Thursday 30 April 2015

Thought Picnic: Finding a way with words

A way with words
You have a way with words, my boss wrote in response to an email I sent out to a wider circulation list to counter a political storm.
Communication and succinct communication is something I have found very useful in the workplace. In many ways, between those of us doing the work and the many others whose high-visibility and lots of jargon spiel allows them to steal the glory of others, many things call for diplomacy and tact.
Ways to use suggestion to persuade people of your views, others needed to tell people off quite sternly without appearing to do so.
Purposeful communication
This for me is the versatility of the English language, moving on from the perfunctory to a deeper and meaningful use of expression that you cannot be misunderstood, even if you are misread at the first reading.
I do not write emails to have them ignored, I set up the circumstance in which all courtesies apply that there will be much to be said for your decorum, attitude and politeness, if you do not engage.
Generally, as much as my phraseology can read as flowery and verbose, the purpose in the end is to cut to the chase, dispense with jargon and let very basic common-sense apply.
Working on it
It is so easy to run away with fads and trends to appear as if you can fly with the eagles when you are, in fact, roaming with chickens. I can see through many like that in no time and I so easier run out of patience when I am invited to talk shops that do nothing to help in solving problems.
When I talk, I think I am good, when I write, I guess I am a lot better. I have kept my job, changed systems, impressed greatly, annoyed seriously and gotten raises, just because somewhere in my abilities, I can find the right context, tone and intent in my communication to coax and to persuade.
I have learnt to keep doing what I know best to do, the rest will take care of itself.

Thought Picnic: Suicide quests of irresponsibility

Where we are
Life is one long tale of contradictions, the hard and difficult lessons of personal experience that appears to suggest we have it all together.
The standing of a tree and its beauty thereof, if there is any to behold is rarely observed from its roots. Yet if some storm or adversity in nature perchance fells that tree, we might know why it stood or conversely, why it fell.
We are constantly schooled by the paternal and the maternal instructiveness of osmosis. For in them we have obtained the uniqueness of our makeup, imperfect but functional, a study of irresponsibility to reasonableness as we career with abandon at times, and in control at other times down the windy and perilous roads of life looking for camps of silence, shelter, sustenance or support.
How we roll
In solitude, speak with the knowledge that we have been our own fools for long enough to gain some wisdom that we must hope to deal no more harshly with others than we have allowed to be dealt towards us.
From the private stupid to the public smart and vice versa we have taken risks we shouldn't have by omission, by commission or by default, and much as we have paid dearly for it, licking our wounds in the end, we have come out on the other almost intact, but not really.
Elements of irresponsibility can almost cost our lives, but we must be grateful if reasonableness came before it was too late, else it would be another telling that story in their own way.
What we do
Yet, we are aggrieved and we are beginning to grieve because in another person's story so connected to ours, reasonableness did not get in the way of irresponsibility soon enough that all we are left to hope for is the miracle of means and deeds.
It is in that realisation that we must prepare ourselves for an uncertain and difficult future in chaotic environments we can hardly influence. This is where irresponsibility in some of our situations looks very much like a suicide quest. What was avoidable became the overwhelming circumstance of a bad reality hitting us in the face.

Friday 24 April 2015

UK Elections 2015: This election needs a human face

Some background
In 1968, my father then training to be an accountant and working for the NHS went to a pub with some of his English colleagues whereupon he met with his local MP and an exchange ensued.
This MP was Enoch Powell and the encounter was soon after his Rivers of Blood speech, the content of which traded on the fears and insecurities of the electorate by demonising selected minorities for political advantage. Immigration!
Populist demonization
This was a populist and sometimes right-wing campaign strategy, it is not new, and today we see the same elements of demonising minorities all around the world for political capital.
Be it minors, womenfolk, the poor, the different by race, tribe, religion, custom, beliefs or sexuality, the disabled, the powerless or the voiceless, some opportunistic politician has found something to excite the basest of our instincts to garner votes.
In this general election season in the UK, the leader of the UK Independence Party in debates decided to aim the crosshairs at refugees with HIV he falsely claims costs the NHS £25,000 for treatment.
This is sensationalist bunkum, but it gave impetus to a malevolent listener to this reprehensible invective to take the picture of an innocent man and make him the face and person of Nigel Farage's rotten lies.
It’s about real people
Bisi Alimi, whose story we know as the first Nigerian to come out on national television, who suffered personal and institutional persecution then had to flee Nigeria narrowly escaping death was the target of the atrocious besmirching.
We granted refugee status to Bisi Alimi and he has been of the most exemplary conduct, contributed immensely to the cause of LGBTI minorities and many human rights issues all around the world. If he remained a refugee, he is one we want amongst us as an inspirational figure and more, but Bisi does have a British passport, he is not a refugee.
However, that is beside the point, this attack was aimed at those who have sought refuge in our country with the devilish intent of persuading us to put cost above our humanity. That has been the bottom-line of the UKIP agenda, making cost the issue at the expense of our greater humanity and tendency to compassion.
The heart of who we are
When people come to the UK seeking refuge on humanitarian grounds, we have had a tradition of welcoming them and helping them thrive in our communities and society. This has been the case for centuries and long may we continue to set the standard for compassionate relief and humanitarian consideration.
The personal attack on Bisi Alimi was not only contemptible but completely unrepresentative of who we are. Yet we must know that this campaign strategy is shocking and awful, one trading on our fears to put wedges of division and difference within our communities.
Nigel Farage is a canny politician and he knew what he was doing by sowing seeds of suspicion and anger in the hope that some amongst us might act unconscionably and irrationally, along with his intention of shoring up support for electioneering purposes. We must repudiate this kind of talk completely.
Taking the fight to Nigel
However, under the auspices of the Thanet Trade Union Action, the irrepressible Bisi Alimi is taking the fight to Nigel Farage in the constituency where he is contesting to be the local MP and you are invited to Meet Farage's Tourist.
My hope is by the time Bisi Alimi has finished speaking we would see Nigel Farage for who he is and give him and his kind of populist rhetoric the heave-ho.
Nigel Farage is not the face of our hearts and minds, I believe Bisi Alimi more represents who we are and the example we want to better be to the world - open, empathetic, considerate, helpful, fair, just and truly British.
Please attend if you can and share with your friends.

