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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.

twitter.com/ManicGrant

nick@manicgrant.com

facebook.com/manicgrant

 

Harmless Venting

11 min read

This is a story about blowing off steam...

Hawaii Volcano

While the world gets on with its life, I seem to have one foot in the grave, or to be stuck in the past. Apologies for the self-absorption. I'm trying to move forwards, but it turns out there's quite a lot of stuff I needed to work through.

Many people might view me as a 'keyboard warrior'. Somebody who is far more aggressive and outspoken when protected behind a computer screen. I think you'll find that I don't really tone things down face to face, but when people read what I write they certainly interpret it as being quite angry.

It's hard to infer emotion from writing. I tend to use a mix of humour and sarcasm, as well as writing down explicitly what emotions I'm feeling, if they're strong enough to warrant recording in the text, as I write. Perhaps I'm just impervious to my emotions a lot of the time though. I'm mostly very calm when I'm writing.

I'm acutely aware just how self-absorbed I have become, and I certainly need a bit of a reality check. The fact of the matter is that I'm pretty exhausted, depressed, stressed and anxious. Writing doesn't seem to have brought any relief yet, but when suicide and drug abuse are places that your mind can wander to, it's good to have a distraction.

I reviewed what I wrote so far, and it's interesting to see a pronounced dip in quality, as I started to self-destruct over the Christmas and New Year period. I can really see my writing get sloppy and thoughts get jumbled. The writing up to that period was quite repetitive though, quite laboured.

It must be fairly obvious to any independent observer, that whatever I turn my hand to, I will get excessively involved with. If I start going to the gym, I will train far too hard and push my body too far. If I get into a new sport or hobby, I will obsessively learn everything about it and just pursue that one thing, to the exclusion of everything else in my life. If I get a new job, I will be so passionate about it that it will become very personal. I will be super dedicated to whatever I do.

Is the explanation for this behaviour simply that I am transferring my addict's habits into different kinds of activity? The repetition, the obsessiveness, the single-minded pursuit of one goal... it all smacks of addiction.

So, am I addicted to writing? Am I addicted to telling my story? Am I addicted to sensationalism and attention seeking? Am I addicted to the little dopamine hit I get for every Facebook like, Twitter retweet and Reddit upvote? Yeah. Probably.

But, at the same time, writing is immensely useful for recovery. I'm not sure I could have gone from the end of October to the end of January with no job and only one lapse, without the continuity of this blog. It's also served one its original purposes of keeping people informed, letting people know whether I'm afloat or whether I'm sinking. Even a simple "signs of life" as one caring friend put it.

I write for me, but it is meaningful who takes the time to respond. When somebody I haven't really been in contact with for a long time indicates that they've read something I've written, there is initially a gut-wrenching realisation that they've probably had their eyes opened to a side of my character that they never knew, then there is a pleasing sense that there is still an ongoing connection between us, as friends whose contact has dwindled over the difficult years.

It's interesting the responses that my writing has prompted from friends and strangers alike. People have shared some things with me, that I will keep completely confidential, but have really helped me to realise that we're all putting a brave face on things a lot of the time. Everybody has an untold tale behind their stoic exterior. The happiest, smiliest, 'life is perfect' type people have connected with something in my writing and shared some quite shocking truths about their own wayward journey through life.

Don't read a book by it's cover. Does a blog really have a cover? I suppose "manic" is quite a provocative title. It's interesting that you could dip in at any moment in time and dependent on the phase of writing, you could assume that I'm a junkie, sex addict, suicidally depressed, pissed off with my job, happy with my job, pissed off with my parents, had an unhappy childhood, had an interesting childhood, was a domestic abuse perpetrator, was a domestic abuse victim, had a shitty divorce and am completely bat shit insane, with long unintelligible monologues about some half-baked ideas in theoretical physics that don't really add up to a hill of beans.

Is it so different from the sumtotal of my Facebook status updates? I generally get the impression that the world has kids, babies, cats, dogs, cars, holidays and dubious politics, from what I can see on the Facebook walls of my friends. Who knew?

Night Time Volcano

There are a lot of social commentators saying that this eruption of social media sharing of our innermost thoughts and feelings is leading to an addiction to Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat etc. etc. and that we're headed for some kind of armeggedon because of it.

Having been somebody who has written on forums under my own name for the best part of 14 years, I have only ever felt the benefit of human connection, even if it has been computer-assisted. With the kitesurfing/kiteboarding forums, we used to meet up every Tuesday and every weekend. I've made some of my very best friends through forums and the social ties that the forums enabled.

