Thursday, 29 July 2010

Deep Throat 2

Another thing they don't tell you about.

No matter that you possess a well-practiced, well-modulated, well-controlled female voice. No matter that it's chocolate-smooth. No matter that the pitch is so operatic you can shatter glass. No matter that your subtle sexy tones provoke unstoppable desire. All of this unravels when you sneeze. You can't control it: and everyone around hears this foghorn, and not the mouse squeak they expected.

It's even worse when phlegm gathers in your throat. There's no way to avoid sounding like a barking king baboon when at some point you're forced to clear it.

And when the coughing starts! You try to suppress or stifle every spasm, but merely end up sounding like a bull elephant gobbing his lunch up. It's even worse when the coughing fit brings forth something yellow and vile, and you're down to your last tatty, sticky tissue.

Take my advice, girls: if you're ill, stay in. Don't go off to a posh restaurant in a pretty outfit. Don't put the illusion at risk.

Thursday, 22 July 2010

Barry: sunshine and darkness

Barry is a town on the South Wales coast. As soon as I was born in Cardiff in 1952, I was taken to Barry and spent the first eleven years of my life there. My formative period, as it were.We lived at 4 Miskin Street. We left in 1963. At long intervals I've managed to return for quick visits. It's not just ordinary nostalgia. The place holds the key to many things about my early life that I do not remember or do not understand. Nothing horrible happened to me there, but very early on I lost my way and turned into a secretive and solitary little soul who built a wall around himself (I was a little boy then, of course) and kept everyone at arm's length thereafter. I'm talking about more than just gender problems. There's something there to face up to. And there's nobody left alive who can assist. So I have to return again and again to find out for myself what it was.

I went back once more on 5 July for several hours. That was much longer than usual, and it was also my first visit to Barry alone since 1973. I walked along streets, through parks, through woods, and out onto pebble shores. All the favourite places that I would go to alone as a child. Barry has come through the last fifty years largely unchanged. There was much to recognise and ponder on.

It didn't matter that I did it as Lucy. In fact that seemed to help. It's much easier to do everything as Lucy: you don't feel afraid.  But of course I had Fiona on hand as a safe and impregnable haven if I needed it. She felt very much like a kind of time machine.

4 Miskin Street was hardly changed: new windows, and the front door was now painted red rather than yellow. In 1973 it had looked like this:
In 1986 it looked like this:
That's my ex-wife W--- and step-daughter A--- outside. In 1993 I saw this:
And even in 1999 there was little change:
Two weeks ago it was like this:
One day I must knock on the front door, explain who I am, and ask to see something of the interior. I'm sure they wouldn't say no to a pleasant old girl hunting up her childhood.

Barry has a fine park, Romilly Park, and an outstanding seafront at The Knap. There's no conventional sandy beach. It's all large, rounded pebbles, rather awkward to walk on, backed by a promenade that I recall seeing from a pram. It has never altered. Lucy did not feel out of place.

Wednesday, 21 July 2010

Size 16 top and bottom

That's UK size 16 for those who inhabit other parts of the planet Earth, and it's not a small size.

I rather think that once you are over 40 you are fighting a losing battle with your girth. Even without hormones piling it on for you.

I've fought a gallant rearguard action. But to no avail. I've always been size 16 for anything that hangs from my shoulders - any top, any dress. Down below it started at size 12 - and that was a comfortable size 12 - but over the last year and a half it's increased to 14, and is now 16!

Oh no. Where will it end? Will I have a brief summer of symmetry then bloat to a pear shape?

Of course, none of this is a disaster in the context of attaining visual credibility. Overweight women abound. And every overweight woman sympathises and bonds with every other overweight woman. But do any of us actually want the podgy naked lady look as found in the average seventeenth-century painting? Or the pregnant look?

At least I still have a waist. That's where I'll make my last stand. The flag is planted.

Tuesday, 20 July 2010

An evening at the opera

I say! Who's this formally-attired creature?
I was at the opera some three weeks ago, at The Grange, near Northington in the heart of the Hampshire countryside. This is an old mansion, partly burnt-out years ago, presently in the care of English Heritage, and now the setting for provincial operatic productions - an alternative to the Royal Opera House in London, or Glyndebourne, or The Maltings. They were putting on The Love For Three Oranges, a 1920s light opera by Prokofiev. A top-class effort, I must say, and at half the price of Glyndebourne.

