Monday 28 March 2022

Thought Picnic: And we all were not Will Smith at the Oscars

We all have opinions

I have read with interest the many fanciful and interesting ideas and notions of people who with the benefit of hindsight and the ample opportunity for reflection would have done something differently well away from the heat of the moment when presented with circumstances that demand immediate response for which limited restraint is possible.

It reminds me of many football fans who with the benefit of panoramic views of a stadium and sight of literally all angles come to the conclusion that a footballer who has through dint of hard work and recognition of coach and peers has earned their place by virtue of talent and ability to be in that team. We forget that the person is limited to their span of vision in that setting trying to assess and respond to situations happening to and around them to find advantage for themselves and the team whilst seeking to disadvantage the opposing players and still contribute to winning the match.

Rarely the real perspective

If a footballer had the range of vision of television camera or a spectator with the kind of full anticipation of the pace and the direction of the game, we probably would be watching a different kind of football. If anything, it shows how penalty kick deciders are more than just being able to kick a ball into the net at close range, the tension, the expectation, the anticipation, and most evidently luck plays increasingly important parts in a goal being scored or the ball being saved.

A recently globally televised altercation of a rather insensitive joke made in ribaldry, to shock and amuse was met with a necessary whilst unfortunate rebuke in defence of a spouse whose partner might have been urged by her apparent discomfiture to act quite decisively to put an end to such levity. You can make jokes of anything, and yet, courtesy demands that some courtesy, sensitivity, and understanding be paid to difficult situations or unfortunate infirmities, you do not have to disgusting.

That we blab from our armchairs

To make jokes at the expense of race, disability, or sexuality would be so readily frowned upon and excoriated with the heaping of opprobrium on the joker. That we would readily accept a joke at the expense of a person who has lost a particular expression of their personality and beauty due to a condition that cannot be arrested and managed is to lose a certain sense of perspective.

Now, this is not an excuse for violent retribution, but we should be careful that we do not from our suitable armchairs of comfort be so conveniently positioned for unencumbered postulation, ruling the world on our ample backsides with opinions of idealistic but usually impossible to live realities. How we all would have acted with wit, restraint and the wherewithal to cool our tempers in the heat of the moment, as we are the epitome of the best manners and perfection. You never have to walk a long hard mile in anyone's shoes when you're sitting down.

Thursday 24 March 2022

Walking to observe and notice

Off the beaten path

Not down the usual walking route did I ply but rather down the Ashton Canal towpath from Paradise Wharf to Islington Wharf between which mechanical cranes and hoists of history have become monuments of the industries that once thrived here. Now, we have bijoux apartments and waterfront properties, a kind of exclusivity not nearly as exciting as it seems apart from when the canal forms an aqueduct over Store Street.

The further straight on this towpath leads to isolation, but for a sunny day, many are walking in groups to and fro, a kind of busy that is usually reserved for football match days but let us not be distracted from our surroundings and the oncoming traffic of senseless cyclists. The numerous canal locks holding back water as overflows give a sense of life.

Nature in many guises

Life in ducks, geese, and birds, they all are quacking, honking, or singing, in unison, separately or a disordered cacophony, not in need of the marshalling of a choirmaster. The music of nature is more settling than the blaring of headphones in covering your ears that you are totally unaware of what or where you are. If only they could just pocket their mobile phones for a moment and see something else.

One man and his dog, that dog a beast instead giving the person a status of terror for he could earn fear masquerading as respect no other way, then another dog, fluffy and friendly being called away from a couple sitting for a quiet talk. Just before you saw the fouling of the path, and I suspect the beastly dog, for the owner at one look did not appear the civil kind, yet, I have been wrong making such judgements.

A sport to thrill

Even as I have not decided how much further I want to go, I probably will go as far as this towpath will take me, my height is many times challenged by the low arches of bridged straddling the canal, I stoop or bow as I walk keeping an eye for some who care nothing for other users of this way.

Walking at speed, I pass another couple whilst resisting the urge to eavesdrop and then to my right over the canal is the Etihad Campus, with the football stadium of Manchester City Football Club and I recall when I could not persuade my best friend, a Manchester United fan to walk into that ‘abominable’ sanctum, though he might have had considered visiting for a local derby, I’ll ask.

Love in the park

One more bridge to duck and the windy path veers off the canal and I am presented with the entrance to Philips Park and I have not been here in years, many years at that. Two men have been ahead of me all the while, interesting from my perspective and something about them suggests more than meets the eye.

Into the park, they walk, down one of the more secluded routes that goes by the culverting of the River Medlock, the handiwork of brutal Victorians, that defines the boundary between the park and the cemetery. I am not following or trailing them, but I am just slightly behind them, then they touch and hug, I knew it all the while. They are getting more affectionate and honestly, why should I be shocked?

Just as I turn to cross over the River Medlock into the Philips Park Cemetery, they are now making their way back towards the park and in a moment of overwhelming passion, they embrace and kiss, that remains for a while or it is my persistence of vision deceiving me, for in that moment, I see love and think of love, then I wonder when Brian and I will walk about again, and give this spectacle to another narrator.

Wednesday 23 March 2022

Not your typical pill take

 The nightly pill take

So, let me take my pills,
That holds at bay the ills,
When I once had the chills

Then I weep at peristalsis,
Probably in need of analysis,
Water in throat paralysis

And in a moment, it goes down,
Though with rice, I almost drown,
That I can’t even pull a frown

Many years these gems I swallow,
Just as sleep will soon follow,
Not that I want to wallow

But to take the very attitude,
In much great and deep gratitude,
The medicine keeps us renewed.

