Looking Back On 10 Years Ago

In December 2004, Matt wrote:

I worry about the future. I can’t help but wonder what I will be like in 10 years time.

That’s me, by the way.

I look back on this, as I do on all my old writings, and feel sad, but detached somewhat, almost as if I am reading about someone else. I feel sad thinking about how he must have been feeling 10 years ago. I feel sad for the situation he was in. I feel like I wish I could offer him some encouragement, or some comforting words of advice. It will be OK, Matt.

Then I remember that I am talking about a past self. I remember that Matt is me, and, worse, I might not even be sincere when I muster up those emotions. They are mere platitudes – the kind of thing you say to anyone who’s feeling down, even if you don’t know that what you’re saying is true.

Because, the fact is, when I look back 10 years, I don’t honestly think that, if I, 29 years old, could be magically placed into the room with my 19 year old self, to impart words of wisdom about the decade to come, I could say that everything will be OK. It won’t.

Number 1 reason why is because life is not like that. One bit. Some you win, some you lose. You hope you are going in roughly the right direction, and that your losses outnumber your wins. But there are big losses. There are missed opportunities. There are giant distractions. There is huge procrastination. There is hope, expectation, and then the smack of reality.

I don’t know why, but this is the kind of life lesson that I wasn’t really aware of back then. There is something wonderful about the naivety of youth. Though I was already jaded with cynicism about life and the society we live in, I still did believe that a great swathe of the world was still open to me. That I could still be anything I wanted to be, assuming I had some talent, of course.

10 years ago I reflected very heavily on the beginnings of my new life at university, living away from home. I believe that that was a very astute observation, and one that I believe was a major launching point for me and my life. 10 years ago it was clear that I was just going along with what seemed to be the sensible course, with the benefit of the largely dull but positively life-changing experience of working as a grunt in society. That also turned out to be prescient, and ultimately my view of the world of work still hasn’t changed and never will.

I knew I had to get out. I knew I was getting nowhere. Fortunately, I had already lined up a University place. It was my get out clause that I’d never really intended to use. I applied to Uni just to placate the parents. I really wanted to go out there and work. I was fed up of education. Hence the gap year. But it didn’t turn out that way.

10 years ago though, I hoped that my university experience, and growing up away from home would give me better chances in life. It did to some extent, but not because of the actual education I obtained from it. Just more because it shaped me into the person I am, enhanced by the independence I gained, and the friendships I formed. I worried about this 10 year ago, not knowing where it was taking me, but I think this bit turned out OK.

I then reflected strongly on the process of “adultification”, as I called it. Again, I am impressed with my 19 year old self. I could write all of these words again today.

Ask a random person on the street about their life, and one of the first things they will tell you is what they do for a living. Is that how our society judges people? Merely on what they’re doing in exchange for cash? What have you actually contributed today apart from the C02 emissions from the car you’re driving?

What pervades my earliest writings is my sense of depression and despondency. I worry about the decades that were stretching out ahead of me, and wondering just exactly what I could fill them with to make myself a worthwhile life, full of engagement with others, and how, exactly, I could make a mark on the world.

I still worry about this, and in some senses my worries are enhancing with each passing day, as that creeping feeling of mortality grows. But I don’t feel as depressed now. I feel like I at least have some concept as to what I want to do with my life. Back then I really had no clue what I was getting myself into, and no idea how to answer that question I posed above: what do I want to do in exchange for cash? I feel like I have answered this, so it no longer poses depression.

But the underlying question still does. The real point of the question was to explore what more things one can do in life to make it more worth living. As to this, I have no idea. Neither did I 10 years ago. It bugs me, but unlike 10 years ago I bury myself in my work to avoid thinking about it. I couldn’t do that then. It’s called distraction.

I can never get rid of the niggling thought at the back of my mind that I’m missing out on something. That I’m here to do something far more important than study Western Europe.

I just don’t know what.

In some ways, the end is the most confusing part of my post. I have spent some of my life rather grandiosely wondering if I had some major talent I was supposed to be sharing with society for the good of others. When I was young people wanted me to be a doctor, or some super clever scientist. In my more superior moments, I wonder whether I am better than other people. Sometimes, when speaking with others, I feel like I am more intelligent than them, and not on their level. I try not to think too much like this, as it’s extremely damaging for me, but this nagging thought does arise from times that I am better than most of the people I meet, on an intellectual and mental acuity level.

This is horribly patronising to others. I wonder whether this was what I meant in the above paragraph. Or was it simply just an ironic way of writing that my studies were dull, with no relevance to real life, and that I needed to think about what will happen when they are gone?

I think I have turned out the best I could in the 10 years since I sat, morosely opining on the imminent life disaster I thought I was leading into. I always wish I that I had a different personality, one that was more open to others, engaging, tolerant of others, empathetic, and charitable. But that was never likely to happen. I didn’t have that 10 years ago. I don’t have it now. Personality only changes marginally through the years. I feel like the 10 years have been relatively kind to me.

