22. (Not) Crying Wolf

Source

There is a lot I enjoy about my work, not least being a purveyor of the somewhat esoteric knowledge of materials and how they perform in a variety of service environments.

Most of the time I am advising, providing insights into what types of degradation can occur, how likely it is to progress and what actions we should be taking to assure ourselves of the future integrity of the kit we look after.

Once in a while bad news strikes, a failure or an inspection finding that requires significant (and often expensive) action surfaces. My job in those circumstances then morphs into one in which I become the bearer of bad news.

I suppose it is the same way — in a manner of speaking — that a doctor who has to break the news of the diagnosis of a terminal illness feels; the need to get a job done been tempered by the tension between providing clarity around the seriousness of a situation and softening the blow. Different consequences of course….

About Town: Weird gifts, names and Children on Trains

 

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Sometime ago, not without some misgivings I must add, I moved desks at work, all part of the new re-stacking policy designed around optimising our use of space. Following the move, I went from a desk which looked on into the central corridor with my computer facing away from the door to one where my view was the bus station across the road. The view was decidedly an upgrade, what came with it though was a sense of being blinded to people milling about behind me and coming in to meet me, particularly on the occasions when I have my head phones plugged in to maximise my concentration.

Enter the weirdest – but most useful gift  – I’ve ever been given; a mirror which stuck to the top of my monitor resolves the blind spot around the things behind me. Given to me by the previous occupant of my desk, it now means I have the best of both worlds, a decent view and a significantly lower risk of being blindsided by people door stepping me from behind. Bliss.

***

S and I share an inside joke from time to time, centred around ageing – gracefully or otherwise,  depending on which of us the joke is on. Things like falling asleep in the middle of a conversation, emoji related faux pas, or particularly weird and wonderful auto correct generated communication mishaps bring the joke up; mostly at my expense given my penchant for WhatsApp typos. The latest instalment of this long running joke was precipitated by a typo in a long string of text I sent, Dear somehow becoming Deer. To her credit she waited all day till the evening to point it out, the conversation which ensued  taking a different tenor, one which went down the lines of pondering the etymology of names lovebirds call themselves rather than focusing on my latest foible.

It is an interesting subject, I think, given what the range of the literal meanings  to the ones I pick up from conversations around friends and their significant others can be: defenceless objects which need protection (baby, doll?), unhealthy sweet things (honey, sugar, candy?) and objects of worth (gold, diamond, precious).

In the end, I dig myself out of that hole by referring S to the Songs of Solomon; that provides validation of deer, and the parts thereof as a metaphor for love. 🙂

***

They board at West Silvertown, they being a little girl and someone I assume must be her older brother. She is dressed in what looks like her school uniform, and has a bright pink backpack with some child super hero of some description on it. He on the other hand has huge beats headphones on, and an iPhone in his hand, clearly listening to something. Once aboard and settled in – it is standing room only – she tries to peer into whatever it is on his phone, an act he prevents by moving his phone outside her reach. That attempt at playful, sibling bonding on her part, and an insistent aloofness on his part is a pattern that repeats itself as we chug along towards Ilford where we all disembark. My tired, cynical mind – work, a flight up from the ‘Deen to London City and then this train ride have taken their toll – goes to work analysing the situation, the conclusion being that he has been tasked with getting his little sister home, a task he considers an intrusion on his own plans and space. Not quite content with that, she being the energetic, doting little sister wants his attention but his phone and whoever is on the other end are more important in the moment.

With time, I suspect that he will learn that family trumps the heady heights of young love, and that in ten, fifteen or twenty years time she will still be kicking about in his life, the person on the other end, most likely not.

Nine Fridays of Summer: All Good Things Come To An End

 

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It feels like only like yesterday when the prospect of free Fridays had me all excited, wondering what I would do with myself. Somehow, nine Fridays have come and gone since then, with proper 5 day work weeks left to look forward to till the offices shut for Christmas in late December. These Summer Fridays were especially important to me being the very first ones I was entitled to, even though I had worked in the same team for almost five years.

If I had to reflect on the high points of these Fridays, places and people would very quickly rise to the fore – Vienna for how long in the making it was, the London trips for the potential opportunities they have thrown up and  the movies I managed to throw in.

It’s a wrap for this year; here’s hoping the oil price recovers and we’re still making a big fuss about rust this time next year.

