A Question of Patience

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A year ago if you had asked me if I thought I was a patient person, my unequivocal answer – given without so much as a batted eyelid – would have been that I thought I was; somewhere between 9 and 9.5 on a scale of 1 to 10 if you had pressed me to quantify. The reality, grudgingly accepted after much soul searching a few weeks ago, is that I am not; a realisation that has left me second guessing the validity of all the other assumptions about myself I carry. The first seeds of doubt to assail my iron clad convictions were sown by an offhand comment by my friend M, the context being a decision she needed to make. As far as I was concerned, it was an open and shut case; she needed to put the poor sod she was stringing along – in my opinion – out of his misery. To her it was a lot more nuanced than that, for which I got the quip about being impatient (and unfeeling).

My initial response was to shrug it all off as an offhand comment, one borne out of her unwillingness to confront the facts. As with all well aimed, off hand comments smart women make, what I hadn’t bargained for was its lingering effect, and that I would be so riled by it. The longer it simmered, the less certain of my convictions I became, until the penny dropped one April afternoon whilst strolling along the banks of the river Dee, recognition aided perhaps by how the quickly changing weather mirrored the state of my thoughts.


Intrinsic to the question of patience is a recognition of the inevitability of delays; hold ups on the path to the attainment of desired objectives. With them, the one who desires is held in a state of anticipation and expectation until such a time as the passage of time, or the progression of other activities, allows for the attainment of the desired, or indeed makes its achievement no longer feasible. Mired in the never-land between desiring and attaining, such a person is forced to manage the passage of time as they best can, existing in a state of activity somewhere between complete passivity and all out, gung-ho action.

Intuitively, it seems to me that delays – and hence our response to them – exist on a continuum. That much is clear even from a cursory look at one’s life: the wait to satiate a peri-peri chicken craving from 1am is a few hours; that for an answer back from the girl of one’s dreams could be anything from weeks to multiple years. That is perhaps why in seeking to understand the range of patience states that I exist in, time (as measured by the length of the delay) jumps out at me as one of the key inputs. Two other factors come to mind as important too – the visibility of the desired outcome (clarity) and the (perceived) certainty of that outcome. Taken together, these defined the basic framework for a patience domain, which defined the inputs to my patience states. As an example, for the work situation from 2015, the desired outcome was clear (clarity around my role going forward through to the end of 2015 at least), the certainty of the outcome was low, and the time element was undefined which contributed to a high degree of anxiety/ impatience.

But nothing is ever that simple. I find that there are a slew of other less obvious, even counter-intuitive factors that affect the balance for me; how much control over the outcome I have – and the attendant vulnerability – is one, as are my perception of the availability of equally desirable options, how much risk there is of rejection and how deeply desired the outcome is. The time sensitivity of the desired outcome, as measured by inward and outward expectations of timeliness was also an input I found that drove me towards impatience. What surprised me most out of all of this was the interplay between certainty and clarity. A high degree of clarity coupled with a low amount of certainty drove me towards impatience, the lack of progress towards the certain outcome prompting a desire to rationalise my investment of time and energy towards more efficient use. This all confirmed to a large extent that like my friend M, I did not exist in a binary, patient/ impatient state but rather occupied an envelop of fluid duality, influenced by all these factors and more.


The assumption behind all this is that patience is a good thing; that is not necessarily something us Gen Y-ers accept as fact. The general consensus seems to be that we are an ambitious but impatient lot. That we’re connected and on the go all the time doesn’t help with the stereotype either, nor does the rise of apps likeTinder.

That, the goodness or otherwise of patience, may be a moot point in any case, as even too much of a good thing can be a bad thing. The million dollar question then must be where the patience sweet spot lies; where the balance between giving a desired goal time, attention and dedication, and accepting it is a lost cause and reallocating the effort elsewhere is. Too much patience, and one can run the risk of been seen as grovelling, or n the worst case applying too much pressure. Too little and one can very quickly be cast in the image of the Gen Y stereotype, impatient and having a short attention span.


