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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Spring in Durban and Cape Town and Autumn in Norwich

Spring in Durban and Cape Town and Autumn in Norwich

This is the second posting to go up in a short time. The management of my website has moved to John Price. I want to say a big thank you to Shela McCullough and Linda Mtambo of HEARD for all that they did to keep my posts flowing! By early next year we will have looked at the design of the site and changed it. I hope to make it somewhat interactive.

I was in the UK and South Africa in late September and early October. The first part of the trip was covered in my last posting. This one is about Durban, Cape Town and Norwich. After 24 hours in Durban (a silly side trip because I was not paying attention to my travel plans), I flew to Cape Town for a Health Systems Symposium. These meetings are held every two years, this was the third, the first I had been to. As all my South African family lives in Cape Town and the environs I was able to see them. My visits to the South Africa will become less frequent in the years ahead, so this is important to me.

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Six months in Canada and Interpol are looking for you

Six months in Canada and Interpol are looking for you

What do Waterloo, Ontario and Mbabane, Swaziland have in common? Apart from the fact that I have lived in both! A few nights ago, in Waterloo, there was a severe thunderstorm, the first I have experienced here. The flashing and crashing reminded me of the summer afternoon thunderstorms in Mbabane. The high veld of Swaziland has one of the highest rates of lightning strikes in the world. I gleaned this factoid when, as a freelance reporter, on the monthly newspaper ‘Business in Swaziland’, I interviewed the CEO of the Swaziland Electricity Board. This writing experience of nearly 40 years ago was great fun. We were paid 75 cents per column inch published, which meant that as soon as the paper appeared, we ‘journalists’ took out a ruler to work out what was due to us.

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Birds and Country Songs October 2012

It is spring in southern Africa. The swallows are back, sweeping around the buildings at the university and across the freeways. That last comment may seem a little strange but bridges across these roads provide good nesting sites for swallows. I well remember, over 30 years ago, driving across the Highveld on my way to Swaziland. Two swallows flew suicidally in front of the car. The sadness I felt on seeing, in the rear view mirror, their bodies tossing and turning behind me is something that still resonates. I really felt terrible. It may of course be Darwinian! The surviving swallows and their offspring do not take these risks and there were none darting across the road this trip.

I feel very fortunate as I recently had reason to drive up to Swaziland and then on to Johannesburg. The occasion was the visit of Kim Duncan and Marina Galanti of the Rush Foundation. Their goal is to fund disruptive ideas around HIV prevention. I first met them at a meeting in Washington in September 2011, and then worked with them on a symposium in London held in June of this year. They have many good ideas – see www.rushfoundation.org.  I suggested they visit HEARD and I would take them up to Swaziland and introduce them to the folk at The National Emergency Response Council on HIV and AIDS (NERCHA).

Kim and Marina arrived in Durban on Tuesday 2 October and spent the day at HEARD. In the evening we hosted a dinner with some of Durban’s key people in the HIV world. On Wednesday, I picked them up and we set off for Mbabane. The roads were clear, partially because of the Road Freight Association truck drivers’ strike which meant there were few heavy vehicles on the road.

It was a sunny and bright day and as a consequence we had a most enjoyable drive, although it did take rather longer than I had hoped. We stopped for coffee at Mtunzini, lunch in Mkuze at the Ghost Mountain Inn, and got to the Mountain Inn just before dark. We then had just a few minutes to change before going to Malkerns to Marandela’s Resturant  for dinner with colleagues from NERCHA. This is also the location of House on Fire, where every year there is a major festival.

On Thursday morning I dropped Kim and Marina off at the NERCHA offices and drove to Johannesburg to catch the flight back to Durban. It took me four hours to get from Mbabane to the airport and eight from Durban to Mbabane so it probably made more sense to go that route. As always it is a chance to reconnect with some very beautiful parts of both countries. The drive through Swaziland from the border to Mbabane is always a pleasure. The contrast between the flat Lowveld with the Lebombo Mountains on the right hand side; the rolling Middleveld; and then the jagged hills of the Highveld makes the journey interesting and scenic.

