The Meaning of Life

Half of September was in South Africa and half in Norwich. I travelled from Norwich to Cape Town via Amsterdam on the 1st September. This visit was to oversee the scientific writing course we held in Stellenbosch. The KLM flight takes over 11 hours and seemed very long, especially since these days I usually travel in economy. I am very grateful for my ‘Life Time Platinum Elite’ frequent flyer status as it gives me seating choices and lounge access. This practically means I usually get a bulkhead seat with more leg room, and that really makes a difference over long flight.

The 2nd (Sunday) was a free day and on Monday the participants started arriving. The programme is mainly taught by my friend and colleague, Tim Quinlan, whom I have known for close to 30 years. He came to Durban to teach at the University of Durban-Westville, which in those apartheid days was the ‘Asian’ higher education establishment. He subsequently joined HEARD as the first Research Director. This is the second year that he has run this programme with me. I am very lucky to also have as the main recruiter and administrator Nick Zebryk, who did a degree at the Balsillie School, and was my first (and last) full time research assistant in Waterloo. He managed the application process, and travelled to South Africa to troubleshoot. Thanks to his hard work there was no trouble to shoot!

We had 16 people from across Africa. On this occasion the largest number were from Malawi (four). I had taken some flack last year as six people were from Swaziland and this was seen favouritism. Everyone came with work in progress, and both Tim and I met with individuals to go through their manuscripts. We finished on Friday morning and on Saturday I went to Cape Town and spent a night in the City Lodge at the Waterfront. Firstly I wanted time by myself and the hotel is ideal for that; second I had a lunch meeting with the acting editor of the Global Fund Observer. This is run by a Kenyan-based NGO AIDSpan and I am on the board. As with all donor funded organisations, there is the constant need to raise funding and this means being relevant and supportable. Fortunately, so far, this has not been an issue for us.

As almost all my South African extended family is based in Cape Town, Sunday was spent with these relatives. My aunt, cousin, cousin’s children, and cousin’s child’s partner all gathered at a restaurant outside Stellenbosch with the eponymous name of 96 Winery Road. I thought it was a long way for everyone to go, but learnt it was my uncle and aunt’s favourite restaurant, one they often visited when he (my uncle) was alive. The food was excellent! In addition my brother Derek drove and it took less than an hour, so the distance was only in my head! The drive was actually amazing because there was a significant amount of snow on the mountains beyond Stellenbosch. It had not been there a week before.

Derek and I went back to his house in Hout Bay where I stayed the night. We took their dogs for a walk on the beach. It is, of course, winter in the Southern Hemisphere so no one was swimming. However the beach was full of dog walkers and their animals, each human carrying the obligatory plastic bag. It was interesting to see that most (dogs) were not on leads and, after the obligatory sniff (the dogs, not the people, and I will leave it to everyone’s imagination as to where the sniffing was), left each other alone. I suspect both the people and dogs of Hout Bay are exceptionally well trained.

On the Monday I went up to Durban where I stayed until Saturday 15th September when I flew to the UK. I did various administrative life things in Durban. An example was to sign a new will to take care of my South African estate when I die. It needed doing as my occupation and address have changed and a specific bequest, made in 2002, seemed very meager in 2018. I also got my computer and email updated at the University information technology offices, did a few health related visits, and caught up with the relatively small number of good friends who are still in Durban (the Brauningers and the Grests).

The South African leg was an OK trip overall, although I am getting bored with long haul flights. From Johannesburg to Amsterdam there was, by design, an empty seat next to me and so I got some sleep. Carrying decent headphones is a great help when travelling as it makes the films enjoyable. KLM gives their economy passengers free earphones which hook over the ears, give poor sound and are incredibly uncomfortable. I watched three movies on each leg, a wide range, and as a result feel up-to-date with films I would want to see.

I had just under two weeks in the UK which was pleasant and I managed to get two publications finalised. The problem with writing is that one does it, then the editors or reviewers come back with questions, and that means you have to re-engage your mind with the text, sometimes after many months. One article was easy, the other not. Of course the biggest problem is the referencing as inevitably I have forgotten a page number or source. Anyway they are done – for now.

Ailsa and I went to London to have lunch with my half-sister Pat and her husband David. This had been on the cards for a long time and we finally settled on a day and place. The venue they chose was St Martin-in-the-Field on Trafalgar Square. The church describes itself as:

‘an architectural jewel sitting at the corner of one of the world’s most famous squares. It’s a place of encounter between God and humanity, the wealthy and the destitute, culture and commerce’

We met for lunch in the Crypt, which while an historical and impressive venue, had cafeteria style food, and was noisy. But it was the company we were there for and that was great.

David was awarded an Order of the British Empire (OBE) in 1992 for services in the Sudan. He and Pat were teasing us about marriage and he reminded me that, as a fellow award holder, I am entitled to get married in the OBE Chapel at St Paul’s Cathedral. I asked him if he had been to the chapel and was taken aback when he said he had not. “OK”, I said, “Let us get a cab and go and look at it” And so we did. Of course an additional benefit is that as holders of the award we are able to go into the basement (where the chapel is) of the Cathedral free of charge. It was a good day, and, as we had time before the rail tickets were valid evening, we spent time walking round London in the fine autumn weather.


I saw quite a number, which, given the time I spent on the plane is not surprising.

Mark Felt: The Man Who Brought Down The White House. This is the story of an FBI agent who was instrumental in helping in uncover the Watergate scandal in 1974. He was the original “Deep Throat”. It was interesting as it showed clearly how politicians and administrators have different interests. What made this film even more relevant is that the last film I saw on my way to Canada was The Post, about the Washington Post under the management of Katharine Graham, played by Meryl Streep, during this period. It was a riveting performance and two linked, deeply interesting films.

In Safe House a CIA agent is tasked with looking after a dangerous fugitive, and ends up on the run with him. It was simply great escapist entertainment. Quite a contrast to the documentary My Generation in which British film star Michael Caine narrates his personal journey through 1960s London.

The Bookshop was gentle entertainment, set in 1959 when a widow decides to open a bookshop in an East Anglian coastal town. Battles ensue for the hearts and mind of the people of the town and it reflects the class system of the era. For pure silly entertainment Bad Grandmas would take some beating. Implausibly four grandmothers accidentally kill a conman and have to dispose of his body.