Friday, 22 October 2021

In the quest for meaningful expression

Know what I mean

Clarity, that is something that I find matters more than ever in communication, persuasion, and in winning the argument. Whilst one does not always win the argument or even engage with the point of winning, it is important that whatever views are shared are clearly understood, eliciting questions where necessary and documented for the record.

Even though I have never been a humanities major, I have more of an engineering bent, the activities and projects I embark on can be quite consequential, the fear of change is ever-present and anyone could quickly challenge either what they do not agree with and usually what they do not understand.

Use the treasures of language

I find that there is a richness in expression that I can bring to bear to convey complex issues in simple terms with analogies and allegories, almost like parables. Taking people along with concepts they understand and applying in situations they can begin to grasp.

There will always be a form of words that encompasses what I need to say, that I have to reiterate until it is impactful is part of the scheme. I do not play with communication and the way I choose to use it, if I have to be overly formal or introduce a putdown, the intention is to express displeasure or disdain without the need for an expletive.

Sometimes, you have to read it more than once and whatever wells up in you to respond would have dissipated when it sinks in. It is all in there, it just needs to be eked out.

Tuesday, 19 October 2021

We suffer as grass in fighting cancer

In the scheme of things, cancer

An African proverb says, “When elephants fight, it is the grass that suffers.” The meaning from The Oxford Dictionary of Proverbs suggests, ‘The weak get hurt in conflicts between the powerful.’ [TODOP]

This was the thought that came up in discussion with my boyfriend on the shocking and sudden death of his uncle from cancer. I reflected once again on how battling cancer rarely involves the person as there is hardly any natural means of defeating it.

Rather, we are the battleground on which the cancer is tackled by chemotherapy, radiotherapy, therapeutics, and/or surgery. For we are the hosts for the onslaught that is raised against cancer, with the caveat that we might or not have the physiological capacity to tolerate the treatment.

Tolerance in intolerance

When I had 7 sessions of chemotherapy, each session progressively attacked cancer and left me weaker with a totally compromised immune system that was already immunodeficient because of HIV and full-blown AIDS that my consultant was beginning to worry about doing something for the cytotoxicity of the treatment.

Meanwhile, one the day of my 7th session, early that morning I had attended the funeral service of a friend who passed on after 2 sessions of chemotherapy. It had exhausted him totally that friends who attended his PhD viva voce just 13 days before he passed on said, they can hear the strength drain out of him in his voice, he was barely there.

Our mortal frame

I do not subscribe to the idea of battling cancer as something you can overcome by the force of the will or any kind of determination, you can only aim to trust in the medical expertise brought to bear and hope that you can tolerate whatever is thrown at your body and that there is just sufficient in your system to carry you through to the other end where you have just been fortunate to have survived.

For He knows our frame;
He remembers that we are dust.
As for man, his days are like grass;
As a flower of the field, so he flourishes.
For the wind passes over it, and it is gone,
And its place remembers it no more.
[Bible Gateway Psalm 103:14-16 (NKJV)]

Monday, 18 October 2021

Feyike: 5 years on and the memories

My kidulthood was over

You were the reason mummy called me into her bedroom one late evening to have our first adult conversation, she was probably in her second trimester with you when I, totally oblivious and that is strange having been schooled in noticing when girls get pregnant with the whitening of their eyes and their constant spitting, along with the morning sickness. Maybe it was the familiarity, for apart from my immediate sister, I had never really noticed when my mother was expecting, the babies just arrived after a few days away.

Anyway, the conversation went along the lines of, I am an older woman now, as she was just shy of 40 and I 17, exactly a month after her landmark year, well, our birthdays have always been a month apart in and out of leap years. Yes, an older woman having a baby, and this was unexpected, but we now have to pull together and recognise that some responsibilities would fall on us over time.

My deception was complete

Much as she felt that this information should be shared with me, I was not having the best adolescence, my first year at Lagos State College of Science and Technology was going to be an unmitigated disaster doing Chemical Engineering, my performance was woeful, it was not even good enough to be asked to repeat the class.

Meanwhile, I had pulled a switch to Yaba College of Technology (YabaTech for short) for Electrical Engineering where the faculty had to be given proof that I was still 16 when we had the admissions interview, the underlying issue that many would call unseriousness and was patently clinical depression, carried along into that stint, I just rarely understood why I was in a class, the new beginnings for mother and child too divergent for concern or consideration.

My situation was dire

What would a nursing mother do with a child who is supposed to be smart but cannot understand anything going on in his lectures? I had never used drugs, that was not the problem, I just had a fog in my head that I could not clear, that religion became the steadying rail for my mental health until things began to clear up was the background in which Feyike arrived.

That week in which Feyike was born was when I moved into the YabaTech hostels, I was a parents’ nightmare, for when my mother was in hospital I had stolen money out of the kitty in her wardrobe and then had to face an inquiry against the conviction that she put aside some money and it had somehow disappeared, indeed, I was a nightmare, everything I could do wrong, I did.

My behaviour was atrocious

For the hostel, I snagged that by writing to the accommodations department that I could not stay with my uncle, even my parents found a copy of that letter when I did not arrive home on time having been on the new students’ jaunt to Badagry and Cotonou. I guess I was excused serious punishment that my father was always ready to mete out when I explained the situation.

I did not attend Feyike’s naming ceremony and for that, I faced the full wrath of my father, this weedy kid against the brute force of an angry and menacing bully, I asked for it and I got a lot, I never escaped being a child. Some encounters with my father in those times have so defined the quality of our relationship since then.

My religion was unhelpful

As I was rarely home, I did not know much about the illness that put my baby sister in hospital many times, and sometimes for weeks. I returned home once to lift her and there must have a dislocation in her arm, we soothed her with lullabies and lulled her to sleep. Many times, I prayed fervent prayers for her healing, hoping for a miracle and much else, but there was a radical change in our family unit.

