Tuesday, 21 November 2017

The Grand Despot of Africa is deposed

The revolution was over long ago
There comes a time when men are tested by circumstances and they fail to read the times rapidly falling from grace to disgrace slowing down time into slow motion crash.
Such was the end of the tyranny of terror of the man I have for over a decade referred to as the Grand Despot of Africa. In 1980, Robert Gabriel Mugabe was the revolutionary, the figurehead that took the entity of Southern Rhodesia from the grip of Ian Smith to the new dawn of Zimbabwe.
Since then, Robert Mugabe raised a revolutionary fist against forces known and unknown, enemies within and without, regaling crowds with revolutionary zeal, beguiling the people with the feeling that they are being assailed by the old colonialists whilst the reality was he was the colonist of the same colour as his brethren for the past 37 years.
Forgetting when your time is up
At 93, Robert Mugabe who could have long retired into revered African statesmanship like Julius Nyerere of Tanzania or Nelson Mandela did before him, fastened his grip on power, railing and raving, knocking down perceived opponents and easing the way for his firebrand and intemperate wife to assume dynastic succession.
What Robert Mugabe forgot was despite his iron grip on power, he was there at the behest and will of some of his people and the cohort that surrounded him that allowed the mystique of his inviolability and the myth of his seeming omnipotence to becloud his judgement.
He made one last miscalculation, egged on from the pillow of his bedchamber by the First Shopper of Africa, Gucci Grace whose vaunted claim to significance was being the wife of the President and by that she thought she was untouchable.
Bringing down the temple on his own head
He sacked Vice-President Emmerson Mnangagwa on the 6th of November and with that came down the principal stone held up the cult of personality of Robert Mugabe. The sacking of Emmerson Mnangagwa was like pulling the pin of the grenade and forgetting to throw it at a target far away, then run.
That singular act crystallised the mounting disaffection with first his wife and then Mr Mugabe, the army moved in and put him under house rest, sparing in his life in what was a coup in everything but name, Mr Mugabe failed to see that the end was nigh. The enemy without that was the rallying call of his rambling party speeches which defined his stubbornness and defiance was now at his doorstep, the army, the veterans of independence, his party, the youth wing that venerated him and his people.
Mr Mugabe was alone and asked to go, yet he refused to budge as every vestige of status, power and authority was being humiliatingly stripped from him, he then squandered the magnanimous opportunity to leave the stage the little dignity he had left in a nationally televised speech, Robert Mugabe had overstayed every toleration of his presence at the helm of Zimbabwe politics, it was no more whether he would leave, it was when.
The final humiliation
The parliament instigated the articles of impeachment to depose him, and then a letter arrived from the President Robert Gabriel Mugabe, read out in parliament, it was his letter of resignation. It finally dawned on him that he had run out of excuses and rhetoric to fight the groundswell of animus that had galvanised the people to ask him to go.
Robert Gabriel Mugabe is the apotheosis of the failure of leadership in Africa, he failed to transition from a revolutionary to a leader of his people, he exploited divisions amongst his people to retain a hold on power for over a generation. He failed to mentor successors, presiding over squabbling amongst his underlings seemingly secure in the impression that there was no one that could step into his shoes.
Failed leadership in Africa
What irks me most about African leaders that sit fast without budging under the hubristic delusion that no other countryman can do the job of leading their country is that it soon become a glaring lie. There are probably thousands of Zimbabweans, male and female alike that could, given the opportunity do a better job than Robert Mugabe ever could.
The legacy of Robert Mugabe is there for all to see, revolutionary zeal is not enough, he brought the country to its knees, from prosperity to poverty, entrenching a corrupt patronage that concentrated political power and economic clout in very few hands whilst he gave the people the prospect of wild dreams of adventure than became living nightmares.
No laurels for disgrace
No one will mourn that passing of the era of Robert Mugabe except for the few that profited from his being the emperor of an endemically corrupt enterprise, his resignation was greeted with celebrations on the streets of Harare not seen since the day of independence.
Robert Mugabe should now retreat into ignominy, insignificance, disgrace and silence, only to be read of when his longevity in life comes to an end. Our eyes are now on the remaining sit-tight African leaders vying for the crown of the Grand Despot of Africa.
Bye, bye Robert Mugabe, you shall like Ian Smith be consigned to the bad history of Zimbabwe.

To Iya at 75

Dear Iya,
I write to wish you a happy 75th birthday. I have said before, you are a survivor and you are tenacious.
I thank God that through a life experience that is incomparable, you stand and shine, a beacon of example to innumerable, including us your children.
I appreciate in all honesty that we have not shared common views on many things, we are individuals, you are my mother, I am your son, we have done some things with mistakes along the way.
I am not a devil and you are not a saint, we are both human beings and our differences go a long way because I am burdened with vivid memories that never wane.
That is how we can understand each other, not through digging up those memories, but in knowing no one gets excused just because of status, the equity we seek and the moral high ground we race to climb at slightest available opportunity neither comes with clean hands nor priestly robes.
It is like the touching of the nose, in knowing and saying nowt. You know I write and I know this would eventually get you because that is the way the world is today. The voice that goes out will be heard.
I have not been the best son, it comes with the territory, there are things I probably would never want revealing about my childhood, but I am the product of motherhood, mothering and parenthood that has given me an amazingly blessed life, that honour, no one can take from either you or my father.
We must get beyond estrangement to reconciliation, from the silence to a celebration, of the smiles and laughter I remember, of the songs happily sung and taught, of the pride a son has in his mother and that which a mother has in a son. Like rivers once driven apart by forces they could not control to a confluence of waters brought together by a greater calling beyond ourselves. 23 months! Anyone else would ask why?
You will not get tradition out of me, but knowing, feeling, humbling, respect and reverence are why you will always be Iya to me, we are blessed the greater with you fully engaged in our lives despite everything, I love you, mum. 
Happy birthday and many happy returns of the day.
Akin (Oludamilola)

