Summertime, for G

For The Sunday Muse prompt #113:
***
The light in her eyes
mirrors the mirth,
in the wry smile
that still, some days,
wraps itself
around her lips,
a bird, free,
born of the wild
borne by the wind.

The heavy scent of summer,
of flowers blooming and
of squirrels flitting
between the trees,
reaches down into
the depth of the memories
she bears within, the
delight of summers past
simmering, then bubbling
to the fore though
her fingers can no longer
coax life from the dry earth
or press pleasure
into a cone.

Stripping, (TV) Binges and Thinking About Thinking

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***
By some unexpected twist of fate, I found myself heading into Central London on the hottest day of the year, a fairly tropical 37 degrees Celsius, and that for the first time since last December. The destination was the Nigeria High Commission on Northumberland Avenue, the plan to get my expired Nigerian passport renewed. To get here I had had to jump through several tortuous loops, not helped by the fact that my trips down to England are scheduled months in advance with impromptu trips being aggressively minimised due to the costs. My takeaway from my dealings with the appointment’s system was that the (re)scheduling system could be significantly improved  – first, you sign up via a third party web service, pay the booking fees and then get randomly assigned a date, one you can only change to a more suitable one by emailing back and forth, no less than six in my case – which meant in addition to the heat I very much had my mind prepared for a terrible experience which could potentially take the whole day. It might have been my low expectations, but the experience was far less stressful than I expected, sans the slow pace at which things trundled along from picking a ticket to getting called for an initial review and then submitting my biometric details. If there was a silver lining, it was that the slow pace of things – and the very many other Nigerians there for similar purposes – increased the likelihood of running into people I had not seen in a long time; 20 plus years and two kids in one case. That the most unsettling thing from all of that was wondering what the scrawny lad I ended up sitting across from on the tube from Charing Cross to Waterloo was up – to whilst reading from 2nd Corinthians 1 in a huge bible – is a miracle of sorts (events at the High Commission didn’t leave me mentally drained as they have in the past) or perhaps only the symptom of my low expectations.

A lot of my free time over the past month has been spent catching up on TV which, admittedly, is hardly the stuff of living intentionally  Be that as it may, all that TV watching did manage to throw up something to relish. The movie was The Upside, a comedic look at the relationship between a wealthy quadriplegic (played by Bryan Cranston) and his ex-convict Life Assistant (played by Kevin Hart) with the sub-text of his relationship with his devoted assistant who it would appear hs feelings for him (played by Nicole Kidman). In one of the surprise birthday scenes, the opera assembled for a private performance began to sing a tune which I thought was very familiar. My first thought – borne out by events in the end – was that I had heard it on an episode of Rhiannon Giddens’ Aria Code. one of my favourite podcasts from earlier in the year. It was indeed, a portion of the Queen of The Night Aria from Mozart’s Magic Flute. The downside was that it led me down a YouTube rabbit hole which swallowed up the rest of that Saturday.

The one book I managed to finish in July, Alan Jacobs’ How To Think, is increasingly beginning to seem like an inspired choice not least for how often my Twitter timeline has tottered on the edge of a complete meltdown over the past few weeks. Existing online as I do at the intersection of being Nigerian (with all its spiritual, cultural and political baggage) and being an active seeker of intellectual complexity at times my Twitter feed has seemed like a frothing mess of controversial tweets and retweets, 140 character takes and counter takes and the occasional link to a think piece published so soon after the event it seeks to analyse that any claim to thoroughness could only be wishful at best. Many a time, I have started typing a furious response to a tweet only to catch myself mid tweet, sigh and walk away. I would like to think that the overriding driver behind my choice to not add to the noise has been noble but the longer I think about it, the more I see that most times it has been due to a fear of sorts – that the views I am about to share might get ripped to shreds by the collective wisdom of the frothing masses – or at other times fatigue from all the digesting and engagement I am having to do. A recurring thread in the book is how our perspectives, views and memberships colour our understanding of facts and (naturally?) drive us towards thinking in herds.  Social Media and its engagement algorithms drive us further into the depths of our herds, our Inner Rings (to borrow from CS Lewis) and our echo chambers. The final chapter ends with an offering of 12 ideas – a thinking person’s checklist – which are well worth a read. A few key ones for me not in as many words: Take 5 minutes, value learning over debating, eschew virtue signalling, gravitate towards communities that can handle disagreements with equanimity, assess your repugnances and be brave, one I can certainly use more of I suspect.

