Thursday 26 February 2015

Opinion: We cannot for our comfort ignore the homeless

No woof without a roof
Having suffered the threat of homelessness a number of times, there are deep experiences that recovering from illness and adversity have brought into my life.
I have hoped that the lessons I learnt and continue to learn will make me a better person, a more considerate person, a caring person, a compassionate person and a more understanding person.
Critically, being a more understanding person hopefully helps you appreciate long before you are tempted to judge or be prejudiced.
More than who you see
I have seen homelessness in many cities and it is clear that most homeless people have stories and narratives that are far from the stereotypes of homelessness that we are sometimes fed by the media.
One such example of a homeless person with a story was that of Anne Naysmith whose obituary appeared in literally all the main English newspapers, locally known as the Car Lady of Chiswick, she was once concert pianist and even taught at Trinity College, London.
She lost her home and lived rough in a car for 26 years before she was moved on by the authorities, quite a tale of a life that was. It goes without saying that many others might well have tales of wonder in their past that the present attempts to place into insignificance. We must never be fooled, our humanity is much richer than what meets the eye.
Longing for a caring society
For myself, where I have had the opportunity, I have been blessed to both give and encourage, if I could do more, I would love to. For what many of the homeless need is first the understanding of others and then the opportunity to begin to have options; once those options are there, they can begin to make choices; choice indicates a sense of independence and from the budding of the very basic encouragement in word and in deed, you can watch people rise.
What I long for is, a more caring society, a more considerate humanity and a more engaging community in helping those who lack shelter, resource or opportunity.
Atrocious spikes
It is in this vein that I was utterly, utterly repulsed by the studs Selfridges in Manchester installed on the ledges of their shop window with the excuse that they were to prevent staff from smoking about and around the entrance of the store. [Mancunian Matters]
Whilst the ledge itself was probably not wide enough for people to sleep on, it represented a growing trend first seen in London when Tesco’s installed anti-homeless studs at their Regent Street store and then a luxury apartment complex in London did the same.
For all the excuses and many might be valid for installing the studs just as anti-pigeon pins are installed around public buildings, the broader society could not countenance the deliberate attempt to cleanse our inner cities of the homeless so that we can comfortably assume their being out of sight means we do not have a homelessness problem amongst us.
Our true society
I believe we need to observe the comforts and the discomforts of our communities in plain sight and if at any time the discomforts of homelessness should disappear, it should be as a result of society working to help rather than society actively ostracising and stigmatising those more unfortunate than ourselves.
It is the reason why I signed Change.Org petition started by Professor Cathy Urquhart asking Selfridges in Manchester to remove the anti-homeless spikes from outside their store and I am glad to report that after a well-publicised campaign against this odious and reprehensible conduct, the spikes have been removed.
Still unforgivable
I, however, doubt this episode will be forgiven just as I have not forgiven Tesco’s for thinking up the stinking idea. I would rather see these corporate behemoths of retail excess positively contributing to helping the homeless and the many disadvantaged, get their lives together and find opportunities to thrive in society.
That to me would be real corporate social responsibility, one where those who have been helped with have heart-warming stories of corporate showing a human face, having a human heart passionately and compassionately working for profit for the community and themselves.
Whilst I will thank Selfridges in Manchester for listening, the real truth is it should never have happened in the first place.

