Escape from the Country – Part 1
As some of you will know, I’m currently in France, self isolating with my Mum.
So how come Mum lives in such a far flung, barbaric part of world? Well I will say this only once; Mum and Dad escaped to France 25 years ago this June. After years of holidaying here, they choose to settle in the beautiful Tarn et Garonne region, down in the South West of the country.
Like so many Brits at the time, they bought a decrepit old farm house, complete with barn, located in a charming little village 100 km north of Toulouse, to the east of Cahor, that became Chez Ils.
Dispite the funny language, their dream was to enjoy retirement by adopting the rural French lifestyle. But first came several years of sheer hard graft.
Fuelled by wonderful food and red wine, M&D modernise the old house and turned the barn into a holiday gite. In those early years they worked so hard, 7 days a week, driven on by their desire to make the dream a reality. It was amazing to witness them completing most of the work themselves, using old and new skills. I never imagined that I’d ever see Mum on scaffolding laying bricks but there she was, I have the pictures to prove it. Dad was the electrician, the plumber and naturally (in his eyes), the site foreman.
In truth, once they had sold up in London, they didn’t have much cash but they did have imagination, great resilience and a tremendous capacity for getting the job done. The outcome is the beautiful and comfortable home, where I am now.
So how did they settle in? Well Papa went a bit native, chain smoking Gitanes and greeting set-backs with a grunt and an enigmatic shrug. Sadly he refused to trade in his Mondeo Estate for a 2CV; apparently you can get more building materials in an estate car. Mum joined the village council and after weeks of terror, she greeted everyone as ‘citizen’ and was given the nickname Robespierre. Mum has served 12 years on the council, being elected 3 times.
Papa and Citizen Mama were very received by the village and immediately felt at home. They quickly built up a wide circle of friends, both locals and the many expats, who converged on this area.
Back then this was a very rural place. Our first trip meant an 18 hours drive from Essex, and this did seem a very remote place. What have ‘they’ done, we thought? Our fears quickly evaporated; the ridiculously low cost of good wine (particularly compared to the UK) really did help, as did a copious supply of warm sunshine.
This such a beautiful part of the world, green and rugged. Huge rocks are very apparent and never far below the surface of the soil. This can make building and gardening very difficult. A JCB can be a very useful gardening tool. Mum soon learnt that trying to make an English garden was never going to work. In compensation, they had a plentiful supply of walnuts and tasty plums from their very own trees.
Many towns in France still retain a medieval core, and this region is no exception. Once the hard work was behind them, M&D were able to explore, visiting wonderful places nearby like Najac, Corde-sur-Veil, Albi, Rocamadour or even at a stretch Carcassonne. This area is full of castles, chateaux, grottoes, cosmopolitan places like Toulouse, and hundreds of fantastic restaurants.
Rural French life does have quite a pattern of routine, with the same villages holding the same events, on the same day, year after year. M&D’s village hold their fete on the 3nd weekend of July (clashing with Oasis!). For 3 days a year, this sleepy little place truly comes alive, culminating in a ‘Grand Repas’ on the Saturday night. Rows of tressle tables magically appear outside Le Mairie and a covered dance floor, is assembled across from the church. The scene is so French, not one you could easily imagine in UK, except perhaps on VE day, or even when we get to celebrate the end of this wrenched virus. It helps that generally in July, the evenings are usually beautifully warm and dry. The meal is a hub-bub of family, neighbours, friends, passers-by and complete strangers, and they all have to be kissed; three times! The only draw backs: the following days hangover and French music! Where were the French, when musical taste was handed out? The highlight is always the strange little dance the locals do to the tune of ‘Roll out the Barrel’. Incroyable! Over these weekends M&D were in their element, so proud of the life they’d made for themselves.
I’ll leave you with the image of my dyslexic Dad dancing to YMCA. He was never going to be invited onto Strickly.
Look out for the next time instalment where I’ll bring you up to date, it’s amazing how time passes, but like an episode of ‘East Enders’, I’d like to leave you on a cliffhanger. Last week I told Mum my secret, I told Mum about Lilly…… dum, dum, dum…
Escape from the Country – Part 2
Welcome back to rural France; I hope you all are remaining safe and healthy. I send all my love to you and your families.
Back to my little tale, the heroes of this episode will not be Asterisk and Obelix, but Mum and Michael O’Leary!
Sadly, Dad shuffled off this mortal coil ten years ago. Even some of the best health care in the world couldn’t keep cancer at bay. My Dad wasn’t a particularly big man, but he did leave a huge hole in our lives.
Cars and motor racing, were a very large part of my life with Dad. The last building project was a workshop and garage, in which was housed a dilapidated pre-war Riley. As a final statement Mum dressed Papa is his racing overalls for his cremation, he looked so smart; it’s a good job the overalls weren’t fireproof. Bless him!
