Why I won’t be declaring my pronouns

I’m publishing this for anyone who doesn’t want to share pronouns at work – which is to say, I decided fairly early not to declare a gender identity and have needed to be prepared to defend this decision ever since. To cut a long story short, I consider gender as a set of stereotypes and a social imposition I’ve spent a long time trying to get away from, and consequently I don’t have a gender identity. But even as I ungender myself, I still have a biological sex – female. Human animals tend to use the term ‘woman’ for female bloggers (girls are more likely to be found on the gram). However, unlike hens, does, cows, and mares, some human animals are also trans, which means that the meaning of ‘woman’ has expanded to allow some males.

The reason I won’t declare a gender identity is not that I don’t welcome trans people or want them to feel comfortable. It’s that adopting one myself might identify me with political positions I don’t hold, namely that gender identity should have primacy over biological sex, and that recognising biological sex as a major social determinant is essentialising and akin to or as bad as racism.

I realise that may seem a bit of a leap. You might observe that it is equally essentialising to use pronouns to denote biological sex – and in any case what place does biological sex have at work, where we’re supposed to have equal rights and professionalism dictates that we don’t hook up with each other – at least not in core hours. And I’d respond in turn that even if it were desirable to be biological-sex-blind it would be futile. But I can’t see how it is desirable, because distinguishing between equality and equity depends on recognising differences that matter, and biological sex is a major determinant in our lives – for women, menstruation, maternity and menopause are hugely influential, and those are only the most obvious. It’s also not desirable because we are being urged to do the opposite for gender, not to mention other legal equality characteristics – why should sex be excluded? And futile because biological sex is never going to stop being fundamentally important in our society. It’s no coincidence that two of the three gender identity pronouns in general use map directly onto dimorphic sex, and no coincidence that the pride flag does gender as the (I’d say stereotypical) binary pink and blue alongside the non-binary white. Biological sex is very present in trans rights movements. I’d say it’s not a problem to solve – it’s simply at the heart of our species. But we also know that high profile campaigns believe that biological sex undermines gender identity and cannot exist along side it. In many spheres they have attempted to eliminate biological sex as a relevant category, even to the extent of interfering people’s sexuality. And if you publicly objected to that, as many – mostly women – did, it would be open season on you and you’d be fortunate to keep your job.

I’d actually go further. I see the attempt to sever the links between ‘he’ and ‘she’ and biological sex as creating injustice in a number of settings. A failure of monitoring participation by sex coupled with a sharp rise in younger trans people means we have to guess representation in different study, leisure and career pursuits where women are under-represented. If you’re into sport, you’re being asked to accept male-bodied people competing against women in sports where they are likely to win. We cannot accurately monitor sex offences and where there are signs of a sharp rise in women committing them, we cannot know whether the women are biologically male (there is no centrally mandated policy on data collection) which means that we cannot feed the data into valid policy. Accommodating male sex offenders who identify as women in women’s prisons has been recognised as a risk by a judge who nodded it through anyway. I never again want to read the headline “woman accused of exposing penis”. That’s not because I’m in a state of moral panic, it’s because it only takes a few cases like that to ruin the data on female sex offenders and frame women as more likely to commit sex crimes than they are.

I recognise that rounds of gender identity declarations are also intended as a gesture of welcome for trans and non-binary people. Our places of work are supposed to be spaces for people of different beliefs and none to come together and get things done, and one way we do that is not to impose one group’s set of beliefs on groups who object to them – unless it’s a battle for rights where the group being imposed upon is responsible for the injustice. It’s not like that in this case, and moreover here we need to avoid a zero sum game battle of rights between gender identity rights and biological sex rights. There are many kinds of marginalisation that I would like to acknowledge and bring in at work, so If I’m running the introductions I’ll invite people to share anything they want the group to know about them. Then, if anyone wanted to express their personal gender identity, I would observe the pronouns they requested. I might forget sometimes, and I hope that everyone would treat that with the same tolerance I extend to people who, say, refer to me as ‘he’ on social media or forget how to pronounce my name.

