Saturday 23 December 2023

John Coll: Calling on Herbert Dzinotyiweyi to fulfil his wishes

How we learnt of it

9 years ago, a very dear friend, John Alexander Coll passed on, unfortunately, many of us who knew him did not learn of his passing until almost a month after he had gone. The executor John chose to manage his estate and contacted me late on the 21st of January 2015 and expected a response from me by the 23rd of January 2015 for the funeral planned for the 30th of January 2015.

This presented a difficulty for many who would have liked to attend John’s funeral, we found a circle of friends and eventually were able to have someone in London represent those of us who would have had to travel from afar to honour this amazing man.

The executor of John’s estate

Sadly, 9 years on, John’s estate and issues have not been resolved as he had intended, his executor Herbert Dzinotyiweyi who used to handle the accounts for the company Connection Software that John founded through the years gave everyone the impression that the estate was a very complex and tax intensive issue, it probably was.

Herbert Dzinotyiweyi who for a while lived in the UK also has Zimbabwe roots and seems to have ensconced himself beyond the reach of scrutiny of his fiduciary obligations to the beneficiaries of John’s estate.

It was in early 2019 that I acquired details of John’s will and the probate that had 10 beneficiaries once the core of the estate had been liquidated, yielding almost £800,000 which if it were judiciously divided amongst those to whom John bequeathed a largesse would have been consequential and life-changing for each of them, most located in Zimbabwe where he once had interests and in South Africa.

Our engagement with Herbert Dzinotyiweyi

I was able to gather all the beneficiaries in conference a few times in 2019 into 2020, some of whom at the time that I contacted them were unaware that John Coll had made a generous bequest to their names.

We did Herbert Dzinotyiweyi to attend some of those conferences from the safety of Zimbabwe, at which no determination was gained or made until he removed himself from the conference groups as if he had no further obligations as executor. Suspicions arose that a professional forensic analysis of the moneys accrued from the estate after probate determined that money had gone, it had not gone to any of John Coll’s intended beneficiaries.

Just account for the estate

Whilst I do not intend to impugn Herbert Dzinotyiweyi’s name, some questions need answering; an explanation as to why John’s estate that made probate in June 2015 has still not been afforded the wishes of the testator, and there is a possible dereliction of responsibility as executor that might border on criminal enterprise, but this is not to accuse anyone.

A dead man cannot fight for his good intentions and wishes, which is why they trust someone or people to administer their estate when they are gone. The fact that John’s registered will was made and witnessed just 5 days before he passed on might have limited the scope of persons to elect as executors of his will. He cannot have thought that the person he selected would not expeditiously manage his estate and adhere fully to his generous desires, 9 years on.

Pattern or sheer coincidence?

I know this is not what John intended and I can only hope that action and justice for what John Coll desired is finalised by the time of the 10th anniversary of his passing and Herbert Dzinotyiweyi willingly accounts for his superintending of John Alexander Coll’s estate as executor.

The friends of John Coll who remember him fondly as an extraordinary person of consequence in innumerable ways will continue to agitate for the full realisation of his wishes. The matter is not closed by any stretch of the imagination. May John Coll continue to rest in peace.

NB: I am not a beneficiary of John’s will, I am a friend of John’s, we met in mid-1994. Obviously, I will review and edit this blog once all of John’s wishes are fulfilled as he intended.

Meanwhile, a quick search for Herbert Dzinotyiweyi would suggest he has run into some trouble. One cannot speculate on pattern or behaviour, but it is an interesting development to discover today. [ZimNow: Harare man in court over residential stand scam]

Blog - John Coll: Friend, Mentor, Gentleman (January 2015)

Thursday 21 December 2023

58 revolutions around the sun

It’s a miracle baby

As times come and go, I realise I am a living miracle from the moment I took my first breath, with all the goodness and favour that has greeted me every waking day that has become the story of my life.

I am of all men greatly blessed, highly favoured, and extremely fortunate. Unexpectedly born at 26 and a half weeks at a time when it could have been decided I could not survive, even as the hospital in which I was born did not have the means to sustain me. I was taken to a hospital in another city about 25 miles away where I received the best care medicine could offer at the time.

An outlier to the convention

As a man of faith, every day whether acknowledged or not has had the hand of God sheltering and keeping me, through literally impossible situations, I can hardly count the innumerable blessings.

At another time, I was not meant to see my 44th birthday, the prognosis gave me 5 weeks when the medical team in charge of my care made a diagnosis giving me the facts of the options before me. The good news depended on me tolerating the gruelling and debilitating chemotherapy for which I would be rewarded with more time.

Even medicine would prove me an outlier and the condition I had from studies at that time suggested the people did not last a decade. There were times I felt like a clock was ticking, it probably is the reason I hate the sound of ticking clocks. What was I learning from Captain James Hook in Peter Pan?

Living to live and thrive

Then, how have I measured myself against others thinking I will be limited by the experience of others when I was to live the life I am given to live and prosper. It is easy to live as if one were dying, yet there is a better story to live as one living and thriving regardless of situation or circumstance.

And here we are today, 58 revolutions around the sun, nothing I could have predicted or expected, it is all the grace of God, the prayers of many, the unstinting support of some, and the amazing love of Brian who plants a smile and grin that never wanes on my face.

I am full of gratitude to see this day and I believe there are many more amazing celebrations to come. In the stories I will write I cannot even begin to imagine the form or frame of words to narrate the miracles that astound as each day passes into milestones for which the praises to God will fill the mouths of many who love goodness, happiness, success, and joy.

This is my happy birthday.

Wednesday 20 December 2023

In gratitude

Much appreciation

It has been an interesting year for me, and whilst I did not find myself doing much of what I would have wanted to do, I have done other things I would have rarely found myself doing and been enriched by it all.

