Summer’s end, chicken fajitas and cuts at the BEEB

Only the most deluded of persons would deny that summer is well and truly over. Not only does it feel quite chilly, the trees also think so. Hyde park, which by much squinting I can just see from my 13th floor window at MO Corp, is covered in a layer of browns, reds, golds and the odd green patch crafted by fallen leaves as the trees acknowledge autumn. The sun on the odd occasion it manages to peek from behind the dull clouds seems weak, tired and offers no real warmth. Moments like these are those which fill me with a misplaced sense of nostalgia. Mercifully, I have my fleece with me as I head off to lunch with the team from work.

Lunch is at the Soul bar – and I may have unwittingly broken a personal record – the number of consecutive days I have had the exact same thing for lunch. The new record is five – five consecutive days having chicken fajitas. I have recently, thanks to the benevolence of a friend, acquired a taste for them; and soul bar – situated within the former West Church of St Andrew – delivers wonderful fajitas in an atmosphere of soft lighting, music and candle light! (gasp). The menu cards are humongous, and someone jokes that this is a great place to take a date to as the huge menu cards provide something to hide behind if the date goes awry.

It is a going away lunch for Kev who has completed his tour of duty, and the lunch time talk is slightly reserved – almost strained. Its been a great few weeks together on this project and he will really be missed. Whilst tucking into our food, Kev announces that he thinks our waitress is Canadian. For me all North American accents blur into imperceptibility. He, world traveler par excellence, thinks he can pin her accent to Nova Scotia. I make a mental note to confirm that. Kev and I have our plates well cleaned out when lunch ends – clearly we have no regards for calorie counts. The ladies plates though still have varying amounts of left over food. I remark that it must suck to have to bother about waistlines – such good food going to waste – and I get more than a few complimentary glares! At payment time, Kev asks the waitress and she confirms she’s Canadian. How he does this beats us all the time – he says its just being perceptive, the girls think its yet more proof that he’s psychic.

Speaking of cuts, calorie counting and bulging waist lines, leaked documents suggest that the BBC World Service as we know is in for massive change. Regular drama programming, Proms, and the Wimbledon highlights show are top of the agenda for axing… Sigh.

A Fisherman’s Invocation..

Barabedom Fish Farm

Source

Written in response to the prompt of the week at Writer’s Island….

Gin poured on earth –
Salt water, five lobed kola nuts
With palm wine.
White loincloth over
Bare skin, white cockerel held
Over head spun-
Seven times, Till faint.

Water, waist high
Dirty brown infused with oil –
Coloured sheen.
Orange plumes belch-
ing black smoke;

*Yemanja, the fish have fled;
The mangrove swamps have become
A deathbed. There is no fresh fish –
Pepper soup, no cassava plants
Left unshrivelled; No respite
From the stench of putrefying life.

*Yemanja, you have given –
And with the other hand taken,
May tomorrow be a better day.
**Iseeeeeeeeee!

*Yemanja is the goddess (derived from Yoruba mythology)  worshiped by the fishermen in Jorge Amado’s Sea of Death

Homeward…

Angel 18

A wry smile plays on my lips as the ‘Angel of the North‘- that behemoth that towers over the North East – comes into view. It is the one landmark that definitively asserts that I am back ‘home’. It is akin to a familiar tree ensconced at the junction of multiple roads whose stump – weather beaten, fire scarred, sometimes hacked for firewood – remains indelible, unmoved, an un-poured libation to the gods to whom we as restless travelers owe our protection. I consider this city a spiritual home of sorts for me – much like Bombay in Gregory David Roberts’ Shantaram is to his character. I came here at a time of great personal turmoil in several areas of my life – and I like to think the two great years I spent here set me on the path to redeeming my life.

