LGB

-Why LGB? Why not LGBT?
– Because we don’t want men making passes at the lesbians.

So I was told in 2006. Six years later, the National Lesbian Gay Bisexual Group, a SONG or Self-Organising National Group of Citizens Advice, is still LGB not LGBT. The last time I went to the conference, in 2006, they had an evening reception, and I went, to make that point. This year there was no evening reception, but there was a fringe meeting at 8am on the last day. Having been dancing and drinking until 1.30, I was there.

The fringe meeting was about a project in London. I had gone for an interview- one CAB person and two gay men not attached to the CAB- and I looked at the gay man who got the job with a jaundiced eye. I did not think he organised his presentation well, and I found his delivery poor. After, as soon as I could get a word in edgeways between the gays, I made my point again. Why LGB? Why not LGBT? Every organisation is LGBT. No-one is LGB.

They are a campaigning organisation, they tell me, and the issues are different. Perhaps- but right now The Issue, with huge publicity, the support from a majority of straights, the backing of the EU and absolute certainty of passing, is equal marriage, and I want to be campaigning for  that because I want maximum publicity for LGBT equality. (US readers, read and weep.) And- I want this as a social group. This meeting is where we get together, and that is where we want to be. I want to spend time with queers, because I relax. Straights are just weird.

I can join if I self-identify as lesbian. I was told that in 2006, and felt shy of it, as I was asexual at the time. Now I feel uncomfortable- if T members cannot be tolerated as T, some T folk are excluded. They propose I set up a group for T folk. But, there will be hardly any of us!

Actually, if I could get travelling expenses to pop into London twice a year for a coffee and a natter with a couple of other trans women, that would be a good result. And if I could do a bit of diversity campaigning and get support from CitA, that would be positive too. I might make a few phone calls.

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More on reincarnation. I thought the whole point, in traditional religious dogma, was as a response to karma in previous incarnations. So my current state might fit the karma of a macho warrior-rapist, perhaps a viking. That would mean I was a lesbian trans woman because I had been ultra-manly in past lives.

Conference

If I had anything I wanted to achieve, my ability to start chatting to people might be useful. As it is, it is only pleasant. The conference is muted this year. Scores or hundreds of workers, now funded by the Legal Services Commission, will lose that funding at the end of March. Some will find funding elsewhere, some will lose their jobs. One woman said that in the past she had come to be inspired and go back for the struggle, but did not feel that boost this year. One woman said that the plenary sessions were poor, previously there has been the sense of being at the heart of the debate, now she felt merely talked at from the stage. It did not help that while I could hear the comments from the floor, spoken into microphones, people on stage could not: this speaks of alarming incompetence or terror.

I chatted to a man from the Specialist Support Unit, which answers technical legal queries, about the withdrawal of employee rights. I had not known that the discrimination questionnaire was to be abolished. That makes it far more difficult to prove unlawful discrimination. A legal right has no value if it may not be enforced. With the loss of their LSC funding their service will be scaled back. Some CABx will not do tribunals at all: there is a right to challenge a decision, without the ability to prove the claim. And there are large charges for the claimant to pay, to make a claim or to arrange a hearing.

Two managers talked of how they had wanted their staff to work a help line, but the National association had instead made a bid with another organisation which provided the workers. Why should they bid with us when the contract is renewed? What value do we bring apart from our name, for the initial bid?

We have been breathtakingly arrogant. One told me of wanting to give the funders what they wanted to pay for. Cardiff CAB had sought to take the money and do what they liked, and it had been closed down. Now the Vale of Glamorgan CAB is organising CAB services in Cardiff.

And I was inspired. I went to a session entitled “Influence the influencers”, on what social policy campaigns the national organisation should focus. I had no idea, but a debt worker with fire in her belly talked of meeting the head of the firm of bailiffs which collects for her local council, and challenging him on the affordability of his repayment agreements.

Carol, from the Bahamas, had worked in that offshore tax haven helping the rich get richer, and felt this was wrong, so gone to do development work in Frencophone West Africa. When she married and came to Britain she had not thought she could use those skills, and had been shocked to discover the deprivation of the Gurnos estate in Merthyr. We talked of the Valleys. Why come from the Bahamas to Wales? The Bahamaian Summer is like the English winter, she says, unbearably hot, and it is hurricane season.

