Awkward conversations, proxy wars and the end of an era

In that productivity black hole that is the half hour before lunch – where the energy and the gusto from an early start have been steadily eroded by the mundanity of work and the insistent prattle of phone calls, emails and the odd buzz-word infested meeting – I stroll for the umpteenth time into the restroom, almost colliding with a man who is fiddling with the zipper on his fly. I least expect to find someone just inside the door, even though this time of the day is one where the restroom shuffle, coffee room trips and huddles of two and three in the hallway are time honoured strategies for the keen time waster.

Although he is as surprised as I am, he collects his wits much quicker than I do, explaining through a stutter that his zipper has somehow come unravelled. In the five-ish minutes I spend using the urinal and washing up my hands he struggles to restore the integrity of his fly with a safety pin. Just how he manages to have a safety pin in hand and to the rescue escapes me – something tells me that he’s had the safety pin in place for more than just this trip to the loo. I leave before he resolves his little problem thankful for the chance to escape the awkwardness engendered by restroom small talk.

el Madre, never one to shirk the opportunity to launch into a full frontal assault, appears to be learning in middle age that some subtlety – especially when it is related to her quietly stubborn brood – is the more likely weapon of choice for maximum impact. After the sustained attack that was the first half of 2011, she and I managed to have civil conversations through the back end of the year; ones which were largely successful in  avoiding the elephant in the room  – my perceived lack of application in resolving her grand child conundrum. In truth the attentions of a doting son in law, and a grand daughter who is quickly learning the tricks of playing adults against each other helped to keep her mollified. In tandem with her withdrawal, my uncle F has ratcheted up his interest, and he calls me one Monday morning lunch time to remonstrate with the newest prodigal in town. He is the one Uncle who has black sheep credentials, ones which he continually uses to press the case for a change of heart from yours truly.

On to Facebook on Monday night – boredom meeting a pining for just any conversation – and I end up talking with one of the lads from my class of 2009. He’s due out of the UK for good in a week’s time, his inability to get a sponsoring company putting paid to any furtherance of the dreams he once had. It turns out in the few months I haven’t been in touch with them three more of the lads have upped and headed back to Nigeria, one has acquired a Polish bride keen to enjoy the services of her black stud and one more has bitten the bullet and headed to Canada to reinvent his career. It is perhaps a testament to the harsh climes and how quickly time has passed by that my class of 2009 is light on the ground; with the bulk of us either back in Nigeria or weighing up Nigerian moves. It truly is becoming the end of an era, our era.

The Friday Read #2: The Paradox of Options

Jonah Lehrer  (The Frontal Cortex) reviews a paper by Bahns, Pickett and Crandall on the relationship between social ecology (the make up of a community and its characteristics) and how people initiate and maintain relationships. They surmise that a bigger pool only makes us more picky, and keener to gravitate to people similar to us (the so called Similarity-Attraction effect).

The cliff notes version?

When opportunity abounds, people are free to pursue more narrow selection criteria, but when fewer choices are available, they must find satisfaction using broader criteria.

Perhaps LightherLamp put it more elegantly a few days ago. Full text of the paper here.

Forgotten milestones, unexpected positives and 2012 reading

Amidst the bedlam that was a return to work after almost three weeks away, I completely forgot the small matter of having passed the second-year anniversary of my starting at my current job.  The lads at HR though were not exactly keen to let me forget ; and I was suitably reminded via a letter in my home post box advising me of my eligibility to enrol on the company enhanced pension plan. Bar a few moments of drudgery,  it has never really felt like I have been stuck out here for the past two years, even though I’ve twice come close to leaving; once to Nigeria, and the other time to our biggest competitor across town.

For one, the two lasses I have had to share Room 3.26  with for all of a year and a half –  the Irish drinkard-swearer  Si and her not quite prim and proper Glasweigian side kick –  have provided me with invaluable insights into the minds of women. Having to over hear conversations about repairing broken nails, spray tans, weight watcher points, trips to the hair dresser and excited squeals over scoring a pair of Louboutins for 900 pounds is about as mind numbing as it can get. Thankfully, these conversations have not segued into the murky waters of bikini waxes and other more quintessentially feminine matters, yet. My timely offshore trips and a six month period spent working at a different site appear to have helped maintain my sanity.  I suppose in some dark, murky parallel universe out there, some inertial frame exists within which there are positives to all these. If in 2015, that all Nigerian chic decides that her bedside prattle will consist in its entirely of the highs and lows of the not all together trivial pursuit of getting a broken nail fixed, I suspect that I will merely smile smugly to myself and zone out, thankful that between a feisty Irish lass and her side kick I have heard it all.

