Where I Am

For the Poetic Asides prompt 530 Where You Are, Photo by Reiseuhu on Unsplash

**
Here the sun
hangs like a weight
its heat like a curtain,
dense, wrapped around itself
like thick clouds
keeping out the light.

Dust clouds swirl
around hardy rocks,
each peak a monument
to defiance, to aeons
of resistance,
to heads held high against
the ravages of earth,
sand and time.

For a season this,
this barren space
which survives
against the odds
is home, reluctant
as it may be

How To Taste Wine

For The Sunday Muse prompt #115:

**
Let the first sniff 
hit you, let the faint
hint of the juice pressed
and aged be like incense
wafting up, a prayer
to Dionysius for a blessing
on this rich red liquid,
chilled, swirled and sipped.

Let the low heat
linger, let its essence
slowly spread, warming
the insides of your mouth
let its heft spread
like a warm embrace
across your tongue.
Let it rise
Let it rise.

Hitting Reset: Some thoughts on adapting for a post-oil world

Photo by Jose Antonio Gallego Vázquez on Unsplash

**
When I reflected on life at the turn of the year, and wondered what the year would be for me, Delve Deeper came to mind. Behind that was the understanding, inspired in part by the Parable of the Wise and Foolish Builders, that everything worth its salt is tested, and only those which had roots sunk deep would survive. I was also on the cusp of quitting my job up north with the prospect of the move of a lifetime looming. Whatever your particular take on COVID-19 is — elaborate hoax, a pretext for instituting a new world order or a symptom of a broken world — what is incontrovertible is that in its wake has come a seismic change to the world and what we know of it. For all the preening, posturing and the facade of strength the world economies have presented, 2020 has shown it all up like an edifice built on shifting sands to use a biblical metaphor. The Emperor’s new clothes, for all we can see, are anything but a covering.

Within the wider context of the shutdown of the world’s systems, the latest iteration of oil’s boom and bust cycle hit close to home, the precipitous dive in the price of oil, particularly the Brent benchmark, from just under $70 to a low of $18 and change the latest trigger in the latest race to trim the fat by companies all along the oil supply and value chain. To be fair, COVID-19, the global shutdowns and the resulting supply glut were only the straw that broke the back of camel increasingly hassled by headwinds such as the continued rise of green energy and their activists, US shale and players (read Russia and Saudi Arabia) only too happy to throw their weight around in an attempt to eke out more market share. A perfect storm perhaps, but all told it is a sequence of events which leaves some (full disclosure like me) who are invested in the industry for their livelihood concerned about the future and what it portends.

With projects no longer economic at current pricing levels, job cuts at majors and their key suppliers are inevitable with BP looking to trim up 10,000 job globally and Saudi Aramco looking to do the same for about 8,000 jobs. Job losses in my old stomping ground in the North Sea were estimated to be in excess of 4,500 in June. Across the pond in America, the first bankruptcies have occurred with surely more to come, all symptoms of the highly leveraged low margin environment the oil patch, at least in the West, has become. Of course, one has to take the good with the bad, and roll with the punches, although it does significantly impact the prospects for attracting future talent into the industry. That, and improving the gender balance and the average age of those in the industry, have been stated objectives for the UK sector of the North Sea with various diversity and inclusion initiatives been fronted as recently as last week. There is also the slight worry that the boom periods between bust (and slash and burn) are getting shorter. Change is afoot in many ways than one.

Change they say is inevitable, it is those who are able to adapt who survive and thrive though, all of which has left me thinking long and hard about the future, and what it portends. The obvious response is to consider a career reinvention, one which untethers me from the tentacles of big oil. Three criteria come to mind in determining what sort of direction such a move might take: the development of domain agnostic skills (to ensure I don’t get stuck in a different version of the big-oil problem), a non-zero entry point( to ensure some or all of my current skills are transferable) and a high ceiling (to ensure there is scope for growth). My oil and gas niche, with some retooling, lends itself to some level of cross-domain application, being relevant across a number of high hazard industries where corrosion and asset integrity is a concern (nuclear, wind, buildings/ infrastructure and even automobiles) as do the quantitative and analytical skills which practising as an engineer have also developed. Risk analysis and management skills are also useful, as are project management and coordination skills.

I am betting on data, as it ticks all three of the criteria above with the added bonus of enabling remote/ flexible working practices and being applicable in my current role. It will take some retooling – for all my flirting with Python, there is a knowledge gap to be plugged there, as well as a time requirement to build the confidence and skills that deliberate practice brings. I may have missed planting this tree 20 years ago, the bigger mistake would be failing to plant it today.

Silence, For C…

For C, and the others 2020 has taken. A response to the Poetic Asides prompt, Pandemic. Photo by Marina Reich on Unsplash
**
Where the patter
of your footsteps
once roamed
silence reigns,
the joy of breath
and thought
and sonorous song
subsumed by the
frailty of things.

Death lingered
at your door, too long
and then snatched you.
In the silence that you leave
we remember the things
we planned tomorrow.

A Prayer for Lost Loves

For The Sunday Muse prompt #114:

***
May the pains
of today’s desires
lose themselves in
the fragrance of
a love reborn,
the pained passion of
unrequited love find itself
returned in time
like a blossom that speaks,
a sacred whisper to the soul
colouring everything in
the light of a rose,
beautiful in its bleeding
yet whole, because the Lover
and the Loved like thorn and rose
find themselves entwined,
from past pain and tortured paths,
delirious joy arising.

