household basics. Yes, I did manage to survive without those things, but I could hardly be accused of being a spendthrift for purchasing such mundane objects.
In amongst the packaging pile of Mount Cardboard are some large lumps of polystyrene, which protected my washer/dryer during delivery. I'll accept that the dishwasher - which I did not purchase - is a luxury item that I could easily live without, but I refuse to wash my clothes by hand using a washboard and mangle. Using the dryer is horrendously energy inefficient and I have been good at taking advantage of nice weather to hang my washing out to dry, but sometimes it's incredibly nice to fill the machine with dirty laundry, push a button, and then have dry clothes ready to wear some hours later - requiring virtually zero effort.
The sum total amount of money I've spent vastly exceeds what I expected, even though I have bought bottom-of-the-range items most of the time. One must remember that I was starting my life afresh - a clean slate - with virtually no possessions, and the innumerable items which you use in normal daily life shouldn't be underestimated.
I bought items which could be seen as serving a purely decorative purchase, like lamps for my lounge and bedrooms, and shelves for the bathroom. I bought a bath mat and some pillows. I bought a pair of curtains. I bought some little organiser boxes. I even bought a couple of outdoor chairs to sit in the sun and read my book, in the privacy of my own garden. My life would function without these things, or I could make do with what I've got, but there's an intangible value to having a house with some finishing touches which make it feel homely; inviting.
If things should go horribly wrong somehow, with the benefit of hindsight some might criticise me for having set up my home relatively quickly - in under two months - instead of being much more cautious about the rate I have been spending money. I would counteract that argument by saying that this lovely home is my reward for having struggled through the years in shared houses, hostels, sleeping rough, months in hospital and generally unsettled existence which led me to the point of having no furniture, and very little else which is necessary to make a house a home.
It pleases me when I open a cupboard to find that I had the foresight to buy tea and coffee for the benefit of any visitors, because I do not drink tea or coffee myself. It pleases me when I'm able to offer a guest a hot beverage of their choice, with milk and/or sugar too. It might sound laughable, the idea of living a life where I simply wasn't in a position to have friends or my sister stop and visit, but that's what my life has been like - we quickly take our lives for granted and get used to our surroundings.
It will be a relief to take Mount Cardboard to my nearest recycling centre. It will be great to reclaim that space and not have the ugly eyesore, but I do have a final wave of Ikea furniture, which I have delayed for now because I have the bare minimum to be able to comfortably accomodate one guest or a couple. At some point, I would like to be able to have the space to have visitors and their kids too, given that most of my friends have children, and I have a young niece.
To say that having a great big house that's empty most of the time is hugely wasteful is a valid criticism, but this is my reward for working hard and making good sensible choices. This is how I'm making sense of the world, because I was struggling to see the point of being alive, if I was not seeing any benefit from my efforts.
I guess for most ordinary people, they get a "treat" occasionally - they have to spend their meagre income little by little - but I've gotten an entire furnished house suddenly overnight, but that's not really a fair comparison. I assure you that when you have no bed to sleep on at all, getting a bed seems like a necessity, not a treat.
I'm beginning to live very well, and I am grateful; I am happy. I am beginning to feel contented and settled.
One day you can't feel your leg. One day a leg is twice the size of the other one. One day your kidneys have stopped working. One day you're in agony from muscle and nerve damage caused by DVT. One day you're in hospital on dialysis and you're very sick. One day you're physically dependent on a medication which you've been buying on the black market, and you'll have seizures if you stop taking it. One day you're so addicted to a drug that you won't sleep, eat or drink, because you don't want to stop your binge for a single second. One day you're virtually bankrupt. One day you're homeless. One day you're jobless. One day your mental health is so bad that you're hearing voices, seeing things and you're paranoid about everybody and everything, to the point where you think even the person who loves you the most in the world is your enemy.
Then, overnight, you recover.
Overnight, all your physical health problems are cured.
Overnight, your mental health problems are cured.
Overnight, all your substance dependency - addiction - problems are solved.
Overnight, you have a house.
Overnight, you have a job.
Overnight, your debts are repaid.
Overnight, you have lots of money.
I was rummaging in the boxes of stuff which managed to survive the chaotic years of my life and I found a pair of flip-flops with a piece of string tied to them. The string is there because I couldn't feel my foot and I couldn't control its movement - I couldn't walk properly. When I was walking in flip-flops, the left one would just fall off after ten or twenty steps, because I didn't have enough feeling in my toes to be able to 'grip' the flip-flop properly. The string was my improvised attempt to be able to wear my beloved flip-flops during some nice weather.
My attempt at using a piece of string to fix my inability to wear flip-flops was a lovely metaphor for the attempts I was making to solve all my problems, overnight.
That was two years ago.
Things got a lot worse before they got better.
Things were so bad that on the very worst day of my life, I woke up in an hospital intensive care ward, with a tube down my throat forcing air into my lungs, a tube up my nose and into my stomach, forcing activated charcoal and other things into me, 6 canulas all for pumping me full of various things, an arterial canula for measuring my blood pressure with incredible accuracy, plus I was attached to an 8-cable ECG machine, a clip on my finger measured my blood oxygen and I had been catheterised - I noticed that a tube coming out of my penis had been taped to the inside of my leg. The worst thing was that I was alive.
I did not want to be alive.
I had tried very hard not to be alive.
Physically I was alive, but I was still very sick - my kidneys and other organs had shut down and I had been in a coma - and I was also going through benzodiazepine withdrawal, which is both life-threatening and thoroughly unpleasant.
I was alive, but it turned out I didn't have a job or a home anymore.
I was single and without any friends. I was in a strange city where I didn't know anybody. I didn't have enough money to rent a place to live and support myself until I got my first paycheque. I was utterly screwed.
So, of course I still very much wanted to be dead.
Now, I have a nice house, full of nice things. I've made some friends and I've met some women. I go on dates. Sometimes those dates go really well. I have a job. I earn a lot of money. My finances are sorted out. I'm no longer addicted to drugs or physically dependent on medication. I hardly even drink - perhaps once a week, socially.
I can wear flip-flops.
Weirdly, the nerve damage repaired itself enough so that I have enough sensation in my foot to be able to wear flip-flops, run, go kitesurfing and do the other things I always used to do.
I don't know if I'm happy - there's still a lot of insecurity in my life; I live with an unacceptable amount of jeopardy for a person to have to suffer. I don't have enough friends in the local area. I don't have a girlfriend. I haven't established myself in my new home city. I've barely even started to unpack my stuff.
Compared with two years ago, my life does look like an overnight success. I'm good at my job and my colleagues are grateful for my contribution to the team and the project. The pieces of the puzzle are starting to fit together, and my life is beginning to look viable.