The Repair Shop and Money for Nothing – BBC public service broadcasting at its best

Two programmes I really admire are Money for Nothing and The Repair Shop, both on BBC One. I’m not sure how to apportion credit, but Field Kean Films produces Money for Nothing and Ricochet produces The Repair Shop.

Steven Fletcher works on a toy battleship in The Repair Shop

Revealing a transformed armchair

Leanne reveals a transformed armchair to EJ in Money for Nothing

Money for Nothing is a about upcycling as social entrepreneurship. It always begins with Sarah Moore (sometimes Jay Blades or EJ Osborne) waylaying people at the boot of their car, intercepting objects they’re about to dispose of at their municipal tip. They can be lengths of fabric, old filing cabinets, chairs, sewage pipe, old wooden bowling balls – you name it. We find out the object’s story before she takes it away to a specialist artisan in her network, including Zoe Murphy who designs patterns in Margate, Jay Blades who makes furniture and may still be based in Wolverhampton, Bex Simon who’s a Guildford blacksmith, Rob Shaer who works with wood in Walthamstow, Chinelo who designs garments in Canning Town, and Anthony Devine who upholsters in Manchester. After negotiating a budget (materials and labour) for transforming the object into something saleable, she goes away again leaving the artisan with creative licence. Sarah works on one of the objects herself. Arthur Smith narrates satirically.

Each programme follows the decisions and subsequent work on three objects, nicely paced so by the time the last is intercepted at the tip we’re half way through the tranformation of the first. When each is completed, Sarah arrives with her van and there’s a dramatic reveal. She pays the artisan, takes the object away and markets it to vendors with premises or web shops. Then she returns to the original owner with an iPad to show them the transformation and, if the object has sold, she gives them all the profit which I’ve see range from a fiver to £200.

Money for nothing - Jay Blades passes profit to original owner

I find this format absolutely ingenious. All of the money seems to come from and go to the right places. Viewers see a demonstration of entrepreneurship (another word for initiative in one’s livelihood) as Sarah coordinates adding value to what was going to be landfilled or dismembered. While she is presumably paid by the BBC licence fee, the artisans’ work is paid for by people with the income to freely buy valuable bespoke pieces. Viewers watch respect and creative vision shown to junk everyone else had given up on. The original owner is delighted to be doorstepped with money conjured from nothing, and and more often than not a charity is the ultimate beneficiary. By intercepting objects from the tip the programme is saving local authorities (that’s tax payers) money on landfill tax and recycling. Viewers learn that almost nothing needs to go to the tip if you have access to skilled labour. And in a society which increasingly valorises science, technology, engineering and maths and diminishes the arts, viewers learn how inspiring and valuable the livelihoods of artisans can be.

On a similar theme but with a different perspective, The Repair Shop begins with people  bringing broken family treasures to a spacious workshop in the Weald and Downland Living Museum where Jay Blades triages them on a table and interviews their owners about the object’s history – this part is a combination of Antique’s Roadshow and Supervet. Each object is then allocated to one or more specialists for conservation and restoration. Steven Fletcher is a clockmaker, Suzie Fletcher works with leather. Lucia Scalisi conserves paintings, Kirstin Ramsay specialises in ceramics, William Kirk restores heirlooms, and Brenton West is a silversmith. They each work in sight of each other at their own station in the workshop. Like Money for Nothing there are three items, ranging from broken plates with grandparents’ portraits, an old aviator jacket from a relative gunned down in World War II, a battered silver purse owned by a beloved grandmother, a pouffe, and all manner of old clockwork including a copper rain gauge and a barometer that inks the air pressure onto a roll of graph paper. We follow the dilemmas and progress of the artisans as they dunk gunky clockwork in vats of cleaner, stabilise and repair fragile materials, steam clean ceramics, conserve flaking leather, create missing wheatsheafs for porcelain clock cases, and painstakingly match paint. As with Money for Nothing, the objects are staggered so each is at a different stage. Finally the owner returns, sometimes with their kids, and the restored object is unveiled for the next generation to inherit.