Monday, 13 November 2017

Hotel life: In the mastery of charlatanry

For I looked for a hook
For a man shall endure many tribulations and suffer indignities too numerous to mention for the shame of having lived through those experiences, but none of this is the sum of a life that is a journey of amazing discovery that puts dreamland into the shade.
Down in Berkshire on the recent sojourns that have taken me far away from home in search of professional expression, I took lodgings in a budget hotel that provided not as much a hook to hang my coat or jacket that hangers would be a luxury.
Yet, with a fridge, cooker and microwave oven you find some home comforts in the midst of the inconvenience. The bathrobe hook on the inside of the bathroom door has found a new purpose, one finds the means to improvise.
Smokers of weed run riot
On returning from work this evening, I found a scruffy note snuck under my door which I thought was offering to clean my room at a later time because I left a ‘Do not disturb’ sign on the doorknob.
The speed at which disgust and rage cross my visage cannot be measured by the eye when on reading the note, there was the suggestion I had been smoking in my room.
Staying in a budget hotel does not mean I have the temperament for provincial budget behaviour borne of the mastery of charlatanry that informed whoever came to that conclusion on matters in my accommodation. The smoke alarm did not go off, no one should have entered my room in my absence and the window was closed, so you do wonder how they ever knew that I was smoking.
No suffering this gladly
I was smoking for four years until 33 years ago and that is by no means yesterday. There is a time I would have in a fit of pique moved out of that hotel without delay, something I have done many times before, but I calmed myself down, tried to find a funny side to it, fired off an email to the hotel proprietor demanding an apology and then sat to write this blog.
One does suffer silently the inflictions of ignorance and stupidly in many places, yet, none of it must be suffered too gladly. They have beyond my stay lost custom and a customer out of either incompetence or ineptitude, I did not leave the comfort of my home to be heaped upon with a travesty.

Monday, 6 November 2017

In maternal discomfiture

In maternal dispute
Just about 6 months ago, I went for a neurological diagnostic test just to ensure that my concerns about memory and reaction were not a systemic degeneration of my capabilities, though for what I had noticed about my concerns I had designed elaborate compensations for.
It so happened that all my considered reflexes and powers of recall were fine even if order and precision were not exact, my consultant did not think there was a problem. However, he did recommend I do a barrage of blood tests just to determine if there were other treatable conditions to assess.
The results of the blood tests suggested a Folic Acid Anaemia Deficiency (FAAD) for which I was to take Vitamin B12 and Folic Acid supplements.
Keeping the flu at bay
To deal with the FAAD, I got Folic Acid 400 µg from the pharmacy and was not particularly comfortable with the label that suggested it was for pregnant women as it contributes to maternal tissue growth during pregnancy. As it transpires, everyone needs Folic Acid for cell growth and development, and this should be obtained sufficiently from diet except when pregnancy demands more than is supplied in the diet.
This morning I called my General Practitioner to schedule my influenza vaccine which I took for the first-time last year and has on the recommendation of my consultant to be taken annually. I was given an immediate appointment from an hour hence and I walked up two streets to see the nurse.
When I was called in, after the basic formalities of my identity and a few questions about reactions and allergies, she brought the vaccine out of the fridge, pricked the upper shoulder muscle of my left arm and injected me. I am usually surprised at how they call the prick of a needle a scratch because it is not. However, the needle is quite thin that it rarely bleeds after the injection.
In maternal balance
Then I asked about a possible Vitamin B12 injection booster that my consultant told me of at our last meeting in September, but the nurse needed to see recent blood tests to be sure of whether that was necessary. Going through me online file, she found a recent letter from my consultant which indicated my FAAD issue had gone and my readings had returned to normal.
To be honest, I was not keen on the Folic Acid supplements and I only took fortified cereals for breakfast for a few weeks. I am not a breakfast person, but I was glad to learn of the development, though surprised that I had not yet received a letter from my consultant about my latest blood tests from September.
A slight discomfort from the injection and I will be fine.

Wednesday, 1 November 2017

Thought Picnic: Collecting moments that appreciate

Recollecting moments
A lull in blogging lasting almost 3 weeks is not the absence of anything to write or say. A lot has been going on in my little corner of the world, stories and events shared with people I am close to and those who have recently become friends.
Being away from home for work, barely having enough to get by, successes in thorny situations, affirmation coming from peers and much else, all appear to give meaning, purpose and vitality to life and living.
Appreciating moments
Then October has also become a stranger month, of the celebrations of many births and the solemnity in the remembrance of a passing to the Great Beyond. All this together just created a sense of withdrawal and disinterest, the urge that fuels the need to write completely diminished that apart from November last year, you have to go back to some months in 2005 to see a less prolific blogging activity.
Even realising this, it is probably the first time I have not been overcome with angst about my quietness, days have come and gone as lived experiences without the distraction of needing to capture it for posterity. Sometimes, the experience matters more than the record, the memory is simply enriched with that moment.
We are blessed with the moment, let those moments not be lost to needless distractions.

