Monday, 1 September 2014

Holiday Snap: A granny for a penny

Getting busy doing holiday
Coming into our fourth day of holiday, we have been taking things quite easy, but it is about to get a bit frenetic.
There are many things I would like us to do, but the shortness of this break means we have to choose what to do and what to leave to another time.
Already, we have been booked to go to Tenerife which is a 70 minute boat ride from Puerto de las Nieves on the north-eastern coast of Gran Canaria, this is to go to Loro Parque and what a long day it would be. The bus picks us up at 6:10AM.
For a pound and more, these fakes
Meanwhile, we have concentrated on Playa del Ingles, a walk up to Yumbo Centre where the shops stock imitations and counterfeits of brands names made to look like original and properly sourced products with such sweet-talking merchants who would at a whim sell their grandmothers at a discount if it would leave them with a coin of currency richer.
On Saturday, we went to Maspalomas and walked some 3 kilometres up the promenade from the lighthouse to Meloneras where the competition from the somewhat isolated restaurants was brisk and almost aggressive.
Food cooked with calumny
In a stretch of hardly 100 metres we were accosted by waiters selling their fare so well by disparaging their competition. Our hands were filled with restaurant business cards that by the time we reached the end of the promenade, the last card handler quipped that the cards of the other restaurants were bigger, but in his restaurant, the plates of food are bigger, the quality fresher and much else.
It was all too much for me, I hate having food forced down my throat and most especially bargain food. When we turned round to walk back, I could not run the gauntlet of that crowd again, we walked that part in front of the restaurants on the beach. Phew!
Then Sunday, we headed for the beach negotiating the dunes following the red-marked pillars. It takes just about 30 minutes to make it to the beach from our hotel. For the very first time, I did get my feet wet in the sea, I might get more wet next time.

