Friday 28 December 2012

Opinion: Nigerians paying to suffer great indignities

It is global no matter how local
The Nigerian Twitterverse was overrun with trending topics earlier today to do with a major concert that featured international artistes at a somewhat exclusive venue in Lagos.
I will not delve into the particular for there is much more to address with regards to the general which pertains to a Nigeria we will do well to divorce ourselves from if we are to make any progress as a people and as a country.
One is concerned that many do not realise that events in Nigeria now have a global audience and are subject to global scrutiny for the better or for the worse that it is important that those who identify as Nigerians both at home and abroad need to be aware of the responsibilities they bear along with the burden of duty that comes with being worthy and commendable ambassadors of our great land.
The concert was streamed live from the venue but that did not seem to compare in any way to the experiences the patrons had.
Oversold and under-prepared
The event would have had extensive publicity and garnered much interest with the sterling list of celebrities invited to compere and perform, it would appear the exclusive tickets labelled for VIPs and VVIPs were oversubscribed and sold but no adequate provision was made to accommodate the egos that thought they had bought exclusivity, comfort and class – nothing could have been further from the truth.
The reality was that the logistics were poor for accessing the venue that the patrons had to walk kilometres to the venue only to be bustled and jostled by bouncers at entry and then having inadequate seating or basic liquid refreshment.
Not what they paid for
To add insult to injury, the host appeared to be nonchalant about the ensuing chaos and like a typical Nigerian he would have attempted to bluff his way through the inadequacies to the extent that the patrons would have grumbled but accepted the indignities meted out to them.
Besides, the internationally renowned actor who was supposed to host the event that ran for hours was apparently only on stage for a grand total of less than 30 minutes.
Things ought not be so, people who have in their quest to sate their hedonistic tendencies by shelling out fortunes for access to glitterati should expect to be treated with dignity, respect, decorum and definitely not shabbily.
The insults we tolerate
But then, it goes without saying that if you are invited to an event you are probably a Very Important Person but if you have to pay to be seen with celebrities, you are anything but a VIP – access does not confer class; you are at best an interloper seeking to belong – I am not particularly sympathetic to people who assume airs of self-importance thinking their money can buy influence and thereby entitlement.
However, that said, Nigerians are in the majority mug-fodder (for mug, Nigerians will understand mugu better) to be exploited by the unscrupulous who trade on the low self-esteem or inferiority complex of the 'successful' but serious wanting in strength of character and demeanour.
It is not so important
There probably is a salutary lesson to be learnt, you do not have to be there if you have not been asked to be there by those who can smooth all the access required for you and remove the inconvenience I dare say rich plebs and wannabes suffer.
But in a country where we all troop like a stampeding herd usually uninvited to pay homage and burnish the egos of the powerful whilst wearing the most expensive watches but are so unschooled in keeping time, only a few of those who complained and fulminated vociferously will decline the opportunity to be treated with disdain if another event is staged at twice the ticket price and even less organisational preparation – we never learn.
His banker is laughing
If however any redress can be sought for the host to first apologise publicly and then offer compensation with the promise to do better, much progress will have been made. Reputations, perception and integrity should become front and centre of public life in Nigeria – crooks and confidence tricksters have held sway for too long.
Sadly, the age-old saying still finds true as it did at the very first time it fell from the lips of the original wise head – a fool and his money are soon parted.

