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Sunsets, Swing Music and Self-Setting , Part 1

I live in America now. I moved here in the early days of the Great Naira Crash of 2016, and after Brexit. Financially, my timing was atrocious.  Every time I changed Sterling or Naira to Dollars, I fancied I could hear my bank account gnash its teeth. Emotionally however I think if I had waited even a day later, I’d have regretted it forever.

I get a lot of shit for not liking Lagos. It would have been a lot easier for me if I didn’t feel about it as I do. When I lived there I only felt happy in small sips, and I only felt free when I ran.  Soon I was running every day, upping my speed and my distances so relentlessly that when I felt my leg break one Saturday morning, I simply kept on running.

The place you call home ought to feed you. I know and love so many people who are always hungry unless they’re in Lagos. The energy of it makes their skin shine and their eyes dance. They are made fat and happy by Lagos, but Lagos is so much of itself that it will, given the opportunity, start to feed on you.

Things rolled on very quickly after my Damascene moment. I quit my job. I dusted off an old admission letter to a graduate program.  I booked a flight to Philadelphia and signed a lease online. If you’re one of my Original Readers (hello lovelies) you may wonder why I came here instead of going back to England. Well. Inexplicably,  England had begun to feel less like a favourite jumper and more like an old jumper in need of mending.  Besides, the motto of my family is “When In Doubt, Get Another Degree” and this is the best place to get the degree I wanted.

The night I left Lagos, I sat in my room with my two oldest and best friends. My brother had already warned me that if I didn’t get a move on, Lagos traffic would punish me. I didn’t know why I was crying – I don’t really know how to miss people and I couldn’t wait to get the hell out of Dodge- but they did. They knew that it is in my nature to run from the right things, and therefore that they would have to push me out the door.

When I arrived, I felt as if every skyscraper in Philadelphia was glittering in the sun just for me. My leg was still throbbing in a cast, I’d been travelling for 21 hours,  and my shiny new flat was furnished only with echoes. But as I unfurled an air mattress to sleep on the hardwood floor of my new home, I felt that hummingbird thrum of  ‘yes’.

That was over a year ago. Usually I learn the lessons of my life in hindsight far removed, but this year  God has been bringing me up to snuff in real time.

I’ve always had a bounce-around life. Boarding school aside, the last time I actually lived in one place for more than 18 months was in 1996. In interviews I say “my background is uniquely multi-jurisdictional” and it kills, every time. Here, I quickly learned that it also left me with a self-identity partially made of wet cement; I’ve never stayed in one place long enough for it to ‘set’. There are very few things less fun than seeing the end of your 20s on the horizon and realising you’ve still got a hell of lot of work to do. But if you ever feel within yourself that something important is a bit too malleable, pour everything you have into shoring it up.

One of my Necessaries said it’s been an Eat. Pray. Love year for me. We both hate that book. But I was delighted;  I’d been doing all this hard work, grafting it out with myself, basically becoming a soul-vegan, and someone had noticed! Like when, halfway through an unhappy  diet, someone says “you’ve lost weight!”

This was however not an easy year of finding myself in a bowl of pasta in Italy. I think it would have been easier if I wasn’t so damn arrogant – I learn half a song and fancy myself an opera singer.

I got out of my cast, ignored my physiotherapist’s advice and immediately reinjured myself. I became a bit of a teacher’s pet in one of my seminars – I was giving it all the right chat – so I barely studied for one of the finals and got a B. My professor said “I consider myself to be an educator, not an examiner” and   gave me another chance.  The lesson here was to stop self-sabotaging by avoiding hard work and disdaining patience.

I let myself  into a relationship with W, someone so objectively lovely I failed to realise that he wasn’t lovely for me.  I broke up with him and he still hates me. I have had to learn to stop seeking absolution for it. A friend of mine, G, helped. “But, why must you carry this? Or this is the first time a guy has told you he loves you?”

She is French in all the ways a woman can be French, so spending more time than is strictly necessary thinking about men baffles her and spending any time at all on what she called ” a relationship you allowed, not a relationship you chose” was completely incomprehensible.  That she indulged my self flagellation at all was merely the result of us being 3 hours into a train journey; we’d hit the bottom of the barrel.  By the time we got back to Philly, I realised I may have been wrong to write him false letters of forever, but at least I made sure that the last one was full of nothing but truth.

Can I pause here to answer a few questions that have popped up in some of your emails to me. Yes,  “Luscious” was about W. No, I did not take that piece down when or because we broke up- I took it down to enter it into a contest  (I didn’t win, so it’s going back up) No, “This is How You End Up With the Wrong Guy” is NOT about him as we were still very much together when I wrote it. Jesus guys, give me some credit for not choosing assholes. Or, at least, trust my inherently selfish sense of self-preservation.

Have you ever heard and immediately disregarded the clatter of an earring as it falls into the space between your dresser and the wall? This is how I felt about my relationship with W when it ended.  The lesson here was that  I must never again stay in a relationship because I feel guilty for wanting to leave it.

This piece was getting unwieldy, as I’ve been away for so long and therefore feel like I’ve so much to say. Hence, Part 2.

x

How to survive the petrocalypse: A Survival Guide

(Context: Over the last few days, Nigerians have suffered a fuel shortage of such immense and catastrophic significance that it has been named, rightly, The Petrocalypse. No end is in sight, hope fades by the day.)

Nigerians, you long suffering glories, with your hearts full of eternal forgiveness for your corrupt leaders, I salute you.

I mean, I am one of you, but right now, my tank is full, so I feel above and outside of your current pains.

That however does not mean that I do not sympathise. I do.

I too have felt the soul-eating anxiety of a half full tank. I too have worried myself sick, driving around with a dwindling fuel supply, with only queues and forlorn jerry-cans in sight.

I too have stood upon my doorstep, looking hopefully at the gateman as he checks the generator and announces “Madam, diesel go soon finish.”.

I too have considered coasting down inclines (it doesn’t work by the way).

I know, guys. I know.

So here is a short guide on how to keep your head about you in these trying times.

1. Do not coast down inclines to save fuel. It doesn’t really work with modern cars, and more likely than not, you’ll end up ramming into someone ahead of you, adding panel-beating and car repair costs to your already long list of woes.

2. Do not switch off your air conditioner. It barely saves you any fuel and Nigeria is too hot for that nonsense. I’ve seen a fair few cars being driven by people so covered in sweat, they may as well be sentient puddles of vegetable oil.

3. Do bribe everyone and everything possible. Can you bribe the fuel attendant? DO IT. This is not the time for scruples.

4. Do stock up on dried goods, water and MOST ESPECIALLY plantain chips. I don’t really know why but they taste pretty good.

5. Do rediscover the joys of a cold shower. The truth is, there is nothing joyful about a cold shower. It is the sanitary equivalent of a wad of spit in the eye. It steals your very breath from your chest and makes you aware of how much skin you actually have (always too much at that point). But try anyway. Imagine yourself a nymph bathing under the spray of a beautiful enchanted waterfall. Imagine yourself Aquaman, diving into the Arctic to save the world. Imagine yourself whoever the hell you want, but do it quickly, and repeatedly, because the cooling effect of a cold shower only lasts for about 15 minutes.

6. DO GET A BLOODY INVERTER IF YOU DON’T ALREADY HAVE ONE. ALSO A POWER BANK, A BICYCLE, A BATTERY POWERED FAN, AND POSSIBLY A SMALL ICE DRAGON. THESE ARE THE ESSENTIALS.

7. Do car pool. Preferably with people you know, but the total stranger option is okay so long as they’re not vegetable-oil people (see above) or serial killers. Admittedly, you won’t know if they’re the latter until it’s probably too late but I’d like to you remember, at the end, that I did warn you.

8. Do use your generator only for the most important of tasks. For the avoidance of doubt this does include catching up on the final few episodes of The Flash and curling your hair before you head out.

9.  DO GO TO THE CINEMA. It’s blissfully cool, and Mad Max: Fury Road is showing- a film about fuel, water, and desert heat which, in present circumstances, could not be more apropos. Also it has Tom Hardy’s lips and Charlize Theron’s neckline in it.

