Tuesday, 31 December 2013

A 10% increase in the THI (Tom Happiness Index) in 2013

After a turbulent year, the THI (Tom Happiness Index) ended a full 10% higher at the end of 2013. Buyers of "Tom Happiness" will have made a tidy profit, even though the index got off to a shaky start.

Analysts are optimistic that 2014 could yield similarly positive results, possibly even delivering a bumper happiness year, providing the fundamentals stay on track and there are no major JRS (Joy-Related Shocks).

The THI opened 2013 at a level of 111,111 but plummeted in late January when the death of Tom's Dad was announced, falling 23% and ending the month at 85,556. Things didn't look good and several faint-hearted investors sold Tom at that point, driving the index even lower, at one point dipping below 80,000!

The index bounced back powerfully following the funeral when the pall-bearers danced down the high street with my Dad's coffin hoisted aloft. THI closed at 92,153 at the end of February.

Tom Happiness Index drifted sideways in March, but leapt again in April to over 100,000 as Tom celebrated his 20th wedding anniversary with a wonderful weekend break in Monaco followed by a lovely family lunch at Kettners for his mother's birthday in May. (Professional investors in happiness should note that a luxury weekend in Monaco can add over 10,000 Happiness Index points).

Over the next couple of months, the THI drifted down as we approached the first anniversary of the death of Tom's Big Brother, Jim. But by skillful happiness day-trading, taking a smile here, a giggle there, we were able to stop the decline from going too far. Tom's strategy of planning his huge, Cuban themed 50th Birthday Party for July surrounded by friends and family to counter the downward pressure of the first anniversary worked well. But it took the additional excitement of making the huge decision to book a seat on board Virgin Galactic to fly into space to drive the THI upward, in the face of the emotional storm, closing July a shade under 100,000 at 98,529.

August was a bumper month for the Tom Happiness Index. The African Gifted Foundation Academy took place in Accra, Ghana with nearly 100 students from ten different countries and Tom rode the wave of excitement and potential to add an amazing 15,037 happiness points, lifting him into positive territory for the first time in 2013 with an index of 113,568!

September was a solid month for the Tom Happiness Index. The index continued to climb as big plans continued to come together nicely. The decision to build a brand new school for gifted young people in Africa and kick off that project boosted the Index nicely. That coupled with donations continuing to roll in to the Jim Stanfield Memorial Fund that will support a disadvantaged student at Jim's old college in Oxford pushed more happiness Tom's way. The Index closed higher again at 116,751 at the end of September.

October and November drove the THI index over the 120,000 mark for the first time. The opportunity to speak at a major conference in Nigeria on African Gifted education and the receipt of some large donations towards the permanent African Academy all contributed to the inflow of happiness.

Finally, a big family wedding in December kicked the THI nearly 2,000 points higher and thus the Tom Happiness Index ends December at 123,417 - a 12,306 point increase on the opening position and an 11% growth in overall happiness.

Not a bad return on investment.

I hope you had a Net Happy 2013 and look forward to a continued upward trend to your index in 2014

Sunday, 17 November 2013

Five of the best

I have been asked to give a talk at work next week about blogging.

I am a rather sporadic blogger (I aim for one or two posts a month and I don't usually achieve that!). I don't write about business stuff so I'm not sure I'm the right person to give this talk but I'll give it a go.

Reflecting on what I should say, I've taken a look back at my 181 posts since I started blogging in 2008. What do people read most? What are the top five most popular posts, by number of views? I've taken a look and it's a rather odd collection.

Here they are, starting with the most popular...

1) Are jeans smart casual? (posted 27 July, 2011)

2) Mid-life crisis (May 2011)

3) Kim Jong-il, Beyonce and me (May 2009)

4) Teenagers in Top Hats (April 2013)

5) In favour of a Big Brother Society (July 2012)

Now, why would people find this set the most popular?  Only one of these gets into my own Top Five. I think I would go with these

2) Physics: The One True Science (September 2008)

3) Welcome to my World (May 2008)

5) I'm Good at Failing (June 2011)

And the lesson I can draw from this when I give my talk on blogging at work next week? Simple - always remember to add the words "THIS IS A REALLY GOOD ONE. PLEASE READ IT. PRETTY PLEASE" after your best posts, otherwise those pesky readers will just go ahead and read whatever they like.

Friday, 27 September 2013

A bright flash of light seen in 500 years time

I was at a dinner this week.