About to unveil a restored heirloom at The Repair Shop

This programme moves me deeply. Like Money for Nothing it’s a format that rescues objects that appear to be beyond salvage, and lays bare the painstaking work of artisans past and present. The exquisite acts of restoration surface the intense love people have for their deceased family members; their yearning to save these pieces brings a generation-spanning perspective to every episode which is unfailingly moving. Unlike Money for Nothing there is no discussion of the value of these items, because they are destined to be treasured in the family and not be sold. The BBC has funded the restoration so that viewers can learn British history, and how things used to be made, and how they can be made anew. We learn the history of amateur climate science, world wars, and how everyday lives were led. We also learn techniques – that you need to apply shellac with a soft brush, what kind of stitch you need for which fabric, how to mix the right glue for the job, and how to apply it, test it, and what to do when it’s dried. You can see how to clean anything, stabilise anything, and that it’s fine to wear two pairs of spectacles at once.

Badly damaged leather pouffe

Before I finish this, I want to talk about Brexit, a hugely divisive era which threatens to impoverish this society and throw us back on our reserves. Right wing Brexit supporters look forward to this because they believe that younger people today lack grit and initiative. They think they are in need of a salutary dose of adversity to bring out their mettle. Necessity is the mother of invention, they think. I don’t see things that way, but I see these two programmes appeal across the political spectrum for reasons which transcend politics. In Money for Nothing there is no moralising at all, but I see the inheritance of a financial crisis expressed as a sort of providential scavenging (environmentalists bring their own subtexts). In the enormous popular appeal of the The Repair Shop I see another sort of prudence embraced by a society that has become interested, late in the day, in conserving the last relics of the British Empire – its science, the glory it took in its victories, the artefacts it manufactured with its spending power.

I find it poignant that these objects are usually deposited by people whose families had a long enough history in this country to have benefited – if by default – from its extractive capitalism in other lands, and were able to accrue a few treasures to pass on. I can’t help noticing that all the energy in this programme is dedicated to easing their pain. And yet those objects may be restored by an artisan whose forebears could conceivably have experienced the degradations of the Empire.

Money for Nothing deploys vision, skill and graft to convert junk discarded by older people into profit which it then returns to them – which I find symbolic of austerity and perhaps of a gentle education. In the Repair Shop, heirlooms of immense emotional significance become labours of love carried out by sensitive and empathetic strangers. Very deftly and tacitly, these programmes look to me like social cohesion.

Trade Union solidarity


I’m sure that you know, as I do, at least one trade union member who could stand to learn a little bit more about Israel and Palestine.

That person could be working at the desk next to you. Or it could be the president of your union.

If we are to effectively counter anti-Israel propaganda — and the growth of anti-semitism in the trade union movement — we need to get the widest possible distribution for the real news coming out of the region.

In the last month, TULIP’s website has told the story about the militant struggle being waged by Israeli workers — a struggle that is resulting in big union organizing wins that are hardly known outside the country. Here are some of the stories we ran in the last few weeks:

Meanwhile, our opponents keep saying that the campaign of boycotts, divestments and sanctions targetting the Jewish state is unstoppable, that unions everywhere are joining in, and so on. But TULIP is reporting that actually the trade union movement is deeply divided. Here are some of the stories we ran in the last month:

In other words — Israel has a vibrant, independent trade union movement that deserves the solidarity of trade unionists everywhere.

And in the international labour movement, a struggle is taking place between those like the German trade union leader Michael Sommer, a strong supporter of Israel, and South Africa’s Bongani Masuku, convicted of hate speech and yet still a spokesperson for COSATU.