I went with friends Mel and Jess (that's Jess of Thoughts and Ramblings). In accordance with my usual practice, I won't show you pictures of them, even though they were dazzlingly well turned out, the very acme of good taste and elegance. Their outfits made me look like a ragged sans-culotte. Their grace, poise and good manners made me resemble a gauche schoolgirl. Their conversation was olympian in its refinement, and stratospheric in its sophistication, whereas I struggled to say 'How do you do?' and 'How nice of you to let me come' any better than Eliza Doolittle in Pygmalion (or rather the film My Fair Lady). When I eventually exclaimed 'Not bloody likely!' to some duke, several ladies fainted and had to be carried away. As they did when I slopped champagne into a baroness's cleavage and farted my head off. But enough of these dream misdemeanours.

I was useful in a minor sort of way: I was wheels. Fiona put on a smooth and effortless display of power and speed. The car had presence.

Before and halfway during the performance we consumed a cold feast prepared by Mel:
This was washed down by champagne or elderflower wine. Well done, Mel! It was all delicious.

The Grange was all fluted columns and clever lighting, very atmospheric:
I snuck a few pictures of the auditorium, and the first half of the performance. I put the camera away for the second half - we had front-row seats and I was pushing my luck taking any shots at all. But I hope these give some idea what it looked like:
A pity you can't hear the singing!

What a really good evening it was. I will definitely want another opera evening before the year is out.


Well, I've bowed to the inevitable and set myself up on Facebook. And at once I've acquired a boatload of what Facebook calls Friends. Don't be offended if you're not yet a Friend - it just means that I regard Facebook as an inappropriate way of keeping in touch with you. You might be a professional, for instance. In that case, ordinary email, texts, voice calls, or (good heavens) actually meeting you face to face will do nicely! Of course, if you insist, I will put you up there with the current pantheon of stars.

So what's the point of Facebook, for me? A very apt question. I think it will be my outlet for quick-fire frivolous stuff that I wouldn't necessarily post up on my blog. Don't expect much in the way of photos - it's strenuous enough to keep Flickr well-stocked, and to post up a few pix on the blog. But if I happen to take some whacky shot that might amuse, it will get featured. As for observations on The Meaning Of Life, please read the blog, not my Facebook slot. But chronicling events on my home planet, Malevolor, will get space on Facebook. I have spoken.

Friday, 16 July 2010

Guernsey 12 - Sark

To round off my Guernsey travelogue, I can't fail to mention Sark, a peaceful and quaint island which lies a few miles offshore. Sark is different. It's small and carless with gravel roads and lovely valleys and dramatic cliffs and no ugliness that I saw. Until modernised it was a self-contained little feudal world with a Seigneur in charge who has (or had) officials with strange medieval titles such as Prevot and Greffier and Seneschal to assist him. The Seigneur most renowned was Dame Sybil Hathaway who in the last century ruled the island with a very firm hand, so much so that the Germans handled her with great deference, care and circumspection during the war.

Sark, with its own laws, used to function as Guernsey's own offshore tax haven, and I remember a rather fanciful episode of 'Bergerac' (the 1980s TV detective series starring a youngish John Nettles as an unconventional Jersey detective) called 'Burnt' in which a tax dodge known as the 'Sark Lark' was given prominence. The villain, deciding to liquidate his ill-gotten worldwide assets, deviously but legally sucks the money out of all his companies and gathers all the cash together on Sark. Bergerac shadows him, trying to discover what he's up to, and in the process gets thumped by the said villain on the narrow, bridge-like roadway named La Coupee that joins Sark to Little Sark, an even tinier island at its southern end. The villain is visiting various rural nominees who for a regular retainer have been rendering blind and unquestioning assistance with his convoluted global financial dealings. (I suspect the whole thing was simplified and romanticised for the purposes of the plot) Suffice it to say, he ends up with all the cash in a large suitcase full of high-denomination notes. This he leaves with another 'Sark Lark' trusty, but it's a woman whose family suffered a great wrong from a deal the villain has long forgotten about. Nothing can put it right now. So she gets at him in the only way that will hurt. When he climbs up the cliff to fetch the suitcase away to his boat, he finds the lady and Bergerac calmly waiting for him, with the charred remains of a colossal fortune warming them up in the sunset breeze. That wipes the arrogant smile off his face.

Ah, what a satisfying ending! Thus, Robin, is the fate of all criminals. Holy Moly, Batman! 

Here are some shots that may reveal some of Sark's more usual appeal:
That was main street in the village! Sark has several luxury hotels (tucked away in the countryside) and an extremely popular pub. Its quay and harbour have to be reached through tunnels in the cliffs, and tractors are the only motorised vehicles allowed. It's a charming place, and we didn't see it all. Definitely worth another visit.