It was in memory of my brother, Jim, and brought together a few of his old friends. One of the things we are doing is creating a memorial fund in his name at his Oxford College, St Anne's. We are creating a fund "in perpetuity". Every year the Jim Stanfield Memorial Fund bursary will be awarded to a deserving chemistry undergraduate.

And when I say "every year" I mean "every year". It will literally continue for hundreds of years and the great thing about doing this with an Oxford College is that they will be around in 500 years time and a new undergraduate in 2513 will be beamed up to Oxford to study "The Laughable Way they used to do Chemistry in the 21st Century" and will be awarded the Jim Stanfield Memorial Fund bursary.

As a (failed) physicist I do enjoy thinking about the passage of time. I sometimes read relativity for fun and think to myself "I used to understand that stuff thirty years ago". I find it fascinating that the light we see from the stars left millions of years ago. Flashes of light echoing down the ages.

So, I was moved nearly to tears when our delightful guest speaker, Clarissa Farr, the High Mistress of St Paul's Girls School, closed her speech with a poem by Elizabeth Jennings, who coincidentally also attended St Anne's College. It is called Delay.


The radiance of the star that leans on me
Was shining years ago. The light that now
Glitters up there my eyes may never see,
And so the time lag teases me with how

Love that loves now may not reach me until
Its first desire is spent. The star's impulse
Must wait for eyes to claim it beautiful
And love arrived may find us somewhere else.

In 500 years time a young undergraduate at St Anne's College, Oxford will receive a letter telling them that they have been awarded the Jim Stanfield Memorial Fund bursary in honour of a wonderful man and in their own way will think "The radiance of the star that leans on me was shining years ago"

Monday, 29 July 2013

Why I am travelling into space on Virgin Galactic

Recently I took the decision to reserve a seat on Virgin Galactic's spaceship. At some point in the next few years, all being well, I am going to travel in space.

At this point, if you are like my wife you will be speechless. Literally. No words will come out of your mouth. You will walk away slowly shaking your head. If you are like my son you will say "cool, can I go instead of you?". If you are like my brother, who I tried to impress by saying I was going to tell him something completely unexpected, you will say, with a shrug "yes, that's exactly the sort of thing I'd expect you to do." If you were like the chap in the bank who asked what the reason for the large funds transfer was you will have turn red, burst out laughing, stood up and shook my hand. If you are like my daughter, you will listen carefully to my reasons and then, understanding what drives me, thoughtfully give me permission to go.

For those who don't know, Virgin Galactic is Sir Richard Branson's venture to introduce space travel to folk like you and me. The spacecraft is carried high into the atmosphere by a mothership, and then when the mothership reaches maximum height it will release the small spaceship capable of carrying six passengers. The spaceship then blasts its rockets carrying it 100 km above sea level, which is the Karman Line, the commonly accepted definition of where space begins.

Did I mention that I am scared of heights? Really.

So why on earth (pun intended) have I decided to jump aboard and experience this journey?

Gosh, that's a hard question. But I think the answer lies in the word journey.

I am on a journey. From where, to where, I don't really know. But what I do know is that I can't seem to stop. I can't relax. Whatever I have done is just not good enough. I must do more. I must prove that I am "good enough". I don't know what happens if I stop and am judged to be not good enough, but hey, why take the risk? Better keep moving.

I've done quite a lot of things I suppose over the years. Built schools. Created companies. Run charities. Travelled from Hong Kong to Hawaii, Mumbai to Mauritius, London to Lagos, Albuquerque to Afuze and all sorts of places in between. I have had champagne breakfast at dawn in the wild Maasai Mara surrounded by wildebeest and I have had lunch in the Palace of Westminster surrounded by Royalty. I have presented alongside Bill Gates to a thousand strong audience and I have sat on the floor with young orphans in Kenya chatting about life. Yes, I've done a few things.

But it's not good enough. I must keep moving. Because if I stop, then what will happen? I don't know, but I'm not going to take the risk of stopping and finding out.

So, as I turned 50 this year, and after a very challenging year when I lost my Big Brother and my father within months of each other, I started to ponder. What next? What do I work towards? What can I do that I will find exciting and truly daunting for years to come? Something that will keep me driving forwards, even when the sadness of my losses tries to drag me down. Something that will really stretch me in all sorts of directions. Something that perhaps when I've done it, I will be able to sit down in my rocking chair, in the autumn, smile to myself and say "okay, that's enough. That's good enough. You tried, Tom. You can rest."

