Springing… Bloom

Bang on time for the start of spring, the trees behind my house have sprouted flowers; a welcome change from the bare, gaunt visage which has greeted my eyes over the last few months. In its place is a splash of colour – bright pink – which is always welcome in our neck of the woods, known more for the ubiquity of grey granite and grey weather than anything else.

New lights at work also speak to this season of change, the new brightness being so disconcerting that for the first few seconds I thought I had come off on the wrong floor. Speaking to the Facilities folks suggests these may be SAD lights, a bit late in the day given the changing of the season, but welcome nonetheless. It feels like this will take a while to get used to, fingers crossed.

Times, seasons, the fleeting nature of life and the speed with which the year has sped by so far are all things which stumbling on trees in bloom force me to reflect on; particularly because in a few days time I will have spent six years working in the same building.

Settled, or in a rut? The jury is still out on that I suspect.

 

Of Beer, and the Return of the Frost

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For the first few days, all it is a mesh panel fence, one which cordons off the central area of Castlegate. Given my path to work takes me past it everyday, what it is or is not intrigues me to no end. By the time I am heading into work on Wednesday morning, its purpose becomes clear. It is a tent for staging Aberdeen’s version of Oktoberfest, the all out celebration of all things German beer related, which is back in the city between the 12th and the 16th.  As I make my way back home just past 6.30 on Wednesday evening, I can just make out the silhouettes of people milling about inside it, music and the sounds of people having a good craik. For what it is worth, despite not being a beer person – my choice of beverage is a gin and tonic – the sneak preview tempts me a wee bit, but the need to keep a clear head for work the next day keeps me straight. I make a mental note to check again on Friday evening, if it still catches my fancy.

I suppose the timing is fortuitous; the Scottish Autumn school holidays mean that perhaps parents and grand parents can afford a longer lie in the next day rather than worry about getting kids prepped for school. Scores of people have clearly taken advantage of all that, judging by the distinct lack of cover at work due to holidays and Union Square being filled with folk  milling about.  The situation with bodies milling about only worsens on Thursday evening when O and I meet up for our monthly catch up – even he has three days off work. In a sense it falls us on us wife-less, kid-less folks to keep things ticking, until a sense of normalcy returns. O does have an interesting theory about the timing of the holidays – it is a relic from the days when Scotland predominantly farmed, and all hands were required to pull in the harvests, young child or not. How much truth there is in that I do not know enough to tell, make of that what you will.

***

Of all the known and unknown things, none is perhaps more certain than that Summer 2016 is well and truly gone. As a consequence of my fairly steady morning routine, I cross Palmerston Road on the way to work at about the same time as a gaggle of people, disgorged by the trains bringing them into work.  What has intrigued me is seeing how the light windbreakers of spring which morphed into slim fitted shirts and the odd tank top have come full circle, now being replaced by proper winter jackets. Highs of 11 deg C, wet weather and the attendant bone chilling wind will do that to any sane person, even though all that is a matter of degree I suspect. For what its worth, I have held off on the heating at home, even though wearing a jumper into work does have its advantages, chief of which has to be the ability to hide a crumpled shirt (and save on precious morning prep time). The downside though is that my running streak has come to an abrupt end, not helped by the break imposed by being offshore a short while ago. I’d like to think I can find a way to work around that, unless as my friends insist it has all been an elaborate search for a big excuse.

On My Return To the Middle of Nowhere

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Back at the heliport for a trip offshore – the first time since March – it feels like a lifetime ago. The last time there was the pressure of my counterpart from the government regulator looking over my shoulder to deal with, this time the roles are reversed as I am the one asking questions of others. Waiting to be checked in, what strikes me is how empty the terminal looks. Spending one’s days in an office which was only recently re-stacked has somehow shielded me from the reality of just how much more reduced offshore activity has been over the last year.

We go through the usual things – waiting, getting checked in, watching the safety brief and then more waiting – a monotony broken only by the joy of people watching. This time only a few things catch my eye, chief of which is a bit of banter between a group of men and a woman who appear to all be going to the same rig as I am. In sitting amongst them, she almost misses her seat, spilling a bit of her coffee. This leads to her being asked if she is sober. Only later, as I overhear another conversation whilst we’re offshore does that bit of banter make sense; she does have a reputation for being a lively, paint the town red kind of person, one which the latest escapades she regales the group with only cements.

