Saturday, 10 February 2018

Thought Picnic: The memories of times, places, events and people

The memories of another day
16 annual Sundays ago on February the 10th in 2002, we gathered for brunch at my favourite Paris haunt, Café Beaubourg to celebrate the 50th birthday of my dear friend Dick van Galen Last. We were both residents of Amsterdam, but we had met in Paris some 4 years before, when I still lived in England and kept contact through when I moved to the Netherlands in 2000, when he was my most friendly support in helping me settle down in my first month.
We had a tradition of meeting every few months for dinner, usually, at his place where he entertained an eclectic crowd, Dick was a global citizen with friends from all corners of the earth.
Dick would have been 66 today, but he passed on, on the 2nd of February 2010, just days short of his 58th birthday.
To memories of events that last
February presents to me in many ways, the end and the renewal, 2002 was a celebration of life and the joy of friendship, a few years after, I had two nephews born on the same day, two years apart, young boys coming into adolescence I need to make more than an acquaintance with.
On the 8th of February 2010, I had two events to attend, the morning was at a chapel where some crowd numbering hundreds on one of the coldest February mornings in Amsterdam gathered to bid Dick farewell, I could not make it to the reception after the internment.
For memories to recall in the future
Then, I hurried to the hospital for my penultimate session of chemotherapy with a nursing team who were just as shocked as I was at Dick’s demise, we shared the same consultant and oncologist. That session of chemotherapy when we finally found a vein to stick a needle in, turned out to be my last and the road ahead of me after that became one of recovery and recuperation.
The memories are keen and they are fond, to friends and lovers gone before, you are never forgotten. Let February bring life and happiness again.

Tuesday, 30 January 2018

It's about respect and make that matter every time

Know your worth
A number of events have inspired me to write this blog, even one that I reminisced about to a colleague at work about the beginning of my career.
I was a 24-year old with 30% equity in a desktop publishing outfit with a well-established lawyer twice my age who was also a director of one of the biggest banks in Nigeria, if not Africa, almost 30 years ago.
During one of our conversations, he dipped his hand in his flowing gown and threw money at me across the table. I picked up the wad of cash, put in back in front of him and said, “My parents have never thrown money at me, I’m sorry, you do not earn the opportunity to do that to me.
He was aghast that he just could not understand that I was neither obsequious nor fawning, but forthright and bold. He wondered why because of what I had in my head I could so irreverent and for a few more times he did things to undermine and belittle me until I was compelled to tell him.
You don’t give 30% of a company to a 24-year old and think that is the end of it, I will walk away from this and start again somewhere else.” That is what I eventually did.
Take no shit
On another occasion, it was at work where traders had become demigods because of the kind of money they brought into the company. It meant everyone answered to their every whim regardless of how the demand was made.
It was one evening when I was on the phone to one of such demigod traders that he began with unprintable expletives, swearing and cursing at me without relenting. When I finally got to answer him, I said. “I’m sorry, I do not get paid enough to be spoken to like this, I will put down the phone and you can call me again when you are ready for me to attend to your issue.
I ended the call and a few minutes later, he was on the phone again, first apologising and then I was able to look into the issue he had and resolve it. The truth is, I really cannot be paid enough to be insulted and abused at work. In a way, I use my parents as the standard, what has never been meted out to me from my parents is unacceptable from anyone else, no matter how influential or highly placed that person is.
Money is not everything
It has defined an almost 30-year career, I set the standards by which I want to be addressed, with respect, with courtesy and with consideration. I am grateful to the managers I have had who have reciprocated with exemplary conduct and to those managers who have been unable to find the ability to act with standards of courtesy and address that are somewhat old-fashioned for these times, we have parted ways.
This is what happened last March when I had had my fill of being treated disrespectfully and discourteously by my manager, I handed in my badge and phone and walked out without notice. I had had enough.
This brings me to the conversation Jay-Z had with CNN’s Van Jones recently where he said, and I quote. “It is not about money at the end of the day. Money does not equate to happiness. You’re missing the whole point. You treat people like human beings…. Treat me bad and pay me well: it’s not going to lead to happiness.” [Source] [Recording]
Then, Amara Nwankpa on Twitter responded to a tweet, with “Greatness is hardly measured in money. It's nice to know you can buy things, but find your niche, make a difference in people's lives. Move society forward. The greatest name in the world died without any children or property to his name.