Meet Farage’s Tourist
Thursday 30 April at 19:00–21:00
Odd Fellows Hall,

142 High Street,
Ramsgate, Kent.
CT11 9TT
Thank you.

Wednesday 22 April 2015

UK Elections 2015: A depressing prospect

On our fears
This election season is the first in the UK I have participated in since Tony Blair won with a landslide in 1997.
Having read manifestos, watched debates and reviewed all sorts of analyses and permutations, I have never felt as downcast about leadership quests in the UK as with the lot shopping for my votes.
Yet, having been on the sharp end of things in terms of moving back to the UK and finding no support systems for reintegration, the inscrutable hurdles into the welfare system for being out of work or being homeless; the policy framework that dehumanised me and many others with stories too harrowing for words demands change.
On our tears
There is no doubt in my mind even with the financial prudence of the Tory Party and the moderating influence of the Liberal Democrats, the Tories have to go. For the deficit, if it is the poor, the jobless and the everyday man that have suffered the most. The rich have been protected from most of the fallout.
The Tories continued the atrocity of privatising profits and socialising the debts. They sold off the commonwealth for a song whilst the big corporations cashed in with little sweat for the humongous rewards.
Oh my dears
The alternative; the Labour Party is bearable, but if they fail to win a comfortable majority, a possible coalition or arrangement with the Scottish National Party spells doom to just over 300 years of the union of Great Britain which comprises England, Scotland and Wales.
These political robots have no soul, no persuasion and no conviction, they are in perpetual soundbite spewing party points like clowns in a circus, and it is so depressing.
Never has a country in need of a vision to maintain hard-won relevance been at the mercy of men with no depth in experience or humanity, talk less of compassion.

Saturday 18 April 2015

Thought Picnic: Beyond the call of duty

So they were burnt?
Someone came up with a policy that reeks of exploitation much longer before it suggests a leaning toward loyalty. Yet there might be a historical view to the situation, but that does not make it right.
When you toil and sweat at the coal face, knowing duty and responsibility, there is remuneration and recompense for your work. That is a contract of confidence properly rewarded as it should be.
Yet for an organisation whose main stock in trade is wheelbarrows of money, a parsimonious tendency to extract for claims to be made on expense much later cannot be right, even if it is the established standard.
It is unfair
There might be many who have the means and breath to face up to a large extraction from their wallets, however, the truth is in this business moneys in churn, everyone is left at a disadvantage, but the organisation and that is hardly fair, if the call is the organisation requiring you risk much for it.
At a point, where one finds oneself demanding a review, embarrassment and shame might find inroads into the conversation, but that should never be the case. The requirement is well beyond the call of duty, it makes extraneous demands of loyalties and it might bring along its own stress.
Shoulder this responsibility
The incidental and the limited can in terms be expensed, but there is nothing wrong even in the era of cost-cutting drives that cut down to the bone in having the organisation itself organise trips, accommodation and much else that pertains to the comforts and the accoutrements that will allow one carrying a responsibility to do what they are engaged to do without distraction.
Besides, the organisation has the heft to negotiate the best deals in bulk and with a standing relationship, it should not be devolved to individuals to namedrop to be eligible. There are invisible costs to all these devolved arrangements and that all makes for a feeling being put under unnecessary duress.
Beyond the call of duty
Reassurances of reimbursement are not enough, someone eventually has to take the pain as it starts from the employee through the employee’s agency and rarely the organisation, interest lost and the organisation that scrimps on pennies to save pounds to rain upon a few in truckloads of bonuses does not have to laugh all the way to the bank. It is the money store, itself.
Then you think of other places, too long a list of places where no one has to bear the cost, because all is in hand, borne by the organisation and those with the responsibility to approve such.
There is no doubt in one’s mind, what is being required is well beyond the call of duty. It definitely is, and it must change.

Tuesday 14 April 2015

Opinion: No man!