Tuesday 24 February 2015

Between beasts and men that run a country

Hard truths
The Week magazine has replaced The Economist as essential weekly reading to catch up on news for me. Whilst it is not as broad as The Economist in its global coverage, news of regions as Africa, South America and parts of Asia not considered in the Western frame of things does sometimes get a mention.
For instance, in the section about the world at a glance, they had a pointer to Ngouboua in Chad where Boko Haram had carried out a raid. However, the very striking piece of information in the snippet was this; “Chad – which has the region’s most competent army – had recently announced that its troops would be joining a multinational force against the militants.” [Quoted from The Week}
Helping Nigeria
The piece ended with; “So far, Chad, Cameroon, Niger, Burundi and Central African Republic have all agreed to help Nigeria fight the extremists.” [Quoted from The Week}
This is a stark narrative on Nigeria, because it shows how we allowed the Boko Haram menace to fester, how we allowed it to grow that it began to threaten and attack neighbouring countries, how despite some victories, Boko Haram has shown gaps in effectiveness, efficiency, competence and ability of the Nigerian military forces and that Nigeria does quite need help in tackling Boko Haram. [Nigeria as covered in the Time magazine.]
Who runs the place?
Another interesting piece I will like to share which I cannot get online is a little box beside the publisher’s details usually written by the founder and editorial director, Jolyon Connell or the Editor-in-chief, Jeremy O’Grady.
The founder writing about a piece in the Sunday Times that had the line, “The best way to understand any political system is to examine what its rulers did in their formative years.” This column written by Adrian Wooldridge in December had the title, “Engineers rule China. Lawyers lead the US. We get bluffers and blaggers.” Alas, this sits behind a paywall and I have not been convinced that the Sunday Times is worth shelling out for.
However, this is what he had to say, “Israel is run by former soldiers (hence the constant warmongering belligerence – my view), the US by lawyers (hence the endless lawsuits), China is run by engineers (hence the indifference to human rights), while Britain’s elite is dominated by people who studied PPE (philosophy, politics and economics) at Oxford.”
Focus lost in the cloud
He goes on to say, regarding this contextual ‘Jack of all trades’ preparation for leadership that allows politicians to have opinions on everything and move effortlessly from one Cabinet post to another; that PPE is “a bluffer’s charter: a dog’s dinner, a mishmash.” For there is no specialism in this generality of study and hence no depth leading to a tendency to “dash off policies at high speed without any serious thought.”
Now, is it any wonder that Great Britain is a mess with the way our economy, health, education, transport, police and business have been overwhelmed with policy initiatives that waste time, cost money, show lots of frenetic activity and offer no particular benefit?
But then
Yet, there is much to be said of those schooled than those without the structure of rigour who have exploited populism and rhetoric to the full like Nigel Farage, who only had a secondary school education, albeit, a public school one or Alex Salmond, who being an economist and academic still has the chops of a reactionary unionist.
Then, one wonders if Nigeria and Russia is run by crooks, spooks or oligarchs, I cannot seem to find another profession doing much in their politics if it does not involve aggrandisement, ostentation, braggadocio and reprehensible conduct projected as power.
Note: Large parts of this blog were quoted verbatim from pieces originally written in The Week Issue 1010 and the Sunday Times.

Monday 23 February 2015

People on a train of life

Let me sit
The man had splayed himself across two seats when I got on the train and kindly asked him to make room for me. Nothing could have prepared me for one of the most engaging conservations I have had on a train journey in a while.
He appeared to be in workmen’s clothes and I gingerly sat myself beside him just because my trolley bag which is generally heavier and bulkier than a simple rucksack needs more ample space than I can get in the standard seat space.
A conversation triggered
As I settled into my seat, I reached into my bag, grabbed my copy of The Economist’s Intelligent Life magazine and flipped the pages to read, Among the reindeer by Laura Galloway, who left a media consultancy to live amongst the Sami people; Laplanders to you and me, in the Arctic Circle after a DNA test suggested she descended from them.
He saw the page and said, he was on his way up there. Apparently, he is a fisherman who works on a big boat in the seas and oceans within the Arctic Circle.
From then on, for the hour, we talked about fishing, European fishing quotas, fortunes, misfortunes - he once owned a fishing trawler, the cold and how he suffered some of the coldest temperatures ever on one fishing expedition on the Bering Sea.
Fish of a long tale
He had come to Cheshire for a funeral, was travelling to Manchester, and changing trains for a journey all the way to Aberdeen where he would board a helicopter to Wick and then a flight to Reykjavik in Iceland. Quite a convoluted itinerary, I thought, but it must be one of the least travelled routes plied by only those in the know.
He had been a fisherman all his life, manning boats from when he was 10, he being in the fourth generation of fishermen from his family.
One thing I learnt from our conversation was the appearance of a man is no indicator of the wealth of knowledge he might have, how well he might have travelled and what good conversation you might have with the person.
Suffice it to say, I am yet to read the story in the magazine that started off our conversation. At Manchester Piccadilly Station, we shook hands, I gave him directions as to where to board his connecting train and he expected to be in Reykjavik by midnight.
Now, I can see
On another train journey, a mother and child got on and sat in front of me. They were returning from visiting her mother and the son who had glasses on seem to have had a wonderful half-term holiday away.
We engaged in enough small talk for me to discover one amazing miracle of medicine, the son had a very high auditory acuity (heightened sense of hearing) which for a while was sensory compensation for being born blind, but now he could see because he had undergone a penetrating keratoplasty (Corneal transplant).

