The Weekend Diary – Of Trains and Stolen Things


I realise the reservation ‘gods’ have dealt me a dubious hand within five minutes of coming aboard the 11.03 to Edinburgh Waverley. That is all the time it takes for me to spot the trio of old geezers parked in the pair of seats immediately to my right and be swarmed by the posse of loud, giggling women who breeze past on their way to the seats they have reserved a few seats behind me. Between them, they kick up a racket whilst the train loads up, from which I overhear that the men are offshore workers returning home – somewhere beyond Edinburgh – after three weeks offshore, and the women are headed to Edinburgh for a hen do.

Across from me, separated by the table I was so keen to get for my laptop, a lone man sits, head phones in, reading a book, a cup of Costa coffee at his side from which he swigs intermittently – between looking quizzically at the developing ruckus and peering into his book. I nod a greeting when I catch his eye and move the bags in the overhead locker to create space for my knapsack from which I extract my laptop and settle in to my seat.

By the time the train begins to roll towards the next stop, Stonehaven, things have quietened down a little, not before the (seemingly) oldest of the trio has offered one of the ladies a swig from his bottle of whisky. She demurs, insisting that 11.15am is a early, even for her, to kick off on whisky. She does drop herself into the seat next to the men for a quick natter – they talk about the football game which Aberdeen apparently won 5-2 on aggregate and she points out the bride to be – the wee lassie with red hair – is how she describes her, pointing.

I keep my gaze fully focused on my laptop screen – a good way to avoid unnecessary conversation I think, given these seem a particularly boisterous lot – and make a few updates to the spreadsheet I had been tinkering with before I left work, only glancing up when a blast of sunshine hits just past Montrose. The view is breathtaking – cliffs, beaches and lush greenery – one of the reasons why train journeys are my preferred mode of getting about in Scotland – and I inwardly congratulate myself on having chosen to take a forward facing, window side seat.

That ruse is not enough to save me from all contact – in the 2 and a quarter hours between Stonehaven and Edinburgh Waverley, I get called brother by the most gregarious of the bunch, get asked what I’m doing on my laptop, get offered a swig of whisky three times and get my head rubbed by him, all far too chummy and matey than I care for – but given the close quarters and the fact that we are cooped together for all that time for better or worse, I shrug it off, choosing to continue with what I am doing than make a big fuss.

Once through the barriers at Edinburgh Waverley, and into the bright sunshine that bathes the surroundings at Edinburgh’s Waverley station, that sense of returning recognition hits me. The last time I was here it was 2012, M was interviewing for a role up in Aberdeen at the time and had been on the phone a lot with me for insights into the personality of the hiring manager and tips to handle the interview. I had slightly more romantic interests. She got the job, my interests – misguided in retrospect –  didn’t quite pan out, to my lingering regret. All that comes rushing back to my mind as I navigate the steps from the station onto Princes Street and on to the test centre where my result sheet is to be amended, the main reason for this trip. That takes all of twenty minutes to complete, leaving me with a load of time on my hands and not even planned to do. I end up at Starbucks, with a large latte and carrot cake to clear my head, charge up my phone and plot my next move.


It turns out I’m in luck, it is the final weekend of the Edinburgh Jazz and Blues Festival. Crucially also, one of the Friday night sessions holds at The Jazz Bar which is a few hundred feet from the hostel I have booked for my overnight stay, as is a Nandos and a Tesco between which toiletries and dinner are sorted rather quickly.

The line at the Jazz bar when I arrive at a quarter to eight for an 8pm start is lengthening rapidly. Those who have been smart enough to pre purchase tickets are waved through whilst the rest of us who have left things till late wait to be ushered in in batches of five for standing room only. The band for the day – a Thelonious Monk tribute act of sorts – starts off slow, but eventually get the evening off with a passable if pleasing performance. In the end I enjoy it enough to make a mental note to drag one of my friends to the Blue Lamp when I return home.

I return and promptly fall asleep till woken up by the shrill shriek of the fire alarm at 3.00am. We never quite know what precipitated it but the fire service shows up in full fire fighting mode. An hour later with no real action taken – visible to me at least – we get the all clear and are ushered back in to the building. I fail to fall asleep so I read instead, taking the opportunity to catch up on the book I currently have on the go, the Cheryl Strayed edited The Best American Essays 2013. I find Marcia Aldrich’s The Art of Being Born, Walter Kirn’s Confessions of An Ex-Mormon and William Kelley’s Breeds of America particularly engaging.

