I really like KLM and am a steadfast customer. Their loyalty cards were introduced about the time I began major travelling. As a result I rapidly reached the highest level (Platinum Elite, in case you were wondering). In the 1990s when you had held this for five years you were given lifetime status. I have been an ‘elite’ flyer since 1996. It does make a difference. The access to the lounges gives private space to work, relax, drink and shower; there is automatic seating in the premium economy cabin; priority on boarding and shorter queues.
On my way to Canada in November 2014 I was reminded why I appreciate the company so much. After we had taken off, the purser came by and stopped at my seat to say hello. He said he knew that I travelled a great deal. This is not that unusual as KLM does try to acknowledge their frequent flyers. The next thing of note was when the headsets were handed out. In economy the plug is a two pin variety that is, I think, unique to KLM. The actual headset is a cheap little plastic affair which has two pads that clip, one over each ear. The sound quality is poor. The packet, on this occasion, contained a jack designed to convert the two pin into a standard one pin. This means passengers can use their own headsets. I was impressed by this thoughtful innovation, and as I had just downloaded my music onto my phone, I was carrying a good headset in my hand baggage. This means I don’t have to get the ear phone in future.
What happened next though really surprised me. On one of my recent transatlantic journeys the aircraft was a 747. When I looked at the safety card it was for an MD 11, a completely different make of plane. When I pointed this out the cabin crew were totally shocked, very apologetic and embarrassed. On this trip one of the staff stopped at my seat to ask if I had the right safely card this time. She then requested I tell her the story about what happened when I got the wrong card. Clearly I am a marked passenger!
So on this trip I feel I am going to consolidate my presence in Canada in a number of important ways. I am preparing for teaching next term, this is really exciting. I have an apartment and it is furnished and sorted. I have bought a car. I am making friends. The yoga studio I have been going to is really good and I am getting to know the teachers and a few of the students. I have joined the squash club and am looking forward to getting on the ladder, which I shall certainly do in the new year since teaching means I am ‘grounded’ for 14 weeks.
As importantly I have been back to Durban and met with Nana Poku the new director, for the first time since December 2013. Unfortunately and regrettably it was not possible to do an in person hand over in 2013. These conversations were really helpful, it is clear he is doing a great job. This visit confirmed that any inclination I had to look over my shoulder (and I really hope I was not doing it) is gone completely. Having been granted Professor Emeritus status at UKZN means I have the links I need. The biggest step for me though was selling my car. Another tie severed and, to be honest, a sense of relief.
My challenges are to get writing and raise funding. I have two outstanding book contracts, and these need urgent attention. I have commission for three articles and another two are in the works. By Christmas I have to have done a great deal, in fact one book must be close to being delivered to the publisher. The next step is to get money for my research team and that is critical. Here I feel somewhat let down in the new post, I had thought there would be more support available. It is though, an opportunity to make things happen.
During the time in the UK I went to have coffee with my friend and colleague Professor Tony Barnett. He was without doubt one of the best lecturers in the School of Development Studies when I was an undergraduate. We subsequently worked together in the 1990s running courses on ‘Planning for HIV and AIDS’. He and Sarah, his wife, had been to the local theatre to see the Royal Shakespeare Company’s production of Henry IV Parts I and II. The lead was South African born actor Anthony Sher. Tony and Sarah had been hugely impressed by the performance and strongly suggested we go. I went online and there were seats available for a Friday performance: good seats and not very expensive!
I took his advice and went with Ailsa and Douglas. We saw Part I and it was indeed brilliant. The scene with the court intrigue reminded me of my experience in both academia and international governance (think United Nations). We are lucky, in Norwich, to get visits from the national company. Reflecting on the performance it tells of a difficult relationship between a father and son and how easily misunderstandings arise and become deep divisions. Sir John Falstaff played by Sher, the fat, vain, boastful, and cowardly knight was indeed odious. Interestingly there were no significant roles for women in this play. The set was quite simple, which is appropriate when the company is touring.
In Norwich I left the grass mowed again, (after just 10 days it needed another cut), the walnuts are picked and an evening activity was to sit and shell them. When they are picked, or fall, they are in a green case, this needs to be removed (obviously it rots on the ground), and inside are the brown walnuts. The sap from the tree and the green carapace causes stains exactly like nicotine. It makes me look as though I am a very heavy smoker. My shelling technique is to squeeze two in one hand and then extract the kernel from which ever cracks first. Then repeat! I am sure there are easier ways of doing this – buying a nutcracker might be one.
I think there may have only been 150 nuts harvested from our fairly sizeable tree. Each year I engage in a race with the local squirrel to pick the nuts. I do not begrudge it the walnuts I can’t reach, but object to it taking the ones on the lower branches. The dog is an ally, of sorts. When she thinks the squirrel is about she sits next to the tree on guard, and seems content to wait, ears pricked, for hours. There is a route to the tree that involves running along a fence, over the shed roof and using the branches of a couple of adjacent trees so I think the pest is safe.
Just before I left I went out for lunch with Rowan to a really nice restaurant food shop in the Earlham Centre. Thirty five years ago I lived in digs in that part of Norwich. We were required to move out of residences in the second year at the University of East Anglia. I ended up renting an upstairs room from the secretary to the Bishop of Norwich. She was a rather unhappy spinster who lived with her elderly mother and two daschund dogs. There was a makeshift barrier on the stairs which was, I think, dual purpose, designed to keep the dogs and mother downstairs. It was not entirely effective as the mother, who was suffering from Alzheimer’s disease, crawled up one evening warning about ‘grey cars’ outside. This all came back to me as we sat at the café around the corner. Funny how memory works. I remembered all this as I sat down to write my posting.
Dom Hemingway is a British made film. It is the story of safe breaker, with serious anger management issues, released after serving 12 years in prison. He does not ‘grass’ and heads out to collect his share of the spoils from ‘the boss’. He considers himself to have been extremely unlucky in life generally, and the story hinges on this. A neat subplot is the relationship between lead character and his daughter Evelyn, who grew up while he is imprisoned. His wife, and her mother died of cancer, during his incarceration. She has a child, Jawadda, with a Jamaican man and Dom has to negotiate these relationships. In the end the money is stolen by one of the molls hanging around the house. There is a hint though that the family relationship can be restored, and when he sees the girl in a restaurant he goes in and neatly ‘confiscates’ her diamond engagement ring. It is good entertainment. The reason I particularly enjoyed it though, is that one of the stars is Richard E Grant who was a contemporary at Waterford in the 1970s. He is an excellent actor. It also starred Jude Law.
Annie Proulx, That Old Ace in the Hole, Schribner Collins 2002. This is the story of somewhat lost young man, Bob Dollar’s time in the Texas Panhandle scouting for locations for intensive hog farming. He has to find suitable places and persuade the farmers to sell out, something which will have detrimental effects on the environment and their neighbours. His employer is the multinational “Global Pork Rind Corporation”. Bob was brought up by his uncle who ran a thrift shop, after his parents simply abandoned him. His heart is never in the work and the story tracks how the local people interact and he changes over time. All in all an enjoyable read.
Ian MacEwan, The Children Act, Doubleday, New York, 2014. This has just been published. The title is a reference to the Children Act 1989, a UK Act of Parliament. The story centres around a childless woman judge of the family court and her husband an academic. She has to rule on whether a 17 year old boy a Jehovah’s Witness should be forced to have a blood transfusion to possibly cure him from leukemia. The case is urgent, and she visits the young man. The relationship between the two and the judge and her husband are at the core of the book. I found it to be beautifully written.