10. Don’t have sex. Sorry, but it’s too goddamned hot.

11. Do dig out that old flame’s number if he or she can fill up your tank. It’s the end of the world, I say again, this is not a time for scruples. NB: You can break rule 10  to comply with rule 11.

12. Do not leave your house in search of fuel unless armed with a blunt object. Fuel Zombies are real, and can be taken out with a solid thump to the medulla oblongata alternatively a whiff of kerosine.

13. Do charge every single electrical appliance you have at work. There is no shame in it. I saw a guy bring his daughter’s baby monitor in. No one judged him, no one will judge you either.

GOODLUCK AND GODSPEED.

Prada, Pools and Perception

Juices the colour of moss are not meant to be enjoyed, they’re meant to be endured. But over the last few weeks my taste buds have undergone such a drastic re-working that my daily green juice has become a genuine pleasure. The other side effects help:  my clothes aren’t too tight any more and I actually hit up a house party last week in no more than skinny black jeans, a grey American Apparel camisole, black Prada heels and a black Prada chain link purse (the latter two snagged at this amazing outlet mall in Florida last Christmas I highly recommend.)

I was technically crashing the party- a friend of a friend’s work do- and it was held in a compound rather poshly called ‘The Mews’ in Ikoyi. As I have come to expect of places like this, it was leafy and lush, with high-ceilinged flats and a huge swimming pool. It was the sort of place that only expats get to live in here in Nigeria, or mostly expats anyway, but it looked like the Lagos we deserve.

The pool was drained- under repair they told me- but that did not deter the multitude of bright, young, things I saw lounging around it when I got there. When I’d left my house, I’d felt like I looked pretty good- at the very least skinny and understated which for me is the same thing- and I liked that this feeling was given weight by the immediate detachment of a good-looking Nigerian guy from his group to help me down the steps and into the house.

“I stole you away from your friends!” I simpered. “Oh, I don’t mind, as it’s you.” he replied gallantly. It was like the opening of a very bad romance novel and the beginning of a perfect Saturday night.

Inside, people were dancing a little, in the way they do when they’re not drunk enough yet and the music isn’t quite right but they’re happy and confident that those things will soon develop. Everyone seemed wonderfully relaxed- there was just the right ratio of Nigerians to expats to ensure maximum cool and minimum pretension. We made our way to the drinks table, which looked like the Rat Pack had bombed it, and my gallant introducer, let’s call him Femi, started searching amongst the rubble for some gin. “You’re a bad man,” said his friend, “offering a lady hard liquor. You know babes shouldn’t drink stuff like that.”

I raised a brow at this random and informed him that I’d asked for the gin, which made him give me a disbelieving one over.  My father doesn’t think ladies should drink gin, and I find that amusing and endearing, but hearing it from a guy my age only makes me see red.  Femi soon gave up on finding me any tonic and led me to the kitchen, just in time to prevent me delivering a short lecture on assholes and unwanted commentary.

I think, if I hadn’t been so cranky at the random guy and his archaic gin misogyny, or if the friend who’d brought me hadn’t wandered off to talk to her other friends, I’d have waited for Femi to come back with my drink and had a perfectly nice, safe evening. But I was cranky, and had no one else to talk to, so I went with him to the kitchen and therein met Arturo

He was tall- taller than me in my heels which is saying something- and broad through the shoulders. Narrow hips and arms that said “I work out but I’m not a douche about it.”. He had dark floppy hair that said Italian (maybe?) and equally dark eyes that said other things. He was white, of course, because that’s just how my love life tends to play out, and the connection was instant.

It’s important that I say that this never, ever happens to me. By this I mean the perfect combination of (i) my outfit being just right, (ii) my make-up coming together, (iii) my weight being the right side of skinny, (iv) being approached immediately upon arrival by one guy, then (v) sighting another guy I fancy who, (vi) it would appear, immediately fancies me….this. never. ever. happens. to. me.

I’ve become used to Saturday morning phone calls from friends in which their Friday night escapades sound like scenes from an HBO show about being young and sexy, but my weekends are never so seamless. Either I’ll have decided at the last minute to change out of my playsuit into jeans, heels and a blazer only to arrive at the party and find out that it’s by a pool and whilst I look like I’ve come from a business casual meeting, everyone else is channelling Miami glam. Or I start chatting to someone I fancy, and just when I think it’s all going well, a girl slides up to us and winds herself around him like a vine, announcing that he’s taken and I’d better take my carefully hoarded witticisms elsewhere. These are the kind of things that are normal for me.

But, last Saturday, the gods were writing my name in the stars, apparently.

***

Femi returned with an okay gin and tonic, and I haven’t a chance to say thank you before I’m approached. His name, he says, is Arturo We shake hands, and I feel like when we do, we’re sealing some sort of pact. Soon enough Femi wanders off having read the writing on the wall and I’m too infatuated to care how rude I’ve been. Arturo and I begin to talk, but it’s not what you’d expect. There is no banter, not much laughter; rather, it feels like we’re simply marking time until we can stop talking all together. I knew from the second I met him that I’d be kissing him before the night was over; and from his occasional long silences during which he does nothing but stare at my reddened lips or lean in to smell my neck, I am certain that we’re on the same page.

My friend finds us eventually around midnight; by this time, Arturo and I are sitting on the defunct pool chairs, looking at the moon, and he’s telling me about his favourite restaurants in Rome. “We’re going to a club, guys.”, she says “Mia, let’s go.”

The idea of clubbing- nowadays never appealing- seems ludicrous to me. “We’re not coming.” says Arturo. I am made warm on the inside by how sure he is that I’ll stay to hang out with him, and shaky because yes I want to kiss him, but I am not naive enough to think that he won’t want more than I’m prepared to give.

My friend is a bit sceptical but she’s also a little drunk so it’s easy for me to  persuade her that I’ll be fine. She goes.

I’m not at all drunk. I’ve made it through one gin and tonic, and haven’t felt the need for any more. He’s been sipping on wine (I only drink wine, he says, because at least I can pretend it’s good for me) and doing so very slowly. We’re sober and with the last shouts of the partying horde dying away, we’re alone.

We walk- through the drooping trees, catching momentary slashes of moonlight on our entwined hands. My heels are comfortable but I pretend to totter so he can keep me steady. He takes me to where he’s hung up his boxing bag, and I realise we’re at the front of his flat. I panic a bit- but he senses that- and starts telling me about how his father died, and how he loves to swim, and his failures on the stock market, and any old thing. I calm down enough to go inside with him, where he settles me on his couch and gets me cold water in a chipped mug.

The act itself is so without any overt seduction that I relax even further. The chip in the mug seems to say “If you don’t want this, that’s fine. But if you do, that’s fine too.” I think about a lot of things. I’ve never done a one-night stand before and I’m old enough to know I’m just not that kind of girl. But I’m tempted. Very. I think about my ex, and how he took a part of me with him that I’m still waiting to be returned, and whether me being here at all will hasten the process. I think about how nice reciprocated attraction is, before its consummated, when it sizzles on the air and makes everything heavier- like the atmosphere just before a summer storm. After a while, he stops talking and looks at me. I stop thinking and look at him.

When he kisses me, it’s without warning, which I appreciate. I’ve had hours now to prepare and asking me if I’m sure would have felt artificial. His kiss is strong and a bit invasive- I feel steered.

*****

“So did you swap numbers?” my friend asks as our Uber races through the silent streets of Ikoyi to my house. It’s now 3am. She’s staying over at mine, and I’m trying not to be a bit cranky at her blatant disbelief when I say I kissed Arturo. “But he never kisses anybody! I can’t believe it!”  I tell her yes, we swapped numbers, and yes, she should believe it because it happened, then I clam up and let her ramblings wash over me.

****

For the first few days of the working week, I’m a bit happier than usual. A bit brighter. I kill my runs at the gym, and manage 3 unassisted pull-ups. I book my flight for my next holiday without any of my usual dithering and throw out all my ‘fat’ clothes. Arturo texts twice, I respond, but we make no plans. It doesn’t seem to matter though- the entire experience has carved such a hole in my insecurities that an ‘ending’ seems irrelevant.

