Lakes and leaves

Most of the postings on my website get started or finished on aircraft. This is no exception. It was started on the flight from Amsterdam to Johannesburg. Unfortunately I was sitting in economy (well to be honest, premium economy, right at the front, with enough room to do yoga poses should I want to). The reason it was a problem is that there is no power at these seats which meant I had a limited amount of computer time.

I left Durban towards the end of August and went to Norwich to be home for Rowan’s birthday. My proud boast, until last year, was that I had never been away on a child’s birthday, although the footnote is that sometimes I left or arrived on the day. I hope I am back on track now.

After her birthday Ailsa and I went up to Scotland and drove to the Isle of Skye, as described in my last posting. I then headed for Canada to spend time in my new job. I have held a fractional appointment since January 2013 as CIGI Chair in Global Health Policy at the Balsillie School of International Affairs and Wilfrid Laurier University.I finish at UKZN and become full time in Canada in January 2014. This was the first extended stay there and it was great. Ailsa and Douglas came over for a week. I got to know the area, my colleagues and we managed a road trip.

After staying in a selection of expensive and not very good hotels during the first visits I was given contact details for a woman who lets furnished apartments. On this visit, and for the second time, I took the upstairs part of house for the second time. It is located in Kitchener, a three minute walk from the bus station, six minutes from the yoga studio and 11 from the gym. It is on a cul-de-sac and next to a park. There was a great live music venue in the park called the Boathouse. Sadly when we were there it closed down! The owner apparently warned the city that he was not making enough money, but to lose this asset is such a pity.

The weather was fantastic. Initially it was so warm that I needed to run the air conditioning, but by the time I left there was a definite nip in the air, although the leaves had not started falling. I had 10 days in Norwich and when I flew from there in early October the leaves were beginning to fall. The last afternoon I spent three hours mowing the lawn and cutting firewood, and noticed that there were increasing numbers of leaves on the grass. So I will miss having to rake them up! Back in Waterloo though I have yet to experience a ‘fall’, something to look forward to!

While the family were in Canada I hired a car. It is easy to get from the flat to CIGI, a short walk at each end, numerous buses, the fare is reasonable and it takes only about 15 minutes. We wanted to go further afield and explore so a car was a necessity. Driving on the right takes concentration and I had various tricks to help me: the steering wheel side is always in the centre of the road; putting my watch on my right wrist; and telling everyone to keep reminding me. Additionally having the car was a good thing as it allowed me to get a better sense of the place. My first major purchase was a GPS or Sat Nav. The version I bought came with choices of language, that was easy, English; and voices, more complicated – did I want Samantha or Michelle and what was the difference. For those drivers into discipline there was also Wanda the Whip. All the choices are female voices, which is an interesting little study all on its own.

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We made two long trips, the first to Stratford. This is unique; it is the most like an English town of all places I have been in Ontario. So many places are simple strip development. Stratford has a town centre with side streets and perhaps most important a river. It is a tourist destination and one of the things they have done to cash in on the name of the place and  have many theatres and festivals. My impression is that they do it really well, and it is such a pretty place.

On the weekend we went over to Lake Huron, a town called Kincaid, and then on up to the village of Tobermorry at the end of the Bruce Peninsula. It was a long drive, made even longer by the absurdly low speed limits Canadians have on their roads! Most of the time it was 80 or 90 kph. The accepted practice seemed to be to drive 16 kilometres over the limit on the open roads. On the long trip I only overtook three or four cars and was overtaken by two so clearly I was conforming.

We did not book any accommodation which could have been disastrous as, when we got to Tobermorry all the hotels and motels had ‘No cacancy’ signs outside. We followed the sign for a holiday camp which was closed, but the proprietor kindly called a friend who had  cabins and  would rent us two rooms. This was a relief and it was absolutely fine. The directions: ‘Go back to the main road, turn right, drive past the dead porcupine, after the Indian curio store turn down Silver Leaf Lake road and keep going till you get there’. It worked!

Back in the UK I went to a fascinating meeting in London on ‘Treatment as Prevention’. I was invited to participate in one panel on the opening day and then during the meeting the organisers asked me to join the final panel as the final speaker. This was a bit of a surprise because normally economists and economic points of view are about as welcome as a fly in a glass of milk. It was great fun and I learnt so much! The main lesson is that the biomedical push to treat people is as strong as ever but there is a growing sense of realism about the constraints which include money, people and places. I am going to put together a presentation for Durban and will put this on the website soon. The organisation that mounted this IAPAC were established 15 years ago by Jose Zuniga. It was interesting to compare notes with him about the growth and difficulties in running an NGO. I think we share the strength of recruiting smart and driven people.

The final weekend in the UK was marked by the 50th anniversary celebrations of my Alma Mata the University of East Anglia. We drove over and I went to the reception for my school. It was known as the School of Development Studies, but has been rebranded as International Development. This is where I did my BA and my MA and spent four very happy years. It was particularly good to see some many of the staff, they were hugely influential on so many of us.

Films and Books

Night Train to Lisbon is the story of a ‘professor’ who saves a girl from committing suicide by throwing herself of a bridge. She goes to his class and then walks out leaving her coat, a book and train tickets to Lisbon. The vanity published book has a considerable impact on the main character Raimund Gregorius who is played by Jeremy Irons as bumbling, sad and boring. Gregorius takes the train to Lisbon to track down the story of Amadeu do Prado who wrote about the resistance against the Portuguese dictator Salazar and he gets obsessed with it. The book was published by his sister in homage to her brother. The events took place in the period up to the revolution and overthrow of Salazer in 1974. The hero is depicted as a smug young man who is involved at some level with the revolutionaries. It is part a love story and part a depiction of what people do with the best of intentions and how these lead to unexpected consequences. Because the waves of events in Portugal lapped on the shores of Mozambique it is a period I well remember. It is a beautifully observed and made film and deserves to do well on the circuit. It is also true to the book by Pascal Mercier first published in German.

A Late Quartet tells of a classical music quartet in New York who have played together for 25 plus years. The oldest member is diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease and many of the underlying tensions come to the fore. The film ends with the new cellist coming on stage. The story is about how the group gets to this point with their conflicts and love affairs. It is also about growing older and dealing with this. Not high on my list of films I must see.


Religion for Atheists: A Non-believer’s Guide to the Uses of Religion by  Alain De Botton, Penguin London 2012 Paperback 320 pages . The problem with all religions is that they require faith. The problem with atheists is that they are also ‘believers’; sometimes mock; and even proselytize. This book is a deeply interesting discussion of the value of religion and all that goes with it from art to architecture to community. It is only in the past 50 years that Western society has become so a-religious. I think when I was growing up more people than not had a working knowledge of a faith and the text – in my community Christianity and the Bible. The conclusion is ‘Thank God for religion’.

The Better Angels of our Nature: Why Violence has Declined by Steven Pinker, Penguin Books, London, 2012 832 pages . By one of the world’s leading authorities on language and the mind. This is very interesting but far too long. It feels as though he is being paid by the page. The hypothesis is that levels of violence have fallen. The question is why? The answers are not that clear. I may have to skip to the end.