With several cost overruns, a muddled award process and potential conflicts of interest, London’s Garden Bridge has finally being put out of its misery. #WhiteElephant
With several cost overruns, a muddled award process and potential conflicts of interest, London’s Garden Bridge has finally being put out of its misery. #WhiteElephant
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.
I never cease to be amazed by how flights which ostensibly last an hour end up morphing into all day affairs, which leads me to think that flying is perhaps one of the greatest swindles on earth. In my experience, by the time one arrives at the airport, goes through security and then waits to board, the better part of two hours has very easily been burned. When the inner city travel requirements are tacked on, everything very easily rolls up to between three and four hours. On this occasion, my flight due to leave at 12.05 pm ends up delayed which is how it is well past 4.00 pm by the time my train rolls into Romford where I plan on basing myself on this trip. All that leaves me is time to get myself checked into my room, find a quick bite and then start heading back to the O2 Arena for the opening night of the Hillsong Conference Europe, which is my primary reason for this trip.
With Hillsong, you can always count on great music, a fabulous atmosphere and youthful exuberance. We get loads of those: worship by Young & Free (topped off by an on screen cameo by Lecrae on This Is Living on Day 1 and a particularly moving arrangement of the hymn Then Sings My Soul) and a couple of interesting messages by Steven Furtick and Chris Mendez (who stood in for Carl Lentz on Friday night) over the course of the remaining days. As always a slew of fab songs to look forward to get sung during the conference. What a Beautiful Name It Is is one of those for me. I’ll be pre-ordering the album as soon as it drops, that much is a given.
As an aside, Chris Mendez’ story of turning his back on a life of addiction awakens a question which I’ve never quite answered for sure- do those who have a passionate faith have that because they’ve been forgiven much or is it just a personality thing? Jesus comment about he who has been forgiven little loving little suggests to my simple mind that there is some correlation. I’m sure smarter minds have sussed out the answer to that one.
An unexpected bonus on Friday is finally getting to meet Siren Lune, whose journey from questioning orthodoxy to tear-streaked made up face (her words) seems to me the stuff 1500 word essays are made for (if I can convince her to write it though). Before the Friday night session, I take the opportunity to climb to the top of the O2, standing astride the world in a manner of speaking – one foot in both east and west hemispheres. Our guide manages to find that sweet spot between chucking information at us and letting us be that allows the group move along at a steady pace.
Conference ends with the communion, after which we leave with strains of yet another Hillsong special ringing in our ears. Quite the experience as always, with quite a few things to mull over on a personal note as I leave.
Conference out of the way, I turn my attentions to the meet ups I’ve planned. S offers up a slot on Saturday, one which takes me into the lush green countryside of Kent and the Hevercastle grounds. Seven hundred years of history is the grounds main selling point, one that is hard to argue with given that that history includes arguably England’s most licentious of kings, Henry VIII, and Anne Boleyn. Trying to detangle the mess of consort, sister, sister-in-law, woman in waiting and mistress just about does my head in before I give up, opting to go along with the tour through the castle grounds instead. At the yew maze, we take the wrong turn several times, somehow exiting at the entrance having doubled back on myself several times. The castle and grounds are the sort of thing I suspect will be better enjoyed at a more leisurely pace, with great company, food and blankets for a chilled lunch and plenty of time to kill, to allow one take in all there is on offer.
For dinner, we head back into the comparatively dystopian borough of Lewisham for some proper Nigerian fare. The scent of all soups Nigerian wafting into my nose tempts me sorely to break my self imposed pounded yam moratorium but some chicken suya rescues me from tossing five years of abstinence down the drain.
Sunday is comparatively more laid back than any of the days which have gone before. A late decision has me leaving my bags in storage and hailing an Uber to one of my old Sunday haunts, Trinity Chapel. R, the Lithunian driver and I get along, he’s intrigued when I say I am from Scotland by way of Nigeria, our talk seguing into the weather. Oddly for a cabbie, he holds interesting views on global warming, his concerns being around the low lying regions of the world which could disappear for good. Interesting is all I can mutter under my breath, before a quick google search leads us to World Under Water which I recommend as light bedside reading for him.
