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.

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.

Of Times, Eyes and Seasons

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Life – and time – have a penchant for throwing up surprises, ones which are sometimes welcome, but (perhaps more often than not?) unwelcome. Never more obvious is this than in the passage of time as measured by times, seasons and the lives of others. Somehow life in the moment, in the here and now – never seems to move at pace; only with the benefit of hindsight does the amount of time that has elapsed become obvious.

This, the apparent disconnect between time in the moment and time as Time, was brought home to me this week thanks to a chance conversation with my cousin V. Out and about for a quick lunch time walk to clear my head, stretch my legs and get some fresh air, I run into him on the corner of Market and Hadden Streets. As we have a quick chat, he mentions that it is his daughter’s birthday tomorrow – her fifth.  I distinctly remember being at her first birthday, seemingly only a couple of years ago. How four years have gone by so quickly beggars belief in my mind.

It is now just over two years since H passed. The keenness of loss has been medicated by the time which has passed since then, which I suppose is  a  good thing. The new normal is more and more embedded, with occasional triggers like remembering one of her favourite songs – When I look into Your Holiness  – being the things which jolt one back to the reality of loss. With all that, and the song, came memories of children’s Sunday school and growing up at Chapel in the early 90’s.

One of the more interesting things I read this week was Anne’s musing about spiders; which reminded me that I am due a free eye test; yet another reminder of the passage of time, and in my case how dependent on my glasses I am to function in the real world. On the odd occasion my glasses fall off the cabinet next to my bed, I struggle to find them, such is the state of my eyes these days.

The nip in the air is another telling indicator of the passage of time. It was spring not too long ago, then summer, and now we stand on the cusp of autumn. It is not heaters-blazing-with-multiple-duvets weather yet but it doesn’t feel like there is much between this and that. Word around town is that this year’s winter is likely to be harsher than the last. For now, it is dry, cold and sunny. That, I can deal with.

Lull…

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In conversation with a gentleman I consider a mentor of sorts, the question about what was going on in my life at the moment got asked. After a few moments pause, I realised that the answer lay somewhere between ‘nothing of note’ and ‘normal’.

With the Summer Fridays out of the way, life is focused on fleshing out budgets for 2017 at work and waiting on a direction on a critical decision I have to make; somewhat of a lull compared to the frenetic pace of life over the past few months.

It is a good-ish place to be in I suspect – one cannot run away from the hum-drum, everyday, quotidian things that are the basis of life – I can only hope that if and when the bedlam returns, I have learned enough in this lull to be prepared.

Nine Fridays of Summer: All Good Things Come To An End

 

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It feels like only like yesterday when the prospect of free Fridays had me all excited, wondering what I would do with myself. Somehow, nine Fridays have come and gone since then, with proper 5 day work weeks left to look forward to till the offices shut for Christmas in late December. These Summer Fridays were especially important to me being the very first ones I was entitled to, even though I had worked in the same team for almost five years.

If I had to reflect on the high points of these Fridays, places and people would very quickly rise to the fore – Vienna for how long in the making it was, the London trips for the potential opportunities they have thrown up and  the movies I managed to throw in.

It’s a wrap for this year; here’s hoping the oil price recovers and we’re still making a big fuss about rust this time next year.

– – –
Currently listening to All Good Things Come To An End – Nelly Furtado

 

Nine Fridays of Summer: The Not-Quite-A-Milestone-Birthday Edition

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Months ago – when it became apparent that my birthday this year would fall on a work day – I made a mental note to take the day off. The act of making that official – signing into the absence management software we use at work and requesting the day off – never happened, which was how I ended up stuck behind my desk at work on the day. That the only slot for a meeting I had been trying to set up for months opened up on the day, the Friday before, didn’t help either.

The day itself was just like any other. At work there were issues to deal with, the occasional bit of banter with R who remembered, and phone calls. Around all of that were personal phone calls from friends and family and messages on the two  main Whatsapp groups I am part of. I didn’t get the gift I most deeply craved; my subtle prod aimed at pointing (and I use that really loosely here) a few people towards Teju Cole’s new collection of essays failed to convince any one. That the weather was a reasonably warm, dry and sunny 18 C only compounded the sense of misery I felt. My consolation though is that next weekend, Summer Friday #8 (of 9), is being spent in Vienna.

***

The Year of Being Thirty-Six was an interesting one. For key events I would have to point to the trip to St John’s where four years’ worth of catching up with the kid brother were compressed into ten days, finally excising the ghost of F from my memory,  a new job in the middle of the oil patch downturn and turning up on (online) radio.

