Dear April 2018 Me

The future leeringly dangles hopes and fears in our faces.

Right now, in the week the UK tip-toes towards the Brexit activation button like a manic young child who has been specifically told not to do something, it feels like I am staring down a long dark barrel.

Now feels really hard, properly hard. I really hope Future Me who glances back at this sometime in the next few months or years is feeling better than I am right now, that they’re in an improved state of mind, that they don’t feel like crumbling and crying or screaming at the dreadful unfairness of it all every twenty minutes or so.

If they feel worse, which they may well, things must be terrible.

Is April 2018 Me back home in the village living with my parents? Did we have to give up this house because we couldn’t handle the mortgage payments, and bills, and general cost of living?  (Everyone speaks of how tough it is getting on the housing ladder but there’s less coverage about the humiliation of falling off it after climbing one rung). More to the point because couldn’t handle the mortgage. My wife was always comfortably doing her bit, employed in a serious job. But I let the side down, as I had been doing for months. Despite trying hard, doing everything I could think of, nothing was working. All that constant talk of things being financially unsustainable actually had a conclusion, a sad ending. As it turned out, I could not stumble along indefinitely.

This came after the point of no longer being able to bail myself out with savings from the dedicated tax account. It came after I finally, painfully swallowed hard and was forced to accept bailouts from my wife. It came after the even harder, sickening acceptance of accepting help from my parents. Have I, April 2018 Me, felt sick with guilt and shame and inadequacy for well over a year? Even after all the charity payments I shamefully accepted, am I still unemployable, still fucking useless, still of no professional value to anyone?

Maybe it’s not as bad as all that. Maybe April 2018 Us are still the house and getting by. Maybe I swallowed my pride and went back to an office, a call centre, a factory or a supermarket: anywhere I could get a job of some kind and regular money and they wouldn’t care that much about my qualifications. (Or is even that too much of a fantasy?) Did we have to give up our beloved dog though, because we’d both be out of the house for too long? Or sort of give her up? Give her to my parents? She’d have a decent life there, I suppose. All the same, I bet it broke my heart to leave her there and go spend my days in a workplace with idiots I probably hate.

Maybe I’m dead? Maybe she’s dead? We’re both dead? We’re ALL dead? Big nuclear war. BOOM. No more United Kingdom. Brexit-shmexit. All sorted.

Or, am I just about solvent now, Future Me, paying the bills and mortgage but miserable as fuck on a daily basis? Is my hatred of my work, my misery and bitterness and resentment, is all that badly straining my marriage?

*

A contract on which I was waiting and hoping would have offered considerable financial comfort. In December 2016 I was told it was not competitive and should begin around late January. Then it became competitive. Then they lost it. No contract.

Other things are not happening. Nothing is encouraging. The general economic outlook appears decidedly turbulent. There is an income of sorts but it comes in dribs and drabs and is nowhere near enough. Unsustainable.

Yes I look at jobs occasionally, feeling crushingly underqualified and out of touch for most, overtaken or even lapped by bright-faced smiley people ten years my junior. No, I can’t do that. No, I have no idea what that is. What have I done lately that’s anywhere near as impressive as that? Fucksake.

Now feels really hard, stressful, anxious. But tell me, buddy, Future Me, pal, April 2018 Me, mate: we get through it all ok, right? Don’t we? It’s not worth worrying quite this much about, is it? Is it?

Lots of love,

March 2017 Me.

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earnings and insurance

I enjoy my work when it feels like it’s working.

When it’s less busy then naturally you’re nervous and you have to deal with that. Some days you’re able to sensibly rationalise and it’s all ok. Other days you might catastrophise and beat yourself up until you’re a sobbing mess. Such is the lot of a self-employed person.

Another big thing I’ve been thinking a lot about lately is not making much money. What we earn, how much money we make over the course of a year: it’s a subject people don’t tend to be that open about. It’s highly personal and reflects notions of ‘success’, self-worth and ego.  My bank balances seem to indicate that I do reasonably fine week to week and month to month. I am careful and conservative with my cash.