Mid way through January I am two books to the good and a good way through the third. A re-reading of Jeffrey Archer’s Shall We Tell the President was quickly followed by Drew Dyck’s Generation Ex-Christian, an evangelical’s attempt to unpack the reasons why 80% of children reared in church disengage by the time they turn 29 [I appear to be a classic ‘drifter’ by the way –  adult PK, single and firmly in the throes of a cognitive dissonance I seem unable to escape. 😦 ]  Mid way through Binyanvanga Wainaina’s One Day I Will Write About This Place, I am increasingly enthralled by the self deprecating wit which he pens this memoir – but then since Open City and  The Sense of an Ending I have been on a one man crusade to devour everything written that explores the conflation of memory and reflection that is a well written memoir.

I am hoping that my reading will cover a lot more genres this year  – worldviews both Christian and secular, memoir, business, the usual fiction and which ever book wins the Booker this year. Given the way my year in books has started off, it might yet be a good one.

Reluctant conversations…

The flight into London was uneventful, the only thing breaking my ear-phones-plugged-in-music-playing routine being an exceptionally friendly gentleman and his wife who I had the misfortune of sitting next to, on one of three adjoining seats. After tossing my knapsack into the overhead locker, I motion for them to make some space for me. He smiles, far too easily and obliges me, as I slither into the seat, somehow managing to do it without entangling my ear phone wires on the various odds and ends he has left on the seat. He is dressed simply; a North Face jacket from which a bland, grey shirt peeks through a half done zipper. I can’t help but notice that the woman on the other hand is much better dressed, the highlight being an eye catching, flowery, brown dress that stops well shy of her knees as she sits, and a full mane of blonde hair. I settle in, toss a mirthless, slit lip grin in their direction and proceed to detangle my ear phone wires.

Going home? Or holidaying, the man to my right asks.

Holidaying, I reply, hoping that my reply is sufficient brusque to stifle any further attempt at conversation.

Somewhere warm? He continues. I shrug inwardly resigning myself to losing my peace on this flight. I give him the cliff notes version –  a wedding in Oklahoma, a dash up to Chicago if I can manage it and a couple of days to meet up with old buddies in Dallas. Not boiling warm but warm enough given the weather forecasts for TheBZ. He explains that he and the wife, whom he indicates with a slant of his head, are headed westward too – California for four days and then Hawaii for two weeks. In the space of five short minutes, I learn that last year he did the Caribbean, and the year before some other exotic place. I murmur my compliments at their timing – they like me should miss the worst of the typically soul chilling TheBZ weather.

We make some more small talk, before I am rescued by the announcement of take off over the public address system. He turns to the woman at his side – who has passed the time thumbing through the high life magazine and chattering excitedly with her friend across the aisle – and they confer briefly.

He pats down his jacket, re-checks the buckle on the seat belt and leans back in his chair as the aircraft is towed on to the runway. In the few minutes it takes till we are airborne, I find that he has somehow managed to fall asleep. For the first time in at least ten minutes I am left in relative peace, enjoying the silence of my thoughts, and music. Across the aisle, the woman and her friend share a snicker at how quickly he has fallen asleep.

Postscript
OK was a blast – within minutes of my arrival I was treated to my very own steaming bowl of goat meat pepper soup. I toyed with heading out to Houston to meet up with my old Welding Engineering mentor, but the prospect of running into people I frankly had been trying hard to forget deterred me. Over all the only dark spot was being saddled with a couple of cry-y little children whose mother was only too glad to enjoy her new found freedom whilst I did my very best to keep them occupied. In a bizarre twist of fate,  I ended up bonding with them so much I suspect I caught a mild case of baby envy fever.  As for the wedding – I attended.