Thursday 27 December 2012

Review: Wole Soyinka on The Sexual Minority and Legislative Zealotry

The Nobel Laureate
Now, Professor Wole Soyinka is not really the easiest literary genius to read even though I did have some of his texts in my secondary school curriculum.
He has for a long time been a prolific intellectual who has spoken and written about oppression, misgovernment, corruption and the lack of accountability in leadership in Nigeria.
At 78, the man has not diminished in his critique of events and ideas whilst still retaining a considered voice of reason and deep analysis of issues especially in Nigeria.
26 years after being awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature, I still find his writings difficult to access but full of meaning and objective discourse.
Consenting adults, the crux
This time the professor sketched his piece on the matter of homosexuality in Nigeria with an article titled – The Sexual Minority and Legislative Zealotry.
Wole Soyinka lays the groundwork for his thinking by stating that the legislation on sexual conduct between consenting adults is interference.
Then he posits that whilst foreign commentary on the activities of the Nigerian legislature in this regard is hysterical, hypocritical and disproportionate that foreign criticism should not deflect from the fact that as rational beings and particularly rational Nigerians this issue should primarily be about “the right to private choices of the free, adult citizen in any land.”
He suggests that the legislative fervour that has accompanied this matter is a distractive ploy to obscure actions of the government when out of their depth because of the economic crises or to inject unpopular policies that might catch the public unawares.
Conflated issues
Taking no prisoners, he addressed the legislators to attend to the numerous and urgent businesses for which they were elected and take their noses out of sexual practices of consenting adults whilst warning that the said bill is redolent of legislative fascism which has no place in a democracy.
The bill in his view conflates two separate issues, the first being homosexual practice and the other being same-sex marriage, something he considers deliberate.
Throughout the article, it appears the professor is stridently against the encroachment of the law on the private practices and choices of consenting adults whilst acknowledging that the law does protect minors from abuse and adults from harassment.
Biology trumps faith
Attempting a broad definition of sexuality, he pitches tent in the nature rather than nurture camp of sexual preference by suggesting some people are born with an imprecise gender definition even if the said people do have sexual organs that suggest they are either male or female.
This is probably one of the more archaic arguments for sexuality definition but it is in a language that the more sententious of Nigerians might understand.
Tackling the morality views that are used to promote support for such legislation, having averred the issue of biological truth he is categorical in saying articles of faith are no substitute for scientific truths.
Democracy or theocracy
The democracy we have in Nigeria is being tested, in that we must “choose either to create a society that is based on secular principles, or else surrender ourselves to the authority of – no matter whose – theocratic claims.
A theocracy should go the whole hog with all beliefs and doctrines adopted and enforced regardless of whether the other person is of similar or different faiths, the idea that where scriptures agree is compulsory and where they do not is optional is a recipe for chaos.
The national train must run either on secular rails or derail at multiple theocratic switches. No theology can be privileged over another in the running of society.  This means, theology and its derivates cannot be privileged over material reality and its derivatives.
A law against nothing
On the issue of same-sex marriage, the professor says there is no evidence of anyone attempting to legally enter in such contracts requiring the state to honour such liaisons at a court registry nor has any religious organisation or the clergy been compelled to perform such a ceremony.
People have of their own free will the right to privately ostracise or embrace such relationships but the state overreaches itself in attempting to criminalise such liaisons.
Moralists are advised to have a sense of proportion and embrace objectivity, that being the preponderance of biological fact over moral sentiment, avoiding the tendency to incite to mass hysteria and manipulation.
The debate
This is in my view that first time a highly respected and globally renowned Nigerian figure has addressed the matter of homosexuality and same-sex marriage with an open mind, if not objectively.
The issue is one of rights, it is about sexual conduct between consenting adults, that our democracy should be superior to the tendency to be swayed by disparate belief systems that do not essential agree on all elements of doctrine to be adopted as a constitutional reference point, that the state should not interfere and that our legislators should get on with the job they were elected to perform.
Nigerians are asked to be more objective, less moralistic, adopt empirical evidence of science over sentiment and even if they have private animus, it remain their prerogative but to support the legislation of moral laws will have more far-reaching consequences beyond the supposed targets to be used as instruments of persecution, blackmail or even worse, present a licence for jungle justice and mob lynching.
The debate is beginning and the reality cannot be obfuscated with legislative distractions; there are homosexuals in Nigeria and no legislation will exterminate one of the many enduring representations of humanity.
Please read the article in its entirety, there is much sense in The Sexual Minority and Legislative Zealotry.
Thank you.

Monday 24 December 2012

My Christmas Carol

The throes of Christmas
As I walked to the road to visit my friend, I saw a lady, all well dressed with a small child in tow, it would have been sight to gladden my heart. I am always moved by the closeness of a child to its mother, the sense of safety, of protection, of assurance, of trust and of faith.
I did not see this, there was something wrong, the lady was so upset, she was on the phone bawling out inconsolably, I thought, there was a bereavement, my heart went out to her.
Then I saw the son, the poor child seemingly oblivious of why his mother was distressed and there I felt even more for the son as they walked as if directionless to some place non-descript.
The hurts of Christmas
Sadly, this was Christmas, the time of the year when we all sing songs of peace and goodwill to all men but in many families around the land, they gather and the deep-seated hurts; anger and bitterness come to the fore with emotions running wild with resentment and unresolved conflict.
It was family, mother, sister, and partner that had ganged up on this woman bringing her and her son to a state of despair that upset me much.
The memories of Christmas
Then in an instant, a number of Christmases past flashed before my eyes, the recent ones of plenty and much penury, of joy and sadness, of comfort and pain, of seclusion and adventure, it’s been a wonderful life.
It was terrifying and a sense of defiance consumed me as I remembered things I will rather not yet write about but are now at the tip of my tongue to say to those who were not there when it really mattered and now deign to interfere to order my steps after all that I have been through.
I have family and I have friends, the ones who have been closer than a brother that have kept me from reproach as loss and more loss compounded even more losses that I can no more count what is left.
The hopes dispelling the fears of Christmas
In all this, one still finds hope and encouragement, beyond the fear is courage to face things that will make the hearts of others faint because one should for the spirit of Christmas banish the haunting ghosts of Christmas past and find the joys of Christmas present.
It reminds me of a very poignant prayer my pastor prayed yesterday that had such great meaning, as I never thought before. The reason why many people hate Christmas is not so much because Christmas is horrid but because of the people with whom they are gathered to think of the birth of the Prince of Peace.
He prayed that a light of peace might radiate and dissolve the conflicts, the bitterness, the pain, the hurts and despairs to give way to what the joy of what Christmas is – it was powerful in what it meant to those it mattered to.
I end this just as Charles Dickens’ Christmas Carol comes to an end and with it I say to you, have a Merry Christmas and may the joy of Christmas be with you, your kith and kin.