But when it comes to calculating net profits, balancing against all the expenses – and sometimes my expenses are quite high due to expensive equipment – it can be embarrassing. Is that… is that it? Really? Did I do something wrong?  Only I was expecting it to be a bit more. But that number looks pathetic, like I might be a new graduate still living at home with my parents.

It would be ok if that was the case. But I’ll be 36 this year and am now some way down the long road to my first mortgage.  This is not something I could have achieved on my own, with my crazily fluctuating self-employed earnings. Marrying someone with a steady salary who has not so long ago lost her parents and sold her family home, albeit splitting it several ways: that made it possible.

If all goes well and to plan and we get a house with more space, we might start thinking about reproduction. First we will think about a dog, (not reproducing one, just buying one). But we might think about reproducing a human, if all bodily things function as they should, which they may not. You never know, do you?  But that has me thinking about responsibilities and earnings. Is it ok to carry on doing what I am doing and by and large it being ok, but getting to the end of a tax year and looking at my finances and being faintly embarrassed by my paltry profits? Is it enough?

I look sideways at people in the street in this city which floats along in its bumbling semi-crooked bubble of public sector cash, and I know that there are hundreds of people my age who are doubling, more than doubling my annual earnings.  There are loads of pleasant competent people earning twice as much as me, but probably working and worrying half as hard. And some of them might not be that competent.  It grates. There are people sitting in government and university clerical jobs with infinitely more protection if bad shit happens.

Wife and I were looking at scary grown-up things like income protection, life insurance, mortgage cover. I asked some steadily employed friends what cover they had and in comparison I felt massively exposed, adrift on my own as a sole trader. Sure I can pay for similar cover, but these things are not at all cheap, particularly when added to a hefty new mortgage commitment.

It’s another big neurosis. In reality I am unlikely to suddenly think ‘YES, now I will become a civil servant or get some other sensible job!’ In reality don’t think I could get such a job now. I probably look like a flighty risk on paper. But still, you keep looking sideways at people and thinking how much less you have, how much more (you think) they have.

It’s the old comparing yourself with others thing, not being able to appreciate what you have, with a dash of life not being fair thrown in. You can try to sensibly rationalise, or you can descend into that pit of uncontrollably sobbing what-ifs? Which end you tilt towards depends on the weather in your head.

plumbing depths

I was waiting for her, not unusually.  She’d offered me a lift to the station but was still faffing with various things.  For something to do I embarked on washing up the breakfast things, filling the cafetiere with hot soapy water before casually tossing in some cutlery, new cutlery she’d given me as a birthday present the day before, stainless steel and heavy.  A knife punched its way clean through the base of the glass beaker, creating a neat hole in the corner.  I swore.

The day before had been one of my best birthdays as an adult.  The year before I’d visited Legoland with my nephew, his parents and both sets of grandparents.  We share a birthday and I was doing nothing else.  In previous years I had taken myself away somewhere, so as not to sit in a flat navelgazing about my stunted lonely life, but failing to avoid the thought patterns.  This year she was there.  She made breakfast and offered gifts and we went for a drive out of town towards the mountains, settling in a small town café bookshop.  Then we returned to the city and went to a local pub for dinner.

Smashing the cafetiere added to tension that had built up, a tension I couldn’t entirely free myself from even the day before.  This tension was because I was heading to London for an event which would also be attended by my main client, a colossal tit who I have come to demonise on these pages, but also a man whose medium-sized business had kept me solvent for the past three years.

The FuckThesePricks decision I thought I had made a couple of weeks ago; now it was time to follow through.  I had to do this.

My intention was simply to make him aware that I wasn’t scared to walk away from him and his business.  I was going to figuratively open a door and ask him if he wanted me Out, because being In wasn’t very comfortable or nice, and hadn’t been for a while.

Walking along the leaf thick pavements towards the venue I almost hoped he wouldn’t be there so I could win a reprieve and not have to go through with this.  Confrontation isn’t a natural strength of mine, particularly not face-to-face with a hugely deluded man of monstrous ego, a man many probably say negative things about, but rarely to.