Just imagine if when Oba Rilwanu Akiolu, the paramount chief of Lagos in that moment of unguarded irresponsible verbiage had been challenged rather than applauded.
Wonder if the Zulu king, Goodwill Zwelithini, had been circumspect about foreigners if his views met with immediate disapproval as he spoke.
If in that interview cum media chat, President Goodluck Jonathan when he did not give a damn, the obsequious, star-struck and fawning interviewers had the temerity to ask him to responsively give a damn.
If those we look up to were given a piece of our minds contrary to blind followership begging for subservience.
If we balanced our respect with a modicum of irreverence that allowed leaders to lead without thinking themselves infallible, omnipotent or inviolable because they were conscious of their humanity and listening for good and sometimes difficult counsel.
I believe the story would have been about the reconsideration at that setting than the overheated reporting of the outburst. Maybe, just maybe, the world we see would have been a better place.
Sadly, leaders fail themselves when surrounded by acolytes who do little to complete and complement their leadership by vying for favour and recognition when they should be accentuating the good with fervour and curtailing the bad with wisdom.
There are too many 'Yes men', men without cojones, self-interested minions whose activities eventually show the whole enterprise they are in, in a bad light.
Invariably, they excuse the inexcusable, support the intolerable, defend the reprehensible and promote the atrocious with utterly damnable and illogical arguments as their acquiescence gives licence to impunity without any discernible consequence.
Yet, what a leader needs is a fearless and bold courageous follower or counsellor. Like the man who whispered in the ear of gladiators of old on victory processions: 'You are but a man, mortal and at the mercy of the gods and the times'.
No men, one who can stand up when all are bowed in worship and obeisance to say, 'No man! You can't say that,' or 'No man! You can't do that'.
The person to stay the folly, quell the anger, appeal to the better nature or arrest the stupidity that leaves men as sheep when they should be lions.
Just imagine if the courts of kings, leaders, the powerful, the rich, the elite, the privileged or those with responsibility or authority had viziers with gravitas or jesters with levity rather than Yes-men. Just imagine how much peace and harmony will reign.

Saturday 11 April 2015

Opinion: Wasting talent toward instant fame

Awesome humanity
This is probably a difficult subject, but one that needs addressing in many ways. We have to ask, what makes the world go round and gives us the comforts that we enjoy and others crave for?
Whilst every profession in its way brings value, there are professions that are more than essential and without creating or engendering rivalries, might be more important than others.
In areas of medicine and technology, if people did not make careers out of the looking to ease pain and discomfort out of curiosity and determination, what kind of a world will we have?
Other professions
In my case, I know that the absence of health can literally mean the absence of ability, will, strength or purpose to do anything else. Last weekend, I hopped on a plane to Bucharest, just because I thought I could go there.
However, I would not be here if not for the doctors, the nurses, the medicine and more invisible but critical support systems had not come to play over centuries of repetition, standardisation and perfecting to find a way to put cancer into remission and keep my health at one of the best levels I have ever had.
My journey to Bucharest also would have been impossible without the fundamentals of physics, the applications of chemistry, many mathematical equations, visionary and sometimes daredevilry thinking that has made cars, trains, airports, aeroplanes and all the backend systems down to the person who has to do the graft work of lifting and throwing my luggage about as it follows me on my journey.
Nurturing talent
This brings me to an aspect of discipline that will apply to literally any vocation, in an opinion piece for the Evening Standard under the title of “Talent is worth little without the hard graft that must go with it.” Sarah Crompton writes about the absence of star English dancers in ballet or contemporary dance.
She mentions three of the leading choreographers who have expressed concerns about the standard of contemporary dance training, Akram Khan for instance says, “I am concerned that somewhere, somehow, the training young dancers go through in the UK is not supporting them in the rigour, technique and discipline that I am looking for in a dancer.”
Lloyd Newson, says, the students trained here “lack rigour, technique and performance skills,” then, Hofesh Shechter suggests, British dancers are “consistently outclassed by fitter, stronger and more versatile dancers trainer internationally.” Let’s not go into the fact that these three leading Britsh exponents are Bangladeshi, Australian and Israeli, respectively.
Then Tamara Rojo, who is the Artistic Director of the English National Ballet, gets to the heart of the matter, “Do we want to promote instant success and instant failure, or do we want to promote self-esteem and hard work?” Now, did I say, she is Spanish?
Really nurturing talent for life
This is not to say there is no raw talent in Great Britain, we have much undiscovered and unrefined genius lurking in the inner recesses of the many youths who have not had the teaching, lecturing, mentoring, coaching or just help to realise their potential.
In other cases, and this is where it gets rather unfortunate, the syllabus structure in many disciplines beyond dance, in schools and universities are not equipping our youth for the varied careers needed to have a thriving country that is building for the future.
Much as we hear that the UK has the fastest growing economy in the developed world, the fact is this is not trickling down or lifting people up, it is the rich getting richer and the poor sinking further into poverty. The political battles of our election already show that the visionary has deserted our leadership; we are aiming for nothing, just fame.
That seems to be the career goal of most of our youth, instant fame, lots of money and a jet-setter’s life, without the really backbreaking hard work, but what is instant is just what it is. There is no depth, no rigour, no discipline, no attention to the fundamentals stemming from the patient and painstaking attention to detail and we wonder why people crack. Just imagine lifting a weight you have never practised for and the back gives.
Project Manager fame
I see this in my field of endeavour, Information Technology, everyone wants to be a Project Manager and they have all acquired the certificates like garlands to litter their CVs with the jargon and superfluity of words as pertains what they seem to have done.
The British in its Empire days had one amazing exportable skill, it was one of managing people, organisation and application, recognising ability and gathering men to perform. This is what put the Great in Great Britain, between negotiation and plunder, we created an Empire on which the sun never set. That is now history.
Sadly, what we now find in many Project Managers who usually get paid a lot more than everyone else are people without the rigour, the technique, the discipline, the depth or basic understanding of the management of projects, the management of people, the fundamentals of the project, the appreciation of the talent pool necessary to achieve project goals and how to nurture that skills pool to achieve results.
Then you wonder why projects fail, because in most cases, Project Managers are an abstraction from the core reality, task masters who have rarely done the task, let alone understood the task and they only have to converse with you to lay out their ignorance like a billboard.
The need for more dirty hands
I have only found a few Project Managers in my 25-year IT career who have taken the time to get involved enough to understand what we want to achieve so that they can take some realism away into crafting their project plans.
I have in certain instances had to take projects I am on by the scruff of the neck and assume the role because my reputation is at stake. Yet, this is the instant success or instant failure Tamara Rojo talks off, the absence of the essential grounding and pain of long-term practice and application that becomes evident when we are really tested by the reality of getting things done.
Objective tests will no more cut it, we need comprehension tests, application tests, less simulation and more practical hands-on, hands-dirty work with the sweat and hard graft that brands perfecting whatever we do into making us completely dissatisfied if things are not just the way they should be.
I salute everyone who does that extra bit beyond the necessary to ensure what they do, even above the call of duty and responsibility makes our world a better place. Thank you.

