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.

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New Beginnings

The past month has been hectic but rather fun. I left Durban, as promised, on  19 December 2013. That was sad. The last days involved clearing out my office, deciding what needed to be shipped to Canada, stored in the flat, put in the suitcase, or given away. I know that to some extent, I keep my life in boxes. The University of KwaZulu-Natal box is now closed, and, hopefully, the important residual parts are in transit. There is a lot to reflect on, of course. How could there not be after 30 years?

I am extremely lucky to have had the opportunities I did, to connect with people, to build an organisation and support my team’s contribution to knowledge and science which, hopefully, makes a positive difference. I am proud of my own substantial publishing record.

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Falling Leaves: November 2012

Autumn has arrived in Norwich (and in Canada). I head for Durban soon with the dual goal of topping up on sunshine and getting a great deal of work done. There is a lot happening and, at the moment, life is exciting so read on for more details. The big occasion taking me back to Durban is the HEARD World AIDS Day function. On 14 November, in conjunction with the Africa Centre, CAPRISA the University of KwaZulu-Natal Press, we are holding an event at the KwaZulu-Natal Society of Arts Gallery . The theme is taken from UNAIDS, Getting to Zero: Zero New HIV Infections, Discrimination, and AIDS-Related Deaths. We have advertised it as an event ‘Showcasing KZN research on HIV and AIDS’.

HEARD’s highlight will be the South African premier of our documentary Manguzi: Raising Children in Rural South Africa. This film is set in an area close to the Mozambique border where we did a project. I have seen it a number of times, checking it from an accuracy and political point of view. It will be great to be just in the audience. The team who did the work deserve high praise for overcoming many logistical challenges, collecting some fascinating data, and now are writing it up.

This will be the occasion where I formally tell my research colleagues and friends in Durban that I will be leaving HEARD in 2013. (I feel I need to put in a footnote here that says: subject to the paperwork being completed). This should not come as a big surprise to most people as the news has been out for a while. It is however a chance for me to combine some of my favourite things: the Gallery; the research and academic communities; and many friends. The idea of doing such an event germinated at a book launch at Ike’s Books and Collectable – also a Durban institution – a few months ago. Authors who have books launched there put their signatures on the wall. My name is up alongside the likes of JM Coetzee and many others. The walls are probably worth more than the stock.

At the end of October Ailsa and I travelled to Canada for a week – hence the leaves in the title of the posting, and yes they were amazing. We flew to Toronto and were taken down to Waterloo in Ontario. We spent four nights there and then a further two nights in Toronto. The reason for the visit is that I have been offered, and have accepted, the International Governance and Innovation Chair in Global Health Policy by Wilfrid Laurier University (WLU). This will be housed in the Balsillie School of International Affairs, a partnership between WLU, the University of Waterloo (UW) and the Centre for International Governance Innovation (CIGI), a public policy think tank. I have put in the links to these organisations and they are all worth looking at. The CIGI campus is amazing, part is a brand new, state of the art building while the old Seagram’s distillery has been converted and incorporated as office space.

The School represents a large global initiative in social sciences with over 60 faculty members who teach in three programmes: the PhD in Global Governance, the Master’s in Global Governance and the Master’s in International Public Policy. There are three new staff members: Simon Dalby, CIGI Chair of Political Economy and Climate Change; James Orbinski, CIGI Chair in Global Health; and in due course, myself. We had a ‘Blue Skies’ thinking session which was a great fun – the staff have very interesting ideas and a range of experience. One of the exciting opportunities for me will be working in an interdisciplinary manner. I am also very much looking forward to teaching and interacting with students at various levels.

Quite a lot of the visit was spent exploring the area. The streets are wide and driving on the right hand side is challenging. What I found particularly difficult was the traffic lights being suspended over the streets instead of on poles at the side. I nearly ran a red light. On the other hand, the hire car was automatic and seemed very powerful. We went out to an amazing farmer’s market at St Jacobs north of Waterloo. The area was settled by German Mennonites and there were a number of stall holders dressed in traditional attire. Indeed Waterloo was originally called Berlin. The name was changed at the beginning of the First World War. I am not clear where the decision to call the town Waterloo came from but I am sure I will learn in the next few years (or I could go on Wikipedia now of course).