Medicine only seemed to provide temporary outcomes, my mother’s inclination was she was in deep spiritual warfare for the soul of her first son and the life of her last daughter, she found a prophet that had some answers to whatever ailed all of us and got stuck in. My father with all pretensions of rationality hated religion even if he did the basic church attendance and community group activities, he could be persuaded to do the full fetish rituals, which had the accoutrements of the macabre. I saw a lot and said very little.

My knowledge was deficient

Invariably, I never knew how ill our Feyike became over the years for most of the time I visited home, she was in remission from another hospital visit or bout of illness, everything I know I have learnt mostly after the fact.

When I was told that she had fallen very ill some years before her passing, I made enquiries through some doctor friends of mine on Twitter, they found the medical notes and history that for her apparently chronic illness she had not been adherent to her medical regimes.

Probably, a trait in our family, we hate medical regimes, it took a medical emergency for me to face up to the reality of my own situation, and now, I have been on at least 3 pills a day for over 12 years. It is just part of my life.

My mourning was early

She had end-stage renal disease requiring dialysis thrice-weekly dialysis and consequently needed a kidney transplant for hers had stopped functioning. I saw a medical abyss ahead, and began to mourn, long before we knew much more, the system in Nigeria, I did not think could sustain her dire medical needs and my sisters put everything they had into trying to keep her alive.

We were somewhat in a losing battle, and towards the end, Feyike herself was donating money raised for her own treatment to others. On the morning of the 18th of October 2016, my middle sister called, Feyike had left us.

My sister was my daughter

The way our story was intertwined seems to be much more around what I was going through than what her own experiences were because I had left home in the second year of her childhood and everything else I know of her is through conversation than observation. Yet, she to me felt more like a daughter than a sister, she would have been the sole beneficiary of my estate, it was her name on the life insurance policy I took out when I bought my apartment in the Netherlands in 2001.

Maybe, I was something like an absent father, one she knew was somewhere out there in the periphery, not intruding but interested, I cannot tell. I know I miss the snatches of conversation we used to have, the hopes and dreams that seeped into the ever-present sense of hopelessness that something might just change for the better.

She lived her life and when she died, it was a great release from lifelong suffering and disease, a baby, a girl, a lady, a woman, a person who touched our lives in immeasurable ways, some difficult to put in words, but time becomes a store of the fondest memories that can never be forgotten, recalled for sombre occasions like this.

 

Oluwafeyikewa, 4th November 1982 – 18th October 2016.

Sunday, 17 October 2021

My friend, the genius

Your boundaries are sacrosanct

I would hardly be the one to initiate an intervention because I respect boundaries to the extent that I might not have been as helpful a friend as I could be. Also, I am rarely confrontational, it is not my personality type, though, if I have to confront a situation, I will, usually as a last resort.

However, if I am specifically engaged on an issue, I will apply all my faculties as objectively as possible, but herein is my dilemma. I believe I am watching a friend go off the rails and I do not know how to address the matter. I provide nominal support, but this is hardly sufficient to the situation, and it thoroughly disturbs me.

Call me anytime

My inclination is always to have an open door against the buffeting a person may face from others, but what if I am the only one left as the voice of reason: the last bastion of hope. The thought I might lose my friend terrifies me.

Professional support offered does not seem to meet the underlying need that moralises addiction and its detriments when a person believes they gain benefits from substance abuse and usage, or so they aver.

What he could be

This is someone whose abilities, aptitude, and intellect, if harnessed can operate consistently at a genius level with prolific output, whereas now, we contend with torrents of sometimes incoherent but amazing ideas that might only be realised with some sobriety. I have a friend who is a lot more than he sees in himself and considerably a lot more than I know he is capable of.

Whether rehabilitation can begin to extricate him from this situation towards better outcomes and fulfilment, I cannot tell, but in my view, he is doing himself gradual and progressive harm without realising or acknowledging it, comfortable in the feeling that exacerbates his most creative self. It bothers me and I am somewhat crying for help and inspiration for what is possible and within the scope of arrest. My friend is a genius unrealised.

Saturday, 16 October 2021

Do not mistake me for a Nigerian

I am not your Nigerian

Sometimes, I am left frustrated by assumptions others have of me, the way elements of my expressed heritage seem to suggest I am wholly one thing to the exclusion of other aspects of my mixed identity.

In July last year, I ordered some food that was to be delivered at a certain time from a Nigerian food caterer, we conversed in Yoruba most of the time and it must have given her the impression that I had the stereotypical predilection for poor timekeeping. Nothing could be further from that presumption.

Timekeeping is a virtue

In one of our exchanges, I had to tell her, our familiar repartee should not be mistaken for me being a core Nigeria, I am nothing of the sort, I am an Englishman who just happens to be able to code-switch into Nigerian parlance with ease, but I am completely unreconstructed for the Nigerian way of doing things. On that issue of time alone, much as her food was exceedingly good, we would not be doing business ever again. Please, do not waste my time.

Then again, I find myself quite irked by another situation. This is a person not particularly enamoured of familial ties to be blackmailed into doing anything. I do what I need to do according to my own convenience and abilities dictated by my own worldview. Some might consider that harsh, but I am not here to please or pleasure anyone about the things I do, I just work to make the best of my expression of humanity.

Warming to growers

I have an acquaintance who I met when I was a superstar-technical-guru parachuted in to create a solution and move on. That stint for just over 4 weeks worked because the technical bud I was working with was knowledgeable enough to pick up what I was doing and run with it.

Obviously, it was nice to see a Nigerian trying to find his feet in the technical team, and so we kept in touch. This young man has now landed a role he is totally incapable of handling, he is out of his depth and apparently winging it with keeping things going but without the wherewithal to do anything new to implement or improve the service that is desperately in need of both the expertise and audacity to introduce change.

Disappointing engagements sour interest

Months ago, I was invited to have a look at the environment and in the process, it became and has become more evident that not only does he not know what to do, he cannot even follow detailed instructions to achieve what he needs done.