Saturday, 30 August 2014

Holiday Snaps: A haul of perfidy

Getting sorted
We finally broke away and the holiday we had been preparing for arrived just in time. It was quite a struggle of persuasion with guile to get my good friend of 30 years to agree that we need to spend some quality time together away.
Something substantial beyond the times snatched on the phone or when we met up for short meals whenever our paths crossed in London.
Reticence and reluctance is what I have to tackle as hurdles and this time I had the full force of the elements as I wanted us to go away for two weeks to one of my haunts that I had spent 100 days at, a place where at the reception, I am welcomed, “Mr Akintayo, welcome to your second home.
And finally
I had not been since December 2010 and I was quite looking forward to it, my friend however, was wishing I had forgotten or some other circumstance would crop up that it would never happen.
At best, he wanted to go away for a week, at worst, a week’s holiday for me was no holiday that in the end, I booked 11 nights, and yet, I almost did not hear the last of it because 10 days was the halfway point, as if you could go away from 10 and a half nights, anyway, this is for the record, because, it would be referenced when next I need to tackle reticence and reluctance towards getting away.
A pedantic inconvenience
He arrived from London, we had a quick meal at my apartment and they made off to the airport. Though he would not believe it, I do suffer a few privations when I go on holiday alone, but when with company, I try to ensure there is nothing, if anything to complain about.
We first encountered the facetiousness of a Thomson Holidays check-in clerk who was particular about my hand baggage weighing 6.8kg when it should according her be just 5kg, we lightened my hand baggage by transferring some things into my friend’s luggage.
I later did a search on the baggage restrictions of Thomson Holidays and found that the weight restriction applies to checked-in baggage, but it is dimensions that applies to hand luggage. If there is a rule, it is unwritten, but enforced under duress at a point where one does not have the means to argue the case with evidence. I was not pleased.
Through not thorough
We fast-tracked through security, though I noticed there was no rigorous border checks either on our way out in Manchester or at our point of entry at Las Palmas de Gran Canaria airport.
Not that our fast-track was anything like it, two families with kids ahead of us were as disorganised as you could have a troop of people that the normal paced security checks seemed to go through briskly.
Then we settled in the airport lounge for the less than two-hour wait for boarding. Though boarding seemed to happen on time, we were held at the gate for another 20 minutes and it was 30 minutes beyond schedule before we took off.
A haul of perfidy
The safety announcement appeared on the screens on the backs of the seats we faced, it was a girl probably lip-syncing the safety instructions with other kids demonstrating all the safety procedures. It was funny, entertaining and well, serious too.
The screens then returned to a repeating cycle of holiday offers besides which we suffered sensory deprivation for almost 4 hours unsure of where we were, how much long our flight was or if there was anything to observe even if it was a night flight.
When I asked the air hostess about getting some entertainment on my screen, she said it was not a service offered on their short-haul flights.
Now, that threw me because a typical film would run for two hours or thereabouts, the flight from Manchester to Las Palmas de Gran Canaria was of a 4 hour 10 minute duration.
Checking Wikipedia for the skinny on flight lengths, short-haul flights last less than 3 hours, medium-haul flights up to 6 hours, long-haul up to 12 hours and ultra-long-haul flights are over 12 hours.
Then the definition becomes obfuscated that a short-haul flight can be limited to 500 miles (800 kilometres) or for UK Treasury purposes, it is an absolute flight distance of under 2000 miles (3600 kilometres).
Then, I realise the subtle technicality that Thomson Holidays has liberally adopted for the purpose of passing off the required Air Passenger Duty £138 per passenger as a discount amongst other things. The distance from Manchester to Las Palmas de Gran Canaria is just 1,877 miles (3379 mile). The travesty and perfidy of it all.
Yet more time
I had arranged to be picked up from the airport rather than take the Thomson Holidays shuttle service which from past experience has me delivered to my hotel last, after travelling round Maspalomas and Playa del Ingles discovering where all the luxury hotels were.
Yet, it took well over an hour for our luggage to hit the conveyor belt because we arrived when luggage handling shifts changeover, something I thought could be better managed with an overlap so as not to inconvenience passengers at the end of a long flight that kept them at the airport beyond 1:00AM.
We got to our hotel just before the crowds arrived, were booked in and basically, the holiday has begun.
Rest, relax, rejuvenate and recuperate.

Monday, 25 August 2014

Nigeria: And when they were down

Oh, The grand old Duke of York,
He had ten thousand men;
He marched them up to the top of the hill,
And he marched them down again.
And when they were up, they were up,
And when they were down, they were down,
And when they were only half-way up,
They were neither up nor down.
Of trust and less
The Nigerian military has put itself in a rather difficult position of needing support whilst not being quite trustworthy. Too many times they have put a spin on stories that have turned out to be outright lies.
Their engagement with the Boko Haram militancy in north-eastern Nigeria has exposed fundamental rank and file deficiencies in the forces from low morale to not being adequately equipped to handle the insurgency.
The nursery rhyme at the start of this blog almost fully illustrates the almost futile exercise of winning anything until a radical reform of our whole military apparatus is put in place. Sadly, I do not think many well-meaning Nigerians are convinced that this regime has the will, mien or wherewithal to get this done as determined purposeful exercise, a stunt or a fluke.
An aimless march
When they were up, what we have read of is a scorched earth policy of pillage and massacre, extra-judicial killings and lawlessness, many of these highlighted by civil rights groups that there is very little to differentiate what they have done with war crimes.
When they were down, it has been barracks sacked, mutiny against generals, being under-equipped against the absurd but worryingly sophisticated tactics and weaponry of Boko Haram, soldiers let down by their generals, unnecessarily martyred as if sent into battle with their guns stopped or hands tied behind their back. The soldiers are brave because of who they are, not because of example and character exemplified by the military brass. It is a shame.
Recently, it was the wives of the soldiers who were protesting sending their husbands to war unfit for the task to which they were deployed. The real down that the military has passed off as a military manoeuvre depending on who you believe is that 480 soldiers have either fled into Cameroon in flight from Boko Haram or crossed into Cameroon in a military strategy to fight back, who knows? [BBC]
At the same time, Boko Haram declared an Islamic caliphate in Gwoza, the region where they have held sway, and even though the area is under a state of emergency, they act with impunity and writ large, the Nigerian authorities literally unable to project power and unchallenged sovereignty.
The Nigerian military have rejected the claim, but actions would matter much more than words. Ruefully, until we see something different, we have an alternative and illegal power in control in the north-eastern Nigeria.
We are not winning
Back to the nursery rhyme, it appears they’ve gone up the hill and down again, and now that they are only halfway up, they are neither up nor down. There does not seem to be plan, purpose, aim, strategy or any conceivable idea as to how the Boko Haram menace would be arrested and dealt with.
The Commander-in-Chief was ensconced in Germany on some personal retreat away from the chaos of Nigeria does not seem to be a general at war, rather he fiddles like Nero as Nigeria burns, proffering empty platitudes to the realities that Nigerians under the cosh of terror face, literally oblivious of things when buried in the cosy cocoon of Aso Rock – it is both a travesty and an atrocity.
The truth is we are shamefully and inadequately NOT winning this war against Boko Haram, no fanciful pronouncement would take away from the fact that the Nigerian forces are down and fearfully, maybe out too.