And no, I didn’t catch the garter.

The Friday Read #1: How Will You Measure Your Life?

Clayton M. Christensen over at the Harvard Business Review muses on life, purpose and defining the right long term metric for measuring success:

I’ve concluded that the metric by which God will assess my life isn’t dollars but the individual people whose lives I’ve touched. Don’t worry about the level of individual prominence you have achieved; worry about the individuals you have helped become better people. This is my final recommendation: Think about the metric by which your life will be judged, and make a resolution to live every day so that in the end, your life will be judged a success.

Full text here.

2012 in Twelve Things

In what is going to be a first for me, I will cross over into the new year aboard an airplane, albeit one headed homeward. It certainly is a far cry from how 2011 started, but perhaps this unconventional start will afford  me the chance to pause and ponder a few days early, and agree on 12 things for 2012 all aligned with my seven priorities for life. Here goes:

  1. Develop a daily practice of meditation, prayer and journaling:  Taking time out to examine life, capture things as they happen and improve daily has to be a key component of my daily routine going forward. The seven priorities are great on paper, but unless progress on the continuum towards achieving them is measured and recorded, I suspect the end of the year will come, and I will still be where I am as of today, stuck in a rut. Target: 4 of 5 days a week of reading the identified text in the Our Daily Bread app.
  2. Lose 20kg: I am overweight – no amount of faffing around can gloss over that simple fact. I tried for a month, before slipping back into my my routine of Nandos, large potions and baguettes at work. Losing weight has to be a focus in 2012, the target is to lose 20kg for a return to c. 80kg weight and a healthy BMI. Target: Walk to and from work daily, take 2 days in the week to eat only fruits (seedless grapes, bananas and apples only), stay off coffee, eat half of what I would normally eat.
  3. Read (and review) 25 books in 2012.
  4. Call parents and siblings once a week: Quick phone call to Dad/Mum every two weeks; hopefully I can catch the siblings weekly for a quick chat.
  5. Save £1,000 a month: The YE spend data for 2011 was abysmal. For a net (ex. taxes) increase in pay of c. 600 pounds, I ended up doubling my expenditure versus 2010. Some of it was unavoidable  – the house move in late 2010, increased bills and rents hit for the full year 2011 versus the one quarter in 2010, but large swathes of cash remained unaccounted for. The plan is to move 1,000 each month from my net pay prior to any expenses coming through, as well as refuse to get involved in providing soft loans to the lads.
  6. Get chartered engineer status:  I didn’t make a lot of progress professionally in 2011. There were no conferences attended or certifications gained. This is a focus area for 2012 – I am looking to get at least one of either the C.Eng designation or complete my NACE certifications before YE 2012.
  7. Get a driver’s license: I have had a provisional drivers license for over a year already. The focus in 2012 will be to use the 1st quarter to write and pass the theory test, and the summer months to practice for and pass the practical test for a full drivers’ license. Given my traumatic car crash from 2008, and the fact that I haven ‘t driven since then, I suspect this will not be a trivial pursuit.
  8. Resolve long term settlement options: 2012 will be crucial for me as I decide where I will lay down my long term routes. TheBZ would be a good place, but the increasingly louder anti-immigrant rhetoric is a niggling issue at the bottom of my mind. Canada seems to be a longer term option – one that I will explore to a greater extent in 2012.
  9. Resolve my dating and meeting issues: I am at a stage where I can truly say that I have let got of my EJ issues. Having said that there remain pockets of memories I need to ditch finally. The target through 2012 is to bring myself to the place where I can truly say I have forgotten and moved on, a position where I am free in my head to meet and date again. 2012 in this regards has to be the year of de-cluttering.
  10. Complete FAN integration: Given my constant moaning about how mind numbingly boring the little city I live in is, that I am not taking advantage of what opportunities there are to meet people is a shame. Through 2012, the intention is to reconnect with the Youth and Singles group at church once a month.
  11. Re-engage with FOL service: My service in the group I work with in church was shocking in 2011. Granted, part of it was a busier, less controlled work load, but my worldview issues also contributed in no small measure. The plan in 2012 is to reconnect and reengage with the group, and be useful once again.
  12. Find a mentor: I’m looking to get more intentionality in life, a mentor would definitely help for the accountability bits here.