I'm a scientist. Not a very good one. But I did study Physics to degree level and I do know what quantum entanglement is (I think!). If someone said "all the writers go over there, economists over there, artists there and scientists there" I would go and stand with the scientists. I love science. The analytical scientific process. The vast body of scientific knowledge. The totally counterintuitive findings. The fact that, as Richard Feynman, my favourite physicist (and who has a favourite physicist?) explains you can't prove anything to be abosolutely true. Whatever you think is true just hasn't been proven wrong yet! So stop being so damn certain about everything and have a bit of intellectual humility.

As a scientist, I want to inspire others to engage with the great subjects too. Everyone needs a BIG project. What's your BIG project? My BIG project is education in Africa. I am interested in science education and particularly in seeking out the brightest young minds from across the Continent and engaging them in deeply challenging discussions and debates on the nature of the world we live in, the universe around us and the laws that govern it. My African Gifted Foundation is all about that and the iconic permanent Academy that we will go on to build on the continent will be a hot bed of scientific intellectual creativity for years to come.

So, this step into space is part of my personal scientific journey of exploration and discovery. In the future I am looking forward to visiting every single country in Africa and inspiring young people with the story of my own scientific journey. From a troublesome teenage scientist who battled with his teacher and was thrown out of class any number of times for being disruptive, to touching the edge of space and seeing the earth itself from the outside.

I hope what I do helps inspire young scientists to push their boundaries too. My father grew up as a farmer's son in Afuze, a tiny village in West Africa, in a level of poverty that you can barely imagine. I am going into space. What a wonderful world we live in, that such a thing is possible in one generation.

If I can do that, imagine what you can do! What are you going to do when you grow up? And what stories will you tell?

When I grow up, I am going to travel in space and when I've done it, I'm going to tell the story.

Friday, 26 July 2013

Facebook is our Hotel California

It was my father's birthday a couple of days ago. Facebook helpfully reminded me, as his smiling face popped up inviting me to wish him a "Happy Birthday" and telling me that he is 72. Actually he's not 72. He died in January this year.

My dad appears from time to time these days as I am browsing Facebook. As does my brother, Jim. When I organised a party recently, using Facebook, Jim appeared so many times with the suggestion that I should invite him that I started to feel guilty for not inviting him. Then I thought I might as well. But I felt sad in the knowledge that he wouldn't accept. Or, what if he did !

It must be my age, but I seem to have more and more of the digitally departed keeping in touch with me on Facebook these days. Old friends who passed away over the last few years but are still with me online. Some of them seem more active on Facebook now that when they were alive.

Facebook has got an interesting challenge here. Sure, there is a process to close down the dearly departed, but its not that easy. And it's quite an emotional thing to do. To finally erase a loved ones digital presence isn't an easy step to take. You get used to them sort of still being part of your online life.

With over a billion users, there must be millions of these free spirits floating around inside the Facebook machine, inviting themselves to parties, telling friends about their birthdays, asking to be tagged. They are with us still.

This is the Brave New Digital World that we live in.

Welcome to the Hotel California. You can log out any time you like. But you can never leave. (with thanks to @RobWhitelock) 

Sunday, 16 June 2013

How I found my sister after 30 years

Eight years ago, I set out to find my sister who had been lost to us, thousands of miles away, for over 30 years.

Here is the full story.

The Background

In the early 1970's we lived in Uganda for a few years. It was the chaotic time of the Dictator Idi Amin. My late father had been posted to Kampala, the capital of Uganda, a few years earlier to help establish Ugandan Television (UTV). I went with him and spent a few jolly years living in Kampala, swimming at the hotel with the only circular swimming pool I have ever seen and making friends at Kitante Primary School.

Whilst there, my Dad had a relationship with a young Ugandan lady and as a result a baby sister was born. I saw her once, when I was about ten years old and she was a tiny baby. But we left the country soon after as Idi Amin's regime took hold and foreigners were increasingly unwelcome.

Time and distance took its toll. My father lost contact with his daughter and her mother, thousands of miles away in a pre-internet, pre-mobile phone war-torn world. How hard he tried, I do not know. As for me, I hardly registered that I had a sister in Uganda. Life moved on.