Guernsey 11 - the German Occupation Museum

The German Occupation Museum was packed with wartime uniforms and weaponry and momentoes of a stressful time in the island's history. Several individual case histories were documented - German officers, their men, and locals who refused to lie low and not somehow defy the master race. I got the impression that the Germans were amenable to reason, and individually pleasant and sometimes cultured people, but no German officer could afford to be too accommodating. That risked being held politically suspect: and that meant removal, and probably a nasty interview in Berlin with personal consequences for himself and his family. So the locals had to endure a regime that was anything but benign. With so many rules and regulations, it was inevitable that restless youngsters and their more careful elders sooner or later got into trouble, and might be punished with a prison sentence in France.  Part of the population, chiefly those who had made Guernsey their home before the war but were not actually born there, were rounded up and interned in Germany itself, suffering an awful insanitary train journey before arriving at their cramped and spartan quarters. People of all age groups, including many children. They made the best of it (as is better documented in the Guernsey Museum at St Peter Port) but spent a depressingly long time in their cheerless surroundings.

The war was a dark time for Guerns. Admittedly many men of fighting age got away to the mainland and did their bit in the forces, but the wives and parents and youngsters left behind - and with them the doctors and dentists and policemen, and those with businesses to look after, and the local government and port personnel - all had to face the Germans, and cope with whatever they did to take over running the island. Some of these things were merely irritating, like having cars and other things commandeered, having to cycle or walk on the other side of the road, and putting up with German propaganda films at the cinema. Others had serious implications, such as the dire penalties for listening to the BBC radio broadcasts, or not surrendering food stores. Anything that undermined German security got quick and final punishment - click on this shot to read it better:
And yet life went on, and the the Germans had no objection to advertising a reward for finding a lost doggy:
£5 was big money - then worth the week's wages of a foreman.

The Museum's collection of uniforms and other military miscellanea was impressive. There was even an Enigma enciphering machine:

In the Museum cafe was a colour version of the cartoon drawn by an island artist as liberation approached in 1945:
Why a donkey? (Dru knows and need not reply!) Well, the inhabitants of each of the Channel Islands call each other by centuries-old nicknames. Remember all the main islands are little countries in their own right, and stick up for themselves, and pour scorn on the others. To the rest, Guernsey people are les Anes (the Donkeys) - but proud of it. Similarly Jersey folk are les Crapauds (the Toads). I understand that the seigneur's subjects on Sark are les Corbins (the Crows) and the souls on Alderney are les Lapins (the Rabbits). I didn't like to ask what people from the UK mainland might be called! Or the French, come to that. Or the Germans...
Wild and joyful scenes in 1945 at St Peter Port, when liberation finally came. A scene repeated every time the yoke of oppression is lifted. In past history, and now. Why do dictators and warlords and army juntas never learn that all regimes that lose sight of humanity and reality and over-reach themselves always fail and crumble away, and that the people will have their day of sweet freedom sooner or later?

Thursday, 15 July 2010

Guernsey 10 - Girl Guides

I visited the Guernsey Folk Museum and was intrigued with several of the exhibits. One covered the history of Guiding on the island.

I must say at once that the entire notion of scouting and guiding and similar things for young people never had the slightest appeal when I was of tender age. Left to myself, I would have avoided the whole shebang like the plague, and concentrated on what was on telly. But Mum's best local friend thought it would be nice if her little son Trevor and myself joined the First Barry Cub Scouts (or whatever it was called in 1961). I had no say in this, no option to do something else, and so yours truly had to dress up in a ridiculous green outfit that would have looked better on Rupert Bear and then drool off to the hut half a mile away. Our 'pack' was headed up by a lady called Akela, which didn't seem to be the usual sort of ladies' name. It was years later that I discovered that most of the cub scout organisation and nomenclature was lifted out of Rudyard Kipling's Jungle Book stories. Yes, just so. Never met Baloo the Bear though. Or Hissing Sid.

Suffice it to say I was a reluctant and confused conscript, an outsider, and remained so. My pal Trevor did well, apparently enjoying his position of authority. I stayed in the ranks. I was bereft of proficiency badges when most kids were simply plastered with them, but I cared not. I tried to learn how to do knots, and the words of the National Anthem, but failed. My heart wasn't in it. I couldn't see the point. I didn't want to be there. I quite liked the outing we all had one November night down to Porthkerry Park to see the bonfire and fireworks, but the dreaded Bob-a-Job Week was a total nightmare. I was very tempted to simply donate my saved-up pocket money and avoid the agony and embarrassment of knocking on doors and brightly asking to do something for a shilling. But you had to put the job and the name and address of the 'employer' on a list that I hadn't got the courage to fake. I think I raised four bob. That was Mrs Jones up the road, and three jobs done for Mum. Dib dib dib.

