Thursday 11 April 2019

The Changeling

My family in 1960; my father on the right, me next to him
I woke up in the middle of the night thinking about the 1962 Foot And Mouth outbreak, and its effect on my father; wondering to what extent his psychiatric crisis affected mine, and mine, his.

(My father wes then the Ministry of Agriculture's Regional Controller for the North of England; among his responsibilities was deciding which herds were condemned. He insisted on visiting every affected farm, talking to every vet and every farmer. He didn't have to do that. It's because of him that we now know that the disease can be carried on the tyres of cars - specifically our car. He carried the disease from farm to farm with him, infecting farms which had not previously been infected).

To what extent did he undertand the Foot and Mouth outbreak as a punishment for his sin in divorcing his first wife to marry my mother? Or for other sins of his of which I'm unaware? To what extent did both my parents understand my own collapse into a psychiatric basket case - which had started earlier, but got much worse during this period - as a punishment?

Of course, there's no-one else left alive who I can check these thoughts out with, with the exception of my sister who was also only a child at the time. The last of my parents' contemporary friends died last year.

I now know and understand that my father's childhood must have been traumatic, and that the first half of his war - the half he never spoke about - must also have been traumatic. How damaged had he been by these experiences?

As a small child, your own parents are god-like, solid, immutable, the foundations of your existence. It's hard to see them as damaged. Later, in my teens, my psychiatrists saw my own trouble as in part an expression of the conflicts in my parents' marriage, but I now realised that my then understanding of that understanding was shallow.

Both my parents' fathers were in there own way monsters; which is another way of saying both my parents's fathers were in their own way very damaged individuals - but I only dimly understand the causes of their damage. A further generation back, I understand a little of my mother's grandfather's damage, but nothing beyond that. If I had children, they - or their children - would see me as a monster; and they'd be right, of course, in many ways I am one.

Slobodan Milošević was a monster; but his parents marriage failed while he was a small child, and both of his parents committed suicide before he was thirty. I've always seen evil in the world as a consequence of evil, damage resulting from damage, feeding on and reinfecting itself from generation to generation.

This isn't to say my father was a bad man. He wasn't. He was a very brilliant, very troubled man who sincerely strove to be a good man - as I do. But each of his children were badly scarred, as mine would be if I had any, as those to whom I have acted in loco parentis have been.

But so - what? How do we act against evil, if its perpetrators are also its victims?

I have long felt that the appropriate, kind, caring response to children with psychiatric trauma would be to kill them. To put them out of their misery, because you don't recover, because no-one should be forced to live like this. But in saying that I was thinking it simply for the child's sake, to spare the child (and the adult they would grow into) suffering.

What if one should kill children who suffer psychiatric trauma in order to prevent the evil that they may - that they are likely to - cause? Hold onto that thought for a moment. It's a very dark one.

There are folk beliefs about changelings, demon children, cursed children. Does this reflect a traditional practice to driving out or killing very troubled children, and, if so, did that practice have survival benefits for the herd in cauterising evil and limiting its intergenerational spread?

Dark thoughts. I should sleep.

Sunday 7 April 2019

About taxing the car

My niece and I, in happier times long ago
This is an account of my descent into yet another psyciatric crisis this weekend. It's a bit confusing, mainly because my memory is so scrambled I can't be clear about the order of events; and, of course, it isn't really of interest to anyone else. But writing it down at least lets me get it out. Like talking to a psychiatrist who isn't there, and doesn't answer. Because that's how it is.

Taxing the car

This weekend I had to tax the car. I should have taxed it last weekend, but I hadn't; so it was out of tax, so it was urgent, so I had to do it. The modern system for taxing a car in Britain is very simple and very efficient; the things about bureaucratic websites which usually put me into meltdowns aren't an issue.

What is an issue is I actually can't afford to do this, and in looking at the extent to which I can't afford to I'm forced to face up to just how bad the mess I've spiralled into over the winter has become. My cash income comes from work I do for a wee software company in Scotland. They need me less and less, so the amount I make from it is getting less; now it averages about £500 a month. The software tools I need to do their work cost about £100 a month, and running the office, which I need to do because I don't reliably have enough electricity at home, costs about another £100; so my net income is now around £300 a month. To put it another way, in 1988 I was charging £750 for a day of my time (and getting it); now, ignoring inflation, I'm earning less than that a month.

I like working for these people; they're easy going and don't hassle me, rarely initiate a phone call unless I invite them to, and what they're building isn't in the least evil. Having something regular to do has given me grounding, steadyness, something I have to do for other people. But they don't have enough work for me for this to be viable any longer.

So, I could go out and look for other work. But
  1. I don't have the confidence that I'm any use to anyone. My mental state is so unreliable, and a lot of the time I just can't focus. When I can focus, I'm still quite good, if not as good as I once was. But a lot of the time I can't, and when I get anxious about not being able to deliver work then my focus goes even worse. I can work effectively, on long term average, about fifteen hours a week. But that's long term average, and in the short term I can't guarantee even that.
  2. I really don't cope well with strangers, or, actually, with interacting with people at all - even people I know well and like. Trying to sell myself to people I don't know when I can't honestly claim to be able to deliver for them is something I cannot do.
  3. I cannot claim social security benefits. The degree of stress and humiliation involved is just beyond me. I honestly would rather die.