Except for the fact that I do look older. Physically I look worse. The hair is a disaster. I generally look a bit gaunt and washed out. Most people remark that. I try to increase my weight by eating more, but it doesn’t work. I should be grateful of that, really, but I do get tired of people saying I look tired. I don’t actually feel tired at all, but if I’m looking it it must mean that I am working myself too hard.

I reckon the Matt of 10 years ago could understand that. He was a hard worker as well… but at least he had actual youth to protect himself. I don’t.

Looking back is important. You learn what worked and what didn’t. You should learn and readjust from that. I think I have. I think I have changed and improved in many ways. I learned to be comfortable being me. I learned to be independent. I learned to have a drive to always ask for more. But in doing so I created an aloof and difficult personality that doesn’t get on well with anyone more than a superficial level. There are very few people I let into my inner confidence. I was like that 10 years ago. I am like that times 100 today.

I regret that I am not a more exciting person. I regret that my previous wishes to see the world and travel are unfulfilled, and almost extinguished. I am jealous of my 19-year-old self who went off to the USA on his own. I wish I could do it again now. But he was young and carefree with absolutely no commitments to anyone or anything. I am not. I have a life to maintain. I have businesses to run, and people who rely on that.

But regrets are not good for you. I have learned to bury my regrets firmly. I am better at that than 10 years ago. I still get angry when I fail, or slip up, but only because I hold myself in such high standards. That, arguably, is actually worse than 10 years ago…

Overall, like most things in life, it’s a mixture. A delicate balance of positives and negatives, some outweighing the others. I think I am in a better position than I was 10 years ago: a post-teenaged ball of angst, full of the woes of growing up emotionally into a proper adult. Now all of that is long gone, for good and for ill.

It’s the next 10 years that really worry me.

The Readjustment

Every year, post-Christmas, post-New Year, there has to be a re-adjustment. It is that tragic and depressing time when one realises Life Must Continue.

For days I live in denial. The interregnum between Christmas and New Year provides two bookends of protection. During this zone I can comfortably wave away concerns about time-wasting and self-indulgence.

Then you slip across the New Year precipice. New Year’s Day is always an odd affair, filled with tiredness and usually too much food. It allows you to ignore crossing the rubicon. But then the 2nd occurs.

For this year, like most years, the 2nd was a turning point. I had, this year, made a deliberate decision to actually leave my phone off. I have always set my voicemail message to say I’m on holiday, but often leaving my phone on, so people hear it ring and have to wait for the message. But this year, my phone was very firmly off – meaning I didn’t even see, hear or otherwise sense that a caller was waiting.

This made a big difference psychologically.

Until the 2nd, of course.

Because it’s not possible to leave your phone off forever. My phone (a smartphone) is also a leisure device. So switching it on to receive internet to do some Googling or to play some silly games, or download an app, or whatever… inevitably resulted in the receiving of the “you have 15 voicemails” and the deluge of e-mails arriving.

In reality, although my holiday only “officially” ended yesterday, it ended many days ago. I have been trying to deny it for days, but it is now here.

The readjustment usually takes several days. By the end of this week I will be back to 12/13 hour workdays, and no semblance of life or leisure beyond the fleeting glimpses I obtain of a Sunday.

Today I am travelling away from the parental home. I am leaving behind the place where I have spent the last two weeks relaxing and, in the most part, getting away from work. It has worked to some degree. I do feel better, but I also feel dread.

Everyone does. Everyone dreads the return of mundanity, and reality. Life is tedious at the best of times, and utterly, exasperatingly, frustrating due to the nature of the work I do. The nature of constantly dealing with people who are significantly at odds with the technology they use grinds me down. I felt it yesterday when I was on the phone with a customer. I felt the internal rage building, something I haven’t felt for weeks. It’s not good for me. I am an extraordnarily patient person with my customers, but some episodes, especially on your first proper day back at work, just kick you over the edge.

The Readjustment is a horrible time for me. I feel pretty depressed writing this, knowing in a few hours time I will be whisking my way back to the Southern house. That I won’t see my family or relatives for some time again.

Part of me is filled with this woe because, on the whole, Christmas was good. It is depressing that it is all over so soon. That life is now resuming with 50 weeks of incessant drudgery before I can genuinely switch off with no feeling of guilt.

Then the other part of me is telling me this is getting more and more concerning by the year. That we are all now one year older. One year less secure in this world. One year closer to seeing family, friends and relatives no longer with us. One year less biologically able. This was only brought home to me when visiting the home of my grandmother yesterday… a house I’ve not stepped into since my grandfather died.

Time to stop. Before I get so depressed I give up.

