A Dry Spell

It seems that the weather dominates the opening paragraphs of my monthly posts. At the end of June there was a very warm spell in Norwich, and no rain for over two weeks. More worrying is there is no rain in the forecast for at least 10 days. A stubborn area of high pressure has located itself over us. Of course East Anglia is the driest part of the British Isles, not widely known, but this has been quite exceptional. Some of the plants in the garden are given favoured treatment. They get water from the butts that drain off the roof of shed. The lawn, however, does not, and it is beginning to look rather the worse for wear.

My sister came up from London to visit for a weekend. Ailsa was away visiting her mother so Douglas and I were in charge. I think we acquitted ourselves well. We had thought of going to see a film, the choices at the local cinema were the ‘Happy Prince’ or ‘Oceans Eight’. In the end we did not. The weather was so pleasant that sitting inside a cinema would have seemed like heresy. What we did do was to go eat in Waterloo Park.

I have mentioned before that Norwich has some amazing municipal parks. In 1919 Captain Sandys-Winsch was appointed as the City Parks and Gardens Superintendent, and he stayed in the post until 1953. He is largely responsible for the fine public parks. There was government funding after World War I as part of a building and planting programme to provide unemployment relief, aimed mainly at ex-service men. Waterloo Park actually predated this, it began in 1904 as Catton Recreation Ground. A new design was drawn up in 1929, and in 1933 it reopened as Waterloo Park. It is 18 acres with a mixture of play areas and gardens, with lots of magnificent trees. There is, as in most of the parks, a pavilion which has a café.

There are many reasons to visit the park, but at the weekend we went for brunch. The café is run by Britannia Enterprises and most of the staff at this, and the two other sites, are serving or ex-offenders from Her Majesty’s Prison in Norwich. The project aims to offer mentoring, training, employment and rehabilitation to prisoners. They claim that just five percent of participants in the programme re-offend, compared to the national average of 46 percent. It is an excellent example of a social enterprise, and the food is good and reasonably priced. As it was such a beautiful, warm and sunny day, we were able to sit outside, and that meant we could take the dog.

Fortunately the ‘dry spell’ applies primarily to the weather. I have been able to write. I think that some of what I have written is useful and interesting although it is, of course, up to readers to be the judge of that. I was invited to contribute to The Oxford Handbook of Global Health Politics, edited by Colin McInnes, Kelley Lee, and Jeremy Youde. Interestingly this is an online handbook. My chapter ‘The Global Politics of HIV and AIDS’ is available but it is not free.

The curse of the world of instant access is passwords. Everything, it seems, requires a password. Of course I concur that privacy is important, and we do not want to give away too much information. I am to provide a password where it is required. The problems arises when it needs remembered, or even worse, to be changed. There are stages of forgetfulness and dismay. In an ideal world there is a file on the computer, possibly even a spreadsheet where passwords can be stored. This then needs to be printed and fixed to the wall next to the computer. Step one of dismay is forgetting to write it down, step two is when you reset it and the process begins again. There is one email account I have not been able to access for years! Oh well. And then of course there is the question of how to come up with the password in the first place: eight characters of which some can be letters, one of which must be uppercase; some numbers and something else. There was a radio programme the other evening about George Orwell. Apparently he lived in a cottage on the north of the Isle of Jura, one of the Inner Hebrides, when he was writing 1984, after the Second World War. He never had to deal with the issue of password or the internet, but then he was dead at 47.

We have been doing a fair amount of eating out. On Father’s Day Sunday 18th July we went to Olives, a café at the bottom of Elm Hill. This is the cobbled street with the largest number of surviving Tudor buildings in the UK. It was excellent and can be recommended, especially for serious vegetarians or vegans. Gill, Douglas, Rowan and I went for dinner at a pub, The Eagle, on the Newmarket Road. We had one of the best pub meals I have had this year.

Douglas and I decided to treat our selves by going to Brick, a small, newish pizza place in the market. It is very popular, and although there were seats we were warned that it would take at least 45 minutes before they could serve us food. Instead we went to the chain pizzeria, Pizza Express in the Forum, an amazing building that houses the city library. As an aside, this is a newish building, the old Norwich library burnt down on 1st August 1994. I remember seeing the pillar of smoke rising across the city. The irony is that the fire station was right opposite, but the building was still completely destroyed.

We bumped into one of Doug’s colleagues in the Forum’s foyer, and she told us that Pizza Express has an offer on Wednesday, two pizzas for £10, which is incredibly good value. In addition the pizzas were really excellent. We rounded off our spell of indulgence by having a Thai take-away one evening. Apparently this is a service Rowan uses regularly. I should stress that on the other days we took it in turns to cook and not all the restaurants in Norwich are good. Rowan and I had a quick lunch together and her soup was like flour in appearance and, sadly, taste.

I recently went to an evening function at the Forum. When it was rebuilt the city took the opportunity to put in meeting rooms, restaurants, and a place for the local BBC studio as well as the library. The Men’s Wellbeing Project put on a Men’s Wellbeing and Mental Health Evening. The audience was a mixture of providers, users and interested lay people. I was quite surprised by the number of women present, 20 percent of the audience. There were a number of local organisations, one was very interesting: Norwich Men’s Shed, a support group, but a bit daunting for those who don’t do DIY.

The message was that men and women register for mental health support in roughly equal numbers. However if the outcome is ‘completed treatment’, whatever that means, then fewer than 60 percent of men get to that stage as opposed to 80 percent of women. A few moments later one of the probable reasons became apparent. The staff of the mental health services is 80 percent female. Should it matter? No! Does it? Almost certainly yes. What I found really interesting was the lack of networking at the meeting, unless of course the people present already knew each other. In addition the interrelation between men’s mental health and men’s health generally was not really discussed. This is a gap.

In a few days I begin close to a month of travel. First to Durban. The first flight is KLM from Norwich at 6 am, horrible! I then take the 10 hour daylight flight the length of Africa. I go up to Swaziland for my final Governing Council meeting for Waterford Kamhlaba. I am back in Durban for less than a week. I go to Amsterdam for the International AIDS Economics Network (IAEN) meeting and other conferences. The IAEN, despite the name, is deeply interesting and fun and not just for economists. The people who attend know each other, and in many cases our links go back years. The meeting involves a small commitment of time for most but a great deal of organising. I am hoping one of the outputs will be a special issue of the African Journal of AIDS Research, similar to the one on Swaziland last year. It will probably mean a great deal of mentoring of the weaker papers, but it is worth it.