Saturday, 31 March 2012

Holiday clothes

I love clothes. I spend too much on them, but I get an awful lot of pleasure from having them. It's the same with my car. She cost an awful lot to buy, she's rather expensive to run, but my satisfaction from her is huge and likely to last for a very long time to come. In the same way, good clothes are an investment. And if you buy wisely, each new item will find friends already there in your wardrobe, and the number of outfit permutations will increase.

While on holiday, and in the days immediately following, I bought seven items that filled gaps in my wardrobe. Five of them were purchased at a reduced sale price - in fact I saved a total of £224 on these five things. Here are all seven articles, bobbing on my rear garden washing line:

First up is that black-and white striped top, from Debenhams in Brighton:

It cost £7, reduced from £14, thus saving £7. Next up, a navy blue cardigan from Fat Face in Sidmouth:

This was a cotton and linen mixture, just in, and I paid the full price of £42. Worn with same-colour jeggings it makes a very slimming combo. Also from Fat Face in Sidmouth was this longer, chunkier, coral cardigan:

It's a nice, easy, comfortable thing to mooch about in. It was £25, reduced from £45, so £20 saved. Next, this rather nice dusky pink and ruched Gerry Weber jacket from Beales in Bournemouth:

I particularly wanted a glamorous, waist-hugging jacket for the summer, and especially for when I meet A--- (my step-daughter) in June for the very first time in the flesh as Lucy. This jacket spoke to me. It was just in, and I paid the full price of £180. This very posed changing room shot four days later in Sidmouth may give an idea how it looks when worn open:

Next, a knee-length caramel skirt with a classy dark brown belt from Debenhams in Brighton:

This met a crying need for a hip-emphasising skirt that was neither too long or too short, and not the eternal black either. Its waist is elasticated (need I say?). It cost £14, reduced from £28, thus saving £14.

Next, an unusual spice-coloured lambswool and mohair jacket by Avoca (of Ireland). I saw it at a posh boutique named 21 in the small Dorset town of Beaminster:

The construction of this jacket is full of brightly-coloured blobs or bobbles of wool, which to my eyes resemble yellow, green and red seed pods:

It's got a jacket shape, and it's lined, but it's really in spirit more like a comfy expensive-looking red-brown cardigan for chilly evenings, while eating fish-and-chips on the Lyme Regis seafront - which is exactly what I did in it! It cost £45, reduced from £153, a saving of £108. Which I think was a pretty decent sale discount.

And finally, a soft chestnut leather jacket by Betty Jackson, bought at Debenhams in Brighton:

This is another waist-friendly jacket, cut to emphasise whatever bust you may have. Which allows it to score over my other leather jacket (from Gap in 2010) which has military styling and tends to hide the fact that you have boobs. The leather of this Betty Jackson creation has a gorgeously soft and luxurious feel. It's styling is toned-down, plain, without embellishments. I like the narrow collar very much. Something for a well-dressed and grown-up girls' night out. Like the night out I'm having at a local restaurant next week with two (maybe three) natal girls. This jacket, a cami-top, and jeggings. It cost £174, reduced from £249, so I saved £75. Can't be bad.

Apart from the Avoca jacket, the colours and styles here are all muted and easy to live with, and will go with plenty of things that I already have. The much more quirky Avoca is best suited a certain type of country outfit. It's not to everyone's taste - hence the big sale discount - but I can't help liking it as a fun thing to wear. It makes me smile:

Thursday, 29 March 2012

(Almost) perfect passing - my list of hot tips

This is not a post intended to make other trans people feel inadequate. Quite the opposite! I want to share the things that have (so far) saved me from embarrassing public challenges.

It's true - never an upsetting confrontation. Long may that last.

There have admittedly been a very, very small number of minor clockings. Here they are. There was a 'Hey, mate!' directed at me when alone in a Brighton street in early 2009 - three years ago - which I simply ignored; a farcical encounter in a Brighton lane in 2010, when two idiotic male teenagers made a fuss about myself and a friend as we walked along, capering about like monkeys - until they gave up, because we simply ignored them; and two (very quiet, but potentially awkward) clockings in Brighton pubs during 2010, involving in one case a tipsy gay tourist from Romford, and in the other case two lads with their girlfriends, the lads whispering and nudging - a situation which a friend defused for me without any direct consequences for myself. Nothing at all to report for 2011 and 2012. I've never yet had anyone bar my way, question my attire, or make lewd or offensive remarks. They'd get a supremely confident response if they tried now; but, looking back at early-stage pictures of myself, I am amazed that I was able to escape the kind of incident that makes many transitioners tremble with fear and trauma.

So what are my tips for a sweet day? My list goes as follows:

# Choose the right town or city to be out and around in. Nowhere known to be especially gay- or trans- friendly, because the locals will be aware that you exist, and visitors will treat you as a tourist sight and be relentlessly tranny-spotting. Thus Brighton is a very dodgy place to walk around in, especially on Pride Day. But you'd probably be fine in Minehead or Newquay or Broadstairs. Or Devizes. Or Basingstoke. Or Canterbury. Or Chipping Norton.

# Don't go to gay- or trans-friendly pubs, bars, cafes or clubs - assuming they exist at all in your locality. Why cluster around these honeypots? Find somewhere ordinary and quiet, such as a theatre bar, or a traditional friendly local well away from the football stadium or the town's red-light district. In other words, avoid all potential troublespots. Go where ordinary people go.

# In fact, get out into the country! Trannies are associated with urban life, and not with forest trails, or river and canal walks, or National Trust gardens.

# Study what women actually wear. Avoid 'statement' attire unless you really want attention and scrutiny. A plain grey cardigan, long white top, black leggings or blue jeggings, and simple black pumps will be a suit of armour, proof against any tranny-spotter. Drab it may be, but you can sex it up with a single spot of real colour: a nice piece of jewellery, or red lips, or a good-quality bag. Nothing more. No candy pink. Miniskirts are fine if worn over leggings, but not over bare legs unless yours are stunning and tanned, and you want to draw men's eyes and wolf whistles.

# Avoid tons of makeup as you would the Devil. Early-stage transitioners have to cover up the tell-tale beard shadow - but once you can dispense with it, leave foundation and the other facial muck to weddings and other gala occasions where it's expected. Young girls like to paint themselves up, and of course it's all a lot of fun, and undoubtedly a way of feeling glamorous; but most mature women confine themselves to mascara, a hint of eye-liner, and some lipstick. It's all you need if you want to be like them. It's OK to look natural. It's OK (and highly realistic) to have some skin blemishes, the odd wrinkle, and a very slight hair-on-the-upper-lip problem. Natal women have these things. They'll take you to their hearts if you're a fellow-sufferer, and not a super-perfect movie queen.

# Avoid bling. Especially cheap-looking bling. Shiny stuff is a teen addiction, not the mark of a grown-up lady of sophistication and allure. And be careful with anything too posh. Although I possess a £900 Prada handbag, and I love it, and I feel so fantastic when I'm out with it, it's way too in-your-face posh for ordinary occasions. Unless I want to pose as a successful businesswoman, or it's the opera, when what else would you have on your arm?

# Avoid high heels. Sorry, they accentuate chunky leg muscles. Risk them if you really do have gorgeous legs. But honestly, they scream 'Tranny!'. Like pink minis and basques and fishnets, and bonnets and scarves, heels are badges that give you away. And if you're tall, why would you want to look even taller?

# Head hair is rarely a problem. A lot of natal women try bizarre cuts and colourings. It takes a really dreadful wig to look seriously wrong. But the style should match your apparent age group and face shape. On the whole, I'd say a fly-away, slightly untidy head of hair in your natural colour looks the most convincing, even if it's not the most glamorous thing. I'd never go for a coloured, permed style. I think it would look artificial, contrived, too much like how my Mum used to have her hair twenty or thirty years back. I'd love long, thick, heavy hair as girl students have, but I can't grow it at my age. So it's medium-length, with a plain black Alice band to hold it in place. That's my look, and I'm happy with it. It pays to wear your hair happily. But whatever you do, keep it clean and fresh-looking. Show a comb or brush in public. Pat it about. Flick tiny wisps. Curl it a bit with fingers as you talk or window-shop. Only men neglect their hair, and never fuss with it.

# Cultivate easy, fluid, loose, graceful and womanly body movements. It's not just 'the walk'. Women sit in a characteristic way. When speaking, they use posture in a characteristic way. Ditto, when any men are near. Study natal women. Do what they do until it's second nature.

# And for God's sake develop the best female voice possible. No excuse here. Don't say you can't be arsed. Think of the incredible high you'll experience again, and again, and again, and throughout the day, in any situation, every day, if you can speak exactly like a natal woman. No excuse. Make it an obsessive project till it's completely right. The right articulation, pitch, strength, smoothness, warmth, speed, rhythm, and emotional intonation. All in perfect synchronicity with posture and gestures and eyes and mouth shape. Women don't just use words when they talk. Indeed, words are often inappropriate - a touch on an arm might say everything that needs to be expressed. And eyes say things no mouth can, although the golden rule for a female mouth - display your teeth, as a friendly signal - musn't be forgotten for an instant. But the voice above all. No excuse, get on with it. Anyone can do it.