For our side — those who support genuine peace and reconciliation based on a two-state solution — to win, we must get our message out to many more people.

Please forward this email on to trade unionists you know who need to be better informed.

Let’s try to change at least one mind.

Encourage people to sign up to join the TULIP mailing list at http://www.tuliponline.org/?page_id=4212 and to like TULIP on Facebook.

Have you seen this van in Redbridge?

You work when there’s work to be had. You can’t afford a new outfit for your brother’s wedding – let alone a present. Let alone a stag do. You’re angry and two things make you even angrier. One is people on benefits who look like they shouldn’t be. Another is people who don’t come from this country who live 5 to a room, work for their uncles, price your employer out of the market and you out of a job.

The Conservative-led coalition government is pretty sure you’ll fall into line behind their latest initiative.

Exacerbating community relations, by van

Exacerbating community relations, by van

The initiative is led by Mark Harper, Minister of State for Immigration and Conservative MP for the Forest of Dean – he’s @mark_j_harper on Twitter. The Government says:

“Over the next week, two vans will be driven around Hounslow, Barking & Dagenham, Ealing, Barnet, Brent and Redbridge and will show residents how many illegal migrants have recently been arrested in their area. They will also show a text number that migrants can message to arrange their return.”

Sometimes I’m afraid of the Conservatives and this is one of those times. Why would migrants abandon everything that is familiar, make a long, arduous and often treacherous journey to the UK only to then live in frankly dreadful conditions and work without rights or proper pay? Because they have nothing to lose where they were before. Perhaps their lives were under threat back home. Perhaps there was no work and no social security. Perhaps there was a war, or a mafia.

Make no mistake, you would do the same. That’s not to say that you have to put up with the situation. Like everybody else I want a working NHS and working public services – and those things depend on maintaining the proportion of taxpayers to service users. But nevertheless, you would do the same – and you would deserve compassion and assistance. Not for your neighbours to start associating you with images of handcuffs.

The trouble for me is that these poor, desperate people, who have moved here to become poor, lonely, exploited, desperate people, are the last people who should be targeted by the government. They are being treated as culprits when in fact they are victims. In some ways they are being treated as vermin to be cleared away.

The first question is, who is profiting from these people? Who is selling – and buying – goods and services at a price so low that the people working to deliver them cannot be paid a decent wage? Who is transporting the migrants, who is employing them, who are their slum landlords? These are the ones who need to be brought into line with the law. And if they keep within the law and there is still a problem, then the next question to ask is, why do migrants feel it would be better to nearly destitute themselves in Britain rather than remain where they were born? And then you will discover stories which make your heart heavy, which bring out the generosity of spirit that this government has given up on. And you will realise why the International Development budget exists.

It may well be that these vans form only part of wider government initiatives to make it hard for undocumented migrants to set up home here. As it is, though, these vans are on the streets of Redbridge and other London boroughs and they are the only part of the action that most people will ever see or hear about. And the message these vans are sending out is potentially a very damaging one. They make it seem as if the people who are here without permission are culprits and criminals who need to be taken away in handcuffs. The mixed message of the handcuffs and the “Let us help you” will bring out the worst fears of most migrants, I’d imagine – because my hunch is that the picture will speak louder than the words. And for the rest of us, whose right to be here isn’t under question, what are we supposed to think? To me, this is somewhere further along the line to official incitement against migrants than this country has seen for a long time.

This government thinks it is appropriate to try to gain support by turning us against some of the poorest and most vulnerable amongst us. I think the Conservatives are trying to make fools of us.

Preliminary thoughts about what to do next:

  • Ramfel (Refugee and Migrant Forum for East London – their Facebook page seems to be most recently updated) is concerned with community relations. If you spot the van, contact them so that they can take action to monitor the repercussions, and counter any misinformation about illegal immigrants. If you don’t use Facebook, then try info@ramfel.org.uk – there you can also offer help leafleting.
  • Write you your MP
  • Write to Mark Harper.
  • As usual keep your criticism sharp and grounded, don’t rant, don’t exaggerate, don’t insult our public servants, and don’t forget that there is a massive fight for the scraps at the bottom of this society which is ripe for exploitation. Just make the best arguments possible.


