Shanghai Blues

Call me a fool for not only entertaining the notion but embarking on the nightmare of flying solo with a 1 year old Baby-Bel on a 12 hour plane journey (followed inexorably, 5 days later, by an even longer 13 hour flight back). Mr A tells me it defies belief that I declined the offer of alcoholic beverages throughout the period of confinement – apparently he would have drunk the cabin dry in order to survive the ordeal.

I recall craving the numbing effects of a vat of wine only once – at the point when we took our seats and having barely clicked closed the seat belt, with Baby-Bel squirming and screaming reluctance at relinquishing her freedom, the occupant of our neighbouring seat had already summoned over cabin crew to demand a change of seat. Crimson-faced and unable to appease a deliberately delinquent equally red-faced Baby-Bel, it was tempting just to disembark and face the prospect of staying long term in Shanghai just to avoid the flight home. As it turned out, our neighbour took his preferred choice to downgrade a cabin class rather than sit alongside us.

Take off and landing aside, the flights though wrist-slashingly arduous, were actually not intolerable. Tears were remarkably few and fellow passengers (and even the pilot) commented on Baby-Bel’s good behaviour – gold stars all round. Providing 10 hours of uninterrupted entertainment for a small child in a confined space is a task few I know would voluntarily choose to undertake. But the few hours when she slept allowed me the privilege to at least pretend to be like all the others around me – transfixed by a small flickering screen of questionable picture quality, while wrapped in a statically charged polyester blanket, eating food that would on land be deemed unfit for the family dog.

Notwithstanding the drama and trauma of what some have described as self inflicted torture, I am wondering if indeed I don’t prefer that turbulence to my current surrounding state of calm. I have realised that life is not worth living without a challenge, adventure, seeing and being. It has been so long – too long – that the default easy option of habitual comfort and fear of rocking the ritualised baby routine has morphed into lazy listlessness. So much so that blindness to the beyond had set in and settled.   

The mini adventure Baby-Bel and I embarked on was worth every tedious airborne minute. Because that is the other thing that dawned on me as I stared blankly at my flickering screen and prodded at my dodgy tray of airline delicacies with a plastic fork: life is meaningless without people we love. The world is a big place – as I’m sure Francis Drake would attest to. Family and friends are scattered too far. To those in Shanghai – you know who you are – we wish you were closer. We miss you.

Bye Bye Banking

[This article was first published on http://life.hereisthecity.com/sound_off/982.cntns, on 14th June 2009.] 

To pay my last respects to the 8 years of my life dedicated to the altar of investment banking, I ventured one last time to my old office.

Strictly speaking that’s not entirely a true statement – I dragged my heels grumbling and muttering grievances to deliver my signed severance contract because I was too tight-fisted to pay for a courier. After all, as Sir Alan has been highlighting on a regular basis to those unfamiliar (and his wannabe apprentices), these are testing times.

Furtively I scan the vista for any recognisable faces. Tucked away discretely, like a firearm, I have my well-rehearsed response to any awkward sympathetic offerings that may arise; ready to be whipped out, aimed and fired. It has not escaped me the way redundancy casualties are treated like victims of a taboo disease of questionable origin – with a certain uncomfortable demeanour and stilted conversation skirting incessantly around the actual ailment but without any direct reference to it. As luck would have it, altercations aren’t on the day’s agenda.

I am officially no longer an employee of the bank. Or indeed, of anything or anyone. Dare I say it; I am now officially unemployed. Not since the two months immediately following graduation from university can I claim the status of idle thumb twiddler; set to contribute a big fat doughnut to the nation’s tax revenue.

Instead of running from the building shouting ‘Free at last! Free at last!’ it is a decidedly low-key, muted affair (think Camilla and Charles’ wedding). Stepping beyond the doors for the final time, my 1 year old waves a farewell with more feeling than I can muster. Is it relief? Nostalgia? Sadness at the end of an era? The rush of memories of steps I trod thousands of times, in heels, flats, boots and sandals, season after season, year after year. The ghost of me lingers here like a small part my soul that I can’t reclaim.

Today is the day I redeemed my soul – but is a soul any more soulful employed in idle musings than soulless in an industry of alleged moral compromise? And what next now that I am no longer tethered to bureacracy? I hear Sir Alan is on the hunt for his next apprentice…