GAMAGES DEPARTMENT STORE
Gamages Department Store, located at Holborn Circus in the heart of central London, proudly served its customers for almost one hundred years. It opened in 1878, and finally closed its doors in 1972, when it was demolished.
In a television version of the Sherlock Holmes story “The Cardboard Box”, his housekeeper Mrs. Hudson advises Sherlock Holmes to buy Dr. Watson's Christmas present at Gamages Department Store. Later, we see Holmes arrive home with a parcel with the Gamages label.
According to Wikipedia, “Gamages had many departments, a much larger number than modern department stores. There was a substantial hardware department on the ground floor which included specialist motor parts and car seat cover sections. There was a photographic department, and camping, pets, toys and sporting goods departments, the latter selling shotguns. The toy department was extensive and there were substantial fashion, furniture and carpeting departments.”
I have many fond memories of the two summers that I worked at Gamages, spanning my last two years at high school. Six days each week I travelled by commuter train from my home in the outer suburbs to Liverpool Street Station, one of London’s storied main line terminals. I would then always walk the rest of the way to work (about two miles), crossing streets and seeing buildings familiar to all readers of the novels of Charles Dickens: Threadneedle Street, the Bank of England, St. Paul’s Cathedral, Ludgate Hill, The Old Bailey, Cheapside, Holborn and Chancery Lane. On my way back to Liverpool Street Station on those hot summer evenings, I often stopped for a drink at one of many pubs along the way (my favorite was the Mitre Public House, built in 1773).
My employee classification was “contingency,” which meant that from day to day I could be assigned to any department where staffing was needed due to sickness or vacations. I started in office supplies, and spent time in sporting goods, pets and camping. Sporting goods was a challenging assignment because I knew nothing about, for example, fishing. In response to questions as to “what type of bait/size of hook/weight of fishing line do you recommend?” I would ask “what have you been using?” and then reply with feigned confidence, “then I would stay with that if I were you”.
The Wikipedia entry I quoted earlier reminded me that we sold shotguns in the sporting goods department. The only staff person authorized to sell them was an elderly gentleman retired from a long career as a game warden in one of the former British colonies in Africa. When business was slow, he liked to regale us with unlikely stories of his exploits and adventures there.
This story from my youth has the happiest of endings. Each year around the middle of August, national examination results were published that determined university entrance. After all these years I can still remember my joy the day I arrived at work with the letter in my pocket telling me my grades (after twenty-seven hours of exams) were good enough for a university place.
In the early 1970’s the Wisconsin legislature made a comprehensive system of community care and treatment for mental illness, drug dependency and developmental disabilities the responsibility of each county in the state. These laws, contained in Wisconsin statutes Chapter 51, included the process (known as a 72-hour emergency detention) under which an individual can be involuntarily detained by law enforcement and transported to a locked treatment facility for initial evaluation. But this is only if the individual is mentally ill, drug dependent or developmentally disabled, and there is a substantial risk of physical harm to self or others, and the individual is unable or unwilling to cooperate with voluntary treatment.
Taylor County, in north central Wisconsin, is one of the smallest counties by population in the state. Its current population of almost 20,000 is unchanged since I was hired there in 1976 as a psychiatric social worker. When I arrived, the county was just starting to establish its Chapter 51 programs and services, and there were many challenges (and rewards) associated with providing services to individuals who typically had never received treatment before. Often, even the most florid symptoms of mental illness in an individual had been tolerated by the community for many years.
One of my earliest cases, for example, was an elderly man who for many years never left his house without wearing a hat lined on the inside with aluminum foil. He explained to me that he did this to protect himself from dangerous rays from outer space.
It was in responding to potential emergency detention cases that long-standing, untreated mental illness or drug dependency were most frequently encountered. Our department established a cooperative agreement with the Taylor County Sheriff’s Department to accompany them, 24/7, on calls involving potential emergency detentions. Our role was solely advisory since the decision to detain always rested with law enforcement.