How am I supposed to be able to help this situation without going back to the fundamentals even as the prospect shows no agility, ability, aptitude, or capability of the growth necessary to give him control of his brief?

I do not work weekends, not if I can help it, in all my contracting life of over 25 years, I doubt I have done 20 weekend days of any work, and this is considering the rates are double or triple my usual rates. You need to set aside your weekend from work except where no other time can be found to do what needs doing. I have a life. Please, you have no hold on my time.

It’s my time, not yours, man

Altogether, I have probably spent 14 hours of my weekends doing stuff with this chap, the last time, I planned on just 90 minutes but on recognising what we had to do, we were still at it 6 hours on, until he had to break off to attend to some volunteer activity, priorities, I thought.

Since then, he has sought my time first to continue from where we left off and then suggesting he has progressed, which is fine, but I have had other plans and it has not been convenient for me to engage. I guess what is more annoying is the premise that he can choose the time I am to be available to help him, it is a kind of unwitting sense of unconscious entitlement that demands without consideration for the other. Please, do not abuse my time.

Things that move me

Now, I like to help, but I want to recognise that I am helpful in that the person being helped is growing and developing in the area where the help is being sought. I appreciate I have a wealth of knowledge that I also like to share with people that show the aptitude to learn, I guess that is the first part of my discomfiture.

Then, if you are asking for help, you have to tailor your request around how convenient it is for the ones you need help from, do not assume you have a call on their time as if they are waiting on your beck and call. We all have things to do and have to eke out our time for these things, even if I decide to spend the whole weekend sleeping, that is my prerogative fully dictated by me.

It is still my time

In this case, he does not ask when I can do stuff, he immediately thinks my Sunday is available, I have just decided to ignore him, and I am close to getting pissed off enough send him to Block-land. How do you teach that my apparent affinity to things Nigerian does not mean I acquiesce to the varied forms of passive-aggressive entitlement that allows the sense of kindred to expect anyone to just give in. Please, you cannot usurp my time.

I am hamstrung by my Englishness, for even finding a polite way to suggest I am unimpressed almost seems rude whichever way I might want to deliver it. He is best sent to Coventry, maybe some moderating effect can play out in the end.

Friday, 15 October 2021

Looking up and out

Beyond the clouds

I could write a long rant about so many things but that is just energy-sapping and depressing, I need to focus on other more wholesome things that dwell on the future and great expectations.

Indeed, this pandemic has messed up so many things, but you begin to work towards how things are easing up. For instance, South Africa was removed from the red list on Monday morning meaning we, the fully vaccinated do not have to undergo mandatory hotel quarantine on returning to the UK.

Towards these things

Obviously, this means we can begin to plan for another rendezvous in Cape Town, though not until I have fulfilled a few things. My biannual check-up is at the end of the month and the 6-month duration after which I qualify for the booster shot of the COVID-19 vaccine is in the first week of the next.

Altogether, I guess we are looking at a December meeting and that means a lot to Brian and I. We can eventually get married and catch up with all that time of being apart since the middle of January. My mind is out there, my heart is there too and my life, I hope to set up out there.

A future beckons

It informs any prospect for my expertise that I am looking for a fully remote working opportunity that would allow me to work out of Cape Town. If I have learnt anything from my father, it is not to embark on sudden changes but to manage transition gradually as one deemphasises UK residence to creating a hybrid existence between the UK and South Africa.

There is a lot to plan for, but we have to take it a step at a time. Yesterday was the twelfth anniversary of Chris’ passing, I am so glad that Brian has taken me beyond the grief and sorrow of a love lost to the expectation and future love anew and a love like I have never experienced before. Miracles happen, though rarely in ways we expect.

Wednesday, 13 October 2021

Thought Picnic: And so to rise

Dump the funk

There have been days where I have been unsure of what portends, I feel a bit listless and uncertain, thinking about what I am trying to do but not getting done if I had any idea of what or how.

It is like one is caught up in a funk and by that, there is a disinterest apart from allowing for routine to just tick along and hoping there will be a breakout to something useful. In our video conferences, Brian would nearly always notice something and then begin to incessantly probe, even though I cannot put words to the situation that it seems to exacerbate my discomfiture. It is like a low energy situation that cannot be salvaged with a tonic.

Eventually, I do find my way of the clouds because I am such a person who begins to realise, I am not in the most comfortable place to thrive. I find things to be thankful for, what I should be planning for, stories to be grateful for, the light that sweeps the darkness away, I rise, rise above it to do the things I enjoy. I do get on and get on well. It is well.

Sunday, 10 October 2021

Let's treat the cancer and laugh

Notes to the times

I recall that when I was in the hospital, I was writing blogs about my situation, it gave the impression to some readers, especially my brother that I was not that so near death if I was lucid enough to be tapping away on a keyboard. He had no idea.

Even though I was in my sixth year of blogging, the records of those contemporaneous are the best journal of my life at that time and it becomes the kind of advice I would anyone who starts blogging. Always journal the before, the during, the after, the reflection, the analysis, the memories, the rehash, if you must and any other thing that celebrates your story.

Considering the pain, discomfort, and situation I was in, I find myself reading the blogs 12 years on and extracting some of the apparently humorous lines that made light of a grave situation. I say, no matter what you are going through, acquire a sense of humour if you do not have one and use it as much as you can, a little mirth can be extraordinarily good medicine, it saves your dignity and enhances your gracefulness too.

