Thursday 27 October 2022

The bird in hand is all you have

Long Read!

The humbling of life

There is an old saying, “A bird in hand is worth two in the bush.” I find myself revisiting some of these old sayings to review what lessons to mankind they might impart to me and my unique circumstances, for as Ecclesiastes1:9 says, “there is nothing new under the sun.

It is quite poignant that Ecclesiastes has 12 chapters and in the first chapter it dispenses with hopes, dreams, expectations, and much else whilst laying bare the fact of human existence, after the introduction, it says, all is vanity, suggests we labour in vain, that nature always follows its course, and that we pay heed to experiences gone before because there are lessons to be learnt of life.

A further interpretation of the saying at the beginning which I should call a proverb is, “It's better to be content with what you have than to risk losing everything by seeking to get more.

Failures are paths

This is the story, I finished secondary school at the age of 15 and was immediately admitted to the Lagos State College of Science and Technology (Lacostech) to study Chemical Engineering, at the same time, my mother tried to persuade me to attend Form Six for the Higher School Certificate (HSC), but I was having none of it, my experience of secondary boarding school was such that I wanted to be treated more as an adult with all the freedoms that entailed, even if I assumed very little responsibility.

Lacostech was a fledgling institution, the practical engineering component of the course system was lacking, we were based at a faraway campus and for the practical elements, we attended labs at Yaba College of Technology (YabaTech), the preeminent polytechnic at the time. How I ended up doing Chemical Engineering was a result of alumni visiting my secondary school to give a talk, I was beguiled rather than persuaded. I failed that first year.

However, knowledge from that first year prepared me to change my course to Electrical Engineering at YabaTech even as seeing an uncle thrive in Quantity Surveying had a bit of a draw. It so transpired that I spent 3 years at YabaTech where I failed, repeated my second year, and consequently was asked to withdraw. That was 4 years of higher education lost, I can only wonder if I had gone for the HSC instead and plied a different trajectory in life.

Being a nonsense child

At that point, my father had given up on me, he was determined to put me to work on his farm which was not doing all that well. My father in his active career was a brilliant and successful accountant, usually top of the class, winning awards and prizes, how could I, his first child and son be such a dullard?

The day he planned to ship me off to his farm, I ran away from home with the aid of my mother, and I was first put up with a teacher from her school where she was a principal, then with a brother of a neighbour, before I ended up living with my dear Uncle Cash who passed on in June.

Blog - Uncle Cash!

Not having just enough

There, I began to chart my way back to some academic relevance, already 5 years out of secondary school with nothing to show for it. I took the Joint Admissions Matriculation Board (JAMB) examinations and scored in Physics (71), Chemistry (72), English (73), and Mathematics (45), for whatever reason, I ran out of time with Mathematics and that poor score was significant and it came to 261 when I needed at least 280 to be considered for Electrical Engineering at some of the universities I was interested in as the University of Ife or the University of Benin.

Meanwhile, my mother was pulling strings elsewhere and had with my original West African School Certificate secured admission to the Federal Polytechnic at Ilaro to study Electrical Engineering. To my mind, having been to YabaTech, going to Ilaro in the middle of nowhere was second-best untenable, it never entered my consideration, and no one could appeal to me about it, I was set on going to university come what may.

A bird for a bird

My father came around, and we both drove to the University of Benin to see if he could influence things, it was the second time we had met since I ran away from home over a year before, and at the same time the registration window was closing at Ilaro as lectures were starting too. One thing I remember about that trip was we stopped over at a restaurant, where I ordered a stew with gizzards that my father thought he heard lizard, the look on his face and the laughter afterwards when he realised, he heard wrong.

Herein was my dilemma, I had a bird in hand, the admission to the Federal Polytechnic, Ilaro which I was not paying attention to because I had my mind on the two in the bush, an impossible consideration for admission to either the University of Ife or the University of Benin. All my hopes were on university admission when my reality was a backwater polytechnic where though the OND course was accredited, the HND component was still seeking recognition.