Sometimes in the four years I worked with emergency detention cases in Taylor County, things went wrong. On one memorable night, I was one of two social workers with a deputy transporting a man to a treatment facility. We stopped on an isolated rural road surrounded by cornfields, because the individual we were transporting was complaining his handcuffs were too tight. A struggle with the deputy outside the squad car ensued. I remember thinking to myself, “If he gets hold of the deputy’s gun, we’re all dead”. Somehow, we managed to subdue him and complete the drive to the treatment facility at breakneck speed.
In another case, I assured the sheriff’s deputy I went on a drug dependency call with that there was “substantial risk of physical harm to self” when in fact the actual evidence was very weak. The next morning, I found myself in the Circuit Court Judge’s chambers, receiving a harsh reprimand over the seriousness of depriving anyone of their liberty without adequate legal cause.
After 4 years I left Taylor County and was hired in a county in another part of the state. To my great relief I was informed that in their county, emergency detentions were left entirely to law enforcement.
I like to say (whenever anyone asks me about my path to US citizenship) that I became a US citizen during my lunch hour, although this comment is never meant to dishonor the process or the achievement in any way.
I arrived in the USA with my wife (a US citizen, born in Ohio) and baby daughter in 1976. From time to time, I explored becoming a US citizen, but always rejected it on the understanding that dual citizenship was not possible. Becoming a US citizen would require me to give up my British citizenship (I recall that the requirement was swearing to something like “I hereby renounce forever my allegiance to all foreign princes and potentates”). So for 20 years I lived and worked in four different states with the status of Resident Alien, ready to show my “green card” whenever requested (it hardly ever was).
Then, in the 1990’s, three events occurred that led me to become a naturalized US citizen.
The first event was a change in the US Immigration Service’s laws and regulations, that for the first-time permitted nationals of certain foreign countries, including Britain, to be granted dual citizenship.
The second event was my admission to the two-year Master of Business Administration (MBA) program at the University of Washington in Seattle. I had for many years thought that the MBA degree would be a valuable complement to my MA in Social Work degree from the University of Wales, especially as I rose through the ranks of psychiatric social worker to middle management to agency leadership. Shortly after we arrived in Seattle in 1990, I visited the university and was discouraged to learn that the fees for the MBA were $47,000 (in 1990 dollars!). But I also learned that a scholarship was available to one person working in the nonprofit sector to join the 30-person class. After achieving a good score on the Graduate Management Admission Test, and submitting some very supportive reference letters, I was awarded the scholarship and entered the 1992-94 class. Who would not want to be a citizen of a country whose higher education system was so welcoming and generous to me?
And the third event? In 1994 the State of Idaho hired me to be Chief of the Bureau of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services in the Department of Health and Welfare in Boise, Idaho. One of my responsibilities was to bring proposals to the State Legislature for changes or additions to the state’s laws regarding mental health or substance abuse. We successfully brought forward to the 1998 legislative session several significant changes and one completely new law (outpatient civil commitment for mental illness). But for some reason I didn’t feel right about my part in the process. I concluded (rightly or wrongly) that I would feel much better changing or creating Idaho’s laws in the future if I was doing so as a US citizen.
I completed the naturalization process some months after the conclusion of the 1998 legislative session. The Federal Courthouse in downtown Boise was just a few blocks away from my office, so it really was possible for me to attend my naturalization ceremony in front of a federal judge during an extended lunch hour. I was honored to be one of fifty individuals from countries all over the world who became new US citizens that day.
I first met Martyn in 1958, when we were both 11 years old, just starting our academic careers at Leyton County High School for Boys in London. Martyn became one of my oldest and dearest friends. I’m incredibly thankful for the many years of humor, conversation and friendship that we enjoyed together.
I fondly remember, while we were still at school, our walking holidays in Dorset & Devon, on the Pennine Way, and on the islands of Mull, Skye and Iona in western Scotland. Equally memorable were the trips we made together to Stratford on Avon to see performances by the Royal Shakespeare Company.
