Martyn Evans’ New Zealand Travelogue – Part 2

Tuesday 29th March. A regular work-day begins. At breakfast, the regional daily, the Otago Daily Times, has the kind of front page headline that can shock only in a small town: ‘Log trailer overturns: resident “pretty worked up”‘. Boundless joy. The peninsula bus drops us off near the hospital and we thank Perry, today’s driver. Everyone thanks the driver, often by name, when they get off a bus. Sadly I learn that Rod, another team driver to whom I said “See you on my next visit” when he dropped me off on my last bus journey here in 2009, died in his bed last year, well short of retirement age (which has been abandoned anyway in NZ). A new coffee outlet has opened up in the hospital foyer – ‘The Dispensary’. Cheeky – but the coffee hasn’t been incinerated before grinding. I wait in the queue alongside a painting I’ve loathed since my first visit in 1999, ‘The Lamp Still Burns’, a portrait of an un-named Ward Sister wearing 1950s uniform and an expression that is either that of a psychopath or of someone whose vanity led her to dispense with her spectacles for the sitting.

Email at the moment is frustrating beyond belief, a combination of a fragile wi-fi system here and Durham’s veteran mail-server back home. Never mind – perhaps I will now be forced to attend to books and journals. A rewarding discussion mid-morning with Grant Gillett, neurosurgeon and philosopher of mind, concerning agency and responsibility. Grant’s study (which like the rest of the Bioethics Centre is to be found on the 8th floor of the Dunedin Hospital in the gastroenterology unit) is a chaos of books and sheets of paper, and it occurs to me that my own study perhaps is simply not untidy enough for proper creativity. I must try harder. Grant’s narrative view of agency (combining the best of Daniel Dennett on consciousness with Levinas on responsibility and above all Kant on pretty well everything) turns out to be very attractive. This is followed, in the magnificent Otago Museum’s inviting foyer café, by another rewarding lunchtime discussion, this time with Lynley Anderson, ethicist and physiotherapist: topics include sports medicine, screening, embryo donation, and where a ‘big picture’ research theme for the Otago Centre might emerge.

There are many more postgraduates here than when I last visited, and a general sense of energy and busy-ness that it is a pleasure to join in. If I can keep my multiple tasks in check and prioritise them, I shall do well on this visit. Not all is well in Eden, however – what passes here for cakes and confectionery in most food outlets still consists in congealed sugar and little else. It looks fantastic on the plate; leave it right there and walk away.

By complete contrast, a really lovely buffet supper last night at Carrington College, one of Otago’s nine maintained Colleges, where I was fortunate to be the principal guest at an event hosted by the Warden of Carrington, Ashley Day. A very urbane and jolly evening in excellent company, the guests including three College Principals-equivalents, the Otago equivalent of Durham’s Dean of Colleges, and the current accompanist to Dame Kiri te Kanawa, the talented pianist Terence Dennis whose playing I’ve enjoyed on earlier visits. Life is pretty cool sometimes – so much so as to drive away jetlag!

They say of Otago Harbour that the weather can give you all four seasons in a single day, and so far today we’ve had three of them. The wind is basically either northerly or southerly and the weather conforms in strict accordance to this. Sudden changes happen in mere minutes, and can be bad news – not least for the dauntless helicopter pilots who bring emergency cases into the helipad which is just a few metres outside and above the window in the room where I’m working. Perhaps a half-kilometre away is the nearly-finished new rugby stadium which will feature in this autumn’s Rugby World Cup. No place for the faint-hearted unless you’re an All-Black fan – in which case you probably won’t be faint-hearted…

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