Fully awake at 10.0am and checked out of my hostel, I have a wander about Chambers Street, finally settling on a tour of the National Museum of Scotland. Whilst waiting for the start of the free guided tour I have elected to partake in, I fall into conversation with a duo of girls from Spain (where it is apparently 40 degrees C that morning), an old couple from Texas, a father and son from Canada and someone from Alaska. When the tour guide hands out maps, she asks if I’m ok with an English one (there are other languages, apparently). I want to ask her if she’s got one in Yoruba for the heck of it but hold my tongue. That I have my jacket on in 18 degree weather probably has deceived her into thinking I am not from these parts.

The tour is an instructive one, I end up returning to the Millennium Clock, browsing the natural sciences section and coming up close to a stuffed African Elephant and end up in the World Cultures section where I’m particularly intrigued to see a commemorative Oba’s head. That the object sits in a Scottish Museum rather than in its rightful place in an altar in the Oba’s Palace is one of those artefacts of history I suppose – bitter sweet because its being here has probably allowed me see it, and means it will be better preserved than if it was in a Nigerian museum. Stolen goods then or taken for the greater good?

After the museum, there is just enough time to grab a bite at F&B and catch my train for the return trip home. Again the Waverley station is bathed in bright sunlight as I walk back in. Outside, the weather progressively gets worse – as stark a contrast to my outbound one as there could be. I arrive just past 5.30pm, to life and reality, the mist, settling in as we go past Montrose has become a thick, dense fog, like a noose around the sun’s neck that the passage of time as we speed along towards Aberdeen has drawn tighter till it has been extinguished.

Some things are what they are – chief of which is that I am reluctantly coming to accept that for consistently non-grey weather, one must look further south.

On Loss..


[Image Source]

It has been a deeply emotive week for me, bookended as it were by Sunday’s Remembrance Service – a year exactly to the day since we lost H– and the quiet, deathly stillness of my office today as I stand here, cup of coffee in hand looking out at the lunch time crowd milling about. As the week has gone along, the flurry of phone calls, emails and messages of commiseration I have had to field from people has eased off, allowing me some time to begin to reflect on where I am, and how things have evolved over the past year. Not much has changed by all accounts, I still haven’t brought myself to delete H’s details from my phone or my FB page for that matter – deceased 19th July 2014 is the only addition I have made on my phone – which led to a birthday reminder from FB in my feed the other day, as raw a reminder as there could be of the keenness of the loss we still feel.

By some coincidence, the Poets.Org Poem-A-Day feed on the 21st of July featured a poem about death (The Sadness of Clothes), specifically the emptiness it leaves in its wake from the perspective of the clothes which thenceforth lie unused, but also metaphorically in the lives of those who are left.

Inspired – and I use that loosely – by that Emily Fragos poem, I trawled through my Pocket archive, eventually stumbling on a number of articles related to loss and grieving – where there hasn’t been the chance to say a proper goodbye, where a child feels like their proper duty hasn’t been done, and where a writer deals with the blankness by crafting a story around his recollections of it.

There is a sense in which for me, loss and lostness is every one of these – craving (and not yet finding) a new normal, some regret for not making the most of the time we had and the lingering sadness that a few thousand miles meant there were never any proper goodbyes. Loss in its suddenness does that, snatching what comforts the opportunity to say proper goodbyes might have offered one.

Grief is difficult to talk about, particularly given the sort of deeply introspective personalities A and I, which is how I guess we have somehow managed to skirt the issues, focusing more on all the doing and changing we have had to do rather than the reality of loss. I still don’t know how he felt as he stood there helplessly watching life ebb out of someone he’d spent the better part of 40 years knowing and doing life with. With my sisters – far more connected to their emotional selves as they are – those conversations have occurred, and still occur. Maybe with time A and I will be able to transcend the inherent difficulties in grieving. For now we persist in flitting in the shadows of a less distressing re-memory.

With Grace


I have been (re) reading Philip Yancey’s What’s So Amazing About Grace, the central idea of which is that the church has gone the way of the world in dealing with people who are different; with judgement and disdain rather than grace. For a book from 1997, it does not by any means feel dated, somehow remaining current not least for the issues it tackles; issued which defined the late Nineties but still continue to define our current epoch than anything else – homosexuality and the moral failings of people in leadership, temporal and spiritual.

Only a few short weeks – barely a month – separates us from the landmark decision made by the US Supreme Court in ruling that same sex couples can marry nationwide. The 5-4 decision was perhaps indicative of how closely fought the battle was – each of the dissenting judges wrote an opinion. Christian America has not taken the ‘affront’ lying down with a range of responses from declaring the decision the final sin that will bring an apocalytic judgement on America to a few more nuanced – and blatantly fence-sitting responses from the likes of Brian Houston and TD Jakes amongst others.

