False Spring? I hope not!

In the middle of February I greatly enjoyed sitting in my office or my apartment and watching the snow fall. It was quite magical. In total we probably had about 10 cm, enough to cover the ground and make everything into a winter wonderland. Normally here there is a period when the ground is covered by grey snow as it slowly melts. In the corner of the parking lots there are piles of the white stuff, bulldozed there by the clearance teams. This year it warmed up from about the 18th of February and most of the snow disappeared very rapidly. I woke one morning to see a digger loading the snow into large trucks in our apartment parking lot. It is taken away and dumped somewhere. There must have been at least six or seven loads. It was probably necessary to do this, because the piles take a very long time to melt, and the snow was heaped in the guest parking. It provided an insight into the workings of Canada in the winter, and perhaps even into the cost, as I’m sure this service will appear on the bill.

It is not just the disappearance of the snow that is a sign of spring; we have also seen migrant birds returning. Most noticeable are the Canadian robins which are larger than the English variety. There is a real pleasure in seeing the sparrows. The Balsillie School is a remarkable building which has a courtyard where two geese nest. They arrived back in mid-February and will, no doubt, start building their nest and laying eggs. Unfortunately the fledglings can’t get out of the courtyard without human intervention, and so there is a scheduled ‘geese release’ once they are old enough. They are chased through the building and escorted across the road, where the traffic is stopped. Of course I may be being far too optimistic about the snow clearance and there will, I am sure, be more cold weather.

I walked to dinner as the weather was warming up. One of my colleagues had a birthday celebration at an Indian restaurant about 20 minutes from my apartment. I, very foolishly, did not wear my boots and consider myself lucky to have made it there safely. While most of the pavements were clear, every so often there was a householder who must have been away, the path in front of that house was icy and treacherous, and in addition there were also patches of ice that were completely unexpected. It made for an interesting walk and I was very glad to have a lift back.

I am teaching through the winter term and so am grounded and feeling somewhat stuck. This is my choice so I can’t complain. It has been interesting to see how the students have changed from year to year. This year’s seem exceptionally engaged but it may be that I am just more on their wavelength. Some of them have been coming to our ‘pub night’, a regular Tuesday evening event.

In one of my courses, I set three pieces of work. The first is a blog of up to 1000 words and I told the students I would post the ones that were good enough on my website. So there will be a number of student blogs posted in the next week or so. The second is a book review. Here I want to make sure that they can read critically. They can choose the book as long as it is related to health. Some will learn the hard way by deciding to review books that are very long, or ones that are edited. In my view it is difficult to do a good review of an edited book. The third piece of work is the longest; it is to write a Journal-style article, again on the topic of their choice but related to the course. I live in the hope I might get something I can publish. That would be first prize.

March will be a particularly busy month. On 7th March Stephen Lewis, a Canadian icon is coming to Waterloo for a ‘conversation’. On 15th March we have the book launch for the two Oxford University Press Very Short Introductions produced by Balsillie staff. These are Andrew Cooper’s BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) and mine on HIV and AIDS. My book has just been published in North America (two months after it was released in the UK), it arrived in Waterloo and the wonderful independent bookshop in the town, Wordsworths, has it on display by the cash register. I don’t think they have sold any yet!

In general I think I have adapted very well to life in Canada. I had a bit of a shock the other day though. I went down to the farmer’s market in the next door town of Kitchener. The parking is in an underground garage and generally I get there early enough not to have any difficulty finding a space. When I had done my shopping I went back to the car and drove out on the short ramp. There was a police officer directing traffic at the top and manning a barrier because the parking area was full. He looked at me and came over to the car. I rolled down the passenger side window and said, “I’m really sorry, I have driven up the wrong side of the ramp haven’t I!” He was very amused and said that he could tell from my accent why I had done this. I on the other hand was concerned by the fact I had simply not noticed this and made a mental note to be even more careful. I think I’m going to put a ‘post-it’ note on the steering wheel.

When I first arrived in Waterloo there was a shop in the Plaza that specialised in British goods. It stocked such delicacies as Marmite, Jaffa cakes, Oxo cubes and so on. It is quite telling that it has reduced in size and this is an indication of the change in the customer base. We are all waiting with bated breath for the transport system construction to be finished and the new trains to start running between the cities. Perhaps one of the symbols of consumerism in this part of the world is that the tracks begin at a mall to the north of Waterloo and end in one to the south of Kitchener. This type of infrastructure development is important for all cities and towns. Like the new light railway in Edinburgh in Scotland, it will be revitalising and a real economic opportunity. I am told that property prices are going up in the area, although at the moment it seems that it is house prices rather than apartments. We live in the expectation that this will change soon.

Films and Books

Film: Silence. Directed by Martin Scorsese this film is two hours and forty one minutes long, but it was mostly entirely gripping. I did feel the end it could have been a bit shorter: the last 25 minutes probably should have been reduced to 10 minutes. It is the story, set in 1633, of two Catholic missionaries who travel to Japan in search of their missing mentor. At that time Catholicism was outlawed in Japan and Christians were persecuted. Parts of the film were very brutal; the killing of Japanese Christians and their torture was shown in somewhat graphic detail. However at the end of the show I found myself feeling quite sympathetic towards the Japanese authorities who were trying to maintain control of the nation. The scenery was spectacular and I suspect the settings were true to the era. It was also interesting to see how Christianity was betrayed and the blind faith of the converts. One wonders why they were prepared to put their lives on the line. This film, like most of the ones I go to see, is shown at the Princess Cinema where, with a membership card, the cost of going to the film is a mere $8. They are not particularly modern cinemas but they are within walking distance of the apartment.

Book: Richard Russo, Everybody’s Fool, 2016, Knopf Hardcover, 477 pages. I reviewed Nobody’s Fool in my February blog and noted that I was not sure if I could face the sequel yet. In the end I could not resist and read it over a week. This book was written 23 years after Nobody’s Fool and was published in 2016. It is however set 10 years later, in the same town, with many of the same characters. Sully was the main character in the first book; in this one a number of others are as important. Sully has been told that he has less than two years to live as his heart is failing. In general, it is a story of acceptance of life and death, with, for the most part, grace and humour. The work of Russo is quite classic and I suspect he will soon be on course lists if he is not already. He has written 10 books to date, and was born in 1949, so there is at least the potential that he may write a couple more.

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