Humble is pie is food

Eventually, as the vanity and the futility of my expectations began to dawn on me, I ate humble pie and set off to the Federal Polytechnic, Ilaro to start as a fresher and from when I used to be the youngest in the class in all the schools I had ever attended, I was now a higher education veteran, 20 years old.

My humiliation is exacerbated by my first encounter, he was a year my junior in secondary school and the very first person I exerted seniority rights on when I got to Form 2 by punishing him, he was in his final year at Ilaro when I was just starting. I can only wonder what stories he had to tell about his life experiences. The senior that punished him 9 years ago in secondary was now 3 years his junior in higher education.

I had to focus on what I had to do, I was not at Ilaro for him or about him, I was at Ilaro to rebuild my shattered dreams. And much as I kept the prospect of going to university alive, my engagement in the semester was both committed and divided. However, by the second semester, I accepted that my bird in hand was the only bird I had and any other birds shitting on my head from above or chirping in the bush were never going to be caught.

It came round beautifully

I did the two years successfully, was my class representative, gained an upper credit diploma and even after ran a signature drive of all my erstwhile class to appeal for the HND component to be accredited for us to return to complete our course at this apparent backwater polytechnic that gave us so much for a start in career and achievement.

For my industrial orientation, I walked into a computer services firm seeking employment and was employed on the spot, I even got my class deputy employed too. He went on to complete his higher diploma at YabaTech, I went into desktop publishing consultancy, to help publish legal reports and acquired 30% of a printing firm on whose auspices I paid my first visit to the UK to acquire equipment and software.

That same OND stood me in good stead for jobs that I took up in the UK when I finally emigrated, obviously, I acquired vendor certifications too. It is interesting to note that, I wrote a character reference for a friend with whom I attended Ilaro and the admissions officer at the University of Liverpool contacted me to suggest I was the kind of candidate they were looking for to embark on a Master's programme. I only had an OND and I was admitted for a postgraduate degree.

It is always what you have

The moral of the story is this, all my intentions, plans and hopes were to go to university, I held fast to that expectation even though there was nothing I could show for that ambition. All the while, I had an admission to Ilaro, it was the unmentionable, the one where I thought I would be stuck, the humiliation of meeting a junior who was very much a senior and you know how ranking works in a typically Nigerian community, yet that was the pathway to my career successes. I could not have envisaged the result of going to Ilaro but the consequence of attending Ilaro made all the difference.

It is in the same vein that we are faced with what we think are choices but are hardly so. That bird in hand is the only thing you have got, there rest are pipedreams, daydreams, hopes, and wishes. Until you have secured whatever you want or need, you do not have it. Yet we give equal status to what we desire and hope for to what we already have but do not like for all sorts of reasons that it was not part of the plan and seek myriad excuses to diminish certainty for uncertainty.

I have many instances where choosing the second-best or the worst possible scenario because that was all I had has led to the best possible and even unintended outcomes. It is important to keep the momentum, take the opportunity that is available and work with it even if at the present time everything it represents is not to your liking.

It is never out of thin air

History is littered with people who were faced with difficult choices of which there are no other options have with humility follow what they have and come up trumps, be it Joseph being sent into slavery before he rose to become deputy Pharaoh or Jesus being given the choice of the cross or flight, faced the cross and brought salvation to the world.

There is indeed nothing new under the sun, the voice of the ancients, the elders, the experienced, and even the privileged tries to counsel us on many issues to which we turn a deaf ear because we have other plans, but plans are just that, plans, we remain stuck in the same place with plans and no action, forsaking opportunity for fantasy and in the end losing both opportunity and fulfilling no fantasy.

The question we should always ask ourselves is, what is it that we already have that we are giving up for what we are hoping to have? What you are hoping for, you do not have. At the feeding of the 5,000, Jesus could only use what the boy had and multiply it, not materialise food for the crowds out of thin air. At the marriage in Cana where Jesus turned water into wine, the jugs were empty, he asked them to fill the jugs with water first, he did not conjure wine from the air.

