Looking Back At 2010: December 2010

At the end of the year it is a time to reflect on some of the highlights and lowlights. I have been spending time with Douglas looking at his AS level psychology book, which has been fascinating. On the basis of that I think events can be divided into personal, professional, and ecological (this last meaning what went on around).

The World Cup in South Africa was an absolutely fantastic experience and has to be one of the best things that happened in 2010. I was fortunate enough to see four games. The first was the USA versus UK in Rustenburg. I was invited by the Corporate Social Responsibility people from South African Breweries. It was a great start, one of the smaller stadia, but a fantastic atmosphere. We had an opportunity to look at some of the SAB projects in the area, which was deeply interesting and inspiring. There are communities that are ‘making it’ and it does not take much.

The other three games were all at Durban’s new, Moses Madiba stadium. Over the years we had watched this stadium being constructed, between the Berea Ridge and the ocean, and wondered if it would be finished on time. Indeed that was a theme across the entire country: could we get everything completed? The fact is that we did it! All the infrastructure was delivered on, or even well ahead of, schedule.

I will admit to being prejudiced. I think that our new airport and stadium are the best. The stadium’s the sweeping white lines, the arch, and the majestic and imposing presence all make it quite wonderful. And then, of course, going to watch the games in it was also special. We had been warned that there might be problems in finding places to park, but I was never more than a 35 minute walk away. The match I enjoyed most was the Portugal:Brazil game when I met up with my old school friends David Crush and Owen Sharp. None of the games I saw were particularly inspiring from a football point of view, but all were great fun and the atmosphere amazing.

The airport is quite magnificent and is designed to last for many decades. Although means an extra 20 minutes on the road, I don’t mind. It means that in the course of the next few years we should start seeing direct flights from Durban to European cities. To be able to fly direct without the annoying change in Johannesburg will be convenient.

South Africa came together around this World Cup. We showed that we were a friendly, competent and hospitable nation. Almost everything worked, almost all the time and there was comparatively little crime. The press reported that “only one tourist had been seriously injured, he had been shot in the arm”. But, as though it somehow made it all right: “he had not been in the country for the World Cup”.

One of my personal highlights was having a flying lesson in Swaziland. I have now flown four different types of aircraft, from three airports, with four different instructors. The flight in Swaziland was fantastic for many reasons. The first has to be the beautiful landscape. The countryside was at its green and lush. Second, flying amidst the mountains. The country round Norwich, where I have had most of my lessons, is very flat. It is here that, during the second world war, all the major airfields and bomber stations were constructed. The general flying area in Durban is also flat. In Swaziland if you take off from the airport and turn left, it only takes about five minutes before one is flying in mountains. It was such a thrill to fly with down a valley seeing the mountains on either side. Third was flying over areas that I know well. We flew up to Mbabane and over Waterford school, which we circled twice. I have always wanted to fly over the country and so this was my chance. Finally there are no landing fees at Matsapha airport, so while the cost of the lesson is the same, going and doing circuits will be cheaper. It is something I intend to do next time I am there.

I have completed my list of flights taken during 2010 and I do not seem to have been on the more scheduled flights than usual. Travelling on the new Airbus A380 was a thrill though. I had not expected to be on it, and only realised when, on a rerouted journey from New York to Johannesburg I ended up on the Air France plane from Paris. I asked the steward where my seat was and he said that he would have to look at the map!

Meanwhile back in Durban at HEARD we have had an extremely successful year. I guess that one of the measures is the number of publications produced from the unit. These have shot up and it all the staff are productive. Although this is being led by one or two individuals this is okay. We ended the year with renewed funding for HEARD, which will take us through the next five years, which is really encouraging. Not as much money as before, but that too is a good thing as it means that the staff will have to write grants which are an important part of being a researcher.

At the end of the year we needed to restructure. This meant some downsizing and realignment of activities. Fortunately our new operations director, Samuel Gormley, has shown himself to be extremely able over the past six months. He joined us from Tafta, an old age Association which provides a considerable amount of residential accommodation for the elderly in Durban. He does not know a great deal about HIV and AIDS, although he is learning, but this is not a problem because we did not appoint on the basis of such knowledge. At the very end of 2010 we have made a further four new appointments and I believe that they will give the organization a wide range of strengths.

In Norwich the house and garden continue to give pleasure. My writing is most done here and it is a very conducive environment. Douglas turned 16 and completed his O’ levels. These are the first major public exams a child has to sit in the UK. I had not appreciated that they can also be the only exams in the public sector. Once you have turned 16 education becomes a privilege and not a right. Douglas did us proud. He got the passes that enabled him continue on to A levels. He has registered to do English, psychology, and history. Decades ago I did history, English, and geography A levels, so am pleased by his choice. He and I went to Belgium to look at the First World War battlefields and cemeteries, it was deeply moving and quite bonding experience. My father ran away from school, aged 15 or 16, to join up and serve in the trenches in this war so it was also something of a pilgrimage for me.

Rowan has a new job with an excellent book chain called Waterstones and so gave up her other shop job. She was delighted by this move and is thoroughly enjoying being surrounded by books. This gave rise to a moment which I am still savouring: she sent me a text saying, “Dad I have just sold a copy of your book to a customer”. I thought this was very cool indeed. She will complete her degree next year, before she turns 20 and some of her writing is exceptional.

I am left with just a paragraph to mention the low points of the year. There were not many, and tended to revolve round aircraft not leaving on time, loosing key members of staff, and the frustration of waiting for people to respond to letters and requests. Ironically we have faced problems with two of the organisations I am involved with in a voluntary, or service capacity. In both cases these issues were beyond our control. One was around exchange rates and the other about incompatible staff members. Both required careful thought and input to steady the ship and ensure there was certainty going forward.

In summary 2010 was a good year. I know I am a very fortunate person. I look forward to 2011 and will continue to put occasional posts on to my website along with photographs.