I went to my first conference in nearly two years last month. It was fantastic for many reasons: a chance to get out of the UK; visit a new country and city; meet with colleagues; catch up with developments in the field; and above all be reminded of what we had lost. My word I enjoyed myself. The primary purpose of the trip was to attend the International Association of Providers in AIDS Care’s (IAPAC) Fast-Track Cities 2021 Conference.
To their credit the conference organizers included Covid-19 in the programme. My presentation, which I shared with Corey Prachniak-Rincon, an IAPAC staffer, was on ‘Exploring Legal, Public Policy, and Finance Dimensions of Health Responses.’ The take-home messages were not encouraging, until Covid is on the decline, HIV will not be a priority, even though it (HIV) is not going away. The number of HIV infections continues to rise.
Getting to and from Lisbon was not a joyful experience. There are still virtually no flights from Norwich airport, so I had to take the train to Stansted and fly on Ryanair, a cost cutting, budget airline. Getting to Stansted was not problematic, there is a train from Norwich to the airport that takes just over an hour and a half. The check-in was straight forward, the flight packed and boring. I got into Lisbon at about 19h00 and went straight to the hotel.
Lisbon was so interesting I decided to spend a couple of extra days there. Changing the ticket was not difficult, but I ran into an unexpected problem before flying. I tried and tried to check in online and failed miserably. When I got to the airport, very early, I went to the Ryanair desk to find out what had gone wrong. I was then told I could never have checked in online. I don’t entirely understand why, but I spent two hours more than needed at the airport. Unfortunately Ryanair operates out of Lisbon’s Terminal Two which is threadbare and crowded.
The documentation required to travel included passenger locator forms for both Portuguese and British authorities, Covid vaccination documents and the results of the Covid test. I also took out insurance, with my local travel agent, in case anything went wrong. To the best of my knowledge the only document physically checked was the UK passenger locator form, and that was by the Ryanair staff in Lisbon. I suspect information is shared electronically by all who are interested. I find having to collect and collate all these forms to be extremely stressful. It is also expensive, a disincentive for travel. This is a good thing for the environment but is discriminatory against poorer people. As well as documentation we had to wear face masks from the time of entering to exiting the airports.
Unfortunately, arriving back at Stansted, I discovered that there were no direct trains to Norwich at that time of the evening. I was advised to go from the airport towards London, Bishops Stortford station. From there I got a train to Cambridge, changed to go to Stowmarket, and changed again for the Norwich train. The total journey time was about three hours, so it was not too bad. All the journeys were with Greater Anglia and time, in new and comfortable rolling stock so no complaints.
Lisbon is a delightful city. The conference was from Wednesday to Friday, so Saturday and Sunday were spent wandering around. Saturday was spent walking round the old part of the city. On Sunday I did more touristy things, visiting a ceramics museum and the castle at the centre of the city. The castle comprises imposing walls enclosing, probably, two or three acres. It is possible to climb up and walk around on the ramparts. The ascent is rewarded by some amazing views. It was my intention to visit the cathedral. I asked various people for directions and ended up at an imposing cathedral-like building. I walked all the way round looking for a way in, but to no avail. Then I spotted the notice at the door giving the opening times. It is not, wait for it, open on a Sunday, so my guess is it was not the cathedral. Unusually I have included some photographs with this post.
The hotel, in a modern area to the north of the city, was comfortable and had a wonderful roof-top bar, on the 16th floor, that gave a view across the city and out to sea. They had a small menu that included Prego’s, a steak sandwich. This was one of the staples of eating out in Swaziland (Eswatini) in my youth. That was what I had more than once in the five nights there. It was delicious, as well as being something of a blast from the past.
The conference speakers were taken to the ‘Clube de Jornalistas’ for dinner. The building and gardens were magnificent, wonderful high ceiled rooms with wood panelling and sweeping staircases. According to their website
‘You don’t need to be a member of Lisbon’s ‘Clube de Jornalistas’ (‘the Press Club’) to visit this restaurant, and it’s really worth it!’
I concur, I was at a table with a group of, mainly IAPAC, staff and we had a delightful evening of wide-ranging conversations.
It was so nice to be at a conference with colleagues. While I am glad we are going to change the way we do things, in person meetings cannot be totally replaced, and nor should they. This was an attempt at a blended model with online attendance and people able to look at sessions at their convenience. The curse of this will be the requirement to have passwords.
Back in Norwich this has been a period of attending events. Rowan and I are great fans of the Rocky Horror Picture Show and have seen it a few times. A touring production came to our theatre, and we bought tickets. It turned out Rowan’s partner’s dad is also a huge fan and so his parents joined us. We agreed to meet for a pre-performance meal. While sitting in the restaurant Rowan’s phone rang, she glanced at it, saw it was a friend in Durban and declined the call. A few moments later it buzzed with an incoming message. This was to tell her that Durbanite, Jessica Sole was in Norwich to perform in the, yes, the Rocky Horror Show. The Sole family were part of our circle in Durban and Rowan was friends with the two children, one of whom was Jessica. What a small world it is.
Douglas enjoys, and is knowledgeable about, the James Bond franchise and so at the weekend we went to see No Time to Die. The previous evening, we had watched the previous Bond film, Spectre, at home in order, I think, to follow the story. This was pure escapism, and both were highly entertaining. As an aside the cinema we went to charges only £4.99 per ticket for everyone. The act of simply going to a cinema was liberating. The show was popular, but few people wore masks.
Prior to the film Ailsa and I went into Norwich to join the Climate march, part of a Global Day of Climate Crisis action. It began at the city hall with about 45 minutes of speeches and then the 500+ protesters, and us, marched (straggled would be a better word), though the city streets. It was good to be part of this and see so many people engaged. Unfortunately, I think the majority were older, and while we need to take responsibility for the crisis we are not going to be around to fix it. The previous week we had looked at an amazing representation of the world in St Peter Mancroft, the second largest church in Norwich. I include a picture of this, and one of the marchers at city hall.
There were numerous banners and placards held up by the marchers. They included some for the Socialist Workers’ Party. This evolved from the International Socialists and was formerly established in 1977, my second year at university. I well remember the debates in the Student Union and the battles with other left-wing groups, such as the communists. They never had a significant impact, but it was interesting to see they have survived; indeed, the hard-core supporters still sell the newspaper on Gentleman’s Walk every Saturday. I wonder if this will have any impact, certainly the UK’s Conservative Government seems morally bankrupt and despite COP26 the hopes for real change here seem remote. Unbelievably there are plans for a new coal mine to be opened in the north of the country.