It's strange how people expect to be able to 'save' people who - on closer examination - have such a clusterf**k of issues that it's easy why some would think they're a "lost cause" and abandon them.
I'm grateful to that handful of people who didn't give up on me; who didn't write me off and abandon me.
I like eating in expensive restaurant. I like flying business class. I like staying in luxury hotels. I like not checking my bank balance; not budgeting.
What gives me the right to live so lavishly?
My grip on reality is tenuous. My sanity is questionable. I certainly have no certification to 'prove' my intellect. My curriculum vitae hides the truth of the past 6 years of my life, because I was wily enough to start a company to paper over any cracks, but closer scrutiny would reveal lots of gaps.
I should be penniless scum, abandoned by society and left to rot in the gutter.
Certainly, I've survived the unsurvivable because I'm creditworthy and I've borrowed, in order to maintain a certain standard of living. No grotty bedsit for me. No squat with newspaper covering the windows and a filthy mattress on the floor. If I've decided that I'm going to work hard and attempt to rescue myself from certain bankruptcy and destitution, then I've always demanded to have a nice place to live.
It seems spoiled and entitled.
To me, I simply can't see the point in existing in a miserable state. What's the point of being alive if it's going to be so lacking in dignity? Sure, plenty of people live in dire poverty and they go about their business quietly and without complaint. Good for them. That's not for me.
It seems like an unreasonable expectation. Why should somebody who's so heavily indebted be allowed to never check their bank balance and enjoy a high standard of living? Why should somebody who's had problems with addiction, alcoholism and mental health be allowed to have lovely holidays, live in a big house and generally spend money with gay abandon?
I have complete irreverence for money.
Money answers none of the big philosophical questions, such as: why are we here? Money contributes nothing to our fundamental understanding of the universe. Money does not figure in the big picture. Money is not even a rounding error. Money is simply an absurd transient concept, amongst a transient society of a transient species. Money is nothing in the face of death.
I suppose that's the root of my views on money - that I've faced death so many times that I have no fear of running out of money. Money is simply invented out of thin air, and is something to be laughed at as ridiculous, but death is widely regarded as a permanent and irreversible state. Why should I fear running out of money when I can always go and get some more? I can pluck money out of thin air, because it's just a fabricated human construct. Death however, is something which has certainly proven fatal to more than 100 billion souls thus far, so it deserves a certain amount of respect.
It's because I value life and respect death, that money is an irrelevance. It would have been nice to embed myself in an academic institution, where my mind could have been occupied with silly puzzles and other trivial things. I could have busied myself telling a captive audience of children incorrect things, with an air of authority. Instead I have embedded myself in massive organisations, who remunerate me excessively to compensate for the absurdity of the so-called 'work' they ask me to do. I'm paid to be bored and unfulfilled - living an inauthentic life - so my compensation is to be able to do enviable things and live relatively unconcerned with financial matters.
As you might imagine, recovering from debt, mental illness and addiction is not quick and easy. We are quick to write people off, because of the vast amount of time and money required for a person to recover. We think that junkies - in particular - are no-hopers who will not be able to overcome the adversity they face, in order to return to a normal life.
I don't want a normal life.
I had a good life before and I want to have a good life again. I'm not going to settle for simply being alive. I want it all. I want everything.
I've committed the cardinal sin of spending a substantial sum of money that I haven't earned yet. Compounding my error is the fact that I have been dreadfully unwell for the last week, and was not able to work. I've quickly moved myself from a precarious position - living in hotels - to one that appears to have more certainty about it. It would take considerable effort to eject me and my belongings, now that I have arrived, and I've got a load of furniture now too. However, I now find myself in the position which I tried to work very hard to avoid: Worrying about job security.
I'm not really that worried.
I waited a long time for my home and my income to come back into alignment. I suffered too many nights lived out of a suitcase. I suffered too many different hotel rooms, bed & breakfasts, AirBnBs and other ad-hoc sleeping arrangements. My favourite clothes were either on my body or in my luggage - never put away in a chest-of-drawers.
Of course, this isn't a self-pity piece. I just watched a feature-length documentary, eating popcorn, reclining on a brand new sofa, under a fluffy blanket and warmed by a log fire. My life is good.
At least, I presume my life is good.
The enormous pressure had broken me a week ago. I was losing my mind. I gambled with my professional reputation: I'm known for being ever-present, always available when somebody needs a question answered. Getting sick was not just unfortunate, but almost definitely an act of self-sabotage.
I had my ducks so nicely lined up, that I could only see two outcomes: I would get everything I wanted, or disaster would strike and I'd lose it all. Easier to prompt the latter outcome into existence, than to sit and patiently wait for things to be OK.
The intensity of what I had planned for a 4-day period was ferocious, and intended to limit my loss of earnings due to domestic errands in the course of house moving. What actually happened was that I put so much pressure on myself that I lost my mind, and began to do things which could have become a cascading, escalating, spiralling catastrophe.
My body 'let me down' in a way that it has often done, where my muscles start to disintegrate and my kidneys are damaged. My urine turns dark brown and it becomes very clear from the sight and smell that I'm beginning to have a medical emergency.
The sensible thing would have been to defer all my plans and go into hospital, but perversely, I decided that I would carry on until complete renal failure. Perversely, it was precisely this outcome - the beginning of the end - that I had superstitiously predicted, but had also prompted into existence.
To the untrained eye it looks as if I'm enjoying a very exciting life of travel and adventure, and my skills are in demand all over the world, but in reality I'm always skating on very thin ice indeed.
It is not advisable to move house, go to new cities, change jobs and have such an unsettled life, without any anchor. Given my estrangement from my family and move away from Dorset, Bournemouth and London, I've found myself in places where I've felt like there's nobody I could phone if I was having a crisis. I'm too distant from everyone who's ever really known me and cared about me. I've become a strange hermit-like reclusive creature, who's always accessible to anybody and everybody, but I've been too loosely anchored to have any meaningful relationship with.
Of the two friends I saw the most of last year, one lives in idyllic domestic bliss with his beautiful family - a very firmly anchored man - while the other one is dead: A man who found himself very alone and very far from the vast majority of people who knew him and cared about him.
I must be careful that I now proceed to live my life with the anchor of a city I call home, a house, relationships and things of some permanence, because I can see that all-too-easily I could wind up dead, like my friend. I've made some difficult decisions which make me far less resilient to life's unexpected changes - far less adaptable - but I'm going to make my 4th attempt at building the life I want.
I once had a beautiful girlfriend who was devoted and loyal and everything I ever wanted, and we both had riverside apartments, not far from each other, but on opposite banks of the Thames. There's a foot tunnel which was by far the quickest route between our two amazing homes. All I needed was a job. I got the job I needed, but the patience of waiting for it had somehow damaged me... I self-sabotaged and ended up with kidney failure, spending a long time on dialysis in a high-dependency hospital ward. Still, this was not enough to destroy my life. I kept going down the path which led only to catastrophe, until I got what I wanted: I lost it all.