When you have to get through a long working week, your job isn't particularly challenging, you're a bit jaded and cynical and sick of the 9 to 5 drudgery, there's nothing quite like a forum to while away your 37.5 hours a week. I made it a personal mission to read every forum post, and respond whenever I could.

A life lived online is a bit strange, but I've been all over the world with people who I met online. Electronic communication is creating social cohesion where otherwise there would only be urban solitude. Unless you live in some 1950's throwback community, where you know your neighbours and you leave your doors unlocked and let your kids play with the dodgy looking guy in the raincoat, then you probably live most of your life in social isolation, beyond the members of your household, and a small group of people who you go out of your way to stay in regular contact with.

Most of us probably have a certain day or a time that we speak to our mums. Most of us probably have people that we regularly speak to online or a regular social get together. Most of us probably have a group of friends that we regularly meet up with at weekends, and see in the pattern of our daily lives: the school run, the kids birthday parties, the meals out with a network of friends, celebrating some event or other. Plus there are the people at work. You know how many kids they have, and some vague things about what's happening in each of their lives. You have an established social routine with your work colleagues.

If you're a bit of an oddball like me, you don't really fit in. For a long time, I was a lot more senior than people my age. When I started my career, I was the young kid with poor social skills and a bad dress sense. Later, I was the golden boy who was trying to do the same thing as his peers - have a nice settled little life with a family and a lovely home - but was roughly the same age as the group who were partying and generally having fun.

This disjoint has meant that as my boring old person life fell to bits, it was just about at the same time as my younger friends were all getting big houses and having babies. My older friends now have kids who are going to big school. My younger friends are up to their elbows in nappies.

I guess it happens to everybody. There are waves of engagements, marriages, house purchases, babies and then come the divorces. Thankfully, not too many of my friends have started dropping dead yet.

Everybody is so darn busy, and working so darn hard. Apparently, life is supposed to be taxing on parents with two kids. Life is optimised to bleed the parents dry, of their time, energy and money of course. If you're not flat broke, exhausted and don't have a minute to yourself to sit down and read a newspaper, you're not trying hard enough.

Sorry if that sounds condescending or anything... I have no idea what it must be like having copulated for 30 seconds and now having a screaming, shitting, vomiting thing that can't look after itself and you'll be chucked in jail if you hide it in the oven.

My views are probably quite obnoxious to many people. Certainly a recurrent theme is parenting. I'm very hard on my parents, and sure there are a lot of people who say "I'm sure they did the best they knew how to do" and I'm not going to re-iterate the fact that sitting around on your arse taking drugs is a bit stupid, when you're supposed to be childrearing. I certainly see a lot of smiles on the kids faces that get posted onto Facebook, and I know that my sister is doing a great job with my niece, so I certainly don't think that my friends and sister are doing a bad job.

It must seem very annoying and pathetic that I'm complaining about my lot in life, and being so self-absorbed and selfish, sitting around writing crap about "woe is me!" and so oh-so difficult life is for me, me, me. Sorry about that. I must be doubly difficult when you're struggling to make ends meet financially, and you're stressed about little Oliver's violin recital, and whether Hermione's going to get into that grammar school. I'm sure you hate your job too. I'm sure you'd love to have a breakdown and be in bed for 14 hours a day exhausted, shaking like a wreck.

Yes, I do claim that I don't feel entitled, but I'm certainly able to some extent, to spend some time thinking about the past and wallowing in self-pity. I have no dependents. I didn't spawn any gene cloning machines that I'm trying to protect from the wolves in the forest. I'm not being smug. I'm actually jealous. I can see that it's pretty exhausting and terrifying, having 'skin in the game' but I can also see those chests swelling with pride and those eyes lighting up with delight at your beautiful children. I don't get any cuddle time with my offspring that I don't have.

So, life looks a lot simpler for the single guy with no kids, but in a way, my life is less dictated by the demands of feeding, clothing and schooling of any infants, which means I kind of have to find a reason for living, every day.

I hope you don't hate me for saying I have to decide what I'm going to do every day. I'm sure you have a long list of things you'd love to do, if you had the time. My life is not exactly like that... I don't wake up and think "shall I learn to waterski today, or should I go to Mexico?". However, I don't wake up and think "I have to get the kids dressed and make them breakfast" just like every morning for the next 18 years.

I can't decide whether having made a rational decision to defer parenthood was a mistake. It would be interesting to compare some kind of objective quality-of-life scores with my peers who made different choices, but I suspect that things would be comparable, as I know that many of my friends have suffered with depression and anxiety just as much as me, despite being mummies and daddies. I know that many of my friends are just as cheesed off with the work they do, and it's making them unwell.