Sunday 23 December 2012

Opinion: Our Children Deserve Better - Respect Them

A mental case
A recent news story has brought the leadership of secondary schools under the searchlight where a principal has not only been indefinitely suspended but there is a view that she should undergo psychiatric evaluation.
Mrs. Olufunke Aladeojebi, recently, the principal of Ajuwon High School, Ajuwon in Ifo Local Government Area of Ogun State in Nigeria probably within reason as the person ultimately responsible for the education and welfare of her students might have been concerned that some of the females in her school on reaching puberty were taking liberties with their sexual curiosity.
It’s a dilemma, alright
The principal, in loco parentis was presented with a dilemma of how to react to the onset of adolescence and the raging hormones that accompany such natural human development; she could have reacted in any number of ways that could have presented her with the better opportunity to inform, educate and probably warn her students of the possible issues and dangers that accompany exploring and expressing one’s sexuality.
Apparently, she is notably a strict disciplinarian which in Nigerian parlance almost has nothing to do with discipline and instruction but everything to do with severe punishment as a means of re-education that exploits the pain thresholds of the recipient whilst dealing an atrocious emotional battering to all including the innocent.
These innocents are then literally scared out of their wits unable to think intellectually of the consequences of their actions apart from associating it with the fear of shame - that is usually the only weapon in the strict disciplinarian's arsenal of imparting wisdom - Fear nurtured by terror.
This is sadism
Deterrence has its functions but when school leaders use their authority as an instrument of pathological sadism to maintain control of a situation that has probably gone awry, more suffer unnecessarily and can be so seriously traumatised without essential mental health help that this might have life-long consequences.
The principal, on suspicion, and I state again, on suspicion; not that any of the girls were caught in the act of sexual intercourse. The principal suspecting some of her students were engaged in pre-marital sex and she was particular about the girls and not concerned with the boys; she invited a nurse as surety whilst she and the nurse proceeded without the consent of the girls’ parents to conduct a virginity test.
Crude is making light of it
This was not some questionnaire to elicit the truth of her subjective reasoning posited on a warped moral duty to maintain a sense purity in her school. Rather she proceeded to subject the girls to the heinous and reprehensible indignity of probing their private parts with fingers as if to determine if the hymen had been broken and with glee and euphoria greeting the confirmation of her instincts catch the girls in the most compromised of situations allowing her to probably expel the girls from the school and in the process temporarily destroy their future prospects.
It so happened that whilst engaging in this act of criminality that goes to the extremes of sexual abuse and the violation of the civil liberties of the girls, the unprofessionally crude and barbaric act led to injury presented as bleeding which can only be due to these women having damaged the hymen they were not expecting to be intact.
At the very least and this is not to condone or offer the remotest absolution to these terribly wicked women whose savagery is unspeakable, this rotten test should have been conducted by or under supervision of a qualified gynaecologist.
Society’s acquiescence
This kind of egregious violation of the students, especially females is played out without respite in many secondary schools all around the country and even in universities that somehow act as if undergraduates are adults who need to be treated as prepubescent or adolescent.
Sadly, we have a society that condones these acts in the name of maintaining some communal morality imposed by fear rather than by information and knowledge.
It is then so unusual that parents have raised the alarm at this sententious abuse of authority that the Ogun State Ministry of Education have moved to act in the best interests of the civil liberties and rights of the students than default to type about falling moral standards that need to be addressed urgently.
We must help better
As the principal is sent for psychiatric evaluation presaging committal and consequently barred from ever being in charge of students, I do hope the students affected are offered professional counselling and therapy to assuage the trauma they have suffered.
It is important that we recognise that children have inalienable and inviolable rights that should never be infringed upon in the name of maintaining some moral standard regardless of religious instruction or sense of moral duty.
The outrage is more than justified because we are at a time when between the conflicting influences our children face, the best we can do for them is to treat them first as individuals, respect them as human-beings, instruct them with empathy, educate them with understanding and inform them to enlightenment.
We must learn better
We should unschool ourselves from the primitive and outmoded forms of corporal punishment as a means of effective instruction to engage their intellect, offer them responsibility, entertain their searching questions, expand their horizons, praise their good work, inform their curiosity and when we are inclined to condemn anything they do we should be mindful of what change we want to see and lead with a greater sense of duty, love and compassion.
All children grow, they reach puberty and there are emotional issues that come with that development; on matters of sexuality what our wards need is information and education, we must agree that is not offered through intrusion and violation of their bodies – certain things need that we address them clearly without embarrassment than hope that our wards will gain knowledge through some form of ethereal osmosis.
We must all be involved
The matter of how we violate our womenfolk for the maintenance of some societal norm is an extensive topic and it is seriously hypocritical to place the complete burden of responsibility and dire consequence on the female when in the majority of cases, it takes both male and female to engage in the sexual intercourse that concerned that principal.
Our boys are not entirely innocent of exploring their sexual interests; they are almost always praised for their sexual conquests without moral sanction whilst their female counterparts are left to carry the shame of premarital sexual liaisons that sometimes result in pregnancy.
Boys and girls alike deserve better of their supposed role models on these matters of sexual development, morality, education and direction, if we address their bodies rather than really address their intellect, we have inadvertently reclassified them as no better than animals – eventually, when retribution comes, a psychological evaluation of our mental capacities will be the least of our problems.
I will appreciate your views on this topic.
Thank you.

