Memories of Christmas

My earliest memories of Christmas – and ultimately of growing up – are inextricably connected to the sounds of roosting chickens, the anticipation of a hearty Christmas afternoon meal and the Chapel’s annual Christmas carol night. We were by no means very well off. Those were the dark days bookended by SAP and its attendant devaluation of the Naira and the Abacha dictatorship in which people in the Academia essentially lived hand to mouth. What was an already thinly stretched wage was steadily eroded until my proud, well read father resorted to farming yams and cassava in the space behind his house to augment his wage. The main garnishing to the routine fare we got served as soups and stews was beef bought in abundance from the local butchery, and fish.

Chicken was reserved for special occasions – the odd milestone birthday and Christmas. Over time, a family tradition would evolve around Christmas. Two to three weeks before Christmas, the University farm would hold a sell off of their old ‘layers’ – mother hens which had been pumped full of feed and chemicals would be auctioned off. Mother had excellent links with the farm management – the farm manager had been a classmate from her under grad days – and would give her a heads up which allowed her to scout out excellent bargains. Typically, she would buy two chickens – in one particularly good year, I reckon she bought three. The chickens would be kept alive till two days before Christmas; fed ground corn to keep them fattened and to induce them to lay whatever eggs they still had in them. Two crates of coke would be bought and kept under lock and key in the store, only to be served during the Christmas celebrations.

In tandem with her preparations, an assortment of students from the main church would get us prepared for our special guest appearance at the Chapel’s carol night. Us children from Sunday School would gather twice a week in one of the houses in the Quarters to memorise bible verses from the Nativity narrative, as well as learn our parts in its re-enactment. These usually started off in bedlam – children ages all the way from five to eleven are hardly poster children for law and order – but due to the persistence of the teachers a semblance of order would finally emerge. One year, in one of my less proud moments, I earned the dubious honour of memorising an eleven verse portion of scripture – a punishment for pushing my friend Ejemen so hard she fell and scrapped her knee. The year after though – older and wiser – I would redeem myself by giving a stirring performance as the King of Myrhh from ‘We Three Kings’. Interestingly that would be the only time of note that I would sing a solo.

Two days before Christmas Father would sharpen his knives, command that the chickens be brought before him, and then he would slit their throats – each with one smooth, fluid motion. We would gather around to watch their final gory, macabre dance of death as their surprised hearts pumped out their final life blood. The sisters and I would be tasked with de-feathering the chickens – copious amounts of boiling water would be poured over the now dead chicken to soften the quills and then we would proceed to remove them until the chicken was picked clean. Father would then proceed to quarter the chickens into reasonably sized portions for storing in the fridge for cooking on Christmas morning. Mother allowed us a sneak preview of the chicken meat – the feet, wings and head would be boiled by her in her biggest pot after stewing in all sorts of spices. We would have this as a communal meal – a preview of the Christmas feast.

Early on Christmas morning, Mother would wake up – I don’t remember waking up before her on any of those days – to commence her marathon of dicing, slicing, boiling and frying. All told by the time the rest of us woke up at seven there would be several pots going at the same time as she made up her special Christmas rice recipe, infused with the smell of wood smoke. Church would follow – there would be a short homily (perhaps the anticipation of chicken meat and rice made time seem to pass that bit quicker on Christmas day) and soon enough we would pile into Father’s old beat up Peugeout 505 to head back to the certainty of a hearty meal.

Mother had a thing for refusing to let us drink too many cokes, the thing we quickly learned was that on Christmas day she pretended to turn a blind eye.

Kicking off the Christmas silly season, breaking my beer duck and the 2011 wrap



Mid December usually kicks off the Christmas party silly season out here. Given that as far back as October, our coffee room conversations had started to take on a decidedly Christmas-sy bent, it was no surprise that the first event of the season came early this year – a team lunch at the Soul bar on Union Street in November no less. Thanks to the atrocious weather I ended up marooned offshore, restricted to taking to Facebook to moan about missing the free food and a half day off work.