# Finally, watch what you talk about. The words you speak matter. Your vocabulary and the things you talk about matter. Yes, plenty of women like fast cars and football, but don't make fast cars and football your opening line. Acquire knowledge about all aspects of female life, so that you can at least bluff convincingly when periods and babies come under discussion. There's so much that women can talk about. Relationships and children and domestic matters and holidays and clothes and shoes and hair and diets are all top subjects, not necessarily for a casual conversation in a supermarket queue, but be prepared all the same. Above all, remember that men are made of wood and women of quicksilver: it would be wholly unnatural if two women standing or sitting near to each other for more than a minute or two didn't catch each other's eye, and probably then embark on an animated conversation. All women are sisters. All women are on each other's side. All women chat, and want to know you, and how you react to them. Do not be stiff, stolid and unexpressive, as a man would be. In fact, I'd say that - apart from voice - behaviour is the key to successful and unchallengeable passing. And voice and behaviour will make up for many little defects in 'the look'.

'Nuff said?

I know that many, many trans women will purse their lips and dispute things in my list. But these things have helped me survive unscarred by horrible experiences. I can't claim they would get me a man. But they do make ordinary, very pleasant women give me their time and their serious attention. In a post to come, all about a day in sunny Sidmouth, I will tell you about Libby. A good example of what I mean, and what a nice lady she was...

Wednesday, 28 March 2012

What my GRC looks like - and Dad's Silver Jubilee Medal

Look away with a yawn if you've already got one of these. Otherwise, you may be interested to see what a 2012 Gender Recognition Certificate looks like.


It's on a very pale blue-green piece of paper, with a swirly printed background pattern and an 'ER' ('Elizabeth Regina') watermark. As you can see, it's a rather plain and austere document, and it reminds me of a GCE examination pass certificate, such as the one I got for my three A levels in 1970. It's similar also in that no marks are mentioned. You don't get 'Lucy Melford attained a pass mark of 89%, and has therefore achieved a grade B as a real woman'. I've simply satisfied the GRC Panel, and so get this document which resembles, let's face it, something you might receive if you've swum 100 lengths and can save and resuscitate a plastic dummy.

Much more impressive, and hanging in my hall, is the framed Jubilee Medal and Certificate that Dad received from the Queen in 1977. Now that says:

Buckingham Palace, 7th June 1977. By Command of HER MAJESTY THE QUEEN the accompanying medal is forwarded to William Rodney D--- to be worn in commemoration of Her Majesty's Silver Jubilee. 6th February 1952: 6th February 1977.

The medal is silver, attached to a white ribbon with blue and red stripes. Rather attractive. Although it says 'forwarded', Dad had to attend a function at the Palace at which the Queen presided. Doubtless he had a brief conversation with her - perhaps (in my dreams) on these lines:

The Queen: 'Arise, Sir Rodney. Accept this honour in commemoration of my Silver Jubliee.'
Dad: 'Thank you, Ma'am.'
The Queen: 'Your family will be very proud of you. I understand you have a lovely daughter named Lucy.'
Dad: 'Indeed I do, Ma'am. She is a fine young lady, already making her mark.'
The Queen: 'I hope then that one day I may meet her. Perhaps by the time of my Diamond Jubilee she will have achieved something worthy of a medal in her own right.'
Dad: 'Thank you Ma'am. No doubt she will.'

The above is invented, you understand, because Dad wouldn't say what actually happened. So I've simply supplied the most likely words, subject to what the Queen herself might disclose if I ever meet her!

Dad did say that he was never quite sure why he was awarded this medal. I knew that he had regularly introduced innovations at work of his own invention - he was a great 'ideas man' - and possibly it was felt that he deserved some recognition. On the other hand, pretty much every Civil Servant of some seniority must have got one of these medals. So maybe it was simply for long and loyal service. Dad was proud of it nevertheless. Mum was too, fit to burst, and so am I.

Well, I wish my GRC had 'By Command of Her Majesty The Queen...' on it, just to sex it up a little! Never mind, even if unassuming in appearance, it's a very important document that will affect the rest of my life in ways that Dad's Jubilee Medal couldn't.

Tuesday, 27 March 2012

I can't shake off my old identity!

I'm back from holiday, and there's a lot of photo work to be done today before I can upload my shots to Flickr, and of course show some on the blog. I'll be featuring a short series of posts over the next few days about what I did, and who I met.

Meanwhile, the post-GRC fallout.

My Gender Recognition Certificate arrived on my doorstep at noon today. I'd had its posting deferred till yesterday so that I'd be back home to receive it. It was in a stiff A4 envelope from the Tribunals Service addressed to 'Miss Lucy Melford', and it was sent by Special Delivery, so that I had to sign for it. It was a bright, warm, sunny day - how very appropriate! And how very propitious for the future!

Yesterday, when I got home from Lyme Regis, there were two envelopes from HMRC waiting for me. One was about my National Insurance Contributions, and the other was about my Income Tax. Both said that my records had been noted to recognise the existence of my Gender Recognition Certificate, and that access to those records would now be narrowly restricted to specialist personnel only. In the case of Income Tax, this actually involved a change of tax office. So I've been filed away among those taxpayers whose affairs must be kept strictly immune from inquisitive eyes! That would include the Prime Minister, top VIPs, and the country's small army of professional spies and secret agents. I'm naturally honoured.

There was also an envelope from the Home Office (Identity and Passport Service) about providing me with a new Birth Certificate. Yes, I will be getting one as soon as I've checked the draft document, and filled in another form. But it's not quite as expected.

Apparently new regulations came into force from July 2011, and these affect how a new record is set up in the Gender Recognition Register - which must be the central register of those who have successfully obtained a GRC. So that when the government wants to round us all up, and intern us on the Isle of Man, that's where it'll look first! I am jesting, of course.

Anyway, contrary to the impression I had received, there is - for people of my age, at least - no choice whatever about how the new Birth Certificate will look. As my birth was originally registered before 1 April 1969, I must have a Birth Certificate that conforms as closely as possible to the 'landscape' layout of the original 1952 document. So, apart from being printed on A4 size paper rather than the very elongated shape of the original, the new document will be exactly the same. Except for two essential changes: instead of 'J--- S---' for my name (those were my old forenames) and 'Boy' for the sex, there will now be 'Lucy' for my name and 'Girl' for my sex.

This new Birth Certificate therefore shows that my Mum and Dad registered a baby girl called Lucy, born on 6 July 1952. Exactly as if twins had been born on that day, a son called J--- S---, and a daughter called Lucy. Except that the son's certificate will not now be available to the general public. Only the daughter's. I'm very inclined - without being too fanciful or untruthful - to play on this pleasant idea of a son and a daughter being born at the same time. It's a philosophical truth, anyway. And besides, I feel that in all ways I'm the sister that J--- never had.

This is all really nice, and just as it should be. But unfortunately there's a snag. The new Birth Certificate makes no mention of 'Melford'. In 1952 (and indeed up till 1969) no surname was shown on these documents. It was assumed that the boy or girl would naturally take the surname of the father. The new Birth Certificate is a faithful facsimile, and so you will infer that my surname at birth was 'D---', and not Melford.

Supposing that I ever need to produce my new Birth Certificate? How do you link 'Lucy D---' on that document with 'Lucy Melford'?

Yes, you need to retain linking documents. In my case, the original Birth Certificate showing the old surname, and my Deed Poll showing both the old and new surnames. Although I was going to keep my old Birth certificate as an historic family document, I never thought it would be essential to retain it, to demonstrate that J--- S--- D---- and Lucy Melford are one and the same! As I might have to if remarrying (I've been married before, and it's JSD - not LD or LM - on the decree absolute), or if ever seeking residence in another country. Oh dear, I can't shake off the old identity!

One obvious way around this linking problem is to change my name yet again, to 'Lucy D---', which would then match the new Birth Certificate.

But that would also involve notifying all and sundry, and paying for a fresh passport and driving licence. And besides, I've grown rather fond of 'Melford'. It was a surname I selected for myself; it sounds nicer than D---; and it has served me really well through the whole transitioning process and out the other side. No, I can't do it, not unless a very strong reason emerges. I love my adopted name, and don't want to lose it.

Thursday, 22 March 2012

Beware the Ides of March

No, I haven't been stabbed to death like Julius Caesar. But I did find myself made a plaything of the gods.

I seem to sail through life experiencing roughs with smooths in equal measure, in a kind of cosmic balance. Often I come out ahead, and so rarely complain. But not always.

Yesterday was a lovely mild and brilliantly sunny day. Warm enough for a light jacket only. So I resolved to debut my new dusky pink Gerry Weber jacket, picked up at Beales in Bournemouth a few days earlier (pictures to follow when I get home). This jacket was so in-your-face stylish that it required the glitzy black Prada handbag to keep it company. I added my pearls. And to tone it all down a little, I wore a loose Fat Face white top under the jacket, with navy blue jeggings and black ankle boots south of that. I looked damn good, and felt damn good. I arrived in Sidmouth in sunglasses - strictly necessary, I assure you - and after backing Fiona into a plum High Street parking spot with one deft twirl of the steering wheel, I stepped out onto the catwalk. Look at me, indeed!