Thursday, 12 October 2017

How climbing up the rungs of failure was my ladder to a successful career

Thoughts on how I was taught
If I had the charm and the gab, I probably would be in a professionally different place, but it really does not bother me, I love what I do.
It is strange that in deciding on a career, the many ideas that came to me were not so inspired by some passion, but by example, the example of the passions or decisions of others. I dreamt of being a brain surgeon or an avionics engineer, I never really caught the bug for the grades, especially in additional mathematics, my teachers did not have the tinder that when lit caused me to combust to a cinder.
How I would have loved to master French, I was teaching myself from a book in primary school until we landed in the cane-wielding tutelage in Mr Okonji in secondary school, his sadistic pleasure was to see us parrot French phrases contorted in pain from the beating he generously administered urging us to study. His nickname became Study-Study, he was a nasty piece of work and a bad teacher.
Wailings and failings
After secondary school, I toyed with the idea of Quantity Surveying after a brilliant uncle but ended up on a Chemical Engineering course by the persuasion of an old student. I did not get far with the course; one lecturer was so German in speech and mannerism than to be understood and more than half the class failed mathematics that the engineering department had to lay out special classes to pull us up.
Gbenga Daniel who eventually became the governor of Ogun State was the acting Head of Department and besides learning chess and playing Scrabble, I made nothing of that year. I, however, learnt enough to realise that I was more interested in Electrical Engineering as a gateway to electronics and computing, so as I failed that year and was asked to withdraw, I was admitted as almost the youngest in the class at another more prestigious polytechnic.
After three years there, student politics, religion and somewhat undiagnosed depression, 4 years after secondary school I had no further paper qualification beyond secondary school in Nigeria where the comparison with other failures was the persuasive force towards greater achievement. I was a lost child.
Mentored by one who knew the way
A year out and away from the overbearing influence of my very successful parents, but a ward of an uncle who knew failure young and with luck, good fortune and opportunity had become one of the leading insurers in Nigeria, I began to build my life again, not out of comparison to other failures, but in the spirit of knowing what could be possible for me, if I put my heart and mind to it.
The belief in me, culled the depression, managed the anxiety, emboldened my daring and sense of adventure and though, on my first day back at school, my junior in secondary school was 3 years ahead of me, I neither flinched nor shirked, I faced what I had to do, with dignity and purpose. The little detail that this junior was the very person I first wielded the power of secondary school seniority on, was a minor lesson of karma that I refused to allow consume me.
This was my second spring, no more the youngest in class that I had been from primary school through secondary school into two years of school after, I was a mature student with more knowledge of how tertiary education worked than most of my colleagues. I led the class, represented my colleagues and brooked no nonsense from either veteran students or lectures. Some came to respect the confidence and authority I exuded. In controversy, I was as measured as I was revolutionary, persuading rather than being confrontational. It served me well.
Mastery in immersion
I graduated with good grades, 7 years after secondary school and I landed in a job market without the influence peddling or favours I once could call upon out of the patronage of my father or the precociousness of my youth. Well shod for the roads of Lagos, with the choice of the industrial motors or stepper motors, I chose the latter and every computer outfit I could find I walked into asking for a job.
I had decided, I was the only one who could best represent myself and that is how I walked into this building that housed IT Systems and I was offered a job there and then. Like a sponge for knowledge, I learnt all I could about Personal Computers, repaired circuit boards, fixed software problems, taught myself desktop publishing and within a year, I went into self-employment consultancy and no one thought was a smart thing to do.
It was the smartest thing I ever did, it is strange to know that in 29 years of working in the computer industry, I have only been in permanent employment for 7 years, I suppose I have never been a corporation man, like my father was or anyone else that could have been a mentor, I was also not an apparatchik, my entrepreneurial skills are hardly top notch, but I hope I have been able to sell a skill that helps organisations achieve goals of efficiency, usability and affordability of computer solutions.
Questioning and listening
That is what I enjoy about my job, big problems reduced to simple solutions, thinking in ways that could be silly, mad and interesting, being the clown and exhibiting the furrows of a frown and then we go to town with something of renown. In large and small firms, meeting with people from all walks of life, I have made many friends and encountered the occasional prick of a manager, probably twice.
I guess that is part of the occupational hazard that weaves into a raconteur’s milieu. In that, I looked forward to new challenges, the opportunity to tackle a new subject, meet new people and craft amazing solutions. I am still excited when something works as it should and tenacious when things do not produce the expected results until they do.
My curiosity still has that childlike inquisitiveness, I have questions, I seek answers and much as I can be a fresh pair of eyes, those eyes come with eager to listen ears, each new day is fresh for learning things, tricks, truths and tips. Sometimes, it looks like I stumbled into this career, maybe I was right on course, just not by well-trodden paths.