Fast forward thirty plus years, to 2005. I am living in London with my own family. I had just left one role and  was starting to plan my next venture. Having recently turned 40 (seemed old at the time, but now I look back at the young lad of 40 that I was and sigh) I was quite reflective. London is a multicultural city and there are many Ugandans living here. It occurred to me that for all I knew my sister could have emigrated to London and I might walk past her on the street. Or she might be fighting for survival in a refugee camp somewhere. I decided that I had to try to find out what happened to her.

I mean, how difficult could it be?

The Search

Step one was to gather all the background information that I could. I contacted my dad, who lived in West Africa, and told him what I wanted to do. What could he tell me to get me started?

"Well" he said "her mother's name is Betty and the mother's sister worked at a bank in Kampala"

Right, I thought. Well, that's better than nothing. Marginally. After all there are only 34 million people in Uganda and I'm looking for a girl. So if she's there and still alive that's just 17 million women. I'm looking for someone in their 30's, so that narrows it down again. I probably only need to ask a couple of million women if their mum's name is Betty and their Aunt worked in a bank 30 years ago and that's it. Job done!

To be honest, there were a few other fragments of data to work with, but not much. But fortunately in the intervening years between my sister's birth and my search, a chap called Tim Berners-Lee had done something very useful. He invented a thing called the World Wide Web.

I think it would have been impossible for me to even start on this journey without the Web. Where could I have possibly started, sitting in London searching for a young woman in a country six thousand miles away? But the Web gave me a window to look through. Thanks, Tim!

However, despite this amazing tool, the first few months were pretty fruitless. Keep in mind that social networking was still fairly new. Facebook was only a year old and even I hadn't heard of it, let along the handful of internet users in Uganda at the time. Twitter was still a mere twinkle in Jack Dorsey's eye. All we had to work with were websites to browse and email to reach out.

So I browsed and I reached out. I reached out and I browsed. I browsed some more. I met some interesting folk along the way but nothing that seemed to be leading me any closer to my sister.

Then I had a breakthrough.

The Breakthrough

There are billions of internet users worldwide. I sometimes wonder how many people are looking for other people at any given time. It would make a fascinating interactive map. People might be looking for each other. Or a searcher might be being searched by someone else. And that is what happened to me.

Whilst I was busy searching for my sister, an old primary school friend from my days in Kampala was searching for me!

As I continued with my fruitless search, I stumbled across a alumni website for my old primary school. That in itself was pretty amazing - a small primary school in Kampala, Uganda having a list of old boys and girls on a reunion website. What was even more amazing is that there was a class photo from my year (1971 I think) that I had never seen before and I WAS IN IT!

And what was quite staggering was that one of my old friends, who I had not see or spoken to for over 30 years, had posted a short paragraph that included a sentence along the lines of "I wonder what ever happened to Tom Ilube after he returned to London?"

I was incredibly excited. I took action. On 26th June, 2005 I sent an email to my old friend that started

"....old boy,

How are you? I was surfing around the Kitante Primary School web site looking to see if I could remember any of the names from 30 years ago and imagine my delight when I saw you and read that you wanted to get in touch.

Only last week I was telling my son about my best friend in Uganda  who was so strong that he could make his belly hard and however hard I punched it, he didn't flinch ! Then I tried it and let my son 
punch me - I almost fell flat on the floor."

My friend and I caught up with each other online and shared stories about friends and families. Then we started to talk in earnest about my quest. My friend decided to help me and got to work.

Is it Her?

I won't retrace all the steps that we took from that point onward, but we exchanged a lot of messages back and forth as my friend followed up various leads. Finally on 3rd August 2005 I received the following email

"I have good news for you and your Dad! I have “found” your sister, Winnie, and her Aunt Mary. The sad news is that Winnie’s mother Betty is deceased-died sometime last year."

What an email bombshell. Can you imagine opening that?

At that stage, we were not certain this was the right lady. Similarly they were quite skeptical about this so called "brother" hunting for her after 30 years. It sounded all very dubious to them and they were naturally cautious.

But I had made my friend a promise. I told him that if we found my sister, I would fly down to Uganda immediately to see her.

The family we had found was headed by a Reverend Canon. He was very protective of his family and took a lot of convincing that we were genuine. We also wanted to be sure. But within a few days both groups were convinced and with my heart in my mouth I made preparations to travel to Uganda to meet my sister.

A Meeting In Masaka

I flew to Kampala, Uganda in late August and started to make arrangements to travel the 80 miles out of the capital to the town where I was told Winnie and her family lived. Immediately after the meeting, when I got back to Kampala that evening, I made notes of exactly what happened. So rather than rewrite history, I will repeat exactly what I wrote at the time, for the record. This is how I met my sister...

