New Decade! New Life?

The 1st January 2020 marks the start of a new decade as well as a New Year. I am aware that some purists (or pedants) think that the decade does not actually officially start until 1st January 2021, I am not part of that group. This is it! A new decade!

The next year will be interesting, I need to adapt my lifestyle. The first order of business will be getting used to living full time in Norwich. At the moment I have absolutely no travel planned for the next calendar year. As I am on sabbatical I don’t have to think about teaching but I am ‘on the books’ to the end of 2021. What should I do? This will become clearer in the next few months.

I returned to the UK on the 23rd December, just ahead of Christmas. My last few weeks in Waterloo were crammed with wrapping up the term and students and seeing and saying goodbye to friends. I also had to pack up the apartment for rental. Fortunately, I had help. The estate agent who is handling it for me, Dave McIntyre, is hopeful it can be let furnished. This means crockery, cutlery, furniture, linen and books were left out, but could be packed away if necessary. Dave is the chap who sold me the place originally and who will take care of the sale in due course. He is not just an estate agent but a decent and trustworthy person.

I did not write about this in my last post (not enough room), but at the end of November I went, with my friend Dana, to the event Dining with the Dead! This was held at the Kitchener Museum which had a themed exhibition on the afterlife. The way it was advertised was as a

“one of a kind dining experience! To coincide with the Exhibition at THEMUSEUM, we’re hosting Psychic Medium Kerrilynn Shellhorn (who) will utilize her strong connection to the other side to bring messages from lost loved ones while you dine on a delicious 3 course dinner.”

The food was excellent and the service great. The séance was, well, medium. There were about 35 diners. Only a few were given messages from the departed. I was not convinced but will chalk it up as an interesting experience.

I crossed the threshold of two religious establishments in December. On the 1st I went with friends to Vespers at an Anglican Church in Waterloo. It was a very standard Anglican service and, although the congregation was small, there was a rather good choir. Two weeks later and, for the first time, I attended a Unitarian church service. The reason was that a friend, Rich Hrytzak, was conducting the choir. I can’t even begin to explain what Unitarianism is, but the music was fantastic and there was a real sense of community. Coffee and cake were served in the large basement after the service. Rich is not only a musician and conductor; he is also co-owner of Counterpoint Brewery in Kitchener, which produces great and eclectic local beer.

This was not the sum of Christmas activities though. My friends from Guelph include Susan and Craig Hudson. She is a keen and excellent chorister who sings with the Grand Philharmonic Choir. She was in a production of The Messiah at the Centre in the Square, a largish local theatre. Craig and I went together. He is a psychiatrist in the region, both are good fun. The production was excellent. I particularly loved the fact that the audience stood, as one, for The Hallelujah Chorus. The reason is that in 1743 King George is supposed to have got to his feet at this point in the production. According to protocol, everyone must stand and remain standing until the monarch sits down. I believe this happens in every production across the world. It is a fitting tribute for such a great chorus.

Friday the 13th is considered by some to be an inauspicious day. I wanted to hold a final party before I left Waterloo. Fitting it in was a problem, so many people were busy so it had to be on the 13th. Again I have to pay tribute to my friends Dana and Amanda who organised the whole thing. They sent invitations and helped with preparation. In the end there were probably 50 people. I had no idea who was coming so there were a number of pleasant surprises. David and Debbie Zakus made their way up from Toronto. Jonty Crush, who has known me for over 50 years, was there. It was a great evening. I felt very blessed to have so many friends make the effort on a cold December night.

I had about a week’s worth of marking from the two courses. For the MA programme the final piece of work was a ‘journal type’ article. Over the term the students wrote a blog, which they could post on my website if they so wished; a book review, and if the book related to AIDS, was recent and the review was decent it was submitted to the African Journal of AIDS Research; and finally the article. They had freedom on all three as long as they related to the course topics. There were many interesting articles, ranging from food security in Canada to cyber attacks on health services. The undergraduate students’ final assignment was to prepare and present a policy brief. Some were outstanding. The one that sticks in my mind most was a proposed intervention to reduce pedestrian deaths in Toronto through road markings and street furniture adaption.

Overall the teaching was enjoyable. The undergraduate class from 7 to 9.30 pm was hard. It is too late for me and the students were flagging by the end. I am glad I won’t have to do this again. There is a huge gap in knowledge, which is of course why I am there. Of greater concern is the gap in expectations. What does it mean to get a mark for participation? What is the marking range; 0 to 100, 50 to 100, or 70 to 100? The issue of grade inflation was really striking, and I don’t know what should be done about it, but now I don’t have to do anything!

The Masters’ students suggested they bring in food for the final class as a potluck. We established there were only going to be 7 students in town for the class. We are not allowed to bring alcohol into the building, so I suggested I take them to the Black Hole at the Perimeter Institute for a celebratory lunch with wine. It was a good way to end the year. The previous week I gave each student a book that captured me when I was their age. There were 15 students in the group, and I got five each of The Little Prince, The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, and Candide. I wrote a short, individualised message which I hope will be a reminder of a great group of students.

Two dear friends, Asia Nelson, a yoga teacher teacher (i.e. someone who trains the teachers), and her partner, Matt Yagar, were unable to make it to the party. I wanted to see them, so we had a dinner for eight on the 15th. That was the last engagement in the flat. Two days later the carpets and all the upholstery were professionally cleaned by a local team. I arranged with the lady who cleans for me to come in and do a major spring clean once I had left. It all seemed to come together with ease. I wonder what did not get done? I am sure there were things on the list.

So what will I miss from Waterloo and Canada? The post ends with some reflections. The people: over the years I have made some good friends and it was hard to say goodbye and know I won’t see them for over a year. Life goes on though. Among them are Sarah Stone, an activist, and her husband Raja Stone, a Minister. Sarah pushed the salon idea. Without her these would not have happened. They covered a range of topics and, hopefully, planted ideas, I know I learnt a great deal. I will miss the restaurants and the staff: mentions go to Ainsley, Miranda and Dan at Red House, Rochel at Formosa, Public and Proof. Over the years I got to know the staff in a number of shops: the eponymous Bob of Bob’s Value Mart; David and the team at Wordsworth Books, that rarity an independent bookshop, who kindly kept a copy of the Observer for me and who could order in almost anything. The bank was always exceptionally helpful – thank you Scotiabank.

Of course, it was not all good. Over the next few months I will deconstruct some of the things that caused me concern or that were upsetting. I look forward to writing about them. Perhaps the main issue was waste. Waterloo and the people are, mostly, rich in possibility and resources. The challenge is to make the best possible use for the greater good. It does not happen.

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