The Leaving Kind…


It’s official, we’re the leaving kind after all. Voting last Thursday concluded with a 52% majority that Great Britain’s future path lay outside the EU framework, ending a 43-year association. The easy conclusion – particularly given  how much the result has been affected by voted cast south of the Solway-Tweed line – is that insular England has held the Union hostage, but I suspect things are far more nuanced than that.

Voter turnout was high, over 30 million or 72% of eligible persons, indicative of how important the issues at stake were (framed largely by the cost of the EU,  its ever increasing bureaucracy  and control of borders). Much has also been made of how the vote to leave was favoured more by older folk than younger. The BBC as always has a fascinating breakdown of the numbers here.

In the immediate aftermath, David Cameron who campaigned vigorously for remaining announced he is to step down in October. The opposition Labour leader who also campaigned (some same less interestedly) for a remain option faces a renewed leadership challenge. Here in Scotland, the noises are all about a second independence vote being ‘highly likely’, a straw the SNP were always likely to clutch at in their quest to extract Scotland from the Union.  The economic impact has been swift, the pound fell to a 30-year low before recovering somewhat, the FTSE 100 losing 8% before also recovering and Moody’s downgrading the UK’s credit rating to ‘negative‘ following the result.

De-tangling the legal, economic and political machinery of the United Kingdom from the EU is likely to require significant time and resources, given the significant integration with EU frameworks over the last 70 years. Formal separation still requires the UK to trigger the so-called Article 50 of the Lisbon treaty, a process which provides for a 2-year road map for negotiations.

Private  conversations with a number of friends leading up to the vote illustrated the difficulties. On the one hand the cost of the EU – the so-called new £350 million hospital every week – appealed to very many people, as did  the opportunity to claw back control of laws and regulations which a section of the population felt drove the country increasingly towards a ‘god-less’ future, a point made by the Telegraph’s Charles Moore here.

Much like the Scottish Independence referendum in 2014, the result highlights how deeply fractured the country is; Scotland vs England and Wales, the young vs the old, affluent urban London vs the rest of England – the contrasts go on and on. A number of leave voters appear to have voted in protest, in the belief that their single vote wouldn’t sway the overall outcome. To their surprise, our new reality is an advisory to government to initiate leaving the EU. It is by no means certain what happens next. By choosing to step down, David Cameron might just have had the last laugh – leaving the actual decision to act on the ‘mandate’ to those who might benefit from blaming him. They – Boris Johnson, Theresa May, Michael Gove or whoever else inherits the seat – now have to deal with the legacy of whatever happens next and what that leads to in the long run ; if article 50 is triggered or not.

The wider context is what worries me a bit – the rise of far right, anti-immigrant parties across Europe (France, Germany, Austria, the Netherlands) and Trump’s ascent in America – perhaps speak to an under current of concern around borders, and the loss of a certain way of life which main stream politics has failed to address.

All told, there are days of critical importance ahead – I hope we haven’t handed our children a poisoned chalice.

 

(Trusting) God’s Design In Detours

From today’s John Piper Devo:

Have you ever wondered what God is doing while you are looking in the wrong place for something you lost and needed very badly? He knows exactly where it is, and he is letting you look in the wrong place….

And your agonising, unplanned detour is not a waste — not if you look to the Lord for his unexpected work, and do what you must do in his name (Colossians 3:17). The Lord works for those who wait for him (Isaiah 64:4).

Comforting, particularly given how the last few days have felt like I am back here again.

 

A Question of Patience

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A year ago if you had asked me if I thought I was a patient person, my unequivocal answer – given without so much as a batted eyelid – would have been that I thought I was; somewhere between 9 and 9.5 on a scale of 1 to 10 if you had pressed me to quantify. The reality, grudgingly accepted after much soul searching a few weeks ago, is that I am not; a realisation that has left me second guessing the validity of all the other assumptions about myself I carry. The first seeds of doubt to assail my iron clad convictions were sown by an offhand comment by my friend M, the context being a decision she needed to make. As far as I was concerned, it was an open and shut case; she needed to put the poor sod she was stringing along – in my opinion – out of his misery. To her it was a lot more nuanced than that, for which I got the quip about being impatient (and unfeeling).

