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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

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God Bless The Police

5 min read

This is a story about law and order...

NYPD

My neighbour's burglar alarm has been going off continuously for over 24 hours. I spoke to my neighbour late last night who told me that she wasn't able to drive because she had drunk a bottle of wine. I said I would gladly pay her cab fare, but she refused to do anything about it last night. The alarm was still going off this evening, and I have been making attempts to contact my neighbour all day.

I phoned the police.

God bless the police.

They turned up less than an hour after I got off the phone to them. The police are very nice people. One policeman came in my house to hear how loud the alarm was and he said that he'd have broken into my neighbour's house and taken a hammer to the alarm, if it was him - he wasn't even joking.

In all seriousness, the police were pretty clear that I can't break into my neighbour's house - I would be arrested for breaking and entering. I can't afford to be arrested when my government security clearance is at stake, which is vital for the job I do - I can't afford to be on the wrong side of the law. My conduct has to be beyond reproach.

The police tried to contact my neighbour. Another neighbour tried to contact my neighbour. We managed to find my neighbour on Facebook, and the police managed to find an email address. We tried to figure out where she might be. My neighbours were out on the street, chatting to the police. It was all a bit embarrassing, but it's pretty awful being in my house with the burgular alarm blasting for over 24 hours.

I contacted the local council's noise pollution team and they told me that unfortunately the law changed, literally in the last week, such that the courts won't grant a warrant to break into a house and cut off the burglar alarm during "unsociable hours". Literally, if this had happened last week, the warrant could have been issued and the police could have gone in and cut the dratted alarm off. The lady I spoke to at the council was incredibly helpful and nice, and very apologetic about the fact that the law has changed so recently, so nothing can be done. Perhaps tomorrow I will have more luck with either my neighbour or the noise pollution team.

Meanwhile I found a better pair of earplugs which have rescued me from similar situations in the past, although they're so good that I could easily sleep through my own alarm clock and be late for work, if the alarm keeps ringing on Sunday night.

My neighbour's attitude sucks, but the response of the police and the local council has been great, and my other neighbours have been really great too.

It's really distressing to have this constant noise nuisance in my home, stopping me from peacefully enjoying my weekend, but I feel really glad that certain parts of civilised society are functioning so effectively. I would never have expected that dealing with the police and the local council would bring such swift action, and my admiration for the work of the police has only grown greater. I already held the police in very high esteem, given the difficult job that they do, and I felt bad to involve them in a matter which should have been quite easily resolved without their assistance, but I did try my best to handle the matter directly with my neighbour and the police agreed that the situation was intolerable, with the alarm going off for so long.

This whole episode has been rather tame and dull compared with other more colourful moments of police involvement in my life, but still, it's put rather a dampener on my weekend.

My new life in this new city is not taking shape as quickly as I hoped it would. My Saturday night has been a relatively dismal and disappointing affair. I was supposed to be going on a date with somebody who I really hit it off with last week, but she cancelled on me. I thought I would make the best of the weekend anyway, but instead I have been plunged into a terrible mood by this alarm situation and I was very nearly tempted to act in a very rash way which could have had dire consequences. I'm pleased I managed to remain patient and polite with my neighbour and I haven't let this relatively minor incident trigger me into doing something regrettable.

Not the most exciting story, but perhaps it's interesting in terms of how far I've come, dealing with things in an adult, mature, law-abiding and good-neighbourly way, when so often in the past I would have smashed things to pieces in moment of rage.

 

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Rehabilitation of Offenders

5 min read

This is a story about second chances...

Victim care card

When I got home after work this evening, the burglar alarm was going off in my next-door neighbour's house. I didn't know it was the burglar alarm, but when I later went around to see if my neighbour was at home, I could see that the back gate was hanging off its hinges. I became suspicious. The lights of the alarm were flashing and it was clear that nobody had been home for a period of some days. I wondered if there had been a break-in.

I phoned the police.

Why wouldn't I phone the police? There was a reasonable amount of evidence that there'd been an intruder: The intruder alarm was going off and the back gate was hanging off its hinges. The house was obviously unoccupied to me - an ordinary law-abiding citizen - so I imagined that it must have appeared much more obvious as a target to anybody who practiced acquisitive crime.

In the UK we have a non-emergency number for reporting such things, which I didn't really hesitate to use. Why would I not do a good-neighbourly deed of reporting something suspect to the relevant authorities? Why would I not set the wheels in motion, so that anything out of good order could be set back straight again?

Selfishly, I really wanted the alarm to stop ringing, because it was really noisy inside my house.

The alarm is still ringing now.

I gave the police my name and date of birth. They asked me if I still live at my old address. They told me the street name. I told them I don't live there anymore.

So.

The police have got my name and data of birth correlated with my address on a computer system somewhere.

That's somewhat alarming.

I suppose I'm no stranger to the police, but still, I've got a clean criminal record. I've never been convicted of a crime. I've never been to court.

I don't even have any spent criminal convictions. That is to say, that I've never been a convicted criminal ever in my life.

In the UK, after a certain amount of years, a person is no longer required by law to disclose their criminal record to potential employers. In the UK we give people a fresh start; a second chance. In the UK we rehabilitate our offenders... those who learn their lessons and pay their debt to society are allowed to have their sins forgiven and forgotten... although of course we must remember that some crimes have victims, those victims have suffered, and those victims may continue to suffer.

We have taken a choice as a society. We have decided to let ex-convicts be given second chances.

I'm a non-convict.

It was coincidence that I was driving home and I was thinking about the grilling I'm potentially going to get over the data that the police hold on me. My employer is entitled to see all the data that the police have. My employer is entitled to ask questions that nobody else in the country is, because it's in the interests of national security.

I have to be thoroughly vetted.

My background is thoroughly checked.

My data follows me around. My data will never be expunged. My data is held permanently on record.

Perhaps I'm asking too much - asking to be too close to the inner circle. Perhaps it's an unreasonable request, to be accepted into every single part of society as a law-abiding obedient servant of the Crown, fine upstanding member of the community and citizen of the United Kingdom. I know that I have erred in the past, but the nature of my errors is something that lives on only in the memory banks of the police computer databases. No court has ever found me guilty of committing a crime. I've never set foot in a courtroom. However, the data records show that I have had some contact with the police, and I expect I'll have to explain that to my employers.

The police telephoned my neighbour and she returned home to check her house and her belongings were secure. I have ingratiated myself with my neighbours - obtaining the telephone numbers on both sides - and done a good deed. Is my dark past behind me now? Have I now re-entered civilised society? On balance, do I owe a debt to society or have I contributed amply?

It does concern me that my past behaviour might be used as a predictor of future behaviour, and as such prejudice my career progression and perhaps even deny me things such as housing, but that day has not yet arrived. I am anxious about what the future has in store for me, given what's plainly visible to those who have access to my data, but I proceed on the assumption that if there has been one thing clearly established in my adult lifetime, it's that I've been dedicated to my job, not breaking the law.

I assume that I'm going to be given my full set of opportunities. I assume that I will not fall afoul of any prejudice.

It's kind of a scary time though. I have to trust the system.

 

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I Hate Renting Houses

7 min read

This is a story about the rentier class...

Assured shorthold tenancy

I spend a lot of time dealing with brain-dead individuals who think they should get paid a lot of money for jobs they're thoroughly incompetent at, as well as being so utterly unbelievably stupid that they would put a Terms of Service contract onto their website, which was stolen from a fast-food restaurant.

Unfortunately I have to deal with lettings agents who think it's OK to charge the best part of £400 or more, for putting a document in a photocopier and then filling in a couple of blanks, such as the name of the tenant and the amount of rent payable.

Like, I mean, how much do you actually think you should get paid for filling in 5 pieces of information onto a document you don't understand, and doing a bit of photocopying.

The UK government has helpfully provided a very nice model contract, for anybody who is looking to rent out their home. This document includes all kinds of useful guidance, such as "it's not OK to demand sex in lieu of rent" for f**kwits who think they can write whatever the hell they want into a contract, and it somehow supersedes the laws of the country.

You cannot, for example, draw up a contract that allows you to punch me, stab me and/or kill me, and avoid punishment for the crime, because I signed a so-called waiver. I cannot waive my rights using civil law. The criminal laws of the country will always take precedence over any contract law. That is to say that my statutory rights are not affected by any bullshit piece of paper that I sign.

When you buy a pair of shoes, you'll sometimes sign a piece of paper that says you can't return them and get a refund. However, that doesn't affect your statutory rights, and you're quite within your legal rights to return the shoes if they're faulty or defective in some way.

The law defends us from all sorts of unscrupulous unethical chancers who want our money but don't want to work for it - in short, they want our money, but they're not going to do any work to get it. Those people are called the rentier class who believe they're entitled to money for nothing.

The rentier class piss me off.

I just want to have a place to live. I want to have a secure home. That's all I want.

Here is an email, which I took the time to research and write on my goddam Sunday afternoon, when I'm supposed to be relaxing:

Dear XXX XXXX,

Many thanks for showing me around XXXXXXX on Saturday afternoon, and your prompt reply to my queries was greatly appreciated. I am interested in renting the property as it adequately met my requirements, but I felt I should write to you with regards to keeping a pet cat. The answer you supplied is not satisfactory I'm afraid.

I must draw you, your agency and the landlord's attention to the matter of UK law, when it comes to the keeping of pets. The Consumer Rights Act (2015) stipulates that the keeping of a pet cannot be reasonably refused, unless the pet would cause a nuisance to the occupiers of neighbouring properties or significantly increase wear and tear to the property. According to the Unfair Terms in Consumer Contracts Regulations (1999) The Office of Fair Trading deems a “No Pets” clause unlawful.

The law is very clear: "[a] landlord cannot exercise a blanket ban on pets". Your quote "the Landlord has stipulated No Pets at the property" which is an incontrovertible piece of written evidence of unlawful behaviour on the part of the landlord, you and your agency.

The property is unfurnished and has hard floors throughout, such that the keeping of a cat would clearly not increase wear and tear to the property. A cat would certainly not cause a nuisance to the occupiers of neighbouring properties. I noticed several neighbourhood cats during my visit to the property.

Given that the landlord has unreasonably refused for me to keep a cat at the property, which is an unlawful contravention of The Consumer Rights Act (2015) as a goodwill gesture I am prepared to offer a modest increase to the deposit and an additional contract clause whereby the tenant accepts any responsibility for pet damage to the property. This would give the landlord an exceptionally high level of protection, for the incredibly unlikely event that an ordinary domestic cat might cause damage or additional wear and tear. This extra money would be held in the Deposit Protection Scheme (DPS) in addition to the substantial deposit already proposed by your agency.

Naturally, the Assured Shorthold Tenancy agreement would be amended, so that it is contractually stipulated that the keeping of one single cat was permitted. Any additional pets would require consent from the landlord, which is standard practice.

It is not my intention to turn the landlord's property into a zoo. It would be perfectly reasonable - for example - for the landlord to refuse the keeping of a large dog, which would be likely to bark loudly and thus cause annoyance to the neighbours.

My request is most reasonable and the UK courts will robustly defend my legal right to keep a pet cat. I hope you will forgive me for reminding you again that it is not lawful for a landlord to "exercise a blanket ban on pets and should not turn a request down without good reason". 

I humbly suggest you and your agency thoroughly familiarise yourself with the laws of England and Wales pertaining to landlords, tenants and letting agents, such that your future business is conducted lawfully. The necessary statutes which you and your agency should familiarise yourself with are: The Landlord and Tenant Act (1985), Consumer Contracts Regulations (1999) and Consumer Rights Act (2015).

I advise you to inform your client of any laws which he or she might not have been aware of, such that any more unlawful behaviour might be avoided in future. Perhaps you might then be so kind as to respond again to my question about keeping a pet cat, when you are next able to speak to your client.

It disappoints me that your agency who charge fees of £311.54 for the simple preparation of an Assured Shorthold Tenancy agreement, should be so woefully ill-informed of the laws of the United Kingdom. Ignorance of the law is no defence in court. I am especially disappointed that you are charging a substantial professional fees for your services, when you are conspiring with your clients to break the law.

My advice is offered at the cost of a leisurely Sunday I could have spent spent relaxing, so I hope you appreciate the effort I have made in providing you with a comprehensive summary of how to conduct your business and advise your clients, without breaking the laws of England and Wales, which would be financially costly and reputationally damaging. Consider my free advice to be a goodwill gift.