On Sunday 28th August we prepared to visit Masaka to meet Winnie.

The car, driven by Vincent, a Buganda man in his fifties, arrived at 9am as requested. My friend and I finished breakfast and we proceeded to stage one of our mission - shopping for groceries.

When visiting a traditional Buganda elder (Canon Wamala, Winnie's grandfather is 90 years old) one cannot go empty handed so another senior Buganda friend of Raymond had helped prepare an appropriate shopping list. Rice, flour, tea, sugar, bread, soft drinks were all procured at Metro  and at ShopRight, the large South African-owned supermarket.

Next stop was GabaRoad to pick up Mr Nsubuga. Mr Nsubuga, an old friend of my father and UTV colleague, himself a Muganda and steeped in tradition was to be the leader of our party and was representing  my father.

We then went to buy gifts. These consisted of a GSM mobile phone with phonecard for Winnie, a bible for the Canon and various traditional attire for the Canon and Aunty Mary, Winnie's aunt who has acted as Winnie's mother since Betty's death two years ago.

The gifts, in addition to the childrens clothes and handbag brought by me from London were declared 'very good' by Mr Nsubuga.

The four of us set out and we called Winnie's cousin Irene (Mary's daughter) to tell her to be ready for us to pick her up. Irene lives in Kampala but was to follow us to Masaka, having previously accompanied my friend to visit her mother Aunt Mary a few weeks earlier.

On the way to pick up Irene, an important discussion on protocol took place. It was conducted in Luganda but my friend translated for me. The issue was 'who are the gifts actually from and therefore who will present them?'

After some debate it was decided that the gifts were from my father himself to the Canon Wamala and that I had 'carried' them from Afuze [my father's village in Nigeria] via London. Therefore the gifts would be presented by Mr Nsubuga to the Canon on behalf of my father, whilst making reference to my role as the courier.

However it was also agreed that the mobile phone and the clothes from London were gifts from me direct to my sister, Winnie and these would be presented by me.

The car stopped to pick up Irene and we set out, Mr Nsubuga with the driver in front, my friend, Irene and me in the back, and a large pile of provisions and gifts in the hatchback boot.

As we set out for Masaka proper, my friend asked Irene to phone her mum, Mary, and let her know that we were on our way. A serious Luganda debate ensued between Irene and Mary, followed by another loud Luganda debate in the car. It transpired that Aunt Mary was claiming that my friend had not officially told her that we were coming and therefore nothing was prepared and the two hours that it would take to get to Masaka was not nearly enough time to prepare.

My friend, who had taken the whole exercise to heart and put so much effort to organise everything was mortified. He insisted that he had told Canon Wamala on the phone and had tried to reach Aunt Mary five times. However Irene was dismissive of her mother's grumblings claiming that it was just nerves, that Mary knew perfectly well that we were coming and that of course they would be ready. Indeed this proved to be the case.

Finally we were off, on the 2 hour drive to Masaka, west of Kampala. All seemed to be going well when suddenly after about an hour we heard a loud noise as we were speeding along at 80kph. A burst rear tire! Fortunately we had a jack and spare, so my friend single handedly changed the tire whilst the driver, Vincent and Mr Nsubuga helpfully supervised him.

Off we went again, this time at a modest speed. We passed the big concrete sculptures by the roadside signalling the line of the equator that I had had my photo taken at more than 30 years earlier, and somewhat later than expected we neared Masaka. One more stop to buy the last item, 10kg of beef from a roadside butcher and we were nearly there.

Actually we were not going to Masaka town itself. Our destination was a small village called Kako, about 2 miles outside Masaka and high up in the hills, overlooking Lake Victoria. We wound our way up past the little village of Kako and continued until we ran out of houses. Finally we arrived at the last house in the village, the home of Canon Wamala.

As our car drew up, people ran around at the back of the house. The front door was open but no-one could be seen. We stood respectfully by the car on Mr Nsubuga's advice whilst Irene went inside to signal our arrival. Then a middle aged lady smiling broadly came out and formally invited us in.

Canon Wamala, a slight but steady old gentleman greeted us whilst seated and told us to sit down which we did. Another old clergyman was in the room, eating, but said nothing. Then the lady who invited us in (who later turned out to be another of Winnie's aunts) reappeared with a girl and the two of them, smiling broadly, knelt down and shook hand with each of our party, remaining on their knees the whole time. This turned out to be the traditional manner in which Buganda women great menfolk.

