Monday, 29 November 2010

Doomsday looms

I go up to see Dr Michael Perring tomorrow, the man who will give a 'second opinion', a psychiatric opinion, on my suitability for genital surgery. As you might imagine, I've been thinking about this vital interview all evening. I thought about it all the way through a BBC4 programme on German art. Then through another programme on Berlin. Serious, distracting stuff; but not serious or distracting enough to quell disturbing visions of making a complete mess of things when I see Dr Perring.

There's no reason at all why I, a sensible person not given to fits of excitability or to reckless impulses, should behave like an idiot, but my unusually nervous mind insists that I will. Isn't that very odd? I suppose it's the thought of being examined for signs of the wrong motives or mistaken self-perception. I haven't faced that sort of thing since I last had a chance of promotion at work - and that was a very long time ago.

I'm sure I'll wake up tomorrow feeling perfectly cool and easy about it, and will be able to speak in an entirely natural way to Dr Perring. But it doesn't feel like that at this very moment. It feels as if my surgery will be denied because I couldn't stop making a series of silly flippant remarks. A looming nightmare.

Ah well. I'm off to bed. At least I know what I want to wear. I had to sew a button onto a long grey skirt tonight, and that helped, as will ironing a black top first thing tomorrow, and polishing my black boots, and putting on my pearls. Like kitting up for the battle to come.

I hope the trains are running.

Sunday, 28 November 2010

Children and childhood

Over on her blog, Transitioning Past, Debra Mckenzie has posted Someday I want to be a Mom. I just had to read that. The reasons are complex.

Not that I actually want to ever become a mother. Or ever did. But I find any mention of children compelling reading from a personal point of view.

I agree with Debra's thinking on what parenthood entails. I was a parent myself for most of the 1980's, from 1982 to 1989, the child in question being my step-daughter A---, who I inherited at age 11, and who is now a married woman of 40 with two little children of her own. I won't say I was a 'good parent', whatever that means. I got off lightly, because A--- was so, so easy.

We had a rather carefree, hands-off relationship. I was her older friend rather than her overbearing mentor. Her real father M--- was in New Zealand, and from the first I drew a careful distinction between him and myself. I wanted to preserve the idea of 'her father' for the years ahead, when she'd get to know him again. And so it happened: M--- must have been surprised but very, very glad that he still had a clear-cut role to fill again. (We got on well)

A--- called me J---, nothing else. For deeper reasons that, of course, I didn't then understand, I was pleased to be called simply by my first name, my rather androgenous first name, and not given a male label like 'Dad', which I had no right to anyway. In parallel to this, I wanted to be simply J--- with my then-young niece J--- and nephew M---, and not 'Uncle'. Nobody quite saw why I made a fuss about such a small and customary thing.

I never laid down the law to A---; I never had to. She was in most ways a model child who never had awkward moments, who was always bubbly and cheerful, and a pleasure to be with. If A--- lacked the qualities of the scholar, she nevertheless could set herself realistic goals and fully achieve them. She was always sensible and focused. This didn't prevent her, in her late teens, partying hard with her friends: she was up for tipsy late nights on Greek beaches for instance. But her selective forays into relationships were conducted with an almost ironic realism, as if she was saying (to me, at least) 'I know he's awful/too keen on his fancy car/unreliable, but let's watch him make one silly boast too many, and then I'll get out of it and find the right one'. And she did find the right one, very much so. I recall an entire day together in Brighton (in 1992, I believe), when it was just her and me. She wanted to explain the men she liked to me, and get my cool opinion on which to choose, although I soon perceived that she had a clear favourite who she later married. It was such fun to wander from place to place on a windy day, around the Lanes, onto the Pier and back again, discussing little things about the contenders for her affection. But that kind of close consultation said something about our relationship. Something I valued more than she knew. Or maybe she did know; A-- has always been accepting and supportive and broad-minded to an astonishing extent. I think she instinctively knew how it was with me; and it didn't matter. I have many sharp images of A---, none more meaningful than the way she clutched and squeezed my hand as we stood together at my brother's funeral service in early 1996. All the way through. She held me together. How I wish I could feel that grip now. How I wish she were here, now, as my life takes a decisive turn, and not so far away in New Zealand.