Sunday 20 March 2022

Meeting Leonie, a wonder woman of 90

Someone for the crossing

Leonie Irene, 90, is the last of 7 siblings, she is now the only surviving one, her big sister having only died recently. She wanted to cross the junction at the intersection where Hulme Hall Lane meets Oldham Road to get the Miles Platting Post Office and corner shop to do some shopping, so, she asked if I could help her cross the road.

I gave her my arm as you used her wheelie bag in the other hand to give her support as we made to cross the road. Asking where I was from, I told her I had walked from the centre of town and she recalled that there used to be a Whitworth Street School for Girls bordering the canal where her mother used to be a cleaner.

Down memory lane

Keen of sight and hearing, she was observant and quite sharp, though her short term memory seemed to frequently fail her, the conversation was a thing of patience and care because I probably told her ten times where I lived and then she would recall I had told her before and that her mother did work at the posh school which has now been absorbed into another school system.

She talked of how Manchester had changed that transport into Manchester then was by tram, but that was a long time ago, it made me feel quite young that when I said I was 56, she said I did not look a day over 40.

From a list and much more

Getting her to the shop, she insisted she had to treat me to something, the shopkeeper was new, but he had seen her two weeks before, she did not recognise him when she said she had not seen him before and then her shopping began. The newspaper she paid for and put in her shopping bag as she brought out a shopping list for milk, butter, and dinners.

For the milk, I asked if she wanted the blue top (full milk) or the green top (semi-skimmed milk), she decided on one each of the smallest size bottles to fit in her fridge, a large container of I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter!, and some sandwiches that she could not persuade me to have. I took those to the till and paid for them.

Treats for her and I

However, the shopping was not done, as she had picked up a loaf of bread and the dinner was not the sandwiches but ready packed meals that you could put straight into the oven. At which point she got three different dinner packs and persuaded me to take a pack of fish and chips.

Unawares to her again, I paid for the order. Then she wanted chocolate bars, some biscuits, and a can of All Day Breakfast, all those she got separately, which I allowed her to pay for as she would have been all too aware of her spending nothing in the shop.

Every few minutes she would wonder if she had everything on her shopping list and probably something else and each time, I would assure her of what she already had in her bag whilst hoping to help her remember what else she needed.

Repeated answers and new questions

After the shopping, I helped her back across the road to the bus stop and waited with her until her bus arrived. That was when I asked for her name which was apparently given to her by one of her elder sisters who had been reading some posh book, she said. When I told her my name, she spelt it out correctly. She then asked what I do and then she surmised I must be well educated. Many more questions she asked including if I was married, quipping that maybe I had not met the right girl. I told her, I do not like girls, she chuckled.

She deduced that I probably did not have a family as in a nuclear family and for relations, she said but you have people. I am not as inquisitive or I might have asked if she was married or had children and grandchildren, I hate being intrusive if personal information is not freely volunteered.

Quite remarkable, she wanted me to get on the bus offering to pay my fare, I had already walked miles and I told her I was just out for exercise. When I bus arrived, I got her on and told the bus driver she was only going one stop, I bid her farewell as she shook my hand, thanking me for helping her, recollecting we had just met down the road.

Waking down, I met up with her at the next bus stop where she had alighted. I asked if she had far to go, she said it was only around the corner and she will be fine. We shook hands again and she went on her way. At 90, she was no pushover, I was quite enriched by this brief encounter that probably lasted an hour. That was just part of my evening out in Manchester.

Saturday 19 March 2022

Now, for the road forecast

Traffic and people filling Manchester

As I walked to the large retail park to shop at a large supermarket this evening, I did wonder if any of the people who found themselves in cars in and around Manchester city centre had bothered to check the road forecast. I say that because all the streets within the city centre and towards the ring road to the south and west were clogged with traffic.

Obviously, until I was walking back, I could not fathom the reason for both the crowds and the traffic, it just felt like a busy beautiful day, and I am usually the last to know what is going on in my city until, after the fact, I opined that I would eventually find out.

A major roadway closed

On my way out, I used more of the canal waterway towpaths, but on my return, I took the pavements on the main roads and then is when I discovered that a section of Mancunian Way ring road designated A57 (M) coming to the roundabout, underpass, and flyover with slip roads intersecting with Chester Road had been closed off. The underpass that allowed through and bypass traffic for cars not intending to enter Manchester appeared to have road construction vehicles at work.

This meant vehicular traffic was obstructed and the alternative routes became congested leading to long tailbacks and considerable inconvenience. I cannot say why the work was not done at night, though, I have not ascertained if the activity was necessitated by some emergency.

Pass as you like

For those who could, they found ways to pass the idle time, and I remember waving at some ladies in a car calling out to people, the music blaring out of their car at maximum volume. In view of the circumstances, their apparently unladylike behaviour can well be excused.

Everywhere, I had to cross the road at pedestrian crossings, pelican crossings, or at traffic lights, it much did not matter, cars were not moving that we all were basically jaywalking. Then again, we do not have jaywalking laws in the UK, you cross the road with good judgement and at your own discretion. It allowed me to fulfil my 10,000-step threshold for the day, even as I wondered how some drivers would have regretted driving in Manchester today.

Thursday 17 March 2022

Thought Picnic: Parental pride is a bonus

It took a while to come

I was well into my 50s when I heard my father say something along the lines of “I am proud of you.” to me. Now, parental pride is a sort of gift, precious in its provenance and quite useful in some circumstances. It is a kind of affirmation and approbation that can help build confidence and character, it can also be in short supply.