Harmattan Rain

 

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For The Wednesday Muse Prompt, Summer Rain.

***

It hangs in the air like a shroud,
this heavy, brooding cloud of dust
through which the sun tries
to force its way; the same way
a frail old man, bent double at the waist,
tries to hack his way through dense undergrowth,
by dint of will power and persistence.

Suddenly, like a giant oak falling,
squashing dense foliage with its weight,
the heavens are torn by rain, and relief.
Peals of thunder, flashes of lightning birth
many miracles of tiny rivers suddenly sprung,
washing away the dust of earth baked dry,
after which comes the smell of new, clean things,
of rebirth and things made whole again.

August Visitor

august_VisitorThe day passes quickly without incident until they come through the door; they being Z, and A, here to spend a few minutes having a natter with me just after lunch. What strikes me first is how striking the resemblance is. Z has her mother’s eyes, flowing hair, and – from what I’ve heard – her penchant for good natured deviousness.

When they first arrive, Z is hiding behind her mother, peeking out now and again like only children do, somehow believing that there not being a direct line of sight means they are hidden from view. A and I catch up about work and the latest office gossip, whilst trying to cajole Z into taking the hand I have proffered several times. Nothing works. By the time our catch up is done, they both leave me to the company of my headphones, and the pile of virtual paperwork I have been working through.

She does find her way back to my desk, this time less self concious and more willing to engage which is how we end up talking about her first week at school, how her friend F is also in the same school, the pasta lunches (which she doesn’t like) and trying to unlock my phone whilst I read the numbers to my pin out to her.

In between we run through a pile of pink and green sticky notes, drawing stick figures and colouring in hair and lips. She decides her father deserves a small tuft of hair – a la TinTin (my Daddy has no hair she says, somehow alluding to the fact that painting on any hair is somehow embellishing the truth).

That is how my quiet afternoon vanishes, sucked up into a vortex of entertaining and bonding. If there is a silver lining, it is that my child minding/ entertaining skills have not gone the way of all things lost, yet.

About Town: 172,800 seconds of summer…

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If you accept the recurrent narrative – regurgitated without so much as a bated eyelid by everyone from office mates to cab drivers – summer out here lasts a mere 172,800 seconds; two days. Making my way home, by way of the ASDA superstore, it is not hard to accept that as fact, given there are scores of people milling about, or seated in the outdoor stalls the pubs on Castlegate – most notably Black Friars, Carltons and Sinatras – have managed to set up. The two recurring decimals are pints of golden brew and bare arms of all shapes and colours; the sun deigned to shine in all its glory today, and we its doting worshippers have come out to play.

At the store, I find myself stuck in a line which is only inching along slowly, even though it is a tad shorter than the others. When it is my turn, I find that the till keeper is not dressed in the normal green garb of the ASDA check out assistant, but rather in a pair of unofficial jeans and a t shirt. The cause of the delays soon come to light. It would appear that he is not someone who normally mans the tills, he has to receive guidance from the attendant in the booth next to his from time to time – a much younger kid than he is by all accounts. Shopping done and dusted, I leave wondering if I have just witnessed first hand the teething pains of re-skilling, or more likely the floor manager stepping in to help get the queue moving.

With time I am finding out that there is a certain method to the madness of banal conversation. Drilled down to the bare essentials it is largely about feigning just enough interest to appear engaged –  uhhms and ahhs inserted into the dialogue at the right times – whilst steering very well clear of any difficult subjects  that might break the thin veneer of enforced civility, the point being to ruffle as few feathers as possible. I suspect it is that acquired reflex that makes me – not entirely out of context – bring up the JayZ song, Hard Knock Life when our Friday afternoon office lunch time conversation segues into the far too serious territory of death, faith and the afterlife. It does achieve the intended effect as we are drawn from the brink of an entirely unnecessary conversation into the safer realms of an argument around who the credits for the line should go to. I eat humble pie in the end – blame my tv starved childhood- when wikipedia confirms that the refrain from what is universally accepted as JayZ’s seminal rap song – is actually a sample from Annie the Musical. So much for my pretensions to being cultured. The positives though are well taken – saved from the brink of another difficult conversation.

