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.

Are we winning? Yes and no!

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

I finished my quarantine in my Waterloo apartment a week ago. I had three days confined in an airport hotel and then 11 more in Waterloo. The government was efficient at checking up on me. Every day I got an automated email with a weblink, and had to complete a form online. There were at least two phone calls and one visit from a private investigator, who had been repurposed as a quarantine inspector, complete with stab proof vest. He came to the door of the apartment, but said he was not allowed to enter it – which somewhat defeats the objective of checking.

The whole of the post-hotel quarantine depends on the honesty of individuals entering Canada. The press has reported, with outrage, of people flying to American airports and crossing the border by road, thus avoiding some of the more intrusive processes. I must be honest and say it was not too bad, though the current lockdown is wearing. Friends made sure I was well supplied with the essentials (food and wine), and so my incarceration went by reasonably quickly. But then I have a large apartment with a great view. I am privileged and I recognise it.

My overarching impression in Ontario is of a province on its knees, and an overwhelming weariness with the whole process. The smiles are becoming fixed, that is when you can see them because people wear masks outside. The problem is the lack of clarity and consistency. As I understand the situation, rules are enforced at the local level. Where I am, it is enforced by Region of Waterloo Public Health. They work closely with Public Health Ontario, the relevant section of the provincial government, which sets policy, and at the national level, with the Federal Ministry of Health. The lockdown is tight; people should only leave their homes for essential reasons, socialising is not allowed, and currently schools are closed. This last regulation has, as in Europe, had an extremely detrimental effect on children and their parents.

A large part of the problem is the Provincial Government, run by the Progressive Conservative Party of Ontario under the leadership of Doug Ford. The world over, conservative governments have reduced public health expenditures and services, and Ontario is no exception. Indeed, Ford was forced into a humiliating climb down when he attempted to announce that the provincial police would enforce his regulations,1 only to have various forces announce the next day that they would not be doing this.2 The numbers in the province are coming down slowly. There is a decent website3 giving data for the province. The citizenry needs clear guidance and, above all, to know the nightmare will end soon, but this is lacking.

The little mall across the road has a security officer at a desk at each entrance. Their task: to ask each customer if they have any Covid symptoms as they enter. It would take a pretty stupid individual to admit to having signs of Covid. I suppose it is important to be seen to be doing something, and this has certainly created employment. Interestingly most of the security officers seem to be recent immigrants from Southeast Asian countries. That probably indicates that these are minimum wage jobs.
Continue reading

Vaccination: the way ahead

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 is being written as I quarantine in my Waterloo apartment. Getting here was surprisingly easy, despite a great deal of bureaucracy. The story began in December 2019 when I travelled from Waterloo to the UK for a year’s sabbatical. I planned a busy year, with visiting fellowships at two German and a British University, and visiting status with two English Universities. It was set to be a full, productive, and fun year. And then Covid-19 arrived, and everything was put on hold. I did not leave Norwich for over a year but making a trip to Canada was increasingly urgent. Travel was not easy, cheap or pleasant.

The first step was getting permission to leave the UK. International travel was not allowed until 17th May, unless the traveller has good reason. There is, of course, a government website. The “Declaration for International Travel” has a drop-down menu of about 10 reasons, from ‘Work’ to ‘Other reasonable excuse – please specify’. I dutifully completed and printed it. No one asked to see it at any point. There were no flights for my preferred route (Norwich, Amsterdam, Toronto) so I booked from Heathrow. There is extensive guidance on travelling to Canada on the Canadian government website. Only four airports accept international flights: Calgary, Montreal, Toronto, and Vancouver. At the moment, there is no recognition in the terms of travel and restrictions of vaccine status. I am fully vaccinated and have a flimsy little record card to prove it. I made photocopies for officials. No one asked or showed an interest.

To enter Canada (and various other countries) a traveller has to have a negative Covid test within three days of boarding. In the UK, private laboratories produce a “Fit to Travel Certificate for SARS CoV-2/Covid-19 Testing”. At a price of course. Also required is an arrival form to allow border officials to track you.

“Speed up your arrival process in Canada and spend less time with border and public health officers. Use ArriveCAN1 to provide mandatory travel information… Help … keep Canadians safe and healthy.”

The aircraft, a Boeing 787 Dreamliner, seats about 250 people. I booked myself in the premium economy section for more room. What a waste of money, there were only 19 passengers! There was a full complement of very bored cabin crew and consequently we had excellent service and some interesting conversations. Clearly, they had time to check the passenger list, halfway through the journey they began addressing me as Professor!