Let's get back to children in general. Such a hard subject for me. Actually, I'll have to develop this in another post, because I feel upset just thinking about my own childhood, and how different it could all have been. And I'm not talking about dolls and frocks. I'm talking about the wall I made to hide behind, the prison I made for myself. Another day, then.

Saturday, 27 November 2010

Why didn't I get a torch?

I've got palms that are still stinging, and a grazed knee that I've had to bandage, all because I couldn't be bothered to fetch a torch, and I tripped over in the dark, in front of my house, and fell forward onto weathered tarmac.

I'd just got home from London after a really pleasant afternoon, and this accident rather spoilt the day.

I had two letters awaiting me. No, one was for my next door neighbour T---. Without thinking, and leaving my front door open, I walked briskly out into the night, across the front of my house, barely noting the step down as I quickly made my way across my neighbour's frontage also (there's no fence), and then turned in to his front door. Although the street lights were on, the shadow cast by my caravan meant that everything was in total darkness. It crossed my mind then that I really ought to get a torch, or else postpone my good deed till the morning, but I was lazy. And of course I couldn't at first find his letter flap. After half a minute of rather silly groping around in the dark, I found it, popped the letter in, and sped back to my own house at a very fast walk, because it was dreadfully cold. The next thing I knew I was pitching forward. I'd no idea what I'd be falling onto. I put my hands out...and you can imagine the rest. Ouch! In fact it hurt like hell, and I felt shaken up.

I got indoors and burst into tears. It wasn't just the pain. The fall had scraped and bent my favourite silver wrist bangle, which I treasured and cherished as I do all my personal things. That simply made me feel much, much worse. But of course the tears came chiefly because I needed to cry. You know what I mean, it was a release of pent-up anguish over so many things great and small that my ongoing transition had brought about. Grief like this is always with you, just beneath the surface, and doesn't need much to trigger it.

I got myself in hand after a while. I washed my palms, which weren't actually lacerated with embedded gravel, although they felt like it; washed my knee, which was in fact worse than it felt; and bathed my face, which was frankly a mess. I straightened the bangle. I had a cup of tea, something I should have done first of all. Then I felt better. I'd live.

The letter for myself was from Liz Hills at the Brighton Nuffield Hospital, confirming the 1 March date, and going into detail on the admission and discharge arrangements. Welcome stuff.

But how stupid to have rushed off into the dark without a torch. I won't do it again.

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

Weight loss problems!

Oh dear, after a good start my weight loss programme (for the surgery on 1 March) has ground to a halt. This morning's weigh-in showed that I had suddenly slipped back to where I was three weeks ago.

I'm not sure how this could have happened. I've been taking a little more exercise. My fish intake is up. I've conscientiously cut down on fatty foods, eliminating cheese for instance, and I've also restricted the carbohydrates, eating less in the way of potatoes and almost no bread. Sweets are completely out. Ryvita crackers have been my standby, if I really must have something in between meals. I suppose I could have buttered them more lightly. I think the problem is my main meal of the day, which tends to be quite hearty even now. I'll just have to cut the portions down. And be more careful when eating out.

And of course burn off more calories! There's plenty of opportunities really. At this very moment, the last of the leaves on the trees at the bottom of my garden are falling and there's an awful lot of them to clear off the back lawn. Easily a morning's work. That'll be one of the jobs I can tackle that will use up a bit of excess fat and tone up my muscles a bit!

And then there's a lot of pruning and branch-trimming and so on to see to.

I must turn away all offers of assistance. The more I do myself, the sooner I will bring my weight down!

Monday, 22 November 2010

A pact with death

Yesterday, like goodness knows how many other people in the UK and around the world, I attended a Transgender Day of Remembrance ceremony at the Dorset Gardens Methodist Church in Brighton. It was like the one I went to last year, except that the murder of Brighton resident Andrea Waddell was then fresh in everyone's minds, and was indeed still subject to a police investigation with a prosecution pending, and Andrea's family were there. Our hearts went out to them; I was especially struck by the dignity, composure and fortitude of Mrs Waddell.