*****

By Friday, I’ve let my hopes rise a bit, then fall, and I’m pleasantly resigned to the fact that we’re likely to stay just friends. I clearly have (monstrous, jagged) baggage, and further updates from my friend tell me that his last girlfriend became his ex girlfriend for this reason.  I start to wonder how I can get Femi’s number from my friend, and craft in my head a nice way to apologise for ditching him so early at the party. On Saturday, out with friends in a red dress and sky high Louboutins, I no longer have to double check that it’s indeed me getting eyed up by guys. I feel confident and attractive again and even though it goes against all the things I like to believe, I don’t deny to myself that it took a literal tall, dark, stranger seeing me that way to make it so.

Beasts, Burgers, Beginnings and Battledrums

A new year, a new role, a new job, a new city and I love it all, really. And yet, I started out this year too often blanketed by a mental fog and the reasons why remained just out of my reach. I think it may have had something to do with achieved success vs. perceived failure, the increasing tightness of my clothes, and the fact that I haven’t had sex in over a year.

I’m learning, as I get older and less terrified of wanting the things I want, that whilst not all happiness comes from good sex, good sex generally makes you happy.

Or it may have been the fact that I finally became aware of my own mental health last year, and how precarious one’s control over it is. I said the name of the beast, and now its heavy breath lies for ever on my neck.

Anyway.

I started developing a number of go-to quick cures for this sort of grey-Monday-morning feeling. One of those cures was the swift and guilty consumption of a large burger. “Burgers have become my comfort food” said my older sister as we sat patiently waiting for hers to arrive. I was sneery, because this happened about 3 weeks before Christmas, we were sitting in a gorgeous tea room, at an old manor house in the English countryside, and I’d just ordered scones with something called ‘Splendid Earl Grey’. I couldn’t understand why anyone would order a burger at such a time, in such a place, with such anticipation.

But I suppose our similarities extend to more than just the shape of our eyes and a shared obsession with Aragorn,  because by early 2015 a melancholy work afternoon would more likely than not end with me clicking my way around the Hellofoods.com.ng website, ensuring that my return home to Lekki Phase 1 coincided with the arrival of some earnest delivery boy clutching a burger as big as a frying pan. But as this cure was the main contributor to my now ill-fitting clothes, it didn’t take me too long to try something else.

I started instead to harken back to old emails, in the way we all look at old photos- with the hope they’ll remind us of all the lovely things we’ve seen and done, and all the lovely people who love us. Basically, I wanted to combat melancholia with smugness.  So, I went all the way back to prehistoric emails from the embryonic days of my gmail account.

I’ll tell you a truth- don’t ever waste your time imagining whether your 8 year old self would be proud of you now. It’s a nonsense exercise full of guesswork and self indulgence- you don’t really know who your 8 year old self was anyway. If you want to play that sort of dangerous comparison game, delve deeply into your archived sent folder instead. Consider your tone, what your A-Level English teacher would have called your ‘written voice’. Has it changed? If so, how?

For me, the contrast was devastating. I used to be about 100 times more confident in emails, which in turn made me more certain, more witty, more everything. I sent emails off without thought, responding with the pure truth of my feelings, without re-reading and worrying about nuances and subtexts and what the reader may think of me. My language was clipped and precise if I was being professional, loose and relaxed with friends. I made more typos, certainly, but I sounded freer, happier, more alive. I clicked through my old emails, and wondered at this shiny, glittery, brave young creature. Where was she?  Who was she? Was she ever me?

My sent folder not doing much to cheer me up, I then decided to try reading things people had sent to me; tales of holidays, emotional ‘make-up’ emails with my friends after silly fights, links to things that were once hilarious now barely relevant.  This was much better. I started to feel myself refreshed, reminded of the combination of luck and fate that had led all these wonderful people to me. Pride however always pushes ahead of a fall; soon enough, I came across a lonely, dangling email with no subject or reply, from someone whose role in my life has always been too complicated to be entirely pleasant.

The email was empty but for a quote from Anthills of the Savannah, this one:

The sounding of the battle-drum is important; the fierce waging of the war itself is important; and the telling of the story afterwards—each is important in its own way. I tell you, there is not one of them we could do without.  But if you ask me which of them takes the eagle-feather [notice this metaphor that comes from the African rain forest], I will say boldly: the Story.  Recalling-Is-Greatest.  Why? Because it is only the story that can continue beyond the war and the warrior. It is the story that outlives the sound of war-drums and the exploits of brave fighters. It is the story, not the others, that saves our progeny from blundering like blind beggars into the spikes of the cactus fence. The story is our escort; without it, we are blind [. . .] the story is everlasting .

“Why did you send this to me” was the subject line I chose as I forwarded this quote back to him. The reply was swift and cutting

“It was meant to encourage you to write more.” he wrote back. “But you haven’t.”

Ah. Well, here I am, trying again. The look of the blog is new, I hope you like it. The format is more fluid- I make no promises yet, save to, as ordered, write more. I have always loved your comments- no one likes screaming into the void- but I hope your desire to do so comes from an organic, kind place.  I will no longer be moderating the comments- that part of this blog is yours and I hope to do no more than pop in from time to time to marvel at all the lovely things you’ve said, and how lovely you all are, and how lucky I am to have you all reading anything I write at all.

The Club of Adult, The Chill Soundtrack, No Second Troy

Driving to work is a favourite part of my day. It shouldn’t be; I always pick the slowest moving line through the toll gate, I have bad depth perception so I always think a gaping pothole is a shallow rut and that mistake had me splashing a poor bystander with water made brown by Lagos. I yelled “Sorry!” but I know he didn’t hear me over my music and air conditioning, through my wound-up glass window. Inevitably, another driver does something silly that pushes me from calm contemplation to vulgur verbosity in far too short a time to be admirable. But still. There’s something purposeful and reassuringly normal about sliding into your car in crisp work clothes, joining the morass of other worker bees, thinking about what’s to come, and how to maximise it, judging your car against all the others and making plans. Driving to work is one of the mundanities that marks one’s membership of the Club of Adult.


I generally have one set, themed, playlist of 10 or so songs per week. I went through a phase of being obsessed with the slightly jarring, irrepressible beats of Nigerian music (Naija of Life); another week it was UK Top 40 hits (Blighty) ; another week it was indie rock (Angst & Guitar). This week, my playlist is The Chill Soundtrack. Here are three standout tracks:

Lianne La Havas: Unstoppable

Son Little: Your Love Will Blow Me Away When My Heart Aches

Oh Wonder: All We Do

PS. Everything by Oh Wonder is magic.


Yeats’ No Second Troy has recently become a firm favourite; combining the all-too familiar bitterness of unrequited love and general Yeats angst, with an interesting angle on the Helen of Troy myth- less unwitting victim and more malicious  manipulator. I’d absolutely go see that movie adaptation.

Why should I blame her that she filled my days
With misery, or that she would of late
Have taught to ignorant men most violent ways,
Or hurled the little streets upon the great,
Had they but courage equal to desire?
What could have made her peaceful with a mind
That nobleness made simple as a fire,
With beauty like a tightened bow, a kind
That is not natural in an age like this,
Being high and solitary and most stern?
Why, what could she have done, being what she is?
Was there another Troy for her to burn?

Sunsets, Swing Music and Self-Setting, Part 2

When one of my Necessaries got married, she asked me to do a reading during the ceremony.  I read a piece I had written for the occassion, instead of a poem by a Real Writer.  As soon as I finished and  looked at the confused faces of the wedding guests, I realised I had made a terrible mistake. It was a piece  best suited to  being read on paper, not spoken out loud. It was all metaphor and no cadence. Worse, despite having to talk for a living, my voice had been so shaky with emotion that I’d rushed and stumbled my way through it. Crucially, it just hadn’t been very good.  That night, I got very drunk.  The lesson here was that doing a simple thing well is always better than doing an overwrought thing badly (or at all). Alternatively, the lesson was to never ever ever do  a reading at a wedding again.

In April, I applied for a job  in New York on a whim and got it. In May, I didn’t apply for a dream job in London, got it anyway, then turned it down. It took me weeks to decide which job to take. I felt like a feather in the wind until I stopped fighting the deep Something telling me that England was for later.   At the end of last year, I stopped going to church because it just wasn’t doing anything for me. I have only ever really connected with one church, and it had no branch here in Philly. I felt guilty about it, until I started listening to the peace I got from my daily half hour quiet time with God. The lesson here was simple: listen, then trust what you hear. I move to New York in a few weeks to start work where I’ll be minutes away from the NYC branch of my church.

