Friday 31 May 2019

No-one here gets out alive

Avis (left) and Zoe (right) taken on Christmas Eve 2017.
My mental health, which had already been poor before my lover Avis died of cancer in July last year, has collapsed utterly since the suicide of my niece Zoe in November. Somehow I have to find my way back (or die, which would be easier). This essay is an attempt to plot a plan for the first option.

Partly as a consequence of my mental health collapse, my last remaining work contract is looking very shaky, and may not continue. I don't even really want it to continue, even though without it I have no income at all. And I don't believe I am now well enough to seek new paying work; I don't believe it's reasonable to expect that I will be well enough in the even moderately near future. But when I do seek new paying work, I need to have some story about what I was doing this year.

Finally, I'm not currently receiving any benefits, and I'm not well enough to apply for benefits. Zoe (before she died) started an application on my behalf, and my community psychiatric nurse has continued that application, but I have no faith in anything actually being paid. Fortunately, I shall inherit what little Zoe had, and I may be able to sell about £1,000 worth of cattle this autumn (if I'm well enough) but that isn't enough to keep me alive for a year.

What I need to recover health is a series of successful challenges, gradually increasing in difficulty. If I overface myself and fail, I end up further down the slope; things get worse. So it's important to pick challenges I can succeed at. So far so good.

Survey of the battlefield


I have cattle. As I've had three calves born in the past fortnight, I now have ten cattle. Of these, one is ready for slaughter but because his paperwork is not in order cannot be sold. Three are last year's calves, and their paperwork is in order, so potentially they can be sold, but they're hybrids and not worth much except as meat, and they won't be ready for slaughter until this autumn at earliest. One of them, Draeg, is male and has not been castrated, so I urgently need to separate him from my cows (and, ideally, get him castrated). I do not want any of my three cows to get pregnant this year - lovely as calves are, I have too many cattle and could do with a year without them.
So the overall plan is
  1. to slaughter Beelzebub this winter (or when I have sufficient freezer space, whichever is the earlier) - this I'm fairly confident I can do;
  2. sell the three yearlings this autumn, either for slaughter or for fattening; they'll be worth at best a very few hundred each (and could fetch much less);
  3. keep the three cows and their calves-at-heel.
Selling cattle is something I have not yet done, and I am not at all confident I can do it.

The Cattle Shed

For the past four years at least, I've been planning to build a cattle shed, and the plan has always been to get it finished before mid July of each of those years, so that I can put the year's hay harvest into its hay loft. The current state of play is that most of the materials are bought and paid for, the foundations and floor are in place, and most of the blocks for the lower walls are on site. Getting the blockwork up is probably about a fortnight's work, and it's something I can now definitely do: the last things blocking it were resolved yesterday.

But sawing the timber for the superstructure is not done, and building the frame can't happen until the timber is sawn. I cannot saw the timber alone, and the sawmill I'd assumed I'd be able to borrow I now probably can't borrow. So there are two options: one, abandon the timber I've already bought and buy new, sawn timber; or two, hire someone to mill the timber. I definitely cannot afford either of these. Even if I can get timber really soon, building the frame is at least a month's work, and completing the build at least another's. It's now the very end of May. So there's no way I can now get the shed finished in time for hay harvest this year. It isn't impossible that I could have it finished for winter, and having it finished for winter actually would make life easier even if the hayloft were empty (or even unfinished).


I've currently got my cattle in my bottom park; this leaves the middle and upper parks clear to grow hay. However, I'm not confident they've really got enough grass, and in any case I need to get Draeg away from the cows (or castrated) before they come into season again, which is pretty damn soon. So either I need to move my male cattle into the upper park, or else onto my neighbour Alice's land, with her permission - she has the grass. If I move the male cattle into my upper park, it makes work on the cattle shed building site vastly more difficult.

If all I am keeping over next winter is the three cows and their calves at heel, then the middle park should produce enough hay for that, assuming the winter is not too bad. But I'd really like to be able to mow the upper park as well, just as insurance.

All my hay making equipment needs quite a lot of maintenance, which I had planned to do over the winter and just have not been well enough to. If it is to be used there is at least a fortnight's work on that. However, the baler is almost ready to go, and if I can bale for James, I can get him to mow for me as a trade.

If I don't have the cattle shed up in time (and that is now virtually impossible), I can store hay in the old byre, although that's increasingly decrepit and in any case a hassle. So hay actually can be done. But also, in the last analysis, enough hay for three cows for the winter would not be enormously expensive to buy. Hay is not a major problem.


