Heavy Fog in Channel – Continent Cut Off

The heading of this blog was the headline in the London Times on October 22, 1957. At least, when I Googled the source, that is what the Harvard International Review of summer 2012 alleged. With results of the referendum now in, it feels as though the island has now cut itself from Europe, and done so willingly. I will return to this later in the blog.

At the end of June, I travelled back to Norwich for a week. Most of July is to be spent in southern Africa. In Waterloo we enjoyed warm weather; at times it was even unpleasantly hot! I am grateful for the fact that the apartment has a decent air conditioning system. The sun streams in for most of the middle of the day making it, potentially, scorching. There are two sets of blinds, one for night when, in theory, the entire apartment should be dark. In reality the outside lights seep in around the sides and through the middle where the two blinds meet. The second set comprises lighter sunscreens, and I tend to have them down most of the day. One of the houses on the street opposite me has a shiny tin roof. It is offensive how the glare is reflected in to all the apartments on my side of the building. The owners, in a quite un-Canadian manner, have taken no notice of the protests from the Seagram block residents. It seems we may need to take legal action.

The big event for me of the past month was going to Toronto to listen to the ‘Dixie Chicks’. The news that I was going to do this elicited two responses: the first ‘Are they still going’; the second ‘How do you know the Dixie Chicks’, said in a tone of absolute astonishment. The answer is of course the BBC and in particular a program called ‘Bob Harris Country’ on Radio 2. I went with two of the Ph.D. students from Waterloo. Amanda had to drive down on Tuesday and stayed over with her mother. The concert was on a Wednesday so I took the Greyhound bus from Kitchener to Union Station in Toronto. This is definitely not my favourite way of travelling but there are so few trains to Toronto that it is the only public transport option. Fortunately, it was not too full but it still took two hours to get there. Allison, the third member of the party, also came to Toronto by bus, a very much slower one.

Amanda met me outside the station and we had a bite to eat before the concert, which started at 7 PM. We ended up at a vegan restaurant called ‘Fresh’, quite well known in Toronto. The concert was held in the Molson Auditorium which is partially open to the elements. Fortunately it was a beautiful evening, and although a jersey was required there was not a drop of rain. We were seated in the area called the lawn right at the back of the auditorium, as the name suggests it was indeed grass. And après pro that subject, the two women in front of us lit joint after joint throughout the evening. They were basically chain smoking marijuana. The smoke and smell drifted back to us, and if I closed my eyes I would have thought I was at a party in Durban. It was really retro.

The band themselves were excellent, and they are musicians who have built a solid reputation. As well as the three women, ‘The Chicks’, there were various other musicians in the course of the show. At the end, for the last song, the women brought their children on stage to join in, which was very cool. They ranged in age from 5 to late teens. We were so far back it was difficult to tell even on the big screen. The auditorium holds 16,000 people and so it took a while to empty and even longer for people to get out of the parking areas. We did not get back to Waterloo until 12:30; there was some major roadwork between Toronto and Waterloo further delaying the drive.

Of course Friday was the day the results of the Brexit poll came out. I don’t think any of my cohort expected those results, and I feel incredibly disappointed and guilty. The older generation voting the way we did mean that our children and grandchildren have to live with this decision. It seems so unfair that the people who are going to be around for the shortest period of time swung the vote, while the youngsters, who were mostly in favour of remaining in the European Union, lost. As worrying is the impression that there was no plan for an exit, not even among those campaigning in the ‘leave’ group.

I can’t even find pleasure in the fact that David Cameron resigned, which of course he had to. All the data from the referendum shows that the United Kingdom is deeply divided: regionally, by age, and in so other many ways. The one thing that will have to be done is some major rebuilding of nationhood. Working against that is the certainty that the Scots will have another independence referendum, and this time they will almost unquestionably go. Who could blame them?

I went down to London to attend the retirement function of a DFID colleague, and the mood there was pretty bleak. The event began in a room in Whitehall, moved across the road to a pub, and not the one intended since that was flooded, then to an Italian restaurant on Northumberland Avenue, within spitting distance of Trafalgar Square. It was great to see so many people I have worked with over very many years, and indeed the three and half years as a Senior Research Fellow with DFID was quite formative. I had planned to travel back to Norwich at about 9 pm and asked Douglas to look up train times. What he told me did not seem to make any sense, when I got to the station I discovered that there was major engineering work going on. Enough to make one’s heart sink.

Having expected a dreadful journey home I must be fair to the various companies involved in this and say it was not as bad as expected. We travelled by train to Colchester, boarded buses to Ipswich and then went on by train to Norwich. The journey only took half an hour longer than usual and the coaches providing the replacement services were considerably better than the Greyhound I was on the previous week. Friends who know my aversion to buses will understand the trauma of having to take this mode of transport twice in as many weeks.

I have my month in Southern Africa ahead. I go first to Durban then drive up to Swaziland for a really interesting conference. The National Emergency Response Council on HIV and AIDS (NERCHA) and Ministry of Health are hosting a three day meeting: “From AIDS Crisis to Opportunities: What we can learn from Swaziland”. This seeks to showcase successes and lessons learned from stabilising the world’s worst HIV/AIDS epidemic. I go back to Durban for the two day International AIDS Economics Network meeting ahead of the big International AIDS Conference, which I will have to leave a day early to go back to Swaziland for the Waterford Governing Council meeting, I will do a bit of field work and then go to Durban to wrap there before heading to the UK and back to Waterloo in August. A busy month ahead, and by way of a trailer I will write about family’s reunions and the First World War in my next posting. The time in Norwich was quite moving as we found out a great deal about my father, including that he joined up at the age of 15 years, and then went on to fight in the trenches.