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September 6th, 2015

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04:38 pm - Thoughts on London + Problems With Aging Parents
We're now halfway through our visit to the UK, tomorrow teaotter
and I take the train to Salisbury, both the see the Cathedral and take a trip to Stonehenge. So far we've been in London – I visited it several times as a child in the 1970s, and once in the mid 80s, but it's been almost 30 years since I've been anywhere in the UK. There have been some changes.

My mom and I went to the Science Museum and the Natural History Museum on Friday – the Science Museum is a bit too glitzy and less full of interested exhibits than when I was last there, but was still fairly good. In vividly sad contrast, the Natural History Museum was largely no longer worth visiting. On part was close for renovation, but the rest was far emptier of exhibits and the exhibits had been changed to remove information and increase glitz. In the section on birds, they had a single (absolutely lovely) case from 1881, which basically formed an truly excellent introduction to avian skeletons and feathers, it was beautiful, elegantly done, and exceptionally informative. I remember visiting the Natural History Museum in the 1970s, and much of it was like that. It has since been expanded, but also now had long empty hallways, vastly less informative exhibits and looked like a pathetic shell of its former glory. Whenever I return to London again, I won't waste my time there.

Saturday, at the recommendation of my parents, teaotter and I took a tour of Buckingham palace, which was mildly interesting, and then walked around London a lot, including over the nifty Millennium Bridge. I had thought to ride on the Eye or visit the London Aquarium, but the impressively vast Saturday late afternoon crowds swiftly persuaded me to avoid both.

Today, teaotter and I spent many hours in the British Museum, which remains just as much of an amazing wonder as it was when I was a child. The museum has not been revamped in any of the various hideous ways that so many museums have, and while it also remains a rather disturbing testament to colonial era artifact looting, it also contains a collection of wonders even grander than the Metropolitan Museum or the American Museum of Natural History (both in NYC). We may return to see more on Wednesday or we may go to the Museum of London or the Victoria & Albert Museum.

It's also interesting what I remember from my earliest visit, when I was 10. The London Underground was the first subway I ever saw, and it remains my vision of an ideal public transform system, fast, not particularly uncomfortable, with trains running ridiculously frequently, and stations within moderate walking distance of each other. The addition of electronic oyster cards make it even easier to use.

I also noticed a number of significant differences –

Two of the most notable were that ads and music are now far more identical to their US counterparts than in my youth and a large percentage of young service workers were Eastern European, while I remember seeing very few Eastern Europeans in the UK on my previous visits (which were all before the fall of the USSR). Also, I don't remember noticing before, but teaotter and I both noticed the almost complete lack of homeless people – I couldn't tell if this was a result of social services that remain vastly better than those in the US, impressively draconian anti-homeless laws and enforcement, or some combination of both – this was true in all parts of London we've been to, where we have seen a grand total of one homeless person. I'd be fascinated to know what the explanation for this lack is.

Also, having a local sim card for my phone has given me internet access anywhere I am, which has made navigating London vastly easier, especially in places with twisting streets that change names at random and sometimes entirely lack any form of signage identifying the street. Google Maps remains invaluable, as is the ability to look up information about various destinations on the fly.

Problems With Aging Parents
My father isn't doing well at all. 8 years ago, he hit his head on the pavement when he was struck by a car (fortunately driving at relatively low speed) and he developed short term memory problems very shortly after that, which have been mostly stable. Within the past six months or so, they've gotten somewhat worse. Before, he would sometimes repeat stories he'd said a few minutes before, now he needs my mom to give him directions to drive someplace he's been many times. His neurologist says that he definitely doesn’t have Alzheimer's, and so I'm assuming that his current problems are some combination of age, inactivity, and depression making his existing problems worse. On our first day in London, both my dad and teaotter were tired and remained in the hotel when my mom and I went out to the museums.

