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.

 

Nine Fridays of Summer

aberdeen summer

For the first time in a very long time,  I have four day work weeks to look forward to. The theory behind getting these nine Fridays off is that they have been earned by working an extra thirty minutes each work day. How productive those extra minutes have been remains to be seen, but I suspect their value to our employer lies more in promoting a sense of being cared for in us than anything more tangible. The first of these was spent down south, catching up with friends and reacquainting myself with Stratford and the Olympic park.

Being a creature of routine has its perks – one wakes up, does the needful and shows up at work to deal with whatever is thrown one’s way that day – but without the requirement to go into work, I suddenly have the hassle of trying to find stuff to do. The big rocks are in place already – a trip to London to catch Erwin McManus and Carl Lentz amongst others at the Hillsong Conference Europe is all planned up and good to go, as is an extended weekend in Vienna in August. It is what to do with the rest of these summer Fridays that is the problem. Of course summers in Scotland have a reputation for being wet and windy with dry, sunny spells the exception.

Doing a lot of traveling comes to mind as something to do, particularly given getting to know the West Coast of Scotland is something I’ve wanted to do for a while.  Besides the time spent in train stations and airport waiting areas this requires, it is also likely to require a significant outlay in cash. A lot needs to be worked out from a logistical perspective to make this happen but I suspect the dividends – pretty interesting pictures and pretend travelouges – might make this a compelling option.

Another option is to spend the time catching up on all that reading I’ve failed dismally at this year. In addition to the books I have on the go, Teju Cole has an eagerly anticipated collection of essays out in August which I am sure I would be keen to read. Laziness though is the greatest obstacle to this objective, one will have to see how this pans out.

I have toyed with the idea of spending my Fridays cranking out a podcast about nothing especially important. The working title for this – which is likely to only be a spoken version of the things I whine about on here – is A Bloke’s Life. Although I do have a penchant for waffling on things of interest only to me, I also happen to know a number of interesting gentlemen who – logistics permitting – I might be able to convince to come on such a show. Don’t hold your breaths on this one though. What is more likely is a return to the online radio station I’ve previously appeared on.

Movies appear to be the easiest, safest option, particularly as I still have a stash of discounted Cineworld tickets to hand, and the beach cinema is less than 10 minutes away from my house by foot. The significantly reduced movie time since May does  lend its support to this argument, not least because a rash of movies are due out in the next few weeks.

***

Star Trek Beyond – which I managed to see after a couple of hours at work – was the first of these, after habit had drawn me into work for a couple of hours first. Simon Pegg’s performances in these Star Trek movies have always intrigued me – given his attempts at affecting a ‘Scottish’ accent, and his English heritage. To his credit, he manages to throw enough Scottish colloquialisms in to make his parody recognisable. My ears have however not evolved enough to be able to say definitively that he has it nailed down. I suppose the nod to Scotland on the big screen – spot on or not – has to be celebrated and accepted?

Nine Fridays of Summer: Sleepers, Stratford and basking in Sunshine

Caledonian Sleepr

She is wolfing down a doughnut, cup of coffee in hand when I appear, trying to find my assigned seat. I feel like I have startled her somewhat, given how quickly she begins to organise the stuff she has all over the place. The sense of having intruded on a private, unguarded moment is made worse by finding my assigned seat is across from her, in seats so tight our feet play that dance of hide and seek beneath the table until we find a system that works.

We both apologise for the clumsiness inherent in the touching of our feet, almost at the same time, as though we have anything to do with our long feet and the tight space we have to share. I don’t remember who laughs first; the funny side of our attempts at using space eventually becoming apparent. The laughter does serve as an ice breaker of sorts; by the time the train begins to move off at 9.43 pm, we have somehow managed to develop a resigned familiarity.

