About Town: A Mancunian frolic of sorts…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chaos and Nostalgia…5

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chaos and Nostalgia…4

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chaos and Nostalgia…3


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

London, Again

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I first moot the idea of meeting up with Tee casually one Saturday evening, between getting a snapshot of her calendar for the next few months – it is chock full with work and travel – and getting tips for scaling back on my coffee drinking, after which it turns out that there are no airports in her corner of the world. That puts the downer on any inclinations to jump on a flight on my part – I famously never travel anywhere I’ll have to sit still for more than 8 hours – until she mentions she might be in London sometime over the next few weeks. It turns out I only get four days notice, and I barely have time to sort out fights and holidays, hop on a flight and appear in London.

She is someone I’ve wanted to meet in person for a while. Since we were introduced, we’ve restricted ourselves to a telephone conversation now and again, and the odd picture swap on WhatsApp – hardly enough to get a sense for what makes her tick or if indeed she just be might the future Mrs S. 🙂

I end up not getting a holiday approved, eventually settling for a quick 36 hour round trip – up to London at mid day on Saturday and back into the ‘Deen for 8pm on sunday night. That leaves me just enough time to get to the gym on Saturday morning, grab my weekly groceries, shower and catch the 727 to the airport at Dyce for my 1.25pm flight.

In the end, my Saturday morning does not work like a well oiled machine. The gym opens 15 minutes late, ASDA’s slightly more full than I recall for a Saturday morning, and I end up back home for just past 11.45am. By the time I have showered, and tossed a pair of jeans and a change of clothes in my bag, it is nearly 12.10pm; too late to catch the 727 so I high tail it to the taxi rank on Union Street and grab a cab, thanks to whose dexterity and quick thinking, I end up at the airport and clear security five minutes before the boarding announcement is made.

By the time I arrive in London, to much wetter, chillier weather than the last time, all that is on my mind is to find my way to the obscure hotel I have booked in Central London and some food. It takes me the better part of an hour and thirty minutes to reach the hotel via the Piccadilly Line to Cockfosters and the Victoria Line to Oxford Circus.  Food ends up being Nandos, thankfully spotted as I made my way thanks to Google Maps via a few backstreets to the hotel. Intermittent text messages between myself and Tee end up being the inspiration to soldier on amidst all my tribulations.

 As I always do on these trips, I make a pitstop at the Dominion Theatre for Hillsong, fortuitously they have a guest speaker on the day, Dr Mal Fletcher on the subject of Being a Marketplace Transformer and how Christians need to engage and transform it rather than ignore it for our bubbles. It is a fitting start to what turns out to be a great day about town.

Tee turns out to be way more gorgeous than her pictures suggest, and we have enough of shared interests to have a wide ranging conversation about anything and everything; so much so that over per-peri chicken and coke zero we talk for so long it is nearly 5pm by the time I reluctantly pull away for the wild race to Heathrow.

Three train changes later, I make it through security at Heathrow, barely in time again; thankful for a delayed flight than ever before, and giddy at just how great an evening I have had.. Somewhere in my heart, my inner romantic hopes that I may have just met theOne 🙂

Reluctant conversations…

The flight into London was uneventful, the only thing breaking my ear-phones-plugged-in-music-playing routine being an exceptionally friendly gentleman and his wife who I had the misfortune of sitting next to, on one of three adjoining seats. After tossing my knapsack into the overhead locker, I motion for them to make some space for me. He smiles, far too easily and obliges me, as I slither into the seat, somehow managing to do it without entangling my ear phone wires on the various odds and ends he has left on the seat. He is dressed simply; a North Face jacket from which a bland, grey shirt peeks through a half done zipper. I can’t help but notice that the woman on the other hand is much better dressed, the highlight being an eye catching, flowery, brown dress that stops well shy of her knees as she sits, and a full mane of blonde hair. I settle in, toss a mirthless, slit lip grin in their direction and proceed to detangle my ear phone wires.

Going home? Or holidaying, the man to my right asks.

Holidaying, I reply, hoping that my reply is sufficient brusque to stifle any further attempt at conversation.

Somewhere warm? He continues. I shrug inwardly resigning myself to losing my peace on this flight. I give him the cliff notes version –  a wedding in Oklahoma, a dash up to Chicago if I can manage it and a couple of days to meet up with old buddies in Dallas. Not boiling warm but warm enough given the weather forecasts for TheBZ. He explains that he and the wife, whom he indicates with a slant of his head, are headed westward too – California for four days and then Hawaii for two weeks. In the space of five short minutes, I learn that last year he did the Caribbean, and the year before some other exotic place. I murmur my compliments at their timing – they like me should miss the worst of the typically soul chilling TheBZ weather.