I planned, booked, and got wildly excited over a lush Miami holiday with friends. Two days in, I left my friends in the airbnb I’d booked, feigned illness and flew home early. A few months later, I did nothing but turn up and pay my share for a holiday  in a rural vineyard in France. Save for trips into the village for fresh pastries every morning, we never left the cottage.  We saw no-one but ourselves and Thierry, who came to bring us wine. We mostly read in the summer room that was half ancient stone half sunshine, or outside by the pool. From time to time we’d chat in the lazy way you do with friends of over a decade. In the evenings, we’d go for a little wander to look at the sunset. The ice-cubes in our wineglasses would jostle and clink as we walked, like cowbells.

Miami, with its flashing clubs and shiny beaches, had bored me to tears. That quiet week in France had felt  like all my favourite songs played one after the other.   The lesson here  was that I am made for small groups and quiet. In truth, I now find most socialising to be exhausting and socialising OUT LOUD to be a bit of a nightmare. My friend says that, being for so long made of wet cement, I got used to setting and resetting myself in social situations, and now I’m just too old to bother. W, before we broke up, used to call me Bilbo, because all I wanted was to find a quiet place to finish a book. Amen.

I was lucky enough to be invited along to hear Zadie Smith speak in London a little while ago.  I listened to her and her cheekbones confess to only recently appreciating the value of being in the real world. Before, she said, she’d always lived happily in books . Later, I imposed myself on her mother, a woman so set in herself (and why wouldn’t she be, having taught and raised Zadie Smith!) that she was dancing, right there in the middle of the foyer of the Southbank Centre, to swing music. She told me how long, how hard, and how intensely Zadie Smith had studied and lived in books. My friend who’d invited me told me of a letter he wrote Zadie when we were at university. She had written back and encouraged him to stay “in the world of words”;  he went to do an MFA where she was one of his teachers.

When my chance came to meet Zadie in the now-empty room, I approached her with my copies of all her books clutched to my chest. I had spent that last 2 hours drinking wine and chatting by the bar while she had been signing books for what had appeared to be all of London. She looked tired. I suddenly felt greedy and parasitic, so I tucked my books back into my bag unsigned. My friend urged me to chat with her, knowing how much I love her work, or at least to join in the photo they were all taking but again, I shied away. I stood apart, waiting for him, most of me deliberately hidden by a pillar. I was embarrassed. I had never fully committed to the work and study of writing the way she and my friend had, and here I was claiming to have all these hopes and dreams; this realisation is what had prevented me from being able to say more than the merest trivialities to her when given the chance.  Yes, the “world of words” made wonderful by  writers like her is a place I’d love to be at home in. At least my appreciation for that was not a fraud. But the lesson here was to work much, much harder to build my home within it, even if (as is 99.9 percent likely) I remain only a lover, not a creator, of good stories.

My bounce-about life, the very thing I’ve spent the last year declawing, is a gift I don’t deserve. It has put people in my life who give me places to rest when I need them and many of those people have been the reason I’ve learned the most important things I’ll ever learn.   I may eventually set into something full of smudges, graffiti, scratched initials and unwanted signatures, but at least I’m on the way to setting into something honest and , one hopes, interesting.

Thanks for sticking with me. Love you all.

 

This Is How You End Up With The Wrong Guy

This is how you end up with the wrong guy.

Something seismic happens- an illness, a birthday unlooked for, a birth, a change of address, dress size or your last single friend’s surname, a death in the family or the end of a thing- and it shakes you up. When the dust settles, there are cracks in you that weren’t there before and through those cracks shine the deceptive, persistent light of maybe.

Maybe there is too much of me, too little of me, maybe I expected too much, gave too little. Maybe.

Maybe is the invitation to a vampire, the first roll of a gambler’s dice, the first click of ice cubes against the side of an addict’s highball. Maybe is definitely a bad idea.

***

Riding in on maybe comes half of what you want and all your insecurities made flesh. A tall, strapping hunk of stress, a knight in shining fuckery. His particular sin doesn’t matter- immaturity, questionable hygiene, loose concepts of loyalty and/or fidelity, a sad bank balance and professional indifference, no sense of humour or sometimes (and this one is particularly sad) he’s just a hairy bundle of not-quite-good-enoughs.

Your cracked self, splintered with maybes, gets to work shoring up these weaknesses.

I’ll help him out, you say. I’ll bite my tongue and hint. I’ll support him. I’ll encourage him. I will work on being more patient, less demanding. I’ll be less of me so that I’ll fit better with the lesser him.

And time passes, while you diminish.

Then, something seismic happens- an illness, a birthday unlooked for, a birth, a change of address, dress size or your last single friend’s surname, a death in the family or the end of a thing- and it shakes you up. When the dust settles, there are cracks in you, fissures now, deep wide chasms that lay bare the gap between what you want and what you have. Maybe’s light is revealed to be blinding, and you start to see again.

You see your flaws, yes, but you see the countless hours of emotional labour you have put in to better yourself and realise his flaws haven’t even occurred to him. You see how many times you have propped him up, filled in the awkward gaps he leaves in the world. All the times you papered over his stains, wrapped him up in fine linen and told your doubting friends he wasn’t that bad. You flick through the pages of your memories and find, even through the haze of maybe, you had doubts. You wrote them in your journal, you told them to the listening ears of the night but somehow you let yourself forget. You let yourself forget who you were, who you are, who you were on the path to becoming because you met some guy who made you say- maybe. You let the dots in your human perfection draw a picture of divine imperfection that showed you ending up alone, so, maybe. You heard the laughter and clink clink of toasts to brides that weren’t you and sang from a songbook of microwave meals for one, so, maybe. You remembered how your body shook when the chemicals in your brain sent you spiralling down into a dark place and recoiled from going there again alone, so, maybe.

How do you kill maybe? You force the issue- this is not news. You say “what are we”? or “where is this going?”. You make moves into his space, clear space in yours for him, aggressively negotiate a merger. You might even ‘take a break’, putting your toe in the water of single before taking a full plunge. If you’re lucky, he’ll say ‘I don’t like labels’ or ‘Let’s see how things go’ or ‘I’m not ready to live with anyone yet, it’s not personal.’ or ‘I know we were on a break but I’ve kind of reached the end point with this’. If you’re lucky, maybe it will die there and your real life will begin. If you’re unlucky, his maybe will breathe new life into yours and, well.

That’s how you end up with the wrong guy.

 

The Friday Fun: 1 July 2016

Halfway through the year and all things are made new. Did you break a promise, abandon a hope? Don’t worry, there’s still 6 months, half a year, 26 weeks, and just over 180 days left in which to redeem yourself. Birds chirp gladly in trees, because summer is here, and you and I walk a little lighter because we’ve made it this far into 2016 and there’s just enough of the year left to reach for the skies.

Most importantly though, clock watchers, is the fact that today is Friday. So, here are a few things to help you get into it.

1.Another excellent song from Laura Mvula’s too-good-for-us album, The Dreaming Room. This one is called Kiss My Feet, and it’s the kind of song I think ought to play during a Tim Burton directed movie adaptation of the nutcracker, or perhaps at a faerie-goth wedding, or even just in your headphones as you lie quietly dreaming at night. Here’s a video of her singing it live on Jools Holland, and it’s great, but also listen to the album version. How is she so good at this??

 

2. This great piece from the Toast, called How to Tell If You’re In A J.R.R. Tolkein Novel. The Toast has been my favourite blog in all the world, and it closes today, so I am unutterably sad. If you haven’t yet danced upon the shores of whimsy and ultra-niche ladygeek humour of the Toast, do so. We shall never see its’ like again. In the meantime, here’s an excerpt:

You remember the first raindrop and the first acorn, but not where you left your boots.

You strike a bargain with an impossibly malevolent spider demon. This ends poorly for you.

Woe betide anyone who tries to fuck with your ponies.

You are so adventurous you once walked twelve miles to visit your cousins in a different village, then promptly returned home because the people there were strange and foreign.