You have to have something to make or do something, that something may not be what you like or want, but it is the only thing you have and if you do not use it, you will lose it and be left in the same place still, full of dreams, hopes, and desires but no further away from where you started.

Wednesday 26 October 2022

Thought Picnic: In a moment of filial indiscretion

In the telling

My father who is 83 today is an interesting man of numerous talents, great generosity, and impactful mentoring ability, along with considerable human failings as we all are for any story that might get told of us.

However, this is not the time to dwell on those matters for in a lifetime a scion is as much equipped with the knowledge to write both hagiography and excoriation with an equal consequence if presented with the glee of indiscretion.

Of associative relationships

I guess there are ways in which I probably do not appreciate my parents as much as I can even as they are in this year octogenarians both. It is funny that I recently found the words to understand some of what that relationship affects.

At nativity, a time for bonding was lost to the need to give a prematurely born child the opportunity to thrive. The first description of what I looked like depending on who was relating the story varied from lizard to hamster, though it was agreed that I only fit in the palm of my father’s hand before I was shipped off to the city of Birmingham to be incubated for two months.

Our familial relationship is more associative than anything, they stuck to me, reared me, took responsibilities on my behalf and gave me both a start in life and the makings of a world outlook that defines beliefs, expressions, actions, and much else.

A preview loosed

For that, I can only be grateful and thankful, I love them if I understood what love is, yet at various times, I have cultivated these relationships on my own terms, when I want to communicate, how I choose my viewpoints, the audacity of opinion respectful and truthful, for a child, I could well be an aberration given unusual liberties.

I cannot even remember why I started this blog for its course was not essentially to post a birthday greeting, I was thinking of what might end up in a book I am trying to write. The broader narrative will be found there, this is just a synopsis.

Monday 24 October 2022

Remembering my stepmother

 A propinquity nativity

It is a case of interesting provenance for another word cannot be found to describe the fact that my stepmother was only 14 months older than I am. Sadly, today, one speaks in the past tense because today would have been her birthday and she passed on, 4 days after her birthday 2 years ago.

On reflection, I consider the perspectives of relationships and the understanding of what goes on between different people. For there are viewpoints of who she was that my half-brothers whose ages would have been representative of my sons have, and that of who the larger parts of the family have as concerns her.

Deference of association

In my case, I find myself more of a neutral party as I never met her, I only knew of her, and we were introduced over the phone by my father long into their relationship. I immediately adopted a respectful deportment to my father’s wife and accorded her all that it necessitates.

Our interactions over the years that we communicated were cordial and friendly, each deferential to the other even as I fielded concerns and complaints whilst trying to mitigate and ameliorate issues as that relationship became estranged.

In my view, I thought there were situations where my father could have been more gentlemanly, yet I was never conversant with the intricacies of their affair. The history and reports relayed to me would suggest it was a stormy and sometimes unhappy marriage, but I was too distant from the setup to give it any assessment.

In resignation to fate

Therefore, regardless of what others thought of her, I could not fault her even if she had many faults, what I remember was trying to call her on her last birthday and we eventually talked. The call that received on that fateful Wednesday morning from my brother, left me in shock, I was coming to the end of my walking exercise, and I literally collapsed on a bench for a while to get my bearings.

Conversing with my brothers, we worked at facilitating her obsequies as I thought about how our then-recent engagements might have unwittingly been loaded with some premonition; certain critical responsibilities would come my way just as a matter of course and in recognition of the limits to which other parental obligations can be met.

The sadness is palpable in remembrance, more so for my brothers who would surely miss her and her presence for significant life occasions. Life is fleeting, how we leave legacy matters, and for those we have met, we hope we have contributed something significant and positive for them to remember. To my stepmother, rest eternal and may your shortcomings be forgiven.

Blog - A chapter closed suddenly

Friday 14 October 2022

Thought Picnic: Self-doubt, a teacher of humility

The humbling of the present

The unfortunate sacking of Kwasi Kwarteng, the erstwhile Chancellor of the Exchequer gave me something to ponder about my situation. I wrote in a tweet, “Sometimes, a dramatic humbling can be quite life-affirming, do not take every setback as the end of purpose, ambition, or prospect.”