I assure you that my only intention is to rent a property, with the statutory protections afforded to me by UK law, such that my right to live in peaceful enjoyment of the property as my home is not legally infringed. It seems like a reasonable request to me. Would you agree?

I trust this message finds you well and I hope to receive a reply at your earliest convenience.

I hope you had a good weekend.

Kind regards,

Nick

That's my politest possible way of saying you can't fuck with me, you rentier class c**t. And demanding to enjoy the same freedom in life that those who were born with a silver spoon in their mouth get. We should not have a two-tier society, where the rentier class don't have to work, and the rentier class should not make unreasonable demands, such as disallowing the proletariat the comfort of having a pet.

Rant over.

 

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Proper Preparation Prevents Paranoia about Privacy

7 min read

This is a story about shame...

Battle scars

The holes in my wall tell a story. I picked up a massive wardrobe and moved it to block the entrance to my bedroom in an attempt to barricade myself in, because I wanted privacy so badly; I so desperately wanted the certainty of knowing that nobody would barge in on me unexpectedly. In fact, I spent the best part of two days and nights without sleep, attempting to secure my bedroom against would-be perverts hoping to barge in and catch a glimpse of me in my nest of shame.

Obviously, it's somewhat of a self-fulfilling prophecy. When somebody spends a couple of days dismantling beds, bookcases, chests of drawers and heaving heavy pieces of furniture into their barricade, it's pretty noisy and the work is exhausting. As a person gets more physically tired and sleep deprived, they gey clumsy and they make mistakes, such as toppling a massive heavy thing with sharp corners into a wall, gouging out plaster and leaving an ugly hole.

My body is covered with battle scars from my efforts to keep my shame private. I have an enormous scar on my left calf and another one on my right thigh. I have a broken nose from where I was balancing a piece of furniture above my head in an attempt to cover a window.

My paranoia stems from my childhood, when I was constantly bullied, at home and at school. Nobody respected my privacy or my right to live a dignified life. My paranoia stems from an abusive relationship, where I was punched in the face, screamed at and generally verbally abused, and regularly had to put a door in-between my ex and I, which she would spend hours aggressively kicking while I was trapped in a room with no toilet, food drink, or exit other than to face the violent abusive woman on the other side of the door. My paranoia stems from not having a space of my own where I can lock the door and feel confident that I'm the only one with the key; feeling like I have no right to privacy and that I can expect somebody to barge in at any moment. Being a guest in somebody's home is not the same as having your own safe space. Being a prisoner in your own home is truly traumatic.

I built myself a summerhouse in 2009 and then insulated and carpeted it in 2013. I finally had my own miniature house with a front door I could lock, although it had no running water or toilet. I improvised a water supply using the garden hose and locked myself in there until my ex-wife moved out. I would have starved to death if she hadn't, but I didn't care... I wanted to escape from that abusive relationship.

I could have had a clean break, but my ex-wife put me through hell with the divorce. I arranged a quick and easy house sale, which would have allowed us both to get on with our lives, but she sabotaged me at every opportunity. She ruined my chance of escape and recovery. She sabotaged my efforts to rebuild my life.

London is not a good place to be sick and poor.

London is not a good place to be paranoid.

London is not private.

However, at least London is anonymous. I completely lost my mind on the streets of London and nobody paid me the blindest bit of attention. Nobody would remember my face. I'm never going to see anybody who remembers me when I was insane, penniless, homeless, destitute and in a very shameful sorry state indeed. London was the perfect place to recover from the trauma, without getting paranoid about my neighbours witnessing what should be a private affair.

Privacy is important when you're struggling. Privacy is important when your life is filled with shame.

Invasion of privacy sows the seeds of paranoia, leading to psychosis and schizophrenia. Human interest is a powerful force, which is the reason why fly-on-the wall documentaries and reality TV shows are so enthralling, and why we love to read people's blogs, diaries and journals. It's impossible to tear your eyes away from the spectacle of somebody struggling. People will line up like it's a fucking spectator sport, watching somebody suffer and not doing the slightest thing to intervene or otherwise fucking off and minding their own business. People know when they're being watched. Knowing that you're being watched makes everything a million times worse. "Why don't they do something or just fuck off?" you think to yourself, and soon it's all you can think about; the audience is spellbound and they'll literally spend hours watching and talking amongst themselves: "ooh it's awful isn't it?" and "yes I know. it's been going on for ages" ... but they never get bored.

I've recovered a remarkable amount since those dark days of 2013/4. In fact, I've made a miraculous recovery, but it's very far from complete.

I've gone from owning my own home and a summerhouse, to now renting an apartment. I've gone from financial security to mountainous debts. I've gone from having every right to privacy, to the situation where I have to show my bank statements to letting agents and allow my landlord to come into my home. Instead of being my own boss, I have to submit myself to security vetting and allow people to pore over the details of my private life. I've been poked, prodded and generally put into a goldfish bowl to be gawped at by numerous doctors, consultants, psychiatrists, social workers and a whole heap of wannabe amateur psychiatrists, who think they've got me all figured out, but who fail to recognise that it's grossly insulting and patronising for them to take a lazy glance and think they know me.

Things are very difficult.

I've had so many years and months of shame and swallowing my pride, and it fucking sucks.

I've had so many people judge me who I really didn't invite to pass judgement, and who really have no place, prying into my private affairs. I'm doing a good job of living a normal life within society's rules. I don't deserve to have people sitting in judgement of who I am, what I am, and whether my thoughts, feelings, actions, intentions, character and other attributes of me and my personality, are somehow acceptable to the self-appointed nosy busybodies.

Where is my space where I can feel safe? Where can I be free from the tyranny of the judgement of puffed-up pompous twats who think they know best and they have a right to barge in on me in my private shame; to embarrass me.

That's why I work so damn hard. I'm trying to earn enough to buy a place which is mine and nobody has the right to come barging into. I'm trying to get my little slice of privacy and free myself of the tyranny of having to kowtow to other people's judgement... most often other people's inferior judgement.

Please, give me some space. Have I not always used it wisely? Have I not proven myself to be very capable of doing amazing things, when given the space; the trust?

I have my shame, which I'm attempting to de-fuse by making everything about myself as public as possible, but it's a slow process. I feel like I'm only halfway there.

I have my flaws. I have things I want to keep private.

I need dignity.

 

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No News is Bad News - Part One

52 min read

This is a story about the easy way and the hard way...

Legal High

If you wanted to try to oversimplify my life, you might say I have unreasonable expectations, I'm impatient, I'm arrogant, I have a misplaced and unjustified superiority complex, I'm lazy and I expect to get everything I want all at once with a snap of my fingers. I hope you'll find that the facts rather disprove most of that.

An alternative oversimplification might be to say "it's the drugs". Some drugs sure damn don't help, but alcohol, drugs, medications and other substances have been a major part of human civilisations for thousands of years. Can you imagine how many people would struggle without their morning coffee? Can you imagine the bulk of awkward social gatherings without alcohol as a social lubricant?

If we were to look at the last few times my life went from "rapidly improving; mostly complete" to "smouldering ruins; lucky to be alive", then you'll see the pattern is different every time, although it has most of the same key elements. If you can tell me categorically which the one and only trigger is for a complete reversal of fortune, then you're either a genius or you're just guessing and you guessed wrong because there pretty much is no pattern.

Let's start in 2011:

  • I was doing a tech startup. Just as a bit of background: I was the sole founder, but I talked a friend from JPMorgan into becoming 'co-founder' because I was feeling overwhelmed and this guy always talked about wanting to be his own boss and create a dot com etc.
  • My startup was cashflow positive... kinda. I was wealthy enough to bootstrap, but I basically had a local company want me to build them an iPhone app, and I thought it would be a much better idea to build a white label product that I'd license to them, and new content could be downloaded, bypassing Apple App Store approval. Aviva was my first customer.
  • My 'co-founder' was fucking useless at coding and tech in general, but he often contributed the best ideas. In 2011 that idea was to exhibit our product at London Olympia at the Learning Technologies conference. We were one of only 3 companies who had a proper working mobile e-learning solution, so we saw a hell of a lot of decision makers with budget in just 2 days.
  • My startup was shortlisted for TechStars, Boulder, CO... but I had 12 hours notice so I had to book flights and get to Heathrow, to catch a flight to Denver so I could make the meeting. Got to meet Dave Cohen though (co-founder of TechStars) and of course Nicole Glaros who was heavily pregnant but showing no signs of giving up startup life.
  • I'd also applied to TechStars in Cambridge, UK (known as Springboard) and Nicole was kind enough to phone me and say "between you and me, you've got Cambridge in the bag" as opposed to "you didn't make the final 10".
  • I ditched my 'co-founder' which was one of the most ruthlessly awful things I've ever done in my life, but he was more employee kinda material, having only ever worked for one company since uni.
  • I then rang Jon Bradford, who ran TechStars in the UK and said "I'm coming on my own. Hope that's OK" to which he replied "if you don't have a co-founder, you're not welcome - no exceptions". I tried to get a mate who was CEO of a subsidiary of Hawkeye to ditch that and be my co-founder, but Jon talked him out of it ("do you really want to leave an established brand where you have a team of people and plenty of profit to work for a company one guy created on his own less than a year ago?"). So I persuaded my friend with the pregnant girlfriend and the massive mortgage to leave his £300/day contract and become my new co-founder.
  • I lied to my girlfriend about having to go to Cambridge for 3 months - I said "it's just for a little while". My co-founder asked "is it expenses paid" and I lied again and told him it was (technically it was as I think we got £10,000 per founder or something like that, but we had to give away 6% of our equity).
  • Cambridge was one of the happiest times of my life
  • I also made my co-founder cry in front of a Google executive, and was regularly a complete arsehole and the only reason he didn't hit me was because he'd been bullied himself and he was worried he'd unleash hell. I did deserve a kick in the teeth though.
  • Running a profitable business with quite a lot of customers, while having to meet 120 potential mentors in 2 weeks. It's fine if your 'startup' is a website, a logo and an elevator pitch. It's not fine when you keep having to rush back to your desk every coffee break to deal with urgent issues.
  • I got so burnt out by week 10 or 11, I was having suicidal thoughts, but at the same time I was still somehow loving it.
  • I abused A LOT of alcohol, which was fine cos I'd had a lot of practice at JPMorgan. My co-founder however, nearly cycled into the River Cam, several shop doorways and several hedges... and that was just one night drinking free Pimms at a Cambridge Angels night that we weren't invited to, but we just picked up name badges and walked in. "Sorry what was your name?" the girl behind the desk asked. I read it off the badge with enough confidence that somehow the ruse was not challenged.
  • By week 12 I was burnt out. I was swallowing mouthfuls of legal stimulant 'granules' even when pissed out of my mind, somewhat hoping I wouldn't wake up. I skipped the office a few days.
  • My girlfriend was doing my head in. She was pretty evil and aggressive anyway, but she absolutely hated the version of me that was successful and confident. One of her most abusive outbursts was when I wanted to spend 30 minutes choosing a tie to wear on demo day, where I was going to be on stage in front of billions of dollars worth of investors, and all the technology journalists you could shake a stick at. "I hate Jon Bradford and I think the feeling's mutual" she said when she met everyone for the first time, sullen and sulky.
  • I could have cheated on my girlfriend. I could have left her for a girl who wanted me to reach my full potential, but no, I stayed faithful, which created additional stress and pressure because she had non-negotiable demands, like not moving to London, Bristol, Cambridge or basically anywhere near my co-founder, investors or customers. She was a teacher - she can get a job anywhere.
  • On the funnest and most memorable night of the program, I felt duty-bound to do something for my girlfriend's birthday. We went punting, stayed in Cambridge's best hotel and ate at in Cambridge's best restaurant. I wish I went to karaoke, because all she ever did was complain and throw hissy fits about things that were not 100% perfect.
  • On the last night, I had to choose. A girl who I was secretly in love with let it be known that she was into me. But I remained faithful to my abusive misery-guts who just wanted to see my dreams destroyed.
  • No compromise could be reached with regards to moving to even commuting range of my co-founder or London. By "no compromise" I mean it was like every other time I ever tried to talk to her - she told me what was going to happen, and my wants and needs meant fuck all. "Compromising" to her meant doing exactly what she wanted.
  • I went to her brother's wedding. I'd been to 3 other weddings that summer, and she'd gotten drunk and smashed 3 different digital cameras of mine. I told her she was banned from even touching this one. She smashed it. Back at the hotel room, I was sulking. She started saying "you're a freak. You're a weirdo. You're a nerd. You're a geek. Nobody likes you. Everyone thinks you're weird" standing in the doorway with the door halfway open, knowing her mum & dad next door would hear if I rose to the bait and started abusing her back in a rage. The next thing I remember was that she screamed. I don't remember what happened in between, except that she was on the floor pinned down. The scream woke me out of the trance-like red mist and I got off her. She ran off. I waited a couple of hours and then I decided to drive my car into a concrete pillar at the maximum speed of my car, which was about 130mph, with no seat belt and the airbag turned off.
  • When I got home I tried to overdose - I every time I'd taken aim at one of those motorway bridge pillars, I realised there were protective barriers to stop head on collisions like that.
  • A couple of days later, I went to pick her up. She was wearing a singlet, showing off the bruising on her arms to maximum effect. Her parents, out of her earshot, said to me: "we know she's hit previous boyfriends and we saw what she did to you. You don't need to look so guilty and remorseful. She's an aggressive person and you're a sensitive person. You shouldn't have hit her, but we forgive you".
  • Out of guilt. For whatever reason. I stayed with her. I couldn't see any way to make my startup work without moving, even though a single investor had offered to write a cheque for £250k right there on the spot - we'd sort the term sheet matter of minutes and walk away with the money the same day... easy. I said I needed time to think.
  • I started abusing a really dangerous drug, which I said I would never touch in a million years. I basically wanted to die.
  • I had to give my pitch to another load of investors and influential tech people in London. It was quite an important event. I was so addicted to the drug, and I could see no way round the location problem without leaving my girlfriend, I turned back halfway to the train station. I was going to give up right then and there.
  • After the pitch, people who'd seen me at Demo Day in Cambridge said I was even better the second time. I was a different person though. I knew I couldn't do my startup and stay with my girlfriend. I had to choose between my abuser who had zero gratitude for the luxury life I'd given her, my unwavering faithfulness and generous love - OR - my lifelong dream of running my own software company.
  • I turned my phone off. I stopped replying to emails.
  • I took more and more drugs.
  • I took so many drugs I started to get pseudo-Parkinsonism: uncontrollable motor tics. I took so many drugs I started seeing things, hearing things, imagining that I was surrounded by the police or the army, just waiting for the perfect moment to smash in all the doors and windows and get me.
  • A month after that London demo day, I started carrying an envelope around with me that said "OPEN ME". It contained £20 and said "please put me in a taxi to A&E. I have a drug problem and I've probably had a heart attack or a seizure". Inside the first letter was a second letter which was addressed "TO A&E TEAM" which had all the details of what drug I'd been taking, how much and how regularly.
  • I went to an addiction clinic. There were 2 girls in the waiting room, one was 31 like me, and she had 3 kids who'd been taken off her and put into foster care because she'd been in prison. The other girl was about to turn 21 but she couldn't drink to celebrate because she had barely completed her detox and rehab. She'd been a prostitute since the age of 16 and raped by a family member, repeatedly, when she was younger. This is just what I could glean from the conversation between the two women - I sat there in my expensive clothes, a homeowner, thousands of pounds in the bank, a car, a speedboat... what the fuck right did I have to use this service, when they could be helping really disadvantaged needy people.
  • My girlfriend ordered my dad to take me away from my house against my will. I refused to leave my home. I overheard my girlfriend speaking to my GP and saying "is there no way you can just section him?". My dad just patiently waited for days, on the order of my girlfriend. I told him I wanted to stay in MY home where I had MY doctor and MY friends.
  • I locked myself into my summer house and said I wouldn't leave until they left me alone.
  • They didn't leave me alone.
  • I took my circular saw and cut a hole in the back wall, and climbed over my neighbour's fence with my pre-packed 'grab' bag.
  • The police were despatched "for my safety" because my girlfriend dialled 999 and said "there's a madman on the loose" as opposed to "I'm trying to forcibly eject the homeowner from his house that I'd quite like all for myself"
  • After a couple of days in a hotel I went back to see if my dad had fucked off. Instead, the "crisis team" had been called to try and section me. They would not section me. I was not mentally unwell enough to need to be on a psych ward.
  • Eventually, I capitulated - I was exhausted - and said I'd go stay with my parents for a couple of weeks.