By then we have been joined by a number of other people, most notable of which are a clearly inebriated English man with a strong Scouse accent and someone who I guess is Polish (who gets on his phone from the instant he comes aboard till we go past Inverkeithing, a full 2 hours and some, a pox upon him!!). The drunk Scouser rambles on about just getting back onshore from a three week stint offshore. He has clearly hit the brew to sate his deep ache.

 We are all cattle class passengers on the Caledonian Sleeper, the overnight train service that connects London in the south to a number of locations in Scotland, both ways. In the aftermath of my irritation and anger with the appalling service on my last jaunt down south – that EasyJet inspired comedy of errors  – my search for other options leads me here. Although there is a range of proper sleeper options, my inner Scotsman – we have a reputation for being tight fisted frugal –  opts for a basic ‘sleeper seat’, my gamble being that regardless of how comfortable or uncomfortable the seats are, I’ll manage enough sleep to be awake for the couple of hours I need to be lucid for on Friday morning before I get to my hotel and can sleep off my journey.
Tight spaces and loud fellow travellers with smelly feet aside, it turns out a rather pleasant journey, one on which I manage to catch a few winks and feel a sense of vague familiarity with. Only when I am about to disembark does the slight niggle at the back of my end get resolved – the vague sense of familiarity with all these is because I have used the sleeper service before, ending up at Manchester Piccadilly en route Sheffield  back in 2013.
***
waiting_
We arrive at London Euston, sometime after 7.47am following which I make a beeline for a coffee and a baguette to wake myself up properly. Warm coffee in my insides, google maps comes to the rescue in helping plot a path to an internet cafe where I print off the appointment letter that will grant me access to the Visa application centre which is one of the main drivers for the trip. At the cafe, Brexit (yet again) makes an appearance. The proprietress and a customer are deep in conversation, the subject being applying for a British passport in a bid to avoid having to leave the country. His English is pretty much spotless to my ear – it turns out he’s lived out here for 25 years – so I am unable to guess where he is originally from.
My destination, the VFS centre, is a few stops away on the under ground, so after sorting out my paper work, I walk to Oxford Circus and make my way to the Liverpool Street Station, leave my bags at left luggage and attend my interview. A few terse moments at the front desk – I arrive fifteen minutes early and get told to wait outside for a while – aside, the interview wraps up fairly quickly. By the time it turns 11 am, I am back at Liverpool Street looking to head out to my hotel, £10 affording me the luxury of an early check in.
***
ilford_
The rest of the weekend -mainly dry and warm – is spent reacquainting myself with East London. Colourful street markets in Ilford, TfL Rail trips between London Liverpool Street and Ilford and a Saturday idled away at the Olympic Park sipping bubble tea are the highlights, marred only by closures on the way back after some poor fella opted to throw himself in front of the train.
***
For my return, I opt for hopping a bit of a round trip – by train from London Euston to Birmingham International Airport and then a FlyBe flight up to Aberdeen. How that managed to work out significantly cheaper than a direct flight to Aberdeen from London is perhaps an indication of how much demand there is for London/Aberdeen flights. All told, I enjoyed my little Birmingham detour so much I suspect it will be my preferred routing if I have to pop into London in a bind. If ever there was proof of concept, this was it.
Bring on the #SummerFridays. #Options

About Town – Of Cabs and Conversations

Sometime last week, I found myself waiting in what was wet, grey and windy weather – typical summer fare for this part of the world – waiting for a taxi I had requested.  As I had arrived downstairs a few minutes after 8.30 am when I had ordered the taxi for, I was a little uncertain as to if he had been and left or was yet to arrive. He turned up at 8.40 am, by which time I had come close to phoning the taxi company to confirm if I had missed my ride. The cab ride which followed – all 45 minutes of it – was spent in a gloomy silence, the tension in the taxi palpable. I’m sure he meant no ill, much as I didn’t either but something about the circumstances under which we met seemed to have soured our taxi driver-passenger relationship. That he had all sorts of weird tattoos on his arms, drove with only one hand on the steering wheel and stared straight ahead didn’t help break the ice either, I suspect.