Being someone who is reasonably good at writing complex software is an important part of my identity. At present I am not that person, because my attention span and concentration are mince. I feel that I need to gradually build back to the point where I am that person. One of the problems are that I have too many projects on the go, and am much better at starting new projects than at working steadily and consistently on existing ones. The current projects are:
  1. Outlook add-in for SalesAgility's SuiteCRM product; this is the only paying work I currently have (and it doesn't pay much);
  2. Project Hope, a voter intention/canvassing system for Indyref2, which is more than half finished;
  3. The Great Game, a very large open world game project;
  4. Post Scarcity, a software environment for the massively parallel computers which must, I believe, be the future of computing.
Taking these one by one:

The SuiteCRM Outlook add-in is not something I enjoy working on or would choose to work on, although I do appreciate working with the folk at SalesAgility I work with on it. However, I am increasingly not well enough to do it, and the strains of the project are not contributing to my mental health. Also, there are quite considerable costs in terms of software subscriptions involved in working on it; it is the only paid work I have, but even so it barely washes its face. If SalesAgility do not decide to drop the project, I probably ought to withdraw from it.

I have no confidence a second independence referendum will ever be held; it seems to me unlikely. The SNP will not go ahead without a Section 30 order from Westminster, and I can see no prospect at all of Westminster ever granting such an order. So Project Hope is probably useless. Even if it were useful, it is no use having such a system if the only person who can support it is an unreliable madman. So if the project is to continue, it needs help which in my present state I can't recruit: it needs a project manager, at least one additional developer, at least one evangelist, and, ultimately, a group of people to train canvassers and analysts to use it.

Nevertheless, if Project Hope could be finished, it would have real benefits:
  1. It would help win a second independence referendum, if one were held;
  2. Even if another independence referendum is never held, it would help with canvassing in other referenda and elections for any organisation which chose to use it;
  3. It would be a solid and impressive piece of work which would form a key part of my CV when next I am well enough to seek paid work.
This is work in my core competences, in a software environment in which I am extremely comfortable, which could be genuinely useful in the real world. Rationally, it is probably the best candidate. But, without help, I cannot do it.

The Great Game is a fairly sketchy plan to build a game which would address what I perceive as many of the failings in modern computer games. It is vast and far beyond the capability of any one person to build. However, potentially, subsystems of it, especially the merchant subsystem and the gossip subsystem, could become libraries which could be sold to other game developers for use in their games; in other words, despite the overall project being ludicrous in scope, there is a potential here for a commercial business.

However, for that to be the case these modules would have to be broken out into libraries which could be called efficiently from C++ or similar code, and ideally integrated with one or more of the more common game engines.

The work which I've done on it so far is prototype work on algorithms for merchants and gossip.

Post Scarcity is even more ludicrously ambitious: to design a software environment - an operating system, if you like - which would make as yet undeveloped computers of unprecedented power tractable and useful. It's necessarily being done in very low level languages which are not my forte, and its present state is bogged down in hard-to-trace bugs. It would make a great PhD project for someone, but possibly not me. However, if I could focus on it, it would be very good mental exercise, and like eating an elephant, it can be done in teaspoonfuls.

In summary I need to focus on one project and largely abandon the others. Project Hope is rationally probably the best choice, but I can't make progress on my own and don't know how to recruit help. The Great Game (or, more specifically, its marketable subsystems) has the benefit of being something I can make progress on without outside help.

Plan for the campaign?

So it looks to me as though my best plan is
  1. To erect the blockwork for the cattle shed as soon as possible, without worrying about when the superstructure can be completed: feasible, needs no outside support, can be achieved, will have some value as shelter and as a hard feeding pen even if the shed is never finished;
  2. To separate the male cattle and move them at least to the upper park (but to ask Alice if I can move them into hers);
  3. To procede with maintenance on the baler as soon as possible, with the rake and mower as stretch goals - if working in the Void is too stressful, fetch them down here to be worked on;
  4. To ask friends for support on Project Hope, but, if I don't get that soon, to abandon it and focus software on The Great Game;
  5. To not worry about anything else for the time being.


J. said...

Looks like a sensible plan to me - concrete and achievable goals, and not too many.
Personally I like to pick the easiest one on a list first - you get the satisfaction of completing something quickly, and you can reduce your list sooner.

I'd offer to help on Project Hope, but I'd know nothing about it - unless you could use an uninformed but fairly tech-savvy tester.

Good luck!

Unknown said...

Hi Simon,
I have followed your excellent Twitter content for ages. I've followed your woes over the last months and all I've been able to offer is sympathy and solidarity!
Read your blog and it looks like a good plan.. Cos it's public, hopefully folk can pitch in with different elements..
I've got a couple of ideas if ye want to get in touch!
Keep on keeping on, Tom

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