About Town: A Mancunian frolic of sorts…

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The sense is part foreboding,  part nonchalance – if both feelings can coexist – and sitting in the departure lounge at Aberdeen airport, waiting – seemingly interminably – for the announcement of my flight to Manchester does little to ease those feelings. Back in January when I decided the API 571 exam was going to be one of my key personal development deliverables for the year, April seemed a lifetime away. Now, on the eve of the exam, the harsh reality hits home squarely not helped by the bad weather which has led to the delay of the inbound flight. The mood around the waiting room is one of tired resignation. It is chock full, fuller than I have ever seen it, perhaps a result of all the flights bunched up. Added to that for me is hunger, having skipped breakfast and hopped down to Boots at work for a meal deal lunch; hardly the sort of fare my inner Nigerian subsists on on a normal day.

We get the announcement we have all been dying for a further forty five minutes later, and board the flight – nearly three hours later than we should have left. Thankfully, the flight is shorter than advertised, we arrive just past 9.30pm. It is still raining. It might be my tired mind but for a brief moment I wonder if this is indeed Manchester not Aberdeen, given the deluge of biblical proportions pelting us as we make the short walk from the steps to the terminal building. My hotel is across town in Salford Quays so I make a beeline for the taxi rank. The driver of the one I get is in the middle of some conversation – one of such importance that he carries on for all of the twenty five plus minute journey. Our only communication is a brief pause within his soliloquy, as he indicates that the fee will be £22.30 – I hand £23.00 to him, he gives me no change in return. The bugger!

Check-in at the hotel is a breeze – the front desk assistant finds my name without needing to eyeball my printed off reservation slip. The room I have assigned is on the third floor. When walk in and dump my bags, I find the view very much to my liking – decorated in soft, white in the main and looking out on to the bright lights of the quayside. It is much larger than typical for the similar prices I’ve paid down in London. True to its ‘budget’ moniker though, there is no proper restaurant of note within the premises, there is a sandwich bar, which I attack, plumping for (yet another) bacon and egg sandwich and two bottles of water. So much for healthy eating.

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The next morning, I am up by 5.30am,  study till 7.00am and then head downstairs to reception to grab a sandwich and a diet coke for breakfast. Having had a look in google maps I plot a route to the exam venue. It is a fifteen minute walk away, pretty much through the centre of town. This I confirm when after paying for my sandwich I ask the small crowd of six clustered around the reception desk in a meeting of some sort. First turn on the left past the traffic lights and follow the curve of the metro is the advice the woman who appears to be the chairing the little huddle gives me.

The musty smell of wetness is overpowering when I turn into a side street en-route the Victoria – proof definitive of just how wet Manchester is I guess. Not since Nigeria in the rainy season have I smelled something this intense. When I arrive at the Victoria building – at just past 8.00am, there is only one other person hanging around the building. He is in the middle of what must be his pre-game ritual, fag in mouth, peering into an iPad. My arrival seems to make his mind up for him as he nods in my direction, puts away his ipad and holds the door open for me. At the lifts I step in before him and punch the button for the seventh floor.

Exam today he asks? when he notices we are headed for the same floor. I nod. It turns out he is around for a Microsoft exam of some sort. I explain I have got an API one – that brings as much cognition out of him as water in the middle of the Sahara.

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The first Prometric staff arrives ten minutes later. She nods a greeting as she takes us in a sweeping gaze. After swiping herself in and knocking a few things about for another couple of minutes, she opens the main doors and lets us in. Ten minutes later, they appear to be ready for us and we commence the exam sign in procedures – ID  documents, a quick pat down and then bags and coats stowed away in lockers. By the time I am signed in for my exam a fourth and fifth person have arrived.  The exam itself is one of those – not terrible, but not a roaring success either. Given it is based on the ability to recall a slew of facts – pressures, temperatures, pH levels and material compositions, one either knows the right answers or doesn’t and I finish inside 90 minutes from the 4 hours allotted. . Having gone over the questions two more times to bottom out which exactly I’m sure of and which I am not, I decide I have had enough and punch out. On my way back I take a different route, ending up with a gorgeous view of water in one of the basins. On a whim, I make a pit stop at a Frankie and Bennys. An English breakfast downed – and £10 lighter – I feel a tad better, dodgy exam or not.

