01. On Resolutions

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As has been the case with every year since I can remember, I rang the new year in at church, taking the opportunity to reflect on 2016 and my plans for 2017 as the year turned.

As part of preparing for that, I took time out to reflect on where I was on achieving the wider goals that underpin the seven focus areas I have identified as part of my Life Plan. It is fair to say that it makes for gory reading, the details of which I’ll have to spare you. The cliff notes version is that, like everyone else, there are a few areas where I am pretty much where I want to be (Causes & Charity, Work & Career), a few where I have put in a decent shift (Financial, Physical & Health, People and Social) and a couple where I’ve gone backwards since the end of 2015 (Spiritual, Personal & Mental Development).

Rather than make a big song and dance about resolutions for this new year, I decided to go for a number of priorities which will guide my life and activities in 2017:

  1. S: Growing the relationship, with a formal decision on marrying the hopeful outcome
  2. Writing: Daily on here as guided by life and any of a number of prompts I follow and weekly at A Bloke’s Life.
  3. Online Radio (Radio 31): Supporting a relaunch of the Behind the Music show I was part of last year and also the launch of L’s new one, In Conversation.
  4. Church Community: Progressing the set up of a space for the young, single blokes at the church I currently serve on and prioritising monthly meetups with the two young chaps I met up with on and off through 2016
  5. Music: Learn to play the guitar and volunteering for the Christmas Carol Mass choir for 2017. I’m also minded to get more involved with one of the less traditional vocal ensembles in my local community. Not firmed this one up yet though.
  6. Diet and Exercise: Eat LCHF, complete the MapMyRun 10k training program and run an actual 10k race.
  7. Learning: About AI, neural networks and potential engineering applications, particularly in my field (Corrosion & Materials)

It is shaping up to be a critical year already. Hopefully I devise a means for regularly checking in and staying accountable to these commitments.

Nine Fridays of Summer

aberdeen summer

For the first time in a very long time,  I have four day work weeks to look forward to. The theory behind getting these nine Fridays off is that they have been earned by working an extra thirty minutes each work day. How productive those extra minutes have been remains to be seen, but I suspect their value to our employer lies more in promoting a sense of being cared for in us than anything more tangible. The first of these was spent down south, catching up with friends and reacquainting myself with Stratford and the Olympic park.

Being a creature of routine has its perks – one wakes up, does the needful and shows up at work to deal with whatever is thrown one’s way that day – but without the requirement to go into work, I suddenly have the hassle of trying to find stuff to do. The big rocks are in place already – a trip to London to catch Erwin McManus and Carl Lentz amongst others at the Hillsong Conference Europe is all planned up and good to go, as is an extended weekend in Vienna in August. It is what to do with the rest of these summer Fridays that is the problem. Of course summers in Scotland have a reputation for being wet and windy with dry, sunny spells the exception.

Doing a lot of traveling comes to mind as something to do, particularly given getting to know the West Coast of Scotland is something I’ve wanted to do for a while.  Besides the time spent in train stations and airport waiting areas this requires, it is also likely to require a significant outlay in cash. A lot needs to be worked out from a logistical perspective to make this happen but I suspect the dividends – pretty interesting pictures and pretend travelouges – might make this a compelling option.

Another option is to spend the time catching up on all that reading I’ve failed dismally at this year. In addition to the books I have on the go, Teju Cole has an eagerly anticipated collection of essays out in August which I am sure I would be keen to read. Laziness though is the greatest obstacle to this objective, one will have to see how this pans out.

I have toyed with the idea of spending my Fridays cranking out a podcast about nothing especially important. The working title for this – which is likely to only be a spoken version of the things I whine about on here – is A Bloke’s Life. Although I do have a penchant for waffling on things of interest only to me, I also happen to know a number of interesting gentlemen who – logistics permitting – I might be able to convince to come on such a show. Don’t hold your breaths on this one though. What is more likely is a return to the online radio station I’ve previously appeared on.

Movies appear to be the easiest, safest option, particularly as I still have a stash of discounted Cineworld tickets to hand, and the beach cinema is less than 10 minutes away from my house by foot. The significantly reduced movie time since May does  lend its support to this argument, not least because a rash of movies are due out in the next few weeks.

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Star Trek Beyond – which I managed to see after a couple of hours at work – was the first of these, after habit had drawn me into work for a couple of hours first. Simon Pegg’s performances in these Star Trek movies have always intrigued me – given his attempts at affecting a ‘Scottish’ accent, and his English heritage. To his credit, he manages to throw enough Scottish colloquialisms in to make his parody recognisable. My ears have however not evolved enough to be able to say definitively that he has it nailed down. I suppose the nod to Scotland on the big screen – spot on or not – has to be celebrated and accepted?

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.

Did We Do Any Learning – Savouring Memories

A few thoughts – with the benefit of a few months since losing H – on living and learning…

Life’s lessons are neither bleeding obvious nor palatable. All we possess for sure are the moments that we share with our friends and loved ones. The challenge is to enjoy and maximise the moments, not putting off the kind word, the lingering touch, or the act of kindness we know they deserve.