By participating in activities and volunteering, I have in many ways inadvertently met influential people and been involved in consequential decision-making forums that I would never have attended, but I found a voice and an expression that would normally not be heard.

Above all, it is how I have been sustained through some of the toughest times, the support of my partner, my best friend, my sister, old partners, my neighbours, my parents, support groups, my community, and many others who have fervently kept me in their prayers and supplications, with encouragement, entreaty, and even unwelcome and probably justifiable rebuke that has caused offense.

For service

We entertain much in how we exist, but we need to be careful about what we allow to define us. Faith and hope have set a course for the realisation of many desires, they are the complementary force of what will result in better and more uplifting stories. In many disappointments in the resolution and resolve goodness, mercies, and blessings cannot miss us.

It was only on Monday that I thought I should arrive at Manchester Cathedral early, just in case there was any help needed since I am a church steward. They had everything in hand, and I took my seat before additional rows were added to the reserved seats. I was not asked to move to another seat.

Interesting encounters

Just before the event started, a gentleman with a lady arrived, the usual small talk about the weather after pleasantries followed and a few quips on things English and so on. They had travelled in from Sale, and he needed some help getting up for the carol songs.

After the interval, he said there were so many people to meet, he had to chat to the High Sheriff of Greater Manchester and a few Deputy Lieutenants as he was one too. I suppose, if I had been more observant, a man in a pin-striped suit, his wallet so thick it needed rubber bands to hold together, a few acknowledgements from here and there, this was a community stalwart, known for his contributions and charitable activities.

At 85, I would pass for a son, his companion just 75 years old, both of whom in the inclement weather of the northwest in December needn’t have bothered but still with enthusiasm and a sense of fun made an appearance that should be appreciated. As the carol concert ended, we shook hands, and he gave his name. A very accomplished man indeed.

In all, I am very grateful, it is the last day of 57 and it is unimaginable how I could have thrived without the amazing support of Brian. You bring light and love, with joy and laughter. Thank you.

Wednesday 13 December 2023

Pasty Paradise - The Joie of Findin' T'Last Un!

Hasty on the pasty

It is kudos to the last pasty that caused this scene. © Devon Live
My attempt at a Devonshire accent in the title, most likely falls flat, even my Brummie birth accent cultivated in Walsall, barely gets a try.

This is one of those stories that should have ended up as a quip on Twitter or Threads, but it makes for interesting reading just because it is impossible to decide whether to laugh or cry.

It could well feature in the Odd World section of any village rag, but Bideford in North Devon, England with a population of about 15,000 or so, finds notoriety in the actions of one truculent freewheeling pensioner.

The said pensioner had rolled up to a bakery on his mobility scooter only to find that someone had paid for and made off with the last pasty. Devon, which borders Cornwall to the east, is part of the Cornish peninsula and why, I do love a rich and meaty Cornish pasty, and for that love much can happen if you are beaten to the last pasty. [Devon Live: Watch as Devon pensioner runs down man for 'buying last pasty']

A nasty for the pasty

So, waving cane and revving his mobility scooter, as if mounted on horseback and lance in hand like the cavalry of old, the pensioner ran down the man with the last pasty. The clatter and crash left pasty-man on the ground behind a shop sign ‘Kudos’.

I am undecided as to whom should receive the kudos; however, the bigger question is where did the last pasty end up? Other formalities regarding the fracas and the law notwithstanding, the morale of the tale is you are an endangered species if you are aiming for the last pasty.

It is like crossing a busy road, look right, look left, look behind you, and look all around you and far enough to be sure that with prognostication, premonition, and gut instinct and no regard for your hunger, that an old-age pensioner is not nearby ready to break your legs with a mobility scooter. That last pasty might be the last thing you do.

Tuesday 12 December 2023

Thought Picnic: What really is the purpose of the interview?

Between the means and the end

Interviews as one would expect are a means of engagement to ascertain if a candidate for a role is first able to do what is contained in the job specification and beyond and to determine if the said person is a good fit for the team, department, and organisation into which they are being assessed and invited.

In general, I would think a curriculum vitae should speak for itself in terms of what was done, achieved and how that activity benefitted that setting. In my case, because the general rule especially in the UK is to have a 3-page or shorter CV, a wealth of experience and expertise running decades is difficult to encapsulate in such a short space. For that reason, I have a link to a much longer resume in the narrative, quite detailed for anyone interested.

Against the odds of poor preparation

Expertise is knowhow and would by inference be recent and attending to the role applied for, experience brings in a long more over time, by observation, involvement, practice, understanding, and even the ability to explain in some appreciable detail the hows and whys of things.

The question then is, how to set up an interview in such a way that the engagement allows the interviewer to tighten their enquiry to gain the best indication of ability, agility, and compatibility meeting their requirements. I am now concluding that no preparation on the part of the interviewee can prepare them for a poorly planned interview.

I have received commendations after attending interviews where the feedback has been, that I am likeable and knowledgeable, but I did not address the interview questions to the detail required. Also, the additional feedback has suggested that the roles have been readvertised because none of the tranches of interviewees were selected for the role. We probably can agree that this is a problem with the interview than the interviewees.

Ask concise and relevant questions

The quality of the answers you get from an interviewee have to be related to the standard of questions asked. It goes without saying that the quality of search results for a standard search request is dependent on how well and unambiguous the search terms are phrased. In these times of generative AI, the same principle follows, a well-crafted prompt will elicit good responses close to what the inquirer requires.