And before the phone no doubt rings.

2014

Happy New Year.

Last night arrived with all the pleasantries one associates with the New Year celebrations that this family holds. I would always prefer to celebrate New Year – arbitrary arrival of another day though it be – with my family. Some like to go out and spend hundreds of pounds in bars and clubs, and have a nightmare trying to get home in taxis. Takes all sorts, I suppose.

2013’s new year celebration was much better than 2012’2. This time the atmosphere, despite family traumas, was much more friendly, thanks in the main because the party was held at my aunty’s. There were quite a few people I didn’t know, but, once the guitar comes out, the frost seems to melt. I was surprised at how well singing a One Direction song would go down with the crowds… but children and parents alike were all singing along.

One rather sad aspect was that I met a small boy and girl, aged 6 and 3, who are currently being fostered by a relative of my uncles. I was absolutely saddened by hearing what they had been through. They were such lovely children, in spite of all the absolutely horrible things they must have seen. I sat talking to the boy for about 5 or 10 minutes, which, I was told by his foster parents, was actually a big surprise to them… since he is generally hyperactive in all aspects of life. He was really charming. I’m so glad that they are getting a fresh chance at life. There must be so many others who don’t.

The tradition now, though, is to project, rather than reflect. I look forward to this year. I genuinely think that, once again, it will be another crucial year in my life. Every year brings something new, some new challenge, and always something unexpected.

This year, I am hoping that both businesses do well. The new base of operations from the office is working out well, and I hope it will lead to further prosperity this year.

The big question for me will be whether to take the plunge regarding buying a house. It’s a determination I will have to make soon. I think I have been operating for long enough now to be able to get a mortgage as a self-employed person, but the big question will be whether or not this is a wise time to buy. Is the housing market already overheating and due another correction, or is it only up from here for at least a few years, making this, possibly, my last time to buy before prices go way beyond what I could possibly hope to earn.

Unless, of course, I am to achieve a big increase in income this year. I doubt that. I suppose the other business I’m involved in his a possibility of bringing this, but I am increasingly filled with worry about it. I am concerned that this year may expose the position I have taken in this business. If it does, I will probably come out of it with a small net loss.

That’s all the reason for me to keep my existing computer business strong.

If I’m having a really good year, I will consider taking on someone to help me with my computer business. This would be good for my home life and my sanity. I could do it now, but only if I was to accept a real drop in my income in the short term. Potentially, I would be left earning just a few thousand pounds. Some might say that that would be great, especially if you don’t have to do anything to earn it, but it would never be like that. I know I would always want to stay involved in the business I had created. So it would be totally insufficient. Not when Life (TM) costs over £1,000 a month.

So realistically, it’s likely to be a year to try and achieve stability. I recognise I’m coming to the end of my third decade… but I’m trying not to think about it. I’m trying to just keep enjoying my life while it’s here.

Here’s to 2014.

2013

New Year this year was slightly better than last year, but only just. We did manage to have a small family gathering, which was very nice, especially as my grandparents were able to make it, but the depression it fills you with for future years is not good.

On the first of the year, I like to set down some benchmarks as to the year ahead. Last year, I was spectacularly wrong. This year, I am going to be a bit more optimistic.

There is something in me that feels this will be a good year. I am not one for mysticism or other spiritual hocus-pocus, but my business head is telling me that, for a change, I should look upon what’s coming this year with a great deal of encouragement.

First of all, in the next couple of weeks, my household circumstances will change dramatically. My housemate is moving out soon, and when that happens I will finally feel like I have, at last, made it to my “own place”. Everyone wants a little bit of somewhere to call home. In my case, however, I am renting a portion of someone else’s property and calling it mine.

Semantics, maybe, but it doesn’t feel like mine, even though I’ve been there for 3.25 years. 3.25 years that have flown by, and yet it looks like I’ve only just moved in. The living room is full of boxes, and has no homely feel. The kitchen is full of work-related equipment. So is my bedroom. It’s like living in your office all day, every day.

Some of this has been because I have felt like it’s not good to spend money on someone else’s house. And also the fact that, while my housemate was there, it just didn’t feel like mine. The house is full of stuff that isn’t mine and constantly reminds me of that fact, or isn’t in the way I would like it. For instance, behind the front door is about eight pairs of shoes. None of them are mine. They all belong to my housemate. But I can’t be bothered any more arguing over things.

In a couple of weeks time, they will all be gone.

The house situation will ease a huge burden off me. But in the back of my mind I continue to worry that I should spend some time working out when, if ever, I will make an attempt to buy a place of my own. I really ought to. To some degree I think that this should be the year.