Mind you, there were other strutting fashionistas about. Sidmouth is like a miniature Bournemouth: the shopping is superior and expensive, and there are plenty of well-dressed women dashing here and there, clearly expecting to be noticed. So, truth to tell, I blended in. I dashed in and out of Fields (Sidmouth's equivalent of Selfridge's) and then dashed over to Fat Face, where the day before I'd spotted a navy blue cardigan with a flattering neckline. I'd hesitated over buying it, but had made up my mind to do the deed, chiefly because the changing-room pix I'd taken had confirmed that it made me look slim. But also because I had an unwanted top to take back to Marks & Sparks, which would give me a £35 refund to play with. It would reduce the net cost of the cardi to £7. A complete no-brainer! With the cardi in the bag, I dashed back to Fiona mightily pleased, if not positively smug.

But the gods then decided to play with me. You'd think they'd have something better to do, but there you are. In her wisdom, Fiona chose to leave Sidmouth via the sea front. Straight into the gods' waiting trap. For lo, the sun did shine with an even wider smile, shimmering on the enticing sands (it was low tide); and the bright red sandstone cliffs waved at me like a matador baiting a bull. What a glorious sight! The little Leica shreiked at me from inside the Prada bag, 'Let's park and take pictures! Oh, please!'. And Fiona said, 'Lucy, you've got to stop and walk on that sand!' Well, to keep them both happy, I looked for a place to park. And lo, there was a long clear space right on the seafront. With no charge. Only 15 minutes were allowed - but that was all I'd need. So I left Fiona in this amazingly convenient free parking space, and tottered over the pebbles down to the sand. Gosh, it was so pleasant. The sand was almost unblemished: only gulls had trodden on it. Dainty gulls at that. I couldn't resist walking around the headland. I was quick, though, and having got my shots, I was back at Fiona within 20 minutes, if not quite 15.

But then the joke was sprung. There was a lady parking officer by Fiona, and just as I reached her, she printed off a £70 penalty notice. Oh no!

It wasn't because I was three minutes over time. It was because I'd left Fiona in a space intended for coaches. The restriction plate showed a coach-shaped symbol that I'd missed. Whoops. My silly mistake. I must have been blind. Well, we talked. The lady was really nice, but of course the notice couldn't be recalled. I'd have to pay.

There was good news... of a sort...if I paid quickly, the penalty would be 'only' £35. Exactly the amount of my M&S refund! How odd it should be the same figure. The women at Refunds in Marks & Spencer in Exeter thought so too. I was immediately reminded of an episode in the 'Elizabethan' Blackadder series on TV in which 'wealthy' but in fact skint Blackadder owes £1,000, raises exactly that amount by offering his home for sale, then is summoned to the Queen's presence and asked (as a joke really) to pay a special nobleman's levy of - guess what - exactly £1,000. He quibbles, but the Queen spots his purse, takes it by royal command, and poor Blackadder forfeits the lot - and must then face ruin and the creditor's ghastly revenge. Well, my £35 went the same way. Damn.

Moral: posh jackets and look-at-me-I'm-so-gorgeous behaviour tempt the gods. And any empty parking spaces on a sunny Devon sea front are too good to be true. You have been warned!

Wednesday, 21 March 2012

Farewell, possums!

So 78 year old Barry Humphries, aka Dame Edna Everage, has announced his retirement, so that (ever joking) he can look for his true self. I believe he is in private life an avid collector of old books, among many deep and enquiring interests: a sort of latter-day Man of the Enlightenment. May he discover a new planet or comet then, or the true meaning of life.

Dame Edna, as a character, lampooned pretention and bling and false glamour, and in her own vulgar way presented the Australian way of life to the world. Certainly, during her 'reign', Australia emerged as a cool and savvy place as never before. And you can't put that wholly down to Mel Gibson and the cast of Neighbours. Who in fact are the best-known living Australians? Let me see: Rolf Harris, Dame Edna, Mel Gibson, Kylie Minogue, Rupert Murdoch (born there, anyway), and some sporting people. Dame Edna is up there with her county's greatest, isn't she? An institution on her own.

But as much as I might salute the wit and cleverness (and deliberate bad taste) of Barry Humphries' humour - even though he didn't actually make me laugh much - I can't help thinking that a big loud farewell to Dame Edna would be a very good thing, possums. That character had as much to do with womanhood (including trans womanhood) as Pinky and Perky had to do with real pigs, or Lennie the Lion with the real King of Beasts.

Two entire generations have grown up 'knowing' that if Dad comes out and confesses to his gender problem, he's immediately going to hit the local streets looking and behaving like Dame Edna Everage, complete with the voice, a Barbara Cartland outfit, and aggressive glasses encrusted with fake jewels. Such has been the overwhelming power of Dame Edna to cloud the national consciousness, and prejudice the initial public reception of a late transitioner.

Still, she wasn't camp, she was feisty, and she was never lost for words. If you can imagine her encountering some leering and jeering chav, my money would be on Dame Edna to get in the last word, the knockout withering punchline. Except that it would actually come from the mouth of clever and confident Mr Barry Humphries. Let's never forget that Dame Edna was a man.

Monday, 19 March 2012

Boats, fossils, and two women on the Cobb

Ah, Lyme Regis!

I arrived there today, after a remarkably rapid journey along the A354 and A35 past Blandford Forum, Dorchester, Bridport and Charmouth. Dorset names. All on a clear sunny Monday morning, with Fiona tugging the caravan as if it were a feather - even though the whole rig, my wardrobe of clothes included, weighs three tons. We still whizzed along. Arriving at Curlew Farm, I even managed to reverse the caravan into position after only four attempts - very, very good for me! The sun shone even more, in a peerless blue and cloud-free sky. The view over to the west was panoramic (the farm is on a ridge) and crystal clear. I had a cup of tea, a ham sandwich, and a post-prandial kip. It was bliss.

Awaking at three, I went into Lyme, heading first to Monmouth Beach on the west side. This is presumably named after the Duke of Monmouth who on a dark and stormy night in the winter of 1673 (or some such year) invaded England by sea with an army, intending to depose the reigning monarch and become king himself. A doomed enterprise if ever there was one. I believe he got bogged down in Sedgemoor in Somerset and sank without trace.

Be that as it may - and of course I'm not quite certain of my facts - I wanted to go there (Monmouth Beach) and take a look at the Boat Building Academy. Now a little while back you may recall my visiting the lifeboat station at Selsey in Sussex, and getting into a conversation with a retired naval man about lifeboat construction, which led on to my possibly finding work with a boatbuilding firm. I did in fact follow that up with some research into Sussex firms, but it came to nothing. However, on BBC Radio 4 the night before, on Last Word (which relates the life stories of all kinds of interesting people who have recently died) I heard about a certain Mr Chipperfield, who was a renowned boatbuilder and the founder of this Academy in Lyme Regis. Naturally I wanted to find the place, and did. There was nobody to speak with, but inside (where I could not go, because of industrial-area rules) I could see two young chappies working on little fishing boats, and there were many other similar boats in various stages of completion. I picked up a brochure. Courses were residential, and you'd have your own study bedroom, with a communal kitchen and dining room. They offered a 38 week Boat Building course to a standard way beyond City & Guilds requirements; an 8 week Woodworking Skills course; and 1 to 5 day Short Courses. One could acquire an amazing range of skills! It wasn't clear whether you could enroll if you were an absolute beginner, but the brochure included girls and older women in the pictures of students, implying that you weren't necessarily looking for a career in the marine construction industry. The Academy accepted students aged 18 (sometimes younger) right up to eighty.

I felt tempted. At school I was a duffer at manual skills, especially woodwork, but then I hated school, was in the wrong school anyway, and you can be such a thing as a 'deliberate duffer' just to be perverse. For instance, I deliberately sabotaged my 11 year old singing voice to get out of being picked as a little maid for the 1964 school Gilbert & Sullivan production - The Mikado it was - which I suppose must prove that I wasn't hungry for any kind of limelight, whatever the joys of dressing up in a kimono and fluttering a fan. Perhaps I sensed that I'd look and sound just a bit too natural in the part, and would get endlessly thumped as a result. (All right, it was stage fright, pure and simple) Anyway... despite spurning (in like mood) the chance to excel in wood, l still secretly admired the skill and craftsmanship, the use and care of interesting-looking tools, the way that wood shavings curled off, and the smooth and shapely end result. No doubt about it, something that you make yourself does contain part of your soul, wooden boats especially. The Academy brochure said 'The [38 week] course is 'hands-on' - people learn by actually building boats. Each group works on a range of different construction types. The course offers some students the opportunity to build a boat for themselves... We celebrate the end of each course by launching the boats into Lyme Regis harbour.' Wow!