Significantly changed from how I remember it is the only way I can describe how I find Trinity Chapel but it is an entirely enjoyable, if different experience. The message is about leaving the past behind and focusing on making the most of today. In between I drift off into thoughts of how forgetting can be a mercy. A line from Lesley Nneka Arimah’s Caine Prize shortlisted story, ‘What it Means When a Man Falls From the Sky’ comes to mind, in which the protagonist Nneoma ponders what being unable to forget could do to one. Her conclusion, the sense of a thousand falling men landing on you.
The lure of jollof rice, dodo and chicken is more than I can resist, which is how I end up at S’s, the plan being to down a quick lunch before my long slog up to Heathrow for my return flight begins. A couple of detours later, I find I am done with lunch and setting off at 5.30 pm with a nagging thought that I might have left it too late. Two train changes later – at Stratford and at Holburn – I end up at Heathrow just before a quarter to eight. Thankfully, the walk through security is quick and I end up having a bit of time on my hands – delayed flight notwithstanding.
It is nearly midnight when I eventually get home, late flight issues being compounded by several late arrivals overwhelming the capacity of the taxi rank to deal with the influx. An hour’s wait endured, I am soon speeding home to my corner of the world. Home, and the safety of routine beckon – laundry, reheated left overs and work. Adulting, eh?
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.
Mayfair, 28th November 2015.
I feel like the travel bug is rearing its head again..
Amara U, Flickr
It is perhaps indicative of just how activity-starved my life has been lately that all it takes is a week’s notice for me to drag myself across the 397 odd miles down south to join K, family and parents in celebrating 35 years of staying married. In fairness to her, Royal Mail had a hand in the late invitation; when she texted me frantically that Friday afternoon, it was with a mind to chide me for my legendary tardiness. Only my strenuous denials backed up by the fact that I had moved houses recently saved me in the end. Long story short, I ended up on Friday night in the comparatively upscale setting of South Harrow, the hub around which we all converged – from every nook and cranny of the world it seemed, Scotland ably represented by yours truly.
Amidst the brightly coloured costumes, the odd great conversation and the excited dancing- Nigerian (women) elevate dancing to something between an art form and extreme aerobics- one of the more enduring scenes for me was one I had no business being part of but which in the end provided some framing for the lessons I am learning in this phase of life I am in.
At the core of the delicate moment was a handy man brought in to put finishing touches to some redecoration. Somehow he’d managed to over run to such an extent that just before we all had to leave for the venue the question of how to provide access to him, the gregarious if a tad irritating Italian, was a seething problem. He, the father, was of the opinion that the handy man should be sent packing forthwith, ostensibly with a penalty applied to his payment for failing to deliver. She was of the opinion that he had earned the trust and goodwill of the family to be left alone to finish his work whilst the rest of us were away. The scene, of argument and counter argument, is one I found intimately familiar; with a few years between them it could have been my own parents having the conversation – the pragmatic, real world skills of my mother defusing a potentially tense situation and delivering a workable solution, often inspite of my father’s interventions.
Thinking back, over the course of the weekend there were more instances of that – which amidst all the wild dancing and eulogising had me thinking that maybe I, and my generation, have it backward. Thirty-five years of marriage clearly hadn’t diminshed their chemistry – there was plenty of evidence of that over the weekend – but just maybe the key to their longevity was in the synergies they had evolved over the years, managing to balance each other’s extremes out. Or maybe I was just overthinking it – drawing wide ranging conclusions on the basis of a few hours of observation. I do think not.
London was warm, a tad too warm if the truth must be told. And dry – well, except for that wretched Saturday evening, which in keeping with my rotten luck with these things, was the one day I decided to be out and about into the wee hours of the morning. Other than that, the contrast with the ‘Deen couldn’t have been starker – wet, barely nudging 19 degree weather and warm, dry, 26 degree weather and sunshine, separated by the small matter of sixty five minutes of flying.