Mr O’Leary is a very unlikely hero, so what role does he have to play in this story, I hear you say? Well as I mentioned, 25 years ago this did seem a very distant place; either necessitating a long car journey or an expensive BA ticket. Ryanair changed that around 15 years ago. The introduction of cheap flights to this part of France (often less than the car park fee), changed our pattern of visits, from once a year, to regular trips. Visits, often over long glorious weekends, that provided a haven from our demanding jobs and busy lives, allowing us to share in village life. And these days I’m a frequent flyer, trips which allow me to support Mum in her coping with the riggers of the aging process. Ryanair often gets a bad press. Sure there is little glamour, but they provide a valuable link for many expat families; and I have always found the staff helpful and most often, charming. I’m rather fond of the current female cabin crew uniform; I wonder if there is a size 14 going spare?
Once Mum found herself on her own, all most everybody asked ‘when is Mum coming back to the UK?`. A question I didn’t understand, Mum’s life was here and still is. I guess many people saw Dad as the strong one and assumed Mum couldn’t cope on her own. The opposite is true, she is a remarkably strong person, who has built a new, interesting and rich life for herself. Dealing with problems and issues; knocking them down one by one. Obtaining a ‘Carte de Sejour’ which allows Mum to remain in France post Brexit, requires a real inner strength.
As you might of anticipated, many of Mum’s friends are on there own too. These remarkable women, formed a tight social self supporting group (just like Oasis), made up of many very impressive and successful individuals (just like Oasis). Mum’s group, meet regularly for many reasons, poetry, music, debate, craft… and even lunch. Ladies what lunch, oh how I’d love to do that!
For a little taste of home there is even a fish and chip van, which arrives at a local bar once a month. What is the etiquett, do you drink red or white wine, with deep fried cod? The locals are much amused but don’t ever partake. Those ‘roast beefs’ and their terrible food.
Two years ago, we held an 80th birthday party here around the pool. The weather was perfect, not too hot as it can be in August. Gathered around my amazing Mum, were her family and friends from far and wide. A perfect day. Mum is now the matriarch of village; the person many people turn to, particularly when there is an issue with the French language and the rather over enthusiastic, bureaucratic.
Bringing this saga up to date, you find us locked in (this is day 35 in France), all is well and we are safe and sound. The village is so quiet, only church bell ringing out the hour can be heard. The centre of village life, the Salle de Fete, is closed, everyone is at home and the petanque boules are packed away. Everything is peaceful and then I go and spoil it all, by saying something stupid like I’m Transgender!
Mum was flabbergasted, she had no idea. She says, but you like football and motor racing, boy things. I love sport, so do millions of other women world wide. Vivre the difference; England’s women’s football team give the ball away, as often as the men’s team, it’s just as maddening. Come on the Lionesses.
I have found Mum is a bit of a NIMBY; she is an ally, she has read, seen and been moved by the Danish Girl, read books on gender identity of her own volition, listened to all the gender stuff on Womens Hour and even discussed Trans issues at length with her feminist group; but not my child! What would the neighbours think? I bet none of you have heard that one!
Perhaps Mum still hasn’t figured out who broke the zip in her beautiful taffeta evening dress. The one that fitted me so snugly at 14 but was too much of squeeze at 16. Oh how I loved that dress, the tight bodice, the swish of the material. It was a sad moment when I couldn’t wear it any more.
Since the big reveal, I have dressed once but Mum didn’t want to see me. I’m a patient sort of girl, so I will move forward very gently because there is no turning back. Mum is kind person, she will come to terms with me, and she did perk up when I said she could come to Oasis with me!
Mum asked what would Dad made of it? It? Oh me! You never could tell with Dad but he was always good in a crisis. We will never know. But I’m certainly not a crisis, I am incredibly lucky, I get to be the strong, independent women that I always dreamed of being. Je ne regrette rien!
PS Yesterday Mum met my true self, and the world carried on turning. Who would have guessed!
Norwich Pride cancelled
Norwich Pride 2020 – An announcement to our wonderful Norwich Pride community.
We are sure it will be no surprise to you to read that Norwich Pride will not happen on 25th July 2020. At least not in the format we all love. There will be no stalls, no march and no city centre entertainment on the day. We understand this will be a disappointment to our wonderful LGBT+ community and supportive allies, however, we do not think it is responsible to make demands on the local authorities, our volunteers, emergency services and other key partners at this difficult time. Our priority as organisers, who are all volunteers, is to re-focus our energies on self-care, and supporting our families, friends, and neighbours. We all have more pressing priorities right now due to the Covid-19 crisis.
We are facing an unprecedented time with lots of uncertainty and many lost opportunities to get together and celebrate. But we also know that Norwich is a unique place, and our reaction to this situation will also be unique. We therefore want to share some of our ideas to ensure a celebration of our community can take place, even if not face-to-face. We can begin some of these ideas now!