We make some more small talk, before I am rescued by the announcement of take off over the public address system. He turns to the woman at his side – who has passed the time thumbing through the high life magazine and chattering excitedly with her friend across the aisle – and they confer briefly.

He pats down his jacket, re-checks the buckle on the seat belt and leans back in his chair as the aircraft is towed on to the runway. In the few minutes it takes till we are airborne, I find that he has somehow managed to fall asleep. For the first time in at least ten minutes I am left in relative peace, enjoying the silence of my thoughts, and music. Across the aisle, the woman and her friend share a snicker at how quickly he has fallen asleep.

Postscript
OK was a blast – within minutes of my arrival I was treated to my very own steaming bowl of goat meat pepper soup. I toyed with heading out to Houston to meet up with my old Welding Engineering mentor, but the prospect of running into people I frankly had been trying hard to forget deterred me. Over all the only dark spot was being saddled with a couple of cry-y little children whose mother was only too glad to enjoy her new found freedom whilst I did my very best to keep them occupied. In a bizarre twist of fate,  I ended up bonding with them so much I suspect I caught a mild case of baby envy fever.  As for the wedding – I attended.

And no, I didn’t catch the garter.

About Town: Westward…

On the morning of the day I am due to fly westward, I wake up late – late being a few minutes before 9.00 am – on a day on which I have an 11.35 am flight to catch with neither a packed bag nor sorted transport for comfort. When I finally pull myself out of my bed, I call a cab for 9.30 am, and beginning tossing clothes, books and my laptop into the grab bag I use for these quick across-the-pond jaunts.

The decision to head westward –  though made on a whim  – had been the culmination of a few weeks of agonising and endless analysis to the point of paralysis;  weighing the pros and the cons of heading across the pond yet again this year. One day, early in November, one of the lads had called me up from across the pond to announce that he was finally ditching the unfettered freedoms of chronic bachelorhood for the not inconsiderable constraints responsibilities of married life.

The surprise was not that he’d finally seen reason, but that it had taken him so long. The rumour mills of the old boys network insisted – without proof of course – that the sharp words from his mother had finally borne fruit, aided by rumoured frolics in the dark, bowls of steaming pepper soup and more than a few tantrums from his girlfriend of seven years and some, a bruising dynamo of a woman whose abilities belied her 5-2 frame. She was appropriately named Patience. 

The driver of the cab that gets assigned to me is at least sixty by my reckoning, with a receding hairline almost white in its entirety. When I finally lug my bag downstairs to where he is waiting, I have to rap his window twice before I get his attention which is fully occupied by staring into the distance whilst tossing biscuit crumbs into his open mouth. I confirm my name and my destination to him as we pull out of the parking lot onto the side road and on towards the airport. There is a light drizzle, some wind and light traffic as we drive. Unusually for an older cab driver – I find that they tend to be more friendly and gregarious than most – our conversation takes a while to kick off so we cycle through the usual suspects; moaning about the weather, the latest lousy football score for the local football team, and an unusual one – council taxes.

As we crawl past the impressive stone facade of St Machars, he asks what church I attend.  Unsure if the name might ring a bell, I mention the street it is on. Recognition flickers in his eyes as he confirms he does know it.

Your priest is always sharply dressed, he says. I’ve taken him from the airport a few times. He’s a good bloke too, very spiritual. I nod in agreement. If we are talking about the same person, I am yet to see him dressed in anything beyond a freshly pressed shirt, a tie, well pressed pants and shoes shined to the max. He also is one of those rabidly (in a good way) spiritual blokes who wear their faith on their sleeves – I suspect he might have tried to do some preaching to the cabbie.

We are making the final turn towards the airport, with a head of traffic building when I ask him what church he attends. He points in the direction of a side road out of town towards the next small farming outpost.

Out that way, he says. About three miles.  He explains it’s a church that serves the small farming community out there, and that his parents and their parents, as are those of the bulk of the forty or so people who attend it, are all buried in the cemetery that adjoins the church. He adds that the Vicar who has served for nearly thirty-six years is retiring, to be replaced by a thirty something year old, single female priest. Change, even one as benign as this, doesn’t strike me as one that will come easy to a church that appears steeped in tradition. He agrees, but adds that the female priest has filled the role intermittently over the past few years and is quite liked around those parts.

I glance at my watch – it is just past 10.15 am and what looked like a small head of traffic is revealed to be a long line snaking all the way back to the drop off point at the airport. Worry sneaks into my mind about making the check-in, but he oblivious of my discomfort goes on to talk very excitedly about a new stained glass window to be commissioned that weekend. He’d gotten the installer to give him a sneak preview, a fact he seems particularly keen to share.

