About Town: Ambles and Musings…

It is no real surprise that I wake up on Saturday morning with an overwhelming urge to leave my house and let the cold, crisp air clear my head; a succession of events having left me feeling emotionally over extended as though more activity had been packed into the preceding two week period than the entirety of the year before that. My friends O and Alf must bear some of the responsibility for catalyzing those events, as does a not quite out-of-the-blue response to an application I had, almost as a matter of last resort, tossed out three months before. A brown roll and an egg chased down with a cup of strong black coffee and a quick Google search later, I am awake enough to grab my water proof jacket and head out into the streets with the Torry Battery as my destination.

The walk down Park Street, on to Virginia Street and then on to Market Street is one I have made countless times over the past three years, from home to work, church, Nandos or any of the other recurring decimals that have marked my life in this corner of the world, and I make it once more almost mindlessly. There are people just like me – jackets fully done up, earphones plugged in, walking briskly perhaps drawn out by the promise of warmer weather in what just might be the warmest day left of the year, if the weatherman is to be believed.

By the time I make Market Street, I am slightly out of breath, the brisk pace I have adopted a little too much for my increasingly pudgy self. Waiting to swing across from Market Street on to Guild, I end up saved by the long tailbacks at the traffic lights. At first I chalk it down to too many people being about, trying to get into Union Square but as I go further I find out there has been a car crash and a police car parked sideways across the road to preserve evidence is the reason for the hold up. The whine of the ambulance attending the scene is the one indication that this is a fairly recent car crash. Given the glass shards all over and the very nearly flattened front panel of the sedan, it is no wonder an ambulance is steaming through double time. A change in the lights allows me cross over quickly and then begin the portion of my walk I will have to depend fully on Google Maps for.

By now I have recovered my breath, and I quicken pace again, cross North Esplanade West, Victoria Bridge and turn into Torry, our very own Aberdonian Ajegunle. An old woman shawl drawn tightly around her shoulders, slightly bowed stands just past Victoria Bridge looking out onto the River Dee where an orange lifeboat chugs along, completing trials of some sort. I pause briefly to catch the moment myself, take a picture and then move on. These are not quite the best parts of town to be ambling about in if the truth must be told – my one unpleasant Aberdeen incident occurred here on these streets just a few paces removed when a clearly inebriated wannabe pirate complete with a black eye patch lobbed a slur in my direction. Rumour – direct from the mouth of a cab driver mind – has it that a dead body was found in some dark alley a few weeks ago too.

The Skandi Marstein is chugging into port when I navigate the left turn off Victoria road through a dense smell of rotten fish and onto an observation post overlooking the harbour. An old woman, slightly bowed and a mixed race kid with Malcolm Gladwell-esque hair are the only other people in sight – he prancing about with all the energy of a five year old, she barely keeping up with the questions he is rattling off. I wait a few moments as the Skandi completes its manoeuvres, seizing the opportunity to share in the unfettered joy of the little boy.

From there on, it’s a fairly quiet walk up to the battery. The rest of my amble passes without event until I arrive at the battery. It is deserted, a Scottish flag planted squarely on a mound at its centre a proud, unyielding attestation to its history. And even in this most auspicious of places, the boys from Torry have left their mark.

Only now has the enormity of the change I have tottered on the edge of, for the past year and some, began to sink in; and with its sinking in comes the overwhelming urge to maintain by every means possible the tenuous hold I have on the present, imperfections and all. The small matter of a year and some ago I had an Aberdeen version of my Newcastle moment from 2008, and in that moment I decided to bet my future – and those of the future Mrs S, Ethan Jon and Elaine Jade on swapping wet, cold and windy Aberdeen for wet, cold and arctic Eastern Canada. In the intervening period I managed to maintain a sense of normalcy by pretending it was all an academic exercise in permutations and combinations, playing various what-ifs against each other. The undeniable existence of an offer letter in my post box must count as the very present trigger, which has now shaken me out of my reverie and awakened me to the very real need to take a decision in the next few weeks.

If it’s any consolation, I may only be swapping an old Scotland for a New Scotland…

Girl Crush-ing… Hypothetically….

I think I have a crush.

…… And what is perhaps most disconcerting about the waxing and waning of this particular attraction is just how atypical its advent has been.  For one she is well and truly outside the +/- 2.5 year band that I once swore to live and die by… And perhaps most importantly, the sum of our interaction over the last one month, one week and six days has been fifteen emails, five phone calls and one handshake; hardly a compelling oeuvre for a bloke whose standard MO – bar the not exactly happily-ever-after spring misadventure from 2009 – has primarily been based on weighing pros and cons, extensive googling due diligence  and incremental engagement rather than a full on pursuit.

My friend Des seems to think there’s at least something to explore, but I suspect it might just be a case of cake cravings on her part (she’s called dibs already on providing the little bride)… Me the cynic thinks it’s more molehill than mountain and that lurking just beyond the edge of what little I know are revelations bound to kick this delirium into touch… Me the pragmatist agrees with Des, and thinks it would at least be useful practice, bringing me closer to the magic 12 number which supposedly is the ideal number of partners required to define our dating baseline.

