Snowfalls and Sunshine

This winter in Waterloo has been quite different from the previous two years. Then the temperature plummeted and remained in the minus figures for months. It was absolutely freezing for ages. Today at the end of January the temperature is projected to reach at least 3°, rain is forecast, and some, at least, of the snow will be melted by Monday. Given that we are also experiencing brilliantly sunlit days it means the winter months have been considerably more enjoyable. I am able to venture out without any gloves, although given the challenge of not having hair; a hat remains a crucial piece of equipment. Indeed, at lunch time, I am able to make the 70 second walk from the back door of the office to the side door of the apartment without taking my coat or putting on my snow boots.

I had a visitor recently. Hélène Laurin was one of the first people I met in this town, outside of the staff at the school, two years ago. At that point Hélène was doing her post-doctoral Fellowship in Montréal having just completed a Ph.D. Two years ago, the Balsillie School was host to the Canadian Association of Cultural Studies, and last weekend the meeting was held here again. Hélène asked if she could use my couch, but I came up with a better solution. My friend Carrie Mitchell, who lives in the block, was going away for the weekend, and so her apartment was available. It is nice to have a visitor since showing them around makes this place feel more like home. I feel as if I have an investment in Waterloo.

I registered for the meeting but went to only a few sessions and the cocktail party. I found it to be far too complex and abstract, and indeed Hélène had some sympathy with this view. On the Sunday afternoon we took the opportunity to drive out to Elora for a late lunch and to take a look at the river, which was in full spate. It really is quite impressive at this time of the year, although walking for any distance in the snow leads to cold feet. I am told that there is enough snow in some of the rural areas nearby for cross-country skiing and I really would like to try this, but I am not going to get my act together again this year.

It has been quite a busy few weeks with a number of people contacting me about working with them on their Ph.D.’s. Unfortunately these are not students at the Balsillie School but two of them are respectively at the University of Waterloo and York University. Nevertheless, the system here is that there is a number of supervisors and committee members and being one of these would be my function. It is an exciting opportunity. Both have interests similar to mine and one is about to travel to South Africa to carry out her fieldwork. We spent some time going through her proposal, making a list of people she should be in contact with and writing introduction letters.

In addition to this, January to April is my teaching term, what is called the winter term and so I am engaged with our Masters in Public Policy (MIPP) students. This is my second year of teaching and I have a clearer idea of what to expect. It is also an opportunity for some experimentation. I am using an anonymous survey to give the students an opportunity to find out what they know about each other and of course what they don’t. There have been some surprises. The first round was a great success. I said I would be happy to do it again, provided they came up with questions. And they have. This will happen on Monday. The students are good fun. My Monday class has about 15 people in it, the Wednesday one which is only open to the MIPP’s has just 10. Clearly the School has to do a very much better job at recruitment for future cohorts, last year there were 15 and that was too few.

I am also starting to get the first pieces of work to be graded. This class has to write a blog, a book review on a book related to global health, which they are allowed to choose, and a longer Journal style article. The deal is that the best blogs will, if the students want, be posted on my personal website, so do look out for them.

The Waterloo Public Library is across the road from the Balsillie School, just about five minutes’ walk. It is a really good source of fiction and it is possible to order books through the interlibrary process. The one aspect I am still battling with is that the dust jackets are quite different from the UK, (which are similar to the South African ones). It seems our eyes are educated to certain patterns. In this month’s blog I am going to mention four excellent books I have enjoyed over the last month.


Matthew Quick, ‘Love May Fail’, Harper; First Edition, Hardcover: 416 pages, June 16, 2015. This is a fictional romp about the search for an inspiring high school English teacher. It has a wonderful cast of characters including a nun, an ex-heroin addict and others. It is described as ‘a story of the great highs and lows of existence: the heartache and daring choices it takes to become the person you know (deep down) you are meant to be’. I have also just been rereading Neville Shute, who wrote in the 1950s. I was struck by how the human condition does not change much.

Darian Leader, ‘Why do women write more letters than they post?’ Faber & Faber; Paperback, 176 pages, 1997. The blurb says ‘Why do men tend to keep love letters in files along with their other correspondence, whereas women keep them with their clothes? And if a letter is written but not posted, at whom is it really directed?’ Leader is a psychoanalyst who I need to read more of, this is not just about desire but also who we talk to and why. The reality of relationships running aground on the trivial question, ‘What are you thinking?’ is so true. Often in my case the answer is “nothing”.

Kim Cross, ’What stands in a storm: three days in the worst superstorm to hit the south’s tornado alley’. Atria Books, 320 pages, 2015. I have always wanted to know more about these weather events, especially since it is just possible for them to reach this part of Canada. This book documents the damage done by the 62 tornadoes that took place in Alabama on April 27, 2011. The author tells the story of the community and gives a great deal of information about weather and meteorology and its history.

Michel Bussi, ‘After the Crash’, W&N, Paperback, 400 pages, 2015. This book is translated from French and is gripping and enjoyable. It centres on a plane cash which leaves two survivors, one of whom is a three month old baby. There were however two children on the plane, one the grandchild of rich Parisians, the other, the grandchild of poorer vendors from Brittany. There is a court battle and in the end the child goes to the poorer family. The story follows the private detective who is charged with finding the truth as to which child survived. There are numerous twists and turns in the story which has a very satisfactory denouement. I do think, as always, that one has to tip one’s metaphorical hat to the translator as well as the author.