Sunday 22 February 2015

For people and things that went before

Online to off-world
The Internet, borne of my curiosity to learn, to know and to be sure has recently been the bearer of sad news. The sad news of people I once knew who have unfortunately departed this world.
In one month, three stories have hit me, of the people cut down in the prime of their lives, their creativity or their foresight. Each reading or sighting of the reality of the information has both shaken and shocked me. All unexpected, yet real.
Losses too difficult
The first came via email, he had died at home just before Christmas, but I did not learn of the passing until a month after. Probably, the most prepared of the three, he had set his house in order and had forewarned me he did not have a year left.
He barely completed two months after our chat, it was the cancer that had returned a few times and now exhausted him at 71. He was in the prime of his foresight, so many thoughts flood my mind about too many things that I cease to function in the things I normally do, as I adjust to the situation.
The second came in the process of an Internet search just to corroborate some facts I was about to include in my blog. One of those situations where you think, where are they now? I did find out, she had died 4 years before, in had to be cancer at the age of 53, in the prime of her creativity and also of her life.
She left a legacy of three young aspiring children and the memories of times so far gone, that one can barely remember, but for the nostalgic feeling that is the most effective time machine, having the ability to take you back and keep you here in time, simultaneously.
He created a community
However, the third was the most intriguing and the one that has bothered me the most because for the first two, with enough curiosity and inquiry, one can ascertain circumstances and situation in which things happened. The mind bombarding you with questions you might eventually get the answers to.
Our secret lives were shared in the community of people who had interests as adults would have to explore and interact. He provided the forum and means for brief and long encounters of the debauched, yet pleasurable kind. Like, I have always said, we all have needs as humans and much more.
There was a time, I was offered a proposal to get involved in the project as domains of operation started to adopt Puritanical legislation that had wider nets for unintended consequences.
A certificate expired
The first sign that something was amiss was when the security certificate to the site expired. Not something he would have allowed to happen, I thought – something was wrong. Biding my time, I made the adjustments to my browser to access the site and left it at that, but there was unfinished business, I did not know and I had to know.
Next, I searched for his profile, it was not even deactivated, it had disappeared, yet, that of his partner remained. Now, that really got me thinking, but I did nothing else for another week.
A few days ago, I decided to fully understand the situation. After a few searches, the plot thickened, then after obtained his full name and other interesting research projects he was involved in, from Google+ I landed on the page of his partner and all was there in plain sight. His certificate to life had expired.
No ordinary people
A chapel, a large portrait, lots of flowers, some prominent wreaths, one more from his partner of over a decade with a very short note of endearment and an urn. He had been returned to ashes and this was a ceremony to return him to dust. He was young, he was intelligent, he was friendly and I had met him a few times with his partner when I visited Berlin and they came up to party. He was only 44.
I liked them a lot and we got on well. Though our last meeting was almost a decade ago, we kept in relatively good contact over the years along with the many missed opportunities that are becoming the story of my life to visit people and my leaving it too late until nothing can be done.
That was why the website had run into problems, he had died in August, but in what circumstances, I could not tell.
The questions are many
Was it due to complications of a plague that scythed in harvest young souls and brought a cloud of unremitting sorrow upon a generation? Was it a sudden event? The last picture he posted on his Facebook page taken a few months before did show some changes like he had bulked up a bit, probably from some medication – I could not tell.
Was due to some pre-existing condition or was it some other accident? One cannot tell and that is one of the problems with the Internet. It provides a wealth of information, but never in the depth or breath that will satisfy ones curiosity and by that, you may gain some information and yet be bereft of knowledge from which to develop some wisdom.
The goodbyes left unsaid
Therein in the recesses of my mind, I bring up the memories of the many goodbyes I never got to say, out of affinity, out of respect, out of reverence, out of friendship and out of love.
The past few days have been a blur, one of considering the readiness for things, the preparedness for things and the legacy one might leave behind. Obviously, I would hate for this wonderful project he started some 13 years ago to die off in a matter of months after his death, I think we in that community owe him that much.
Yet, I must reflect upon a life cut short in its prime and a resting place with a memorial, flowers that bloomed on the day but will die away, a hole in which the ashes were poured, returning him to Mother nature and a beautiful tombstone that sums up the history of many gone before. A name, the date of birth, a hyphen, the day he died, some words and life goes on.
To John, to Tola, to Heiko, to lovers and friends, I loved you in different ways, many I cannot explain, may your gentle, loving, amazing and wonderful souls – Rest in perfect peace. Thank you for the things you brought into my life.