Lyme Regis is also famed for its fossils - you can find them simply by strolling along under the cliffs at each end of the town. And I did. I saw fossil clams. And I found a flat rock that had obviously fallen out of the cliff above. On its upturned face were the clear impressions of ancient ammonite shells, nine inches across. Wow again! I passed this information on to other people I met on my way back, who were also hoping to see fossils. I'll have to go fossil-hunting again. I'm here for a week, so there should be plenty of opportunity, subject to tides. Maybe it'll be a complete ichthyosaur next time?

On the Cobb, that ancient breakwater that the French Lieutenant's Woman couldn't keep away from, and the scene, no doubt, of more than one visit from the authoress Jane Austen, I saw two women tucking into fish and chips with undisguised gusto and pleasure.

Miss Melford: 'Good women of Lyme Regis! I perceive that you are enjoying your humble meal.'
The two women: ' 'Tis true, my lady, we'm be likin' it right heartily. We do reckon it be tasty enough for the grand old Duke of Monmouth himself!
Miss Melford: 'Might I enquire where such a meal may be obtained?'
The two women: 'Well now, you do see them old fishin' boats downalong? Well, bless you, there be an old fish and chip shop jus' beyond.'
Miss Melford: 'Thank you, good women. A very good day to you.'
The two women (curtsying): 'Why thankee, ma'am, 'tis no trouble for a lady like you.'

I love it. Lyme Regis is so quaint.

Sunday, 18 March 2012

I miss my Mum

Mothers Day feels odd if you have no mother, and are not a mother yourself. You feel left out. A woman who isn't playing any natural role, whether as birthgiver or daughter.

As you know, my mother died three years ago. Throughout my previous life, I'd marked 'her special day' with hearty greetings, flowers and a card - often a card that I'd painstakingly made myself. And until he died in 1995, my younger brother W--- did the same. And his wife G--- (later ex-wife, and long since remarried, but herself a mother) also made a really big thing of it, and still would if Mum were here now.

Mum appreciated all this attention very much. I think she liked Mothers Day more than her own birthday, on which, incidentally, she received exactly the same fuss. Perhaps it was because Mothers Day honoured her vital creative role, and was obliquely a celebration of Mum and Dad's marriage and their lifelong devotion to each other.

She'd had difficult pregnancies and did not cope well during the post-natal recovery periods, especially the first (when carrying me). She was bereft of her own mother who had died some years before, and had confusing clinical advice. It was not a happy time. Her second pregnancy (my brother W---) went a bit better, but she still didn't find it an entirely pleasant experience. All this was however forgotten as W--- and I grew up. We were cherished. We were trophies. We were two lovely chidren she was genuinely proud of.

I believe that Mum loved her two children very much, and she certainly took great care of us, defending our interests and shielding us from harm. I also believe that she loved Dad even more. I was easy with that; it seemed quite right; but I always felt Mum lived for Dad first, and her children second. That's not a criticism. Somehow, though, it left me feeling slightly detached and separate, not at the very heart of our little family.

Mum and I never developed an intimacy, and I never confided in her - or if I ever did, I soon learned to be very careful what I told her. Although basically a friendly and convivial person, she was nevertheless forthright, principled, held black-and-white opinions, and was very determined - positively formidable - if she felt she was in the right. In many ways she was a strong role model; but also someone to hide things from, because she would always want to comment. She could be uncomfortably uncompromising in what she might say.

I grew wary of generating these comments. This made me adept at concealment. Again, not a criticism, and to be fair there were obviously things about me that would make secrecy and self-preservation essential features of my life. But we were not of the same mind, and we lacked closeness. I often thought that was a pity. It made occasions like Mother's Day slightly hollow, slightly ritualistic. The impulse to rush to her, and hug her, and kiss her, and tell her my latest news, was not there. That was sad. And I came to feel it was all my fault - that I didn't love my mother enough, that I was emotionally cold.

What do I feel now, on each Mothers Day? Not pain. To tell the truth, I still can't 'see' my mother as she was for most of her life. The way she looked on her deathbed still dominates my mental image of her, and it has got in the way. Not only that, the estrangement of early transition was a barrier between us. I saw her daily at the hospice, then at the nursing home, but we couldn't connect. My 'becoming a woman' must have appalled her and confused her. She denied it all completely, thrust it all from herself. After all, if it were really true, then we had wasted a lifetime on a doomed and ultimately abortive mother-son relationship. An even more dreadful idea. I was glad the morphine numbed her thinking, so that she couldn't speculate on what it was about, and who should be blamed. I was never able to discuss my feelings with her in those last days.She didn't want to know. And, so soon, her mind had no room for any of it anyway.

So Mothers Day is for me a reminder of lifelong concealment, and emotional distance at death. But I was still fond of Mum. For many years, when I lived at home in Southampton, I'd take her out in my car for a sunny walk in the New Forest, just her and me and the fresh air; and soft pine needles to tread on. It was nice. It was the closest we could get. This afternoon I will walk in the Forest again, as my way of remembering her in happier days. I hope it's sunny. I don't know whether I'll cry.

I miss my Mum.

Saturday, 17 March 2012

Deep voices

Did you catch a discussion on BBC Radio 4 a few days back, concerning politicians' voices? Apparently it's long been known (though it's news to me) that the voting public most trusts deeper voices. Mrs Thatcher, for instance, the former Prime Minister, began with a high-pitched and somewhat shrill voice, but ended office with a much lower and huskier voice. It's said that she actually received coaching to bring this about, to make her voice sound more serious, more trustworthy, and make it a better instrument for imposing her authority. She did indeed cease to sound like a hockey-playing Head Girl.

Is there something in this? Do deeper voices really generate more trust? Does one believe some pipe-smoking chap with a rich down-in-his-boots delivery MORE than someone who says the same thing with an airy-fairy sing-song voice? I can recall a Welsh union leader from the past (was he Clive Jenkins?) who had an irritatingly high-pitched voice, and I just couldn't take him seriously. The voice was the problem.

Is this general, that lower-pitched voices command greater attention and credibility? Certainly a lot of women's voices seem at a disadvantage, sounding squeaky and lightweight compared to men's - more suited to excited gossip and playing with babies than for any important debate. It's really quite hard for women to make a thundering, Churchillian speech. Certainly any woman can look impassioned in a way denied to a man, but her voice, lacking force, may let her down. And, quite separately from this, some trifling detail of her appearance may engage her listener's attention and subvert her message. Frustrating.

I always knew that crossing over to the female world would affect my ability to be taken seriously, simply because of prevailing attitudes. The way it is, men can definitely command more respect. But it seems that their deeper voices automatically give them an extra edge, regardless of whether there is really any substance in what they say.

How ironic that all the effort made, and money spent, to acquire a good female voice means that anything I may say will probably be dismissed as silly chatter!

Friday, 16 March 2012

The Marriage Debate

How nice - an email from a government department, inviting me to make my views known on the issue of 'Marriage between same-sex persons'. Such persons can already, in the UK, enter into Civil Partnerships with the same legal consequences as a regular Marriage. But for some it doesn't feel the same; it lacks the social status of a 'real' marriage.

I have actually been married. It was a Register Office wedding. It was in 1983 at Morden Cottage near Wimbledon in London, an old white-painted clapperboard mill house by a stream, set in parkland. It wasn't a church ceremony, but I felt properly 'married', and could proudly say so afterwards. And the world fully acknowledged my new status. An awful lot flowed from 'being married', other people's attitude and goodwill not least of them. Marriage was an institution with a day-to-day reality to it, and far, far more than 'just a certificate'.

This is essentially what marrying couples want. So should all couples have it, regardless of who they are? Regardless of the gender mix, for instance?

Well, my personal position is yes. If they are sincere, well-suited, and have each other's welfare and happiness uppermost in their minds, then they should be able to enjoy the very real feeling of 'being married'.

I don't care two hoots about 'departing from centuries of tradition' - tradition tends to obstruct badly-needed reforms, and often perpetuates outmoded and unjust rules and restrictions. Think of the various bans women contend with around the world, for example. So tradition, however picturesque, is a Bad Thing.

Nor do I feel that it matters if the marrying couple can't 'make a baby' together. Sterility or old age shouldn't debar people from marrying. And it shouldn't stop people who have no intention of having children, who may even want to maintain celebacy for spiritual reasons perhaps. Nor should it stop same-sex couples. There is an argument that in an overpopulated world, couples who must remain naturally childless should be approved of, and honoured, and certainly permitted the status and consolation of Marriage.

Some of the objections must be rooted in a distaste for the sex imaginable between two men or two women. That's sheer prudery, and not a valid reason to deny Marriage to them.

I am not religious, so no appeal to holy texts or teachings to limit Marriage to a man and a woman carries weight with me. But neither am I a dogmatic atheist. I would therefore in all seriousness ask, 'well, what does God himself say in 2012 about this question of same-sex marriage?'. And of course, nobody can tell me. To fill that silence, I would speculate that God - as a universal entity - must be without a particular physical form and must certainly be genderless; and that God wouldn't mind what kind of persons come together to share their lives in a mutually caring commitment, so long as something good results from it.

