Wet Weather Problems, Twittering about Tea and Loving at First Write

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All it takes is an extended patch of wet and cold weather for things to descend into chaos on these islands, this latest batch of snow, heavy winds and cold weather culminating in flight cancellations and severe weather warnings amongst others. For the most part, I manage to survive – extra warm clothing, walking gingerly to and from work in the wet slush and almost continuous heating being the sum of the adjustments I have to make. It is at the weekend when the rooster comes home to roost in a manner of speaking. Having turned up at the airport for my 8.20pm flight down to Heathrow, delays till almost 11 pm are announced until at a few minutes before midnight we are advised the flight has been cancelled. Remarkably, everyone who should be on our flight is remarkably sanguine about it all,  helped I suspect by the sense that the weather ‘gods’ have been at it again. Between the final announcement of delays and the flight being cancelled, we find (from Flight radar) that the ‘plane designated to carry us away to London has made several attempts to land at the ‘Deen but has failed due to fog rolling in. They eventually get diverted to Glasgow whilst we make an orderly line at the front desk to get our flights rebooked. I move my flight by a week and then head home, not before I find out that the woman in front of me in the queue has family in the same area of Surrey that I’m headed to, and very much like me, she makes this trip every two weeks so. Joking about being four-day spouses, does have a ring of truth to it though. For me, it offers evidence that this thing – having a foot in two different countries – isn’t exactly impossible to maintain, mild weather-induced irritation notwithstanding.

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I have to thank this tweet, and the replies it spawned, for helping most of that time pass. Growing up in my other country, meals were all about being three ‘square’ meals: breakfast, lunch and dinner. Tea – and apples amongst other things – were alien constructs I first came across in the various Enid Blyton books I scrounged off my more exposed friends. As I became older, tea became synonymous with instant cream milk (usually the Peak brand) and Bournvita (a chocolate drink) and on the odd occasion a cup of Lipton tea. Reading the replies and comments thus brought back memories of my first few years up here, particularly offshore and the contact with people from across the spectrum of UK regions it brought my way and brought more than a few chuckles to me too. A silver lining to all that waiting I would like to think.

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Elsewhere, I have been slowly catching up with the first season of Aria Code, Rhiannon Giddens’ deep dive into a number of the most famous arias along with interviews with singers and capped off with the full aria from the Met Opera. The penultimate episode from this first season features the “Letter Aria” from Jules Massenet’s Werther, which opens with Charlotte at home on Christmas Eve, rereading letters that she has received from Werther an ex-lover she has sent away to be focused on her marriage to her husband. One of the themes explored in this episode of Aria code is the subject of long-distance love, a theme lived and explored by one of the show’s guests Peter Bognanni (after briefly meeting his wife, they fell and grew in love over email before eventually marrying) in his book Things I’m Seeing Without You. Well worth a listen if Opera is your bag, or if like me you have good memories from having made friends and loving over significant distances.

17. Anticlimax


The promised snowcaplyse never quite materialised. At its worst in my corner of the world, it deposited a layer of snow all around, the result of the intermittent dribbles of snow and gale force winds. The effect of that, and the small rise in temperatures followed by a freeze which thawed the snow for a bit, was to leave slippery layers of black ice on the pavements; treacherous for us runners and brisk walkers. A friend did fare slightly worse, the small matter of a fortuitous gap between her car and the one in front of her being the difference between safety and a minor crash when she skidded on a patch of black ice.

Out and about today for my usual lunch time walk, it felt sunny and warm enough to leave my winter coat unbuttoned. So much for the weekend from hell then I guess. Not that I am complaining though — long may the possibility of sauntering about in January without the weight of a coat continue…

Of Beer, and the Return of the Frost

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For the first few days, all it is a mesh panel fence, one which cordons off the central area of Castlegate. Given my path to work takes me past it everyday, what it is or is not intrigues me to no end. By the time I am heading into work on Wednesday morning, its purpose becomes clear. It is a tent for staging Aberdeen’s version of Oktoberfest, the all out celebration of all things German beer related, which is back in the city between the 12th and the 16th.  As I make my way back home just past 6.30 on Wednesday evening, I can just make out the silhouettes of people milling about inside it, music and the sounds of people having a good craik. For what it is worth, despite not being a beer person – my choice of beverage is a gin and tonic – the sneak preview tempts me a wee bit, but the need to keep a clear head for work the next day keeps me straight. I make a mental note to check again on Friday evening, if it still catches my fancy.