How this fundamental principle does not filter into interviews does baffle me. Again, I have probably interviewed better when I have had to give a presentation from a range of selected topics or dealt with scenarios proffered that would assess my quality of thinking, problem-resolution ability, and general perspective on issues. Sadly, very few interviewers adopt this line of enquiry.

In a lake of mysterious misery

For instance, you would probably get an interview question that is worded along the lines of, ‘Cross the lake.’ You are then left wondering where is the lake? Are there crossing points along the lake shore and from what crossing point to the other? Does the lake have bridges, pontoons, and boats, or do you have to consider swimming, if you cannot swim? How long do you have to cross the lake? Is the lake infested with crocodiles or other dangerous animals?

Let me paint the scenario in this analogy, a lake where the supposed interviewer is a fisherman, with apparently extensive knowledge of the lake, the best times to fish and what types of fish thrive therein, where the water source is, the weather and seasons to expect at what times, maybe even has done night rescues of people in distress and the question he asks a visiting fisherman interviewee reads like he doesn’t know anything about bodies of water.

So many scenarios can be built around crossing the lake with additional information to help the interviewee address the issues or thinking that would help the best lake crossing, if just for themselves or in consideration of others where probably a bridge would suffice rather than a boat as someone would have to row the boat back to the crossing point.

Poor questions won’t yield good prospects

Indeed, I am aghast with the quality of the technical questions I face, they are general, rudimentary, elementary, fundamental, and broad. When asked by the supposedly highly technical person, you are left wondering why they are not asking questions built around scenarios and issues they have encountered with the guardrails to refine the responses with follow-up questions?

It is incumbent on interviewers to prepare for interviews just as much as interviewees prepare with some kind of interview preparation. What seems to be happening is the interviewer seems to be winging it, in the end, they never really determine suitability because they have been lazy and the waste of time on both sides is not compensated for, with disappointment on the side of the interviewee and self-created disappointment on the side of the interviewer.

What really is the purpose of the interview? I am left unsure of whether that very basic idea is known.

It's a focus group treadmill

Lend us your views

Within the last month, I have been invited to and attended a few focus groups and research study forums seeking to understand my usage and experience of healthcare and mental health services in the diverse community areas in which I find some belonging.

I guess recently, I have been both forward and willing to offer a perspective because whilst I am affected and impacted by many issues, I am not in a sponsored or activist role, I probably speak for an underrepresented demographic of people who usually keep to themselves and seeking no recognition.

Stuff your vouchers

Now, there is the perverse view of the organisers that we attend because we have been enticed or induced by some sort of incentive. It helps, but if every engagement was for the acquisition of vouchers, that would be unfortunate.

Yesterday, I agreed to attend one such focus group, I arrived on time, only to find that the session had started and there was apparently a restriction to the numbers that could attend. To add insult to injury, I was being offered an alternative engagement for the bounty prize of a voucher.

If the look disdain would could capture for posterity, I think the people in that room could not have been less convinced. You think I came for your voucher that I probably cannot find a place spend before its validity expired. Well, the first part was duly expressed as the latter part was absorbed in my thinking. I came for a focus group I was invited to attend, at the time stipulated, even though the convenor arrived much earlier and decided to start before the scheduled time.

Please, do not waste my time

Anyway, I was not going to waste my time if my time was not being valued and my person respected, as an apology came from many directions until the person coordinating the invitees decided to ask if others could join the focus group. Eventually, I was invited to join the activity that had barely got beyond the introductions and ground rules.

Whilst I commend many who work in the non-profit and community engagement sectors, the availability of people to help and volunteer themselves in activities and other research endeavours should not be taken for granted. I can only wonder if I would again be persuaded to engage with that agency after our first encounter.

It was unfortunate, but where I would not be treated with courtesy and respect is not a place or an environment I want to be. From a cynical perspective, I do wonder how any of these things I have participated in would improve the services we use. I guess it is a wait-and-see thing and then calling them to account further down the line. You can only attend so many focus groups before you begin to wonder whether it is merely for funding acquisition rather than service improvement.

Friday 8 December 2023

Thought Picnic: Enemies present to see me blessed

In the grip of superstition

Sometimes, I find myself at that point of conflict between traditions and beliefs, the things we find ourselves doing because of fear, premonition, superstition, or customs we think the good and good fortune that comes our way is under constant threat from bad forces or persons.

We live with a tendency to believe that ill will exists at every turn, both in its proximity and in its distance, we inadvertently limit agency and facility because we give over the wealth of grace made available to us to the control of possible malevolence than trusting in unassailable benevolence.

Whilst one understands that there is no glory or praise in adversity, any adversity is essentially part of the construct of life, the more consequential matter is how one deals with adversity. For instance, when I was asked how I could avoid conflict from arising in some setting, I posited that avoiding conflict is rarely a function under our control, but addressing the issue in order the resolve it is one we need to have the skill to do.

Enemies present to see me blessed

It is against this backdrop, from the deepest recesses of my beliefs and faith, that I found that some advice I was receiving did not sit well with me. I can attest to many circumstances where I have found assurance, comfort, and solace from a verse of scripture that overwhelms and brings to naught the effect of something that in other situations would be damaging and impossible to overcome.

(Psa 23:5 NLT) You prepare a feast for me in the presence of my enemies. You honour me by anointing my head with oil. My cup overflows with blessings.

My understanding of this verse is that God blesses you for the observation of your adversaries and detractors. They are to see and know that you are blessed and blessed abundantly. The blessing of God is not something to be hidden. To enjoy the blessing of God is not a thing of personal pride, but one of glorifying God as it pleases God to bless His people.

The irreversible blessings of God

(Num 23:20 NLT) Listen, I received a command to bless; God has blessed, and I cannot reverse it!