Thursday 19 February 2015

Thought Picnic: A taxi ride and the things money cannot buy

Not for all the money
The taxi ride from the station to my place of work is not a long one, maybe about 10 minutes. I have gravitated towards a company that appears to live up to its name, but that is beside the point.
Now, farmers who own their own land in England are in a different class, they are somewhat in a way the residue of what we nostalgically refer to as the English or more broadly British values. This taxi firm belongs to a farming family.
This matter is quite a difficult subject for some of my friends and much as I understand the push towards a more egalitarian society, there is some things in which we will never be equal. Those things come down to things money will not and cannot buy, as manners, morals, respect, character, common sense, trust, patience, class, integrity and love. [Found on Facebook and littered around the Internet.]
Front seat interaction
The people who pick me up are all retired professionals, people who have had interesting and varied careers before they settled down to occasional chauffeur duties on call, yet not full time.
Regretfully, one of such gentlemen, and there are ladies too, who had picked me up and few times and even taken me on longer journeys died on Christmas Day, he was Geoff Pullar. I did not know much about his career, but there is enough in the conversations we had to know that he had had a very interesting life.
Suffice it to say that if the cab is a saloon car, there are drivers with whom it is best to sit in the back seat and there are others with whom there is a lot to learn sitting in the front seat.
Of drivers at this company, the front seat was always the place for conversation with former academics, sportsmen, services personnel, bankers, doctors and many of that cadre. Knowledgeable, well-spoken, dignified and funny, many a story told and an intelligent conversation had.
A different mindset
In many ways, these drivers were not in it for the money, whilst the money might be handy, there was a greater air of bearing and comportment about them. Every once in a while, I was regaled with stories of meeting up with old colleagues or being invited to functions where for work or activities they have done before meant they were honoured and revered guests, understated, yet exuding class, is all I could say about them.
I noticed one such division when as I got off the train, a fellow passenger found that his previously booked taxi had not arrived, my driver was helpful in trying to find out what might have happened to the booking whilst at the same time, without restraint one of the cab drivers waiting in the ranks was about the poach the passenger.
A values proposition
Much as it would have been convenient for the passenger, it was very bad behaviour on the part of that driver. Immediately, my driver told him off whilst threatening to report him too.
Obviously, I cannot fail to notice the differences between these drivers in dressing and attitude too, that the ones I felt most comfortable with, looked the most professional, formally dressed and rarely quibbled about competition and costs.
Yes, they were slightly more expensive, but for the pleasure of the ride, their company, the conversation and good old-fashioned values that money cannot buy, they were worth every penny and more. Never miss the opportunity to ride in a taxi with someone whose life’s experiences will enrich yours considerably, it is about the person, not about the job they do. I guess money may sometimes buy you access to good conversation, it is however, not guaranteed.

Tuesday 17 February 2015

The day ... now happy

The day can pass,
The day can last,
What you can,
Even not to plan,
Time goes always fast.

To work at that,
To pore at tasks,
Learn something new,
Like he often knew,
To revel he basks.

For night wore him,
He awoke to ache,
Much tea he took,
In pain he shook,
And pills he did take.

An hour now gone,
Long past crappy,
Lessons go by,
Things to apply,
He is now happy.

Thought Picnic: The anger of dreams in precis

Dream a biggie
Dreams are an interesting window on the subconscious, having the ability to reveal strengths and expose weaknesses.
There are things that can never be done in real life that a person may acquire a Matrix-like simulated reality ability to do with ease, in dreams. Speak languages, do feats of superhuman strength, acquire knowledge, solve problems, all limited by the capacity of the mind for imagination.
Dream a little
However, where weaknesses are exposed, the signs are debilitating, like lights not coming on when the switch is flicked, a slurring of the speech when one is fighting a case or the absence of coordinated strength when flipping out in annoyance or anger.
This apparent weakness usually witnessed by other dramatis personae in the dream is quite humiliating, as actions cannot seem to follow the good intentions. In the mind of the dreamer a sense of futility looms, characteristic of failed ambition and with that, fear might take hold.
It is at this point that the only sensible thing to do is to snap out of that dream, possibly by waking up and reflecting on how there might be another time to be equipped to do better.

Saturday 14 February 2015

Nigeria: Where the afflicted have no respite being cobblestones to the comfortable

Reflections on writings before
Every once in a while, I go over some of my almost 2,500 blogs written over 11 years to check if when I have contributed to the global body of social commentary in my own small corner, whether I have expressed the best of our common humanity.
Especially as we are in the Nigerian electioneering season, I have watched with horror compounded by disgust as heretofore respected members of the press and individuals of seemingly respectable views have hitched their wagons to incredible embellishments, amazing fantasies and outright lies – Propaganda most vile.
Reflections on the times
I have tried as much as possible to ignore many of these infractions that are engendered by the struggle to survive and the willingness to rent out the conscience for a while, to the highest bidder seeing that circumstances are tough and difficult.
It is sad that people are left with no other option than to forfeit principle and honour for temporary reprieve, reputations painstakingly built over time squandered for pecuniary advantage that we are in a race to publish the lies with such fervency that the repetition of those reprehensible untruths would almost eventually begin to sound like the unassailable truth.
Reflections on our state
We are up against an entrenched establishment that has made corruption the norm that no conscience exists to moderate behaviour for the better. Impunity is the default licence of the powerful to pillage without restraint, because the system not only encourages it, but celebrates it as the sign of success and the wealthy returns of divine providence.
This has become both the inspiration and the aspiration of many, the access to great wealth without industry and to absolute power without responsibility or accountability. This is how we reward politics and politicians, the powerful and religious leaders, and the stupendously rich with no audited means wealth in Nigeria that each and every contest for electoral office or position to influence has become a fight to the death.
If not that serious, these people clog the courts with grievance, little and large, buying up legal expertise to intimidate the bench into yielding to their demands.
Reflections on comfort and affliction
In every sphere of life, we have the afflicted and the comfortable, so many of the former and a select number of the latter who vie for the spoils of the commonwealth at the expense of the afflicted without any inkling of consideration or humanity.
It is in this area from politics though religion and our broader community we find that the press, the leaders and individuals have amassed into the absurdity and hence commit the atrocity of comforting the comfortable more by afflicting the afflicted even worse.
As we stand today wondering if there still is that difficult expression of compassion in our humanity and hopefully the last breath of life in our consciences, we should ask ourselves whether in thought or in deed, in good intentions or in real actions, in silence or in expression, by omission or by commission, we comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable, speaking the truth to power and bringing change that really does matter and benefit our greater humanity.
The job of the newspaper is to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.” Finley Peter Dunne [Wikipedia]
Will Self on The Purpose of Satire [BBC Radio Four – A Point Of View]