There are no simple solutions or answers to the conundrum the church faces. On the one hand, gay activists have become a lot more militant, keen to take on the supposedly disciminatory message of the traditional evangelical position of an active homosexual lifestyle as being sinful. The church has often had to respond from a defensive position, one in which it has been forced to attempt to distance itself from the discriminatory labels activitist throw about. Others more biblically knowledgeable and aware than I am have widely differing positions on the subject, but in my lay man’s head I cannot think of any context in which Romans 1: 21-26 is not a damning indictment of the homosexual lifestyle, as a punishment for turning away from God. The science, on the other hand, suggests – not quite conclusively perhaps – that nature, and genetics, play a part in sexual orientation. If that is true, then roundly vilifying LGBTQ folk is akin to racism, an equivalence quite a number of activists for gay rights have often made.

One of the more emotive chapters in Yancey’s book is the one in which he talks about his friend Mel White, and the fall out of his coming out. In the space of a short time, he went from being a celebrated evangelical icon to being a pariah. That his coming out meant the end of a long term marriage in which children were involved can’t have helped, but the vast majority of people he had been associated with – he ghost wrote for a number of high profile evangelicals – ended up shunning him, and distancing themselves from him.

The model of Grace Yancey espouses is one in which although we accept a difference in opinion and theology, rather than roundly treating others with disdain and responding with defensiveness, or even going on the attack, we treat them graciously, as people carrying the Imago Dei first and foremost and thus deserving of love and respect rather than as adversaries primarily.There are no guarantees the battle will be won by Grace – at least it will guarantee that we get the chance to speak and be listened to.

We, like the best and the worst of the earth, are sinners saved by Grace. Unless we never forget that, we will be sucked into the trap of Gracelessness.

Since I originally wrote this, I have since read Walter Kirn’s excellent essay on Mormonism (Confessions of an ex-Mormon in which from his perspective as an ex-Mormon he somehow hits the nail on the head on what church is perhaps is (or should be) really about:

God doesn’t work in mysterious ways at all, but by enlisting assistants on the ground. Sometimes the stories don’t work, or they stop working. Forget about them; find others. Revise. Refocus. A church is the people in it, and their errors. The errors they make while striving to get things right.

Well said, Walter!!!

3-5 go

Amara U, Flickr

It is perhaps indicative of just how activity-starved my life has been lately that all it takes is a week’s notice for me to drag myself across the 397 odd miles down south to join K, family and parents in celebrating 35 years of staying married. In fairness to her, Royal Mail had a hand in the late invitation; when she texted me frantically that Friday afternoon, it was with a mind to chide me for my legendary tardiness. Only my strenuous denials backed up by the fact that I had moved houses recently saved me in the end. Long story short, I ended up on Friday night in the comparatively upscale setting of South Harrow, the hub around which we all converged – from every nook and cranny of the world it seemed, Scotland ably represented by yours truly.

Amidst the brightly coloured costumes, the odd great conversation and the excited dancing- Nigerian (women) elevate dancing to something between an art form and extreme aerobics- one of the more enduring scenes for me was one I had no business being part of but which in the end provided some framing for the lessons I am learning in this phase of life I am in.

At the core of the delicate moment was a handy man brought in to put finishing touches to some redecoration. Somehow he’d managed to over run to such an extent that just before we all had to leave for the venue the question of how to provide access to him, the gregarious if a tad irritating Italian, was a seething problem. He, the father, was of the opinion that the handy man should be sent packing forthwith, ostensibly with a penalty applied to his payment for failing to deliver. She was of the opinion that he had earned the trust and goodwill of the family to be left alone to finish his work whilst the rest of us were away. The scene, of argument and counter argument, is one I found intimately familiar; with a few years between them it could have been my own parents having the conversation – the pragmatic, real world skills of my mother defusing a potentially tense situation and delivering a workable solution, often inspite of my father’s interventions.

Thinking back, over the course of the weekend there were more instances of that – which amidst all the wild dancing and eulogising had me thinking that maybe I, and my generation, have it backward. Thirty-five years of marriage clearly hadn’t diminshed their chemistry – there was plenty of evidence of that over the weekend – but just maybe the key to their longevity was in the synergies they had evolved over the years, managing to balance each other’s extremes out. Or maybe I was just overthinking it – drawing wide ranging conclusions on the basis of a few hours of observation. I do think not.