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I plan to meet up with my friends E and C later in the day. We agree on somewhere central – Piccadilly Gardens – and by 1pm I hop onto the tram from Salford Quays towards the city centre. Chugging along at a steady pace, one gets the sense that Manchester is all red brick and high rise buildings – a bit blind man meets elephant I guess. They are ten minutes late. Whilst waiting, I pretend to be interested in the notices at the Piccadilly Gardens tram stop.The sun is out, and there are loads of people about – burkas, veils, jeans and tees and skimpy skirts and tank tops all coexisting, peacefully it seems. The joys of multiculturalism I guess. To my left two guys and three girls, hardly teenagers I think, materialise, blowing smoke all over . After a few seconds it becomes clear what it is they are trying to achieve – the age old male-female detente . They succeed – it seems – because by the time I’m heading off to meet E and C, they are all a happy huddle – swapped cigarettes included. Whilst waiting, I post a picture of the wheel – I get a quick call back from someone I haven’t met in a while who now happens to live in Manchester. We agree to meet up for five thirty.

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I grab coffee and a waffle with E and C and catch up . It’s been three years since we last met, the bulk of the intervening communication occurring via facebook and instagram – terrible I know. They are great sport, but have to leave in just an hour thanks to prior engagements. We agree to speak more often going forward – small positives I guess.

Waiting for J, I stumble on a piece of interpretative dance in the gardens themselves. A group of musicians from the Gambia thrill the crowd with their repertoire of dance and music. It is so engaging from time to time people from the crowd join in in the frenzied dancing. It keeps me occupied, and when the bucket comes around, I drop a fiver. Very enjoyable it has been.

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J is delayed – he finally shows up at six thirty. By this time, the sunshine has vanished replaced by a biting wind and overcast skies.I rue my decision to ditch my fleece for only a wind breaker. Three black guys and an asian try to rile a police community support officer. One of them, clearly aggrieved, goes off in a rant about being subservient and being slaves to the system. The PCSO doesn’t as much as bat an eyelid. He’s clearly seen and heard a lot more. I move off – the last thing I want to do is to be caught up in something I have no business in. J arrives, and we grab a burger, seat on one of the benches and chat. We go over the usual – work, Nigeria, and the pressures from our parents to marry or be damned. Life I guess.

By Sunday, I am mentally drained and end up not going to church – terrible given how much I have looked forward to going in Manchester. I blame stumbling on a blog which wasn’t very complimentary of the one I wanted to attend for dissuading me. I do go out though – a final  meetup up with R is planned at the gardens again. She does her nerd creds no harm by dragging me across to the Central Library – it’s impressive, circular facade one that intrigues me. It is however locked so we don’t get to see the insides. Lunch is a KFC three piece meal wolfed down with a diet pepsi. On the way back, we run into a number of street acts – Iron man, with whom I get to score a picture, and some bloke levitating as it were.

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Pretty much tired and sleepy, I make my way to the train station for the airport. Under five pounds it is this time.. The next time, there will be no cabs for sure.

Bait and Switch…

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My father, very much like me, is not a great talker- the sum of our conversation over the course of the year is little more than fifteen minutes. In the main these – 3 minutes here, 2 there, and 5 there have mainly come about as intermissions, snuck in between typically lengthy conversations with my mother – if her constant probing and interrogating can count as conversations. When I wake up to find a couple of missed calls from him on my phone , a whatsapp message from my kid sister, and a BBM message from my brother – all relating to the fact that my father has been trying to get hold of me- it sets the alarm bells in my head off. After arriving from my weekend trip to the middle of nowhere (link) I ordered the largest, most decadent pizza I could from PapaJohns – with a barbecue chicken side- devoured it and promptly fell into my bed for sleep, which was how I ended up oblivious to the clamour for my attention.

Resigning myself to whatever it might be, I call him, bracing myself for whatever it might be. It turns out, it has to do with a conference down south he wants to attend- he wants guidance on visa applications, money transfers and all the associated arrangements required to smoothen his first trip out of Nigeria in a while. it was from my. Not quite any of the urgent, life threatening things my mind had invented then. we chit chat, a bit after that, work at mine, failed driving test and all get a mention, and then an uncomfortable silence. My unease increases exponentially.

So…. He begins, have you called K yet? I haven’t and really don’t intend to. She is the doctor daughter of a friend of a friend of Mum’s whose folk perhaps as agitated by the lack of visible progress towards marrying as mine are have somehow dreamed up this match.

I explain, I’ve had a lot on my plate- offshore, work, eyeing a job change and the like. I assure him I have it on the front burner though..

My father disagrees, by his estimation, if I had even a hint of seriousness, I would have placed the phone call to K, and or being on a flight to nigeria already. He thinks I’m overly focused on progressional development .

You know, people are worried too, they ask me what’s happening all the time.