The atmosphere was cordial but at this stage neither Mary nor Winnie were present and those present waited patiently to be told who we were and why we were there.

Mr Nsubuga rose to address the Canon. He started speaking Luganda but the old man stopped him and said in very clear and fluent English, that it was important Thomas understood so Mr Nsubuga should speak English.

Mr Nsubuga introduced us one by one, leaving me until last. He then outlined the history of the situation, leading up to my friends visit recently. He stated that due to circumstances beyond his control my father could not be present himself but that he had requested Mr Nsubuga to speak for him.

The Canon and other people listened keenly and with great interest. Canon then called for Winnie. A group of three young women came into the room and dropped to their knees to greet the visitors.

I whispered to my friend"which one is Winnie?" but he did not know. Then Canon pointed at one of the ladies and said "Winifred, that man there is your brother. Your father has sent him. Go and greet him"

Winnie detached herself from the group and came forwards silently. She knelt before me and greeted me softly in the traditional style and with little emotion showing on her face. Then I asked her to stand up and I stood up and gave her a hug in the traditional style of a brother! At this she broke down and began to sob quite intensely.

I patted her on the back and she held on tightly - obviously this display of emotion was not usual and there was a real mix of emotions on her part. The audience watched with approval and appreciation. Several later confessed that tears came to their eyes.

After that, the ice was well and truly broken and everyone relaxed. Winnie sat between me and my friend on the sofa. Then Aunt Mary came in. She knelt to greet too but unlike the other ladies her handshake was very firm, her voice strong and confident and she looked you straight in the eye.

Mary remarked that it was an interesting co-incidence that Tom had chosen to sit in exactly the same spot on  the sofa that he had sat on over 30 years before when he and his father had visited the house to see baby Winnie, and this was acknowledged by the group as being material and entirely appropriate.

Mr Nsubuga then rose to signal that we present the gifts but Mary insisted that we eat first. A buffet of traditional dishes emerged and we treated ourselves to matoke, pumpkin, chicken, greens and groundnut stew. Again it was noted with approval that both Winnie and I did not finish eating out chicken legs.

I then produced the photos I had brought and Winnie studied them with great interest. She also looked at a copy of the Ilube family tree that my father had prepared in 1997 and that I had updated with Winnie's name. She asked what village in Nigeria her father came from and which tribe he belonged to. I sketched a rough map of Nigeria, showing Benin City and Afuze, my dad's village.

Winnie's desire to know some of these details was significant as my friend later explained. In Buganda customer ones origins are important and even ones surname depends on where the father is from. Buganda names are clan-based e.g. all Nsubugas are from the same clan.As Winnie's father was not known the Canon had assigned her a 'free floating' Buganda surname, Namasoke, which is easily recognisable to other Buganda as not belonging to any clans.

The visiting party then returned to the car and ceremonially carried in the gifts. Mr Nsubuga formally described and presented each item in turn, all of which were warmly received.

Now Canon Wamala made a speech. He spoke in Lugauda at length and at the end Mr Nsubuga summarised in English. The Canon was extremely happy to have lived to see this day. The family greets Engr Ilube and thanks him for his many gifts. He welcomed Tom back to his home after over 30 years. He requested that when the time is appropriate Winnie travels to Nigeria to meet her father and thereafter what her future holds is up to her and her father.

Thereafter photos were taken at the front of the house. Two of Winnie's three children, Noelle (aged 6) and Moses (aged 6 weeks) were brought out from the back to meet their new Uncle Tom.

Finally as the evening was drawing in, goodbyes were said and the visitors drove back to Kampala, arriving home well after 10 pm.



So, there we have it. After over 30 year and with the help of the Web and serendipity we found our sister. Eight years later, Winnie's situation has changed considerable. She has a house and her children are in school and well look after. She traveled to Nigeria to meet her father and other siblings there.

Sadly the old Canon Wamala died shortly after. But I am told that he said, towards the end, he was content that he had lived to see Winnie reunited with her father and the other side of her family and he was happy to rest in peace.

As for me, sometimes you do things that you think with hindsight "gosh, what was I thinking, that could have turned out so badly". But this didn't. It turned out well and I am pleased. I did okay.

Saturday, 1 June 2013

I laughed at my father's funeral

You may consider me harsh. Uncaring. Heart of stone. But I have a confession to make.

I laughed at my father's funeral.