It should always be about respect
Ultimately, we have to be careful that we do not slip into materialism and begin measuring achievement and impact just to the sound and presence of money because money is just supposed to be a tool.
I have given up some opportunities because the situation and circumstance in the work environment will be bad, even though it pays really good money. In some ways, it is down to my upbringing, I have enjoyed plenty and suffered lac at various times, but I am not driven by the quest for filthy lucre to the detriment of everything else.
Indeed, we can do a lot with money, but money in and of itself can be the source of great misery, it does not equate happiness, health, comfort, rest or peace.
Fundamentally, It’s about respect, not money. If you can be guided by this thinking, it is unlikely that people regardless of what they have will deign to disrespect you, I might have left my job last March vilified, a few months after the manager was asked to leave and by that, I was indirectly vindicated.

Wednesday, 24 January 2018

Anyone for the gym?

So, I sauntered off to the gym,
Not really expecting to see a guy named Jim,
Even if many went there for the trim,
It was a feast of muscle filled to the brim.
To some classes, I got to late,
Before to music we repetitively did gyrate,
To exhaustion, we inflate and deflate,
Not once did the trainer berate,
I realised I didn’t know right from left,
My rhythm not anything near deft,
In sweat to my body, my clothes were cleft,
This was before we had much to heft.
For all the sizes there on show,
It was the Muscle Marys in afterglow,
Preening and prancing on the weights with gusto,
A distraction from the general flow.
Some exercises seem so tough,
Tugging on muscles that make you gruff,
With time and grit, you’re trim and buff,
The result of many a huff and puff.

Monday, 15 January 2018

Opinion: By the measure of homelessness in the UK, we are a poor nation

Our streets of people in need
Daily, I find myself wondering what kind of society I am in, what has broken in our society and communities to see such poverty, destitution and hopelessness amongst us?
There is nothing first world on our streets, despite being one of the largest economies in the world, with all sorts of prospects for the United Kingdom, we cannot judge our progress on the prosperity of the rich getting richer, companies declaring vast profits, the stock exchange hitting new records and anyone else with the opportunity and good fortune laughing all the way to the bank.
As a consultant, I work around the UK, literally living in hotels and walking the streets therein. Living in Manchester, then working or temporarily staying in Edinburgh, Norwich, Great Yarmouth and now Reading, I cannot ignore the obvious.
I see hungry people
I see hungry people, I see homeless people, I see people approaching strangers begging for some spare change for a meal or to get a place to lay their heads for the night. Then some billboards tell me not to give money to street beggars because the said charities are there to help them back to a different life.
I am pained by my own helplessness, I cannot think of what I can really do to help anyone who has been caught in this situation apart from offer a handout. If I stopped to listen to their stories, it is very likely their story will be no different from mine.
Why? I was self-employed and independent, then I fell ill with a sickness and disease that could easily have killed me off, but thankfully I am still here. As I took on my treatment, I had no money coming in, I used up all my savings, I could not pay the mortgage and because of my seemingly independent life, I did not know I was entitled to any welfare.
A precipitous decline
I soon found out about my entitlements six months after I fell ill, my creditors were very understanding, in fact, they probably had more faith in my recovery than I did, they had a good idea of what I earned before and my possible earning potential if I did recover. Yet, there were days I went hungry, my eyes almost popping out in the agonising pain of cancer, but for the succour and friendship of neighbours and friends, I could have despaired and expired.
I still had a roof over my head for another 30 months after my cancer diagnosis, but I could not sustain my situation, things were not looking as rosy as I had hope that I decided to sell up. The day before I moved out of my apartment of 126 months, I did not know where I would spend the next night, and then a free offer to occupy a vacated house come up which I occupied for two months.
After that, a young family put me up in their apartment caring for me for another 6 weeks before I decided to return to the UK after 12 and a half years in the Netherlands, with nothing but the hope that things will turn around, my cousin putting me up in a room as I returned.
As things looked up
Within 6 days of arrival, I had a job to travel around Europe for the next six months, however, some internal issues in the company meant the opportunity only lasted 5 weeks, it was another few months before I got a job in Wales where I was living out of hotels for the next 6 months.
Being in and out of work with no permanent residence could have taken its toll, I had many brushes on the brink of homelessness only to have people give me a place to recoup, reassess, rejig and reapply myself to getting back into useful employment and independence.
None of this would have been possible without a helping hand and there were many for which I am full of gratitude and appreciation that the best of humanity is still out there overflowing with the milk of kindness to help and to redeem.
Where is the help for all?
However, not everyone has that resource, not everyone has an angel, the angels to me were people like you and me. Many are homeless because of so many reasons too many to enumerate, from illness to unemployment, broken homes, divorce, a death in the family and even maybe substance abuse.
It is here that we must ask ourselves, what encourages substance abuse and is that not a symptom of some other underlying issue? I cannot sanctimoniously pontificate on these issues as if in my supposed saintliness I am beyond reproach, neither am I ready to accept as default that all beggars are beggars by choice, any money given them goes on drink and drugs or that they know where to get help and never use it.
I knew where to get help, as articulate and well-dressed as I was, I was both humiliated and turned away with the undertone of how dare I visit the homeless charity seeking help. I submit that if the charities were really doing their charitable duties, there would probably be fewer homeless people on our streets. I am doubtful they are doing anything that would encourage me to donate to the charities when I can open my hand to a person begging in front of me.
They are human beings first
It is a cancer within our midst that we have that many homeless people around us and from my experience, the very likelihood why the homeless would not visit homeless charities is because first, they are not treated as human beings, they are not treated with respect, they are looked down on as the dregs of society that there is nothing in place as the kind of helping hands I had to give me the opportunity and space to come out of the quagmire I was in.
Nobody wants to return to a workhouse environment redolent of the Victorian times and these places that portend to tackle homelessness must be more welcoming than they appear to be.
I see instances when someone begging needs £16 to stay in a hostel, it is unlikely if they make the £16, they would immediately spend it on one night’s shelter when there is food to think about.
The pall of homelessness
It is not without consideration that I think of a man I loved, Chris was ejected from his home by his mother at the age of 15 because he was gay and though he made something of his life to the extent that his parents relied on him to bury them well, Chris died 21 years after that ejection and it cannot be unrelated to the homelessness he suffered as a teenager before someone helped him.
I could see signs of that experience in everything that Chris did because these things are markedly significant, yet, he was amazingly loving and wonderful company to be with. Whilst he rests, I still miss him, 36 was too young an age to die and he’s been gone over 8 years.
I walk to the gym in my shorts on typical winter days seeing people in the dead of the night still hungry, homeless, cold and anything uncomfortable, I do not see anything happening to help them, I have not amazing solutions and sadly, we seem to be at the peak of government indolence and societal heartlessness.
This cannot continue, our society is the poorer for the hungry and homeless that roam around us in the vaunted prosperity of this great land. No, we are not prosperous, we are poor.

