Never give up

On October 29, 1941, Great Britain’s Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, visited Harrow School and gave one of his most quoted speeches. It was two years into what became known as World War II and Britain had been struggling to contain the superior military might of Nazi Germany. Although he spoke at length, this is the part that is most remembered:

“Never give in, never give in, never, never, never, never – in nothing, great or small, large or petty, never give in except to convictions of honour and good sense. Never yield to force; never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy.”

These words came to mind recently, after going through a series of tests that would have overwhelmed a younger, weaker and less resolute version of myself; one that had yet to prove the power of faith and conviction over mere circumstance. I was sitting on a flight bound for Jamaica, happy to be there and grateful that I had passed a series of trials calmly and with grace. I couldn’t help but wonder, “Was this just luck or something far greater than random fortune?” Well, I had nine hours of solitude facing me – more than enough time to recall the events of the past few days and decide whether there was a lesson to be learned.

More than a week earlier, I left Calabar on a dual mission – to renew my Nigerian business visa and to support my brother in his efforts to start a new life in Jamaica. The transition to London, via Lagos, was smooth and uneventful. Once the weekend passed, I started the visa process – money transfer, online application and payment, print of all the usual documents and a visit to the agency that handles all the paperwork. At this point, the first test appeared.

This was my seventh visa, so I was used to the routine: print the form, acknowledgment slip, payment receipt and invitation letter; include two passport photos, passport and a postal order; finally, pay another ‘processing fee’ directly to the agency. However, the man behind the desk was insisting on a bank statement as well. We argued; he won. I retreated to their internal Internet facility and tried to print it out, but the technology kept failing. My ‘friend’ hovered over my shoulder. “Five minutes more and then your application will be considered tomorrow.”

For me, that was impossible. It was Wednesday and I had paid an additional £50 for 24-hour service, so that I would have my passport back in time to fly that Friday. “I’m afraid that won’t work, I must have it back tomorrow,” I insisted. We argued again, with my experience of past years pitted against his natural caution. “You realise that if I submit it without the bank statement and the visa is refused, you will lose all your money and have to start again,” he countered. This time I won because I was out of options and I decided that the risk was worth taking. With one minute to go, my application was registered. Too late to turn back now.

The next day, I was back at 4pm, as instructed, but something wasn’t quite right. Apparently, there was a ‘slight delay’ but hopefully passports would arrive from the Nigeria High Commission soon. Half an hour passed, then came an apology. Some passports were going to be delayed for another 24 hours – including mine. “I’m sorry, but  I have a flight at 12.40pm tomorrow; I need my passport, visa or no visa,” I said firmly. I would not be placated. Eventually, it was explained that somehow I had submitted a receipt for a previous transaction and that I could get my passport at 4pm on Friday, long after my flight would have left.

I was not budging. They called the High Commission and explained that I had to have the passport. Eventually, I was told that ‘Dave’ in the Visa Section would see me at 10am, as long as I could present the correct receipt. Quickly, I did the math and decided that it was possible to leave Trafalgar Square by 10.30, get the Gatwick Express train by 11.00 and still drop my bags before check-in closed at 11.40am. As I walked away, I started a mental checklist that would guarantee success – online check-in, overnight packing and early arrival to beat the queue.

The next morning, everything within my power proceeded like clockwork. I woke up an hour earlier than my 7am alarm, watered the plants, dressed, shut down all the appliances, had a leisurely breakfast and still left the house with time to spare. I joined the queue at 9.15, hoping that ‘Dave’ would be early or on time. He wasn’t. 10 o’clock; 10.30; 11.00. Finally, at 11.15, I was called to sign for my passport.

I had just 25 minutes before check-in closed and a journey time of at least 45 minutes ahead of me. Impossible. And yet, I pressed on. I grabbed a taxi, almost forcefully ejecting the departing passengers with my stare. A few back streets later, I was at Victoria station, narrowly missing the 11.30 train. Not to worry; the 11.45 was almost ready to go. As I boarded, the train went dark and the announcer declared that it was out of service and heading for the depot. After a silent prayer, the lights were back on and we boarded gratefully. 

At exactly 12.15pm, I ran off the train and into the airport terminal, heading straight for Virgin Atlantic. The area was totally empty – no passengers, no staff, nobody at all. At the far end, I spotted some movement and ran towards a couple of ticketing agents tallying up for the day. “Montego Bay? 12.40? It leaves in 20 minutes – we closed the flight 40 minutes ago. The best we can do is get you on the next flight tomorrow through JFK or direct on Sunday. What would you like to do?”

“I need to get on that flight,” I said, explaining what had happened that morning. “Just call the gate; the flight’s probably delayed.”

“Okay, let’s see… No, the flight’s on time, they should be pushing back shortly,” he said squinting at his screen.

“Please call the gate,” I insisted. “There’s always a way. Just try and let’s see what happens.”

His female colleague nodded, “Call the gate and let them decide.” 