Since then, the man who murdered Andrea has been tried, found guity and sentenced. But you still wonder why he did it. What possible reason could he have had for snuffing out her life? If he had fallen out of love with her, or decided that transsexual women were not for him, why not just walk out of her life?

Well, you can say the same for any case of murder. Why not just leave it alone, walk on, go away, and forget about the person who has upset you, instead of giving in to violent urges that you know, if you think about it for an instant, must lead to arrest and a living death for yourself, from remorse or the corroding effects of imprisonment. Two lives uselessly ended.

But people do give in to emotion and impulses and driving forces like hatred and prejudice and zeal. And if the local conditions include a view that life is cheap, that transsexuals are less than human, that one's own life or honour or ego or comfort matter more, then it is so much easier to end another's existence. Having a gun or knife handy helps; being dehumanised yourself through social deprivation obviously helps; and in gang situations, pressure to appear tough and macho to your peers might justify anything at all. I just hope that none of us ever runs into the kind of person who simply doesn't care whether we live or die.

As the names of this year's crop of victims were read out, it was remarkable how often Brasil was the place where death struck. Mexico and Puerto Rico and Argentina were also prominent. In Europe, Italy and Turkey. But it would be no good planning your world tour on this information only. Brasil is clearly a place where a trans person might well need to take especial care; but then that country might just be more honest about admitting the existence of trans-related deaths. Many countries you'd think might also be hot spots for transphobic violence were not mentioned. China, for instance. Most of Africa and the middle east. That's suspicious. Are they suppressing the information?

Is there anywhere in the world where a trans person can freely travel, or live, without some danger? Probably nowhere. In every society there will be, somewhere, the psychopath you will eventually encounter. The person you can't explain to, who you can't reason with, who will, probably after dire torture, strangle or stab you or shoot you, or throw acid onto you, or set you on fire, or hack you to bits, and not consider the consequences. You have simply to become the focus of their attention. Then they will react. Casual death. Violent death. A fearful thought indeed. And it could happen anywhere. In country villages, as well as big cities. I'd even say it could happen in my own Sussex village, if I'm unlucky. It depends who I meet around the corner, and whether their self-control is OK that day. And who, except the handful of good neighbours who know me, could or would intervene and save me?

Do you feel the same?

Is keeping on the move the only safe way to exist? To become a faceless tourist, just another shopper, a person of unknown abode, or of no fixed abode even. Someone who lives a secret life with no ties, no relationships; just a pact with inevitable death.

Sunday, 21 November 2010

Moody Lucy caught on Candid Camera

I'm constantly trying to perfect my 'look', bearing in mind that although you can wear the 'right' clothes and makeup, and can put on the right kind of facial expression as required, most of the time your face is relaxed and can give you away. So I was heartened when C---, who I met down in Cornwall recently, sent me this shot of myself in an unguarded moment in the restaurant at the Tate St Ives:
Ah! A pudgy-faced female of indeterminate age with a moody look. Caught on Candid Camera! Clearly she's either having a bad period or things aren't going too well at home. Well, if that's what people might think, I don't mind. Because then I'd look like countless other women whose mask has momentarily slipped. And that's a big achievement for someone who only came out just over two years ago.

To make my point even more acutely, here's a cropped-in version of a picture you've seen before. Same place, same occasion, not the same camera (it was my own little Leica) but the shooter was C--- again. And this time I'm all prepared, perky and smiling:
Actually, it does look highly posed. Not C---'s fault, but mine. I'm all self-conscious! That said, I do like it as a picture of myself, and it's true in its way, but the first shot must be far more typical of what the public sees in my unwary moments.

And the moral is this. The image you normally present to people in general is not the smiling, vivacious, engaging one that faces you in your mirror at home. It's an unconscious, down-mouthed, expressionless face that might, or might not, look credibly female. And it's the face that really matters.

