The Times They Are A Changin’

This morning I got a taste of my new routine: instead of chasing miles, I’m chasing income. My 25 mile commute into Glasgow has been replaced by a 25 yard commute from the bedroom to the study, which is now my office, via the kitchen to source the first coffee of the day. The change has come about because at the age of 63, I’m working for myself.

There have been so many mandatory legal issues to attend to since I was made redundant that the LifeCycle Man has morphed into the List Man: it’s the only way I can be sure that I’ve done everything: assuming I remembered it in the first place of course.

My world has quite literally been turned upside down. Whereas before I looked for every extra mile that was going, what I have to be aware of now is that there is actually a limit to how far I can push a tired brain, especially one that’s been to hell and back in two short weeks. This is a different sort of tiredness altogether: it’s about having to earn the next meal, and the one after that. Pressure of a completely different kind.

My overriding emotion these past two weeks has been one of mental exhaustion. I suspect that’s rooted in not sleeping at all well in the days following the announcement, and everything that’s followed on has heaped pressure on an already tired body. I remember people saying to me that I should take a break when I hit 25,000 miles: but you can hardly stick your feet up and get the slippers out when you’ve just lost your job, even if it is at 23,400. The mark of a man lies not in the way he builds on success but the way in which he deals with adversity. Anyone can keep smiling in the good times: it’s how you deal with the dark days that sets you apart from the pack.

I think I’ve made a good start: I was offered some contracting work in the short term that may lead to a longer term role. It’s 200 miles away but I can work from home most of the time. So I’d to get myself set up with the tax authorities: no imaginary side letters to oneself here y’know: this operation is fully above board. Then there was the business name to sort out (which I actually needed before I did anything else because it has to be unique of course), a bank account to apply for and insurance to take out. And once the money starts trickling in, I need to start paying into my pension again. These are all things that someone else used to take care of in the old days: but now it’s my job.

This morning was hard going despite the 15 second commute. I’ve been down in England for the past couple of days, meeting my new colleagues, finding out what the new job is all about and generally getting myself acquainted with my new role. You know how it often says in job ads “wanted: self starter who can work under pressure”. Well I have no other choice. I get up, or should I say power up, pour myself a coffee and log on. That process takes less than two minutes then I’m straight into it. Breakfast comes a couple of hours later.

But there is an upside. It’s rained all day today and I wasn’t out there getting soaked. On another day I might have been, had I chosen to take the lunchtime miles, but having humped a heavy rucksack around platforms two, four, six and nine these last few days, my bad thumb is now a very bad thumb. It’s pushing seven weeks since I came off my bike and I can truthfully say that my thumb’s every bit as sore, possibly even more so, than it was on that fateful morning. The hernia op a year ago cost me 9 weeks on the sidelines: even at this stage, this has the potential to dwarf that layoff by a distance. I’m basically no better off than I was on Feb 10th and the swelling hasn’t shifted one millimetre. I really wish that the medical people had taken the bull by the horns and immobilised the joint on day one: I’m sure it would have been a darned sight better by now. Trying to carry on as normal just ain’t working. This thumb needs a proper rest, the sort that only comes through not using it.

My work is all computer based, a combination of wracking my brain and asking things of Google in order to find out how to do things that I’ve never done before (but suspect are possible). I got this job because of the things I achieved with my prediction spreadsheets: football and virtual dog racing: my forte is in making spreadsheets do things that are wholly outside the box.

LCFN was outside the box. I appreciate that now more than ever before. This time last year, I worried that I might never get the level of strong fitness back that would get me through the remaining 13,000 miles. Surgery does that to you. I survived that scare, and did so with something to spare. But this time it’s different: I can’t pick up a kettle or a saucepan in my right hand without it being incredibly painful. I can’t uncork a wine bottle or use a screwdriver. And I just think to myself “when is this going to get better: will it ever?” That’s seven weeks and counting with virtually no improvement.

But the same commitment, the same desire to get the job done, has now established itself in my new career. The strange thing about IT, and maybe it’s only IT people who’ll understand this, is that you can go two or three days when you’re really struggling because something technically difficult just won’t work, and those days are so very, very frustrating. But without going through that process, without enduring that frustration, you won’t get the job done. It’s part and parcel of being a creative developer. Not every day ends up being a productive day in the long run because the development process doesn’t work like that. And believe me, there is nothing as frustrating as knowing that you so want to satisfy your customer, when you know that the solution is technically possible, and it just ain’t happening. It’s almost like “I shouldn’t bill them for today”. But it’s the nature of the beast. Creation doesn’t come mentally and emotionally cheap. It’s a rollercoaster. No recording artist ever made a greatest hits LP straight out: the best work takes time to mature…

An upside of all of this however, is that I have an office cat. Well, two actually, but they never sit with me at the same. Dennis seems to take the morning slot, parking himself within stroking range of the keyboard on a footstool, then madame Fluffy turns up in the afternoon to grunt her way through a nap on the settee. I think they enjoy me being at home every bit as much as I enjoy them shuffling themselves around me while I’m trying to work.

But despite all the upheaval, despite all the uncertainty, there’s a constancy to LCFN that comes through the Facebook group. Kids continue to get sick, and they continue to fight back. Wee Kian is the latest to show that being in a dark place isn’t necessarily the worst thing in the world when you’re surrounded by your family and a bunch of great friends. It’s a powerful cocktail when it all comes together. I’ve been blessed these last few weeks to have found some (more) inspiring people through Social Media and you have no idea how uplifting it is to have someone reaching out to you to offer support from 10,000 miles away. Not one, not two, not even three people: I hold my Aussie friends dear to my heart because they all seem to have that same get up and at ‘em spirit that I need right now. Theonie, Tara, Amelie, Maria, Jackie, JJ and the rest, you’re keeping me heading in the right direction just by doing the things that you do. And Amelie, despite me not being able to pluck a guitar string right now (I never could anyway), I long to hear the fruits of your current labours: I guess that only you, I and one other person in the whole world know what’s bubbling away on the back burner but when it finally comes to the boil, I hope that you’ll be able to look back with pride on the making of your marque.

It’s unusual to be finishing off the blog on a Saturday morning: historically it’s been a Friday teatime gig but my brain was so frazzled yesterday I could find neither the inspiration nor the motivation to do it justice. But today it’s different. I have ideas flowing through my brain about some data that I have to configure for my customer. And I’m happy because I know that when it’s working, he will be delighted. And at the end of the day, that’s all that matters…

The times they are a changin’…