Excerpts to amuse

When I was in pain and it appeared, nothing was being done about it. “I was literally begging, give me morphine, I beg of you – I am in a hospital for crying out loud, I am not here to find out how much I can endure pain and seek my pain threshold as a thing of achievement – I am not that mad.” {In hospital to kill the pain]

Could there be a better way to talk of urination? “And so I have been manufacturing bottles of Premier Cru Urea 2009 by the gallon, the colour is golden, there doesn’t appear to be impurities, I would not hazard the ideas of bouquet, palate, odour and what not.” [Golden red and painless]

It was pain, pain and more pain. “No, I did not die and go to heaven; I lived through the pain to tell another story of an event in my hospital life.” [The looming abyss of a deep biopsy]

There can be no praise of hospital food, none at all. “Don't worry, I am sick-bag trained, no mess.” [Seeing hospital meals again]

If I had a book of Psalms to write, this might be one of them. “For weeks I had sacrificed my peace at the altar of pain, bringing offerings of agony and lamentations of the unbearable as I worshipped as a subject of things going wrong and circumstances becoming dire.” [Getting off the pain train]

When you move from manual to automatic, there probably is no instruction for that transition. “One observation, the hospital bed controls do not lend themselves to geriatric finesse, I have observed both fumble in frustration with the buttons, the more senior expelling expletives as if he was out at sea. Strewth!” [Crutches on the drip]

In utter exasperation, I wrote. “Can you believe it? I can hear him from here. Save our ears. Save our sanity or as restraint overcomes whoever decides the cat of throttling him – save that man from himself.” [A relocation from the cacophony]

Something called chemotherapy is neither a barber nor a dentist. “The chemotherapy is supposed to be very tolerable though, what I am told and what I read are in two different spheres. I am not to expect hair loss, as if I had much anyway and my nails will not be growing off my teeth.” [Scuttling cancer with chemo]

Content is everything, especially when vomiting, yet, sometimes, you just have to go through the motions. “So, four times overnight I regurgitated the exclusive hospital gourmet till my body was conditioned into realising you could only throw up content, the channelling remains in the body. It was horrible.” Then on the gentler matter of the thing that might have brought misery after much pleasure. “The pain that ran to my feet when I stepped off the bed for a shower was excruciating, I threw away all inhibitions and let the nurse bath me, she was gentle on my crown jewels.” [Nausea abates by suppository]

I probably lost some of my humour in the next few blogs, not that I had given up, I was in good spirits, the food and seeing it all again but not from the plate in which it was served was getting to me. One last stab at this cuisine. “I will NOT abide this food any longer, no not any longer.” [I'm alive after my autopsy]

One last act on the catwalk before I leave tomorrow. “I have also changed to using the designer hospital tunics which seem to have no front or back, I suppose you wear the buttons to the back for ladies and to the front for gentlemen.” [One more night]

Saturday, 9 October 2021

Essential Snobbery 101: A class of crass

Class is a state of mind

“You have no respect for 1st Class, that’s why you have your feet on the seats.” That was the part of the conversation that begun a bit earlier when 6 or 7 girls took up seats in the carriage completely unaware of other occupants.

The train conductor then asked if they had 1st Class tickets, which they didn’t and as he tried to move them on, they remonstrated that they did not know they were in first-class seats, which was a blatant lie because when they got on the train, that was the first conversation between them before they decided to stay rather than find other seats matching their tickets.

Class treats you as you are

One of the girls made an unnecessarily rude comment to which the train conductor retorted; she should get her eyes tested. Then came a torrent of abuse and invective along with the comment that he, the conductor was not respectful of customers and that if he was unhappy with his job, he should resign. All for asking them to move to the seats for which they had tickets.

The train conductor could have asked them to get off the train or called the British Transport Police on them for their abuse, but he let them move to the next carriage. Unfortunately, that was not the matter, for when he did go through the train checking tickets, the truculent and unruly girls continued their atrocious behaviour, which he ignored.

They all got off at the next station and rather than walk away, they came up the platform to swear at and make rude gestures at the train conductor, I felt quite sorry for him, yet it was all in a day’s work.

Class is being attentive

If you do not want to be talked down to by officials, read the signs and where you are unsure, ask questions. Behave yourself that you do not attract sanction or opprobrium and do not take the patience or docility of staff for stupidity, they have rights and powers that can frustrate your about to become inconsequential existence.

I could only wonder what the girls were at home, at that time of the day, they probably had no homes they belonged to with any structure, discipline, or social comportment and that is why they were flipping out even though they were totally in the wrong and could not accept they were wrong or being told that they were. If I view the future through my observation of those girls, I would have been filled with trepidation, there must be better ahead than that.

I make no apology

Angry about contractors?

Attending a broader departmental meeting yesterday morning, someone anonymously posted a message in the Q&A section of the presentation with the following premise. That the agency had hired contractors at highly inflated salaries who worked less and had no responsibilities thereby leaving the agency hamstrung on recruiting actual staff.

Many were in agreement with the comment, but it was one viewpoint that could not be left to slide. I have been contracting since 1995, in fact, I was persuaded to go contracting my then CIO who felt that there would never be full utilisation of my wealth of knowledge, and I would easily be frustrated in a permanent role.

For the season, for a reason

In all the years of my being a contractor, I have felt no less equal to the task along with feeling an integral member of the teams I worked in. To address the comment, I wrote, “Contractors are actual staff, albeit temporary, they have been engaged by the agency to help fulfil the goals being discussed the in the conference and that it was quite unhelpful to create an us-and-them situation where we should be banding together.” Soon, I had more agreeing with me than those who did with the original posting.

Contractors get a bad rap, usually through no fault of their own apart from the few rouge ones. We are paid competitively negotiated market rates which might seem high, but we fundamentally cost less in administration, overheads, and management, whilst bringing in skill, expertise, and other perspectives.

We do not have the employment benefits of permanent staff along with burdening the employers with fiduciary requirements by law and other statutes. The arrangements are neat, allowing for clean breaks by mutual and individual arrangement. The establishment so easily terminates the contract as they can renew or recall after a break of working there.

No apologies, none at all

As per my own experience, I am there to contribute and regardless of the tendency to differentiate staff status, many industries need all kinds of staff and everything is down to need, skill, experience, demand, negotiation, and the ability to get involved with the people you work with.