By now my irritation has built up a head- the people who are worried won’t be in a marriage with me I interject. I may have overdone my curt ness as he falls silent, our little attempt at detente dying as quickly as it rose…

The resignation in his voice is palpable. It’s alright, just call her, OK?

I mumble a response back, just before I terminate the call… Bait and switch, classic…. My folks are getting better at this!!!

About Town : On (yet another) return to the middle of nowhere

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Wide awake, with not even a lingering hint of sleep to becloud my eyes, I pause to ponder the day that lies ahead of me. Difficult as it may be to wrap my head around them, the facts are what they are. It is very nearly six months since I last made the journey that lies ahead of me. Back then, LK was the developing conundrum, one that those days spent in the middle of nowhere ended up resolving, ultimately to my pain – not that I knew that at the time. My alarm snaps me out of my little reverie – I have a 6.00am check-in at the other end of town to contend with, and a 15 minute walk to catch the bus that will haul me across town – small margins for error given it is already 4.05am.

A bath, shave and a quick swig of water done, I heft my two bags onto my shoulders – two changes of clothes and work boots and covies in one, my laptop in the other – and make my way down King’s Street and then across to Broad Street where it turns out I have a ten minute wait till the 727 chugs along to pick us up. There is one other person in the bitter cold, she hops on to the number 11 after a few minutes, leaving me all along again till ta second co traveller appears at ten minutes past the hour. He doesn’t disappear – into the number 17 when it comes. The quiet wetness is that bit more bearable for company – silent though it is.

On to the 727 we are the only ones who are aboard, the driver’s reply to my muttered greeting is terse – a hint of an Eastern European accent to boot. Ear phones plugged in, I settle in to my chair , Tenth Avenue North my music of choice on this bitter cold morning. Somewhere between the Great Northern Road stop and the Bucksburn Police station, five or so others hop on, and my silent companion from Broad Street morphing into a pilot’s uniform, with as much efficiency as  women who go from hag to wag on the tube.

We arrive at the airport at 5.30am – good time seeing the advertised time of arrival was meant to be 5.35am. My flight is only the second one so check-in for the first flight is still ongoing – it stretches for a further fifteen minutes, due , it turns out to particularly stringent checks today. I have to flash my passport and vantage card, get patted down quite intrusively and have my bag unpacked and repacked by the young lady who is conducting the baggage checks for me. My inner jacket doesn’t fit into my knapsack when she tries to fit it. She is apologetic about it – a small hassle for me – I opt to have it on me for addition to the big bag that gets tacked on to the flight for jackets and other small items.

The flight to Scatsta is quick – Scatsta ends up drier – and feels warmer – than Aberdeen does, even though it is nearly 300 miles closer to the North Pole. The quirks of my wet, cold and windy corner of Ruralshire I guess. The call to suit up comes at about 10.00am. It should take just under an hour but we end up with our feet on fairly stable ground – for what it’s worth – in an hour and thirty minutes. We make a pit stop on the NS platform, where the helicopter gets refuelled – and one of the pilots vanishes for nearly fifteen minutes. It is the first time in my six trips offshore where this has happened. If the motions the other passengers who like me are forced to disembark whilst all this goes on are anything to go by – the pilot has had the need to take a sudden shit.

It is very nearly 11.30m before I get to squirm out of my boiler suit, go through the shortened version of an induction and then dump my bags in the room I’ve been assigned. Long day coming up from the looks of it, given it is still not yet 12.00 noon.


The room I am assigned, it turns out, I will have to share with a chap on the night shift. The slight positive is that it will give us both a measure of privacy – whilst I am sleeping he will be working, and vice versa. It does means too though that my morning ablutions are completed in a tip-toe of sorts. By 6.00 am I am done, and I head out to the galley to grab a cup of tea to kick start my day. On the way I run into G from my last trip. We shake hands, a little too firmly as we exchange pleasantries in the hallway. Six months ago, we had bonded over bad weather and a delayed flight that meant that a two day trip for me – and a three week one for him – ended up stretching an additional five days. This time, he is due off the day before I am to go. ‘Thank goodness’ he says, ‘at least you won’t be a Jonah on my flight this time’. I smile and walk away – his acerbic wit is one that is growing on me.

I run into G again at 9.30am, the small matter of a spread of bacon rolls, cheese toast and cheese cake attracting a small crowd of six for a tea break and a natter. G is sat in the massage chair across from me, one of the guys, a Ross County football fan is the butt of his wit this time. The night before a couple of contentious referring decisions gifted G’s home town club a win over County, and he never one to miss the chance to goad a fellow human obliges. For once I am glad to be out of the eye of the storm.

