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

About Town – Of Cabs and Conversations

Sometime last week, I found myself waiting in what was wet, grey and windy weather – typical summer fare for this part of the world – waiting for a taxi I had requested.  As I had arrived downstairs a few minutes after 8.30 am when I had ordered the taxi for, I was a little uncertain as to if he had been and left or was yet to arrive. He turned up at 8.40 am, by which time I had come close to phoning the taxi company to confirm if I had missed my ride. The cab ride which followed – all 45 minutes of it – was spent in a gloomy silence, the tension in the taxi palpable. I’m sure he meant no ill, much as I didn’t either but something about the circumstances under which we met seemed to have soured our taxi driver-passenger relationship. That he had all sorts of weird tattoos on his arms, drove with only one hand on the steering wheel and stared straight ahead didn’t help break the ice either, I suspect.

***

Due to a variety of reasons, I spend a significant amount of time in cabs these days. The main driver for this is having to support multiple projects and gather input from a number of vendors and suppliers across town. This allied to my ‘refusal’ to drive during the week means a lot of my work related travel during the week is by cabs. There isn’t a philosophical point behind not driving during the week; there is a practical one though. Not driving allows me avoid the hassles of trying to find city centre parking on a weekday as well as ticking the thirty minutes of exercise a day box. There is also the small matter of the extra cash my employer gives me in support of my ecological choices as an incentive. 🙂

In the main I find that cab drivers can be great talkers; keen to share their knowledge of the city and the ‘shire, and how those have changed over the years. More often than not, those conversations end up centred around the weather, football and past and future holidays. Politics, mainly the slagging off of politicians, makes an appearance on the odd occasion we decide we want to engage in less fluffy stuff. These make for an often congenial, if conspiratorial atmosphere with off colour jokes often excused. Swearing is almost a given in these conversations, particularly where football or other road users – deeply emotive subjects from the sounds of it – are involved.

***

Thankfully, the two other occasions I needed to take cabs last week panned out much better. On one occasion, I got a boisterous Hungarian for company for the drive up the A96 to Blackburn. There was plenty to yak about – the fallout of the Brexit vote (he was worried about his fate as an EU National who had lived in the UK for less than 6 months), the weather (apparently it was in the high twenties in Hungary whilst the thermometer barely touched fifteen degrees out here), football (Ferenc Puskas perhaps the first true football great was Hungarian) and the global war on terror (his mate back in Hungary who is a military reservist had been called in for exercises). On a personal note, he recommended a holiday in Debrecen to me. The selling point? Hungarian women like foreign men..

The other occasion featured a once-retired IT Engineer who had built a business selling copiers in the early 90’s before selling up and retiring. Bored with the retired life, he had taken to taxi driving as a side gig to keep himself busy for when he wasn’t traveling to visit what sounded like a large extended family. It turned out he was headed to Bulgaria on holiday in a few weeks, which was the cue for more Brexit focused natter. The slow cab market, following the decline of oil did make an appearance. The decidedly pedestrian performance put up by the Aberdeen football club in Luxembourg the other day, resulting in a skin of the bum 3-2 aggregate win was a sore subject with taxi driver number two, particularly given the fact that last season seemed like a missed opportunity as Celtic limped to a title they seemed keener to throw away than wrap up. There’s nothing like good football based natter to lift the soul – everyone this side of the pond has an opinion on all things football related after all.

All told, by the time the week ended, my faith in the taxi driver as a source of information and great banter was restored. All’s well with the world again..  🙂

Of Creatives and Their Work


The quote above had only been posted to a Whatsapp group I’m part of for all of an hour before it set off a firestorm. The bone of contention was Anais Nin’s body of work, (probably rightly) deemed inappropriate for the context in which it was posted (it’s a group filled with the super spiritual folk I serve alongside on my church’s tech and media team).

I made a spirited attempt at defending the value of her body of work – risque subject and bohemian lifestyle notwithstanding –  a position which left me just short of getting my knuckles rapped. I started typing a lengthy response in the group but did the sensible thing and backed off, taking the time to ponder what I felt was a wider philosophical question: can an artist’s lifestyle be decoupled from their body of work? Or even certain elements of that body work?

I think the answer has to be Yes. I’m a firm believer that one can learn from anything; good, bad or indifferent. This is perhaps never more obvious than in the context of words which can – and should be taken on their own merits, untainted by the trappings and baggage of their author. The test of the validity – and usefulness of words for learning – should be if they clarify any objective realities and are true in any sense of the word. Sometimes, the learning value can be unintended but the point has to be that by drawing a line and proscribing certain works because of their authors, we lose part of the vitality of a robust conversation. For what it’s worth the biblical Solomon lived as wanton a life as could be, one so enamoured of the female body that he warehoused a thousand of them but did manage to contribute two books to the bible, both which are replete with absolute gems which shine a light on human behaviour. His enduring quality has to be the cynicism and candor with which he reflected on life.

