It’s not Mondays specifically, although they are worse than other days. I don’t like mornings in general. I need, even on a normal morning, an intravenous drip of coffee at a strength that would kill most mortals. In coffee shops, I send espresso back for being too weak. I have coffee scrub: but I don’t use the wimpish spa versions made girly by adding a few grounds to some kind of oil or lotion: I take the used grounds from the Gaggia in my kitchen and rub it into my muscles and joints: direct application from the outside, while the coffee I have already drunk works its way through my entire system.
I am a coffee freak, in so many ways. But I don’t drink coffee all day every day, at least not any longer. When my daily office habit reached 15 mugs of super-strength cafetière coffee, left to infuse for maximum caffeine extraction, I decided it was too much. I was so crabby on reduced-coffee Saturday mornings that my family used to send me out while I adjusted, and the headaches went away.
For the past few months, I’ve been distanced from my supply of my favourite single source, single bean, semi-fine ground fix.
Luckily, I was in the UK where it is still, with a ridiculous amount of effort, possible to find Blend 37, the best instant coffee ever but increasingly sidelined in favour of other mixes. Unfortunately the Gaggia in my parent’s house, donated by my brother to help me survive my time there, went on the blink and so the coffee he supplied with it went unused until I returned home to Malaysia where, because it is vac-packed and I am using up my open stock of my own coffee, it remains in its foil pack. I am much looking forward to it. On a previous trip, when I was deprived of decent coffee, he took me to a farm shop called Macknades and ordered an espresso. It was so good, I cried. The coffee he gave me is what they use. But the one I source myself is better.
The past couple of years (five or so, if I’m honest) have, for a variety of family reasons, been difficult. The reasons aren’t that important. What is important is that it has taught me that my capacity for stress is finite, something that decades in legal practice and business had never shown: there was always a bit more stress to come and a way of absorbing it or, even, using it to my advantage.
For much of the past six or so months, the stresses were varied and horrible. I didn’t reach the limits of coping, but I could, for the first time ever, see where those limits were. In every direction, family-related problems (and concerns where there were no problems) pushed in and there was nowhere to turn to sidestep them: they had to be absorbed or bulldozed.
I am a bulldozer: it’s why I was an excellent litigator and why, in a world in which people obscure what they are saying behind vague phrases, there are those that find me aggressive and, even, rude.
If saying things in a way that leaves no room for misinterpretation is rude, then sign me up: I am the rudest person you will ever meet.
I don’t have taboos: in my world, taboos mean that I cannot raise risk-related issues because someone might claim prejudice.
I don’t care: if we cannot ask the hard questions, raise the distasteful stuff, then fine, open the doors and let the criminals and the incompetent and the self-serving take over.
I am the one who says the things other people don’t want to say.
I am the one who looks into the things other people want to sweep under the carpet.
I am the one who does not turn away and say “that’s too difficult, I’ll leave it for my successor to deal with.”
I put myself under the stresses of my work, knowing that in any popularity contest I will come last, precisely because I refuse to allow risk to develop because it is politically correct to do so.
I serve a higher politics: that of everyone, not merely a minority that want to be special.
And I expect results, very fast, from myself and those around me.
In the UK, where I had far more interaction with people than I do in my normal daily life, I found enormous stresses as a result of how long things took: I complained that, relative to my usual pace of work life, dealing with anything not directly related to my work was like being on Island Time.
I have two speeds: absolutely flat out and stopped. I found it extremely difficult to deal with those who, in relation to their own businesses of which I was a customer, are not constantly on top of things, and the astonishing ability of even large national companies to make so many mistakes and then take days or weeks to sort them out.
I found that spending several months away from home, a stranger in the land of my birth and upbringing, was an administrative nightmare, punctuated by lunches in one of many pubs, often more than 500 years old and hours by a bedside.
As if all the other stuff had not been stressful enough, as if being away from home for so long was not bad enough, as if the family problems, all five years of so of them coming to head all at once was not cause enough, just something as simple as opening a deposit account in the bank I’ve been a customer of for 45 years became a multi-month project because of the bank’s on-line systems (thankfully, their money laundering stuff is on-point).
Seven or eight weeks or so ago, when the last big thing (turns out it wasn’t, but that’s another story) in the family stuff was, to all intents and purposes, done, and because for several months I had been, effectively, unable to work properly, I looked at my choices.
