Babies on Board, Sport and Sunshine

I am at the beginning of a period of travel. This posting is a series of observations about places, planes and people.

The first, short, trip was to Johannesburg, to a conference venue and hotel near the airport. The place, which will not be named, is in Boksburg. It is under the flight path of the aircraft coming into or leaving OR Tambo airport. I don’t mind this – my liking for aircraft is well documented, however when the first scheduled flight of the day leaves at 05.45 it is a bit trying. The centre is best described as ‘having got fat on government money’. It is a sprawling slightly shabby complex: visitors are ferried round on golf carts. The guests comprise those there for meetings (and on per diems) and those whose flights have been cancelled and whom the airline is accommodating.

I really don’t like the place. This view was confirmed when it took three attempts, going on the golf cart from the reception area, to get someone to unlock the door to the only bar. Apparently access is controlled because ‘ladies’ hang out in the bar, drug the male guests, go back to the rooms and rob them. That did not happen to me – but then I guess when I asked for two bottles of water it was apparent I was not a likely target. I was stayed for one night and that was enough.

On my return to Durban I had a day in the office then had to get up at 04.30 to catch the 06.30 plane to Joburg and connect to Nairobi. The racial mix of the cabin staff has changed from mainly white to mainly black, they have however, retained one of the phrases that always amused me. The Afrikaans crew would come round before serving the meal (OK I must put my hand up and acknowledge that this only happens in business class) and offer the passengers “Hot owl sir”. It is, of course, a hot towel, and it is still being offered.

On the flight from Durban two amusing little instances occurred when we were boarding. First a mother got on clutching a baby of eight or nine months. She was festooned with a back pack, bags, changing mats and all the paraphernalia that goes with travelling with a small person. So much did she have, that she could not fit through the aisle to her seat – 28 – right at the back of the plane. Calmly she handed the child to the gentleman in row 1.

“I will be back in a minute”, she said, “Do you mind holding the baby?”.

Well he did it. Both the infant and the passenger looked a bit bemused. Sure enough she came back and collected the child a few minutes later.

The last passenger to board was a flustered looking blond woman. At a guess she was in her late 20s. As she walked past me a young man was hurrying up towards the door.

“Why didn’t you wait for me?” she said angrily.

“I thought you had gone ahead”, he replied.

It was clear that there would be a further exchange of words when they got to their seats. Not a good way to start your honeymoon.

It has been a busy time. The team at HEARD continue to work well. In pure academic article productivity terms, 2012 was a record year. The details are on the website. I managed to produce a good few articles and book chapters, and will take credit for creating the environment where others can achieve their potential.

At the beginning of 2013 we managed to recruit more staff with interns coming on board; our first ever Peace Corps volunteer; and a number of Post-Doctoral Students scheduled to join us. The Post Docs are funded through a new initiative from the South African National Research Foundation, and while it is not a fortune they are given a significant amount of money and a chance to write. We have also recruited our 10 Doctoral Candidates (six at the University of KwaZulu-Natal and the balance around the country).

The big question I ponder is where to take my own academic interest over the next 10 years. More on this is due course. There is so much that is really interesting to research. To some extent I am spoilt for choice, and I don’t need to prove anything.

I have been in Durban for over two months with very limited travel. Apart from work, this has been a chance to spend time at the gym, go running, and do a fair bit of yoga. There is no doubt that I am much more flexible as a result of the yoga, but will be the first to acknowledge that I am not very good at it. The most interesting class has been the Bikram or ‘hot’ yoga. This is done in the normal studio, but with the wall heaters turned on. In Durban! In summer! The sweat just pours off me. At the end my yoga mat has sodden, slimy patches and is banished to the veranda.

The yoga studio offered a three session course on meditation. There were ten people on it. When the teacher went round the group and asked why people were there, they all said it was because of stress and their need to manage it. That was not why I was there, I just wanted to learn something new, so I felt a bit of a fraud. Yoga is breathing and stretching, meditation is breathing without the stretching – although I am prepared to admit that I may not have entirely got it!

My trainer at the Berea Gym, Wade, decided I needed to relax more so loaned me eight DVDs. They are all, unsurprisingly, action films, and I am slowly working my way through them.  The advantage of a DVD is it can be stopped. It took three sittings to get through the ‘The Perfect Storm’, which was actually an excellent film, with George Clooney and the rest of the caste I did not know. It does not have a happy ending (spoiler alert): the boat goes down with all hands.

Running is done in the morning, ideally just as the sun rises. It is great, because the course I run, which is between six and nine kilometres, depending on how much time I have, has many hills and winds its way through the leafy suburbs. As we have reached the equinox the sun rise is at about 5.40 am. This run is a really good way to prepare for the day ahead. The alternative might be to go down to the beach with the body board, which I have only done once. However I did manage to catch a wave, the most amazing feeling but unfortunately rare event.

There have been a number of events I have attended. St Clements is a little coffee shop on – Musgrave Road with excellent music every few months. They have taken to holding salons or soirees on a Monday. Some are excellent, others simply indulgent. But it is all grist to the mill, and nice that it is happening. The recent book launches have been extremely poorly attended, which is unfortunate. The Centre for Jazz and Popular Music at the University has been full at the Wednesday performances.

My flat has been having its own set of experiences (without me). Durban and the surrounding areas have a problem with a pest called wood borer. These insects eat wood and paper and it has been known for chairs to crumble when one sits on them. The sign of wood borer are little piles of dusty droppings called ‘frass’. I got a pest control person in to deal with them. He claimed to offer an eco-friendly service. In my view that would involve enticing the little beast out and relocating them. As I write that I realize that would be a ‘humane’ service not an eco-friendly one. What he actually has is a pesticide that only kills insects, the geckos, mice and rats survive. Of course they then starve to death over a period of time. Wood supplied now is treated and does not have this problem.

There has been some fierce weather, thunderstorms and strong winds. I got back to the flat one evening to find the door to the linen cupboard in the hall had been ripped off its hinges. Clearly there had been a gale howling through the flat from the bathroom to the kitchen!

So that is the news from Durban for now. My next posting will, I think have some big news, and I will also send out my once a year mass email.