Saturday 22 December 2012

Opinion: It's a Dress, NOT a YES

A crime beneath contempt
The focus went to India this week with protests against the gang-rape of a lady of 23 by six presumably drunken men on a bus as punishment for being out in the evening with a man.
She was repeated raped, beaten with rods and thrown off the bus, her companion was also attacked but that lady presently fights for her life.
There are many strands to this story that cannot be dealt with in the strictures of a blog; the cultural, the traditional, the economic, the social and the religious issues are myriad.
No excuse
However, there is one clear narrative that should be declared unassailable all around the globe - that there is no excuse acceptable in humanity and most especially in the 21st Century that warrants the violation of another human-being in pursuit of some warped notion of deterrence or meting out of punishments to set society to rights.
In the first instance, drunkenness cannot  and must not excuse criminality, it is within the capabilities of people to control their use of alcoholic beverages and moderate the anti-social influences that might result from inebriation.
There is no reason for people to act in mob packs like animals, each one of those men should have and must have known that what they were doing was at first wrong and at best criminal but they might have for some sense of impunity assumed they could get away with their reprehensible acts.
Nothing corrective in rape
The strange entitlement syndrome that allows men to act as if there are society’s female policeman with the right to prejudge, accuse, charge, convict and punish our womenfolk is not only evident in what happened in India, it is pervasive all around the globe in the use of rape as a weapon of war, for the absurd correction of sexual preferences, for Neanderthal gratification without retribution and even for exacting an atrocious societal norm.
There is nothing corrective in rape and there is nothing whatsoever that can place rape in the ambit of anything legally justifiable under any circumstances, no matter how sententious you want to be.
The strange of strangers
That it could be a complete stranger’s business who a lady decides to go out with at any time of the day is bizarre on the face of it.
That the stranger will then act to not just challenge the lady but violate her as if they are acting in the office of society’s disciplinarian for moral infractions beggars belief in the extreme but we see this in too many places and society has been lethargic in rising up against these patently human rights violations.
Even in Nigeria
In the capital city of Nigeria, Abuja, the Abuja Environmental Protection Board has taken on the vile task of corralling any female found in town after a certain hour and branding them prostitutes.
A government organisation suddenly turned vice-squad and moral police that would shame even extreme religious fundamentalists with their egregious abuse of woman rights on the premise that they are keeping the city clean.
Even so
There is no doubt that we all want some standard of morals and modesty on our streets but it is not a licence to exact punitive measures outside the law and in violation of human rights because someone does not conform to our moral standards or prejudicial interpretations of religious texts to dehumanise, persecute, prosecute and censure others.
There is still a principle to abide by – Live and let live.
Remember this
In ending, I remember watching the news yesterday and two placards stood out in the Indian protests.
It’s a dress, not a Yes – This is probably the most succinct protest against rape under the excuse of supposedly indecent dressing.
Don’t teach our girls how to dress, teach our boys not to rape – I will rewrite that in a most categorical declaration – Teach our boys never to rape, whatever the circumstances.