  • The Twitter hashtag (shared with a bunch of random stuff) is #GoHome
  • The leader of Brent Council has made short statement of protest.
  • More from him on the BBC.
  • And here’s a video of Minister Mark Harper misrepresenting undocumented migration as a kind of anti-social petty crime, cut with shots of that nasty van.
  • @The_UK_Migrant points or that this new policy is likely to amount to stop and search.
  • Why shouldn’t London be less like Operation Wetback and more like New York?
  • Even the Daily Mail – bastion of anti-immigration sentiment – thinks the Go Home vans are ridiculous.
  • PICUM – the Platform for International Cooperation on Undocumented Migrants – is a good resource.
  • Nigel Farage is crowing about the Go Home Vans, rightly assuming that this is the Conservative response to the UKIP threat. When he then proceeds to call the campaign ‘nasty’ he fails to grasp the irony of this recognition.
  • It’s Saturday night and via Barkingside21 on Twitter I know of two reported sightings. Just two, in Kilburn and Willesden Green. Not a very busy or comprehensive tour, then. Perhaps the Go Home Van is feeling a little outlandish? Good.
  • The campaign has united leaders from all parties on Redbridge Council. They have sent Teresa May a unanimous message. It goes: 1) not about us without us and 2) fuck off with your rabble rousing.

Psychic wages

I think there’s another way to come at ‘economic rationality’ – everybody should earn the same living wage, and any particular shortfall based on individual circumstances be met through benefits. But we’re clearly a while away from that. Meanwhile here’s a good piece I missed at Marc Bousquet’s ‘How the University Works‘ – from it a nice piece of class-based reasoning about why a good society must make the work it needs to be done economically rational for workers to undertake, rather than relying on notions of job satisfaction and personal fulfilment i.e. psychic wages.

“But a labor market arranged around working for love – rather than fair compensation – is actually one of the most sexist, racist and economically discriminatory arrangements possible. From a class point of view, as I emphasize in Gose’s piece and elsewhere: by making the professoriate an economically irrational choice, you stop sorting for the most talented people and begin to sort for the people who can afford to discount their wages. That cuts out most people, period, making the best jobs in the academy largely a preserve for persons with fortunate economic backgrounds or circumstances.  And via the wealth gap, that primary economic discrimination has direct consequences for the racial composition of the faculty. By making it too hard to get a job, too arduous an apprenticeship, too poor of a return on education investment: only the wealthier among us are able to “irrationally choose” to accept psychic wages – and the wealthier among us are disproportionately white, just for starters. All of this has tremendous, documented consequences for the achievement and persistence of students from less advantaged economic circumstances and ethnicities poorly represented among the faculty.”

Read on and think about the Big Society, volunteering, internships, pensions as deferred wages, and the kind of workplace ‘helping’ which props up rotten systems.


On the BBC, programmes on activism and industrial action not to be missed

Perhaps in response to the predicted summer of rage, we are in the midst of great stuff on the BBC some of which are available for download for the next week or so:

The Miners’ Strike on BBC4 – a seriously high quality documentary about the 1984 miners’ strike mixing original footage, reconstructions and on-location interviews with police, government officials, striking miners and the still-pariah minority of working miners, and their wives. Solid gold (or should I say solid coal), although flinchingly violent and extremely emotional. You can’t watch this one again – try UKNova.

Tonight is another episode of the BBC4 series on the miners’ strike, Coal House At War, followed by All Our Working Lives: Cutting Coal and – perhaps the one I’m most interested in – My Strike, whose synopsis reads:

“Documentary looking at how going on strike became almost a rite of passage in earlier times, as the likes of Lord Tebbit, Greg Dyke, Peter Snow, Eddie Shah and Anne Scargill recall just what their strike meant to them.”

