My Last Week, The Little Things, Pride, Soho, & The NHS

Read all the exciting things our scholars have been up to!

It’s official, this is my last week in London. I’ve been spending a lot of time writing final papers. They’re taking me a lot longer than usual. Especially for my internship paper. As I was going through my weekly reports, I was remembering funny moments and thinking of all the fantastic people I work with. It made me so sad; writing this paper meant it’s over. I kept get stopping and getting stuck, as if the writing itself was what was carrying time forward and maybe, if I stopped, I could hang on to this moment a little longer.

I’ve been thinking about all the little things about London I will miss and the things that I’ll be happy to leave behind. The produce here is amazing. The quality of even the average produce that you’d find in a convenience store here is unlike anything you could possibly find in the highest quality stores or organic farmer’s markets in the US. There’s a reason so many people eat diets high in fruit and veg here. I’ve had no allergies since I’ve been in Europe. For example, wool normally gives me terrible hives, but I’ve slept just fine with a wool blanket for 2 months with no problem. I never have to wait longer than 5min for my public transportation. The song birds. They’re so loud that you can hear them from inside a closed house. The cute little foxes that forage around at night, like raccoons. The fact that I’m in the same city as many of my favorite musicians. The fact that I’m so close to the rest of the world. In London, the world is literally just a couple hours away. That feeling is intoxicating for an adventure-junky like me. Things I won’t miss. The water. On bad days it’s like sandy milk and on good days it tastes like soggy paper. It dries out my mouth, bleaches/fries my hair, and makes my ankles split, crack, and bleed. The black taxis that’d love nothing more than to run you over flat, if given half a chance. The perpetual hurry that everyone is in that makes everyone so irritated if you don’t have your money out at the cash register. The unreliable internet service. Anything outside the finance district is low priority and gets cut off often (support net neutrality!). The terrible lie that is “Mexican” food in Europe. The coffee. Coffee shops here charge outrageous amounts for the same canned drip coffee I can get for $1 in a gas station at home. Restaurants sometimes actually serve freeze-dried coffee in exchange for money. Of course, I love to love and hate these things. I love that I got to be here; to know all this means I experienced it. This has been an unforgettable experience. I feel like and old pair of jeans, with pockets full of my thoughts, that has been turned upside down/inside out, and shaken all about, left to inspect the bits before putting them back in.

Speaking of missing things, I will be missing Pride this year. I will get home too late for Pride at home and leave too soon for Pride in London. It’s certainly for a good reason, but it had me a little down this week at work. We were beginning planning for our young people to march in the parade, when suddenly the discussion for deciding on a theme became unexpectedly heated. One young person had suggested that the theme take the focus away from gay men. The discussion escalated until the young person revealed that they were embarrassed by the more flamboyant or fem members of our communities. They were hoping to broaden people’s views of gay men by downplaying people they perceived to be stereotypes. It took a conversation from being fun pride planning to being a serious discussion of the problems with respectability politics. I think it was a good opportunity for that person to understand heteronormative/heterosexist oppression, how controlling images of LGBTQ people are used, how misogyny functions in LGBTQ community, and the origin of stereotypes. However, it was a bit much for most young people and it changed the dynamic in the room. Staff were put in the position of taking over conversation to ensure that fems in the group were not left feeling unsupported. The conversation was clearly very necessary, but I wonder if that young person could have been pulled aside so that others could have participated and made more positive headway in planning or if we could have more actively encouraged the more quiet folks of the group to share how those statements made them feel. It’s hard to plan for things like that. We just weren’t expecting it. Even as difficult as that session was, it was sad knowing that I wouldn’t be able to be there, to see how this all pans out. This is my last week. Many of these folks I may never see again. I will miss my coworkers so much!

They finally took me out to see Soho, the gay district. It’s very impressive, just in size alone. You can weave through streets seemingly forever. Nearly every business is for the gay community. The bars are not exactly what I’d imagined the typical gay bars would be like, based on my US experience. They’re like every other pub or club in the city, just gay. I can’t say it was super exciting. But we did find a place to dance, which was exactly what I needed. I had a great time and, as always, really enjoyed hanging out with my coworkers. I hope we can all go out Wednesday after my last day.

On Thursday, we went to see a play about the NHS, This May Hurt A Bit. It was really good! The play explained the history of the NHS and the controversies surrounding it recently very well and the acting was excellent. The NHS is very popular. Nothing else in the political system enjoys as much popular support. I haven’t met anyone who doesn’t support it. Even Thatcher couldn’t touch it. However, in 2011, an act was quietly passed that shifted some of the structure around in confusing ways that would allow it to be dismantled slowly over time. But before that, Blair drove the NHS deeply into debt by unnecessary, excessive use of Private Finance Initiatives. Instead of financing the building of new hospitals and saving tons of money, Blair took out a PFI ensuring that the hospitals would be paid for many times over and expensive payments would be made for the next 40 years. Bits and pieces of the NHS have been privatized, causing problems with sanitation and causing long waits. To be clear, the waits that people are complaining about are what we are used to with our privatized health care systems in the US, except shorter (for example, no one in the UK would have to wait months for cancer surgery/treatments like my friends in the US do). The current administration is starving the NHS of funding and cutting critical staffing, claiming it is too expensive. The overly expensive pieces are the privatized pieces. Privatization has sacrificed quality and efficiency because of the burden to create profits. If the funding starvation and privatization continue, the public may see their system pulled out from under their noses. But it will happen so slowly, that the generation who loses it will have never seen it when it functioned properly and won’t know what they’ve lost. The worst part was that foreign investors from America are the ones pressuring the government to turn the British healthcare system into another money-making scheme. What I have seen here of the healthcare system puts our system to shame. Obamacare looks like a cruel joke by comparison. I can see why they are trying to shut down nationalized healthcare in Europe, it embarrasses the US and exposes the lies that we’ve been told about such systems. After living here, I have a totally new-found respect and understanding for socialized medicine. I wish we could have something like this back home. (I apologize that this may be a shocking opinion in the US, but this experience has been shocking)