I dig into a bacon roll – doubled and a lorne sausage for good measure and enjoy the spectacle. M has a bacon roll too, and having downed that, at G’s encouragement digs into half a cheese toast. That, as I find out over the next few days provides plenty fodder for G to rib M about his weight.

Just after lunch B stops by to alert me to the fact that my flight out on Monday is over booked – I’ll thus be spending an additional day. A bit of a nuisance given I have driving lessons booked for Tuesday evening. I toy with cancelling them to avoid losing my fee but decide to hold fire just yet. I guess given my luck, there was always the sneaky suspicion that it might come to this (it’s the fourth time out of six i’ll be delayed an extra day at least

Sunday starts off early for me, the situation with the bloke on the night shift not exactly helping matters. At the mid-morning tea break, a new face shows up – a Canadian drilling engineer with a love for dirt bikes and trucks. He seems a pleasant enough guy, and take no offence to G’s ribbing about his love for cheese cake and the pin-ups splashed across his computer desktop.

Lunch is beef roast. I grab a couple of slices of roast beef with a small portion of curried rice – my nod to my stop start low carb diet, and at the chef’s insistence some haggis. Between mouthfuls of roast beef, I get sucked into a conversation on cars. A number of the guys are eyeing up sports cars – Jaguars, Audis and the like – out of my price range, even if I did not have the small matter of passing the driving test to contend with.  I hum and ahm at the right moment, taking in the brake horse power, the number of cylinders and the acceleration stats with the right amount of (feigned) admiration I hope. For dessert, I have pick up two pieces of cheese cake – #4 and 5 over the last three days.  On my return, I find the seat next to mine has been filled by K. The conversation has taken a slight detour into diet territory. K’s  on a modified Atkins one, where he’s sworn off carbs. Uncomfortable territory given how much cheese cake I have downed so far.

 Sometime after dinner, P stops by with slightly more relevant news – a medevac on Monday means a second flight will be put on, and I just might make it to the beach on the same day I am planned for a change – some consolation. J emails to check up on me – I give her a call and we chat about how the weekend has panned out. Hectic at hers, slightly less so at mine but plenty to look forward to on Monday.

Monday passes in a blur – tense anticipation ruling the day as first I am informed the original flight I should be on has been cancelled. I am promised a later one will arrive at 1.45pm. In the end, it arrives at 4.00pm. Late enough to have had lunch but not dinner. By the time it touches down in Scatsta, it is nearly 6.15pm. We spend another 30 minutes waiting, before we wing our way back to the ‘Deen.

I am far too tired to care at this stage – I must come across as a right grump to the cab driver as after three or so attempts to make small talk, the ride passes in somewhat uncomfortable silence. All that is left by the time I arrive at my door, at very nearly 7.30pm, is to order a large Papa Johns, devour it in short order and fall into my bed fully clothed till the gentle vibration of my phone alarm the next morning jolts me back to life.

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The March Wrap – Reboots, London and Bits and Bobs…

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Down South, the overwhelming narrative is one of a spring in full flow, cue a flood of selfies on Instagram and Facebook, complete with the obligatory sunglasses, sleeveless tops and sandals. Up here, in my North Eastern corner of Ruralshire, the best that we have had is six degree weather and intermittent sunshine – not quite spring, but very nearly as good as it gets up here, being thankful that we are not having snow in March like we did last year.

March pretty much sped by – leaving in its trail a raft of ups and downs. For one, my on-off dalliance with LK was finally put to the sword, common sense finally prevailing over blind, senseless hope. Six months and some of walking on egg shells, being treated like crap and being used a a dump for wildly swinging emotions have been exchanged for clarity and distance – still slightly hurting but a step in the right direction.

In one week from hell, I got a tooth pulled out, flunked my driving test spectacularly and got turned down for the dream job – a mid level rust geek role at a Company  I had always wanted to work for since my (Nigerian) under graduate days. Being on the verge of turning 35, coming up to 5 years in my current role and changes to the operational status of the plant I support have all been elements of the perfect storm which seems to have hit a tad early.

It has not been all doom and gloom though – J’s been a refreshing breath of fresh air by all accounts, and (finally) some clarity around my current work situation.  Catching Zara MacFarlane at the Aberdeen Jazz Festival, thanks to boredom at the office and some googling was also a highlight. Rocking at the Blue Lamp, she  delivered a nuanced performance, high in energy at times but also deep and sombre at times. Much value for money, the one blight on the night being that I ended up sat at the same table as someone I had done lunch with in the past who spectacularly failed to recognise me. Some impact i must have left I guess!

