Goings on – A few quick hits…

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In line at my GP’s, waiting for an audience with the receptionist who I want to confirm an appointment with, I find myself growing impatient despite being only the fifth person in line. It looks, and feels, like everyone and their dog opted to stop by today. It is a warm day and there are at least ten people in various stages of repose on the chairs scattered around the waiting room. Inwardly I am cursing myself and my daftness for choosing lunch to do this. At the head of the queue, a large-ish woman engages the receptionist in a conversation of sorts – if speaking two unrelated languages can be classed as a conversation. She, like me, has an appointment to confirm, unlike me she needs an interpreter to pass her query across. The dour, matronly receptionist seems to be at a loss, unable to determine what is an appropriate response besides saying repeatedly ‘The nurse is not in yet, she’ll call for you when she has an interpreter on the line’. Six times and five minutes later, she has made no headway, and the woman has held the line up for all of that time. Our saving grace is the nurse calling out ‘Olga”, allied with a name I can’t recall. Recognising her  name, she makes her way to the consulting room to be attended to. Needless to say, I am not at my most gracious at the delay – unnecessarily so.

The GP visit has been occasioned by an unexpected bout of malaise. By my standards, four hours and some of sleep is plenty, but over the last few days even that has been about as attainable as a snow storm in the Sahara. I am hoping to have a chat with the GP, get all my vital signs checked, particularly my blood pressure and gain reassurance that nothing major is amiss.

That malaise ends up being unresolved, at least up until Friday when I get dragged out by my friend Q. for peri-peri chicken at Nandos. On a slightly positive, it provides ample material for my return to the3six5NG

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In other,  even more positive news, it is 8 days to the Hillsong Conference Europe, and I am preparing –  by listening over and over to Louie Giglio’s message from Passion 2013 as well as Judah Smith’s and bobbing along to Glorious Ruins. Over the weekend, I got confirmation that my friend E who I haven’t seen since the back end of last year will be attending, even more incentive to look forward to some time away from the ‘Deen since my quick trip to Nigeria in February.

#Can’tWait

House Warming…

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I was the first person in, just before 4.00pm. I had no choice but to RSVP in the affirmative when my friend O.’s invite to his house warming party finally arrived, largely because I had harassed encouraged him strongly into putting it together. He had just bought a house on the other side of town, and starved of hanging out time, I’d seized upon that as an excuse to badger him into setting something up.

Pumping his hand, as I kicked off my shoes and stepped onto his lush persian rug, I could just make out the silhouette of his daughter and her two friends playing in the back garden whilst their mothers put the finishing touches to the cow leg pepper-soup that would be our starter. The room was already infused with the smell of lemon grass and suya spice as the large cauldron of pepper soup just about began to simmer.

F., Uncle Seni’s here…. O. hollered  as I made my way to the back garden. I had to duck as an inflated rubber ball, a felele, bounced up in the air in my direction. The kids had been starved of attention before my appearance and seemed very keen to engage me in a game of football. I had to oblige, alternating between playing the goal keeper and the penalty taker as we ran up a small sweat in the back yard.

So engrossed was I that I didn’t know for how long the other woman helping with the cooking had stood in the doorway watching us play. She did clear her throat to get my attention eventually, simmering plate of pepper soup in tow for a first bite of the evening. At that time it was just past 4.45pm, and I was still the only guest around for a party that was meant to have kicked off at 4.00pm.

The next guests to arrive were N. and his wife, strolling in at ten minutes past five, a bottle of red wine in tow as their contribution to the festivities. Cork popped, and glasses passed we all stood round the kitchen table chatting and catching up on all things that we’d all missed in our corner of the world. Soon after, another young couple arrived with their rambunctious toddler in tow; sometime after that the first big plates of fried rice had begun to wing their way for us to dig in and savour; proper Nigerian fare.

Sometime after 7.00pm, we had a full complement , as with all things Nigerians, the men had somehow drifted away into a small huddle as did the women. The bottles of beer might have had something to do with the loudness of the conversation, the virtual table banging and the wrought emotions as the conversation segued into the murky waters of the intractability of the Nigerian problem, corruption and all the other safe topics fairly well-off people in the diaspora moan about their home country.