Friday 21 December 2012

My Compendium of Birthday Greetings

Just before time
I published a blog for my birthday and scheduled it to go live at 5 minutes past midnight, what I did not realise was it set in the Central European time zone.
Friends from India about 5 time zones to the East had started sending in birthday greetings once it was midnight in India.
In any case, I could not ignore the deluge of greetings, that were coming in from about 23:05 my time but before long I was overwhelmed, I could not handle the lot and just responding with “Thanks” was becoming too monotonous for my liking.
Storify the lot
By the time I had received phone calls, text messages, Facebook statuses, emails and Twitter messages, I was probably coasting to 500 messages.
The Twitter ones needed collating and how better to do that than to Storify the lot?
So, in gratitude to all and everyone who sent me greetings on Twitter, messages for good health, for strength and even such effusive praise that I cannot at my very best measure up to the least of the encomiums – the Storify is to cherish, document, and savour the wonderful things said to me.

Thursday 20 December 2012

My own history began on the 21st of December, 1965

Words and names
As I was told a few years before, I really was not expected the day I arrived and I did not get to go home until two months later.
Meanwhile, the somewhat accidental parents set about preparing for my arrival home and not three weeks after, the Registrar of Births and Deaths in the Walsall First sub-district typed in four names the first from my paternal grandfather, the second from my father and the third from my mother and my surname - meaningful and interesting as I began to master the Yoruba language.
Yes, I was a boy born on the Twentyfirst December 1965; the date was spelt out in words on the certificate of birth and thus began the documentation of my history.
Thank you all
So, today, after a time that has been eventful as it has been interesting, I find myself, 47 years young thankful, grateful, blessed and favoured in more ways than I can find words to express.
For the life I have lived, for the successes I have seen come and go but with undiminished hope of even better things to come, I have much to be happy for.
I have family, relations, friends, acquaintances and well-wishers who have sustained me through times that many hearts would have failed to see through, I have people who believe in me, people who trust me, people who lift me, people who praise me and people who honour me, all beyond anything I could ever deserve; why would I not be full of gratitude.
And thanks again
To God the strength of my life who gives me reason to expect beyond what I can imagine, I thank God for my wonderful 47 years and I thank you all for celebrating it with me – all your messages have been amazingly comforting, your generous help has been more than timely and for each year I get to see the glorious 21st of December again thank you for being my friends.
I am still standing – Cheers!!! 

