March 1st [St. David’s Day]
Today is L’s 69th birthday. I will be 67 later this year. We don’t do much to celebrate these events, other than to acknowledge “we are still here!”. In fact, apart from the more frequent aches and pains, there is little difference between being 60 and being 66. What matters most is that we still enjoy life and can laugh, both at ourselves and at events and the things around us.
It is also St. David’s day. St. David is the patron saint of Wales, where we lived between 1969 and 1985. Cardiff was home, but we also had partial ownership of a wine bar and property in Llangollen. Lovely place. We will be returning to Gales Wine Bar to celebrate their 40th year of being in business, and it will be nice to see the old crew again. Our sons were born roughly at the same time as the Gales’ two sons. Indeed, our eldest son James will be 40 this year. This ageing thing seems to affect us all.
In a recent survey reported in Zoomer Magazine, of 725 people aged between 50 and 90, 303 (42%) people indicated that they had given up on sex while eight said they had sex every day. I am tempted to say I have sex two or three times a day, but only in my mind.
When I worked with the Medical Research Council Epidemiology unit in Cardiff in the 1970’s, our fearless leader, Professor Archie Cochrane, used to delight in telling the story of asking people on the Rhondda valley about their sex lives. Everyone said, “they was average, like”. This meant between three times a day and once a year on birthdays. One lady in her thirties told him the story of her husband having sex before he left for work at the coal mine, popping home at lunch time for a quickie, then having sex at night when they went to bed. An astonished Archie asked “and how do you feel about this?”, to which she replied “well satisfied!”.
Archie was a wonderful character. Very wealthy, he lived in a large house which had a resident sculptor. On one occasion he hosted the French local medical officers of public health for a wine and canapes do at his house. As he and I (and our colleague David) stood drinking scotch and smoking cigars (it was a different time), these medical officers of health all began to get very sick. Serious food poising. As they were being ambulanced away, Archie turned to us and said, “felt a bit like Agincourt, don’t you think?”.
Archie wore a wristband which, in additional to carrying some vital health information, also said “If in accident, do not take me to the following hospitals..” and it then listed all the ones at which he had taught. At least, that is the joke he used to tell. (It wasn’t true).
Archie was a pioneer of randomized control trials, the meta-analysis of studies on specific treatments, and epidemiology. The Cochrane Collaboration – the leading source of best practice in medical intelligence in the world – is named after him.
Yesterday it was +12C and very bright. Today it was very bright too, but -14C and we had a major snowfall (17cm’s – 6.7 inches). Alberta, eh.
So I cooked a South African red lentil soup and a lasagne. I love cooking. Some of my earliest memories are of the restaurant kitchen in Bradford (Hardy’s), near St. George’s Hall. Granddad owned it. The prep, the smells, the food – all wonderful, if basic. Grandfather was Marcel Leclerc. Born in Paris, France in a poor house, trained in kitchens in Paris as an apprentice and moved to the UK to work at the Grand Hotel, Harrogate, where he met my grandmother. He was a wonderful chef – fun, thorough and good. When he retired, he and grandma moved to Heysham, nr. Morecambe in Lancashire. He restored a garden which produced wonderful vegetables and fruit. You could arrive without warning at 11 am and be eating a three-course meal at 1230pm and it would be wonderful – cooked with love, care, and skill.
Whenever I cook, which is often, I cook in memory of Marcel Leclerc.
L and I have watched several movies this week. First was Manchester by the Sea – not a great film, predictable and long. Casey Affleck played a powerful role well, but not a film with anything new to say. Then Hidden Figures – a very good movie with a strong story (largely true) and strong characters. Finally, La La Land – which was also not a great movie. Nice music, simple story, OK acting. Looking forward to Hackshaw Ridge.
Meantime, the Trumpkin continues to misunderstand how the Presidency works, accusing his predecessor of having his phones tapped during the US 2016 Presidential election. A President cannot order a phone tap – it has to be a legal case, placed by an intelligence agency before a special court set up by Republicans to approve an investigation. The judge would only say yes to such a wire-tap if there were sufficient grounds for concern (e.g. undue Russian influence). Meantime, the former head of national intelligence under Obama said neither he nor the FBI asked for such a court decision. More fake news from Trumpkin (like the 3 million illegal voters or the Bowling Green massacre), based on anonymous sources (reported by Brietbart). It’s a distraction device. While it plays to the Trump base – they will fall for it – it makes him look what he is: a fool.
Finally got to watch the film, Lion. Well worth it – a very strong and moving film with a great (and true) story. Much better than Manchester by the Sea.
Had a pedicure today – something I really enjoy and find uplifting. Many of my male friends find my penchant for pedicure odd. Yet, as a Type 2 Diabetic, quality foot care is important. It also makes me feel better. What’s wrong with that?
Watched A Man Called Ove – Sweden’s Oscar-nominated film. Excellent. Dry humour and insights. Strongly recommended. One part of the humour relates to just how difficult it can be to commit suicide. As a psychologist, I found this very funny indeed.
I have been shaving since I was 15 (ish). Think about it. Early each day we talk five exceptionally sharp blades and scrape our face with them, trying to look handsome (I should have given up years ago). Every so often we cut ourselves (as I did today) and then walk around scar-faced in the name of beauty for three days or so until the face heals. It is no wonder David Letterman has given up on this practice and now is the proud owner of a second head of hair on his face and chin. It is tempting, except that it would be ginger and the rest of my hair white.Doesn’t look good. What we will do for vanity.
To Calgary today after lunch with a friend and colleague. Staying at the Hotel Arts, one of my favourite places to stay in Canada.