Saturday, 7 October 2017

Angels and strangers roam on Twitter

Stranger than fiction
“I know you well enough from Twitter! You need a good rest!”
This was an assessment of my Twitter activity given by someone I did not know was following me. A complete stranger who last night saw the predicament I was in having missed the last train to Manchester because of a late-running train from Norwich into London.
As I was being played irresponsibly like a political ball of railway franchise ping-pong between Virgin Trains that would have handled the London – Manchester leg of my journey from London Euston Station and Greater Anglia Trains that handled Norwich to London part that ran 45 minutes late, leaving me less than 20 minutes to make the tube journey between London Liverpool Street and London Euston. I faced the prospect of a night on the streets somewhere in London.
The best Virgin Trains could offer me was a supplementary ticket to travel in the morning, the alternative being a train to Wolverhampton some 75 miles from home. Between Greater Anglia Trains and Virgin Trains, considering I bought the ticket from the latter’s website, they should have arranged a means to me to my destination or accommodation for the night. Neither tried hard enough, it took the easy road without informing me of my rights.
Good Samaritan values
I learnt through my conversation with Virgin Trains that Euston Station closes at 1:30AM, but the King’s Cross St. Pancras Station is open overnight with some coffee and food shops open too.
Making for King’s Cross, my stranger friend asked me to come over on Uber, I was in more straitened circumstances than to take up that offer and I thanked him and bid him goodnight. He did not relent, over the next 90 minutes, he enquired about my welfare, my whereabouts and much else, my assurances not deterring him.
Then, he said he was coming to get me, he drove over from Putney in South West London and brought me back to his home which he shared with his wife and two friendly dogs. I had some mint tea and retired to the spare bedroom along with information for connecting to their wireless network.
Consideration and more
Between daring and trust, I slept well and I woke up to a breakfast, meeting his wife and a discussion that covered as many topics as we found interest to think about. When we arrived at his home at just before 3:00AM, he dipped his hand in his pocket and gave me some money, saying he did not want me to think about that issue.
I got dressed and I was given a lift to Putney Station, I arrived at London Euston Station in time to catch the noon train to Manchester. Fred is a friend, a friend indeed, to me he was an angel, kindly, generous and exceedingly considerate.
Our encounter came from certain views, expressions or opinions I have posted on Twitter, whatever that was, he decided to follow me and by that, out of the blue, on a day I desperately needed help, he was there to offer more than I could have imagined or wished for.
He was a stranger to me, I was no stranger to him, my Twitter conduct had made enough an impression to have him accord me the offer to spend a night at his home. Invariably, your conduct and conversation on social media matters, friends and enemies observe you, the family sees you, angels and strangers notice you.
Thank you, Fred, for your kind-hearted, magnanimous and generous friendship, I am in deep gratitude to you. Thanks.

Thought Picnic: Once upon a time, he had no care at all

Once, it did not matter
I have history, I used to be a man without a care in the world, anything considered was met with the resources and means to manage, control, and handle any situation.
This year has however presented challenges that have tested my resolve to extents that make me wonder whether I have the resolve to weather the storms that swirl around me.
Yet, I want to count my blessings by telling my inner self that you have come a long way, you have face situations and threats graver than what the present throws at you, you are coming through this.
Close to broke, but not broken
Some of my recent writings might have been showing strains, like one is almost at breaking point, even if supply comes in to ensure one is neither crushed nor broken. There is a spring within that enlivens in the midst of the desperate and the difficult.
I cannot live in the past to then use that to overwhelm my present in pity, much as that nudges ever so close to my sense of calm. To imagine there was a time when where I find myself tonight would have meant nothing more than logging onto a website and booking a room for the night, without worrying about it. There is nothing, absolutely nothing today to meet that challenge.
Then again, it happens
It is as dire as not even having the means to take up a generous offer of a bed, counting the hours to the dawn have begun on a hard bench in a train station getting less busy than usual.
I boarded a train in Norwich that was to arrive at London Liverpool Street at 21:55, giving me 65 minutes to make the London Underground tube journey to Euston Square Station which is just 5 minutes from London Euston Station where I would have boarded a train home to Manchester Piccadilly Station at 23:00.
As I have so patiently suffered at the hands of the Greater Anglia Railways with late or cancelled trains, the train ran 45 minutes late, giving me less than 20 minutes to make my connection, I arrived at London Euston just as the train to Manchester was departing and that was the last train for the day until the morning.
Living life like life sometimes is
This is where I would not have bothered but settled into a hotel nearby. Alas! I cannot even use my Hotels.com free nights because I cannot cover the taxes. Then having not informed anyone of my coming through London at this rather late hour, I am somewhat stranded. The generosity of strangers beckoning me leaves me almost listless in delirium.
That I am in a bind is because of choices I have made and those choices I do not regret, where between denigration and dignity, I chose the latter and walked. The greater shame is in the fact that trust reposed in some and promises offered by others have been poorly served.
When faced with these things, I look to put it all down to experience. This with all its unpleasantness is called life and people live it, I have been granted the opportunity, though far from favourable to me, to live life on a spectrum of unfamiliarity. Even that inspires writing.

Saturday, 30 September 2017

Thought Picnic: Find your holy river in which to drown

[The video where he dove into a pool has been taken down, sadly.]
Let's go down 2 the holy river
If we drown then we'll be delivered
Courtesy of AZLyrics.
These are the first two lines of the lyrics of The Holy River that I probably heard so many times before when I received Emancipation, the 3-CD compendium of prolific songsmith genius by Prince.
Looking beyond ourselves
This is where many of us find ourselves, the need to go to a place where we can lose ourselves in the awesomeness of something so beyond ourselves that we are born anew. To imagine and believe that the in drowning there is a beginning of deliverance rather than the termination of death is to have faith in wonder that defies explanation.
It is without a doubt that when I look over events in my own life, I have stories of visits to the holy river where I dared to drown, to lose myself to the danger of the loss of life only to emerge delivered from a fate that once seemed ready to overwhelm me.
In times of untimely birth, or when I was within inches of becoming roadkill completely oblivious of the vehicle passing in front of me at full throttle on an expressway, and a life-threatening cancer diagnosis just a day under 8 years ago, I became a pilgrim to the holy river.
Escape self-deception
U can try and try but there's nothin' 2 hide
U can't run from yourself and what's inside
U got 2 find the answers 2 the questions that U most fear

