This is not what education should look like…

Flo studying

This is a photo of my daughter mid GSCEs.  She has been doing this every day for goodness knows how many weeks.  We have not been able to use our dining room for as long, so we are all huddled on the sofa eating dinner every night.  She works late into the night most nights.  She takes notes to bed with her.  She is often late getting ready in the morning as she skims over them one more time.  I have had to stop her from pushing herself too hard on more than one occasion.  This is not what education should look like.

She is a super tough cookie, my baby girl.  She rarely, if ever, cries.  She gets stressed but it’s a flash in the pan.  She is highly resilient – third child, had to be.  I have had to watch as the cracks begin to show in her armour.  This is not what education should look like.

I have had to find money I don’t really have to pay for maths tuition because she has been slipping through the net and got deeper and deeper out of her depth as her teachers struggle to keep on top of all the new exams and pressures.  It has worked, in a manner, she came out of her first maths exam saying it wasn’t that bad, I’ll take that as a win because eight weeks ago, she was sobbing and crying about how she was going to fail, how she was a failure, how the pressure of getting into sixth form just felt too much.  This is not what education should look like.

In a bid to understand I contacted the school.  She has been advised to seek alternative options, the message she got was ‘you’re not making the grade, not welcome here, we only want the best.’  But she is the best.  She uses language in ways that will have you crying with laughter, she cuts through facts with clarity and doesn’t stand bullshit, she can argue about literally anything, she is a critical thinker.  She has a beautiful mind.  And yet is reduced to tears and tantrums, stress and anxiety, pressure and worry.  This is not what education should look like.

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Dad: two years on

My father died two years ago today.  It was a good death.  He planned it all and apart from a couple of troubled moments where he doubted he could die, he managed it in the end.  It was with great love that we held his hand and told him his body would know what to do and that this was ok.  It was with great humour that we sat with him as his breathing laboured and stopped only to start again 30 seconds later.  They don’t tell you that about the dying, but as Dad had a great sense of theatre we started to smile as he slipped off this mortal coil.

I miss him.  I’m angry with him that he went before I was ready to be the grown up.  I want to tell him I was on telly this week and that I got engaged to the clown and that I read a good book recently.  I want to tell him that my response to his death was to host death cafes and how amazing they are and that I travelled on my own to Australia and America.  I want to tell him that I played Al Martino Here in my Heart for someone in my CST group this week and that I remembered Dad singing it even though I hadn’t realised it.  I want to tell him that as it dawned on me during the CST session I had to swallow my grief as it felt like a punch in the stomach.  I want to tell him that I had a conversation about Jussi Bjorling and how amazed the person was that I knew who he was at all!

Mum and I are going out for lunch as a way of marking this day.  We will probably order the most Spanishy thing on the menu and we will raise our glasses that we have survived without your bloody moaning, your humour and your advice (which I rarely took).

This is what I read at my father’s funeral and is still true 🙂

We should not be here today.   Dad’s wishes were that he should leave his body to medical science so we were rather hoping that we could ship him off to the University of Leicester and we could raid his wine cabinet to toast the old boy privately.  However, we are deeply grateful to all of you who have joined us today to pay tribute to Dad’s life and celebrate his memory.  We are aware that there are some who are close to him who could not be here today but we feel their love and support just the same.

Dad was a wonderful, warm-hearted, funny and eccentric man.  He was also irascible, difficult and stubborn but we are only going to focus on his best bits today.  We are deeply grateful to our father for many things, our big noses, Crispin’s hair loss, our disregard for authority and rather smelly feet.

We are also very grateful to him for taking us out as children to fancy restaurants and the theatre, which in the 70’s was not a common approach to parenting in working class families.  An appreciation for food, art and culture has remained with us throughout our lives.  We both, in different ways, are life-long learners and have a thirst for knowledge and a curiosity about the world which has been heavily influenced by our father.   Crispin said I have to say that he has also inherited Dad’s dashing good looks, compassion and sense of humour.

Our father’s theatrical style of parenting combined with a wicked sense of humour meant that he often dressed up as a vampire when we were watching Hammer Horror films as children.  He thought this was incredibly funny but has resulted in neither of us being able to sleep in the dark.  Luckily, his approach to cuisine meant that no vampire real or imagined would ever be able to get close to us.