Tuesday 18 December 2012

Thought Picnic: Many trials and seven vials

Amsterdam seriously and fleetingly
It is a whistle-stop visit to Amsterdam and it will cause offence to the many it would have been nice to see but I cannot because of the shortness of time and the many activities that one has to complete before returning.
In some ways, I miss Amsterdam, I lived in this beautiful bijoux city for 12 years and a good few things that have become part of the narrative that is my story happened here.
I did not come to Amsterdam by chance; I came on purpose and for a purpose to rejuvenate a sagging career, a bored existence, a broken relationship and obtain a new lease of life.
I suppose I obtained 3 out of 4 and the one that appears to matter the most once the other three are taken care of is one that is of the heart, of the mind, of the soul and just so important for wellbeing – I don’t do the conventional, those who are so concerned will just have to learn to live with that.
Bloods of travel
In any case, it was the day of the bloods and it meant my medical consultant did not have much data to play with apart from the more general questions.
As usual, the journey to the hospital no matter how mundane is rarely without event, this time since I was travelling from out of town, the trains were not running from the nearest station, had I followed my deepest premonitions, I would have stayed on the bus until the central station; eventually, I got a train to get me to Amsterdam and it even had free wireless Internet connectivity which made for a few Twitter exchanges on my way.
Getting the Metro from Amsterdam Centraal Station - the 'aa' is typically Dutch, I got off at Weesperplein and considered walking; the guide gives an estimate of 9 minutes, rather than waiting for the tram but within minutes I spotted the tram from afar and waited to board it.
A rotten survey
At the hospital, after registration, I was given a Dutch survey on archiving our medical information online and the kind of access people should have to the data. The first 4 pages I filled in with ease but by the fifth page, I was lost and I believe many others will be too, the questions have taken on an air of bizarre Dutch official-speak, I was on the verge of writing as an observation - This is a bad survey when my doctor came out to fetch me.
Submitting the half-filled form, I told the nurse that it was both difficult and bad in Dutch before following my doctor to his office where he introduced me to an intern and understudy.
The final note on that survey is that the apparatchiks will implement whatever they want having convinced themselves they have done due diligence, it will be a rotten implementation and in the end it will come to grief.
Teaching the future doctors
I have never had issues with interns sitting in on our consultations, they are usually briefed about who will be coming in and they have opportunity to observe matter, conduct, conversation and banter that makes for the consultations I have - it is important that there are others who can carry on with knowledge that my doctor shares for the benefit of others who might need the kind of care I am receiving at a future date.
A dossier of my medical history was created in the event I might want to use doctors in another country and we talked about my situation, my health and other related issues and he was glad to see that the partial facial paralysis I had complained of at our last meeting in August had gone.
The drag of losses and gifts
Before getting to the hospital, there was a lot on my mind, little niggly things that seemed to compound a situation I was still coming to terms with - I realise that the circumstances might be difficult to articulate but I have to find the right tone, manner and words to raise the issue.
It got to a point that I almost felt physically sick but at the same time, I had to arrest myself from the grip of that situation before it become psychosomatic.
Health readings miscellany
As the meeting closed, my doctor wrote out my prescription with instructions to the pharmacy to give me a 6-month supply of drugs and an appointment was made for 4 months hence.
The scales showed a weight I was not comfortable and my blood pressure has remained quite healthily steady over 9 months of measurements.
I bumped into my treatment consultant who was tanned having just returned from some triathlon activity in the Canary Islands, we chatted about the changes and expectations promising to keep in contact.
When it came to give my blood for testing, it was 7 vials; the results will be posted by email to me in two weeks.
Other people
An acquaintance from my old neighbourhood was at the hospital with his partner, it so happened that the last time we met, I had taken my curtains for cleaning at the rotten local dry cleaners where I was charged a fortune by people who are really clueless about the difference been a suit and separates of a jacket and a pair of trousers. We chatted from a few minutes and he had also moved away, it was quite uncanny to learn he was also from the Black Country, what you learn from a brief chat.
I did not get to see the Catholic pastor; he was in a group straining their vocals practicing Christmas carols for the Christmas Eve service at the hospital chapel.
By the time I left the hospital, I had lost my gloomier self but I did wonder about how I might eventually get my point across, or maybe I'll just write about and get it completely off my chest.

Monday 17 December 2012

Thought Picnic: Being merry on the ferry

I finally decided I will travel to Amsterdam late yesterday afternoon rather than postpone once again the appointment I should have had with my medical consultant last month.
In December, one is met with all sorts of choices and the variables are cost, weather and ease of travel. Now, I have at various times used all the forms of travel available between London and Amsterdam by air, by coach, by train and by sea.
The queen’s itinerary
The last time I did the sea crossing was in the summer of 99 when I embarked on a tour of Europe with what was sold as the Imperial Tour and it was London - Budapest - London to be completed within 2 months stopping anywhere along the way for as long as I wanted within that time frame.
I did Amsterdam, Hannover, Berlin, Dresden, Prague, Bratislava, Budapest, Vienna, Salzburg, Innsbruck, Zurich and Brussels, by which time I was no more ready to endure travelling by sea that I took the EuroStar back to London.
I should do it again and get my pictures onto Flickr with blogs of my experiences and insights about all those cities. I think everyone should try an eye-opening voyage of discovery more than once and just take in the beauty of nature, the people, their culture and something new.
Like deja vu
So, back at the Liverpool Street Station ticket office like I did well over a decade ago, I met this helpful lady who told me the choices I had to make between day travel and night travel along with asking if I needed a cabin.
The journey appears to be longer this time, I remember then it was a catamaran that covered the journey from Harwich to Hoek van Holland in 3:45 hours, this time it would be 7 hours and maybe I should have gotten a cabin, but I later got a cabin on the ferry from much less and as a single occupier.
Setting out
I had to catch the 6:38 from Liverpool Street Station which meant I was up from 4:45AM, when I got to Harwich International, the station platform was hardly 500 yards from the ferry itself.
I was waved through, the security checks were hardly fussy, a cursory look into my rucksack - I notice this is the lightest I have ever travelled - none of the crude and music-less stripper acts that we perform at airports, the passport checks without menacing apparatchiks and the baggage check-in done almost too easily for words.
I was beginning to like this as I boarded the ferry, looked around and found a seat. I had bought an inflatable neck pillow; the seats are rarely built to support the neck if you doze off.
Connect to the skies
It was nice to know that one could use wireless internet connectivity on a satellite uplink throughout the journey, it would be slow and multimedia content will be blocked but there was enough bandwidth to surf, use Twitter and send emails.
One should as a matter of course avoid use the exorbitantly priced Mobile Maritime roaming network except in an emergency.
Having not slept that well overnight, I decided on getting a portside cabin. The word posh is apparently an acronym used for passages to India where the well-heeled travelled Portside Out and Starboard Home, if you travelled 'soph' which is by no means an abbreviation of sophisticated you were on the hottest side of the ship because that side faced the sun on the way out and the way back.
In the winter though, on the North Sea, you probably want to get as much light and sun as you can get.
The rest betters the rest
I repaired to my cabin which had a good sized bed, en-suite toilet and shower, a television with a mix of Dutch and English channels, sockets to charge my devices and wireless internet if I needed it.
I must say, apart from the passage of time and it is long, the basic comforts of travelling by ferry beat all the offerings you can have by air which is the shortest in time but most stressful to endure, by train which is longer and quite expensive, by coach which is probably longest in time, cheapest in cost but I will say from experience the most uncomfortable.
Easy for me and easy for her
Taking a shower, I noticed that the showerhead was a Hans Grohe raindance fixture and being cognisant of the tragedy that befell a 46-year old due to overexertion doing the Gangnam Style dance, I wisely moved as carefully and with as minimal exertion as possible, I just let the shower rain on me.
Let us put all disputing aside, I might just take to travelling by ferry on what seems to the calmest of seas I have been on in a very long time. This, my friends is fun and I just made friends with a toddler who is so excited to be travelling to meet her grandparents for Christmas, we all know that air travel is at best tortuous for our really young ones.
We have arrived.