One woman could show that while the Government said that housing benefit would pay for the 30% cheapest houses available for rent, in her local authority area it only paid for 4.7%. That is useful work, she can empower the politicians with such statistics, and the current funding for her job will be withdrawn. Will the LSC pay for any cases started before 31 March but not closed then? Different people have heard different things, and no-one knows.

Snapping away

This is not a good photograph.

Paul has a point and shoot camera, but a bigger one than a compact: he needs a rather impressive camera-bag. I have a look through his pictures, of vintage race cards, and countryside which must have been beautiful but has made a boring snap. In the bar he snapped away at me, with a basic error: he places my head in the centre of the frame, and includes a huge amount of boring background. So this shot is trimmed. He has caught my “what on earth are you playing at now?” expression.

I never got into the fashion of light cotton minis over thick black tights. I see the point: brash, sexy, a touch grungy, I am too shy for it. I am delighted that dresses are back in the shops, as I like dressing up. I quite fancied a picture of this one flattering my figure. Buying it the day before made me relaxed and happy, and the effect has not worn off. But I feel self-conscious ordering him about, telling him to just snap away repeatedly to pick the best shot, or even posing particularly. That is, I really want pictures of me at my best, and am ashamed of that. When we had the flash on, most of the shot is black as the grey shapes on the wallpaper are reflective. While we could play with poses and angles, he takes shots of me sitting facing him, head in the centre of the screen.

The wine was ¬£5.95 a bottle at the bar, thin but, well, it has alcohol in it. Up we go to the gala dinner. Paul introduced me to D, who introduces me to S. S was bureau manager, but did not go for the promoted posts when the bureaux were merged and now finds himself restricted in doing things he is good at and enjoys. He is 60, why should he have a promoted post? His friend and colleague, a volunteer, has established a relationship with their Conservative MP. Both are socialist, but they found, with some surprise, that she was interested in the poverty and social issues in her constituency, and they work together. The volunteer, a Methodist, impressed me so much that when she said “marriage should be between one man and one woman”, not a common or popular opinion here, I did not argue.

What with the booze, and the company, and the dancing, I finally relaxed, completely relaxed.

Self-deprecation

Driving to Exeter, I would take the motorway round Birmingham. Paul, dealing with the navigation, thrusts five pages of instructions from the internet at me. He has not printed out any maps. Do you have a road atlas? Er, no, it is in the other car. We could have turned around then, half a mile from home, and got my satnav, but, well, we were on our way. He does not like satnavs.

He wants to go via Oxford. He knows the first fifteen miles. I need to sleep on the car journey: not very sociable, but, well. Where now? We go North on the motorway, I say. I am surprised he is driving round the roundabout again. I told you, That way! I have a look through the five pages. It goes through back streets of Chichester, and I have no idea where that is. Paul, do you want to see Chichester? Not particularly. Go down the A34 to Newbury, and use the motorway. So we do.

In Exeter, well, possibly I misinterpret one instruction, possibly a signpost has been changed, but we miss one and the rest become useless. Without a map, I do not know where Prince of Wales Road is, it could be in any direction, and a hundred yards or a mile. I could lambast and excoriate him. It is his stupid fault, not printing out a map is ineffably stupid, what did he imagine would happen? Actually I go quiet. I want to be constructive, and get where we want to go, but have little idea how. I am getting anxious. He does not get angry either, saying I should have interpreted the instructions better: that would not be a strong argument, and I have never seen him angry. So we drive around, and we ask people, and we go off up a hill into the Devon countryside before he admits this is not the right way. Then he sees a road sign for the University. I could not have read that from here, I say, and he explains how long sight is a problem rather than a good thing.

I had not known we cannot book in until 6pm. I had quite fancied wandering in the town, but have lost my appetite for that. He buys me a drink. He is nice that way. It is hard to get angry with him. I had never worked out whether his self-deprecation, about how I, his wife’s family, just about everyone is cleverer than he is, is an affectation, or a belief which allows him to amble along, not achieving anything much. He is 57. When he joined CAB, someone proposed he did a management course, but he thought, at 38, he was too old for that. He has not advanced since then. He has told me that story several times.