Regrettable, but nothing can be salvaged except for the lesson learned: That if I really try hard enough, then I can screw up nearly but not quite all my opportunities in life.
The intervening 20+ months have been the harshest part of the lesson, because never once have I been so close to having what I had then. The hardest part has been when I've had clear sight of the route I need to take. When, at least on paper, I've had my future all mapped out and all I have to do is stick to the plan, that's been indescribably awful. It's been such a horrible waiting game.
If your only goal in life is to get things back to at least as good as they once were, it's a pretty miserable state of existence.
I'm not such a fool that I'd attempt any like-for-like replacement of my old life, and I'm also wary of romanticising the past too. Some might say that I tried - and failed - for too long in London, because I had such good memories, from when I first started my career. Friends would tell me that London is too much hard work - too expensive, too busy, too overcrowded and too fast-paced and competitive for anybody but a fit young person.
When my washing machine failed to be delivered today and I had no clean linen for the bed, I got in my car and drove through the city centre, bought what I needed and drove home. In London, such a thing would have been an ordeal, and nobody in their right mind would have attempted to drive through the city centre during rush hour. Of course, I know how to adapt to London - you live your life very differently there - but there is a great sense of relief that things are just easier out here in the provinces. Like, I find nothing very taxing or frustrating, because London is my benchmark. I spend a lot of time marvelling at how very civilised existence can be. All of the very many conveniences available only to London's mega-rich, are at my disposal here in this city, which is but 2 hours train ride away from the Big Smoke.
I felt a huge sense of calm and contentedness descend upon me, as soon as my bed was properly made and I knew I could snuggle under the duvet whenever I felt I wanted or needed to. I can't believe that it's only Saturday, and my lounge and bedroom both feel like they're my home and I belong here. In fact, I often get the sense that I'm not too far away from declaring my life to be as good as it once was.
I'll be going back to work with some trepidation and it will take me a while to feel as though I've undone any damage caused by my self-sabotage. I'll need to get a few more cheques in the bank before I start to relax and let my guard down - to allow myself to think of this life as 'mine'.
I wonder if people think that I demand the impossible and am ungrateful for what I have. I know I've done a lot of moaning and complaining about the discomfort and unpleasantness of living out of a suitcase, and perhaps with retrospect that seems very impatient of me, given that I must surely have known that my efforts woud bear fruit.
Is it very bad of me, that I walk around my beautiful home and I think "this is befitting of the effort expended and the struggle"... almost like I deserve this, which I know sounds despicable. There is no justice in the world, but I still want you to know that I'm sitting here thinking "this worked out the way I wanted it to".
There's still a scary time ahead, while I cement my victory in place, so it can never be unseated, but every day when disaster doesn't strike is another day I can look back on with incredible gratitude, just like I can do for all those days I was in love by the riverside. No regrets.
This is a story about the stuff dreams are made of...
These our actors as I foretold you, were all spirits and are melted into air, into thin air. We are such stuff as dreams are made of and our little life is rounded with a sleep.
Apparently there are 125 identical bedrooms in the hotel where I've lived for most of the last year. There are always 5 pillows: Two soft ones, two firmer ones and a stupid little red one, which serves a purely decorative purpose. There's an ironing board, iron, hairdryer and kettle. There's a writing desk. There's a sofa. There are reading lights which shine directly into your eyes if you don't take the time to move them away from the position they're always left in by the housekeepers. There's a plug in the sink that always need to be pulled out and set aside, otherwise the water won't be able to drain away properly when you wash your hands. There are small pieces of information throughout the room that tell me that I can choose whichever pillows I find comfiest, that there's a place to charge my phone by my bed, and various things that tell me how much they [the hotel] cares about my stay. A place for everything and everything in its place.
How many IKEA beds have I owned? How many have I destroyed? How many have I slept in without mishap? How many times have I found myself discovering that IKEA mattresses are different from the standard UK sizes of double and king-size? How many times have I struggled to squeeze an IKEA mattress into a non-IKEA fitted sheet?
How many different beds have I slept in, during the past 5 years?
I can tell you everything about every kind of bed you're likely to encounter in the National Health Service. There are the beds in the crisis houses and psychiatric wards. There are the beds in ordinary hospital wards. There are the beds in intensive care and high dependency wards. I can tell you how to make yourself comfortable in places where somebody will shine a torch in your face every 15 to 30 minutes at night. I can tell you how to make yourself comfortable somewhere that your blood pressure, body temperature and blood oxygen saturation is being measured every hour. I can tell you how to make yourself comfortable when you have 5 canulas, a catheter and a massive femoral veinous catheter in your groin, which literally has taps you can just twist when you want to empty all the blood out of your body.
I can tell you everything about every kind of bed you're likely to encounter in a hostel full of homeless people. I can tell you about bed bugs and other human parasites. I can tell you about snoring. I can tell you about being in a room with 13 people in various states of drink and drug intoxication, and with the entire spectrum of mental health problems. I can tell you what it's like to realise that somebody rummaged under your pillow, stole your wallet, removed the cash, and replaced it back where they took it from, while you were asleep. I can tell you what it's like to have your bags regularly rummaged through in search of anything valuable. I can tell you what it's like to live for more than a year like that, with no fixed dormitory, no fixed bunk... to get woken up at 8am and told that you've got to move to another room, with another bunch of seemingly randomly-selected people who you'll be spending an unknown number of nights with.
After a while it gets tiresome.
Eventually, you figure out that when you sleep rough, if you're smart about it, then you can stay away from other homeless people, drunks, muggers, rapists and anybody who fancies doing pretty much whatever they want to you at 4:30am, because it's dark and nobody's around. Eventually, you figure out that you can have more consistency and control over your life if you find yourself some bushes or an overgrown back garden of an empty house to set up camp in. You get used to the noise of the dog walkers and the joggers. You get used to the noise of the commuters. You get used to the noise of the students and the tourists. You get used to the do-gooders, who will make their rounds to check on the junkies and the alcoholics, who cluster together in obvious places. You get used to the official-looking vehicles with their headlights, and the people wearing uniforms with their torches. You start to realise that they have absolutely no idea that you exist, because you are so inconspicuous and under their radar.
Then, you decide that it'd be nice to return to civilised society. You get a bit old to be sleeping rough. It seems somehow shameful, to reach a certain age and have dropped out.
So, you rent a series of dreadful places to live. Each one of those places has a dreadful bed: A bottom-of-the-range IKEA bed with a mattress which doesn't quite fit and slats which randomly fall off their supports, causing part of the bed to collapse unexpectedly; mattresses with a range of stains in varying hues indicating, shit, piss, vomit and blood... as well as perhaps some food stains.