I found the noise a little too much for me, ending up in the extension to the living room, next to the garden. A few minutes later, baby K. sauntered in, extending her arms wanting to be carried. I obliged, just before she promptly fell asleep on my lap.

I may have fallen asleep myself because the next thing I remembered was Mrs N. plumping into the seat next to me. She, ever the gracious seeker of introverted partiers, had noticed I wasn’t amongst the guys talking loudly and gesturing wildly, and had taken it upon herself to find me.

She relieved me of baby K, laying her to sleep in her cot nearby and then returned to converse. I’d been itching to have a conversation with Mrs N. about B. the current cause of my latest phase of over-thinking :”>. She obliged, listening graciously as I moaned about her penchant for not responding to text messages in a timely manner or her extreme attention to work (she’s the one person I can safely say is more of a workaholic than I am, no mean feat).

It was past 9.00pm when the crowd began to thin out. Baby K. was still asleep, peacefully oblivious of the ruckus we’d kicked up. As I dropped off what must have been my third plate of fried rice, I remember being thankful that I would have no part in the clean up after the storm.

About Town: Ambles and Musings…

It is no real surprise that I wake up on Saturday morning with an overwhelming urge to leave my house and let the cold, crisp air clear my head; a succession of events having left me feeling emotionally over extended as though more activity had been packed into the preceding two week period than the entirety of the year before that. My friends O and Alf must bear some of the responsibility for catalyzing those events, as does a not quite out-of-the-blue response to an application I had, almost as a matter of last resort, tossed out three months before. A brown roll and an egg chased down with a cup of strong black coffee and a quick Google search later, I am awake enough to grab my water proof jacket and head out into the streets with the Torry Battery as my destination.

The walk down Park Street, on to Virginia Street and then on to Market Street is one I have made countless times over the past three years, from home to work, church, Nandos or any of the other recurring decimals that have marked my life in this corner of the world, and I make it once more almost mindlessly. There are people just like me – jackets fully done up, earphones plugged in, walking briskly perhaps drawn out by the promise of warmer weather in what just might be the warmest day left of the year, if the weatherman is to be believed.

By the time I make Market Street, I am slightly out of breath, the brisk pace I have adopted a little too much for my increasingly pudgy self. Waiting to swing across from Market Street on to Guild, I end up saved by the long tailbacks at the traffic lights. At first I chalk it down to too many people being about, trying to get into Union Square but as I go further I find out there has been a car crash and a police car parked sideways across the road to preserve evidence is the reason for the hold up. The whine of the ambulance attending the scene is the one indication that this is a fairly recent car crash. Given the glass shards all over and the very nearly flattened front panel of the sedan, it is no wonder an ambulance is steaming through double time. A change in the lights allows me cross over quickly and then begin the portion of my walk I will have to depend fully on Google Maps for.

By now I have recovered my breath, and I quicken pace again, cross North Esplanade West, Victoria Bridge and turn into Torry, our very own Aberdonian Ajegunle. An old woman shawl drawn tightly around her shoulders, slightly bowed stands just past Victoria Bridge looking out onto the River Dee where an orange lifeboat chugs along, completing trials of some sort. I pause briefly to catch the moment myself, take a picture and then move on. These are not quite the best parts of town to be ambling about in if the truth must be told – my one unpleasant Aberdeen incident occurred here on these streets just a few paces removed when a clearly inebriated wannabe pirate complete with a black eye patch lobbed a slur in my direction. Rumour – direct from the mouth of a cab driver mind – has it that a dead body was found in some dark alley a few weeks ago too.

The Skandi Marstein is chugging into port when I navigate the left turn off Victoria road through a dense smell of rotten fish and onto an observation post overlooking the harbour. An old woman, slightly bowed and a mixed race kid with Malcolm Gladwell-esque hair are the only other people in sight – he prancing about with all the energy of a five year old, she barely keeping up with the questions he is rattling off. I wait a few moments as the Skandi completes its manoeuvres, seizing the opportunity to share in the unfettered joy of the little boy.

From there on, it’s a fairly quiet walk up to the battery. The rest of my amble passes without event until I arrive at the battery. It is deserted, a Scottish flag planted squarely on a mound at its centre a proud, unyielding attestation to its history. And even in this most auspicious of places, the boys from Torry have left their mark.