Now, the start of 2012:

  • Living with my parents, while my girlfriend gaslighted me ("It's best for your health") when in fact she just wanted my house me kept far away. She kept saying to me "it's all in your head" when I said "you're doing nothing in my best interests". At first it was just intuition and I was going to go straight back, but I was told that the police would be waiting for me at Bournemouth Station "for my safety".
  • Then, let's just say that I accidentally forgot to disable the keylogger on MY Macbook, which I accidentally forgot when I went to my parents. I certainly didn't know that was the laptop she preferred to use most often. It was a complete surprise to me to see that my Macbook was being used.... I wonder what for?
  • No sooner had I got into my dad's car, she was on my Macbook setting up dating profiles and signing up to 'no strings sex' websites. What a cunt. This was not "all in my head". I accidentally had hard irrefutable evidence.
  • I faked a 'calm weekend visit' with the excuse of picking up a few things I'd forgotten to bring.
  • I managed to totally keep my cool. My girlfriend was really unpleasant, but I just ignored it... she wanted me to get angry and upset so she could add to her 'evidence' of my insanity and have the police remove me on a section 136 of the mental health act.
  • "What's this user account on this dating website?" I asked, pretending to be looking at the browsing history, which of course she'd deleted. "I don't know what you mean. Where did you see that?" she stumbled. "Oh, well, I was wondering where my browsing history went so I restored it from a backup, and then I saw this dating profile... it looks a lot like you actually. Same age. Same town. I thought you only had the one sister, and she's no twin"
  • Suddenly, the abusive horrible girl who'd battered my face and told me I deserved it and she'd never apologise, was apologetic and nice for the first time in her life. She gave me a whole load of "I was only looking" and "I'd never act on it" bullshit - which I knew were lies - but when she said it'd never happen again and she'd try to be a better girlfriend, and thanked me for helping her to see that she'd treated me really badly... it was hard to not want to believe her, because I loved her, annoyingly.
  • I moved back home
  • I got a job working for a small(ish) local company. They had a board of directors but no IT director. They wanted to give me the job title "Head of IT". I said "but I'm the most senior and experienced IT person you've got, with 100% responsibility for all of IT... I'd say that makes me IT Director". The CEO said "nope, the Sales Director is going to be the IT Director too". When I asked what qualified him to be IT Director, the CEO told me "he's quite into tech". What this meant in practice was that the imbecile had a pair of bluetooth wireless headphones.
  • Given that I'd spent 5 months not working, I accepted the job and the job title, on the proviso that I'd get the proper salary and board position after I'd been with them for a year.
  • My girlfriend who'd been a lot nicer since I caught her cheating, said "you're never going to propose, are you?". I had a platinum engagement ring with 3 amazing quality diamonds (cut, clarity and color all pretty damn flawless) which had been gathering dust for quite a while, because I was fairly convinced that I had become embroiled with a terrible terrible person. Perhaps temporarily insane because I was happy to be home and working again, and being treated nicely by this girl for perhaps the first time ever, I popped the question.
  • Immediately, she said "I bet we'll never get married though". I had just received my first paycheque. I said "why don't I book some flights to Hawaii, and then if we wanted to we could get married in tropical paradise, and if we don't want to, we'll just have an amazing holiday". She asked "but what if I don't want to get married in Hawaii?". I replied "then we'll just have an amazing holiday, like I said". She continued round the same circular line of question and answer while I tapped away on my keyboard. "You've just booked the flights haven't you?" she asked. "Yup, I replied" I thought it would be great to have Christmas and New Year in Hawaii, which meant that I just blew £3,000 but I didn't care. Life seemed pretty rosy at that point in time.
  • Back at my new job it turned out that their systems had managed to lose £10m of customers money, the customers credit card data and personal details were not at all secured, the CEO's ideas about the important IT projects were copy-pasted from a due diligence report that was clearly written by a person with learning difficulties who simply Googled "Important IT systems" and then asked the staff which ones they didn't have. Apparently we needed a data warehouse as our number one priority, according to the CEO. "We'lll be shut down in 6 to 12 months by the regulators if we don't fix the stuff that's in breach data protection and PCI compliance" (protection of credit/debit card details).
  • We got audited by forensic accountants. It turned out that all the software had been built by putting keyboards on the floor of rat cages, and letting the rats step randomly on the keys, which produced surprisingly better quality code than some of the programmers in my team. The most junior guy in the team who was given the crappest work turned out to be a star talent.
  • I worked my arse off on an IT roadmap, which the CEO didn't even read, but it got leaked to our parent company.
    • An epilogue to this story:

      A year later by chance I was at a really big conference - Twiliocon - in London and one of the main speakers was the CEO of that parent company. He had used my IT roadmap as the blueprint for the entire IT transformation of his company, and he even put slides up which were verbatim quotes from my document. It was actually quite nice to see my vision implemented, but not to have actually had to do any of the work myself. He said all of my objectives had been achieved: 100% reduction in desktop support costs, office rent, lighting, heating and other facilities costs, total cost of ownership was 30% of what it had been previously when they had an army of PABX engineers, hardware specialists, networking specialists, sysadmins, DBAs and other folks to keep the lights on, plus their uptime had gone from about 80% to 97%.

      Also, he said they'd increased their office hours but the staff were happier than ever, because they preferred working from home and there were always people who wanted to do early or late shifts to fit around their busy family lives, which they could do more easily when they didn't have to commute.

      My favourite quote he used was: "an agent has their Chromebook and headset delivered and is online taking calls within 15 minutes, and if the hardware fails, we just send them another one because the hardware's so cheap and no data needs to be transferred from the old one to the new one". That's my quote. I should be a fucking speechwriter.
  • Anyway, my CEO kept banging on about data warehouses, new PABX and VOIP handsets, new datacentre, leased lines, acquiring new companies and integrating the systems, office move, and a million and one other things which I told him were expensive CapEx and generated zero extra profit: the best way to burn all your budget. I told him that the way to increase profits was to reduce overheads first and then make your systems easy to migrate other companies existing customers onto second and then we could grow through acquisition.
  • To fob that wanker off, I got my friend to quote him for some phone systems and datacentre rack, plus leased lines and everything else. I can't remember the exact figure, but it was somewhere between £250k and £500k of capex, excluding the cost of migration engineers and the ongoing support costs.
  • I showed the CEO the financial models which clearly showed that cloud had slightly higher total cost of ownership, if you divided the up-front cost by the lifetime of the product, but the cost of the specialists to maintain and support it all, plus the obstacle to scaling the business meant that it was a no-brainer: cloud wins hands down. Nope. That fucktard wanted his own PABX and servers, and he thought it was a priority.
  • So, I ignored him and concentrated on the projects which would keep the business from being shut down by the authorities. I started my dev team learning how to build for the cloud using the tech I wanted to use. They loved it and productivity soared.
  • I was getting so much abuse from the CEO that I hired the data warehouse guy who could make the prettiest graphs. That was my best career move. The board sat for hours looking at graphs of data which I told my new hire to just completely fake, because the real data was too hard to extract from the shitty systems.
  • I delivered a couple of critical projects, with the main one to protect all of our payments data and systems.
  • I then said that if we didn't rebuild the system, and separate the company's account from the account where we kept customer's money, we'd never have a ledger for a customer, and we'd always be at risk of continuing to lose customer money. I said I'd done my analysis and it would be quicker and cheaper to design and build a brand new system.
  • Nope, no way, the CEO said. "The other stuff is just as important, if not more important" he said.
  • I was burnt out from the battles. I was sick of the board, with zero IT experience amongst them, telling me that my advice was wrong.
  • I bunked off work. I took loads of drugs. I was sick of that company.
  • I went back after a couple of weeks. Everything was on fire. "We've been given 6 months to get our house in order or else the regulator's will shut us down, What do we do?" the CEO asked. "I told you. It's all in the roadmap". He replied "you've got to do both. Rebuild what you have to, but I want my own PABX and datacentre server". "It can't be done and I'll quit" I replied. "Fit in or fuck off" he said back to me.
  • I went off work for another week. Took loads more drugs.
  • The Sales Director wanted to have a private meeting with me. Turns out I wasn't the only one who could see that the CEO was a talentless fuckwit. He promised that I could build the cloud callcentre that had been my vision all along. "No distractions? Number one project?" I asked. "It's got to be done or else we're finished. Our available budget ]ust won't cover what the CEO wants to do.
  • I went off sick again for a while. Let them sweat.