Thursday 9 April 2015

Hello Dr Dick, my friends need a ...

Repairs done here
A rather funny conversation ensued in my taxi cab ride to work yesterday on an interesting, but also sensitive subject.
I had just read about André van der Merwe, a South-African urologist who had headed a team of surgeons in performing the first successful penis transplant in the world in December 2014.
Whilst attempts have been made before to transplant the penis, in this case, the recipient of this wonderful gift of surgery and apparent return to manhood now can urinate, can have an erection, can experience an orgasm and can even ejaculate. I guess it is time to make babies. [BBC News]
One point to note is that South Africans have pioneered various firsts in surgery that have become commonplace as in the case of Christiaan Barnard who performed the world’s first heart transplant in 1967 and Patrick Soon-Shiong who performed the world's first full pancreas transplant in 1987.
Fixing the system
Now, Dr van der Merwe or for simplicity sake ‘Dr. Dick’ was addressing an absolute necessity in South Africa where the Xhosa boys were involved in a rite of passage, Ulwaluko which involves genital circumcision and the initiation into manhood. These circumcision rites have claimed 853 lives in the last 20 years, however, for those who survive the ordeal, they may have had a botched circumcision.
These circumcision activities done in non-sterile bush environments following traditions that one might be persuaded to suggest be abandoned are in terms, dangerous, when not performed by qualified medical personnel.
This is where Dr Dick is now in high demand for his expertise in repairing the damage caused by these crude circumcision abattoirs and I could imagine that eventually when more people are trained up to perform this procedure, other men who are not particularly gifted in the endowment area might seek generous augmentation.
Change has come
By terms, this is a difficult procedure and probably hard to master, but when this becomes commonplace, you wonder how freely men would avail themselves of this opportunity and gift when presented with the choices of length, girth, curvature, and dare I say, colour matching.
At the same time, I guess this gives the concept of organ donor a completely new meaning. The race to endow and perform has begun with new aspects of penis envy becoming the staple of tabloid fodder. The kiss-and-tell of ex-partners spilling the beans of how from the acorns they once knew oaks have suddenly sprung.
Just as Viagra has banished non-performance to the posthumous state, Dr Dick has brought to life the fact that just because you were cut badly or were born with something less wieldy, you have to live with it.
In terms of commendations, Dr Dick can have any Nobel Prize of his choosing, for Medicine and Physiology for obvious reasons, for Chemistry in that it might make a great difference, for Physics just because the earth moved, for Literature if anyone writes about their exploits and for Economics if the recipient considers becoming an International gigolo.
Pick your dick and watch it click.