I suppose the timing is fortuitous; the Scottish Autumn school holidays mean that perhaps parents and grand parents can afford a longer lie in the next day rather than worry about getting kids prepped for school. Scores of people have clearly taken advantage of all that, judging by the distinct lack of cover at work due to holidays and Union Square being filled with folk  milling about.  The situation with bodies milling about only worsens on Thursday evening when O and I meet up for our monthly catch up – even he has three days off work. In a sense it falls us on us wife-less, kid-less folks to keep things ticking, until a sense of normalcy returns. O does have an interesting theory about the timing of the holidays – it is a relic from the days when Scotland predominantly farmed, and all hands were required to pull in the harvests, young child or not. How much truth there is in that I do not know enough to tell, make of that what you will.

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Of all the known and unknown things, none is perhaps more certain than that Summer 2016 is well and truly gone. As a consequence of my fairly steady morning routine, I cross Palmerston Road on the way to work at about the same time as a gaggle of people, disgorged by the trains bringing them into work.  What has intrigued me is seeing how the light windbreakers of spring which morphed into slim fitted shirts and the odd tank top have come full circle, now being replaced by proper winter jackets. Highs of 11 deg C, wet weather and the attendant bone chilling wind will do that to any sane person, even though all that is a matter of degree I suspect. For what its worth, I have held off on the heating at home, even though wearing a jumper into work does have its advantages, chief of which has to be the ability to hide a crumpled shirt (and save on precious morning prep time). The downside though is that my running streak has come to an abrupt end, not helped by the break imposed by being offshore a short while ago. I’d like to think I can find a way to work around that, unless as my friends insist it has all been an elaborate search for a big excuse.

Of Times, Eyes and Seasons

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Life – and time – have a penchant for throwing up surprises, ones which are sometimes welcome, but (perhaps more often than not?) unwelcome. Never more obvious is this than in the passage of time as measured by times, seasons and the lives of others. Somehow life in the moment, in the here and now – never seems to move at pace; only with the benefit of hindsight does the amount of time that has elapsed become obvious.

This, the apparent disconnect between time in the moment and time as Time, was brought home to me this week thanks to a chance conversation with my cousin V. Out and about for a quick lunch time walk to clear my head, stretch my legs and get some fresh air, I run into him on the corner of Market and Hadden Streets. As we have a quick chat, he mentions that it is his daughter’s birthday tomorrow – her fifth.  I distinctly remember being at her first birthday, seemingly only a couple of years ago. How four years have gone by so quickly beggars belief in my mind.

It is now just over two years since H passed. The keenness of loss has been medicated by the time which has passed since then, which I suppose is  a  good thing. The new normal is more and more embedded, with occasional triggers like remembering one of her favourite songs – When I look into Your Holiness  – being the things which jolt one back to the reality of loss. With all that, and the song, came memories of children’s Sunday school and growing up at Chapel in the early 90’s.

One of the more interesting things I read this week was Anne’s musing about spiders; which reminded me that I am due a free eye test; yet another reminder of the passage of time, and in my case how dependent on my glasses I am to function in the real world. On the odd occasion my glasses fall off the cabinet next to my bed, I struggle to find them, such is the state of my eyes these days.

The nip in the air is another telling indicator of the passage of time. It was spring not too long ago, then summer, and now we stand on the cusp of autumn. It is not heaters-blazing-with-multiple-duvets weather yet but it doesn’t feel like there is much between this and that. Word around town is that this year’s winter is likely to be harsher than the last. For now, it is dry, cold and sunny. That, I can deal with.