On the Thursday we began seeing news of Hurricane Sandy moving out of the Caribbean and towards the east coast of the United States. There was a real sense of foreboding and many warnings. We were scheduled to leave Toronto airport at 18.30 on Monday and feared that there might be a disruption of travel. Indeed there was, most flights to and from New York airports and other American east coast destinations were cancelled. The storm hit Toronto at about midnight on Monday so we were able to get away, although I note with hindsight there was comparatively little disruption in that part of Ontario.

What an interesting visit. I spent a couple of days with the colleagues I will be joining. We also had a discussion with the immigration lawyer who is handling the paperwork. He gave us a great deal of material, everything from taking a dog to getting a social insurance number, which is abbreviated as the SIN. Being asked ‘Have you got your SIN?’ left me quite flabbergasted. It all looks feasible. The plan is to begin with a fractional appointment once the paperwork is done and move to full time by the middle of 2013. I started at the University of Natal (UN) as a Research Fellow on 1 September 1983 so I will be just a few months shy of having spent 30 years at UN and now University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN). There is a great deal of planning going on to make sure the transition works for HEARD. All staff, Board, donors and Senior Management at UKZN are aware of my plans.

Because I travel a great deal, and almost always on KLM, I have the highest grade of frequent flyer card they give. I also have it for life (my life not theirs). This means when they work their way down the list for people to be upgraded when there is overbooking in economy class I am usually close to the top. On the plane from Toronto to Amsterdam, as we handed over our boarding cards mine beeped on the machine. I was told I had an upgrade. Ailsa was also given one: she was in the front row of the premium economy class, not quite the same, but she graciously allowed me to go in the business section. We had sat next to each other on their way to Toronto in the ‘real economy’ class at the back of the plane. The return flight is only six hours and so was not too bad; however one arrives in Amsterdam at the equivalent of 2am North American time, and gets into Norwich at the equivalent of 5am. I am not sure how I will cope with all the transatlantic flights in my new position.

My son Douglas gave us time to unpack and spend a night in Norwich before heading up to Yorkshire to visit his girlfriend. He was in charge whilst we were gone and took good care of the animals, fed himself and his sister who was here a part of the time, and generally behaved in a responsible manner. On Fridays he delivers a free local paper to about 150 households in the neighbourhood. If he is away someone else has to do this, Ailsa and I shared the task. I think I am one of the most academically qualified people delivering newspapers. I find it deeply interesting, a window into another world.

I also recognise I am pedantic and quite hard to live with. I had a good example of this characteristic the other evening. Because Rowan has moved out there is more space in the house but we have vast quantities of books. These belong to all members of the family however I think the majority are hers. The other evening I set out to count how many books we have. I went from room to room and book case to book case. The answer I came up with was 1724. This is by itself quite staggering. The next morning I met Rowan for lunch. As we were walking from the bookshop she works in to the restaurant, I told her what I had done and asked her to guess how many I had counted. Quick as a flash she said, ‘About 1700’. I wonder how she did it. However on Sunday I discovered two more bags and half a book case that had been excluded from the count. At this moment I think we have about 1850 books although that excludes the ones in my office.

Rock of Ages: This is a recent (2012) American musical comedy adapted from a 2006 rock musical. The stars include country singer Julianne Hough and Diego Boneta, also in it are Russell Brand, Paul Giamatti, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Alec Baldwin and Tom Cruise. It can best be described as light and fluffy. The story is of a girl going to Hollywood to seek fame and fortune as a singer. She meets a boy, loses the boy, and re-finds him as well as having a chance to perform. I enjoyed seeing Russell Brand in this film; he did a really good job.

