Dark November brings the fog (Flanders and Swann ‘A Song of the Weather’)

November was bifurcated for me: the first half in Waterloo and the second in Norwich. I was fortunate in that I left Canada before it became consistently and miserably cold. Unfortunately, while Norwich is warmer, it has been grey, dank and damp. In both locations, when the sun shines in winter it can be quite magical. An interesting fact: there is almost exactly an hour more sunshine in Waterloo than there is Norwich. The sun rises at about the same ‘local’ time; at present 07:15ish, but sets an hour later in Waterloo. We still have three weeks to go to the solstice! The travel to the UK was partly paid for by AIDSpan the Nairobi based NGO that produces the Global Fund Observer. I am on the board and we met in London. It was a great meeting since all is well with the organisation.

The UK is preoccupied by Brexit. During the time I have been here there has been constant, but not very helpful, discussion. Theresa May has managed to negotiate an exit agreement, which was agreed on the 25th November. She still has to get this through Parliament. Once (if) that happens, then the real negotiations start. We briefly thought the issue of Gibraltar would derail the process, but that crisis was averted. Currently fishing rights are being flagged as deal-breaking. The United Kingdom has an exceptionally long coast line and hence extensive territorial waters. Brexit is exceptionally depressing; we are giving away the future.

The Observer newspaper of 25th November had a fascinating chart from the Eurobarometer, a public opinion survey. The question was:

“If an EU-Wide referendum were held tomorrow how would you vote?’

It then showed how many of the citizens answered ‘Yes’. Unsurprisingly the UK headed the list (34% of citizens); it then dropped off rapidly and went from 23 percent (Cyprus) down to just 8% (Ireland). There is a ghastly sense of inevitability here.

A colleague in Canada, Professor David Welch, wrote a fascinating and thought provoking article in the Globe and Mail on the issue of citizenship. I would urge readers of this blog to look at it. He said:

“of citizenship as such – as a form of membership in a political community that carries with it three distinct sets of things: (1) rights; (2) benefits; and (3) obligations. Rights include … entry and domicile … (and ability to participate in politics). Benefits … include … preferential access to government services … (easy passage through airports) and eligibility for national grants, fellowships or loans. Obligations … include loyalty, obeying the law, paying taxes and – if called upon – service in defence of the state … Whatever else citizenship means, it means owing primary political loyalty to the state to which you belong. You cannot owe primary political loyalty to two or more states.”

The referendum and sequelae are big issues that we will have to grapple with for decades. I believe that there is a good chance that Scotland will revisit the independence issue and we may well see secession. And on the subject of big changes, there are rumours that the Queen may well hand the throne over to Charles, who turned 70 this year. That puts him four years beyond state pension age. I really wonder about this move, but at the same time feel desperately sorry for the man.

This month’s blog turns out to have a flow, which is not always the case. In the past month I have twice found myself in situations where I was expected to sing ‘God save the Queen’. The first was quite unexpected. There was a performance of Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Mikado at a theatre in Waterloo, not acting and sets, but simply singing the operetta. One of my friends was a principal singer. I went with his partner and greatly enjoyed it, although the average of the audience was probably at least 65 and the chorus must have been even older. I don’t consider this to be an issue because Gilbert and Sullivan is loved by a wide range of people, and, having sung in the chorus for The Yeomen of the Guard many years ago in Botswana, I appreciate this. As an aside the then President of the country came to one performance! I am not sure if that was duty, boredom or wanting to see it. The performance in Waterloo began with the audience singing God Save the Queen.

The second occasion for singing this was the Armistice Day service in Waterloo, although the Canadian National anthem was also sung on this occasion. This year marks 100 years since the end of the First World War. Canada, along with all the dominions, colonies and protectorates sent forces to support the British. There was a service at the war memorial in Waterloo on Sunday 11th November. This is about a 10 minute walk from my apartment and I really wanted to be there, so I put on my coat and boots and walked over.

The event was at one and the same time terribly provincial and deeply moving. The provincial aspect was that the timing was completely off, the gun was supposed to fire at 11 am local time, but the programme got ahead of itself, perhaps because of the cold, and it went off ten minutes early. Some of the music was provided by the New Apostolic Church Youth Group. The Master of Ceremonies kept announcing them as the choir of the New Apocalyptic Church. The moving part was that there must have been over a thousand people gathered in the snow to commemorate the event. I teared up during the two minute silence and when Reveille and the Last Post were played. There was even a piper to play a Lament, and he was excellent.

My father joined up aged 15. He was tall and well-built for his age, and kept being given white feathers in the street – a sign of cowardice. He started the war as a private and ended as a lieutenant. This meant he got a scholarship to study when he was demobilised. He would not talk about his experiences in the trenches, although he was prepared to reminisce about his time in the Royal Engineers in the second World War. He did tell us the war ended as he was recuperating from being gassed. He was playing golf near Leicester when the news of the armistice came through, the secretary of the club ran out to tell people on the course the news.

We have a few photographs of my dad in uniform. It is hard to realise that he was just 18 when the war ended. John McRae, the author of the classic poem ‘In Flanders Fields’, served as a doctor in the Canadian forces and died of pneumonia on January 28, 1918. He came from Guelph, the next town to Waterloo. How did those who survived this war manage to avoid PTSD? So many of today’s veterans seem to suffer from it. I suspect the reason may be a combination of numbers; nearly all men were affected, and a society that was not sympathetic. I got a biography of Siegfried Sassoon from the library. He served on the Western Front and was wounded twice. When he protested the war he was sent to a hospital near Edinburgh to be treated for neurasthenia (“shell shock”).

Back in Norwich we have had a few theatre visits. Rowan works at the Playhouse, a small, really innovative theatre. This means we have a good idea of what is coming up and worth seeing and get occasional complimentary tickets. I am always stuck by how large the audience is. However, as with The Mikado, it seems the majority of theatre goers are my age.

The next blog will be at the end of December, or perhaps a few days earlier. I am going to be in the UK for a few months now, and am looking forward to it. I do need to work out what projects are going to keep me busy for the next few years. One that has been on the back-burner for far too long is a book: “The Political Economy of Swaziland”. I produced a couple of chapters but the reader commented that it was too personal. That leads me to think there may be two books: an autobiography (just to be clear, I would be writing this primarily for me) as well as the Swaziland book.

Books

I have been using interlibrary loans to get books I see reviewed in the Sunday paper and have just finished Guy Stagg’s The Crossway. This is the story of his pilgrimage from Canterbury to Jerusalem undertaken after a period of mental illness. He walked 5,500 kilometres across ten countries. It was interesting and moving, but reading this long book felt like my own pilgrimage.

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