I would be the first to say, I was not the easiest or best child to raise, my adolescence was turmoil and conflict, headaches and frustration for my parents and I found no respite or succour for the changes I hoped to attain to move into the category of acceptable. However, it was in being the ward of someone else that I began to find sense and purpose.

Put it in perspective

On the matter of parental pride, that went to another sibling, who received accolades and praise from every place, the school, the community and beyond, much as it would have created scope for amazing success and ascendancy, it did not prepare them for some experiences would best be forgotten.

Much as I love my parents, I have never worshipped the ground on which they have walked, I have neither the temperament nor the predilection to obsequiousness. Obviously, my father thought I did not respect him enough, I could not think of what else was expected of me, the similarities between us are essential by inference genetic mainly, probably with some tics and mannerism but not definitive of who I am or have become.

Get on with your life

If after a fashion I had determined to please my parents to any degree, they probably would be the happiest parents around, but my life would have been utterly miserable because I would have been living an expression of their desires rather the fulness of my own individuality, uniqueness, and expression.

What I learnt for myself was to live my own life as best I can, achieving what I could with the tools I have been given. Whether impactful or less so, I have followed as much as I have been given means and opportunity, my dreams and the consequence is for better or for worse, I have my own narrative that anyone can choose to celebrate or excoriate, but I am not working to someone else’s time.

A bonus is not the thing

Parental pride, in the end, is a bonus, if it comes and it is expressed, it should be received with grace and if does not come, it is not the end of the world. I am glad for having my parents, their experience and advice can be useful, but the buck stops with me, I make my decisions and call the shots for my situation. Once the umbilical cord is cut, we are beings floating in space tethered by the gravity of filiality but not bound strictly to an orbit. They can only do so much; we have to do the rest.

You do not have to become the life your parents wished you had, but you can quite become the life they wished they had.

Thought Picnic: Exercising the luxury of choosing

The things I control

It is with amusement that I watch myself sometimes unaware of the luxury I have to compartmentalise things or even insulate myself from situations I do not need to be bothered about. There are times I had an obligation to play a role to which if I do have the means and the opportunity, I would register my participation, but that should not be for everything.

In the scheme of things, I am the nominal head of our family, however, we do have our elderly patriarch who is the actual head of the family. On many things, we would defer to him, though there are issues where one would exercise variance, authority, and autonomy in order to gain the kind of pragmatic consensus to involve all concerned.

Where presence offers no essence

I thought about a matter to which on the one hand I would have expected to be involved in all the discussions that I learnt after the fact, then I recognise that I wear a smartwatch that measures stress levels and reflect to myself that what I do not essentially need to be part of presents less of a responsibility to be bothered about.

Just being present to postulate is of no significance, I would not have been able to do anything, maybe offer a different perspective or some insight, but people have been able to make their decisions long before I thought I should be involved, my hands-off approach suits me totally.

I take my time my way

I guess it also informs how I take my time to process things, I try not to jump into situations that are in no need of an intervention I can control. Sometimes, all I need is to be apprised of the situation, so I am not entirely out of the loop of prevailing circumstances.

Indeed, I do have quite a luxury of choosing whether I want to be involved and if I do get involved the extent to which I want to be exposed. For my own wellbeing, I can also walk away at my own choosing.

This might exacerbate the thinking that I have never really been accultured to some way of doing things, but then, I am not trying to impress anyone with what I choose to do. I do what I do out of the level of responsibility I choose to assume, at the time of my choosing, with the resources I have personally decided to commit to that circumstance. It would remain my stance for as long as it is reasonable.

Thought Picnic: The potential ransom of dual-citizenship

The potential ransom of citizenship

The return of British-Iranians Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, 43, and Anoosheh Ashoori, 67, to British soil this morning that is so very welcome and heart-warming rings a cautionary tale of familial attachment and affinity that can put people with multinational citizenship in peril and jeopardy. [BBC News: Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe and Anoosheh Ashoori back with families]

It was a sad development that Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe and Mr Ashoori became pawns of international diplomacy where Iran was ready to persecute people of other nationalities who returned home to see family with trumped-up charges of espionage or insurrection in order to gain leverage in negotiations that in no way concerned the victims.

In the end, the release of these two people was obtained for the UK ensuring moneys to the tune of over £400 million owed Iran from the 1970s was paid back. I would not think of the interest, but that is a princely sum.

In things outside our control

Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s situation was not made any easier by the gormless idiocy of the then Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson, who at a House of Commons hearing suggested her activities in Iran were not altogether altruistic and that was used in another trial to turn the screws and incarcerate her for more time.

Then I think of many of us with dual or more citizenships who have close families in lands where freedoms, liberties, and expression are monitored, curtailed, or prosecuted. The apparent bounty that seems to hang on our heads when the malevolent either of state or private agency determine that they exact a price out of denying us our freedom by any means.

Much as I have family in Nigeria and many contemporaries do visit with ease, I do not have some rosy view of bliss, security, or safety, if I ever ventured there, despite the many assurances I have received from too many to mention.

I know how I feel

I left the country over 31 years ago, somewhat imperilled and I am not convinced that some of that past as well as the very present including the intervening years where my being abroad keeps out of the ambit of unguarded retribution does not present a clear and present danger to my wellbeing if I visit under any guise.

Besides, those who could almost pride themselves on being quite conversant with the Nigerian ways have quite spectacularly fallen for the wiles and scams that certain desperate can wreak on us and our resources. I have taken the stance that I am not comfortable with visiting Nigeria, and it is unnecessary to burden myself with the angst of attempting to override my deepest premonitions.

