About Town: Weird gifts, names and Children on Trains

 

mirror_mirror

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.

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

East&WestO2

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

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

***

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

Nine Fridays of Summer: London, Again.

hillsong_

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?

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

Caledonian Sleepr

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

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

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

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