Family and Travel

March should mark the end of winter in England. There are clear signs that spring is approaching. Some of the trees are covered with blossom. The daffodils in our garden are almost all in full bloom. However, despite the signs that nature is stirring, the weather has been rotten. We experienced periods of sustained strong winds and rain for nearly two weeks at the end of February. The western part of the country has had flood after flood, houses and homes have been wrecked. I find it quite confusing to see car roofs protruding from the middle of floods, surely you can drive a car out of harm’s way.

Of course, the serious floods over the past fifteen or so years meant defenses have been built, and in many cases they have worked. It could have been so much worse. The problem is that there are just too many houses built in vulnerable places (unbelievably on floodplains), and the nature of these storms is that they are ever more intense, a month’s rain in 24 hours. Yes, global warming is real, and it is affecting us in the UK in clear and measurable ways.

I had been organising a lunch in London with our extended family in mid-February. It turned out to be the wildest and windiest weekend of the month and public transport was greatly disrupted. As my sister and her husband are not youthful, canceling the gathering seemed appropriate, and indeed this turned out to be prescient. Fortunately, we made the call to postpone before I finalised the restaurant booking.

My brother, Derek, was passing through London for a day on his way back from the United States to Cape Town, and so we decided to have a smaller lunch the following weekend, on Saturday, 22 February. The plan was for Douglas and I to take the train down to London and meet up with the family at a restaurant they had booked near Notting Hill Gate. This was a central location and gave easy access to and from Heathrow for Derek as he had a limited amount of time.

One of the realities of the railway system in the UK is most major engineering work is done at the weekend. In theory, it means that travel is not too disrupted, at least not for commuters. Before we set off, we knew that we would have to take the train via Cambridge, as opposed to going straight to Liverpool Street. This meant a change and a longer journey time. We were not expecting that both the Circle and District lines on the London Underground would be closed. This, we felt, was not too much of a problem. We simply got on the Central line to travel across the city.

We met in a pub for a quick drink before our lunch booking at Dishoom in Kensington. In the end there were six of us for lunch, although Rowan joined us for a drink before she dashed off to see a show in the West End. The restaurant was an almost industrial style Indian eatery with perhaps 150 to 200 seats. The food was excellent though, and everyone had a pleasant time. It was particularly good to have the chance to catch up with what Derek’s daughters are doing in Manchester and London respectively.

We parted company at about 3pm. My sister recommended Douglas and I walk up to Notting Hill and take the tube from there. When we got to the station, we discovered the gates were barred, there was no way in, and clearly no service. We walked for 15 minutes to the Queensway tube station, the station we had used on the way to lunch, to get the Central line back to Liverpool Street. We walked down the 123 stairs to the platform, only to hear an announcement that the eastbound service had just been cancelled. The reason given was ‘a person on the tracks’. I understand this to mean a suicide. We got back to ground level (using the lifts) and were advised to take a bus.

With the closure of all these underground lines, the pavements were teeming with people trying to travel. There was construction going on next to the bus stop and that meant that the footpath was narrow and packed. We must have been standing hopefully for 15 minutes before a number 94 bus, the one we needed, hove into sight. It was already full. The driver glanced at us and simply and smugly drove past. Plan C was to hail a taxi. There were none to be had in this part of the city. I suggested to Douglas we walk over to the other side of Hyde Park where I thought we would have more luck.

There was a strong wind blowing and it was decidedly chilly as we walked across the park. We strolled to the Albert Hall and passed the Albert Memorial, a truly magnificent edifice. Queen Victoria was devastated by the early death of her husband, the eponymous Albert and sought to memorialise him. Finally, there were taxis with lights indicating they were not occupied. We hailed one and asked for Liverpool Street.

The traffic was a nightmare, again because of the problems with the Underground. The result was the journey took close to 40 minutes and cost a great deal more than I had bargained for. In addition, we were not able to catch the train we wanted. Our journey back to Norwich involved changing trains at both Cambridge and Ely. Fortunately, none were too busy, so we had seats. By the time we got home it was 9 in the evening. I was exhausted. But it was worth doing, we rarely see Emily and Kate.

I recently went for an MRI at the University Hospital. Let me hasten to say this was in the interests of science. We have enrolled in a clinical trial at the University of East Anglia. This goes by the name of the COMBAT trial and is a study on the impact of cranberry on the microbiome, brain and ageing. The scan took just under half an hour and one is required to lie still in the machine for the duration. I am going to assume that I have a brain as the Ph.D. student doing the study assured us if there are any untoward findings, they would let our GP know.

So far I have had blood taken twice and given two specimens of urine and one of feces: different times and different receptacles I am happy to say. We have been tested for cognitive ability and issued sachets of cranberry (or placebo). We take the powder twice a day for the next 12 weeks, at the end of which there will be new measurements taken. I am not certain if we will get much feedback, but it seemed a good thing to do. The cognitive tests seemed complex: following a supermarket trolley down aisles and then pointing to the entrance; guiding a boat through islands and collecting flags; and being able to repeat numbers to the student. However, as it is baseline one does not fail!

In July 2020 the International AIDS Society will be having its conference in San Francisco. The International AIDS Economics Network holds pre-conference meetings ahead of the conference. In 2020 it will be on the 4th and 5th of July. For more details please see, where we will be posting details very soon. In the meantime if you are going to the meeting please put it in your diary.