Anyway, we're all slowly inching our way to the grave, like it or not. One thing's for certain with life: death will follow hot on its heels.

Lava Flow

Yeah that's lava going in the sea. Salt water cleanses everything, especially tears

 

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Changing the Scratched Record

6 min read

This is a story about repetition ad nauseam...

Decks of Glory

I have been stuck in a trance, obsessed with the past wrongdoing of a couple of people. I need to draw a line under things and move forward. I know they will be relieved to hear that, and feel that they got away with things and they're off the hook. However, my writing has gotten very repetitive and boring, because I keep labouring the same points. Time to change.

I know it must come across that I'm very stubborn, determined, single-minded. I don't quit, I don't relent, I'm a dog with a bone that I won't let go of. This has taken me fairly far in life, because I've solved problems that other people couldn't. I've achieved things that other people wouldn't, because it just requires too much sacrifice and dedication.

Mucking about with computers is not healthy or normal, and it's certainly not a choice, it's more of an alternative when other routes are barred. Yes, I would love to be part of the gang, part of the crowd sometimes, but I'm clearly odd-one-out. Piggy-in-the middle is fun to tease. Excluding a minority gives you somebody to pick on, to point and laugh at, to make you feel better about yourself. "At least I'm not them, ha ha ha!"

I've retreated inwards as a response to stress and depression. It might seem mad to cut yourself off, but when your general life experience is of loss and people turning on you, then your survival instincts tell you to be self-reliant in dark times. A life lived on Facebook is no life at all, but the virtual world seems more friendly to me than the one where I have lost so many friends.

It takes two to tango, and I know that I've not been a very good friend. I know that I've let friendships go cold, not replied to messages for long periods, not picked up the phone. I can't remember the last time I made or received a phonecall. It must have been over a month ago.

Communication is a strange thing. I remember being able to text message at lightening speed on an old Nokia phone where you had to press the number keys multiple times to get the letter you want. Why didn't I just phone? It would have been quicker.

In a world that has been largely offensive and unpleasant to you, bullying, the protection of a screen is hard to deny. I can compose my thoughts. I can review what I'm about to say. I can edit before I send. I also like the fact that there is a written history of what has been transmitted and received. I find that a lot of people have very poor memory of what has been said, when later quizzed about things.

I find it very frustrating dealing with people who are not honest, straightforward, rational and have a good memory. I'm not sure whether it's drug and alcohol abuse, or simply genetic flaws, but there are definitely people who I find it very frustrating to deal with because of their selective recall of events, and irrational bias that they place on their interpretation of reality.

Everything in the world is fairly clear-cut to me. I try and avoid black & white thinking, but sometimes the blindingly obvious is clearly a polar thing. There is such a thing as right and wrong. All the interpretation and alternative opinion in the world doesn't make a difference when you apply a rational objective analysis of events over the top of things.

You normally get quite a few warnings from me before common sense eventually has to prevail, with me leading the charge. My friend Laurence was driving too fast down country lanes. There was a friend and me as passengers in my hire car. He was jeopardising three lives, plus whoever he was going to have a head on collision with, plus my hire car that he wasn't insured on. I warned him multiple times that I was unhappy, afraid, and that he needed to slow down.

I pulled the handbrake on as hard as I could when we reached a straight piece of road. This seemed very sudden and dangerous to Laurence, but it was quite a calculated act after a good 5+ minutes of me warning him to slow down, and the lanes were getting narrower and narrower, with more and more blind bends. Potentially there wasn't going to be another wide stretch of straight road, before we collided head-on with another vehicle. It was then or never.

Keeping a sliding car on a straight road is not hard. Momentum will carry the car on a straight line. Even if you spin, you're unlikely to do much more than bump off the hedge. More likely, the car will just continue on the original trajectory, because there is so much forward momentum. The back of the car started to slide out, but it really didn't make much of a difference whether Laurence corrected it or not.

Laurence was upset, but his interpretation of events was incorrect. He was speeding down narrow country lanes, round blind bends, uninsured in a car, with two other people he was responsible for, ignoring all reasonable pleas to slow down from the person who was legally in charge of the vehicle. Clear cut. Case closed. No other interpretation necessary.

When I act, it might look sudden and brutal, but a lot of thought has gone into things. My actions are far more premeditated than they look. When I take risks, they're calculated.