In the evening, he wanted to go out and buy a radio. He would try the supermarkets. We drive off together, and indeed find two supermarkets, and he gets a radio, and then we manage to find our way back. His “travelling hopefully” has actually worked. And when we drove home, he just took another road, seemingly at random. I suppose this shows a trust in Providence, which can be beneficial.
-Why don’t they give any roadsigns?
-Paul, this is a residential street!
We carry on up the hill, past large detached properties, until we get out into the Devon countryside. Then we go back to the town centre, and the “inner bypass”, where we find signposts to the main roads out. When we are on the motorway, I poke around in his glove compartment, and find his satnav.

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/0/08/MuMA_-_Pissarro_-_Un_carrefour_%C3%A0_l%27Hermitage%2C_Pontoise.JPG

Adverse reactions

I started work in that office years before I came out, and grew to like and respect J, who had worked there several years before me. She was perhaps a bit depressive, committed to the clients, without illusion about their virtue or capability or what she could do for them, keen to do something useful. “Action”, she would say, kicking herself up the butt, pushing herself on. We worked together well, sharing a dry sense of humour. She would hear me if I needed to emote about a client or situation.

Then in the pub after work, A was telling of his friend. Her ex-husband was a transvestite, and they split up not because she could not stand him cross-dressing but because he could not stand her laughing at him. It was the two glasses of mead talking: I said, “I do that”.

Silence, then they tried to persuade me that I was just fooling, and then eventually B said, “You know, I think he’s telling the truth”. As if I was not there.

It got round the office. The manager, who was keen on Diversity, said that now I had come out it would be a shame if I went back in again, and next time we went out for a meal I went dressed female. I got called “sir” by the waiter, but my colleagues were fine- even J. Then she told me, quite matter of factly, that she found me dressing female revolting. She did not want to be rude, but it was just too much. When I went full time female at work, we stopped talking to each other except when absolutely necessary.

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I got friendly with Colin, also known as Fiona, at Northern Concord dos. There we were in our ballgowns, having decorous fun. He invited me on to his boat on the Norfolk Broads: his wife would not go with him when he cross-dressed. We would go round pubs in Norwich, and drive the boat around, and eat in country pubs. It was great fun.

Colin went away for long weekends as Fiona, and once decided to spend a whole week. He went around various friends, staying with me last. He had had acrylic nails applied. By the end of the week, he was heartily sick of it, and relieved to dress male again. What was exciting for a weekend had palled completely.

He was unenthusiastic when I told him I would transition. He thought I was a transvestite who had lost all sense of proportion. He told me of an accountant he had known, who transitioned and went to a hairdressing college course, who reverted after nine months. He told me I would have no friends, in a long, depressing dinner on Canal St. So I made a fantasy, and told him I would find an international solo musician, and tour with him as his muse. This never happened, but shortly after another friend took me to meet a pianist in the soloist’s dressing room at the Bridgewater Hall: which I found reassuring. Not everyone would reject me.

Just after I went full time, Colin agreed to take me to the theatre in Manchester. He would dress male for the evening. He brought a suit to wear: but only a pair of old trainers, as he had driven over in jeans. When he realised he did not have appropriate shoes, he insisted on going in drag. I parked a short way from the theatre and strode off in my sensible flats, angry, not wanting to be seen with him, and he tottered behind, protesting. I put him up that night, and then never saw him again.

Audits

I heard of a solicitor in Liverpool who took the old Advice and Assistance forms down the pub, and bought a pint for people who would sign them. He then claimed to have given the basic advice to each, and claimed the fee from the Legal Aid Board.

fat lawyer coining it on Legal Aid

A con, or at least playing the system, which I saw: a firm leafleted an area saying that people may be entitled to state benefits they are not claiming: ask for advice. Anyone who called would see an unqualified person for half an hour, and get a useless seven page letter inaccurately summarising the whole benefits system, and would sign the LAB’s basic advice form, each bringing about ¬£80 or so to the firm.

 

Given that, it was hardly surprising that the LAB’s attitude seemed to be, “we’re going to catch you wasting our money, and we’re going to punish you for it”. My colleague left the CAB and became an LAB auditor. She told me¬†that when her victim answered the door to her, he began visibly shaking.