The monthly lunches with the guys from work have become a staple. This time we returned to the Bistro Verde to take in the fantastic sea food on offer. It delivered as usual, if the service was somewhat slow this time. Calamari, Gin and tonics and pan fried haddock set me in the mood for an extended weekend of luxuriating, capped off by meeting J in London, Hillsong and a fabulous kebab in Harrow after being dragged through the Currys computer aisles by C.

In books, I ended up completing two – half way through a third. Much progress given how February delivered zero completed books. Both books, by some quirk had to do with the making and breaking of habits – Charles Duhigg’s New York Times bestseller The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do, and How to Change and Heath Lambert’s Finally Free: Fighting for Purity with the Power of Grace. Both books take an ax to the root of habits from different perspectives – Duhigg’s the more pop science based approach with Heath Lambert’s  a very much biblically focused one.  Two of the better reviews I stumbled on provide a good summary of both books – Business Week on The Power of Habit and Tim Challies on Finally Free.

In other news, I somehow managed to pick up 3kg in weight. Those darned two for one Tuesdays from PapaJohns be damned 😦

2014 Reading – The January Wrap

Between Albert Camus’ The Outsider and Ahdaf Soueif’s The Map of Love, my 2014 reading has gotten off to a solid, if unspectacular start, both these books seeming to occupy opposite extremes of the emotional engagement continuum.

In The Outsider, two excellent summaries of which can be found here and here,  Albert Camus’ protagonist, Meursault, is defined by his (lack of) emotional reaction  to the death of his mother; My mother died today. Or maybe yesterday, I don’t know – he says,  and the subsequent problems that causes for him when he ends up getting sucked into a conflict that was never his to begin with, but which ends in murder.

Post conviction, as he awaits execution, the themes of detachment and a refusal to show emotion – refusing to plead self defence, or to pretend  to feel more pain at the death of his mother continue, factors which the prosecution uses to portray him as a callous, deadened, premeditated murderer. After an intense confrontation with the prison chaplain, his final thoughts with respect to his impending death are to hope that there will be many spectators on the day of his execution and that they would greet him with cries of hatred.

In contrast, Soueif‘s book- which she started out writing as a ‘tawdry romance’-  is a maelstrom of emotion – two love stories, three women and two cross cultural liaisons separated by a hundred years of Egyptian nation building.

Anna, the English widow, goes to Egypt in an attempt to rebuild her life after losing her husband to the ravages of a mind destroyed by the excesses of the British Empire in Sudan. There, having being kidnapped, she ends up becoming friends with Layla, whose brother a leading nationalist, Sharif al-Baroudi, she eventually marries leading to repercussions and distrust  from both sides of the Empire-Nationalist divide in the Egypt of the day.

The catalyst for discovering the story is a trunk Isabel, a divorced American journalist, is left by her mother, and a burgeoning love affair with an Egyptian conductor – Omar in New York. His suggestion that she take the trunk to Egypt to get help translating some of the papers written in Arabic brings woman #3 into the equation, Omar’s sister Amal.

The contrast with The Outsider is stark. I had loads of favourite, intimate tender moments, my favourite passage being  the one in which having sent his first bride back to her parents, ostensibly to remove the weight of his family name being associated with them, his mother genuinely worried stops by to have a chat around helping him meet the need ‘which God has lawfully ordained for men’. He bows his head and delivers a response I would do well to share with my own mother when she gets antsy with me for not too dissimilar a reason:

 We are living in difficult times and it is not enough for a person to be interested in his home and his job – in his personal life. I need my partner to be someone to whom I can turn, confident of her sympathy, believing her when she tells me I’m in the wrong, strengthened when she tells me I’m in the right. I want to love, and be loved back.

Two other books round up my January reading – Warsanshire’s (who needs no introduction really) Teaching My Mother How To Give Birth and James Patterson’s Merry Christmas, Alex Cross, an airport impulse buy at Waterstones on my last jaunt to London.  All told, one month in, four books are done and dusted. Good progress given how 2013 went in books.