Before all that, there is the small matter of an hour and some of flying time, whilst kitted out in one of these, not exactly the most comfortable of feelings. I do manage to fall asleep during the flight, the rhythmic chugging of the helicopter and having woken up at just past 4.00am all contributing, in my defence. Besides the boiler suit, I get the added ignominy of having to wear a green arm band, this being my first time out to the particular rig since the back end of 2014.

The series of meetings I am offshore for go very well, there being enough time over the course of the three days I am out to catch up with folk I haven’t seen in awhile. These offshore trips can sometimes be an exercise in politicking dealing with people, the overwhelming objectives being to not come across as an onshore boffin who is ramming things down people’s throats without thinking of the impact of the added work. This fine line of balance is never more obvious than when the subject of ongoing pay cuts come up. Word around town is that most of the folk I deal with directly have had to stomach a 22% pay cut over the last eighteen months with a few of the perks being pulled, like the option of an extra bacon roll at morning tea time. Not exactly the stuff morale boosting conversations are made of but I do my best we’re all in this together impression, a truthful one this time because the only reason why I am making slightly more money than this time last year is I have chosen to accept a contribution in lieu of a city centre parking spot.

Running into people I have met on other rigs in the four years and some since I began these trips is a recurring theme on this one. On arrival, I find out that the installation manager is a control room lead operator from a different asset I used to support who has risen through the ranks  – by way of a job elsewhere. The inspection team also includes two people who I have worked with in the past.  As we exchange life jackets ahead of hopping on to the helicopter for the flight out on Thursday, I run into another two folk from a past life. This all leaves me wondering if there is a wider meaning to all of these – have I spent too much time around these parts or is this just an indicator that one has done a good enough job, and stayed long enough to survive the impact of one’s decisions? I suspect it is a little bit of both.

About Town: Weird gifts, names and Children on Trains

 

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Sometime ago, not without some misgivings I must add, I moved desks at work, all part of the new re-stacking policy designed around optimising our use of space. Following the move, I went from a desk which looked on into the central corridor with my computer facing away from the door to one where my view was the bus station across the road. The view was decidedly an upgrade, what came with it though was a sense of being blinded to people milling about behind me and coming in to meet me, particularly on the occasions when I have my head phones plugged in to maximise my concentration.

Enter the weirdest – but most useful gift  – I’ve ever been given; a mirror which stuck to the top of my monitor resolves the blind spot around the things behind me. Given to me by the previous occupant of my desk, it now means I have the best of both worlds, a decent view and a significantly lower risk of being blindsided by people door stepping me from behind. Bliss.

***

S and I share an inside joke from time to time, centred around ageing – gracefully or otherwise,  depending on which of us the joke is on. Things like falling asleep in the middle of a conversation, emoji related faux pas, or particularly weird and wonderful auto correct generated communication mishaps bring the joke up; mostly at my expense given my penchant for WhatsApp typos. The latest instalment of this long running joke was precipitated by a typo in a long string of text I sent, Dear somehow becoming Deer. To her credit she waited all day till the evening to point it out, the conversation which ensued  taking a different tenor, one which went down the lines of pondering the etymology of names lovebirds call themselves rather than focusing on my latest foible.

It is an interesting subject, I think, given what the range of the literal meanings  to the ones I pick up from conversations around friends and their significant others can be: defenceless objects which need protection (baby, doll?), unhealthy sweet things (honey, sugar, candy?) and objects of worth (gold, diamond, precious).

In the end, I dig myself out of that hole by referring S to the Songs of Solomon; that provides validation of deer, and the parts thereof as a metaphor for love. 🙂

***

They board at West Silvertown, they being a little girl and someone I assume must be her older brother. She is dressed in what looks like her school uniform, and has a bright pink backpack with some child super hero of some description on it. He on the other hand has huge beats headphones on, and an iPhone in his hand, clearly listening to something. Once aboard and settled in – it is standing room only – she tries to peer into whatever it is on his phone, an act he prevents by moving his phone outside her reach. That attempt at playful, sibling bonding on her part, and an insistent aloofness on his part is a pattern that repeats itself as we chug along towards Ilford where we all disembark. My tired, cynical mind – work, a flight up from the ‘Deen to London City and then this train ride have taken their toll – goes to work analysing the situation, the conclusion being that he has been tasked with getting his little sister home, a task he considers an intrusion on his own plans and space. Not quite content with that, she being the energetic, doting little sister wants his attention but his phone and whoever is on the other end are more important in the moment.