 

I found the audits pettyfogging and pointless. For example, we were criticised for keeping papers in a fold of cardboard, rather than a proper file which would keep them all in the correct order. What if we dropped a file? Well, we pick it up. We got marked down for that one, and after in another office I had to pull things out of poly pockets before I could read them. Petty, and arguably not an improvement. I also got marked down for not having documentary evidence on a file that I had given my client my name. Of course I have given my client my name. So I drafted a document which recorded all the information we were supposed to take from a client, and told the client all that we were supposed to tell them: and was criticised for not personalising it more. As if you can tell someone that the appeal time limit is one month in more than one way.

Today (in case you have not noticed) I am having a whine.

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Given my personality, I found the pressure of audits terrible. Just before my first in 1995, I was in the office at 7pm sorting files out, and I screamed at the floor. A good way to release pressure, but not necessarily a good way to convince colleagues of ones reliability. My usual way of dealing with emotion was to suppress it.

I feel that now, when I am working on being conscious of my feelings and accepting them, permitting them and not suppressing them, I can go back to old feelings about old situations, and cleanse them, accept them and let them go. And I feel that this is valuable to do: it was as it was, and it was alright, and my discomfort was bearable; and it is all right now. 

Picture by LS Lowry.

Scots tongue

Scots was one of five dialects of English, spoken in the north, as far north as the Forth and Clyde. David I, who ruled lands as far south as Doncaster, spoke Middle Scots and invited Norman lords from England to rule Scotland, introducing the feudal system which has only been abolished this century. So I am irritated when Scotland is referred to as a Celtic country: it is more complex than that. I identify as a Northumbrian Scot, but probably have some Celtic ancestry. The Scots word for Gaelic, Erse, from Irish, has pejorative connotations.

The Fair Maid of Perth, by Walter Scott, tells of an English-speaking Perth only thirteen miles from Dunkeld, the edge of the Highlands. Gaelic-speaking despised savages threaten the town. As Scott says, Perthshire is Scotland’s most beautiful county: Blairgowrie, east of Dunkeld, lies on the line between the highlands and the flat arable lands to the south and east.

Gaelic is spoken mainly in the Hebrides- not¬†Shetland or Orkney, which were pledged by the King of Norway as a dowry for his daughter, and whose language and ritual still¬†show some Norse influence. But a great deal of Glasgow’s population came from the Highland Clearances, so their ancestors were¬†Gaelic speakers. So my friend, though she and her husband spoke no Gaelic sent her son to a Gaelic-speaking nursery, and even I dabbled a bit, though I got no further than Kimmer a Hahu and Hammy Skee. A man called Domhnull told us to call him Doll: if we tried to mimic the Gaelic pronunciation we only mangled it further.

The driver of my school bus, born about 1919, learned Gaelic at his mother’s knee, but could not speak it when¬†I knew him: it had been beaten out of him in school, where¬†English only was to be¬†spoken. That was¬†a crime.

Looking at the Northern Irish Citizens Advice Bureau website, I see “ceetizens advisement buroo”. Well, in the Good Friday Agreement Irish Gaelic is an official language, so “Lallans” had to be too. Ireland was colonised in the 17th century, by Scots in the North and English in the South- so Dublin is an English city, even if it calls itself Baile √Ātha Cliath. I wish the Unionist negotiators had chosen a different concession. I do not know how much dialect survives there, as opposed to different pronunciation of words because of accent, and while I would use the phrase “on the broo” to mean claiming Jobseeker’s allowance, I understand the word arose because men looking at the phrase “Employment Bureau” did not know how to pronounce it.

Elegant idiocies

The otherbugger will get on your back if he can.
That is all the advice you ever need to give.
If he’s on your back already, it’s TOO LATE!

That was sent on a postcard to the Citizens Advice Bureau where I worked, and it fascinated me. It pictured a world where each human being was locked in war with every other person, seeking advantage, and all comradeship was a lie. Everything we did was worthless: if that really were all the advice we needed to give, it could be given with a poster on the wall, rather than forty-odd people inside, beavering away, thinking they were doing something useful. It fascinated me because it was so far from the truth, yet so coherent and so beautifully expressed.

So I started collecting such phrases.

Don’t compare your sin to my skin.

Here are people of colour firmly in the Kyriarchy, busily oppressing others. “Christians” who believe that gay people, rather than being part of the wonder and diversity of Creation, are sinners who choose to be disgusting, and do not deserve “Civil rights”- in fact the comparison of their campaign to that of Martin Luther King is wicked. I can imagine people¬†repeating that phrase to themselves,¬†thinking how clever¬†they are, making themselves even less open than before to the need and¬†hurt of others: in the words of Neil Peart,

quiet in conscience
calm in their right
confident their ways are best

The evil in the phrase is focused and intensified by the elegance of its expression.