My initial response was to shrug it all off as an offhand comment, one borne out of her unwillingness to confront the facts. As with all well aimed, off hand comments smart women make, what I hadn’t bargained for was its lingering effect, and that I would be so riled by it. The longer it simmered, the less certain of my convictions I became, until the penny dropped one April afternoon whilst strolling along the banks of the river Dee, recognition aided perhaps by how the quickly changing weather mirrored the state of my thoughts.


Intrinsic to the question of patience is a recognition of the inevitability of delays; hold ups on the path to the attainment of desired objectives. With them, the one who desires is held in a state of anticipation and expectation until such a time as the passage of time, or the progression of other activities, allows for the attainment of the desired, or indeed makes its achievement no longer feasible. Mired in the never-land between desiring and attaining, such a person is forced to manage the passage of time as they best can, existing in a state of activity somewhere between complete passivity and all out, gung-ho action.

Intuitively, it seems to me that delays – and hence our response to them – exist on a continuum. That much is clear even from a cursory look at one’s life: the wait to satiate a peri-peri chicken craving from 1am is a few hours; that for an answer back from the girl of one’s dreams could be anything from weeks to multiple years. That is perhaps why in seeking to understand the range of patience states that I exist in, time (as measured by the length of the delay) jumps out at me as one of the key inputs. Two other factors come to mind as important too – the visibility of the desired outcome (clarity) and the (perceived) certainty of that outcome. Taken together, these defined the basic framework for a patience domain, which defined the inputs to my patience states. As an example, for the work situation from 2015, the desired outcome was clear (clarity around my role going forward through to the end of 2015 at least), the certainty of the outcome was low, and the time element was undefined which contributed to a high degree of anxiety/ impatience.

But nothing is ever that simple. I find that there are a slew of other less obvious, even counter-intuitive factors that affect the balance for me; how much control over the outcome I have – and the attendant vulnerability – is one, as are my perception of the availability of equally desirable options, how much risk there is of rejection and how deeply desired the outcome is. The time sensitivity of the desired outcome, as measured by inward and outward expectations of timeliness was also an input I found that drove me towards impatience. What surprised me most out of all of this was the interplay between certainty and clarity. A high degree of clarity coupled with a low amount of certainty drove me towards impatience, the lack of progress towards the certain outcome prompting a desire to rationalise my investment of time and energy towards more efficient use. This all confirmed to a large extent that like my friend M, I did not exist in a binary, patient/ impatient state but rather occupied an envelop of fluid duality, influenced by all these factors and more.


The assumption behind all this is that patience is a good thing; that is not necessarily something us Gen Y-ers accept as fact. The general consensus seems to be that we are an ambitious but impatient lot. That we’re connected and on the go all the time doesn’t help with the stereotype either, nor does the rise of apps likeTinder.

That, the goodness or otherwise of patience, may be a moot point in any case, as even too much of a good thing can be a bad thing. The million dollar question then must be where the patience sweet spot lies; where the balance between giving a desired goal time, attention and dedication, and accepting it is a lost cause and reallocating the effort elsewhere is. Too much patience, and one can run the risk of been seen as grovelling, or n the worst case applying too much pressure. Too little and one can very quickly be cast in the image of the Gen Y stereotype, impatient and having a short attention span.


The L thing comes to a head sometime in the middle of all this. In a different time and space, I would have cut my losses long ago, choosing to invest my time and energy in more certain ventures. But something about this one, and the season of reflection holds me back, leaving me pondering what-ifs and maybe-ifs in endless loops.

Where this will end is still unclear, but what is incontrovertible is that I do not do uncertain very well. It gnaws at my insides, makes my gut rumble and leaves me counting innumerable sheep at night. I ache in every imaginable space, I am irritable, self doubt hangs around me like a cloud with heartache in its wake. I tell myself I have had enough but find myself returning again and again in hope, or delusion. Surely there must be a easier way, but then without hope we have nothing, or do we?

