Hamstrings and Winter

The winter here seems interminable: for the last week of February we had record cold temperature. On one memorable day, schools were cancelled as it was considered to be too icy for the students and, perhaps more importantly, the school transport. This is beginning to become a bit depressing. Outside the school and the apartments are huge snowbanks that may take months to melt. I am beginning to grasp the reason for the phlegmatic Canadian temperament. There is very little to be done except book a short break to Florida.

I joined the Kitchener Waterloo Squash Rackets Club on my arrival in the city. Recently there was an all-day knockout tournament. There was supposed to be guarantee of three opponents, each match the best of three games. The first one I played was good fun, but I won just one games. To my surprise I won the second match and suggested to the chap I was playing that we went on to have a third game. My confidence was growing with the first two successes. Midway through this though, I pulled my hamstring, and that was it for the day. I was feeling quite sorry for myself. I need the exercise and distraction and thought the injury might interfere with my sports and yoga. Perhaps though, the yoga might be a good thing to keep up. The stretching can only be good. The immediate stretching and application of ice, means it was really not as bad as I had feared.

There is a new professional employed at the club. He went to South Africa in 1994 as a young man and spent time in Johannesburg and Cape Town as a squash coach. We have that in common; he describes it as an amazing time. It is good to meet the people, who have at least a passing knowledge of my other world. He drives for an hour every day to come to work: madness in my view but maybe he also finds it a sanity saver. I am going to arrange lessons as soon as I am better, as I am convinced that I can improve my game. He enjoys this men only club. I asked why and he said one of the reasons is because it is men only. He is divorced and has five daughters so I think this may colour his view of the world.

At the end of February I went to Toronto to meet with iconic Canadian Stephen Lewis. We arranged to have lunch together. I took the train from Kitchener to Union Station in Toronto. It takes about an hour and 40 minutes and is a pleasant journey. Unfortunately there are very few trains between here and Toronto. This is something that is on the political agenda of the local parties: they want more regular trains. One has to hope that something will happen. There earliest train back is at about five thirty in the evening and would have involved staying in Toronto for rather longer than I wanted to.

I looked at the options and the answer was a Greyhound bus. There is a regular service that should take just under two hours; with only one stop in the town of Cambridge close to Kitchener. The tickets are very cheap, about £6 for the journey to book in advance on a specific bus. I was booked on the three thirty bus but arrived at the bus station at two forty, knowing that there was bus at three o’clock. I went to the window of the ticket office. I said to the chap I wanted to change my ticket to catch the earlier bus, and was quite prepared to pay for this. He looked at my ticket and said “you really don’t want to do this it will cost more than your ticket”.

“Oh”. I replied, “I really do want to do this, I want to go home”.

He said that he felt uncomfortable charging me more than I had paid for the ticket to change it. After thinking about this he gave me a form to fill in. Apparently if you can give good reasons as to why you need to travel on a different bus from the one you are booked on, the counter clerk has the discretion to issue you a new ticket at no cost. This is what he did. What a nice man: what a relief not having to hang about. How pleasant that staff have some discretion.

The bus was quite empty and the journey reasonably quick although the traffic getting out of Toronto is an absolute nightmare. The bus station is in a dodgy part of town, and it seems bus stations are depressing, in winter at least. The passengers were all respectable looking people however; a mix of young folk, probably students, and older people. I do not think that long journeys would be that great. Perhaps the buses that do the long distances are different. Trains remain my preferred option for travel: there is something about them that is quite special. Canadian locomotives are huge and very impressive.

I had my first organised training at the Balsillie School. There is a person, Adrienne Stevens, who moved to Waterloo from Ottawa. She was then working at the Cochrane Centre. A few years ago I arranged for the South African Cochrane Centre to come to Durban and offer training in this methodology. When I met Adrienne it struck me that there was an opportunity to do the same here. On the last Friday of February we organised a one day introduction to Cochrane methodology. We had 30 people registered. I think 29 showed up. The question is: what training to offer next? I understand that it is my job to stimulate the students by bringing in contemporary external expertise as well as finding local initiative, so this is going to be high on the agenda over the next couple of weeks.

This winter is my teaching term and I now over halfway through it, which is quite gratifying although it seems to have passed rather quickly. I set, as one of the first pieces of work, the task of writing a blog posting, with the understanding that I would be happy to have a student section on my personal website and post these there. I have marked these and sent them back to the students. The final versions will be posted over the next few weeks. These young people show huge potential: the question is how to unlock it to the best advantage. This is clearly something that I have to work on and it is going to take time to feel entirely confident. “The only way to leave a legacy is to leave”. This is a statement I frequently make when people ask me why I left Durban. Equally though, the only way to gain experience is to have experience. And this is both interesting and challenging but I do want to give added value.

There are a number of attractive things about this area. One is the farmers’ market in Kitchener on a Saturday morning. It is my habit now to get down there early, usually between seven and eight in the morning, to stock up with meat, bread, cheese, and vegetables. In the last year, I have become regular enough at this that some of the stallholders know me and I find that to be one of the ways to integrate myself. There is a mixture of security and coddling and marginalisation. Many people live close to the edge. While employed they can have a very good life but if you are a blue-collar worker, things can go wrong very quickly. For example the health care system takes care of you at the doctors, but dental, optical and various other ancillary, but essential health services, are covered by insurance for those who are employed. If you are not on a plan or go over the limits then I suspect the system is unforgiving. This is particularly worrying in such a hostile climate.