Saturday, 20 November 2010

For those winter nights alone in the caravan

I bought a decent digital TV for the caravan last February, but have not so far used it. Why not? Well, I don't watch much TV anyway, intelligent programmes on art and history and exotic faraway places being my thing, not any of the soaps, nor Strictly Come Dancing, nor I'm A Celebrity Get Me Out Of Here, nor Dancing On Ice. Nor films. Nor sport of any description. And the news and weather is just as good on Radio 4. And besides, in the summer I want to be out, enjoying the sunset somewhere, or with friends. Or if in the caravan, on my own, there is always the day's crop of photos to process on the laptop. So who really needs television?

However, I'll be away in Cornwall over Christmas, and if the weather's foul I do see that it would be pleasant to have a TV to turn to, while I cook and consume my roast meal for one, add custard to the little Christmas Pudding from Waitrose, and pour out a small glass of Bailey's. Yes, I'll join the crowd on this!

It is customary, on proper caravan sites anyway, to keep your windows uncurtained so that your neighbours on surrounding pitches can view and appreciate your own brand of Christmas cheer. I would in any case have had my merry little ceramic Christmas Tree, with its colourful lights; but now I want to add a TV to indicate that I too am watching something festive and noisy, and having a great time. And not sitting sad and silent in the gloom, like some lonely biddy whom the world has forgot. It'll be a chance to cavort around the caravan in a red dress or long red top decorated with a bit of tinsel. What fun! But I'll keep the wellies handy in case I overload the power circuit and have to go out and reset it at the hook-up box!

So I've stepped up to the line, and invested in the necessary satellite kit - the dish, the tripod, the receiver, the best-reception finder, and all the various cables needed, including a special flat one that you can close a window on. The cost wasn't too much, and for an eight-night stay it will be worth the effort to set it up.

Oh, I dare say I will get an irrepressible urge to walk the frosty, empty late-night streets of Truro or Falmouth, for the sake of some atmospheric lamplit photos, while everyone else is snug in their homes (or caravans) - and not watch TV at all. But there might be something on I'd like to see, you never know...

Mmmm, I love Bailey's.

Friday, 19 November 2010

Second opinion

I've been rather preoccupied with money matters in the last few days, so much so that I didn't feel like posting anything.

Basically I  needed a Plan B so that if the latest price reduction on my former home produced no offers, or only derisory offers, I'd have something definite to fall back on. I was trying to overcome a personal prejudice against letting out the house until the property market improved. I worked through it, and concluded that if I failed to sell this time, I would, subject to certain conditions, give letting a go. So for the first time in my life (my goodness, yet another 'first' in my life) I could become a landlord. Or should that be landlady? (I thought landladies ran pubs, or Blackpool guest houses)

I haven't entirely ignored other issues. One important thing done today was to fix up an hour's consultation with Dr Michael Perring in London, to get a second opinion on my referral for surgery. 2.00pm on 30 November is the date and time. I think I have to somehow convince him that I'm a mature, well-balanced, properly-motivated person without any underlying mental problems or fetishes. Maybe I'll just be myself and hope for the best! He'll be writing a report. I hope it is no worse than 'Pleasant airhead who nevertheless has some grasp on reality; OK for surgery'.

Today would also have been my Dad's 90th birthday. I'm not going to get all sentimental this year. There are several nice pictures of Dad in last year's post Happy 89th Birthday, Dad - or it would have been, which, if curious, you can find by scrolling down to the archive list of postings on the right-hand edge of this blog. I still wished dear Dad a happy birthday the moment I woke up this morning.

Back to more frivolous things tomorrow!

Oh, I didn't mean that, Dr Perring! Everyone knows I'm not frivolous at all, but serious to the point of obsession!

Oh God, I didn't mean to imply that I was an obsessive! Only that I am not, repeat not, a foolish little girl who has no idea about the significance of this surgery!