Sometimes I can override my own calculations. My friend JP was hanging off a broom handle tied to the roof rafters, suspended several feet above the ground, in order to practice some kiteboarding moves. I said that it looked very dangerous and I thought it was going to snap and drop him onto the hard ground. After he had been successfully doing it for some time, I decided that perhaps I was wrong and I would risk having a go. Of course, it snapped, and I landed on my shoulder, possibly breaking a bone. I now have a lump on my shoulder on that side. I literally have a chip on my shoulder.

However, I'm a balanced person, because I went snowboarding on an indoor slope, tried to do a flip and landed on my shoulder the other side, doing a very similar injury. I now have chips on both shoulders, balancing me out.

You will find me fair and reasonable.

Snowboarding Mont Blanc

Oh man I miss boardsports. I would love to be kiteboarding or snowboarding right now

 

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Finding Your Identity

10 min read

This is a story about discovering yourself...

Marché a l'Ancienne

Nostalgia is a liar that tells us that there was a bygone era when things were better than they are today. It tells us that despite a lack of antibiotics, immunisation, modern surgical techniques, telephones, internet, jet aircraft and reliable fuel-economical automobiles, there is something that we're missing from the pre-war years.

The fact is, that most people didn't have enough to eat, struggled to stay warm & dry and lived in fear of preventable diseases, which killed a huge proportion of people. Manual labour and low standards of health & safety killed men early. Childbirth and a lack of family planning killed women early. Infant mortality rates were stupendously high. Life was short & shit.

There's no point in looking backwards to those times. There's no point in stuffing your house full of antiques and dressing your children like some Dickens pastiche. There's no point in preaching a values system that probably never existed. You might like to believe that there was a time when there was more respect, more order. Do you think that the whip, cane and the gallows were never used? Even with corporal and capital punishment as deterrents, people still stepped out of line.

You might bemoan unruly or even ferral children, and imagine that there was a time when kids "behaved themselves". In fact, it is you who is delusional. Children are not dollies and mannequins. Children are not there for you to play dressing up games with, and to robotically comply with your instructions. They are little people, with their own identities.

The sooner that you accept that we live now, not yesteryear, the better. Your child does not have some imagined Victorian values stored hidden inside them. Your child exists as they do, today. They are shaped by this very moment, not your flights of fancy, nor your imagination.

Sure, as a parent, you have some preprogrammed delusions. You will always believe your baby is the bonniest. You will always think your child is the most adorable, the smartest, the one destined for success. No, probably not.

It's a good idea to back your kid up, to be on their side, to fight their corner. There's nothing intrinsically wrong with that. It all goes a bit skew-whiff when you start using your kid to live out your own fantasies though, getting your kid to compensate for your own inadequacies. If you didn't do well at school, pushing your kid too hard to be the academic that you failed to be will never fix your past failure.

Tux

And so it came to pass, that I arrived at the age of 17 without the foggiest idea of who I was as a person. I was quite clear about two different imaginary people that my parents wanted me to be, and just how much contradiction and impossibility there was in realising their fantasies. However, I hadn't the faintest idea of what shape my own personality took.

Discovering the drug, Ecstasy, allowed me to feel self-love and explore my feelings for myself. It also gave me a strange identity, bound up with drugs, dancing and music. I was a clubber/raver. I knew who I was on a Saturday night, in a sweaty railway arch, cutting shapes in the air and with pupils like saucers, high as a kite on MDMA. The rest of the time was dead to me. I was just counting down the hours, minutes and seconds until the next weekend.

This was clearly not a sustainable and complete identity, and my self-esteem was still at absolute rock bottom. In this vulnerable phase in my development, I slept with my male boss, believing - hoping even - that I was possibly gay. Turns out that I'm not gay. Shame. Life could have possibly slotted into some order, as at least there is some strong identity in being camp and effeminante, as a man.

The next cruel twist of vulnerability was to see me get involved romantically with an achondroplastic dwarf. She's one of the nicest girls you could ever hope to meet, and I really hope her feelings aren't hurt if she reads this, but she was quite aggressive in her advances. As I was completely lacking in self-confidence, I struggled to assert myself. I went along with things. I complied.

It's a bit strange, dating somebody that you're not attracted to, but I guess it's no different from my experiments with homosexuality. It's just that she was less unpleasant to kiss than somebody whose face is covered in stubble. Being f**ked in the arse is tolerable, but not exactly pleasant. This girl at least didn't want to penetrate me with some part of her body.