My Dad died recently and my brother and I traveled to Afuze, a village in Edo State, Nigeria, for his funeral. It was a sad and celebratory experience. I had thought that when I die I wanted a New Orleans style funeral march through the suburban streets of Surrey. But having attended a proper Afuze funeral I have decided that I want what he had. I want something so unexpected that it made my jaw drop. I want the thing that made me laugh out loud at my own father's funeral. Yes, I want....


The funeral started off much as you might expect. Everything was in place. A large cow had been purchased. The  police escort had been arranged to prevent me from being kidnapped. Negotiations with the church had concluded resulting in a modest decade worth of back collections being handed over. The hunter with the dane gun had been retained to fire shots in the air at the appropriate point in the proceedings. So, we were all set.

After the Service of Songs the previous evening in Benin City, we set out in a long convoy towards our ancestral home, Afuze, led by a Cadillac hearse with a very loud siren blaring out the whole way.

When we arrived at the church, I was impressed at the youth of the pallbearers. In the UK, pallbearers are generally venerable looking older gentlemen, with time worn faces. In Afuze, the pallbearers looked like young lads just out of their teens, wearing rather trendy two-tone outfits. But they calmly lifted my father's coffin out of the hearse and took it into the church where a priest shouted at us all for a couple of hours and took three collections. Then we left the church for the procession along Afuze's main road towards my father's house where he was to be buried. As is the way when a chap of his status dies, hundreds of people walked behind us as we blocked the traffic in both directions. Whether it was his popularity or the large cow and lorry loads of Star beer that the people had seen being taken towards the reception area that accounted for the huge crowd that followed us, we will never know.

The first sense that I got that this may not be the type of funeral procession that I was used to came when the  young pallbearers started swaying rhythmically from side to side. "Hello" I thought "things are about to get funky"

How right I was! After a bit of dancing with the coffin, yes DANCING WITH THE COFFIN, my lads did something that I have never seen at any funeral in London I have ever been to. They lifted up the coffin and BALANCED IT IN THEIR TEETH!!!

No, you did not mis-read that. The boys balanced the coffin in their teeth. "Why?" I hear you ask. Because they could, I assume. The crowd cheered. The drummers drummed. The traditionally built ladies danced in traditional ways. I tried to keep feeling sad, but I found myself looking on in amazement with a half smile on my face.

Then my boys lifted the coffin high into the air as if it was as light as a feather and held it aloft. This was a big, heavy coffin mind. Not some lightweight eco-friendly model. Mahogany. Metal trim. The works. I was beginning to wonder whether my dad was actually in there, although I felt I could just about hear him shouting "WILL YOU BOYS BE CAREFUL....WHAT'S THE MATTER WITH YOU?...PUT ME DOWN"

Clearly the effort of hoisting him high into the air was too much for the lads because next thing I knew, they all sat down in the middle of the main road, with the coffin balanced on their shoulders. The drummers drummed. The trumpeters trumpeted. The traditional ladies did traditional dances. I smiled broadly, forgetting for a moment that I was at my own father's funeral.

Gosh this pall bearing is tiring stuff, my boys decided as they lay down in the road with the coffin lying on top of them. We stood around them wondering what to do. Then we had an idea. We threw money on them to give them strength. That seemed to do the trick!

Up they leapt as one and  literally ran off down the road with the coffin. We sprinted along behind them, but those boys would have given Usain Bolt a run for his money and he doesn't even carry a coffin when he runs!

And thus we arrived at my father's final resting place. We cried. We mourned. We prayed. We remembered. And in the end, we danced and we laughed. And my father smiled at us.

That's how we do it in my village. In Afuze-Emai, Owan Local Government Area, Edo State, Nigeria.

Sunday, 5 May 2013

A British Bomb Scare and a Jacket Potato

How ironic.

After spending a couple of days in Geneva at a conference with a bunch of peaceful UN folk, I arrived at Gatwick Airport to find the place in “lock down” (yeh, I’ve watch lots of US cop shows. I know about “lock down”, having “the DA’s office on my back”, calling in “wet boys” and stuff like that).

The first sign that something wasn’t quite right was when the plane pulled up to the terminal. Despite us being 10 minutes early the pilot announced that we would be held on the plane because of “technical problems with the stairs”. Technical problems with the stairs? Come on, pilot. We know how this works. We’ve all watched 24. Technical problems with stairs is code for Major National Emergency. We all know that!