Now, if anyone thinks contractors are paid too much, in a free enterprise world they can also decide to become contractors rather than chafe at the choices of others on the one hand and the market requirements that create the need for such personnel on the other hand. What I will not brook is the denigration of contractors, nor would I apologise for being a contractor. So there!

From hopeless to hopeful

We have a bed for you

18 nights before, I arrived dying, in pain and hopelessly unaware of the seriousness of my condition. Tentatively, I had just one change of underwear but no inkling of what might ensue. From what my GP (General Practitioner) and the medical personnel saw, my condition was grave necessitating immediate admission to the hospital. It is from that assessment that Tuesday morning that the statement, “We have a bed for you upstairs,” met the urgency for action on my situation.

Much as I wanted the security and safety of the crenelations of my home, I was in no fit state to be at home except if I had a death wish. Over the period of time as I pined to return home, tests, biopsies, treatments, a course of chemotherapy, pills, suppositories, injections and unfortunately utterly tasteless food triggering emesis had done their bit, the last hurdle to clear was after-discharge care.

Before you go home

They needed a nurse to visit me at home daily to dress the fungating tumour lesions and assess my welfare. Until that was settled, I was going nowhere. Marcella had offered to have me stay with her, she already had her own ordeal with cancer and wonderful as that offer was, I just wanted to go back home to my own bed.

On Friday the 9th of October 2009, I was discharged from the hospital, I bid my ward colleagues and the nurses goodbye and called a taxicab to take me home. To the quiet, the serenity, the comfort and the security of my own place where I could either rest, ponder, or be tormented by what future lay ahead of me. It was the beginning of my new life.

Getting to tell better stories

These blogs twelve years on from when I had to go hospital for the treatment of HIV presenting as full-blown AIDS with the opportunistic infection and cancer of Kaposi’s sarcoma are as I recall what has become part of the story of my life before I have gone to review the blogs I wrote on those particular days. My hope is that whatever we might be going through, we eventually get to tell better stories.

Blog - Home - At last

Blogs - The Cancer Tales (2009)

The twelve-year recollections

Blog - Chemotherapy was taking death to gain life – 5th October

Blog - How I battled HIV stigma – 1st October

Blog - We can treat this – 1st October

Blog - 12 Years on ARVs – 30th September

Blog - One Tuesday morning in September – 22nd September

Thursday, 7 October 2021

Essential Snobbery 101: Lazy profiles and social mis-engagement

A profile absent of you

A message arrives on my phone from an unidentified number without an introduction but a greeting with familiarity suggesting we met somewhere some time ago and the expectation that I will immediately respond as if by some divination or telepathy I have fully acknowledged who that person is.

I will call it social mis-engagement, the mistake of seeing yourself through the profile or attributes of another and by that believing the other can see the same of you when you have provided no identifiable or distinguishable information to make you recognisable.

This presents in many places, in emails, text messages, profiles, and other forms of social and communication forums. This is the scenario; you have a profile, an apparently blank one, let’s say for purposes of discretion and nothing wrong with that. You view another profile that has all the fields diligently filled in, personally identifiable information, maybe pictures and descriptive text highlighting particularities and more. This is enough to pique your interest, and so you decide to engage.

Know yourself from others

Whatever might have inspired the engagement in the profile viewed is not present in your profile, but something suggests to you unawares that this person is as interested in you and you are in them, even as your profile remains completely nondescript. You fall into presumption thinking the person you engaged without you sharing anything of yourself is enthralled in you.

Through that engagement, you test patience, courtesy, respectfulness, and niceness totally unaware that you’re losing making good conversation, their interest and failing to sustain their engagement. Then the sheer effrontery of asking for more personal information without having volunteered anything of you is quite a lack of goodwill and done in bad faith, you must first attempt to balance out the deficit of information in your profile before asking for more.

Unwittingly, you are also being profiled, your parsimony with personal information belies an absence of generosity, awareness, or empathy when meeting strangers. A selfish streak of finding only satisfaction for self without some mutuality comes across as an involuntary character trait for which you might be judged and can well prejudice that engagement. It may not be seen as rude, but the absence of social graces is too obvious to ignore.

Be quick to volunteer

When anyone is engaged with an imbalance of essential profile elements, they should not have to wait to be asked to present those pieces of information and avoid frustrating the engagement. People maintain interest through stimuli, a blank profile be it contact information, on social media, or on LinkedIn is hardly such, it is a put off at best.

A one-sided kind of engagement breeds unnecessary resentment and reeks of self-importance, the apparent secretiveness if that is the reason is the harbinger of social mis-engagement that once the patience of the other who had put the work into their profile is exhausted, all means of continuing communication will be lost rather than being met with silence. You will be blocked and depending on the forum as unprofessional, unserious, or a timewaster.

Do the graft work

There are no hard and fast rules, but as a matter of courtesy, if you intend to engage others in a forum that provides to means to populate a profile, do the work. Do not invite people into a conversation when you sport a lazy and empty profile or readily provide the information without prompting to bring the other person up to speed about who you are and why you are interested in them. By the same token, you also give them the opportunity to have reference points that will grow their interest in you.

Then also, if the information is already in their profile, read it and understand it, only ask questions to confirm or clarify content, or to elicit more information about elements not already in their profile. Do not assume because you think no one will read your profile and that having informed your decision not to populate it means others have been thinking the same way as you.

Don’t be a parasite

Engagement should tend towards the symbiotic and mutually beneficial, it should not be parasitic and demanding, caring little for the other. The enthusiasm with which you engage others would be reciprocated with the willingness to volunteer as much about yourself or else it is just the unfair exploitation of others. Invariably, do unto others as you expect to be done unto.

If you will not do your profile stick with birds of the same feather without profiles, at least you have a level playing field and will know that your interest was out of mere curiosity rather than genuine interest in the person and what they are about. Selah!

