Revivifying

 

revivify

For The Sunday Muse Prompt, #61. Photo Artistry by Erik Johansson Master Photo-manipulation Artist.

***
Slat by slat,
dab by dab this
dream in grey is
being remade into
a sea of blue, its
quiescent skin stretched
tight like a canvas
between the present and
the past where the sky
meets the earth’s lie.
Each slat was once alive,
each cell once bursting
with the pressure of rich
water, drawn by breathing;
air and sunlight entwined
in a dance whose beat
is borne in the body,
from seed to fruit
to seed by rebirthing.
Now this dream of grey,
frozen still, is reawakening
each dab of colour returning
life to where it once was.

03. On Writing and Life



The final days of the holidays- I am back at work on Friday — seem like a good time to put a dent in my reading plans for the year, which is how I finally get round to reading Ghana Must Go, an airport impulse buy whilst waiting to board a flight last summer.

A few pages in, I find myself wondering what the fuss about the book many years ago was about, steeling myself for a long, hard slog. By the time I am midway, I find myself pleasantly surprised by the pace and the sense of recognition its themes engender in me — grief, loss, growing up in an African home and the immigrant experience, being the chief ones.

This is perhaps what good writing is — one that mimics life to such an extent that the reader is drawn in and finds it relatable. Art imitating life?

The Weekend Diary – Of Trains and Stolen Things

edinburghtrain

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.

starbucks

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.

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

tartan_parade

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

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

peacock1

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

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