They were glad to have me back. "Are you excited about this dream project that you designed" the CEO asked me. "No" I replied, "`You're not going to let up on the waste-of-money projects are you?". He shook his head "I want my own PABX and new datacentre hardware. "Cloud?"I asked tongue-in-cheek. "Out of the question".

  • I didn't go back
  • I had August off and I saw the Olympics in the stadium

End of 2012

  • I went back to JPMorgan. It was pretty easy - people remembered me and my reputation had lasted for many years.
  • I ignored my boss(es) mostly but I knew that everybody was crapping their pants about a particular even in the financial calendar had only just finished being processed before a cut-off time. I think there were mintes to spare after the thing had been running for hours. It could have been front-page of the Financial Times if the deadline had been missed.
  • It was nice to reconnect with old colleagues. People were really friendly and we picked up where we left off. There were a couple of new faces in a team I was pretty dependent on and one or two of them seemed to be offended by the way I'd just wanter into their team and see who I knew and how busy they were... usually to ask a favour.
  • There'd been a team of 10 Oracle engineers - the best - flown out from the US to find out how to make the system fast enough so that the next time that particular event came round iin the calendar, it wouldn't be such a nail-biter. I think one of the people who was being a right pain about doing the things I asked him to do, had perhaps borne the brunt of 10 oracle engineers telling him what to do, and nothing made any difference.
  • I gathered loads of performance comparison data. I read everything I could, and ran my timed experiment. I looked for any optimisation I could. I think I squeezed another 15% performance out of the system.
  • I was a bit bored. A lot of time was spent waiting for another team to execute my instructions. Not much gone tone very fast.
  • I was abusing drugs at weekends and mosty geting away with it. I started to bunk off a lot of Mondays. Nobody much cared.
  • I tracked down a much more helpful guy in another office. We had some good chats about different things we could try
  • I looked at what the software was doing, and it was clear that the system was only ever doing one thing at a time. One of the most senior guys who built the software - bought from another company - ended up speaking to me. He didn't believe me, but I'd produced some pretty compelling graphs and begged him to check the code again, which he begrudgingly agreed to do.
  • I was right - I found a bug, or at least I knew what the bug was, without even being able to see the code. I was convinced this would be the big breakthrough
  • It was not the big breakthrough.
  • Me and the Oracle guy got together again, and we went through every single one  in case of clues. Then, he found the problem - the system was waiting for a reply to every single requests. Big, important IT systems hare Disaster Recovery sites that are far enough apart that the likelihood of BOTH being destroyed is virtually impossible. even with a nuke. The trouble is that the speed of light is a constant in a fibre optic cable, and the roundtrip from A to B to A can be - in computer terms - quite slow.
  • As a bank, you never want to lose a single transaction, The original engineers thought it'd be best to have the remote site confirm the transaction. This doesn't really fix anything much if the trading contract has been confirmed with the counterparty, and then your bank gets nuked but the disaster recovery site says the the trade was never confirmed, because the two systems got cut off right at the critical moment. You should send the backup messages as quickly as possible with minimal or ideally no back-and-forth protocol. God knows how many messages could be in-flight at the moment the bomb went off, but you'll have a lot less missing data if you fire it away from your bank at the speed of light, as soon as you possibly can.
  • Anyway, it was taking around 1 to 3 seconds for every message sent to be confirmed as having been successfully stored at the Disaster Recovery site. When you process about $2 or $3 billion in FX trades, and $30 trillion in derivatives trades EVERY DAY, that's a lot of transaction volume. On certain days in the investment banking calendar like IMM day and CDS settlement day, which happen quarterly, the volumes are INSANE and it's a real struggle to get everything done by the deadlines. When banking systems go wrong and either have an outage, or miss their deadlines, the repercussions can cause knock-on problems that are on the front page of the Financial Times the next day, and have queues outside Northern Rock when the general public finally realise how insanely dependent we are on many many trillions of dollars (or equiv. in Pounds/Euros/Yen/whatever) digital 'money' being moved around electronically, every single day.
  • Next IMM day, everything was all processed in less than 20 minutes. "That can't be right" the boss said. "How did we go from a process that used to take all day, and was so close to missing its cutoff deadline, to now having completed everything so quickly?". We checked the data - it was present and correct.
  • I was a bit bored to be honest. The next project wasn't going to start for months, if not years, and the 'capacity headroom' was now so insanely high, that there was no point even forecasting when we'd next get close to the danger zone - it was at least 5 or even 10 years away.
  • I started dabbling with drugs again
  • Then my drug use got so bad I had to take Mondays off sick, and then Mondays and Tuesdays
  • By the time of my stag do, I was a mess. I nearly didn't make my own stag do and I was messed up, being handed a loaded shotgun. The remarkable thing is how unobservant people are. Nobody at work or any of my friends knew I had a drug problem, except that bridezilla had started telling people because SHE wanted sympathy. She bitterly complained to me one day that she'd been telling the girlfriend of one of my colleagues that I had a drug problem and she indignantly said "and she said: POOR NICK. What kind of friend is she? No sympathy". A tiny part of my brain said "what the fuck is this bitch doing broadcasting your most intimate personal problems, trying to get sympathy for herself... why the hell am I marrying this arsehole?" but I had become a different person - I didn't have the will or the strength to stick up for myself any more. The weaker I got, the worse she treated me.
  • I'd always said I wanted to get married in board shorts, so of course we "compromised" with me wearing what she wanted.
  • When we arrived at the luxury villa place which was where we were going to spend Christmas Day and our first day as husband & wife, the idiot owner had double booked, even though our booking was waaaay in advance of the other booking. My fiance went apeshit at the guests and I had to physically drag her back to the car, lock her in, and go apologise to the poor family for her behaviour. Then I went back to the car and phoned the owner, who was not very apologetic and said I should ring the website I booked through and get them to arrange something on the North Shore. I explained that we specifically booked this place because we were getting married on the South Shore, because everybody gets married on the North Shore, and besides everything was fully booked because it was Christmas [FUCKING] EVE and we just got off a 22 hour flight and we were getting married in a little over 2 days... and then bridezilla starts yelling "IT'S NOT GOOD ENOUGH. YOU OWN TWO VILLAS AND YOU CAN'T EVEN NOT MANAGE TO DOUBLE BOOK. YOU'RE FUCKING UP MY WEDDI..." as I quickly exit the car and run down the road covering the mouthpiece until the torrent of abuse from my blushing bride to be is hopefully out of earshot. "Look, we really planned this extremely special day for a very long time. We've been looking forward to spending Christmas Day seeing the volcano, and we're really close to the special place we specifically want to get married. I'm really sure you can understand that this is such a special time for us that you'd want to help us out in any way you could, wouldn't you? I'm sorry that this mistake has happened, but we're kinda counting on you to help rescue our Christmas and wedding day... you must know people in the town who could help... we're strangers here". This fucktarded woman said "I'm a bit busy with Christmas with my family, but I'll make a couple of calls if I get time and then hung up on me".
  • I told bridezilla that everything was going to be fine, and we should just go for a nice dinner
  • It was getting super late, and a really put-out inconvenienced sounding version of the woman I spoke to earlier - who hadn't once yet apologised - gave me a number to phone. It was the owner of a house who'd gone away on holiday somewhere else. She was nice. We could sleep there for one night. She gave me the address and instructions on where the keys were hidden and what the alarm code was.
  • I told bridezilla that everything was sorted
  • We finished our meal and went to the house, which was absolutely gorgeous, and made ourselves at home. The fridge had been stocked with cold beer and there was a load of fresh fruit and stuff all ready for breakfast. I had no idea how this had been arranged, but there are some good people in the world. Most importantly, bridezilla's fury was pacified; she even managed a smile as we enjoyed a beer together on the enormous couch.
  • The house had a big verandah which encircled it, and I crept out there early in the morning to find out where we were spending Christmas Day. I rang obnoxious villa owner woman because I knew she was on the East Coast of the USA and I wouldn't be waking her up. I was given another address nearby(ish). "I hope you know that it's costing me a lot of money to put you up in this place for the rest of your stay. I'm doing you a big favour. Keep it tidy. I've got to pay to have it cleaned up after you've gone" she said. God knows how I resisted the urge to say "and Merry Christmas to you too" or "thanks for your best wishes for our wedding day the day after tomorrow". I just say "OK" and hung up.
  • Bridezilla was pissed that we had to pack and move, but I said the sooner we did it, the sooner we could start our holiday.
  • The place where we were going to spend our last unmarried couple of days, and consumate our marriage, was nowhere near as nice as the place we'd been in before, but it had a hot tub and the bedroom looked out into the rainforest. No drapes, but that didn't matter. No food in the fridge but that didn't matter. At least we weren't going to be sleeping in the car. In fact, it was still a super charming nice place - a cosy little cottage. We found a store that was open and bought a load of food and drinks, assuming that we wouldn't be able to have a nice Christmas Day meal anywhere.
  • We had an amazing Christmas Day seeing the volcano and the lava fields. I can't remember what we ate for our Christmas Day meal. I was just relieved that things were starting to go OK.
  • Boxing Day I'm not sure how I found out, but there was a problem with the camper van we were going to use to get around Oahu on the second half of our trip - Bridezilla's idea. Major mechanical problems. No way it could be fixed in time for when we needed it. No alternative vehicle available - there's only 2 camper van rental companies on the whole of Oahu anyway. I told Bridezilla, thinking "hey, no big deal, we'll just book a nice 5-star hotel and that'll be way more relaxing, swimming in the pool and having waiters bringing us ice cold cocktails... but no, she went apeshit. Even more apeshit than when the accommodation was double booked. "The wedding's ruined" she sobbed. "Everything's ruined" she wailed. I tried a bit of "hey we're in tropical paradise and the camper van was just one part of the holiday later on in the trip. We'll find a nice hotel. We'll rent a nice car. We can still explore the island" type soothing and trying to put things in perspective for her, but she was inconsolable. I rang the camper van guy back: "look, I know it's Christmas and this is an island and getting parts shipped is hard, and mechanics are taking holidays, but is there any way we can get this gearbox changed or repaired. We're here to get married and my fiance is devastated. I'll pay for the repairs. I'll pay Christmas bonuses. Just please, can you think of a solution, because my fiance is so upset and I'm worried that this is really going to ruin her special day". The guy said "I'm really sorry, but there's no chance. That van's not gonna run". I pleaded "please, just make a couple of calls. Say there's extra money in it for the inconvenience. See if there's somebody who can work their magic, even if it's a million-to-one shot". The guy said "alright buddy. I'll make a couple of calls, but I'm telling you it's a waste of time". Trying to sound as grateful as I can I said "alright, I'm so appreciative of you doing that. Thank you".
  • Bridezilla does not understand why I'm not shouting and screaming at people. "These arseholes are ruining my wedding, my holiday, my Christmas. I'm so frustrated that you're always so nice all the time. Gimmie the phone. I'm gonna tell him what I'm going to put all over the internet about his shitty company". I reply "they're just a skint couple who have a couple of knackered old vans that they use to supplement their shitty wages. They're trying their best. You're not having the phone"
  • After a bit of sulking, bridezilla is persuaded to go on a drive to see where we're gonna get married - "I don't see the point; the wedding day is ruined" - and visit the nearby black sand beach and seawater swimming pool, and generally try to enjoy the day as best we can.
  • The place for the outdoor wedding was stunning, with huge plumes of water jetting into the air as waves hit the black rock cliffs. The photographer promised to find a couple of jaw-dropping 'secret' locations and she certainly delivered. Bridezilla is almost happy: the blue sky, ocean, white jets of sea spray and glossy green tropical plants, is so beautiful she's smiling and laughing as a shower of sea spray unexpectedly hits her from behind. The rest of the day was everything you'd ever want from a trip to Hawaii - a black sand beach that certainly had novelty value, although the volcanic sand was pretty gritty, and a seawater swimming pool where waves were breaking right over the sea wall at one end. In the ocean, you'd be smashed to pieces by the waves. The pool felt just like swimming in the ocean except it was shallow enough to stand up and you didn't have to fight with currents and waves. It was so much warmer on the coast than it was up in the hills of Volcano, and we were cruising around in our open-top rental car, having a super nice time.
  • Wedding day, the camper van guy called. He'd found a guy who was gonna try his best to bodge the gearbox so it worked enough for one circuit of the North Island. No promises. "Don't get your hopes up, but it might be OK" he said. "The camper van is fixed good as new" I lied to bridezilla. She was pleased, but she should have been more pleased given the meltdown we had the day before. I guess she was stressing about getting dressed and doing her own hair and makeup and stuff.
  • We had our ceremony - traditional Hawaiian vows and exchange of flower garlands combined with obligatory ring thing too - the photographer and her assistant are the only witnesses, other than the nice lady who conducted the ceremony, who also encourages us to "throw a chaka" in at least one of the photos. The rest of the photos have been planned, choreographed and timed to perfection, with waves breaking at just the right moment, although the photographer is a little disappointed that we only wanted to do one session, rather than coming back during the "golden hour" when the sun is not so bright and harsh, and everything is bathed in golden light. Surprisingly it was all quite quick, even to do a photo in a cool bit of road where the trees have formed an arched canopy and a photo at the black sand beach. "We've still got time if you want to go to the church that they have to keep moving to escape the lava" the photographer suggested. The brightly painted wooden church was photogenic as hell of course, and I don't see any conflict of interest with my atheism - a building is just a building. In a moment when my wife is being photographed, the assistant asks me if I chose my outfit. I didn't. If I chose my outfit I'd have been wearing Brazilian Havaiana flip flops and board shorts, although I would also have chosen a white shirt and linen jacket if I chose my wedding attire myself.
  • During the ceremony, my bride started crying. Does that happen much? Were they tears of joy?
  • We were back at our little cottage surprisingly early, and my wife prepared a really nice lunch from the limited provisions that are available in a local store on Christmas Day. We popped a cork - sparkling wine - and cheered our own marriage.
  • I guess I'm a bit of an idiot, because when my wife suggested a lie down before dinner, I genuinely thought she was exhausted by it all, like I was. Again, naïveté or stupidity led me to be surprised a second time, when I discovered that she was wearing lingerie. We'd never done the lingerie thing. I thought that initial married sex would be not be anything out of the ordinary for a couple who'd been together 7 years, but she'd done her eye makeup exactly how I said I like it ("slutty") and I would never have predicted I'd have the raging horn for the same girl I'd slept with almost every night for the same length of time most married couples find they get the "7-year itch".
  • Dinner laid on by a private chef was absolutely amazing, and we even had a freshly baked wedding cake, although it might less confusingly be described as a freshly baked cake to go with our wedding day meal. The chef is actually fairly well known for Hawaii and just happed to live in Volcano village. Probably the saddest thing about the divorce is that signed copy of her cookbook she gave us - there's something so amazingly personal and intimate about having a private chef spend all evening with you, cooking you a 5-course meal on such a special and memorable day. We saw just 5 people that day, other than each other.