How technology is changing retail shopping

Self-service bagging errors

The march of technology is quite inexorable, and it is quite noticeable in retail stores. You are somewhat caught unawares by the developments, for instance, self-service checkouts were introduced in The UK when I lived in the Netherlands.

I had bought some goods in the Sainsbury’s local store when I realised, I was in a self-service queue unschooled about where to place my basket or the scanned goods. “Unexpected item in Bagging Area.” The till screamed, until a member of staff came to help.

Now, supermarket self-service checkouts are commonplace that you only consider manned checkouts for volume purchases or where a branch has not installed the self-service systems.

Touch and be fleeced

I was also late to the contactless payment inception, as my bank card did not have the feature, I had to apply for a new card and with that a change to my debit card number which I had memorised and the addition of the contactless payment feature. Just the ease with which money can be extracted from your account without additional verification like a PIN.

Courtesy of SuitsMe (The anatomy of a debit card.)

At present we can pay up to £45 for purchases and this contactless feature can be activated in you mobile banking app if your mobile phone has Near-field Communication (NFC). This limit is to be raised to £100 and that must bring security implications as it presents a lucrative angle for criminality. The possibility that air raiders might have kit to swipe money off your card and out of your account by walking by.

Maybe, one has to consider electromagnetic interference shielded wallets to shield cards as added security as the limits get increased without the need for user verification.

Bin for totals

Then, a few weeks ago, I stepped into Uniqlo where I have never shopped to get some thermal underwear for my sister. I saw no checkout tills or counters until I was pointed in the direction of receptacle bins and advised to throw all the purchases into the bin. The total cost came up automatically that I was too taken aback to consider what technology was at play. I was both amused and impressed.

It was when I was at Decathlon in Leeds that I had more of a presence of mind, you had to fill the bin in one go, basically pour your shopping basket into the bin, and watch the screen total up the cost of your purchases. This was exploiting Radio-frequency identification (RFID) technology which is used to identify and track objects first against theft by shoplifters and now if you can identify the object, why not add the price too? Primark, get up and going, those queues are so last century.

Tuesday, 5 October 2021

He's got a museum piece to give

Horses for courses

Jonah Falcon does conjure up the image of the whale and Jonah in the bible, only that there is something of the whale about Jonah rather than the whale swallowing him. Apparently, Jonah Falcon came to international attention with the claim that he has a 13.5-inch (34 centimetre) penis when fully erect.

Not that this has been independently verified, but the claim to fame stands that he has offered to donate his organ to the Icelandic Phallological Museum upon his death, and therein might we possibly ascertain whether the claim fits then myth.

A gift adrift

Obviously, my interest is completely nonchalant for there is only an extent to which being well-endowed might be a treasure until it becomes a burden. In the case of Mr Falcon, I am fully persuaded that his appendage does belong in a museum as the narrative suggests when it comes into its own the blood needed to keep it useful causes light-headedness that might make the person useless in that department, except where a second heart with a separate blood system exists to augment supply.

The legend goes that he once was a person of additional security scrutiny because of the bulge in his pants. Not that it proves anything and this is not a descent into penis envy, because its utility is of paramount importance, else we are just left with a mere curiosity and nothing more.

We must agree, that this material extension regardless of when it is excised does belong in a museum, or can be endowed to probably a few males in the quest for the gift of length in an area where other remedies tend to the snake oil variety.

Blog - Hello Dr Dick, my friends need a ...

That’s begging to be human

In his own words, he says, “I don’t need a fancy car, I don’t need a gun… because I do not have to prove my masculinity to anyone else, I’ll wear all pink, dammit!” Au contraire, my friend, that is not proof of masculinity as we do not normally determine it by trouser snake yards, it is more equine or cetacean than hominid.

Finally, as if one cannot be twice afflicted by gift and name, no one has surmised whether as in falconry when the falcon lands on the gloved arm, the girth of you know what is anywhere close to where the excitement is the onset of a fainting spell. We are fascinated but not interested enough to want to see more than we have been told.

Courtesy, The Week 18/09/21 Issue 1349

Chemotherapy was taking death to gain life

There is a delay

Five days before, I was put on ARVs and today, the Monday, 12 years ago, I was preparing for my first session of chemotherapy which was to be administered in the morning. The hours of the morning past and no one had come to collect me, I was waiting for chemo.

It was three hours later that I was wheeled in my bed to the oncology ward, the drug was attached to the cannula and the war against cancer wherever it might be in my body had begun. One hour, it took for the bag of reddish fluid ensconced in aluminium foil to drain into my veins.

Death and life in Caelyx

In my condition, I did not have an immune system to fight infection, that had been crippled by HIV, then chemotherapy was literally going to trash it completely. Even if the option presented itself, I did not have the presence of mind to reserve my sperm as this episode was going to make me infertile. I guess when your life is under immediate threat, you can’t be thinking of procreation.

Then, I was told this particular drug, liposomal doxorubicin (Caelyx) does not have the side effect of the loss of hair, not that I had any to lose. The aftermath of the chemotherapy was I felt bloated, it was considerable discomfort and It did not feel like it was gaseous or maybe I was too constipated for it to pass through my system.

An untouchable, I became

I returned to the ward to find out that they have put up a cordoned, not hermetically sealed, but it was indicative of me presenting a chemical hazard to anyone who approached me. Cytotoxicity being the issue, the chemotherapy whilst it killed cancer cells, also killed living cells and so it was dangerous for anyone to come in contact with any of my bodily fluids for the next 5 days.

Blog - A life of cytostatic ostracism

Through the 7 sessions of chemotherapy that I had every third Monday with a blood test the Friday before to determine how I was tolerating the treatment, after that, it was the complete absence of strength in the second to the fourth day and the emesis that got the better of me. It got to a point, I just could not keep my food down. They had something for that too.