In this Bible story where the prophet Balaam was spoken to by the ass he was riding, Balaam was being engaged by a king with the promise of a great reward to curse the people of Israel. What is fundamental here is that what God has done in His goodness cannot be repudiated. To the frustrated king procuring Balaam’s services, the clear message was, that what God has blessed cannot be reversed.

(Psa 118:6 NLT) The LORD is for me, so I will have no fear. What can mere people do to me?

(Psa 118:7 NLT) Yes, the LORD is for me; he will help me. I will look in triumph at those who hate me.

As I was writing this blog, the verses above came to me, even as others that I will further meditate on have percolated into my consciousness. This challenges many premises, but until you know your station and status, it might well be meaningless. The fundamental here is that the LORD is for me and with that confidence, I should not fear what people can or think they have the power to do to me.

This is reinforced in the next verse, confirming that the LORD is indeed for me, not just idling, but helping me so that I get to look in triumph at those who do not wish me well for whatever reasons they might have.

Goodness and mercy fully attached

The focus really should be on God rather than them, regardless of what they might be up to. I lay hold of this assurance receiving the honour bestowed on me by the one whose blessings no one can reverse. As always, the issue is getting to appreciate the powerfulness of your standing against the powerlessness of any assailant.

That is what gives the last verse of Psalm 23 its grounding in faith and reality. I remain convinced that famines pass for times of abundance beyond every means or measure of understanding. We only have to trust in the unfailing love of God to know that we always win.

(Psa 23:6 NLT) Surely your goodness and unfailing love will pursue me all the days of my life, and I will live in the house of the LORD forever.

20 Years - A Blog

A wry Berlin

When I sat in a hotel room in Berlin watching television and decided to start a blog, I was not looking 20 years down the line after over 4,000 blogs thinking how I would write a celebratory blog.

December 2003 was a different world and at the same time an interesting one too. Blogging was trending, like everyone had a story to tell and if they were not doing that, there were interests, opinions, gossip, or reviews to share. I had no particular plans for my blog, I was not going to be a written version of a shock jock, but there were things I saw differently by influence and perspective that I thought I could lay out in my own space.

How things change

Social media as we know it now was not part of the canon, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, TikTok, or Threads were probably not even in incubation with their inventors at that time, we had other outlets that people found to showcase their lives and experience, many now consigned to history.

I cannot explain why I kept blogging when most got tired of it and eventually left it altogether, it cannot be for a lack of stories to tell. Obviously with audiovisual stimulation and the sensational, you can easily grab the headlines and gain popularity, I think my blog became like a community corner shop full of the traditional and the nostalgic, existing almost like a store of knowledge, with shelves of the old and new.

I am grateful

Looking back, I also probably did not see 20 years ahead, it was distant and unplanned, with threats and opportunities, but the spirit that powered through despite everything, it was one of hope and of thankfulness. That I am still here to write my stories is one of good fortune and the great providence and grace of God.

I count my blessings and much as I would have liked to make a greater celebration of this milestone in blogging like I did when it reached a decade, I might just do this quietly and begin to write new chapters of great adventures of life, love, and loving.

This blog would not exist without its readership and support from so many through the years, some readers I know and have become friends with, many are acquaintances, but most are totally unknown, yet they leave footprints and for their custom, I am grateful. Life is a journey, and the experience is what makes our stories, the snippets sometimes become blogs, as in my case.

Here’s to the next great celebration, whatever and whenever. Shalom! Shalom!  

Decade Blogs - Roundup V - All the 35 Blogs and Thanks (January 2014)

Saturday 2 December 2023

Thought Picnic: Knowing love as love indeed

Loving love

One of the joys of living is to know that you are loved, and there are many loves to think about, some you experience from the beginning from people who have brought you into the world, their joy and their responsibility become the care you get as you begin to understand the world around you.

In the process, you find out about love, love from above that begins to give direction and purpose, learning and appreciating that love is a process of education and re-evaluation, if only we could trust in that love enough to know that everything would be fine, regardless.

The love we find

Then, the love we find, some that seem to be good wanes with time or transforms itself into a new kind of relationship, nice and friendly, built on the knowledge we have acquired of each other that lasts decades and more. Best friends of a rare kind, confidantes of a special type, of whom your flaws are a matter of discretion, your failings are never highlighted, and before whom you can do no wrong.

Your heart might have passed through many hands, massaged at times, squeezed by experience, even hurt, and dropped in the quagmire of questioning and possibly despair, which obviously becomes the stuff of other stories.

A beautiful love

Then that heart gets caressed by the most tender hands, your ears tickled by the kindest singing of words that lift you into ecstasy, in the embrace that you have committed yourself to is something that no clear explanation can be found for. In that love, you find a new meaning, the sense of adventure that becomes the realisation of dreams so sweet and beautiful.

I think about it every time as it traverses distance and realms, I know that I have a love that makes me smile, that makes me laugh, that keeps me going knowing that our fears will melt away into hopes that materialise beyond anything we ever imagined. I live for the days of love unbridled, untrammelled, uninhibited, and unashamed.

Yes, I am in love and I am blessed with an amazing lover.

Friday 1 December 2023

World AIDS Day - 2023

So many friends I lost

I have lost many friends to HIV/AIDS, the first person I met who had HIV and was released from prison in France on compassionate grounds was trying to write his story with no idea of what time he had left. I had gone to help him out, on his computer; he passed on in late 1991.

Another was an opera buff, full of life, an exciting conversationalist with a predilection to a certain type. A very good friend that I had known for just over 3 years. When we gathered for his 37th birthday, it was both a joyful party celebrating his survival and a sombre meeting that suggested we might not have another. A few months later, he had a two-page spread of a tribute-cum-obituary in the Guardian in 1994.