The reason why I can relate is I was invited for an interview on Monday and just before we had the meeting, the agency called to say that the client had realised they had a budget shortfall and whether I would consider lobbing off about 40% from what we had agreed on Friday.

I politely declined as I reflected on the disrespectfulness and insult apart from the unprofessionalism that enabled that kind of feedback that should have been better relayed as the position had been filled by other personnel. You see a lot in 27 years of dealing with contract agencies, and then some.

Beyond the travails we see

Soon afterwards, I got a phone call from another agency offering the prospect of a re-engagement with a client I had worked with before. I was keen and so my details were put forward and they expressed an interest in offering an opportunity.

However, I was to attend an interview on Microsoft Teams scheduled for Friday and I had only hours before reserved to collect my new passport in Liverpool. I did not want to postpone the interview and so that meant planning to be in Liverpool to both attend the interview and collect my passport.

Meanwhile, I was also to give a presentation as part of the interview process with the choice from 5 topics that looked quite distinct yet from my experience were intricately interrelated. I found myself in a similar brain fog as I was 5 years ago, trying to decide which topic to present, though then I chose one and wrapped the considerations of the other 3 topics into how they relate with the one I chose.

In doubt and unsure

It would have been easy and lazy to rehash the old document, but I had to do better, and I gathered the material and began to construct the elements of my presentation. In my head, I had a good idea of what I wanted to say, but how to fit that into an acceptable presentation became a challenge.

For all the expertise and experience I do have, others probably do believe in my abilities more than I dare to believe I am. There are jobs I should apply for that reticence and doubt persuades me otherwise. My friends constantly urge me to step up, their perspective of me way ahead of my apparent insecurities.

My presentation almost became existential in its import, for it would have been the crux upon which the decision to hire me would have been based amongst other considerations. I found myself wondering how I could quite easily scupper my chances given what might be a golden opportunity. Then I would whisper to myself, that everything would be fine, take breathing exercises and try to calm myself down.

The trial of adequacy

My friends would suggest I am not lacking in confidence, I have my doubts about that assessment, and then maybe I am beating myself up too hard. My presentation was only about 75% finished by the time I went to bed, and I was so sleep-deprived thinking about how I had not closed the activity. Something was missing from giving the presentation the necessary feel of a proposal made to a C-suite executive.

A few ideas wandered into my mind overnight and on getting up, I showered and went for breakfast that I could hardly finish before giving Brian a call. My best friend had sent me a message of encouragement during the night too, which I acknowledged. I went for a walk to the River Mersey and returned to complete my presentation with just an hour left to the interview.

Things seemed to fall into place and with just about 20 minutes to spare, there was nothing more I could do about what I was about to present. Unsure and nervous, we began a discussion when I realised that my 9 slides of PowerPoint presentation were to be delivered in 10 minutes, there was no point panicking, I went for it with mannerisms and tics, all forgiven with the verdict that it was a good presentation.

Self-doubt, the measure of strength

This was something I would never have been able to pull off without the support of my friend, and my partner, they were constantly encouraging me even as it was increasingly difficult to believe them. Then I need to find the positive in my ordeal, maybe self-doubt is a good check on hubris too, it works for me even if it stresses me out too.

There is a humbling that teaches you the truth of your vulnerability not to strip you of agency but to equip you with the human need to seek support and encouragement to empower you through when your strength appears to fail.

It is like what Apostle Paul said in II Corinthians 1v9-11“Yes, we had the sentence of death in ourselves, that we should not trust in ourselves but in God who raises the dead, who delivered us from so great a death, and does deliver us; in whom we trust that He will still deliver us, you also helping together in prayer for us, that thanks may be given by many persons on our behalf for the gift granted to us through many.”

It speaks for itself, that our vulnerabilities or the humbling of the present only allows us to appreciate that we can do a lot more in the context of our humanity by relying on others.