You buy your own IKEA brand-new furniture, and you buy slightly better quality stuff. You buy the bed sheets that are the right size to fit, because you know exactly what size mattress you've bought. You buy a the right size mattress for the bed frame.
Then, you have to move.
How many times have I had to move?
Every time I move, I have to leave the bed behind, because I throw away the old terrible bed, which was unfit as anything more than set-dressing for a property that's being rented out as "furnished". Where would I store a shitty old bed? Where would I store a shitty old mattress? It would cost me more in storage costs, and the transportation costs of moving the shitty bed out and back, than it costs me to simply leave the replacement beds behind.
How many IKEA flat-packs have I assembled and how many have I destroyed?
How many times have I flopped down onto a newly assembled bed, exhausted?
How many times have I had to abandon any attempts at nest-making, because I have to choose my battles carefully?
It might sound like I'm sloppy, careless and perhaps have little respect for the expense and environmental impact of treating material possessions as so disposable. However, none of this stuff disappears. The problem is, that there's no shortage of supply of mattresses covered with blood, piss, sick and vomit stains. There's no shortage of damaged bed frames which do not sturdily support the bed's occupants.
What you have to understand is that I have to prioritise my survival, ahead of the pleasant choices that normal happy healthy stable people get to make. I don't choose to change my bed because I'm remodelling my bedroom. I'm not in the business of doing interior decoration for aesthetic purposes. I don't choose the colour of the paint on my walls. I don't choose my curtains. I've been grateful to have the comfort of a thin foam mattress, in a hostel dorm, on a bunk bed. I've been grateful if my bunk has happened to be close to a power socket so I can charge my phone. I've been grateful if my bunk has been near a window, so I can enjoy the ventilation. I've been grateful if my bunk has been away from the dorm entrance/exit, so people can enter and leave without disturbing me. I've been grateful if I'm not sharing a dorm with dickheads who get up at 5am and start noisily rummaging in their bags, or people with severe mental illness who have unpredictable outbursts just at the moment when you're falling asleep.
What you have to understand is that every different bed I sleep in is slightly different. There might be a family deciding to have an argument in the hotel corridor at 6am. There might be a central heating system where the pipes creak and clang at unusual times. There might be a car alarm that decides to go off all night long. There might be a fire alarm. There might be heavy traffic in the morning and evening commuter rush. There might be patients on a psych ward who want to watch TV at full volume at 7am. There might be patients on a psych ward who are kicking off, and having to be restrained, sedated and moved to 'safe seclusion', which is the modern version of a padded soundproof cell.
What you have to understand is that every bed I sleep in has a different 'vibe' in terms of how private it feels. Ground-floor bedrooms are strange to me, especially when the window coverings - blinds and curtains - aren't very good. Can people hear me masturbating? Can people see me sleeping? How much privacy do I really have? I've spent a substantial time in places where there are observation windows which can be opened by staff members, to check on the room occupant. I've spent a substantial amount of time in places where the furniture is heavy, indestructible and even bolted to the floor. I've spent a substantial amount of time where the windows don't open more than a few inches and have bars on them, and the mirrors are made out of plastic - places designed to be safe places for the care of vulnerable sick people.
Those places have been my home.
I'm about to get the keys to have a house that has 4 bedrooms, 3 reception rooms, 2 bathrooms, a garden and a shed. It's all for me. It's a blank canvas.
If I had the money, I'd have it painted.
If I had the money, I'd buy the furniture I wanted.
If I had the money, I'd buy rugs and lamps, and curtains and coffee tables and occasional tables, and a dining table and chairs and a breakfast bar and bookcases and wardrobes and chests-of-drawers and sideboards and cabinets and desks and organiser systems, where all my stuff could be neatly hidden out of view in little boxes - a place for everything and everything in its place.
If I had the money, I'd just grab the IKEA catalogue and order everything in the rooms, exactly like their designers have displayed them.
It won't be long now.
Soon, I'll have a buttload of money.
But. It's been a long journey, and some really shitty stuff has happened, like my kidneys failing.
So, I'm about to have my millionth billionth IKEA bed, and there's nothing new or novel about it. I've bought the most basic model, with plans to upgrade in future, when I can afford it. I will continue to live out of suitcases, in a house which could comfortably accomodate 2 adults and 4 children. In fact, when I have friends with kids visiting, my house should provide comfort for perhaps 3/4 adults and 2/3 children, plus 0/1 dogs.
Sorry for going on about it, but it's been a helluva journey.
Imagine all those homeless people I met when I was sleeping rough. Imagine all those people who I met when I was sleeping in those hostels. I was just like them: No money, drink problems, drug problems and mental health problems, along with the accompanying police problems.
Imagine all those people who've seen me have false-starts and almost-but-not-quite get my shit together. Imagine how much they want me to succeed. Imagine how many people I've got rooting for me, because it's supposed to be true: It's supposed to be true that we can drag ourselves out of the gutter to become rich and successful, if we work hard enough. If I can do it, can you imagine how pleased all the people - the lifelong friends I made - will be to see me doing well. I owe it to them to aim higher than sleeping inconspicuously in a bush. I owe it to them to be one of the success stories that we're told about, but in reality don't really seem to exist.
I'm pulling an incredibly high-risk manoeuvre, to get myself into a special place. What would be the point of all the hard work, suffering, deprivation and disappointment, if all it resulted in was a totally mediocre end result? That's not a very inspiring story for my friends who've suffered disproportionately badly at the hands of fate. How awful it would be for those people who had next-to-nothing - like we all did - to see the golden boy smashed to smithereens and getting absolutely nowhere in life. Why bother, if there's no chance of a better life? Why bother, if there's no pot of gold at the end of the rainbow?
My actions might seem to have a hint of profligacy to them, and indeed some showmanship and insecure vulgar displays of wealth, but I assure you that if I was such a fool as to simply want to flaunt the fact that I can get rich 'quick' when I need to, I would simply purchase a highly desirable sports-car with a car loan, and rent the most extravagant city centre penthouse I could find, and then flaunt my materialistic lifestyle in Instagram, which would be most vulgar, crude and an insult to every value that a hard working person has.
You also have to remember that my self-esteem was very badly damaged by those years when I was sick, vulnerable and virtually penniless. Psychologically, I do not want to be living with daily reminders that I screwed up my life. For me to feel as though I've left that unfortunate period of my life behind me, it's important that I'm not dragging around 'baggage' which continuously reminds me of what might have been if only I hadn't gotten sick. I think it's a worthwhile investment, to spend a relatively small amount of cash on a home which makes me feel like I'm starting to live the life I always wanted; picking up my life again as if there was no interruption.