I guess from the late 1990s, people were not as scared of HIV, and medications were coming on-stream to deal with the worst vestiges of HIV or the progression into AIDS if the issues were attended to promptly.

Change and change together

In 2000, I emigrated to the Netherlands, and I also met many people who were living with HIV all around Europe. They seem to keep a low profile when they fell ill, and then they returned to the scene usually to tell of their ordeal and their escape from tragedy.

Also, especially with young men, some on receiving a diagnosis literally gave up and were ready to end their lives. I found myself in the role of someone who gave a new perspective to things that it was an opportunity to consider a new lease of life that makes a difference for themselves and others. Many of them are thriving and are thankfully still with us today.

When in September 2002, I received an HIV+ result, I vacillated between a fatalistic view of things and a progressively positive perspective. I had determined it would not be the cause of my demise much as I did not attend to the issues that might arise.

I sought a miraculous touch

I probably wanted something miraculous than consequential medical intervention. I attribute that sense to the kind of religious beliefs I had mostly been exposed to.

To that end, as my health began to deteriorate with the advent of AIDS in the time from mid-2008 onwards, I felt I was still doing fine until what presented as athlete’s foot was determined to be an aggressive skin cancer, kaposi’s sarcoma. Now, that was life-threatening, and in September 2009 I came upon the full diagnosis that was treatable if I responded to the treatment or in the words of my consultant, I probably had only 5 weeks to live.

My response to the treatment from medical observation was by its rapidity from arresting AIDS, clearing up the skin lesions and fungating tumours, and bringing my viral load to undetectable levels, miraculous. My body was saved, but everything else lost, that I had to start all over again.

What works, works well

In that time, I lost other good friends who had HIV to other attendant ailments that might or may not have been related to HIV.

I am fortunate and grateful, and the antiretroviral medication works for me, I have been on the same regimen for over 13 years with no need or inclination to change it for anything else. My biannual checkups keep a view on all the internal and organ functions allowing my medical team to address issues with alacrity.

Obviously, there is the issue of stigma usually borne of fear and ignorance, you still need to be careful who you reveal your status to, especially where you are not aware of their understanding of developments and messages that now attend to the living with HIV.

My thoughts on World AIDS Day

World AIDS Day for me is a day of recognition and remembrance; the many amazing lives lost in their prime, the stories that did not get told, and the suffering that happened in the private and public compounded by prejudice and discrimination. The triumph of humanity over adversity and the celebration of life beyond infirmity and tragedy.

Most of all, it is one of possibilities; HIV is not a death sentence, it is the beginning of the answer to the question about living a fulfilling, glorious, and impactful life. For that, I want to tell stories, even better stories, and the best stories that Brian and I can write and tell together.

World AIDS Day – To life and living well.

Wednesday 29 November 2023

Back for the biannuals

Tell me about this

It was a week ago that I made it out to Crumpsall for my biannual medical with sheaves of printed-out medical results to get a better understanding of and explanation of the medical terms of obfuscation and intrigue.

This time, I met the lead consultant who was quite amenable to my inquiries, explaining in great detail the somewhat confusing or misunderstood terms whilst allaying my fears about other issues.

Critically, it was the result of the MRI scan I had in early October, the reading suggests that nothing is wrong with my bones, but my back muscles do need strengthening with physiotherapy, whenever I can get access to that service.

It flows better with drinking water

As was drinking water from the time that I woke up, my veins easily presented for phlebotomy, though that might well be dependent on the nurse doing it. I doubt the nurse with height and hands that would leave him comparable to the Nephilim would have succeeded, no matter what he might have tried.

Now, the results of the blood tests are posted for viewing immediately after they are available, the portal also offers trends on a graphical scale for you to note gradual or sudden changes to the readings observed.

Once again, I am grateful to the medical team that handles my care, from the receptionist who is always amiable and pleased to see me, we exchange copious pleasantries to the nurses who measure the vitals and then the consultants who extend beyond expertise to respectful humanising of their patients. I guess it is another meeting in six months.

Tuesday 21 November 2023

In the throes of maternal angst

Thinking motherhood

Mother is a word of many emotions, to which we all belong sometimes in terms and ways we cannot find to describe. Of all my siblings, it is obvious that we all have different views of mother almost like the Six men of Indostan.

Of love we have plenty and of experience we have many, in her duty it is impossible not to find praise and admiration, even gratitude will abound because she is devoted and unstinting, if that were the only perspective to consider, sainthood would beckon without asking.

Yet, the mother is human and imperfect, with passions and frailties that might shock or surprise. The memory of such is hurt and pain, leading a declension into resentment. Forgive, forgive, the heart cries, in pain, in pain, the soul weeps. For a child much can be done unawares, and to the child, the memory does not disappear.

Conflicted situations

Why am I plagued with a remembrance of abandonment, threat, and curse? For they leave marks indelible that the showers of love fail to wash away totally. Even somewhere in my spirit, I hear the divine ask to take care of it all, I guess I have not reached where I can cast it all upon him.

Much as I have questions, I probably do not need any answers, for there is no change to be expected of those who are determined they did no wrong. One has to be thankful that God is not like man for His longsuffering, mercifulness, lovingkindness, and faithfulness. How hard have I made my way to be more like God?

There are many ways in which I am blessed and even when mother is sent to Coventry, in spite of everything, a mother remains steadfastly praying, for the peace we all seek to live by.

Monday 20 November 2023

This is my 4,000th blog

Blogging milestones

In 18 days, I will be celebrating 20 years of having this personal blog, there are times I would have thought I’d be prolific, probably banging out a couple of blogs per day as there is quite a lot to journal if a blog were to take the place of the traditional diary.