– – –
Currently listening to All Good Things Come To An End – Nelly Furtado

 

Nine Fridays of Summer: Of Heat Waves, Vienna and A Perfect Month of Sorts

In what can only be incontrovertible evidence of Sod’s law, the air-conditioning at work chooses the worst week possible to break down in; a week of unseasonably warm August weather. Loads of meetings to attend, lunchtime walks and endless cups of water help ensure that I don’t end up too listless; not that broken air-conditioning ranks high on the list of life-threatening things humans have to deal with, or should be an excuse for reduced productivity.

Thankfully, that First World ordeal is mitigated by the fact that it is a 3.5 day work week for me; a half-day tacked on to this week’s summer Friday meaning that by lunchtime Thursday I am putting finishing touches to all the things I have been chased on during the week in preparation for heading out into the sunshine. What follows shortly is a brisk walk back home to grab my bag and then a quick dash to the airport for my flight to London. Not until I am settled into my seat, flying away to London, does the tiredness hit me, the low similar to what I imagine users of psychoactive substances must feel after the effects wear out.

London, I find, is not much better- heat wise at least; the hour and thirty minutes I spend to get to my hotel on the DLR and then the Underground the perfect illustration of all that is bad about heatwaves – people in varying stages of undress, a heightened sense of smell and the feeling of being tightly packed.  When I think my ordeal has ended, I find I have somehow mixed Hounslow Central up with Heathrow Central, which adds another forty-five minutes to my commute from the airport to hotel. The front desk manager at the hotel does a magnificent job of defusing my frustrations, her wry smile when she announces I have not been the first to make that same mistake on the day notwithstanding. Food, sleep and a quick phone call are all I manage before sleep sucks me in.

The next morning passes in a blur, the highlights being making the airport shuttle bus with seconds to spare, whizzing through security and ending up on the flight to Vienna with only a few minutes to spare, very much by the skin of my teeth.

***

This has been as close to a perfect month as I have had all year. Thanks to continued pressure focused attention from the friends who keep me accountable, I managed to run three times each week this month, pushing the envelope each Sunday until by the last Sunday I was up to 5 km. Besides now being able to (barely) fit into my size 34 jeans which I was on the verge of giving away, the beautiful sunrises I catch each morning that I run make it all worthwhile.

The  intent is to keep these  runs going, slowly making up the distances until I am at 5 km for each run. 10 km three times a week has been mooted by said friends as a target for year end, I think that is more a next not-quite-a-milestone-birthday target though. Fingers crossed. The most important thing is to keep walking running I guess.

In books and reading, I finally managed to finish Gretchen Rubin’s Better Than Before as well as starting off on Faithfully Feminist, an anthology of essays on being feminist whilst maintaining spiritual practice within the context of the Abrahamic faiths – Judaism, Christianity and Islam. I am only four essays in, but I suspect there will be a lot to both agree with and disagree with for me. The upside I guess is that I am reading, again.

***

As I write this, I am looking out from my hotel window onto the sun bathed train station across the road and an old church a name for which a search on google and google maps failed to turn up. In a round about way, this is the culmination of four years of pondering; Vienna as a destination first being mentioned to me by an Opera-loving, Birmingham-bred English man who I happened to share office space with offshore for two weeks in 2012.

It is still too early to form any strong opinions but I am already beginning to get a vague understanding for why Vienna is considered one of the more liveable cities out there. The rest of today is to rest and fine-tune my plans for the weekend.

After today, there is only one more Summer Friday left. Oh bummer!

– – –
Currently listening to the Gil Joe single – Mayo 

Nine Fridays of Summer: The Not-Quite-A-Milestone-Birthday Edition

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Months ago – when it became apparent that my birthday this year would fall on a work day – I made a mental note to take the day off. The act of making that official – signing into the absence management software we use at work and requesting the day off – never happened, which was how I ended up stuck behind my desk at work on the day. That the only slot for a meeting I had been trying to set up for months opened up on the day, the Friday before, didn’t help either.

The day itself was just like any other. At work there were issues to deal with, the occasional bit of banter with R who remembered, and phone calls. Around all of that were personal phone calls from friends and family and messages on the two  main Whatsapp groups I am part of. I didn’t get the gift I most deeply craved; my subtle prod aimed at pointing (and I use that really loosely here) a few people towards Teju Cole’s new collection of essays failed to convince any one. That the weather was a reasonably warm, dry and sunny 18 C only compounded the sense of misery I felt. My consolation though is that next weekend, Summer Friday #8 (of 9), is being spent in Vienna.