This strange little life had formed itself. I switched myself off during the week and went into hibernation. Then at the weekends I would take Ecstasy, and under the influence of this chemical, my feelings became much more fungible. It's easier to believe you have fallen for somebody, under the influence of the 'love drug'.

I guess I always maintained some toe-hold in reality though. I always knew that my feelings were being psychopharmacologically pulled this way and that, and I knew deep down that something felt very wrong.

It takes a long time to fix broken self-esteem and for you to emerge from the oppression of people who never allowed you to have your own identity. My own tastes had never been allowed to develop. I had never gained the skills of choosing my own clothes and outfits. I didn't know how to dress.

Long Hair

My hair was unruly and an inconvenience. I didn't like its style, but I had no idea how I wanted it to be cut. I had no idea how to tame my wavy locks. It's only because of an outdoors lifestyle, that I arrived at the shorter cut that I wear today.

IT contracting gave me the money to attain status symbols like a nice car, which I'm ashamed to admit, helped my self-esteem to some extent. Becoming some twat who is rather pleased with himself because he's rich and successful in those materialistic measures was not a road that I would have liked to continue down though. It was rather offensive to be flashing the cash to compensate for crushing inadequacy.

It was London that eventually gave me the space and the time to develop my own style, my own precious identity. It was tough going. One very bullying housemate drove me to the very limit of what I could endure, before she finally pissed off. Oh, what sweet relief! To finally be living in the Angel Islington, as a well dressed young man in a job that I was good at, with a healthy circle of friends and acquaintances. It was bliss.

The combination of corporate identity midweek - nice suit and crisply pressed shirts - with a surf style at the weekends, coupled with my newfound love of kiteboarding, really sealed the deal. I felt like a complete person, and for the first time in my life, age 23, I actually asked a girl out on a date.

I was still crushingly insecure, but I mostly muddled through because I was busy and I was optimistic and positive. I bungled a lot of the growing up, and failed to see the opportunity for bed-hopping for what it was, and instead continued to think I was falling in love at the drop of a hat.

I was hopeless at reading even the most un-subtle of advances by the opposite sex, and screwed up opportunities to trade up with some girls who I fancied the pants off. I was a faithful monogamist, but perhaps only because self-esteem and experience were still quite lacking in my love life. I kick myself now, when I think of some of the gorgeous women who advertised their availability to me.

Subtle Glasses

In London you can find people whose style you wish to emulate. You can find those few inspiring fashion pieces, which can prop up your fragile self-esteem. You can start to develop your own identity, your own style, your own wardrobe. You start to feel good in your clothes, and then later in your body.

My broken self-esteem was restored to the point where I was confident enough to make a permanent mark of ownership on my body, in the form of a tattoo. I'm now so self-confident that I made the mark in a place where I can't even see it. From the photos that I've seen, it's not even quite in the right place but I don't care. It feels nice to have disfigured myself, deliberately, through my own choice.

I even grew a moustache for Movember, which is something I never thought I would do, given my lack of ability to grow decent stubble or a beard.

Movember

There's this tightly-bound link between London, outdoor/adrenalin sports, working for a corporation and being a secret raver/clubber, that is instricically linked to my identity. It's hard to shake those foundations as the things that I will run to in times of stress.

I know that MDMA will release me from the shackles of shame, regret and self-criticism, when I become paralysed by those oppressive thoughts. I know that the chemical will help me to have an epiphany of sorts, and move on with my life when I have become stuck in a rut. It's like taking a brief holiday from yourself and all your baggage. It's pretty hard on your body & mind in your thirties though! Quite a hangover.

I know that adrenalin sports will remind me that I'm alive, when I feel dead or dying. Just riding across London on a bicycle is enough to reaffirm that you still have some self-preservation instincts. You always end up having a moment where you nearly die, which puts things into perspective.

I know that immersing myself in corporate culture is occasionally good for my identity. It feels good to put on a suit, and know that the public are somehow looking at you as somehow more respectable, more mannered, more civilised. It feels good to puff your chest out with self importance and pretend like being part of the big money machine means that you have some value, even if the bubble soon bursts.

I know that being part of the heaving mass of bodies that make up London is a very cool part of somebody's identity. When you are somewhat hardened to it, used to the noise and the invasion of personal space, and the offence on your senses, you then start to get enjoyment from gliding serenely through the carnage. You know that people are looking at you and wondering how you managed to cut through the crowd and anticipate the seemingly random movements of individuals, so that you dance around the dawdler and dodge the ditherer. It feels good to have mastered the capital city, to know these mean streets.

