Snow goes

For some reason I woke up at 5.30 this morning and, after realising that I would not get back to sleep, I came downstairs to catch up on correspondence. My monthly posting is late, so the first thing on the agenda was to get that done. I will be in Waterloo for until the end of May. I arrived in January and it was terribly cold. Yesterday, 1 May, the temperature climbed to 27°C. What a contrast. My apartment is on the side of the building that gets the sun. In the winter this is a blessing, in the summer it most certainly is not. Fortunately there are two sets of blinds, one of which keeps the worst of the sun out.

Over the winter there was quite a lot of snow, and at various points the contractors came in to clear it from the parking lot. The modus operandi seems to be to pile it in the visitors parking area, where until a week ago a huge snow bank took up four parking spaces. With the change in temperature it has been melting rapidly. When I look out of my window I can see a small grey pile that looks just like the stone chippings used on roads. It should be gone in the next 48 hours, then the contractors will have to come and sweep up what is left of the rubbish that somehow got into the snow. I’m quite puzzled by the glass which apparently came from a windscreen.

There are a number of items on my agenda for action. One of the more pressing ones is to get the snow tyres taken off the car and replaced with the summer tyres. The problem is I use the vehicle so rarely that going out to do this seems a major mission. One of my colleagues announced, in the first week of March, that he had changed his tyres. Given that the last snowstorm was about 10 days ago I’m sure he regretted doing this so early.

Despite the warmer weather the trees have still not flowered. This means that the outlook from the apartment is still quite barren. The birds are back though, and the squirrels are running around like mad things. Clearly the summer is nearly here. The word from Norwich is that the garden is looking very lush and I will be happy to see this.

I have had a fair amount of time to contemplate of late, and I realise how incredibly lucky I have been. I have lived in a number of countries: born in Kenya; grew up in Swaziland; university in England; a Fellowship in Botswana for 2½ years; South Africa for 30 years, with long spells back in England during that time; and now Canada. There can be no doubt that Canadians are the richest people I have mixed with, although even here there are pockets of absolute poverty. I don’t know how some people manage.

There is at least a decent Social Security system here, and health care is available although people have to pay for dentistry, eye care and any mental health problems that do not need a psychiatrist. As I think everyone knows, I had a cataract removed from one eye last year. The surgeon suggested I wait for a few months before getting new glasses. I have medical cover here, so after some time I went to an opticians, had my eyes tested, and got new distance and reading glasses. I reused the frames I already had and the bill was still nearly $900. I then discovered that the medical scheme would only cover half of this. I don’t know what would have happened if I had got new frames as well.

The affluence here is not a good thing. It is too easy to take things for granted and manufacture struggle. Perhaps that is the human condition. Of course the reality is that ‘good judgement comes from experience; and experience comes from bad judgement’. This is one of the toughest things to accept as a parent. We have to allow our children to make mistakes, and we hope that the consequences of them are not too serious. On the topic of children, this is another area where I feel that I have been very fortunate. I am proud of the way they have turned out, and believe that both have and will make a contribution to the society they live in.

There are many things to worry us. The top priority must surely be how we are treating the planet and whether or not we can slow the clock down, if not turn it back. Climate change certainly is a reality and we see this on a daily basis. Where is the leadership that we so desperately need? Is it possible for the wealthy among us to individually give up some of our privilege? One of the things that has been on the news recently is the damage caused by flying. Of course I must put up my hand and say that I have been guilty of racking up vast numbers of air miles.

As one gets older resources become more important. Talking about my generation, some resources we should have more of at this point. Money is an example, with retirement funds having been built up and property paid off. The one thing that we have less of, and we don’t know how much we actually do have, is time. I have been thinking about that as I look at my library of unread books. The latest book by Steven Pinker, “Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism and Progress” was very well reviewed and I ordered a copy. The main body of the book is over 450 pages long, with about another 100 pages of notes and bibliography. It seemed like a good idea at the time. As I look at it, daunting is the word that comes to mind. Also unread is Matt Ridley’s “The Rational Optimist”.

I feel sorry for the students as there is just so much information out there. I think the best thing we can do, perhaps the only thing, is to teach them how to sort through all the articles, books and so on. It is becoming harder and harder to be at the top of your field, let alone have a sense of knowing that you are even covering what you need. And then of course there is the question of employment. It has become clear to me over the last 10 years that there has been an escalation in the level of paper qualifications people need; jobs are harder to come by; and the gig economy is very present. I think there will be more casualties in each generation; people who can’t find the jobs they believe they were promised. This is certainly the case for the people graduating with doctorates.

I get the British Observer newspaper every Monday. The paper copy is flown over from the UK and it costs me about 2½ times what it would in Norwich. I think it is worth it because I read it from cover to cover. What has been most troubling in the last few issues is the apparent moral bankruptcy of most of the world’s leaders. Certainly looking at the situation in both the USA and the UK makes me feel deeply troubled. It takes us back to the question of how to value people who won’t necessarily find good jobs and who will battle. I firmly believe in a social contract, those of us who are privileged should be prepared to pay for the contract. What must it be like to be poor in America?

This has been a very introspective blog. If you read it all the way through, thank you. I remain, perhaps foolishly, an optimist. I know that my life has been extremely fortunate and very blessed. I ask myself what I should be doing to give back. Perhaps the most important thing is to be true to ourselves because ultimately we have to answer to our own consciences.

2 thoughts on “Snow goes

  1. “The affluence here is not a good thing. It is too easy to take things for granted and manufacture struggle. Perhaps that is the human condition.” So well written! Thank you. I will use that. “manufacture struggle” I have tried for ages to explain it and you did it in two words. I liken it to the butterfly, it takes some effort to forge some character Alan. and your contribution is to keep writing to people like me form ignoring the rest of the nonsense in my inbox for a moment, and stop and contemplate things at a slightly deeper level. I would love to hear your thoughts on how there is currently an unhealthy obsession with perfection and self-improvement. It’s my bug-bear this year, and books such as “how to live like your cat” or “how to be the master of your own…” yawn!! I hope you are well.

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  2. I’m a big believer that the will to survive inspires people to be adaptive and nimble, and encouraging this creates more resilient communities that can be supportive of each other while remaining dignifying. But there is also the danger of wilful surrender / acquiescence. It is the journey that counts the most if the goal is a life that respects one’s own self-esteem and that of others. Knowing that what has been accomplished, rather than how much was accomplished, was done by one’s own free will and is a product of their effort. With finite resources, inequality will never end. But we can do all we can to mitigate its harmful effects.

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