I get my chance to make up for that miss one chilly December evening. The team gathers for drinks at The Monkey House, an event I arrive for a full six minutes late. Between navigating the crowd of early evening revellers in various stages of alcohol induced headiness and striving to zone out the not inconsiderable din, I catch the eye of the Boss who waves me over to the tables where they are already seated. There are a few faces I do not recognize, and after a few introductions and handshakes, he clamps his hand on my arm and drags me to the bar to order a drink. It just so happens that my preferred pub drink – a (supposedly) alcohol free bottle of Becks Blue is not available and I have to go one up to a bottle of regular Becks. I grab the bottle and settle in between my Irish work buddy Si and one of the blokes I do not already know. Between sips of our brews, we make small talk – what we do for fun in town, christmas travel plans and the like. When it is my turn, I mention books – I stress these are of the non-academic variety, football manager on my laptop and a couple of evenings at the Opera House as highlights of my evenings from 2011. It so happens that the man I don’t know is an avid Opera go-er himself – his poshy, self assured manner might have hinted at a more cultured interior if I had taken the time to notice I guess – and he recommends The Battle Proms as something I should definitely add to my 2012 plans.

We wrap up the evening with a meal at the Nazma – one that I have some history with. I have some really chili-hot lamb tikka, a side of rice and a sauce chock full of mushrooms. I am wont to chalk my light-headedness at the end to hallucinogens in the mushrooms, not the mere three bottles of Becks I have downed.

Given the way 2011 started – slouched on a couch in front of the TV watching the ball drop in Times Square – I could be forgiven for expecting that 2011 would be a breeze. The reality of 2011 has been markedly different – breaking up with EJ, getting the two year itch and almost leaving my job twice [having said that, I suspect I’ll still leave in 2012], and a significant amount of disruption to my world view made 2011 interesting, if difficult  in bits.

All in all, its been a decent, steady year which ultimately flattered to deceive. The cliff notes version? Shitty in bits but otherwise quotidian. Looking back, I got a few big decisions right when they really mattered and got to celebrate a number of family milestones.

All in all, life happened, but then Life ‘happens’ after all, doesn’t it?

Winter’s first salvo, waiting for Ally and a curious case of begging..

The much threatened snow storm finally hit, and when it did it was an anti-climax of sorts. Rather than the promised chaos and long tail backs, there were only mild disruptions at most. I suspect the winter has a lot more sting in its tail, but its first salvo has been under-whelming at worst. Given the town’s penchant for gory, frightful winters, I’ll take under-whelming any time.

One evening, I am standing just inside the doors at Union Square – earphones plugged in with The Script on repeat, hands in my coat pockets and looking out – as the maelstrom of humanity just belched out by the 18:17 train from Dyce sweeps by. I am usually at home by this time – heaters fired up, warm drink in hand, catching up on re-runs of NCIS – but I am out today waiting to pick up a friend whose train should have arrived a few minutes earlier. He and I haven’t met up in at least three years – I suspect it’s probably more – even though we have kept in touch via email and the odd phone call here and there. He has been holidaying, taking in the sights of Europe and gate crashing one party too many whilst checking yet more places off his places-to-see-before-I-die list. A chance conversation a couple of weeks before helped make up his mind to toss in a sleep over at mine – the final pit stop before the train that is his holiday hurtles on to Nigeria and a return to the drudgery of work. A quick glance at the arrivals board at the station alerts me to the unfortunate fact that his train has been delayed by a further fifteen minutes.

Out of the corner of my eye I see a man – I reckon he is at least 6-2 as he has at least a head on me – hovering around in the manner of one either lost or a predator lurking, waiting for an opportune moment to strike. Instinctively, I shorten the straps on my knapsack and hug my coat a little closer until I sense the reassuring touch of my wallet with its assortment of cards on my hip. Such is the ingrained fear of pick pockets in me that I immediately tense up, half expecting to lose something. I casually turn a little, hoping to get a clearer line of sight to him – in my mind my counter espionage skills rival those of Nick Carter – N3, agent extraordinaire at AXE. My manoeuvre unfortunately is one that plays into his hands. Realising he has my attention, he begins to amble in my direction.