So my heart sank upon entering the lobby and seeing that, amongst a sea of suits picking at a buffet, there was his distinctive bald pate, framed by those silver flecks.  It sank in the same way it sank whenever I saw his name in my inbox or on my phone.

Oh shit.  He was here.  I would have to do this.  My sphincter quivered slightly.  Stop it.  Man the fuck up.  It was going to be hard and scary but necessary.  In person would have more impact than an email or a phone call; it would be transparent.

I waited until the mid-afternoon break in proceedings before sidling up and integrating myself in his chat with a cool, good-looking young guy.  He said hello, slightly distractedly?  Offered one of his limp handshakes.  Then he barely offered me any eye-contact.  Was he slightly nervous, aware that his behaviour and that of his staff hadn’t been brilliant towards me of late?  The cool young guy excused himself to go for a cigarette and I heard a drum roll in my head.

If anything it’s possible I laboured my points a little too hard and was at pains to say I disagreed, I found him unpredictable, his colleagues hard to work with, I didn’t want to work with a bunch of guys who thought I was a prick.  At that last point, a shadow of a smile passed over his face, as if acknowledging this was a truth but for the first time seeing it from my perspective. He generally seemed stunned and his replies were weak.  People started filtering back into the main room and we agreed to pick this up when I was going to visit them the following week.  Without a proper parting gesture we turned in separate directions.  My heart was beating fast and I downed two glasses of juice before re-entering the room.

Fuck shit fuck bollocks.  What had I done?

The following day around noon an email dropped into my inbox alongside his name, marked with High Importance, the subject line: our chat. It began  Further to my “talking to”  yesterday.. and went on to explain a planned change in relationship, the full details of which remain to be seen.  The upshot is that I now need to look elsewhere for the majority of my income and I have not the faintest clue what is going to happen.  A large part of me wants to run away and go travelling, like I did when I couldn’t get a job around my 25th birthday.

I was having a new shower fitted when the email arrived.  After reading it several times and sharing it with my girlfriend, I chatted with my plumber.  He’s a good, bold, loud, geezery guy who I get along well with.  Like me, he’s a one-man band, and like me he’s also been subjected to difficult clients.  We spoke about life and work and difficulties at length.  We talked of how people perceive you or might try to sully your name to others if you disagree with them.  How some can naturally be more passive and agreeable, and get riled less by such things.  It wasn’t a chat you’d usually expect to have with your plumber.

I thought too again about how I’ve generally failed to win people over, both professionally and up until very recently, personally.  How people could glance at all the stuff at my CV and quite legitimately question how and why I haven’t stayed anywhere for very long.  Is he hard to get on with?  He can’t be a team player?  Probably a bit of a risk.

It’s the fear and the nerves which are the most difficult to manage, as well as the tedious, endlessly disappointing necessity to earn money.  While it’s liberating to know I won’t have that man’s name constantly infecting my inbox and social feeds, there’s the fear of not finding anything else.  If, a few months from now, I have nothing sustainable, then it will look a brave but stupid act.

At semi-dramatic, unsettling times like this pop music can be powerful.  Selecting the right sort of light track with quirky lyrics on your iPod can offer a rejuvenating “it’s-all-bollocks-anyway” type of perspective.  You can smile to yourself in the street like a simpleton or slump to your knees in tears.

For now I’ll try the smiling thing.

And investing in platitudes like “I’m sure it’ll work itself out”, “something will come along”, etc.

And hoping.

Actually no, hold me.

Sob.

 

in decision

Things have been unsteady on the work front recently.  I’ve been unsure what is happening with my main client, and remain so.  I’ve been a malleable bag of nerves.  I’ve been angry and glum and scared and bitter and resigned and hateful.