Tuesday 10 February 2015

Opinion: We laugh all the time - A case for gay marriage

I am for marriage
I have always had very liberal views on the issue of marriage that it has rarely bothered me what the gender pairing might be. Man to woman, man to man, woman to woman, if you've ever been in any of those shoes, love is a mysterious and powerful force.
The issue of gay marriage is more one of legal rights, in that if a person has chosen to live their lives with another, when certain critical life decisions need to be taken, the position and primacy of partner, lover, companion and spouse must not be trammelled.
Significance for the other
The situation where same-sex partners suddenly find themselves relegated by the family on the critical matters of life and death where there is no legal backing for the union is untenable.
Partners are people with whom one shares intimacy and companionship that neither family nor friend can aspire to. Hopes, fears, cares, anxieties and issues of life are exchanged in a bond no outsider to that partnership can begin to comprehend or unravel, it is unique between the people in that intimate relationship.
That family or relations might disapprove of the relationship does not invalidate it, lives are intertwined and hearts are melded, cleaved in a mystery indecipherable yet simple.
Religion is moot
It is such that marriage ceremonies are just what they are, ceremonies; the law recognises the civil contract of partnership and delegates a legal instrument to religious and civic institutions to contract marriages. A marriage might well be a religious activity to some, but it is fundamentally a civil contract that grants spousal rights to a chosen companion with whom a person has decided to share that responsibility with.
It is with that in mind that regardless of the age difference between Stephen Fry and Elliott Spencer, I celebrate the core element of the relationship which in the words of the younger makes compelling reading. He said, “I don’t care what people think, Stephen is the love of my life, the light of my life.” “We laugh all the time,” he continued “Humour is the binding thing in our life. I think that’s what brought us together.” [The Independent]
The pursuit of happiness
Now, if that is not the ultimate pursuit of happiness, I wonder what is. To have someone to laugh with, to cry with, to hold, to hug, to share the most intimate moments and know that when the biggest decisions are to be made, they are not sidelined, but significant, they should be front and centre, just as they have been chosen to be front and centre, bound in a union of love that sometimes dares not speak its name.
It took me a while to understand that in all this, sometimes marriages do not work and divorce is the only option for each party to find another hopeful opportunity for love. I had to unlearn my fundamentalist schooling to appreciate that marriages are never made in heaven but worked and played on earth. There is no fairy tale moment, just experiences, some good, some bad, some happy, some sad and if the fun outweighs the absence of laughter, you have a good thing going.
I am for everything that gives a tightly knit companionship of hearts legal standing, straight or gay marriage –who really cares? Let the significant other be significant in life and be very significant too in the eyes of the law.

Thought Picnic: A changing state of mind from fears to dreams

Of fearfulness
Fear is paralysing, sapping you of resolve and purpose as you entertain a foreboding, a premonition or some anxiety.
It is an uncomfortable feeling that serves no particular purpose than to create a dark cloud over the sunny disposition of life and introduce uncertainties that upset and restrict.
The fear that something is not done, the fear that something might happen, the fear that an end looms without having set things in order, both rational and irrational fears taking the mind from peace to worry and the worrisome.
Of freedom
Yet, as you realise that this is not where you want to be, you work and hope that the cloud passes, seeking an outlet of encouragement, excitement, hope, resolve or just release.
Fear is a prison, a claustrophobic cell of walls collapsing upon you with the possibility that paralysis might rob you of the will and strength to escape. I have entertained this guest for too long, it has overstayed its welcome, it is time for fear to leave and never come back.
I need a breath of fresh air, the exhilaration of freedom and the rejuvenation of youthfulness making me see beyond the clouds to the light, warmth and joy of living.
I have to tell myself, don’t let your fears hold you back when your dreams can set you free.

