When I left Ontario in early May, the snow was gone but the temperature was not reliably warm! This was true of Norwich as well, although during the last week of May there were days when I was able to sit in my shed in the garden, wearing a short sleeved shirt, with the door open. It is actually surprisingly close and humid sometimes in this part of England. In a month the tennis at Wimbledon will begin. In order to meet traditions there should be strawberries available by then. The plants outside my door are in flower, so I will be able to watch the berries develop and ripen.
When I am here the dog comes and invites me to kick tennis balls across the lawn for her every few hours. This is a good way of giving her exercise. The other options are to drive to the forest, which takes time, or walk along hot and boring pavements. She is elderly now so she gives up the game before I do. Her sign that she has had enough is to go the side of the garden, have a drink, and then slink off behind the garage. She is getting deaf and a little short sighted. This means towards the end of the game, it is not so much ‘kicking balls for the dog’ but ‘kicking balls to the dog’.
The garden is a riot of colour. I don’t know very many of the plants, which is a pity, but the flowers are amazing and the plantings effective. The birds are singing their hearts out. When we first moved into the house the garden was quite barren, and there certainly was not the birdlife there is now. There are open containers of water placed strategically under various bushes for birds and insects. One was teeming with tadpoles. We have purposefully left ‘wild’ areas, and this is where the frogs hide out, so it is good to see the next generation in the making. A few evenings ago I went out after a heavy rain shower and saw two rather large frogs. Their visibility was due to a combination of the rain and the fact the light outside my office was on and attracting insects, a buffet.
The past month has been one of some introspection. This post was written over the Easter weekend. On the Saturday I went to the Kitchener Farmer’s Market. When I first came to this dorpie (the Afrikaans word for a small town), I used to go every Saturday. I now manage with a visit every two weeks, the advantage of having a huge freezer (which came with the apartment, by the way) is manifest.
I have a very predictable route. I park in the underground area, go up to the level where the stalls are, and then follow a strict path. The first person I visit is Pat from Hamilton. He sells a range of olives and pickled vegetables. In my opinion his most interesting product is the olives stuffed with garlic. They are a real assault on the taste buds. We have got to know each other over the years and so first names are used. From there it’s a quick turnaround and across the aisle to the egg stand. This is run by an older couple who do not seem to have much of a sense of humour. I have yet to see them smile. If you can visualise the famous painting ‘American Gothic’ you will get the picture.
I then go to the fishmongers, right next to the butcher I use. Interestingly enough on Saturday they had none of the fish varieties that I would choose, they said their suppliers were out of stock. The fish I enjoy most when I am in Geneva, or indeed anywhere in Switzerland, is something called filet de lac, literally fish of the lake. I believe that this is caught in one of the great Lakes and now flown from Canada to Switzerland. I tried to buy a couple of different varieties to make an interesting fish stew.
It has been an interesting month in Canada. Most of February was extremely cold, in the minus numbers. However there was one day in mid-February when the temperature rose to 14°C, and again, at the end of the month, it was unseasonably warm. Up until then the ground was covered with a layer of snow, and as there were frequent falls, albeit not very much, it looked fresh and white. While it is beautiful, it makes the place looks sterile. This gives rise to a problem I had not anticipated for dog owners. One of the people in the apartment block lives on my floor. He has an excitable and energetic dog, and takes it out regularly to do its business. This means we occasionally meet, (the dog, owner and I), in the elevator. Apparently, he told me, if there are no smells, then the dog is less likely to perform. I suggested that he (the owner) could assist providing scent, this was not seen as a feasible option.
On the day that the temperature was so high, there were also the first signs of spring: amazing, jubilant birdsong. For some reason the sparrows really like hanging out on the side of the building, and in the bushes on the paths. They were chirping their little hearts out when I walked home for lunch. This reminded me of a nonsense rhyme my mother used to quote when we were children. I can’t find a definitive source for it, so I hope it is out of copyright.
Spring is sprung the grass is riz
I wonder where the birdie is
The bird is on the wing?
I always thought the wing was on the bird.
There is quite a lot of music in the town. I suggested to friends we go to the Huether Hotel to listen to jazz. I thought I had bought tickets for ‘The Tim Moher Octet’ playing ‘jazz and some “Celtic Jazz” originals with a sprinkling of favourite standards in this evening of eclectic music from funk, soft jazz, to straight ahead jazz tunes’. None of us was terribly impressed by the music. It turned out, on Monday, when I got an email saying “Don’t forget you have tickets for the Jazz Room this Friday”, that we had actually listened to ‘The Rob Gellner Tentet’! No wonder it was different from what we expected. Basically we went a week before we should have. And no one checked the tickets. Can you believe it! It was embarrassing. The Huether is no longer a hotel, but rather contains number of bars and restaurants, catering to most tastes. It is very old by Waterloo standards – parts of the building date from 1855.
This final note for 2017 will be posted just before the end of the year. It was written over a couple days after Christmas, and before I travelled to Canada on the 29th December. I have been in the UK for three weeks, flying over at the end of the first week of December. We celebrated Christmas in Norwich. My sister came up from London for the holiday. On the actual day Rowan and her partner Ben drove across the city for the big meal.
