Frosty starts

Oh my word this posting is late! When I began writing and posting this blog, years ago, I promised subscribers that they would not get more than one notification a month. I made an exception to this during the first year of Covid-19. Things were so confused that I tried to make sense of the news and share my understanding. I posted regular blogs on Covid, the science, public health and its causes and consequences. It was amazing to see how rapidly the readership increased. Thank you to everyone who responded and supported this. It was nice to know it was appreciated. I stopped the Covid blogs as the public information improved, but in addition the situation increased in complexity, and I knew I no longer had a comparative advantage.

It is nearly the end of January 2023 and I have not written and posted for over six weeks. I did write an annual roundup, which was posted with my 2022 Christmas cards, in envelopes, with stamps! So here goes, the first blog of 2023, and it covers the events of the last part of my South African trip in 2022, and brings me up to date!

I was in Durban up to the 8th of December 2022 and then went to Cape Town. I spent a few nights at a hotel near the Waterfront. For the second part of the visit I went to stay with Derek, my brother, at their family home in Hout Bay on the peninsula. Unfortunately, Lynn, his wife, was in the UK visiting her parents, but two of the three daughters, Kate and Sarah were there. It was good to have a chance to connect with them as they have busy lives in the UK.

It was also an opportunity to hook up with old friends from school days. Derek generously hosted a braai for David Crush and the Figov brothers. I had seen David Crush a few times over the last year, most recently in London at the memorial service for Adrian Bowen. This was also attended by Harry. He (Harry) and his brother Sean attended Waterford school in Swaziland. Harry was a year below me and Sean about three years. Their journey was from Northern Zambia, a considerable distance for two unaccompanied young boys. I had not seen Sean since 1975, nearly 50 years. It is striking how easy it is to pick up with people one knew as children or teenagers, and the shared Waterford experience makes it even easier. The brothers were in Cape Town for the melancholy process of sorting out their late father’s apartment.

Derek was good enough to do a few touristy things with me. We went to Boulders Beach, the home of a colony of African penguins. What I did not know is that the birds only established the colony in 1982. It is the only place the birds nest on the mainland. The two pairs have grown to about 2000. It is noisy and smelly, but I much appreciated the chance to visit again. Unfortunately, I’d left my ID book behind so I had to pay international rates to get in! We had intended to lunch in the village of Scarborough and stopped at a restaurant, unfortunately the serving staff were completely unconvincing: disorganised and uninterested. The food at the nearby Imhoff Farm was excellent.

On my last afternoon Derek, Kate and I went to one of the outstanding Constantia wine estates, a short drive away. There we sampled a variety of wines and had absolutely excellent cheese to go with it. It was interesting to see how quickly the tourist industry is rebounding, and also who the tourists are. In the little mall in Hout Bay the majority seemed to be older, leathery (post-retirement) Germans. I was waiting for Kate in the mobile phone shop and every customer was a bewildered German, trying to either get their phone to work, or to understand what contract they had bought.

At the wine estate there were people of every nationality, but with a significant number of South Africans. The range of nationalities is good, but there was little racial diversity, the serving staff are black or coloured, the tourists white. I was able to ask a number of the staff, here and elsewhere, what their pandemic experiences had been. Some in the service industry were fortunate in that their employers tried to pay, at the minimum, survival wages. The driver who picked me up from the airport had, pre-Covid, a thriving shuttle business with four vehicles. She had to sell three of them to survive and was trying to rebuild her operations. There are encouraging signs that this is happening.

I flew back to Norwich after a week in Cape Town. The route is second nature, KLM to Amsterdam and then the short hop to Norwich. Although the flight left on the 14th, it was only just as it took off at 00h40. KLM is unique in that they make good use of their fleet. They don’t fly to South Africa then have the planes spend hours on the tarmac, so all the journeys to Europe (from Joburg and Cape Town) are overnight. I managed to negotiate for a middle seat with the one next to me blocked!

Back in England the first part of January was mild, but that changed on the 17th when we woke to a hard frost. The weather forecast for the week ahead is very cold, the temperature not rising above 3 or 4°C. One of my Christmas presents was a minimum and maximum thermometer. The coldest it has been, so far this year, was -4.2°C on the night of the 16th January. The house has two wood/coal burning stoves and one of my duties is to build the fire and then clean out the ashes. It is certainly being used in this cold spell. We had a chimney sweep come for the necessary maintenance today.

One of the ways I decide what to read is by reading reviews. I read a review of the book ‘Waiting for the Last Bus: Reflections on Life and Death’ by Richard Holloway (Canongate, 2019). He was Bishop of Edinburgh from 1986 to 2000 and Primus of the Scottish Episcopal Church from 1992 to 2000. It looked very interesting and so I ordered it through the interlibrary loan system. What a curious book, Holloway makes a very good case for there being no God and not much place for faith. It was certainly not what I expected. I can strongly recommend it as a thoughtful reflection. It made me think, and suggests my opinions are not completely nuts.

On the other hand, what is reported in the news is insane. It has been nearly a year since the Russians invaded Ukraine. Twelve months ago, we were listening to reports of increasing tension. I am shocked to look back and think that I did not consider it remotely possible that Putin would unleash his forces. How wrong I and many others were. What is troubling though is that I don’t know how it will end. In the UK the current Tory government is completely tone deaf and the levels of poverty and desperation are ever increasing. However they have a significant majority and have no need to go to the country until 2024. If, at that election, there is not a considerable change I will despair.

