Lovely Lisbon and Demonstrating in Norwich

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 from the castle (October 2021)

Lisbon from the castle (October 2021)

An example of a mosaic from the Mosaic Museum, Lisbon, Portugal

An example of a mosaic from the Mosaic Museum, Lisbon, Portugal (October 2021)

The Castle Ramparts, Lisbon, Portugal (October 2021)

The Castle Ramparts, Lisbon, Portugal (October 2021)

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.

Photo of the Gaia at St. Peter Mancroft

The Gaia at St. Peter Mancroft, 30 October 2021

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.

Photo of Speakers at the Climate Protest in Norwich in November 2021

Outside City Hall, looking towards the Speakers at the Climate Protest in Norwich (6 November 2021)

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.

The clock ticks

I was shocked to see it has been over a month since I last posted. I have two countdowns going on in my life. The first, at the end of 2021 I will get my last salary cheque. Apart from a few short ‘student type’ jobs, since 1980 I have always had someone paying me a regular income. The short jobs in Swaziland included working for a school book supplier one holiday, and a week as a ‘hanger round’ at the Central News Agency in Mbabane. In the UK I spent a week packing bulbs (tulips and daffodils) etc. in a warehouse, ironically in the industrial site near where we live. I was fired for being too bolshy. I also spent three summer months as a warehouseman in Her Majesty’s Stationery Office. The second milestone is, in March 2022, on my 66th birthday, I become eligible for a British State pension.

Most young people, certainly those under 40, see people aged 50 to 80 here as an exceptionally fortunate generation. This is true for a high proportion of us. We had access to free university education, jobs, and many will get a state pension that, while not hugely generous, is significant. We were able to travel widely. We only became aware of the appalling damage we have wrought on the world, in terms of over exploitation and environmental damage, as we were doing it.

That is a gloomy way to start this blog, however these milestones lead to introspection. I have been incredibly lucky in terms of my career. My first serious job was as an Overseas Development Institute Fellow posted to the Ministry of Finance and Development Planning in Gaborone, Botswana for two and a half years from 1980 to 1983. I was recruited to the Economic Research Unit, at the then University of Natal, in Durban in 1983, and retired at the end of 2013. During that time apartheid ended, Nelson Mandela was elected president, the university became the University of KwaZulu-Natal, and I established the Health Economics and HIV/AIDS Research Division. In January 2014 I joined the Balsillie School of International Affairs in Waterloo Ontario, appointed by Wilfred Laurier University as the CIGI Chair in Global Health Policy, and this is the post I retire from.

The next few months are reasonably busy. I have been invited to talk at a conference in Lisbon. That will be interesting and fun. Most of my career was spent working on socio-economic causes and consequences of HIV and AIDS. I have been trying to apply these lessons to Covid-19, mainly through writing, but also some analysis. It is writing I enjoy most, at least when I am not procrastinating. I do also enjoy giving presentations. A colleague in Waterloo is organising a series of meetings on the theme ‘After the Pandemic’ through The International Centre for Economic Analysis (ICEA) a non-profit, non-partisan organization for advancement of research in economics and other social sciences. It is an international centre with chapters at Wilfrid Laurier University; the University of Warsaw and the University of Sienna. I am also speaking at the Public Health Conference scheduled from December 3-4, 2021.

There have been several fascinating books on Covid published recently. I wrote an editorial/book review for The African Journal of AIDS Research. The books were Richard Horton’s 2020 book, ‘The COVID-19 Catastrophe: What’s gone wrong and how to stop it happening again’;1 Daniel Halperin’s ‘Facing COVID Without Panic: 12 Common Myths and 12 Lesser Known Facts about the Pandemic: Clearly Explained by an Epidemiologist’.2 Michael Lewis’s 2021 book, ‘The Premonition: A Pandemic Story’,3 Jeremy Farrar’s 2021 ‘Spike: The Virus versus the People. The Inside Story’.4 The story of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine by Sarah Gilbert and Catherine Green, ‘Vaxxers’,5 and Adam Tooze’s ‘Shutdown: How COVID-19 Shook the World’s Economy’.6

Over the same period, I read two 2021 books on Trump’s final year in office, both by Washington Post reporters: ‘I Alone Can Fix It: Donald J. Trump’s Catastrophic Final Year’7 and ‘Nightmare Scenario: Inside the Trump Administration’s Response to the Pandemic That Changed History’8 by Yasmeen Abutaleb and Damian Paletta. What we watched, horrified, and dismayed, is captured and analysed in detail in these pages. The key question is: will Trump be a candidate again in 2024?