So over and over U ask your soul
Why'd U come down 2 a world so cold?
And the voice inside says 2night the truth will be told
I will make no grammatical corrections of these lyrics by Prince because he writes his songs in this manner and that is the way things are. And so here I am with myself and the realities that so scare the wits out of me, yet in the darkness that attempts to engulf me, I strive and strain to see some light, a light the lights of the path to redemption.
The grace that has been granted me to live through things I could never on my own strength endure is unquantifiable and in such abundance, that as I appear to faint, I am revived. The day my sleep deserted me for the troubles of lack of supply in money, options and excuses necessary to liberate me from the quagmire and pressures of all corners I could face almost sapped me of all resolve.
Give despair no place
Worry solves nothing nor does it offer any ideas for the better, that truth became a revelation once again, even as the issues weighed heavily on my mind that it was almost a supernatural feat to avoid being distracted from the focus I needed to have on the assignment I had to hand.
U surrounded yourself with all the wrong faces
Spending your time in all the wrong places
Puttin' your faith in things that only make U cry
People say they love U when they wanna help
But how can they when U can't help yourself?
The more they say they love U, the more U just wanna die
So here we go again, the self analysis
Have another glass of Port and uh.. forget this
The band's playin' at the club 2night and they're bound 2 groove
At which point you are on the verge of lamenting that you are a lost cause, the cause and course you chose looking like the ignorant and unschooled you have become. The question rings out in self-flagellation, what have I done with my life. Bad choices, lost opportunities, rotten decisions, irrational angst and stupid advice all computing a result about to print out a 7-letter word that is the antonym of success.
Find your holy river in which to drown
It is enough to turn to drink and seek the solace or succour of escapism, even if in reality you have hardly escaped that circumstance.
And then it hit 'cha like a fist on a wall
Who gave U life when there was none at all?
Who gave the sun permission 2 rise up everyday? (Ooh, oh yes)
Let me tell it (Go'n)
If U ask God 2 love U longer
Every breath U take will make U stronger
Keepin' U happy (happy) and proud 2 call His name (Go'n and say it)
Jesus (Jesus)
One must remember, the source of sustenance that does not submit to rational thought, yet it makes a difference that no words that so readily explain. Why do I speak in tongues, words that escape my lips daily in a language I have no comprehension of? I pray for a difference, for liberty, for freedom, for security, for happiness, for companionship, for another with whom to share and bear the burdens of living and life.
Indeed, I want to go down to the holy river and take more than a sip of the crystal life-giving waters, I feel ready to drown in the swell that sweeps me off my feet and delivers me to the other bank lifted, resuscitated and refreshed by angels that strengthen me with every supply to be well beyond what my even my dreams could never contemplate.
Let’s go down to the holy river, if we drown then we’ll be delivered. My deliverance is here.

Sunday, 24 September 2017

The consequence of weight on the weight of consequence

Big Bertha puffed and panted quite indeed,
She leant as her walking feet disagreed,
Her hand to shelf and trolley did exceed,
The moderate quotas we accede.
With myself I always plead,
Don’t give in to that sprite of greed,
That makes you chomp and overfeed,
On things you never really need.
For Bertha could have one-time heed,
The helpful hints to follow the creed,
That if you ran that your soles did bleed
You’ll never be a poet’s seed.
Then so to us that would be freed,
From old-age labours that impede,
Should we become a sporty breed,
And there a healthy life to lead.
This was inspired by my seeing a lady who could be much less a burden of herself but filled her trolley with biscuits she did not need and so the result of her tired and heavy breathing, panting like she was going to pass out, leaning heavily on her trolley and almost praying for dear life.
In that, I saw a lesson for myself, in that, I like rich foods, but have cut down on sugar which I no more have in either tea or coffee, my doughnut cravings are reduced to probably one every two months, I rarely have fizzy soft drinks and would rather make milkshakes at home from fruits and nuts.
I don’t do as much exercise as I should, but I do a lot more walking if all I have to walk is less than 3 miles and I know my way. I am concerned about my weight and my body, and some of what my circumstances are helping keep that in check. Too many of us are piling on weight we could do without and it strains the heart and lungs whilst being stressful on the knees.
I am the last one to give health and fitness advice, but I see enough people suffering quite visibly because of what they are carrying in weight, it is an uncomfortable issue that needs some frank and honest discussion.

Friday, 22 September 2017

Thought Picnic: Under pressure

Feeling pressure
Pressure and there are many definitions of it, the pressing, the feeling, the burden, the weight, a heaviness, a discomfort, an unease with a dissatisfying sense of being.
The pressure of time to get things done as demands and requirements tax your sense of calm, upsetting your equilibrium in ways you cannot properly account for.
The pressure of means or the absence of the same that limits your opportunities and choices, the things you want to escape that hold you bound like a slave to the moment, your only freedom is probably just that of your mind and only for a while before you are captivated again by circumstances.
Under pressure
The pressure of debts, bills due, rents late, sums of money owed, threats from faceless bureaucrats and intemperate businesses who cannot care less for the momentary change in your situation. You just need time when the time is not really on your side. You begin to wonder where it all began to fall apart around you.
The pressure of news, from places far and near, from family and relations some who have fallen on hard times just when you are enduring similarly hard times that there is really nothing you can do to help and that is just how things are.
The pressure that dictates, you are stuck in a place unable to manoeuvre, you can neither go home not stay where you are, just because you can’t. The horns of a dilemma begin to feel like the soothing hands of a masseuse as you hold desperation at bay.
Easing pressure
What can ease the pressure or take it away altogether, for there is only so much pressure a tyre can endure between it functioning optimally and the tyre bursting, just as an under-inflated tyre, where insufficient pressure renders it useless. An under-inflated tyre you can remedy and burst tyre calls for a replacement.
We must endure pressure as a course of life, the greater desire to be equipped to handle the pressure well can come out well having passed the test. I confess, I am quite under pressure and trying hard not to fear where I am at. Strength to the weak, hope to the forlorn, smiles to the saddened and relief to the burdened.