Christmas… In Eight Days

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Aperitivo, on Bon-Accord Street, is where this year’s Christmas silly season kicks off for me, and coming so soon after my return from Nigeria – with all the food I was force fed – part of me cringes at the thought of yet more food. In the end my desire to avoid giving yet more ammunition to the AJ-is-a-snob brigade makes me decide to attend. I just about make it to the party, keeping G waiting on the corner of Union and Bon-Accord for almost fifteen minutes. It is a terrible time to be out and about; it is piddling, there is a strong wind and Union Street is chock full of the rush hour traffic at just before six pm. In going home first, rather than directly from work, my gamble has failed spectacularly; missing the bus from across the road at home meaning I have to walk briskly to cover the twenty minute walk in fifteen. G – never the type to let an opportunity to lay in to someone – does give me a right going as we walk the short distance from the junction towards our final destination for the night after I arrive. It matters little that we are the first ones in by ten minutes past six, or that the table has been booked for a seven pm start.

We order gin and tonics whilst we wait for the rest of our party to show up. They do eventually, between ten and twenty minutes later. Our host, held up by a power cut due to the atrocious weather, arrives somewhere in between, waving us over to a private lounge which she had reserved for the purpose of drinks for an hour before dinner’s due at seven pm. Confusion resolved then. I grab my third gin and tonic of the night, joining in the yakking until we all sit down to dinner. Dinner for me is a fried calamari starter and a costolette di agnello for a main. The food takes a while to come through, being served in three or four batches. By the time we are all done, and several bottles of red wine later, it is very nearly ten pm, and home time for me. As I grab my coat, I overhear two of the guys talking about hitting Espionage. Loads of energy to expend yet.. O_o.

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A week later, I am at the Monkey House for our now annual Christmas ritual – drinks, and then a large, hearty Indian meal at the Nazma. Walking up the road from the Monkey House, it all feels very Christmassy, the city lights above Union Street glowing bright against the dark skies as we walk along, all our personal niggles from work forgotten – for one night at least.

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Parties #3 and 4 take place the Saturday after. The Tech team at church – choc full with very married people and their children – has us all out on the 14th to catch up on food, pepper soup and Nigerian music. It is slow going at first, like all things Nigerian with our penchant for African time, but it does start rocking two hours in. By then, we – our small group of single peeps camped out in our own little corner of the room- have made a few frantic calls to our contacts at the other party across town – and made up our minds to slip out quietly. We pile into U’s car just shy of 8.30pm and hop the three or so miles across.

When we pour in through the door at party #4, things are a little more raucous – blame shed loads of young people and too much food. I shake a few hands as I am ushered to a seat at the corner next to my friends R and P. A plate of rice, some coleslaw and fried chicken gets dumped in my lap in short order. My one surviving image from the party is me with the plate in my lap, shaping up a victory sign/ trying to prevent a picture of myself being taken. I clearly succeed at neither. Sometime later, S. waltzes in, making for a few awkward moments. Thankfully, we are off in a few – major danger averted.

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Party #5 sees us return to the Albyn for my third straight year. The plan is to kick off with drinks for an hour before seating down to lunch and the raffle. G has had way too much to drink by the time the food arrives. That, and his form for being an inveterate windup, account for the extreme irritation I am feeling by the time we break up for the raffle. Between sips of cognac, gin and tonics and tomato soup, I get a book recommendation for 2014 – Vikram Seth’s A Suitable Boy. That, and the spicy haggis and beef I have as a main, more than make up for the evening. At the earliest opportunity, after my well documented rotten luck with raffles plays out yet again, I slip off to my house and some peace at last.

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For the second year running, I get invited to my friend O’s house, which ends up being my sixth Christmas related event of the month. He drops by mine to pick me up after a not so quick Christmas morning service at church. The kids usually are the highlights of this one for me – I get to faff around and act like I am a big kid all over again. The youngest V and I have a tenuous relationship. She, as she has grown older, has become less trusting and icier towards strangers. By the time the evening ends, she and I are rolling all over the rug together, to her Mum’s surprise. Such is the strength of the bond that we have built by the end of the evening that she insists on accompanying us when her dad drops me off at mine. That and the bowl of soup, additional rice and turkey bits I get in a bag to take away,  make it a super Christmas for me. 🙂

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For a last Christmas do, my friend O and I head out to the Soul Bar on Union Street. Their chicken fahitas are the best I have had. And two or three times each year, I have gone back since my first time there in 2010. It is a quiet, guys only evening out. In another time and space, we would moan about our wives at this.. 🙂

In pictures.. Bits and Bobs…

Chaos and Nostalgia…5

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I get my sister’s old room back. I have been way for so long that I have to go back two house moves to the time I still had a room here, one that I shared with the kid brother in the house on 3rd Street.

I spend the bulk of the five days I spend in total in a haze of sorts – thanks to the ASUU strike, there’s precious little going on about town. NEPA does it’s very best to limit how much access to my devices I get, battery life being a significant issue of sorts.