About Town: Westward…

On the morning of the day I am due to fly westward, I wake up late – late being a few minutes before 9.00 am – on a day on which I have an 11.35 am flight to catch with neither a packed bag nor sorted transport for comfort. When I finally pull myself out of my bed, I call a cab for 9.30 am, and beginning tossing clothes, books and my laptop into the grab bag I use for these quick across-the-pond jaunts.

The decision to head westward –  though made on a whim  – had been the culmination of a few weeks of agonising and endless analysis to the point of paralysis;  weighing the pros and the cons of heading across the pond yet again this year. One day, early in November, one of the lads had called me up from across the pond to announce that he was finally ditching the unfettered freedoms of chronic bachelorhood for the not inconsiderable constraints responsibilities of married life.

The surprise was not that he’d finally seen reason, but that it had taken him so long. The rumour mills of the old boys network insisted – without proof of course – that the sharp words from his mother had finally borne fruit, aided by rumoured frolics in the dark, bowls of steaming pepper soup and more than a few tantrums from his girlfriend of seven years and some, a bruising dynamo of a woman whose abilities belied her 5-2 frame. She was appropriately named Patience. 

The driver of the cab that gets assigned to me is at least sixty by my reckoning, with a receding hairline almost white in its entirety. When I finally lug my bag downstairs to where he is waiting, I have to rap his window twice before I get his attention which is fully occupied by staring into the distance whilst tossing biscuit crumbs into his open mouth. I confirm my name and my destination to him as we pull out of the parking lot onto the side road and on towards the airport. There is a light drizzle, some wind and light traffic as we drive. Unusually for an older cab driver – I find that they tend to be more friendly and gregarious than most – our conversation takes a while to kick off so we cycle through the usual suspects; moaning about the weather, the latest lousy football score for the local football team, and an unusual one – council taxes.

As we crawl past the impressive stone facade of St Machars, he asks what church I attend.  Unsure if the name might ring a bell, I mention the street it is on. Recognition flickers in his eyes as he confirms he does know it.

Your priest is always sharply dressed, he says. I’ve taken him from the airport a few times. He’s a good bloke too, very spiritual. I nod in agreement. If we are talking about the same person, I am yet to see him dressed in anything beyond a freshly pressed shirt, a tie, well pressed pants and shoes shined to the max. He also is one of those rabidly (in a good way) spiritual blokes who wear their faith on their sleeves – I suspect he might have tried to do some preaching to the cabbie.

We are making the final turn towards the airport, with a head of traffic building when I ask him what church he attends. He points in the direction of a side road out of town towards the next small farming outpost.

Out that way, he says. About three miles.  He explains it’s a church that serves the small farming community out there, and that his parents and their parents, as are those of the bulk of the forty or so people who attend it, are all buried in the cemetery that adjoins the church. He adds that the Vicar who has served for nearly thirty-six years is retiring, to be replaced by a thirty something year old, single female priest. Change, even one as benign as this, doesn’t strike me as one that will come easy to a church that appears steeped in tradition. He agrees, but adds that the female priest has filled the role intermittently over the past few years and is quite liked around those parts.

I glance at my watch – it is just past 10.15 am and what looked like a small head of traffic is revealed to be a long line snaking all the way back to the drop off point at the airport. Worry sneaks into my mind about making the check-in, but he oblivious of my discomfort goes on to talk very excitedly about a new stained glass window to be commissioned that weekend. He’d gotten the installer to give him a sneak preview, a fact he seems particularly keen to share.

I smile at his enthusiasm, chipping in with adequately placed oohs-and-aahs as he goes on about just how gorgeous it is. After a few more minutes, the long lines snaking towards us clear up, and we finally make it into the airport.

When he hands me my change from my fare, I hang on to it for a few seconds and on yet another whim hand back the loose change. He hesitates but I insist, adding that if I were not travelling, I would have very much liked to witness the unveiling of the new window at his church. He smiles, nods and accepts the coins.. His enthusiasm has bitten me so much that oblivious to the biting wind and cold, I catch myself whistling some obscure tune under my breath to myself as I drag my box into the terminal building.