Watching Broadchurch (ITV UK) which is in part filmed in Clevedon near Bristol where our friends Sarajane and Brian live. I keep expecting to see them walking in the street or in a shop during one of the scenes. We know the place well. It is still great TV, even without them. In fact, UK TV is generally better than the TV we have here in Canada. For example, we have been watching a documentary series on the working on the House of Lords. Excellent television – insightful, funny and informative. Call the Midwife, which finished this last week-end, is also such a well written and acted series. Our next UK show is The Real Marigold Hotel where a number of seniors who were once celebrities explore India as a potential base for retirement. Again, an interesting programme.
On Saturday, after an interesting workday and a wonderful meal at 10 Foot Henry (Calgary), we retired to our room and looked for something to watch on television. Nothing. Zada.
I am fascinated by emerging technology – always have been. In particular, developments in artificial intelligence (AI). My colleague Sean Wise (Ryerson U) draws attention to the use of AI to systematically manage an ad campaign (see here). A Japanese insurance company has replaced its insurance claims assessors (office based) with IBM Watson – the big AI engine in which the company is now betting a big part of its future. Watson is working in health care, and so it should. Here’s why: according to one expert, only 20 percent of the knowledge physicians use to make diagnosis and treatment decisions today is evidence-based. The result? One in five diagnoses are incorrect or incomplete and nearly 1.5 million medication errors are made in the US every year. Iatrogenesis – medical mistakes – are the fourth largest cause of death in the US. Watson can change this.
Some are worried that AI will “take over” running of the world. This is more than unlikely. what we need to do is to learn how to dance with AI robots.
3D printing also fascinates me. Recently I saw a video of a house (2 bedrooms, meets California code) being printed in 24 hours for a cost of less than US$11,000 – see the video here.
The future isn’t going to be a straight line from the past.
March 17th (St Patrick’s Day)
My March-April edition of The Idler magazine arrived today, carrying in its letter pages my letter on how to remain idle on a long flight. Nice to see my writing in print. It’s a great magazine. In addition to suggestions about playing the ukelele, it has helpful articles, insightful interviews, and generally good stuff. My favourite piece in this edition is a short set of notes about the life of Quentin Crisp – one the great characters of the last century.
I have never fallen for the shamrock, Irish whisky marketing skiff known as St. Patrick’s day. I knew it wasn’t for me when I started to see green beer. Seriously? I get that various countries have a Saints day – March 1st is the day for the Patron Saint of Wales. But we just acknowledge this quietly and keep on keeping on. But Paddy’s Day gets silly. Count me out. A quiet tipple is all I will have.
Great concert last night – Bill Eddins (our retiring Music Director) and the Edmonton Symphony playing Brahms 2nd and the Academic Festival Overture and the Dvorak Cello Concerto. The soloist was the young Parisian cellist Edgar Moreau. This is the second time the ESO has brought the orchestra and a young but very talented musician to play and blown us all away. The other time was when the young (and somewhat dishevelled) Behzod Abduraimov played the Emperor piano concerto. Brilliant.
My friend and former colleague (and fellow writer) Peter Chiaramonte has moved into arts broadcasting with regular interviews with artists. He is just starting, but it is worth listening to (see here). His book about one of the Manson girls (Leslie Van Houten) is also well worth reading (see more here).
Watching Trumpcare go down is a fascinating thing to me. For seven years the Grand Old Party (GOP) Republicans have voted to repeal Obamacare and have promised to replace it with something much better. Interestingly, they clearly did not bother to do the work on the replacement plan at any level of detail. Trumpkin comes along and helps the party own both houses of congress and the White House and so they determine that this will be the signature bill to launch the GOP legislative agenda. They don’t have a plan that anyone owns and don’t have votes within their own party to make it happen. With the plan they have developed, citizens of the US are 50x more likely to die from a failed healthcare system than they are from gun violence and the odds of being killed by a terrorist are around 1 million to one. Worse, when a US person dies because they cannot afford health care, they will bankrupt the family en route to death. Greatest country on earth – not even close.
Trump gave a remarkable interview to Time Magazine (read the transcript here). Setting aside the irony that it is full of lies and half-truths yet it is about truth telling, the interview provides an insight into the troubled and confused mind of an elderly adult male who is incapable of coherent thought. A rambling mess of a mind. Contrast this with the clarity of Obama’s thinking and speeches.
Shocked by the developments in London this week, where five died and many were injured in an act of senseless terror. As Churchill was fond of saying, “Let’s Keep Buggering On”, which often abbreviated to KBO.
In Toronto yet again, this time for a variety of clients. Nice weather. I am staying at the Eaton Chelsea – Canada’s largest hotel and not wonderful, but convenient. At least the beds are comfy and the room quiet and spacious. Can get some work done. Have five interviews, two big group meetings and lots of one on one conversations. One of these turned interesting when my colleague picked up the phone, rang a colleague in South Africa and set up a meeting for us all in Durban. So I guess I am flying – too far to walk. Dangerous place Toronto, you end up in South Africa!
Four days in a hotel, 60 people in various stages of undress at the “gym”. Thank goodness, I was entered the fitness protection program _ I don’t have to dress like a plonker, run for forty minutes without moving and sweat like a pig. I just drink coffee.
Watched The Accountant with Ben Affleck in the key role. Many have said that this is a dull film, but I didn’t find it so. It is really a story of development – how an autistic child turns his autism into a huge advantage. Admirable.
When I am away I sleep a lot. Went to bed at 8.30pm last night and woke at 6 am. As always, restless sleep, but good. While my Fitbit will show 5 hours and 22 minutes of sleep, I feel 100% rested.
Spent a large chunk of my week with people in the construction industry focused on rethinking apprenticeship. What an inspiring, creative and smart group of people. Some began as electricians and carpenters. My dad (who was a carpenter) would be proud.