Monday 9 February 2015

The damage done when parents fail to listen

Present and past meeting
I am not one to watch horror films, but I happened upon the compelling viewing of Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark which against my wiser instincts I watched.
What occurred to me was the very familiar story of a child seeing things and that child having serious problems convincing their guardians of their experiences.
We have been schooled with the view that kids tell tales or tell lies for opportunity, advantage or attention, even when those things begin to affect the emotional, social and mental stability of the child.
Choosing not to believe
Sadly, the issue of child sexual abuse, nightmares and ‘seeing things’ fall into the same category of experiences that parents or guardians flimsily dismiss as trivial and fantasy, leaving the child to suffer until more damage is done.
At times, they will find some rational or logical explanation, and for their benefit, they may be right, but it should never be grounds to dismiss whatever the child has been through. At the very least, trust the child and strive to verify exactly what troubles the child. Maybe get professional help, not elders, not pastors, not rituals - PROFESSIONAL HELP - Like psychotherapy.
I had a similar experience when I was 10, during the day, my aunt and our houseboy shared stories about unexplainable events, those stories which I heard and can still recall to complete detail became seeds fuelled by the vivid and fertile imagination of a child. My nightmare was about to start, we only needed the dark and the quiet to enliven it.
That evening we had guests, my mother’s childhood friend and her husband, she was also the step-mother of Tola Awobode, the Lare of Cock Crow At Dawn (Music video).
I can’t continue
Let me digress, I will have to write this story fully another time, in fact, every time I have attempted to write this story, I have been distracted. It is possible, I do not know whether, the story will really be written, and I’m in shock.
My memory serves me well, that only yesterday, as I wondered how I remembered parts of the home address of my friend, he asked how far my vivid memory goes and I answered, back to about the age of three.
I began this blog to write about the need for parents and guardians to pay greater heed, sometimes against their better judgement if that comes into play to certain radically life changing experience of their wards, the scars of which I still bear and part of what sometimes still informs the way I interact with my parents.
The need for professional therapy
My experience was dismissed as fantasy by my father, my mother however was anxious, he left her to throw whatever she could into the situation to help me when probably professional therapy would have helped rather than visits to spiritualists of different persuasions, which with hindsight heightened my anxiety and weakened my ability to deal with the situation for decades after the event.
I read Psalms over bottles, cups, or buckets of water, seeing religious service as a fearful dreadful experience that required you pay for any comfort or peace through some laborious routine of service, recitation and ritual, it was not a lovely episode in my young life that continued into my first term in boarding school.
I guess, I have gotten the substance of my intent across without touching the detail of my personal experience.
However, in digging up this memory, I just now found out from the Internet that Tola Awobode had died just over 4 years ago. We knew her as Auntie Tola, it was a pleasure to watch her perform as Lare on Cock Crow at Dawn, I never knew what else she did – that is what I have now just read in her obituary.

Friday 6 February 2015

After this phlebotomy, I am still unshaken

So, the day, it came,
Not to be left so lame,
Seen this many so tame,
Called Uber and got in the frame.
Two things he had to do,
Unsure if to use the loo,
The bloods for the brew,
And to the pharmacy too.
He handed in prescriptions,
Then asked for directions,
Waited for instructions,
A queue ten deep for reflections.
So old were the tools of phlebotomy,
A sheer piercing into his anatomy,
Not a time for bonhomie,
9 vials out of little old me.
Were it possible, I could faint,
The nectar darkened as paint,
In a room so quaint,
I fed a vampire and bathed a saint.
The pharmacy had readied my pills,
And the same Uber saved me from the chills,
Heard a tale of clinical ills,
Hopefully no time to pen some wills.
At home, some rest was taken,
The first time this much was forsaken,
I know I am not mistaken,
I will remain unshaken.

Wednesday 4 February 2015

Essential Snobbery 101: Look back in anger

All the loo roles
I know I like to play with alliterations and a visit to a place downstairs just had me wondering how beneath the veneer of faux-respectability of people milling around as co-workers are habits that leave much to be desired.
The loo, lavatory, latrine, ladies, toilet, gents, bog, urinal, cottage, water closet (WC) or convenience is a somewhat private place for movements and activity nature intended.
That we have found systems to manage and handle the different deposits is credit to creativity and ingenuity of man to bring elements of sophisticated, yet understated finesse to the handling of foul substances.
Noticing notices of note
Once upon a time, to evacuate really did mean to let things go from the bowels, but now, it is mostly used to mean getting people out of a building, especially out of dangerous buildings or vehicles.
There are things that are expected in these places that people do not feel disposed to do that you end up reading notices like, “Please leave this place as you will like to find it” or “Please wash your hands”.
I will like to see in the men’s urinals notices that say, “Please do not spit your chewing gum into the urinal, ureic acid does not dissolve chewing gum and furthermore, chewing gum is not biodegradable.” Men reading this will fully understand what I mean. I don’t chew gum.
Just clean up after you
Now, I cannot say why toilet bowls are white in most cases, but white is an implicit revelation of otherness when some things are not done. Especially when there is the option to flush the toilet and a toilet brush to help, “Please leave this place as you will like to find it” – I guess this notice implicitly suggests anyone visiting a toilet expects to find it clean, no matter how many other visitors have been before, if they all clean up after use.
I swore under my breath when the revelation on white was so unmissable, the earlier user can only have been so uncultured to have taken his anti-social skills back to the day of the Palaeolithic man. Whilst, someone is paid to clean up after our mess, I do not think this was the kind of mess they were engaged to clean up.
That I can promptly lose respect for those who cannot look back in anger and ensure the next person looks in with a smile is my way of putting a four-letter word into a blog.
Please, always look back in anger when you have done your thing and “Please leave this place as you will like to find it. Thank you.

