I have been writing about Catalunya and about my latest trip to Ukraine. And life is just so very strange. I spent three wonderful days with Marta, mostly in Lviv, and yet it feels like a dream. I have the photos so I know it was real. How is it possible for a guy of 74 to enjoy a weekend with a young Ukrainian girl of 30 as total equals almost like partners, with not a moment's thought about the age difference. But then, why should it matter? I felt the same with Marina but I have visited her so many times now that I am used to it. Other times in my life, I can hardly believe some of the things I did - some of the products that I designed. I am staggered at the complexity of some of them, a modem for example. An extremely complicated chip at the centre of it. The 093 card which changed the way in which large buildings were monitored. Writing software for the new 6800 microprocessor in 1978. I am writing my story as an autobiography because, when I look at my life, some amazing things happened which I can hardly believe (the following is an extract from the book).
And now, I am having so much fun and part of the reason is that I have known highs and lows. And so I see each day as a gift from God. But it wasn't always fun, at one stage in my life I felt it was all over. I remember being in a yard (with high walls!) of a psychiatric ward watching Ryanair planes coming in to land at Girona Airport nearby and thinking that I would never again be flying... anywhere. And now I am off to Thailand and the Philippines in 2 week's time. I wanted to include the story here to illustrate that, even if things are very black, there is a way out. One has to believe that. And it makes an interesting story! Let me tell you about it......
It was by far the worse crisis in my life. After about 3 years in the original flat which I bought here - by then it would have been around 2008 - I started looking for a “local”, meaning a commercial unit to use as a studio because by this time I had swapped my soldering iron for a paint brush. This was a totally crazy idea because the rent would have been almost as much as a flat. Josep, who I was talking to was the rep for Promontjuic which also built the flats where I was living. “Why don’t you buy a house? We have just the thing for you!” He offered me a part exchange on my flat and like a total fool I bought the house they offered me which at the time was occupied by one of the sons of the boss. I bought it at the height of the housing boom in Spain and by the time I finally managed to sell it, I had lost 200k euros. I quickly realised my error. The house was on 3 floors, far too big for me. Noisy neighbours, thin walls, heating, aircon not working. Underfloor heating which never really worked and had a huge time-lag anyway. Concrete garden. I plunged into despair, how could I have done such a stupid thing?
Far worse was to come. About three months after moving in, I responded to a phishing email (you know the kind… “click here for something”). I clicked and my computer hard drive started whirring and never really stopped. I had been fed a virus. I plunged down from depression into paranoia. I imagined that I would lose all my money online, I imagined that the same people came to visit me so I changed the lock on the front door I don’t know how many time. I sat in a chair, eyes closed for days on end. But, but….. You know the saying “Just because I’m paranoid doesn’t mean they’re not out to get me”? What it is saying that sometimes, among all the fear, something real actually happened. To this day, there are things that happened in that house that I cannot explain, things that changed.
Twice, four days apart, I woke up in the morning with the kind of mild internal bleeding in my thigh one gets if a blood sample from the arm doesn’t puncture the vein accurately. How could that happen? I became convinced that these people were coming into my room at night. It happened a second time about 3 days later. In fact I came to accept it. My doctor even gave me a HIV test.
On another occasion, at about midnight, I heard a car driving away and was aware of a very strange smell in the whole house – it was sort of organic. I was convinced that I was being poisoned. I got dressed, got into my car and drove to Hotel Girona Nord in Sarría de Ter and checked in. Then I remembered something in the house, some documents I had left out on a table. I went back out to the car park and drove rapidly back home because I felt sure that these people would be in the house by now. I drove back to the hotel. My parking space had been taken by another car and I thought that I recognised it. I imagined it was one of this group of people following me. In my room, I heard movement on the floor above me. This I assumed was the owner of the car.
Next morning, I felt very foggy in my head, almost falling asleep, and hardly dared drive my car back home. I considered leaving it in the car park but decided that, if I did that, it would be there for ever and taken away as abandoned. I drove back home feeling very ill and not connected with the road ahead. That was a huge risk.
I used to throw a lot of food away in the evenings because I felt that it was poisoned. Similarly wine. What a waste! I would cook the food and it would have a very strange smell and it would make me very sleepy.
At the height of my paranoia, I was imagining the group of criminals which hacked into my computer were getting into the house. I thought maybe they were occupying a flat nearby overlooking the house to spy on me. So I parked my car away from the house next to a restaurant in the ground floor of a block of flats. I ordered a pizza and walked home. Unfortunately I had parked right across the exit to the underground parking for the flats. And they had no way of contacting me. There were some very angry people wanting to go out for the night. I only realised what I had done next morning when a neighbour spoke to me in my local bar. There were key scratches down the side of the car and the aerial was bent.