I’ve lived in the United States for over 40 years, but we managed to stay in touch and always spent time together on my visits to the UK. In recent years, this included time together in the English Lake District and in North Wales. Martyn was always a most gracious and generous host, for whom nothing was too much trouble. I could always count on him to share my passion for visiting the cottages of famous (deceased) writers: Jane Austen’s cottage, Thomas Hardy’s cottage, Lawrence of Arabia’s cottage, and William Wordsworth’s cottage, to name just a few.
Martyn died on March 2, 2022 after a long illness. In keeping with his wishes, his ashes were scattered on a mountain in his beloved English Lake District.
In thinking about Martyn, the words of Hamlet paying tribute to his deceased father come to mind: “He was a man, take him for all in all, I shall not look upon his like again.”
Roy Sargeant May, 2023
THE ESSEX WAY
“Now you’re here, Roy”, my sister Valerie asked, “which tea shop do you want to visit this time?” It was 2012, and I was on one of my regular visits to family and friends in the UK. Valerie, a lifelong resident of the English county of Essex, had some years before discovered a book with the title something like “Tea Shops and Walks in Rural Essex”. The location and description of a dozen delightful tea shops in villages throughout rural Essex were followed in each case by a map and guided walk starting (and ending) at the tea shop.
It was on this tea shop excursion in 2012 with my sister that, by accident, I discovered the Essex Way. After leaving our tea shop and walking some distance, we made our way up a steep hill. At the top, the guidebook informed us we were now crossing the Essex Way. ”The Essex Way?” I thought to myself, “Never heard of it.” Back in the USA, I did some research (there are many resources on the Internet and on YouTube) and decided that walking the entire length of the Essex Way would make an interesting and challenging retirement project.
The Essex Way is a waymarked, long-distance footpath some 81 miles long. The trail starts in Epping, 20 miles north of the center of London, heads in a northeasterly direction across the county, and ends at the port of Harwichon the North Sea coast. In the words of one writer, “It leads through ancient woodlands, open farmland, tree-lined river valleys and leafy green lanes, unveiling historic towns and villages and charming inns along the way”.
Of all the history and scenery that I have enjoyed while walking the Essex Way, there are two recollections that are especially memorable. For history, it is hard to beat Greensted Church, which is said to be the oldest wooden church in the world. It is also the oldest wooden building in Europe, with part of the building dating to between 998 and 1063 AD. For scenery, the area known as “Constable Country” stands out. This is because the trail goes through the village of Dedham and the Vale of Dedham, both made famous by the paintings of one of England’s leading landscape painters, John Constable (1776-1837).
I hate to walk alone, and I have been fortunate to always have companions on every section of the Essex Way that I have walked. These companions include mysister Valerie, my niece Joanne (a long-distance runner who has participated withher running club in the annual Essex Way Relay Race), and my friend Ian, who lives in a cotage some miles from the trail.
I must admit that my retirement project of walking the entire length of the Essex Way has yet to be completed. A painful episode of plantar fasciitis, hospitalization with a blood clot in my leg (technically known as deep vein thrombosis) and constraints imposed on travel by the COVID-19 pandemic have all conspired against me. But I take solace in the words of the novelist Robert Louis Stevenson that “It is beter to travel hopefully, than to arrive.”
