Rewards and Challenges

It has been an interesting month in Canada. Most of February was extremely cold, in the minus numbers. However there was one day in mid-February when the temperature rose to 14°C, and again, at the end of the month, it was unseasonably warm. Up until then the ground was covered with a layer of snow, and as there were frequent falls, albeit not very much, it looked fresh and white. While it is beautiful, it makes the place looks sterile. This gives rise to a problem I had not anticipated for dog owners. One of the people in the apartment block lives on my floor. He has an excitable and energetic dog, and takes it out regularly to do its business. This means we occasionally meet, (the dog, owner and I), in the elevator. Apparently, he told me, if there are no smells, then the dog is less likely to perform. I suggested that he (the owner) could assist providing scent, this was not seen as a feasible option.

On the day that the temperature was so high, there were also the first signs of spring: amazing, jubilant birdsong. For some reason the sparrows really like hanging out on the side of the building, and in the bushes on the paths. They were chirping their little hearts out when I walked home for lunch. This reminded me of a nonsense rhyme my mother used to quote when we were children. I can’t find a definitive source for it, so I hope it is out of copyright.

Spring is sprung the grass is riz
I wonder where the birdie is
The bird is on the wing?
How absurd!
I always thought the wing was on the bird.

There is quite a lot of music in the town. I suggested to friends we go to the Huether Hotel to listen to jazz. I thought I had bought tickets for ‘The Tim Moher Octet’ playing ‘jazz and some “Celtic Jazz” originals with a sprinkling of favourite standards in this evening of eclectic music from funk, soft jazz, to straight ahead jazz tunes’. None of us was terribly impressed by the music. It turned out, on Monday, when I got an email saying “Don’t forget you have tickets for the Jazz Room this Friday”, that we had actually listened to ‘The Rob Gellner Tentet’! No wonder it was different from what we expected. Basically we went a week before we should have. And no one checked the tickets. Can you believe it! It was embarrassing. The Huether is no longer a hotel, but rather contains number of bars and restaurants, catering to most tastes. It is very old by Waterloo standards – parts of the building date from 1855.

Over the last 10 days of February I organised two dinner parties in the apartment. On Wednesday we seated eight and on the last Sunday of February we seated 10 at the table. The meal on Sunday was exceptional, excellent Indian takeaway dishes from a local restaurant. I prepared the dahl and rice at home; it seemed to make economic and practical sense to do it that way. The lesson is eight is a better number, as it does not involve bringing a second table into the dining area. I have greatly reduced the amount of wine I drink on a Sunday, Monday is a teaching day. This is good thing. Unfortunately on Sunday in the afternoon, before the dinner, I went to the gym and got chatting to a colleague from the university. This meant that the session was longer and more intense than I meant it to be and, as a consequence, while I was not hungover on Monday I definitely felt a sore and stiff.

Waterloo has been putting in a light railway system. Construction began in August 2014 and we were told service would begin in late 2017. Unfortunately there were delays in the manufacture and delivery of rolling stock, and, in my view, the construction, so it won’t begin operations until mid-2018. We have seen the rolling stock, it is being built by Canadian company Bombardier, and it does look good, sleek and efficient. The first phase of the line runs between the north end of Waterloo and the south end of Kitchener, and it can be extended to the Galt area of Cambridge. If that happens it could link to a train to Toronto, and this could become a bedroom community.

What is already certain is that there has been a building boom in this area, with many, luxurious condominiums being built. My place has increased in value over the four years I have owned it: the same cannot be said for the flat in Durban. There are some amusing ‘side-effects’ as well. The traffic flow has changed and it is now illegal to turn left onto the road in front of my office. The police keep pulling people over and giving out tickets right outside of my window (on the second floor). This event is heralded by a burst on the siren, flashing lights and the sheepish driver being forced to stop in the road. What I don’t understand is why they don’t go into the parking lot, it would be far less disruptive.

As I am in the middle of my teaching term my way of decompressing is to go to the gym with papers or a good book. I have done a great deal of reading and write about this for the remainder of this blog.

Books and TV

Atul Gawande, Being Mortal, Picador USA, 2017, 304 pages. This is a remarkable book by a Boston based surgeon. It essentially argues that medicine has a great deal to offer. Diseases can be cured, childbirth is infinitely safer, and injuries can be treated. But medicine is about keeping people alive and when it comes to aging and death it is not fit for purpose. The book draws on Gawande’s own patients and family, to show how this can produce suffering. He tells of how doctors are uncomfortable discussing patients’ anxieties about death, and fall back on false hopes and treatments that are actually shortening lives instead of improving them. The message is that not intervening can lead to longer and better lives than many of the heroic medical and scientific courses we take or have thrust upon us.

Julian Barnes, The Noise of Time: A Novel, Penguin Random House, Canada, 2017, 224 pages. This is a life of Dmitri Shostakovich, the Russian composer born on 25th September 1906 and who died on 9th August 1975. He was one of the major composers of the 20th century but lived through the terror of Stalin not knowing if he was in or out of favour or what might happen to him and his family. The book is about how one compromises under power, ‘whether it wilts or thrives or finds some cunning means of survival and expression’. It echoed many of the issues faced by creative people in South Africa during the Apartheid period. I can strongly recommend it.

Jane Harper, The Dry, Flatiron Books, New York, 2017, 336 pages. This is fiction, a murder story in a drought stricken town in Australia. The question is: was the family wiped out by the father (who then takes his own life) or is there something deeper at work. The main protagonist Federal Agent Aaron Falk, who was forced to flee the town with his father many years earlier, is the best friend of the father, Luke, and is summonsed to the funerals. He stays on to investigate. It is a great and tautly plotted book, and I shall look out for more by this author. I also won’t say anymore for fear of giving away the plot.

And finally I have been watching the series The Crown on Netflix. This is an historical drama television series, the biographical story about Queen Elizabeth II. The first season covers her marriage, to the disintegration of Princess Margaret’s engagement to Peter Townsend in 1955. The second season is the period from the Suez Crisis in 1956, to the retirement of Harold Macmillan, the third Prime Minister, in 1963. There will be two more seasons. It is absolutely fascinating to see the monarchy battling to remain relevant as Britain and the world changes.

2 thoughts on “Rewards and Challenges

  1. Hi Alan I meant to write you yesterday from the conference e I was attending at Carlton in honour of Linda Freeman. A number of people there you would know – Chris Bfown and Blair Rufherford, as well as from South Africa Hein Marais and Roger Southall. Very interezting couple of days. Im off to Africa on Monday with some friends who have ne er been to Africa before so we are doing the tourist thing in Ken6a, Vic Falls, Okavanbo and Cape Town.

    Do let me know if you ever get to Ottawa. Would love to see you and I have a spare bedroom with its own bathroom.

    Cheers Carolyn

    my Galaxy Tab® A


  2. I have also enjoyed The Crown. Marco Polo is also good, but they had to cancel it because of the cost. It is one of the priciest TV series ever made, at $90 million per 10-episode series.


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