Saturday 15 December 2012

Childhood: My dread of guns

My gun history
I have had my day with the gun, handled one a few times and had a few pointed at me with menace. When I handled a gun, I was a child, hardly 9 and fascinated by the experience.
The time the guns were pointed at me, armed robbers had entered my home and we were under threat of getting shot before the armed robber in charge - they had ranks - dissuaded his troop because we had cooperated in their enterprise to willingly give up our things, albeit under duress.
We have lived to tell the tale, 24 years on.
Rayfield, a field of dreams
However, back to the childhood experience, we lived in Rayfield, a suburb of Jos and an almost relic of its colonial past where the Amalgamated Tin Mines of Nigeria had its headquarters.
Our house was an imposing white bungalow with 4 bedrooms and acreage of land where cattle grazed tended by nomadic tribes, with 13 mango trees producing different varieties, a fig tree, a guava tree, a cashew tree, a thorny lemon tree and much else, it is was almost too idyllic for reality.
The other family
Down the back dirt road beyond the tennis courts where my dad played and the golf course, a sport my dad never took up though he had the kit was another family where I went to play sometimes.
The kids were much older though when one of them arrived in my class we all laughed at his rather poor grasp of English; it just never occurred to us that anyone could speak English that badly.
The eldest was imposing, tall, handsome and smart, when we played family games, I always chose him as my father, the feelings are almost too silly to recount but that was how it was.
Guns for play
I never asked what might have happened to their mother but their father was a lawyer and he had a gun, it was a rifle, probably just over a yard long and it was loaded with pellet shot.
There was a big tree in front of their house and just at about the 6 feet height, the tree trunk branched out into a perfect Y and that is where we placed a tin can for target practice.
He sat on the steps in front of the house about 20 yards from the tree and held the gun for us because it was a bit heavy to keep steady; we then found the range and pulled the trigger. Having taken a few instructions from him, we were quite good at hitting the tin.
The memory that lingered
The last time I remember handling the gun is like a picture in my mind that has never faded and I do have some pictures like that from my distant childhood that prominently gets replayed like I am going through an old family album.
Everything was set as we usually did and there were more people at the house because there was a party and this was probably part of the entertainment, the fascination with guns.
It was my turn to shoot and confidently, I sought the target and pulled the trigger hitting the tin again but something was wrong with that arrangement especially with the adult supervision we supposedly had and the many children around the house.
My vivid mind with the sometimes dangerous ability to process more than is necessary rolled back the time to just before I pulled the trigger; there was a girl standing just below the tin; a poor aim, a distraction or some scatter shot and it would have been an entirely different story.
No toy at all
My world stopped and the burden of a fate unimaginable consumed my 9-year old mind, I never touched a real gun ever since even when I had opportunity and legal access to handle one.
The girl I remember quite well, she contacted me a few years ago after she read one of my other childhood recollections, I am glad she did and I doubt she realised how our lives could have been changed too radically to contemplate.
In my experience, I learnt enough about guns to know they are not toys no matter how much we like to toy with them.

