I was privileged to be involved this week inan event, speaking and introducing other speakers at the Surrey History Centre for their LGBT History Month event called The Power of Our Stories. I was there in my role as co-Chair of the Surrey County Council LGBTQ+ Staff Network and spoke on the power and nature of queer joy to a sold out audience.
We heard from colleagues about the work of the staff network, of Surrey’s provision of support to young LGBT people, and the work of the History Centre in documenting and archiving LGBT stories in Surrey. We heard from a student in film and lens media studies talk about their work and mission to reclaim and desexualise the depiction of trans bodies through challenging expectations. We were also honoured to hear from Bernard Reed OBE, founder of GIRES, speaking of the heartbreaking events that led to their campaign to improve the lives of trans and non-binary individuals throughout the UK. To round it all off, we then had the most beautiful accapella arrangement of Somewhere Over The Rainbow provided by the Surrey Rainbow Choir.
We had stalls from a number of services and charities in Surrey, ranging from the local library and the adoption service, to the police, Catalyst, HER, and Haven. There was talk, laughter, song, and connection among a wonderful array of people – and I was absolutely buzzing from the positivity and happiness that buoyed the whole event.
I’ve been utterly exhausted as a consequence the last day or so, but so worth it and can’t wait to work with my colleagues to make it all happen again. My original copy of my speech was rapidly grabbed by Di to add to the archive but I’ll grab the text when I’m next back in work. Recordings were also made, so as those become available I’ll link to them too.
One of the libraries I manage is right in the heart of its community’s high street, and so when an opportunity arises to be part of a wider event we’re very pleased to be able to help however we can. Last night was a Christmas Fair, and following the success of an impromptu involvement this year, staff volunteered to be more engaged and make a bigger contribution.
To that end we agreed to host Santa’s Grotto in the children’s library, and had a number of characters available for people to take photos with. We ran a crafts table, ran a lucky dip, had computers available for STEM software activities, and also just kept the library systems up and running for anyone who just fancied using the library.
It went incredibly well, and I’ve been making sure to let the managers of the various staff involved know just how valued and valuable the volunteers’ time and efforts were.
It was a late evening, and everyone is back to work again this morning with various degrees of tired shellshocked impressions in their faces, but also with a huge morale boost for just being able to do something fun as part of the wider local community.
We knew it wouldn’t be long, even as we hoped for the best. The summons back North came at lunchtime on Tuesday, with the news that the doctors needed to talk to us. Both our places of work have been exceptional in their support, freeing us to go when we needed, and Tuesday was no different.
Without stopping, the journey between Sunbury and North Tees takes about four and a half hours. With roadworks and one brief stop for caffeine, it took us five hours. I didn’t play any of the music we normally have on. Instead, we drove in silence – nothing else felt appropriate or soothing – and got to the hospital at around seven thirty.
The doctor who had been in charge of Lady M’s father’s treatment explained the situation quietly and seriously, and guided us through the dance. We all already knew why we were there: that Eddie had reached the end of his journey and all that remained was to say goodbye while they kept him comfortable. We didn’t feel able to stay to the very end, and took our leave.
Nature took it’s course.
If I was writing a story I’d end it on that sentence but life and death, as I’m learning, are never so simply wrapped up. This is the first family death that I’ve had to take an active role in organising. Sadly, it isn’t Lady M’s first rodeo. The intricacies of hospital paperwork, the notifications of appropriate authorities, and the quiet language of the funeral directors have engulfed our day. Tomorrow sees the start of clearing and cleaning a suddenly empty house.
There are certain friends with whom I am having new conversations that I am only now equipped to appreciate – in much the same way that the parents of newborn children suddenly find new connection with other parents. This new layer of connectivity with friends is both shocking and reassuring in that it confirms certain universal reactions and experiences, but it also raises the spectre of what it will be like, in the future, when I must do this for my own parents.