Oh God, I didn't mean to imply that I didn't think of myself as a little girl, ever. Yes, yes, yes, I did when young, and do now. I have girly thoughts all the time! I live in pretty cotton frocks, and white socks, and red shoes with straps, and tie my hair in pigtails! I've always loved little kittens and ponies and ballet. You've got to believe me, please.

Oh God, I didn't mean to be so emphatic! Actually I was joking! Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha! As you can see, I actually pose as a sophisticated woman. No, I don't really mean pose, I mean I project this image of a mature woman of style, finesse and allure. Like Audrey Hepburn in those films of the 1950s and 1960s. As in Charade, in which she starred with Cary Grant.

Of course I realise she was just acting! I know she was a screen fantasy, and not a real person! I didn't mean to imply that I was obsessed or deluded by an imaginary ideal! I know I'm a real woman...

(Shreiks and despairs)

Monday, 15 November 2010

Taking my life back

I saw the estate agent manager today and discussed what to do about my stalled house sale.

This is not the house I presently live in (which I inherited from Mum and Dad), but my former home. I put a lot of money into buying it in 2007. There was an even larger private loan. It was supposed to be an investment. But it's turned sour. The UK property market collapsed soon after purchase, and ever since then I've tried to sell this house. I've tried each year. This is the third attempt.

The sale has stalled because my buyer's buyer (it's a chain of three) has done nothing. So my buyer has done nothing.

That's no good to me. The house has been costing me over £7,000 a year in running costs and loan repayments, a heavy burden when I have my inherited home to run too. It's gradually diminished my remaining capital. One year from now all my ready cash will be gone. But I dare not simply rent the place out to cover costs, because that won't touch the underlying debt. My monthly repayments have been keeping the interest in check, but a small upward twitch in rates would see the loan start to snowball. Just now this huge personal loan is my biggest worry, dominating my life.

I want my life back.

I want it back so much that I have come round to accepting that, if necessary, I will lose everything I put into that property, just to be free of it. That's a very heavy financial price: £202,000 in capital alone. Plus another £22,000 in running costs and loan repayments since purchase, which is just money down the drain in the circumstances. The loss of all that money will in theory severely limit what I might do in the years ahead. But if I gain freedom from worry, and full control over my life, it's a price worth paying. And, relieved of the costs of ownership, I could gradually rebuild my capital.

So I have now dropped the asking price to a level that should quickly attract a serious buyer. It's £170,000 less than we started at. But what the hell. I want to repay that personal loan without delay, and I want to have everything settled before I have my operation on 1 March. So it's pitched at a price that cash buyers looking for a bargain should find very hard to ignore.

Fingers crossed!

Sunday, 14 November 2010

Grief at Treyarnon Bay

Treyarnon Bay is one of a series of surfing bays to the west of Padstow. It was the scene of many family camping holidays from 1965 into the early 1970s. After my wonderful meal at Rick Stein's Seafood Restaurant in Padstow, and a little shopping in the boutiques there, I went to Treyarnon at the tail end of the afternoon. It was windy and rather chilly, and the light was starting to fade.

I got down onto the beach and walked towards the waves. As the wind grew keener and the clouds more threatening, my mood turned from elation to sorrow. I could not help reflecting on those family holidays forty-odd years before. Mum, Dad, my brother W---, they were all alive then. All having a jolly time, full of zest. Mum and Dad were just past their mid-forties, in the prime of their lives. They were always laughing and doing things they enjoyed. W--- my younger brother was an energetic and carefree boy who had not yet become complicated. They all loved the beach. I was a lanky, shy, solitary, awkward teenager who was moody and bored and felt like a misfit. Here's a shot of me from July 1965, when I'd have just turned thirteen, trying to smile for the camera:


Can this possibly be the same person who became this (taken when caravanning in Kent in early 2008, only a few months before transition commenced):


Or this (taken very recently at the Tate St Ives):


Or either of these people (taken a couple of days ago at home):


Amazing how we change. I don't see much of a link between the golden person of 2010 and the vaguely dissatisfied person of 2008, let alone the very uncomfortable youngster of 1965.