I had barely managed to catch my flight to London this time, ending up forgetting my Oyster card as I frantically tossed jeans, t-shirts, shoes and my trusty MacBookAir into my holdall after falling asleep in a state of turmoil. For the umpteenth time, an attempt to get a sit-down with S. failed collosally – it is slowly beginning to sink in that I may be barking up a wrong tree here. Five missed calls and two voice mails from my friend J., didn’t help soothe my mind either. I ended up soaking wet, at 7.20am, having walked the mile between my house and the train station to drop off a package for him. That early start also meant I skipped breakfast, which was why my first action after scaling baggage reclaim at Heathrow was to head off to the Giraffe for a coke and a sandwich. An hour later, I was seated on the Piccadilly line for Cockfosters, hoping to get off at Kings Cross
Across from me, a man sat, hunched forward, headphones in, swaying almost imperceptibly from side to side to whatever music he was listening to. His face had that calm, meditative mien of one at peace with the world and himself, his sandals, shorts and a simple t-shirt with ‘Chicago’ sprawled over the front somehow adding to the image of quiet, simple, acceptance. On the other side from him, an Indian woman sat, hands folded in her lap, eye shut as though fast asleep.
By the time we were past the Hatton Cross station, our carriage was standing room only. A woman and her daughter – she had on the most garish eye lash extensions I have ever seen – had joined the carriage, a family of five – a man, a woman, two teenage sons and a young daughter who could not have been more than seven or eight.
The heat wave had been all over the news – which had prepared me somewhat – leaving images of shirtless, pot-bellied hairy men on the underground seared deeply on my memory. As I hauled my stuff off at the Old Street underground station having switched over at King’s Cross, I was inwardly thankful for having avoided anything that dramatic.
The main driver for London on this occasion was the Hillsong Europe Conference, and given how much anticipation I had had prior to actually flying, it didn’t fail to deliver. Making my way across the Northern line to London Bridge and then the Jubilee line to North Greenwich, there were dots of people clearly excited about what was coming. The sense of anticipation only heightened the closer one got to North Greenwich at which point just outside the O2 the lines had begun to form even before the scheduled 5.50pm front door opening.
Upon arrival, I joined the back of one of the lines as it inched slowly towards the doors where we were meant to swap our electronic tickets for wrist bands. Somewhere in between, I fell into conversation with a bloke who introduced himself as P. His story, as it spilled out, was one of deep desperation and sadness – apparently he was broke and needed a tenner to sort out a few bills. I ended up parting with £20. In retrospect, given how many names he dropped in the seven minutes or so we spoke for – including a few Nigerian ones – I may have been had; not that I minded much given how pumped up I was.
The conference itself was fab – Brian Houston’s call to embrace Holy Mystery rang very true with the stirring I’d been having about learning to not make everything about my ability to plan and anticipate problems. Judah Smith was funny as always, repeated a few of the jokes I’d heard since I’d committed to preparing for conference by listening to his church podcast but managed to place The Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard in a new light for me. Louie was Louie. #NuffSaid. All told, it was well worth the money, time and energy expended, that I may have made a couple of new friends was a great bonus to tack on.
The one complaint my friends south of the border usually have is that I don’t come down as often as they might wish. Each trip thus tends to morph into an exercise in optimisation; trying to cram as many meetups into a weekend as possible.
I ended up not meeting Si. A combination of bad planning on my part and having to sort my bags out on Sunday morning at the Dominion meant the little window we had vanished quickly.
I did get to catch E. at Nandos on Friday, at the back end of the conference. And she was great company for what it was worth, at 11pm on a Friday night, clearly knackered from what had been a busy week for her.
My friend K. has always been my one counter cultural, rebel, overly liberal acquaintance – and when it was certain I would be in London long enough to meet up, it was with some trepidation that I agreed to. For starters we argued about where we’d meet – a Starbucks for coffee or a pub for drinks. We ended up at a pub somewhere around Old Street. We got on famously, no issues there,; I ended up accompanying her in the piddling rain as she burnt through three fags in the 2 hours and some we’d spent.
These jaunts are usually incomplete without the obligatory airline gaffe. This time, my flight from Heathrow ended up delayed by an hour and thirty minutes. The culprit, a stuck partition between first class and economy.
The little kid – he’s barely eleven months – plods after his mother, hanging onto her left leg, and bawling. She has her hair swept back, hidden by the folds of the scarf she has around her head, is bedecked in baggy pants and has that forlorn, tired look only the hassle of splitting her attention between steaming pots of rice, partly boiled chicken and her 11 month old bundle of energy can cause.