Start of 2013:

  • I wanted to go to the North Shore of Hawaii to see the big wave surfers, so that's the first place we went in the camper van. By chance, the surf was big; so big that the beaches were closed because the waves would have killed you if you just got caught in the shore dump. You can't quite believe how big those waves are until you've seen them in the flesh.
  • The weather in the village of Volcano, on the North Shore of Oahu and the North East corner of the Big Island, where we'd spent most of the holiday, is windy and rainy. It's warm, but there are bits of Hawaii that are great for a nice sunny island paradise holiday, and there are bits that are often visited because of tourist attractions, like the active volcano near Volcano village. Our camper van was taking a battering with wind and rain every night, and we were supposed to be spending a week in this thing. Also, I always feel a bit self conscious about the sex noises that emanate throughout campsites due to the poor sound insulation of tents and camper vans, with tent material in the 'pop-up' bit where the bed is. The honeymoon had been about as relaxing as the bit leading up to the wedding - every day was chock full of driving places and seeing things. After another night with the wind shaking the van and rain leaking in, I booked us into the Hilton, Honolulu, which cost an absolute bomb, but I wanted luxury relaxation, not having to get dressed and walk to a toilet block if I needed a piss in the middle of the night. Also there had been a complete absence of drinking cocktails by the swimming pool. Relaxing, it had not been, although it seems churlish to complain.
  • Great big lovely bed with clean crisp linen, balcony looking out over the ocean, swimming pool, waiters bringing you drinks and snacks, amazing restaurants, lovely beach, shops selling tourist attractions, bars... Honolulu at Christmas is chock full of fat Americans and Japanese, and it's not island paradise at all, but it's hot and sunny and at night you can eat incredible food, drink in places that have 200 beers to choose from, then go back to your spacious hotel room and do what honeymooners do without worrying too much about poor sound insulation. I had so desperately needed a holiday, but I ended up mostly using every power of charm and persuasion that I possess to keep bridezilla happy, and then she'd planned a pretty punishing sightseeing itinerary, which I can't complain about because I've seen into the crater of an active volcano from a helicopter and driven to the top of a 14,000ft mountain, to count just a couple of amazing amazing things we did... but I desperately desperately needed to lie on a sun lounger having a steady supply of cold drinks brought to me.
  • One night I realised we were going home the next day. I realised I was going straight back to work. I realised that while I'd been away, the office had moved from the small town centre building that I'd spent 7 years working in, to "the greenhouse" which I detested... stuck out in the middle of nowhere really, and without enough car parking spaces for everyone. Gone would be the days of getting drunk at lunchtime or straight after work, because of having to drive home. There was only one place nearby that served alcohol anyway, and that was in a leisure centre, which is hardly the right atmosphere for a bevvy of beers with your beloved colleagues. I sat on the toilet in the ensuite bathroom, and I ordered drugs over the internet, to arrive the day I was supposed to go back to work.
  • I did manage to go into the 'new' office a couple of times. Each time was disastrous. The one time I tried to cycle, lots of dark material rubbed off on my pristine white shirt, and I looked a total mess. Every time I parked was a massive hassle, having to ring a phone number and tell my life story using a telephone touchpad. I was even more bored than when I left. There was nothing to do. I got up and walked out at lunchtime, halfway though my first week back.
  • I went to the doctor after I'd been on a 5-day drug binge. I was honest about having a drug problem, but me being me, I look and sound too respectable to be the junkie sort. The doctor said to me "I'm going to sign you off work for 5 weeks so you can sort yourself out properly". IMMEDIATELY my brain said "Yippie! That means I have have a 4.5 week drug binge and sort myself out for a few days before I have to go back to work". You've got to understand that's not devious or plotting... it's immediate. I went to the doctor to get an extra couple of days off so I had the piece of paper to prove I was sick, and didn't lose my job - you need a 'sick note' for any absence longer than 3 working days in the UK. My addict brain thought that I'd won the National Lottery, Euromillions and American Powerball all at once.
  • Turns out you can't binge for more than 4 or 5 days without getting pretty mentally disturbed, and when you start pushing up to 9 or 10 days you can wake up in your attic with absolutely no idea how you got up there, why you went up there, what day it is, what time it is... how you didn't fall through the open hatch when you passed out.
  • This is when I started trying to find the country's leading experts in dual diagnosis: bipolar disorder and substance abuse disorder. I also needed somebody who had familiarity with addiction to atypical stimulants; legal highs. These drugs were so new - although they'd been patented for 40 or 50 years - that nobody in the medical profession or so-called addiction experts knew how to best treat the addiction. One psychiatrist told me to "taper the dose down slowly, and stop tapering if you have bad withdrawal symptoms" which is pretty much like telling an obese person to eat less but eat if they feel hungry, but worse still, the interaction between the drug I'd been taking and the bipolar medication I'd been given caused heart problems, blood pressure problems and breathing problems, which nearly killed me.
  • I found a local psychiatrist and wrote him quite a detailed email about exactly the predicament I was in. I was hoping he'd refer me to one of the specialists who'd failed to respond to my direct approach. He was a very kind man, and spoke to me on the phone and by email before we had a series of proper consultations, thankfully paid for by my JPMorgan medical insurance. His final report shocked me: I needed to spend a minumum of 4 weeks in a detox facility. Any attempt to quit without help and supervision, in an isolated location where I couldn't just order more drugs off the interent, was going to be doomed.
  • I chose The Priory because Dr. Simon Kelly was already my first choice to help me, as the UK's leading expert on dual diagnosis.
  • My new wife - this was now February - said she'd divorce me if I went into treatment. "But this addiction is killing me" I pleaded with her. "I'd rather be a widow than have to wait to divorce you if you won't just quit cold turkey using willpower" she said. "I've tried so many times, and the longest I've managed is a few months. It's not a willpower thing. It's a powerful addiction... it's not like turning down a second helping of ice cream or having a salad instead of chips" I said, but she never listened to a word I said. One minute, she'd be quoting the psychiatrist's report at me - the bits that could be cherry-picked out of context - then she'd just ignore me when I pointed out that the report's final conclusion that a minimum 28-day detox was necessary to save my life, because my addiction had gotten so bad.
  • My wife got so angry and aggressive and abusive that I had to barricade myself in the bedroom to protect myself from her fists and feet at least, even though the door didn't protect me from her yelling abuse at the top of her lungs, and the terror of her kicking and punching the door in a rage. I phoned The Priory and asked if they could take me as an emergency admission, because my domestic situation was so violent, threatening and abusive. They agreed. I rang a taxi. My wife calmed down and told me to cancel the taxi. "Why?" I asked. "I'll take you" she said. "You promise? And you promise not to shout and scream and hit me?" I requested. "Yes".
  • At The Priory, my wife left without a "goodbye", "good luck", "phone me" or "I'll come visit". In fact, she paid no interest in when visiting hours were. She just fucked off home. Allegedly, although it wouldn't be possible for me to know this of course without hacking her email account, which would be illegal, she immediately re-joined all the dating websites and no-strings sex websites. Of course, at The Priory there's no WiFi and mobile phones are banned, so it's fully offline - I had 28 days where I couldn't have hacked her email even if I wanted to [which I obviously wouldn't because that's illegal].
  • I was mainly concerned with not losing my good job at JPMorgan, which The Priory were most helpful about. They wrote to them saying that I was being treated in a private hospital for bipolar disorder. Of course, there were no clues to give away that all-too-easily-identifiable brand name, which instantly connects with drug addicts and alcoholics. There was a helpline number in case of urgent inquiries. My boss phoned - I had a phone in my room. "Where are you? Can I come and visit?" he asked. "I'm in a private hospital. Visits are very restricted. I'm sorry I can't tell you more, but occupational health should keep you informed" I said... the words which were helpfully given to me by The Priory to help protect me from stigma. "I've got some good news. I wanted to tell you in person, but I'll just tell you now on the phone. You're getting a special bonus in your next pay packet, in recognition of the good work you did fixing that issue that 10 Oracle consultants never managed to. They don't give out many bonuses like this - somebody pretty senior had to approve it. You've impressed a lot of influential people" he said. "Wow that's brilliant news. Thanks" I replied, acutely aware of the fact that I was speaking to him while in The Priory because of my drug addiction. How ironic.
  • My wife started being more unpleasant than she'd ever been. I'd arranged for a florist to leave her a flower on the doorstep every morning so she'd have a little apology and a reminder that I was thinking of her. The only time she phoned me was to complain about the nuisance of having to throw away the flowers. It hurt me deeply that she showed no interest in visiting or supporting me. Were somebody - not me obviously - to have illegally hacked her email, they'd know that she was too busy with her dating websites and no-strings sex websites.
  • When I had been in The Priory for 26 days, I received an anonymous tip-off about what had been going on with my wife, who had a lot of convincing excuses why she didn't phone or visit, or even find out the visiting hours, or attend the sessions which were specifically to help couples. I was pretty angry, so I rang myself a cab and left two days before completing the full 28-days. Obviously I couldn't confront my wife with the precise allegation, without her knowing that I'd been tipped off, which could have triggered a police investigation into any potential email hacks. Even I could have been falsely accused, given that I'd been given my smartphone back on around day 26, and there were allegedly remote parts of the hospital grounds where you could get a weak 3G signal... not that I used my phone for anything except to call that cab of course.
  • I never did go back to JPMorgan except to see the occupational health doctor, who kept signing me off sick. He was convinced that I should stay married to my allegedly unfaithful and certainly unsupportive and abusive wife, unlike Dr. Kelly who I saw every day for 24 or 25 days, who was fairly convinced that the toxic relationship with my wife was not at all healthy.
  • The months of March through to July, I tried to protect myself from physical abuse with a door as a shield, until I was able to build an insulated, carpeted and plastered room in my summer house, fitted with secure locks. I drank from a hosepipe and pissed and shit in a bucket until I could be sure that I was safe to be able to have a shower and hurriedly grab some food. When the door kicking and punching and yelling from her happened now, it was in full view and earshot of all our neighbours.
  • Driven to the point of suicide, I took wood and screws and barricaded myself in the main bedroom of my house. I sent emails to her parents, my parents, and some of our trusted friends saying that I could no longer live such a terrorised imprisoned life, and I would be on hunger strike in that room until a sensible resolution could be reached by sensible people. My own attempts to negotiate my freedom from captivity - directly with my wife - were met only with abuse, and were futile.
  • Mercifully, by August we had separated, which was negotiated and facilitated by both sets of parents. I was free and the 8 year relationship was over.
  • I rang one of my best friends in London, and he enthusiastically invited me to stay with him while I got back on my feet and tried to get my JPMorgan job relocated to London. I needed to be away from Bournemouth and from her.