You are easily distracted by a workplace crush and are terrible at your job. Unfortunately for everyone, your job is The Moon.

You were exceedingly clever once, but unfortunately none of your friends noticed as they were too busy being attacked by an octopus.

3. This heart-wrenchingly sweet post game interview given by perennial screw up JR Smith after his team (led by Master of My Heart Lebron James) won the NBA Finals this year. If you follow me on Twitter/know me in real life you’ll know how much of an NBA fan I am and this year’s Finals were historic. JR breaks down talking about his excellent family, and what it all means to him, and listen- it will tie your heart up in the best sort of knots. Watch it, then go call your parents.

4. This reading of e e cummings’ Humanity I Love You by Amanda Palmer (who, in case you didn’t know, is married to Neil Gaiman. Can you imagine how excellent their dinner parties must be?!) Here’s an excerpt of the poem but ABSOLUTELY click on the link to listen to Amanda read it (It’ll take you to brainpickings.org which is a site I think everyone should visit daily for some soul-feeding.)

Humanity i love you because
when you’re hard up you pawn your
intelligence to buy a drink and when
you’re flush pride keeps

you from the pawn shop and
because you are continually committing
nuisances but more
especially in your own house

Humanity i love you because you
are perpetually putting the secret of
life in your pants and forgetting
it’s there and sitting down

on it

 

5. This video from Demi Adeyuigbe. I follow him on Twitter and even though he doesn’t know I exist (probably) I am convinced we’re soulmates waiting to meet? He’s hilarious, anyway, and you should check out his vines and his Gilmore Guys podcast. To whet your appetite for his bonkers sense of humour, here is Tiny Cops

 

This week’s featured image is of an owl in flight, which I stole from J K Rowling’s Twitter feed.

GO FORTH AND FROLIC.

The Friday Fun: 24 June 2016

Let us have a referendum on the working week, shall we, and vote yes or yes to a weekend. Let us all, taking our time and considering all angles, decide whether it is right or very right to bid farewell to boredom and ceaseless adulting. Let us choose to Remain free and fettered not by the drab reality of the Employed Unhappy.

Let us instead Exit the week, for it’s Friday, toe tappers, and here are a few things to help you get into it.

1.This, my new favourite, song by Anne Marie called Alarm. I swear I know nothing more about it, or her, save that I play it at least 7 times during my morning runs and it has powered me on to 2 PBs in a week. Also that it sounds like the musical love child of a Rihanna song and tequila-fuelled fight with your boyfriend. It’s best enjoyed played obnoxiously loud in your car.

 

2 and 3. This my second current favourite song called Phenomenal Woman off the recently released, achingly beautiful and entirely perfect second Laura Mvula album called The Dreaming Room. The title as you will know is taken from the famous soul-affirming Maya Angelou poem, which is also reproduced for your joy and life enrichment below.

 

 

phenom

 

4. This great article that resurfaced on How You’re Ruining Your Life Without Realising It  by Bianca Sparacino. Yes, it’s one of those ‘follow your dreams’ type pieces, which can be a bit exhausting and heavy-handed (I mean, yes, dreams are great but also someone has to be practical) BUT I strongly believe that happiness cannot be achieved without purpose, so if this helps you figure yours out…

Here’s an excerpt, and click on the title link for the whole thing.

 

You ruin your life by letting your past govern it. It is common for certain things in life to happen to you. There will be heartbreak, confusion, days where you feel like you aren’t special or purposeful. There are moments that will stay with you, words that will stick. You cannot let these define you – they were simply moments, they were simply words. If you allow for every negative event in your life to outline how you view yourself, you will view the world around you negatively. You will miss out on opportunities because you didn’t get that promotion five years ago, convincing yourself that you were stupid. You will miss out on affection because you assumed your past love left you because you weren’t good enough, and now you don’t believe the man or the woman who urges you to believe you are. This is a cyclic, self-fulfilling prophecy. If you don’t allow yourself to move past what happened, what was said, what was felt, you will look at your future with that lens, and nothing will be able to breach that judgment. You will keep on justifying, reliving, and fueling a perception that shouldn’t have existed in the first place.

 

5. This humorous little poster made in the last days of the #Brexit campaign by Team Remain.

 

 

remain.jpg

This week’s featured image is a photo of a croissant, because some of my friends spent a morning outside Kings Cross trying to hand them out and convince people to stay in the EU and made me enormously proud. We lost this one, but we gave it a good go, I think, so present events notwithstanding, I do hope you will all

GO FORTH AND FROLIC.

The Silent Driver

Mr Femi was a simple man, with a simple job. Every morning at 6am, he washed first the cars, then himself. After that, he had breakfast- fried yam and egg, washed down with hot milo- if Cook Oye was in a good mood.

At 8am, he put on his tie and sat in the car. Between 8.15 and 8.20, Madam and the children emerged from the big house and after a careful drive through Ikoyi’s leafy streets, he pulled into the parking lot of St Joseph’s Primary School by no later than 8.45. At 9.30am, Madam returned to the car and Mr Femi drove Madam to the gym.

After that, his time was his own until 3pm. Usually he would return home for lunch – garri and soup- but once a week, usually on Thursdays, he would drive to the local NNPC filling station and fill up the tank. At 3pm, he would pick Madam up from her friend’s house and they would be back outside the school gates at 3.30pm. Madam would gather the children, and by 4.15 his work day was over.

Sometimes he would have a little fish pepper soup, or boiled beans and stew for dinner, depending of course on Cook Oye. More often than not, he would carefully park the car and walk to his quarters where he would shower, rearrange his mosquito net and get into bed. He had received a small radio from Oga last Christmas, so he’d usually switch it on and listen to the BBC World Service in Hausa until sleep came, regularly, at no later than 9pm.

It was such a simple life, and Mr Femi was such a simple man, that it had never occurred to him to ask himself the sorts of questions that would occur to you and me.

I think I, for example, would wonder what exactly Oga did for a living. I would ask this as I watched Mr Femi wash all 7 of the cars in descending order of expense. He did this to make sure that his polishing cloth (he used a new one every day) was pristine when he started on the Rolls Royce, only very slightly creased when he worked on the Bentley, the Lexus, and both Mercedes and that it was still entirely serviceable by the time he got to the BMWs- what Madam called her ‘runaround’ cars. If I was there, I’d say to Mr Femi “What does your Oga do, that he can afford all these cars?”

I’d try again when Mr Femi took 10 minutes to walk from the carport to the back of the house, where his food was always heaped into a stainless steel plate set out on the floor- close but “not too close” to the dog bowls, on Madam’s orders. But Mr Femi would probably be preoccupied with his food- good food because Cook Oye had been sent to a cooking school in Cote D’Ivoire to learn how to cook from real French people, not all these nonsense Nigerian cooks. That’s what Madam had said on the phone to her friend Bunmi last year anyway, when she’d been deciding who to invite to a dinner party. Madam had asked Bunmi whether, now he was back, she should start calling Cook Oye, Chef Oye? Did Bunmi not think that sounded more French? The only problem, Madam had said, was how you pronounce the thing- she was always confused, was it chef with a shhhh sound? Or a hard ch sound, like chop? She had that problem with Givenchy too, she had told Bunmi, and then they had talked about handbags for a while.

When Mr Femi replaced his food plate- close but not too close to the dog bowls- and he walked back to the boys quarters to shower, I think, if you or I were there, another natural question would arise. Why, when the glimpse we had seen of the kitchen showed gleaming islands of Italian marble and appliances that could feed an army, did Mr Femi’s quarters look like a refugee camp? Why, I think we’d ask Mr Femi, did he have to fetch water in an old paint bucket to wash? And how, we would wonder at least to ourselves, did he manage to get himself looking as neat as a pin in a room almost as small as one? Mr Femi would be doing up his tie in the cracked mirror above his bed at this point, and he would be too distracted to answer.