I am not just reading; I am also writing. I have been collaborating on a series of Covid-19 and HIV and AIDS articles for the Global Fund Observer. I am writing a couple of other longer articles. It is pleasantly busy, and who knows, perhaps they will have some impact. The memoir I started months ago has been on the backburner. However, I am not the only family member writing.

My cousin Caroline Rodgers, who lives in Cape Town, took part in a University of Cape Town summer school on South African involvement in the 1914 – 1918 Great War. A book resulted. ‘One Hundred Years On Personal Stories of the Great War’ compiled by Kathleen Satchwell and Josephine Frater, it is self-published, the ISBN is 978-0-620-77931-9. Carolyn’s contribution covers her grandfathers’ war experience. The grandfather we share was Fred Hodgson. I never knew him as he died in 1952, 4 years before I was born. He was born in 1890 in Sunderland in England. His family emigrated to Kimberley in 1891, where he grew up. He enlisted at the outbreak of the war and was sent to France. He was commissioned, as an officer, in 1917. He was awarded a Military Cross in 1918 and a few months later received a bar to the MC (for readers unacquainted with military matters: if a medal is given, and the authorities want to award a second a bar is attached to the medal).

I re-joined the gym up the road a couple of months ago. On a conference call, a week or so ago, a colleague said there were three possible outcomes from the lock-down: hunk, chunk or drunk. Walking is something I have been rather good about, managing the magic 10,000 steps almost every day, and quite often getting up to 15,000. Cycling is mostly going to town, to the market, and collecting books from my favourite shop Bookbugs and Dragon Tales. The people who own it are happy to drop books off to our home.

The big events we’re going to live theatre and to London. There was a production of Bedknobs and Broomsticks at the Norwich Theatre Royal. There were not many performances. On the first evening there were lots of empty seats. Douglas was going anyway, so Rowan and I decided to buy tickets at the box office. The story is of three children bombed out of London (their parents are killed). Their host is a trainee witch. It was delightful, but one of the real pleasures was the special effects, a flying bed and an undersea scene, quite remarkable.

Ailsa and I went to London on Saturday 9th October. We met my brother, his family and my sister for lunch. The journey involved two trains with a change at Ely. We had not met for several years, thanks to Covid. Derek and Lynn live in Hout Bay in the Cape, their kids are in London and Manchester, Gill is in London. They had not made it to the UK for more than two years and, given her parents are in their eighties, they were keen to come over, even though it included 10 days in a quarantine hotel near Heathrow. It was good to get together. And that is it for this month.


  1. Richard Horton, ‘The COVID-19-19 Catastrophe: What’s gone wrong and how to stop it happening again’, Polity Press, Cambridge 2020.
  2. Daniel T Halperin, ‘Facing COVID Without Panic: 12 Common Myths and 12 Lesser Known Facts about the Pandemic: Clearly Explained by and Epidemiologist’, ISBN9798663024747 https://www.amazon.com/dp/B08D25GQX6
    Adam Tooze, ‘Shutdown: How COVID-19 Shook the World’s Economy’, Alan Lane, London, 2021
  3. Michael Lewis, ‘The Premonition: A Pandemic Story’, Allen Lane. London, 2021 301 pages
  4. Jeremy Farrar and Anjana Ahuja, ‘Spike: The Virus versus the People’, Profile Books, London, July 2021
  5. Sarah Gilbert and Catherine Green, ‘Vaxxers: The Inside Story of the Oxford AstraZeneca Vaccine the Race Against the Virus’. Hodder and Stoughton, London 2021
  6. Adam Tooze, ‘Shutdown: How COVID-19 Shook the World’s Economy’, Alan Lane, London, 2021
  7. Carol Leonnig and Philip Rucker, ‘I Alone Can Fix It: Donald J. Trump’s Catastrophic Final Year’, Penguin Press, New York, 2021
  8. Yasmeen Abutaleb and Damian Paletta ‘Nightmare Scenario: Inside the Trump Administration’s Response to the Pandemic That Changed History’, Harper Collins, London, 2021

What’s next, I ask?