Wednesday 8 April 2015

Thought Picnic: Where everybody knows your life

All the same
The uplifting song theme of Cheers has always had some words that speak louder than the simple pleasure of the tune. The refrain contains these sometimes reassuring words.
Where everybody knows your name,
and they're always glad you came.
You wanna be where you can see,
our troubles are all the same
You wanna be where everybody knows
Your name.
[ Written by Gary Portnoy and Judy Hart Angelo – Cheers! ]
We have our own troubles
This became an interesting illustration when chatting to a mentor relation well over a decade ago. He lamented over the fact that his sons rarely called home. I told him, they do not call home because anytime they call, someone offloads the issues at home at them.
Whilst whoever is doing the offloading finds an understandable outlet, the boys over here as apparently single men then did not have the environment within which to properly shoulder or empathise with that situation.
This is reality
Let me explain – once I called home and I had hardly said my greeting before my mother descended on me like a ton of bricks about care, responsibility, concern, consideration and every single issue of emotional blackmail you could have lobbed at you. I patiently listened and did not as much as answer back.
She handed the phone to my immediate sister and she began to ply into me; that upset me no end, I broke down. Then I put in a plea that went along these lines – You know what? When things happen, you have the opportunity and the proximity to gather round and discuss, appreciate, consider and do things together.
Like family or not
Yes, family, whether you like the setting or not, has a root of life function that we might feel attached to or estranged from. In either case, there are occasions that demand you come together to celebrate, to contemplate or to grieve, these are elemental realities of life.
The member of the family apart in distance or some other type of separation my not have the communal environment to engage. Without it, the presentation of loneliness and isolation is exaggerated and then that person begins to play that whole family in their minds. It is a very unhealthy situation to be in.
If this person has their own family, there is probably something that can shared in the emotional burden and with that comes some sympathy, or empathy, but better still come comfort. Where this is absent, you probably seek out relations or friends, strangers come last – you need someone to talk to and probably, that person should be a professional – that is therapy.
Other places for comfort
In other cases, in the absence of these needs that are essential to our expression as social animals, the person might go to a religious place or even bar and drown their concerns with alcohol.
I am a teetotaller, in the main, I do not particularly like bars. There are times I have called friends, at other times, I write about what is bothering me as a crude form of self-therapy, however, one of the things I do is just go to sleep. I will find something to playback in the background either classical music or the gospels and lie down.
My sleep is a leap over
No matter what has bothered me before I went to bed, I have been blessed with the grace of getting up and feeling better. My mind is fresher and I probably also have some inspiration for something. Inspiration is a wonderful thing too, and I have had some wonderful inspirational moments in the shower – high-powered showers, I mean.
However, back to the theme song at the beginning of this blog, sometimes, you want to be not just where everybody knows your name, but where they know your life and when you share your troubles, you all feel the same.
It is well.
Cheers ("Where Everybody Knows Your Name")
Making your way in the world today
Takes everything you've got;
Taking a break from all your worries
Sure would help a lot.
Wouldn't you like to get away?
All those night when you've got no lights,
The check is in the mail;
And your little angel
Hung the cat up by it's tail;
And your third fiance didn't show;
Sometimes you want to go
Where everybody knows your name,
And they're always glad you came;
You want to be where you can see,
Our troubles are all the same;
You want to be where everybody knows your name.
Roll out of bed, Mr. Coffee's dead;
The morning's looking bright;
And your shrink ran off to Europe,
And didn't even write;
And your husband wants to be a girl;
Be glad there's one place in the world
Where everybody knows your name,
And they're always glad you came;
You want to go where people know,
People are all the same;
You want to go where everybody knows your name.
Where everybody knows your name,
And they're always glad you came;
Where everybody knows your name,
And they're always glad you came...
[ Written by Gary Portnoy and Judy Hart Angelo ]
[Where Everybody Knows Your Name - Wikipedia]

Tuesday 7 April 2015

Bucharest: Other impressions

Fashioned for victims
For the wrap on my visit to Bucharest. A few of the things I observed or noticed that might not mean anything significant.
The first few shop windows I passed by on my walks did not have price tags on the wares displayed, it got me wondering if there was a haggling activity in these shops. Again, in such seemingly nice shops, the by word might be, you can't afford if you have to ask the price.
Then as I strolled down the avenue with non-operational fountains from the Palace of the Parliament on Bulevardul Unirii, to the right was a shop called Fashion Victim.
A strange name to call a high-fashion shop, until I noticed the price tags and realised, if you paid that much for this fashion, you probably will feel a victim as you stepped out of the shop. I later saw shops with reasonable price tags.
The novelty of plastic currency notes, with transparent windows shaped in the form of instruments of vocation or of professions of people depicted on the notes. No women, but musical instruments, paintbrushes, birds for ornithology and nature and books featured on the Romanian Leu or Lei in the plural (RON).
The cross they bore
Much as I never really expected an old communist state to have very religious people, the many churches on Calea Victoriei gave another impression besides the fact that I did see people going in as worshippers.
However, what struck me was the number of people who crossed themselves as they passed by the front of the church and were not going in. At least from my Anglican traditions, I thought you only crossed yourself in church and usually facing the altar.
Sitting alone
At Cismigiu Gardens, it was the park benches that caught my eye. Usually the bench could sit four, though on a fine day, people could easily take up the whole bench, however, single-seater park benches were a new one on me.
It was like introducing a sense of private space in a public recreation area, the deck chair mentality applied to the park bench. Whether this is the case in the many parks around Bucharest, I cannot say.
For an audience apart
Most of the historic buildings, monuments or parks have signs with English translations. In fact, I could not help but notice that a building was put on sale with just an English sign, as if it was intended for non-Romanian prospectors – one can only wonder.
However, these signs always attracted my curiosity and I took pictures of some of them that described the history, the architecture and some other fine detail. There are quite a few modern-day buildings on the sites of what used to be monasteries, I wonder why.
Architecture of compulsion
However, at Piața Unirii (Union Square), I thought they had gone too far, whilst now it is the centre of town with gardens and fountains that will work in the summertime, this place used to be the site of a hospital. Yet, sometimes, it is not clear what is in the mind of town planners, especially in the Nicolae Ceaușescu years. This was first conceived in 1986.
Suffice it to say, according to the Wikipedia piece about Anca Petrescu, the chief architect of the Palace of the Parliament - She was involved in many of the 1970s and 1980s so-called era of "systematization" redevelopment projects for Bucharest, which included the relocation of residents for the demolishing of old and poor neighbourhoods, and replacing them with modern buildings with all the necessities under one roof. [Museum of Conflict]
Now, did I not see an aspect of what we might call Totalitarian Architecture somewhere else? Yes, Welthauptstadt Germania. Anca Petrescu was the Albert Speer of Romania.
I guess that is it.