Rowan had suggested we go to her house as she is, at the moment, fostering three young cats. The poor creatures were feral and they are taking time to get used to people. After much thought we decided to have everything in our house. We feared the festivities, and number of people, might have been a bit much for nervous cats. We had a really great meal. Ben introduced me to ‘pigs in blankets’, sausages wrapped in bacon, a real treat for the only two carnivores. Everyone else is vegetarian so the rest of the meal was a vegetarian feast.
Unusually everyone got gifts they really wanted. I made a point of sending out my wish list early in the month, but still had complaints because I had not specifically told the family who should buy what! One of the themes of my gifts was maps. Gill bought an old, 1952, ordinance survey map of Norfolk and a scratch World Map, the idea being that the gilt overlay gets scratched off every country one has visited. Ailsa got me a jigsaw puzzle of Norwich, which I am looking forward to assembling.
I began writing this posting on a holiday weekend in Canada. It turned out to be rather traumatic and it was entirely my own fault. On Friday, before going to work, I shoved an exploratory finger up my, nose. This was a really bad idea. Blood started to pour out in an impressive and steady stream. After an hour and a half of pinching my nose, icing it (the most effective form of ice I had was a bottle of vodka from the freezer, which worked surprisingly well in terms of providing the maximum coverage), and trying other remedies, (including) those I found with a quick Google search, I knew I needed help. As Tony Hancock put it in “The Blood Donor”:
‘I had lost close to an arm full’.
It was a prolific nose bleed.
I caught a taxi and headed for the Grand River Hospital, which is actually within walking distance of the apartment. It did not make sense to walk with a stream of crimson coming from my nose. Fortunately, the majority of the towels I have in the house are red; in fact blood red. This meant I was able to carry something with me to absorb the gore. When I got to the hospital I was checked in with the triage nurse, details were taken and I was labelled. Mine said: “Stupid older white male who does not know how to pick his nose – no rush”.
The beginning of April saw the winter term drawing to a close. My last day of teaching was Monday 10th, which as it turned out was also the last day of term. I had not realised that. A pity, because I had a panel of colleagues from the community to talk about wellbeing. The class was not all there, some having started travelling on their spring breaks. Indeed not all those that attended were mentally there either – they were thinking about deadlines, assignments and perhaps even holidays. When, the previous week, the second course I taught ended, and the class went to the pub, I was very touched that they invited me to join them. I should have gone.
The weather has finally begun warming up here in Waterloo. It is now possible to walk around without a winter coat on, although a jersey is still necessary. The squirrels are increasingly active and migratory birds are returning. We are all looking forward to spring and summer, and it really does feel as though it is imminent. What happens is that the temperature fluctuates widely. It has been as high as 18ᵒc one day and as low as -10ᵒ the next night. I wonder how the animals cope; the trees on the other hand, seem, rightly, rather reticent to bud.
I have had a very busy few weeks. On 7 March we had Stephen Lewis come and sit on a panel with a number of students and faculty members. He is extremely well known in Canada, and more broadly as an exceptional humanitarian. The auditorium was packed and a number of organisations placed tables outside to advertise their activities to the assembled company. It is good to be able to facilitate these events; it is part of building a community here in Waterloo.
In the middle of February I greatly enjoyed sitting in my office or my apartment and watching the snow fall. It was quite magical. In total we probably had about 10 cm, enough to cover the ground and make everything into a winter wonderland. Normally here there is a period when the ground is covered by grey snow as it slowly melts. In the corner of the parking lots there are piles of the white stuff, bulldozed there by the clearance teams. This year it warmed up from about the 18th of February and most of the snow disappeared very rapidly. I woke one morning to see a digger loading the snow into large trucks in our apartment parking lot. It is taken away and dumped somewhere. There must have been at least six or seven loads. It was probably necessary to do this, because the piles take a very long time to melt, and the snow was heaped in the guest parking. It provided an insight into the workings of Canada in the winter, and perhaps even into the cost, as I’m sure this service will appear on the bill.
It is most unusual for the first of the month of the year to have come and gone without my having prepared a new blog. I’m not quite certain what happened. I can only think it was a combination of the pressure of teaching and preparation which distracted me. There is quite a lot to report, both events of the past month and ones for the next few months. I have been, and will continue to be, busy.
Normally when I post on the website I comment, at the end, on films I have seen or books I have read. This month’s post unusually begins with the two films I watched on the flight from Amsterdam to Johannesburg in early November. The first was the new Ken Loach film I, Daniel Blake. It was excellent, thought provoking and depressing. The story is of a 59 year old scaffolder who is unable to work because of a heart problem. He is caught in a bureaucratic nightmare of not getting the state benefits he should, because he is deemed fit enough to look for work. It is a searing indictment of the failure of the welfare state, increasingly the case in the UK. This is the result of global trends to elect people who don’t care, at least not in the way I was brought up. It made me ask what I would do if I had power, probably a basic income grant for all.
In Durban I am sharing the car with Rowan, who has travelled over to spend five months in South Africa. She has two days’ work a week in Umhlanga, so on those days I walk. There was a youngish white man, on crutches, begging on the street a few hundred metres from the flat. I asked him over to tell me his story and, in exchange, gave him a decent amount of money. He said he was a welder by trade. He lost the lower part of his left leg in a motor accident a few years ago. He said he was trying to scrape together enough money to replace his identity document in order to get work. He is living with his wife and child in one room in the town centre. How much of that was true? I don’t know. South Africa is a harsh society for people who don’t have resources.