*** This is the first part, which covers my relationship with the person my friends call "the poison dwarf" and my time in Bournemouth. The next part will cover London and maybe Manchester too ***

 

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How to Become Irreverent

14 min read

This is a story about the values you raise your children with...

Church window

It seems like I have had the sentimental attachment most of us feel towards everything we revere in society systematically thrashed out of me. If you pick one thing that summons feelings of safety, security, comfort, respect for authority and faith in the divine/spiritual, then I will tell you how exactly how I came to question everything: every institution, everything sacred, every tradition, every profession, people who are normally considered beyond reproach and ultimately even existence and its purpose.

Starting with my birth, I'm literally a bastard. I was born outside of wedlock. My parents never married and always planned to remain unmarried, such that I took my mother's surname instead of my father's. Ironically, my mother had once been married, and I have the surname of her ex-husband instead of her maiden name. Confused? Imagine trying to explain that to your fellow pre-schoolers when you're 3 years old. I didn't really understand it at the time, but I understood that I was different; unusual.

My schools would often address letters intended for my parents to Mr & Mrs Grant, and my father would always tell me that I was the only Mr Grant in the house and therefore the letter was addressed to me. My mother would tell me that she was no longer Mrs Grant and she was Ms Grant. "Why not Miss?" I would ask, and she would explain that she had been married, and Miss was only used by women who hadn't been married. If anybody telephoned the house and asked to speak to Mr Grant, my father would hand the receiver to me and say "it's for you", which it never was, of course.

I understood that there was divorce and some of my school-friends were raised by a single parent, or a step-parent. My peers would often ask if my father was my step-father, to which I would reply "no". Nobody could understand how I came to have a different surname from my biological father, or entertain the notion that I could have been given my mother's surname, not my father's.

At some point, a fairly clear question formed in my mind: "why aren't my parents married?". 

The reasons why people get married had become quite clear in my mind, for the very simple reason that I had endured years and years of people's reactions that suggested that not getting married was very atypical behaviour. Nobody wants to feel unusual; freakish. Nobody likes to feel odd.

When I posed my question - "why aren't you married?" - to my parents, they replied with their own question: "why should we get married?". I had a pretty easy answer for them, as I've explained: because that's what everybody else does. "Do you want to be like everybody else?" my parents asked. "Yes" I replied.

[I just burst into uncontrollable sobbing. If it wasn't what you experienced, I don't think you can begin to understand what it's like to spend your entire childhood as the freakish weirdo; the odd one out... the one who's different from everybody else]

Having covered marriage there is a natural segue into the topic of religion, and the origins of my atheism.

For a number of formative and important childhood years I lived in an attractive terraced house in an area called Jericho, on one of the most desirable roads in central Oxford. These houses are the most expensive in the world, far exceeding real estate prices in London, San Francisco and Hong Kong, in terms of their affordability. However, these £1.5 million houses were bought by the first wave of gentrifiers, when academics and young professionals with families started to move into slummy areas because they couldn't afford family homes in the more desirable parts of the city.

When your immediate neighbours include an MP, a barrister, a heart surgeon, a City banker and a number of promenant Oxford dons and professors, their children were raised in an environment which was knowledge-rich and encouraged the exploration afforded by a curious rational mind; critical thinking. Nobody went to church. My friends, whose father was a consultant at Oxford John Radcliffe Hospital, went to Quaker "friends meetings" occasionally, but my peer group - the sons and daughters of the intellectual elite - had little place for God and church in their lives.

We should rewind a little bit, back to the village our family lived in before we moved to central Oxford. If one were to imagine the most quintessentially English picturesque Cotswolds village, with the manor house, the village green, the workers' cottages, the post office and village shop, the village pub, the village school, one should not forget the church and its graveyard. The church's presence and influence is not to be underestimated. My religious indoctrination began as soon as I started school, with the vicar regularly present. Village social events are very often church-linked, like harvest festival, and of course everybody who grew up in such an idyllic village wants to get married in that particular church, have their children baptised there and be buried in that graveyard.

Essentially, the church's opportunity to exploit a child's vulnerable immature mind were scuppered by my father. For everything that the church had a comforting but incorrect explanation for, my dad cited a lack of evidence and instilled in me the skepticism which gradually became integral to my developing personality: "show me the evidence".

When we moved to the centre of a city whose university is globally recognised for its academic excellence, I never encountered another simple-minded fool who had been persuaded to believe in Gods and other aspects of religion, which are so obviously irreconcilable with the pursuit of knowledge. Religion encourages ignorance but I had been raised to question everything and remain skeptical until I had seen convincing proof. "What are atoms made of?" I remember asking one of my friends who lived on my street. "Quarks" he replied. We were perhaps only 5 or 6 years old - the product of a childhood immersed in academic culture, as opposed to the sentimental and traditional.

The disturbing and unpleasant consequences of an irreverent life can impose themselves on a child at a worryingly young age. I've already been uncontrollably sobbing about just one thing - the tradition and sanctity of the institution of marriage - and I haven't even mentioned how a child deals with the concept of mortality and threat of death without the comfort of religion.

A US Air Force pilot who drank at the village pub which my parents later bought and now live in, drunkenly boasted about the ability of the United States to wipe humanity off the face of the earth. I was definitely no older than 4 years old. With my friend with whom I had discussed subatomic particles, we talked about the temperatures which could be reached near ground zero of a fission or fusion nuclear bomb, and how the radiated 'heat' (electromagnetic radiation) had instantly vaporised human beings in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, with only their shadows left behind, permanently etched into the walls of buildings.

If you believe you live in a Godless world with no afterlife you naturally want to know what everything's made of if God didn't make it; you want to know why it's here. How did it get here? Why is it here? You start to pick everything to pieces by iteratively asking what each thing is made of: humans are made of cells, and cells are made of molecules, and molecules are made of atoms, and atoms are made of quarks and leptons... and you can in fact keep asking the question. There's good proof that the electron is not a fundamental particle, as had originally been thought.

When your schoolmates are smart-arse little shits, because their parents are brilliant academics, teachers and school loses its awe and authority. If you're being taught science that's almost 100 years old, and sometimes even 200+ years old, the whole exercise is nothing more than a box-ticking exercise to be endured.

The other thing to consider is that my parents used illegal drugs on a daily basis, and had strong views about the legitimacy and usefulness of the law, certainly in the instances that suited their own addictions. As with many drug users, they were very paranoid. They viewed the police as corrupt and not to be trusted - the enemy. My father's criminal conviction for drugs not only poisoned his views on the police, but also made him very anti-American, as he believed he would never be allowed to enter the country due to his criminal record.

[I'm crying again]

It was only because of first-hand dealings with the police that my viewpoint changed from skepticism due to lack of evidence: the police had never caused me any harm, and in fact I had never had any dealings with the police at all for most of my adult life. You might be surprised to learn I adore and respect the police. My accumulated experience of police encounters has consistently shown that they are some of the most kind, patient, empathetic, forgiving, reasonable people, who have always gone out of their way to bend the rules and simply help as opposed to ever enforcing the letter of the law.

One shouldn't mistake my respect for the men and women of the police force for reverence. I would never for a minute expect that a 999 call is somehow going to be the answer to my prayers. I don't feel safer or more secure, knowing that I can call for police assistance. I wouldn't feel any more comfortable in a stressful situation if there was a police officer present. Of the very many police men and women who I have had first-hand dealings with, they have always treated me very fairly and kindly, and it's quite clear that they deal on a daily basis with a huge number of very vulnerable and damaged people, which they do so with incredible compassion - they are the living embodiment of humanity not deities who should be worshipped and revered.

[More crying]

So if I don't revere priests, vicars, teachers, headmistresses, marriage, religion, military superpowers, soldiers, the police, the law and my own parents, what else is there left for me to lack reverence for?

Cumulatively, I've spent almost 6 months having my life saved in hospital - often in high dependency and intensive treatment unit (ITU) wards. Shouldn't I revere doctors; surgeons?

I think that if there was one thing that would make almost anybody feel more secure and happy in a stressful situation, it would be knowing that there's a doctor present. It's such a clichéd question: "is there a doctor here?".

To explain my irreverence for doctors, we merely need to explore the reasons why I have ever had to deal with one, and the outcomes of those interactions.

Having been lucky enough to escape congenital abnormality, it doesn't take a rocket surgeon to figure out what I want from a doctor and why. You don't need to spend 5 or 6 years at medical school to know that the human body has been dealing with pathogens since the species first came into existence. You hardly have to be brain of Britain to figure out whether you're dealing with a viral, bacterial, fungal or parasitic infection, and furthermore, which is likely to be treatable. In actual fact, I've never been to my doctor for antibiotics: every infection has always cleared up on its own. Fungal and parasitic infections can be dealt with without a doctor obviously: head lice shampoo is available in every pharmacy, without a prescription, for example.

At the age of 28 I went to my doctor wanting treatment for depression, but I knew which specific medications I was prepared to try and which medications I didn't want because the side effects were not acceptable. Having my choices limited only to SSRIs provided firm evidence that doctors were an obstacle to be overcome, not a panacea.

When we think about the first time I was hospitalised, do you think I didn't know that I was going to end up there and what the problems were going to be? Do you think it was an accident that I ended up in hospital?

Again, you don't need to spend 5 or 6 years at medical school to know that the human body needs water, salt, glucose, proteins, amino acids, vitamins, minerals and myriad trace elements, or else the bodily functions haven't got the fuel, carrier fluid and raw materiels they need. You don't need to be a doctor to know that human body temperature needs to be homeostatic as much as possible - much like every other measurable thing in the human body - and any extreme variation too high or too low is going to have dire consequences.

When you are making choices in full knowledge of the likely consequences, medicine ceases to be lifesaving magic, and instead it becomes another simple case of what do you want and why?

One must consider the very last time I was hospitalised to truly understand my irreverence.

Not only had I quite carefully pre-planned my suicide attempt, when I arrived at hospital against my will, I gave very clear instructions: do not put activated charcoal into my stomach, do not perform gastric lavage, do not intubate, do not provide life support and most importantly of all, do not resuscitate. "Do you know what's going to happen?" the A&E doctor asked. "Yes. I'm going to die of a combination of organ failure and serotonin syndrome, with a lot of seizures" I replied. "Do you think you'll be unconscious? Do you think it'll be painless?" the doctor asked. "No. I expect that it will take a long time to die and I'll be conscious and in a lot of pain for most of it" I replied. Then I started having seizures.

Doctors see a lot of people who are scared and they don't understand what's happening to them. They're desperate for somebody who seems to know what they're doing and what they're talking about; doctors are an authority figure. I have no doubt that for feckless simpletons and those who lack access to medicine, the arrival of a doctor or a priest/shamen/witch-doctor is incredibly soothing and comforting. If you don't know what you want and why, your reverence is misplaced, but it may still ease your passage from life to death.

When shit goes bad, who are you going to turn to? If you have to pick your team of people to survive on a remote island, who are you going to pick and why?

Why revere anyone? Why kiss anyone's arse and tell them they're great because they did the study and training that you could've done if you wanted to. You could have passed those exams. You could have gained those qualifications. You could have followed that path if you wanted to. If you wanted it bad enough, you could put on that uniform; you could get that job title; you could prefix or suffix your name with the bit that tells the world just exactly why everyone should drop to their knees and worship you.