As he tried on the two-way radio, I slipped my Virgin Gold Card out of my wallet and ‘absent-mindedly’ tapped it on my bottom lip. “Yes, we’ve got one passenger. He’s already checked in, seat 15H…”

“Tell them he’s a gold card holder,” hissed his colleague. 

The tone of the response changed immediately. “Okay, send him through with an escort; with a bit of luck he’ll make it.”

And so, we set off for gate 31, whizzing through security (well, not quite whizzing but going as fast as one can in these post-9/11 days) and getting there at exactly 12.40pm. As I rounded the last corner, with the escorting agent in my wake, I relaxed my stride; there was still a flurry of activity as the last few passengers were being processed. Despite all the obstacles and the seeming impossibility of the task, I had made it. 

Mentally, I checked my pulse – I was still calm and collected, never once giving in to despair or panic. One of the techniques I used in the process was acceptance of all the possibilities, including failure, and deciding I would be fine, no matter what. These days, I have the unshakable feeling that despite trials, disappointments and setbacks, that everything will work out for the best. 

So, until I can come up with a better formula for overcoming when the going gets tough, I’m sticking with Sir Winston. “Never give in, never give in, never, never, never, never.” So far, it’s working.

30 thoughts on “Never give up

  1. I liked this!!! The experience itself sounds like one heart stopping moment after the other. And hurray for everyone who worked to make sure you got on your flight on time.


    1. Always nice to get feedback from you, Arit. I didn’t have a sense of the suspense I was building into this when I wrote it but a number have readers have mentioned it. In fact, there were a few more twists and turns but I wondered if people would believe it all!


  2. Picturesque narrative! Pulsating suspense. I thought it was gonna read “to God be the glory” as with our Naija drama ending. Hahaha


    1. Hahaha! Very funny, Charles. I would have to add a little witchcraft, a trusty pastor, lots of weeping and wailing, plus a few dodgy special effects, before I could hope to reach the standard required for Nollywood drama. To God be the glory! Lol.


  3. Michael, the suspense of your storytelling made me want to jump ahead to check the outcome…..but I didn’t and enjoyed reading it all the more. Persistence definitely paid off….with some help along the way. Best wishes to Paul and his son on their new adventure. Stay blessed. M xx


    1. Thanks Mary, I always look forward to your feedback, especially since you are a connoisseur of best-selling novels. I didn’t imagine that my non-fictional account would get such a response. I’m grateful. Paul and Sam are doing well – we’ve found both a house and a school, so we’re on track.


  4. My BP leapt several points….this read like a spy novel or something. Speaking for myself I probably would have been bawling from the beginning. Congratulations, you passed those tests with flying colours (no pun intended) Love, sorry to miss you in JA. All the best to Paul and Sam


    1. Thanks Clover. I’m so surprised that everyone found this real-life account so suspenseful. Paul and Sam are doing great and we’re on track to get everything done ahead of schedule. We passed your house on Monday but had to keep going. We’ll catch up next time.


  5. What’s the equivalent of a page-turner in describing an account that’s not actually a book? A paragraph-leaper. That’s what this nail-biter was Michael. Keep it up!


  6. I also checked my pulse while reading and discovered a high level of anxiety built up. Neck-deep in trying to know what happened next, eventually got me unsettled already. Good read!


  7. Lovely write up. I know that feeling, when almost everything just seems to be working against you, but in the end when you almost certain all is lost…… things just fall right into place!!! *smile*


  8. Tenacity does pay! A very interesting read! ‘Paragraph leaper’ is apt as Maurice describes it Lol! Thanks for sharing Michael. (I should get me a gold card though Lol!)


  9. I truly believe patience is a virtue. You never took your eyes off the prize which was to get in that plane. Awesome testimony that is medicine to my soul right now. My motto….Sit still while you stand!


  10. Fortis Cadere Cedere Non Potest! Fantastic post, excellently penned. I must admit I was drawn to it by the ‘Calabar’ aspect in the title and was expecting it to relate to a certain High School in Jamaica 🙂 Glad it didn’t and you still had me capitivated right to the pleasant ending. Walk Good my brother.


    1. Thanks Garth, much appreciated. Well, now you know the origin of the high school’s name! I live and work in Calabar, Nigeria and always get ribbed by my Fortis 78 friends. Please take time out to read other posts in the blog, beginning with Life After Death, a touching recollection that inspired me to begin writing online. Take care!


  11. Oh my goodness, you had me on the verge of panic! You may not be aware of it, but as I have the privilidge of knowing you since you were in nappies, I can confidently say you have always displayed a strong degree of resolution in your attitude to life. Glad you have developed such an effective technique for staying calm, it’s very valuable and will maintain a healthy heart. Hope all goes well for you and Paul in Jamaica. I think I will miss you but tell Paul to send me an email with his number. Good luck


    1. Thanks Charles. No one has known me for longer than you, apart from my brother, so I appreciate your words. Paul will return to London briefly, late July to early August, so you’ll catch up with him – +1(876) 562-9243


  12. My heart was racing very fast cos I understand this scenario all too well!! Hahaha! I’m glad you didn’t give up but continued and u made it!


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