A couple of weeks ago I thought a decision had finally been made.  Fuck these pricks now, I eloquently decided, really.  They, and particularly he, had done it this time.  That was it.  I was better than this now, I told myself.  I like myself more than to keep putting myself through this, subjecting myself to him.  So I’d be taking a big risk, throwing huge caution to the proverbial wind if I burnt bridges and told him where to go – his medium sized business has sustained my solo operation for the best part of three years now.  It provides my financial backbone, but if he’s making me so miserable, why should I keep it going?

Because it’s money and I don’t know what else I’d do.  Jobs aren’t easy to come by, nor are clients as reliable (to date), and I don’t want to be poor or have to begin to make lifestyle compromises.

They had recently hired another freelance marketing communications person; a prettier, blonder, more female, cheaper, less jaded version of me.  (In all fairness she is a competent, well-written, perfectly pleasant young mum who speaks northern English better than me, and is hot).  They were delegating more and more work her way.  Less and less work my way.  Everything she provided was wonderful off the bat.  Everything I provided was attacked and ripped apart.  They had grown even more unpleasant and unreasonable and harder than ever to work with.

So I thought: Fuck These Pricks.  That’s it.  I would feel immensely liberated to know I would never see that one name in an inbox ever again.  Especially at 11.30pm on a Friday night, saying something ridiculous or totally pointless, which I am inexplicably unable to ignore.  (My brother recently said it sounds like I have the worst of both worlds, before prescribing some typical brotherly advice; advice which may work great if he is advising a duplicate version of himself).

Anyhow, that was a couple of weeks ago now and not much has changed – except my ever diminishing workload, more indicators of their confidence lost in me, and the confidence grown in my fellow freelancer.  She has the measure of me now, a couple more large bites and she’d swallow me altogether.

In the immediate aftermath of FuckThesePricks I did apply for real jobs, and luckily bagged a short stint of freelance back on a university campus.  It’s debatable whether that helped or hindered my current outlook.  I was doing interesting academic research copywriting which engaged me, educated me.  I was working around more pleasant folk with less bulbous egos, sentient beings, nicer people from the south of Britain with whom I could effectively communicate.  It served to highlight and exaggerate what a total raging man-child buffoon my main client is, how equally dense, slovenly and not terribly pleasant his staff are.  I briefly enjoyed my work.

But it was only ever going to be a short term thing, and now everything has quietened again.

I sought counsel from business associates and occasional partners who I do rate and like.  Their basic advice was that by being small you are also nimble, you have no overheads or children or major responsibilities, so sit tight and don’t seek full-time job again.  You don’t know how you might react to that after having such independence for so long; you might regret it.

Having faith and needing to have faith that “things will be ok” can be a struggle, particularly if you are naturally risk averse.  Blindly trusting that stuff will somehow work out produces nerves.  It’s impossible not to ask “but what if it doesn’t?” and sigh like you sigh in the face of any lazy platitude.

I find some kind of solace in knowing professional paths are rarely simple; much is down to chance / nepotism / accident, we all hit troughs and, maybe not quite “peaks” as such, but still fairly steady inclines too, and that’s all ok. We’d probably get even more bored otherwise. It could be that our caveman brains are wired to only cope with straighter paths, and that’s is why hilly unpredictable tracks can feel so tough.

alternative reality

My CV exists online in various places and various states, a number of them probably quite outdated.  I don’t mind much; most of the spammy recruitment agency emails go straight to a junk file and the telephone calls are infrequent.  When I do receive a call it’s usually from somebody who wants to be my mate and who offends me with their simplicity to the extent I’m abrupt and not very nice.  I feel it’s better for everyone that way.  Nobody’s time is wasted on empty niceties.

Yesterday though, I received a call from a middle-aged woman and I let her speak.  She sounded a little nervous, the kind who doesn’t expect to be allowed to speak at length without getting interrupted.  So when she does have a free run she gets nervous and speaks herself down blind alleys.  I sort of empathised.  I also let her speak because I wasn’t too busy and, it transpired, what she was talking about actually sounded like it could potentially be of interest.

That was another thing.  They usually didn’t say interesting things.