Put it all together and you have quite a strong identity, quite a distinct personality. It's quite nice that a 'me' has emerged after a rather difficult upbringing, and further struggles to break free from parental oppression and some relationships which preyed upon my vulnerability, my insecurity.

If you wanted to try and get me outside the M25 now, you'd have to put my dead body in a pine box.

I love this dirty town.

 

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I've Had a Hoverboard for 14 Years

3 min read

This is a story about nice guys finishing first...

Isla de Coche

It's October 21st, 2015, and I used to love the Back to the Future movies, like so many kids.

I've always been in a rush to see and do everything. I already did my entire bucket list and I suppose that's partly why I might have ended up suicidally depressed. Getting everything you want can be a little anticlimactic.

Still haven't found love yet though. I'm a hopeless romantic and I still believe in true love and all that soppy stuff. I've completely failed to become bitter and twisted by the cruel turns and dead ends of life's unknowable road. I'm slowly learning the life lesson that Love is one thing that can't be rushed.

A fish swimming down a stream spots a fly flying right over him. The fish thinks, "I can jump and catch that fly."

A bear see the fish that sees the fly. The bear thinks, "the fish will jump to catch the fly and I can catch the fish."

A hunter sees the bear that sees the fish that sees the fly. The hunter thinks, "the fish will jump to catch the fly, the bear will catch the fish, and I can shoot the bear."

A mouse sees the hunter that sees the bear that sees the fish that sees fly. The mouse thinks, "the fish will jump to catch the fly, the bear will catch the fish, the hunter will shoot the bear, and I can get the cheese in the hunters lunch."

A cat sees the mouse that sees the hunter that sees the bear that sees the fish that sees the fly. The cat thinks, "the fish will jump to catch the fly, the bear will catch the fish, the hunter will shoot the bear, the mouse will get the cheese, and I can catch the mouse."

The fish caught the fly, the bear caught the fish, the hunter shot the bear.

But the mouse was startled when the gun went off, so when the cat pounced, it missed and landed in the stream.

Moral of the story: the longer the build up, the wetter the pussy.

Here's a picture of a random kitesurfer's body, in case you are still in need of a reason to date a kitesurfer:

Pretentious, moi?

Pretentious, narcissitic, moi? (I haven't actually kitesurfed since October 2014)

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Epidemic of Human Greed

8 min read

This is a story of a sabbatical that I never got to take...

My Life in Clothes

Anybody who says I'm ungrateful for my life needs to have their head examined. My life has been paired down to the nth degree. Anybody who has lived aboard a 22ft boat for weeks knows how to live a small life.

In 2003, I asked HSBC if I could take a sabbatical, so that I could backpack around Australia, New Zealand and South-East Asia. The important thing about the trip, for me, was that I needed to make more friends and do a bit of independent growing up, away from the Angel Islington and Canary Wharf, which my whole life revolved around.

My old boss, an Exeter graduate who had completed an M.Phil (Master of Philosophy degree) in Epidemiology at Oxford, was a brilliant guy and did his level best to get this agreed with Human Resources. The rule at the time was that you had to have been an employee for 2 years, which I had been. It had been agreed and I started to get excited about tying my knapsack to a stick and setting off on the road to secure and happy adulthood, with some brilliant travel stories to tell when I got back.

Sadly, HR decided to change the rules under our feet, and the trip of a lifetime became a choice between resignation or cancelling my trip. I chose the latter, as I had a secure job with a conservative bank that I have loved since being a Griffin Saver, in the days of Midland Bank. Working for HSBC was very personal for me. Also, memories of the Dot Com crash and 9/11 were fresh in my memory. I valued my job, and I liked working for my boss. He's a great guy: so disciplined and inspiring.

Possibly as some kind of compensation (I'm totally speculating here) my boss allowed me to ride his coat tails into a very important project, whereupon I sulked for months and months, because I hadn't fully comprehended what he might have done, in light of the clear importance of the project that I was a part of. My boss exposed me to the very best people within HSBC, and perhaps tried to pair and mentor me - perhaps deliberately, who can say? - with people who are still to this day an inspiration in everything I think and do. I can't help but well up with tears thinking about what an amazing time that was, even if I was sullen and sulky for so much of it.

When the pressure really ramped up on the project, towards the go-live date, I flicked the switch from 'zoned out' to 'warp drive' and started putting in the hours I should have been. I had wasted a lot of time, so this was hardly anything more than working as hard as I should have been all along, but nobody should underestimate the effort that was put in, either.