On Lagos

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That my relationship with Nigeria is somewhere between strained and non-existent is something I have made no bones about time and time again. That sense of lostness rather than easing with time has only become stronger, the key events in my life over the last few years – Newcastle, the bookend to a horrendous year of work and the somewhat forced decision to not return to the bedlam and then H – all chipping away at what bonds are left, leaving them increasingly tenuous.

H’s passing cast a long pall over the last time I was here, so much so that by the time it was all done and dusted the sense was very much one of reeling and sinking, waiting for rock bottom to hit. The hope, as perverse as it might sound, was that hitting rock bottom would be the jolt to initiate a search for a new normal. There is the sense that a new normal of sorts has taken shape, somehow emerging without much intentionality on my part from the bits and bobs of life and duty that I have had to deal with. A significant part of that new normal for me has been very much work focused, part of why it has taken this long to plan a return here; the opportunity to take a week off work only presenting itself now that I have managed to shift perhaps my biggest work deliverable on to its next phase. The objectives for this trip are a lot happier than the last time – a wedding in Lagos (someone I claim somewhat loosely as a protégé) has thrown up the intriguing prospect that I might run into people I haven’t seen in far longer than I care to admit. There is also the opportunity to catch up with very special work mates whom I haven’t seen since 2011 and the niece I’ve never seen, #4, who is all of seven months old.

Everyone I tell I am going to Lagos has a cautionary tale for me bar L (whose opinion I suspect lacks any real objectivity). Mrs O, the latest in a long line of naysayers, regales me with tales of long queues for petrol, the near absence of power and the heat. She should know first hand as she has just come back from a 17-day sojourn. At work, G jokes that he’d be glad to be rid of me forever if I get kidnapped. We laugh it off at banter but when in speaking to my sister she mentions in passing the kidnap of yet another not so well off, but publicly visible person, in the area I grew up in, I wonder if it is indeed the right thing to be doing. In the end my self belief in my ability to blend in wins – I am sure I haven’t changed so much as to stand out like a sore thumb. That my pidgin English still remains impeccable and I intend to turn up in jeans and a very crumpled t-shirt all add additional layers of comfort around my decision.

– – –


In keeping with the desire to minimise the disruption this trip brings to my new normal, my entire strategy has been based around flying with only carry-on luggage. That informs every decision I make; from buying a new cabin sized travel bag, to restricting my gift buying to 10 Peppa pig books for my nieces, and the plan to turn up at the wedding in jeans and a blazer. When I tell C the latter, she considers it the latest in a long line of fashion faux pas. I ask the twitterverse for a second opinion, but quickly give up on that as the consensus that is reached only confirms the need for a proper suit. That is how I end up getting fitted for a suit at 5.30 pm the day before I am due to fly.

Between arriving and leaving over £210 lighter, I get to hear of the sales assistant’s Nigerian connection – grandparents who ran a franchise of saw mills in Sapele, and a dad who spent time between the ages of 7 and 18 in Nigeria. We swap stories about the great home brewed liquids and reminisce about just how different Sapele is today from the one his father knew as I run my card through the card reader and pay. So completely taken in by everything am I that it is only when I get home I realise that this jeopardises my 2 bag carry on allowance. I spend the bulk of the evening googling furiously, ending up watching YouTube videos which purport to show us how to pack a suit in carry-on suitcase without ruining it. In the end I decide to take my chances.

– – –

03 Waiting
I toy with the thought of calling a taxi for a 5.00 am pickup given my flight out of Aberdeen is at 6.45 am. In the end my inner gambler miser drives the decision to take my chances with the 727 from Broad Street. The next morning my alarm goes off at 4.00 am, by which time I have already been up for half an hour. That is not enough to prevent me from missing the 4.30 am bus. By the time the next one comes around at 5.05 am, I am biting my nails and kicking myself for gambling. In the end I manage to make it through security by 5.45 am, aided by the fact that I do not have any luggage to check in.