Only now has the enormity of the change I have tottered on the edge of, for the past year and some, began to sink in; and with its sinking in comes the overwhelming urge to maintain by every means possible the tenuous hold I have on the present, imperfections and all. The small matter of a year and some ago I had an Aberdeen version of my Newcastle moment from 2008, and in that moment I decided to bet my future – and those of the future Mrs S, Ethan Jon and Elaine Jade on swapping wet, cold and windy Aberdeen for wet, cold and arctic Eastern Canada. In the intervening period I managed to maintain a sense of normalcy by pretending it was all an academic exercise in permutations and combinations, playing various what-ifs against each other. The undeniable existence of an offer letter in my post box must count as the very present trigger, which has now shaken me out of my reverie and awakened me to the very real need to take a decision in the next few weeks.

If it’s any consolation, I may only be swapping an old Scotland for a New Scotland…

Baby Birthdays, failed détente and motherly ultimatums

In what must be a first for me, I get invited to a birthday party over WhatsApp. Truth be told, there were mitigating circumstances. Although the parent in question and I have some tenuous familial connection – my grand father and her grand mother somehow managed to get entangled in the far distant haze that is a few generations ago – she and I haven’t stayed much in touch, in spite of us living the the small matter of the length of Union Street apart. I suppose the invitation was one last hopeful punt in my direction. If it was, it worked, the twin attractions of something to do on a Saturday afternoon and proper Nigerian food proving too strong for even I the quintessential recluse. Izzy, the kid in question had just turned One, and her parents keen to celebrate the milestone were putting together a small get together for the guys; for that I was very much a willing eater.

I arrive at fifteen minutes past the hour. Given our Nigerian predilection for African time, I have figured that this is a considered compromise between not being the first bum on a seat and not keeping the hosts waiting. It turns out I have timed my arrival horribly; the only other person besides the chief host by the time I arrive is a Caucasian woman and her two children, with the next person strolling in leisurely at thirty minutes past the hour. Arriving early does prove useful though, as I am pressed into service putting finishing touches to the placement of cups and drinks on the tables.

It turns out to be a fairly well attended event. There are quite a few people I have not seen in a while, each with their children in tow. Both parents have connections to my alma mater and it shows. I end up sharing a table with yet another distant family member, one who was also a contemporary of my youngest brother. He has his girlfriend on his arm when he breezes in just after 2pm, and a few handshakes and a quick swig of Don Simon later, he plumps into a seat next to me. We talk, about Nigeria, about Aberdeen and the looming winter, about work and future plans. He thinks he’ll head off to Nigeria in the next three to five years, I think that elusive PhD needs putting back on the front burner.

The one blot, on a personal level for me, is an extended encounter with the brash tactlessness of a friend of a friend. When he finds out we all went to the same University but that I graduated two years before he commenced studies, he straight away asks which of the children chasing birthday ballons near by are mine. I reply I have none, and am not married, which is his cue to waffle on about how I am wasting time. I am minded to give him a telling off, but given the context and the fact that our host would most assuredly come down on his side, I hold my peace and move off to grab some food instead. In that little six minute and some exchange is all the background and proof that has typically driven my avoidance of these events.

On the subject of my mother, the last few weeks have been somewhat frosty. In a sense she has been feeling the absence of the kid brother who’s upped sticks and headed back to full time study in a different country. Being the fairly accessible ear, she has tended to dump on me. Her mood has not been helped by my uncle down south and his ongoing meddling. True to type, and perhaps influenced by all the things I have going on in my life at this point in time, I opted for withdrawal and managed communication to limit the opportunities for irritation. This weekend I decide to try to mend fences by initiating a call and allowing her unload. Needless to say, she does a lot of the talking, and manages to add an ultimatum at the end.

Mothers! Sigh.

On My Return to the Middle of Nowhere

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[Source]

I seem to have the knack for choosing the shittiest days to go offshore. Last November I end up stuck for an extra three days, thanks to Ambisagrus going berserk and my helicopter flight getting cancelled. Speaking to the heli-admin late on Monday as I confirm my booking, I have her take a quick look at the weather forecast; she confirms there are no extraordinary weather events forecast for the rest of the week. Satisfied, I confirm my check-in time and head out to pack my bags and plan.