Wednesday, 14 March 2012

Got it - my Gender Recognition Certificate!

If you caught the 'Hot News' section in yesterday's post, you'll be primed on this fantastic development. For everyone else, this is what I have to say about it after a night's sleep.

First, my profound sympathy to anyone who would like to have such a Certificate, but can't get one because they cannot qualify under the present statute. The chief persons concerned are those in a pre-transition marriage that is working and not about to fold. The Gender Recognition Act 2004 was flawed, in that it required such marriages to be cast aside before a Certificate could be issued to the transitioning partner. This was (and still is) offensive and rather cruel. There was at the time a sort of legal logic to it, and some political and religious sensibilities were pandered to. But a special exception could have been made, and was not. And there the law will probably remain stuck until EU pressure forces a change. Please forgive me then if I stray into any euphoria or jubilation that may hurt or offend.

Second, this post applies only to how things are in the UK, not elsewhere. My certificate won't cut any ice in France, for instance.

Third, although it's practical and informative to say 'I'm a legal woman now' to any bod in the street, and although it's perfectly true that I've suddenly acquired all the legal rights (and responsibilities) of any female person, the Certificate no more makes me a 'proper woman' than my surgery did, or my change of name did, or securing a 'female' passport did. How I am perceived in the world depends on my appearance, voice, manner, movements and attitude. I mustn't relax my efforts to keep these things up to the mark. Having a bit of paper tucked away at home that says that I'm forever female (and indeed always have been) will not on its own win me universal public acceptance. I was a de facto woman before this week; now I'm also 'street-legal'; but it means nothing much to the average non-trans person.

Actually, I think there will be a small difference henceforth. Gaining this Certificate has already had a big psychological effect on me. I am walking taller, because I am now unchallengeable. I may yet face people who will question my right to exist, but if they have intelligence enough to know how the law works in this country, then the Certificate will force them to back off. There is no answer to it. It's the Last Word. There is no longer any question of being forced to do what a man does; or being debarred from doing what a woman can do, except possibly participation in Olympic-standard sport, where my physical attributes might be an issue. (As if I'd go anywhere near a running track!)  I can stand my ground with absolute assurance that the law is on my side to the hilt, and that the troublesome person in front of me is completly wrong to stand in my way, or assert that I am something I am not. In practice, I may yet be refused entry here and there by some cretinous doorkeeper, but the occasions when that might happen are going to be very, very rare, simply because I don't go to places guarded by cretins. I wouldn't waste my time arguing with them. (And I'm not going to strip off to 'prove' to them that I've got all the right bits, as a kind of ultimate entry ticket. I've still got some notions of dignity)

Still to come is the pleasure of 'designing' my new Birth Certificate. That's already in hand, even though I won't be able to give my choice on format till I return from my caravan holiday.

Meanwhile, I'm thinking that it would be a Good Thing to share my technique for getting this Certificate. After all, my application was successful. It worked. It was one of sixteen dealt with on the day by the Panel. Clearly they couldn't spend too much time on it. It had to be impressive, it had to be open-and-shut drop-dead convincing. It had to tick all the key legal and medical boxes, and the evidence of 'full-time living for at least two years' had to be easily-absorbed and compelling.

What I initially proposed doing about the evidence was outlined in my post on 18 January 2012 entitled Getting ready for my GRC application. Back then, I thought I'd prune the evidence somewhat. In the event I added to it, so that 30 items were sent altogether. I also sent a typed note with them, in which I highlighted the items that I thought were especially important. I couldn't expect the busy Panel to wade through the entire note unassisted. This what it said - the highlighted items are reproduced in bold and I have disguised references to my home address:


The date from which I have lived full-time in my new gender

My standard date for the start of ‘living full time as a female’ is 1 November 2009, which is the date of my Deed Poll. From that date I most certainly lived in every respect as the woman known as Lucy Melford, without any exceptions.

Before 1 November 2009, and particularly after my father’s death in May 2009, my daily life was not different. However, my duties as executor for my father’s estate meant that I had to use my former male name in estate correspondence. Doing so avoided any identity complications by ensuring that the name on my letters matched the name in my father’s Will and on the Probate document.

I have always believed that this limited maintenance of my former male identity would compromise a claim that I was - in all respects - living as a female prior to November 2009. But the Panel may think otherwise. In case they do, I have included some documentary evidence dated before 1 November 2009 to show that in my day-to-day life, when not wearing my executor’s hat, I was conducting myself as the woman known as Lucy Melford.

List of evidence presented for consideration by the Panel

I apologise if I am sending too much. I did phone an administrator at Leicester to clarify what was required, and was told that the Panel like to see significant evidence covering the entire period of full-time living up to the application date, to confirm that my female living has been continuous, and sustained at an appropriate level.

Accordingly, the essential part of the evidence is for the period November 2009 to January 2010, but there is also evidence for the periods before and since. Altogether thirty items are presented.

There is nothing from an employer. I retired from my Civil Service department in May 2005 after 35 years service, receiving an immediate pension, and have not worked since. I am sure the Panel will see from the evidence that I had adequate means, and no need to seek employment.

I have highlighted evidence in this list that I think is especially significant.

21 May 2009 - eye test in Brighton
At Specsavers opticians. The printed test results, and the name on the receipt, refer to me as ‘Ms Lucy Melford’. At the time I was living at Ouse Cottage, Piddinghoe, a large house that I owned.

27 June 2009 - purchase of a Leica D-Lux 4 camera from a Lewes dealer
I am ‘Lucy Melford’ on the purchase invoice. By now I had moved into my father’s house at [my present home address], and Ouse Cottage was an empty property I would have to sell.

27 July 2009 - entry in a Devon church visitors’ book
My father was born in the east Devon village of Kentisbeare, and lived there as boy. We used to make visits back there at long intervals, but he died before we could do the one planned for the summer of 2009. I have made annual visits on my own in each year from 2009, to mark his memory. This 2009 visitor’s book entry was actually photographed in 2010, when it had become embedded between preceding and following visitor entries. It’s a much-visited church. I signed myself ‘Lucy Melford’, adding my email addresses for any genealogically-minded person to use.
I can of course only show you these photographs, not being able to borrow the book!

24 August 2009 - receipt for buying a painting in an exhibition
The envelope (stamped 24 August 2009) is addressed to ‘Lucy Melford’. Inside is a note dated 23 August 2009 from Jan McGarry, wife of Pip McGarry, the Director of the Marwell International Wildlife Art Society. She calls me ‘Lucy’. I had made a pre-viewing credit card purchase over the phone.

2 September 2009 - Voter Registration Form
Again, I can only provide a photograph, as the original form is not available to me. This shows that I registered myself in the name of ‘Lucy Melford’ at [my present home address]. I had already decided to change my name by Deed Poll as soon as the remaining estate correspondence was finished with. I expected to vote as Lucy Melford in the 2010 General Election - and did: see below.

1 November 2009 - Deed Poll
This is a Legal Copy.

18 November 2009 - NHS Medical Card
My local GP surgery in [the village I live in] had been treating me as ‘Lucy Melford’ prior to November 2009, but now it became official, and they promptly notified the NHS at large. A new Medical Card was one immediate result.

27 November 2009 - medication supplied on prescription by Boots in Burgess Hill
Boots had dealt with me as ‘Miss Lucy Melford’ since March 2009. You can see that name printed on the stickers on each packet. The photograph also shows ‘Miss Lucy Melford’ on the NHS Prescription Charge Certificate I was using at the time, valid for one year from 20 February 2009.

1 December 2009 - letter from HM Revenue & Customs
HMRC were returning a photocopy of my Deed Poll, having updated their records.

1 December 2009 - letter from TV Licensing
TV Licensing were returning a photocopy of my Deed Poll, having updated their records.

3 December 2009 - letter from a local garage about the MOT due on my car
[The] Garage in [the village I live in] had been servicing and repairing my high-mileage Honda car for some time. I regularly needed to speak to them in person.

4 December 2009 - letter from Saga about a cancelled cruise and the refund arising
This cruise had originally been booked for my father and myself. After his death, I asked another lady to accompany me. But then Saga were forced to change the itinerary, the cruise was not so good, and I decided to cancel. Saga were agreeing to a large refund.

4 December 2009 - letter from my Civil Service Pension provider
Capita Hartshead were returning a Legal Copy of my Deed Poll, having updated their records.

15 December 2009 - letter from the NHS about cervical screening
A standard NHS invitation, given to all persons it regarded as women. I discussed it with my GP and opted out, not having a cervix.

16 December 2009 and 19 January 2010 - credit card statements
On these consecutive [name of my credit card company] statements, addressed to ‘Miss Lucy Melford’ and covering a two-month period, you can see transactions at food stores, pubs and restaurants, an art gallery, department stores, clothing shops, a jewellery shop, a map shop, a camera shop, a gift shop, a railway station, filling stations, a motor accessory store, a tyre retailer, a caravan dealer, a Caravan Club main site, a chemist, a hairdresser, a hair removal clinic, and an outdoor retailer. Not only in Sussex, but at various places in Hampshire, Kent, Wiltshire, Somerset and Bristol. My intention here is to illustrate that I was constantly out and about as Lucy Melford, using my credit card in a wide variety of public situations.