Seeking a Friend for the End of the World: The un-promising premise for this film is that an asteroid is hurtling, inexorably, towards the earth. Humankind will be wiped out. The film opens with the news coming over a car radio that attempts to deflect it have failed. At this point the wife gets out and walks away leaving her husband of some years. He then links up with his neighbour and romance blossoms, all with a clear timeframe. It is a good, touching and thought provoking film. How would I react to the news of the end of the world? I had seen the reviews for this and wanted to watch it simply to see how the story was developed. I might even have gone to a cinema but as it was on the aeroplane I watched it there and enjoyed it. What was striking was the conclusion that most people would be phlegmatic and just get on with it.

Dark Shadows: This is a 2012 American horror comedy film. It is a Tim Burton film starring Johnny Depp. The story is of a 200-year-old vampire who has been imprisoned in a coffin. When he is released, after murdering all the workmen who unearth him, he makes his way back to his mansion, inhabited by his rather odd descendants. It is fun fantasy and horror film – but aeroplane only!

Snow White and the Huntsmen: This is definitely a ‘watch on the aeroplane’ film. It is a new version of the Brothers Grimm German fairy tale Snow White. I watched it for the actors, in particular Charlize Theron and British actor Bob Hoskins for whom it was his last role before retiring. The special effects were quite outstanding. It was a British and American production.

Michael Lewis, Boomerang: Travels in the New Third World, WW Norton New York 2011. The first book I read by Michael Lewis was also his first book, Liar’s Poker. This told the story of the culture in the investment houses and hedge funds before the crash in the 1990s. In Boomerang he visits a number of locations to try understand why the world faces such a financial crisis today. Each chapter is a fascinating insight into mismanagement. The first, ‘Wall Street on the tundra’ looks at Iceland. The second ‘and they invented maths’ is about Greece. He then looks at Ireland in the chapter ‘Ireland’s original sin’, passes through Germany ‘the secret lives of the Germans’ before ending in the United States, this final chapter is called ‘too fat to fly’. My main insights is the idea that we have ‘lizard brains’ which are set to acquire as much as we can of scarce things, especially food, safety and sex. This is ultimately the main lesson – the need to find ways to self-regulate rather than sacrificing long-term planning for short-term rewards. While the book is a very good read, it tells only half of the story, people do plan and regulate. The best example I have is the new airport built in Durban ahead of the World Cup in 2010. This is designed to last the city until 2070. How do we combine that sort of planning with the type of society we need? I think a spiritual life is necessary.

Shulasmith Firestone, The Dialectic of Sex: the Case for the Feminist Revolution, The Woman’s Press London 1979. This is not, I will be the first to admit, my usual reading. The reason for getting it is that I marked a feminist PhD thesis that left me feeling the need for more information and insight. This classic book has provided me with some perception into where the student was coming from. I really love the fact that The Woman’s Press has as its logo an iron. This sense of humour and forgive the pun, irony, is so refreshing and reminds me of the exciting times in the 1970s. It is a classic book and while not hugely readable is certainly worth glancing at.

Pirates and Snow

I was invited to give a plenary presentation at the Caribbean AIDS conference in Nassau in the Bahamas in November 2011. I had never been there, reason enough. An additional incentive was that Roger MacLean, of the University of the West Indies, who invited me, is someone we have worked with in the past and he is a really solid academic. It was too good a chance to pass up. Of course it fitted in very well with other travel plans – invitations to New York and Boston and a meeting HEARD was hosting in Washington. I had a week between meetings and was wondering what to do with the time, as I did not want to travel back to either the UK or Durban. It takes about six days for me to get over the jet lag, and then it would be time to set off again.

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The 18th International AIDS Conference In Vienna (And Associated Events)

Vienna was an interesting place to spend time. My first impressions some years ago, were not favorable, but having spent 10 days there I have changed my mind. I arrived in the early hours of Friday 16th July and left on Saturday 24th. The travel schedule was a bit hectic because, on the 14th (Bastille Day in France), I went to Marseille to be part of the panel examining a PhD.