When I wake up the next morning, it is to gale force winds and rain. Steaming cup of coffee in hand, looking out from my kitchen window, the streets  – and Pittodrie in the distance – are a distant haze, shrouded in a fine mist with leaves and twigs tossed and blown around like meat in a giant cooking pot over wood. By the time I get dressed and jump into the cab I have called, it is a little quieter but the aftermath of the storm we have been battered by remains – bin bags floating around King’s and boughs ripped off trees onto the road the least of my worries.

It might be the weather, but the cab driver has the heater on full blast and has the radio tuned to the weather report. He is atypically taciturn; the one thing he does say to me as we hit the long tail backs on the final turn to the airport is ‘You’re nae going anywhere today pal’. Given the weather conditions – I secretly hope he is right.  What he doesn’t know then- and what I get to find out eventually – is that by some quirk of nature, the weather’s a whole lot better up in the Shetlands and any doubts about the trip are quickly dispelled when I am called up to check in and screened.

It turns out that the flight up north is actually the smoothest I remember – so much for my having second thoughts about the trip. Safely landed on the platform, glasses off whilst trying to divest myself of my immersion suit, someone taps my shoulder. In the hazy, barely there, seeing men as trees world that is mine without my glasses, I make out the silhouette of the platform’s head honcho. He is a bloke I have previous history with – we once argued opposing ends of a decision a few months into my current role, and our relationship has been frosty at best (at least to me). Sensing my discomfiture, he stretches out his hand for a firm handshake and proceeds to welcome me  on to his turf.

– You’ll stop by the office for a wee chat when you’re settled in, aye?

He says it in the manner of a half question, half statement – implied request laced with more than a hint of a threat that my interests might best be served by having the chat. I nod my acceptance, as he moves off, before he tosses over his shoulder almost like an afterthought.

 -The galley’s staying open longer, you’d better hurry and grab lunch.

We had arrived around 1.30pm, a full hour after lunch had been served. A skeletal lunch had been laid out, but given the state the motley crew of the new arrivals were in, it was very likely that the food would be gone in next to a flash. By the time I run through the safety video and all, my worst fears are confirmed, the dregs of the food left do not appeal to me and I end up being extra thankful for the bacon roll I grabbed whilst waiting for the second leg of my flight earlier in the day. It is not till 3.30 pm before I get to see the head honcho again. It is the very much more relaxed setting of the coffee table. As per custom, the guys lay out a modest spread of roll and biscuits to go with our tea and coffee during the regular breaks. I find myself seated right next to him to the right. We make small talk, my primary contact is on hand to ease us into conversation, and we hit it off much better than I ever recall. He has a few concerns over the small project I’ve taken a decision to defer to next year and he minces no words in telling me so. Thankfully, I have my ‘we’re all in it together‘ speech at the ready – about how I am as much an underling in the overall scheme of things as he is and merely executing orders. Whether he buys it or not is unclear, but all told we have a much more amiable conversation than we have had in a while.

 At dinner, I share a table with a couple of the lads – one is ex Royal Marines, the other is an ex (Music) school teacher who took his chance at reinvention a mere fifteen years ago. Several NDT tickets down the line, he’s now one of the lead techs, earning way more than he would have as a teacher. On the odd occasion he still thinks back wistfully at what might have been had he remained a school teacher, usually when the subject of wives and their shopping sprees comes up, which is often a lot on these trips. The ex Royal Marine, Dusty Dan, named for the extra layer of grime his coveralls tend to pick up regales us between sips of tomato soup and bites of bread of his ordeal at the hands of the wife at an Ikea shop. Dragged out early one Saturday morning ostensibly to shop for furniture for an upcoming baby, he ends up being dragged to each and every corner of the Ikea, criss-crossing every square inch multiple times as his wife meanders her way through the items on display. Three hours later, still no closer to any major purchases and almost dead on his feet, he is allowed the one bit of respite he has grown to look forward to on these interminable trips – 10 meat balls and mash at the Ikea restaurant.

Oh the bliss of married life!