12 January 2010 - Passport
I had successfully applied for a new ‘female’ passport in the name of ‘Lucy Melford’.

13 January 2010 - letter from the National Trust with a new Life Membership card
I first joined the National Trust in 1981, and became a Life Member in 1996. I have always visited NT properties throughout the year. They were sending me a new card in the name of ‘Miss L Melford’.

22 January 2010 - letter from my father’s solicitors about the transfer of title in his house to me
[Messrs .....] had handled all my father’s property affairs, and the final thing I asked them to do was to handle this transfer of title, as I had inherited my father’s house. I actually went to their Haslemere offices on 4 December 2009 to conduct business in person as Lucy Melford. The amended Land Registry entry shows that ‘Lucy Melford’ has become the proprietor of [my present home address].

26 January 2010 - Driving Licence and Counterpart
I had successfully applied for a new ‘female’ driving licence in the name of ‘Lucy Melford’.

29 January 2010 - order for a new Volvo car
Following earlier enquiries at the Volvo dealer in Portslade and a test drive - all done as Lucy Melford - I ordered a top-of-the-range Volvo XC60 car.

6 May 2010 - Poll Card for the General Election
Having registered as ‘Lucy Melford’ the previous September (see above), I voted as such in the General Election, attending the polling station personally.

25 May 2010 - sales invoice for the new Volvo car
My new car arrived from the factory in late May 2010. This was my copy of the sales invoice, on the day that I paid the balance due and drove it away.

2 September 2010 - letter from the NHS about a breast screening appointment
The date originally offered was inconvenient, and this was the fresh date on which I did attend.

15 March 2011 - Council Tax bill
A routine household bill.

5 May 2011 - Poll Card for the Voting System Referendum
I voted in the Referendum, attending the polling station personally.

1 June 2011 - letter from Lady Mary Gordon Lennox
Lady Mary Gordon Lennox chaired the Committee of the Friends of the Pallant House Gallery in Chichester. I had just become a Friend, and she was welcoming me in this partially handwritten letter. I saw her at the AGM on 25 July 2011.

6 June 2011 - letter from auctioneers in connection with the sale of Ouse Cottage
I had engaged the Brighton auctioneers [their name] to sell my old home on 30 June 2011, if they could. I attended the auction. There were no bids. But there were post-auction approaches, one of which resulted in a sale.

17 July 2011 - consent form, so that a TV documentary producer could use video shots of me in a forthcoming programme
Wild Pictures were in attendance at the Brighton Nuffield Hospital when I was visiting an acquaintance who had just had surgery. I was shot speaking in several scenes. In case this footage was used in the final documentary, my consent was sought. This is my copy of the form that I signed.

23 August 2011 - letter from my solicitors following the sale of Ouse Cottage
As mentioned above, a post-auction offer led to a sale.

25 January 2012 - letter from the Pallant House Gallery
I had renewed my Friends membership. 

I wanted to satisfy the Panel's wish to see not only the minimum evidence suggested on the Application Form that I had been living full-time as a woman, but to have as rounded an impression as possible of my ordinary life, right up to the date of the application. For instance, my credit card statements gave a clear picture of what I got up to over a continuous two-month span, and had the advantage of disclosing my substantial credit limit, which, combined with the Volvo purchase documentation and pension correspondence, might make it perfectly clear why I hadn't needed to get a job, and therefore why I couldn't put up any evidence from an employer. I tried to make some of the evidence inter-linked, such as the voter registration form and the General Election voter card, both in the name of Lucy Melford. I won't claim that I had my GRC application in mind when getting my eyes tested early in 2009, nor when writing in the church visitor's book in mid-2009, but in hindsight these items seemed proper evidence of publicly presenting myself as Lucy Melford, and so I put them in.

You might well think that all this evidence was far in excess of what was required; but it did the trick, and I rest my case.

One point I would stress. As soon as you think you are living full-time, start putting documentary evidence of it away in a special file. Don't throw things away if they might be good for the eventual GRC! And on my own experience, stuff addressed to you that shows your female name and full address and reveals something unmistakable about your ordinary way of life is the best possible evidence. Even better, if it's in any way 'official' or 'public'.

I hope anyone following has the same success with their application as I have.

And now it's nearly time time for lunch, and then the Off.

Tuesday, 13 March 2012

Personal safety

I'm presently loading up the caravan, and getting more excited by the hour about the prospect of being away.

I think this will be a slightly more energetic holiday than some previous ones - less driving around, more walking in the fresh air, wherever there's something worth seeing. That will include the views from the ridges in south-west Wiltshire, such as those in the vicinity of Ebbesbourne Wake, Alvediston and Berwick St John, or the more secretive deer-haunted folds around Tollard Royal, the little capital of Cranbourne Chase. Down in Dorset, I want to climb Pilsdon Pen and Golden Cap, and stride out atop the cliffs between Sidmouth (that's technically in Devon, of course) and West Bay. OK, these heights are not 'mountains', and I'll only get puffed, not stretched to the limits of my endurance, but I haven't yet done any of these things, despite many visits to both areas, and it's time I did!

I've got the gear. I've got the maps, and I'm good with them. And (of course) I've got my little camera. I can easily devise plans to park Fiona, take a bus to the start of a linear walk, and then spend a few hours walking back to my car. That'll earn the reward of a jolly good lunch or evening meal! It could be a lot of fun, and even in March I might pick up a light suntan. Furthermore, the exercise will help me get trim for my June or July meetup with my step-daughter, when I'll want to look good.

What I haven't got is company. That's not an issue in ordinary circumstances, because I prefer to do most things by myself. But it's not so clever when walking alone along paths that might conceal a person who intends harm where girls and women are concerned. And I count as one of them. This lurking man won't see a fabulous-looking Miss World, but let's face it, anything clearly female is going to be a target. So I'm potentially vulnerable. I've got more weight and bigger bones than most women, I won't panic, I've got a will to survive, no fear of inflicting hurt, and some knowledge of basic self-defence. But none of these things will be clear from a casual glance. They can't save me from being attacked. My height might deter an attacker, even though it's 'only' five foot eight inches: that's still on the tall side for a female person, and would make it a bit harder to jump on me and pin me down. But I've no illusions. Whether I could resist effectively or not, an attack would be a traumatic experience that would have lasting psychological effects. I'd never be the same again.

All this said, I can't live my life in fear, never going anywhere without an escort. And I don't see why I should forego the exhilaration of a superb vista, just because some weirdo may be lurking around the next bend in the path. I will be carrying a stick - that's good for whipping and poking.  And I'm prepared to sacrifice anything if it can be used as a weapon. When I had my big heavy and expensive Nikon D700 camera, for instance, it struck me that it was solid enough to break someone's nose and teeth if shoved in their face. I wouldn't care about doing that, if it was a straightforward matter of self-defence.

It sounds as if I'm prepared for ruthless combat, rather than a carefree walk! But I think it's best to be aware of the dangers that go with solo expeditions, even though a spot of rational thinking must put it all into perspective: the risks are actually vanishingly low. At least for Wiltshire and Dorset. Another point: it's always nice to stop and have a chat with a passing walker, male or female. I don't want to look so fierce and discouraging that nobody will exchange a quick greeting with me, and mention, say, a deer or hawk that they've just seen. But I assure you, I shall be on my guard at all times.

I think this personal safety issue is one of the things that underpin my reluctance to try online dating. It's all blind dating, and such a risk. And having gone through so much to get where I am, I'd hate to be the casual victim of some man's Big Problem.

Hot news! Ten minutes after publishing this post, my phone rang and I got the news that my Gender Recognition Certificate has been granted. I'm elated beyond words - although I'll post something about it tomorrow, I'm sure. Michelle at the Leicester admin office actually had it before her on her desk as we spoke. I've asked her to post it to me on the day I return home, so that I get it the following morning when I know I'll be in - it has to be signed for, as it'll be Special Delivery. Wheeeeee. What a good omen. It's bound to be a great holiday now. I don't care if it rains!

Sunday, 11 March 2012

Dating - very serious second thoughts!

As often happens, sleeping on an intriguing idea brings you down to earth next day. I've cooled off about the entire notion of putting myself out there and setting up dates.

I said in yesterday's post that I'd get onto all this after my caravan holiday, but actually I couldn't resist making a start straight away, with a little research into dating websites, and putting together a short description of myself to go with a photo when registering. This was the first draft of that personal description:

I am a mature woman looking for a person - it could be male or female, actually - to share a social life with. I am divorced. I have a grown-up married step-daughter, but no children of my own, no pets, and no special commitments. I retired very early, and enjoy a life of leisure. My personal history and circumstances have made me a very self-sufficient person, and I value my present independence.