#44 – Finally Snow

 

I suspect it was more a question of when – rather than if, given the extended run of near zero weather we had had for pretty much all of last week – we would have the snow come down. When we did, we woke up to a blanket of snow everywhere on Sunday morning, and then again on Monday. That managed to add 15 minutes to my Sunday morning commute – for all the scrapping and cleaning that my car required – and made me break out a proper winter coat for the first time this year.

For what it’s worth, the somewhat apologetic – if uncomfortable silences – which weighed down my conversations with folk down south are all now gone, lost in the whiteness of a return to the norm. Nine times out of ten, it is us northern folk who must bear the burden of weather induced lock jams and disruptions, not those further down south, who have been spoiled by slightly warmer, drier weather.

I find the snow infinitely better than the rain, mainly because the constant drizzle of the rain leaves in its wake a certain granite grey mood – depressing for the most part given the city’s signature buildings are all grey granite. Stuff does look better in snow. We’ll face the downsides of the snow soon – once it has had a chance to melt and re-freeze into a thin, nearly invisible layer of slippery, dangerous ice.. Until then, I’ll revel in the whiteness of everything.

#41 – About Town – Icy Underfoot

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A prolonged stretch of sub -five degree weather has finally left its mark on the pavements, the light sprinkling of rain overnight freezing into a thin layer of ice which makes for treacherous walking conditions. Walking to work at a little past 7.00am this morning, it is slightly reassuring to see I am not the only one bothered by the icy conditions; on the corner of Justice Street and East North Street, I share a smile with a woman in a big red coat who appears to be in at least as much difficulty as I am, only she has several bags to balance in addition with managing to not slip. The bond of shared difficulty I suppose?

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.

A little piece of autumn, brain drain and chance meetings

It is the end of August, and the new crowd is in town. I imagine the cold, wet and windy autumnal weather can hardly be the sort of welcome anyone from warmer climes could have been expecting, but for those of us north of the border, it is our lot, and moan as we may, it is what we are stuck with.

Union Street is pretty much akin to Port Harcourt’s Aba Road, and every time a fresh batch of people hits town it swells like a river straining at its banks. As I pick my way through the human traffic I spot elements of the new crowd. It is always easy to spot them – either by the fact that they walk in groups of two or three, peering at maps, and chattering loudly in whatever their native tongue is, clearly excited at the new adventure they have set themselves,  or by the fact that they are dressed up to the nines, over coat, head warmer, gloves and all, even though it is barely September.

Just in front of the Primark store, someone calls out my name, loudly. It is the nickname I was known by a few years ago as an under grad, so I straight away know it is someone form that era. When I turn around, it is indeed a lad I knew from back then. Last thing I heard about him was that he’d snagged a job at Shell, and was doing great – BMW, a steady girlfriend and parties every so often at some Port Harcourt bar or the other. We shake hands firmly. He has to drop the bulk of the items he has in tow – duvets, pillows and a big brown bag which I imagine must contain some warm clothing.

O boy!!! You sef dey here? he asks. He has the unfettered joy of someone who has finally seen a friendly face amidst a milieu of strange, not quite friendly ones. His question is clearly rhetorical – I am here in person, not in spirit; of that there is no dispute. I motion for him to move his stuff out of the way, closer to the walls so the milling crowd around can keep flowing around us.

He gives me a rapid fire low-down. He’s joined an MBA program in one of the Universities in town. He’s hit a glass ceiling at work, and he presumes it is time to prove his mettle elsewhere, the MBA being the door to the switch he intends to make. Off the top of my head, he must the 8th person out of the top ten ranked grads in my class to have left Nigeria. The only two chaps I definitely know are still in Nigeria work for Exxon out of Lagos.

What are you doing in town?,  he asks. I explain what it is I do – some dead beat job behind a desk crunching numbers, hardly exciting stuff.  He nods, excitedly.

Good to see you man, we should meet up some time he says. I nod.. Give him a card with my phone number and then we part.

I didn’t ask if he resigned, I hope he didn’t. Out here, the hardest lesson we all have had to learn is that the grass on the other side only looks greener because it is synthetic…..