A full-time permanent role which actually didn’t sound too dull.  An unspectacular salary I’d hope to negotiate up a little.  Suddenly I was flung into an alternative new life of a career; purpose and ambition and people and the egotistical “busyness” I so revile.  Would it be so bad?  Wildly premature thoughts, clearly, but you can’t help them.  Like after a good first date, of which I dimly remember one or two, once upon a time.

Despite investing a lot of time and a small bit of cash in a new venture – a thing I enjoy doing, it’s unsurprisingly not showing any signs of flowering at all.  Meanwhile the main breadwinning activity continues to shrink, my final supplementary client looking like fading out in the coming months, leaving all my eggs firmly in the one basket.

From time to time I engage in idle thoughts of a conventional career: an office, new relationships, colleagues I’d see and be irritated by every day.  Perhaps I wouldn’t really mind it if it was something that would engage me, stuff to get my teeth into, new subjects to learn about in a new industry.  I feel increasingly less towards a technology space which has outgrown me, not that I was ever wildly passionate about it in the first place.  It was better a few years ago when my knowledge was specialised and relevant, but now it feels like there’s too much to know, and everyone has an opinion anyway.  Like your secret favourite cult band had made it mainstream and was now boring.

While being standoffish and acting like I neither needed or was that interested in what the lady on the telephone was talking about, I felt myself getting seduced by the idea.

Just think about it: A Life!  Having a routine.  Not sitting on your flat on your own all day.  Not “medium filter coffee to have in please…   little space for milk…   there you go, thanks a lot” ..being the only thing you say in real life to another person on most days.  The potential to win recognition from people you might even respect.  The ability to completely disconnect for an evening, a weekend, a week.  It would be a more interesting life, wouldn’t it?

But slow down, brain.  Try not to ever hope.  You’ve learned that now.  Hoping is a horribly dangerous business which virtually always ends in disappointment for you.  This lady on the phone might think you’re a prick, your CV might not make the cut, an interview panel might think you’re underqualified or an unmanageable risk.  It’s massively likely that there will be shinier, more assured candidates who smile easily and plainly look better suited.  The same type who you constantly lost out to in your mid-twenties when performing reasonably well throughout countless interviews.   No.  You’ve no chance.

Was it really *you* anyway, anymore?  That imagined new lifestyle; having bosses?  Wouldn’t you flounder and crack under expectations and pressures, quickly grow bitter and resentful?  It would only be more interesting for a brief period before it became habitual, boring, a thing to despise.  Wouldn’t you miss all of that navelgazing time you had and complained about having but sort of liked as well?

If everything just carries on as it is, with the one main client and work which enables you to maintain this generally lazy, undemanding and wholly unsatisfying lifestyle, that’ll be fine too, won’t it?  You’ll just be opening yourself up to another fall otherwise.

mission improbable

You finished a chapter of your book, sipped from a mug of coffee and looked around you in one of the many coffee shops where you hang out, and you wondered if you weren’t bored of all this now, if you didn’t genuinely desire a sense of mission and purpose now, if you were ready to properly try again.

To try at what, you weren’t sure.  But something.  A proper job with people.  This was getting a little boring now, wasn’t it?  It wasn’t like you didn’t do this on most lunch breaks when you had a regular job.  And it’s less enjoyable because you know you’re not exactly taking a break from work; you’re using it to fill time because you haven’t got much work.  To wedge in a block of time which isn’t spent at your desk or wandering aimlessly.  Because you’re just spending plenty of time being worried about a lack of phone calls and email traffic which seems to be dwindling in direct correlation to the leaves on the trees.  Your biggest sense of mission and purpose is getting a coffee and a comfy seat in which to read a book.

The more it goes on, the more phone calls which go unanswered, the emails which go unreplied, the more you pointlessly wail into the internet; the more you feel a like Bruce Willis in The Sixth Sense.  Am I actually dead?  The one sometime client who reassures you with a swift acknowledgement is now based in California and, alas, in no position to offer work or employment.

But even when you get work you resent it: the drone of that painfully erratic main client, the writing and rewriting about the same fucking software.