Back to my story. As I trod the wet sand (in my blue wellies with the hens on them, incidentally) I felt more and more pulled down by the thought that my family had vanished, taken away by accident, disease and sudden death. Eventually the tears came, and everything was a blur. And, because there was nobody to hear, I howled with grief into the bitter wind. This subsided, but I continued to wipe away tears until I had completed a circuit of the beach. Then I cheered up. Yes, I could keep on asking 'Why me, why did I survive them all?' but it achieved nothing. And I kept remembering that life goes on come what may, and one might as well go with it willingly, because go with it one must. There is no choice. I should instead be happy that I had been spared, and had a life that was not yet over. And it mattered what kind of life I led in the years left to me.

I decided that, whatever my circumstances in the years ahead, I would snap my fingers at adversity and make myself glad to have been born.

Friday, 12 November 2010

I want to sing

My voice therapy sessions with Christella Antoni have now come to an end, at least on a one-to-one basis - I'm still going to attend group sessions now and then. It's a way of measuring oneself against other 'trained' voices - apart from being an excuse to come up to London for the day!

But I haven't finished with Christella. It's not very well known, but she has a talent for singing and we have agreed that in January I will come up to see her and we will explore my potential for singing on my own account in my female voice. And when I say singing, I don't mean bawling out some dreadful karaoke anthem in a pub. I have ambitions - call me deluded if you will - to attempt something operatic. Or at least sing the blues. Or maybe it'll be something from 'Oklahoma!': I'm Just A Girl Who Can't Say No. Whatever, it'll be a new thing in my life. I'm unmusical, but I have always wanted to sing like Callas.

Of course there is the dreadful probability that my scope will be confined to the squeaky voice on the Pam & The Paperclips' 1980 number, Typing Pool. Here it is on YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iFC_TrC5_G0 Mind you, if that's all I can do, it'll still be an accomplishment!

I'm looking forward to getting some practice in at Christmas. And for some reason the Goodies' rousing little singalong hit Father Christmas Do Not Touch Me keeps coming into my head. Also on YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CsK2C3yNFQI Must be the increased hormone dose!

Goodbye Facebook

There. Done it. Deactivated my Facebook account. It wasn't adding anything to my life, and yet it needed maintenance and it seemed a little too public. And it was awkward to use on my phone.

I was mildly intrigued to see what the fleeting concerns of people were, but the prevailing mood was too light for anything serious. Facebook didn't seem the right platform for important announcements. Nor could you write a long and detailed piece. Most people seemed to write cryptic or frivolous one-liners and little else. These quickly got buried by fresh stuff. So you basically saw only what people had said in the last three hours or so, unless prepared to scroll back, which I wasn't because the reward was too thin. Nor was I ever going to chat online.

Somehow I feel as if I've lightened my load. I've got off the crowded bus and decided to walk in the fresh air.

Sunday, 7 November 2010

New front runner from the Melford Stable

No doubt about it. After a hesitant start, the right boob has come from nowhere to take the lead in the 2:45 today at Salisbury, passing the left in heavy going just before the start of the home stretch and bouncing ahead to wild cheers from the ecstatic crowd. Bad for the bookies, as quite a few racegoers will have made a killing on this fourteen-to-one outsider. What an upset! Owned by Lucy Melford and trained by Esther Diol, this feisty but temperamental and inconsistent two year old now seems to have found sparkling new form and may even be up for the A Cup by the end of the season.

BBC interviewer: Lucy, you must be very pleased with both these two year olds from your successful stable!
Lucy: Actually, yes! For a long time it looked as if the left boob was going to be the faster runner, and as recently as last June she was always the 2 to 1 favourite, but now, after a change in diet I'd put my money on the right boob for at least the rest of the year.
BBC interviewer: And which for the A Cup?
Lucy: Ah, you can never tell. I wouldn't dismiss the left yet!

Tuesday, 2 November 2010

Celebration in Padstow 2

(This is what should have appeared earlier)

My Cornwall holiday is going well.