The L thing comes to a head sometime in the middle of all this. In a different time and space, I would have cut my losses long ago, choosing to invest my time and energy in more certain ventures. But something about this one, and the season of reflection holds me back, leaving me pondering what-ifs and maybe-ifs in endless loops.

Where this will end is still unclear, but what is incontrovertible is that I do not do uncertain very well. It gnaws at my insides, makes my gut rumble and leaves me counting innumerable sheep at night. I ache in every imaginable space, I am irritable, self doubt hangs around me like a cloud with heartache in its wake. I tell myself I have had enough but find myself returning again and again in hope, or delusion. Surely there must be a easier way, but then without hope we have nothing, or do we?

Of Journeys and Endings…

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When March finally dragged itself to an end, I remember thinking that I hadn’t felt as stressed as I did at the time since 2008, 2008 being a nadir of sorts; one that ended up with me quitting my job and heading back to grad school, my version of navigating a delayed quarter life crisis.

So out of sorts and form did I feel that I took myself away to the Starbucks in Union Square, one Sunday after church, ordered the most decadent hot chocolate with cream on offer and proceeded to have a conversation with myself. What quickly became apparent from that exercise was that there were a number of pressure points which were driving my malaise.

Work was one of those. It has been an interesting – if difficult – year. From being dragged into a project at work with strong personalities on both sides of the table and poorly defined deliverables to the pressures of sub-par oil prices on the long term viability of the North Sea  business, trepidation has been the underlying emotion I have associated with work all year. With the pressure to deliver upwards of 20% reductions (75% in the long term McKinsey surmise),  in order to bring lifting costs in line with prices, cuts in projects were inevitable and more than a few good people had to leave, voluntarily or otherwise. This had a two fold effect – creating an atmosphere of uncertainty and fear, but also leaving one with survivor’s guilt every time yet another acquaintance got the heave-ho. The question of what constitutes appropriate etiquette around leavers remains open, at least for me. Does one call or text to commiserate, or does the ostrich manoeuvre suffice seeing as HR matters are of a private and confidential nature?

In tandem with the work issues were pressures on a personal level; big decisions I needed to make with wide ranging ramifications, spending which was spiralling out of control due to unforeseen circumstances associated with an acquisition I made at the turn of the year, and a sense of cognitive dissonance over my continuing world view issues.

There is a sense in which April, and NaPoWriMo 2015 was perfectly timed, particularly for the opportunity it presented to process the questions, ambivalence and unseen turmoil I was wrestling with. It was hard going, particularly as prompts weren’t necessarily timely for me given the time differences, but all told it helped that I could ‘steal’ lines  from La Reine and feed off the Komunyakaa-esque imagery of some of the pieces Tolu put out with challenging regularity.

I would like to think there has been an upswing (small and barely perceptible, but there nonetheless), the origin of which I would have to trace all the way back to a competency assessment interview I had with an outside consultant brought in to assess the team. Going over my background with him resulted in the unintended consequence of providing some much needed perspective for me; on  just how far I have come since being the bumbling twenty something year old new hire hassled by a police man all those years ago in Eket, to leaving (and surviving) 2008 and a few detours later arriving at where I am at the moment.

With time, and more reflection, it has becoming increasingly clear that of the myriad of decisions – some of which I agonised over to no end – that have taken me from there here, only a comparative handful have been truly life defining. The first big fight I had with my parents – over the choice of an under-grad major – in the end mattered very little as both options could have led me here. Ditto for the choice between Newcastle, Manchester and Cranfield for grad school. Perhaps the most critical was one I took most lightly, sending in the application for that first role which set me off on this path of pretending to know a thing or two about rust.

I have learned, and am learning that that ad for that iconic Scottish brew Johnnie Walker Scotch just might have been on to something:

Your entire life;  every routine, every risk, every moment, every step forward and every step back, has led you here to the next step and it has the power to change everything… Your entire life, all of it leads to the next step. The chance to define yourself by where you’re headed instead of where you stand.