Aren’t you capable of a tiny bit more?  Isn’t it time to get over that fear of knockbacks, rejections, and be brave again?  Recapture that early to mid-twenties vitality and ambition.  Shrug off the fact that it’s still cold outside and jobs aren’t easy to come by, particularly without connections, without belief or ability to sell yourself.

Regular employment still casually dangles there in the background, often unspoken, unattractive in its overbearing ability to control and seize your independence, yet appealing in its promise of returning normality, and redemption for permanently feeling like a cheat.

It’s not as easy as that though.  And say you found something which did initially interest you.  The chances are that you’d quickly resent it, tire of it, develop an unhealthy disrespect of your bosses and colleagues.

So this is still the easiest option for lazy idiots like you.  And it could just be another phase anyway.  You’ll forget about this twitchiness and trying to do something else if work suddenly picks up, if your patience-testing key client stops ignoring you in borderline rude fashion.  Just go on as before.  But what if it doesn’t and into November, towards Christmas, your invoices grow ever-more paltry?  At least you booked no New Year break this year.  Not quite confident enough.

That itchy eighteen month point is approaching too.  Your life tends to be marked in eighteen month periods: stints of time in an employment or dwelling, after which you get restless.  Eighteen months is enough to give most things when you have no obligation or responsibilities.  After eighteen months it’s time to do something different.

It’ll soon be eighteen months since you moved back here.  Around two and a half years spent working like this.  You still like your flat and the city where you live – even if you’re indifferent to many of its residents.  This dreary routine though.  Can’t you change that?  Do you really want to carry on doing what you’re doing?

Not much.

Then change it, like you tell other people.  It can be done.

How, genius?

Uhm.. not sure.  Usually means committing to something, doesn’t it?  Investing hope?

Hope?  That thing that sneers and laughs and shits in your face, leaving you on your knees, disgusted at your pathetic romanticism.

Yeah.

Fuck that then.

employment

I’m an incoherent tangle when it comes to my employment status.  Today has been slower than usual, but not worryingly so because I’m already confident in this month’s invoices and I’m reasonably content with the way things are going.  Added to this, in the morning I planned a nerve-jangling road-trip for my brief, post-Christmas American adventure; the weather is currently pleasant: dazzlingly bright, sharp and cold; I like this weather; there’s a slither of hope on the female front; my flat and its location are agreeable; I can wander down to the Bay easily enough, take a good coffee and sit outside with a book.  (Sitting outside with a hot coffee is so much more gratifying when it’s chilly, but not bitter, and you’re dressed appropriately).

I’d walked past council and government buildings and looked in through the windows at banks of suits staring at a men talking, giving presentations, referring to screens and a whiteboard.  I felt removed from that environment now, and it pleased me.  If I were offered roughly ten grand more than I earn now (a figure I’m still unsure of and have no inclination to calculate) for a so-so office job, a job which would entail having a proper boss and proper hours and ironing, and in a way less stress, but in a way more pressure – would I take it?

No, I wouldn’t, I thought, guiltlessly turning my attention back to The Slap and tightening a right-hand grip on the now lukewarm mug.  I could never have this, which is worth a lot.  Perhaps I wasn’t designed to be professionally social, to work in a team, to have close colleagues or staff under me.  Perhaps this is exactly right.  Part of me likes to consider myself a kind of dreaming nomad (in the same way many people enjoy considering themselves outsiders), but one who can still function in a business arena, one who can get by fine.  Unspectacularly, but fine.   Cardiff often seems built on unspectacular fineness: masses of people who do nondescript public sector jobs they don’t care for and barely speak of, few of whom are safe from cuts.

*

Despite today’s contentment my CV still lives out in the internet and I occasionally receive calls from recruitment agencies.  On returning to the flat I picked up a voicemail from an agency about a job.  Today, merely because today I feel good my status and life, I didn’t return the call.  Tomorrow the weather might turn grey and rain and be unpleasantly freezing, clients might really piss me off, other things might happen which I’ll blow out of proportion and I might question whether I really am that secure and content.  Because I’m a changeable soul, tomorrow I might return the call.