About Town

The bright warm sunshine that streamed in through the office windows – whilst I was hard at work on Friday afternoon – vanished in time for the weekend, true to form. Up here in my little corner of the world, the one gripe that we all – rich, poor, cab driver, CEO, native born or immigrant – share, is the weather and its propensity to turning on a whim at the most inopportune of moments.

 For the last hour of work, I had fantasised about the weekend, and all the fun exciting things I was going to get up to – an hour at the gym, lunch and then a movie with Q., a house warming party at O.’s and an extended video editing session at the church I do life at.

It was only 8.30am before my genuine enthusiasm for the weekend was worn away by the weather, leaving my well laid plans in tatters. It was classic wet, cold and windy, and just the sight of the fog rolling in over Pittodrie from the relative warmth of my kitchen window did my lethargy no end of good. I did manage to drag myself to the gym on Saturday morning – thanks to the tenacity of my god daughter. She and her dad O. attend early start swimming classes at the city gym I use, and the one time I didn’t plan on being there at the same time that she would, I ended up being squealed to over the phone. In fairness to her, she’s one of my biggest fans, bragging non-stop to her Mom and Uncle about how fit I have become – burgeoning belly keg or not.

 Gym done and dusted, it turned out my friend Q. was no longer up for a movie – we’d wanted to see Man of Steel- so I did the next best thing for me which was to head home and grab lunch. Lunch was a cup of oats with skimmed milk, microwaved, whilst I looked out of my window at the foggy horizon.

Lunch done, I ended up on my couch, curled up with a book, and an eye on the TV and re-runs of The Big Bang Theory. The book was Juan Gabriel Vasquez’s ‘The sound of Things Falling‘ (Telegraph review here), a meandering tale of chance encounters, a disillusioned law professor and an ex-convict somehow ending up with intertwined lives in the aftermath of Columbia’s drug wars and the death of Pablo Escobar.

By the time I was wrapping up the book, it was well past 11pm – the house warming party had been missed and dinner ended up being another (bigger) bowl of cereal, which was how I ended up spending well nigh all of my Saturday indoors.

The plus side was I’d finally completed a book in 2013 – it’s been a piss poor year (non-academic) reading wise for me – and I felt well rested…

Life’s good…

A fitting end..

To a fabulous week that is…..

It is 11.41pm, and I am as clear eyed as I can be. I have just returned from the Muyiwa & Riversongz concert. It was fab, If I say so. Apparently the concert was designed to signal the commissioning of a ‘gospel’ choir in the city. The music was great all round – a throwback to my days back in University as an undergrad. Surprise, surprise, the bloke who leads the choir was also quite an active bloke on that same campus and was involved in plotting planning various musical events campus wide. The added benefits of catching up with blokes number 10 and 11 (the numbers refer to the number of close friends and acquaintances I have been re-united with since I made the move across the Atlantic) was fab and far outweighed any misgivings I might have had about shelling out 10 pounds to attend (and the 10 pounds I paid for a CD/DVD of Muyiwa’s album.)

Bloke number 10 has morphed into a Senior Engineer role at some big design consultancy in town, plus he’s added a few ‘spiritual’ feathers to his cap – so he was pretty well known by the people – organizers, the choir itself and all. He is still very single though – and he quickly chipped into my ear that we needed to get married off (the 13th time someone was telling me that this week alone).

Bloke number 11 on the other hand used to be a town-savvy bloke. He knew all the groove joints, all the drinks, where the beautiful women were and all that when we worked briefly together in some obscure town back in Nigeria. Bloke’s gotten very married (swapped a six-pack for a keg), and is all serious about giving life a real chase. Am I surprised!

Well, as a minimum, the bells are tolling for yours truly. I need to get my butt off the ground and get into the move ASAP…. 🙂

Bring on the weekend. Life’s good.