We have both inherited his over optimistic ability to ‘finish a project’.   We both horde useless objects in the hope that one day we will find a purpose for them.  Cars are a particular favourite waste of time for both of us.  We are grateful for the vision he bought of the rest of the world.  He would often work away and come back with stories of food and culture which broadened our horizons, we both, particularly Crispin, love to travel.

We would also like to acknowledge our Mum today too though.  She too has passed many qualities onto us and supported my father to pursue his many interests.  We are grateful for her constant presence.

Finally, we are incredibly thankful to have been able to sit with Dad, to hold his hand, play him music and to reassure him as he made his final curtain call.

We would now like to read a piece which we feel sums up how we would like to think about Dad.

Death Is Nothing At All
Death is nothing at all
I have only slipped away into the next room
I am I and you are you
Whatever we were to each other
That we are still
Call me by my old familiar name
Speak to me in the easy way you always used
Put no difference into your tone
Wear no forced air of solemnity or sorrow
Laugh as we always laughed
At the little jokes we always enjoyed together
Play, smile, think of me, pray for me
Let my name be ever the household word that it always was
Let it be spoken without effort
Without the ghost of a shadow in it
Life means all that it ever meant
It is the same as it ever was
There is absolute unbroken continuity
What is death but a negligible accident?
Why should I be out of mind
Because I am out of sight?
I am waiting for you for an interval
Somewhere very near
Just around the corner
All is well.
Nothing is past; nothing is lost
One brief moment and all will be as it was before
How we shall laugh at the trouble of parting when we meet again!
(Canon Henry Scott-Holland)

I’m afraid I don’t think we will meet in the afterlife (sorry Sister Hazel) as Canon Scott-Holland probably meant when he wrote that final line.  But I definitely meet Dad in my dreams, when I look at Crispin and to a lesser extent in my children.

A friend recently told me that grief initially feels like a huge rock, impossible to move.  Gradually it lessens in size until eventually it is a small pebble in your pocket, always there, never forgotten.   I think that grief is the price you pay for love and I can see that there will be lots of people who will carry a small pebble for Dad.  He would have liked that.

Thank you.

Bye Bye Boston

What a fabulous end to the week.  A very warm welcome to the Emanuel Church elder LGBTI lunch.  They very kindly facilitated a discussion about what the community lunch club meant to them.  They moaned about the food quite a lot, so it wasn’t that – I thought the chilli was nice, but I’m easily pleased.  It was the sense of community, it was a safe place to be, when they entered everyone assumed they were LGBT, which was in contrast to pretty much everywhere else they went.  It was assumed when I mentioned my partner was heading out that it was a woman and for the first time in my life I had to declare my sexuality.  This was an important understanding.  The location of the club was easily accessible, it helped that there was free parking – I think.  The members that I met today were overwhelmingly gay men with only two women present.  One woman travelled some distance just to attend this club just for the companionship.  Memory concerns were definitely present within this group.  There was a beautiful point at the end of the group where members enquired about other members who they hadn’t seen in a while and there was a kind of update.  This is a community who looks out for each other.

 

I had to say goodbye to the lovely Bob Linscott who has taken such good care of me all week and hooked me up with such great contacts.  I have a few Churchill Crowns which I can give to people as a thank you.  They are a nice commemorative coin from the Churchill Trust.  I presented Bob with a crown and he complained that he would rather have a tiara 🙂

 

I headed up to a lovely café and cake place (took all my self-control to resist the cakes) to meet with Cherri, a dementia champion.  We are definitely kindred spirits and it was great to appreciate the vibe in the USA around dementia training.  I need to send copies of my articles to her and we might even manage to meet up in the UK later in the year.  It was interesting that Cherri uses validation therapy, which influenced my early work a great deal so was nice to discuss that with her.

 

My last appointment of the day was with Sean Cahill the Director of Health Policy Research who provided me with a really great insight into what the issues were in terms of aging LGBTI community and how they were responding to that.  I’m looking forward to reading their latest report about how the landscape has changed in the first year of Trumps presidency.  My head is reeling from all the information, the love, the support and the friendships I have made here.