I could get off the plane in Kuala Lumpur and throw myself back into the 18-20 hour days that were my norm or I could stand back, do what was genuinely essential, unpack the dozen or so large boxes that arrived in my flat from my now empty parents’ house and assimilate the 100 years plus of family history into my (until that point) modern, sparsely furnished skyline apartment.
And I could let the stresses of the past five years leach away.
In the absence of any experience, I wondered what would happen if I did.
I spent almost two months doing little else beyond sorting out the stuff I had had flown back. As the stresses of those five years eased, I had all kinds of strange feelings, both emotional and physical.
I realised that the last proper holiday I had had had been three days, mid week, to an island off Malaysia, five years ago. Since then, holidays had lasted one day, usually somewhere between flights. Or had been a day trip to Hong Kong to get brisket and beef tendons for lunch and to pick up a carrier bag of gai mai bau from one of the sadly increasingly rare old fashioned bakeries.
For those two months, I had a very disrupted sleep pattern: 15 minutes here, a couple of hours there. Occasionally, a full night’s sleep but not necessarily at night. My body felt like it was giving up: there were times when it just refused to do what my mind was telling it, times when my mind refused to communicate with my body.
There were times I wanted company and times I didn’t, but there was nothing subtle about either: it was all or nothing.
I understand stress: I didn’t understand what letting it go would mean. It was unsettling, strange, exciting.
It was a luxury when, ten days ago, I was able for the first time in about six months to steam-clean my tile floors, to finally properly clean the kitchen worktops and to host a dinner party.
Cooking that was the first stress had put myself under for more than six weeks and it was hard. I wanted to give up: nothing was working: the timing was off, the textures were wrong, the flavours were unbalanced.
Worse, my air-con engineer had smashed the glass on my primary induction cooker, leaving me to cook a complex meal on the secondary, single ring, burner. I was confident it would be shit.
For the next ten days, I wrote a bit, read a lot (lightweight, non-work, stuff) watched DVDs I’d bought in recent years and never made time to watch, spent time with friends, with no timetable.
I was supposed to spend yesterday preparing food for a birthday party I’m catering tomorrow, my first “outdoor” job in months.
But instead I put the first cup of coffee of the morning down to cool and fell asleep, waking more than two hours later; then I read, sat in the sun, enjoyed a glass or two of wine. I don’t know where the day went, but it went. I went to bed early and I slept for almost 10 hours, waking just after 7 this morning.
Today I woke up, part of me saying “you’ve had a sabbatical, you’ve had a holiday, you’ve wasted enough time. Get off your arse and do something productive.”
I walked into the kitchen, made a large mug of heavy duty Blend 37 (I’ve shipped supplies back so I can enjoy one of life’s pleasures despite Nescafé’s point-blank refusal to sell it in Malaysia) then while it was cooling, stripped my bed of sheets and the bathrooms and kitchen of towels.
Then I put them in the dishwasher.
First Monday morning back at work proper after so long away? Perhaps I’d better ease myself in gently, not try to write anything complicated, not try to fix the programming I’d messed up on PleaseBeInformed.com when I was unfocussed, so that some of the pages don’t lay out properly. Not to complete, today, the issue of World Money Laundering Report that is largely done but not finished, despite being almost two months late. Not to do anything technical in the kitchen, not until later.
But at least I am back at my desk. At least I am working. I am relaxed. I wonder, can I function at the same high level as before without putting myself into such a high level of stress? Will my brain still assimilate information, analyse it and produce results with the same level of productivity and accuracy and, perhaps most importantly, insight as before? We will see what happens over the next few hours, days and weeks.
The thing to do is write something, anything, to see if it makes sense, to see if it’s engaging, to question if that piece is worth the effort and to refine my thought processes, to find which bits of my brain are not yet turned on, while making my message clear.
And so, dear reader, here it is: an unequivocal, clear, statement that, for the first time in more than three years, I am able to plan where I will be and if I will be available on any given date.
I’m back in harness, ready for commissions for writing, analysis, consulting, seminars, briefings and strategy sessions, so long as you don’t expect me to function before 07:30 on a Monday, before the coffee kicks in.
And so long as I’ve not put it down to cool because, then, strange things happen.