Creating a Virtual Pride
• Create a rainbow trail of flags and posters in every street across Norwich and share photos online so LGBT+ people know we are not alone.
• Work with local radio stations to ensure our voices are heard.
• Fly the rainbow flag across the city on the 25th July
• Keep sharing virtual events and ideas to connect people over the next few months
• Consider some kind of gathering (if allowed) later in 2020 and consider how we can support our local LGBT+ venues
Jo Caulfield, Chair of Norwich Pride 2020 said – ‘Norwich is great place to live and the LGBT+ people who live here inspire us every day. We want to ensure Norwich Pride is visible and present for our community. We want to help us all get through this. Please share your ideas by emailing us firstname.lastname@example.org .’
Thank you to the LGBT+ organisations and our allies who have already shown solidarity and support by signing and sharing our Norwich Pride Pledge. Please continue to do this, as the spirit of Norwich Pride lives on.
Our mission is unchanged, we want to ensure that we live in a city where everyone can feel safe and proud to be themselves.
Oasis@Too Pretty to Punch
On Saturday 8th February a small group of Oasis ladies went to see “Too Pretty to Punch”, a solo performance by Edalia Day at the Garage in Norwich.
After meeting for a meal at Pizza Express in the Forum, we sat down to a full house at what was an interesting and thought provoking performance with many of the situations Edalia performed ringing true with many of our lives.
She so eloquently talked about not wanting to be put in a box, not having to be labelled as one gender or the other as society wanted. Of her life growing up with continued conflict of having to adopt the male role, but so longing to be in the female role, snatching tiny moments when she could.
What I found interesting was that I’m in my 60’s and yet Edalia, half my age was still encountering the binary nature of how people and society labelled us. I thought we had moved on from this, or is it so ingrained things might never change!
Her performance demonstrated participatory theatre at its best, intermingled with clever interactive visual stimuli. There were even subtitles to help the show flow.
After the show we stopped off for a coffee and more chat at a local hostelry. There were two ladies who sat in the corner by us, who on leaving asked us if we had heard of the “Way Out Club” in London, as her good friend was Vicky Lee,who runs it.
You just never know who you’re going to bump into in Norwich!
Oasis @ King’s Lynn Pride 2019
It was by the skin of our teeth we were at King’s Lynn Pride. I had given up on getting a response and then, 10 days before the event I got a call asking “are you coming?” Well, yes! Panic. Try to organise support. Amazing response. Davina, Beccie, Michelle, Petra, Lilly and Rachel all turned out to support the Oasis stand at our first King’s Lynn Pride.
Now, Dee and I were first to arrive to set up the stand (a gazebo and display stands as we were outside on ‘The Walks’) so by 11.00 we were good to go. We then got a call from Lilly to say she, along with Rachel and Michelle had just arrived at Kings‘s Lynn railway station and had joined the Pride march to The Walks. My iphone weather app assured me there would be NO rain – but it was absolutely hammering down! Dee and I were safely under the gazebo but Lilly, Rachel and Michelle were sharing one (very small) umbrella – oops!
However, the sun came out, they dried out, and it was a gorgeously hot, sunny afternoon. Lots of people visited us on the stand, including some of our Oasis ladies, Angela, Anne, Melissa and Vicky. Vicky runs a guest house minutes away from The Walks and has offered us changing facilities and parking for next year – brilliant.
We spoke to lots of people, both trans and cis, who were all very positive, and made some useful contacts for the future. The general consensus was that it was a really enjoyable day and we will definitely be there next year.
Norwich Pride 2019
This is a huge thank you from Serena, Phyllis, Geri, Dee, and Jenny to all those lovely ladies who came along to Norwich Pride and helped to make it another really successful Pride day for Oasis.
Even more people attended the event this year and those on the Oasis stand didn’t stop talking and handing out leaflets and stickers all day. Lilly stepped up to the plate and led the Oasis team in the march, proudly waving the pink, blue and white transgender flag. Although it was overcast, it did not rain and the cloud cover kept us cool.
As in previous years, our stand was next to the Mancroft Advice Project. This is a really useful alliance because, between us, we are able to offer advice and support to transgender people from the age of eleven upwards. MAP previewed their new film and accompanying booklet, ‘Understanding and respecting differences’, made possible with funding from the Barbara Ross Association and Jenny, one of the trustees, played a major role in facilitating this.
A useful outcome of the day is networking with other organisations. I made contact with a research scientist at the UEA and hope to be able to contribute to her research into the biological basis of being transgender. Norwich library are compiling a sound archive of Norfolk trans stories and I hope to contribute to this. The ‘Schools Out’ organisation is proposing to choose Barbara Ross as one of their ‘Four Faces’ illustrating LGBT (Barbara was, of course, a passionate trans ally).