You can see that I was dreadfully negative about all organisations and clubs for kids. This wasn't surprising when I hated school with a cold venom, and felt completely controlled or thwarted or misunderstood by all persons in authority over the young me.

So I was taken completely by surprise when I saw the Girl Guide exhibition at the Guernsey museum. It touched something inside me, a most unexpected personal reaction. I realised for the first time what I might have missed. I suppose that if I could have been an ordinary happy little girl, and not a sad little boy with a mind full of secrets, I'd have actually enjoyed this. Take a look at this for instance:
I would love to have been one of these cute and obedient little things, living a relatively uncomplicated life without the inner conflicts and resentments I had. Oh well; much too late now.

Personal position

Debra Mckenzie (who blogs as Transitioning Past - I really love that blog!) drew attention a couple of days ago to a post last March put out by a butch lesbian who calls herself Dirt (see her blog at

Dirt was ranting about her social space being invaded by trans persons who called themselves 'lesbians' (because they were MTF and were attracted to women) but in her view were emphatically not. They were imposters with questionable motives. Or at least that seemed to be the gist of it - the post was so heavy with definitions and jargon and general ill-feeling that it was rather hard to interpret.

Now I don't object to Dirt wanting to mix only with people she can truly relate to. It was the gaps in her trans-knowledge that were objectionable. Debra sent her a response that wasn't published. Presumably Dirt didn't approve. So, fancying myself as a kind of B-list respondent, I fired off my own salvo and this must have slipped under Dirt's guard, because it did get published. ( I'm not however claiming any kudos for that: Dirt was simply careless)

It was actually a decently long and careful reply. And it struck me afterwards that it pretty well summarises my current personal position on transition and where I'm going with it. Do you want to wade through yet another personal manifesto? No? Not even though it makes a change from all that Guernsey-related stuff? Still no? Then by all means skip on to my next post (all about Girl Guides!). But if you do want to know what I currently think about myself, here is my response to Dirt, with the typos fixed:

Hmmm. First thing I'd say is that in this entire area there is too much in the way of jargon and definitions! It doesn't make things simple and clear and straightforward.

I agree that there is such a thing a 'male privilege', or at least 'assumed male privilege'. I'm a male-to-female trans person who has given all that up. I resemble a woman sufficiently to be treated like one. So I'm sometimes taken less seriously, handled with less respect, and I'm subject to all the usual glass ceilings that can hold women down, straight, bi or lesbian. And because I can't go back, this is going to be how it is for the rest of my life. That's fine with me.

But I'm also, in many situations, treated with a courtesy and decency and friendliness that would largely be denied to me if I still looked and behaved like an ordinary man. That's the privilege of being taken as a woman. But it's a by-product of the thing that drives me on. I feel I've had no deliberate choice whatever about transitioning. It's go mad or die if I don't. Given that, do you see me as a cunning interloper with an obnoxious agenda? Or am I welcome as an involuntary 'convert'?

Do I really invade your space? I think I'm somewhere else. Yes, I used to be attracted exclusively to women. That hasn't changed. But I don't think that somehow my retained sexual orientation now makes me a lesbian. My gut feeling is that 'lesbian' isn't the accurate name for my outlook or approach in potentially sexual or romantic situations. It may be equivalent to a lesbian situation, but surely I'm not really where you are, and I certainly wouldn't presume to claim membership of your particular club.

I'm still basically a male-bodied, male-brained, male-chromosomed person who has been chemically modified to resemble a female person. In time, the change will be quite radical. I think that it will to some extent be a mental change, as well as a physical change. I intend to tweak my physical appearance with surgery so that I can fully join in with society at large. I don't want to stay on the margins. I want the chance to play my part in some unselfish and worthwhile way that is reasonably high-profile and mainstream. I don't look male any more, but I need to look properly female - and be accepted as properly female - so that people stop thinking about me and concentrate on what I have to offer.

And getting back to relationships, I'm not deceiving anyone, because I make sure they know my origins up front. No secret games from this quarter. I'm not a threat, although I might be a friend and ally.

July 14, 2010 10:19 AM

I don't claim to be a woman, just female, but if I can get society at large to accept me as an ordinary woman, then I'll be perfectly happy. And to hell with definitions!

