Don's Diary

May 26, 1995

SATURDAY. Arrive in Toronto having been relayed from Manchester via the retail mecca which is today's Amsterdam Schiphol airport. The weather seems surprisingly mild. Spend the evening making hasty preparations for my first talk after a hectic term of teaching and administration. Am secretly rather relieved that my hosts are otherwise engaged for the evening. I therefore have a few precious extra hours in which to prepare. Absence of watchable world news on the television. I try to resist the temptation to compare house and car prices (unfavourable) in the local newspaper.

SUNDAY. Wake up surprised by the absence of the sound of my young son, who normally serves as an utterly reliable (if over-enthusiastic) alarm clock. Struck by the cleanliness and sheer size of everything once more. My frame of reference has obviously shrunk considerably during the past 30 months living in Britain. The style in which academics can afford to live here requires considerable re-adjustment. The day is spent skiing, which reassuringly comes back quite easily despite a three-year absence from the sport.

MONDAY. Give talk on my work, which centres on the computational modelling of memory. The talk is well received, despite my lack of formal computational training. However, one of the audience veers off on a tangent, much of which does not appear to be directly relevant to the work presented. The snow hits as we leave. I stop off on the way home to buy a gift for my hosts. Impressed by array of goods on offer, well into the evening, in these out-of-town shopping malls. Most stalls appear to be operated by some of the new immigrants. Despite plunging temperatures outside, it is near-tropical inside the mall.

TUESDAY. New fall of snow this morning. Get down to work early on some co-authored papers. Lunch spent discussing the possible utility of a neuropsychological test battery for assessing the level of ability in a population of high functioning, non brain-damaged individuals. Afternoon spent reviewing brain images acquired using a new scanning protocol. Socialising in evening with post-docs, some of whom I worked with in Toronto. Am somewhat surprised about the level of their anxiety regarding the lack of tenure appointments in North American universities. Some problems seem related to the tail-end of recession, others seem to be more long-term.

WEDNESDAY. 6am workout with former boss. I had obviously forgotten something of the relish with which Torontonians engage in physical torment! Despite being over 20 years my senior, he is obviously in much better shape as we hit the post work-out jacuzzi. Lunchtime spent attending memory seminar in noticeably grunge-free University of Toronto. Spend rest of day in research meeting with research collaborator, formerly in Toronto but now at Carnegie-Mellon University in Pittsburgh. She has flown up especially. I do my best to explain why those darned papers are still not quite finished, but the concept of academic life without a teaching assistant is alien on this side of the Atlantic.

THURSDAY. Up at 5.30am for another gruelling workout, then into the Research Institute, feeling relieved that the jet lag is on my side with all these early starts. Attend Neuropsychology conference at an opulent downtown hotel (complete with an enormous portrait of the Queen in the foyer). The ambience of the conference proves a little stuffy for me. Question sessions rather stilted, as if everyone seems slightly overawed. Spend evening eating pizza and drinking beer with some old friends.

FRIDAY. In early-ish again (although skip the physical punishment this morning) and continue working on joint papers for a couple of hours. Then off down the lake to McMaster University. Met off the bus in perishing Hamilton. Walk to department of psychology, then on for lunch in the faculty club. My talk again seems to be well received, despite a couple of tricky mathematically-motivated questions. Am entertained to supper in agreeable Italian restaurant.

SATURDAY. Stocking up on consumables for the return journey, including a visit to an excellent Toronto mountaineering store.

Today is "directors' day'', so while away a few minutes chatting to one of the directors about the respective states of the Canadian and British economies. As with many, this fellow has family connections in Britain. Try, with only moderate success, to persuade him to open their proposed first United Kingdom satellite store in Manchester. Quick meeting with another research collaborator before my departure, then head for my flight home, looking forward to the return to global news coverage but not the other less civilised aspects of life in Major's Britain.

Jonathan Foster is lecturer in neuropsychology at the University of Manchester. He spent two years at the Rotman Research Institute, University of Toronto (1990-92) and recently returned on a one-week research trip.

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