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The baggage of old age

Henry Elkins' glass is half-empty again

Becoming frustrated with the inefficiencies, stupidities, red tape, cock-ups and lack of common sense of politicians … the civil service … local government … tradesmen … just anyone and everyone who ever has authority and/or control of something that you want/need or are entitled to … is part of the human condition.

This phenomenon is particularly irksome when it happens to those of us who are senior citizens, as was my fate yesterday.

Let me explain.

Three weeks ago, by appointment, I made a first visit to the reading room of a world-famous London museum in order to research into the private papers of a WW1 veteran who later became an eminent doctor.

Sadly, they didn’t tell me in advance that none of said papers were actually on site so, on the day in question, all I could do was trawl though the bound index, identify those items that I wished to examine and leave a list with them. The agreed plan was that they would then order these items from the repository where they were kept (a long way from London) and, when they eventually arrived, I would return to view them.

Ten days later, when the items had arrived, I returned to view them – this my second visit.

On this one, I was informed there was a slight problem.

Under the museum’s systems, documents and photographs were dealt with separately.

Accordingly, the documents I had ordered were indeed now at the reading room and available to be viewed, but the photographs had – necessarily – been sent to the museum’s photography annexe. I would therefore need to make a separate appointment to visit this annexe on another occasion in order to see them. To the uninitiated (me), this seemed an unnecessary complication, but I accepted the situation and that day duly viewed the documents that were available.

On Monday of this week, I then called the museum’s photograph annexe – identified myself and the photographs that I had ‘ordered’ – and asked for confirmation that the latter had arrived. That confirmation was given and, after discussion, it was agreed that I would visit yesterday (Wednesday) to view them.

room2Yesterday, therefore, I duly travelled to London for my third visit to the museum, this time to its photographs annexe.

There I was invited to set myself up at a viewing table with my notebook, pencils, spectacles and other aids, whilst the administrator – who was not the person I had spoken to on the phone two days before – went off to collect the items I wished to see.

Minutes later he returned and informed me that they were not on the premises. Further, he advised, it was impossible that the ‘documents-only’ reading room section of the museum could have ordered photographs from the repository, specifically because only the museum’s photograph annexe had authority to do this.

I said I found this all rather puzzling.

Firstly, because – on my last visit – the reading room had assured me that both documents and photographs had been sent from the repository and arrived at the museum, albeit that the photographs had been sent to the photography annexe. And secondly, when I had spoken by phone to a colleague of his on Monday, she had confirmed that the photography annexe had received them … which is why I had agreed with her to visit on Wednesday at all.

Anyway, none of this was going to enable me to see the photographs yesterday, so I packed up my things and returned home, leaving the administrator to investigate and contact me with developments and hopefully a date for another visit.

Later in the afternoon he emailed me. Apparently, the photographs concerned had been ‘found’ and would I like to return in order to view them this Friday? I replied in the affirmative.


The administrator I met with yesterday had effectively caused me to spend a total of five hours travelling to and from central London on a wasted journey.

Five hours of my time which needn’t have been wasted, if only the museum’s left and right hand actually knew what each was doing – or indeed, specifically, two administrators in the museum’s photographs annexe had communicated with each other at some point between Monday and Wednesday.

As I wrote at the beginning of this piece, this sort of incident is particularly irritating to those of us who are senior citizens. When your time on this planet is rapidly running out, wasting five precious hours of your life solely and exclusively because someone else has made a cock-up is pretty frustrating.

Still, in this day and age, it’s practically par for the course …

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About Henry Elkins

A keen researcher of family ancestors, Henry will be reporting on the centenary of World War One. More Posts