Wednesday, 20 September 2017

Kokkaburra! Gay my life has been

I was tricked
I do not know who taught me the song but I remember singing it many times recapturing a sense of self in what was a foreign land of sorts.
How do I mean foreign land? I was tricked when my parents asked if I would like to go to Nigeria, they said nothing else about Nigeria to give me an idea of where we were going. I did not learn of the civil war that had just ended, at least not until I was leafing through the photographic diary (Nigeria. A decade of crises in pictures) of Peter Obe many years later.
However, they were excited, had packed up everything and we had gone to the docks to see our trunks of goods loaded on the ship. I thought it was the QE2, but it wasn't.
Us to float, goods to boat
We travelled in style, boarded a BOAC flight to Lagos, my mother heavily pregnant with my sister. There is a picture of that send-off party, many of those who smiled in the photograph and pinched my chubby cheeks in playful jest, now in the pantheon of the Great Beyond.
Style, it was because I first visited Gran Canaria amongst the seven Canary Islands in 2003 and toured the capital city of Las Palmas guided by my hotel host. Since then, I have taken time to visit Las Palmas at least twice on any visit to the island.
I then learnt that many Nigerians returning home from the UK, returned by ocean liner and always berthed at Las Palmas. I never had those childhood memories and then it became clear to me why people talked of Casablanca and Las Palmas with such longing of an exotic past never revisited again.
A very strange land
We landed in Lagos, I have no recall of the flight, I must have slept through it just as I do today if I find the comfort of a moving form of transport like a child being rocked away to sleep in a perambulator.
In the excitement of getting off the plane, I was momentarily lost and then made aware of the reality that I was in a foreign land, the place called Nigeria had noticeably more black people, I cried in my utter confusion as I was led back to my anxious parents.
I felt I did not belong there and many things I am usually reminded I said in the few days after our arrival showed I felt completely out of place and seriously threatened as a boy.
All the English world of school
We settled first in Kaduna, but it was not until we moved to Jos and I began to go to school at Corona School, Shamrock House that I began to reclaim my mixed identity of being English and Nigerian.
Our reading books, Janet and John were written by a New Zealander, I watched The Pied Piper by Canadians, I swotted on the revisionist history of the Americans and our Land Rover school bus was full of Britons. The song? Australian and how I ended up with the nickname of Yankee at home, I cannot tell, if I always say I am an English.
With words awry
I only knew one verse of which many words were wrong.
I sang:
Kookaburra sits on the oceans cliffs,
Merry, merrily on the bushes trees,
Laugh Kookaburra laugh Kookaburra,
Gay all life's must be.
When it should have been:
Kookaburra sits in the old gum tree,
Merry, merry king of the bush is he,
Laugh Kookaburra laugh Kookaburra,
Gay your life must be.
But who was listening and how did Australians come about the literary construct of the second line? In a time when gay meant happy, full of joy, merry; light-hearted, carefree, I do wonder how gay my life has been and I laugh at the thought of how things have changed. [Etymology of gay.]
Now for the rest of it and there is nothing politically correct about it apart from the fact that we all sang it with glee.
Kookaburra sits in the old gum tree
Merry, merry king of the bush is he
Laugh, Kookaburra! Laugh, Kookaburra!
Gay your life must be
Kookaburra sits in the old gum tree
Eating all the gum drops he can see
Stop, Kookaburra! Stop, Kookaburra!
Leave some there for me
Kookaburra sits in the old gum tree
Counting all the monkeys he can see
Stop, Kookaburra! Stop, Kookaburra!
That's not a monkey that's me
Kookaburra sits on a rusty nail
Gets a boo-boo in his tail
Cry, Kookaburra! Cry, Kookaburra!
Oh how life can be
Courtesy of KIDiddles and written by Marion Sinclair (1932)

The spirit of hope powers life

The news I was expecting
It was a Friday, the day was taken off to attend to a critical and important matter, a visit to the clinic to receive results of tests I probably knew would be as expected.
I had chatted to my pastor about it, as he was already aware of other issues that I had confided in him and then I had told him, I was not afraid for what I might learn at the clinic.
When I was called in to see the nurse, he left to chat to a doctor and then returned with a printout, he announced the result and I having not brought a companion with me to hear the news, he became distraught and began to shed tears. I comforted him as he went through the protocols of telling me treatment and care options and support groups I could join to see me through these difficult times.
Finding a message of hope
He handed me a booklet that talked about the way people react when they receive such news, denial, anger, depression, suicidal thoughts, disappointment, shame, despair, defeat and discouragement made the list as I leafed through the booklet.
Then I said to him, this booklet is missing the most essential message anyone on the receiving end of this news needs, the message of hope. Everything appeared to look downhill with no upside, I was not going to go downhill with that news.
I did not have a feeling of despondency as I returned home, I wrote in the booklet hope and then I began to contemplate the rest of my life.
I lived my life
In that time, I earned a post-graduate diploma, went to places I never dreamt of visiting before, lived with plenty to spare, made and lost friends, found people to give a better message of hope beyond their circumstances, had cancer, lost everything, began to rebuild my life and today I was in hospital to see my consultant 15 years to the day I received a diagnosis of being HIV+.
That diagnosis was not the end of my life and definitely not the end of my story, it gave me a new challenge to live with both a sense of determination and vulnerability, accepting the fullness of my humanity and knowing that until the day I die, I am living and bless to live well.
Thankful for the love of life
Through these times, I have had friends stand with me, stand by me and stand for me, without them, I probably would not have seen beyond the news I received. Maybe, I should have accessed HIV treatment sooner than I did, but I cannot live in regret of that, we are where we are, fuelled by the hope that it gets better and whatever is thrown in our way is a hurdle to be negotiated.
That is where I am today, through it all, I am thankful and grateful, not so much to celebrate an anniversary, but to recognise that what at one time was a sure death sentence is simply now just one sentence in a long story of a life lived in the love for life.

