I am in Ottawa! I’m spending four weeks here at the Communications Research Centre, picking the brains of the radio communications experts to help me with my PhD. I arrived yesterday afternoon – after a very early start, a National Express coach to Heathrow and a direct Air Canada flight – all of which went swimmingly well despite snow in the UK and talk of travel chaos.
In my mind, I somehow think of Canadians as being hardworking and friendly with a good sense of humour. So far, reality is confirming the stereotype. Small things to start with: the immigration queue at the airport is very democratic, everyone stands in one line, fills in the same form and speaks to the immigration officer, whether citizen or visitor. There’s none of the Daily Mail-inspired “Fortress UK” stuff you see at British airports.
I’m staying with a family – Vicky works at CRC and her husband Kouassi is a civil servant. They have two children, a daughter of about 6 and a son of 2. Their house has a “basement apartment” – like a granny annexe – which I’m staying in while I’m here. It is generous by British standards, and positively palatial compared with living on the boat. I have a bedroom, a living room with a dining table for six and a TV the size of Luxembourg, and a kitchen with the customary ginormous American-style fridge-freezer. Oh, and a bathroom with a corner bath I could virtually swim in. Beats staying in a hotel, and I can cook for myself. Vicky can give me a lift to and from the office, which is great. They’re a French-speaking household, so I can see that my French will gain some polish. At the moment it’s slightly worrying to find that my language isn’t even as good as a two-year-old’s…
Today I went into CRC with Vicky. She works early hours – 0730 until 1530 – so that she can take little Mathys to his daycare centre and get back before it closes. But it seems that most Ottawans get to work early – being in work by 8 is pretty common. Kouassi explains that in winter people like to finish work before it’s dark!
CRC shares a site with several other government agencies, including the Canadian Space Agency and part of the Department of National Defense. As a result, security is a little more formal than most places that I’ve worked. When I arrived, I went to the guardhouse to collect my pass, and had the security briefing and signed various forms bearing threats of imprisonment should I leak any information that’s of value to the Canadian government. You’ll excuse me, therefore, if I skate around the exact details of what some of my CRC colleagues work on!
I was shown around by Chris, an enthusiastic engineer. The site has the slightly tatty feel of many research centres, a ramshackle group of buildings linked by underground corridors so that you don’t have to brave the biting wind and snow to go to the library or canteen. As is the Canadian way, lots of coffee was consumed, and I was introduced to the breakfast ritual – on Friday, the terrestrial wireless guys all have fried breakfast in the canteen, which is excellent and very cheap.
By just after breakfast, I had an office, a desk, a computer, access to the internet and a temporary security pass, with the promise of a proper one next week. I also managed to log in to my experiments in Antarctica, so I’m all nicely set up to get down to work. All the CRC guys have been very friendly and lots of people have expressed an interest in my work, which has been great. We’ll see what Monday brings.