 

Seasons of discontent, a Nigerian wedding and other musings

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Although it is only September, there has been a certain nippiness to the last few Aberdonian mornings. If I believed the weather app on my phone – and the state of my ears when my brisk twenty minute walk ends with my bum at my office desk suggests that this is the case  – it has barely been warmer than 7 deg C on each of the last few mornings I have walked in to work. Besides the early morning chill, fall has remained frustratingly true to type; too warm to warrant breaking out the full shebang of a knee length winter coat, but yet too cold to be out and about with only a wind breaker for protection. If how many people already sport winter coats is anything to go by, I’m up there in the upper 10% in the hardiness stakes. When it slips out in an unguarded moment of banter with my mother, she thinks it is silly. I suspect all it will take to prove her right is coming down with the flu, if history is any judge, a clogged nose awaits me in the not too distant future.

One of those days, on my way back from work, I make a detour to the Co-op on Union to grab some mid-week groceries and end up running into an old acquaintance from a previous work project who has since moved on to other things. Hands filled with bags of fruit and all the other things a culinarily challenged single bloke stuffs himself with on a Thursday night, we stand just outside The Monkey House and chat. We eventually end up talking work, the people changes in my current neck of the woods and the prospects of pastures new further afield, and with almost his last words before he hops off in pursuit of his bus, he leaves me with a statement which is both true and depressing in equal measure; more depressing because a few weeks earlier a departing member of my work team – and there have been quite a few over this summer of discontent  – had said something similar in pretty much the same words.

Saturday brings some respite from the fall weather, and the sun peeks out long enough to brings some cheer and warmth. Encouraged by that, and enticed by the opportunity to eyeball dolled up bridesmaids, free food and hang with the lads, I make my way to the Music Hall to attend a wedding reception. The lad signing away his freedom is a friend from work, and if what we’ve heard is true, it promises to be a pretty massive celebration in the Egba tradition. After a close to two hour wait, we eventually gain access to the reception venue and find out I have the ‘misfortune’ of being sat at a table between my friend O, his friend K and two very married women with children. The closest thing to eye candy is a full table away, and is involved in a very animated conversation with a dapper bloke in a black suit and a bow-tie. When the party gets started it doesn’t disappoint. Each dignitary and family member introduced is led to the ‘high table’ with a song and a dance – the mother of the groom dances in from a side entrance to the rear of the hall before dancing all the way back up front and then onto her seat, flanked by her not inconsiderable entourage.  The bride and the groom dance in too, eventually, sashaying to a selection of songs topped off by the apt, if the worldview implications do not rile your sensibilities that is, P Square song  Chop my Moni. The rest of us with severely limited dancing abilities watch from afar and applaud the contortions and the agility with which they are performed, in what precious little space the various photographers and an iPad wielding family member afford us.

Food and drinks arrive in due course – catfish pepper soup chased down with apple juice and then a buffet of epic proportions containing rice in all shades and forms and – rumour had it – pounded yam and egusi soup for those in the know. The best man might have had a little too much to drink because when he kicks off the toasting his ramble segues into decidedly dodgy territory, the groom’s prior relationships and liaisons taking centre stage. He does recover gracefully though and completes the toast without spilling any salacious details.

It is a few minutes past seven pm when I nod my goodbyes to the people I have shared a table with, collect my things and head out on to the still relatively busy streets. There is a slight chill beginning to descend as sunset approaches and I stuff my hands in my pockets to keep them warm; my choice of a simple blazer proving not quite as wise as I’d thought at first. As I walk briskly down Union towards my simple lodgings, the one thought I have been trying to retrieve from the dark parts of my memory finally surfaces – it’s almost a year to the day since, running into today’s groom at a house warming party, he’d excitedly mentioned he’d met the One. As I recall, I had smirked inwardly at the time.

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.