Nothing's sacred to me. I could do your job if I wanted to.

I'm not smarter than anybody. I'm not better than anybody. That's the whole point: I'm lucky enough to not have anything that's holding me back; limiting my potential.

I really don't recommend telling your kids they can follow their dreams and be anything they want to be. I really don't recommend telling your kids to question everything, and understand everything about how the universe works, to the point where they reach the very bleeding edge of scientific research. I really don't recommend raising your kids to challenge the status quo and resist the urge to fit in with wider society and their peers.

Take it from me: there's a mind-destroying kind of cold uncaring "nothing matters" bad feeling that comes from being too rational; too much of a free-thinker. Take my word for it: understanding the absurdity of existence will destroy your mental health.

You should probably experiment with hard drugs. That's probably way less likely to fuck up your life than going down the rabbit-hole of picking everything to pieces and trying to reason from first principles and pure logic.

 

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Feed and Water Regularly

13 min read

This is a story about looking after living organisms...

Drooping house plant

My drooping castor oil plant is the perfect visual metaphor for what's happened to both of us in the best part of a week - we've been dying.

I can be a little paranoid, even in perfect health. I wouldn't - for example - walk around naked without the curtains or blinds fully closed, even though there's a fairly small chance that somebody might get an eyeful of full frontal nudity, unless I was stood right by the window for ages. My ex-girlfriend throws open her bedroom shutters, often times much improving the day of the workmen retiling the roof of the house opposite. Something like that would change my behaviour, but not her - even with hard concrete evidence that a little paranoia is justified, she continues to flash her knockers at strangers every morning. There's also a school opposite her house too, so it'd be just my luck to end up on some kind of police register because an eagle-eyed kid caught a glimpse of my willy as I darted past the window to get my garments and cover up.

The blinds in my bedroom are shit - as I've said before - and one thing that's really bad is that they offer even less privacy at night, when it's light inside and dark outside. I'm not exactly thrilled at the thought of putting on a light and shadow show, which would unmistakably advertise to my neighbours that I'm having a wank to pornography. It's bad enough being single again, but most of us reserved Brits are a bit ashamed of our masturbation and porn habits.

Just ask somebody to show you the history of everything they searched for on a porn site, and you'll see that it's not just me who's the paranoid prudish freak: there's something so personal and confidential about the porn that you like and the words you use to find it. When you're searching in the privacy of your own home, with nobody looking over your shoulder, you assume that nobody will ever see those words other than you. It's one of the most unpleasant experiences to have somebody judge those words you typed, especially as nobody else was ever supposed to see them.

So, I can be paranoid, even at the best of times.

Sleep deprivation, dehydration and hunger can take a little seed of paranoia and turn it into fully-blown bat-shit insanity.

My windows were taped up so nobody could see in. Then my doorbell started ringing and ringing. I could hear my landlord hanging around. I could hear footsteps right by my bedroom windows. I could see silhouettes of people standing right by my bedroom windows. "Fuck!" I thought "what am I going to say if he knocks on the door and asks why I taped up the windows?". So, I stayed awake all night, watching shadows and not wanting to use the rest of my apartment or turn on a light. So far as anybody could've guessed, I wasn't in.

If you're "not in" you can't flush your toilet and you can't run the taps, and you have to rely on night vision and tiptoeing around, feeling your way as you go. If you're "not in" you can't be spotted through your absolutely massive windows in the living areas, which you can't draw the curtains of, because that makes it look more like you're at home, just not answering the door.

If you're "not in" and you can't flush the loo - which is right by the communal hallway - because you're paranoid somebody'll hear it, then you can't drink too much. Besides, you can't be seen filling up a glass or a bottle, through the massive window right by the sink, especially when the landlord's main hobby is hanging around by people's windows.

If you're "not in" you can't go and prepare yourself a delicious hot meal - again because you don't want to be seen or heard.

Eventually, you get like my wilted plant. Your body starts to eat itself, which would be OK ish if you were drinking to get rid of the excess creatinine by pissing it out, but you're not pissing because you can't and you're not drinking much. All that shit in your blood which your kidneys would ordinarily filter out hasn't got any carrier fluid to push it though the filter and into the bladder, so your blood gets really toxic. Your muscles start getting damaged, and the bits of damaged muscle block the tiny 'filter holes' in your kidneys, and then you couldn't piss even if you wanted to - you're blocked up; kidney failure

Once you end up in urinary retention, your body will get waterlogged, but the most worrying thing is that your potassium levels will keep rising until your heart stops, because there's no way to get rid of it and it's hard to have a potassium-free diet. Anything over 5ml of potassium in a litre of your blood means you're at pretty imminent risk of a sudden cardiac arrest. You've only got 5 litres of blood in your body, so that's 25ml of potassium. And yes, this is potassium not potassium cyanide. Bananas would be a bit of a shit way to kill yourself - you'd have to eat 51 plus extras because your body is not 100% metabolically efficient. Avocados could be a good novel suicide method though - you'd only have to eat 23 of them to reach hyperkalemia. Ironically, replacing your salt with "healthy" low sodium salt could be a fatal mistake, and it'd certainly be a lot easier to swallow a few of spoonfuls of salt than eat more than 50 bananas.

So, anyway, I started pissing blood, but at least I was pissing. It's when you stop pissing, you've really gotta worry.

I got brave and went on a raiding mission to my fridge where my friend had left me with two bottles of fizzy drink. I treated it like my ex-girlfriend's lack of paranoia about people seeing her tits when she opens the shutters - I was so quick, that I minimised the chance of being seen.

I then had to shake up the drinks and really really slowly let the gas escape, because I can't stand the bloated burping they cause... but, my body had a sugar boost and much needed fluids.

I hadn't slept for two nights at this point, and I was too paranoid to rummage for food which could be eaten cold - I knew everything in the fridge had gone off, and there simply wasn't anything that I could eat without cooking.

I passed out for a couple of hours and when I came to, I had no idea where I was. I was uncontrollably shivering: my body just hadn't had the calories it needed to power my cells and keep my blood at a toasty 37 degrees centigrade.

I wrapped myself in my duvet and warmed myself up as best as I could, but I'd ripped though the soft drinks. In my boldest and most daring feat of anti-paranoia bravery - perhaps with that time unconscious giving me a 'rest' and a sugar boost from the fizzy drinks - I grabbed two bottles of squash and a can of baked beans. I made 3.5 litres of very weak squash in the bath, where I couldn't be seen, although the noise of running water was a concern... but the bathroom is at least a door further away from the front door than the toilet.

As I guzzled a seemingly inexhaustible supply of weak squash, I told myself "this is the best lime cordial I've ever tasted". I greedily scooped cold beans in tomato sauce out of the can I'd grabbed, and I had to pace myself, because my stomach had shrunk so much after 4 days not eating. Also, I had to remember to chew - I was so desperate to fill my stomach that I think I could've just gulped the can down, like lumpy soup.

The food and drink started to vanquish my paranoia, and I moved away from the bedroom door, where I had been a sentry for 5 nights. I lay in bed snuggled under the covers, and my exhaustion finally revealed itself to me - I was trying to write a few messages to say I was OK, and I probably didn't need to go to hospital cos I'd sorted myself out, but I'd keep falling asleep and being woken up by the sound of my phone dropping onto the floor.

I had a longer, warmer, more comfortable sleep in an actual bed, and when I woke up my paranoia was vastly diminished. I felt brave enough to turn lights on, have a shower, use the kitchen and generally no longer have to pretend I was "not in". I was also famished and I desperately wanted to eat a hot meal and use a spoon or a fork, and a plate or a bowl, instead of a laminated business card as a makeshift way of getting beans out of the can and into my mouth.

My bedroom looks every bit like it's been lived in for 5 days by a person who's too paranoid to leave, turn on a light or flush a toilet, but that's a problem for tomorrow. Being well enough to go into the office on Monday looks dubious, but I don't look as bad as I thought I did. I'm overwhelmed by the prospect of sorting out my bedroom, but perhaps I can get a pro-cleaning team to give it a proper deep clean and a decorator to tidy up the marks on the paintwork, where I stumbled into a wall in the pitch black, while sleep deprived, dehydrated and hungry.

I'm so sad that my life was so close to almost perfect - a holiday booked, plans to go sailing and a girlfriend who was alright when she was being nice, rather than trying to unmask me as some kind of god-knows-what, by asking the same rude, impertinent questions that insinuated and alleged that I'm Hitler, Stalin, Osama-bin-Ladin and every serial killer who ever lived, all rolled into one. I would've got away with it, if it wasn't for her pesky asking the same identical question over and over again. Actually, I dumped her - you can't treat a person like they raped, tortured and murdered their whole family, by constantly making untrue horrible allegations about past and future. I really see no justification for being horrible, assuming the worst and treating a person like they'd smash up all your stuff and burn your house down unless you told them not to and supervised them at all times.

So: situation vacant. I'm looking for a girlfriend who doesn't say "don't murder anybody today" instead of goodbye in the morning. I'm looking for a girlfriend who sees my potential, trusts me, respects me and imagines me at my best, not some over-active imagination version of me at my worst. I value loyalty and tactility - somebody who likes hugging and snuggling and spooning - and I have a very strict 3-strike rule if you use withholding of affection, silent treatment, sulking and other negative behaviours which are abusive, instead of a combination of physical reassurance of the bond, and non-aggressive communication.

I'm gutted, because I'd almost taken my 'conversion project' and turned her into somebody who wanted the same kind of secure, loving relationship, packed full of affection. 99% of the time we had a nice time, and when she was being shit with me, we never had an argument... I taught her how to use affection to produce a more effective and quicker resolution, instead of passive-aggressiveness, open hostility, arguing and withholding of affection.

I'm gutted, because I'd been generous and attentive and taken my time in the bedroom and turned her into a little sex addict. We had a good sex life. Not every girl can relax enough and forget the lazy and incompetent lovers of the past, so she really wants sex and initiates it, because of the months and months of investment, making sure she's super satisfied every time and spending lots of time on the pre/post affection aspect, which is arguably the most important thing... way more than a rushed bit of foreplay, ram it in dry, two pumps and a squirt and then immediately roll over and go to sleep.

I'm actually angry I had to dump her, because rules are rules and the last couple of times I didn't stick to my rules, I got domestically abused. I'm a sensitive guy; vulnerable; I'm emotionally unguarded and I leave myself exposed, because it creates a much more bonded happy relationship than two people who just make smalltalk and never really know each other and what they want.

I feel so much more upset about the breakup, because it's a really small city I live in, and it's hard to find somebody who'd love nothing more than to watch an arthouse movie, or eat something really exotic. It's really hard to find somebody who's cultured and well travelled enough to feel like a good match. Damn, I'm fussy, aren't I?

I also feel 100x more alone, even though it's just one person, and I still have local friends Gail and Liam, plus my sailing buddies (only met one - and I work with him) and all the people I work with, some of whom are proper friends too.

It's kinda 'final straw' stuff though. Life's so hard on your own. Everything's easier with two of you, backing each other up.

I haven't got the energy to woo another girl and go through that super intense bit at the start again. She's really pissed me off, that I wasted so much effort, only for her to make yet another horrible allegation, and crossed the threshold - I spent 8 years in a relationship where somebody spoke to me like shit, and it was hell on earth. Walk away. Walk away. Walk away.

I really think I'm going to suffer without regular hugs and cuddles, and reliable companionship. It's a bit like plant food - they don't need it, but it does make them thrive.

Anyway, that was most of the past week. Please look out for me; I'm super fragile.

 

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Crisis Team

4 min read

This is a story about home visits...

Recycling

I went to my GP. I forget why I went, but one of the main reasons was because I'd been depressed for so long that I wanted to try antidepressants again, but a really powerful combination called "California rocket fuel". One of the provisos of me getting the prescription at that visit, was that I would see a psychiatrist to review my case.

The first time I saw this new psychiatrist, the rocket fuel wasn't having much of an effect, and I offered to swap my stockpiled tramadol, in order to remain on the same antidepressants. She was really pretty worried about me though, and I was supposed to see somebody once a week.

I got a surprise text message from the Mental Health Crisis Team home visitors. That wasn't what I had agreed with the psychiatrist, and I felt let down by mental health services, again, so I ignored their requests to come visit.

By the time I went back to the psychiatrist for a second time, about a week after the first, I had become unwell, broken up with my girlfriend quite spectacularly and I had abruptly stopped the rocket fuel.