Welcome to the first of my monthly, meandering blogs, put on my website, and emailed to everyone who signed up to receive my news. Let me begin with a warning, this is not primarily about Covid, so you may wish to take yourself off the list. Obviously, I am still following Covid, but no longer closely, and certainly not enough to write regular posts. Having said that here is something everyone should read – “How the risk of side effects could change with Covid-19 vaccine boosters” – we are all, probably going to offered these soon.

Continue reading

Warning: mostly not about Covid-19, but On Operations and Lockdowns

This is not a Covid-19 communique but rather a standard blog post. Don’t feel you have to read on. The reason for the change in emphasis this week is that Covid-19 events simply passed me by. The explanation is that I was engaged with the National Health Service (NHS), finally having elective surgery for an umbilical hernia. It has been a long road to get here, I am relieved to have it sorted.

I have always considered myself fit (but overweight), playing squash, touch rugby and running. A few years ago, I noticed I was developing bulge in my belly button. It was confirmed as an umbilical hernia. All the sources of advice: doctors and the internet recommend these occurrences need to be dealt with, and that means surgery. Two years ago, I arranged to have the hernia operation in Durban. It could have been a day surgery but, stupidly, I decided to spend the night after the operation in the hospital. It was that or go back to the flat. The surgery was straightforward, the hospital experience was not great. Unbelievably the morning began, at 05h30 am, with inappropriately cheerful nurses. I was on a men’s ward where all had more serious conditions and concerns, and felt somewhat fraudulent.

The original surgeon gave me options for the repair. I selected stitching rather than putting in a mesh. This was a mistake, as I realised, when the bulge reappeared some months later. This time I did more homework and consulted with medical professionals in Waterloo, Norwich, and Durban (as well as qualified friends). The consensus was it had to be redone, but with a mesh. In addition, I learnt I would have to wait at least a year before a surgeon would even consider reopening the wound.

Covid-19 meant that, after arriving in Norwich in December 2019, I have not travelled outside the UK or even on a plane for 14 months. (I am seriously tempted to go for a flying lesson as soon as it is permitted just to get in the air!) This in turn necessitated arranging to have the surgery in Norfolk. I began the process and expected to have to wait for at least a year. As it happens it was quicker than that, but my word it became a complicated process, and it has been an insight into the amazing NHS and how they function in time of crisis.

The centre for these surgeries in Norfolk is the James Paget Hospital. This is in Gorleston on the Norfolk coast, about 50 minutes (or 30 miles) away. The process involved visits for assessments, an MRI scan, a Covid test and other ancillary events. The surgery was originally scheduled for January 2021. However, the government unwisely relaxed restrictions in England at Christmas, and the number of cases soared. On 8th January 2021, they peaked at 68,192 up from just 12,386 on 12th December 2020. The hospital called me to say, regrettably, the surgery would be postponed. I expected this!

I was quite happy to wait, after all it was elective, and not urgent. The next, and unexpected development was the hospital called and offered me a date, at a private hospital in Colchester, some 60 miles away. One of the ways the NHS is trying to manage their waiting list is to outsource some procedures to the private sector. I declined the option and eventually heard from the local surgeon who said that the surgery could be scheduled for 2nd March. As an aside the number of new Covid-19 cases across the UK on that day was 6,411.

On the day, I had to get to the hospital by 7 am. Ailsa drove me down and dropped me off. I checked in to the day procedure ward and was wheeled into the theatre at 11 am. I had hoped it would be earlier. This delay was entirely my fault. When we got up, just before 5 am, I had a cup of tea with milk in it. Note to self: read the instructions carefully and follow them! I could have had water or black tea; it was the milk that was the issue!

Apart from extra hygiene precautions and wearing masks, the part of the hospital I was in appeared to be functioning normally. There is a separate terribly busy Covid section. The biggest obvious difference is visitors are not allowed at all. This makes for a very much quieter environment. The day procedure centre was active, but not manic and the nursing staff were caring, professional and calm. Everything went smoothly and, after passing urine, (a non-negotiable apparently) I was discharged in the evening. I left with a ‘goody bag’ of everything I needed for post-operative self-care.