With time, I suspect that he will learn that family trumps the heady heights of young love, and that in ten, fifteen or twenty years time she will still be kicking about in his life, the person on the other end, most likely not.

Nine Fridays of Summer: Coming Up For Air

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It feels much longer than 12 days since I was last in London, mixing it with the young, free and saved at the Hillsong Europe conference but I suppose life and adulting can do that to you, particularly when that sometimes indecipherable line between work and life is crossed. Shed loads of emails and the cumulative effect of multiple weekends away finally caught up with me both in my work and personal lives, leaving me wondering if it was all worth it after all. All told, the amount of time I have spent scouring YouTube for snippets of the songs I heard, and the satisfaction going over pictures from that weekend still brings, suggests that there is still some lingering benefit.

Added to all of that controlled chaos is perhaps the fact that this period – bookended by the 21st of July and the 15th of August – is a deeply emotive one; not least for all the mementos to loss, the search for a new normal and a looming not-quite milestone birthday embedded therein.

***

I am slowly realising that managing controlled chaos is something I will have to deal with, given the phase of life that I am. For one, gradually becoming one of the older heads around at work has meant that there is more of a recognition of one’s knowledge from peers and younger colleagues. That means that one gets volunteered for non-routine tasks more often, ones which require a lot more thought and reflection on how solutions to increasingly complex problems can be found. That these non-routine tasks are often highly visible, of a time-sensitive nature and transcend multiple timezones multiplies the pressure they place one under.

The looming not-quite milestone birthday adds several layers of complexity to everything else too. The passage of time places certain expectations, desires and long held aspirational goals in context, eroding the comforts the illusion of time once provided. Each year, with the lengthening of one’s chronological age, the room for error – and the time left to achieve said objectives – becomes ostensibly shorter. That adds a pressure of its own to everything else.

***

This state of living on the edge, juggling multiple balls and straining every sinew to stay ahead of the burgeoning task lists is one that does have its thrills. The joys of checking things off the to do list and coming to the end of the week having delivered tangible solutions does feed a sense of accomplishment and heightened purpose. How sustainable that state is over the long run is one question I am not sure I have the answer to, particularly given my natural predisposition is to take my time to try to unravel thorny, convoluted issues rather than bludgeon my way through them.  On a simplistic level, the solution is to find a balance between work and life that works, one that does not prioritise one over the other so much that it effectively starves one of focus.  Sadly, finding that balance isn’t something I have historically managed very well, the events of just over a year ago being a case in point.

For today, the pressing need to get a report out ahead of a deadline has dictated my actions, requiring me to spend pretty much all day in at work, Summer Friday or not. With that deadline just met, there is finally space to catch my breath and breathe a little, until the next big one comes due…

– – –
Currently listening to: When the Fight Calls (from the Hillsong Young & Free Album, Youth Revival)

Nine Fridays of Summer: London, Again.

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I never cease to be amazed by how flights which ostensibly last an hour end up morphing into all day affairs, which leads me to think that flying is perhaps one of the greatest swindles on earth.  In my experience, by the time one arrives at the airport, goes through security and then waits to board, the better part of two hours has very easily been burned. When the inner city travel requirements are tacked on, everything very easily rolls up to between three and four hours. On this occasion, my flight due to leave at 12.05 pm ends up delayed which is how it is well past 4.00 pm by the time my train rolls into Romford where I plan on basing myself on this trip. All that leaves me is time to get myself checked into my room, find a quick bite and then start heading back to the O2 Arena for the opening night of the Hillsong Conference Europe, which is my primary reason for this trip.