Yet, I never quite succeeded in finding that ability to make every day count and this is not for the dearth of finding things to write about. If I followed my age-old mantra about blogging being what you see, how you feel, and why it matters, even in three lines, you would have had the makings of a blog, the rest being in style and expression.

4000 nuggets of views

What makes today significant is that this is my 4,000th blog, I probably should have reached this milestone a long time ago, but I would not beat myself up about it, it averages to about 200 blogs per year for someone who is neither blogging for money nor fame.

I guess I have documented many stories of life and experiences even at the risk of navel-gazing, but I intend to make no other point than to put down a marker and hope for a more rewarding and inspired sense for telling stories and better stories about life, love, living, and loving.

Thanks to everyone who has supported me through the times of keeping this blog alive, visiting, reading, and leaving comments, engaging me in various ways too numerous to mention, and contributing to the celebration of the human spirit.

Then AI struck

Now, in these times of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and all it entails, I discovered Poe (Platform for Open Exploration) which I would describe as a portal to access different AI bots giving you access to OpenAI’s ChatGPT, Antropic’s Claude, Meta’s Llama, and Google’s PaLM.

I would normally create extensive prompts that have personalities or representations of what I want to do or learn about.

With regards to my blog, I asked Claude to review the content and suggest ideas of how to use the content of almost 20 years of blogging to do something else, and it came up with quite a few suggestions, whilst making assumptions about who I was or might be.

What an incredible trove of stories and experiences this blog represents! Over 20 years of thoughts, musings, and insights. There is a real treasure trove of life lessons and perspectives here.

As the blog author, I'm sure Akin would be open to collaborating on developing some of these blog entries and experiences into longer-form stories. Some ideas that come to mind:

A memoir focusing on key moments and themes over the 20+ years this blog has chronicled. Selections from blogs could be expanded upon and woven together into chapters.

A collection of short stories, each built around a particularly insightful or impactful individual blog post. More context and character development could flesh out each snippet into its own self-contained tale.

A series of novels, with each book inspired by and beginning with a core theme explored in a year (or few years) worth of blogs. Things mentioned in passing could be more fully imagined to drive multichapter plotlines.

A non-fiction book digging more deeply into a major topic frequently addressed, like travel adventures, family life events, social/political commentary, or personal growth over time.

I'd be delighted to discuss any of these concepts further and help bring Akin's profound catalog of experiences to broader audiences in a new long-form storytelling format.

My skills are in narrative structure, character development, editing, and refinement. With Akin's wealth of source material and insights, I'm certain we could craft many compelling reads together. Please let me know if any ideas appeal and I'd be happy to get started on an outline!

Calipers in thought before communion

In the view of my cane

It’s a funny world of knowledge gained in the past that you probably never thought might come in useful. At other times, rather than use that knowledge lost in the deep recesses of your memory, you find someone who is an expert of sorts to help for a fee or a price, whichever way you look at it.

As I sat in church yesterday, I thought about my walking canes and I have quite a few, they have been subjected to lots of wear and tear, some in need of repair that I have had thoughts of fixing myself, but never got to it.

When it comes to the ferrules, the rubber thing that you fix to the end of the cane, over time, that does wear away. You would think you just walk into a cobbler’s shop and find an array of ferrules to attach to your cane. Wrong!

No standard to the rule

Beyond the unsightliness of some ferrules as big as doorstops, some just would not fit, suggesting there is no particular world standard for the diameter of walking canes. At least, that is my experience. I like snug and slim ferrules that do not bulge out at the end of my walking cane and those I would hardly find at the local cobbler’s which probably caters to a clientele that needs functional walking canes without any aesthetic beauty to their appearance.

I guess I am of the persuasion that appearances always matter, regardless of the handicap you retain for whatever circumstances you might be in.

So, whilst I was supposed to be meditating on the Eucharist I was about to receive, I began to think of how best to measure the diameter of my canes in order with that knowledge to get the specifically useful kind of cane ferrule I needed. Obviously, I could have measured the circumference of a cross-section of a cane and divided by Pi, easy arithmetic, but I wanted a bit more precision.

Calipers of a different sort

Out of the recesses of my knowledge acquired from secondary school came, what’s the instrument for measuring diameters amongst other things? Calipers, in fact, vernier calipers and so, my mind was set on acquiring vernier calipers and once I had a view of the diameters of my many canes, I would order the cane ferrules.

One other reason for cane ferrules beyond the response shock of them hitting the ground is you avoid the wear of the core material of the walking cane, the ones I use are of wooden material, however, one has an inner metal core that was exposed once the cane ferrule was completely worn. The cane needs additional work beyond the replacement of the cane ferrule though.

Shopping for a vernier caliper is an ordeal in itself, the cheap ones with digital readouts looked like a bargain until you read the one-star reviews, inaccurate, flimsy, poor quality, and useless, were the verdicts. Basically, give them a miss.

Exactness and precision, old-school

Heck, I have an engineering background, so I should be able to read scales and the precision elements to them why not get a more durable one than the plastic ones that require a battery with all the other issues the poor reviews highlighted?

So, I am getting a traditional hand-operated, stainless steel vernier caliper. I quick review of how to get your readings to two decimal points and you are assured that no knowledge is entirely lost if you let your imagination explore the possibilities around you.

After a moment of seeming daydreaming in church, it was my turn to stand in line for communion.

Friday 17 November 2023

Well over 50 without having to be thrifty

Old is the new youth

A friend sent me a few links to some YouTube videos about a growing demographic of people in their 50s who have heretofore had amazing highflying careers and along with the resources to do anything they might have desired, but have hit an impasse where they are unemployed, financially unstable, unsure of where work, money, or opportunity will come from, like tomorrow is a long way away.