And so, I keep walking…

On Loving, and (Not) Marrying…

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When I was seventeen, I was sure that I would be married by the time I turned twenty-seven. I knew the date, Saturday the 7th of July 2007, who she would be and the song we would say our vows to. That year was my first away from home at University in a different city, one in which I cut my teeth creating a budget, spending money as I chose and defending my results to my father at the end of each month – all very responsible and grown up – or at least so I thought. There was no real science – or thought for that matter – to the timing, merely a wild stab in the dark. Ten years seemed far enough into the future to feel like forever, and my big Uncle F who seemed to embody adulthood perfectly turned twenty seven that year, or maybe thirty. Reality, I would later find out, was far more intention and hard slog than hit, hope and wishful thinking.

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Thursday nights at Union Square, with the milling masses of people camped out at the various eating places and shops, are perhaps the clearest confirmation of what I learned as a seventeen year old, that we as a species are wired for love and loving. If you believe the 2013 predictions, Britons splurged nearly £1bn for Valentine’s Day, with the average spend just under £120. Across the world, Japanese, Thais, Indonesians and Taiwanese splurged a tad more, the equivalent of £173 on average. A 2015 survey in America by the National Retail Federation, projected a total spend in excess of $18.9bn (£12.2bn). Valentine’s Day therefore does continue to capture the imagination as The Day to be romantic, one on which we indulge ourselves and our love interests.

That we are now busier, and more stressed out, than at any other time in the history of our species seems to have done little to dampen our enthusiasm for love. We have in the main co-opted technology to our cause. By almost every measure (size, revenue, number of service providers at least), online dating is big business – £2bn and growing; the most astonishing statistic perhaps being that one in five relationships now starts online. Social media perhaps also has had a part to play; conflating time and space into a continuum in which separation is defined by a few mouse clicks or bursts of data from any one of a plethora of messaging apps bobbing around the ether via our ubiquitous wingmen, our cell phones and tablets, rather than by physical distance .

In spite of all the love and loving we seem to gravitate towards, marriage as an institution appears to be in decline. We as a species are waiting longer to marry, and when we do, there are fewer marriages, and more divorces, across Europe. Across the pond in America, the situation is as dire, the headline number being a thirty per cent reduction in the marriage rate per 1000 between 1990 and 2011.  Clearly, between hooking up and marrying there lies some sort of bottleneck, a rate limiter that constrains conversion from romantic connections into marriage.

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One possible explanation for this apparent disconnect is, at least in the West, that marriage, or more specifically living together, can carry an economic penalty. The rise of the welfare state, and its ever increasing generosity, means that at least in some scenarios, it makes more economic sense to preserve separateness in the eyes of the law, as opposed to tying up and losing benefits in the process. This factor perhaps impacts more strongly on persons more likely to need welfare due to lower earnings but it is an effect reproduced in the US also, as identified by research conducted by Heritage..

Beyond the economic disincentive, there are also a number of perception issues within the wider culture. One of such is that marriage is inherently limiting, succinctly captured by The Big Bang Theory’s Howard Wolowitz in the The Vartabedian Conundrum Episode:

 “There’s a whole buffet of women out there, and you’re just standing in the corner, eating the same deviled egg over and over again”. 

Another perception problem might be that marrying is increasingly being seen as an addendum to life, something to be progressed only after several other more critical things have been checked off. True, marrying for the heck of it, without proper preparation or thought as to how to deal with the responsibilities that come in its wake, is somewhere between foolhardy and irresponsible, but the delay trap can sometimes be self perpetuating for no real benefit. Delaying marriage to focus on getting an education, work and other critical life skills for successful adult life does correlate with lower divorce rates as research in the US by the National Marriage Project concludes. There are costs associated with this though, particularly to do with enjoying the freedoms of the single life a little too much at times. The same report concludes:

Twenty somethings who are unmarried, especially singles, are significantly more likely to drink to excess, to be depressed, and to report lower levels of satisfaction with their lives, compared to married twenty somethings” 

A third societal influence is perhaps the rise of the personality cult when it manifests itself in an overly explicit focus on looking out for oneself only. Only the best will suffice, the narrative suggests,  as such the guy or girl next door can only ever be a barely passable 5.5 whilst we are rip roaring 10s on the desirability scale. Whatever glamorous attractions they had disappear forever once you’ve heard them fart five times in a row after far too much cheese or seen them wake up looking like ‘crap’. 