It might well be that there is nothing to my feelings than irrationality, I can live with that and the only reason Nigeria features in my purview is more at the behest of others than of any particular wish or desire of mine. When I consider it took almost 25 years for me to set foot on African soil with an official visit to South Africa in May 2015, I think I have a good idea of where my home is, and where next I am thinking of setting up home. It is not in Nigeria and that is a settled matter. Thank you.

Tuesday 15 March 2022

The utter misery of UK train travel

Choo-choo to all places

I used to consider train travel great fun, the pleasure of watching the English countryside from Brighton to Manchester over a 6-hour journey, even Manchester to Edinburgh, London to Glasgow, or Manchester to Torquay gave you a view of this amazing land. Yet, there are even more spectacular views by train on the British Isles.

In July 1999, I embarked on a train journey named the Imperial Tour from London Liverpool Street to Budapest and back. I was to complete the journey in 2 months stopping over wherever I wanted for as long as I needed to, it was first class for £483 and I plied my route through Amsterdam, Hannover, Berlin, Dresden, Bratislava, Prague to Budapest, my return leg through Vienna, Salzburg, Zurich, Basel, Brussels, and London. I would say, the Bratislava – Budapest leg and the Vienna – Zurich leg gave me the most spectacular views.

Ten years later at Easter, I was meeting up with my best friend in Geneva and I took the train from Amsterdam, the view from the window through places that you would neither see from the air nor from the road just gives you a different appreciation of the beauty, the culture, the nature, and the architecture of different places. That I vicariously watch train journey programmes to far-flung places is one of fascination and curiosity.

A travesty and atrocity

Yet, train travel in the UK has been anything but pleasurable, if the service is not sclerotic and substandard, it is the exorbitant cost of travel that puts you totally off, except that there are no good alternatives. Living in Manchester, for years, I enjoyed the Virgin Trains West Coast Main Line franchise, it was generally affordable, and the service was dependable, they ran the service from 1997 to December 2019.

Now that the franchise has fallen into the hands of Avanti West Coast, it has been misery piled on misery, what was once affordable is now outrageously expensive that you’ll guffaw at some eye-watering prices to travel on trains gilded with incompetence and lethargy. If you forked out over £300 for a Manchester – London Euston train journey and I never paid that much for a peak time return journey with Virgin Trains in first-class, beware because the train manager can unilaterally declassify the train and you are a mug even if you can claim compensation.

No words can describe

On my return from London on Sunday, it was prescient to consider an earlier journey back, though, on arrival at London Euston, I should have been presented with a timetable of trains departing every 20 minutes, but there wasn’t one for an hour and the one after it was already cancelled.

I boarded the train and took one of the Premium Economy seats, thinking I would be charged the extortionate £25 upgrade, but something said, the train would probably be a coal wagon, heaped high and trundled up the train line at speeds that would make walking seem a sprint.

Well, I was right, apparently the two scheduled trains before the one I boarded and the one after it was cancelled leaving the train carrying potentially all the passengers for 4 trains going a route that took 3h41 as opposed to the typical route we enjoyed with Virgin Trains that lasted just 2h10. Everyone having paid handsomely for this travesty of impunity, for this is not the first time that Avanti West Coast has merged trains.

It gets worse

All the aisles had standing passengers that the train manager had to implore some to get off and wait for another train that no one could with any certainty say would run. I endured, with my mask on to the end, only to find passengers in Manchester rushing to get on, why? A train had been cancelled and this was running late.

How Avanti West Coast got this franchise, I cannot tell, but the experience has been anything but pleasant or remotely good, it has been so deplorable that the only salvation would be to return to horse-drawn carriages. At least you can feed the horse carrots and hear it neigh all the way. They say it would be over 2026 come then, or come Lord Jesus.

Coronavirus streets in Manchester - LXIII

Sights and sounds very natural

On my exercise walks in Manchester, there are things that I see that sometimes would be considered insignificant and yet together creates an experience. I can be attentive with a lot of spatial awareness, and I am not distracted by looking on my mobile phone or listening to music through headphones as many people I see are, that there are times we almost bump into each other because of their careless use of public spaces totally not considering the fact that personal and public safety is a function of everyone acting with respect to others around them.

That a man would pull up that early in the morning at the Sikh Gurdwara in his Bentley coupe without the accoutrements of Sikhism but in a suit and tie seemed quite strange even as there was no one at the gate to let him in. I did not wait to see what he would do next; I had my pace and cadence to keep.

Abandoned to canine distress

We are however dogged by different levels of irresponsibility when it comes to dogs being taken for walks. There are a few kept on a leash and even one menacing one I have met a few times that is muzzled. Many dog owners do not seem to be aware that other people they meet in public spaces might be terrified of dogs and so, they should have better control of their animals.

One was pretending to throw a stick for the dog to fetch, the dog deceived ran forward and then realised it had been tricked and few times. Just as I noted that was rather bad behaviour on the part of the dog dad, the dog appeared to race up towards me gnarling with rage and then backed off.

Somewhere else, a couple let their dog run up ahead and it fouled up a garden, but as the dog was out of their sight, they would not have known to clean up after their dog. It is likely, they do not bother to do that in any case. I do see many instances of this irresponsible behaviour and lest the owners set their dogs on you, you find that you just move on disconcerted by that observation.

A dog amuck

However, it was this that was most terrifying, I was on my home straight from the park, a dog digging around in the grass but off the leash some 20 metres away, saw me coming and immediately ran up to me, jumping and clawing at my leg. I have no idea why; I was not a threat in any way. Obviously, the owner called it off and apologised. But if she had been paying any attention to her dog, this would never have happened, and I am sure it is not the first time.