Saturday 8 October 2022

Thought Picnic: To love and work at it

Knowing what is up

The beauty of love and being in love has a profound way of giving you both a sense of being and joy of living that cannot be effectively put into words. There is a satisfaction and stability that can come with being a relationship that we fail to nurture and tender, we just allow things to trundle allow naively assured of nature without nurture.

Yet, when I review relationships past, I find that we never really took the time to review if what each of us expected in the relationship was matched to what our partners sought, of if there was any alignment that helped compatibility and interdependence, we just left ourselves to the issues and situations without attending properly the bonds that defined us.

Working at it more

If there is any lesson to be learnt, it is to cherish more and nurture better the affairs of the heart. Give time and consideration to the garden of love that it does not get overgrown with the weeds of distraction, indifference, and complacency.

With Brian, I find that I need to appreciate what I have for I know and maybe that is a cliché that I have never loved like this before, all the loves I have had have been in their ways significant, they have all been part of the fabric of my life and the stories I get to tell.

Then this is different and wonderful, experience has been an unrelentingly hard taskmaster, that one would be a fool to commit the old mistakes again. I am resolved to work at this.

Thursday 6 October 2022

My hopes say my fears will not prevail

In all my weakness

Sometimes, I have to wonder how I keep pressing on, how despite the many things that cause fear, anxiety, uncertainty, and turmoil, hitting at the door of my composure threatening to break an entry and overwhelm me with the audacity of the invasion of an armed robber.

I am only human, all the more vulnerable, concerned about circumstances that I believe will turn right, though, at this time, things are not where they should be. The vicissitudes of life are an ever-present indicator that ease and difficulty are the ebb and flow of the currents that define the stories of life.

I will not falter

At times, it seems relentless and unyielding, then you think again, I can face this and face this down, this will pass, it will become a distant memory. It is just not that comfortable when you are sitting in the middle of a storm. I know I will weather it, even when I think my strength is totally exhausted, the reserves that buoy me up would say, grace, good fortune, blessing, and favour is on my side.

Until I draw my last breath, I am here to tell a better story. Using the spirit of hope to my fears, they will not prevail.

Wednesday 5 October 2022

Chemotherapy as a journey to survival

A body for assault

No two experiences of taking chemotherapy are the same, at least that is what I think from my own situation. As I took my delayed first session of Caelyx chemotherapy (liposomal doxorubicin) on the 5th of October 2009.

It was scheduled for 9:30 AM but postponed for 3 hours. In that time, I received a brilliant bouquet of flowers from Stockholm which brightened my outlook quite a bit.

I had been informed that I was not going to lose my hair, not that I had any to lose, and my fertility will be affected, not that I was planning to procreate nor was I in the state to make a preservation order on that account.

Taking cancer head-on

When I was wheeled to the oncology theatre, I was canulated and this red liquid in large sachet covered in aluminium foil to shield it from light was passed into my veins for a period of 45 minutes to an hour.

It felt like a homeward straight in my therapy, the fungating tumours of Kapasi’s sarcoma were going to be snuffed out. The chemotherapy being cytostatic, meaning it kills cells and stops cells from growing also meant that I was a health hazard to others who had to be careful about having any contact with any of my bodily fluids including blood.

After the first session, my bed was cordoned off in isolation and that affected me more than the bloated feeling that was a side effect of drug. I was informed of everything I could expect apart from the isolation which was removed after 2 nights.

How it all transpired

I had 7 chemotherapy sessions every third Monday until the 8th of February 2010. In terms of side effects, it was the loss of taste, the only things I could perceptively taste were yoghurts and cassis black currant drinks. I was literally knocked and without strength for the second and third day, then by the fifth session, I could not keep my food down that I had to be given medication to manage the emesis.

By December, the cancer lesions had disappeared, new pink skin was showing up from under the necrotised skin which needed to be cut away. It is not the best experience, but if it is the only viable course of treatment, you just have to hope you pull through it, for at the same time, a close friend on chemotherapy treated by the same oncologist did not survive his third session of chemotherapy.