My ‘N’ for hernia operations is now 2. The first was an incision while this second was done laparoscopically, through five places on my stomach. I had to take a few painkillers, far fewer than prescribed. Generally, I have been fine although getting up and lying down have been challenging. In addition, I was given about 10 preloaded syringes with blood thinning medication, to inject into my stomach. Not a pleasant process. I have been really impressed by the standard of service in the NHS despite the Covid-19 crisis. This also needs to be seen against the backdrop of a public sector pay freeze except for nurses, who have been offered a derisory 1%. They are furious, feeling it as a slap in the face, and I quite understand. I recognize the need for fiscal conservatism to pay for the Covid-19 response. It has cost billions, not just care costs, but also keeping families and supporting the furlough programme so people have jobs to return to. This stingy pay offer to core staff stinks.

I have taken several lessons from this experience. The first is to read and follow instructions carefully. Second is that the health service is amazing. Even when it is under immense pressure, people are seen and treated. At the same time as this was going on, the government is rolling out a vaccination campaign. I was able to go online and book both the appointments I need, the first on 12th March and the second three months later. My hub is the Food Court, in the currently shuttered, Castle Mall Shopping Centre in Norwich.

I do have a few quibbles though. The main one is about ‘joined-up’ thinking. The provision of a decent health system is part of the social contract, but the major challenge faced by humankind is climate change. I have been taken aback by the use of resources in the health service, much of which probably can’t be recycled. I was given 14 disposable syringes, each in separate plastic wrapping. It may be that there are no options! However the instructions and pamphlets were on recycled paper.

I have talked before about how fortunate I feel we are. We have a home, an income, and a family close at hand. The children are coping with this as well as anyone. My extended family are all OK, although no one is very happy. In addition to that, our environment is changing in two significant ways. First with regard to Covid-19, the numbers are falling, and the vaccination programme is working very well. Second, there are signs of spring. I can see the first leaves beginning to bud on the rose bushes and today we spotted blossom on the trees in the neighbour’s garden. It is still chilly but there are signs of spring.

This good fortune was brought home to me when we walked to a local shop to get some essentials and the Observer newspaper. The rule is only one person from a household should go in and so I waited outside. There is a ‘security guard’ at the entrance to make sure people wear masks and sanitise their hands. I think he is from Norwich. I started chatting with him and this is his story: he worked on cruise ships out of Fort Lauderdale in Florida and was also paid as an American Football Player. I know this may come as a shock to readers of this blog, but there is a league in the UK and Norwich has a team which he was part of before going off adventuring. He said he played in Australia, before going on to join a team in Vladivostok in Eastern Russia. Covid put an end to this, and I think he was lucky to get back to Norwich. I would never have known any of this. What a story. The next instalment will be interesting, and I am looking forward to it. End of personal stuff, some COVID-19 coverage next.

Continue reading

Covid-19 Watch: Back and Forth, Up and Down: A Deadly Dance

Prepared by Professor Alan Whiteside, OBE, Chair of Global Health Policy, BSIA, Waterloo, Canada & Professor Emeritus, University of KwaZulu-Natal – www.alan-whiteside.com

Introduction

This year marked the first time since 1992 that I was not involved in the International AIDS Conference, organised by the Geneva-based International AIDS Society (IAS). It was scheduled to be held in Oakland, San Francisco, and would have attracted up to 25,000 delegates. I would have been amongst them. I was on the IAS Governing Council for 12 years, the last four as Treasurer, so my heart went out to the staff, executive and Governing Council. This will have been a blow. However, there was a swift pivot and the virtual meeting included a great deal of material on Covid. I watched online presentations and will refer to some. It is clunky, but will improve. One panel, highlighted below: “COVID beyond the health”.

This week it is time to reflect on the Covid-19 numbers and how they have changed over the past few months. There have been significant changes in the ‘hotspots’, however the global trend is, tragically, upwards. The two clear messages are: there needs to be constant vigilance against the introduction of new cases, which has been seen in New Zealand and Australia, as well as outbreaks in some European countries; the second is the rate of spread can be exceptionally rapid.
Continue reading

Covid-19 Continues

For the past two months I have not written my usual personal blog for my website. There is a reason for this, the Covid-19 pandemic. Covid-19 is the greatest global challenge I have seen. It could be outstripped by a climate catastrophe, but for now it is all consuming. Given the work I have done on HIV and AIDS I am supposed to know a bit about pandemic diseases. It is worth remembering that like AIDS, Covid-19 is a retrovirus that transferred across the species barrier into humans. AIDS was recognised as a new disease in 1981. There were scares with SARS, Ebola, Zika and MERS, but none developed into a major pandemic.