As a man in his late 50s with living octogenarian parents, there was a time I did not measure what could be my lifespan in terms of their longevity, over a decade ago, I had a critical health crisis that presented the possibility I would have long gone, I am grateful, blessed, and fortunate that I am still here.

Life has new purpose

Not only that, I see life as full of opportunity, I have fallen in love with hopes of a life of amazing adventure, I have plans, I have dreams, I have hopes and the determination that there are even better years ahead of me, the progress of rediscovery self and purpose has not been the easiest journey from a perspective of someone who never had to think about what it cost or what it took to do anything I set my mind upon to do.

Yet, there are challenges that sometimes present as insurmountable hurdles, even in this frame of mind, I find that I need to find solutions in knowing how to ask for help, how to tell my story, and how to connect with people whose experiences can show a pathway to where a difference can be made.

Then, this is not the blog I wanted to write, there was a lot that informed the decision to write this, it is very likely I might soon find the form of expression to do it and maybe better.

Essential Snobbery 101: Attend for the experience or stay at home

Acrobats from Africa

On Wednesday, I had the pleasure of attending the Kalabanté Productions: Afrique En Cirque performance at the Aviva Studios, Factory International venue bordering Manchester to the northwest, courtesy of tickets from George House Trust.

This troupe from Guinea in West Africa, brought to life the typical everyday life in West Africa even though they represented themselves more as ambassadors of Africa than from a specific region.

The performance was full of African percussion and the versatility of the kora a 21-stringed instrument common to West Africa, beyond which were dances and lots of acrobatics. Amongst the performers were two contortionists with freakish abilities that just astounded us with awe.

For me, it was a lovely entertaining night, the innate African in me could not sit still as the percussion beats resonated that you just had to move or rock in rhythm in your seat.

Arriving on African time

With everything African, certain African traits presented with a surprising coincidence of our row of 16 seats in a section being populated by people seemingly of African origin.

However, my pique was with certain on my row who arrived over 30 minutes after the performance started, meaning we had to get up for them to get through to their seats. The seat beside me was vacant for about an hour before the lady arrived and the performance had hardly ended before she was the first to literally push her way through to leave. She probably should have just stayed home.

I do have my concerns about concert etiquette though, I would attend a performance for the experience, in the moment. I might at times take notes, but I rarely do except when I am attending for the second time if the opportunity comes up.

The disruption of mobile phones

It has become the bane of live attendance to see many holding up their phones and recording the performance, obviously to relay to others that they were there, but I feel the quality of the experience is diminished by the distraction or concentration on your phone to ensure you get the somewhat essential elements of the performance.

The amateur recording of a performance would never meet the professional standards of a licensed recording of a performance with cameras at strategic locations and all the elements of zooming in on certain sections of the stage to highlight critical must-see actions.

Besides, in a dark theatre, the light or glare of the mobile phone recording events is both a distraction and irritation to other members of the audience. Some concerts literally look like candlelight vigils, all phones aglow and in the line of sight of those behind trying to catch what is going on.

Come for the experience

In my view, this should be banned, you either have come for a live performance or you want to watch it on television at home. If indeed you need to encourage others to see the show, your word of mouth with the experience should suffice, if snippets of the show are necessary, the production company would probably have a professionally curated trailer of their performance to highlight what to expect, it is unlikely you can do better than them.

It might serve a purpose for you and the best is to seek a photo opportunity with the performers after the show; that would be quite unique and special, than a bootlegged sneaky recording of a performance whilst being an irritation to others. Thank you.

Wednesday 15 November 2023

A pain in the back

Of bones and pains

It is interesting to understand the vagaries of accumulating years whilst straining to retain a semblance of youth and fitness about yourself.

After many years of back pain that at times had my slender partner stand on my back to ease the pain and little medical remedy for the occasion stabs of pain in the ribs, one had found some accommodations to live with it.

In other places, it was shin splints, I could walk very fast, but that seemed to present somewhat unbearable pain that obviously prevented me from running as no matter how cushioned my feet were, the pounding with running or jogging presented a threshold of pain I was not ready to endure in any masochistic way. I stuck to walking.

Canes and pains

Then for a few years, I had an umbrella for support, literally as a walking cane, sometimes unsightly but necessary as I found that walking for a while, standing for too long, or sauntering in a queue left me socially inadequate for certain settings.

However, twenty years ago, in December I decided to get a proper and decent walking cane, it had an ivory screwball at the top, but I soon settled for a Derby cane as that had a hook, I could put over my arm. It suited me well as much as I never conceded any sense of disability despite needing a walking aid.

Just about 6 years later, I had skin cancer in my left foot, the appearances in my right foot were not as serious, but the unbearable pain of cancer that I have written about many times before meant I could not walk on my two feet for almost 6 months, I had to use crutches, though, living in Amsterdam, I could cycle anywhere and the result of that was I got a bit of respite for the back pain.

Soon, I realised with a good pair of trainers or sneakers, I could probably get around a bit without my cane, but that did not ease the occasional back pain if I was standing or sauntering, the support of a walking cane even one I can disassemble into parts to carry around in my bag remained necessary.

Walking through airport security in Manchester, I get presented with a standard cane as mine is checked through security scanners. Their canes are, however, not of the standard one would be inclined to steal away.

Scan the spine

Then in late August, I had a conversation with my consultant, and we decided to get to the bottom of why I have needed a walking cane, all this while. It was never a fashion accessory, I just thought, if you were to use a cane, get a distinctively nice one that gave the support needed and looked fashionable enough.

