‘January brings the snow, makes your feet and fingers glow’.

It is most unusual for the first of the month of the year to have come and gone without my having prepared a new blog. I’m not quite certain what happened. I can only think it was a combination of the pressure of teaching and preparation which distracted me. There is quite a lot to report, both events of the past month and ones for the next few months. I have been, and will continue to be, busy.

January was not been pleasant in terms of the weather here. The line at the beginning of this blog comes from a nursery rhyme, which I know best as a Flanders and Swan song:

Among my friends, when I was growing up, were those whose parents routinely listened to music, comedy and social commentary. This was not something we did at our home. It meant that, when out, I heard songs by Tom Lehrer, Flanders and Swann, Jeremy Taylor and Woody Guthrie, which were quite formative. I am happy to say that Douglas continues to enjoy this music.

Although there was snow in Waterloo, the main feature of the weather was day after day of grey cloud. This makes me understand why many people here swear by the SAD lamps and the light they omit. Fortunately the last few days of the month were gloriously sunny, enough to lift everybody’s spirits. The temperature has crept up to close to 0ᵒC which makes walking around outside much easier, although it is still critical to wear decent boots as the sidewalks are treacherous. I went to the trouble of getting winter tyres fitted to my car and this, I discovered, means that I have a slight, three percent, discount on my insurance premium.

At the end of the month I held the first salon of the year at the apartment. I was greatly influenced by Neil Turok, the Director of the Perimeter Institute in Waterloo. When we first met he said that I should be aware that there is always ‘one interesting thing going on in Waterloo’. The key is that sometimes we have to organise it, which is indeed the goal of the salon. The Wikipedia definition of a salon is:

“a gathering of people under the roof of an inspiring host, held partly to amuse one another and partly to refine the taste and increase the knowledge of the participants through conversation. These gatherings often consciously followed Horace’s definition of the aims of poetry, “either to please or to educate” (“aut delectare aut prodesse”).”

I don’t necessarily think I am ‘inspiring host’ but I am good at convening events and guiding discussions.

One of the other activities I have come to enjoy in the area are the Ceili’s held at the Victoria Park Pavilion in Kitchener. For those who don’t know the term, these are dances for people of all ages and probably best described as folk dancing. There is one every six weeks or so and the caller is a robust Irish lady backed by a genuine Irish band. The only problem for me is that I get very sweaty, very quickly. That means, something I’ve learnt: black shirts should be the order of the day. If anyone is interested then the website has more details.

In preparing this blog I have studiously avoided talking about politics. Sadly I do not think it is realistic and I have to note a real sense of disquiet and unease here in Canada. Donald Trump certainly made some extraordinary statements. The Canadians, and indeed the world, are reeling (and not in a country or Irish dance sense) as we try to come to terms with what this actually means. It will have very far reaching effects, already we have been thinking about what it means for the students at Waterford school in Swaziland, at least once they leave and seek university spaces.

Let me now talk about events in Waterloo in case anybody reading this is here or would like to join us. On 13th February at 7pm at the Balsillie School, my colleague Simon Dalby will be hosting a conversation ‘Taking Stock: Negotiating Climate Futures’. 2016 was the warmest year on record but despite this Washington is removing climate data from government websites and threatening to ignore the Paris Agreement. Other panellists include: Sarah Burch, Canada Research Chair in Sustainability Governance and Innovation and Assistant Professor, University of Waterloo; Carrie Mitchell, Assistant Professor, School of Planning, University of Waterloo; and Marie Claire Cordonier Segger, Professor, School of Environment, Enterprise and Development, University of Waterloo.

On 7th March Stephen Lewis, a Canadian icon, will be coming to Waterloo for a conversation. I will probably moderate this and it is on the eve of International Women’s Day so the topic will be around these issues. It will be interesting and fun, and as usual it will be packed. On 15th March we will be holding a book launch for the two Oxford University Press Very Short Introductions produced by Balsillie staff. These are Andrew Cooper’s BRICS and my HIV and AIDS. This should be quite enjoyable and will be the first book launch I have done in Canada. Finally at the end of March we will be hosting Jeremy Grimshaw to present a lunchtime lecture and hold a workshop. In 2015 he was elected co-chair of the Campbell Collaboration and previously was the Co-ordinating Editor of the Cochrane Effective Practice and Organisation of Care group. These events are meant to build skills in the community and will be open to anyone who wants to attend. We will squeeze in another salon during the next two months, but these have to be restricted in numbers.

Books and Films

Richard Russo, Nobody’s Fool, Vintage 1994 560 pages. I have really enjoyed Richard Russo’s books and this was an unexpected find. He, at least in the ones I have read, writes about the north-east of the United States with laser like perception. These are the towns where there once was industry but now people are just trying to get by. The hero of this book is a 60-year-old handyman and jack-of-all-trades. In this story Sully appears to be in the middle of a run of bad luck. He is about to be evicted; his son has lost his job and come home for Thanksgiving only to have his wife split; his ex-wife is headed for a nervous breakdown and her husband is seriously ill. There is a sequel (on my bookshelf and still to be read) Everybody’s Fool. I am not sure I can face it just yet.

Jackie. This 2016 biographical drama film stars Natalie Portman as Jackie Kennedy. It follows her life after the 1963 assassination of her husband John F. Kennedy. Among the actors were John Hurt (his final film as he died in January 2017), and to my pleasant surprise Richard E Grant from Swaziland. It is not a great film from the point of view of direction, it was rather choppy and the way Portman spoke seemed odd. However, I found it informative and the settings were perfect.