Who would wear a T shirt reading “I hear voices and they don’t like you”? It could not be expressed better, and it is a foul sentiment.

Picture credit: Oglethorpe.edu

My favourite explanation of Astrology:

As above, so below.

Well, of course it isn’t. The orbit of Neptune does not affect my destiny, at all. The value of Astrology is in being a repository of wisdom about how people are, and a way of bringing these characteristics to mind whose randomness actually enhances its usefulness. In the hands of a skilled practitioner it has value. She says something about me which she thinks may be true, but her choices are constrained by the framework, which means she must be more creative herself. Then the thought sits in me and matures, either attracting or revolting me, and so teaching me. Just possibly, belief in the doctrine may help in this.

And finally, a sentence which is the opposite of elegant, but equally striking, in the circumlocutions half-concealing the basic idea:

Apart from a few comparatively unimportant particulars, the Law of England appears to be almost as near to perfection as can be expected of any human institution.

Wow. We’re so good that if we said it straight out we¬†would risk being¬†accused of self-worshipping blasphemy. One wonders what “comparatively unimportant particulars” the¬†Real Property Commissioners, delivering their first report in 1829, had in mind: perhaps the fact that someone¬†might be executed for stealing something worth less than two weeks’ wages for a skilled artisan, or the rule that no woman could own real property: it was held in trust by her father or husband.

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Winston Churchill said,

You create your own universe as you go along.

Suffer fools gladly? Of course I do!Now, I happen to believe that. My perceptions are not the same as reality, but from within my own brain, and my moods and past experience affect my perceptions. The struggle to make them closer to reality is painful and difficult. However, have a look here at the context. Or here. It seems from the second link that Churchill takes a naive realist position- he knows things exist because he senses them- and from the first, that he believes in Christian doctrine because it gives him comfort, and he wants to believe it. The quote is a straw man. So to quote it out of context is to misrepresent him and to cite him as authority for a belief he derided. And yet a quick Google shows it is often quoted in Law of Attraction sites, without context. Picture: public domain.

Einstein is quoted often as saying,

Imagination is everything. It is the preview of life’s coming attractions.

Wikiquote disputes the citation. Again, from Google, it is frequently quoted on Law of Attraction sites.

What matters is not who said it, but whether it is true. Perhaps the quote has such value as it has not because he wrote it but because a particular Facebook friend chooses to share it. However imagination is much richer than that. I hated one of my psychiatrists so much that I had revenge fantasies about him. I would be horrified if they happened, but they were a safety valve for my feelings.

‚ÄúEverything has its beauty, but not everyone sees it.‚ÄĚ I have seen this attributed to Confucius, but since I cannot find where he is supposed to have said it, your guarantee of its truth or value is either your own experience, or your faith and trust in me.

Citizens Advice Bureau

I moved to ———— CAB at the height of¬†CAB arrogance and stupidity with regard to the funders.

My post was funded by the Legal Service Commission to challenge decisions on benefits. The LSC was creating a “community legal service” with full coverage across the country. Using our office and others to provide advice by telephone gave them greater flexibility. I was funded to provide the same advice someone would provide face to face, drafting appeals against decisions, obtaining evidence and drafting legal submissions.

Unfortunately, the CAB disagreed. They thought that I should answer any questions about benefits the clients had, but if someone needed a decision challenged they would want to be advised face to face, so I should limit my advice to telling them what services were available locally. This is an arguable position, and I think I would prefer to see an adviser who was doing an appeal for me; though also, arguably, advising over the phone lets the adviser keep to the facts and spend less time on the emotional upset which is not her area of expertise. But I thought funding was safer if we actually did what we were funded to do. So I disobeyed, and took on appeals.