I think you would be the one to point out that Madam was dressed rather oddly for a school run, at least to our eyes. She would come out of the house (into the second Mercedes, this week’s school run car according to the schedule) in a long flowing dress that would glitter in the sun. You’d look closely and see that the glimmer came from the real crystals and semi-precious jewels sewn into her dress. She would step daintily to the back door of the Mercedes, one hand lifting her skirts and the other crooked at the elbow, supporting an ostrich yellow handbag and holding her phone to her ear. She would be wearing a lot of makeup, and large jewelled sunglasses, and each of her wrists would be shackled with gold. You’d get even closer and the scent of her would hit you, like a hefty bill, and it would remind you of Dubai, even though you’ve never been there before.

The children would come after her, heads together, giggling and whispering as children do, in a secret language you’d imagine was the natural consequence of being twins. You wouldn’t have many questions about the children, and neither would I, because they’d be the only thing that made Mr Femi smile.

On the drive to school, however, I’d turn to you and ask “Does she not bother to speak to them at all?” I’d ask that because we would have been shocked to see that Madam spends the entire drive on her phone, talking again to Bunmi, about this season’s Gucci collection, and yesterday’s Bella Naija blogpost, and next week’s PTA meeting and whether she ought to wear “head to toe Chanel” to it. She would cackle as she said ‘Chanel gang!” in a way that made it clear Bunmi had said the same thing, in orchestral chorus, on the other end of the line.  Madam would inadvertently answer our question- the little girl and her brother would both repeat “Chanel gang” and giggle and Madam would say “Will you shut up your dirty mouths!” and Mr Femi would grimace in sympathy at them in the rear view mirror. Yes, you would say, it seems she does speak to them.

At school, the questions would come thick and fast. Why did so many of the other mothers dress this way? Why were so few of them in suits, or jeans? Why did they ignore their children, offering air kisses to each other like sacrifices, shifting their manicured feet over the cobbles and calling each other ‘babes’? Who had taught them this language, which sounded like the slick slide of paper note on paper note, the clink of coin on coin, the glug of dark oil filling barrels, the pop-and-hiss of burst electoral promises? And where were the fathers?

Mr Femi would be keeping the car idling and cool for when Madam got back in it; he’d be too busy to answer.

On the drive to the gym, we’d be silent, listening to Madam talk. Bunmi would be on the phone again, and Madam would be advising her. “Better don’t allow any man to take advantage of you, Bunmi! Ah. Before my husband married me, I made sure he spent at least N4million Naira on me! 4 what? 4 Million! Yes! Yes! He had to know that I wasn’t cheap. And look at me today- there is nothing I want he doesn’t give me. Nothing! Just now those witches at St Joseph’s were dying because I carried my new Hermes today. AH, you trust me now! The ostrich one! $40,000! And I paid cash! So don’t let your husband tell you that from time to time you should contribute o. Ah. That’s how it starts. First contribute, next thing pay school fees, next thing he’s a useless man, doing nothing.”

Mr Femi would have arrived at the gym by now, but Madam would still be engrossed in her conversation.

“And don’t let these nonsense modern women deceive you o! I still make sure that no matter how busy I am, I am monitoring my kitchen. Che-She, em, Cook Oye knows me! He can’t try any nonsense! Just last week I missed one of my spa appointments so I could make sure he used the right kind of fish in my husband’s soup. That’s how you stay in a marriage o. That’s what you do.”

Mr Femi would be as calm and patient as a folded piece of paper. The gym’s gateman would approach, ready to assist Madam out of the car but Mr Femi would gently incline his head in a way that said yes she’s coming in, but no she isn’t ready yet. The gateman would return to his post by the gate.

Eventually Madam would get off the phone, and Mr Femi would have again inclined his head at just the right moment such that when Madam had gathered herself, the door would be opened by the gateman. He would reach into the boot for Madam’s gym bag, and Mr Femi would back carefully on to the road.

By now, we’d be hungrier for answers than lunch, but lunch would be all Mr Femi was interested in, back at home.

He’d eat quietly in the garden, sitting on the grass by the wicker chairs Oga had flown in from Spain because Oga had asked him not to dirty the chairs with his body. He would look at the trees, still as stones in the Lagos sun, and the dogs, snoozing in the heat, and he would occasionally scratch at a mosquito bite on the back of his neck. Hours would pass, and he wouldn’t answer any of our questions.

His phone would buzz and it would be back to the car- blessedly cool and purring along the roads like a sleek cat. We’d pick up Madam from another great house; the gates would open automatically and the Mercedes would be one of many in front of a three storey American style mansion. Mr Femi would have to take care as he parked, on account of the peacocks.

Madam would come out of the house in a different but no less bejewelled dress, and an attendant would be following her with her ‘gym bag’ in tow. She’d be escorted by a tall, well built man, also in dark glasses against the sun. He’d help her into the car, as if he were replacing a figurine on a shelf, and he would say “Ah, you tired me out o, Foluke! Tomorrow have pity, abeg, and remain small for that your husband o!”

Madam would laugh, a fat little trill, and she would accept the heavy brown envelope he gave her as if it were her due. “Segun, ah ah. You know I come here for fun. You don’t need to do this.” she would say, as she tucked the envelope into her handbag. They would say other things before the car door shut.

Mr Femi would ease the big car past the unafraid peacocks and ignore our stunned looks.

At school again, he would smile his second and last smile of the day watching the children emerge from the gate, holding hands and giggling. The drive home would be more of the same- Madam on the phone, this time telling Bunmi that Oga would be back “briefly, next week, then it’s back to that Latin American place, where his business partners are.”, the children pleased to be ignored, and Mr Femi, concerned only with the road before him.

We’d try again later, as Mr Femi got ready for bed, to piece it all together. But Mr Femi would stay silent, taking care to hang his uniform up and away from the dust on the floor before he switched on his radio, and fell asleep.

The Friday Fun: 9 June 2016

Life is fleeting, and all good things are only good because they are temporary. Revel in the contrast, because sweet wouldn’t mean a thing without bitter.

It’s Friday, star gazers, and here are few things to help you get into it.

 

1.This happy little piece from Women’s Running on the similarities between running marathons and writing books. It’s possibly only fun for me slightly niche fun but I think it’s a great read for anyone who likes running and writing and/or anyone looking to pick one or both of these things up. There’s a refreshing clarity in committing to a thing that’s more about effort than talent. All my life I’ve been obsessed with the having and not having of talent. It’s a crippling thing,  but since I decided to just put one foot in front of another, and write one word after another, without stunting myself with questions of ‘can i? should i? am i good enough? am i allowed to do this?‘ I’ve felt cleaner and calmer than a rockpool. Check out the whole thing here for a pop of hashtag life inspo but here’s an excerpt:

Writing forced me to spend so much time in my own head that it was a relief, if occasionally a painful one, to get out the door and do something so unabashedly and unquestionably physical. Running required very little thinking. In fact, it was better not to think. The book was an intellectual black hole that sucked out every bit of ability I had ever possessed. I was new to both and suffered parallel growing pains, which is the writerly way of saying I was sucking pretty hard all around. But a bad writing day did not necessarily align with a bad running day, so there was always hope of some reprieve. Eventually I got better—even good—at both.

On a good day, I use the time on my feet to work out the problems on the page. On a decent day, I use the time to empty my brain. On a bad day, I’m just running away, using the slap of my feet against the pavement to beat out my frustrations, sweating out the critical voices in my own head. And the truth is, that while those are the worst days, that’s when running is the most effective. The longer, the better. If things are hard, 10 miles is good, 20 is better, 50 is best. Like a forest fire, it burns out the old and makes space for the newest shoots and smallest leaves. It lets in the light.

 

2. This perfect, perfect open letter to the idiot Stark children for not treating their direwolves with the proper respect, from BlackNerdProblems. I only just discovered this site this week, and shockingly, there has a been a bit of decline in my productivity and turn-around times at work. I WONDER WHY. Read an excerpt below, the entire thing here, and just delight in the humour and truth of it.

Remember back when Joffrey was being a fuckboy then turned that fuckboyedness toward Arya holding her at sword point? Nymeria saw that shit and kept it a fucking buck as she ran up on Joffrey with the clamp to the hand? Arya tossed Joffrey’s piece into the river and they bounced from the scene of the crime. Arya had Nymeria dip ’cause she knew they’d try to Earth her for what she did

 

3. This heartwarming video about the world’s tiniest eco-warrior getting in his feels about the state of the planet. We should all feel this way. At some point he gets so angry at all the looters and polluters (I really, really hope his mum gets him every episode of Captain Planet) that he says he could even call them the S word! The S word, his mum clarified, was ‘stupid’. Oh the heart aches! Also, how amazing that this kid is so clear on his life purpose that he wants to be an ‘adult right now!’ so he can get on with it. His name is Henry Marr and I would be so honoured to raise a kid like this.