Increasingly relaxed societal norms around cohabiting also contribute, I suspect. With relational needs – often sex, but also the emotional support and commitment an intimate relationship provides – no longer limited to the context of marriage, there is also less of an incentive to ‘buy the cow’ in a sense, seeing as the milk is often available for free. 

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I would be hard pressed to describe what my seventeen year old self felt as love. There was a certain element of excitement, and perhaps delirious joy, associated with what I felt, or thought I felt, but the cold hard evidence suggests that that in itself is never sufficient. Paul’s seminal chapter on love paints a picture that majors on the focus, work and intentionality that sharing life in the real world requires rather than the warm fuzzy feelings we as a species associate with love and loving.  What cannot be in serious dispute on the other hand though is that a sense of duty alone, without the buzz and excitement, seems like a consignment to purgatory at best, or a living hell at worst. Where the balance is is a question I am still unable to answer. Eight years and counting after my Big Virtual Wedding which was not, it is clear that I am still none the wiser, having cycled through a few of these phases myself. Perhaps the chaps at Wait But Why put it most succinctly:

Marriage isn’t the honeymoon in Thailand—it’s day four of vacation #56 that you take together. Marriage is not celebrating the closing of the deal on the first house—it’s having dinner in that house for the 4,386th time. And it’s certainly not Valentine’s Day. Marriage is Forgettable Wednesday. Together.

On Crime and Punishment

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When my father would tan my hide – which was often in the years between turning twelve and escaping to University when I turned seventeen – he would send one of the many cousins who lived with us to fetch his preferred instrument, a lean, mean pankere, roll up his sleeves and matter-of-factly deliver a canning of epic proportions.  The speed with which the instrument materialised time and time again – in spite of my best efforts – had me convinced that my cousins took a certain perverse, gleeful joy in seeing my bum tanned. Any number of infractions could have been the trigger for one of those in those days – taking apart his treasured gramophone for the heck of it (and not being able to put it back together again a la Humpty Dumpty), sneaking off to ‘dessert’, the patch of red earth where endless games of football took place – and young men where introduced to cigarettes and girls if you believed my mother, and once resorting to my fists to settle an altercation with E, the sharp mouthed imp who seemed to delight in getting under my skin. Early on, the tears flowed in copious amounts, until I mastered the act of tensing my buttocks just enough to mitigate the pain, the odd faint moan escaping my gritted teeth the only concession I allowed myself. Custom and practice dictated that, upon completion, I would have to say thanks and then sit through a debriefing session where my failings would be analysed, and alternate behavioural practices highlighted. In retrospect, the canning – intense as it was – was never truly the worst outcome. Infinitely worse was being left to stew in silent contemplation, particularly where my failings had occurred outside the confines of the house on 39th; my sense of guilt being complicated by the uncertainty around how much, if any, my father knew of my misdemeanours.

Punishment as a consequence of crime or offending is primarily regulatory. By inflicting pain, discomfort or a penalty of some sort, punishment acts as a disincentive, conditioning the behaviour of the members of the collective towards what is ostensibly for their good, and more importantly, the greater good of the collective. In society, these limits of acceptable behaviour are codified in  rules, laws and regulations with the justice system providing the framework for deciding appropriate punishment.

In the home, the limits of acceptable behaviour are largely part of an unwritten social contract – parents have a duty of care to their offspring, and responsibility for passing on the body of knowledge of social mores, the elements of a worldview and core values which accrete over time into the culture that defines the specific religious, ethnic and social space within which the family operates. Offspring on their part implicitly trust what is being provided for them – at least at first – and agree to operate within the boundaries their parents set, however arbitrary these might seem. As the offspring age, and hopefully develop the mental capacity for interrogating their own spaces, they add to, delete from and modify the premises of the body of knowledge they have been handed, keeping it fluid, relevant and appropriate for being handed over to the generation they themselves will cater for.