I didn't feel suicidal. I felt confused. I knew that the breakup had been done hastily, and that I didn't have the love and support that I needed. I knew that without her, my future was pretty bleak. I really had very few ideas about what to do next. My psychiatrist's concern - from the beginning - was to stabilise my mood. I'm not taking a therapeutic dose of anything at the moment, because it takes so long to safely start my new medication.

In some ways, the breakup prompted me to act with urgency - trying to sell high-value items and asking contacts for work. My energy has been low for as long as I can remember, and I still can't face the open jobs market. I've stopped even taking the recycling out or doing any washing. I started out well enough, but a couple of minor setbacks and I was discouraged

I was safe at her place. Safe from reminders of all the places where I cut myself, or put a knife to my throat and tried to find my jugular vein with the point of the blade. I was safe at hers, from self-sabotage and making an already long list of jobs even longer.

Back at my place I sank like a stone.

The thing about the Home Teeatment Team, is that you never see the same person twice. They all get distracted by the view and they have no idea if I'm deteriorating or not, which I most definitey am. If they saw me more than once, they'd notice the untidy beard, the dirty clothes, the weight loss, the extreme exhaustion.

My alternatives to home treatment are a crisis house or hospital. I'll be forced to leave my home, if I stop seeing the home treatment team. Come to think of it, I'll probably be forced to leave my home anyway.

I slept on the sofa last night, because my two bedrooms are in such a mess.

Ironically, the home treatment team will see a much better-presented version of me, this evening, because I had a shave. What they don't understand is that the reason I shaved was to make myself presentable for going to the shops. I don't really want my neighbours or my concierge to know that "unwell" is an understatement. I eat one meal a day, if I'm lucky. The only reason I'm showering is because of keeping up appearances for the home treatment team. I either don't sleep, or I pass out for a few hours. I wish I could sleep right now, but sleeping suddenly became really hard.

Tower Hamlets is at least well funded versus Camden, so I've got far more options. However, having a home visit from somebody different every day, really doesn't tell them that I'm sinking, fast. The pile of recycling is jut one of many clues that I'm in a bad way, and the downward spiral is getting beyond critical.

Bloody disaster.

 

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Borderline Alcoholic

4 min read

This is a story about a disappearing act...

Gin

Jesus could turn water into wine. I can turn wine into water, urea and a small amount of faeces. I can do the same with gin. It's a miracle!

Miracles and acts of faith are supposed to cause the skeptical to be surprised. I myself, was very surprised to see that a couple of bottles of gin have disappeared without a trace. Where is it all going?

I've lost all portion control.

With beers, I can tell you how many cans or bottles I've had. I think to myself "if I have that 5th pint, I'm going to feel like shit tomorrow".

With wine, when you start measuring it in bottles - plural - then you're in trouble. Two bottles of wine is shitloads of alcohol. The problem is that three large glasses of wine finishes a bottle, so I think "I'll open another bottle and just have one glass and leave the rest" except that I don't ever leave wine undrunk.

With spirits, I have no means of accurate measurement. A 'finger' of gin in a glass is a substantially different volume, depending which finger I use and which glass I'm pouring into. I actually have no idea how much hard liquor I'm consuming, versus wine and beer. I totally lose all portion control.

When I'm sharing a bottle of wine, secretly I know that I'm drinking faster and filling my glass a little higher, but I still only count the number of bottles consumed. Two bottles between two means that I only drank one bottle of wine, therefore I can have that extra drink, for some perverse reason.

I don't get the shakes. I don't have to have an 'eye-opener' drink in the morning. I don't pour vodka on my cornflakes. However, I guess it's a fine line. I can't remember how many consecutive days I've drunk a substantial amount of alcohol. Who's counting?

The recycling is mostly empty green glass bottles, and I shamefully dump disproportionate loads, while my temperant neighbours have diligently washed out their kale smoothie bottles and neatly folded up the cardboard box that contained organic vegetables.

These warning signs don't escape my notice, but sobriety achieved nothing. What did I prove, being sober for over a hundred days, just for a challenge? I do need to get my drinking under control though.

In a way, walking up to the corner shop for a £1 can of lager kept me in check. There was a small amount of effort involved, and the social pressures of not being drunk and disorderly in the streets (or the shops). If I was too pissed to stagger to the off-licence and get another can, then I'd had my fill and it was time for bed. I would wager that I drank less when I was homeless. It's the middle-class respectability and covert nature of drinking at home in the company of other well-heeled individuals that makes it all OK, provided you don't go over the top.

We speak in hushed whispers about that one friend or relative who's slightly too eager to reach for the bottle and refill everyone's glasses, filling his or her own to the brim. "Are they OK?" we wonder, and then we reassure one another "I'm sure they've got it under control".

It's the drinking alone that'll get you. To be released on your own recognisance is a dangerous situation. One, two, skip a few, ninety-nine, one hundred. Who's counting anyway?

So, my 'special squash' and nightcaps will have to go, and then perhaps I'll have the demon drink under control a little bit. A bottle of wine a night seems to be about the middle-class average anyway. How the hell is a person supposed to cope with this stressful world without wine?

Goodbye gin, my only true friend.

 

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Grasping, Trampling and Afraid

9 min read

This is a story about climbing the social ladder...

Ladder to success

When you're lying in the gutter, you're looking at the stars. When things are really and truly shit, you reach a point where you stop caring what the world is going to throw at you next, and you recognise that the simplest thing - a sunny day or a £10 note lying on the pavement - can transform your day; your life.

When you're top dog; a fat cat with a cellar stuffed full of vintage wine, a garage full of supercars, yachts and speedboats, a swimming pool, acres of manicured grounds, horses & stables, farmland, a profitable business empire, wealth squirrelled away offshore or in anonymous safe-deposit boxes... you're not going to fall very far. Even if you secured business loans against your UK house, you're still going to be able to live in some tax haven in a penthouse apartment, in relative luxury, for the rest of your days. The money that's held in trust for your children is untouchable; secure. Most of your own wealth is hidden. You can escape with your filthly lucre, flee overseas and stay safe from extradition... you can't really fall that far at all.

When you're in the middle, you're reading OFSTED reports on schools and trying to work out catchment areas and where you can afford to buy a house for you and all your spawn. You're trying to do the delicate balancing act of being two working parents, while also doing school runs and all the pickups and drop offs necessary for the after-school activities that will turn your offspring into well-rounded individuals, who hopefully will have plenty to talk about at their interview for Oxford or Cambridge. You've been giving your thick little shits extra maths tutoring in the hope that they'll pass the 11+ exam and you can force them to go to a grammar school that they don't want to go to, because all their equally unacademic friends are going to the local comprehensive. You spend at least half the night awake worrying about your teen daughter getting pregnant, and the other half worrying about your teen son getting addicted to drugs. You spend your holidays visiting sights of historical or cultural significance, or abroad where your little darlings get to say "où sont les toillettes, s'il vous plaît?" or "ich möchte wurst, bitte" or whatever language you're insisting they learn, to improve their university application. You spend your evenings with the rasping, scraping, screeching noise of a badly played violin and thunderous farting noises, amplified a thousand times through the brass torture implement that is a French horn. Every shitty note of every shitty practice session that the kids don't want to do, but you want them to maybe get a music scholarship, and Oxbridge looks kindly on musicians. Homework is a constant argument, as your children bare-face lie to you about having done it when they haven't, because they want to go and play with their friends. Those friends who you wish they wouldn't hang about with anyway, because they're the wrong sort of children. All the while, you're one redundancy or sacking away from the whole house of cards collapsing, because all your money is eaten up by the mortgage you over-stretched yourselves to get, the car loan, the loans for those musical instruments and the private lessons, all the petrol you burn driving your little darlings around and all those cultural, historical, educational outings. One fuck up and the whole thing comes tumbling down and you'll be back in your clogs.

When you're 'working-class' housing benefit covers most of the rent. Employment support, disability living, jobseekers allowance and income support allowance somehow provides not quite enough to do anything except shuffle miserably small sums of money around and scrimp and save, buying all the loss-leaders in the supermarkets and supplementing your income with a bit of cash-in-hand employment, dealing [mostly] harmless drugs and shoplifting. On the estate you live on, there are hundreds of families who are struggling just like you, and you all swap tips on how to make ends meet, as well as trading, borrowing and loaning... a thriving black market. Whatever happens, you at least feel solidarity with your neighbours. You're English and proud. You were born here, and you've got a right to live here. The government has a duty to support you and your children, and it's damn hard work keeping the little tearaways under control. You have ten children, all called Steve, which is not confusing because you use their father's surname when you want to get their attention. You're not even aware that you're a Jeremy Kyle cliché, because you have been stuck into a ghetto of equally impoverished people, with equally abysmal opportunities, and it's been the same for generations. You don't know any different. You're not trying to climb the social ladder, because the route is barred and nobody ever tried or knew how to try. You're not afraid of falling, because you're the bedrock foundation of British society: the very definition and product of the welfare state and the neglect of the poor; the result of social experiments with high-density housing in the 60's; the living embodiment of upper-class fears that the working-class would breed more, given half a chance.

Clearly, it's the middle-class who are sharp-elbowed, trying to fight the way to the front of the crowd, trying to get their little darlings a slight advantage, in the race for those few places at the best schools and at the best universities. It's the middle class who myopically can't see that marking exams to a grade curve, where a predefined percentage of children will achieve A* grades, means that education has become an arms race. It's the middle-class who believe in destroying their children's present in the interests of their future, despite the pure insanity of it. "The future of our children is at stake" is half-screamed out of a middle-class parent's mouth, which foams and froths. If you want to see the living embodiment of Hell on Earth, try being a fly on the wall during the period of secondary school selection, GCSE exams, A-level exams and university application. Middle class parents will tell you that they can't deal with their teenagers, without any comprehension that the filial obedience they enjoyed before has been exhausted: the children have finally figured out how to zone out and ignore that constant nagging and cajoling. Why this desperation? Why does it seem to be such a matter of life-and-death to these middle-class people, who live in the luxury of the wealthy West?

Most middle-class people, with their good jobs and their ample but dowdy houses, will tell you some kind of folklore tale about how hard they worked to achieve what they've got. Many middle-class people will claim to be working-class made good, telling you that their mother was a hamster and their father was a window cleaner, or whatever claptrap lies they've told so many times that they now believe. Fact of the matter is, if you're a middle-class homeowner with teenaged kids, you've enjoyed a house price bubble that's made you feel wealthy - on paper - even though you haven't worked very hard, except all that stress with the kids, right?

While you've been working very hard to make sure your kids don't fuck up their future, people who are richer and smarter than you have been funnelling vast quantities of money offshore, where it can't be touched. Your fucking ISA or other savings account that you hope will soften the blow of having to support your kids through university, is a piss in the ocean. In the event of an economic downturn, you're fucked, aren't you?

Our middle-classes trample each other; grasping for the next rung on the ladder; grasping for something to hang on to; grasping for safety; grasping for security. Living a life which can fall to pieces and thrust you into the Jeremy Kyle world of the working-class, that you've so desperately tried to insulate your children from - it's a fate worse than death, to you. If there's one thing you fear above all else, it's that your children should end up mixing with Britain's poorest and most disadvantaged; as if your children might 'catch' poverty. In fact, there may be no choice in the matter. Without those offshore trust funds, and a desirable property that's far bigger than you need, where's your safety net? It's the council house on the estate filled with denizens that you never wanted your children to ever meet or interact with, lest they be led astray into a life of teenaged pregnancy and drug abuse.

This is why the Tories win votes from people who you'd think were otherwise quite ordinary and decent: because they're afraid. They actually have achieved very little in life, and they're acutely aware how easily they could lose their place in the queue that they fought so hard to get [at the expense of everybody they trampled to get there]. There's a sense of entitlement, because there has been so much worry; so much insecurity. It feels like it's OK to be a bit selfish. It feels like, because of the myth of how you rose from the gutter, with terrible tragedy in your life and no opportunity, you pulled yourself up by your bootstraps and you became successful through sheer hard work, grit and determination. It's utter bullshit, of course, but it's why you're going to vote Tory, isn't it?

The middle-classes live in fear, and the more afraid they are, the more they vote Tory, for fear of losing what little they have; for fear of having to mix with the undesirable working-class folk who they've tried so hard to keep their children away from.

That's why you vote Tory, isn't it?

 

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