The beginning of April saw the winter term drawing to a close. My last day of teaching was Monday 10th, which as it turned out was also the last day of term. I had not realised that. A pity, because I had a panel of colleagues from the community to talk about wellbeing. The class was not all there, some having started travelling on their spring breaks. Indeed not all those that attended were mentally there either – they were thinking about deadlines, assignments and perhaps even holidays. When, the previous week, the second course I taught ended, and the class went to the pub, I was very touched that they invited me to join them. I should have gone.
It has been a busy month as far as entertainment and activity goes. Jonathan Crush and I went to the Monday night ‘open-mike’ at the Boathouse in Kitchener. There was the usual mix of performers: from excellent to ‘oh my God’, but the food is good. There are always seats when I get there, largely because it is so early. There were a couple of live shows at a club in Waterloo. Starlight is a rather fun place, on the main street in Waterloo. The first show I went to was a father and son duo, Bill and Joel Plaskett and this was exactly the sort of music I really enjoy. The following week it was a couple from Hamilton playing under the name of ‘Whitehorse’. Not quite my scene, but fun nonetheless.
In addition to this, and to do something completely different, I went, on Good Friday to the Centre in the Square Theatre in Kitchener to listen to the Grand River Choir and Kitchener Philharmonic performing Beethoven’s Missa Solemna. It was really good. One of the people I have got to know here sings in the choir. The show was 90 minutes long with no intermission and so that was quite manageable, the solo violinist was quite exceptional. I am not sure how I would last for an entire symphony. My friends in Waterloo include Raja Stone who runs a church, and to keep body and soul together and maintain his family he also delivers milk, and his wife Sarah who is a nurse at the main hospital. Every so often I go to their church (very rarely) – which meets in the Princess Cinema. This year I had it in my mind to join the pancake breakfast, but it was on Good Friday and I missed it. I went to the service on Sunday instead. I was back at the Princess on the 25th for a showing of a film Embrace. This is about body image issues and was aimed at the female audience in Waterloo. Very interesting.
I worked for most of the Easter Weekend – I wanted to get the students’ work marked and back to them. I did all but one of the essays before heading for Ottawa. I also had to mark the Policy Briefs from the second course I teach – although they were not due until the 19th April. Some students sent them in early and all were emailed to me by the deadline. It is interesting how variable the quality of the work is. Some is very thoughtful and every so often there are real gems in the writing. In other cases there is a sense that the student has not engaged with the issue in the way I would have liked them to. Given that they have a reasonably free rein in choosing the topics this is a pity. The one thing that they have in common is minor, but very irritating: simple grammatical and spelling issues. My mantra of ‘read your work through and ideally read it to someone’ else seems to be falling on deaf ears.
I took the train up to Ottawa. It takes just over an hour and a half from Kitchener to Union Station in Toronto and then close to another 5 hours to Ottawa. I think it is better than flying, but is quite exhausting. Of course I stupidly always forget to take headphones. The train has Wifi and entertainment (probably better than that on aircraft), so if I had been a bit more organised I could have watched television or films instead of marking and reading my novel. Next time I will remember. Mind you I did get all the marking done, and have entered the marks and send them off.
In Ottawa I had a series of meetings. These were with people from Global Affairs Canada – effectively a combination of the overseas development agency and the foreign office. I then met with the International Development Research Centre (IDRC), with whom I worked in the HEARD era. I also met with the Deputy Minister of Health. I was invited to a dinner by one of the team leaders at the Canadian Institutes of Health Research. Here many of the people I needed to meet were gathered. The meal was absolutely excellent and the company was fascinating. This trip made me finally feel that I am making progress. The question I posed was to the people I was meeting was: I have been in Canada for some time now, how can I get more involved in health policy both within the country and Canada’s international actions, because I don’t feel I am making best use of my time? Everyone I met was most receptive and I shall have to follow-up.
The following-up though will be a bit more challenging than usual. I managed to leave my moleskin notebook somewhere. There were two possibilities – since I turned the hotel upside down. I may have left it in the restaurant we went to or in the taxi on the way back from the meal. Hopefully I will be able to get it back, in fact by the time this blog is posted I will either have it back or will have rebuild the agenda and contact list from a mixture of memory and old emails. The reality is that these things happen, and the more one travels the more likely it is to occur.
Douglas ordered a book for me for my birthday. My parents had a copy of “Me Papoose Sitter” on their bookshelf in Swaziland – it was originally published in 1955. It is the story of a young (19 year old) English lad who is goes to a remote part of Ontario as ‘the’ teacher, and finds that he has many other duties, for which he is clearly not qualified. I remember reading and being very taken by the story, it was from such a different world.
The story is a fascinating period piece and reflects neo-colonial attitudes. However what makes it all the more interesting is the subsequent adventures of the author, who at that time was known as Gordon Langley Hall. The Wikipedia entry begins:
“Dawn Langley Pepita Simmons (probably 1922 – 18 September 2000) was a prolific English author and biographer. Born as Gordon Langley Hall, Simmons lived her first decades as a male.”
Not only did he undergo sex reassignment surgery at Johns Hopkins Hospital in the USA in 1968, but then changed her name to Dawn Pepita Langley Hall, and married John-Paul Simmons a young black motor mechanic. This was the first legal interracial marriage in South Carolina. She claimed to have given birth (naturally) to a daughter. Perhaps quite amazing Hall inherited a house and $2 million from a friend with who s/he was planning to live – the person died two weeks after they moved in together. These resources may have made the sex change possible. I wonder how many people remember this story. I would like to go up to the place s/he lived; I don’t think it is not too far from Waterloo. Anyway as you can imagine I was delighted when the book arrived in my post box, and that along with a copy of the Wikipedia pages are on my coffee table at the moment.
Waterloo has an excellent little bookshop Wordsworths, mentioned in the last blog. They get the Observer each week, and keep a copy for me. They have a table on the outside of the shop and the books on it are really tempting. I have bought a couple by Allain du Botton and they are proving to be most enjoyable and rather thought provoking although it is definitely ‘philosophy light’. Although the weather has definitely warmed up the trees are still sans leaves but they are coming – and the daffodils and various other plants are in flower. I really am looking forward to being able to go and cook on the rooftop and look over a sea of green. The braai has just been put out so I am planning to use it on Friday evening and the frequently from here on.