If you detect a hint of entitlement then you're probably not mistaken. It's my firmly held belief that hard work should result in commensurate rewards. It's my unshakeable opinion that those who have known suffering and deprivation should not suffer prejudice and disadvantages because of those misfortunes.
If we believe in a fair and just world, where hard work and dedication will allow anybody to achieve their dreams, then we must surely also believe that it's OK for my life to be good... perhaps even enviably good; desirable. Isn't it a good thing that my friends might look at me and say: He's done well and there are some parts of his life that I would like to have for myself. Isn't it a good thing that my friends who never quite escaped the life of sleeping rough, hostels and bedsits, can see that one of their own - a man ruined by divorce, drink, drugs, debt and mental health problems - could clean himself up and return to civilised society, and prosper?
If this piece has a boastful tone, I apologise. If this piece seems premature, given the amount of hard work that still lies ahead, you'd be right to caution me against complacency. If this piece is too much about me, and not enough about those who get left behind, abandoned by society, those criticisms are valid.
As it stands, I've lined up my ducks, but the journey hasn't even started yet. My bed is still in pieces in an IKEA warehouse, with my mattress rolled up tightly in the plastic which it will be delivered in. The task still remains outstanding for me: to assemble my bed, or else sleep on the floor, provided I manage to even get the keys to this dream home without a hitch, which I presently don't have enough money to be able to afford.
I never really fully recovered after getting sick, following my close friend's funeral, which required a huge round-trip across the country. That was a really terrible week, which started with me having to break up with my girlfriend, because she wasn't being very pleasant or supportive at a time when I needed to get me, my suit, my black tie and other funeral-suitable attire to a crematorium hundreds of miles away.
I had to break up with that girlfriend, because my attendance of my close friend's funeral was being jeopardised.
That was a few weeks ago.
I have something else that was being jeopardised: My shelter; my housing security.
I suppose I could have extended my rental contract, but the place was nowhere near my workplace and therefore completely impractical. I'm struggling to cope, even though I've made smart choices to ease the burden on myself, such as staying in a hotel close to my office. If I was to commute from the current home I'm renting, it would add a 3 hours of travelling onto my day, every single day weekday. That's exhausting and pointless.
So, I guess I knew that sooner or later I was going to have to move. The clock was ticking.
It made me very anxious, knowing that there was a day when my contract would simply expire and I would no longer have any legal right to continue to occupy the place I'd called home for a year. Squatters have lost most of their legal rights over the years, and I need to be a squeaky-clean citizen anyway, because of the nature of my work: I'm expected to comply with a much more stringent code of conduct and set of behavioural guidelines, than the vast majority of people - with great power comes great responsibility.
I had back-slid into that toxic relationship after I got sick. Once my friend's funeral was out of the way, I was back home, but I was vulnerable. She cyber-stalked me and found my address. She turned up and I let her in, because I was sick in so many ways. I was physically sick with diarrhoea and vomiting, and I was emotionally sick from the recent funeral of a close friend. I was weak, she turned up and I let her in.
Fast forward to Valentine's day and I had viewed a beautiful house that I wanted to rent and the landlord had agreed to accept my tenancy. I had a house to move to. I had housing security. I had some guarantee of shelter.
She wasn't very happy for me.
In fact, she told me to get out at 11pm, when I was trying to get enough sleep to go to work in the morning. I said it was unreasonable, and that I would leave in the morning. She escalated things. It was unpleasant and unnecessary, but I was not surprised: The relationship was toxic and I had resolved to try to make my escape as soon as I could. I spent the night in a hotel.
I boxed up my belongings and made my current place more presentable, so that it could be more easily rented out. I was getting my ducks in a row, so to speak, in order to keep working my full-time job AND move house. If I don't work I don't get paid, and moving house is expensive.
I thought I wasn't going be able to move for weeks and weeks.
I hate waiting.
Now, I have a date.
I will be leaving on specific date, to start my new life in a new city - a city where I've never lived before.
I bought some furniture today and arranged for it to be delivered soon after I get the keys to my new house. I still need to buy a washer/dryer and have my broadband moved, as well as renting a van or organising a removals firm to help me shift all my stuff from one city to another: Probably the best part of 2 hours drive away, in a fully-loaded truck.
I'm going on a date. That is to say, I'm going to start my new life on a specific date. I can start to look forward to that date. I can start to dream about what it's going to be like living in the beautiful house I've rented.
I've swept problems out of the way. I've refused to allow anyone or anything sabotage my plans to maintain a secure roof over my head. It was the right thing to do: To leave the girlfriend who was jeopardising the holiday I needed, jeopardising my attendance of my close friend's funeral, jeopardising my chances of finding a beautiful new home, jeopardising the stability I need - to keep working my job - while going through an incredibly tough stressful time.
Moving house is hell. Moving to an unfamiliar city is double hell. Moving with the clock ticking down, and nobody supporting me practically - actually packing, moving boxes and assembling flat-pack furniture - is triple hell.
I expect I'll probably start dating again once I'm settled in my new house, but it's low down on my list of priorities right now. Going on a date is the last thing I want to do, when all I can think about is the date when I'm going to get the keys to my new house.
I've brought the move date much sooner, because there's no point in me living in an expensive hotel when I'll soon have a whole massive house to live in. I'm so happy. It's such a relief to have secured a roof over my head. It gives me such an important sense of security, to know that I'm going to have a house that actually suits my needs, and I've managed to extricate myself from a toxic relationship that so often jeopardised the things that I need and I've worked so hard to get.
Already, friends have been getting in contact to arrange to come and visit me. I was overjoyed when a beloved Twitter follower - who I've never met in person - mentioned they might drop in on me for a cup of tea if they're in the area. I've got the opportunity to accomodate my friends and their children as my guests, because I've been lucky enough to rent a huge house.
I adore company and I love to entertain guests, but the place where I was living was a little too far away from London, where most of my friends are, and it was also even too far from places like Bristol, Somerset and Dorset, where I still have a lot of long-neglected friends.
Most of my friends now seem to have children, and I do think that little people are wonderful, even though I've been careful not to spawn any of my own with the wrong person... so I find myself in the enviable position of having the best of all worlds: I will have a large house, which will comfortably hold me and my guests, without it being any trouble at all... in fact, it'll be a joyful thing to have my house filled with life and the noises of habitation. I live a bit like a monastic monk and I wouldn't have any face-to-face interactions or 'normal' human experiences, if it wasn't for things like my day job. Nobody at work really knows the extent of my isolation; my vulnerability.