Lesson learned – to always consider the wider context and the audience before sharing stuff – I have lived to fight another day 🙂

On Rejection

01 Rejection

The conversation  – when it happened – happened on a whim; as unplanned as could have been. The intent  – to set up a face to face meeting later in the week  – quickly snowballed into a full on conversation about the direction the whole L thing was headed. As it turned out, it was headed no where.

It, the culmination of months of chasing, was about as anti-climactic as could be, worsened perhaps by how sure I thought I was that this was it. A lot of things sucked about it – not least the fact that the reasons offered; the uncertainty around work and the pressure from family all felt like convenient cop outs. That my interest, made known clearly and consistently over the past few months ultimately counted for nothing felt like a slap in my face. The alternative too felt inferior. True he was probably a lot more heeled than I was, but there was baggage which I didn’t have which – given the seriousness with which L had seemed to chase this – should have counted for a lot more than it.

When I spoke to folk about it, the overwhelming consensus was that it was not meant to be. E went so far as insinuating that I had perhaps overreached myself on this one, her apple and tree analogy a particularly galling one. O, who has been party to fall outs from far more of these things than  I am willing to admit, felt it was a good outcome of sorts; particularly as it saved me from investing far more time and energy into a black hole than I had already. They had the luxury of emotional distance in critically assessing the situation. I on the other hand was far too invested to take the black and white approach this required. It was only upon further reflection that the truth of the rejection began to sink in. That however did little to ease the pain.

Given how regularly I seem to return to this place, it is a wonder I still haven’t managed to suss out how to deal with pain and rejection. For the most part, the sense of hollowness in the first few days is the most difficult to deal with, the conundrum being whether to allow time work its magic or to hop back on the chasing/loving gravy train. Both options have their merits – time and healing being critical to ensuring the memories of the rejector are well and truly removed and one is in a place to commit wholly again. On the other hand, getting out there exponentially reduces the time involved in forgetting and mitigating the pain and sadness.

With Grace, one of the more compelling essays I read in 2015, followed the author’s attempt to get a much desired editing gig at a well known company which ended in rejection. In the essay she explores the pain of rejection, the vulnerability inherent in deeply wanting something yet fail to get it and her subsequent attempts at dealing with the pain. Somewhere in her essay she perhaps hits on the best response to dealing with rejection: you take your rejection, you make it public and you turn it into a catalyst for doing what you are rejected at, better. The key is not to do it for the one who has rejected us, but for ourselves, because we love doing it.

This is as yet still too raw to process fully but I’d like to promise myself to take this rejection, the pain and the distress, and use it as a catalyst to become a better me in every one of my life dimensions — Spiritual, Physical and Health, Financial, Career, Personal Development, People and Social and my Causes — to become so good at being me that I can no longer be ignored. Here’s to hoping I get there, soon-ish.

Of Weddings, Cheesecake and Paper Planes

05 Wedding

The somewhat impromptu trip to Lagos was designed around three main objectives; making an appearance at a (self-proclaimed) protege’s wedding, dinner with the Lagos based elements of my old work crew and appeasing my father, who as early as New Year’s Day had begun to sound his dissatisfaction at my conspiring to avoid making what used to be an annual trip to Nigeria last year. For the wedding, the plan was to arrive at 10.00 am, 9.00 am invitation notwithstanding. That decision was one I rationalised away by assuming that as with all things Nigerian, a certain element of tardiness was expected. By the time I arrived at 10.30 am – sweating profusely following my ill thought out attempt to walk till I found a yellow cab – I was as undressed as I could be, my tie slackened to let what precious little fresh air there was get to my skin and my suit dispensed with. That meant I had to find somewhere to cool off for a few extra minutes and get my outfit put together again before popping into the venue. In the end I had to settle for the wing mirror on a parked car, studiously avoiding the gaze of the soldiers sat on the bench only a few feet away. Once in the building proper, I managed to find a seat next to a rotating fan to ease my pain.

The ceremony was in full flow by then, the sight in front of me a mix of colours aplenty; of which green and white stood out being the colours worn by the family and selected guests. The signing of the marriage register and the thanksgiving shuffle by the bride, groom and friends followed in quick order, for which I had to overcome my long standing aversion to dancing. The upside was I managed to catch a good glimpse of my friend, all glammed up for her big day, as well as shake their hands as we passed them once we had divested ourselves of our tokens of appreciation. Being doused in holy water was an unexpected bonus of sorts.

