Summer at last

I spent the last two days of June in Miami at the 10th International Conference on HIV Treatment and Prevention Adherence. The meeting is organised by the International Association of Physicians in AIDS Care, and I have been to a number of their gatherings, including ones in Miami. This, though, was not a joyous experience! The hotel was being renovated and as a result all the public areas were inaccessible behind large dust sheets. The result was networking opportunities pretty much went out of the window as there was nowhere to meet fellow delegates and chat. I forgot to pack anything to read, so went into the town to find a bookshop – they are scarce.

The flying time from Toronto to Miami is about three hours. I travelled down on an American Airways flight. I learned that I need to pay more attention to my travel plans. The taxi driver dropped me at the wrong terminal at Pearson, and then, having taken the train to the correct one, I tried to check in with the wrong airline. Fortunately there was plenty of time so it was not too catastrophic. However getting through security seems to, nearly always, involve incredibly long queues. There are two options: either get to the airport earlier or have more people on duty and increase the number of security points that are open. In a primarily capitalist society either option works; on the one hand it clear that a monopoly can do what it wants and on the other the passengers or consumers should demand better service.

An unusual hat, 12th July 2015

An unusual hat, 12th July 2015

Back in Norwich it has been exceptionally warm and unpleasantly humid, quite unusual for this time of the year. There has been some rain in the form of very heavy showers. Ailsa and I took the dog for a walk on one of the shower days. We found ourselves driving into rain that got heavier and heavier and as a result had to sit in the car for a good 10 minutes before we could get out and get the dog exercised. Because we were walking in the forest the large drips of rain that fall off the trees are even more wetting than normal. I find this particularly offensive since I have no hair on my head, but we managed to come up with an ingenious solution. The small (unused) plastic bags that are used to collect dog shit fit neatly. This is not something that one would necessarily like to be seen doing, but given the rain it was no surprise that the forest was deserted and we did not see a soul. An alternative explanation would be that people who saw us ducked out of sight.

My journey home on the KLM flight to Amsterdam, and then connecting to Norwich was tiring. We left Toronto at 530 in the evening local time and arrived in Amsterdam at 630 in the morning there. The problem is it is very hard to get any sleep on the relatively short flight, only about six hours. As a result I generally try to stay awake and then am jetlagged for three or four days. I’m not certain if it would make any difference traveling in business class, perhaps there it would be easier to sleep but the duration of the flight is exactly the same. Fortunately I automatically get premium economy seats and, on this journey had a bulkhead seat that gave a reasonable amount of room. I had an excellent book from Rowan and watched a film, both of which are reviewed below, so the journey passed relatively quickly.

It was interesting to find Norfolk rather warmer than Waterloo, and a great deal more humid. I suspect that the next stage of the journey, to Swaziland and Durban, will involve rather different temperatures and the key is to remember to take warm clothes for Mbabane. On one glorious occasion I traveled with colleagues from Durban to Pretoria wearing exactly what I had put on in the morning: a short sleeved shirt. It was freezing and I had to borrow a pullover from a colleague who had traveled from England for the series of meetings, and who consequently was far better equipped than I for the weather. I was quite embarrassed by this and try to plan my travel wardrobe to take into account all eventualities.

Writing is a frustrating business and this was brought home to me when I received the proofs for an article to be published later this year. I find it difficult to sit down and compose an article, it was even more stressful going through all the questions that the editors had. These range from providing a biography to giving page numbers for quotes. The paper was only 10 pages long but there were 47 author queries requiring attention. I began the task on Sunday morning and after to two hours realised that many of the reference books I had used were sitting on the shelf in the office in Norwich. Rather than getting even more frustrated I put it to one side and on my return to Norwich was able to complete the task in a relatively few hours. Of course there is a way to avoid this: make sure that the full details for the references are provided as you write, including page numbers for quotes. A simple enough thing to do, which would save so much blood sweat and tears in the later stages. Let us see if I remember to do this going forward.

It is some time since I added details of books or films read or seen recently. Rowan gave me a couple of books to read and I saw an excellent film on the plane so a couple of reviews are included at the end of this posting. I have also received a few photographs from the convocation I spoke at in Waterloo in June, the subject of the last posting and these are included this month.

Films. Woman in Gold is a 2015 film based on the true story of Maria Altmann. She was born into a highly cultured, wealthy, Austrian Jewish family living in Vienna. Her aunt was painted by Gustav Klimt in 1907 – the woman in gold. Miriam and her husband escaped the Nazi Anschluss, going to the USA where they settled. The paintings were looted by the Nazis and at the end of the war ended up in the possession of the Austrian government. This film is the story of Altmann and her lawyer’s battle to reclaim the paintings that were left to her. The case was finally heard in Supreme Court and then taken to arbitration in Austria where the ruling was that the painting should be returned. Maria is played by Helen Mirren. I had seen the painting in Vienna some years ago. I found the story compelling, at least partly because it is one of persistence in the face of adversity. There must have been occasions when the pair must have felt like giving up. The paintings can be seen at the Neue Galerie in New York City.

Books. Lauren St. John, The Obituary Writer, Orion, London, 2013, 300 pages. This is a love story set in Cornwall. It is the tale of a young journalist, Nick Donaghue, who is an obituary writer based in London. When he is a survivor of a train crash he starts to suffer nightmares in which he foresees deaths of people, sometimes strangers, but also people he knows. As he moves closer to a break down he decides to retreat to Cornwall. While here he meets and falls in love with a younger woman, Sasha, who runs a stable. The story is largely a love story, but also one of his fear and uncertainty. He is ultimately trying to do the best for everyone. There are some very well thought through twists to the plot, for example his parents are killed in a car crash when he was 24 and clearly this has deeply scarred him. The characters are beautifully observed; the farmer and his wife, Gordon and Rosa McKenna almost deserve a book on their own. I strongly recommend this book and, rather than spoil the ending, which is quite unexpected, I note Rowan and I have been debating what actually happens to Nick. I, of course, read the last chapter when I was half way through the book, something both Rowan and Douglas regard as heresy.

Marc Levy, Replay, Europa Books, 2014, 256 pages. Thank you Waterloo public library. I picked this up in Waterloo and initially found it hard to get into. The story is of a reporter who is stabbed while jogging in New York. When he wakes up it is two months earlier and he effectively has to relive 60 days and prevent himself from being murdered. The story involves the ‘disappeared’ from the period of misrule in Argentina. There is a complex plot but the story races along. What is particularly interesting is that Levy is one of the most popular French writers, so this was translated. Good writing, good translating or some combination? I am never sure.

One thought on “Summer at last

  1. Good to hear you are in fine form Alan, even if Miami was a bit of a damp squib. Yes, dealing with different climates can be a real pain. Leaving here in Scotland for Southern Africa takes planning especially when it is winter here. What I do is use is a climbers T shirt under a jumper which is under a light jacket. This gets me onto the plane in Glasgow, and carrying a small bag containing a normal T shirt (or collared shirt) but which also has room for the jumper. Then it is easy to change. Two minutes in the planes toilet – off with the jumper, and the climbers T shirt, and hey presto I am ready for SA heat. Of course you do the reverse on the way back. best wishes, Alex


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