Welfare State International Sue Gill

Audio extract taken from Unfinished Histories interview with Sue Gill and John Fox in 2013 discussing Sue Gill’s renaming from Susan Robinson

Audio transcription:

Susan Croft: I was going to say, when did you choose to change your name?

Sue Gill: Well, I was a late developer, I think I was 46 before it dawned on me that I could have my own name. So I was Susan Robinson from the line of Robinsons, then I was Mrs Fox, both are very fine names, I haven’t got anything against the names, but they are someone else’s names. And I just suddenly thought one day, I could have a name of my own. Once that thought came into my mind, I knew immediately what my name should be. Because after being nomadic and almost committing to living in Tasmania, after a big tour of Australia, we came back, and we eventually settled in the heart of Ulverston on a square named The Gill, where we thought we’d be for six or seven years while the kids finally went to school and did high school. Twenty-seven years later we were still there, and we’re very close to it now. As those years had been going by I felt really clearly and positively that I’d found my spot. The Gill was actually where everything came into focus and I was connecting with the community and neighbours and my work, and I loved the place, Cumbria and the landscape and it was a place I was happy to be bringing the kids up. So I just thought, I’ll be Sue Gill, and that was it and I did that by deed poll

Susan Croft: Did you have a naming ceremony for yourself?

Sue Gill: I did. I was mortified because I thought, we’d written books about naming ceremonies and I’d done them up and down the country for everybody else and I thought, oh my goodness, I’m in the trade I should have a naming ceremony and I was mortified at the thought of being the centre of attention and having one. Some of our young neighbours, a lovely couple, were leaving to go to another part of the country, ‘cos he’d got a job in film or as a photographer, can’t remember. So everyone was coming together to have a farewell party for these people and we’d rented the little hall directly across the road and we were in there having… and it occurred to me suddenly that everything that was part of this gathering was due to the creativity of all the people and the stuff that early Welfare State stuff in town had started to generate. We were a little band, so together, as neighbours, we were playing music together. It was decorated with flaggery and stuff that people had made by hand. We’d all made the food. We were singing, there was a little a cappella choir, and I thought they’ll never be a better moment than this.

John Fox: You didn’t tell me of course but that was fine

Sue Gill: No, well you knew about my name.

JF: (laughter) But that night it was a bit of a surprise.

Sue Gill: So I thought, this is where I’ll make an announcement, then I don’t have to throw a party and get all nervous. Ready, deep end stuff, now or never. So I just stood up and said, ‘if it’s all right with you I’d like to make an announcement.’ So then I started to talk about coming to The Gill and what it had meant to me, some of these people were bread and born or ya know, had lived there for years or had been born there, and I said, I’m going to change my name and duh duh duh duh, and from today I’d like to be known as Sue Gill, and two grown men burst into tears. One was the window cleaner and the other was the man who ran the hardware store in the market. It meant so much to them that I had embraced what they were very fond of, because we used to have really mad times and barbeques, put our cars across and just declare home rule. The kids would play lacrosse and have steel bands and all sorts.

John Fox: We did a very good wedding of Di and Charles didn’t we.

Sue Gill: Oh we did our own Royal Wedding.

John Fox: With two blokes. It was very good was that.

Sue Gill: So yes, I’m Sue Gill. Actually there is another issue, we were talking about this yesterday weren’t we, if it’s the family firm and you work in the family firm, there’s something just a bit strange about that. When people would meet me, just as Sue Gill and didn’t necessarily know the dynamics the protocols within, that was a much easier way to meet people. You know, it’s about identity really, and it’s been really good. I’m really glad I did it.

John Fox: There was a nice story though, that you haven’t told, maybe you don’t want to tell. You were reading something like Wendleberry or Gary Snyder, one of those American academics who writes about, I can’t remember, I think a book called The Real Work. Anyway, you were reading that.

Sue Gill: I was. I was sitting in the window seat on the third floor in my bedroom, it’s a rainy November afternoon and you don’t want to go out and I’m reading Gary Snyder’s poems, and I look down and I watch a car arrive and two incredibly well dressed people get out and I’m going, curtains twitching, going ‘I haven’t seen them before, I wonder who they are going to visit’. Actually, they’d driven there and the man got out and they’d arrived in order for him to teach the woman how to do water divining.

John Fox: Wasn’t he very little and she very big.

Sue Gill: No, no. That’s in your imagination. No, they were both just elegant.

John Fox: Didn’t they arrive in a Rolls Royce?

Sue Gill: It was a posh car. He had these dousing rods and he walked forwards and backwards because there is an underground stream from Gill banks that goes under the town and eventually out to the bay here. So he showed her that as he walked across that they would set off above the water, which was out of sight, and she went to and fro, to and fro, until she learnt to do it. And then they got in the car and drove off. But that was happening, and I thought, there’s a bit of synchronicity here about being really based and earthed and about the Gill and about the elements and whatever, at this moment when I’m making this decision and I’m reading this book and I’m witnessing this outside my window unbeknown to them they didn’t know they were being observed. And it all just came together and I thought yes, I will do it.

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