I do get to sort out my bank problems, a spanking new ATM is delivered in time for me to avoid having to pay significant penalties for using my UK debit card in Nigeria. The nieces are good sport – V’s all of nearly four years old, G’s nearly nine months and A’s nearly seven. They take to the two christmas bears I get them very well. The difference between both G and A can’t be more obvious – one’s quiet, friendly and easily amused by my tech, the other is agitated, bubbly and keen to be up and about.

Mum, as always, manages to throw in a visit to the tailor. The downside, or upside depending on how you look at it, of being away all this while is I have missed a number of events and the associated scurrying about to get the entire brood kitted in matching clothes.

The tailor is a long term friend of the family – she’s privy to my F debacle from 2009 – I wonder if it is pity in her eyes when she tries to make small talk as I get measured for my danshiki. God go do am, my brother, is her parting shot. I suppose there can never be too much of praying on one’s behalf.

I don’t get to see T and his kid – bad form on my part, I leave a gift for them and my trusty MacBook Air for sister #1’s who’s been pining for a functional laptop.

All told, it’s about catching up with family, and resting up. Nothing fancy, nothing out of the ordinary, just enjoying being home.

Chaos and Nostalgia…4

lagos_bus

By 7.20am, I am in a cab, speeding towards the Yaba Motor Park. The plan is to grab a seat on an early bus to Benin, and then on to Ekpoma. Overnight my Mum has tried to call me several times. My gamble – forwarding my UK mobile to a Skype Out number- has failed spectacularly; no thanks to the dodgy internet I’ve got. The forwarded calls come in but I can’t answer them with any decent quality. 😦 That early on a Sunday morning, Lagos is already agog – blaring loud speakers, shrill cries of hawkers and bus conductors alike and a steady stream of pedestrians.

At the park, three buses are being filled concurrently – one has the luxury of a a DVD player and screen and air conditioning, the other has only air conditioning, the third is the RyanAir (link) equivalent – no frills, no fancy, basic get-you-there service. I plump for the mid-tier option – handing over 2,600 Naira. There are four more spaces to fill – I settle into the back seat to wait. The loader, a small, wiry, quick witted man whose deeply etched face belies his boy sized body hops about, keeping us entertained with his brand of wit and sarcasm.

The middle row of seats – and one on the first row – is taken up by four women who seem to be part of a traveling party. They have that settled, stolid unflappable-ness of middle aged safety, accompanied with a few tufts of greying hair peeking out from beneath their head scarves. It seems like they have been attending a church convention of some sort. The woman in the front seat who appears to be the leader of the group – reminisces almost to herself, given the lack of comments from the others – on how well a certain person preached the night before.

After another hour of waiting in which the six or so people who have arrived at the Edegbe Line stand opt for either of the other options but not our mid-tier one, I decide to pay for an extra street to speed things up. The bonus is I won’t have to worry about managing my hand carried bag of extra gifts for the nieces and my parents, and the chance to ease the discomfort I am already feeling from squashing my legs into the tight space I have afforded.

Two last two passengers to arrive join me at the back – a much older husband and wife pair, I assume. She is carrying a small purse, whilst he drags a large traveling case. When they speak, it is in faintly accented tones – I place them as academics of some sort. My hunch is proved right when it turns out they have UNIBEN connections and remember my father from back in the day.

We finally get the bus loaded up – the exits blocked completely by the various odds and ends we are all traveling with. I shudder inwardly at the prospects of escape if a fire breaks out.

Just before we head out, the posse of women break out in singing and clapping, followed by an extended payer for journey mercies, and protection from armed robbers and all the other dangers of the road, apparently – thank goodness I think to myself.

The journey passes without significant incident – bar the few potholes our bus clangs through. To be fair, the road is in a much improved state than I recall – for portions of it, we have to switch the side of the road we use – which leads to some confusion.

At Ore – we break for food; I end up grabbing plantain chips, coke and some suya. Missing my regular hotel in Lagos threw the spanner in the works for my first night suya/ chicken republic staple. Ore makes amends.

ekp

Benin… We arrive just after 2.00pm. Speeding past Precious Palm Royal, and then UNIBEN in short order, there is at once a lot of and yet little change visible. What is immediately obvious is that a lot of building has been completed since I last passed through these parts. To the right of the main gate, a row of freshly built banks stand, new, clean, resplendent, no doubt profiting from being repositories of all the various fee accounts the university creates.