The phone and the cattle shed

Normally, I refuse to borrow. I know damn fine my sanity is so poor that debts are a strain I just can't deal with. I broke that rule twice last autumn; both times it seemed sensible at the time.

The plan for my croft has been that I keep cattle; to be able to store winter fodder for the cattle, and to be able to feed them easily through the winter, I planned to build a cattle shed. It hadn't made much progress for a couple of years mostly because I lacked the money. Last summer, a friend offered to lend me some money to help getting ahead with it. Initially I refused, but in the autumn when I was really struggling with suicide I thought that if I did borrow some money, I couldn't die until I'd paid it back, and that would act as motivation to keep going. So I borrowed £1,000, and used it to buy concrete blocks and timber. I thought, at the time, I would be able to repay this over a year or so fairly easily.

Then my niece killed herself. She was an orphan, and for complicated reasons she and I were close; we had more of a parent/child relationship than an uncle/niece one. I had to organise the clearing of her flat and her funeral. My phone was broken and I needed a new one urgently to just communicate with people; so I bought one. And between that and the travel and paying for the funeral I went into overdraft.

Which at the time felt justified and also manageable, because my neice left me most of what she had, which isn't a lot but it is something. But I can't get probate on her will until the inquest has been held, and it keeps getting delayed.

I checked my bank account before taxing the car. Usually I pay a year's tax at one go, and that's what I planned to do. But that was impossible; it's obvious to me that there is nothing I can do which will prevent me going over my overdraft limit this month.

Of course, one day the inquest will be held and the death certificate will be issued and I'll be able to get probate on the will and that will, actually, clear my current debts. Except that, it costs money to go on living. I actually can't afford to. Sometime within the next year, even if I get my niece's money, I will run out hard.

Fletcher and the cement mixer

Software is what I do, what I used to be good at, what I use to validate myself. Building software, like any other trade, needs tools, and one of my important tools is Fletcher, my 'big computer', a home built beast with eight processor cores, 16Gb of RAM, and 3Tb of disk, of which 1Tb is SSD. It's not state of the art any more, but it's still pretty fast and provides a really nice working environment; except it also has a relatively high specification video card, and the video card has failed. I think the basic machine, other than the video subsystem, is fine; but I have the security on the mean set up so that you cannot login over the network, which means, without a video subsystem, I cannot log in at all. Which means I cannot really work on the software project I want to work on (even if I had the focus, which I don't).

To do any further work on the cattle shed, I need a cement mixer. Well, I have a cement mixer; but I broke a universal joint on it last autumn. Some day last week I dismantled the drive on the cement mixer to get the universal joint out so that it can be worked on. I think that's when the crash started: I looked at the disassembled parts and thought, OK, that's fine, but I can't take it to an engineer to get it fixed because I can't pay for it.

Project Hope

So, supposing I can go on earning £300 a month, can I survive on that? Well, probably. I spend much more than I need to on telecommunications, I realise it amounts to an addiction. I spend £60 a month on my satellite link, nearly £70 on mobile, and £30 on the landline in the office that hardly works at all. I don't know if I can do the full cold turkey thing and cut myself off from the Internet all together; I've had network comms into my home since before there even was an Internet, back to 300 baud dialup modems, VT100 emulation and JANET addressing. Like software engineering, network comms is part of my identity. The landline in the office ought to go, since it really doesn't work. And, if it goes, for the summer at least the office can go. And that would save a lot.

If I terminate my satellite connection but not my mobile connection, then I'll just end up using more mobile bandwidth, which is really expensive. So it makes more sense, actually, to terminate the mobile - which does of course mean I wouldn't have a phone. But one or other could, and really has to, go.

I spend £30 a month on charity and another about £30 on various Yes movement and news things - Bella, BroadcastScot, Newsnet, the Ferret, Common Weal. Those could go.

But the one that really hurts is Project Hope. Project Hope is the canvassing voter-intention system I built for IndyRef2. It isn't finished and it doesn't work, and I've stopped working on it partly because Fletcher is broken and partly because I no longer believe that independence is going to happen. But it's still sitting there on a server out on one of Linode's web farms which is costing me £40 a month to rent. There's no point in it sitting there. It doesn't work. If Nicola Sturgeon called IndyRef2 tomorrow, it wouldn't be ready and couldn't be finished in time. But switching it off would mean I'd given up, and that all the time and effort I've put into it would be wasted.

Which, actually, it already is, but... knowing it is and facing up to the fact that it is are different.

Facing facts

Intellectually, I know my life is over, just as, intellectually, I know Project Hope has failed. Knowing it and facing it are different.

Any form of suicide takes a certain amount of courage. I used to think about a car crash, but modern cars are much too protective to make that a reliable way out. Two years ago I just stopped taking warfarin, which probably would eventually kill me (but which might just end up with a stroke, which would be even worse). I have various bladed tools with which I could easily kill myself, but I don't think I have the courage for that.

When my lover died last July, I woke up the following morning alone in her house, and spent some time tidying up. In doing so, I took a supply of morphine. I'm not proud of that; it is essentially theft. But I did it, and I have it. It has about a year of shelf-life; if I'm going to use it I'll need to do it soon.

I do not want to die with debts unpaid. But if I continue to live, the debts will accumulate.

I don't really see another alternative.

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The fool on the hill by Simon Brooke is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License