About Town: Slivers of summer, art in the ‘Deen and stumbling on my first Tartan Parade

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The sun is out, belatedly, and in its weakly warm, barely there, almost autumnal pall I feel a small sense of relief that summer has not passed us by in its entirety out here in our little wind swept corner of the world. Not since the back end of May have we had weather remotely resembling summer; and with this tiny sliver of sunshine comes the urge to go out and do something. Thankfully Union Square with all its delights – and sun bathed open spaces – is only a brisk ten minute walk away from work, so I make a few phone calls and get my two friends from across town to agree to a meetup to catchup over lunch.  We end up – and there must be no prizes for guessing here – at Nandos and we order our now standard fare, a platter of peri-peri chicken and a variety of sides to share. I go for a mixed leaf salad – between Sister #1 and the Irish drinkard, calorie counting has become my new obsession. My buddies, not shackled by the need to rein in bulging waistlines – both go for other less healthy options; OOO going for two sides of rice and Og going for a large serving of peri-peri salted chips. Between placing my initial order, and getting my loyalty card swiped, it turns out my last but one visit has entitled me to an extra half serving of chicken, which I add to my current order. All told we end up binging on a chicken and a half in the hour we spend there. Fully fed, with sagging guts and brains groaning at the small matter of another four hours of work, we down our coffees and leave to start heading back up to work. Having safely dispatched them to their cars, I settle in on one of the benches in front of the Union Square building to catch another half hour of sunshine before heading back to work.

This weekend the main objective is to make a pit stop at the Peacock Visual Arts Centre for Contemporary art. Nestled in the inauspicious surroundings that are the dark alleys, grey facades and, quite honestly, intimidating faces that define Castle Street in my mind’s eye (thanks to the bits I see on my daily walk to work), I have never given the sign at its entrance anything more than a cursory glance. It has taken an unlikely sequence of events – being hounded to find a hobby that involves more than reading a book in my room by my unofficial strategy consultant, then taking to twitter to search for accounts related to Aberdeen and then stumbling on the @TheKiosque account – I find out there is more to the Peacock Centre, and that Alina & Jeff Bliumis’ Language barrier and other obstacles exhibition opens there this weekend. I have to ask the young woman at the till at Barnados next door before I locate the entrance after I have dragged myself out of bed and into jeans and a crumpled shirt with a jacket on Saturday morning, but it is well worth the effort in the end. I find the exhibition small but intriguing. The collection appeared to be in three parts – one themed along the lines of having thoroughfares obstructed by books on language and identity, a second titled ‘Cultural Tips for new Americans providing witty, if over stated explanations for peculiar Americanisms like male to male hugs (they have a book too) and a final section of postcards with words and images seemingly from various immigration brochures. There was a Nigerian card too.

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Exhibition viewing done and dusted I decide I need to grab some groceries and begin to head back out to Union Street to my usual Co-op shop. I find the road closed off and a man in a Tartan entertaining a rapidly swelling crowd, alongside his partner dressed in a dog’s costume. There is also the distant sound of drums and bagpipes. It turns out that Saturday the 28th is this year’s Tartan Day, and I have fortuitously stumbled on the Tartan Parade. In short order, the marching band comes through, up Union Street to where I am positioned close to the Sheriff Court where at a bellowed command they turn left to salute the Mayor (I think), who is dressed in his own tartan of course. My groceries are promptly forgotten as I take the chance to revel in the gaiety of it all – funny happy people, music and being literally lost in the crowd – a glimpse into Scottish culture I suppose.

All told, rain or not – and it did rain in fits and starts –  I had what was arguably my most enjoyable weekend in a long time. The only downer being the nagging thought at the back of my mind that I may have discovered the joys of this city a little too late, in what -if I had my way – just might be, my last year here.

About Town: Chance Meetings, Moments of Discomfort and a life-in-a-song moment

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A sudden bout of hunger assails me just before the clock chimes 5.00pm and I find myself making a detour – turning left at Guild Street and then  making a beeline for the KFC on Union Street. Usually at this time of the day the singular focus is to get myself home, settle on my couch with a bowl of cold cereal and unwind with a Big Bang Theory/How I Met Your Mother TV marathon. Even the spectre of steaming morsels of eba potentially chasing themselves down my throat in short order is not enough to draw me home – the coup de grâce is, I suspect, the fact that it has been the better part of six months since I have savoured the fiery goodness of battered, deep fried chicken.

It takes all of seven minutes between arriving and finally getting my fare set on my table and being set to dig in. One bite in, someone calls my name, loudly. Out of the corner of my eye I catch sight of a bloke I used to know. A few months ago, he had left the current employer in a huff – word around the office was that there had been a disciplinary issue involved. He has company – three females and two blokes besides him. He walks up to my seat and pumps my free hand in that overstated, uniquely Nigerian way – “Ol’ boy, na your eye be this”? he asks rhetorically. “Na me o”, I reply, a reply that ends up merely being the prelude to a barrage of greetings until I am rescued by one of the ladies who catches his eye. He excuses himself and leads them to the till.

Four minutes later he is back, having got them to place orders – a giant bargain bucket and two large Pepsis. We catch up on what he has been up to since he moved on – chasing up graduate studies and applying to new jobs. “Nothing concrete yet, just a few leads to follow up“, he quickly adds. I nod, intelligently I hope, and give him a quick run down of where I have been so far. He left under a cloud, one so intense that the Boss was compelled to send out an email to every one assuring us that it was a one off, and further departures were not planned. As such, it is no little discomfort that I have to endure as we attempt to make small talk. I am saved again by his companions who by this time have finally ordered their food and have located a seat to settle in. I shake his hand as he prepares to leave, assuring him that I would be more than happy to provide a reference if required. Deep down, I hope it all gets sorted out without my involvement.

On my way home, my stomach filled to its brim with chicken, I fire an app to stream music to enliven my stroll. These days the gidilounge app has become my first resort in moments where mindlessly listening to music is required. In between listening and picking my way through the throng of people walking in the opposite direction to me, a line in a song jumps out and grabs my attention. I never quite catch the song in its entirety but it includes something about being ‘hot like atarodo‘. I chuckle to myself as a memory forces itself to the fore of my mind. Many years ago, in the peak of the Abacha years, my mother took to buying tomatoes and pepper in bulk to stretch the family’s meagre income. She would leave the baskets to us to wash up and then drag off to the local mill a few streets away to be turned into her very own purée. This would be steamed to drive off water and then stored in her freezer to be used in making stew from time to time. On one of those days, I went from washing atarodo to taking a leak too quickly, transferring the fiery material unto my nether regions to great discomfort. It took a prompt cold bath, and more scrubbing than I care to remember to douse the fire in my pants to a manageable level. The one small positive from that experience was being excused from picking atarodo from then on till I eventually moved away to University. Small positives, after all I guess.