Saturday, 16 September 2017

My Great British Railway Nightmare

Training my waking
On Friday morning, I got up to the sound of the alarm clock on my mobile phone, I had a train to catch as I had done thrice already this weekend. It was 5:00 AM.
I love trains, and whilst train travel can be both expensive and uncomfortable compared to similar train services on the western part of mainland Europe, there is still a fascination with journeys through the English countryside.
Vicariously, I have journeyed with Michael Portillo who as presenter of the BBC’s Great British Railway Journeys using Bradshaw's Guide, has given us a sense of the beauty, colour and history of Victorian United Kingdom, but there is a world of difference between leisurely travel at a time of your choosing and that which you are compelled to do as a commuter to work.
Where is my coach?
From Tuesday, I found myself making a daily journey from Liverpool Street Station to Norwich, a course of travel I grew accustomed to in the 1990s when I died in Ipswich for 2 years. I cannot after 20 years say I lived in Ipswich, it is such a strange place with even stranger people, but I digress.
Then, the railway franchise was run by an ancestor party of Greater Anglia Railways and they still do today. I booked advanced tickets for all my journeys meaning I had seat reservations whilst limited to boarding specific trains.
On my way out on Tuesday, with my ticket in hand, I sought the coach I had booked a seat on in vain. It transpired that the train had been shortened because the coach had developed a technical fault, so I was advised and consequently helped to an unreserved seat. Electric sockets to charge mobile phones or power laptops and tablets, even free wireless internet connectivity in all classes of travel if it works. How civilisation has conquered rail travel.
Where is the crew?
My return journey from Norwich was without event, I got back extremely exhausted. Before the sun rose, I was out again for my second day at work. My train scheduled for 6:25 AM appeared on the noticeboard for a departure from Platform 9 and I made my way to board the train.
Halfway along the platform, an illuminated sign for the platform indicated the train had been cancelled. Between leaving the main concourse and walking 200 yards down the platform they realised they did not have enough crew for a train journey of 110 minutes just 10 minutes before departure. Go figure!
Twenty years on Greater Anglia Railways was the lesser at impressing me with their service just as they failed to way back then. We boarded the next scheduled train that arrived in Norwich 20 minutes behind schedule with an excuse I cannot be bothered to remember. On my return, I boarded a later train and thankfully the train conductor did not notice my error, else I would have incurred a penalty fare, I not realising I had booked an earlier scheduled train.
When would we get home?
My travel on Thursday was without event with trains running on time, I would not term expected service praiseworthy but by the foregoing experience, it was noteworthy. Now, Friday, I left for work at 5:35 AM and I am still nowhere near home at 11:51 PM. We arrived 2 minutes ahead of schedule with the conductor announcing that unique achievement.
I boarded the 18:30 from Norwich and between Stowmarket and Ipswich the train ground to a halt, then the conductor announced on the Tannoy that there was a fire on the railway and that no trains could traverse either way. Another 15 minutes later we were told the train would only stop in Ipswich and then travel nonstop to Liverpool Street Station. Fat chance.
After another indeterminate time of silence, we learnt the fire brigade had discovered gas canisters at the site of the fire, it could well be that we had just, fortunately, avoided being victims of a terrorist attack. We live in precarious times.
The train eventually returned to Norwich where we plotted a different course back to London with a change of trains at Cambridge. I left home yesterday and I am yet to get back home. In 4 days of travel between London and Norwich, it has been a Great British Railway Nightmare that should never continue like this into next week. Just imagine. I rang the bell at just past 1:00 AM.

Friday, 15 September 2017

Thought Picnic: Sustained by the power of hope and somebody somewhere praying for me

For when I die
Somebody somewhere is praying just for you, it is the only thing I can say considering I have not been praying that much for myself.
Uncanny as it seems, I was in conversation with my friend about people I had somewhat chosen to be my pallbearers if anything ever happened to me just over 5 years ago. I was at my lowest ebb, I had lost every material possession and all I had left was hope, the hope that things would turn for the better.
On the eve of my leaving the Netherlands after almost 13 years of sojourning there, I wrote to my six friends informing them of my decision to return to the UK. My Netherlands odyssey was over and the future was just out there without anything in the horizon.
I told them of my desire to be laid to rest in the place where I was born, I was however surprised that some read it as a sign of giving up, I had not, I was just aware of my vulnerability and not ready to deny that it loomed just as large as the inner strength that bore me on through my toughest hours.
Suddenly and uncannily
Of the six, one is sadly deceased and many of the others I have not maintained that much contact with, the vagaries of life usurping the ability to concentrate and contemplate. One of my friends I had not spoken to in years, I surmised he was fine and we left it at that.
The next day, my phone rang and guess who was calling me? The friend I had not spoken to in years. He apparently was praying at home and there he had the unction to call me, which he immediately did and we talked at length catching up of lost memories and current events. I thought in my mind, there is something going on outside of my control.
In another conversation with another close friend, we chatted about my search for new work which had been going on for weeks with my resources and reserves literally completely dwindled and bills piling up. Then weeks ago, I suggested to her that the job might just come suddenly, I just did not know when the suddenly would be.
The unexpected job offer
It was last Friday morning; my phone rang the person who called had just reviewed my LinkedIn profile and decided I was a good fit for the role he had in mind for me. It was an interesting short-term contract and within that conversation we had agreed on a rate before he offered to have their CTO call me for a chat.
When the CTO called, I was expecting an interview with trick questions and all the wily interrogation that constitutes interview processes nowadays. It was a discussion and it came down to basically understanding my kind of thinking and mindset as regards the role on offer.
As the conversation came to an end, I was expecting another set of interview hurdles, however, what I got was a job offer, straight to contract negotiations, the word of a gentleman and by Monday morning the deal was sealed to start on Tuesday. The same job had been offered by an agency a week before at such a paltry rate that I could not at all countenance.
Really running on empty
Then I had another little difficulty, but for the sustenance of my best friend, I was living from hand to mouth, I had already lost 7 kilogrammes and in terms had nothing left to take up the opportunity in a city far from home. The quest to recoup loans was getting nowhere that my only option was to borrow some money and then find a place to couch-surf for a week or two until some income came through.
I sometimes wonder how much stress and strain a person can endure in the quest for a modicum of means and independence. It does not get any easier, yet hope endures in ways that even astounds me, it all looks bad, and something whispers in me that all these encounters of misfortune and brushes with penury will not last.
A life of gratitude
It will all come good, it just needs a bit of time and the hope that the little one has can stretch to the time when there is no need to fear for limitations and lack.
I say, somebody somewhere is praying just for me, angels are falling over themselves with supply and friends are holding me up from falling to the ground. I am reminded daily that my life and existence is one to be thankful for with every sense of gratitude.
Even when I don't seem to have anything, nothing can stop me, something keeps me going and there is everything to live for. It remains the story I am glad to tell.