Safely through, I chase down a flapjack and a coffee to wake myself up properly. I am in the middle of that when a woman approaches me to share the seat at the corner of the airport I am plopped in. I suspect she has chosen to come my way because I happen to be the only visible black face in the not-quite-filled airport at that time. I nod a greeting whilst trying to swallow as she sits down, hands folded in her lap, bags in front of her. When she senses I am able to talk – flapjack downed – she asks if I am headed to London. When I reply in the affirmative, I sense that she is relieved, more so when she finds out I am going all the way to Lagos. We end up being travel companions through to Heathrow and until we board the Lagos flight. Her enthusiasm for the trip is palpable – in the various conversations we have she lets on that it has been her first time in the ‘Deen, helping her daughter out with her new born baby for all of 5 months. Her memories of Aberdeen this time are the cold and the boredom. Her expectations for Lagos and what lies beyond that for her contrast with mine – she is very much looking forward to reconnecting with the family members she left five months ago, I am largely ambivalent.

Whilst boarding, I pick up a Glaswegian accent from one of the cabin crew. I ask him is he’s Scottish, to which he beams widely, replying in the affirmative. I let on that I have travelled on from Aberdeen and share a quick joke about how both Glasgow football clubs – Rangers and Celtic are a bit long in the tooth. Another member of the cabin crew – as prim, proper and English as could be – hears us yakking on about Celtic and Aberdeen and jokingly retorts that the Scottish are taking over. Great banter which sets us up very nicely for the rest of the flight.

The only blot on that is I end up sat next to a very vocal Arsenal fan, with the scarf from the 2015 FA Cup Final around his neck. Like most Arsenal fans I know, he is all talk and bluster, somehow managing to ignore the fact that I have my headphones plugged in and have my phone in hand trying to select a playlist – a painful reminder of what lies ahead I suspect. Thankfully, the fellow in the seat behind us – and the Glaswegian – are more than happy to talk football with him; that I suspect is part of what makes the trip that bit more bearable for me.

– – –


No amount of mental bracing ever quite prepares one for the shock with which the humidity and heat hit. That, and the almost sudden metamorphosis of a regular, fairly well controlled crowd into a seething mass of jostling, aggressive personalities, is all the proof one needs that this is indeed Nigeria. To be fair, my walk through Immigration is a comparative doodle next to what I remember from the last time; but then memory is notoriously fickle, particularly mine. Perhaps the much mooted change  is beginning to trickle down after all.

Once through immigration, my first order of business is to grab and register a SIM card to allow me get in touch with the contact I’ve been given to pick up keys to the apartment I’ll be staying in. My peculiarly spelt surname – thanks to my grand father it contains a ‘Y’ and has made people guess my nationality as Polish, Czech and Cameroonian until they meet my very Nigerian self. I field a few questions  – Mother’s maiden name, house address amongst others – and leave with a registered, functional SIM card for the journey that lies ahead.

Away from the airport, over 30 minutes of walking pace, bumper to bumper traffic ensures it is 8.30 pm before I pick up keys and can then begin to breathe a little easier. The only thing on my mind – when all that has been sorted – is a cold shower and food. By the end of the day, two things are clear in my head: the next week is going to be a long, hard slog  and this thing, this love-hate relationship with Nigeria is one that will not go away anytime soon – tenuous bonds or not.  Thankfully gala, real meat pie, pepper soup and suya are proven coping mechanisms; I am beginning to relish this.

Times, Seasons and A Hundred Juggled Things..

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It feels like a trick of time, a sleight of hand drawn from the very top tier of a Houdini play book, but the facts – borne out by the calendar I have open in front of me, and the worn pages in the notebook I bought a couple of months ago – tell a different story; a record, as stark as it is of just how much time has passed in 2016 already.

Back when I set out to reflect on 2015 and how it had panned out (read intense, difficult but largely fulfilling), all I had in front of me was the crowded centre court of Union Square. This time, as I consider the year so far, the view is decidedly more upscale; framed by the vintage red brick buildings and the tops of trees in rude health of this corner of South Harrow.