Thursday, 11 January 2018

Caught skipping with the girls again

Between Jim and the gym
Just after my birthday, I thought about it again, the need to keep fit and trim, knowing that the passing of time leaves changes one must have in control before it is too difficult to rein it in.
Having been away from home for weeks, I first had to update my swipe card access to the village gym which has everything including a swimming pool, a sauna and games room. The swimming I have to get to eventually, I have been too much of a log or a stone in water, there is no fun in that.
Knowing me, knowing shoes
Then, I needed to get the best shoes to cushion the effect of running because of lifelong shin splints. My research online yielded lots of information which boiled down to the best shoes that had fitting, quality or durability issues, not one stood out as the best and I was in information overload already.
A visit to the shopping mall with sports shops belonging to chains did not seem to offer much encouragement, I did not see anyone who appeared to have any useful knowledge about running shoes or trainers apart from their projecting the necessity to make a sale to the most gullible customer who dared to believe anything they said.
A size for a length
I took a walk down the main street and happened upon a small family shop that had one customer inside who had tried nothing less than seven pairs of shoes, the attendant, patient, understanding, explaining and serving. He seemed to know what he was talking about as I pulled up my references to guide me in decision making.
It became clear that my shoe size for normal shoes was probably two sizes smaller when trying on trainers, but when I slid my feet into Size 19 shoes, I could only presume something was wrong with quality control or the sweatshop makers of the shoes were making skis rather than shoes.
Eventually, I settled for a pair of the most comfortable and well-cushioned shoes, the fitting was so good, knowing how my feet have suffered through spurts of growth that shoes did not expand to, this is like shoe heaven.
Altogether, with Christmas approaching, I got discount on everything and probably paid 30% less along with free merchandise to boot. I was ready for the gym.
Skipping with the girls again
I then revived my gym membership with The Gym Group with the bundle that allows me the countrywide use of any gym in the group and we were on to an exercise program for the first four weeks and then the next four.
Down in Reading, I registered for an induction that went well before opting for a boot camp class. No gym equipment, just running, jumping and stretching over the course of 30 minutes. The setting reviving a childhood experience as I was the only male apart from the trainer in a group of 10.
My childhood fragility meant I was left skipping with the girls rather than playing football with the boys, it appeared I was back doing things with the girls again. Such is life at the gym.