Me the analytical, in the few quiet moments the cacophony in my head allows me, wonders if there’s some low risk, non-intrusive way of closing the knowledge gap and progressing the opportunity (which may or may not be there)… Or if a wild plunge isn’t the way to go here…… After all someone once said doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result was insanity….

Or not….

Stumbled on…

Spent the weekend migrating my emails and documents between computers and stumbled on this email exchange, which I was cc’ed on, from my days on the fringes of the student association during my MSc a few years ago.. Our (Nigerian) verbosity is almost certainly genetic, I think! Enjoy!

Dear Comrades,

Having perused and assimilated the content of this mail, I awaited intelligent responses from the house on this germaine issue that has precipitated. Fortunately it seems the house finds this subject too mundane, trivial and bereft of credibility, with contents premised on lack of tact and knowledge of due process in electorial affairs. However in the spirit of comradeship,I have taken it upon my humble self to initiate this thread which I hope will serve to enlighten our Exco on how these state affairs are conducted for a laudable house as ours.

First for a process like this an electorial board or committee is inaugurated, comprising of unbiased members of house who are not serving on any executive position. This committee unanimously decides the parametric confines of the electoral process, enact necessary laws to guide the elections and if need be, place particular conditions contesting candidates must satisfy .

Let me reinforce that the N*******e Nigerian Students Association is a laudable, magnificient body of high caliber persons from diverse schools of thought, underscored with the essence of superb intellectual capacities. As such it behoves that the way we conduct our affairs as collective ambassadors of our great nation in the diaspora with robust respect for due process. While I have no misgivings whatsoever about proper introductions in this electoral process, I maintain that the manner in which the matter has been presented reeks of disdain and maladministration of rights.

If the present members of Exco (who never delivered any manifestos, or introductions as to their persons or the suitability of their candidatures would treat us with the respect we deserve as Nigerian intellectuals in the diaspora, then they should put in place the necessary political infrastructure required for this exercise in a properly coordinated way. If however, Comrade A***o has put it upon herself to be the champion of this political mediocrity, I believe it is our responsibility to point out errors. For avoidance of doubt, let me state that this is no bandwagon of kangaroos for which two hybrids monkeys have been invited to dance.Rather, we are in the process of electing representatives who we expect to serve us as a body and if we cant afford a grandiose electoral body, let us at least have the skeletal structure to serve the same purpose rather than indulge in flimsy, whimsical mail sending exercises.

Let me state here that this call goes to the President of the Association to do the needful and not hide behind imcompetent disciples as we find this not acceptable for us as positive thinking intellectuals.

I rest my case.

I remain,

Comrade OM

Baby Birthdays, failed détente and motherly ultimatums

In what must be a first for me, I get invited to a birthday party over WhatsApp. Truth be told, there were mitigating circumstances. Although the parent in question and I have some tenuous familial connection – my grand father and her grand mother somehow managed to get entangled in the far distant haze that is a few generations ago – she and I haven’t stayed much in touch, in spite of us living the the small matter of the length of Union Street apart. I suppose the invitation was one last hopeful punt in my direction. If it was, it worked, the twin attractions of something to do on a Saturday afternoon and proper Nigerian food proving too strong for even I the quintessential recluse. Izzy, the kid in question had just turned One, and her parents keen to celebrate the milestone were putting together a small get together for the guys; for that I was very much a willing eater.

I arrive at fifteen minutes past the hour. Given our Nigerian predilection for African time, I have figured that this is a considered compromise between not being the first bum on a seat and not keeping the hosts waiting. It turns out I have timed my arrival horribly; the only other person besides the chief host by the time I arrive is a Caucasian woman and her two children, with the next person strolling in leisurely at thirty minutes past the hour. Arriving early does prove useful though, as I am pressed into service putting finishing touches to the placement of cups and drinks on the tables.

It turns out to be a fairly well attended event. There are quite a few people I have not seen in a while, each with their children in tow. Both parents have connections to my alma mater and it shows. I end up sharing a table with yet another distant family member, one who was also a contemporary of my youngest brother. He has his girlfriend on his arm when he breezes in just after 2pm, and a few handshakes and a quick swig of Don Simon later, he plumps into a seat next to me. We talk, about Nigeria, about Aberdeen and the looming winter, about work and future plans. He thinks he’ll head off to Nigeria in the next three to five years, I think that elusive PhD needs putting back on the front burner.

The one blot, on a personal level for me, is an extended encounter with the brash tactlessness of a friend of a friend. When he finds out we all went to the same University but that I graduated two years before he commenced studies, he straight away asks which of the children chasing birthday ballons near by are mine. I reply I have none, and am not married, which is his cue to waffle on about how I am wasting time. I am minded to give him a telling off, but given the context and the fact that our host would most assuredly come down on his side, I hold my peace and move off to grab some food instead. In that little six minute and some exchange is all the background and proof that has typically driven my avoidance of these events.