On arrival getting through the Canadian formalities was straightforward. The test is a nasal swab. There was no interest in my vaccination status – but there were a few comments on Canada’s failure to roll out a vaccine. Mind you I was on an empty plane; the next scheduled flight from Manila had 350 passengers. The government requires you to pay for three days’ quarantine in a hotel. My choice was a bog-standard business hotel, where the confinement included three meals brought to the door in large brown paper packets. I understand Pavlov’s dogs better now. Within 24 hours I recognized the rustle from the moment the delivery person exited the lift. There was nothing to get excited about on the menu though.

At Heathrow I bought a couple of bottles of duty-free wine and when I checked into the hotel, I asked for a third. The clerk said that he was glad I asked before he checked me in. He is not allowed to send alcohol to the quarantine rooms! There was no corkscrew in the room and the desk said they had none so here are some tips.
Continue reading

Heat and Humidity

The Canadian summer has been hot and humid. I have never enjoyed humidity and so wonder why I managed to do summers in South Africa and Canada. The UN held a Climate Summit in September and there is increasing recognition of the environmental crisis we are facing. Earlier, in mid-September, the running news bar on the BBC was that the bird population has fallen precipitously in North America. In Waterloo there was a climate strike day on the 27th and people marched from the Universities to the town square. There were thousands of participants and I was proud to be among them.

Another running news bar on the BBC has been that ‘flight shaming’ means the growth in airline travel is expected to fall. Looking back more than 40 years I was so excited to take my first flight. I got a ride from Mbabane to Johannesburg, and boarded a flight to Heathrow to go to University. At 19, this was the first time I had been on a plane. I have a record of all the flights I took on a computer file, it is a bit scary.

Today when I board a plane I feel somewhat guilty. It is my intention to drastically reduce the amount of air travel and increase the amount of train travel. From Norwich to London is two hours by rail, and from there it is easy to get to Brussels or Paris. Plans for 2020 including going to Ireland (Norwich, London, Fishguard and the ferry to Dublin), and, perhaps, Amsterdam (Norwich, Harwich and ferry to Rotterdam). The possibilities are numerous.

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

A Dry Spell

It seems that the weather dominates the opening paragraphs of my monthly posts. At the end of June there was a very warm spell in Norwich, and no rain for over two weeks. More worrying is there is no rain in the forecast for at least 10 days. A stubborn area of high pressure has located itself over us. Of course East Anglia is the driest part of the British Isles, not widely known, but this has been quite exceptional. Some of the plants in the garden are given favoured treatment. They get water from the butts that drain off the roof of shed. The lawn, however, does not, and it is beginning to look rather the worse for wear.

My sister came up from London to visit for a weekend. Ailsa was away visiting her mother so Douglas and I were in charge. I think we acquitted ourselves well. We had thought of going to see a film, the choices at the local cinema were the ‘Happy Prince’ or ‘Oceans Eight’. In the end we did not. The weather was so pleasant that sitting inside a cinema would have seemed like heresy. What we did do was to go eat in Waterloo Park.

I have mentioned before that Norwich has some amazing municipal parks. In 1919 Captain Sandys-Winsch was appointed as the City Parks and Gardens Superintendent, and he stayed in the post until 1953. He is largely responsible for the fine public parks. There was government funding after World War I as part of a building and planting programme to provide unemployment relief, aimed mainly at ex-service men. Waterloo Park actually predated this, it began in 1904 as Catton Recreation Ground. A new design was drawn up in 1929, and in 1933 it reopened as Waterloo Park. It is 18 acres with a mixture of play areas and gardens, with lots of magnificent trees. There is, as in most of the parks, a pavilion which has a café.

There are many reasons to visit the park, but at the weekend we went for brunch. The café is run by Britannia Enterprises and most of the staff at this, and the two other sites, are serving or ex-offenders from Her Majesty’s Prison in Norwich. The project aims to offer mentoring, training, employment and rehabilitation to prisoners. They claim that just five percent of participants in the programme re-offend, compared to the national average of 46 percent. It is an excellent example of a social enterprise, and the food is good and reasonably priced. As it was such a beautiful, warm and sunny day, we were able to sit outside, and that meant we could take the dog.

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

Halloween in Germany

I had the opportunity to spend two weeks teaching at the University of Konstanz in the state of Baden-Württemberg on the border with Switzerland. I decided to jump at the chance, so am, I think, the first academic to come over from the Balsillie School and do this stint. The idea was to spend a fortnight here in Germany, and teach 14 sessions on a Global Health and HIV and AIDS. The University covered my costs.

There was an additional reason though. Due to the tax rules in the UK I am severely penalized if I spend more than 90 days in Britain. This trip to Europe was therefore a really good opportunity to see a new University, teach different students, and have time with the family. They had to come to Germany for this to happen. Douglas and I travelled together on Saturday 21st October. He left on Wednesday. Ailsa came from Thursday to Sunday and the plan is that Rowan will join me on the last Wednesday. We will then leave together on Saturday and travel to Amsterdam for a night. From there she will fly to Norwich while I go to Cape Town.

Continue reading