Call Yourself a Feminist – BBC Radio 4, first of a series beginning with a look back at the ’50s and ’60s with Sally Alexander, Sonia Fuentes, Elaine Showalter and others. Including the famous ‘bra burning’ reference which convinced the world looking back that there had been some kind of conflagration – there hadn’t. Betty Friedan:

The BBC is brilliant isn’t it. I’m going to make sure that when the bastards come for it, I’m ready.

Wanted: digital engagement director with knowledge of “jams”

This Cabinet Office job ad for a Director of Digital Engagement had us scratching our heads in the office.

“The successful applicant will

  • Introduce new techniques and software for digital engagement, such as ‘jams’ into Government”

Our crests fell – nary a one of us had ever heard of ‘jams’. Harakiri beckoned.

Then we discovered that The Register was similarly baffled.

“Er, such as… what? After asking around Shoreditch, this morning, I’m none the wiser. “Jams” doesn’t even seem to be in the Web 2.0 lexicon. But Kick In The Jams, it is, though.”

Is it an initiative test? Is one of those psychological experiments to see who has the confidence and/or integrity to request clarification on ‘jams’?

Yes, Tory papers, it’s overpaid. But only in the usual uninspired way employers communicate with prospective employees that their role is extremely important. Here, we love you, have some extra money. This is a fucking big job, not one to be derided with the sneery epithet ‘twittercrat’:

“This is not a role for a generalist. The professional skills required are formidable. Engagement in the digital space is a young ‘profession’ and the job requires someone who would be acknowledged by their peer group to be a leader in this field. The successful candidate will have a CV that creates instant credibility and confidence with Ministers, senior officials and digital communicators in Whitehall.”

Clay Shirky could do it. Somebody from MySociety?

Depressingly (and this is really beginning to make me sad) I think the Register is right when they say it’s going to be “jobs for the boys”.

Tube cleaners’ dispute update

Today was a bumper news day on the train – acquired a Times, a Mail and…. an Economist! Additionally I’m presented with a newspaper (always The Sun) every morning at the station by one of men who clears out the trains, which is very nice of him.

Since privatisation created the relatively new division of labour which established a dedicated cleaning-only grade (absolute abomination that anybody, anybody who doesn’t want to, should have to clean for a living) which could be contracted out from the core railway activities, there are legions of workers occupying cleaner-only roles in every station. I hear from people involved in the Tube Cleaners Strike that most station attendants don’t know the names of their cleaners – I thought that might be to do with flux but there is continuity in my stations and you can make acquaintances.

I’m not sure about the relationship between the cleaners on overground trains and those on the underground, but after negotiating London Living Wage of £7.45 for cleaners on Metronet and TubeLines (who subcontract to ISS who agreed to £7.45 by next April) contracts, the Tube Cleaners’ action is gearing up again to address conditions – holidays, sick pay, pension, third party sackings, and exploitation of workers with uncertain immigration status. Additionally, the pay deal has not yet been honoured by Metronet and ISS. There are several reasons things are stalling. One is deplorable schisms between the different organisations involved (exploited by the companies). The RMT successfully integrated cleaners into an all-grade union – the tireless work by experienced activists to elicit cleaners’ needs and formulated them into demands, as well as the support of drivers and station staff, helped to win the pay deal. Consequently union activists are appropriating the action as union action, but from what I can gather they haven’t worked out effective means of re-engaging their grass roots. It is important to engage members and avoid giving into the temptation to implement top-down action upon these mostly female, mostly immigrant, often disorganised cleaners. And it is important to record and evidence grievances. Another diversion is the competition for members from T&G – from what I can gather the RMT built this action and the T&G (Unite) were an undermining force.

