Wednesday, 1 July 2015

Thought Picnic: Flight from this reality

Flight now boarding
Family is a strange construct very much like choosing your seat on a multi-hop destination flight without being aware of who will be sitting next to you, if anyone will and who might be sitting elsewhere on the plane being nice or disruptive – the journey will eventually be what you make it.
Crude as it seems, the crew are usually already on-board to usher us in, there to cater to our needs and administer the necessities of order and discipline required for a smooth flight. The crew being the forebears in a manner of speaking.
As you board the first, you might be the first to take your seat or there might be others who have taken their seats before you. Once the manifest is correlated with assembled and seated passengers, the flight takes off to the next destination. It might traverse turbulence and more before it lands at the next airport.
Flight now changing
The experience is part of the journey and whilst one might converse with co-travellers in close proximity to oneself, one can be otherwise engaged in thought, in reading or some other activity.
At this stopover, passengers might embark or disembark, other seats might be left and whilst they are reassigned to others, or empty seats might be filled. Luggage unloaded and loaded on, fresh supplies brought on and waste taken away – that is the life of a flight in service.
We take-off again to a new destination learning of new arrivals, noticing them or ignoring them depending on the disposition of the moment.
The journey can be fun or a chore, breathing the shared air of depressurised cabins can have the most debilitating effects on your social interactions at certain times, but the journey must continue as the cycle of life exposes us to new knowledge, new acquaintances, new experiences and probably old memories.
Flight now rowdy
The bane of family remains one in which you have not much in terms of choice, but you can exercise a lot in terms of desire, the desire to be influenced or the desire to left alone. There are times when the latter is more than a welcome prospect, it becomes the best prospect.
We all need peace and quiet, the incessant squabbles where others are called upon not for the purpose of fresh objective eyes but to take sides in bludgeoning another just is not what many sometimes already isolated want to be engaged in.
Do we really need to talk? To be honest, we have all heard enough, if the crew will not deal with disruptive passengers, it is probably time to disembark than continue to the next destination. Find one voice of harmony to keep this journey on or I’m skipping the next leg for some sightseeing.
I’ll catch the next flight, sadly, I still can’t choose my co-travellers yet.

Tuesday, 30 June 2015

Nando's: Poorly run and rundown round the corner

Cravings for the simple
I have my fast food cravings that I indulge every once in a while and I get it at Nando’s a restaurant chain founded in South Africa serving a Mozambican-Portuguese fare based around chicken.
So I stepped out of my home to visit the Nando’s round the corner, since it was close and I discovered that just a few weeks before.
It was not a good experience, I was in and out within 10 minutes having hardly taken a bite of my chicken before logging on the Nando’s website to express my disgust at the place, the service and much else. They asked for feedback and they got the whole lot of lock, stock and two smoking barrels of irately annoyed.
At the end of the multiple choice interactive questions where most answers tended towards the dissatisfied and strongly dissatisfied, I was offered a free-form text box to give them a piece of my mind below:
Feedback the rotten tack
The staff was sullen and unwelcoming, barely interacted when I got there apart from asking if I had been to Nando's before.
The cable on the PIN machine was all screwed up, simple attention to detail like that became the revelation of bigger problems.
As I went to get a plate and cutlery, a complete order had the receipt slip put on the food, when my order arrived it was all piled up on one plate with the ramekin of coleslaw sitting on my chips, that was just disgusting, I was speechless up to a minute.
Though the waiter offered to replace my order, I kept it, but one taste of the chicken was enough and I just walked out literally leaving the food untouched.
This is the WORST Nando's I have ever been to ever, tables had bits on them and I had to dust off my seat, it is a poorly run and rundown place, it needs many new things from personnel to the look of the place - probably parachute in a manager from one of your better run restaurants to sort this place out.
A disgrace...
Then again
On that note, I still had a craving for a Nando’s still, so I went to another restaurant right in the centre of town where everything was an improvement on the last that it would not have bothered me if one thing was out of place.
Thinking of it, it might just as been the attitude of the staff at the other place that made for my seeing every minor thing wrong in that restaurant, but it goes without saying, I can excuse many things except with it comes to the service, the personality and the engagement that makes a restaurant experience worthwhile.
I do not go to eat out to take aggro with my food, no matter how gracious I am feeling. That is what I had to tell a French waiter in Paris many years ago when he seemed to feel a bit unhappy with his day that he felt he could take that out on the customers, I was ready to leave and by the time I had warned him to behave, he had lost the prospect of a generous tip.