Then I remember the more responsible dog owners, such that I know the names of the dogs but not that of their owners, like Tilly that has quite an independent and individualistic personality, she is never on a leash and quite well behaved. Her housemate has never been let go of, for all the time that I have seen him in the park. George is a fluffy St Bernard, friendly and likeable, you just want to pat him anytime you see him.

I probably should wear shinpads in anticipation of canine aggression, it could be managed, if the owners were a little more responsible.

Monday 14 March 2022

Walking the time tunnel of gay youth

To London without a cat

London was a destination over the weekend by reason of an error in my hotel booking last month where I had inadvertently made a non-refundable hotel booking for March when I was planning for February. A situation not helped by the fact that the first 28 days in a non-leap year are the same for both months, you have to be alert, or you will be caught out.

It reminds me of a time when I booked a flight to depart in the third week of the month and the website automatically presented the next month for my return that when I finally saw what I had booked, I was going away for 5 weeks instead of a week. Were it not that I had booked a ticket that allowed for alterations, I would have been paying through the nose to sort it out.

Shorn a sandal to scandal

Now, I only discovered I had booked a hotel for the wrong dates when I was checking for the address to give a black cab at London Euston Station, it came up that my booking was in 28 days. There wasn’t much I could do than to immediately make another booking for that weekend whilst planning that I would return to London in 4 weeks.

As I told the black cab driver, I was going to Dolphin Square, he did not need giving any directions, it was until later that I realised I was going to a place of political scandal and notoriety, famous for the Profumo Affair amongst other notable controversies. If it once housed 70 MPs and 10 Lords, you only needed to speak the language of the walls to hear some intriguing and hair-raising stories. O was not planning on contributing to the list of ignominy.

The apartment was quite well-proportioned, with sash windows, no air conditioning, or modern conveniences as a dishwasher or a washing machine. There were flat-screen televisions in the living room and the bedroom, ample storage space, but wireless internet came on one voucher for one device. I had to tether other devices off my mobile phone. It was at best a bachelor’s pad on the fifth floor.

To memories of youth wasted

Its proximity to the north bank of the Thames made for an easy route for my walking exercises as I walked up Grosvenor Road then crossed Chelsea Bridge to the south bank onto the Thames path to Battersea Power Station to veer off onto Nine Elms Lane, past the US Embassy and to my left I was surprised that despite all the new developments there were parts of an old gay haunt still standing strong.

About 30 years ago, on Sundays, we attended the Royal Vauxhall Tavern to watch drag acts including Lily Savage, until the pub closed at 2:00 PM and off we went to Market Tavern for the afternoon, a darkened venue that served a Sunday lunch of chilli-con-carne and rice whilst we danced away until the pubs opened again at 7:00 PM. Whilst the Market Tavern has long since gone, the memories did come flooding back.

To memories of lives wasted

Then I walked past Vauxhall and the MI6 headquarters where for the first time, I did see someone, a lady, leave the building. You always had the feeling the workers there secreted themselves into the building by some secret passageway, but that would be a little farfetched, it is people like us who work there, not an alien lifeform.

Walking on toward the St Thomas’ Hospital where the wall facing the Thames hosts the National COVID Memorial Wall and a veritable sign of government ineptitude in the handling of this pandemic that has to date claimed 162,738 lives.

I took my turn back over the Westminster Bridge, by the Houses of Parliament at Westminster Palace, the scaffolding was now taken off the bell tower of Big Ben and wended my way to my accommodations to start my day of social events. My 10,000 steps done and a bit more too.

Tuesday 8 March 2022

A review of language tutoring in my experience

Speaking Yorùbá with pride

Watching a video clip on Facebook and later shared on WhatsApp from the BBC Yorùbá website of the Portuguese-born Tiago Isola speaking Yorùbá had me thinking of my experience language teaching through the years. [BBC Yoruba: Tiago Isola, akẹ́kọ̀ọ́ Fásitì Ibadan]

Tiago Isola arrived in Nigeria with his mother who was part of a cultural exchange programme with the Oyo kingdom at the age of 10 and has immersed himself in the Yorùbá culture, language, foods, and practices, he appears quite somewhat integrated, and his command of the language is quite well above average. He speaks with pride of his knowledge of Yorùbá and I am sure from his international travel would be a good Portuguese and English speaker too.

I was a foreigner too

I was born an Englishman with a Brummie accent from the West Midlands, my first language and mother tongue is English, and whilst there was some Yorùbá spoken at home, it was never part of our regular conversation, My parents conversed more with me in English, though less so with my siblings. My mother is a polyglot with an ear for languages, my father, much less so, struggled with even Pidgin English, it just did not sound right when he tried.

On returning to Nigeria, we lived in the north for just over 6 years, in that time, between Kaduna and Jos, I picked up some Hausa, read a bit of it, even attended the ECWA church where Hausa was the spoken language of instruction. I still get by on what I learnt in the 1970s, with the occasional opportunity to practice when I meet Hausa speakers.

Getting serious with Yorùbá

It was when I was 10 years old that my mother acquired Yorùbá primer Aláwiyé (To speak to comprehend) books to practice the fundamentals of the language. However, it did not get immersive until I had a psycho-paranormal encounter for which the apparent remedy was reading the Psalms multiple times to cups, bottles, or buckets of water from which I drank or bathed to ward off evil spirits. She compelled me to read the Psalms in Yorùbá, it cultivated my proficiency in the language.

However, before that, I had no serious language teaching apart from standard English reading, spelling, comprehension, and composition lessons. In the fifth class in primary school, I found a basic French-language book in the cupboards and began to teach myself French, not in the pronunciation as I had no guidance, but in knowing the words and the meanings, I did not get very far.