My enduring interests are travel and photography, good food and interesting company. I also appreciate art, history, and cultural pursuits generally. I hate to conform, but I'm not a political animal. Most people find me pleasant and amiable and even funny, although I make absolutely no special claims where my sense of humour is concerned! Note however that I consider that platforms like Facebook encourage indiscreet and damaging communication, and if you're a huge fan of this kind of social networking then we probably won't get on.

I strongly recommend that you dip into my blog. It's called 'Lucy Melford'. A Google search using that name will instantly find it. It will also find my Flickr site, and that will show you where I've been, what catches my eye, and what I get up to. The Flickr site also contains many, many photos of me, if you want to 'examine the goods'.

The blog, too, is well-populated with photos of myself and aspects of my life. At the top right of the home page is a search box, and if you pop in a key word such as 'love' or 'food' or 'sex' you will produce a list of posts to read that feature that subject, which will tell you much about me. In fact, if you fail to consult the blog I will not only be unimpressed, but you won't inform yourself of all sorts of background facts that I'd really like you to be aware of!

Lucy Melford

Yes, yes, I do agree that it's a screed fit to put off most human beings, let alone the average tasty geezer or tender lesbian lady! It needs heavy pruning. The first few sentences would be more than enough. In fact I'm sure I'd be forced to clip it, as the ordinary dating website must limit you to 100 words or so.

But you can see that I've cleverly avoided mentioning the killer words 'trans' and 'nearly sixty'. I'm not dishonest, though, because pointing the reader towards my blog will instantly confront them with the stark reality that I'm not a natal woman, and that I'm not young either. Even so, as a description intended to provoke a Fatal Attraction, it's a colossal failure. Only a die-hard challenge-taker would give me a go.

And do you know, I'm sure that - subconsciously - that's how I want it to be. My instinct is to be offputting, to make it hard to fancy me, to keep most people at arm's length. That talk, for instance, of liking art and cultural pursuits, is blatantly elitist and highbrow, and will put off most guys. But I'd still like to leave it in.

The truth is, I've been responding to natural social pressures. There's nothing wrong with my hair stylist (or anyone else) being interested in my lovelife, or my attempts to set up one, but actually I don't have to do anything at all about it, and certainly not create situations simply for ongoing discussion. The problem for me is to resist falling into line, to resist exhortations to 'find true love and companionship'. There is extraordinary pressure to be one half of a loving couple. It's a fundamental aspiration promoted by society, and most things are geared to it. And it suits an awful lot of people. But not me. I need to fend it off, fight against it, or, if I can't entirely opt out, carefully control how it affects my life.

So although that first draft for a dating website simply won't do, it does faithfully reflect my attitude in this area. And though I'll find time while on holiday to slim it down, and make it a little more alluring, it's still going to have an edge and discourage the crass and inarticulate. No riff raff, thank you!

But then there's another thing entirely. The websites themselves. I had a fair idea to how find them - it's easy-peasy - and I did the obvious thing, searching for 'Sussex dating'. That threw up a long list of sites to try. Some I'd heard of already, such as, apparently respectable but a bit all-embracing and impersonal, rather like going onto eBay to bid for love.

Then there were sites aimed specifically at the over-forties, such as:

Hmmm. Those sounded a bit predatory.

There were plenty of sites that seemed intended for the average passion seeker:

And there were sites whose names suggested that they were simply partnering mechanisms for people wanting as much sex as possible, with as many people as possible. Score till you're sore, in fact:

I clicked on one or two before feeling that this was all much too tacky and cattlemarket for my liking. But I persevered, and tried to set myself up on a couple of the sites that seemed less preoccupied with generating wet knickers. And immediately came up against a basic technical problem. You had to say what kind of person you were, and who you were looking for. But the choices offered could only be 'woman looking for a man' or 'man looking for a woman', when I really wanted to say 'woman looking for both'. did offer a further choice, 'woman looking for a woman', which was commendable, but still not quite what I wanted.

Then there were the costs. Once site quoted 'Only £6 a week' to register. What? Far too much! But I suspected that one way or another all these sites would milk you of a fair amount of cash, even if registering with them were 'free'. You'd have to pay to set up a chatting facility and to negotiate an actual date. And I was luke-warm about doing this anyway. I'd rather use the money on diesel for Fiona, and have an exciting 95mph blast up the M23.

So there the matter presently rests. At first blush the online dating process feels contrived and lacking in magic - quite apart from the risk of meeting some slimeball who has cynically faked a photo and a false description of themselves. I may come to feel differently on more mature reflection, but for now I think I'll leave it all to blind chance. That probably means getting chatted up by yet another old codger at a bar, and not a thirty-something hunk, but hey ho.

Saturday, 10 March 2012

Revealing the Secret

M---, my stylist at Trevor Sorbie in Brighton, asked last time whether she could see any pictures of how I used to be, pre-transition - she's known about my trans history from the start - and I duly obliged when I saw her yesterday. I treated her to a series of prints spanning the ten years from 2002 to 2012, half as J---, half as Lucy. She was amazed at the transformation. Even as late as 2007, I'd looked so confident and handsome and manly (that was her reaction, not mine!), and she wondered how I could have felt such pressure to transition - although she granted that my present self was definitely prettier and happier than the older version!

As several people have said, and with justice, transition has made me blossom and glow. But it was also clear from these pictures that, so far as looks went, nobody could have guessed that inside me all was not well. No wonder it came as a shock.

It might also shock people that I've still got all these old photos to show - and that I'm willing to let them out of the bag. Only to those I trust, of course. And after showing them to my stylist, they went back in the envelope, to be stored safely at home. But even so, I know that it's very unusual for a trans person to reveal such images at all. None of my trans friends would do the same thing, except perhaps to another trans person they knew rather well.

But I can't see the harm. It's like any secret: the sharing of it is a compliment to the other person, indicating that you like and trust them; it indicates that you yourself are willing to be open and frank and honest; and it proves - in my own case anyway - that I didn't transition in some misdirected quest to become a better-looking or more glamorous person. I may not have been the Fairest One Of All when I was J---, but my face cracked no mirrors, and in other respects I was a much-loved solid citizen with an amiable disposition. I wasn't an inadequate saddo chasing a fairytale pink dream.

My stylist often asks me how things are going on the romantic front. And she did so yesterday. I agreed that it would be good for my own emotional (and physical) development if I 'tried myself out' in my new role as Lucy Melford the mature and sophisticated adventuress. But I was in no great hurry, and there was no great urge driving me. I wasn't even sure whether I'd prefer a man or a woman. Pondering this, she thought a man might be best to start with, and of course conventional social expectations would favour it. So we discussed the idea of dating sites on the internet. She thought I should try more than one, and certainly be up front about my trans history. So they'd know my Secret from inception. It would be the safest course, and sidestep the dilemma of whether to tell or not. Eventually I should find a few persons happy to meet up with me for an evening drink or meal in a venue safe for myself. Where I might go from there would be entirely up to me.

I thought about this a bit more seriously than usual after the appointment, when enjoying my lunch (a glass of wine and a goat's cheese wrap and chips) at a nearby pub. I'm tempted to give it a try, if only to gain experience of this type of dating. And who knows what may happen? But I'll have no high expectations, and expect only a series of rueful let-downs and disappointments. It'll help that I'm not desperately looking for anyone at all, so if I do get a date, and he (or she) turns out to be unsuitable or annoying, I'll find it easy to make a graceful exit. It won't be Apprentice or Dragon's Den stuff, though. I'm too well-mannered to insult or humiliate anyone if they don't appeal and must get the old heave-ho. Let each meeting end in smiles and mutual wishes of good luck.

What I don't want to happen, though, is for some stranger to get morbidly fascinated with me, and end up invading my life. That's a real fear, and to avoid it I would stay right out of the dating game entirely.

When do I begin this project? As soon as I return from my caravan holiday.

Thursday, 8 March 2012

New doctor - but no problems

My previous doctor Karen Kancock had left the practice just after last Christmas. I discovered that with a shock in late January. I had liked her very much indeed. She had taken good care of me, and had coped wonderfully well with the run-up to my surgery and the aftercare.

The Mid-Sussex NHS practice I go to gives me a choice of several doctors (and nurses) at three locations: Hurstpierpoint, Hassocks and Ditchling, which are all villages strung out in an east-west line along the north side of the South Downs. The system is that any patient can book an appointment to see any doctor or nurse, if they are available on the day at the time you want. You can do this online - highly convenient! I've tended to have one doctor in particular, whom I get to know well. But if she's on holiday, I've been happy to see someone else, if necessary a male doctor; and actually two of those male doctors have been very good with me.

But naturally, with Karen Hancock gone, I wanted another lady doctor for my regular choice.

So hello Dr Candida Lewis! I'd consulted her once before, just after returning home after last year's op, and she was very nice. But even so I was a bit nervous about seeing her again, and immediately plunging into a complicated request for tests that Dr Richard Curtis wanted, and requesting a six-months supply of medication to boot.