Beyond the obvious regulatory objectives of punishment, there is a sense in which punishment is redemptive – that much I gleaned from the fall out in my heady teenage years. I suspect the redemption punishment brings is premised on two things – that the offender can come to terms with what they have done with a measure of contrition, and that the punishment exacted is somehow seen to be commensurate to the offence committed. In a sense, the offender has to be seen to have paid for the disruption before reintegration into the wider collective can take place – being able to contribute to the greater good of the collective is the upside to reintegration and rehabilitation.

In conversation over the weekend with a friend, the Ched Evans case came up. Following his release from prison after a rape conviction, his attempts to  get back into football have floundered, largely due to the public outcry, and the threat of the withdrawal of sponsorship from the various football clubs who have mooted the idea of re-signing him. I expressed the opinion during said conversation that punishment could be redemptive, and that in this case having been released from prison, he should be allowed to get on with his life, whatever shape or form that might take. I was quickly reminded – sternly I might add – of how the girl in question has had her own life overturned having to change her name and change location several times over the last five years after being outed on twitter. She is unlikely to ever be able to just get on with her life, which makes the premise of commensurate punishment somewhat difficult to achieve here.

Having said that – and I am not pretending that I even remotely understand the nuances of the case, and if he was/or was not innocent as he has maintained – surely the premise of punishment in the law is that having served his sentence, and being registered on the violent and sex offender register rehabilitation is in order? By no means am I suggesting that Ched Evans is the victim here; I am merely pondering how rehabilitation and reintegration square with his situation. It is a difficult conversation – particularly given his relative profile – and the fact that he maintains his innocence. I wonder though if any of the two or so people who still stop by these pages might deign to offer an opinion? Fire away if you do!!!

Of Rust, and Metaphors

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Amidst the hurly burly that was the last quarter of 2014 at work – not helped by the unease set off by sliding oil prices, and questions around the future viability of North Sea oil and gas given lifting costs and taxes – the crazy gang team at work made time out to head across town for a day to reflect on how we’d performed through the year and agree objectives for the 2015. For what it’s worth it was good craic, much better than I expected given the strong personalities within the team, and the sense of simmering conflict, even though it was a tad too reliant on woozy, zen-ish things like sitting in a circle and taking time out to reflect in silence.

 As we huddled around the sandwich tables chewing away on sandwiches and bacon rolls and sipping coffees, we were offered a question for reflection, one we would expatiate on later over the course of the morning. The question was to come up with a movie or a song that best described how we felt about our day job. The responses were as interesting as they were varied, ranging from It’s a Hard Knock Life from the musical Annie to Ocean Rain by Echo and the Bunny Men, indicative of the general sense of being overwhelmed by fighting fires and being under appreciated across the group. I might have over thought it a bit – my repertoire of movies isn’t exactly exhaustive – before I eventually settled for Raid on Entebbe.

Based on the 1976 rescue of the passengers and crew of Air France flight AF-139 from Tel Aviv following its hijack by members of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, it chronicled the difficult deliberations involved in reaching a decision to sanction a commando operation in Entebbe, Uganda, 2500 miles and several hostile countries away. In the end, although largely a success, Yonatan Netanyahu, and 3 hostages ended up dead; a fourth hostage was murdered, ostensibly on Idi Amin’s orders, having been sent to the hospital due to illness. Certainly not Africa’s brightest hour by all accounts.

Looking back, I suspect I went for Raid on Entebbe largely because my role over the last few years has increasingly felt more like that of a commando than a rust geek, putting out fires rather than pontificating over their remote and immediate causes. Ultimately, it has been about managing risk  – identifying, quantifying, evaluating and mitigating the risk to the environment, people and the business from the interactions of materials and the internal and external service environments we put them in. In an ideal world, I’d replace every bit of leaking pipe with 25Cr or Titanium, significantly reducing the probability (in most cases) of a repeat failure. The reality though is that the cost of doing that on a large scale would be entirely prohibitive; which is where I earn my bacon, pretending to find finding non-obvious solutions to corrosion and materials problems which represent value for money – the best bang for the buck within reason.