On the plane from Amsterdam to Marseille, I had a new experience. There was a couple sitting in the first row looking somewhat drunk, the bleary, out-of -focus behaviour that is a real tell-tale. The stewardess confiscated a bottle of whiskey from them about 30 minutes into the journey, explaining that they could not continue drinking. While the cabin crew was serving drinks, the man went to the toilet at the front of the plane. There was suddenly an earsplitting alarm; the women abandoned the trolley, and came flying up the aisle in a panic. I did not see what happened next, but when the man returned to his seat, I heard them tell him they had found a cigarette in the toilet, and he would be arrested on arrival in Marseille. When the plane got to the air bridge six heavily armed gendarmes took him away with them. The announcement was: “Will passengers please remain seated as the police will be boarding to take a passenger off”.

I had always wondered what the smoke alarm sounded like, I now know.

Travelling takes time, even with good connections. I was on planes, in airports, or taxis from 9.30 am to 6 pm. And it was hot and humid – two shirt a day weather. The hotel sulked in an alley two streets away from the harbor. First impressions were of dark wood and hostile receptionists. It had a themes for each floor, level one Japanese, level two ethnic, three French and so on. My room was on the ethnic level and I had shields, masks and faux animal skins.

The examination was probably straight forward. I have to say ‘probably’ because, although most of the thesis was written in English, (it comprised a number of papers published by the candidate with linking commentary), all most all of the defense, including the examiners’ comments, was in French. When I accepted the invitation to do this exam I made it clear that I do not speak French. The candidate passed and the thesis and experience were both most interesting.

The supervisor Jean-Paul Moatti, and I were scheduled to fly on the same flight to Vienna: Air France to Lyon then continue on Austrian airways. Immediately after the exam the panel were invited for lunch in an excellent restaurant. The lunch was exquisite, it comprised six courses, all, except the desert, involved very tasty fish. This was the compensation for doing the exam as there is no fee. Unfortunately we had hardly sat down when Jean-Paul’s phone rang. Air France were calling to say that the Austrian airlines flight to Vienna was cancelled. They, unhelpfully, said we could only travel the next day. This would have been disastrous for me as I was chairing a meeting from 08.30 in Vienna. Jean-Paul spent the next 30 minutes on the phone, talking to his secretary, his travel agent and the airline and trying to make a plan. Eventually he succeeded and we were re-booked on Lufthansa to Vienna, going via Munich. At that point we could relax and enjoy the meal, but we were already on the desert. It was altogether annoying and stressful.

Jean-Paul offered to take me to the airport. He met me at the hotel, while his colleague hovered illegally on a busy road by the harbor. Rushing down the stairs I miss-stepped and somehow pulled a muscle in my calf. We had a tight connection, the plane left Marseilles a little late, and we were feeling mildly panicky. When the bus pulled into the terminal in Vienna we found the gate we were departing from was just a few steps away from where we entered the terminal. It was just as well because I could hardly walk. In the end this plane was late and I did not get to the hotel until the early hours of Friday morning. This is when predicable hotel chains are appreciated. The room in Vienna, at a Courtyard Marriot, was perfect: sterile and predictable. There was a well equipped gym on the top floor, with a television for each machine which meant I could catch up with the news while working out.

There were many lessons from the conference. The thing I found most fascinating, beyond the ‘core business’ of HIV/AIDS, was the range of high tech methods of delivering water for hand washing in the bathrooms. The days of a turning on a tap are long gone, in fact I did not see a single old fashioned tap, it is all levers and innovative ‘water delivery methods’ these days. Three noteworthy ones were the ‘hold out your hand and hope’; ‘tap tap’ and ‘water fountain’. The first is based on a sensor which reacts to a hand being put in the basin and delivers a gush of water. The second, which looked exactly the same, required a sharp tap on the top to start and the same to finish. The final one was quite bizarre, there was a large metal grill with a lever and no discernable outlet for the water. I turned the lever and the water sprang up from the middle of the grill, just like a water fountain.