I shouldn’t have been there. A mere three months prior to that I had sworn off hanging around babies, thanks to a particularly unsavoury experience in which a much younger friend of a friend of a friend thrice removed had managed to reach levels of tactlessness I hadn’t known previously, but the lure of meeting up with an old acquaintance had proved too strong. Sometime in mid 2008, she had been the smoking hot, part-Delta, part-Akwa Ibom
vixen Chemical Engineering intern keen to get her teeth stuck into the rarefied world of corrosion. Her introduction had been the kindling that set fire to the tinderbox that was the testosterone filled cluster that was a group of thirteen plus blokes in various phases of singleness. Like all women, assured in the knowledge of the influence she had, she broke a few rules, played the lads against each other and left more than a fews single blokes heart broken by the time her six month tour was up. She had emailed out of the blue to say she was stopping in London for a couple of days on holiday, wondering if I might be keen for a meet up. A few phone calls, hurried flight bookings and with every rule in my book about traveling at short notice broken, here I was trying my very best to distract a kid, seemingly intent on making his mother trip up whilst she tried to make dinner.
The flight up to Luton had been largely forgettable, bar being filled up to the rafters, the default facial expression on everyone’s faces the barely cognisant vacantness of knackered-ness. It didn’t help that the cheap, budget airline we had opted for ended up delaying the flight – the inbound leg from some exotic Norwegian town had had to battle a strong head wing and came in late – nor that the near full complement of passengers meant the cabin crew had to work miracles to fit everyone’s luggage in. Finally settled in a full hour behind schedule, I promptly stuck my nose in my book – I have been re-reading Yusef Komunyakaa‘s poetry collection Pleasure Dome – keen to avoid any unnecessary banter. An hour and twenty minutes later, I find myself safely deposited on the tarmac at Luton with the small matter of a shuttle to the Luton parkway and then the First Capital Connect to St Pancras to navigate. Nearly an hour later, I am standing just outside St. Pancras trying to find the cheap hotel I have booked, on Google Maps. It takes a few mis-turns, a detour into a not very helpful kebab shop and a fortuitous glance at a street name before I find the right turn on to Argyle square and the comfort of a warm bed.
Si ended up not showing up – she’d caught a bug of some sorts and was too woozy to be out and about in a city she didn’t know too well – leaving me with a big hole in my schedule to fill on Saturday morning. My regular Hillsong pit stop was not to be for another day, the promise of hot moi-moi could not be cashed in till late on Sunday, and there was nothing particularly exciting on TV, so I did the next best thing and phoned up my friend V, which was how I ended up in his kitchen, chatting with his wife whilst helping her with her cooking, remotely.
disciplinarian extraordinaire budding aunt-in-waiting, did put me to good use – when she wasn’t needling me about being single and my reputation for being an intellectual snob of sorts. I put in a good shift – if I say so myself – with the chicken, ensuring the fiery chili sauce was well mixed in before it was grilled, and keeping an eye on the fried rice whilst she gave the young man her undivided attention for a while. I did get my reward – two packs of fried rice and chicken pieces with two bottles of malt to take away on my return journey to my hovel on the edge of St. Pancras. The kid and I? We did bond, spectacularly too. An unintended consequence is I may have identified the little groom for that ever elusive 2014 wedding.
Three quarters of the way through the year, I find I still have just under three weeks of holidays left – and that does not include the productivity black-hole that is the last week of December when all and sundry truly grinds to a halt. Once again, in spite of my plans to not be in this situation, I have ended up hoarding holidays again, the plan being to use them as a make weight in lieu of notice as my plan to swap cold, windy, Aberdeen for the slightly warmer, but more rural climes that are Kirkland Lake. The BossMan has made it clear there will be no carry overs this year, and he has made sure to ping the appropriate warning email in my direction in addition to the automated ones sent by our holiday tracking software. All told after one too many reminders, I log on to Teamseer and fire off holiday requests for an extended weekend.