 

The chilly walk back to my hotel was just what I needed and there was a mental toss-up between going to the gym and enjoying the complementary wine.  Wine won.  Early night needed as I have an early start tomorrow as I head to NYC and the best boyfriend in the world.  I have a list of restaurants, bakeries, sights to see from all those I have spent time with over the last two days.  I fear the diet will go out the window…

Hearts, chocolates and the worst kidnap attempt ever…

This has been the best day ever.  I woke up to several messages sending me notice of an Independent Age study about sexuality and intimacy in the over 65s.  I had 30 minutes to muster up a blog post for the most wonderful Jason Day, my PR guru.  Soooo pleased that I managed to just sit down and write something, managed to set up some more appointments in New York, then it was off out to make my first appointment.

Enjoyed an interesting conversation with Dale Mitchell, the CEO of ETHOS.  ETHOS is a ‘mainstream’ care provider who support people in their own homes.  They have been instrumental in forming the LGBT aging project and was really great the hear Dale’s perspective.  I am going to have to really take some time out just to consider all the different perspectives I’m hearing.

I then navigate my way back to the hotel to write up some notes and generally process stuff before heading out on the bus/train to the Hebrew Rehabilitation Centre where I met the lovely Rabbi Sara.  This centre is enormous by UK standards.  Sara and her team are working at rolling out LGBT sensitive care across the whole of their service.  I can’t wait to find out how this work progresses and have made some great contacts here.

Hebrew rehab

From here it was a bus ride back to join an elders of colour community dinner.  I arrived before Bob but was made to feel so welcome that it really didn’t matter.  This is a monthly dinner which is hosted by Whittier Street Health Centre and it is fab.  It has such a great vibe and the room was all decked out for Valentines.

 

I met such lovely people who were so interested and supportive of the Fellowship it was just great.  Bob left before me as I was so busy chatting to people.  I have everyone’s details and promises of keeping in touch.  After dinner of salad, pulled chicken and potatoes, there was news of an upcoming theatre trip, a talk by a new clinician working within the clinic – who handed out Valentines candy, my GP never does that….  We were then treated to a seminar about the importance of humour in older age.  I was lucky enough to have a key ring under my valentine’s card which meant I won a bag of goodies 🙂

Goody bag of loveliness

I was introduced to such an great group of people, it was just a joy to have so many interesting conversations, especially as I am so far away from my loved ones on Valentines.  I met a wonderful woman called Eugenia who had only recently retired and I was told was such a powerful advocate for better services in the area.  I love meeting women who change the world.  I feel like I have met a legend.

I was slightly concerned because I had to make my way back on the train and it was getting later and later.  I feel totally safe here but three women offered me a lift to the T station and I was grateful.  I left the dinner feeling the love.

We walked to the car park together and I was put in pride of place in the front.  Then the hilarity began.  If one of my kids got into a car with a bunch of strangers I would be furious with them!  Anyway, we started to drive out of the carpark but the ticket didn’t work.  Her wife couldn’t get out of the back because the door lock was malfunctioning so there was all sorts of silliness trying to get people in and out of the car.  Luckily, someone pulled up behind us who had a fob for the barrier and we were out.  We were then heading off towards the T when it was decided that they would just chauffer me back to my hotel.  All three women had a different idea of how best to navigate to my hotel and I did comment that this might be the most inept kidnapping attempt ever.  So much fun and laughter in that car this evening.  I was safely dropped off right to the door and I very much hope to meet these wonderful women again someday.

I arrived back to my room still with a big grin on my face from such a wonderful evening and was welcomed back with this by the world’s friendliest hotel:

Hotel chocs

 

Lost gloves and heartache

I’m of an age where gloves feature large in my life as an essential accessory.  I guess this happened when I was about 43 before that I was so hip not even weather could get to me.  Now I’d rather be comfy, which mostly means warm.

 

I have gloves for different occasions – there are the emergency gloves I had to buy when I was Christmas shopping in Camden with the best boyfriend in the world, then there are my driving gloves that live in my car, knitted silver yarn with yellow (my fave colour) which have rainbows bought for me by Sheryl, the beautiful long length black leather ones which make me look like a dominatrix or that I’m about to handle something corrosive. Then there are my everyday gloves.  Dark blue faux leather which are scuffed and worn.  When it rains and they get wet the dye comes off on your hands and you spend the day explaining your frozen looking hands to people.  These are now also my ‘Boston’ gloves.

