12 December 2019

Cut your losses

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The December variety of rain came at just the right time this year, this morning when I was supposed to set out for a short five kilometer run. I didn't realise how badly it was raining until I was stood at the bottom of War Lane, fussing with my smartwatch, the one I got in November on sale to replace the Garmin and which has been causing me grief with its inability to execute its promised brilliance. Why, I wondered, standing in the rain hunched over my wrist, had it stopped tracking my run, I had not stopped running. When it came to, and I continued on, my whole body ached with a mixture of injuries. My knee from over running in November. My ribs from a bike fall caused by a middle-aged women in a white SUV and my arms from a failed attempt to bench press a laughably small amount of weight on Tuesday. I pressed on anyway, determined to not let this, this of all things, stop me.

I've fallen off my bike a few times over the years. I fell badly in Niigata once. It was foggy and I was riding on the path by the sea at night. There were barriers and I didn't see them. I was fine, but I landed on my chest and tore my trousers. I walked the bike for a few hundred meters after the fall and then tentatively got on it again. The frame was bent, but I was fine. My fall this week was in the daylight: I was coming through the roundabout, on my bike, I knew that the woman in the white SUV didn't see me, because she hadn't made eye contact with me. I swerved as a precaution and then slipped, and fell on myself into the grass in the middle of the roundabout. I took a moment to stand up, as you do. The woman got out of the SUV and said to me, 'I didn't see you' and I said, 'No shit you didn't see me' and walked my bike to the adjacent road. No one stopped — the woman must have gone on and I thought of ten or fifteen things I wish I would have said to her, self-righteous things about the climate, and baby boomers, and being kind, but it dissipated and I got back on the bike and rode on.

Around that same time I fell in Japan, for some reason I spoke with an investment planner, the sort of guy who had been an English teacher for many years and decided he was now, instead, going to sell investment funds. We spoke on the phone, I remember, and he asked me a series of questions about what I wanted from my life — was I planning on getting married and having children. Would I stay in Japan long term, or was I planning on going home. When and where did I want to retire. I was twenty three and all of the questions didn't have believable answers — I sputtered through the conversation and hung up feeling worried that I had to act immediately to secure my financial future, or it would be lost. I would never retire, would I, given my trajectory which seemed to be headed towards years of Assistant Language Teacher work in elementary schools.

That didn't happen, of course, and less than a year later I was sitting in a gynecologist's office like a boy who had been pulled out of a high school class. I realised I had answered all the questions about my future in the ten months that followed — yes, apparently I was going to get married and have children. In fact, it had already begun when I hung up the phone. I just hadn't seen it.

We did, it turned out, invest in some stock, not sold by a failed English teacher, but a young Japanese woman from the bank who came to tell us about a new European fund that opened in 2007 and which we sank an unfortunate amount of our savings into, without realising again the future that was coming in 2008 when the market stopped being the market we had been promised. Everything was halved, but by that time we were in the UK, pursuing something else and I could put it out of my mind while I studied and, according to the maths I did, if we just saved the dividends we were being paid, in 20 years, the loss would be made up. It was a silly thought, but something that kept me sane about it.

Things more-or-less did work out, for whatever that means to twenty-three year-old me. The house on Victoria Road has taken over our financial lives, and we decided this last month that another room, a converted loft, would be worth more than some imaginary stock price number on the computer screen, and we finally have resigned ourselves to selling it. But really, as I time travel back to me in my early twenties, to tell him the bad news, I'm not sure he can wrap his mind around the rest of it. The money seems almost inconsequential, as I put it in the context of building out a home that we own in the UK, where, yes, we live and have lived for quite some time. Me, nearing my forties, still feels it as a loss, but I realise you can take the sting off if you get up and swear loudly, but quickly accept that it's not nearly as bad as it could have been and being angry won't help anyway. Being angry won't help anyway. The bike is okay, from what you can tell, just ride a bit more slowly, get your confidence back. It's already happened, hasn't it.