Slush and wind and rain

This final note for 2017 will be posted just before the end of the year. It was written over a couple days after Christmas, and before I travelled to Canada on the 29th December. I have been in the UK for three weeks, flying over at the end of the first week of December. We celebrated Christmas in Norwich. My sister came up from London for the holiday. On the actual day Rowan and her partner Ben drove across the city for the big meal.

Rowan had suggested we go to her house as she is, at the moment, fostering three young cats. The poor creatures were feral and they are taking time to get used to people. After much thought we decided to have everything in our house. We feared the festivities, and number of people, might have been a bit much for nervous cats. We had a really great meal. Ben introduced me to ‘pigs in blankets’, sausages wrapped in bacon, a real treat for the only two carnivores. Everyone else is vegetarian so the rest of the meal was a vegetarian feast.

Unusually everyone got gifts they really wanted. I made a point of sending out my wish list early in the month, but still had complaints because I had not specifically told the family who should buy what! One of the themes of my gifts was maps. Gill bought an old, 1952, ordinance survey map of Norfolk and a scratch World Map, the idea being that the gilt overlay gets scratched off every country one has visited. Ailsa got me a jigsaw puzzle of Norwich, which I am looking forward to assembling.

The weather in Norwich was not great when I arrived. It was cold and damp, it then warmed up considerably, and over the past few days it has been well above the seasonal average, getting as high as 10 centigrade. At the same time we have also had reasonable amount of rain. The idea of enough water being a luxury was really brought home to me after my visit to Cape Town, the situation there is quite desperate. Norwich and Waterloo have adequate resources.

Christmas itself was grey and cool, but on Boxing Day a frontal system rolled in from the Atlantic and we had non-stop wind and rain, with flurries of snow mixed in to keep us on our toes. The British preoccupation with weather sometimes strikes me as odd, but as one commentator remarked, ‘the thing about weather in England is that there is a lot of it’. There were a number of flights cancelled at north London airports. The weather forecaster was interviewed and explained that predicting snow is the most difficult part of his portfolio.

Once term starts in Waterloo I will be very busy with the teaching. I teach the two courses in the winter term. At the moment the future of the Balsillie School and our programmes is not entirely clear. Universities globally seem to be facing great uncertainty so this is not unique to Canada. We are going to have to rethink how we operate. I believe in higher education, having spent my life in the field, however I am completely aware of its limitations.

Douglas and I went off to have lunch together last week. The prison in Norwich has a café attached to it, The Britannia Café. This is staffed by ‘trustees’, prisoners who are allowed to work in the community, and ex-offenders. The café is very successful and a branch has been opened in Waterloo Park, a couple of miles down the road from the house. The menu is limited but the location is great and the café immaculate. Launched in January 2014, Britannia Enterprises is a social enterprise partnership with the Ministry of Justice and the Norwich prison.

We really enjoy the Norwich parks. There are two we use a great deal, namely Eaton Park which opened in 1928, and Waterloo Park which dates from 1933. It is interesting how Waterloo is a feature of my life in recent years. Some of the labour to establish these parks came from the unemployed victims of the great depression and other crises. Norwich owes a great deal to one individual, Captain Sandys-Winch (1888-1964) who was born Cheshire, and trained to become a landscape architect. He was a pilot during World War One, then became Parks’ Superintendent. He held the post for 34 years and set up five large parks which have bandstands, pavilions and a boating lake. They are somewhat manicured but they real community resources. There is an interesting website.

We had to go on cat duty on Boxing Day driving across the city to spend time with the kittens. They have been quite transformed in the week they have been living with Rowan and Ben. They may have been shy to begin with but now are increasingly affectionate and playful. There are two males and one female and each has a distinct personalities.

The English thing I miss most when I am away is the media. This includes access to Radio Four’s current affairs programmes in the morning and evening. They are available on podcasts or the web, but I think they need to be heard in ‘real-time’. The ‘Today Programme’ is guest edited between Christmas and New Year. The best was when Prince Harry did the programme and interviewed, in some depth, Barack Obama. It was well done. The commentators picked up on the comments on the ability to leave office that Obama has but the Prince does not. I enjoy the Observer newspaper, but of course that is available in Waterloo, albeit a few days later. I am not sure that buying an English newspaper in Canada is environmentally friendly, but I do read almost every page, and I pass it on.

What will 2018 bring? It is always important to be reflective and even make plans – given that ‘Man proposes and God disposes’. The change of leadership in the ANC could be good news, but not for a while, and it has to be remembered that the president elect was the deputy so knew what was going on. Private Eye captured the situation in Zimbabwe with a headline that read: ‘Zimbabwe Rejoices at Choice of Mass-murderer to Replace the Previous One’. I am building my list of books to read and films to watch, that is one of the benefits of a holiday period and access to good media.

Books

James Hamblin, If Our Bodies Could Talk: Operating and Maintaining a Human Body, Anchor Books, New York, 2016, 369 pages. I got this at Schiphol Airport on the way back to Norwich and read it slowly over the Christmas period. It really is excellent, setting out to try to answer a range of medical questions. It is described as ‘a modern guide to the human body’ and combines solid facts with humour. For example the fashion of juicing has little scientific validity. There is a wealth of information and it is definitely going on the list of books that I will be giving out as gifts in 2018.

Films

The Greatest Showman, the story of showman PT Barnum opened in the UK on Boxing Day and we dutifully went off to see it. It was, sadly, the most interesting film on in Norwich, even at the little art cinema. It was panned by the Observer critic, and I must admit to being willing to walk out at one point. Of the three in the party one thought it was great, one it was really dreadful and one that it was worth seeing, but only if there were no other films on. As the review said the cast clearly had a really good time making it, and it showed. My instinct is to get a biography of Barnum and see what actually happened – or at least what his biographer found.

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