Back In Durban January – February 2010

A quick look at my Website tells me that I haven’t posting anything for nearly two months. So let me bring you up to date with what I’ve been doing. Christmas and New Year were spent with the family in Norwich. It was cold but a lot of fun and generally enjoyed by all. My sister came up from London for the Christmas period but we were on our own for New Year.

Douglas and I spent a great deal of time working on various essays, reviews and other pieces of course work for his GCSE exams. This was productive and, I hope, bonding.

“Read it aloud, and if you have take a breath, it needs a comma or a full stop”, I kept repeating as we went through essays. I am afraid that the HEARD staff are getting the same treatment as I review their work.

Douglas and I also went to the gym together, and although he is not yet 16, we went to the exercise room instead of just the pool, sauna and steam room as we have done in the past. It was deeply interesting to sit beside him on the rowing machine and look in the mirror and see the similarities and differences. Would that I were his weight.

I returned to South Africa on 11th January. I actually delaying my journey by 24 hours as there was heavy snow and major disruptions on the Saturday and I thought it was not worth risking traveling by rail, (services are always disrupted on a Sunday anyway), and getting frustrated. The journey was quite straightforward, I got to Heathrow Airport at 5.15pm and asked the check-in staff if they could get me on the earlier flight, at 6.00 p.m. rather than at 8.30pm.

The lady asked me, “can you run”.

“Yes” I said.

I made it plane with plenty time although I didn’t stop to buy anything to read which was a bit of a pity.

It was good to get back to Durban, especially since winter has been unrelenting in the UK. My flat was spick and span courtesy of Madeline who acts as my personal PA and Angel the domestic worker; the office was set for me. I spent about week in the Durban before going to Cape Town for a Council for Foreign Relations meeting on “Rolling out treatment across South Africa”.

I now have more relatives in Cape Town as Derek my brother his wife Lynn and their three children, Emily, Sarah and Katie have emigrated to South Africa and are living in Hout Bay. I spent two nights in central Cape Town, went and had lunch with my uncle and aunt and then spent the Friday night with Derek. He is currently negotiating having teenage children who want to go to nightclubs in central Cape Town. I do not envy him. The family has a magnificent house in the valley in Hout Bay with a beautiful view of the mountains.

The main task in HEARD has been to get our new strategy document ready. This along with a business plan, budget and logframe (I really hate logframes and am glad we have an expert to prepare it) will form the basis of our request for funding for the next few years. We have had positive indications so I am confident that HEARD will continue at until 2014, and given the HIV prevalence rates in this part of world, it certainly should. Beyond that I would like to see more emphasis on health issues and not just HIV.

In the third week of January it was back to the UK, leaving Durban on a Friday and returning to it on the following Wednesday. The purpose of this meeting was to review five special papers from the aids2031 Project that are being prepared for publication in The Lancet. The meeting was organized by The Imperial College Group. It was extremely interesting and I was privileged to be part of a small high-powered group. My task was to look at the “drivers of the epidemic” paper written by a colleague, Justin Pathurst, at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. I liked reviewing it as I was able to have some fun with it.

I spent the weekend in Norwich with the family and, apart from being rather tired, enjoyed it greatly. I went to London on the Monday back to Norwich on the Tuesday and flew to South Africa on the Wednesday.

One irritation was that on the way over I had watched a film “Secondhand Lions” with Michael Caine and Robert Duval. It was made in 2003 and is described as a ‘coming of age’ movie. The story is set in the mid-West and tells of a boy who is sent to live with his uncles by his rather scatty mother. These old men have led amazing lives the film is about their developing relationship. It is well worth watching and I thought I was going to enjoy it. However an hour and nine minutes into the film the picture and sound went out of synchronization. It was impossible to watch. Having had a sufficiency of wine I decided quite simply to go to sleep as it seemed pointless despite numerous attempts at resetting the seat to watch it.

I was delighted, on the return trip, to see that the in-flight entertainment system was showing the same films and looked forward to now watching this movie through to the end. I got a glass of wine, fast-forwarded the video and at the appropriate time pressed play. You can imagine my dismay when the same thing happened.

I think I was on the same aeroplane. This makes sense, it would have taken me over on the Friday, returned to South Africa on Saturday, to England on the Sunday, to South Africa on the Monday, to London on the Tuesday and then been there on the Wednesday to bring me back. I watched another film, a mindless thriller called “The Whole Nine Yards”. On Saturday I went to the local DVD store and got a copy of the video took it home and watched the last half hour.

Since getting back to Durban I have been extremely busy with HEARD management. This is the third weekend in a row that I have worked. Being here lends itself to physical activity and I have been engaged in squash and going to the gym. My gym is curious place because it is mainly inhabited by serious fitness people who do not look at each other, other than to correct posture or weight lifting. We collectively feel this is a place to get fit not to pose. Their website is I have had a trainer at the gym, (yes a personal trainer), for some years now and when I work in a sustained manner with him I do see the weight and inches falling off. His name is Wade and being weighed by Wade is always an interesting process. He is only allowed to train out of hours or at lunch time. He does train me on a Sunday afternoon with permission from the owners. The gym is officially open from 4.30 to 6.30pm but we meet at 3.15 and I have the entire place to myself. I realized the other day that this is pretty cool, and I can choose the music. I think I am going to a Dolly Parton CD in to train to!

It is the height of summer in Durban and the temperature has been 30 degrees and more during the day. The flat is on the top floor and as a result it tends to be rather warmer than the ones below. Fortunately it has air-conditioning units in the lounge and bedroom. We recently had a power failure. This was a real pain as it meant that I was unable work or run the air-conditioner. I also discovered I did not have any matches to light my candles. I had to go to one of few smokers in the block to get a light.

Summer also means that the sun rises at about 5.00am. One morning I woke at 4.30 and despite trying to go back to sleep could not. I got up at 5.00 put on my running shorts and shoes and ran for 40 minutes. I go straight up the hill along and then down and then gradually back. I know I am not running fit because the route that normally takes me 35 minutes took me 38 this morning. I had to walk up the steepest hill at the end which was a blow to my pride.