Anyway, I was eventually ranked - quite fairly - on my average effort over the whole year, rather than just on the 'heroic' efforts towards the end. There was one issue that I was very very tenacious with, having to work with operations, software vendors, networks, sysadmins and security to track down a particularly nigglesome problem. This taught me some well-needed discipline, but not, however, much humility.

My boss did his very best to knock a streak of arrogance out of a jumped-up young upstart: I found it very easy to do the work that was asked of me, but I was lazy, sloppy and work-shy, to be honest. Nothing was much of a challenge, so instead, I filled my time reading the BBC News website, chatting with my friends on the Kiteboarding forums and planning my next weekend trip to the beach or overseas Kiteboarding trip.

I suppose you could say that I had my cake and ate it. I got to continue my career in London, and I also got to travel the globe and meet a set of friends who became a part my life, almost like University or "gap-yah" friends (gap year to those who don't speak posh) would be in the lives of my rich upper-middle-class white spoiled brat peers.

However, I still harboured a bitter resentment against the world for having 'conspired' to deny me a year of diminished responsibility, casual sex with sun-kissed young women with sand in their hair, and generally having fun in the playground of World's backpacking hostels. I felt I was entitled to this, like all the University-educated upper-middle-class twentysomethings in Banking.

I couldn't see that I had kind of won. I had kind of gotten both. I couldn't see that my life was awesome already.

When my boss told me that I been ranked just below the very top performing employees of the company that year, I was mighty p1ssed off. He did a very good job of staying calm and not telling such an arrogant little sh1t to p1ss off. Partly at issue, was that entitlement is bred into us by our upbringing and society around us.

We are told what to expect depending on our position in the World. Perhaps we also misunderestimate (sic.) the effort that is going on beneath the serene surface: some of us are wild swans, with our legs frantically paddling under the surface, while we glide along the surface looking cool, calm, collected & awesome.

Tony Blair told the world that 50% of people should get to go to University. I wanted to go to University, but always felt such a deep sense of responsibility to be self-sufficient and work hard, it seemed decadent and profligate to spend so much money, geting into debt, just drinking and reading books. I have always been excellent at cramming for exams and words seem to flow out of me like so much water in a sieve, so that part didn't exactly worry me.

It's always been a bugbear of mine that people think that education is a right. It's not. It's a privilege, but it is also essential to advance civilisation and humanity. It can improve lives and society more than any other gift that we can give to the developing nations. Teach a man to fish etc. etc.

People have tried to gently, and not-so-gently steer me towards teaching. I loved my teachers and I love teaching. I can remember all the names of my teachers, and I still fondly recall so much of what they taught me in life, and how they inspired me. I hated school though, because the bullying was so unbearable. But then again, I was always terrified of electricity and ended up becoming an electrician, so fears can be overcome.

I think I know now that, when I'm done with wearing a suit, I want to teach - so much that it makes me absolutely sob my eyes out as this realisation dawns on me - Physics, Maths and Design/Technology/IT working with underpriviledged kids in state comprehensive schools in Inner City London. This doesn't have to be soon. It's something to aspire to for semi-retirement, I think.

The only way that I can think to make that a reality from my current situation of zero cash, zero assets and massive debts, is by draining the swamps in banking, as an IT contractor, and by changing the political landscape of the UK so that we pay Teachers a decent living wage and top up the salary of those working in London so that they can afford to live here.

Ideally, I would like to finish the project I'm on, and deliver of a stint of many months and years of steady high-quality work for the global bank I have always loved admired and respected the most. HSBC really is a great place to work, and you really can be reassured that when we are all done, it's going to be good for another 150 years of helping people and businesses to achieve their full potential.

Maybe I'm just a hopeless dreamer. Answers on a postcard if you've got a better idea.

You are such bores

Anyone who says 'narcissist' to somebody who has decided to wear a grey suit for 18 years is going to get a punch in the mouth (Winter 2014)

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On Top Of My Game

4 min read

 

This is a story of a noncompetitive person who became a winner...

Accidentally Winning

In September 2008 I won the Poole Animal Windfest. I then got into a waiting taxi and flew to India to work with my team on the DTCC project for JPMorgan. I didn't even have time to collect my prize or wash off the salt from my skin.

I didn't even realise I had won. When I reached the shore, I had travelled far downwind from the spectators, and it wasn't until I dragged my board and kite back up the beach and started to pack up that people said I had won the final heat

That year, I wrote a software testing framework called Message Oriented Testing (MOT... a pun on the UK's certificate of roadworthiness test for cars and other motor vehicles) as well as designing and leading the coding of the confirmations engine for Credit Default Swaps, that would work with the Depository Trust and Clearing Corporation's API and the Financial Products Markup Language.