I don’t tell many people this but I spent three weeks in a psychiatric ward in Hospital Santa Caterina in Girona. So now I am telling everyone! But it is nothing to be ashamed of - some people have physical illnesses and recover, I had a mental illness and recovered.This really bad patch in my life, in the house, lasted about three years; it is a bit of a haze now. But early in this period my doctor sent me to a psychiatrist in Girona after I became very anxious one day in the health centre. Firstly it was with a Catalan psychiatrist, later a kind English woman who I still see from time to time in Girona – she is retired now. Maybe I hastened that.
One day, the Catalan woman said to me, “How about spending a few days somewhere where you can be tranquil?” I look back at myself now and cannot believe the human wreck in front of her. I agreed. She made a phone call. A few minutes later I was taken out to an ambulance which had arrived outside. I sat inside with a nurse and gave him my details. We drove with siren and maybe blue light to the hospital. I like to think so but I can't remember. I was taken into a small office and told to wait. I started to wake up to my situation. No one knew I was here; I had come directly from home to the clinic in Girona and to the hospital. A nurse brought in a small dish with a pill which I thought, in a twisted way, was rather funny. At a discotheque, one receives a welcome glass of what is called “fizzy” in the UK (pretending to be champagne). Here, it was a little tranquiliser to welcome me.
The doctor came in, a large man with a beard. I got up and said that I had changed my mind and that I wanted to go home. He said words to the effect that, “You are mine now”. I got up again. His hand strayed under the desk and a few moments later a couple of nurses came in. They restrained me with a strait jacket – I was by now very scared. I was completely incapacitated with my arms folded around my chest. They marched me up a corridor and, at one stage, one of the nurses jabbed a syringe into my bottom as I was walking. They took me into a small room which they called, “The Box”. The strait jacket was clipped to the bed and I was left there for one, maybe two hours. No water, nothing.
The ward where I was finally taken comprised a long corridor with sad figures in dressing gowns shuffling up and down. I was soon to join them. No one wore day clothes. The food was truly awful. They fed me medication every day, checking my mouth to make sure I had swallowed the drug. There was an exercise yard outside with a high wall so as to prevent escape. Maybe I should have tried tunnelling. The doors to the rest of the hospital were locked. I knew then for sure that my life out in the world had come to an end – I saw no way back to a normal life. I was dead, effectively. Every day, the doctor who had welcomed me to Paradise Resort came to the ward and it was clear that he enjoyed his moments of grandeur, surrounded by his obedient nurses and other acolytes. I came to depend on this guy because it would be he who decided if it was safe to let me back out into the world.
I was in that awful place for three weeks. And no one knew that I was there. My friends, especially in the UK were very worried because I had no way to communicate with the outside world.
When I finally got back home from the hospital I used to spend so long sitting in the chair that I gave myself thrombosis and had to spend a week in hospital, a real hospital this time. I would often spend whole days in the chair with eyes closed. If that isn’t “dead”, it’s not far off. I saw the blue sky outside, it was like another world.
But in a strange way, after that week, things very slightly got better. I could not sell the house within 3 years of buying it because then I would have had to pay tax on my profit on the original flat and no one was interested anyway. But I did sell it and this whole awful period when I was quite literally mentally ill lasted 3 years. And I was very fortunate to sell it, a number of lucky chances, someone chatting with my hairdresser who knew I was desperate to sell. The woman, Emy, happened to work for an estate agent. And she found a young couple who actually liked the place, strange as it may seem. I often see them in Celrà, now with two young children.
Emy also found me a flat to rent when the house was sold but I soon discovered that the owner wanted to sell it and I really liked the flat. So I very quickly bought it and I am very happy there. It has a huge lounge which I used as a studio and it had lots more light than the original flat.
And do I look back and feel that I lost three years out of my life? Not a bit of it! I got out alive, my life could effectively have ended there. I dread to think what would have happened if I had not sold the house.
In the last year in The House, I gave my car away. I couldn’t drive it because my head was foggy with stress. But this is with me most of the time anyway. So the car sat in the garage in the house and little by little the battery would go flat, also the tyres. At one point the tyres were at risk of coming away from the rims. It was a nightmare to keep the battery charged and the tyres full of air and the space around the car was very cramped. So I rang the Ford dealer in La Bisbal which used to service the car and asked them to take it away which is what they duly did. It was right-hand drive of course so I saw little possibility of selling it. But you can see that I got it registered in Spain. So with a little puff of blue smoke from the twin exhausts, I waved goodbye to my beautiful blue Probe. I drove several times between the UK and Spain in that car, its cruised down the autoroutes effortlessly, so I was very sad. Daft name, though. (My butcher in Weybridge used to ask me, how was my penis!)