Just striving to live

I guess what I learnt through the process was that you were given more of the chemotherapy if you tolerated it well. When I visited the hospital for my out-patient sessions, the ward was well-equipped, the couches were fully adjustable to recline into beds, if so desired. I took my thermos flask of tea, some biscuits, and some reading material.

Apart from the staff, we were a ward of people fighting to live, from the boy who came alone, hardly a teenager to the elderly people, just hoping that the medicine gave us a lot more time than when we first heard the word cancer spoken about our condition.

This blog of reflection is one that also recognises that people with my condition at diagnosis rarely lived for another 10 years. I have been fortunate, and I am grateful for the grace of God on my life, the amazing miracle of medical science, the support of extraordinary friends and now the wonderful love in my life, Brian. I am blessed.

Monday 3 October 2022

Running the gauntlet of influencer clout blackmail

Be glad for the professionalism

I got involved in a thread conversation on Twitter this morning because I felt there was a seething sense of entitlement bordering on blackmail that could not be overlooked. The poster had used the services of a skin specialist whose professionalism had eradicated hyperpigmentation from his face, and one would assume out of customer satisfaction, the poster recommended other people to the skin specialist.

It transpired that the skin specialist told the poster that through his recommendation, some 500 other clients had used his professional services. The skin specialist thanked the poster for the recommendation and that should have been enough.

This is just barefaced entitlement

However, the poster did a mental calculation on the 500 clients, imagined the total income from that clientele and came to the conclusion that the skin specialist’s gratitude could have been better expressed in a probably a free year of skincare services and so by inference labelled the skin specialist an ingrate for getting all that custom and providing no tangible reward.

Now, I cannot say how large the skin specialist’s business is, but one thing is certain, if the skin specialist had not achieved the results of fixing the poster’s face, everything else that resulted in referrals, increased clientele and additional income from the clients would not have happened. What professionals do is provide a service for which they get paid and if the customer decides to recommend them, that is a bonus.

Please respect the professional

What I take issue with is people who having obtained a good professional service for which time and resources have been meticulously devoted expecting to get a free service in reward for their recommendations. It is one thing to have agreed beforehand that you will bring custom to a business for some reward, and it is another to expect a reward from having benefitted from a service. If it is exclusively your decision to recommend a business, do not return to blackmail the business owner into giving you a free service.

In fact, professionals should always be treated as professionals with skills on the market to be monetarised, please respect the professional, and pay up. For example, would anyone having had a successful surgical procedure and then recommended the surgeon to others now expect the surgeon to provide free services for subsequent surgeries as an expression of gratitude? What makes a surgeon different from a skin specialist or a computer expert except for the tendency to denigrate and contemn one in relation to the other?

Paying forward is better

I have recommended businesses and services just as I have written reviews about services that have not been to a professional standard either to get them to change or to alert other customers about issues with the business. Where my reviews have redounded to the bottom line, I do not stand at the gate seeking compensation or reward, I pay fully for the service provided respecting what they do.

My principle is to pay forward rather than seek reward, what I can afford, I pay for, if the business wants to be generous, that generosity is better directed to those in need. I would not let acquisitive greed deprive others of opportunity and access. Like if the skin specialist offered a free session, I would probably suggest it be given to someone who needs it but cannot afford it.

It is blackmail, no less

This brings me to the issue of influencers; these are people who have a large following due to activity in their situation who have consequently promoted a business or service to their followers. Whilst I cannot essentially class fame or infamy as a profession, some do use their influencer clout to then attempt to blackmail businesses, services, or professionals into providing free products and services for exposure to their following.

For some businesses, there can be a beneficial end to that, but to put upon a professional and predicate that by your influence their business has survived and without you, they will be nothing is quite an aggrandisement and close to delusions of grandeur. It is the professional’s prerogative to express gratitude as they deem fit without having to be excoriated or abused for just expressing thanks instead of doling out freebies.

Ultimately, if you can’t pay for the service, go elsewhere. If you feel entitled to a free service, find a gullible professional ready to sacrifice their professionalism for your influencer schtick. Enough of the backhanded recommendations seeking reward, if anything, it is utterly reprehensible, and I have no qualms about calling it out.