 

I woke up this morning and couldn’t find them.  I have returned to my hotel in between appointments just to look for them.  I lose things all.the.time.  My brain just doesn’t retain information like where I last had a thing.  I end up replacing everyday items with amazing regularity.  But these worn out hand dying gloves cannot be replaced.  My Dad bought them for me and now he’s dead so they have been elevated to my most precious things.

 

On this Valentine’s Day, text your loved ones – including parents, grandparents, children, chosen family, whoever makes your heart bigger – because when they are gone it will hurt you in ways you cannot even imagine.

 

I found the gloves.  I had chucked them in a shopping bag with some souvenirs so everything is ok again.  Now go, tell those you love that you love them xx

pexels-photo-207962.jpeg

Boston Bits

I have arrived safely in Boston and am completely in love with the place.  I had a pretty dreadful flight here from San Fran, turbulence, over-crowding, nowhere to stow hand luggage, stuffed right at the very back of the plane where we were served last by the grumpiest Steward I have ever known.  As we were the last to be served, the Steward explained he had run out of cutlery so would we mind sharing – really!  You can’t go anywhere without tripping over a hand sanitizer in SF and the current flu epidemic is making people even more anxious, so no, we will not be sharing our cutlery.  I opted for the cheese and cracker option…

 

It was with slightly heavy heart that I ventured out into the cold, dark rain on my very first visit to Boston.  The airport shuttle was waiting and my driver was nice enough but not very chatty.  I was up to this point not overly impressed.   Then I got to the world’s friendliest hotel and all was well with the world again.  My room is nice enough, I screwed my nose up when I realised there were no tea/coffee making facilities in the room but complementary refreshments are served in the lobby.  I wasn’t initially enamoured with the idea of having to get dressed to pad down seven flights of stairs for my morning brew but I love it now.  I am greeted with a cheery good morning by the housekeepers, on the first day I was asked how my night was, I explained I was in a slightly different time zone still and was cheerily told to take my time.  The reception staff are equally cheery and helpful.  I live with teenagers.  I’m lucky if someone grunts at me in the morning.  I could easily get used to hearing ‘have a great day ma’am’ every time I leave a building.  When I return the concierge guys out front welcome me back – even if I just pop to Star Market next door.  It’s not at all cheesy – it’s lovely.

Fenway Health

Initially I had planned to meet with folks from the Fenway Health but Bob needed to have some dental work so this was postponed until Tuesday (today).  I was so grateful for a day to catch up.  My inboxes are overflowing already despite my best efforts and I have little time to write up all my experiences, adventures and meetings.  I did manage to walk to the Cheers bar and buy some souvenirs which was really the only thing I’ll have time for sightseeing wise.

 

Today was spent with Bob and Lisa from the LGBT Aging Project within Fenway Health.  In contrast to San Francisco where every other building is a gym, in Boston every other building is a café (my kinda town) where Bob, Lisa and I met and had some lovely, insightful conversations about working in the LGBT space, the challenges, the gains, collaborations and who else I should try and link in with.  I could easily spend another month here making links.

I’m deeply grateful for the time today, my head is again buzzing with ideas of how I can bring this knowledge and understanding back to the UK to have a positive impact.  I was even more fortunate that Bob, Lisa and some of their colleagues are moving so they were keen to offload some bits and pieces including this – which I love!

They were even polite enough to give me a small, that’s how lovely people are here.  I hot footed it back to the hotel – I cold footed it back to the hotel, it’s -3 here – to write up notes and plot more fabulous plans based on today’s discussions.  I wandered over to the shopping centre opposite the hotel in search of gifts for ungrateful teens.  I got a bit excited to see a Neiman Marcus in real life, I’ve only ever heard of it on TV before  I can’t afford anything from aforementioned store so left.  I did drool at the window of Jimmy Choo for a while though before bracing the elements in search of a subway.

 

I’m a huge fan of travel cards and by far the best way to get to know a place is to travel by bus.  You get to meet the most interesting people that way.  On my last day in San Fran, I met a really interesting chap who introduced me to three of his personalities, they all seemed nice and he gave me some great tips on travelling to New York.  It never ceased to amaze me that pretty much everyone I met talked openly about having a therapist, except the people I met on the bus who I suggest would greatly benefit from some psychological intervention.