Walks through the cycle of life

Manchester walks
Continuing on the subject of my walking, I chose to walk towards the east of Manchester, the temple of Manchester City Football Club, Etihad Stadium and the SportCity area where the 2002 Commonwealth Games was hosted.
Having lived in Manchester for almost 6 months, I have only just begun to explore its environs. In fact, I have never been this far before and I only once walked in this direction when I was looking for an apartment, the adventurous self in me preferring not to return the way I went out.
Fuzzy mapping in the brain
My bearings are a mess though, because there times I have assumed roads or paths would lead to places I know, but almost never get there, a bit or perambulating and gallivanting, minutes almost counting the hour, I find that slither of salvation, a place I know and I am thankful I have not had to tell anyone that I am lost.
My walk took me down the Ashton Canal towpath where I saw a lady at the helm of canal boat wending its way upstream with her partner and a friend operating the water locks.
El Capitán
I saluted her with the greeting, el Capitán as we struck up a conversation about her boat, where they were going, how the water locks work and some other small talk. They had had the boat for two years and they were going up river to have it serviced. Meanwhile, they were in their third day of this journey from home wharf for dry dock, fascinating stuff.
I then helped in swinging the gates open and shut before I continued my walk.
Walking along
Soon I was at grand walkway to Etihad Stadium, I had one quick take before I returned to the steps from the canal scaling the double-steps up and running down the single steps, creating a bit of a pant and a workout before continuing on to Philips Park.
Philips Park, named for Mark Philips, the local Member of Parliament was open in 1846 after he committed himself to obtaining an open and free public space for the common man.
The River Medlock runs as brick-lined culvert through the park, so done because of the floods in 1872 that disinterred bodies and washed them downstream. The river could easily be mistaken for drainage, well, it is not.
There are serpentine paths all around the park with sections for children, cycling, rugby and other sports. It has memorial gardens and beyond the main park is the Philips Park Cemetery which opened in 1866.
People and things
As I walked through the park, I saw a boy of probably not yet 13 years of age sat on a bench smoking, he had ridden into the park on his bicycle and found a secluded spot to engage in this vice.
Soon, I walked into the cemetery where he definitely was not following his mother's advice by choosing to talk to strangers. Precociously, as he asked for how to get to the nearest tram station and I averred that I was new to this place, he wondered if I knew where I was, I had to use Google maps to point him in the right direction.
The grounding of cemeteries
In the cemetery, I observed many things; the quiet and stillness, a stillness in spirit, in mind and in body that is rest.
Yet, rest must not be an end, it must become part of the cycle of life and living, the opportunity we seize to get away from it all, the rat race and the hustle and bustle of chaotic living.
I recognise that in Africa we rarely visit cemeteries apart from when we put the dead to earth, I discovered that in England, cemeteries are so well kept, a job managed by the Friends of Philips Park Cemetery and they do provide quiet places for contemplation away from any disturbance. I eventually connected with this mind-set.
Beliefs for eternity
The cemetery had sections for the burial of Church of England, Roman Catholic, Jewish, non-Conformist (English Dissenters) - whatever that means and so on. It was like our beliefs usually handed down from our ancestry follow us through life whether we adhere to them or not and those beliefs decide where we are laid to rest. I would probably return to my Church of England roots than look for anything else.
One thing you could not miss in the cemetery with the power and the presence of love, many tombstones with the phrases, “In loving memory of”, "The dearly beloved", "The loving husband, wife, son, daughter of" with the day they died and at what age.
There was one tombstone that thanked the lady for being a wife of 53 years, in love and more, I was moved. The fact is in death, whether we mean it or not, love appears to conquer all.
Death is where resignation and acceptance meat at the ritual of ashes-to-ashes and dust-to-dust, when the dead are gone, they are gone, we bury or cremate them and keep the fond memories of them in our hearts and minds.
Other things
Leaving the burial ground, I returned to Philips Park to find out more about the park, and found a Peace Memorial that had a prayer written by Marianne Williamson but often attributed to Nelson Mandela, wrongly spelt with a double l.
The picture I took had a family who would have no idea what memorials are about clambering over it and it was clear that this activity by many other Philistines as these had damaged parts of the beautiful artwork, I was saddened and close to being angered.
This time, I walked back the way I came, quite refreshed and enlightened. I wonder where next my footsteps would take me. The other pictures.