This test-driven approach delivered the project on time, despite me having to do it with completely inexperienced offshore resources, and the low number of defects left my bosses gobsmacked. I didn't realise any of this until somebody told me this a long time afterwards.

The truth is though, that was the last good code I wrote, and even that was a bit hacky. I don't really go in for Rolls-Royce solutions. Generally I'm useful when the client or customer needs something doing yesterday. When all the 'architects' have done fart-arsing around and the project is really late, that's the time that I ususually wake up and start hacking something together to get things over the finishing line.

Does that mean I'm a good hacker? In truth, not really. Doing these 'heroic' acts generally leaves me burnt out, and leaves the team with a pile of code which I'm the only person who understands. The deadline is met, but everybody else is left holding the baby, while I sleep off the 'hangover' from a work binge.

So what am I good at? Well, I'm honest - brutally honest - and I also really dislike the salesmen in software who promise the earth and then go back to their development team to give them the 'good news' that they have made the sale... provided the whole team can work for 25 hours a day, 9 days a week, for the next 17 months, and deliver in a year. We just need to make a little adjustment to the Gregorian calendar, no?

Joke HA HA HA

I do have a good background in Mathematics thanks to incredible teachers (my maths teacher at school taught me Matrix Mechanics after school, so I could write a 3D ray-tracing algorithm) and Computer Science (the same maths teacher also taught me and a few friends an extra GCSE in our lunch breaks) and I'm enough of a fast learner to pick up any new technology that's required of me to learn to a 'competant hacker' level... a colleague once kindly said I "hit the ground running like Linford Christie" but I think I will probably also fall over like Usain Bolt, unless I stop taking on these sprints.

I also love design and technology. I had the most brilliant D&T teachers throughout my school years. At age 15 I designed and built a motion-tracking device that fitted over a person's arm. I demonstrated it, along with the software I wrote, at Brunel University, as part of the Young Inventor of the Year competition. I think I got a prize, but I can't remember! I definitely think I have a certificate from the competition - which was awarded to me by the Rotary Club, in Lyme Regis - somewhere in the archives.

Now, what would be the perfect job for such a person? I actually have no idea. I've been trying everything I can possibly think of. I actually think, I'm pretty good at pursuading people to back other people's ideas. I guess that makes me a salesman?

Sell Sell Sell!

The logos displayed are companies that the Hubflow platform was demo'ed to. We partnered with Video Arts, who then took it to their large customer base. Standard sales bullshit (July 2011)

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Your Team Looks After You

3 min read

This is a story of friendship, love and adventure...

Isla de Coche

A group of friends put their trust, their money and - indirectly - their lives in my hands, and I took us all to Caracas, Venezuela, where we were transported across the city in trucks that had holes in them that looked very much like bullet holes. We all survived.

I must admit, if the holiday was a success it was more by good luck than by good judgement. I'd like to say that it was effective delegation that made the difference, but really, I just outsourced the problems to an excellent local guide - Alejandro Battistini - who was trying to make a name for himself and the island of Coche, off the coast of Margarita island, South of the Caribbean.

Having been to both islands on a couple of occasions before, myself, I was familiar with the way things worked as a traveller in a small group. Having a huge group was a different logistical proposition all together, however.

I negotiated a seemingly sizeable deal with American Airlines in order to get nearly 20 people plus 20+ kiteboards, and perhaps as many as 50 giant kites, to our destination without incurring costly excess luggage fees. When we came to try and fly to a small group of coral sand islands called Los Roques, I knew that we would be taking an extremely small turboprop plane and weight would be an issue. I tried to impress upon the group the importance of travelling light, but when the airline staff saw a gigantic pile of bags, they baulked at the prospect of a sketchy takeoff.

This was a big blow to the group, and to make matters worse, there was then a lull in the wind and we found ourselves killing time on the beach without enough wind to kitesurf even with our biggest kites. Everyone should have been very annoyed with me, and I felt really bad that things had not worked out.

What's bigger than a big kite? Two big kites. Instead of letting me feel all embarassed and sheepish about everyone sat around on the beach, the gang helped me with the crackpot idea of flying two kites at once to get twice as much power. I was the only one who got to try it, as it needed so many people to help me launch the kites but make sure I didn't get launched into outer space by 26 square metres of bi-kite. That was an inspiring piece of alturism on the part of the group.

Double Trouble

The most fun I've ever had with my clothes on. Thanks guys & gals! (April 2005)

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