Charlie card

I bustled down to the subway – you have to bustle here or your ears drop off from the cold – and in my own bumbling inept way could not get to grips with the top up system of the travel pass.  It’s called a Charlie Card here which again is just a lovely friendly name for it.  I sent a photo to my step son, Charlie.  (I’m never sure if I can use the term ‘step’ children as G and I are not married but for brevity I’ll use it here in the hope that it will not cause offence to anyone and because to say ‘the son of my boyfriend’ makes me sound a bit grandiose).  With my Charlie Card I can travel any bus or train except the commuter line.  I have no idea what that is but have three appointments spread across town tomorrow so will suss it all out by then.  I’m such a chilled out seasoned traveller now.

 

The nice lady in the subway who probably has to deal with people like me visiting and not knowing what the hell they are doing all day was super helpful.  By which I mean she assessed me as very needy and did the whole transaction for me including paying with my bank card.  I wasn’t sure how the Charlie Card worked – some travel cards you swipe on but not off, some on and off, some you just flash at the driver – so asked for some clarity.  These you swipe against a reader on the barriers.  She made me swipe and go through.  I didn’t actually want to travel anywhere but I got on the next train because I’m British and would rather pretend I wanted to do something than let a helpful person down.  So I went to Arlington for a bit, then took a return train which took me out another exit and so helpful lady never knew.  Sometimes it is exhausting being British.

 

Walking back I found a lobster shack.  Not where actual lobsters shack up but where you can go in and eat something called a lobster roll.  I’d heard talk of these and wanted in.  They are delicious and I’m going back.  Obviously, I’ll have to wait until staff changeover because they might think I’m a lobster roll addict or something.  Here it is (totally acceptable to photograph food for a blog kids, just saying) The pickle was free 🙂

Lobster roll

 

I missed out on the complementary hot chocolate from the worlds friendliest hotel but the lobster roll made up for it.  Chatted to the family earlier and everyone is surviving without me, which is good.  Remember kids even when I’m not in the country I know what you are up to, don’t forget that.  Always watching, always (Roz, Monsters Inc)

 

Busy day planned tomorrow and tired out even though its only 9pm.  Bob has recommended an evening stroll around the Italian quarter, but I’m pooped so that’ll have to wait another day.  Big love from Boston x

LGBT+ Dementia care training, Chinatown and secret gardens

Was fortunate enough to experience some cultural humility and dementia care training yesterday back at OpenHouse.  I like the cultural humility ethos, but there were some differences between the way we work in the UK with those living with dementia and the tenet of the training.  Attendees were encouraged to say yes to all the demands and requests from the person with dementia, therapeutic (compassionate) lying appeared to be the norm and there was talk of offering hope in the face of the diagnosis.  Attendees were healthcare professionals who mostly worked in care home facilities from what I could gather, with a couple of exceptions.  Examples of residents not being told that their loved one had died and distraction appeared common.  Pretty interesting to note the different approaches.

OpenHouse

Nice walk in the sun to the next appointment with the lovely Stu Maddux. Stu is a film maker and executive producer.  He produced a film called Gen Silent which was shown at the LGBT conference I attended in Melbourne on the first leg of my awfully big adventure.  Gen Silent is a beautiful film which talks of the concerns and anxieties of the LGBTI+ elders as they age.  Here is a link to the trailer – http://gensilent.com/   I would urge people with funding to watch it and find ways in which this film can be shown more broadly in the UK.

Stu works in the heart of Chinatown and generously offered to show me around while we chatted.  He explained that the water line used to be at the same level as this building!

SF Shard

Walking around San Francisco you can’t help but be in awe of the resourcefulness of those pioneers who decided to build here.  The Bay was bought under control so that they could build on it.  Apparently old ships were used to secure water lots in the age of the Gold Rush and so beneath the finance district there is a whole fleet of ships.  It’s weird to think that San Fran was little more than a small town in 1848.  My house back home was built in 1860 – we have a different sense of history, for sure.

Stu navigated us towards a tall building to ride to the 15th floor so we could take in the sights from a little-known patio.  I’m so grateful for the experience and definitely not one I would have had left to my own devices.  Stu has plans to make three further films, the first addressing loneliness and aging.  I’m hoping we get to meet again in the future.  We walked back to his offices in Chinatown and he wished me well and gave me a hug.  Not for the first time on my travels I realised that this was the first hug I had had since leaving home.  I walked away wondering how I would cope in isolation or in a care home which monitored and managed by intimate behaviour…

I wondered back through Chinatown and found the secret patio building again, this time taking photos of the views and the marketplace.