After cancer to the future

Now, these have become stories, memories to recall and a sense of gratitude for having come through such an ordeal. Then I say, the medical cure of cancer sending it into remission is probably just part of the story, going back to life after cancer presents what I called the long tail of cancer. I lost everything, everything except hope, that was the only building block I had left to start life over again.

Blogs - The Cancer Tales (2009)

Monday, 4 October 2021

Lids on leads to Leeds

Training the eye and more

From 10 floors up, I watch the platforms of the main train station, 6 of the platforms are visible from my vantage point of observation, the ones not obscured by the canopy roofs. The local, regional and intercity trains ferrying people to and from all cardinal points and in-between, far and near.

Arriva Trains Northern, TransPennine Express, Cross Country, and LNER Azuma trains, roll in and out of the station gathering or losing speed as they come or go. Their differing lengths like worms or snakes are streamlined as if they could go at double their maximum speed, but compared to European trains, we might complete a sprint in the time they have done a marathon and collected their medals. As for cost, we live in rip-off Britain. Cargo trains rarely stop, slithering through at a pace you might outrun before you have no more energy to keep up.

We move, we disapprove

I could say, Leeds leads to anywhere your heart desires, to coasts and cities, to work or to your, for a holiday if you have chosen Monday to start it or just for a day out if you have that pleasure. The people wait watching the clock and the indicators against the expected times of arrival and departure, some standing still others in a form of loitering to prevent the semblance of interminable time.

They disembark and embark, if I opened my window, I might hear the public address Tannoy announcing destinations or arrivals to certain platforms or platform changes along with the inane general information on safety and security ending with the almost inspired; “See it, Say it, Sorted.”

Some apparatchik might have considered themselves worthy of a Pulitzer Prize for coining that phrase, it might have come up in committee, but you can say, one is quite unimpressed. Yet, that message has stuck not out of interest, but of utter irritation at pablum.

It has got my goat

Obviously, if I or anyone else saw something amiss or wrong, we will report it, do we really need to be told like people lacking in insight or initiative. Rather just give us information of who to call to report to, than padding out the message with a surfeit of patronising speech. We would all have a tendency to switch off from the lack of originality and repetition of silly and unhelpful messages.

Whatever focus group that was tried on must have been overly excited to be asked that their objectivity and focus was subsumed.

Leeds arrivals and departures at 15:10 (Click to enlarge.)

Sunday, 3 October 2021

Coronavirus streets in Leeds - XLVI

Waterways and memories

Out of my hotel, I veered left and round the back over the road and I was on the Leeds & Liverpool Canal and about to ply the Aire Valley Towpath that I last walked some 5 years ago. I might have taken more advantage of the sunny day, but I lazed in bed catching up on some much-needed sleep that I did not get out until well after 5:00 PM.

Memories distilled from the past into my mind, the recollection of things I gave a fleeting glance and of events that have left too much of a mark that they cannot be forgotten. From the centre of Leeds that canal runs on a higher plain under much human control and was used for the transport of goods and materials in industrial times. Now, leisurely or homely narrow canal boats use it, navigating 91 locks. 

Lower down to right, some 50 metres away as one bears west of Leeds is the River Aire, untamed and unruly, prone to flooding, unnavigable for commercial purposes and a work of nature in its awesome display. I would surmise the river provided power and the canal, transportation.

Paths lonely and free

The towpath was quiet with not that many walkers, a few joggers, some walking their dogs, and then the cyclists. It brought to mind the refrain of the song Lonely Road, by Christy Essien Igbokwe from her album, Ever Liked My Person? The general lyrics of the song I cannot recall, nor could I find an online transcription of it.

Lonely Road - Christy Essien-Igbokwe

One dog walker could not be bothered to look where she was going, she was ensconced in her phone, her dog basically becoming like a guide dog for the blind. Others I saw, we being strangers, might mutter a greeting to each other or at the very least diffuse the tension suggesting one is not hostile with a smile.

Apparently similar or similarly apparent

The canal is also part of the coast-to-coast canoe trail from Goole to Liverpool, called the Desmond Family Canoe Trail. About 6 kilometres into my walk at which point, I turned back on myself as the light was fading too, I saw six horses in a field across over the canal running about free in a field with trees.

Down at Kirkstall (Kirk is colloquial for church, I think) at The Ellers were noticeboards facing the canal with sayings and one I took for a time of reflection. “Don’t treat people as bad as they are, treat them as good as you are.” I guess I have some work to do regarding my attitude to some people.

Two men working on a canal boat acknowledged me on my way out then engaged me on my way back. He said, “You remind me of Chris Eubank.”, I said, “I hear that a lot.” Then he hoped I was not offended, I wasn’t, it is just that I was just in exercise apparel and again something found some similarity. His regional accent, I could understand, from another couple, I just chuckled rather than request an encore with an interrogative pardon.

Just over 12 kilometres later, I was back at the hotel, I expect to have a really relaxing and restful night too.

Saturday, 2 October 2021

Coronavirus streets in Manchester & Leeds - XLV

Many a gory Tory here

One is glad to desert Manchester for a week as a brief walk around a section of the city around the Manchester Convention Centre gave much meaning to that situation beyond other extenuating circumstances, the police and cordons laid out to insulate the ruling party from its public and the vehemence of misgovernment.

The Tories are coming to Manchester for their annual convention and what an inconvenience it would be to all but the ones in the thrall of Boris Johnson whilst celebrating the apparent successes of Brexit which are patently invisible to most except those with impaired eyesight.

Leading to Leeds

Meanwhile, on a train to Leeds, the rain simply followed relentlessly on a journey that was as uneventful as to be recorded in sleep. Of all of us on my coach, only two of us donned face masks. We are all letting our guard down and this pandemic is hardly over. The UK retained the highest number of new cases worldwide and we are still ahead of our European neighbours in the number of deaths due to COVID-19. [WorldInfoMeters: Coronavirus]

I was last in Leeds just the week before I lost my baby sister, now coming to 5 years. The same hotel, some excuses that I overlooked until I went to the bar and was left feeling quite irked by the time I got to check-in my room.