The food in Austria was mostly heavy and dull. It leans toward the ‘potatoes and meat’ end of the spectrum. At the end of the conference we had an International AIDS Society staff and Governing Council dinner and party at a wonderful location, the restaurant: Österreicher im MAK – which is in the Museum der Angewanten Kunst, (this seems to translate as the Museum of Applied Art, but I am not sure that this is correct, it could also be the Museum of Modern Art). The location was superb: the food, meat with meat!

The party was great fun. Due to the weather it was a moveable feast, we started in the garden and then moved inside as the heavens opened. Three of the events I went to were rained on (one was rained off). The other two were a reception at the Norwegian Ambassador’s home and the Life ball. This last was a great shame as the show had to stop because of the lightning -it was potentially really dangerous. I should very much like to go a proper full Life Ball again. Their website is

I spent the last Saturday in Vienna. I got up late, packed, checked out, and took the metro into the city to visit a museum. I choose the Leopold, an art nouveau museum, although I’m not certain what is ‘nouveau’ about it as most of the artists were painting over 100 years ago. I was particularly taken by the works of Gustav Klimt, the painting ‘Life and Death’ was the one I spent most time in front of, and Egon Schiele. The art was thought-provoking and somewhat bleak. Of course Vienna was the original home of psychoanalysis. I found myself wondering which came first, the gloomy depressed artists or the psycho analysis. Maybe the psychoanalysis led to gloomy artists!

Since getting back I have been going through my books and writing up my trip report. This is over six pages which obviously to long for a letter or a web post. So what were the highlights? Undoubtedly the news of the microbicide trials: this is a female controlled protection against HIV. The research originates from colleagues at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, so that was really exciting. There was also much thought about the resource constraints that we face in this field, and of course the proximity to Eastern Europe was important for understanding drug use.

I moderated two sessions and chaired three. One was the rapporteur session on the last afternoon of the conference, just before the closing ceremony. There were two hours allocated for this, with nine people speaking. I briefed my panel very carefully and cut the introductions and interventions down to the minimum. Normally chairs take the opportunity to put their own views, I did not. In the end we finished three minutes ahead of schedule. This was a record and somewhat embarrassing for me. Nonetheless most people were happy with the way we rattled through; and all were informative and impressive. If anyone really wants to see it, it is on the conference website – – but I am not going to give the exact url.

I did two fun things in this session. The youth report-back was last, poor people, this meant they had ample time to get nervous. I introduced their representative by saying: “The fact the youth are the last to report does not mean that they are unimportant. They are very central to the fight against AIDS. We looked at a Kaplan-Meyer curve and decided they were the people most likely to be still alive at the end of the session.”

The hall is so big that the session is broadcast to big screens at various locations in the room. At the very end I looked at the camera and said: “During the World Cup in South Africa I never had the opportunity to see myself on the screen and wave madly, I am going to do it now.”

And I did, and some people understood what I meant.

“Sex and Stravinsky” by Barbara Trapido, Bloomsbury Publishing London 2010, 320 pages.

Trapido is not to everyone’s taste, I really enjoyed “Frankie and Stankie” her growing up novel set in Durban in the 1950s and 60s. The latest book revisits this grant ground. The main characters are Josh, who grew up in Durban, whose parents were engaged in anti-apartheid activities and flee the country. He travels to Oxford where he meets and marries Caroline a statuesque Australian Amazon. This is the story of their life from the time they meet, to about 20 years later set in Oxford and Durban. The other characters are Jack coloured boy adopted by Josh’s parents. He is sent to a school in Swaziland which has got to be Waterford. Also involved in the story are Harriet, Josh’s first love; her husband Herman; the two daughters’ and Caroline’s truly ghastly mother. The plot is fun, the settings are well observed and if you like richly comical beautifully told stories that feature Durban this is excellent. Thinking about it I really appreciate the few characters and the way the story is woven around each of them.