So that was that.  All the meetings are done, my brain is fizzing with the new knowledge and insights I have gained from this most duplicitous of places.  I have met with some genuinely lovely people and am now looking forward to Boston.  I’ve just had an email suggesting that we have a friendly chat over bagels and coffee before I get to meet all the people at the Fenway Institute.  I think I’m going to be just fine 🙂

A warm welcome from OpenHouse and Alzheimer’s Association

Yesterday saw me heading out to Laguna Street to meet with Duff Axsom (coolest name – ever!) and various colleagues to better understand the work that OpenHouse do.  My understanding is that OpenHouse has been running for 20+ years and started as a housing support organisation for the LGBT+ community.  Since then it has grown and broadened its support to include more direct support services and community programmes.

 

OpenHouse has 39 apartments onsite and is in the process of building a further 79 apartments.  The waiting list is in the hundreds and currently closed.  The need for affordable housing is evident in San Francisco.  I heard accounts of how the lack of affordable housing meant that it was almost impossible for those who have moved away from San Fran hoping to move back.  It also means that selling up and downsizing is not an easy option so people are encouraged to keep their own homes for as long as possible.  San Francisco has some really beautiful buildings but it is not an easy place to be if you have mobility problems or frailty.  Often old apartment blocks either don’t have a lift or it frequently breaks down.  OpenHouse offer a volunteer befriending service to alleviate the isolation felt by some people.

 

Openhouse

OpenHouse has a broad remit, I saw a support group in action to help people who struggled to de-clutter their homes, I heard about cultural humility training, the support group for people who care for somone with a dementia, health and wellbeing support and how residents are encouraged to host groups too.

 

It was an absolute joy to meet and talk with Amy, Sylvia, Manuel, Duff, Jess, Ariel and Michelle.  Each person was very generous with their time and influenced and informed my thinking.  I am delighted that a new programme called ‘Embracing sexuality in older age’ (or something similar, sorry if I haven’t quite remembered the title) is being rolled out in a couple of weeks.  I’m hoping to keep in touch with OpenHouse to see how that programme is received, but it sounds like it’s going to be popular J

 

I am very grateful to Duff for organising my day.  I had great conversations with everyone and was made to feel very welcome.  I definitely feel more at home in more subversive environments J  Thank you OpenHouse x

Alz Assn

Today I headed off to the Financial district to meet with the Alzheimer’s Association to speak about their LGBT Dementia Care Project.  We had an interesting discussion about how to access and engage with organisations.  I found out that there is mandatory dementia training in SF which must be undertaken before and after staff have started working with people with a diagnosis.  Apparently, in SF you need 400 hours of training before you are allowed to work in a nail bar, but you can care with someone with dementia after only 4-5 hours training.  Good to know that the issues around getting staff released for training is just as difficult here as at home.  Looking forward to attending the training tomorrow at OpenHouse.  Tiring but great couple of days.

 

It’s a care home Jim, but not as we know it…

Today started early with a longish bus ride out to AlmaVia San Francisco care home. I had been in touch with AlmaVia because they had featured in a blog which cited them as particularly LGBT inclusive. It was possibly the biggest and most beautiful care home I have ever visited. I was welcomed by John and Carmel and their team and enjoyed a long conversation about what inclusive care looks like, the differences and similarities between the USA and UK in terms of mental capacity and the importance of intimacy in holistic care. The staff at AlmaVia work at understanding their own prejudices and preconceptions about intimate expression among residents and have training and open conversations. The key to their ethos of inclusive care is communication and partnership working.

 

We talked – in a really beautiful dining room – about how intimacy is common behaviour among residents that this provides a sense of connectedness which is important to wellbeing. Should residents demonstrate more amorous behaviours the staff would then consult with the family and work at enabling the family to support the resident to meet their needs. As in the UK, it can take adult children a while to be comfortable with a parents sexual expression, especially where dementia is present.

The striking thing about AlmaVia was the calm and quiet atmosphere during my visit and subsequent tour. It was pretty grand and quite different from the majority of care homes I have visited in the UK. There is a startling difference between the business model and the social care model. I would argue that we must be careful in the UK not to move too much towards the former.