As a result, my work was blocked. Several people phoned¬†having received a letter from the¬†DWP saying¬†that benefit had been overpaid, that¬†they could not¬†recover it¬†under statute so would recover it under common law. The common law case is dubious, and in practice the DWP never attempt it, just writing in the hope the claimant will repay the money voluntarily. For the lucky claimant, doing nothing or writing to the DWP saying “Go away” is equally effectual. So I would take the phone call, and write to the claimant telling them this. I wrote these letters to five clients. Each time I¬†copied the reply I had sent to the previous client, and was told to rewrite it with greater detail. I was told to make two records of each case, one in the third person for our records, one in the second person addressed to the client. I was told not to use common abbreviations, but to type out jargon in full. I became completely demotivated, and lost all trust in my employer.

The result was, of course, that the contract was withdrawn less than five months after it had been awarded. But there were other funding streams, and I was put onto employment work.

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Where an employment tribunal case is undefended, the claimant still has to prove his case in a hearing. We had a hearing fixed, and a week before, the employer sought to have a defence admitted late.

The defence will be admitted late if it is in the interests of justice to do so, and usually it is. It is more important to give the respondent an opportunity to defend the case than to protect the claimant from a trifling delay. However I burrowed into this case, and saw that the young solicitor for the respondent had been infected with the respondent’s desire to make only that smallest exaggeration of the truth, which can be fatal to credibility. She had not checked one fact sufficiently, and I could provide the document to show that her assertion was false. Other facts had been exaggerated. I gave the arguments, and the defence was not admitted. The chairman said, “After hearing Miss ________, I was under the impression that… However, having heard Miss Flourish, I was under a very different impression”. Having found the argument, and expressed it, still delights me, and the claimant got ¬£10,000.

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At the time, an employer in the UK had to go through a particular procedure when dismissing a worker, but two months after my minimum wage client had gone off sick she had a letter dismissing her. So she was entitled to compensation because the procedure had not been followed. I made the claim.

However the defence came back with three letters I had not seen before, which together constituted a defence to the claim. The claimant denied receiving them, and I believed her; but proving to the satisfaction of the tribunal that evidence is forged is difficult. Even dismissed fairly, she would still be entitled to twelve weeks’ pay in lieu of notice, because she had worked for the employer for more than twelve years. Because my client did not want to attend a hearing, I offered to settle for that notice pay.

I received another forgery, a photocopied contract of employment where the date of commencement of employment had been altered to show only eight years’ service, and therefore only entitlement to eight weeks’ notice pay. Fortunately, the client had kept her copy of the contract, with the date of commencement, and signatures, written in pen. I disclosed my clear evidence of forgery to the solicitors for the respondent, and threatened to seek costs if the employer did not pay the full amount of compensation and notice before the hearing.

From pure luck, we caught the swine out. Strange that he would rather perjure himself, and pay a greater sum in lawyers’ fees, than pay his employee her due.

Without the added stress of the employment tribunal claim, the woman could probably have gone back to work much earlier than she did.

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Sandra came to me having been dismissed because she was transsexual.

She had the usual history, trying to make a man of herself by joining the Army. She passed well: the receptionists would not have realised her history, they told me. This dismissal had completely broken her. Once, I timed sitting still and silent, not looking at her, for ten minutes while her anger and distress poured out unassuaged. She had been accused of theft, and had made the claim to the tribunal herself. It was not until the Saturday before the hearing that I properly understood the evidence of discrimination among the pages of notes of investigation and hearings: there was evidence that the theft could not have happened as the witnesses described, which the investigating manager had suppressed. However, so late, I could not get that over to the tribunal in my cross-examination, and they found that any employee would have been dismissed for theft, not just a transsexual person: so there was no discrimination.

I was repeatedly in tears in the office over this. I never achieved proper professional detachment, though I was not empathising with the clients so much as frustrated with my inability to make cases stick to my own satisfaction. Nor did we correctly separate decisions for the claimant to make from decisions that we should make ourselves; bodge, hope, and settle the day before hearing was the model. It worked, much of the time.

Once again, we did not conform to the funders’ requirements, and lost certain funding streams. One funder did not make its decision to renew funding until eighteen days after the last award had expired: I had my redundancy notice, but carried on working from week to week.

Eventually, I could not bear it any longer, and walked out. That was January 2010. Since then I have had one six month temporary contract, and now I do a little voluntary work, and live on savings. I cannot go on like this for ever (though I can for another year, perhaps) and need to know what to do next. The process of job applications: lots of interviews for similar jobs to what I have been doing, then no offer, leaves me feeling dispirited, crushed and rejected. I have not done many recently.