Sunday 5 April 2015

Bucharest: Bearing left

To the left for what’s left
On my last evening in Bucharest, I stepped out of the hotel and walked up the road to the left on Calea Victoriei.
Hardly 100 metres from the hotel was the Tourist Office, but it was closed. This in my view was information the hotel concierge could have given me to make my visit more eventful. I was quite irked to discover this.
After passing one of the many Orthodox Christian churches on this street I got to a square of significant historical importance.
There are many divides between Western European Christianity and Eastern European Christianity. Our churches are churches are built to different designs and our feasts are on different days. Their celebration of Easter is a week later than ours.
I will not go into church split along doctrinal, theological, linguistic, political, andgeographical lines that caused what is called the East-West Schism in the 11th Century. Romania in the summer time is three hours ahead too.
Respect and revolution
The Revolution Square named for the December 1989 revolution that toppled the Ceaușescu regime where thousands were slaughtered for rising against the dictatorship, the monument could well have been desecrated today.
I got chatting to another tourist from Denmark as I lamented the fact the skateboarders had taken over the place with no sense of history or occasion that warranted the memorial.
The revolution probably predates their births, it was then that one of their number came to compliment my dressing, and then asked to be photographed with me holding a skateboard. I obliged and returning to our conversation wondered if they could ever appreciate the need to view memorials with some respect.
Another mile down of walking and I past the old royal palace, now the National Museum of Art of Romania, a few more orthodox churches, and probably the finest piece of architecture in Budapest, I am told. The Romanian Athenaeum houses the "George Enescu" Philharmonic.

Bucharest: Bearing right

Decision Time
This Easter, my holiday would already have been planned for me if the young man who so pressed me towards the end of last year to be the uncle of the day at his nuptials had kept in contact after he got another job.
I would have jetted over the Atlantic to Toronto, Canada and that will have been some adventure.
Much as I am a creature of habit, some good, others unmentionable, I felt more like going somewhere new and the choices were Krakow in Poland, Bucharest in Romania or Sofia in Bulgaria.
The limitations of flight connections within my SkyTeam Alliance partners’ preference of KLM and Air France online meant Bucharest won out.
Flights and hotels were easy to book and I determined the hotel had an airport shuttle service which I availed myself of.
Bearing right out of the hotel
I did not get to do as much as I would have liked on a first visit, but my hotel could not have been more central than it was. Calea Victoriei is an artery for a tourist's walk rather than for vehicular traffic than you walked from monument to museum to church to whatever else that seemed to have a road branching off leading to it.
On my way to the Old Town, I walked past the bust of Kemal Ataturk, the founder of modern day Turkey, at a time in its history, Romania was part of the Ottoman Empire. In the Old Town, Old Court Museum with active excavation work ongoing was at one time the site of the court of Vlad the Impaler, his patronymic name was Dracula.
One legend I read, which I will not care to verify, because it makes such horrific reading was he arranged a banquet in his own honour and invited beggars, peasants and the destitute to it. Once they sat at the table, he had them surrounded and set fire to the building. This was his way of ridding his city of 'undesirables'.
In the evening, I went to Cismigiu Gardens, which had a lake, a grand house and for all the talk and the menace of stray dogs, now reduced to a tenth of the some 40,000 high had Bark Park, just like a children's play area, you could take your dog there to bark its vocal cords raw.
Grandiose beyond belief
Without much of a guide and the apparent unhelpfulness of the hotel concierge, I could not appreciate the sights as well as one should. The tour buses I was informed do not operate in the low season which extends to the end of April and I was not keen on a private taxicab tour.
Surveying the map at dinner I realised the Palace of the Parliament was a 15-minute walk away. It was one of Nicolae Ceaușescu’s grandest projects. It is second only to the Pentagon in size as the largest single building.
The chief architect, Anca Petrescu, was only 28 when she led the team of architects who designed this monstrosity that you can visit if you come along with you passport for a fee. However, this weekend there was a motorbike event in the grounds and I didn't really think it was worth the bother asking if I could go inside.
Another great Romanian lady
That will be the quest of another visit if and when I return to Bucharest. However, there was a lady, Ana Pauker, who was de-facto leader of Romania long before Ceaușescu, she was for while the Foreign Minister from 1947 to 1952 and she made the cover of the Times magazine as the most powerful woman in the world.
Sadly as the Politburo system of socialist and Communist governments work, keeping in favour is an inscrutable craft of power plays and Machiavellian politics, rivals got her labelled and discredited, having once survived breast cancer she was just allowed to become a translator at the end of her career. A relapse a few years on killed her.