I wasn’t too sure how long my visit had been scheduled for and it being the appointment which was furthest away from where I am staying, I had given over the whole day to it. When I left just after lunchtime, I took the opportunity to go exploring a little. I started to head back to the hotel, but remembered I had wanted to visit the GLBT History Museum, so headed back a couple of stops on the bus/train. I found myself in the Castro district which has such a great vibe, I wondered around feeling very much at home amongst all the boutiques and cafes. I found the museum, which is closed on Tuesdays, so will have to find a bit more time later in the week.

I have been thinking about my family a lot today. I received an email this morning telling me that Wonder Boy had been burnt with a hot teaspoon by another pupil. He is ok, college staff have dealt with the incident and this will be written up on the other pupils record, but I am a long way from home. Incidently, to the young person who hurt Wonder Boy, I am the Liam Neeson of mothers. I do know who you are. I don’t know what you want. If you are looking for a ransom, I can tell you I don’t have money. But what I do have are a very particular set of bassass skills, skills I have acquired over a very long-time mothering. Skills that make me a nightmare for people like you. If you stop hurting WB, that’ll be the end of it. I will not terrify you every time I see you, I will not pursue you. But if you don’t, I will look for you, I will find you, I will insist on your parents being present at the meeting I will hold. Just saying.

Anyhow, home has been on my mind and Wonder Boy in particular. So with time on my hands I hadn’t planned for I trekked off to find Mrs Doubtfire’s house. WB LOVES Mrs Doubtfire so I hope he appreciates the effort. Lovely area down there in the Cow Hollow region, a bit too nice in an eery kind of way, but hey that’s probably just me 🙂

Mrs Doubtfire house

From there it didn’t seem too far to visit the windy road that is a section of Lombard Street. Again, WB would love this so took lots of photos for him. Don’t worry chickens, I’ll be home soon xxx

Windy Road

From there I got a bit lost, but have downloaded this lifesaving app called Moovit which tells me where I am, where I need to go and how to get there in so much detail that even I can’t stay lost for long. I have walked for miles and miles and miles. My plans went from going to the gym when I got back to the hotel, to going to the bar when I got back to the hotel, to actually abandoning all other plans and putting on pj’s and writing up.  Happy Tuesday everyone x

 

Made it Ma, top of the world!

The second leg of my awfully big adventure saw me flying into San Francisco late on Friday afternoon.  There was significantly less anxiety this time around as I knew my children and the best boyfriend in the world could survive without me as we discovered when I disappeared off to Australia for a month.  It is still a bit of wrench, but I quite like long haul flights now – no emails, people just give you wine and I watch more movies then than I do any other time in my life.  The jet lag is negligible.  I wake up at around 4am but I do that at home too.  I hope this does not mean that I will suffer when I get home…

The shuttle service from the airport was an adventure in itself.  I opted for the shared shuttle service as it’s the cheapest and not having the luxury of family waiting for me (like in Oz) and a notoriously awful sense of direction I thought it safest just to pay someone to deliver me to my hotel.  I knew that San Francisco was hilly, I mean, I’ve seen Steve McQueen in Bullet, but I had no idea how hilly.  I’m not a roller coaster kinda gal so opted for the ‘don’t look down’ approach during some parts of the journey.  I’m also not at all religious but found myself saying a small prayer to the God of brakes and clutches.  When my fellow traveller wished me luck as we dropped her off first, I knew I wasn’t the only one holding on for dear life.

 

The hotel receptionist could not have been nicer.  She asked me where I lived in the UK, I usually say not far from London when I’m anywhere abroad but explained I lived in a small town near MK.  It transpired her sister lived in the exact same town.  What are the odds!  We had a lovely chat about her sister and I found myself being offered a room on the top floor instead of near the middle where my original room was.  The view from my room is just amazing.  The pics don’t do it justice, but I can see out across the bay and I am intoxicated by the night time view.  For someone who is slightly ADHD the twinkly lights are just so much more interesting than telly.  It’s like having the biggest big screen TV ever 🙂

 

I unpacked and took a walk around just to get my bearings.  I wasn’t at all hungry, having eaten seemingly endless meals and snacks on the plane so I just chilled in my room and waited until it was a reasonable time to go to bed, despite the fact that my body was telling me it was 3am in the UK.