Remembering sadistic language tutors

At secondary school, apart from the English teachers, the other language teachers were basically sadists, quick to punish but slow to impart or enthuse us in their subjects. Mrs Odutuyo could well have been high up in the ranks of the Spanish Inquisition, she conjured up such inhumane punishments, the thought of what she got some of us to do still makes me quiver. She taught Yorùbá and it was a chore. I never passed a Yorùbá test in school, but I mastered the use of accents and diacritical marks, which has served me well until today.

In Form 2, Mr Okonji was the French teacher on secondment from the National Youth Corp Service, French could have been a joy to learn, but he had no wherewithal to make it accessible. What he mastered to the level of genius or ogre, if you prefer was the wielding of the birching cane, going through the classes urging ‘Study-Study’ telling us to lie forward onto our desks whilst he carved welts on our backs.

I always got a language waiver

When we came to Form 3 and we had a better French teacher in class, we were nowhere useful enough for her to lift to any standard, we just trundled through the year expectant of the moment to drop the subject, which I did in Form 4, apart from the compulsory English language that I usually scraped a pass on, as I did not exert myself academically to achieve distinctions, and did the bare minimum that was asked for, I have never had to prove my standard of English as I am a native speaker.

After secondary school, we had some formal English lectures as part of our engineering courses, I always thought a good command of language was essential to being able to take projects from idea, through conception and implementation, to a conclusion and full successful commissioning. I have always priced the need for quality communication, and it has helped me through my career. As for the lecturers, they were poor bordering on abysmal, one took to sesquipedalianism for no other purpose than to impress than educate, I was far from taken by the superfluity of vacuity.

Contrasting language tutors

It was not until 1999 that I took another formal language class and that was German, the lady teaching us in a further education school carried us along and of all my language teachers, she was the very best. Every waking hour, I was playing back German language tapes, brushing up my German and looking for opportunities to use it. At that point, I was also looking to emigrate to live and work in Germany, I ended up in the Netherlands instead.

I enrolled on a Dutch learning programme organised by my employer, and it probably was the worst decision many of us made. The teacher whose business was predicated on providing language classes to blue-chip companies got comfortable with those who had a better grasp of the language and left the rest of us behind, we became disillusioned and dropped out of the class. To my shame, I ended up living in the Netherlands as an Englishman abroad, barely able to get by in Dutch, though not a complete novice.

I am for more language learning

It is likely, I would find myself learning Afrikaans and Ndebele, it would be down to first my enthusiasm and then the quality and ability of the teacher to impart the knowledge in a beneficial way. When I reflect on my use of language, I am quite proud of my mastery of the Yorùbá language, it is challenging at times, but it is one of the richest modes of expression.

I can also be quite purist in speaking Yorùbá, preferring to speak entirely in one language rather than mixing languages. I converse more with my parents in Yorùbá now, however, especially when it comes to my father, English presents the essential mode of address when the power distance index requires the delivery of some hard and difficult things that genuflection in Yorùbá tradition would frown upon.

As Tiago Isola has suggested, we need to give our children a good grounding in the mastery of all languages spoken, giving just as many resources to Yorùbá as we do the command of the English language. On this, I would say, we need to speak Yoruba beyond the rudimentary street talk, with the deployment of fables, poetry, proverbs, and sayings, finding innovative and expressive ways to promote the language before it falls into disuse out of negligence.

Tiago Isola’s Instagram page

Monday 7 March 2022

Beyond queer theory to the experience of living

Exploring our humanity and expression

Reading of the death of Professor Leo Bersani which occurred a few weeks ago at the age of 90, got me thinking of an area of study defined as queer theory that I have not before explored, yet on perusal suggests many of us of a homosexual persuasion might have lived. To codify the lives of homosexuals and sexuality in academic terms definitely makes for an essential area of research. [Advocate: Leo Bersani, Author on Gay Identity, Dies at Age 90]

Only recently, I was reading up on Anti-LGBT rhetoric which to many extents has been to those of the LGBT persuasion lived rather than rhetorical, in discrimination, in ostracism, in queer bashing, sometimes resulting in death, in legislation that delegitimises and dehumanises our person in the pursuit of some nebulous family or culturally based ideal that seeks to set us apart for repudiation and castigation.

The corruption of conformity

Obviously, at once in our suffering and then in our understanding, we are caught in a situation where our difference from heteronormative structures set us up in conflict with family and relations, in community and society as we seek to have a human voice to exist in a humanity is more diverse than the conformity that is expected of us.

For instance, sex to me has always been utilitarian for the simple reason that my first experience of it was from the age of 7, the innocence I lost has had consequences and it would not have mattered whether I grew up for be heterosexual, bisexual, or homosexual, once that childhood naivety was given the fruit of the knowledge of good and evil, my eyes, as much as anyone else exposed to child sexual abuse were opened.

What at first seemed coercive became immersive and the pleasure it provided was natural and untainted by philosophy, religion, or morality. Sadly, the criminality of such was rarely prosecuted, rather, it was hushed up in shame and embarrassment with the hope that the child would outgrow the memory of it. They never do.

Understanding how different we are

Then within the conflicts of appreciating, understanding, and accepting one’s sexuality against the requirements to present as ‘normal’, in that one should subsume sexuality for the heteronormative and fulfil all the necessities of such.

This morning, on my walking exercise, I thought about the many males from adolescence with whom sexual relations have been explored who now deploy their heterosexuality in marriage, procreation, and the profession of faith and creed that supports that existence in their collective amnesia of the past. Grandfathers they are today even as some preach the gospel in various forms.