Sadly, or thankfully, Rust never sleeps, likewise I have to keep trying…

Reflecting on the Scottish Referendum: A Call to Social Justice

A few months ago, people across the length and breadth of the nation of Scotland went to the polls to answer the question, “Should Scotland be an independent country?” At stake was the very future of the United Kingdom, and Scotland’s place in it. On one hand, the governing Scottish National Party staked its reputation on a ‘Yes’ vote, alongside the Scottish Greens and the Scottish Socialists under the aegis of Yes Scotland, whilst Scottish Labour, the Scottish Conservative Party, and the Scottish Liberal  Democrats took a pro-Union Stance under the Better Together banner.

As the vote count came to an end on the morning of September 19th in victory for the Better Together campaign, what became clear was that the keenly contested campaign had revealed deep fissures in the very fabric of the Nation. The romance of nationalism and the historical antecedents notwithstanding (Scotland as a distinct entity has existed in some shape or form since about 840 AD and 2014 was the 700th anniversary of the Battle of Bannockburn which saw the English army defeated by the forces of King of Scots Robert the Bruce), economic considerations, fair and equitable distribution of wealth and protecting access to the NHS in the face of the (real or imagined) threat of its privatisation featured strongly as a subject of contention.

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The HAVES vs HAVE NOTS narrative seemed supported by analysis of the voting patterns which showed strong correlations between greater unemployment and support for independence, and age above retirement with support for staying with the Union (perhaps due to concerns over pensions).

The immediate aftermath involved clashes between Unionists and independence supporters. As recently as October, a pro – independence rally in Glasgow still managed to attract over 6,000 people, perhaps indicative that even the passage of time has done little to soothe the sense of grievance a significant proportion of the nation still feels.

The challenge going forward therefore is one of reconciliation; recreating a sense of togetherness and genuine belief in all and sundry that the nation belongs equally to everyone – rich, poor, old, young and old alike. That sense can only be fostered by delivering on the sound bites trundled out by both sides of the campaign, mainly a fairer, more productive, empowered Scotland.

There is an economic argument for a fairer, more egalitarian Scotland. Equal opportunities and lower unemployment will deliver greater productivity, and enable more people contribute to the state in the form of taxes, rather than constitute a drain the system.

There will also be benefits, purely from the perspective of enlightened self-interest. It stands to reason that crime, social delinquency and violence are likely to drop as more people are gainfully employed. Those who are not, if they have access to the opportunities to improve and are catered for the interim will also see less of an incentive to crime.

The arguments for social justice go beyond secular and economic ones; there is also a biblical imperative. Passages like Deuteronomy 15:11 –  For there will never cease to be poor in the land. Therefore I command you, ‘You shall open wide your hand to your brother, to the needy and to the poor, in your land’, being a case in point.

Time and time again, the call to ‘do good and seek justice (Isaiah 1:17), not oppress the widow, the fatherless, the sojourner, or the poor (Zech 7:9,10), defend the rights of the poor and needy (Prov 31:8,9), to do justice and love kindness (Micah 6:8) and protect the resident alien, the fatherless and the widow (Jeremiah 22:3) are repeated throughout the Old Testament. When Israel failed to heed this call, they were punished severely by God (Amos 5:11-15, Ezekiel 16:49,50).

Elsewhere a social justice component is explicitly commanded as part of true and acceptable worship – knowing the rights of the poor (Proverbs 29:7), letting the oppressed go free, sharing bread with the hungry and homeless (Isaiah 58:12) as well as visiting the orphan and the widow (James 1:27).