More on the livelytwist blog

Day 6 – Update Your Resume

Day 6 of the Better Man in 30 days challenge – Update Your Resume

Another apt prompt – given I’ve been feeling like I could use a job change for a while, and I have only just received pass notification from another exam in April. Another day, another review which shows I am headed in the right direction but am still missing some critical research skills… That PhD can’t be put off for much longer at this rate 😦

Forgetting

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I catch myself sighing –
Laboured breath held,
And then expelled
Like the unsteady,
Weary chug of a steam
Locomotive as it drags
Its weighty backsides
Up a steep incline.

My dreams, a hurried,
Harried concoction
Of fevered, whispered
Half phrases and fearsome
Visions of a searing inner fire
Haunt me, my mind
Slowly numbed
by the intense,
Unforgettable clarity
of a growing insanity
And the delirium of delusion.

The first time I saw you
You were a distant-
blob of light, bright pink,
shimmering red, blazing sun-
shine, driving dirty,
grey snow into the
corner of Kings and Guilds.

Between there and here
Is something irretrievably broken
a gangrenous, festering sore
That refuses to heal, its ochre
Colour, the colour of dried blood.

I catch myself sighing,
Laboured breath held
And then expelled slowly
Like a puff of cigar smoke.
But in the distance,
Like a storm cloud bringing rain after a drought
Is the redemption of the forget-ting

A Modicum of Regret..

One of my essential life principles is never allowing myself to exercise regret. Time and time again, when decisions appear in hindsight to have been poorly thought out, I try to prevent myself from slipping into regret mode.. I am of the opinion that time spent in regret analysing the what-might-have-beens would be better served breaking the problem into smaller bits and devising a means of resolving its constituents.  Recently though, I have allowed  that tightly held principle to slip from my grasp.

A couple of years ago, I took the decision to quit my high paying job at a fortune 500 company and head back to full time studies. At the time, I was up to my ears with the drudgery of doing the same thing for five straight years and I wanted a break. After researching the course options, I settled on an MSc in the UK. Fast forward a few months – with the program nearing its end – I was informed by the folks at HR at my old role would not be made available to me, essentially firing me.

From where I am today, its not looking like the best move – true I have the MSc in hand but in just over a year’s time my current work permit expires – there is no prospect of getting it extended as the sweeping changes made by the Lib-Con coalition mean that my current route will be abolished.. So when I can afford it, I allow myself a modicum of regret… It could have been a whole lot better….

In Retrospect…

This has been one  hell of a ride. There was change aplenty – the good, the bad and the iffy. In hindsight, maybe some decisions in 2008 were hasty, maybe they were not…Bottom line is that I survived..

Call them random occurrences, put them down to luck or whatever – I think it was Divine Providence that pulled me through some really difficult times. It had to be – from getting THE opportunity after it had closed, to significant delays on bus timings that enabled me catch the train that got the ball rolling, to having a friend leave her house at the just the right time I needed a new house to stay in a new city (P you totally rock!), to getting Brooke Fraser’s Shadowfeet at the time things felt the bleakest, there had to be some orchestration behind it all. The plus side is I learned a few hard lessons – still learning even newer, harder ones.

In retrospect I am thankful: for family, for friends, for life, for blogging, for second chances…..  In many ways I have been pulled back from the brink – been handed an undeserved reprieve….. I need to retool ME – leaner, meaner, focused and above all – hardnosed and pragmatic…

Its complicated..

This provides some background to this and this (number five)

She still wore her hair in a  ‘fro… still wore only lip gloss… still wore a yellow shirt and black pants….still followed Liverpool… still had the dimple on her left cheek…. still wrote with her left hand… still kept a big jar of peanut butter in her fridge….still laughed at my inane jokes…still hummed whilst making her mean stew!

I could be forgiven for thinking that time had stood still…. and it was the first day again….. only she was more grown up… More alluring.. more woman less girl…

The first time … was one Monday in April.. She was….barely sixteen… had just made the jump from her secondary school to her first year Economics class… and she needed help with calculus. I fit the bill – top of my class, supposedly the calculus guru complete with bushy hair … and I was a cousin to her best friend. I think did my bit… Not sure how much input I had.. but she nailed an alpha on the course…. and I kept up my big brother paroles for a couple of years before I quit school, served the nation and vanished into the belly of the south south… eking out a living in the swamps..

The next time was five years later.. I was up to Lagos all week on work, she was working on the Island….We stole lunch every day.. Thirty minutes of pure bliss – she, Fred, Di and I….. Fred was the buddy of mine who was her knight in shining armour.. Di was my best friend of twenty years and counting…..

The last time.. was that day…She heard I was in town… She called me.. I knew I would never be forgiven if I didn’t see her. Five years down the road… She and Fred are history.. I blew my big chance with Di.. and the-one-after-Di….. Fred is my buddy and has been for nearly ten years….. She and the-one-after-Di are still close friends…..

Life’s complicated good, innit?