There were twenty or so of us at this Lunch, drawn from two of the dozens of teams at the giant HMRC office in Croydon. Surprisingly, I knew at least eight people present, so I was far from being a total stranger, although younger members of staff, or those who had transferred in after I'd retired, obviously hadn't met me before.
So some would remember me as I used to be. And a somewhat larger number had no such memory, but might have been briefed on who I was, so that there would be no slip-ups over the proper way to address me. I wondered about that. On one hand, everyone in that office would (as a matter of course) have had general awareness training about misgendering anyone like myself, or committing idiocies like calling me by my old name. On the other hand, to be on the safe side, I might have been discussed as a special topic at a pre-Lunch team meeting. But I hoped not. I didn't want to be treated as a sensitive issue. I wanted the entire occasion to be natural and full of fun.
And as the event got under way I found good reason to think that, in fact, there had been no team briefing at all, because the people I hadn't met before treated me simply as a visiting former female colleague whose name they didn't know. I was able to introduce myself as Lucy without any explanations. Wonderful!
However, the managers present, two of them of my old grade, two of them a little more senior than I had been, must surely have been 'in the know' and painfully aware of the need to call me Lucy, and nothing else. And to do them credit, they managed it perfectly: it was Lucy every time, without any slips, and they even gave me hello (and farewell) embraces and kisses with Gallic abandon! Well! I'm sure the more junior staff members took note of this lead.
Since my day the idea of Secret Santa had taken hold, and everyone (including myself) had had to buy a small gift for somebody else. The recipient wouldn't of course know who the giver was because each label would say something like 'To X from Santa' - although I dare say a certain amount of handwriting-recognition might go on! I had to buy a gift for one of the other girls, someone I had occasionally travelled home on the train with when I was still working. But I hadn't seen her since 2005, and didn't know what kind of gift would appeal. I could of course have bought a jokey gift, but I played for safety and gave her a set of colourful silicone kitchen spoons, the same sort I'd bought for myself earlier in 2014 and loved to use. I knew she had a family, and might be a cook, and I reckoned that she'd prefer something genuinely useful. Well, I think the spoons were something of a surprise. I couldn't tell whether the gift was welcome or not - obviously she didn't know it was from me, and I couldn't let on - but I may find out. She asked Gill, an old friend of mine and the girl on the left edge of the picture just below, for my email address, and we may have a dialogue at some point in the coming weeks. I shall look forward to it.
As you can see, someone gave me a cowboy hat with KISS ME QUICK on it - just right for a girl from Sussex-by-the-Sea! Everyone was keen to try it on, so I let it be passed around so that people could pose in it, as one does after a bit too much to drink at an office Christmas Lunch...
Someone else was given a black wig, and for some reason this was also passed around, particularly between the guys who were a bit thin on top, and (it must have been the booze again) everyone with a camera or a phone went straight into snapshot mode. But it was all great fun.
The meal itself was pretty good. You had to choose your courses in advance - I had a duck pâté starter, turkey with all the fixings for main, and Christmas pudding for dessert. The meal cost £21, but as part of the deal you got tear-off drink vouchers, entitling you to three drinks. On arrival I'd bought myself a gin-and-tonic. With each of my three vouchers I had a medium-sized glass of white house wine. Following that, I was treated to a big glass of Sauvignon Blanc. The drinking need not have ended there, but at 4.15pm I finished my wine, made my farewells, and went home. I could see the Lunch turning into a headache-inducing bacchanalia. And I'd already had one the previous evening.
Needless to say, I'd left Fiona at home, and wasn't driving. That was partly to enjoy using my new Senior Railcard!
This Christmas Lunch had been a great social success for me. I'd always wondered how it would be if I met not just a few selected former colleagues in a quiet venue, but a lot more of the staff, on a lively no-hiding-place binge. Now I knew what it was like. No problems at all.
This 2014 result made me speculate afresh on how it might have been if I'd discovered the truth about myself back in 2003 or 2004, and had attempted to transition at the office. It might have gone very well. And I'd have had every possible assistance from an officially-supported internal organisation called A:gender (see http://www.agender.org.uk/). But I didn't hear about A:gender until March 2009, nearly four years after retiring...
Oh well. You can't turn back the clock.