In four short months Covid-19 has claimed over 250,000 lives and infected more than 3,500,000 million people. I began posting a weekly communique on Covid-19 to share what we know and need to know. This replaced the personal monthly blog I have written for more than 10 years. You have, along with several other hundred people, signed up for the communique and now you are getting this additional piece, so please feel free to delete it.

I originally wrote the monthly offering because I had something to say and share. It was just two sides of an A4 sheet when printed, and the reason was to keep the price of postage down.

“Ah ha”, I hear, “But it is on the website and sent electronically, so what is this postage business?”

Well, several of my elderly relatives are either self-confessed luddites or just lack technological skills, and don’t have email, so it was printed and posted to them. Yes, in an envelope with stamps on.

Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

The end is nigh

It is many years since I included a ‘round robin’ in with Christmas cards and this, lazily, also constitutes my blog post for December. There is a good reason this year. I have significant news and don’t want to leave people out, or have to write it in all the cards I send.

You may recall in January 2014 I joined the Balsillie School in Waterloo, Ontario as a full time member of faculty. It is complicated appointment. My salary is paid by Wilfrid Laurier University, but I work at the Balsillie School of International Affairs. Here I was, according to my letter of appointment, employed to teach two courses per year, and carry out the other responsibilities of a senior academic, including researching, writing and publishing.

About two years ago the University unilaterally, and with very little consultation, decided to change the conditions of service. They were, of course, made less favourable for academics. Of particular concern was the doubling of our teaching commitment. I came here because I had not, in 30 years as an academic, taught (two years of teaching one course at the University of Natal on Southern African Development in 1984 and 1985 had receded to a distant memory). I wanted to see what it would be like to work with and teach MA and PhD students. The idea of supervising a thesis from start to finish was intriguing, and I am happy to report that I did manage to do that with one student.

This new demand regarding teaching made staying in Waterloo problematic in the long term. I neither had courses prepared, nor much guidance on what to do. In addition to more teaching being mandatory my academic cohort was assured, when we signed up in 2012 and 2013, there would be research money available to us, without too many hoops to leap through. This promise evaporated like the dew in the Kalahari in January, although it was not entirely the fault of the university but rather the shocking behaviour of one of the other ‘partners’. In addition to this moving the goalposts, a part of the university bureaucracy was irrational to me. I have every intention of writing about this in due course.

Continue reading

Frying in Norfolk

Anyone who denies climate change, and more specifically, global warming, is seriously wrong. At the end of August we had record temperatures in Norwich. Fortunately it cooled down in the evenings so sleeping has not been too difficult. However, this summer the rowan tree in the front garden died from a mixture of disease and heat stress. Ailsa has been using the water from the rain butts to keep some of her favourite plants alive, but it is an uphill battle. It presents a dismal picture and I really wonder what the next 10 to 20 years will hold. I am increasingly aware of my contribution to this crisis, particularly through flying, but I do not consider myself to be a flamboyant consumer of other things.

Having said that, I have to begin this blog by reflecting on my travelling over the past month. My final class in Waterloo was on 30th July. I had to complete the marking and submit the marks by 8th August. I was able to do this, and almost all of the students should have been pleased with the outcome. The temperatures and humidity gradually rose in Waterloo, and I was glad to be heading for Norwich. I did not realise how hot Norwich was going to be.

I travelled over on Sunday 11th August, flying via Amsterdam. Toronto to Amsterdam is not all that long, just 7½ hours. This is not long enough to take a sleeping pill, so I sat and watched the film ‘Red Joan’. This was about a British woman who became a Soviet spy in the 1940s and 50s. Oddly I was reading a book called ‘And Is There Honey Still For Tea?’, by Peter Murphy, set in the same time period and covering the same topics. It is hard to believe how much skullduggery there was going on then. I guess it is still happening, with electronic surveillance playing an ever-increasing role.

Continue reading

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.

Continue reading