Friday 3 April 2015

Bucharest: The other journey of a case

I remembered
Last night, I picked up a pencil and recalled from memory 11 items I had packaged into my baggage the night before for my Easter holiday.
Whilst the list was not exhaustive, I was surprised I could remember when I got each of the items, where I bought them and how much I paid for them.
Worse still, it was the feeling that I really could not put a price on losing any of the items even if I was compensated with the full cost of replacing all of them as new. There is a whole experience that goes with getting things, the time, the place, the emotion, the joy or otherwise that cannot be relived along with the wear or tear that comes with that thing being in your possession.
This is what is called sentimental value, and I do not think anything can replace that, however, something might help accept the loss.
A man and his case
That however was part of the run of emotions that engulfed me with a prospect that I might never be reunited with my luggage again.
We left home together yesterday, as I made a note of the numbers on the rotary number locks of my case and had it checked it at the airport weighing just less than 12 kilograms.
The check-in clerk tagged the case and attached a “Priority” label whilst informing me that my case would be transferred onto the connecting flight in Paris where I had a stopover for the onward leg to Bucharest.
We left Manchester, 30 minutes behind schedule and when I arrived in Paris, the transit desk said my connecting flight was also delayed and that my baggage will definitely make the connection too.
Waiting in vain
At Bucharest, I stood at the carousel for almost an hour until the last piece of luggage was taken, mine did not show and so I went looking for the Air France – KLM baggage handling company. It was there I learnt my baggage did not make my flight and that it will be put on the next plane to Bucharest. Another assurance came; it will be delivered to my hotel at night.
Eventually, I found out when I took my phone off flight-mode that I had received an SMS Text Message that my baggage did not make the flight. Though I do wonder what the “Priority” tag really means. Giving you a sense of importance at the check-in desk whilst your baggage might suffer God knows what in transit.
Lodging a complaint
I filled in a “Property Irregularity Report” (PIR), there was nothing irregular about my case, it contained my personal effects and things you were not allowed to carry as hand luggage.
The PIR has a reference, your name, details of your itinerary, a coded description of the piece of luggage and the tag number. My baggage did not arrive and the handling company appeared not to care that much about it as the lady said, my case will probably arrive in the morning. I had to calm myself down.
Since I booked my ticket through KLM on their website and then changed it with the help of a KLM Customer Service Agent, I visited their website to make a complaint where I could not find a number to call. I posted a lengthy comment on their Facebook page and also tweeted at them on the advice of my best friend.
The helpful and the unhelpful
The Facebook response was more helpful whilst the Twitter account appeared to engage me before they decided it was none of their business, because the PIR was created in the name of Air France. Now, Air France and KLM have the same parent company, they are a merger that is more than a code-sharing arrangement apart from the fact that they are core members of the SkyTeam Alliance.
It saddens me that corporates are quick to cash in on your custom but are quicker to shirk responsibility when some customer service is required of them.
However, the KLM Facebook page provided a link that allowed me keep a trace on my baggage, it showed the originally intended flight and then the rescheduled flight and the route it was taking. I was able to use that information to determine the flight had arrived in Bucharest.
On its way
About 90 minutes after the flight arrived in Bucharest, we were already in next day territory, I received an SMS Text Message and email from Air France that my baggage will be delivered to the address of the hotel I was staying at. When I filed the PIR, I also provided my home address and there was a danger if the baggage was not found in 2 days, it will return to the UK.
This morning, I went down to the hotel reception and my baggage had arrived, the rotary number lock combination had changed from what I set it to when it was checked in.
I do marvel at the wonders of technology today, the way we were able to keep tabs on my luggage whilst it appeared to be lost in transit and the way the system eventually worked to get us reunited.
Some advice
Yet, there are lessons to learn from this interesting ordeal.
·         Never place items of high sentimental value in your cargo hold luggage if you can avoid it. What you do not have to travel with, you really do not have to travel it. If in doubt, leave it out.
·         Always take out travel insurance that covers your luggage because airlines have very limited liability, even though your baggage was entrusted to their professional care. There are many hand-offs in the chain, anything could happen. Airlines will probably advise you to contact your insurance company than have you commence a compensation claim against them.
·         Never put your essential medication in your cargo hold luggage, get a doctor’s note if you have to along with your prescription and have that in your hand baggage.
·         With the restriction of fluids on flights, you might want to get travel packs for toothpaste, morning goods and cosmetics to take through security.
·         Most importantly, knowing what to do when you lose your baggage is the greatest path to peace of mind, what you know, gives less of a bother.
Now, let’s discover Bucharest.

Thursday 2 April 2015

Bucharest: Now where's my luggage?

Exploiting a chance meeting
Svelte she was with a gait that looked like she could give Naomi Campbell a few tips on how to traipse the catwalk, as she went before me. Two Louis Vuitton bags and a few other luxury label bags, you knew she was a lady of the world very few would ever see.
We were alone in our section of the flight, with nothing to read but the airline magazines filled with materialistic displays enough to depress you if you dared assume the lives portrayed were any more perfect than yours.
I had overheard she was Romanian, and though I was sitting behind her, I felt the best thing to do was to chat to her and get a few inside tips on what a first time visitor to Bucharest should do; as in places to see, the restaurants serving Romanian fare, and much else.
Making do with making conversation
I could say, if she walked into a Romanian tourist office needing a job, on the conversation we had, she was a shoo-in, a worthy ambassador of her country, I aver. She scribbled 4 pages of notes into my book, with what I should do on a first visit and then on consequent visits if I do return.
Meanwhile, I shared my knowledge of the five most important words you should know of any language, in Romanian – Yes, No, Hello, Goodbye and Thank you, she was impressed and then some old-school financial investing ideas with her as I learnt that she was a car industry executive who also has her own business and jaunts between Paris, Bucharest and Dubai where she has a pad each.
It was quite unusual for our flight that for the length of time of travel, there was no in-flight entertainment and somehow the cabin crew forgot to order the dailies beyond the first brush of them not willing to take my coat and cane to stow away.
Something to complain about
At the time we were served our meals, an entrée of salmon with al dente crudités, hake with carrots and potatoes and a strawberry tart dessert, we were informed that we were literally guinea-pigs for this new menu. Thankfully, they did not ask for my opinion afterwards, but when it comes to hospitality, whilst Air France and KLM have the same parent company, the crew on KLM titled flights are a class apart from their counterparts.
It was a hop from Manchester via Paris to Bucharest, the connection was shortened because we left Manchester 30 minutes behind schedule, the flight from Paris was also delayed, so I did not have to sweat my connection, but when I eventually made it to baggage reclaim at Henri Coanda International Airport and the last piece of baggage had left the carousel, I learnt, my luggage had been left behind in Paris.
There is some hope that it will arrive tonight, else … let’s not blow a fuse yet. I am in Bucharest and I intend to enjoy myself, it might include a visit to the male version of Victoria’s Secret to get a change of underwear.

