Guns, Gums and Games

We have formed a research group of Wilfred Laurier CIGI Chairs based at the Balsillie School. This is called 2030+. At the end of October, we held a public event aimed primarily at potential recruits for the Masters in Public Policy programme. This was somewhat undersubscribed in the 2015/16 academic year, despite there being funding for students, so we are making a concerted effort to improve the situation in time for the 2016 intake. The title of the event was ‘Innovation Challenges in Health and Food Systems’. It comprised five of the six chairs speaking followed by a moderated discussion. Two are recent appointments: Alison Blay-Palmer is the CIGI Chair in Sustainable Food Systems and researches sustainable food systems and economic development; Audra Mitchell is the CIGI Chair in Global Governance and Ethics. Audra added to our normally bleak views on food, health and climate change by talking on ethical issues related to mass extinction.

Clay pigeon shooting ('skeet shooting'), October 2015

Clay pigeon shooting (‘skeet shooting’), October 2015

Perhaps it was appropriate that day featured my first experience of clay pigeon shooting, or as the Canadians call it ‘skeet shooting’. One of my friends in Waterloo, Dana Rourke, a nutritionist, suggested we go and try this. It was an invigorating and entertaining experience. The range is about 25 minutes’ drive south of the city in an area of farmland. We used a shotgun and went through seven boxes of shells. The way it worked is one stood, with the gun to the shoulder, and said “Pull”. A clay disk flew out of a trap and sped across the sky. I was convinced that I would be really bad at this, but to my surprise I managed to hit about every second disk. The secret, it seemed, was to look down the gun, move the entire upper body when tracking the target and aim just in front of it. Blasting the thing out of the sky was satisfying and a real adrenaline rush.

The drive out was incredibly beautiful at this time of year. The autumn colours are stunning, and indeed the view from my apartment window at Seagram Lofts is pretty good. The Lofts continue to please me. When asked how I like living there I point out that my commute, door to door, is 84 seconds. But I managed to break a blind, fortunately in the down position. I borrowed the long ladder and climbed up to try fix it. I climbed down aware of how woefully impractical and incompetent I am. The professionals have been called.

The reason I broke it arose from a games night I hosted. A group gathers to play board and word games with abundant quantities of wine and beer. There were nine people present. The evening went on until midnight. I tidied up and was, unfortunately, over enthusiastic in letting the blind down. A combination of tiredness and too much alcohol I fear. This was unusual because Canada can be described as a ‘careful’ country. People stop their cars to let you cross the road if you show the slightest inclination to step off the pavement, even if you are obviously jaywalking. I feel I have taken on some of these characteristics, but clearly not enough.

On arriving in Norwich I was one of the first people off the plane and into the immigration area. There is a system of tapes to marshal people into the queue. Since I was ahead of the crowd I simply ducked under the tapes, (thank you to the yoga teachers over the past five years), causing the passenger behind me to say, “That is impressive”.

I replied, “I only do it to prove that I can!”

Back in Norwich, Rowan has completed her M.A. with the dissertation component getting a distinction. We are very proud of her. She has clearly also enjoyed the process and if any one place could kick start a career as a writer, it is the UEA. She will graduate in 2016, 40 years after Ailsa and I enrolled. There ought to be loyalty cards in the same way that airlines do them.

The reason for the title of this posting ‘Guns, Gums and Games’ is that I have spent an inordinate amount of time and money on having dental work. Fortunately, the Waterford school connection kicked in. I was able to find an excellent specialist dentist in Waterloo through a friend who was at the school at the same time as I was. It has been an 18 month saga which began with a cracked root on a front tooth and has ended with a bridge. The sad reality is that teeth are not replaceable and are certainly worth looking after.

Stephen Lewis and Alan Whiteside.

Stephen Lewis and Alan Whiteside.

Towards the end of October I went down to Toronto to do an event for Stephen Lewis. He is a remarkable man who has a wealth of experience and is politically extraordinarily astute. He was, for many years, the special envoy on AIDS for the UN secretary general. We had a staged conversation, sitting in a lecture theatre at Ryerson University. He asked about the AIDS epidemic and what it had meant to Southern Africa. He then talked about that conversation in his weekly commentary. I felt both honoured and flattered to have been invited to participate in this, the first “Stephen Lewis conversation”. I was also lucky because a friend from Waterloo wanted to go to the event and did the driving.

Back in the United Kingdom my comrades at the Rush Foundation have a project called Rethink HIV. This is an important initiative. They are in the process of publishing a number of the papers they have funded on their website. I can strongly recommend people interested in new concepts around AIDS take a look at this. Not only are these interesting and readable, but they introduce some ideas which are path breaking.

Films and Books

Schneider Vs Bax – This is a Dutch film. The story is that hitman, Schneider, accepts a job to kill writer Ramon Bax at his remote summer house. It is set in a remote part of Holland with a lot of water and reeds. I found myself wondering what on earth it was about, although I watched it all the way through. The flight from Toronto to Amsterdam is 6 1/2 hours which is time for one or two films, a meal and a short doze. This was the film I chose and would conclude it is one to avoid paying for. The scenery though is quite exceptional. I was amused by the fact that, for parts of the film, there was no one in view, only the signs of someone actively pushing through the thick deep reed beds.

The Book of Lost and Found by Lucy Foley, Harper, 2015. The publisher’s blurb describes this book, correctly, as sweeping and heartrending. The story takes place between 1906 and 1986 and is one of mostly lost loves and lives lived under extraordinary circumstances. It begins with orphaned photographer Kate Darling being left a portrait by her grandmother. She then traces her family’s history in London, Corsica, Paris and New York. This book is a really absorbing and moving read and I would recommend it, although the ending is ambiguous.