Actually, though, I think there's a deeper issue here - my job. The standard response when people see beggars is to say "Oi, get a job! I have to work for a living, so I don't see why you should get to laze around all day." In my case, though, that rings slightly hollow. I'm still trying to find the right words to express this, but I don't really feel like I do work hard. I mean, I do my job very well, and the people at work certainly don't have any complaints there about any lack of ability on my part. And I've done my share of late nights (and all-nighters), so I put in the hours when needed. It's just that ultimately, the whole thing seems like an exercise in futility. I write programs to help management consultants, so that they can draw bar graphs and have high level meetings with executives, to determine corporate strategy. It's like "6 degrees of Kevin Bacon" - how far removed am I from anyone who actually does anything useful?
To put this in perspective, some of our clients work in the spirits industry. (I don't think I can say more than that to avoid breaching client confidentiality.) When I was at university, I did a lot of bar work to help ends meet. The pay wasn't great (about 3.20 an hour), but I really felt like I earned that money - it was honest work. Particularly on a busy night (e.g. the summer ball), I'd be on my feet for about 8 hours, serving people drinks continuously. When I got back to my room afterwards, I'd collapse on my bed, and enjoy the great feeling of relief as I could take the weight off, and let my arms/legs relax. So, it wasn't particularly demanding brain-wise, but I worked hard physically, and I provided a clear service to the bar, which they paid me for. I don't have that same feeling now.
So, I do my job, which does pay well. But I don't need that much money; it was nice to escape student poverty, and get a decent credit rating, but the cliche is true - "money can't buy you happiness". I guess that if I was getting a mortgage or something then it would be more useful, but I don't see that happening in the imminent future. I'm basically saving up for university at the moment, but there are times when I wonder whether it's an impossible dream, that's never going to happen. (Still no transcript from Durham yet, mutter mutter.)
In "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy", there's a section about the Golgafringans (sp?). Basically, they have to evacuate their planet, so they load up their entire population into 3 space arks, to set sail for a new world. Ark A has all the academics - the great thinkers. Ark C has the people who actually do important work, e.g. builders. Ark B has everyone else - middle management etc. I sometimes wonder which ark I'd be in. At Durham, it would have been A (as a student), or C (as a barman). Right now, it would be B, which is a bit depressing. Of course, William has pointed out that there are more complex socio-economic models around ;)
A while back, I was considering contingency plans, in case the uni thing didn't work out. I came to the conclusion that I'd basically give up on IT. I enjoy programming, and I could still write freelance apps (e.g. ComCount), and read books in my spare time, but I'd get out of the situation I'm in at the moment. Instead, I'd do something like becoming a bus driver - they're always advertising for new drivers on the buses I've been on. Or maybe a tube driver (although baratron tells me that you have to start out working on the ticket barriers, and work up to that). It's interesting - when you're little, and you think about your dreams for the future, you say "I want to be a train driver, or a fireman, or a spaceman" - you don't say "I want to sit in a cubicle all day". Now, granted, as a little boy my views were rather simplistic, and I think that driving a bus would get a bit tedious after a while. Still, it is another example of honest work, and it should pay the bills. I also remember when I was at the supermarket a few years ago, and the guy behind the checkout was talking to a friend of his. He (checkout guy) said that he worked was working a 12-hour shift that day, which his friend winced at. However, the benefit was that he did that 3 times a week, which came to 36 hours. That balances out with 9-5, 5 days a week in a traditional office job (35 hours), so then he had the other 4 days off. I must admit, that sounds quite appealing!
Now, hopefully it won't come to that, and I am destined for loftier things (or to have some kind of noble heroic death). Still, as it stands, I'm not satisfied with what I do for a living. It becomes even more evident when I compare it to what my student friends are doing. At Durham, Jon Dunlop's final year project was to design a machine that could help surgeons perform prostrate gland operations. William is analyzing the Old Testament, figuring out the big questions of Good and Evil. Simon's PhD project will help blind babies to see. Michael's doing research on protein-folding, that will contribute to finding a cure for cancer. Damn, it almost makes me cry just thinking about it. I'll just be over here, doing the Wayne's World "I'm not worthy" salute...
So, the point of this rambling is that I have a certain amount of self-loathing at the moment, and I feel like I don't really deserve the money I get. I think that's what makes me vulnerable to situations like yesterday. I suspect it causes other problems too. E.g. there was an article in the Evening Standard recently, about single women looking for partners. The comment that struck me there was "They need to be interesting, passionate about their job". Makes sense, really - if I'm not happy with my life, then I can't expect other people to be desperately keen to be a part of it.
Digressing slightly, I went off to Egypt a couple of years ago on a diving holiday (which I enjoyed). There was a bunch of us who hung out together there, and at one point we played snooker in the hotel. The other two lads there asked me whether I played, and I said that I used to (aside from there, the last time was probably when I was at school). One of them said "You used to play tennis, you used to play snooker - what do you do now?" And he had a point... That was one of the main reasons I went on that trip - I figured that I was spending my time saying "Well, things used to be good in the past, and they will be good again in the future", but the present was just passing me by, so I decided to do something interesting in the "here and now". The reason I mention this is that the same principle applies now.
So, I need to do something to get out of this rut. As it stands, looking six months down the line (i.e. October 2002), I don't know what I'll be doing, where I'll be living, or who I'll be living with. So, at least my options are open :) What I can say is that I will be doing something better than now - that's my pledge.