False dawns, god daughter shenanigans and an unexpected meetup

The god daughter and I having a nandos moment

The mini heat wave that was, threatened to leave nerves frayed and tempers flared all week in Room 3.26 before – like a duplicitous conman – it vanished as abruptly as it had arrived. It just so happened that the air conditioning – perhaps suddenly burdened by the heat load and the multiplied tinkering of the occupants of  the various offices in our section – huffed and puffed to an untimely death; leaving us in varying degrees of grumpiness. I had taken half the Friday off, looking to spend the afternoon strolling leisurely up and down Union Street, binging on the copious amounts of skin that had suddenly appeared, coaxed out by the warmth from beneath the bland greys and austere blacks that had been the standard fare for the last few months. The flirty weather had other plans though, and Friday morning arrived with a chill in its wake putting the dampers on any thoughts of prancing about town. I promptly cancelled my holiday, resigning myself to a full day of number crunching and copious amounts of milky, weak tea. So much for an early return to warm, sunny days!

My weather induced malaise extended through to Saturday morning – until some wily scheming from the god daughter finally lured me off my back side. I was in the middle of a telephone conversation with her father – wrapped in a snuggie for warmth and with re-runs of NCIS on TV for company – when she interjected to remind me of a promise I had somehow failed to deliver on. A year and some ago, she had turned five, smack in the middle of my North American jaunt. The promise of an afternoon out on my tab had been the only way to placate her at the time, something I had hopelessly failed to deliver on. At her insistence, no doubt egged on by her father, we agreed to meet up at 1.00pm for a walk down to the centre of town to grab lunch and chat. It was barely one o’clock when my doorbell rang, shattering whatever sense of lethargy I might have slipped into. I grabbed a large jacket and proceeded to take the fifteen minute stroll to Union Square, with her skipping merrily along a tad bit too excitedly, whilst her father and I – not exactly quintessential examples of fit, young men – struggled to keep up.

We clearly were not the only ones keen to spend the day out – in spite of the chill there was a small crowd of ten to twelve people clustered around the entrance to my Nandos all waiting to get seated and enjoy lunch. All told, it probably took the better part of thirty five minutes before we finally got a seat for three, wedged into a corner with the bristly leaves of some unknown plant digging into my side and a stern looking gentleman on the other. The scant consolation was the wide vista that the position afforded us – looking outward unto the central courtyard and the milling masses of gaily dressed people seemingly intent on sticking the finger to the weather, sudden chill or not.

I am handing the kid a chunk of lemon and herb flavoured prei-peri chicken when I see some movement from the corner of my eye. He walks past, pauses, moves on and then returns a few minutes later like someone weighing up a decision. When he returns a second time he marches straight to my table; only then does the flame of recognition flicker into life in my head. He and I shared six years studying together at the turn of the century. Not since those rain-beaten July months just before we shipped out to serve the nation have I seen him. He’s lost the gaunt frame, mean, hawkish eyes and the goatee that were his signature look back in the day, all that replaced by premature balding, a rounded face and the beginnings of a pot belly.

We shake hands excitedly, our enthusiasm only slightly doused by the icy look from the man to my right. He’s spent the last four years working in Port Harcourt and is in town for a three week training program. I fill him up on what I’ve been doing since leaving UX5 – studying and now stuck behind a desk crunching numbers. We swap phone numbers. He has a flight to catch early the next morning and is keen to do some last minute shopping – my now forsaken chicken is rapidly growing cold.

His parting shot is to nod in the god daughter’s direction and remark that she’s got my eyes. All I do is offer up a wry smile without comment. I suppose if MG and I had worked out – and no although I was at that wedding, I didn’t get married – I could conceivably be her father. That, somewhat sadly, I am not.

About Town: Journeying to the Middle of Nowhere

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I get the call late – sometime between 5.00 and 5.30pm on Monday evening –  as I drag my bone weary self homeward, plowing a lone furrow down Guild and up Union through the masses of people heading home in the opposite direction.  A sudden change of plans on The Project has thrown the curveball that is being the designated short term relief in my direction, and being the young, unmarried bloke on the team I get first dibs at the possibility of catching a 9.30 am flight the next morning. With the prospect of performance reviews due in a mere two weeks, I’m not exactly keen to refuse an opportunity to demonstrate my ability to ‘handle changing priorities’, so I shrug inwardly, accept my lot and grumble all the way home.