First impressions of another English hospital

Reporting for duty?
My treatment has travelled as much as I have travelled through the hands of many doctors from when I was in Amsterdam, worked in Wales, returned to London and now in Manchester.
My handlers in London’s East End of Whitechapel and I decided that trips down from Manchester for check-ups and replenishing my medications limited my options for closer monitoring of my health, that it was better for my whole treatment regime to be moved up near my new residence.
I had an invitation in December that I could not attend and my calling up to reschedule the appointment simply put me back in the queue for another appointment that came 6 weeks later.
The quality of English letter writing does shock me at times, the part where I was informed of the new appointment said I should report to the outpatient’s department. ‘Report to’ is the kind of phrase used by law enforcement, the courts, for formal arrangements or when instructed to go to see the headmaster in school if you have been in trouble. I would have thought a milder, ‘Please attend the clinic at the outpatient’s department’ would have been a more convivial use of the lingua franca.
Uber and out
In any case, I was not going to be late for my appointment so, for the first time I launched my Uber app to get a taxi to the hospital in the north of Manchester. I had hardly finished when a call came in from the cab driver that he had arrived, I literally rushed out precariously crossing the street when usually I cross at zebra-crossings, traffic lights or Belisha beacons.
From the thick accent of the driver, I realised he was Nigerian. We engaged in general small talk about work, living in Europe and then after I confirmed he was Nigerian and from the east, we began on Nigerian politics. He sounded informed by the sensational rather than the researched, which meant it was better I was circumspect than talkative.
I betrayed no confidences and whilst he got me to the hospital and I tried to get him to drop me at the main entrance, he insisted he normally drops people at the entrance of Accident and Emergency – I was neither in an accident nor in need of emergency observation – I let him do what he intended and got better directions of where I was supposed to go from the A&E reception.
Open-minded to options
Strangely, the reception at the main entrance was not manned, but there were good enough signposts all around the hospital that I did not have to ask again where I had to go.
At the outpatient’s reception, I was registered with the insistence that I be addressed by my simple name rather than my full name - I dread hearing my full name call out, because it reminds me of being in trouble, especially with my mum. Since I rarely like to be pigeon-holed by ethnicity, I chose the option of 'Black – Other Background' and decidedly refused to fill in the box for religion. I will follow the best medical advice I can get for my condition than allow beliefs to deprive me of well-regarded expertise.
It means I will take blood transfusions if needed and as long as any other treatment is not detrimental to my well-being, I will be ready to consider the option, as long as I am fully briefed and informed about the options available.
Retrieving histories of hospital life
My file was empty and the papers the consultant needed to review my case were not available because his secretary was away. It looked like we were off to be bad start. They apologised and I was palmed off to a junior doctor to have a chat.
Sometimes, I am unaware of the amount of knowledge I have of my condition, dates, diagnoses, treatments, side-effects, experiences – he filled in two pages of notes by the time I had finished.
He opined that he rarely meets anyone who has as much informed of their treatment history without referring to notes. Yet, I was apologising for not bringing in more journals of the bloods and readings that I had accumulated over the years.
I then went to be weighed and have my blood pressure taken, where the banter between the nurses and I revolved around weight and how my clothes had added about 1.6kg to the reading I took at home in the morning. I offered to strip off they could provide the music, the risqué things we get up to.
More introductions and a conclusion
Returning to the doctor, he had a chat to the consultant who came round to introduce himself, offering encouragement and assurances that all issues presented will be dealt with, though after a battery of tests to help determine what course of treatment is best for me.
He gave me his card because I told him I had already dredged the Internet for information about him and found that all references to him used just his initials and surname, which made me wonder what his first name was. He told me and we laughed.
As he left, he asked what I did for a living and then said I was so well dressed, I put them all to shame. On this visit, I obtained a new prescription, the order to have some blood tests done, and some other slightly intrusive tests. Comparing this engagement with the friendly engagements I used to have with my treatment consultant in the Netherlands, I think I will be happy with this new assignation.
It was however late, so I will have to return to the hospital at a later date to do the bloods and refill my prescription. We have an appointment set for just under 3 months hence.
That matter of identity again
Returning home by Uber again, I was picked up by someone with a familiar background as myself, a third-culture kid whose parents were from Pakistan or British India as it was then known when his parents came to the United Kingdom. The familiar story of being told what your identity is supposed to be rather than who you think you are, was a constant refrain.
In the last 50 or so years, the issue of identity has become too fluid to be matched to race, religion, culture, and language, place of origin or ethnicity. Global travel has made identity become more a function of experiences rather than lineage.
People have multiple influences that become part of what is their identity and rather than repudiate one for another to identify with some subset of humanity, many of us are fully embracing every aspect of these influences and proudly identify being comfortable in all the places that have impacted our lives.
On the whole, I felt quite refreshed by both the hospital visit and the Uber taxi rides, I look forward to my next appointment.