Our fragile dreams..

I decided to leave an industry event, convinced it was another futile exercise in self importance / promotion where I was pandering faintly pathetically to much more important people with much more important things to be doing.

I slumped off to random soho pub to find Chelsea disappointingly 1-0 up on Barcelona, but having seen a replay of the goal and despite hating Chelsea, I couldn’t begrudge them the lead.  It was a simply beautiful goal from Michael Essien which gave them their slender advantage.

I pondered my first freelance job, wondering if the contact hadn’t just extended it to me as a kind of favour.  A big favour I welcomed nonetheless.  I wondered if my self employment would be sustainable, how much more I’d have to do.

Didier Drogba dramatically went down under a challenge.  It was difficult to say if his grief was justified.  If he got hit by a lorry and sprawled theatrically across the asphalt, you might still suspect that he’d dived.

I hope I’m not too much of a charity case with competitive rates, and am, as he has said, actually someone he rates.  My nervousness centres around producing the goods, securing them what they want, not screwing up.  Being given your first job feels a little like being given a small baby to cradle for the first time.  Not quite knowing exactly what to do but knowing you should seem firm and assertive, and as if you know what you’re doing really.  Even if you don’t.

I got chatting to a northern fan who wouldn’t initially admit he supported Man United, who the winners of this game would play in the Champions League Final.  “Is it Barnsley?” I asked. He was actually interesting to chat to, for a United fan.  Knowledgeable and interested, favouring Chelsea in the game we were watching because he preferred United to play them in the Final.

The bar was populated with a sprinkling of Spanish fans, not to be unexpected in a central London bar, who cheered on their team with a predictable vigour.  Chelsea seemed to be being declined penalty appeal after penalty appeal.  Even if most are sketchy appeals, if you have about four you’ll usually get one given.

They didn’t.

So many nerves and so much paranoia about starting up alone, while still having an eye out for full-time employment opportunities.  If one of those came along, I was offered and accepted a role, would I feel as if I’d bottled the self employment thing?  Let myself down by not actually trying?  Perhaps.  Cross that bridge if and when it arrives.  Is my reputation and my will to aggressively self-promote strong enough to secure enough work to live off? Who can say?

Still 1-0 to Chelsea, the game almost over.  Barcelona, now with only 10-men, still bravely pressing in West London.  The Manchester fan was an amiable bloke. His companion a rotund, older Leeds fan, who I figured must be a colleague.

Yet more intricate Barcelona passing on the edge of the box, next to no time left to play.  The ball dropped to Andres Iniesta, who picked out a stunning top corner finish, squaring the game and putting Barcelona ahead on the away goal rule.  The catalan guy in front of us exploded into hysterical raptures, leaping around and jolting my pint. I joined him in his celebration, heartily shaking his hand, positive in my hatred of Chelsea. The Manc seemed genuinely disappointed, if mute.

As the tube stops at Fulham Broadway little under half hour later, the packed platform of football fans leers into view.  A girl opposite me baulks, realising the imminent deluge and we share a brief exchange of forboding before the doors ping open and the carriage is flooded in royal blue and white.

I’m still as pleased at their defeat as I was in the bar, even among all the condensed glum faces, many of them suits – those who can afford seats at Chelsea-Barcelona.

Where did my human sense of empathy go?  For a feeling of defeat I should know only too well?  Why do we grow such unhealthy, quite ostensibly despicable antipathy for rival teams?  Was I an extremely unpleasant person to be enjoying their disappointment so much? Enjoying the misfortune of others while I could?  Before my own hope disintegrated?

Only when I saw a younger fan in his early 20s and apparently without company, still shaking his head, did I feel a mild twinge of sympathy. I do hate Chelsea but this must be particularly gauling, a semi-final Champions League defeat, especially after last season’s defeat to Man United in the final.  Perhaps it was because the fan was so lost in himself, alone, desolate in a crowd, uncaring about his appearance in the loss of a dream.