I smile at his enthusiasm, chipping in with adequately placed oohs-and-aahs as he goes on about just how gorgeous it is. After a few more minutes, the long lines snaking towards us clear up, and we finally make it into the airport.

When he hands me my change from my fare, I hang on to it for a few seconds and on yet another whim hand back the loose change. He hesitates but I insist, adding that if I were not travelling, I would have very much liked to witness the unveiling of the new window at his church. He smiles, nods and accepts the coins.. His enthusiasm has bitten me so much that oblivious to the biting wind and cold, I catch myself whistling some obscure tune under my breath to myself as I drag my box into the terminal building.

The weekend of debauchery (that wasn’t)

It was supposed to be the weekend that banished my 2011 troubles from memory and got me to let my hair down – something I admittedly do not do often enough. There was the small matter of needing to send in my passport to Mama Charlie’s lackeys for an extension to my residence permit, as well as navigating a week of water survival training (given my well documented aversion for large water bodies).

The plan was simple – jump on a flight to London and party hard. There was to be a surfeit of beautiful, intelligent women, pepper soup and music from back in the day. Surely nothing much could go wrong with the MO? Unfortunately everything did.

First off – uncharacteristically – I failed to get all the relevant details about the venue before leaving and ended up having to make frantic phone calls at Heathrow trying to locate the bus stop. This left me feeling drained by the time I arrived at the venue.

Secondly, my shocking inability to dance left me hugging my seat for dear life, meaning all the wonderful fabulous women around were left hugging the floor by themselves.

There are lessons to be learned.. My social skills need an upgrade, if the girl sized gap in the five year plan will be closed out. From the looks of it, my dancing skills (or more strictly the lack of them) needs reviewing ASAP.

An omen, or not?

 

forth bridge

I suspect it might be the vestigial memories of night bus journeys from Lagos to Abuja back in the day, but my favourite journeys over the last couple of years have been on trains – spotting a rainbow just outside Edinburgh on the way to a job interview in 2009, returning to the North East of England for a weekend of introspection in 2010 and being surprised by the breath taking beauty of a sun bathed Forth Road Bridge, in November no less! Something about watching the grey granite of built up areas segue into lush greenery, and blue clouds, usually leaves me a little awed.

All week I have been working at an offsite location – grateful for the chance to work at a much slower pace, and to take the train from my city to the smaller neighbour next door. On one of those days, I end up sitting next to a man dressed simply in a tee-shirt and pants, with a jacket bearing the logo of one of the behemoths of my industry on his arm. We strike up a conversation over tea. It turns out he used to work as a Reservoir Engineer at that company until two years ago when he quit to ‘follow his heart’; his heart being training emergency responders.

He says he earns a little less these days and it took a full year to complete the extra training he required. He adds though that he treasures the spare time he has –  which he spends volunteering and hanging around his children, as opposed to peering at 21′ monitors pretending to optimize reserve recoveries.

If I believed in omens, I would imagine that some fate orchestrated this meeting to remind me that nothing is too good to let go off to start anew; knowing myself I’d still probably leave it till late….

Baguette days

 

unionsq_sunny_post

Given the decidedly appalling weather we have had out here, the very first signs of sunshine returning are enough to tempt people out of their various hiding places on to the public spaces again. Walking down my usual route back to work  – after a quick lunch hour detour into town – I notice the forecourt at the Square is a lot busier than usual. There are people seated on the wooden benches,  others standing in little groups and more , like me, passing through,  all united by the desire to soak up the rare sight of the noon day sun.

I make my way to my baguette place and order the usual – a freshly baked baguette stuffed full with plain chicken, crispy bacon and mozzarella cheese. I add a bag of potato chips and a coke and then join the queue slowly snaking its way towards the till. It is one of the regulars manning it today.

 – I think you not come anymore today, she says. She is Polish, speaks English in a decidedly belaboured manner, and smiles a little too enthusiastically at times.

 – Had things to do in town today. Totally forgot the time, I say shaking my head for emphasis.

 – No sauce for you?  Her tone is flat, almost listless, delivered in that half-question half-statement tone that masks resignation at the fact that I am short changing myself – or so she thinks.

Nah, I reply. You know I like it dry.

 – Your money, four pounds, she says.

I rummage in my wallet, find a five pound note and hand it over to her.  She unlocks the till, finds  two fifty pence coins and hands them over to me.

 – Tada.  That is the one Scottish quirk of language that is default out here. Even she, knows that.  I nod her my reply, grab my stuff and head out the door.

Outside I find a spot on a bench,  settle in to attack my greasy carb fest and soak in the sunshine. Knowing this city, there is no telling when the next opportunity will come.