Wednesday, 14 July 2010

Guernsey 9 - Festung Kanalinseln - defence of Hitler's West Wall

The Channel Islands were invaded by Germany in 1940 and not liberated until 1945. During that time the Germans built a large number of concrete observation towers, gun emplacements, bunkers and other military structures all around the Guernsey coastline and inland. Although gutted for usable scrap metal after their capitulation, the various fortifications were mostly too large and massively constructed for economic destruction, and many survived intact (as shells) until made part of the island's tourist trail. Quite a lot of the original fittings also survived, or could be faithfully copied or restored, and these were eventually put back. So nowadays it's possible to get a real feel for what it was like to man these places. They are not really for children. But if you have any interest at all in the war, whether as a historian or just an intrigued visitor, I'd recommend having a look.

The following photos were at Pleinmont observation tower, a multi-level concrete edifice which watched the south-west corner of Guernsey and supplied real-time information to an extensive network of supporting gun batteries nearby. By phone and radio, naturally.
Stubby and brutal - or a functional masterpiece? Certainly, just like most industrial structures, a compelling photographic subject in any light.
The tower was self-contained and pretty well bomb-proof. But it was never put to any defensive test. Churchill kept the Germans on their psychological toes (it was useful to tie up huge numbers of garrison troops on Guernsey and Jersey, and keep them away from the Normandy beaches) but he was careful never to order any serious attack for fear of reprisals against the islanders. It was a tightrope situation that lasted till the end of the occupation.
You had a slit-like field of view...
...but jolly good binoculars to look at it with. Here Feldwebel R--- demonstrates the correct way to use the optics. Meanwhile, one floor up, the party has run out of wine, and Oberst-General Lucy von Melford personally phones HQ in St Peter Port for more bottles:

Teufel nochmal! Some dummkopf does not know the difference between a Riesling and a Sylvaner and the Oberst-General has to explain, mentioning the Russian Front as a possibility if the required wine is not sent by courier schnell! That gets some action. The Russian Front! Jawohl, meine Oberst-General! Sofort!

Further up still is the range-finding device, an amazing thing made by Zeiss, and used by three people simultaneously:
You know, with superb equipment like this at their disposal, and given their abilities to find a practical solution for anything, you do wonder why the Germans failed to win the war. Perhaps the miltitary could have done it if they hadn't been interfered with. Thank goodness there was a fatal flaw in the mighty machine.

Guernsey 8 - Napoleonic forts

Being so close to France, the Channel Islands were especially vulnerable to invasion when the ambitious Napoleon was powerful and keen to show the perfidious English that they weren't really Top Dog. (But hey, we knew that. Hadn't we already lost the Colonies in America? And no doubt the 1790 World Cup as well?)

There was a frenzy of fort-building all along the shores that were exposed to French attack, including Guernsey. Here are one or two examples:
These forts (and supporting batteries and watchhouses) were cunningly placed so that any hapless invaders could be caught in a crossfire of musket or canon balls. But I don't think any of them saw much action, ever. The usual waste of money...

Guernsey 7 - dolmens

The Channel Islands, like Devon and Cornwall on the UK mainland, and like Brittany on the rather closer French mainland, were plum spots for settlement in prehistoric times. The stone tombs of the inhabitants of the time remain, usually called dolmens. Here's one called La Trepied on the west coast:
I know, it looks like a jumble of big stones. Well, it's missing its earth roof. Theses were constructed of several massive stone slabs as side walls for an elongated chamber that you could stand up in if big enough, capped by even more massive roof slabs. The whole thing was then sealed with an entrance slab and earthed over to form a big mound with a great sea view. Or rather a sea view with a prominent burial mound in it, for the decendants to see and respect.

Here's a better example called Le Dehus (on the east coast) which is fully restored and has its earth covering so that it's a bit like a small cave inside, with side-rooms to lay the dead out in, stone 'beds' provided. It now has modern spot lighting within, but you have to imagine it lit only by flickering firebrands:

Nicely built; a good solid job. The items found from excavation dated Le Dehus to 3500-2000BC.

Guernsey 6 - nice people you meet

Every day I encountered nice people, either on my own or with R---. Sometimes locals, sometimes visitors. Sometimes in town, sometimes on clifftop paths, sometimes just off the surfing beach, or in the following picture at a little-known-and-tucked-away military cemetery for dozens of wartime Germans, some allied servicemen, and one revered and faithful local gardener. Little known, because you have to drive through the 'millionaire' part of St Peter Port to get to it.
Left to right: Lucy (posing her head off) Joyce and Pete (total strangers who were walking around the island). And this was the secret cemetery:
R--- was pretty good at striking up a conversation with people, but not, I think, quite in my league. I really love to chat with anyone who seems to want to. Just like my Mum.

Uphill from the cemetery, by R---'s car, an elderly but sprightly lady from an old Guernsey family was passing by with her little dog.  She stopped to chat too. There's always lots to say if you don't suffer from time pressure.