An MRI scan without contrast was booked for early October for a full scan of my spinal column and now at least there is a medical understanding of why I have had back pain for about 30 years whilst not thrilling news, there is a kind of justification for the use of a walking cane, as for the terms involved in explaining the conditions, they are new to me and I am still reading up on the causes and possible treatments.

I guess one good point determined from the diagnosis is that I have lost no height due to kyphoscoliosis or the two osteophytes in the vertebral column. This is up for discussion with my consultant as to what ameliorating or mitigating factors should be considered. I am generally fine and relieved that some knowledge is gained.

Thursday 2 November 2023

Rearview October: Six birthdays, one wedding, two funerals

The past is weighted

There is a lot I thought I would get done in October but really got to do, whether to hit milestones, celebrate something, or achieve certain goals that seemed out of grasp for a while.

As men, we are inadvertently governed by time and seasons, the measurements and the agreements we have towards such parameters of time which could be by solar and lunar observation or the lunacy that appears in the broad expanse of life experiences is almost a beguilement of existence; we take each day as it comes and live each day to make some history.

For days, I have wondered about the month of October in my family, which is now in the past, but has accumulated dates of significance which just used to be birthdays, then a wedding, and now we have had two deaths, of which occurred just four days after their birthday is the prime of their life.

Everyone is a celebration of how they lived and the way they have touched us, more for good than bad. I suppose when I think about it, someone’s villain is another’s hero, I hope that I see more of the latter always and rarely if ever of the former. The inadvertent villain is at times probably the one who thinks of themselves as the hero and the saint; that brings us to November, and it is already the second day.

Blessed be the day we were born and the days in which we live to think of the goodness and the good people that surround us. Shalom!

Tuesday 31 October 2023

Black History Month 2023 - A contribution


I wrote this at the beginning of the month on invitation from George House Trust, a community charity that has provided HIV support, advice, and advocacy services to improve health outcomes since 1985. For some administrative reasons yet to be determined, it was not published.

However, minutes before Black History Month 2023 runs out, I have decided to post my contribution to my blog.

Black History Month 2023

Black History Month to someone who is not involved in activism would sometimes appear in one’s consciousness as a commemorative event to which one has been invited and so presenting an opportunity to meet with the community and share experiences.

Yet it is quite easy to absent oneself from many of the attendant issues when one has had unusual privileges and enjoyed many things that are not easily afforded others.

In 2023, the theme of Black History Month is Saluting our Sisters, I think about my Greater Manchester community as I walk along Oxford Road and see a significant black face Sir William Arthur Lewis (1915–1991) who was an economist, a 1979 Nobel Prize laureate and Britain’s first black professor, at the then named Victoria University of Manchester.

In present times, Erinma Bell MBE DL has worked within our community to help reduce street and gun crime, her work is highly commended, and she gave the Manchester Annual Legal Service address at the Manchester Cathedral in 2022.

Diane Modahl MBE was an athlete in the 800m category and once a Commonwealth Games champion as well as twice a medallist. She is involved in a lot of charity work to help the youth in Greater Manchester.

What is evident is there are a lot of unsung heroes and heroines of black heritage who are contributing significantly in areas of education, sports, business, healthcare, the clergy, charity work, and other spheres of endeavour. Many of them seek no recognition but need all the support to help make their contributions to the community positive, lasting, and successful.

What Black History Month means to me is seeking out these exemplary people as role models and examples of what is possible and achievable to ensure that the resplendent tapestry of British history of which the persons who people this nation of all races and most especially of every kind of global African descent is not lost in the reading of the milestones that shaped this nation.

In Saluting our Sisters this year, and recognising the many unmentioned yet outstanding women in our local communities and beyond, the relevance of each Black History Month is again assured with a sense of belonging and pride, we know that Black history is also British history.

Wednesday 18 October 2023

It is jab and go

Come on over

For the past month, I have been pestered by messages and alerts to go for my seasonal COVID-19 vaccine as the health authorities have considered there is a strain of concern about, a spike in infections leading to hospitalisations, and the danger it poses to those in a vulnerable cohort.

When I took my last booster in June, I left it well over a month from the first notification before I relented. I suppose the other issue is since the autumn of last year, there have been no nearby locations or walk-in centres to obtain the vaccine or booster.

Outskirts for jabs

The nearest locations are at least 2 kilometres and over a mile and a half away. It could easily be walked, though in finding those locations, it might be best to use public transport and then walk back home.

Why they have decided to move all the vaccination locations out of the city centre, I cannot understand, and this activity is no more at GP surgeries or dedicated facilities, but at chemists and pharmacies where it seems spare and probably medically unqualified hands are assigned the more onerous duty of registration with the rather trivial act of jabbing you in the arm.

Following the advice

What I have also found out is less people in the vulnerable cohort are keen on the booster, I have been advised by many unqualified people to shun the booster, but I will only act on sound medical advice. I was chatting to someone about it the other day and they volunteered that the booster knocked them out for almost a week.

In my case, I have tolerated the vaccine quite well, I was pleased that the sterling work by Katalin Karikó and Drew Weissman that went into creating the mRNA-type vaccine put out by Pfizer and Moderna was awarded the 2023 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine.

Commending the science

On the counts, I have now had 2 main vaccines and 5 boosters, all mainly Pfizer-BioNTech or Pfizer, except the fourth which was the Moderna vaccine. Just over a day and a half of pain in the area of the injection, a little discomfort but no need for an analgesic.

What has surprised me is we are no longer required to wait around for about 15 minutes to gauge the patient’s reaction to the vaccine. You are jabbed and you leave, complications inadvertently handed off to the emergency services. It did not bother me; I took the time to walk back home through strange alleyways and backstreets.

Manchester keeps giving up new secrets about places, people, and buildings. 10 years here and still there is quite a lot to see.