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

Farewells and Coincidences

In July 2018 I went to my last Governing Council meeting at Waterford Kamhlaba United World College (WK) where I have been a Governor for 24 years. I thought I would weep at the farewell cocktail party. To my surprise I did not. Perhaps this was because of the example of fellow Governor Derek Blackman retiring after nine years. Derek never tires of reminding me that, in the minutes of the meeting where he was nominated, a Governor (in fact me) remarked this was a mistake as he was based in the UK and would not travel to the meetings. He attended all 27 meetings during his tenure and made a great contribution. It was, however, an emotional evening. I posted my farewell remarks on my website, not because they were earth-shattering, but because I put thought into them and they are reflective.

I stayed at the Mountain Inn which has become my home in eSwatini. It is at the top of the Ezulwini Valley and has magnificent views. I was particularly glad to spend time with Quinton Reissmann, who was at St Mark’s primary school with me. He is currently a teacher at WK, having worked mainly in government schools in Swaziland. We are both grey (him more than me because he has hair). When I am with him I feel the years fall away.

The hotel has five new rooms. They were good enough to put me in the largest, not that I needed the space. The new rooms were not the biggest change, a couple of months ago it was announced that the country was changing its name from Swaziland to Eswatini. In this, and future writing I will refer to past events as having happened in Swaziland, but from now, if it is something new, I will talk about Eswatini. I had a very African experience, as I was walking down to the room one evening I felt a thump on my upper arm. I wondered what it was: a large moth? When I got to the room I glanced to down and to the left. There was a little gecko riding, contentedly, on my shoulder!

Continue reading

Driving and relaxing

I finished teaching in Konstanz on Friday 3rd November. Rowan arrived on the Wednesday before this. The cancellation of a train from Zurich Airport meant she got in sometime later than we hoped. As predicted by the family, she got the bedroom and I took over the sofa bed in the apartment’s lounge. This made sense since I get up frequently during the night. She had only two full days in the town and we went to Friedrichshafen and the Spa, both second visits for me, but no less enjoyable. She came to class on the Friday, my last session. All students produced blog posts, those who wanted, have them posted with this blog.

On Saturday 4th November we flew from Zurich to Amsterdam and stayed in an Ibis Budget hotel not far from the airport. The actual hotel was very basic but entirely fine, the rooms sleep three people with a bunk bed arrangement over the double bed. There should, perhaps, be a warning “Beware of falling children”.

It seemed a very remote spot and I was not confident of our ability to get into the city. The receptionist said confidently that there was a bus stop across the road, and the bus, a number 193, went punctually every 15 minutes. I expected a lonely pole on the banks of a drainage ditch, but instead it was a busy barn sized structure with numerous buses. All we had to do was cross four lanes of traffic. We went to Leidseplein near the centre of Amsterdam, found a decent restaurant, enjoyed a good meal, and got the bus back with no difficulty at all.

Continue reading

Road Trips, Plane Trips and Entrepreneurs

It has been an interesting and active four weeks. I travelled to South Africa in the middle of the month. The weekend before the journey we drove to Kent, to visit my half-sister Pat, who is 24 years older than me. Unfortunately her husband, David, was in hospital for a hernia operation. This did not go well initially. He has recovered now, but he was in hospital for the entire time we were there. His misfortune meant their children, who are slightly younger than me, were about. We had a lunch, with all my siblings present and then with members of Pat and David’s family. It was a four drive from Norwich. Going down the traffic uses the bridge across the Thames at Blackwall, coming back we drove thought the tunnel. These are both tolled, but there was a transponder on the car we hired which simply beeped. This is a theme of the blog post in July – transponders!

We had a good time. Ailsa found an idyllic cottage, ‘May’s Cottage‘. It had two bedrooms so my sister Gill, who took the train down from London, was able to stay with us. There was an area to sit outside and it was amazingly peaceful and beautiful. The swallows swooped, cows mooed and foxes barked. It is far enough from Gatwick airport that I was able to enjoy the sight of the planes but it was not too disruptive. All in all a very good weekend.

Continue reading

Sharing 60

Sharing 60

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.

Continue reading

On The Road and Looking Back

It has been busy. I left Waterloo at the end of June heading back to the unexpected UK Brexit vote. It was quite unbelievable, this means Scotland will certainly seek independence and I would not be surprised if Wales and Northern Ireland don’t follow suit. The reason for being in England was the first ever Whiteside family gathering, organised in North Walsham, the town where my father was born on the 27th July 1899. The initiative to have this gathering came from my 82 year old half-sister Pat de Pury. Continue reading

Christmas, Cathedrals and Miss World

I went to the UK for Christmas, and returned to Waterloo on New Year’s Eve. I don’t mind air travel, but the time change is tough, especially going to Europe, since effectively one ends up with a night of no sleep. It is however an opportunity to catch up on films. On the way to Amsterdam I watched “A Walk in the Woods”, which is based on Bill Bryson’s book of the same name. It tells the story of him and a boyhood friend attempting to walk the Appalachian Way. Perhaps the most impressive part of this is that they knew when they had had enough and agreed to stop. No false bravery in this tale. I saw half of the “The Little Prince”, the most famous work of the French aristocrat and pioneering aviator Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. It is a book I think is significant, and everyone ought to read it. I am going to develop a reading list of important books for students. This will be one of them. Other suggestions are welcome.

Continue reading

Too Much Travel

In November I travelled from Waterloo to the UK, then to Mbabane in Swaziland. From there I went to Durban for two nights. On Friday 13th November I flew to Geneva in Switzerland for four nights. I then headed back to the UK, before finally getting back to Waterloo at the end of November. During this trip, and while I was in Waterloo, I managed to complete the draft of the Very Short Introduction to HIV and AIDS. We actually got it to the publishers ahead of the dead line, just.

Continue reading

Closing Circles

July was full of travel: to Norwich for a few days, and a day in London; then to Swaziland and on to Durban; the return trip to Norwich late July. This was mostly done in economy – or on the KLM flights, in premium economy, which gives a bit more room. The exception in the class of travel was the trip to London. There seems little sense in how rail travel is priced. I needed to get an early train and the cost of a first class ticket was £46 while for an economy ticket it was £45, which really is a no brainer! On the train the toilet had a delightful sign under the lid, there is a photograph in the gallery, but it is a little out of focus. The sign said: ‘Please don’t flush Nappies; sanitary towels, paper towels, gum, old phones, unpaid bills, junk mail, your ex’s sweater, hopes dreams or goldfish down this toilet’. How nice to see a sense of humour on the train. Apparently the carriage had been borrowed, or hired from Virgin Trains.

Continue reading