At The Centre of Things

head in hands
Photo credits – David Goehring, Flickr
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All I remember from the immediate aftermath of hitting the red button which terminates the FaceTime conversation I have been having with G is a feeling of reeling and of sinking, how I imagine the driver of a car suddenly swept off a road into the icy depths of a lake might feel – disoriented, numb and perhaps too taken aback to have any real appreciation of the import of what has just happened. There is good reason to feel this way, given the act – symbolic as it were – is one that brings to an end what has been a good year of sorts, and that only for the third time ever. To reach this place, where what is a painful, hard fought decision has been taken, has required months of agony and wrestling – weighing the pros of trying to save face against the cons of loss, of time and sunken investments. That G and I work, by and large, has made the decision even more difficult; that a milestone birthday of sorts for me has just passed complicates things even more.

Three is a nice tidy number I think, a sample just big enough to allow the trends and patterns of behaviour – good, bad or indifferent – begin to surface. The trends which are beginning to surface here are ones I can not bear to countenance. When the sum total of my its-not-you-its-me conversational experience was two, it was easy to chalk them up as learning, and somehow decouple myself from the act of tearing things up. In my mind, I was not that kind of guy, the kind who blithely broke things up without considering the impact on the life of others. Now, as I navigate the aftermath of conversation number three, I can no longer hold on to that belief, at least not without lying to myself.

The sixty days since then have not been an unbroken stretch of numb, morose pain though. With the release from the expectations and commitments implicit in a relationship comes some sort of freedom – false as it may be; loads of time suddenly are freed up, and the willing mouth can gain feast at the plenteous h’ordeuvres on offer – all 3.5 billion of them as it were, in theory at least. Reality only hits, in my experience, when with a little bit of life to share – a new success, a hard fall or even the most quotidian of events – the lack of an ear one can call on without much fanfare rubs the reality of aloneness in; which is what happens when I hear the first real not bad news about work in June. That for me is what has hurt the most.

With the benfit of time to reflect, it has become obvious that I do gravitate to a certain type of woman. G was very similar to girlfriend #2 – both ISFJ, both from the same part of Nigeria, both very Christian and both were liasons I entered into with more ambivalence than I cared to admit at the time. The one outlier amongst the three was EJ, I suppose the intense physicality that was the hallmark of those 11 months meant the foundations were shaky, and we were doomed form day dot.

A lot of the main blocks fit perfectly with G; in the end it was the intangibles that proved a straw too heavy for the camel’s back – the lack of an emotional connection from me, our widely differing pressure handling/ coping strategies and subtle differences in how we lived out our largely convergent worldview. Amidst all that, work happened as the final element of a perfect storm which exhausted my capacity for dealing with change, leaving me scrambling for the the position of least turmoil – which unfortunately, selfishly I’ll admit – did not include her.

One of the big questions that has looped over and over in my mind in the month since then is if I loved her. I was sure I did, we had great conversations when they managed to happen and there certainly was a sense that our meet ups across town were looked forward to. I also put my money and time where my mouth was on several occasions. Where we fell short was in the effervescence stakes, I didn’t love her in a wild, fizzy, over powering way. My 11 month dalliance with EJ proved that loving that way was something I was capable of; what was unclear in my mind was if this stable, sensible loving without the fizz was sufficient in and of itself.  In the end I decided it wasn’t, that clarity has to count as one of the neccesary if unpalatable learnings I have had to deal with from this nearly year.

Helen Fischer, in what I think was a fantastic TED talk, postulates that there are three brain systems that govern how we bond and love – lust, romantic love and attachment. In my case, my head felt there was sufficient common ground for long term attachment to flourish eventually, I just didn’t have enough lust and/or romantic love to get there.

The Christian tradition I come from – I came of age in the generation that binged on Joshua Harris’ I Kissed Dating Goodbye and sang along gustily to Rebecca St James’ Wait for Me – is one which tends to lend itself rather easily to placing beauty and attraction in opposition to character, Proverbs 31:30 being the bumper sticker for that. In that worldview, beauty and attraction pale in significance to character and sensibleness. Granted there is a sense in which building a long term relationship on the fuzziness of fizz is somewhere between stupid and foolhardy, but I have come to believe that the opposite position, going into a long term relationship with the head but no heart is equally as dangerous. Thankfully since then the likes of Leke Alder and Matt Chandler have weighed in on the subject in a way that lies somewhere between supporting my position and proposing a third way.

I doubt there are any coherent arguments that entirely support my decision – the cold harsh reality of two months certainly have not brought those to the fore yet. But it is back to real life now. The enduring image, one that may well haunt me for some time yet, is one where we are face to face, separated by the portal that is FaceTime, with the linger of an awkward silence between us, neither one of us wanting to be the one that ends the call. Something broke that day in May, and at the centre of everything is me, vacillator-in-chief. I can only hope somewhere down the road, there is redemption, and if not, that the lessons learned may yet save the future.