Jesus himself, after being tempted and returning to Galilee in the power of the Holy Spirit chose to reveal himself in the Synagogue in his home town of Nazareth by reading from the passage in Isaiah which spoke of his mission to proclaim the good news and set at liberty those who were oppressed (Luke 4; 18, 19). Beyond that, he also highlighted acts of kindness as one of the things we will be judged by at his return (Matthew 25:31-46). The Apostles also weighed in in their writings – John enjoined us to love not in word but in deed (1 John 3:17,18), Paul in distributing to the needs of the saints, given to hospitality (Romans 12:13) and James to treat all without partiality (James 2:1-4)

The danger of all this is to end up flying the flag of social justice, for its own sake alone, as an end in itself or as an opportunity to ship sounds bites, hog the limelight and portray ourselves as good citizens. However as Christians, everything we do on earth occurs within a context – that of being Jesus’ hands and feet on earth, utilising the resources, skills and time that he has given us to further His kingdom. In these days in which the popular narrative is one of the death of the church and its increasing irrelevance, being champions of social change, in our communities – our next door mission fields – may well be one way that the tide can be turned, providing a door of opportunity to ‘do all for the Glory of God’.

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Originally written for my Church Newsletter, reproduced here for archival purposes. 

Always Returning

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Whilst rustling through my documents at the weekend – I forget what prompted the decision to take on the Sisyphean task of rummaging through drawers filled with several years’ worth of papers of varying vintage – it struck me that it was now nearly five years to the day since I dragged myself, bags in tow, off the East Coast train from Newcastle to Aberdeen to begin a new life of sorts. Ditching my Nigerian job for grad school 18 months before meant that nostalgia – and twenty-something years’ worth of memories – counted for little; pragmatism was very much the defining consideration. In a sense, Newcastle, and then Aberdeen afterwards was about tearing everything up and starting afresh from scratch, pretty much the recovery from a self-imposed apocalypse. The driver for that decision was a sense of injustice at the Nigerian work environment; five years of being unaligned (being from the minority in a minority state didn’t help), a sense of having hit a glass ceiling and the desire to prove myself on a global sense all contributing.

I had a soft landing. Unlike some of my peers who had dependants and money issues to focus on, I had the good fortune of cashing in on my Nigerian stock market investments just before the big crash and did not require supplemental income from overnight stints at the Greggs warehouse across town, or tours of duty as a night club bouncer or a as a security guard to make ends meet. That coupled with my not inconsiderable experience acquired whilst working my way up the ranks at a global major in my discipline deluded me into thinking making the transition would be a cinch

The first few months of job hunting with little tangible success, bar the odd interview here and there, put a big dent in that super sized ego. What confidence that was left ebbed quickly with each dead end; being replaced by a hardened pragmatism as the reality that my Nigerian experience – global major player or not – was discounted out here began to sink in. With slightly lower expectations, fitting in and becoming one of the guys became the imperative, even when it meant ditching my very passable Nigerian accent for a (perceived) posher sounding imitation RP version, cobbled together from years of watching British sitcoms. My otherness was a perceived liability, one to be sacrificed on the altar of pragmatism.

Between distance and time working together to conflate memory with imagination, and less pressure as some of the aspirations of those early years become either solid achievements or at least seem far more attainable than they once were, I am finding that that hard, pragmatic stance is slowly yielding, being replaced by a more nostalgic notion of home. This notion of home is one that I find seeks out sameness, emphasises commonality and seeks to build community; the difference between cringing inwardly at the overdressed Nigerian bloke on the 727 to the airport speaking loudly into his cell phone in Yoruba and smiling wistfully at the memory it teases out of the mental ether of my friend M and his (well-earned) reputation for classic Awe-bred razzness.

Two events last week reinforced the sense of a far more nostalgic perception of home for me. First off, at around mid-day on Wednesday, I got an external phone call at work. That happens fairly regularly on any given day except that on this occasion it was from a vendor I had only started using at work in the last few months. By the time the conversation safely navigated the terse, opening introductions – not helped by the fact that we both sounded a lot different from how we used to in the throes of 500 LT, and she had a Scottish surname these days – it turned out that my caller had spotted my name in an email she had been forwarded. After privately wrestling with the pros and cons of reaching out, she had decided to give me a call to confirm if I was the self-same person she’d known in the past. I was, it turned out she’d been a class mate of mine in under grad. We spent a fair few minutes catching up; who was where now, and who we had stayed in touch with or hadn’t. We agreed to catch up in person if we were ever in the same city over the next few months. Thinking over the conversation later, the sobering thought I couldn’t shake off was that with confirmation that she lived and worked a few hundred miles away from me, there were now only four or so people from the top ten finishing positions in my final year class still living and working in Nigeria. Clearly, tearing everything up and starting over isn’t something a lot of my peers are averse to.