It is nice and bright – and atypically sunny day for this time of the year –  when I drag myself into a cab for the drive to the airport. By the time we navigate the final turn into the airport; the weather has taken a decidedly chillier tone. I find the departures lounge empty, save for a somewhat plump, dour woman, huddled over one of the terminals that line one side of the building. I clear my throat to attract her attention – and stammer a greeting when she looks up. She peers at me – the whites and browns of her eyes peeking out from the gap between her face and the glasses she has perched on almost the very tip of her nose.  I mention I am due to catch a flight out. She asks for my details, but midway through attempting to phonetically spell my surname, I give up and fish out my company ID from the innards of my knapsack. It takes at least a minute of uncomfortable silence before she looks up again and confirms I’m on the passenger manifest. It turns out I have arrived a full ninety minutes before check-in for my flight is due to open, and I will have to come back in an hour’s time. I thank her again, shrug in resignation and head back out into what has become a howling wind.

I scan the terrain looking to find somewhere to set up shop whilst waiting – there are only the bus shelters and a couple of smoke shacks around. I chose the bus shelter which proves woefully inadequate protection. From the corner of my eye, I see more people head through the doors, ostensibly get the same response I got and head back out in short thrust.

There must be at least sixty people in varying stages of repose, slouched in the long red seats which fill the tightly packed waiting room by the time I return and manage to navigate the check-in. We all await the announcements of our various flights and the invitation to watch the safety video before that. The overhead screens have Sky News on – the continuing debacle that is Rangers going into administration gets several minutes, as does the endless analysis of the US Presidential elections, previews of the upcoming Champions League football, and all the other things which make up ‘news’. There is some pattern to the clustering –  old friends and colleagues swapping loud stories of their off-work shenanigans, people leafing mindlessly through the newspapers and one person reading from his kindle. It is only my second time passing through this place but it is already becoming easy to spot the obvious first time flyers with their youngish faces, nervous hand motions, quieter dispositions and blank stares into the infinity of distance;  far removed from the usual brash, borderline uncouth crowd that is more typical.

That context undergirds communication and modifies meaning is never more obvious than on these jaunts. In my time I’ve run into quite a few ex royal marines, members of the merchant marine, and techs who have come through apprenticeships at manufacturing companies. That, and the penchant for giving and taking banter that comes with knocking back a few brews at the local pub –  and passionately following a football club –  means that language that would make my chocolate dark mother blush is commonplace. One is as likely to get called a fat turd as a f*cking wanker in these parts – and four letter expletives are as commonplace as the faded blue jeans that appear to be the kit of choice amongst us all.

Underneath the crude talk, the borderline sexist language and the impression of crassness that you first get, over time I have gotten to know there is a softer, paternal, dare I say more responsible side to this lot. The last time out here I shared a quiet moment with Mark* as he ground his own coffee and kept an eye on the television who was genuinely worried about his son and his desire to protect him from the influence of three generations of cousins and uncles who have never worked. There was Brian* the opera aficionado, married for nineteen years, who was looking forward to his annual anniversary celebration which usually involved a trip to catch an opera in Vienna, a reenactment of his how-we-met story.

It is nearly 12.20pm before I get the call to board. The first leg of the trip is a forty five minute jaunt by fixed-wing aircraft northwards into ever more worsening weather to the windswept bareness that is SCATSTA; a World War II RAF base awakened from its post war coma by BP and North Sea oil. The flight is bumpy but sweets, coffee and biscuits help to ease the ever louder growling of my stomach as it protests yet another skipped breakfast. SCATSTA turned out to be a quick ten minute turn around, before the call to suit up, don a life jacket and clamber aboard the helicopter for the final forty minutes of my journey outwards came. My final destination is a rig on the very edge of nowhere, straddling the border of the UK and Norwegian sectors of the North Sea with nothing but grey skies and water all around for company.

I manage to snag a window seat on for this final leg, but the ever thickening mist that swathes us makes it impossible to see anything of note. Somewhere in between, lulled by the steady chugging of the helicopter’s rotors and the bland sameness of the view through the window, I nod off to sleep, like three quarters of us already have. I wake up with a start to the sound of the pilot announcing our final descent, and a warning. Gusts of wind reaching 35 knots are predicted for this sector, we will have to be careful whilst disembarking. I check my carry on items – a book and my wrist watch in my knee pocket – are secure and brace myself for the landing. In the distance the bright orange of the hull of the standby rescue craft is barely discernible in the mist. Around us, there is water everywhere…

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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