Having taken a moratorium on travel in the second half of 2015 and into 2016, the last few months have seen a lot more travel; London for visa interviews, Hillsong and S made a few appearances as did Birmingham, Leicester and Newcastle. Not doing Nigeria all through 2015 made it imperative to get it out of the way early this year. That happened in April, providing an opportunity to see J get hitched. On the family side, I became an Uncle again, twice for good measure.

***

This next year, the year of being thirty-seven, has big milestones I need to deliver on.  For one, I take the next big step on my quest to become a global citizen in a few months. If I had my way, after that’s in the bag I’d take the next week off just to breathe a sigh of relief and recover from the subtle pressure of the last few years.

On the Spiritual Practice front, I would like to finally land that discipline of daily prayer and bible study. I made a few big strides in 2015 – morning prayers at church twice a week helping in that regard but the goal for the next year is to reach a place where the desire to reach for my notebook with time blocked off becomes more automatic.

Physically, my weight has see-sawed between 84 kg and 90 kg, currently sitting just shy of shy of the upper bound, far too much pizza – and handmade burgers – having their say, loudly. In this regards, M is as good an ideal as can be. In spite of being in his seventies, he remains a fierce physical competitor; rowing, cycling and hiking being key parts of his non-work life. For me I’d settle for turning my current practice of running between a mile and a mile and half three times a week  into a 5 km run five times a week.

With People, I’ve historically been a very big fan of my own space, tending to favour doing things that interest me than share my space and time. A concious effort earlier in the year to meet up with a few key friends more regularly led to some improvements (but perhaps contributed to far too many downed burgers). A couple of these meet ups are now firmly established. The goal for the next year is to keep those monthly meet ups going and also find a mentor of sorts with whom I meet up once a month to compare notes. I am increasingly keen to see how the S thing evolves over the next few weeks, hopefully I don’t end up in this kind of place again.

Although I notionally make an extra 3% in my new role, it often feels like I am in a worse place financially than I was last year. Keeping the financial numbers in check has to be a key objective for this next year, especially if marriage and fatherhood are phases of life I hope to participate in over the next few years.

Work has been great, bar the  twin pressures of the commodity market and the increasing recognition of one’s skills and knowledge. That is not a bad thing by any means, particularly given how many people are out of work at the moment. Maintaining progress here, delivering consistently and growing my sphere of influence are the key objectives in this category. A promotion, and more than a 3% pay rise would be nice to haves too, i I say so 🙂

The impact of all that work, travel and people time I have dedicated myself to is that sadly a lot less reading than usual is happening. A book a month seems like a sensible target to work towards from a Mental and Personal Development perspective. There is also the keenes on my part to explore addition technical certifications in this rust geeking business. Some more work on my part to identify which add the most value to me is required but the intent would be to pursue this aggressively through the next year. When I was younger, I had aspirations of becoming a programmer of some description (I spent my free time in my service year trying to write a text based football simulator in Visual Basic 6 – it obviously wasn’t very good!!). One side project I’d like to pick up again is something coding related.  Ideally it would allow me understand enough about computers and open source OSes enough to allow me customise one enough to provide a quick, light weight OS that allows me run the key applications that support my life. I suspect it will have to be Linux, Chromium or Android based, but fingers crossed.

Causes and Charities remain near to my heart. Alongside serving on my church’s tech and media team, i currently support a couple of children via World Vision and Compassion as well as a few other charities. Beyond what I believe are the Judeo-Christian worldview imperatives which underpin these, I suppose the feeling that one is making a difference does do wonders for one’s mood too, all things considered. This is something I hope I can continue going forward, with a future visit to be considered. Depending on how much time and energy I find I have to spare over the next year, a technical volunteering cause is one I’d like to add to my current ‘portfolio’. STEMNET springs to mind as one that fits the bill. I hope to be in a position to make a decision in time for the start of 2017.

***

Amidst the less than stellar year in reading I have had, Gretchen Rubin’s Better Than Before stands out as one of the more useful books I have read.  In it she explores how we change; how habits are built and sustained. New beginnings are one group of triggers she considers as being useful – beginnings which wipe the slate clean being particularly relevant here.

So here’s to my Clean Slate and New Beginning. Let the year of being 37 begin.
– – –
Currently listening to: The Best Is Yet To Come (from the Donald Lawrence Album, Go Get Your Life Back)

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

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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?

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..  🙂