It was great to have interesting company for the first stage of the journey. On the second day I played CDs and for the first time really listened to a country music song called Letter to Heaven. What a desperately miserable song. The brief synopsis is: little girl asks her grandfather to write a letter to her dead mother; included in the letter are the lines: ‘Tell mommy I miss her since she went away
I coming to see her real soon I hope’; the girl goes out to the post box; gets knocked down and killed while crossing the road; the postman sees this happen and remarks on the puissance of her words; and the letter gets delivered! Oh dear it is terrible – almost as bad as the one about the two orphaned children who freeze to death on the porch of the church. It shows I do not listen properly to the lyrics.

I was delighted by the greenness of the countryside all the way from Durban to Johannesburg, an indication there have been good spring rains across the region. The area from Lavumisa to Big Bend in Swaziland seems to fall in a rain shadow area, but this year it is looking good. We passed one field where the farmer had harnessed his donkeys and was plowing the rich black earth. This is also the part of the journey where the Lilac Breasted Rollers perch on the telephone wires. They are stunning birds. Back in Durban the Pied Manikins, very attractive but tiny little birds, are furiously nest building outside my office window.

Spring is a great time of year. It does have two downsides as far as I am concerned. The first is mosquitoes. They are back. Folklore has it is they do not fly very high and in theory my flat on the third floor should be a mosquito-free area. Unfortunately it is not and there are currently four patches of mashed mosquito on the wall of my bedroom. Scarlet blood and black body parts. The second is that the birds begin the dawn chorus a little earlier every day. By 4.30 am they have cleared their throats and are singing. After many years of waking in the very early mornings I now have taken to using ear plugs. This means I can sleep for a little longer. I fear that not even industrial ear plugs would keep the noise of the Hadedas out. Raucous and very loud. They roost in the trees around the flat and if a noisy vehicle, or ambulance with its siren blaring goes past they wake up and announce to the world that their rest has been disturbed. No consideration from those birds.

Is it the problem or the advantage of being an academic that one’s work is never done? There is always something new and interesting to read. At the moment I am on a number of news lists and fortunately they summarize the main articles that they believe would be of interest but there is still far too much to read. And then, of course, one of our main functions in our job descriptions is to add to the corpus of knowledge. I will have marked two PhDs in the last month. One was on gender-based violence and its links to HIV; the second a history of the epidemic and response to it in South Africa from 1980 to 1995. This is a really good way of getting a literature review and current thinking but it is daunting to be presented with a 300+ page document.

South Africa is going through a difficult period, with a great deal of labour unrest. We were appalled by the recent police shooting of 34 miners in Marikane in the North West province. At issue here is more than money; it is about how our society will be structured. If all these pay rises are awarded then we will create a labour aristocracy. Those who are not in employment will be increasingly desperate and dispossessed. There will not be enough jobs to go round. However given the huge amounts of money being earned by some people and the perception that there is wide spread corruption, who can blame those with low salaries from wanting more? The tragedy of the commons is that there are finite resources. The solutions in my view are: tax the rich and don’t flaunt wealth. I wonder why the Reconstruction and Development tax imposed in 1994 was not kept. It was not much and I did not know people who resented paying it. There is an excellent commentary by the Jonathan Jansen looking at what is going on here. Please do read it – far more insightful than I can ever be.

Finally, I have been running at the weekends. The first run was 6.1 kilometers – and yes the way I do it is to run round the neighbourhood, then get in my car and measure the distance. My goal is eight kilometers – five miles. So the last run was longer and I was sure I had cracked it. No! The drive round afterwards showed I had covered just 7.2 kilometers, and at a very slow pace. My excuse for the speed is that I do like running up and down the hills in Glenwood and some are exceptionally steep. Perhaps the key is to simply keep going at this. With less weight (the goal and reason for running in the first place) and stronger legs I will make the target and manage something faster than the current snail’s pace of only nine kilometers per hour.