Cancelled planes and the run up to Christmas

In the last couple of weeks I have had two short spells in Canada split by one in the UK. I have just been in London for a board meeting for AIDSpan, an NGO based in Nairobi. Its mission is to ‘reinforce the effectiveness of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria by serving as an independent watchdog of the Fund and its grant implementers’. I really enjoy these meetings and have a sense the organization is doing something worthwhile. We are a small board, just six people, and work well together.

Unfortunately getting there turned into a real mission. I was scheduled to leave Toronto on the KLM flight on Tuesday evening, go to Amsterdam, on to Norwich for lunch with Ailsa, and to leave my large suitcase at home. I planned to catch the train to London in the evening. The board meeting started early on Thursday and finished on Friday. I had to be there on Wednesday night.

KLM sent an SMS in the small hours of Tuesday morning to inform passengers that the flight to Amsterdam was cancelled. They arranged for me to fly on Air Canada flight to Dublin. I was then booked to Amsterdam to connect to Norwich. I would have only reached Norwich in the early evening, just in time to get the train. I phoned the airline, telling them this would be pointless, and asking if I could go from Dublin straight to London. They were both helpful and accommodating (and it is worth noting did not keep me waiting for hours on the phone), and arranged a flight to London. All seemed to be well, and indeed travelling on Air Canada had an unexpected advantage: their flight is later in the evening and so I had more time in the office.

Getting to Toronto and travelling on Air Canada was quite painless, apart from the rush hour traffic on the 401, an infamous road in Canada. The plane was, as expected, full of Irish people, all of whom seemed loquacious. As I was queuing up to board the plane, I could not help but overhear two Irish gentlemen behind me talking about the pros and cons of buying their wives or girlfriends garments from the shop, ‘Victoria’s Secret’. The question was: would this be appreciated, and how much and in what way? The consensus was that it was probably not worth it, and anyway in their view the shop was very expensive.

I was fortunate to have two seats right at the back, which suited me fine. We arrived in Dublin at about 8 am and the connection, on Flybe, was at 10 so all seemed well, apart from the fact that the terminal is old and rather grubby. Indeed it reminded me of Lusaka and Nairobi. The same wood paneling and boarding school motifs! As I did not expect to be there for long I did not take much notice. However between leaving the lounge and getting to the gate the flight was cancelled! I was not impressed; fortunately one of the gate agents took pity on me.

It was not possible to rebook inside the departures area. I collected my suitcase and was taken out, past the disinterested immigration and customs officers, to the FlyBe counters. The woman behind the desk was really helpful. It may have been because she was South African. I recognized the accent and asked where she was from. The answer Durban’s North Beach, so I told her I came from Glenwood. She went out of her way to get me a seat to London’s City Airport (the most modern of all the London airports), albeit on a different airline. I love flying in to this airport, the runway is short, right in the east end of the city and next to the river Thames, so the approach is interesting. Once I got to the hotel I slept. Such are the pleasures of travelling.

Ailsa came down to London on the Friday night and we met my brother and younger sister for a family dinner. She and I stayed over and on the Saturday walked across the Thames over Lambeth Bridge to the Tate Britain gallery. It was not far and we were lucky to have an extraordinarily sunny day. This meant we could look up the river and see the Houses of Parliament and Big Ben bathed in sunshine and almost glowing. It was quite spectacular although the river did not look toward inviting: murky brown and roiling water. As the meeting had been on the bank of the Thames with a view over the river, I had been watching the tide going in and out and was quite struck by how big the range is in the water levels.

Back in Waterloo I have been experimenting with different types of entertainment. Currently the option that seems to work best is to invite people round for pizza. These are bought from a good pizza parlor called Famoso about five minutes’ walk from the apartment. I always find it amusing. When I go in and tell one of the waiting staff I want to order take away pizzas, to be delivered to my flat, their immediate reaction is: “we don’t do deliveries”. Mine is: “yes you do if the order is big enough”. We then have to get whoever is the manager on duty to come and confirm that they do indeed do deliveries for me, and sure enough the pizzas are on the doorstep at the pre-arranged time. The managers and owner say that if the order is big enough they will ‘make a plan’.

In general, I host between 10 and 14 people. That is the number of seats that there are in the apartment. What I haven’t worked out, is how best to arrange the chairs and couches. It is impossible to know how groups will coalesce and work. What seems to happen, is people put the chairs in a large circle and sit and chat. The advantage of these events is that they do not go on for too long, but it is a good way of bringing different people together. I am still learning a great deal about what it means to live in Canada and Waterloo.

This will be the last posting of the year and I will be putting up something early in the New Year as there is going to be great deal to talk about. I get back to Canada on the 31st December – God and the airlines willing. On the whole 2014 has been a good year, probably a little bit too much traveling and not enough sitting in one place and writing. On the other hand, I have done a great deal of yoga, which has been very good for me, found a decent squash club, and planned my teaching for next year. I am looking forward to the interactions with the students.

I have also, once again, learned the pleasures of sitting and reading which is so hard to do, even though as academics we are expected to be ahead of the game. I was fortunate enough to get funding for an assistant from the Rush Foundation, and he has been and is a real pleasure to work with. We managed to shake enough money loose for the equivalent of a postdoctoral fellowship, and Wilfrid Laurier has appointed and funded a project manager. I have the sense we have achieved more than expected and are in a good place to press ahead.

And finally Douglas and I went to see the final film in the Hobbit series, The Battle of the Five Armies. The Director, Peter Jackson, apparent planned to make just two films, but then thought ‘what the hell’ and turned it into a trilogy. It was good fun but we agreed that two films would have been better as the plot line was a bit creaky in parts. The film has not been well reviewed, as one reviews said: there are an awful lot of Orcs.