But business-wise, there are other considerations. On the 11th January I have a critically important business meeting. If it goes well, it will shape the rest of this year very strongly. It still may take some time to kick in, and in my head I am not really expecting much progress, even if the meeting goes well, but I am keen to feel that there is just a little bit of momentum building at the moment. Momentum that might, finally, make me feel like I have built something that will last.

So I am expecting a positive year from my business. A few decent deals in the bag will secure that. Sounds so simple, but it isn’t, and the work required will be immense. But I must remember not to neglect the customers that put me in this position. I do not want to throw away all the progress that I have made.

In my personal life, I have given up hoping on something good to happen. Maybe it will, maybe it won’t, but we’ll see. At the back end of the year I had a good conversation with someone, but it will probably go nowhere due to time.

And as far as the family is concerned, it’s yet another big year. Hopefully everyone will continue to progress well, with my brothers getting settled in work and university, and my sisters carrying on with their new family and college respectively. Hopefully my mum and dad will find great comfort from 2013, the year their mortgage ends. And my nephews all do well in their important growing-up phases. My biggest worry remains for my 13 year old nephew. I worry about what this society he’s growing up in is teaching him.

Last night I thought deeply about it. It is now 13 years since the celebrations for year 2000. That has flown by so quickly I can barely believe it.

But believe it I must. Life is so fast, and incredibly fleeting. I really must resolve to enjoy this year much more than I did the last.

Let’s see what happens…

The Dangerous Moment

I’ve been on holiday for a few days, but instead of writing about the good parts of it, unfortunately, due to what happened, I’m going to start at the end.

On our way to our first stop on the Sunday, we were travelling along a stretch of dual carriageway. I was sitting in the back.

We begin to make an overtaking manoeuvre, being in Lane 1, and wanting to get in front of a car ahead, we switch to Lane 2.

I look across to my right, instinctively, and see, arriving at great speed, a car extremely close to us. I shout out “Oh my God” – as I cannot believe what I’m seeing. Our driver realises the danger and starts to veer back into Lane 1, but it is irrelevant.

The speeding car veers to the right to avoid us, but it quickly runs out of ground on its right, and at such speed it loses control. It clips the central reservation, and then swings across both lanes violently, on its side.

It flies into the bushes and trees at the side of the road, landing upside down.

The whole incident is over in one, or maybe two seconds at most. No one can believe what they saw for a second, but we know we must stop and report what we’ve just seen. We stop where it’s next safe.

Our driver is inconsolable, thinking they may be the cause, but they did everything they could right. No one can account for another driver arriving at such pace, way beyond the speed limit, not able to react before the danger arrived due to the speed they were going.

But myself and a fellow passenger know we must report the incident and go back to see what, if anything, we can do. My fellow passenger makes the call, thankfully, as I am so useless at giving locational information, especially as he had the map in front of him too. Then we stroll back up hill to the wreckage.

It takes us longer than we thought, but we find it. A huge gap in bushes and trees at the side of the road. Then an oldish sports car laying at the bottom of it. It’s out of our reach and a bit difficult to get to… so we call out, not expecting to hear anything.

A voice comes back. But what can we do? We are in no position to help, and not experts. We tell him help is on the way.

We wait agonisingly… it’s hard to believe how long it felt, but eventually we spotted the police car rushing over the hill and catch him just in time before he zooms past. He stops and joins us, but there’s not much he can do either but call for more backup.

We go back to wait down the road with the driver. Within a few minutes, an air ambulance lands right next to our car. Just unbelieveable. The sight and the noise would have been awesome to behold in less worrying circumstances.

Eventually we are told that the driver is in a bad way, but nothing critical. We have to wait for a long time to give our statements to the police, but we worry just what will come of all this. The police officer with us is very gentle and thinks there won’t be a problem, but it doesn’t mean much.

We get moving a little afterwards, after watching the air ambulance take off in another moment of magnificent technological wonder.

What concerns me most of all is that life incidents like this are played out at fractions of a percent. Had the driver clipped our car at any point, we’d have all been seriously injured, if not killed. Had the driver been travelling slower, he’d have hit us as he veered across us. Had there been a car nearer in Lane 1 they would have been taken out completely by the errant driver. Had he not clipped the central reservation, or there was just a little more room, he’d have stayed going in a relatively straight line, and would have come out of it unscathed.

Had he not been speeding at all, none of this would have happened.

Incidents like this happen all the time on the roads, and people die every day through careless, reckless and dangerous driving.

But to actually be involved in something like this, for the first time ever in my life, has really worried me. I have no idea if the driver is alive or dead, or whether they will ever recover from the inevitable injuries they will have suffered. They were my only thoughts yesterday, as well as replaying the incident in my mind over and over. And the other concern is that I know full well about the frailties of human memory. I think I have just described what happened above accurately… but I could be wrong.

I just hope the driver is going to be OK. But I don’t think I’ll ever know. That’s a worrying thing to take ahead into the rest of my life.