Unexpectedly, the hotel desk called teaotter in our room, asking if she knew my father, since he had wandered out of the hotel, apparently forgot where he was and went in a nearby hotel looking for his room, then he wandered out of the hotel and into a nearby grocery store – the other hotel checked with this hotel and found out my dad was actually staying there and then notified them when my dad walked out and went to the grocery store. Becca and one of the hotel managers went to retrieve my dad. Also, while we had all planned to return to the US on Thursday, my parents changed their tickets to return on Monday because my dad is clearly tired and stressed. At times, when he's calm and well rested he seems much like he always has, and sometimes his memory problems are relatively minimal, but when he's tired or at all stressed (including driving a car or walking around in an unfamiliar area) he becomes somewhat like the protagonist of the film Memento and seems to lose the ability to create new long-term memories.

I've never been fond of my parents, but they are vastly more pathetic than unpleasant these days – my mom is as sharp (both mentally and in temper) as ever, but most of their friends were other antique dealers who live hundreds of miles away and who they have mostly lost touch with when they retired, then some of their friends in the DC area died and others moved away, so they literally have no friends in the city they live in, and thus all my mom has is dealing with my increasingly forgetful father.

(7 comments | Leave a comment)


[User Picture]
Date:September 6th, 2015 11:49 pm (UTC)
So, apparently, homelessness in England is very different.


"All local authorities in England have a legal duty to provide 24-hour advice to homeless people, or those who are at risk of becoming homeless within 28 days..."

"...A member of the public who is concerned that someone is sleeping on the streets can report the individual's details via the Street Link website or by calling the referral line number on 0300 500 0914. Someone who finds themselves sleeping on the streets can also report their situation using the same methods.
"The service aims to respond within 24-hours, including an assessment of the individual circumstances and an offer of temporary accommodation for the following nights. The response typically includes a visit to the rough sleeper early in the morning after the report has been made. The service operates via a number of charities and with the assistance of local councils.
"Where appropriate, rough sleepers will also be offered specialist support:
"if they have substance misuse issues, they will be referred for support from organisations such as St. Mungo's (despite the name, this is a non-religious charity)
"if they are foreign nationals with no right to access public funds in the UK, repatriation assistance will be offered, including finding accommodation in the home country, construction of support plans, and financial assistance."

So, that's a LITTLE DIFFERENT than how it is usually handled in the US.
[User Picture]
Date:September 7th, 2015 05:24 am (UTC)
I remember noticing a lack of homeless people in London too, though I think I eventually found some somewhere. But none in Tower Hamlets, which otherwise seemed 'that sort of place'.

I don't have your old memories, but I thought the Natural History museum was fine when I was there. Science was decent but 'Science' apparently means 'technology or industry'. I guess like Chicago's "Museum of Science and Industry".

Victoria and Albert is also a great art museum. And all four museums are free!
[User Picture]
Date:September 7th, 2015 10:27 am (UTC)
The Science Museum could rightfully be called the Museum of British Industrial Triumph, but given my fascination with the history of technology, I very much enjoyed it. The Natural History Museum seemed to me very much for children & tweens, while previously it seemed more designed for bookish teens & adults.
[User Picture]
Date:September 7th, 2015 07:07 am (UTC)
My gf is in London at the moment for the week as well. You may run into her at the museums. (But she is also there for work. I know she did the Tate the other day.) I am amused by this.

And I am sorry for the challenges of your parents. I know that with older people, if you take them out of familiar environments/there is stress, there can be confusion and they may not know where they are or what's up. It happens. You are probably right on the reasons, coupled with age, that your father is experiencing the increasing dementia, at a guess. *HUGS* And that is upsetting and stressful for everyone involved, and I am sorry.

(Go look at the Pre-Raphaelites in the Tate for me!)
[User Picture]
Date:September 7th, 2015 07:34 am (UTC)
The "Tate Modern" art gallery is usually worth visiting. Well curated, with a decent variety of artists.
[User Picture]
Date:September 8th, 2015 06:27 am (UTC)
I concur.
[User Picture]
Date:September 8th, 2015 06:29 am (UTC)
Sorry the 'rent situation's so tough. It's hard.

I remember at least some homelessness in London when I lived at Uni of Sussex (1985-86) and'd visit the city, particularly punks living around Sloan Square (if memory serves).

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