Oh yes, it’s ladies’ slight

Later, when I went shopping for a few morning goods, the ladies were all more exposed yet bedecked like for a Cinderella summer ball except if I am unaware of some invisible thermal garments to help keep them from freezing in the cold and rain. Their slipper heels as unsteady as walking a rope bridge buffeted by winds strung over a ravine infested with hungry crocodiles in a river last rowed centuries ago.

Obviously, the reference to dress, apparel and appearance is oblique, one for which commentary should be reserved apart from thinking, surely more could be done. Anyway, the pandemic is the last thing on their minds much as hen nights seem to have chosen Leeds for revelry and unspeakable acts of wanton and reckless expression. It’s in the air, maybe no one is breathing it.

Friday, 1 October 2021

How I battled HIV stigma

In our silence of old

I saw the stigma that came with contracting HIV and met many people some of whom were my friends deserted by family and fair-weather friends to die in isolated or lonely hospices, taking that last gasp until they could hold on no more.

For many, they already faced the prejudice and discrimination for their sexuality, just as laws were being enacted for equal opportunities that stated the letter and for which there was no spirit to adhere to them. I had friends who were kicked out of their homes, sacked from jobs, banished from close-knit societies, and excommunicated from religious communities, disinherited, and shunned as if they were dead to the living. It was tough.

Then in the homosexual community, there is another kind of ostracism, the divide between those who were living like there was no tomorrow and those for whom tomorrow gave no assurance that they would still be living. Visceral hatred and abandonment in our already traumatised community, it was rotten.

My tests and my counsel

I took many HIV tests for years but gave instructions that I did not want to know the results. My results probably went into a study and since the test was at the insistence of the health and social workers, it was like I had no skin in the game, my curiosity did not lean towards knowing as if I found a world of bliss out of my ignorance.

When I did eventually go all in to find out about my status, I already suspected I had contracted HIV, but could not tell for how long. I should have curated the people to tell and not many knew, besides my pastor and a few close friends. One unguarded slip to an acquaintance I once had to kick out of my home some years before, brought vituperation, nastiness, and abuse. I ignored him even if I pretended not to be affected by his onslaught.

Battles with ignorance and denial

I had to face the stigma in myself first before I could tackle it from the outside. I am entirely responsible for my condition regardless of the backstory that might have made me susceptible to the misuse and abuse of sex. Are you so loose? That was the question from the matriarch, 19 years after the fact.

Blog - Thought Picnic: We Never Knew What a Healthy Sexual Relationship Was Because ...

It was one thing to know what condition you had, but that is quite different from understanding how it might have a consequential impact on everything that pertains to you; you can conflate denial with false invincibility and by the time you know it, you are knocking in death’s door.

HIV coursed through my body for 7 years from when I got the test results until opportunistic infections came in what looked like a wave of infirmity starting with shingles, but I was quite so immunosuppressed, what looked like athlete’s foot towards the end of spring was Kaposi sarcoma, and AIDS-defining symptom that was also cancer.

Deflecting out of embarrassment

Cancer was easier to use as a cover for everything else. I knew, my doctors knew I had full-blown AIDS, anyone else was informed I had cancer and as the treatment for Kaposi sarcoma included chemotherapy, it was just as cancer and cancer should be, there was no need to talk about HIV or AIDS. I had to grow into becoming comfortable writing, discussing, or sharing about it.

I guess it got to a point where I understood that HIV could be treated as a chronic condition quite manageable with the right therapies. Those of us living with HIV coalesced and began to give our voice to be active and contributing members of our broader community banishing the old pictures of young men dying to memorials that we still revere. Those gone before are all part of the body of knowledge and truth that has given us better outcomes.

We began to address HIV stigma

The concept of ‘Clean’ became a byword for not being HIV+, liaisons would ask if you were clean and by extension suggesting you were dirty if you were HIV+. Yet, people who know they are HIV+ probably test more frequently, are under medical supervision, and when on ARVs would most likely have an undetectable viral load. The frequency of testing also means they detect sexually transmitted infections earlier before the situation becomes chronic and get effective treatments and cures.

Blog - Dealing with sexuality and HIV stigma

Whenever anyone asks whether I am clean, I say, “Clean is when you have had a shower.” It should not refer even remotely to sexual health.

When medical science determined having an undetectable HIV viral load meant there was minimal risk of transmitting the virus, we saw the advent of the U=U (Undetectable Equals Untransmittable)

Blog - Normalising HIV Challenge against stigma

What I could have lost

My journey from talking about cancer alone to talking openly about being HIV+ with an undetectable viral load was one of development and growing self-confidence along with the desire to live my own life boldly without fear, shame, or embarrassment.

The deeper story of how my cancer was as a result of full-blown AIDS belies the fact that I had foolishly not addressed the issue early enough, hoping that some miracle and sudden change of fortunes would take everything away. I was in presumptuous denial of an existential threat to my life.

Blog - When I had the murderous cancer of denial

A miracle cure would not have served me well, and though I would have had a testimony of the power of God, I would have been excused from the human experience of knowing adversity and coming through it with my own story of life and gratitude.

This is who I am

Not that I wish adversity on anyone as a form of teaching lessons in life, but when one is met by misfortune and the acceptance of the reality of things we can control and the other things completely outside our control, we can face what is ahead of us and if good fortune brings us out to the restoration of wellness, verve, and vigour, we might find new meaning to the story of life.

I am HIV Positive, it did lead to full-blown AIDS, I had competent medical intervention that rolled back the grip of death, sent my HIV viral load to undetectable, gave me healthy prospects in life and the opportunity to find a new purpose in the joy of living. I will not be ashamed of those facts and the stigma of a projection of those whose ignorance I can help no further by allowing them to define me.

I saw this on a dating profile, years ago, “In a perfect world, the positive would be open and the negative would be open-minded.

The Stigma Project