On Monday (1 November) I had a little personal celebration: the first anniversary of legally changing my name by Deed Poll to Lucy Melford. Hurrah! To mark this event, I had lunch at Rick Stein's famous Seafood Restaurant in Padstow. I just turned up without prior booking and got a table. Thank goodness it was a Monday late in the year, otherwise it would have been hopelessly booked up. As it was, I was momentarily at a loss when told yes, I could come in for lunch or dinner. As I liked the look of the lunchtime menu, I leapt at that. It felt like being suddenly hoicked in off the street and ushered in a friendly fashion to a table in one of the best-known restaurants in London. I felt excited, and clearly I wasn't the only one. It's demeaning the place to call it a classy tourist experience; but the female half of the sophisticated-looking couple next to me admitted that she was here for the first time too. And the restaurant filled up with others who were obviously visitors and not locals. Clearly, even on a weekday in November, there were plenty of affluent people around in Cornwall ready to blow £45 a head!

I began with complimentary bread and olives, then had gurnard quenelles. My main course was a fillet of hake topped with mussells and cockles, plus vegetables. Dessert was good old rice pudding with raspberry conserve, followed by black coffee. (I'll add photos of all this once home again) Throughout I had still water and a large glass of Macon to drink.

This was an impressive meal. The bill was awesome to match, but I did not flinch.

It was doubly, triply, enjoyable by being treated without question as a discerning woman. Not a sign of doubt, hesitation, or disbelief. It was all smiles and 'madams' and warm, sustained eye contact. And not just from the staff. The couple next to me, mentioned above, who from what I overheard were seriously knowledgable about food, happily discussed with me the courses and wine they had chosen. And I went to the ladies' loo with a girl in heels who had just slipped on the floor. She was all right, but appreciated my concern, and after we'd done our business we had quite a conversation. Sustained eye contact again. She certainly didn't run away screaming, complaining that there was a strange person in the toilet! And then afterwards, in the shops (Padstow nowadays seems to be nothing but expensive - though very nice - fashion shops and restaurants) I was able to chat away with women young and old about the merchandise and all sorts of other things, such as the arrival of Flower Power in Padstow in the summer of 1967 - I was actually there, but was dragged away from the 'weird people' by Mum and Dad. This ability to chat and reminisce was all so liberating. I found it easy to draw on my past life, which was, I now see, very unisex and non male-specific, and therefore safe to discuss. As if in some way I'd been rehearsing my eventual role as Lucy - albeit unconsciously, of course.

Of course it helped, when wandering around Padstow, that my clothes and makeup were right; but I think the voice and demeanour were the killer factors. Honestly, if I had one key piece of advice to give, it would be to spend money on female voice tuition and practice, practice, practice, practice, practice. And at the same time watch what women do, and learn to walk easily and naturally like a woman does, and school yourself to make light, quick, deft, flowing movements. Even large women walk as if floating on air. I have long paid attention to all this.

So I trotted around Padstow feeling immune from enquiry, passing all kinds of people quite unremarked, and apparently unnoticed. I felt invisible. And it was glorious and intoxicating to think that if someone DID challenge me, I could reply in a voice that would have them apologising.

But in case anyone thinks I was flying too high, and due for a fall, I will mention an incident from the previous day. I was in Fowey. And I found myself approaching three girls. They were looking in my direction. I heard one say, 'Go on, ask him!' Did she mean me? Oh well. I had to face up to a public challenge sometime, and I'd rather it be three girls in an empty Cornish street late on a Sunday afternoon, rather than a group of cocky lads outside a city pub on a busy weekday with a throng of passers-by to relish my exposure. So I walked towards them without pausing. Then I walked past. And then with huge relief walked on, still with nothing said to me. I stopped within earshot to take a photo of something. There was no mistake. I'd been wrong. They must have been talking about a potential boyfriend, not me. I had underestimated my ability to stand up to close scrutiny. Later on I felt massively encouraged about this. But my first dismayed reactions were proof that my self-confidence was really quite fragile. Hence my elation at Padstow next day.

I wonder if you ever get off this tightrope of antiicipated challenge, or does it go on 24/7 for the rest of your life?

Celebration in Padstow