Yet, as Leo Barsani wrote in his 1987 essay, titled, Is the Rectum a Grave? he lambasted as quoted in the Advocate article referenced above, “the tendency among some gay activists to respond to AIDS by downplaying their sexuality and emphasizing the need to replicate bourgeois heterosexuality.” The point, we are not heterosexual, we have never been, we have to define ourselves as who we are, not in the context of others who have no idea of our lives. [Amazon: Is the Rectum a Grave?: and Other Essays] Ordered today.

Having sex without angst

In that is the tendency to rail against the apparent promiscuity of homosexuals, but fundamentally, once we begin to understand that homosexuals are not governed by heterosexual constructs and norms, we can also deconstruct the viewpoint of seeing homosexuals only through the lens of sex, lifestyle, and inclination, for we are just as valid an expression of our humanity that has existed from the beginning of humankind.

What seems to dog the homosexual is the tendency to want to ape the heteronormative, and so we read personals that include straight-acting, moralising the concept of monogamy, even though polygamy has defined many human relationship until it was morally and legally constrained by recent Judeo-Christian hegemonies seeking to decide the use and utility of sex, whilst removing from public knowledge the pleasure and enjoyment of sex.

We are schooled to think sex as nothing to derive any stimulation or pleasure from except for the sake of procreation, yet, in our private places, we all know that sex is considerably more pleasurable than we are told it is not.

A remembrance and celebration of lives

Amongst us homosexuals, the enjoyment of sex cut a swathe of death in our population with AIDS for almost 20 years when we lost men in their prime at never nearly 40 into the mid-1990s and the AIDS Memorial Instagram page speaks of lives of men who we have refused to forget, for What Is Remembered Lives. We stopped enjoying sex, seized by fear and loathing, exacerbated by bad faith actors depicting a human disaster as divine wrath. Yet, it is human progress and advancements in medicine has contained this epidemic.

I lost a partner and many friends, I mourn some still, though for the society I lived in, I mourned alone, because until 1995 we had no effective long-term treatment and therapies for HIV. I also was touched by the scourge of AIDS, I survived, and I am grateful for the gift of life.

My AIDS encounter has however not diminished my appetite for sex, for it is essentially part of human nature and it is only those in denial that would suggest we do not have that need. Our world presents us with exploration along with some caution and care, but to become puritanical about sex is to censure human expression.

We were never the same in outlook

When for the heterosexual, it might define uniquely lifelong bonds, it would for the homosexual be once of tryst to which you do not need to attach any emotion. It is very possible to separate the act which is practically animal expression from the higher human state of intelligence. That ability to compartmentalise the functions of the physical, the body, the mind, and the heart, devoting the right attention to the fleeting from the significant is something that probably takes the mimicry of the heterosexuality out of homosexuality.

It does not mean we do not understand commitment, it is just not predicated on sex, either through objectification or deification, its utilitarian function is just that, and where intimacy between partners is involved, there is a totally different dynamic at play than when there are liaisons with strangers.

Through generations, we have been on the margins of society, the only thing we have ever asked for is not to be persecuted or prosecuted, to be able to live our lives equally as part of our diverse humanity, contributing to the advancement of our civilisation all around the world.

For that, we can be grateful for the likes of Leo Barsani, Paul-Michel Foucault, James Baldwin, and many more helping the discourse about sexuality and its full expression.

Blog - Thought Picnic: A child has memories that last a lifetime

Blog - Thought Picnic: How do you lose your virginity?

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

Saturday 5 March 2022

Coronavirus streets in Manchester - LXII

No power of witchcraft

I have always been fascinated by the whole charade behind identifying that someone is a witch and the means by which the suspected are interrogated and forced to confess under the pain of death that they practice witchcraft, after which they were almost always put to death in the most horrific and gruesome manner.

It makes you wonder how someone who apparently has mastery of the dark arts can just at accusation and threat of untrammelled menace would suddenly be helpless and incapable of defending themselves. Their accusers having nothing but power and manufactured conviction that they are right, and they can rid the community of evil by the propensity of wickedness.

They can’t be that helpless

In my view, if anyone were indeed a witch, whether child or adult, the very least one should expect is something magical challenging the faculties like just disappearing from the midst of their accusers at the minimum or if they were that inclined, they put the fear of real witchcraft in the hearts of the mob usually led by religious or community leaders seeking to bolster their political status by finding unusual and individualistic people to victimise.

Just imagine, a witch in the heat of being pursued smiting one of two of her attackers with blindness or causing fire to consume one of them. For instance, someone with the mastery of martial art when cornered would hardly crumble into a heap of helplessness, they’ll fight back probably breaking a few bones even if they eventually get captured. This is just a matter of muscle in the physical, not to talk of the metaphysical and paranormal that is associated with witchcraft. I am not convinced many of those accused had any idea of what witchcraft was about, they have just been helpless victims of tyranny.

Strange places in Manchester

Which got me thinking of another fascinating setup, in the back streets of the parish of Manchester into the Hundred of Salford (I love old English placenames) as I walked from Ancoats to the centre of Cheetham to do some shopping for ethnic goods. Avoiding the main roads apart from when I had to cross them, I was soon cutting through St Michael's Flags and Angel Meadow Park into NOMA (North Manchester) where architectural monstrosities sway in the skyline.

A rather secluded part of old industrial Manchester had a working brewery taking me back to my teenage years when my first job was in a brewery, along with clothing manufacturer factories bearing names of South Asian provenance and let one not suggest they might be sweatshops. Then I was in Strangeways (it has history), dominated by Her Majesty’s Prison where twice in the week past, I saw someone drive through the gates in a Mercedes Benz car, they must be paying good money there as it was just too early in the morning for the person to be a visitor. Anyway, I look away.