The city still looks the same, still feels the same, still smells the same – still is the same actually. Fierce looking bikers – with tattoos emblazoned on every body part it seems – still stalk the streets of Benwell. The LIFE centre still operates, the rotisserie grill at Co-op still seeks to entice the loose change from my pockets into its tills, Greggs still reaches out for my soul and all. Its raining when I alight from the bus – the weather here is bipolar at best – I make the phone call to my friend Id, my host – it feels great to be home again…

Overdue Holidays, Reading and a Pilgrimage of sorts…

“If I have to see the insides of yet another heat exchanger, I just might quit”.

So said I to Annie – the intern who assists me at MO Corp – mainly in jest, but with more than just a threat of burnout hovering just beneath the surface. It has been thirty-seven straight weeks of working without a break; thirty-seven weeks of mind numbing, brain frying, geek stuff. It hasn’t helped that I have been largely unable to unburden my mind by reading; unable to let myself loose to indulge in the art of imagination as prompted by others more accomplished than myself.

Last week, I decided I needed to change that and I have started – by digging into Brian Chikwava’s Harare North. It tells the story of an unnamed Zimbabwean immigrant who heads to London (Harare North) looking for work to pay off his debts back home – and buy his freedom from the clutches of the police. I found the vernacular style strangely disconcerting, but overall it was a good read. The scene where Sinyoro (uncle to Shingi, our protagonist’s friend) calls our (unnamed) protagonist and proceeds to exchange lengthy greetings brought back memories of my grandmother who had a penchant for long and unwieldy greeting routines.

On the small matter of overdue holidays, I now have a week to play with. And I have decided to head down south – back to the North East of England. Its a region I haven’t been back to since I left late last year, and it promises to be a pilgrimage of sorts. In a sense, I am perceived as the returning hero amongst the friends I have left there, one of the few who have managed to get back into the work place after the debacle that was the demise of our last ‘graft’, and let’s just say that expectations are high. Its all in the life of a bloke I guess. Bring it on!

Weather, Bus trips and an absence of reading.

Out here, they say summer lasts one day, and no its not Midsummer’s day. That claim – entirely anecdotal mind you – has been made with surprising regularity by quite a few of the cab drivers I have had the opportunity to chat with while commuting to work. One cab driver even offered a quasi-scientific explanation, the town is surrounded by highlands on one side and the North Sea on the other which explains the bi-polar behaviour of the weather. Yesterday it was a windy 8 degrees, the day before a summery 14 degrees, today its rained bucket loads of water. The locals have quit bothering – they merely shrug and quiescently suggest tomorrow will be a better day.

Nearly a year spent in this town hasn’t eliminated the possibility of meeting people I used to know in Nigeria. On the number 23 bus today, I ran into yet another classmate from undergrad. She’s married these days, with a kid to boot. Perhaps its anchoring, but I seem to remind her a lot more trim. Considering I last saw her almost ten years ago now, I can be forgiven for having an image of the demure 20 year old girl I used to know. I also have changed too – I now wear an unruly afro and there is the hint of the burgeoning keg, my euphemism for a beer belly.

I have not done any reading for the greater part of the year, even though I have shelled out a fair bit of money acquiring books. That, is definitely the focus of the remainder of the year. My plan was to focus largely on African writing this year – Brian Chikwava’s Harare North, Helon Habila’s Oil on Water, Chika Unigwe’s On Black Sisters’ Street and a half dozen other books have gathered a layer of dust on my shelves. The first few books were very well reviewed and I had great hopes. Like the procrastinator I am, I have given myself an ultimatum to kick-start my reading… Tomorrow

Musings: Handwritten Notes.

It is the age of the internet – email, Facebook, Twitter, Hi5, MySpace, Instant Messaging and even SMS have contrived to depersonalize our communication. These days, my default mode of communication is electronic. I often reach first to my twitter account to send a direct message (DM) to my closest buddies, or then an email – and shock of all shocks – a phone call as a last resort.   Growing up, hand written notes were the apogee of communication, especially between guys and girls. We went to great lengths to procure the right paper, practiced our cursive hand writing and parodied the writings of the likes of Shakespeare to present the right impression.

A few days ago, I got a hand written note in the mail – and it brought back memories….