I moved to Manchester, and that was disastrous and very nearly killed me, quite literally. When my kidneys failed in 2017 and I was on a high-dependency ward, my wonderful then-girlfriend (the one who got away) arranged for me to have lots of visitors, and she was incredibly attentive and supportive. She was my rock. When my heart was broken and I was virtually bankrupt, in central Manchester, where I had no friends or family anywhere within a hundred miles, at least, it was an easy decision to kill myself. I very nearly succeeded, but for the incredible work of the resus and intensive care medical teams at Manchester Royal Infirmary, and the emergency services who got me to hospital so quickly, thanks to strangers on the internet raising the alarm.
I'm moving to Cardiff, which I shouldn't really mention because I risk being positively identified by my colleagues and people whose job it is to vet and monitor employees who have access to highly sensitive information, who might not think it's a wise idea to expose myself so publicly.
However, I'm rushing and I'm stressed and I'm tired and I'm sick and I'm terribly alone, except for the huge group of friends I have across the globe. My work colleagues are lovely, but for the sake of my career, I try to hide my mental illness and personal life struggles. I have a very serious psychiatric mood disorder, which has caused dreadful destruction to my life in the past, so I work very hard to protect my hard-won stability. Anybody who jeopardises my future happiness and security is given short shrift, hence my toxic ex got the boot on Valentine's day, which was only a day earlier than planned anyway... it just seemed heartless to break up with her on a day that has heaps of societal expectation pressure placed upon it.
So, I move to Cardiff on my own - single - which is sort of overwhelming, but at the same time it's such an unbelievably good opportunity to get all the things I need in my life, such as a secure home in a city where I can easily commute to a job which is going well, and maintain as much stability as I can.
As you can tell by the volume of text which I'm writing, and my flurry of social media activity, I've been triggered into a state of mania by the combined recent events and cluster-fuck of stresses placed upon me.
I'll be OK.
I'll just be nimble and quick.
I'll dodge my way around the people who would otherwise sabotage me and the things I work hard to make happen.
I'll cut toxic people out of my life without a second thought. I've fought too hard to get what I've got, so I'm not going to allow myself to be coerced, controlled or forced to live with oppressive insecurity and unnecessary aggravation, when I work so damn hard to ensure that stressful and difficult things happen, with smooth sailing.
I'm single, but no dates for me. I'd be rushing things too much.
Of course, I'm about to get the keys to a gorgeous huge house that I can fill with beautiful things that I hand-picked. Of course, it'd be wonderful to have the comfort and security of a partner to share that with, but if I have to do it on my own, I choose that every time even though it's difficult, because being a good partner means being supportive and making a better life together. If you threaten to sabotage the important things in my life, you'll be shown the door... sorry.
Perhaps I'm just a washed-up middle-aged nobody, with nothing to offer. Perhaps I should be feeling insecure, but I don't. I'm filled up with excitement about all the future possibilities, even though I'm a bit sick, very manic and I've got some awfully exhausting and stressful stuff to get through, which will be incredibly destabilising.
I'm planning on basing my stability on a few simple things: my daily routine, my job (which I'm really good at) and my excellent relationship with my colleagues, and a secure financial and housing situation. The safety net that allows me to do my high-wire act alone is my vast number of friends who I'm in contact with all over the world, who have my back, although I can reassure them that this move is not one of heartbreak and shameful defeat, like the time I had to leave my beloved London home, to take a shitty job in Manchester, and live in a shitty apartment.
I'm going on a date. I'm going from Swansea to Cardiff on a specific date. I know the exact date when I get my keys and I become a resident of a city that I chose to live in... this move is not driven by desperation, this time, and I get good vibes about the place. I still can't quite believe that I can afford to rent such a massive house in an amazing location... but that's Wales, it seems. Wales is my birthplace and the country seems pleased to have me back. Things have gone my way since I came back. Things have gone well, mostly.
Anyway, sorry for the manic rant, but that's what's happening in my world. I expect I'll be blathering on about it for a while, because it's part of the foundation of the stable happy new life I'm building for myself. It's incredibly satisfying to see real tangible progress towards the life I want, when I was so close to death so many times, and I was in every kind of trouble you can imagine: Debts, drugs and abandonment. For a while, my life revolved around hospitals, police stations, psych wards, hostels and sleeping rough.
If I pull this off and manage to get myself stable again, I really feel like I can hang onto things this time. Dating can wait. I feel like I've got so much to offer, so there's no rush.
Despite much whinging and complaining about the anxiety being caused by house-hunting and the difficulty of getting through all the vetting procedures, credit checks, references and suchlike, I have managed to secure myself a lovely big house to live in.
The house is unfurnished.
This isn't even my furniture.
I stole the photograph from the rental agent's website.
Wherever I go in the world, I have friends. Even though I hardly know anybody in the city where I currently live, or the city where I'm moving to, or the city where I work, I will always have friends. Why? Because I have so many people who care about me in the world. I'm such a lucky guy that my lovely global friends write to me, leave me lovely comments on my blog, or even just leave a little 'heart' on something I've written.
I know that some people might feel like social media, blogging and the internet in general is a virtual reality. In their mind's eye, the internet is populated with shy introverts, who never speak to each other and never make meaningful lifelong friendships. They're wrong.
A huge percentage - the vast majority - of my friendships began online, and then progressed to meeting in person and staying in touch regularly. My best friends and those who've been there for me through thick and thin, in times of darkness and in times of light... those friends almost all originated from the internet.
Whether those friendships were made via dial-up internet bulletin boards (BBS), discussion forums, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or whatever social media is presently popular, is a complete irrelevance. Whether or not those friendships were first initiated using the communication medium of the internet, as opposed to a chance face-to-face meeting, is irrelevant.
I started making a list of all the people who've given me significant support during some very difficult years of my life, and the more I kept digging though the archives of the internet, the more amazed I was at how many names there were on the list.
I started trying to mention some of those people on Twitter, to thank them for being such great friends. As I sent out the Tweets I'd keep realising that there was somebody who'd perhaps gone quiet for a little while, and I hadn't been in touch with recently. Everybody I mentioned has been a hugely supportive, kind and caring friend.
I started to realise it was almost impossible for me catalogue and give thanks to everybody. How can I rank the contribution of my friends, to improving - and in some cases saving - my life? How can I even begin to comprehend just how many people I've been lucky enough to connect with, in a meaningful way, such that we could talk just like we'd known each other our whole lives?
How can I be sure I didn't miss anybody? For sure, I have more friends than my brain can cope with, which is an amazingly nice situation to be in.
The internet is an incredible thing, but it's the aggregate value of all those wonderful people that makes it so amazing. The global reach of the internet means I have friends on every continent. It feels like wherever I go in the world, I'll always have a friend.
I'm moving to a city I've never lived in before. I don't really have any friends there. I don't know my way around.
