risk and reward

Sometimes you can be mature and philosophical about life having little sense and reason. Other times, it’s harder. This week has been hard.

It started on Monday with news of the tragedy in County Donegal, where a car containing several generations of a family sank, and everyone except a small baby died. A woman returned from a hen weekend to find her mother, sister, partner and two young boys had died. The baby was rescued by a heroic passer-by who swam out to the car. It’s hard to even conceive of that woman’s grief. It hurts even trying to think about it.

How do you tell someone that news?

It sounds like a thing of fable, a story passed down through generations, but it’s chillingly real. Tragic, awful stuff happens. It could easily happen to you or me. There is no sense or reason.

On Tuesday morning news of the Brussels terrorist attacks started to filter through. An IS bomb at the Belgium city’s airport was followed by explosions on the underground system, with a death toll currently at 31 and likely to rise.

This was less random, of course; more deliberate and calculated and not such a surprise. A threat had existed for a long time, especially after last November’s Paris attacks, and it remains there in most large cities. This is a time of permanent risk.

It struck me that during the last International football break we had the Paris attacks, and during this one we have had Brussels. Perhaps IS are merely upset by breaks in the domestic football season?

The World Half Marathon comes to my home city on Saturday. Much of it is here already, including a large expo at the city’s indoor arena. It’s a big deal for the place, thousands of people piling in and spending money, including Olympic star Mo Farah and elite runners. Walking around the city centre, you can sense the population bulging, the mass of keen, healthy looking people in trainers and sportswear.

On Saturday I will be working in and around the centre of it and part of me is nervous. In the current climate, how can this event not be considered a prime terrorist target? Surely it would be simple? A huge volume of people from across the world concentrated in a medium sized city for a big event with the word ‘World’ in its title. A city with a diverse population and a recent history as a breeding ground for Syria-bound IS fighters; a city which has long been considered ripe for terrorist scares, albeit quietly.

You think of the Boston Bombers, you think of the 2010 British comedy film Four Lions, where the London Marathon is a target, you think it could happen.

You walk past young white men and think nothing. You walk past men who bear a passing resemblance to the men in that grainy airport security photo which was on the front page of every newspaper on Wednesday morning: you think something.

My flat is next door to another flat where a number of young Arabic guys live. They have large and loud gatherings most Friday nights, where around 20 men pile round and talk loudly, animatedly, making shrill wooping uleleling sounds, before stampeding in twos and threes down the hollow echoey stairs at around 1am. You try to be as liberal as you can about it.

Other areas of the city are roughly segregated by ethnicity. There are often talks of regular dawn raids in the next inner city suburb over from us. You have to trust in the intelligence services.

Events of the week, combined with my only sporadic busyness, have left me feeling a little spaced out, dreamy and nervous. I have felt a lot like blankly staring out of windows and drinking coffee or whisky.

Personally, I am at a point where exciting change could be right around the corner. Marriage is feeling cosier than I anticipated. (A little over six months now – better than some).  Beforehand, a friend had said it cements everything and I had thought it over-romantic nonsense. Now I can see the truth in it, the greater solidity, (excuse this next bit), but love for my wife developing and growing in a way I hadn’t really expected. I feel closer to her than ever, closer than I ever have to anyone.

When pinballing aimlessly from female hope to female hope (years 2009-12 of this blog), I harboured a dream of immediately being utterly possessed by ‘The One’, of falling in lust and love with her and everything clicking instantly and magnificently from the first moment; of us naturally getting each other all the time, being constantly entertained and amused by each other, being perfectly synchronised and on each other’s wavelength. Now I see how ridiculous that is.  There are natural curvatures throughout relationships, up and down. They are not straight timelines.

Big things we’ve been waiting for and hoping for, they might actually transpire soon. The edge of change is a tantalising and frightening place to be. Firstly, moving to a house. It could all go wrong of course, but it might go right. And if it does goes right, I might have a mortgage, a nice house, we could get a dog, if lucky perhaps a child. Who knows?  Sometimes you can’t help gazing out of windows and trying to see the future.

But if either or both of us get killed by terrorists on Saturday, none of that happens.

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bludgeoning through

Freelance life. It comes as a surprise that it’s still a struggle sometimes, almost seven years down the line. Surely I should have acclimatised by now?

When it comes to the ebb and flow of work, the tapering off is still tough. Things aren’t at all bad at the moment. They are indeed ‘ticking over’. There’s stuff on the horizon, an engaging variety of work, a pipeline of sorts, though never a hugely reliable one. There are a number of chunkyish payments outstanding.  I need not feel too stressed, or as stressed as I have been in recent years.

And I’m not stressed as such. More confused, discombobulated, resentful of feeling a bit bored and not busy enough; perpetually frustrated by what I consider to be a lack of recognition and general unfairness; a bit lost.

I often work unsociable hours, evenings and weekends (albeit usually more out of passion and hope than rational profit) so I shouldn’t feel all that bad about taking my foot off the accelerator a bit during the week, about not sitting at a desk peering into the internet and over-comparing myself with apparently more successful people.

I shouldn’t but I do.

My conscience is threatened somehow when it doesn’t feel adequately occupied. What more could I, should I be doing? Don’t be lazy. Set your own agenda. Work produce work create work update work upkeep work.

You know as a self-employed person, you often have to work twice as hard to make half as much as a comparably aged and skilled civil servant. Or that’s what it can feel like anyway, seeing them mooch idly around town on lunchbreaks, probably during a day of meetings when they sitting around boardroom tables not saying much.

The other perpetual struggle is how isolated and solitary it is, working for yourself all the time; the lack of human contact and real world conversations, the loneliness. I always think to myself that I’m better equipped than most, with my total loner background and general misanthropic outlook. But still, it can be a challenge. We’re designed to want to interact, and when a dull week sags along without much by way of human punctuation it all feels rather dull. Maybe a dog would help.

At the moment, rediscovering the incredible early 1970s’  songwriting talent of Cat Stevens and Harry Nilsson is helping. Music of that era produced a beautifully unique, period style of whimsical uplifting melancholy. My Dad was a fan of Harry Nilsson and still has old vinyls, so I was familiar with some of his material, but Cat Stevens was only discovered after enjoying his soundtrack to the brilliant 1971 film Harold and Maude on Netflix. Spotify then provided all the related music that exists. We are ridiculously lucky to live in times when all this stuff is available on tap.

With any luck the dog might not be too far off though. Terrifyingly, we had an offer accepted on a house a couple of weeks ago, which would allow us to get a dog. But we are totally in the dark about timescales and the pessimist in me thinks it’ll probably be horribly protracted for at least 6 months and ultimately fall through altogether.

Exciting though, the prospect of not living in a flat for the first time in my adult life, aged 35. No way I could’ve entertained a mortgage alone of course, on my measly net profits. My key piece of first time property-buying advice would be: if you possibly can, marry someone with dead parents and considerably more money than you.

Just a mild whinge then, this conversational blog post, albeit with a faintly optimistic undercurrent. Written in lieu of an actual human conversation with another human in real life. Nice talking at you, internet. Mind how you go.