Later, on Friday, whilst waiting for some hot water for a cup of tea, I ran into one of the cleaning lads. The sum of our conversations prior to the day was nodded greetings when our paths crossed. A little digging revealed that he was Nigerian, and was working part time with the service company that manages the facilities in the building I work at. Having just wrapped up a Masters degree, he was working part time to make a little cash whilst waiting on applications and interviews. Not a real surprise given that Nigerian students tend to drift to this city, oil capital of Europe. What was more than a little surprising was that he had also graduated from my Nigerian alma mater, and was from the area in which I had spent my own formative years. Our conversation naturally segued into our memories of studying at my previous department. The academic landscape has changed considerably over the intervening years – two deaths, a couple of lecturers who have been lured by the call of big bucks into oil, and a number of retirements – with a few of the young Graduate Assistants from my time blossoming into lynchpins of the departments. As to future plans, he was eyeing up a few PhD options across the globe, the current socio-political climate not being particularly geared towards easing the progress from studying to work in my corner of the world. When the subject of my previous experience came up, he seemed befuddled that I had decided to chuck it all in and start over. There it came out that for the right job, Nigeria would be his preferred destination. For him, nostalgia clearly won over pragmatism.

Implicit in both conversations was the sense that we are always returning, our current locations as homes in name only, dictated by the pragmatics of life rather than any overarching sense of love or attachment. Interestingly, even B – Scottish Husband notwithstanding – mooted the idea of returning to Nigeria in the (distant) future in an expatriate capacity to work for big oil.  Maybe for my children, without the hang ups of a past life, a past home and nuclear family in the motherland, the choice will be a lot more clear cut, but for me and my generation I suspect this battle between head and heart, between pragmatism and nostalgia is one we will have to get used to. In a sense, we are always returning.

Woolwich, the aftermath

In the immediate aftermath of the Woolwich murder, once that truly harrowing video had surfaced and the Nigerian connection was first mooted, I found myself cast in the unwilling role of the Nigerian ‘expert’ at work. For most of the people in my corner of the world, I was the most handy Nigerian they could talk to. The odd attempt to parlay it into banter did come up, but for the most part, these were people looking to get some perspective on what was both vicious and senseless.

My initial response was one of disavowal. Afghanistan has never really being a bog standard concern of the typical Nigerian as far as I am aware, neither is the typical Nigerian so disconnected from self preservation that he/she would take to causes without a personal dimension of gain involved. Additionally, the name being bandied about that night on twitter wasn’t Northern Nigerian in origin, precluding a Boko Haram connection.

The initial media reaction predictably focused on the Nigerian heritage of the two suspected attackers. The BBC’s Nick Robinson went as far as using the cringe-worthy turn of phrase ‘of Muslim appearance’, which he later apologised for. There were a number of  ‘reprisal attacks’ – the likes of the EDL using the opportunity to perpetuate their own brand of dialogue.

Interestingly, within the wider circle of my (Nigerian) friends and colleagues, there was a certain reluctance to discuss the attack. Eventually, the reluctance did seem to go away, replaced by two main narratives – one largely focused on the privileged life the perpetuators led (these were young men born and bred in Britain, so the narrative goes, who were radicalised in the UK and had nothing to do with Nigeria) and the other focused on how just much harder the lives of law abiding Nigerians the world over, already stigmatised enough by the green passport , would be thanks to the additional scrutiny they would be afforded at border posts.

Barely a year ago, the likes of Mo Farah, Lutalo Mohammad, Nicola Adams and others were roundly feted as heroes post the London Olympics. In fact, a few days after Woolwich, Andrew Osagie, a name as Nigerian as they come would be roundly hailed for his performance at the IAAF Diamond League Meet in new York.

I suppose therein lies the conundrum of the visible immigrant – acceptance is tenuous at best, predicated on good behaviour, and heroic action. 😦