But, wherever I go, I have my connection to an entire world of wonderful friends, who will support me along the way. Sure, some of them live too far away to help me unload my moving truck and unpack my boxes. Sure, some of them live so far away that they're unlikely to be able to drop in for a housewarming party. However, it's an immense comfort, especially during unsettling and stressful times, to have the wonderful luck of having so many friends in the world.
I'm not sure why I put up that picture of a house which doesn't even contain any furniture.
I'm not sure if I'm insecure, and I want you to see that I'm at least going to be living somewhere nice, once I've bought some furniture and moved in.
I also wanted to share that picture, because you're all moving in there with me, because you move everywhere with me. You moved from London to Manchester with me, you moved from Manchester to Swansea with me, you moved from Swansea to Newport with me and now you're moving from Newport to Cardiff with me. You were with me when I was in all those new cities. You were with me when I was living all on my own in that hotel room, out of a suitcase, for so many months.
I'm lucky to have so many friends who go with me wherever I go. I'm lucky to have friends in every time zone, so I can speak to somebody at any hour of the day. I'm lucky to have turned so-called 'virtual' friendships into lifelong friendships, where we speak regularly on the phone, and we are intimately involved in each other's lives.
I'm grateful. Without your help, I wouldn't have made it this far. Without your help I'd have died in Manchester. Without your help, I'd have been too anxious and depressed to get through the difficult things I've been through: To move to strange new cities, start new jobs and find new places to live. Without your help, all those lonely nights living out of a suitcase in a hotel would have been unbearable.
If you decide to permit personal privacy, then you must also accept that there will be a point at which you simply have to trust somebody. There is nobody who can say without a shadow of a doubt that I'm not keeping any terrible secret(s) and there is nobody who can predict the future. Even with perfect knowledge of the position every atom in the observable universe, there is no machine capable of predicting the future. Even with vast amounts of data collected about a person's past behaviour, it's not capable of making an accurate prediction about their future behaviour, without prejudicing those who are unfairly punished by whatever guesstimation algorithm is used.
There's a joke I used to enjoy which goes like this: If you have some goldfish, you probably have a pond. If you have a pond, you probably have a garden. If you have a garden, you probably have a house. If you have a house, you probably have a family. If you have a family, you probably fuck your wife. Therefore, if you don't have any goldfish, you're probably a wanker.
This is the problem with making predictions from incomplete data. Even with nearly complete data, we're still not very good at making predictions. Weather forecasts are pretty accurate for a few days into the future, but hopelessly inaccurate beyond a week or longer, except to say that summers are hot and winters are cold (or vice-versa for the Southern Hemisphere).
I wrote this earlier, to express my frustration regarding renting a house. It's a questions-and-answers thing I had to endure, in order to satisfy a landlord that I'm able to pay rent each month.
Q: What's your employment status?
A: Full-time employment
Q: What's your salary?
Q: Who can we contact at your company to verify your employment?
A: The board of directors, or better still, why not just check at Companies House, because it's a matter of public record
Q: Can we see 3 months of payslips to prove your income?
A: My £702 monthly salary? Yeah sure. No problem.
Q: Are you self-employed?
A: No. See above.
Q: Are you sure you're not self employed?
A: I'm sure that I'm employed full-time as a company director, for which I receive a salary. I'm also a shareholder, which entitles me to a share of any dividends that the board of directors decides to pay. It's exactly the same as being the CEO of a public company, except the shareholders cannot trade their shares via the stock market.
Q: If you're like a CEO why do you need to rent a house?
A: Have you ever heard of a startup? It's a bit like that, only without the rich parents.
Q: So you don't have any money?
A: No, you're getting me confused with startup founders. I have enough income to pay my rent.
Q: Where does the money come from if you don't earn it as a salary?
A: Dividends are paid to me from the companies which I'm a shareholder of.
Q: How much do you get paid per month, in dividends?
A: It depends on the company profits, and what the board of directors decide. It could be zero. It could be zero for months.
Q: This is too complicated for me to understand. Would you mind if we took a look at all of your personal bank accounts, for the last 3 years?
A: No problem. Would you also like to perform a rectal exam and fondle my testicles too?
So, despite the fact that my position as company director is a matter of public record, as well as the accounts of my company - anybody who wants to is able to view those records online - I'm still expected to share my personal bank statements with complete strangers.
A friend and I who both own and operate our own companies, joked that we should maintain an account specifically for the purposes of pranking the organisations who ask to invade our privacy. We would make regular purchases of items from retailers and service providers, where the name shown on the bank statements would be considerably embarrassing, for most members of the public. Thus, we could troll these organisations and perhaps change the culture from secrecy and shame, to something more open. I applaud the Swedes, for example, for making every citizen's tax declarations public... essentially meaning that you can find out how much anybody earns.
As regular readers will know, I'm quite the opposite of a secret-keeper. I've published every bit of 'dirt' which somebody hope to 'dig' on me, onto this public website.
Meanwhile, my hopes of renting a place to live hang in the balance, while the minutiae of how I spend every single penny are pored over by a bunch of strangers, who will ultimately decide whether I'm worthy of having a roof over my head, or whether I should be cast onto the streets.
One year ago, I was homeless, I didn't have a car and I was roughly £52,000 in debt. I lived in AirBnBs midweek and in the converted garage of a friend at weekends. My job was over 4 hours away by train and a ticket cost £137. To get to work, the earliest train I could take left at 6:21am, and I would arrive at my desk well over an hour late. 8 hours of travelling for 8 hours of work... hence living in the AirBnBs.
In order to purchase a car, I had to go deeper into debt. The car only cost me £875 but I didn't have any money, so I had to borrow some more. The car needed taxing, which cost me an additional £125. The car needed insurance, which cost me another £500.
My debt peaked at approximately £54,000, roughly 1 year ago.
An alternative title for this blog post I was considering was "Debt Destroys Dreams" but it seemed disingenuous, because the story of the past year has been a remarkable one, with the potential to resurrect long-abandoned dreams.
The reason why I put up the picture of the floor-plan above is as a metaphor. I often choose metaphorical photographs to accompany my blog posts. All the photos I use I took myself, or are from family photo albums. This photo of a floor-plan was taken approximately one year ago, in one of the AirBnBs I was staying in.
The metaphor, if you're wondering, is the dream of escaping the maze. How do you escape from a [debt] trap? Let's imagine that your dream is to escape this maze, go outside to see the sunshine and breathe some fresh air. Seems like a pretty nice dream, doesn't it?
As you can see from the floor-plan, there are many, many doors. If the only fact you know is that one of the doors is the one that leads outside, but you don't have the floor-plan, then how are you going to know which of the doors leads outside?
It seems pretty obvious from the floor-plan that there's a main corridor running through the middle of the building. It seems pretty obvious from the floor-plan that nearly every door off the corridor leads to a dead-end. However, even with the floor-plan, it's not immediately obvious how the hell to get ouf of the building.