Wednesday 1 April 2015

#NigeriaDecides II: Goodluck Jonathan is a good man

He showed promise
Goodluck Jonathan is a good man, I have heard many people say. I have no doubts about either the goodness or niceness of the out-going President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. He has had a 5-year stint at the job and that was good for him.
However, a good man is someone you ask to watch over your bag if you wanted to go to the toilet, hardly someone you ask to run a country.
When he took office in March 2010 as Acting President and then substantive President at the demise of his predecessor, he appeared to have promise. At least, I thought he did when he acted decisively to rejig the cabinet and when that cabinet did not seem to be working to his agenda, he sacked the whole lot and brought in new faces, all within a month. He had good luck and goodwill.
A meteoritic rise
You could say, he was both in power and in office that by the national elections in 2011, even though we were not too enamoured by his political party, we were willing to give him a strong mandate. He became president in his own right for the very first time standing as the main candidate.
A man, more or less plucked out of obscurity to be a running mate in one of the Niger Delta states of Nigeria, where his boss looted the state treasury as if it was his piggy bank, he rose to governor on the impeachment of his boss, and then was plucked from that role to be the presidential running-mate of the ailing, but nice, Umaru Yar’Adua. [AkinBlog]
He had the good luck of succeeding his bosses and urban legend suggests he has had this run of eponymous good luck from as far back as history can glean of his humble beginnings.
He failed himself
Yet, it got to a point where the most academically qualified leader of Nigeria in history with the amazing profile of having been in a number of executive governance roles, just remained a generally good man, but never good enough for the job that he finally got.
He surrounded himself with conflicted and compromised counsellors and preachers whose Christian principles were too questionable for any in-depth analysis to be important, the choose bad advisers who too easily got power drunk, his media team was a constant disaster of atrocious invective and most of his ministers literally had no scruples.
It would seem, Goodluck Jonathan had no good luck in choosing really good people, he seemed to constantly find recycled political deadbeats, institutional fossils, rent-seeking dinosaurs and worse. This led to claims that he was clueless, ineffectual, poorly briefed and quite badly informed too. In that, he woefully failed himself.
Not good for your girls
Having reached the pinnacle of academic achievement, he did not seem to open himself to new learning and so where he could have grown into his role as President of Nigeria, he shrunk into it, developed a cocoon of siege mentality within Aso Rock and was left exploited by chancers and sycophants who painted the wrong picture of his domain to him.
At least that became evident when the Chibok girls were abducted by the menacing Boko Haram insurgency that was left to fester that it became a formidable force able to sack barracks and towns in North-Eastern Nigeria. He eventually admitted that they never initially took Boko Haram seriously.
Indeed, Goodluck Jonathan is a good man, but probably not one you could entrust the security of many ordinary Nigerians to, for about 20,000 lives have been lost to the insurgency, girls and women abducted and millions internally displaced. Life is hellish for those within the sphere of Boko Haram’s influence, even with the imposition of the State of Emergency in the three states affected most.
Unguarded to a fault
Goodluck Jonathan was mostly reactive rather than proactive, and that usually after being embarrassed to act accordingly. Notable statements like ‘I don’t give a damn’ and ‘What they call corruption is just stealing’ appeared to be cues for his people to act with impunity and in fear of no consequence.
The divisive rhetoric from his representatives and people close to him with their personal agendas and hope for reward from the Nigerian commonwealth precipitated the development of an effective opposition to match the ruling party of 16 years at a national level.
A personal good luck charm
In the end, Goodluck Jonathan could not succeed himself, there was no further role he could rise to from being president and I guess that was the end to the power of the talisman that brought a good man from humble origins in the creeks of the Niger Delta where he once had no shoes to the highest office in the land.
To himself, he did well, for Nigeria, it was not particularly good luck, he was limited by his own capacity to grow, his sloganeering had become vacuous and the ruling party had become a haven of entrenched attitudes, all inimical to the progress of Nigeria.
The umbrella (the symbol of the ruling party) was no more wide enough to shelter those who needed help the most, the poor, the child, the masses and the powerless could not look to the government for anything than to be exploited for political gain.
Thank you for coming
Aso Rock had become a cosy place of irresponsibility and obliviousness, a comfortable place to enjoy the comforts of office and nothing else.
The time for change had come and as we send the good man and his wife home with our very best wishes, like any good man, once he knew he was defeated, he called his worthy opponent and conceded.
Goodluck Jonathan is a good man, whether he was a good enough to be the President of Nigeria is one we should leave history to judge.