 

4. This invitation to some serious fun, from the Oxford and Cambridge Club of Nigeria. They’re having a ball- a real, honest-to-goodness ball- in Lagos, Nigeria on June 16th, 2016. It’s open to everyone, not just alumni. The theme is Monte Carlo, so I’m told there’ll be gambling and glamour galore. Here’s the flyer, which has ticket prices and RSVP deets. I’m going, so for those of you who still want to risk disappointment by meeting me in person, here’s your chance.

ball1

 

 

5.Finally this Alain De Botton article called Why You WIll Marry The Wrong Person. Now I know this seems not-quite-fun but it’s actually full of some solid life advice, viz, don’t put all your happiness eggs in the basket of one other person. Figure out how to be happy on your own, first. Here’s an excerpt:

The person who is best suited to us is not the person who shares our every taste (he or she doesn’t exist), but the person who can negotiate differences in taste intelligently — the person who is good at disagreement. Rather than some notional idea of perfect complementarity, it is the capacity to tolerate differences with generosity that is the true marker of the “not overly wrong” person. Compatibility is an achievement of love; it must not be its precondition.

This week’s featured image is of a sunrise to remind you that the next one you see will mean it’s officially the weekend, so

GO FORTH AND FROLIC.

The Friday Fun: 3 June 2016

What is life without anticipation? A constant bob on a calm sea, so inured to ebb and flow that even a diving dolphin or a glittering rainbow seems like just another thing. We need the ups and downs, the nods and shakes, the grunts and groans of the week, if only so we can truly bask in the joy that is a weekend. What would Saturday mean without Monday? It would be just another day, after another day and we’d all be beige.

So, my colour-sergeants, prepare to glow because today is Friday, and here are few things to help you get into it.

 

1. This not new but so pure-Friday of a Coldplay song , Adventure of a Lifetime. I don’t know what Mr ex-Gwyneth Paltrow was thinking calling that other dirge-like song with Beyonce Hymn for A Weekend . He definitely got his titles mixed up as that one is okay but this song is a praise-and-worship masterpiece for a sunny Friday afternoon, a boozy Saturday, a lazy  Sunday and all the times inbetween. Play it now, then again on your drive home, and again as you’re getting dressed to hit the town tonight then come back and tell me how much joy you felt.

 

2. This great article by Alexi Duggan Out of the fryer and into the fire: my fish and chip hell in the Guardian. In an earlier article, Duggan had (unwisely) slated the British national food in 600 words literally deep-fried in hatred. He was thereafter sentenced to death by scathing internet comments. He took it all in good form and went to work in a chippy to see what all the fuss was about, then wrote about it in this funny piece made occasionally excellent by turns of phrase such as this:

The chips were chips. The haddock, though, is a delight – as tender as an Adele song.

 

3. Some more music, in the form of Chaka Khan’s Ain’t Nobody because it is, literally, one of the Top 10 songs ever made, and it powered me to a PB in my run this morning and most importantly because I think it contains some very useful lessons, romance wise. She literally gives you instructions:

“First you put your arms around me, then you put your charms around me”- Listen and learn, heart-seekers.

 

4. This truly perfect poem by my newest literary girl crush, Kate Tempest, called from Brand New Ancients. How much do I love it? SO much that I’ve sort of already learned it by heart. Read the whole thing, I beg you, but here’s a little excerpt to whet your appetite.

We are still Godly,
that’s what’s made us so monstrous.
It just feels like we’ve forgotten
that we’re much more
than the sum of the things that belong to us.

Every single person has a purpose in them burning.
Look again.
Allow yourself to see them.

Millions of characters
Each with their own epic narratives
Singing, ‘it’s hard to be an angel
Until you’ve been a demon’.

We are perfect because of our imperfections,
We must stay hopeful,
We must be patient;

When they excavate the modern day
They’ll find us,
The Brand New Ancients.

 

5. Lastly but never leastly, this amazing Beef Carrot Stew recipe by the eternally reliable Afrolems. For those of you not in Nigeria or otherwise unaware, Nigeria’s been hit by a massive tomato shortage. In my house, we now use tinned tomatoes for stew and hoard our fresh ones for salads. This recipe is easy and works– I tried it, and I’m a fan. Get involved.

 

This week’s featured image*is of a red-billed toucan, culled from the Atlantic’s gorgeous archive of the best photos from around the world. We are so awfully lucky to live on a planet so wonderfully full of beautiful creatures. #RIPHarambe!

 

GO FORTH AND FROLIC

 

*Manan Vatsyayana / AFP / Getty

Spring Lectures, Sunday Runs and Shiraz

Is there a greater turn-off than arrogance? I know you’ll want to say ‘unhappy hygiene habits’ or ‘rampant racism’ and possibly, probably, you’re right about that. But for me, I would rather be immolated than be forced to hang around the cocky, arrogant so-and-sos for whom Shakespeare’s ‘all the world’s a stage’ is an invitation to make the rest of us unwilling observers of their ‘Me Me Me’ shows.

So, when I was invited to the Oxford and Cambridge Club of Nigeria’s Spring Lecture, I was a little dubious. We Nigerians at the best of times are a cocky bunch, and I worried that a group of Nigerians who had repatriated after being educated at the two best universities in the world would result in a lot of Me Me Me.

This deserves its own paragraph: I was very very wrong.

The Spring Lecture was a day of lovely people and the sort of conversation I live for-  about the things that truly matter, rather than the things that one can buy. I met a great and adventurous girl who, having been born and bred in England, decided to come to Nigeria to do NYSC. She has no family here, no friends, no job, no ties..and she came anyway.

“I think you’re a bit of a superhero” is what I said to her after hearing her stories, and she looked bemused.

“I’m not. I just wanted to know what it was like.”

She didn’t seem to think she was in any way extraordinary, which of course is often the best proof of extraordinariness. She is though. Nigeria is just not the sort of place people come to when they don’t have to, and it’s also not the sort of place people come to without any sort of safety net or soft landing and there this girl is- shrugging her shoulders and telling me quite matter-of-factly that she’d left Oxford and England and everything behind to “know what it was like”.

I met so many more interesting and intellectually curious people; young, old, and inbetween, that I regretted even the momentary indecision I’d had about coming in the first place. If any of you are in Lagos and are ever invited to a similar event, hear me when I say: Go. Mingle. It’ll be worth it.

But all of this happened  on Monday. Let’s roll it back a few days to my rather surprisingly excellent birthday. As I said in my last Adventures post, I’ve had a roller coaster of a year, and whilst that would prompt most people to have a blow-out party, it just made me want to sit quietly somewhere and whisper ‘thank you’ to the universe. Despite my best efforts, I was instead buried in fuss and love and hugs and phone calls and cakes. My best friend threw me a surprise party, and gave a speech that made me cry, and invited a large number of my favourite people here in Lagos. I don’t deserve any of them but I plan to keep all of them forever anyway.

Obviously I spent most of the next day nursing a hangover.

On Saturday I woke up late, ran errands with my cousin, then hit the gym. He trains me, as I think I’ve said before, and returning from weeks of pre and post-op inactivity means he’s got his work cut out for him. “Time to kill it!” he said, ominously, as we walked into the gym. “Why can’t I just gently maim it instead?” I asked sadly. He didn’t bother to answer and I didn’t have much breath left to ask again- it was torture.  We went through the same routine on Sunday and the only thing that got me through the second day of this madness was the thought of the heavy, fruity bottles of shiraz we had waiting for us at home.