Monday 2 February 2015

Thought Picnic: Miss a pill, dream a drill

Fear costing dear
There was a time I feared for going on pills, a prescription that went on interminably until some new discovery in medicine and pharmacology meant that either the dosage was reduced or for a determined period time, usage brought a cure.
It was this fear that precipitated a serious threat to my life when I for a time ignored the tiredness and seemingly failing health that suggested I had cancer until at diagnosis, I had only 5 weeks left if I did not respond to the aggressive treatment that my doctor said could cure the problem.
Managing drug therapy
When my chemotherapy taken every three weeks was increased from two, to four, to six and then to eight, I was told some had up to fourteen sessions. When after my seventh, I saw that a ninth session had been scheduled, I told my doctor, I was not mentally prepared from anything beyond the eighth. They stopped after the seventh, it was a reprieve.
Yet, after all that pain of cancer finally subsided, it took me another two months to come off the opioid medication. I was cutting the patch in half and keeping it on for longer because the side-effects of sudden removal were almost debilitating, it was horrible.
Planning ahead
Now, any time I go away, I always pack enough pills, just in case I have to be away longer than I initially planned. In fact, any journey has to be regulated to the amount of medication I can successfully take away without being considered a peddler of controlled substances.
The last weekend saw me in London socialising and I had every thought to fill my pill box before leaving home. It is usually the first thing I put in my bag, however, between the rush and the lapse in memory, I have halfway to London when I realised the pills were still at home. That meant two nights without my pills. Probably nothing too serious.
Back on top
Then again, my pills are ones where you try to do a catch-up of missed dosages, you just settle back into routine as soon as possible. Besides, this should not happen too frequently or the visitation of something difficult to handle might materialise.
So, on getting home, I took my pills at the usual time and rolled into bed under my warmed-up electric blanket, setting the alarm for 6:30AM because it was going to be one of my unusually early days to work.
Effects that endure
When, I first went on these pills almost 5 years ago, yes, 5 years in May, I was told of a number of side-effects I will have – vivid dreams, feeling stoned, insomnia, possible depression – for a while, I refused to read the leaflet lest I be overcome with a sense of hypochondria and any other mental indisposition that will make me utterly uncomfortable.
I had many of the first for the first few weeks, one dream I remember was being the gatekeeper to heaven and hell – Read about that here. I had to search the Internet to get an understanding of what it meant to be stoned, just as I once did to understand what it meant to have a hangover. I was stoned every night for years, but because I took my pills at 23:00, I was already in bed with a light head in the clouds.
For sleeplessness, they offered more pills, I declined, in fact that was the reason I moved my pill time from 20:00 to 23:00, I was not going to have drug-induced sleep, it was fearful enough being on four different drugs after I left hospital with varying levels of drowsiness side-effects, at one time, I thought I will never wake up.
For the depression, which I was neither sure I had or not, I went for therapy, because I knew that having suffered catastrophic loss of health, wealth, status and material things, I needed to talk with someone and better talk with professionals.
A nightmare story
After a few hours’ sleep, I woke up from an event, an old school friend and I, from as far back as my secondary school days – that is over three decades ago; met up and were walking back to some place, probably where we both lived.
From what I can recall, on our way out, there was no incident, but some construction activity had begun when we were returned. There was some heavy-duty activity going on and it looked like one of the workmen was swing a hammer to break concrete slabs.
I was a bit apprehensive, I did not think we could get through the site when my friend decided to make a run for it and as he passed the workman, he disappeared. It was not a hammer he was wielding, but a hoe-like scythe, a kind of horrific tool that can only be manufactured in the mind of a dream, but has no practical use or purpose.
This is the reason why I never watch horror films, I have the capacity to think up horror without encouragement.
Waking up
My friend had been scythed, amputated from the torso taking off the right leg, then the workman picked him up and flung him out of the way where I ran up to tend to him.
He did not die, nor did he bleed profusely, and he did not go into shock. He vividly saw what happened to him as I also replayed what could have happened in my mind as we waited for the ambulance. An awfully terrible sight and the return of vivid dreams, a reminder that I should never go off the regime of my pills except when medically advised to.
My mind was already overloaded with the consequences of that event, I woke up soon after, knowing fully well that, it was one of those dreams I will never forget, etched into my consciousness and the making of another bizarre story.