Tuesday, 23 June 2015

Essential Snobbery 101: On good manners and seats

Well brought up
I grew up in a different time or rather, I was brought up in a different way and I am constantly met with the shock of contemporary attitudes and behaviour that the worldview I inhabit finds quite grating.
The reason why the different time matter is almost irrelevant is because I see people of my age behave in ways that leaves much to be desired that it must be the different way that is more significant.
I do not believe that certain things should become old-fashioned, be consigned to conservativeness and passed off as traditional values. Self-awareness and consideration of others still matters a great deal besides the fact that manners should never be negotiable, they must be acquired at all cost and deployed at every opportunity.
Give up your seat
Yet today, as I sat on the train, an elderly lady boarded the train at the next stop carrying some luggage, it did not appear she was helped on and there was no place for her to sit.
Even though I use a cane, I could not watch her standing, holding on for dear life as the train began to move. The many able-bodied people around us remained decidedly oblivious of her out of ignorance, the absence of breeding or sheer selfishness.
I got up and gave her my seat which is what any well-taught person is supposed to do, at least, in the different way I was brought up. It was another two stops some 20 minutes later before a seat became vacant for me to sit down.
Make all allowances
Meanwhile, further along the carriage, there was a heavily pregnant woman who in another time would have been ushered to take a seat somewhere in the carriage. Someone would have initiated the move and asked another to give up their seat. The person giving up their seat seeing the condition of the woman would have happily obliged.
However, this appears to belong to a bygone age, people rush for priority seats literally tripping up less able people in their race to be comfortable at the expense of seemingly more deserving people and they hardly ever care when reminded of the fact that the notices do state an incontrovertible fact.
On good manners
Ladies are surprised when I take off my hat to chat to them, some might even take offence if you open the door for them or if you ascribe to the chivalry of ‘Ladies first’. Other bad habits like coughing and yawning without covering your mouth, eating on the street, elbows on the table – the list is endless, makes one think we have become a global village of the uncouth and uncultured with air, grace, comportment or finesse.
Rough on all edges that we rub people up the wrong way, quite an appalling reflection on society today. It is not like one wants to rewrite Debrette’s guide on manners, etiquette, protocol, address or dress, but some things are just so, so as to really separate us from the wildness and chaos of the animal kingdom.
As I disembarked at my station, the elderly lady acknowledged me and mouthed a thank you, I tipped my head and smiled. We both knew there was a world we once knew that is fast disappearing from our present day experiences.
I am saddened writing this, but we have attained with the absence of certain aspects of social schooling a level of inconsiderate selfishness where manners are the exception rather than the rule. A shame indeed.


