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Heaven on earth?

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dementia awareness, hobbies

I was recently lucky enough to visit one of those countries which for most people living above 30 degrees latitude and experiencing grim winter morning fogs and dreadful rush hour traffic would be called "heaven on earth". Indeed it is!

In that enchanted faraway land, people do not lose sleep at night over imminent deadlines nor they have nightmares about their upcoming PhD viva in June! Worst case scenario, their sleeps can be troubled by the local wild frogs courting their lovers incessantly at night, a sound which I am embarrassed to say, is confused by most westerners' ears with shrieking rusted unclosed gates moved by the nightly breeze.

This calendar-event-free dream place took me days before I could even try and disconnect my mind so, in the first long lazy beachy afternoons, rocked by the sound of crushing waves, I engaged in wishful thinking. Aware that many British expats have let go of the motherland and jumped the pond to call this place home, I began to feel "peer-pressured" and to question the very reasons why we people from the so-called developed countries (yes, we can be arrogant even with words) hold on so tight to the greyness and stress of our routines when there is obviously a much colourful, wild and romantic world out there.

What is it that made me choose the UK among all other countries in the whole wide world as my home? Is it career opportunities, cultural events, international cuisine? Yes, that helps for sure. But it must be something else. It is not patriotism of course....how could it be; I have only lived in the country for four years! ...and after all I am Italian...since we are going by total stereotypes here, we are strong at pizza and opera and love, but certainly not at screaming at the top of our voices our love for the Union Jack!

Well, On that very fateful day on Reduit beach, St. Lucia, facilitated by a couple of glasses of rum punch, it dawned on me. Italy may as well be the embodiment of heaven on earth in certain aspects and St. Lucia has pink sand and Caribbean blue skies amidst a green so intense that it almost hurts. But the UK has a few strings to its bow.

For example in Italy, after almost 30 years since the first debate in the lower branch of the parliament, we are still struggling to pass a law on civil partnership. In case you are wondering, no, that is not even marriage!... And it does not contemplate adoption either. In Italy I and my partner of 17 years are considered good friends (albeit with good benefits!) before the law. In the UK instead, we are called a married couple, they see us together at GPs and we can even queue as a family at the dreadful Stanstead Airport passport checks (Note to the Italian government: another valid reason to legalise gay marriage is to make those endless queues at the airports quicker to process!).

I was driving past a picturesque village during my Caribbean holiday when I experienced my number two eye-opener. A disabled man on a wheelchair was pushing himself up a very steep hill relying on his own muscular strength under a 30 degree sun. I could not help but think that the scenario would be quite different in the UK (sun situation included). I bet that disabled man would be happy to call the UK his paradise island, a place where social welfare allows for Personal Assistants to provide support, where there is an efficient public transport and (surprise!) it is mostly accessible and where I am sure at least a decent amount of people would pull off the road to offer a little help in the same situation.

The last episode occurred just a couple of days before I left. The topic of my job came up in a conversation with a local. I said I was a researcher in dementia and after a moment of silence the guy told me: "You would not have much work here. We do not have those kinds of problems". I thought to myself that I was confident enough I had seen many of those "non-existing" problematic situations and considering that the alcohol consumption in the country for a typical adult is probably equal to that of a 15 year old in the UK eating at Nando's with the family, I am pretty positive what I witnessed was not alcohol-related dementia! Once again, on that occasion I felt really proud to be living in a country where dementia is openly discussed and its extent fully acknowledged and where the money that we taxpayers contribute is used to advance research and practice for the good of the most vulnerable. I am grateful to be living in a country where the prime minister has made dementia his priority and where studentships are granted to student like myself who want to make a difference.

I guess my take home message is, should there need to be any in a blog, that 1. we should treasure what we have in this country and never take it for granted. It is easy to criticise and indeed being critical is an essential part of improving our system. At times, however, it is fulfilling to just realise that we live in a great civilised country. And 2. You should definitely take that Caribbean holiday!

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