Whatever complacency is left in my inner Nick Carter is driven off when he speaks
– Bros, he begins, you be Naija shey?

I ponder the ramifications of answering in the affirmative for a few seconds and then decide to humour him by replying in what I hope is a sufficiently brusque – Yes.

Seemingly heartened by my answer he proceeds to download a spiel about how he’s been up to TheBZ to visit a business associate who has ended up duping him. The cliff notes version is that he is 30 pounds short of the total amount required to get a train ticket to head back to London.

 – I am a family man you know, he adds, it is just sad that my own Nigerian brother will do this to me. He speaks with the affectation of one who feels broken and used.

Maybe I am in a good mood, or it is the spectre of Christmas looming large at the back of my mind, but for once I decide to humour him, especially as I have a few minutes to kill before the train bearing my friend arrives.

– 30 pounds, you say, I ask him again to make sure. He nods, a little too eagerly I think. I motion for him to follow me, explaining that as I do not have cash on me, I will have to buy the ticket with my card.

The disappointment on his face is clear for me to see. Apparently he had been hoping I would complete his fare by cash. I firmly explain that I do not have any cash on me. He insists, if I can’t give it to him by cash, he’ll pass and wait for someone else who can. Somewhere in between, he turns abruptly and walks away from me. I shrug, walk back to my vantage watching spot and resuming waiting for Ally’s train.

In truth, I could use the 30 pounds myself, what I don’t understand is what happened to beggars having no choice?

Before dying catches us…

Before dying catches us
and the banal, quotidian
joys of a simpe life expire
at the hoot of Charon’s ferry
from across the styx,
and the memory
of the faces, and the names
of the ones we once held dear
fade away, lost in the eternal
blackness of demise;
before the grim reaper
suprises us with the rude,
ineclutable finality of death;
we must not forget

Seven Priorities for Life

I spent the weekend going through Michael Hyatt‘s cute little e-book Creating Your Personal Life Plan.  In no particular order, below are the things I feel need to be priorities going forward:

  1. God: World-view, faith, God and how these interact in defining a moral compass for me is a crucial part of my developing fully into the sort of bloke I need to become. It is time for me to start engaging my various proclivities which are preventing me from gaining the clarity of thought and direction that I need.
  2. Health: Whilst I have not had any major health scares, truth is I am overweight by some. A few years ago, I had blood pressures that were way out of the ‘safe’ and ‘normal’ zone [Thankfully, I passed my last offshore medical in flying colours]. Keeping fit, counting calories and staying health has to be one of my priorities going forward.
  3. Family: Whilst I remain single at the moment, deep in my heart is a longing to meet someone, find love and raise a family together. Two dimensions stand out here – finding the one and being the sort of bloke she’d want to be with. These both have to be priorities going forward – engaging the ‘knowledgable others’ in my circle and being open enough to solicit, accept and implement honest feedback where it is offered on areas where personal improvement is required.
  4. Personal Development: Learning continuously, and always reviewing where I am versus where I should be has to be a key component of my life. Big things are expected of me, and getting those done depends on continuously improving and finding the over arching knowledge and foresight required to grow into those big roles. This will have two facets: Career, in which I develop into a globally recognised Corrosion/Materials/Integrity Engineer, and personally where I progress and develop my public speaking, and writing skills.
  5. Friends: Given the large number of acquaintances I have, the few real friends I have (and I would count O & I as the two stand out ones at the moment) who time and time again have proven they are worth their weight in gold, and more, deserve some reciprocal attention. They are going to have to be priorities going forward – they’ve earned it!
  6. Finances: Finances are a key part of fulfilling the responsibilities that I will have as a Father, Husband, Son and social justice campaigner. Learning how to manage and grow my money is a critical part of the me I will become.
  7. Service: One more priority is taking all the gifts and blessings that I have been given and pouring them all out in service to others. The details of this are not exactly clear at the moment – especially considering the significant evolution my world view is going through at the moment – but finding the time and the place to make a difference for others ‘less blessed’ as to be a priority going forward.