Summertime, for G

For The Sunday Muse prompt #113:
***
The light in her eyes
mirrors the mirth,
in the wry smile
that still, some days,
wraps itself
around her lips,
a bird, free,
born of the wild
borne by the wind.

The heavy scent of summer,
of flowers blooming and
of squirrels flitting
between the trees,
reaches down into
the depth of the memories
she bears within, the
delight of summers past
simmering, then bubbling
to the fore though
her fingers can no longer
coax life from the dry earth
or press pleasure
into a cone.

Ignition…


For the Sunday Muse prompt # 112:
***
Sometimes I carry
the weight of the world
upon my head, its heft
held between the twin peaks
of forgotten and accepted things,
a history curated not
by those who waver
at the threat of war
but those who embrace
its vagaries, who daily
pour out a libation
to destruction.

What seems like
the stillness of a boat
in quiet waters only hides
the furious paddling
of a mind being torn apart
as it wrestles with the tension
between conforming and desire.

This is how one keeps
dismay at bay, until
someday in a moment,
unexpected in its coming
and ferocity, it ignites.

Half Remembered

For The Sunday Muse prompt #111:

***
what we remember
of the past are the things
the mind allows, the
harshness of being hacked
into a thousand tiny pieces
assuaged by the desire
to forget, to not let
the horror of the past
hold the present hostage,
to find a path that winds
through the remains
of pillage to
a coherent whole.

what we learn
in the end is that
skirting the hole where
our kin should be is akin
to yielding to the
pressure of a hand pressed
against our throat, to feed
the pleasure of the ghouls
hovering over our history.

to begin afresh
we must yield to the call
of the things we half-remember
and wander into light.

Quest

For The Sunday Muse Prompt #110,

***
The heart ponders
what lies beyond
the realm of sight,
what hides in the place
where dreams come from,
where the beauty
of a still night
twinkles in the
soft light.
From afar it tugs
at the strings
of the curious heart,
in its distance,
a promise of salvation
from the fires below.

The Diary: The Joy In Small Things

***
Seemingly like in the blink of an eye – like play like play in the pidgin English of my youth –  we are somehow at the end of May!  Summer is finally here, bringing in its wake the realisation that if I had stayed up North, the first of my Nine Fridays of Summer would have just gone past. As it is though, I find myself in an intermission of sorts, loitering in the space between a past life and the future in which an adventure in the sun hovers just out of reach, 70 days late. There are of course worse things than swapping grey granite for verdant green or being cooped up with family, like dying or very nearly dying like so many people, including a few closer to home for me, have over the past few months of this pandemic.

The reality of the lockdown first hit on a personal level sometime in late March, when my flight out was cancelled. My initial reaction is to take it as an extended holiday of sorts, cue extended hours of Football Manager but as time passes, each day blurring into the next, I find life without the tether of routine somewhat disconcerting. Its the first time since the autumn of 2009 that I have been in this place where there is plenty of time on my hands. Six weeks of a creative non-fiction writing course and National Poetry Writing Month do provide some structure and help mitigate the sense of floundering, the result of decisions taken earlier in the year as part of fleshing out what My Year of Delving Deeper would look like. It is thus only in May that the desire to stay creative and productive kicks in, no thanks to the reminders of the supreme productivity of Newton and Shakespeare in similar times from the Twitter productivity gurus.

One of the bigger impacts of all the time everyone suddenly has is a significant regression in the quality of my Whatsapp messages. Being Nigerian, with loads of older, Christian folk in my contacts, I find my inbox something of a ground zero for conspiracy theories of all flavours, from the 5G one peddled by a certain Nigerian MOG through a raft of others suggesting it is all a ploy to foist some religious or moral imperative on the rest of us. Elsewhere in my wider (Pentecostals) network, the miracle of hindsight manifests itself in various names – both well known and lesser-known lights – claiming some sort of prescience or other in having prophesied that a pandemic of such a nature was coming. What those who forward those messages on to me fail to answer is why, if these prophets were that certain, they didn’t shout louder for those of us at the back as Nigerian Twitter likes to put it. Those who cling to conspiracy theories do so as an attempt to find certitude and assert control of what is fundamentally an uncertain state, at least so says Skye Jethani who is a lot more clued into the Christian sub-culture than I am.

In retrospect, the things that stand out from the past 70 days – and some – are the little unplanned things; a picture from 2016 which brings back memories of Lagos and hanging with the old gang, an impromptu WhatsApp video call which segues into a three-way call that drags in A, I and C and dredges up fantastic memories of life, youth and friends that have become closer than brothers as it were.  I find myself measuring time in the small things and new routines, Mondays as bin days, Wednesdays as my Alpha Online days, Thursdays for joining the line that snakes around my local Tesco to stock up on food and water and Sundays for lengthy phone calls to friends and family around the world. Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays have become portals of exploration, as my runs take me along paths which weave their way around the River Wey navigation paths. The bucolic sights that greet one’s eyes these days belie the fact that as recently as the 1960’s these were functional navigation routes. Private boats and yachts now line the waterway in places, a nod to the relatively well off folk who are our neighbours out here. Even those lie quietly, all furloughed in their own way, more than a few clearly showing signs of age and disuse, a metaphor for pausing to smell the roses and to enjoy the whispers of nature the world would otherwise have drowned out.

This is what my days have boiled down to; Reading, Writing and Running, and finding Joy in small things.