For a few days this week I've had one bloody song going round and round in my head on a permanent loop. Do you ever get that? It's quite a nice song but I won't name it because I don't want to infect you too. Now, finally, it seems to have worn itself out, but just yesterday I read the sad case of a man in Wales who actually committed suicide because of "last song syndrome" - or "earworm", as it's called (I'd never heard of that expression). The poor guy had suffered with this syndrome for years and could no longer take it, so he put his affairs in order, wrote out a list of where everything was with a letter apologizing to his family - and then took his own life! How sad is that!
In other news, about 10 days ago I learned that a former colleague, Larry, had been taken to hospital after suffering a sudden serious medical event. He was placed in an artificial coma, I believe, and when they realized there was no hope his husband gave permission for the respirator to be switched off and Larry died 24 hours ago! He wasn't a friend but a very dear colleague who I worked closely with when he first joined our organization. He was very likeable, extremely humble and never forgot a name. After I changed jobs I no longer worked so closely with him, that is, until I ended up in HR dealing with the medical insurance and we had more contact again. Ha, I remember one time in a meeting he asked if I could get him a copy of a document so I went and made a photocopy for him. Trouble is, I forgot to put the photocopier on recto-verso so he ended up with a document with only the odd pages included. He pointed it out to me while I was taking the minutes so I just said "apparently Larry will have no comments on pages 2, 4, 6, 8 and 10" - and he burst out laughing!
Our organization was never part of the U.N. system but we applied U.N. common system rules and salary scales and so on, and also used their medical insurance. In 1995 we became a new organization, with a new name but more or less the same tasks so it was decided to leave the common system completely, withdraw from the U.N. pension fund and set up our own rules, regulations, salary scales and medical insurance. Our organization had its headquarters in Geneva and no satellite offices, and since the U.N. system was all $-based it made sense to "go it alone", so to speak!
I'm paraphrasing an awful lot but by virtue of becoming a new organization, the lease with the Swiss authorities for the building where we were located had to be renegotiated. I'm guessing the Swiss assumed that it was a foregone conclusion that we would stay in Geneva - well that is, until the Germans stepped forward and said "hey, our parliament has now left Bonn and moved back to Berlin, so we've got an awful lot of office space and apartments we could make available to you if you wanted to move to Bonn"! Well that put the cat among the pigeons because it wouldn't have just been a question of us moving (we were around 700 staff at that point, I guess), but would have involved many, many country missions dedicated to our organization moving also!!! And that would have been a massive loss for Geneva!
Up until that point, the Swiss did not offer work permits to staff members' spouses, so if you had a couple where both were professional people, there was a big disincentive to coming to Geneva knowing that your spouse would not be entitled to work. The German offer, however, meant that negotiations with the Swiss got opened up and much tougher than they anticipated. The Swiss eventually offered to give the organization the building and accepted to give work permits to spouses of staff members across the board - that meant to all U.N. organizations also. It was quite the victory!
Now my boss ended up doing the bulk of the legwork for drafting the headquarters agreement, the withdrawal from the U.N. pension fund and setting up our own pension fund - and just for good measure, why not let's negotiate with a new medical insurance provider also? He obviously didn't have enough to do! I was on my knees trying to keep up with all the different versions of agreements that were being negotiated with member States, the Swiss authorities, the U.N. pension fund and the call for tender for the medical insurance. When it all started Jordan was three and André was seven and I was working full-time, trying to get the shopping/cleaning and so on done on a Saturday (because God-forbid any stores should be open on Sundays) and then going in to work for a few hours on Sundays to try to catch up. You can do that for only so long and it very nearly did me in. The plus side, though, was that I got to know the details of all these agreements because I'd typed 100s of drafts of each one!
Anyway, just when I thought I could see a light at the end of the tunnel (I didn't realize it was more like a train coming from the opposite direction), Larry brought up the issue of work permits for spouses in same-sex marriages. You see Larry was gay and had been living with his partner for many years. The Swiss, at that time, eventually agreed to recognize common law partners, but only in heterosexual relationships. So Larry and his partner decided to fly off to Canada to get married and then the push was on to have same sex spouses recognized by the Swiss, the pension fund, the medical insurance and the staff rules. So just when I thought I was coming up for air, off we go again. I absolutely agreed with what Larry was trying to do, but I do remember asking him if we could have a Sunday afternoon off from manning the barricades just this once as I was on my knees and he laughed. I also remember him telling me that he didn't realize he was gay until he was 36 so I just said "damn, you were a bit slow weren't you" and he said "yeah, that's what my mom always said". But in the end it all worked out, and he (and many others) were able to get their spouses recognized in the same way as heterosexual spouses were!
I remember one time, when André was probably about five, I had brought him in to work with me after school to wait so I could take him home later. Larry got chatting to him and asking about school, and André said that he had gotten 19/20 on his spelling test, his only mistake being he spelled "chops" as "thops" and Larry cracked up. (As a side note, my kids must both have had problems with spelling words with "ch" in them, because one time when Jordan was little he had to come up with five words with "ch" in them. So I pointed at my chin and he wrote that one down. Then I pointed at a piece of cheese - and he wrote that one down. Then I asked him what a teacher wrote on a blackboard with - so we got number three. Then all of a sudden he went "oh I've got one mommy - chruck")! Anyway a couple of months later I had taken André to his Saturday morning swimming lesson at a pool in Geneva where Larry regularly went swimming. After the lesson I spotted Larry in the cafeteria so I told André to go over to him and say "hi Larry, how are you" - which he did! The look of horror on Larry's face at being approached by a little boy at a swimming pool made me realize immediately what I'd done, so I quickly got up and went and sat at his table. His relief was palpable when he realized it was André!
And so the news of Larry's death has come out and people are sending in tributes because he was universally liked. One guy just wrote in how Larry would often sign his emails "your humble servant" and he commented that wasn't that the truth. He really was a humble - and very likeable - guy. So RIP Larry, you were a good man!