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

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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

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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

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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.


Thursday, 7 September 2017

Thought Picnic: The incompleteness of existential turmoil

Sketches of complicated mien
Within the asylum of the mind as the channels of life-sustaining serum traverse, the flexible tubes that give and take, is the person of one who exists in a continuum of a known past, a present presence, and an indeterminate future.
Shaken at times to the core by circumstances that buffet but never overwhelm and thankfully will not overcome, there is much in the storms that rage, the winds the swirl, and the waters that surge that still gives you a sense of safety amidst the danger, terror at bay, trepidation at sight and premonition in thought.
You return to that age-old tradition, the need to count your blessings, the recollection of things to be thankful for and the sense of gratitude that informs the narrative that gets told again, only in a different arrangement of words. The words yet to find a composition that makes any sense.


Monday, 4 September 2017

The case of the abusive co-passenger

A short and eventful journey
On the 18th of December, last year, I was returning from a vanity trip to Paris to keep up my loyalty status with KLM/AirFrance. On arrival at Manchester Airport, I boarded the train for a 17-minute journey to Manchester Piccadilly Station. It was more eventful than I expected.
The coach I boarded was closest to the top of the platform and as the train was about to leave, it meant people were rushing onto the train through our coach. I could not put my bags away as other passengers were trying to get by. It meant, I had to lean over my seat, opposite me across the aisle, another passenger was leaning over his seat for the same reason.
It took a while for everyone to get through, but they all eventually did. It was at that point that my co-passenger on the other side accosted me and literally shouted in my face asking whether I would allow him to put his bags away. I ignored him because there was no reason to shout at me, but he continued being an irritant.
The abuse was a torrent
Then I answered him back, “If you want to address me, you do not shout at me.” He repeated what I said to ridicule me and then as he sat down he launched into a tirade of abuse. None of which I answered to until he got to say, “This is England,” and something along the lines that I needed to return to where I came from.
To which I responded, “I am English too.” Then another passenger adjured him to stop all that racist nonsense. Without pausing, he laid into the other passenger with torrents of unspeakable abuse. Meanwhile, someone else on the train had called the police and informed them of the ensuing altercation.
The train conductor came through, checked our tickets and then called me aside to ask about the fracas and whether I wanted to involve the police. The episode did not affect me that much, but I thought the man should not get away with such unwarranted and abusive behaviour, I acquiesced to having the police involved in the matter.
The goodly police acted well
When we arrived at Manchester Piccadilly Station, the police boarded the train, they invited me to state my case and got the offending passenger off the train, he was both shocked and surprised as they handcuffed him and took him away. I was taken to the police station where I was made comfortable, served tea and invited to give a statement.
Other passengers as we disembarked offered their names and addresses as witnesses to the episode, I felt buoyed by the support of all the other people who felt scandalised by the event. Going through the formalities, I was asked if I needed victim support, therapy and all sorts of help. I did not feel a victim even if I was shaken by the encounter and soon I was on my way home.
Charged and convicted
The man was kept in custody for the night and consequently charged with the offence of 'Racially / religiously aggravated harassment/alarm / distress by words/writing'. Apparently, as the case was being prepared, he committed another similar offence having not learnt the error of his ways.
The British Transport Police kept me informed of the developments through a liaison office, I was even invited to give a witness impact statement which I declined. Over months, a date was set for a court appeared and adjourned twice until it was completely resolved at the end of August.
The man pleaded guilty to the charges and he was fined £600 plus £100 legal costs, a chance encounter of unnecessarily boorish behaviour that he probably had gotten away with many times before had caught up with him and I am glad that I decided to allow the police to intervene, not so much for my sake, but to hopefully teach the man a lesson, that abusing strangers on a train may come with grave consequences and you never know which of those strangers could cause you avoidable grief.
That, I believe is the end of the matter, I will call the Witness & Case Officer later in the week to thank her for her help and support.