Consider Geezerhood. I think about it a lot while doing cognitive assessments of patients being evaluated for possible dementia. Some 60-year-olds are already geezers – some 90-year-olds are not. What’s the difference? Not health status (some non-geezers are mentally energetic but walking medical disasters); not intactness of cognitive abilities (some patients with moderate Alzheimer’s disease look just fine - until you ask them what day it is). The main thing that distinguishes the geezers from the non-geezers is how they see their lives and their futures. Are they ready to die? Geezerhood is knocking on your door. Looking forward to years of decades of interesting life? You will barely recognize what geezerhood is, much less act the part. The Life Report touches on this, and I’m hoping my fellow classmates are going to focus on what we did well, even while acknowledging that there were some things (maybe a lot of things) we didn’t do so well, and that we have learned a lot along the way and are still lifetime learners. For my part, I’ll start with the last question - what have I learned along the way? I've learned the truth of the aphorism that we don't get wiser as we age, we just run out of stupid things to do. Well, in my case, I guess I still have a few stupid things I haven't done yet, but they are definitely fewer in number. I have learned that there are some behaviors that just don't have a good outcome. In personal relations, you just don't do something behind someone's back. You apologize if you are in the wrong, and sometimes even when you aren't - revenge is out (I like the Chinese expression that if you are planning revenge, dig two graves). Thank people who deserve it, especially those who helped you get where you are - even if it was in the remote past (I learned this from Positive Psychology, which is worth exploring). I've also learned that people who are nominally at the bottom of the hierarchy can be very powerful; they just might not know it (and of course there are times to express your power and times when it will backfire). In this context, I've learned that you have to choose your battles, and that you can't expect to win all of them. I've learned that you should ask your questions when they occur to you; don't wait - I frequently think of things I wish I had asked my parents and other relatives and friends before they died. Especially things that help define you, like half-remembered events from childhood - "What was that all about?"
My mother cautioned us more than once not to brag - she would tell us that people in high places fall the farthest. This was usually said in the context of a mildly self-praising statement uttered by my sister or me. Having absorbed this lesson means that saying what I did well goes against the grain. But I will say that I am content as I look back at my contributions to a healthy family (wife, two children and three grandchildren) and to a healthy science (contributing to the scientific literature working on the editorial boards of two journals). I think I have helped many students realize that communication is everything in both research and clinical work (I am a clinical neuropsychologist, formerly an experimental neuropsychologist). I have developed a good sense of how a reader might find a sentence hard to understand, and what questions might come to the clinician's mind while reading a report. I teach students how to avoid providing irrelevant information in a report, because this just makes more work for the reader who will tuck the useless information away for possible future reference, wasting energy and causing the report to be mentally and physically tiring. I think and hope I've been a good father and husband, though we aren't the best judges of that. My wife and I certainly have taken more interest in what our children are doing and thinking than my parents did; Margaret and I feel we understand their hopes and fears - we reward often and offer advice (often unsolicited) when we see something that's not going well.
I don't focus on things done badly, but I frequently become painfully reminded of a faux pas from years ago. I wish I had taken an active role in the civil rights movement (classmates went to Mississippi to help with voter registration - why didn't I?). I have mixed feelings about “our” war – I was lucky to be in graduate school and then too old to serve, so I survived but I can’t say I’m proud of having stayed out of harm’s way. I still think it was a war that shouldn’t have happened, and I see the damage done to bodies and minds every time I work with a veteran from the Vietnam War, but many of our classmates fulfilled their duty and I wish I had too. Those are the major lapses - the others are really minor but it’s amazing how I remember the mistakes even if the people present at the time don’t. I am reminded of Mark Twain’s observation that humans are the only animals that blush, and the only ones that need to! I guess I shouldn’t assume that we are all equally sensitive to past mistakes - this is probably one of those personality quirks that reflects birth order (I was the youngest, so I had to watch out or be put in my place by my older siblings).
If I had to choose one pivotal period in my life after the four years at Dartmouth, it would be my living and working in Europe for nine years (bookended by five then two years in Montreal). This experience opened me up to worldviews different from my narrow Denver upbringing and made me more appreciative of diversity and definitely more wary of patriotic impulses that lead to death and destruction.
Retire? Maybe some day. But not any time soon. Work is still too interesting and rewarding, and my impression is that retirement is dangerous - likely to open the door to geezerhood, and I'm not ready for that yet. My new projects are learning how to use the modern social media for family and science (blogging and Twitter, which almost count as new languages), and teaching my granddaughter to play the piano. I wish my classmates a mentally healthy 8th decade and look forward to renewing friendships at our 50th. So, consider geezerhood, but reject it.