In this context, and by contrast, a Sunday paper carried a story about a seal in a fishing lake in Essex. Apparently, it found its way there from a local river and, so far, shows no sign of wanting to return to the sea. ‘The British Divers Marine Life Rescue said the seal needed to be caught for its own welfare but was happily eating the fish in the lake.’ The reporter wrote ‘A seal trapped in a fishing lake has “found himself in a branch of Waitrose” and has no incentive to escape’. Well, I thought, what do you expect! But this tunnel vision is reflected in other ways. According to the UK giving report, ‘Animal welfare continued to be the most popular with 27% of donors giving to this cause in the past four weeks’.

I am deeply immersed in writing a ‘memoir’. I feel I have had both an interesting and incredibly fortunate life and want to try to make sense of it. So far, I have written about 20,000 words, covering my life up to the age of 12. I hope it is not self-indulgent claptrap. I have little expectation of publishing it commercially, but I have really enjoyed going through memories and, with the help of the internet, being able to research some fascinating events. Who would have thought my father was involved in a military action against Faqir of Ipi on the North West Frontier of India in the 1940s! I may start posting chapters along with the monthly blogs.

Teeth and travel

At the beginning of October I developed a toothache. It persisted and got steadily worse. The dentist saw me immediately, for which I am very grateful, x-rayed the teeth, identified two abscesses, and gave me two antibiotics. One was anti-alcohol which meant I had a dry two weeks. The following week I was scheduled to fly to Johannesburg and drive to Eswatini (Swaziland). On the Monday there was a lump in my gum, and it was still very painful. I had an emergency appointment, the abscess was lanced, and the relief was immediate!

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Funerals, Memorials and Spring

We are waiting on tenterhooks for the swifts to return to Norwich. In summer 2021, we had six nest boxes installed, under the eaves, on the side of the house. It was too late for that breeding season, so we will only learn if the birds find them attractive in the next few weeks. We are told to encourage them by playing recordings of swifts calling. The conservationists warn that it may take a couple of years before birds choose to nest in our boxes.

The story of swifts is a counterpoint to sadness I have experienced over the last weeks. In early May we attended the funeral service of Joan Watts (3 June 1926 to 8 April 2022). A long life and, as the person who took the service told us, a happy and good one. We knew her as the sister of Arthur Duffield, whom Ailsa had befriended as part of her bereavement support network. Arthur died two years ago. He was a widower and as neither he nor his sister had children, that direct lineage ends. Joan lived and managed on her own, amazing considering she had a leg amputated.

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March Madness and April Showers

The past month has been one of some introspection. This post was written over the Easter weekend. On the Saturday I went to the Kitchener Farmer’s Market. When I first came to this dorpie (the Afrikaans word for a small town), I used to go every Saturday. I now manage with a visit every two weeks, the advantage of having a huge freezer (which came with the apartment, by the way) is manifest.

I have a very predictable route. I park in the underground area, go up to the level where the stalls are, and then follow a strict path. The first person I visit is Pat from Hamilton. He sells a range of olives and pickled vegetables. In my opinion his most interesting product is the olives stuffed with garlic. They are a real assault on the taste buds. We have got to know each other over the years and so first names are used. From there it’s a quick turnaround and across the aisle to the egg stand. This is run by an older couple who do not seem to have much of a sense of humour. I have yet to see them smile. If you can visualise the famous painting ‘American Gothic’ you will get the picture.

I then go to the fishmongers, right next to the butcher I use. Interestingly enough on Saturday they had none of the fish varieties that I would choose, they said their suppliers were out of stock. The fish I enjoy most when I am in Geneva, or indeed anywhere in Switzerland, is something called filet de lac, literally fish of the lake. I believe that this is caught in one of the great Lakes and now flown from Canada to Switzerland. I tried to buy a couple of different varieties to make an interesting fish stew.

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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.

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Spring is here and the snow is almost gone

The weather has finally begun warming up here in Waterloo. It is now possible to walk around without a winter coat on, although a jersey is still necessary. The squirrels are increasingly active and migratory birds are returning. We are all looking forward to spring and summer, and it really does feel as though it is imminent. What happens is that the temperature fluctuates widely. It has been as high as 18ᵒc one day and as low as -10ᵒ the next night. I wonder how the animals cope; the trees on the other hand, seem, rightly, rather reticent to bud.

I have had a very busy few weeks. On 7 March we had Stephen Lewis come and sit on a panel with a number of students and faculty members. He is extremely well known in Canada, and more broadly as an exceptional humanitarian. The auditorium was packed and a number of organisations placed tables outside to advertise their activities to the assembled company. It is good to be able to facilitate these events; it is part of building a community here in Waterloo.

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Returning to Canada, not as easy as I hoped

Christmas day in Norwich was abnormally warm. The temperature rose to 14° C and it was possible to walk around without even a coat on. It then turned very cold, with a layer of ice on the car in the morning, and much scraping before we could go anywhere. I was quite pleased with this. I had cut up a lot of wood for our wood burner in the lounge, so I was able to use some of it. In addition to this, one of my Christmas presents, which I must stress I actually asked for, was a couple of sacks of coal. I had such fun building and tending the fire.

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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

The Sixties, a Good decade?

Last month marked a significant event in my life. On the 18th of March I turned 60. I must admit to being quite shocked by the fact this birthday finally arrived. It had to be noticed and marked in some way. We talked about Ailsa coming over to Canada, but as I am teaching, marking, and busy with the end of term, we decided she would come over a little later. She, Douglas and I have all been granted permanent residence, and all have to be here and visit the appropriate agency before the 7th June. If we don’t do that then we enter a bureaucratic limbo land. Douglas visits in early April and Ailsa in May.

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