On the subject of my mother, the last few weeks have been somewhat frosty. In a sense she has been feeling the absence of the kid brother who’s upped sticks and headed back to full time study in a different country. Being the fairly accessible ear, she has tended to dump on me. Her mood has not been helped by my uncle down south and his ongoing meddling. True to type, and perhaps influenced by all the things I have going on in my life at this point in time, I opted for withdrawal and managed communication to limit the opportunities for irritation. This weekend I decide to try to mend fences by initiating a call and allowing her unload. Needless to say, she does a lot of the talking, and manages to add an ultimatum at the end.

Mothers! Sigh.

On My Return to the Middle of Nowhere

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I seem to have the knack for choosing the shittiest days to go offshore. Last November I end up stuck for an extra three days, thanks to Ambisagrus going berserk and my helicopter flight getting cancelled. Speaking to the heli-admin late on Monday as I confirm my booking, I have her take a quick look at the weather forecast; she confirms there are no extraordinary weather events forecast for the rest of the week. Satisfied, I confirm my check-in time and head out to pack my bags and plan.

When I wake up the next morning, it is to gale force winds and rain. Steaming cup of coffee in hand, looking out from my kitchen window, the streets  – and Pittodrie in the distance – are a distant haze, shrouded in a fine mist with leaves and twigs tossed and blown around like meat in a giant cooking pot over wood. By the time I get dressed and jump into the cab I have called, it is a little quieter but the aftermath of the storm we have been battered by remains – bin bags floating around King’s and boughs ripped off trees onto the road the least of my worries.

It might be the weather, but the cab driver has the heater on full blast and has the radio tuned to the weather report. He is atypically taciturn; the one thing he does say to me as we hit the long tail backs on the final turn to the airport is ‘You’re nae going anywhere today pal’. Given the weather conditions – I secretly hope he is right.  What he doesn’t know then- and what I get to find out eventually – is that by some quirk of nature, the weather’s a whole lot better up in the Shetlands and any doubts about the trip are quickly dispelled when I am called up to check in and screened.

It turns out that the flight up north is actually the smoothest I remember – so much for my having second thoughts about the trip. Safely landed on the platform, glasses off whilst trying to divest myself of my immersion suit, someone taps my shoulder. In the hazy, barely there, seeing men as trees world that is mine without my glasses, I make out the silhouette of the platform’s head honcho. He is a bloke I have previous history with – we once argued opposing ends of a decision a few months into my current role, and our relationship has been frosty at best (at least to me). Sensing my discomfiture, he stretches out his hand for a firm handshake and proceeds to welcome me  on to his turf.

– You’ll stop by the office for a wee chat when you’re settled in, aye?

He says it in the manner of a half question, half statement – implied request laced with more than a hint of a threat that my interests might best be served by having the chat. I nod my acceptance, as he moves off, before he tosses over his shoulder almost like an afterthought.

 -The galley’s staying open longer, you’d better hurry and grab lunch.

We had arrived around 1.30pm, a full hour after lunch had been served. A skeletal lunch had been laid out, but given the state the motley crew of the new arrivals were in, it was very likely that the food would be gone in next to a flash. By the time I run through the safety video and all, my worst fears are confirmed, the dregs of the food left do not appeal to me and I end up being extra thankful for the bacon roll I grabbed whilst waiting for the second leg of my flight earlier in the day. It is not till 3.30 pm before I get to see the head honcho again. It is the very much more relaxed setting of the coffee table. As per custom, the guys lay out a modest spread of roll and biscuits to go with our tea and coffee during the regular breaks. I find myself seated right next to him to the right. We make small talk, my primary contact is on hand to ease us into conversation, and we hit it off much better than I ever recall. He has a few concerns over the small project I’ve taken a decision to defer to next year and he minces no words in telling me so. Thankfully, I have my ‘we’re all in it together‘ speech at the ready – about how I am as much an underling in the overall scheme of things as he is and merely executing orders. Whether he buys it or not is unclear, but all told we have a much more amiable conversation than we have had in a while.

 At dinner, I share a table with a couple of the lads – one is ex Royal Marines, the other is an ex (Music) school teacher who took his chance at reinvention a mere fifteen years ago. Several NDT tickets down the line, he’s now one of the lead techs, earning way more than he would have as a teacher. On the odd occasion he still thinks back wistfully at what might have been had he remained a school teacher, usually when the subject of wives and their shopping sprees comes up, which is often a lot on these trips. The ex Royal Marine, Dusty Dan, named for the extra layer of grime his coveralls tend to pick up regales us between sips of tomato soup and bites of bread of his ordeal at the hands of the wife at an Ikea shop. Dragged out early one Saturday morning ostensibly to shop for furniture for an upcoming baby, he ends up being dragged to each and every corner of the Ikea, criss-crossing every square inch multiple times as his wife meanders her way through the items on display. Three hours later, still no closer to any major purchases and almost dead on his feet, he is allowed the one bit of respite he has grown to look forward to on these interminable trips – 10 meat balls and mash at the Ikea restaurant.

Oh the bliss of married life!