***

Due to a variety of reasons, I spend a significant amount of time in cabs these days. The main driver for this is having to support multiple projects and gather input from a number of vendors and suppliers across town. This allied to my ‘refusal’ to drive during the week means a lot of my work related travel during the week is by cabs. There isn’t a philosophical point behind not driving during the week; there is a practical one though. Not driving allows me avoid the hassles of trying to find city centre parking on a weekday as well as ticking the thirty minutes of exercise a day box. There is also the small matter of the extra cash my employer gives me in support of my ecological choices as an incentive. 🙂

In the main I find that cab drivers can be great talkers; keen to share their knowledge of the city and the ‘shire, and how those have changed over the years. More often than not, those conversations end up centred around the weather, football and past and future holidays. Politics, mainly the slagging off of politicians, makes an appearance on the odd occasion we decide we want to engage in less fluffy stuff. These make for an often congenial, if conspiratorial atmosphere with off colour jokes often excused. Swearing is almost a given in these conversations, particularly where football or other road users – deeply emotive subjects from the sounds of it – are involved.

***

Thankfully, the two other occasions I needed to take cabs last week panned out much better. On one occasion, I got a boisterous Hungarian for company for the drive up the A96 to Blackburn. There was plenty to yak about – the fallout of the Brexit vote (he was worried about his fate as an EU National who had lived in the UK for less than 6 months), the weather (apparently it was in the high twenties in Hungary whilst the thermometer barely touched fifteen degrees out here), football (Ferenc Puskas perhaps the first true football great was Hungarian) and the global war on terror (his mate back in Hungary who is a military reservist had been called in for exercises). On a personal note, he recommended a holiday in Debrecen to me. The selling point? Hungarian women like foreign men..

The other occasion featured a once-retired IT Engineer who had built a business selling copiers in the early 90’s before selling up and retiring. Bored with the retired life, he had taken to taxi driving as a side gig to keep himself busy for when he wasn’t traveling to visit what sounded like a large extended family. It turned out he was headed to Bulgaria on holiday in a few weeks, which was the cue for more Brexit focused natter. The slow cab market, following the decline of oil did make an appearance. The decidedly pedestrian performance put up by the Aberdeen football club in Luxembourg the other day, resulting in a skin of the bum 3-2 aggregate win was a sore subject with taxi driver number two, particularly given the fact that last season seemed like a missed opportunity as Celtic limped to a title they seemed keener to throw away than wrap up. There’s nothing like good football based natter to lift the soul – everyone this side of the pond has an opinion on all things football related after all.

All told, by the time the week ended, my faith in the taxi driver as a source of information and great banter was restored. All’s well with the world again..  🙂

#54 – Sated

#54-food-union

We meet up – at the third time of trying – at the only place there is of note, Union Square. After a bit of to-ing and fro-ing, we settle for TGIF, the steak, rib and shrimp meal the  perfect counterpoint to the 46 days of minimal feeding we have gotten through. There is a lot to catch up on – work, women and all the other things single, semi-bored Aberdonian chaps whine about. When we agree to head our separate ways at 9.30pm, it is having been fully sated, all caught up on nine month worth of life, and with an agreement in principle to make this a monthly affair..

#CaughtUp

#31 – Of Movies and Etiquette

#31-revenant

At the movies with L to see The Revenant – as much an endurance test for viewers who have to sit through all 2 hours 36 minutes of it as it is for Leonardo Di Caprio’s character, stumbling through the frozen lands he must to reach home and find a closure of sorts – I find myself wondering what the  etiquette for movie watching is these days. Given how the action drags, I am tempted to try to make small talk, keen to not miss the opportunity finally getting a chance to catch up at the 8th or 9th time of trying affords.

In the end, I settle for the odd throw away comment when the musical score peaks, hoping that my voice is sufficiently masked by the sound to not carry too far to the irritation of others.. A different evening than is usual for me on a Tuesday, all things considered. I could get used to this…