Pollen and polling

In my blog, posted at the end of March, I described the surgery I underwent in Durban. I also talked about going out a couple of times, with friends, to a really delightful little bakery/pizza restaurant in the neighbourhood. It does not even have a liquor licence; and this does tend to mean the evening is cheaper as one takes one’s own wine. Among those friends was Jurgen Brauninger and his family. I wrote in that blog:

‘On a personal level it is interesting to see my cohort, friends and colleagues ageing into their 60s, for the most part with grace and dignity. It is however a shock to us all – but, as I said to one friend, ‘it is better than the alternative’.’

Within two weeks of these dinners we learned, out of the blue, that Jurgen was not well. He was suffering from pancreatic and liver cancer, and was having difficulty in eating. After various consultations he was scheduled for urgent surgery to ease pressure on his duodenum. While this was not a cure, it was expected to improve the quality of his life. The surgery was carried out on 26 April (by the same surgeon who did my hernia); Jurgen did not recover and died on 6 May.

I want to pay tribute to a dear friend and colleague, a talented musician, but above all a devoted family man. I know Tania, Hannah and Brigitte will be torn apart by grief. Sitting in Canada I have felt very distant, but no less sad. I wish I had deep and meaningful forethoughts about this but I don’t, I just know I will miss him enormously. Andrew Marvell’s lines “But at my back I always hear, Time’s wingéd chariot hurrying near”, were not written about death; they do seem very apt though.

The Brauningers lived a few houses up the road from us in Manor Gardens. Their children were similar ages to Rowan and Douglas. We celebrated many milestones together; Brigitte did the most amazing Easter lunches for the university crowd and others. The families went away together for a number of short holidays in the province. Everyone enjoying each other’s company, even braaing under umbrellas during a heavy rainstorm. Their home was an original ‘wood and iron’ house, this is one of the first Durban houses and relatively few are left standing. Jurgen, I and Ullie, one of his friends, purchased the house next door when it came on the market, in order to preserve it and the jungle of a garden for a little bit longer. Jurgen and Brigitte had just moved a few kilometers to a more modern house and were planning their retirement when this devastating event occurred. This has been a deeply sad time.

Here in Canada I am now well into my teaching. The one class, which is an elective, has six students in it and the other, which is the Masters in Public Policy Interdisciplinary Seminar, has all 15. As I sit in this building I remain appalled at the amount of space we have and how little it is utilised. Things may change as we are about to have a new director appointed to the Balsillie School of International Affairs. I know how frustrating the position was for the incumbent, who has more than served his time to the best of his ability. Perhaps change will be good for everyone.

At the same time I remain concerned about the ‘uber’ changes in academia. Staff spend less and less time in their offices. There are days when I am one of just two or three people on the entire corridor. Whilst it is personally lonely it makes me wonder about collegiality among younger academics. Maybe the staff teas together were easily mocked and parodied, but they had their function, they were a chance for people to talk, and on occasion fight. This no longer happens in most of the establishments I know. Here there isn’t even a staff lounge to accommodate such sociable activities. One of my colleagues was bringing his delightful Labrador into his office. The dog slept while he worked. This is now banned due to “dog allergies”. I find it upsetting that there is no attempt at accommodation.

This is the last term of the year for the Masters in Public Policy students, in September they are graduated and gone. I don’t think it is a very satisfactory term as they will be away for two weeks on other projects. They were in class for three weeks, then we had the International Law Institute which takes up a full week. This is followed by a teaching week in Waterloo and then the students travel to network and present their material in Ottawa. This is an important learning experience but it does mean that a further teaching week is gone. In addition one of my classes is on a Monday and there are two public holidays on that day in the term. The University suggests that there will be make–up days in early August but frankly I think this is impossible as many may have left by then, and those that remain will not see this as a priority, and I don’t blame them.

I mentioned earlier that we are waiting for the puff of ‘white smoke’ that will indicate the appointment of a new director for the BSIA. Apparently someone has been made an offer, but they have yet to accept it and so we remain in a period of interregnum. The problem is that this place has enough money to keep running but because it is ‘named’ it is hard to raise additional resources, and there is not the funding for research through the BSIA. Staff are expected to apply to the various councils and there is limited success with these applications. On the other hand, for ‘self-starters’ the opportunities are immense. One of my colleagues writes on his own, he is able to be enormously productive as he has a relatively low teaching load and ample peace and quiet.

Here in Waterloo the new mass transit project nears completion. The tracks have been laid, the signalling put in and the trains are running, albeit testing only. It seems there will be at least two months while they are tested and then will open to the public in June. It has been a long project with both time and cost overruns. I am a fan of mass transit and really do hope this gets the use it will need to be viable. Anything which helps reduce the number of cars on the roads needs to be welcomed. In addition to this, over the past year there have been a number of charging stations installed for electric cars. Let us hope this is not too little too late.

This has also been a time of elections in the UK, first those for local government, then those for the European Parliament (which the UK is supposed to have left). The good thing was the success of the Liberal Democrats and the Greens. Labour and the Conservatives were absolutely trounced. It is not clear what this will mean but it has certainly shaken up politics in the UK, and probably across much of Europe. France and Italy went right, the Netherlands left, in Germany the biggest winners were the Greens and Greece just seems to go round and round aimlessly. That last comment is probably a little harsh, and Greek commentators would have a different view.

Films

There are just two cinemas in downtown Waterloo: the Princess (newer and with two screens) and the Princess Original, which is sadly scheduled for demolition. I really like both of them and last weekend went to see the film Tolkien. This was based on the early life of JRR Tolkien, the author of The Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings series. One can never know how true it was as a ‘bio-pic’, but it certainly was moving. The director dwelt on Tolkien’s service during the First World War, and in particular his time on the Somme. It was hinted that many of the characters in his subsequent writing originated from this truly horrible period in human history. I find it impossible to watch films of this type without feeling emotional. I know all too well that my father went through the trenches, starting at the age of 15 or 16. I do not believe he had PTSD, at least to us, is third family. My speculation is that his second war was of such a different order that he managed to get over the first. In the second war he was in the Royal Engineers, mainly in the Middle East and at a senior rank.

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