 

Saturday saw me hitting the hotel gym because when in California and all that.  Gyms are big here.  Walking around there are endless gyms in amongst the shops, the open doors (it’s also very warm here right now) give you a glimpse of people running, pumping and sweating through workouts.  Health is a big deal here.  They have a channel called Beachbody TV!

I needed to sort out some vitals.  A travel card so I could get around, some food basics – I have a fridge in my room and the cost of breakfast was ridiculously expensive so, as I mostly only eat yogurt for breakfast I stocked up, water, milk, some trail mix – I’d never had this before, but I now eat bags of the stuff!  I sussed out the laundry, thankfully the hotel has a guest laundry as I packed much more sensibly for this trip, mindful that people will give me lots of printed information and that the children will all expect gifts, so I left a little room in my case.  Travel cards have been essential wherever I have stayed and in San Fran you need a Muni card.  I got horribly lost around Chinatown looking for the bookshop that sold them, but getting lost is absolutely the best way to explore a new place.  Eventually found the bookshop, but they no longer sold Muni cards J  Maps are also vital so found the Tourist Information office and got myself a route map.  I also needed a different SIM card.  I had planned ahead this time, taking one of the kids old iPhones so I didn’t need to keep changing SIMs when I wanted to phone home.  Luckily the hotel is right next door to a T-Mobile shop so that was easily sorted.

Saturday was definitely a day of walking, but I kind of sussed out the place a bit too.  There are some startling differences between here and home.  Everything is more expensive than you think because they add taxes on after you pay for something.  Homelessness is a big problem, I’ve seen people being shooed away from café entrances for asking for food, people with evident mental health problems being ignored and begging, lots of begging.  It’s pretty different to the ads we see at home about Californian life.  I have found that a bit hard to be honest.  Other cultural differences include tipping for everything, but I was given solid advice about this by my brother who lives in Phoenix – good service 20%, mediocre service 15%, crap service 10%, don’t tip in coins, tip bar staff for every drink they serve, even if it’s just a dollar.  I’m getting the hang of it.  Slightly weirder differences – there are quite big gaps around toilet doors.  This might be oversharing but it’s a thing.

 

One of the things I find hardest when away is knowing what the shops sell.  At home we all know Tesco, M&S, Boots but when you are abroad you have little cultural reference.  I wander into places which I think might be a little grocery store only to find it sells art supplies or something.  Because I’m British, I pretend I totally want to look around at all the art supplies so spend 15+ minutes browsing in a shop I don’t want to be in before making a face that is supposed to depict ‘oh you don’t have the art supplies I wanted’ and walk out.  Please tell me I’m not the only one who does this.

Alcatraz

I digress.  Having settled in a bit and survived the first couple of nights, even taking myself out for dinner, I decided that Sunday would pretty much be my only sightseeing day so I headed over to Alcatraz by ferry.  It is an amazing place and well worth the trip.  As I listened into the audio tour, I couldn’t help but think how being trapped on an island reflected some of the conversations I have had with older people living with dementia. At the very end of the audio tour there is this quote from a former inmate which really did resonate with some of the comments I’ve heard:

“and I’m watching the cars whizzing by and the people walking and everything was moving too fast and I didn’t know how to move with it and then I remember how envious I was of these people, they all had a destination, they are all going someplace and I didn’t know where I was going.  And I was scared to death.”

This image and quote also resonated, it never ceases to amaze me how you think you are going off to do one thing but it informs your thinking about your research, even if those thoughts are a bit tough.  Thinking time is so important and something I see less of at home with the pressure to always churn out a ‘product’, there seems little space for creativity.

It was all there for you to see

Monday has seen me coming to terms with my route map and heading off to visit with the very lovely Jason Flatt and Amy Mack (who should really be a rock legend with a name like that).  Jason and Amy work at University of California, San Fran in the Institute of Health Aging.  We had very interesting conversations around health disparities and the LGBTI+ community, sexuality and dementia, screening, training, human rights and came up with loads more questions than answers J  Jason and Amy have a long to do list of projects but I’m very much hoping that we could link in with Australian colleagues at some point and put a project together to further our research endeavours.  Mind buzzing with opportunities and options.  A fabulous day, the sort where I think maybe a career in academia wouldn’t be so bad 🙂

Jason & Amy