Picture taking and then the reception soon followed, the highlights of which were the food, the long speeches and dancing, elevated to the heights of an extreme sport. Part of me wonders if there isn’t a sense of competition between in-laws at these shin-digs; both sides of the marrying families being keen to not be outdone by the number and quality of guests invited, as indicated by the number of suffixes they carry. The MC was perhaps the singular blot in my opinion, choosing to walk a tight rope more than a few times with his joking. A chance conversation with someone I had not seen in ages highlighted the fact that I could pay for Uber rides with cash which considerably eased my movements thereafter.

My time at the wedding over, the next pit stop was the Ice Cream factory. I was there to meet my friend D and his wife whose acquaintance I was yet to make. I ended up waiting for over two hours before they showed up – poetic justice I suppose given my decision making around the wedding. His Mrs was his excuse – having dragged him to a wedding in a different part of town she had insisted on divesting herself of her wedding clothes before heading out to our meet up. For my pain whilst waiting, I dug into some cheese cake, appropriately sized for killing time. Across from me, a gentleman typed away on his MacBook, dipping into a tub of ice cream now again. By the time D and Mrs arrived, they were dressed very comfortably in Saturday evening, heat-appropriate wear whilst I still had my suit and tie from the wedding. A third friend F joined us eventually, making for a four strong group with a lot of catching up to do. In a tongue in cheek way, my friend D moaned about just how little a life he has had since he got married in 2014 – being driver, cleaner, occasional cook and two or three time punch bag. We both laughed knowingly; truth is he is a much better person than he used to be – more focused, no longer scrawny and generally happier, Lagos traffic issues notwithstanding. Somehow we managed to fit a conversation about loss, lostness, identity and the travails of living Lagos in the two hours and some we spent catching up.

red earth

A quick catch up with my friend A with whom my paths crossed for the grand total of five hours – a logistical nightmare on any day – was quickly followed by a dash across town to the airport for my flight to Benin the next day. The final leg of the journey was made a whole lot easier by a ride from the brother in-law, the added benefit being the opportunity to reacquaint myself with niece number 3. For all the stories her mother relates of how she continually sings my name, our reconnection was muted. I suppose we can blame her being sleepy for that, not my sloppy uncle skills.

Ekpoma – home – this city of red earth baked hard by the relentless beating of the sun which I have come back to time and again since I first left for good as a seventeen year old in the late nineties was the same as I remembered it. By the time I arrived, it had already been three days since the national grid last supplied power to the area my folk live in. Fairly typical, with a chuckle, is how my cousin relates their ongoing ordeal with NEPA – or whatever the disco in the area is. To ease my arrival, we had the generator run for a few hours to charge up phones, laptops and get the fans whirling and moving air for a bit. The days when I was waited on hand and foot out here are sadly long gone, the joys of a cold shower – the first time since I had one here – did help me get to sleep.

fam_ (1125x1500)

The next few days passed in a blur – eating, sleeping and catching up with family the subject of my days. The third day was spent getting to see nieces #1 and 2. The day itself, as unremarkable and indistinguishable from the rest of them in being boiling hot and powerless was greatly improved by all the playing I managed to get in with the nieces. The Peppa pig books I managed to travel with helped a sight, as did being able to google up how to make paper planes and origami houses. The day enjoyable as it was had a bitter sweet after taste to it. For all the fun and games we got up to, it was only a few hours long. Doting Uncle or not, I am missing the opportunity to be a big part of their lives. Hopefully the iPhone their mother managed to blackmail me into giving her will mitigate that. The other days were more of a pain, filled with difficult conversations skirted around, and visits to old friends of the family to keep up appearances. Not the most exciting stuff, but I suspect getting to see my nieces more than made up for that.

There was time to get back to Lagos, catch up with old friends, make a pit stop at chicken republic and tuck into some cake and ice cream at Hans and Rene – before I had to pack it all in and head to the airport to catch my flight back. All told, it was a largely enjoyable trip, one that put into perspective all the things I miss about Nigeria – family and friends mainly. Whether that lure is strong enough to save this lost son, only time will tell.

#54 – Sated

#54-food-union

We meet up – at the third time of trying – at the only place there is of note, Union Square. After a bit of to-ing and fro-ing, we settle for TGIF, the steak, rib and shrimp meal the  perfect counterpoint to the 46 days of minimal feeding we have gotten through. There is a lot to catch up on – work, women and all the other things single, semi-bored Aberdonian chaps whine about. When we agree to head our separate ways at 9.30pm, it is having been fully sated, all caught up on nine month worth of life, and with an agreement in principle to make this a monthly affair..

#CaughtUp