A plague of drones

Up on the walls, were surveillance cameras with screen wipers and then signs indicating this was a ‘no drone’ zone. I guess with one drone, that might present a helpless witch scenario. I can remember which of the recent Olympic games opening ceremonies I watched where thousands of drones were deployed in a light show. My vivid imagination considering a swarm of drones hovering over a prison controlled from so far away that the drones were using Artificial Intelligence to maintain proximity with each other and if one or a few were taken out, they massed into new attacking formations.

This again, not even to deliver contraband to the prison but to get everyone agitated. Who would do such a thing? This is more the stuff of thriller films than anything else. That was my though process on the matter of witchcraft, one would expect a witch to summon the equivalent of an amazing mixed martial arts practitioner controlling with the mind a swarm of drones able to defend themselves from immediate physical danger and create enough of a distraction to escape capture.

Now, where was I? Walking up New Bury Road to get to Great Cheetham East Street. Suffice it to say, apart from the lady at the checkout in the shop, I was the only other one wearing a face mask.

Thursday 3 March 2022

My city living as it happens as nothing happens

Me, myself, and I here

Sometimes, I wonder what separates me from Miss Havisham apart from the promise of a wedding that still endures to be fulfilled in due time and having not stopped any of the clocks in my apartment. Much as I would not leave anything to decay in here, my window blinds are rarely pulled up to let in natural light, there has been a fire, but not here, I quite well can exist in the isolated calm of a hermit, not interacting with the outside world for as long as I want.

None of that should read as being an antisocial being, I love the company of people to converse with, probably enjoy dinner or going out, indeed, I do chat to strangers, yet I am anything but an extrovert, I do not have the mental energy for crowds or big parties, I would soon be sat in a corner alone than be found chatting away network and glad-handing.

Ashes and debris

This morning, as I stepped out for my walking exercise, I saw some debris outside one of the blocks in our village, it is a good three blocks away with a cul-de-sac separating us, but we share the same vast subterranean carpark and the communal gym accessed with registered secure processes. It all looked charred as if consumed with fire and I wondered why anyone would set their rubbish on fire outside the block.

Later, some workmen had arrived to shovel away the debris and I was tempted to ask questions, I did not. It wasn’t till later as I stepped out for some shopping that I met my neighbour in the foyer, and she asked if I knew about the fire in that block. Fire? Yes, there was a fire, a huge one at that with flames shooting out of the roof of the block on the top floor of a 6-storey apartment block, with the main roads in the area cordoned off.

Stranger lights in the nights

It so happens, I never stepped out yesterday, at least not from the afternoon of two days before, there was commotion, and 5 fire engines I was told, and no one even reported the incident on our village Facebook page. This was the same block in which just about a year ago, a human and sex trafficking ring was busted. I cannot find any information about the fire in our city newspaper, like it has been hushed up.

Then I was told there was another fire across the street a few weeks ago that I should have been able to observe from the windows of my side of the apartment complex. There was? I did not ask when exactly, as it might have coincided with when I was away, but I knew nothing of it. It would suggest I am probably not the best candidate for curtain twitching or the Neighbourhood Watch. Much as some might attest to be powers of observation, I have not applied them with any distinction to my immediate environment.

As it happens as nothing happens

Once again, I have been lulled into the apparently deceptive uneventfulness of genteel city living where nothing of note happens and that gives cover to many things you would never imagine happening around here. For a serial sex offender lived nearby, as was the sex trafficking ring, and the Manchester bomber of May 2017 was on the outer side of our village apartment block complex.

Blog - City living in the deception of the genteel

Do I need to get on a nosey parker introductory course or is my penchant for presumably minding my own business in a very English way getting in the way of basic curiosity and awareness? That is something to think about. I might need to start with pulling up my Venetian blinds and I doubt I am ready for that radical change in living arrangements.

Wednesday 2 March 2022

Thought Picnic: Life in the times of chicken

Life creates us as we create life

There is a part of me that I probably do not acknowledge that much that some people see in me as being a survivor for which I am thankful and grateful for the gift of life and living. For a long time, what has become the story of my life, mostly unplanned but navigated in the baby steps and the giant leaps that on reflection appears accomplished; everything has just been life and I cannot live another life but my own.

That I have by the accident of events I have lived through sometimes become a shoulder to lean on is not a role I have sought, but it is one to which I hope to deploy my full humanity, consideration, and attention, because for anyone met with infirmity or adversity, things are tough, and perspective is difficult to obtain when you are in the midst of an ordeal.

In the life of chicken

The way reality and realisation begin to materialise sometimes hits us by surprise if not shock that we are probably not as young, as agile, as composed, as strong, as prepared, or as ready to perform as we once were able to. We are dogged by our history robbing us of a moderated present with a difficulty in squaring up how consequential things are that recovery will take time and pace may never return to Peak Me.

A friend opined, “I should accept the spring chicken is more of an old rooster now.” To which I responded thankful for the frame of mind that allows that kind of inspiration in the propinquity of the exchange. “One thing, it is the rooster that announces the breaking of the dawn, that the night and the nightmare is over.” When the spring chicken has matured into an old rooster, the time of spring chicken things and living in danger is over, as the rooster heralds a time of living with peace.

I pray that for everyone going through a storm in their lives, the calm would soon come to give them comfort, safety, succour, and security that they can begin to cherish the little moments, start living from good to better, day to day, and see the days tally into a story of once not being able to see beyond the night to having experienced on the whole, a wonderful life.