Now, let's assume you don't even have a floor-plan. Life doesn't come with a floor-plan. You just have to keep trying doors until you find the right one. You know that eventually, you'll open the door to the outside - thus fulfilling your dream - but you have to keep trying doors and trying to learn from your mistakes. Life has plenty of dead ends, and we often end up repeating past mistakes.
Without the floor-plan, it's not possible to know how many doors there are, so it's not possible to know how much progress you've made. If there are a thousand doors and you've tried fifty, then you're not doing very well... you'd better prepare yourself for a lot more door opening and a lot more disappointment. If there are a hundred doors and you've tried fifty, then every door you open after the 51st has a greater than 50% probability of being the one that allows you to escape, achieving your dream of seeing the sky and the sun.
But, remember, you don't have the floor-plan.
So, I live my life with a rather strange philosophy. I know the things that are most likely to improve my life, but I don't know whether they'll work or not, or when I'll achieve my goals... I just have to keep trying stuff that wiil pay off eventually. That's what I've done for a whole year.
My debt probably totals about £38,000 at the moment.
Paying off £16,000 of debt is pretty impressive, for a single year.
But it doesn't end there.
I also own a car and I've rented an apartment. I went on two very extravagant holidays. I took two trips to Europe to see one of my very best friends and his family.
I also have money in both my personal and business bank accounts, plus I'm owed some money, which I'm expecting to be paid to me in the next two months.
I also have a job which continues to bring in a fairly hefty amount of money each month.
If we do the simple arithmetic of subtracting all the money I have plus the money I'm owed, from my total debt, then we arrive at a very nice simple number: Zero.
Having zero pounds, zero dollars, zero Euros, zero yen - zero cash - sounds like a pretty dreadful state of affairs, but in actual fact I think it's like putting my hand on the correct door knob, which will open the door leading outside into the fresh air and sunshine.
I can't see the blue sky yet. I can't feel the wind in my hair.
I don't want to believe that I've found the right door.
I refuse to believe I've found the right door until I've actually stepped outside and I'm looking at the sky.
It might seem tempting to extrapolate and declare myself a winner: I'm so close to being back in the black (sic.) that it surely seems impossible for me to fail. Surely I'm going to pay off all my debt and begin to live a life without that horrible ball and chain anymore. Surely I'm going to have some financial security, very soon.
That little blonde boy in the pedal car is me. That thatched cottage is where I used to live, briefly. I loved that thatched cottage, because it was exactly what a house is supposed to be: It had a roof, chimney, windows with panes of glass criss-crossed, a front door in the middle, flowers growing in the garden. All it needed was a blue sky, some smoke coming out of the chimney, a couple of soaring birds, some white fluffy clouds and a big yellow sun with a smiling face, and it would be the picture that every child would draw, if you asked them to draw a picture of a house.
My time in the "proper house" was very limited.
When I briefly lived this proper life, there was a village green, a village shop, a village post office, a church and graveyard, a railway train station, a bus stop, a pub and a school.
During my all-too-brief proper life, I went to the local school, played with the local children, bought sweets from the village shop, attended events on the village green - when people would literally dance around a maypole with coloured ribbons - and went to church.
My life exemplified everything that is great and good about English countryside living. Former British Prime Minister, David Cameron, lives barely a few miles away from the idyllic Cotswold village where I had my proper life. Prince Charles and other royalty play polo on fields, barely a few miles away from this most quintessentially picturesque English village that you could ever imagine. The TV show Downton Abbey was filmed on location, a few miles away from this beautiful place, where I thought I would live forever.
Life seemed to make sense to me - this was a proper life, and it all made perfect sense, even though I was just a child.
The funny thing is that it still makes sense to me.
All I want is to live in a little house, with a little garden, in a little village and do the things that normal people do: go to work, come home, watch TV, cook food, eat, do gardening, have a pet, feed the birds. All I want is an ordinary life.
Presently, the only piece of furniture I own is a coffee table, which I repurposed as a TV stand. One of the few possessions I own which isn't designed to be carried around easily, is the TV, which sits atop the TV stand. Other than that, everything else can be thrown into a bag... and there isn't very much "everything else" left. Most of my possessions have been discarded, because my life was too chaotic and I was too unwell to cope with safeguarding my material things, when my life and my sanity were at risk and all too often nearly lost forever.
Every time I was forced to move as a child - 8 different schools - it was nonsensical and disruptive; it was traumatic and damaging. Every time I found myself packing my bags, yet again, a pattern was being established: I was being psychologically programmed. The message my parents were sending me was loud and clear: "Don't get attached to anything, anywhere or anybody".
I gave up on the idea of having a settled, secure, normal life.
When I separated from my wife and an acrimonious divorce began, it really didn't bother me as much as it should have done, to lose my house, lose my precious things and to end up sleeping rough - homeless and destitute. I camped in bushes, where I could hide my tent. I slept in a bivouac on heathland. I was invisible in a city with a daytime population of 10 million inhabitants. My home and my bed shrank and shrank, until it was simply the tiny patch of ground on which I stood or lay. My personal space shrank to be no bigger than the volume occupied by the extremities of my body.
When I saw the chance to move from being homeless to living in a very luxurious apartment with amazing views of the capital city, the idea was too attractive for me to resist.
I had two years bursting with pride about how I'd pulled myself up by the bootstraps, and was no longer sleeping rough; no longer homeless. I had to pinch myself every time I stepped inside my home, and was greeted by breathtaking panoramic views over London. That feeling never wore off... the whole time I lived there.
I want that again. I want to live somewhere special. I want that special feeling that I'm living in a proper place, after the awfulness I've been through in life.
Yes, I'm sympathetic towards those who are sleeping rough, and those who are living in a very dire situation. No, it doesn't make me happy just to have a roof over my head.
I've lived anywhere. I've slept rough all over London. I've slept in 14-bed hostel dorms. I've slept in psychiatric wards, hospitals and police cells.
I do NOT want to live anywhere.
It was a big deal when I got the keys to a gorgeous home with sea views, roughly ten and a half months ago. I still feel a great buzz when I visit that place, and I stand at the window admiring the views over the bay. I love that home, but unfortunately, it's not myhome... although technically I can sleep there whenever I want, for another month and a half.
I shouldn't be getting stressed out about moving. My life will be much better when I have a home again. Hopefully I can have a beautiful home which I can fill with lovely things. Hopefully I can stay there. Hopefully I won't have to leave. Hopefully my world won't be destroyed again.
Currently, I have no idea where, when or how I'm going to get myself a home, let alone whether I'll have the opportunity to fill it up with lovely things.
My upbringing taught me one clear lesson, again and again: Expect nothing, except to lose everything that you get attached to.