No matter how many times and in how many ways I slice and dice the year so far, two things end up standing out as leitmotifs – constant change and steady habits. Change, even if constant, is not necessarily a negative thing – and there is an argument that done right it can be a trigger for creative disruption – but my sentiment, one I have voiced in several work contexts is that change for the sake of it serves no real purpose. But then change, thinking differently and continuous improvement are the new buzz words in the current climate; I suspect that is what I have to accept as the new normal.

Where constant change has been a force of disruption, steady habits have been the glue that has held, tenuously at times,the myriad of juggled, jumbled things together. A few of these – like my morning pit stop at church for an hour of contemplative prayer followed by fifteen to twenty minutes of (expensive) Starbucks time in which I plan my day before heading into the bedlam of work – have been intentional, but the most important ones I am finding have somehow evolved organically. An amble about the city centre at lunch time is one of those, started off first because I needed to escape the smell of food at lunch time in my (reorganised) office but then very quickly proving beneficial; the fresh cold air and brisk walking helping to clear my head before the second half of work.

Running and Reading, my two go to activities for de-stressing, have taken a big hit this year. 90 pages of Donald Whitney’s Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian life and a further 100 of The Night Manager are about the sum of my real reading this year; piss poor given the grand worldview altering reading I had planned for this year. The mitigation though is that thanks to Pocket I’ve done a lot more web based long form reading, gobbling up everything from my perennial favourites Zadie Smith, Teju Cole, Adam Gopnik, Malcolm Gladwell and the Modern Love series at the New York Times. The less said about running the better I suspect, given all I have managed all year is a single run. My one attempt to salve my conscience through all of this has been to keep my gym membership running. Something about the finality of defeat inherent in cancelling it holds me back a little bit but given how little utilisation I have managed over the past year, I suspect even that might not be enough to save it from the chop in this era of focus on marginal gains and cost efficiency.

Side projects are a happier thing to dwell on. I am at Day 90 of my #100DaysofBeing, a far less mentally tasking writing and picture taking project which I have prioritised over being here as I decide what direction to take this space in. It does mean that NaPoWriMo is in doubt for this year, but given I still haven’t identified a theme that might not be such a bad thing. Elsewhere I have been given the opportunity by the remarkably persistent @1Life_Saved to pretend to be profound on (online) Radio. Our show, Behind the Music, is a chilled, informal conversation centred around music which I think is cool. I might be biased but by all means give the archives a listen as well as any of the other shows the radio station broadcasts.

the3six5NG, our crowdsourced diary effort from three years ago is actively being resurrected. My friend C says, she’ll believe me when she sees it live. I can’t really blame her for the lack of faith given the number of false starts since then. I must say I have been pleasantly surprised by the enthusiasm with which previous participants have embraced the chance to contribute again. Give the archives a whirl and if it’s your kind of thing, do email us about picking up a slot from the first of June. For more background, digest this.

All told, it’s been a challenging but productive year so far. I suppose that is what this whole adulting business is all about – engaging life head on rather than skirting the skirmishes and looking to live to fight another day. What I can’t shake is the lingering sense of a change looming; a sense of an ending if you like.

#QuietlyConfident

#68 – On Waiting

A year ago if you asked me how good I was with waiting, I suspect without giving it much thought I would have gone for somewhere between 9 and 9.5 on a scale of 1 to 10. What I am finding out to my chagrin, prompted by a few events and a conversation with my friend M (in which I get the blame for the unravelling of a certain situation) is that I suck at this waiting business.

Waiting by its very definition has connotations of control; of self, of events and of expectations. Implicit in this definition is a sense of patience, for the inner workings of machinery set in motion by something else to run its course. It is perhaps this form of waiting that I have struggled most with over the last year. The situations where I have had very clear end goals are those in which my impatience  have cost me the most; ones in which the reality of the situation has not quite matched the pace and direction I have envisaged in my head. I suspect I also sometimes balk at the idea of trust, where the end goal is less clear and the vulnerability inherent in being powerless to affect an outcome.

Lessons to learn here, clearly.. I can only hope I get there again…