It was disappointing that the Pride Guide did not mention Oasis. The Mancroft Advice Project was mentioned aimed at 11-25s but for the rest of us, we were pretty much ignored. This is a problem that needs addressing and rectifying for Pride 2020. Your organising committee will be proactive in making this happen.
After a long and exhausting day, twelve Oasis ladies enjoyed a relaxed and enjoyable meal in Pizza Express – a perfect way to end a really enjoyable day.
Understanding and Respecting Differences
In memory of the late Barbara Ross OBE, and made possible by a donation from the Barbara Ross Association the film project ‘Norfolk Trans Youth: Understanding and Respecting Differences’ and accompanying booklets, led by young people from Evolve (MAP’s trans youth support service in Norwich), was launched at Norwich Pride, on Saturday 27th July 2019.
Our filmmaker was Nicole O’Reilly, a young Edinburgh-based trans woman, and creative genius.
The film is a documentary in two parts and we aim to screen as much of this as possible at Norwich Pride on Saturday. It will be made freely available online as soon as possible after Pride, along with a PDF version of the booklet which will be promoted in schools, medical services, local authorities and other organisations.
Jen Alexander, Gender Identity Practitioner, will be hosting a private screening of the complete film later this year. Date to be announced.
Lowestoft Job Centre Talk
Following a visit to Lowestoft Job Centre last year, I was asked to give a talk to the staff at Lowestoft Job Centre as part of their staff development programme. We arranged 24th July months ago, not knowing it would be one of the hottest days of the year. It meant an early start from Norwich to arrive in Lowestoft for the 9-10 am session. As I drove over, the thermometer in my car read 25C deg by 8 in the morning – thank goodness for air con!
My brief was to cover LGBT+ definitions, terminology, how to address people, what it’s like to be transgender, transition, documentation, the legal position and being trans and transitioning at work.
Having been to Lizzie’s funeral the week before, I dedicated the talk to her.
One of the advisers spoke to me afterwards and said that, although she had half a dozen young trans clients, she had never heard of the Mancroft Advice Project even though they have an office in Great Yarmouth. That is why it is important to get out there and spread the message.
The talk was well received with some good feedback.
Click on this link to read a transcript of the talk.
Sad Loss of Lizzie
It was with both shock and great sadness when I heard that Lizzie Vaughan, one of our Oasis ladies, had passed away on 18th June.
Lizzie first contacted Oasis around August 2015, and arranged to meet at the Bicycle Shop in Norwich.
She wanted to join our group desperate to express her female side, which she had hidden for so long, initially with a view, then to be a bridesmaid at a friend’s wedding.
From our first meeting Lizzy was a bubbly, joyful person and a great asset to our group.
She stayed with us at Oasis for several years, attending when she could and building her confidence. She embarked on her transition journey and became involved in Norwich Pride and the Pride Choir and was out and proud.
Her thespian yearning led her to the Sewell Barn Theatre, as an actress of many roles as well as backstage and front of house. It was always nice to see her from behind the bar on my many visits to various productions.
We only chatted a few weeks ago when she was performing with the Pride Choir at the Stody Lodge Rainbow Day in May.
Oasis sends love and affection to all her friends and family in this difficult time.
She was a one in a million and will be greatly missed. It is a very sad day for our LGBT community.
NORWICH PRIDE 2017
Supporting the “T” in LGBT
Saturday, 29th July 2017 was Norwich Pride day. It dawned bright and sunny – good news for the speeches, march and entertainment planned for the afternoon. The Forum was a hive of activity from 8 am onwards as a wide range of organisations set up their stands and displayed their freebies and items for sale.
This year Oasis joined forces with the Mancroft Advice Project (and their sub-group Evolve) to provide help and advice to transgender people covering a wide age range. From 10 – 12.30 the atrium was heaving with people wearing a variety of amazing outfits. We were approached by a large number of people, especially young people, seeking help and advice about gender and sexuality. For those in the 14-25 age group we were able to point them in the direction of Jen and Linda from Evolve. For older people we gave them information about our Oasis meetings and I am sure we may see one or two new members.
Beccie And Claire represented Oasis on the march carrying placards declaring ‘Trans is not a choice’ and ‘Proud to be Trans’. The stand was manned womaned by Phyllis, Jenny, Kate, Claire, Beccie, Rachel, Serena and Michelle. Many thanks to everyone. We were visited by a few familiar faces. It was good to see Gemma, albeit as her male self. She is unable to drive at the moment but hopes to come back in the future. Laura, Anna, Glinda and Carole also dropped by.
Throughout the whole day there was a wonderfully positive atmosphere. It was my first attendance at Norwich Pride and I absolutely loved it. I felt I had been able to give positive help to many people, especially young people, which will hopefully make their next few years less difficult than it was for many of us oldies. If I am able, I will definitely be involved next year.
Thank you to everyone who helped out.