Friday, 8 September 2017

Thought Picnic: What I feared from childhood had dissolved into the reality of a lived life

From the passing of George Michael
In December just around Christmas, I was staying with my friend in London when we heard the news on television that George Michael had been found dead.
I had always liked George Michael from after his Wham days and was saddened by the event. More pertinently, I was well aware of his struggles with revealing his sexuality, the international embarrassment that came with his importuning as a result of law enforcement personnel presenting as an agent provocateur to entrap men.
He consequently took that event and made a global hit of the episode with Outside. Whilst, I had never really been closeted about my sexuality, I’ve been out at work since in the 1990s in the various places I have worked in many countries, it was not until just a decade ago that I came out to one of my closest siblings.
Out in a rout
That revelation came with much distress on her part that when I was asked about it from another sibling, I was coy, even denying it. Meanwhile, for a while I had been badgered and harassed on many occasions in conversation with my parents about my marital status, some commentary and questions were just too difficult to address. I utilised the convenience of distance to avoid too much analysis of what I might be.
Besides, I was battling for another thing, my parents were in the UK in the 60s, and much as there was all the emancipation in social values, I could well remember that the worst thing you could say to anyone was, “You are a bugger.” With all the uses of bugger, the derogatory intent when deployed was complete in its contempt of the person so abused.
Learning to love me
It is hard enough coming out having seen the reactions of parents to that kind of revelation from basic disapproval, through being disinherited, sometimes thrown out of the home and in some societies, murder. This in somewhat emancipated societies, that somewhere between fear, shame and embarrassment, I felt there was no need for my parents to know anything about it. An acquaintance did suggest my stance was out of shame, though I decided not to take umbrage about that opinion.
Living in Europe, I had come from a time of being convulsed in guilt, being caught in liaisons that I could not defend and being a subject of blackmail that I refused to be subject to. I had come to accept who I was, made peace with the fact that I could live my life in comparison to an alternative life of the normal and the conformed, whatever that may be.
I am a gay man and with that comes all sorts of issues that one has to live with, in which I have found love, lasting friendships, extended periods of grief and a full awareness of the fact that I am just as human as any other.
I’m coming out, out, out
However, that December night, I told my friend, Funmi Iyanda that I was ready to put it all out there, if anyone was still in doubt or questioning about my sexuality, they should be left in no doubt about it. In countless blogs, you did not have to read between the lines to know some truths about me. Funmi then got to the task of writing this piece, she asked a few questions, sought some clarification and then just before she published the piece, she asked if I was fine with it.
I might have been a bit reticent, even considered informing my family about the possibility of this revelation going viral, but in the end, I decided, whatever comes of it is what comes of it, I had given the permission for it to go public from the hand of someone who had a huge following and we will deal with the consequences and the fallout if any.
I never expected the piece to have the reach it did when it was published on the 3rd of January, it got within the sight of people I never thought would encounter it, and not soon after, my siblings were reading of this issue and maybe even displeased with me about it. I had laid my bed on this matter and I was going to lie on it, come what may.
The letter arrived in the furthest post box
In the week that followed, I kept a low profile as messages of support and encouragement came from far and wide. I probably only encountered two negative reports in all, and I thought it would all die down soon afterwards. It did not, for months, people found the piece, read it and then contacted me.
Just about 3 weeks ago, a message appeared on my phone with an instruction to alter aspects of my life along with an acknowledgement of my having followed that instruction, at 51? At first, I smiled and then I crafted a 4-part response about certain other intimate details of my life that probably no one else knew. It was sent and I waited, unsure of what might come of it.
Then I received a response, the recipient of my message after recomposing the parts that were first read from the third part had gone into shock. The realisation that there was much more to the situation than the specific ordering to act in a particular way. The reaction and the response were understanding, sympathetic, compassionate and conciliatory, it gave me the courage to pick up the phone and call to talk.
We are, where we are
We were sorry that some things had happened in the past that probably could no more be corrected, the answers being sought in all sorts of places appeared to have been revealed in the response I gave that touched on some sad events in my childhood. I was encouraged to just be myself and live my life. I suppose my response and the suggestion that the piece to read fully had given some perspective to a difficult situation.
I could not have arranged for any of this to turn out as it did, but there is no greater freedom in acceptance of self and being accepted for who you are. When it came down to it, it was about humanity, understanding and possibly regret, but never to cease the need to communicate, what I feared from childhood had dissolved into the reality of a lived life. My father had learnt through that piece that I am gay.