Thursday 13 December 2012

Thought Picnic: Chance encounters of relative closeness

A seat beside someone
What can one do about chance encounters that lead to interesting conversation with strangers than just engage?
I got on the train to Upminster this evening and it was quite busy that I wondered about whom to bump off the priority seats for the less able that includes a graphic of someone with a cane - I use a cane.
Just then, I saw a spare window seat that was difficult to get to because this lady had taken up the aisle seat and was busy sorting out her bags.
Birthdays and mothers
I asked and she allowed me to squeeze through leading me to suggest I needed to get the resolution of keeping trim the next year on an urgent list. She simply said I had nothing to worry about, I guess I have heard that as many times as a compliment as I have added the pounds too.
She was busy fidgeting with a birthday card to a daughter, I enquired if it was hers, but it was for her sister's 50th birthday, she had bought the card on behalf of her mother who I learnt was 83 and was too frail to go shopping but aware enough to ask for a card for her daughter.
Before we knew it
Then started a conversation that covered when I was born, where she lived, the cost of transport, my comparing that cost with transport fares in Amsterdam, her visit to Amsterdam over 12 years ago along with the good and naughty things she did, we could have known each other for years.
As the conversation drew to an end, I found that her sister shared the same birthday as mine - so uncanny - a stranger, the coincidence of seating, the spontaneity of conversation and a convergence of lives - none of which would have happened if we had not dared to talk rather than mind our own businesses ignoring each other after our somewhat stressful days.
Get engaged
In fact, I learnt much more about her as she did of me than I relay here but the moral of the story is the amazing goodness of life when we interact such the stranger is not so strange but just separated from you by a few degrees and when you find out and thinking about it afterwards, you have to agree that life is full of surprises if you are willing to be adventurous and be surprised too.
In parting, I sent my birthday wishes to my stranger friend's sister and I received good wishes too.

Thought Picnic: Trepidations of Friday

Let it not be Friday yet
The Fridays come with a regularity that breeds more concern than relief. It is usually not the end of a working week but the end of a week when innumerable applications have been successively and promptly followed by rejections for all sorts of reasons.
Qualified and experienced as I am, the tales of rejection get more incredible by the day you almost want to let out a nicely phrased expletive of annoyance and anger with that element of a put-down to say you are none too pleased.
However, one must exercise restraint because these people - recruiters are essentially the gate-keepers to the jobs I am looking for, they are the three-headed rabid and drooling dog retained as sentinel by companies that do not want to get involved in the minutiae of negotiating the quality from the quantity before they are presented subjectively with people the recruiters think might be suited to the role.
A collision course
The hurdles I am presented with daily range from my being expected to be a Jack-of-all-trades, my being too qualified, my not being exposed enough to bleeding-edge technologies or even my not being able to drive.
Having worked in international organisations of well over 10,000 users, sometimes as many as 60,000 seats, there is enough work of specialism involved that one cannot be spread too thin, rather, you have knowledge of what you need from other skills or teams.
Obviously, it will be difficult to conceal a career spanning over 2 decades doing amazing stuff and much as one has done the mundane, if you are offered the knowledge cheap don't assume I am so driven by greed to jump at the next best opportunity, some of us are still bound by old-fashioned principles of keeping to contracts, doing our best and standing as exemplary gentlemen - if only some people will believe the best of the few than the worst of the many to include the blameless.
Bleeding-edge technologies are fun for the great features they bring and over time we who have experience have mostly contributed to how things have eventually turned out, be it office software or back-end systems, each progressive upgrade has brought glee and fun - we would most likely test the products through beta but rarely get to use the products in production until the business has exhausted the software and hardware cycle they are in.
Back-end delivery systems might be easy to deploy, the front-end is however fraught with more difficulty and that is for reasons of user awareness and broader support systems to accommodate issues, then there is compatibility with legacy system or if you are ahead of your customer base but have to share media and data with them - considerations you should not be dealing with long after you have put out your new toys and found out that no one else can play with you. 
People like me pre-empt this all the time and plan transitions that will benefit the business rather than grind it to a halt.
Wizened with time
People like me bring much more to the table, beyond ability we have awareness, discernment, understanding and experience that comes with constant application, recognition, adjustment, review, remodelling and solution.
A good deal of this will not show in a CV, it comes expressed in discussion, usually at interview. It is possible that we are selling ourselves so short that the one glance at our CVs without certain buzzwords or keywords puts us out of the running in favour of those who have perfected the sell but will not have the goods to deliver.
So, as we approach every Friday, I wonder again how well I have done or how badly I have let the week slip away once again - Thank God for everyday but for a while, I have not expressed the worker's relief of – TGI-Friday.