***

The Year of Being Thirty-Six was an interesting one. For key events I would have to point to the trip to St John’s where four years’ worth of catching up with the kid brother were compressed into ten days, finally excising the ghost of F from my memory,  a new job in the middle of the oil patch downturn and turning up on (online) radio.

Having taken a moratorium on travel in the second half of 2015 and into 2016, the last few months have seen a lot more travel; London for visa interviews, Hillsong and S made a few appearances as did Birmingham, Leicester and Newcastle. Not doing Nigeria all through 2015 made it imperative to get it out of the way early this year. That happened in April, providing an opportunity to see J get hitched. On the family side, I became an Uncle again, twice for good measure.

***

This next year, the year of being thirty-seven, has big milestones I need to deliver on.  For one, I take the next big step on my quest to become a global citizen in a few months. If I had my way, after that’s in the bag I’d take the next week off just to breathe a sigh of relief and recover from the subtle pressure of the last few years.

On the Spiritual Practice front, I would like to finally land that discipline of daily prayer and bible study. I made a few big strides in 2015 – morning prayers at church twice a week helping in that regard but the goal for the next year is to reach a place where the desire to reach for my notebook with time blocked off becomes more automatic.

Physically, my weight has see-sawed between 84 kg and 90 kg, currently sitting just shy of shy of the upper bound, far too much pizza – and handmade burgers – having their say, loudly. In this regards, M is as good an ideal as can be. In spite of being in his seventies, he remains a fierce physical competitor; rowing, cycling and hiking being key parts of his non-work life. For me I’d settle for turning my current practice of running between a mile and a mile and half three times a week  into a 5 km run five times a week.

With People, I’ve historically been a very big fan of my own space, tending to favour doing things that interest me than share my space and time. A concious effort earlier in the year to meet up with a few key friends more regularly led to some improvements (but perhaps contributed to far too many downed burgers). A couple of these meet ups are now firmly established. The goal for the next year is to keep those monthly meet ups going and also find a mentor of sorts with whom I meet up once a month to compare notes. I am increasingly keen to see how the S thing evolves over the next few weeks, hopefully I don’t end up in this kind of place again.

Although I notionally make an extra 3% in my new role, it often feels like I am in a worse place financially than I was last year. Keeping the financial numbers in check has to be a key objective for this next year, especially if marriage and fatherhood are phases of life I hope to participate in over the next few years.

Work has been great, bar the  twin pressures of the commodity market and the increasing recognition of one’s skills and knowledge. That is not a bad thing by any means, particularly given how many people are out of work at the moment. Maintaining progress here, delivering consistently and growing my sphere of influence are the key objectives in this category. A promotion, and more than a 3% pay rise would be nice to haves too, i I say so 🙂

The impact of all that work, travel and people time I have dedicated myself to is that sadly a lot less reading than usual is happening. A book a month seems like a sensible target to work towards from a Mental and Personal Development perspective. There is also the keenes on my part to explore addition technical certifications in this rust geeking business. Some more work on my part to identify which add the most value to me is required but the intent would be to pursue this aggressively through the next year. When I was younger, I had aspirations of becoming a programmer of some description (I spent my free time in my service year trying to write a text based football simulator in Visual Basic 6 – it obviously wasn’t very good!!). One side project I’d like to pick up again is something coding related.  Ideally it would allow me understand enough about computers and open source OSes enough to allow me customise one enough to provide a quick, light weight OS that allows me run the key applications that support my life. I suspect it will have to be Linux, Chromium or Android based, but fingers crossed.

Causes and Charities remain near to my heart. Alongside serving on my church’s tech and media team, i currently support a couple of children via World Vision and Compassion as well as a few other charities. Beyond what I believe are the Judeo-Christian worldview imperatives which underpin these, I suppose the feeling that one is making a difference does do wonders for one’s mood too, all things considered. This is something I hope I can continue going forward, with a future visit to be considered. Depending on how much time and energy I find I have to spare over the next year, a technical volunteering cause is one I’d like to add to my current ‘portfolio’. STEMNET springs to mind as one that fits the bill. I hope to be in a position to make a decision in time for the start of 2017.

***

Amidst the less than stellar year in reading I have had, Gretchen Rubin’s Better Than Before stands out as one of the more useful books I have read.  In it she explores how we change; how habits are built and sustained. New beginnings are one group of triggers she considers as being useful – beginnings which wipe the slate clean being particularly relevant here.