Newcastle, for all the right reasons, (NCLC, landmarks, relatively low costs and the friends I still have left there) usually comes up trumps whenever I have a few days to kill but the prospect of attending a buddy’s night out ends up being the final push that swings the pendulum firmly in favour of London. That, and the chance to catch Hillsong London for the first time since my all too brief appearance at the 10th year anniversary in 2010. With the luxury of a week to plan, I promise myself the mistakes from last time won’t be repeated. I book a flight to Heathrow with plenty of time to spare, and get a hotel in the Heathrow area to make sure I am well rested and primed up by the time the party gets swinging by 10pm. What I don’t bargain for is my topsy-turvy relationship with milky weak tea landing a sucker punch, one where I ended up passing so much gas I am doubled over in bed by 8pm, running to the loo every so often. Needless to say, all thoughts of partying fade to a distant memory as I try to wait out the diarrhoea. I wake up the next morning fully rested with a faint rumbling the only relic of my night of pain consoling myself at missing what arguably was the core reason for heading to London with the prospect of catching Hillsong London at the Dominion Theatre. Morning ablutions done and dusted, I plot my route on google maps and commence my eighty minute rigmarole via foot, bus and tube to Tottenham Court Road.
Hillsong – I arrive at 11.20am, shake hands with one of the welcome team dressed in black with dreads and a hint of an East African accent in the greeting he lobs in my direction through a plastered on smile and make my way up the flight of stairs to the back row where the remaining seats are. The kids are just heading off to children’s church and I squeeze myself past two women chatting excitedly oblivious of the goings on in front before I plod down besides them. The service is all I remember and have missed – rockish music, lights, great visual effects, MacBooks and iPads proudly displayed and jeans and t-shirts all round. Glyn Barrett from Manchester’s Audacious church brought the message on The Promise of God, somehow managing to throw in an anecdote from City’s sensational title win from last May and kissing a stranger’s sweaty, bald head.
Post Hillsong, I call up my friend O, and we arrange to meet up in the vicinity of the O2 Arena – another poignant place as it was here that the Hillsong 10th Anniversary was held. We grab lunch – I am famished and nearly dead on my feet – and watch Arsenal rip Liverpool to shreds at Anfield in the league. Again, not since Newcastle have I watched a game in a pub.
I never got to see the buddy on whose account I came to London in the first place, but a bonus was running into one of the guys from my old Nigerian job. We got to swap stories about who was still with the company or not and all the shenanigans and hassles of being the Corrosion Engineer in a firm whose primary focus is producing oil and gas.
It is only a quick two day break, but the joys of no dishes, chillaxing and chocolate fudge cake have no compare, at least in my opinion.
The difference is clear – the first few blasts of slightly warm air as I step out of onto the tarmac are the clearest reminder that I have left my small town’s five degree weather behind for at least a couple of days. It is a year almost to the day since I last passed through London – that blatantly self centred and most cosmopolitan of cities – and as usual I feel ill at ease. Blame my small town mentality – in the little corner of the world where I grew up, every one knew every one else and their grand mother.. and their second cousins twice removed. One was as likely to get whupped by the bloke down the street who felt you were up to no good as you were by your own father..
Places, to me, have unique signatures; sights, sounds, smells and landmarks which are etched in the mind and are the buoys that mark the conflation of memory, time and space. My re acquaintance with this city has suffered many false starts. Holidays were sacrificed on the altar of work projects, air plane tickets were deemed too pricey by my proprietary algorithm bank account and friends and family conspired to go on journeys at the one time the stars seemed to align for me. Stepping out on the tarmac is in reality a minor miracle.
On the train into town I am reminded of just how self absorbed people can be. A rather portly man has decided its his dinner time – dinner being fish, chips and some other items he eats out of a bag. It is clear that there is a measure of discomfort induced by the smells of his food, but he oblivious to the fact – or merely indifferent to our concerns – carries on apace shifting morsel after morsel into his wide post box of a mouth. Aside of the odd exaggerated cough, we all seemed to have stoically accepted our ‘lot’.
My memories of this latest dalliance with London will be varied. I will remember the bloke on the tube – blond hair, eyes gaping, clearly enamoured of the thighs wantonly displayed by two teenage women inebriated beyond caring; the thin lipped Polish woman speaking with short terse sentences into her cell phone and then proceeding to apply more lip gloss at 11.35pm, the harsh scent of cannabis wafting up to my nose from darkened alleys as I tried to make my way to the dump I opted to stay in to save costs and the plethora of voices and languages I was immersed in. There are more pleasant memories though – a fabulous Friday night dinner, some alcohol light wine, intelligent discussion on varied subjects and success in my principal objective for making the trip.
Principal objectives achieved? Check. Loads of football manager? Check. Fab dinner? Check… It’s been a great week.. 🙂