Spring²

Travelling from Waterloo in Ontario to Norwich in Norfolk at the end of April was like moving a month forward in nature’s calendar. In Waterloo the snow piled high in the car park at Seagram Lofts finally melted. On the day I left there was just one small patch of moisture left on the paving. It had been so large it spread across five visitor’s parking spots and was probably five meters in height. The temperature had risen significantly and it was possible to leave my coat in the apartment, at least for the 70 second walk across the car park to the back door of the office building. However there were no leaves or blossom and just a few spring flowers dotted in the gardens and parks around the city.

I arrived in Norwich on the morning flight from Amsterdam and was immediately struck by how much further advanced spring was here. Many of the trees had the new leaves unfurling. In the back garden the cherry tree was in blossom, the forsythia covered with bright yellow flowers. There is a riot of colour. The first bumbles bees are making their rounds, a ladybird emerged sleepily from under a log next to the path and I can hear the frogs giving voice through my office window.

It is not all sweetness and light however. There is a Flanders and Swann song: A song of the weather. This gives the gloomiest picture of the English weather with a line about how dreadful each month can be. The line for April:

‘April brings the sweet spring showers, on and on for hours and hours’.

It goes on:

‘Farmers fear unkindly May, frost by night and hail by day; June just rains and never stops, 30 days and spoils the crops’.

You get the idea.

I finished teaching at the BSAI on the 8th April, when we had the Master’s in Public Policy (MIPP) class conference. There was still a pile of marking. My course, Economic Policy in an Interdependent World: The Case of Health and HIV and AIDS, had four assignments which had to be read and commented on. The first was to produce a blog, so I could assess the writing skills of the students; second was a book review, to see if they could read critically; third was to simply write on a set topic for 45 minutes at the end of the class, continue in the afternoon and email it in by 7pm, the goal was to see if the class understood the subject; the fourth and final task was to write a journal style article of about 5000 words. It was my view that there would be some which might be suitable for publication. I was correct, but the quality was variable. I had not thought it through, 10 articles, of at least 5,000 words each, is over 50,000 words, which is half a novel. Looking ahead I must remember to make the word count for the final article shorter next year.

I have now taught for two years. This year we had an abysmally small class – just 10 MIPP students. I was on the admissions committee and in 2017 we expect to have between 20 and 22 students. There are a number of lessons I have learnt. The first is that each year my ‘lived experience’ is longer, but our students are still in their early 20s. In the 2016 intake there will be some who will have little recollection of the events of 9/11, and my defining memory of voting in the first election in South Africa is almost ancient history to them. In fact soon the students will be younger than Douglas. The second: people don’t read print anymore and they certainly don’t read as widely as I would hope.

I am going to draw up a reading list for the students when they join the Balsillie School – nothing too complex, but authors and classics I would expect them to at least a nodding acquaintance with. I would include books like The Little Prince and Candide for philosophy, Stephen Lewis’s Race against time for HIV and the battle for health, Jared Diamond’s Guns, Germs and Steel, Angus Deaton’s The Great Escape and in hope but not expectation Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the Twenty First Century. We shall see. It seems such a shame that with the body of amazing literature out there people are not reading, and as for poetry! Well, no chance! I guess Dickens, Hardy and Canadian authors like Michael Ondaatjie have no chance.

The family and I have been granted permanent residence in Canada which is fantastic. The small catch is that we need to get validated at the border. Douglas and Ailsa could not do this until I had done mine. After talking about it we decided that Douglas would come to Canada in the Easter holiday for just under a week. Of course this had to coincide with my going to Washington for a two day meeting. The result was he had to negotiate his way to Toronto then through the border, onto the shuttle, to the front desk of the Balsillie School to collect the keys, and into the apartment building, all after having caught the 6.15 am flight from Norwich. He managed to do this without a hitch, or least not one I heard about. When I arrived back on Friday evening he was rather pleased to see me.

The weather was not kind to us. It was very cold and there were intermittent snow showers. This somewhat curtailed the activities we undertook. We went to see two films: Eddy the Eagle, the story of a British boy who decided he wanted to be an Olympian, and got onto the team as a ski jumper; and the Coen Brothers’ Hail Caesar. On that evening we came out of the cinema after two hours and the car was covered in snow, and roads were quite treacherous. I am glad I kept the snow tyres, although changing them will be the first order of business when I get back to Waterloo.

We drove down to Niagara Fall, the nearest international border, where we could activate our papers. We crossed into the USA, drove over and looked at the falls, just for a minute, and then drove back. It was absolutely freezing and neither of us felt like lingering. The falls, on first brief impressions, were amazing and I look forward to going back in more clement weather. The drive took close to two hours, but fortunately the roads were clear. The border officials both the Canadians and the Americans were pleasant and helpful and the whole process was quick and easy. It was something that had been pending and it was great to get it done. The final step is travelling through Pearson Airport with Ailsa. Douglas and Ailsa have to spend two years of the next five years in Canada and that is it.

Films

Spotlight is a 2015 Oscar winning film which tells the story of the Boston Globe’s investigation into child sex abuse in the Boston area by Catholic priests. The Spotlight team was the oldest continuously operating newspaper investigative journalism unit in the US. They investigated both the systematic and long term abuse by pedophile priests and the cover up by the church and the hierarchy. The stories were published in 2003 and earned the team a Pulitzer Prize. A good film and well worth seeing, not least because it is unbelievable that these abuses were able to continue.

The Lobster was weird. I bought a card to get reduced entry rates to the local cinemas in the centre of Waterloo. There are two cinemas, the Princess and the Princess Twin, both within easy walking distance of the apartment. The card has more than paid for itself already as the cinemas show a mixture of mainstream and art films. The Lobster was way out on the arty spectrum. It had a promising theme and we believed it would be funny. It is most unusual for me to walk out of the cinema but two minutes from the end I had had enough! You can look at the link on this one and I put in a review from the British newspaper The Telegraph.

Book

Hugh MacLennan, Two Solitudes, New Canadian Library, Toronto 2008 517 pages. This is an excellent Canadian book first published in 1945. It tells the tale of the tension between the Catholic Quebecois and Protestant English in rural community on the St Laurence and then the story is transferred to Montreal. The story begins in 1918 and ends in 1939. It is a Canadian classic. It was a birthday gift and I am grateful to the person who knew of my liking for these authors and bought it for me, so thoughtful.