After I come off the bus from Lagos, I find a bus headed for New Benin motor park to kick off the second phase of my journey. It has just rained – odd for early November. In the midst of the bedlam that is the motor park, someone calls my name; or at least I think so. Not in the mood for any mindless prattle, and using the fact that my earphones are plugged in as an excuse – I feign not hearing.

We are all sweaty in the tightly packed bus. Packed as tightly as we are, the air doesn’t get a lot of circulation, bearing the various smells it is saddled with – cray fish and garri from the ghana-must-go  across from me, and a motley of other smells given off by the open gutters around. 

Salvation comes when we finally move off, the forced draughts clearing the dense, suffocation that has settled upon us like a blanket. We complete the 80-ish kilometres in just over an hour, the imposing facade of the University gate welcoming us to town. All that is left is the intermittent stopping to offload people, their luggage and their wares. By the time we are past the city centre and heading towards the outskirts, we have been whittled down from fifteen to less than six. 

At the last stop there are just two of us – a woman who looks vaguely familiar and I. We hop off the bus, claim our baggage and attempt to hail a cab. She catches my eye and seemingly after weighing it for a bit asks me if I’m not an S. I reply in the affirmative. It turns out she works at the primary school I attended back in the 80’s.

You haven’t  changed much since your sister’s‘s wedding she says – I laugh and try to make small talk until I am saved by an okada heeding her call. Grett your mum for me she says.

I wave as she disappears, borne by the bike rider.

I surprise my parents by walking the last few kilometres from the bus stop home. They are surprised – you have always been quietly stubborn mom says.

Home.. Is always home.. As will a fiercely independent child remain…

Chaos and Nostalgia…3


IMG_1614

I wake up to singing – slightly muffled but loud enough to filter through to that neither here nor there place between sleep and waking up, where ambient sounds meld into dreams, or whatever it is conscious people do with their brains. When I make my way downstairs, it turns out it is the hotel staff having morning prayers.

I am low on cash, I half start to prepare to go out before I am minded to ask my friend V, who confirms an ATM is my best bet. I end up walking a few kilometres to the nearest bank, a Zenith Bank, and empty my cash passport in the process; 20,000 naira should cover an extra day’s hotel costs and the transport fare by road from Lagos to Benin which is next on the agenda.

The rest of the afternoon is spent lazing around – TV, internet surfing and lunch at a KFC which I stumble on amidst my morning walkabout. Trying to decide what to buy, I find it more than a tad different than the KFC I’m used to. For one they have meals that include rice, and also have a very crispy variety of chicken. The equivalent of my regular three- piece variety meal is the hungry meal – for 1800 naira – three pieces of crispy, chicken, chips and a Pepsi. No obsessing over what that will do to my calorie counting numbers for the year, mind.

VI_heading in

Late afternoon, I get the call I have been waiting for. It’s third time lucky for meeting M – three years and some in the making. The plan is to catch up somewhere on the island – she suggests The Palms, after a bit of back and forth as she’s attempts to sort out transport.

I hop into a cab – a far more reasonable thousand naira the fare this time –  and head out from my Ikeja hide out to the Island. By the time I arrive, M is no where to be find – typical woman I dare say – but in this case for good reason on her part.

Waiting in front of the palms, the overwhelming sense is of being surrounded by proper middle class self indulgence – a milling mass of young-ish, upwardly mobile families tumbling out of their SUVs, 2.5 kids and poorly dressed relative in tow. The odd toddler on the way out has a huge ice cream cone to his mouth, a defence against the searing heat at 3.00 in the afternoon, I suppose. Besides my irritation at being made to wait, there is the genuine trepidation at the possibility of running into some of my old chums – my old playground at UX is only a stone’s throw away. I am hardly dressed like the triumphant returnee – my bushy hair, week old stubble and weight loss more indicative of someone who has fallen into hard times. My worst fears are realised when I run into one such bloke. He has his three kids, and wife in tow, and is pushing a trolley full of an assortment of tinned food. We shake hands – Good to see you he says, giving me the eye. I shrug, came in on Friday night, on to Benin tomorrow morning I quickly add. I give the wife a hand shakes and rub the head of the boisterous six year old who was barely born the last time I saw them. We mouth a few more pointless banalities, before he shoots off with a promise to call. I am too used to these things to hold my breath over that.

I wait for another thirty minutes before M calls to advise she is stuck in traffic a few kilometres away. I wander into the MTN store to try to sort out a Nano-SIM for my iPad with an eye to the journey ahead. By the next morning I will be winging it 400km to the east where wifi, if it exists will be the equivalent of dragging water out of rock.  As I head out mission accomplished twenty minutes later, someone approaches me asking for money.