So, when they let us into the terminal and we discovered we were in the midst of a bomb scare and the terminal was in “lock down” there was only one thing for it.

I hit Twitter. Hard.

Good new, landed early at Gatwick North. Bad new, half airport shut. Security alert. My car in that carpark!

More armed police at #Gatwick North than I've seen in a while

At this stage we didn’t really know what was going on. And nor did anyone else. This was a very British bomb scare. We all milled around like naughty schoolboys. The airport officials put on brightly coloured  jackets and marched up and down with paperclips looking important. The armed police strolled around in couples, looking very relaxed, like content young lovers, who just happened to be holding automatic weapons.

Royal Logistics Corps Bomb disposal guys with a very cool remote control robot at #gatwick north now

Some armed bloke without a smile just waved me away from the window. No need to ask twice, mate. I'm gone!

Ok, now it got a little bit more serious. There were no announcements but we knew what was going on. The airport people started putting up tape and making us step back from the windows.
It was pretty clear what my next step should be. I had to take action. I made my move. Food.

#gatwick north car park still in lockdown. In other news, I'm having jacket potato and beans and waiting...

#gatwick north south shuttle closed. Barriers pushed us back further. Also potato, beans and tea cost £8.70!!

I wasn’t the only one that had realised things were getting serious. Other passengers could read the signs…

#gatwick north OH couple of ladies saying indignantly "they've even closed marks and spencer!"

Time dragged on. Pressure began to build…

Three hours at #gatwick north now. No sign of let up. May have to have another jacket potato

Suddenly a thought occurred to me. What would Bruce Willis do? Would he sit there, eating jacket potatoes? Hell, no. Yippe Ki Yay. I decided to explore. Unlike Bruce I decided not to crawl through the air condition vents. I took the stairs.

Wandered upstairs to #gatwick north check-in. Bit of a ghost town up here

It was around this time that I realised that my tweets were being “monitored” (or “read” as normal people who don’t watch back to back Homeland series would call it)

@tomilube Hi Can I call you please. I am a reporter at The Argus. 01273 544 539.
@tomilube Hi, please could we speak to you about your delay at Gatwick? If so please follow back and DM your number.

Decision time. Do I engage with the media and become their “eyes on the ground” (as John Le Carre would call me, no doubt)? Again I reached into the Homeland playbook. Who was the baddy? [SPOILER ALERT. STOP READING IF YOU HAVEN’T REACHED THAT EPISODE]
That reporter lady!!! I decided not to risk it and didn’t call them back. They gave up (but strangely they still follow me on twitter. I did tell them I wouldn’t be offended if they stopped). I continue on my search for information.

#gatwick OH bloke with badge say "they reckon it will be another hour". But who are "they"?

Finally some real news. But it raised more questions than it answered. Who are “THEY”? I watch the X-Files. Are THEY from this planet? Can THEY shape-shift? Could THEY be among us right now? I looked around nervously.

Fortunately I found a chatty policeman. At least I assume he was a policeman. But he looked very dishevelled and just stood around with his hands in his pockets chatting to people. I wonder if he was in fact in a fancy dress policeman outfit on his way back from a rugby tour. Anyway he told us some stuff.

#gatwick ok some proper info from a policeman chatting. 4 controlled explosions to blow the doors off
#gatwick lady says "it must be serious then" police chap "yeh"
#gatwick policeman says normally a lot quicker than this. One bang and gone. Taking their time on this one
#gatwick I like this policeman. Quite chatty. Says its been going on for hours so muct be over soon

#gatwick 1 ambulance and 2 fire engines waiting by north terminal. But everyone seems calm

This is where the contrast struck me. If we were in America I think police, army, agents would be running around everywhere saying things like “That’s affirmative, Ma’am” and “Step back, Sir, STEP BACK, SIR” (you know when US authorities get polite and start calling you “Sir”, you are in trouble). In England, we all just wandered about looking a bit embarrassed, chatting to the police and saying “oh, well never mind, eh? Only four controlled explosions? That's nice, dear. Does anyone want a jacket potato?”

#gatwick progress. Sofitel and Premier Inn have been reopened. Lots of people moving. Car park still closed
#gatwick hurrah car parks open. All clear. I'm outta here people. Its been real

FINALLY,  about five hours later we were given the all clear and left the airport. All’s well that ends well.

The only real damage was to my wallet. £8.70 for a jacket potato with cheese and beans and a cup of tea. £8.70 !!! Can you believe it?