We’d just been about to open one when my friend, A, messaged to say he was coming round. He turned up with a belated birthday present for me- a very pricey, very lovely bottle of wine which I promptly declared wouldn’t be opened for at least a year.  He deigned to join us in a glass of our (lesser) shiraz, which opened up the dormant avenues of conversation such that one glass turned to two, then three, then…

As an evening, it felt like a new jumper which starts out itchy and uncomfortable but after a few wears and washes, becomes a favourite; fitting you like a second skin. A is someone I like, not just as a person, but as a person I’d have been happy to call my person. I never said anything about it- I never do, as I firmly believe in boys doing the saying- and what with one thing and another it had been months since we’d seen each other.  Some strange alchemy caused by the shiraz, the Lagos rain pounding at the windows outside, the fact that my cousin abandoned us around 10pm for his own bed and my post-workout zen meant we finally had a bit of a chat about it. It happened as we were discussing a one-time secret between us.

“I’d have told you” he said calmly, one arm flung lazily behind his head and the other laying as flat as a no on the arm of the chair. “I’d have told you if I thought we were at the point where we were about to start dating. I mean, I knew you liked me. And I liked you. But I don’t think we were at that point so, I didn’t tell you.”

He was wearing light blue trad that  stretched slightly over his broad shoulders. I was in an old Star Wars t-shirt and ratty denim shorts. We were both barefoot.

I nodded, understanding. I was stretched out on the couch and had my wine glass balanced on my tummy.

I sipped and spoke.

“I get that. I mean, I get why you would think that. It’s just that I thought we were at that point. I thought we were totally about to start dating. So I was really surprised when you didn’t tell me.”

I drained my glass and he shifted in his seat. Then he spoke again.

“I really enjoy awkward conversations, you know.”

I grinned and said “So do I, but that’s about all the awkward I’ve got at the moment.”

And then there was a lull, in our conversation and in the rain outside, and I could feel the ‘what might have been’ float around in the air like the last strains of your favourite song.  But a crack of thunder shook the windows and I drained my glass and he reached over to top me up and the whole thing eased over, like a wave crushing a sand castle and returning it to flat, calm, beach.

We carried on chatting until 1am  when, failing to keep the yawns from his face he finally gathered himself to leave. I walked him out of my front gate, where we bussed our cheeks against each other under a large umbrella and said goodnight.

The next day I went to the gym and ran 15km. It hurt, obviously, but it felt good. When I got back home to change and dress for the Spring Lecture, my cousin caught me heading up the stairs.

“Oh hey! How was the gym? Did you kill it?”

“Yep.” I said, sore and tired.  “I killed it. It’s well and truly dead now.”

 

 

 

The Friday Fun: 27 May 2016

Where will you be, when this working day  (finally!) sinks into night, when the week sails gently away on a tide of forgotten nothings and all that lies before you is hours upon hours of time, your time, to recharge your soul? Where will you be?

I hope you’ll be curled up on your couch, or dressed to the nines, or wrapped in the arms of your lover. I hope you’ll be dancing, or laughing, or hoping; ideally all three. I hope you’ll be ready for the endless possibility that is a weekend, as full or as empty of plans as you need to be.

It’s Friday, toe-tappers, so here are a few things to help you get into it.

 

  1. This excellent drawing by Lami Sbiti which ought to inspire you to never say goodbye to your inner child, especially not at a weekend. See more related illustrations on adulting (from the Guardian) here.

goodbyechild

 

2. This honest, beautiful, moving and funny personal essay by Nicole Cliffe of The Toast about how she found faith and how it totally robbed her of chill. It resonated with me because I am a person of faith who is often sans chill in the face of human brokenness and kindness and she described the whole mess of it perfectly.  The Toast is shutting down soon, which is the dagger in the heart I didn’t deserve, so hurry over and hang out there for as long as you can. Here’s the excerpt that made want to hug her through my computer screen:

 

I have been asked if deciding to become a Christian ended my exciting new crying-multiple-times-a-day hobby. The truth is that I continue to cry a lot more than I did before either Be-With-Me-Gate or the Dallas Willard Incident. I am more undone by love, or kindness, or friendship than I would have thought possible. Last night I tried to explain who Henri Nouwen was to some visiting cousins, and they had to bring me Kleenex, which they did sweetly and cautiously, as though I might melt in front of them. This morning I read a piece in Texas Monthly that literally sank me to my knees at how broken this world is, and yet how stubbornly resilient and joyful we can be in the face of that brokenness. I never possessed much chill, to be honest. Now I have none whatsoever.

There are times I feel a bit like a medieval peasant, in that I believe wholly in God now, but don’t always do what he wants, or, like Scarlett O’Hara, put hard conversations with him off until I’ve done the thing I wanted to do. It’s a thrumming backdrop to the rest of my life. My Christian conversion has granted me no simplicity. It has complicated all of my relationships, changed how I feel about money, messed up my public persona, and made me wonder if I should be on Twitter at all.

Obviously, it’s been very beautiful.

 

3. This horrifically racist washing detergent ad from a Chinese company I’m not even going to bother to name. How is this a fun thing, you ask? I mean, the girl puts a tab of detergent in his mouth, so as to ensure a thorough removal of his blackness.  If you can’t laugh at that, you’ll cry. So, laugh instead.

 

 

4. Now over a month old but still my current fav, this Drake song Feel No Ways from his new tissue-paper smooth album, Views. I love Drake, I love his nonsense lyrics, I love his unshaven beard, I love the glint in his eye and the discordance of his dance-steps. I love him so much I even love this song, which is really about your most annoying and entitled ex-boyfriend, who always somehow feels like he is owed your time and attention. As my friend says, this song is a strawberry jam.

5. Finally this total fire Ask Polly letter from (apparently) a September 2014 edition of New York Magazine. I came across it last week and since then I have  shared it on Twitter, I’ve emailed it to at least 25 people, I’ve printed it out and handed it to pretty much all of my ‘why am I still single’ friends here in Lagos and as I type this I’m seriously considering sticking it on the office fridge door.

It’s not even that it’s ground breaking stuff- , the whole thing can be summarised as ‘be kind to yourself’ or something equally trite- it’s just how insightful Polly was in diagnosing the real issue. A girl writes in asking why the men she dates don’t love her and Polly realises the issue is this girl is trying to make herself loveable, rather than accepting that as her baseline status. How many of us do that? Nip and tuck at ourselves to earn someone’s love or attention?  It’s so easy I think to feel that a reaction/feeling/characteristic/genuine desire of ours is outrageous and that we’re not allowed to have it for no good reason, and then take that feeling and twist it into actions that benefit literally everyone but ourselves. It’s so easy and such an enormous act of self-sabotage. Anyway- .read the whole thing here but before that, read this little excerpt and get your damn life!

 

 

Because let me tell you the god’s honest truth: A lot of women out there are afraid of being something. The template for us is pretty clear: We are meant to have clean skin, a pleasant demeanor, and a nice rack. I’m not speaking up against nice racks, Lord knows. But there are lots of ladies around me, everywhere I go, who hesitate to say what they’re thinking and feeling. They go with the flow, they never make waves. And eventually, they don’t even seem to know what makes them who they are. They live to serve. They read the books that other people are reading. They say the pleasant things that other people are saying. They never put their needs first, unless it indirectly serves someone else — a manicure, some highlights. They make sure everyone around them is 100 percent satisfied. Like grocery-store managers. Like customer service reps. Like masseuses who also give free happy endings.

…..

It’s time to forget about being lovable. And in fact, it’s time to forsake someone else’s idea of what gives you a spark or no spark. Block the “other” from this picture. No more audience. You are the cherished and the cherisher. You are the eminently lovable and the lover. You are a million brilliant sparks, flashing against a midnight sky. Stop making room for someone else to sit down. Fuck “good” partners. Fuck waiting to be let in. You are already in. You are in. Cherish yourself.

Fuck wondering if you’re lovable. Fuck asking someone else, “Am I there yet?” Fuck listening for the answer. Fuck waiting, alone, for a verdict that never comes. Don’t grow up to be one of those women with a perpetual question mark etched into her brow: Am I good? Am I lovable? Am I enough?

You are here. Sit down. Feel your potential in this moment. You have accepted too little for too long. That is changing today. Breathe in. Draw a picture of yourself. Tape it to the wall, with the words: YOU ARE HERE. You are here. Cherish yourself.

 

Okay that’s it. Today’s featured image is of a rumpus of sleepy baby golden retrievers because look at them!

GO FORTH AND FROLIC.