So here’s to my Clean Slate and New Beginning. Let the year of being 37 begin.
– – –
Currently listening to: The Best Is Yet To Come (from the Donald Lawrence Album, Go Get Your Life Back)

#33 – Thursday Evening Shenanigans

An Indian, a Weegie and a Nigerian walk into a Spanish tapas place *insert whatever joke you deem fit*.. More seriously though it is a fitting end to what has been a hectic week, hanging out with G and D from work @La Tasca; gin and tonics and red wine lubricating our throats all evening long.

#Work #Bants

Coming Up For Air…

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It has been that sort of month since I was last here, the sort where the only possible response once the worst of it has passed is one of navel gazing self congratulation, at having survived without too much out of kilter, like a slight limp instead of a compound fracture…Between two trips offshore, a sore foot which required a pitstop at A&E and busyness multiplied exponentially, the past three weeks have sped by like a blur. My continuum? 12 hour work days, deadlines coming thick and fast, and weekends spent trying to catch up on the week’s backlog in time for a fresh load of things to chase for the new week.

As is my wont it seems, it’s the people in my life who have suffered most from the pressure; being relegated to the will-get-to-when-I-get-to category as opposed to being a priority; a point brought home forcibly when my friend Des managed to tie me down to brunch on Saturday morning, where it turns out – when I ask about her daughter – that it has been nearly four years since we last met. The daughter I was asking about now has a younger sister who is almost three years old.

The one lull so far has been weather imposed, downtime occasioned by bad weather meaning that I spent the entirety of Monday at the airport waiting to fly. Thankfully, that has allowed me finish Ian McEwan’s The Children Act – book number 13 for the year, a full two months since I read the last one.

Speaking of the weather, Abigail has caused havoc in my corner of the world, leaving power cuts and school closures in her wake. That, coupled with 4 degree C weather, is an apt reminder of winter’s coming, and the christmas silly season looming on the horizon – I have passed up on one shindig already, opting to spend my Friday evening at home rather than plying myself with gin and tonics and pointless natter.

Not a lot otherwise has happened, my year of living earnestly has been far more bluster than substance as yet. Hopefully with a semblance of normalcy, and the chance to do life at a far more respectable pace for the next few weeks, I can begin to reflect upon just how that life might look in a year’s time. Thankfully there is the framework from a year ago to direct my thoughts.  I suspect the plan, when I get the time to build one, will be focused around 30 day challenges as a means to bedding down the associated habits.

Fingers crossed then – one must make hay whilst the sun shines, taking advantage of the opportunities this small lull offers.

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.

Mis-matched

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Feeling chilly in the westerly breeze is how BBC weather describes the start to the day, and walking briskly from my house to the bus station, I ponder just how right that prediction is in spite of how well I think I am wrapped up – thermal undershirt, long sleeves, a fleece and a wind breaker notwithstanding. I have always thought it interesting just how well predictions of lousy well work as opposed to ones which promise warm, dry spells, or not. Confirmation bias maybe?

I make a pit stop at the office to grab a (free) coffee and give my email a last eyeball to confirm there is nothing waiting that might need action over the next few hours I’ll be out of commission, before I hop on to the 727 to the airport. It is a quick run today and I make it into the airport in 30 minutes flat, in time to tack myself on to the back end of the check-in queue which has begun to build.

The small talk is about the storms which have hit down south – disruptions, trees crashing into homes and the truly sad story of a young boy being swept out to sea dominate – and the apparent suicide of Jimmy Savile’s driver. Thankfully, up here in our corner of WetVille, we have been spared the worst of the storms. The line inches forward steadily, everyone goes through the now regular routine – show passport, weigh bags, confirm any medications, weigh self, confirm contact and details are correct on the electronic travel database and then hop off to the baggage screening area. When it is my turn I do the same, finding that my employers have failed to include an updated medical in my record. Thankfully I am due out before the current one expires so it’s no real biggie.

I drag myself on to the baggage check area and dump my shoes and belt as I walk through the full body scanner. I walk towards the security guard for a pat down, noticing a few chuckles as I do so, but oblivious to the fact that they are directed at me.

Great pair, pal, the guard remarks with a smile playing on the edges of his lip as he points to my feet. My bemusement turns in the instant I look downward into an inward cringe of embarrassment. I have somehow showed up on the one day of the month I will walk about in my socks with a non-matching pair.. In my defence, my day has already being a pretty long one, even though it’s only 10am.