Walking steps to better fitness

Walking the walk
Being the non-conformist that I am, even though I have free use of a gym as part of my apartment block, I am so not used to the regimented use of gym equipment much as I would love to begin to sculpt aspects of my physiology.
I have biked, cross-trained, rowed, walked, pulled weights, lifted weights, done crunches and much else, but there is no fun in enclosed places with you alone as the motivator.
Instead, I decided to take to walking around Manchester, this is strange because I normally use a cane, yet if I wear trainers and walk quite briskly, the need for a cane is somewhat obviated.
Walk, I must
The situation is that the normal walking pace, the formal shoes and my gait, whatever that is, somewhere between a dawdle and a catwalk goes to my lower back with excruciating pain, I have at times had my much lighter partners stand on my back just to ease the pain.
Then, I cannot run because there is just not enough cushioning in whatever shoes I choose to wear to take the impact of my feet hitting the ground, I have always suffered from medial tibial stress syndrome (shin splints), so walking, it is.
Walk the steps
I have been walking for anything between 90 minutes and 2 hours, enough to break sweat and get my heart racing, all of which I think is healthy and useful.
Then, I found an App on Google Play called StepWalk Pedometer, that allows me count my steps by recording the vibrations of my feet hitting the ground as well as charting the course of walk. Since I started using the App, I have averaged 7,500 steps daily, and the most I have done is over 11,000 steps in the space of just under 2 hours.
In the process, I am discovering Manchester and getting to see interesting places, some of which I would cover in subsequent blogs.
Walk for sights or by nights
The good thing is if I do decide to walk in the daytime, I have use the canal towpaths, however, at night when I have done most of my walking, I have to keep to well-lit roads and well away from cemeteries before my wildly vivid imagination gets the better of me.
I think walking is a good thing, the kilograms are not falling off like bricks, but there is some noticeable effect, I am sleeping better, resting well, I don't get tired that easily and with a diet that has slightly changed to eliminate excess and appreciate more natural things, it would take time, but the journey to a healthier me has already begun, one step at a time.