The action united practically every section of the centre and left when it began last summer, and made national news and periodicals like the New Statesman. Hopefully can again. I’ve seen human faeces, used condoms, vomit, bones, chewing gum, ketchup – you name it, on trains. Most passengers will at some time in their lives, sit in a urine-sodden seat (not me yet). Cleaners deserve excellent recompense for dealing with our carelessness and filth. If they can get it together sufficiently they’ll need a strike fund, and personally I’ll be putting into it.

The AWL reports from August.

Anyway, one of the best things I came across today was in The Sun after all. When I think about it at all, I’m ambivalent about antipathetic to Page 3. Loveable incorrigible and unpert contrarian Julie Burchill isn’t.

Photography, polar bear of professions

Last year I said OK to an author who asked for one of my pictures of Cressing Temple Barn to use in his book about the Knights Templar. Then Schmap asked for one of my photos of the Great Eastern Hotel. I said yes – notwithstanding the squeeze on professional photographers who are forced to resort to more and more inconvenient and/or hazardous quests to compete with the general public.

I said yes because in the years when I had more time than money, I myself frequently acquired copyright in this way. Other reasons: it cost me nothing, Schmap is free and authors of niche books do it for love not money.

The fact is that uploads to photo-sharing sites like Flickr are increasing steadily. Even if a tiny proportion are marketable – and even the worst photographer strikes lucky occasionally – the  overall result is a repository of cheap, decent images. My photo of Cressing Temple Barn was very good, and although the Great Eastern Hotel could have been better focused, Schmap shrunk it so it doesn’t matter – high quality imaging is not what people who use Schmap need or want. The value professional photographers resides in our need for professionally-taken photographs. The circumstances in which we want or need this high quality – weddings, food porn, marketing etc – seem to be decreasing in comparison to the circumstances when we don’t – most notably, news.

Professional photographers are scared for their livelihoods because of unmediated relations between people like me and organisations like Schmap, and this must feel both demoralising and scarey.

But the idea that they deserve special conservation measures doesn’t convince me. It’s not that I’m a free market radical – I’d entertain the idea of subsidies and special measures for some professions we want to keep in Britain. It’s just that I don’t think the kinds of photographers we’d like to hold onto are under any pressure from the average joe and their camera.

Prof Gerry Bennett, Consultant, Heath Care of Older People

Gerry BennettHe keeps coming to my mind so I’ll put him on my blog. I used to work for him and probably still would be.

He was an exceptionally good boss and a huge influence on me in the area of anti-discrimination (particularly against people who are older, disabled or ill) but also on my dealings with people and organisations and knowing when to be an opportunist. He was in fact a genuine epitome of compassion and kindness. Thanks to him, I got to present – no strings attached – in South Africa, Canada, the US, Denmark, and Ireland. And because of opportunities like those I grew enough in confidence and intellectually to finish my PhD.

He was an excellent role model for students. Health Care of Older People is considered an unglamourous medical discipline – a lot of medical students and junior doctors seem to be primarily hoping to fix people. Gerry chose HCOP early in his career and he was also a campaigner against medical discrimination against older people and elder abuse. He was also charming, urbane, funny, fond of baseball, stylish and devoted to his friends.

I didn’t know him terribly well, because I was quite mousey back then. He built a territory, competed for funding, space and resources, and stuck up for himself in the face of Management just like anybody else, but somehow I never heard anybody say a word against him. The only snippy words we ever exchanged was when I offered to take his ailing cheeseplant into my care (he should have taken me up on that). And there was the time we failed to stop him painting his office a certain shade of pink. Although pink was his favourite colour he was colour-blind, his room would catch the afternoon sun and by about 3pm his room would be emanating reflected pink light like a red dwarf. We worked in a hospital – everything else was magnolia. Not everything actually – his secretary, also colour-blind, had chosen pistachio for the reception.

Unless I’m mistaken he’d be nearly 54. Obit in the BMJ (they’re right – working with him was fun).

Mementos – a washbag from the Karolinska Institute and a porcelain saki cup and everything I brought back from my conference trips.