***

With Hillsong, you can always count on great music, a fabulous atmosphere and youthful exuberance. We get loads of those: worship by Young & Free (topped off by an on screen cameo by Lecrae on This Is Living on Day 1 and a particularly moving arrangement of the hymn Then Sings My Soul) and a couple of interesting messages by Steven Furtick and Chris Mendez (who stood in for Carl Lentz on Friday night) over the course of the remaining days. As always a slew of fab songs to look forward to get sung during the conference. What a Beautiful Name It Is is one of those for me. I’ll be pre-ordering the album as soon as it drops, that much is a given.

As an aside, Chris Mendez’ story of turning his back on a life of addiction awakens a question which I’ve never quite answered for sure- do those who have a passionate faith have that because they’ve been forgiven much or is it just a personality thing? Jesus comment about he who has been forgiven little  loving little suggests to my simple mind that there is some correlation. I’m sure smarter minds have sussed out the answer to that one.

An unexpected bonus on Friday is finally getting to meet  Siren Lune, whose journey from questioning orthodoxy to tear-streaked made up face (her words) seems to me the stuff 1500 word essays are made for (if I can convince her to write it though). Before the Friday night session, I take the opportunity to climb to the top of the O2, standing astride the world in a manner of speaking – one foot in both east and west hemispheres. Our guide manages to find that sweet spot between chucking information at us and letting us be that allows the group move along at a steady pace.

Conference ends with the communion, after which we leave with strains of yet another Hillsong special ringing in our ears. Quite the experience as always, with quite a few things to mull over on a personal note as I leave.

***

Conference out of the way, I turn my attentions to the meet ups I’ve planned. S offers up a slot on Saturday, one which takes me into the lush green countryside of Kent and the Hevercastle grounds. Seven hundred years of history is the grounds main selling point, one that is hard to argue with given that that history includes arguably England’s most licentious of kings, Henry VIII, and Anne Boleyn. Trying to detangle the mess of consort, sister, sister-in-law, woman in waiting and mistress just about does my head in before I give up, opting to go along with the tour through the castle grounds instead. At the yew maze, we take the wrong turn several times, somehow exiting at the entrance having doubled back on myself several times. The castle and grounds are the sort of thing I suspect will be better enjoyed at a more leisurely pace, with great company, food and blankets for a chilled lunch and plenty of time to kill, to allow one take in all there is on offer.

For dinner, we head back into the comparatively dystopian borough of Lewisham for some proper Nigerian fare. The scent of all soups Nigerian wafting into my nose tempts me sorely to break my self imposed pounded yam moratorium but some chicken suya rescues me from tossing five years of abstinence down the drain.

***

Sunday is comparatively more laid back than any of the days which have gone before. A late decision has me leaving my bags in storage and hailing an Uber to one of my old Sunday haunts, Trinity Chapel. R, the Lithunian driver and I get along, he’s intrigued when I say I am from Scotland by way of Nigeria, our talk seguing into the weather. Oddly for a cabbie, he holds interesting views on global warming, his concerns being around the low lying regions of the world which could disappear for good. Interesting is all I can mutter under my breath, before a quick google search leads us to World Under Water which I recommend as light bedside reading for him.

Significantly changed from how I remember it is the only way I can describe how I find Trinity Chapel but it is an entirely enjoyable, if different experience. The message is about leaving the past behind and focusing on making the most of today. In between I drift off into thoughts of how forgetting can be a mercy. A line from Lesley Nneka Arimah’s Caine Prize shortlisted story, ‘What it Means When a Man Falls From the Sky’ comes to mind, in which the protagonist Nneoma ponders what being unable to forget could do to one. Her conclusion,  the sense of a thousand falling men landing on you.

The lure of jollof rice, dodo and chicken is more than I can resist, which is how I end up at S’s, the plan being to down a quick lunch before my long slog up to Heathrow for my return flight begins. A couple of detours later, I find I am done with lunch and setting off at 5.30 pm with a nagging thought that I might have left it too late. Two train changes later – at Stratford and at Holburn – I end up at Heathrow just before a quarter to eight. Thankfully, the walk through security is quick and I end up having a bit of time on my hands – delayed flight notwithstanding.

***

It is nearly midnight when I eventually get home, late flight issues being compounded by several late arrivals overwhelming the capacity of the taxi rank to deal with the influx. An hour’s wait endured, I am soon speeding home to my corner of the world. Home, and the safety of routine beckon – laundry, reheated left overs and work. Adulting, eh?