Sunday, 21 June 2015

The UK: Our welfare system stripped of its humanity

Death helps the system
I caught a glimpse of the news but never really paid much attention to it until I saw a situation developing before my eyes.
Since 2010 starting with the Conservative – Liberal Democrat coalition and now with the slim majority Conservative government, there have been reforms to the benefits and welfare system, many of which will make the bean counters happy, but leaving real people in dehumanised situations.
In May, we learnt that 10 out of 49 benefit claimants had died possibly due to a regime of benefit sanctions where their payments were stopped.
It is not working
To say one cannot believe that this is happening in the United Kingdom of 2015 is typical of not having had to run the gauntlet of the system to see the strictures, the hurdles, the encumbrances and the demands made on people barely able to pick themselves up because of all sorts of adversity.
There is no doubt that some abuse the system, but they are very few, quite in the minority, only 0.7% of the welfare budget is lost to benefit fraud, many do genuinely need help and I have twice resorted to the system for help in resettling back into the UK and for times when I was out of work.
I can say that my ability to endure the humiliation that the system weighs upon you came more from an inner sense of self and abiding hope that things will change all coupled with the help and support of friends and family. The system is soul-destroying for the want of a better phrase.
He had no voice
I was out for a social event on Friday when this man who apparently was epileptic collapsed and was helped by bystanders to settle down and recover. I did not see the fit, but as I sat around, I heard the whole tale of his troubles.
He had taken seriously ill in a number of public places and his doctor gave no heed to his condition, this meant he missed critical meetings with Job Centres and consequently his payments were stopped.
Besides, going by what I could observe of him, the man was in no state to do any of the things of demanded of him. Like making 30 applications for jobs every fortnight, there is no way he would have been able to hold down any of those jobs down for any period of time with that state of mind and possible medical condition, complicated by the demands of the system on him.
At one point, he said he wished he were dead. That really cut to my heart because a whole set of circumstances had militated against him to create a situation of desperate hopelessness. A life that has lost hope is a difficult one to continue.
Anything but welfare
Now, one would think the welfare system was about welfare, about understanding, about humanity and about compassion, but everything that makes us genuinely human has been ripped out of the system to cater for ticking boxes and meeting targets to cut costs.
The goal is to frustrate you off the system and if by any unfortunate set of circumstances you are unable to assert yourself when abused, you so quickly become a nameless victim, a shell of yourself and worse might be in store.
I could see that the man made many others uncomfortable, but this was something I had personal experience of, what looked to others like a weak man in need of sympathy and playing it up for pity, to me looked like a man at the end of his tether.
This is our society’s shame
This bothered me for quite a while until the man left and as I said to the people left behind, the so-called safety net we believe is out there to catch people who need help really has holes big enough for elephants to fall through. Whatever the case, this man had fallen through that safety net and will probably never get picked up without some serious intervention.
That I live in a country that such heartlessness can be meted out to the vulnerable in the name of reforms and cost savings is deplorable, shameful and quite a crime against humanity, because we have the means and the wherewithal but have crafted ways to deny the needy their needs.


Thought Picnic: Pouring libations to our naked past

Secrets of loyalty
Two weekends ago, I had one of my incognito escapades where the planning and execution were literally revealed to no one. When I did tell my friend what I had planned, he was surprised because my planned trip to Amsterdam and Antwerp was both sudden and expressed in a way that seemed I was going round the corner from my home.
My recent trip to South Africa had boosted my air miles reward scheme status to enjoy a number of priority access services through the airport. I had garnered no less than 21,000 miles from that journey accumulated over 6 flights.
It meant I had fast track access through security regardless of the ticket I had purchased. As I did the typical security strip-tease without the music, the customs official engaged me in conversation about where I was from, where I was going and so on.
Maybe a coincidence
As it transpired, I answered, “I am English and my parents are Nigerian.” He asked what part of Nigeria and that got drilled down to the South West and Ijebu. He then responded that he was from Ijebu Imodi-Imosan.
That was quite uncanny because the traditional chief of Imodi-Imosan is also an Agemo masquerade and an uncle of mine.
He, however, was planning to return to Nigeria, to Imodi-Imosan where he said he was under obligation to offer appeasements to the animist traditions of his grandmother who apparently belonged to an Agemo masquerade affiliated lineage in Imodi-Imosan.
It occurred to me that this quite unlikely event of lives clashing on the improbability that we are linked by whatever degree by the familiar and yet strange coincidence calls for some reflection.
Not forgetting our ordinariness
For, no matter what the enlightenment of travel, exposure and schooling does to us, we are primarily human with the persuasions of the ordinary that goes far back before we existed, in genes that we bear or in the traditions passed down to us to return to the grottos of our ancestry where we take root having branched out literally beyond sight and mind of the roots that give us standing and sway.
The memorials are now in tombstones and fleeting memories, sacrifices and words now to be written on Facebook pages of those dearly departed too. We find imprints in the sands of time, weathered beyond recognition of frequency, but blown back like a leaf to obey the laws of gravity once the breeze settles.
For all the sense of culture we can muster, devoid of superstition and ceremony, we are essentially one step ahead of primitive, bound to things and secrets that rule our minds and decisions to walk into the future whilst keeping a keen eye on the past.