You see, I'd wobbled a bit when I saw a post by Jane Fae about some Area Health Authorities putting hormones onto a 'red list' of drugs that ordinary GPs couldn't prescribe. Had Mid-Sussex gone down that route? And if so, what was I to do? Because I didn't want to be trekking all the way up to London every month, to see Dr Curtis for a private prescription. It would be a costly palaver I'd do much to avoid. Calmer reflection suggested that an email to Liz Hills at the Brighton Nuffield Hospital might secure me a more local source, albeit on a private basis. And further pondering gave me a question to put to Dr Lewis: the 'red listing' would affect ordinary women on HRT, as well as people like me. What arrangements applied to them? After all, I was now (post-op) in exactly the same boat as any post-menopausal woman needing hormone treatment to maintain good health and appearance. Surely there was a dispensation for local GPs to prescribe HRT to such older women? Or at least an arrangement with the local NHS hospital, which in my case would be the Princess Royal Hospital at Haywards Heath - fifteen minutes' drive away, but still much easier to get to than London.

I needn't have been worried. Dr Lewis prescribed another batch of my Estradot patches without the slightest hesitation. Phew! And she authorised all the tests too. What a lovely lady. I relaxed. No wonder my blood pressure was a pretty reasonable 110/70. Not bad for a chubby old girl who likes her nosh and doesn't take a great deal of exercise!

It does make you think hard though, about the wisdom of living elsewhere. Sadly, for older people, the Good Life eventually comes down to having the right shops and healthcare services nearby. And the rest also, if possible.

Where I presently am, I have a doctor, dentist, supermarket, post office and mainline railway station all within walking distance. Garage, hairdresser, optician and a major shopping centre are just a short drive away. Gatwick Airport is an easy train ride. Scenically speaking, Sussex is attractive, and if it doesn't rival Devon or Cornwall for beauty and grandeur, at least the entire coast is very handy, and Sussex does enjoy a lot of fine weather. I get around enough to make some realistic comparisons between areas. I've yet to be fatally seduced by anywhere else.

I still come back to how it might be when I'm 80 and not so inclined to drive a long way to shop at Waitrose, or visit the surgery. And how long it might take to get an ambulance out to me. I rather think that the romantic West Country cottage in Poldark or Tarka country should remain a nice dream only.

Wednesday, 7 March 2012

Labelled a prude!

Yesterday evening, over a meal, it was gently suggested to me that I might be a prude. I denied it, but you know, I probably am just a little prudish, or would seem so to a good many people.

The accusation - gently made, as I said - came from someone who must have been thirty years younger than me, of a younger generation anyway. It didn't perturb me. My accuser couldn't have read any of my blog. If she had, she would have realised that I can speak with perfect ease of any body part and its function. So if you want a monologue on vaginas, I can oblige. And I can talk glibly about penises too, and I've known about King Missile's cool track Detachable Penis (see YouTube) for donkeys years.

However, if you want me to strip off and simulate orgasm at a party, as a big joke, then no I won't. In fact if there's any suggestion of swinging, or sexy party games, I will discreetly take some fresh air and go home to the soothing companionship of my teddy bear and a good book. It's not that I disapprove, or want to strike attitudes about standards of behaviour - it's very much chacun a son gout with me - but I am unwilling to get mixed up in anything that might slide out of my personal control. If that's prudery, then I'm a prude.

Monday, 5 March 2012

Sooner than I thought

I've just learned that the Gender Recognition Panel is going to look at my application on 12 March. Yikes! That's at least a month sooner than I understood would be the case.

So the stuff I sent with my application form will come under pitiless scrutiny seven days from now. Will the evidence be enough? Or will they think it flimsy and unconvincing?

I almost wish it were mandatory to appear before the Panel in London. I'd happily do it. It might be an ordeal, but at least I could speak, and be seen. But somehow they assess your worth from documents alone, except in the most difficult and special of cases.

And what am I actually doing on 12 March? I'm at the dentist, having a filling. Oh joy. Well, let's hope I not only get a skilfully refurbished tooth but also a shiney, no-quibbles Certificate!

This is turning into something very big for me. Really, really big, and I feel quite nervous. Aren't I silly?

Sunday, 4 March 2012

Getting ready for the Off

The 'Off' in caravanning parlance is the moment when, after hitching your caravan to the car, and a last check around the house, you start up the engine and tow the caravan off your drive, and then out onto the open road. It's always a wonderful moment: a surge of freedom, the sure knowledge that in two or three hours you will be pitched in the open air Somewhere Else. Hopefully enjoying the afternoon's sunshine, with a fine sunset to follow. But in any case, whatever the weather, a nice cup of tea and something tasty out of the oven. Ah, perfect! And all for £10 per night.

During the last week my caravan has had its annual service and a thorough spring clean. Did you know that caravans need a service? It's not compulsory, but it's worth it for safety's sake - there are electrical, gas, water and sound systems to check, as well as brakes and tyres and other mechanical bits. And besides, ordinary wear and tear means that there are often things to adjust or mend that need a professional hand. A loose bit of trim, a sticking bathroom door, a spotlight with a stiff switch, things like that.

As for the spring clean, my poor caravan didn't get comprehensive attention last year, because I simply wasn't capable of it after the op. I did manage to sweep it out, and wield a damp cloth here and there: that was all. This year, a proper deep clean. The roof and all exterior surfaces done with the right materials, very carefully - five hours' work all told. Inside, a complete vacuum everywhere; then a wash. Even the paper lining on the base of the drawers and cupboards has been renewed. The little plastic boxes that hold salt and pepper and cooking oil and herbs and gravy granules and anything else that might shift around and spill if not contained, have all been washed and dried and put back. I hate any hint of mess and muckiness.

The fridge and cooker look fine, but of course I'll deep clean them too, and the bathroom needs a special job, even though it seems as spotless and hygienic as my bathroom at home. And this year I'll finally shorten those irritatingly long cables on the free-standing lamps from IKEA. I always overlook that job, which has been nagging at me for years, but not this time.

And it's good to see the fabrics back in place too, all aired out. The side seats that double as single beds to luxuriate in (or one vast double bed, if you so wish). The cushions. The fitted carpet.

It's all pleasant on the eye and very comfortable. About ten years ago caravan manufacturers finally twigged that purchasers do not want loud, tasteless fabric designs and dreadful twee light fittings. They want muted colours and a clean, Scandinavian look. Subtle lighting to create the right mood. And spotlights you can read by. And as many windows and skylights as possible, to let in air and sunshine, with blinds and flyscreens naturally. Plus (in the larger caravans) a separate bedroom with a permanent double bed, realistic wardrobe space, and a bathroom to die for. So new caravans have gradually left the past behind and embraced all the trappings of stylish modernity, with swish body shells and interior fittings that might easily put one's own home to shame.

I bought my little caravan at the very end of 2006 (it was the '2007' model) and it has a luxury feel that was absent from its predecessor. But it's not up to the amazing standard of this year's models. However, it'll be many a year before I can afford to trade in and upgrade. So looking after what I have is a top priority, and, I admit, something of a labour of love. It is, after all, an extension of my home. Just as Fiona is. And all three have to look good, and work properly, and be very, very, nice places to inhabit.

I've already booked twelve nights away, in two locations, and I set off soon. It'll be my usual spot in Wiltshire first, then a week down near Lyme Regis on the Dorset coast. Sea, fine countryside, shops, pubs, fossil-hunting on the Jurassic Coast. I can't wait!

Here are two shots of what the setup can be like on the farm sites I usually go to. The first shot was taken in 2003 (in my J--- days) at Ansty, in Wiltshire, and shows the previous caravan and the previous car:

The second shot was taken in 2011 at Coombe Bissett, also in Wiltsire. It's my favourite site in the area, and the picture shows my current caravan next to Fiona:

Wiltshire has some really good sites. M--- and I used to go to a place at Pitton. The owner, a former farmer, bred racehorses and retained his own jockey. One year I had the chance to photograph the jockey 'trying out' a horse:

You don't get informal photo opportunities like this at some hotel at Llandudno, now do you?

One thing I will say against caravanning is that it can be physically demanding. Turning the caravan around on my drive at home, or nudging it into position by hand on site is getting beyond my girly muscles. The caravan, when laden, weighs over a ton, and I can't shift it on soft grass. So I'm relying on Fiona to pull and push it into position more and more, which isn't easy if you've ever struggled to get a trailer to go where you want when reversing. A caravan-mover will be the eventual answer. This is an electric device, operated with a remote control, that moves the wheels and allows you to edge the caravan precisely into position. But it will cost me £1,000 to fit one.

And there is something of a gender issue too. Most caravanners do it as a couple. And (guess what) they fall into roles! So you see the man doing the driving. The man sets the caravan up on site. The man sees to the outside chores, such as fetching water or filling the water barrel, tipping away the waste water, and emptying the toilet cassette. Meanwhile the woman busies herself indoors, just as it is at home, making the tea, cooking the meals, dusting and polishing and cleaning and wiping. At least this is true of the older generation of caravanners, of which I must be one.

And so I get surprised looks as I drive along (What, a woman towing a caravan on her own? Good God!), and surprised looks as I set up and do all the man's work. (Where's your husband, my dear? Is he ill?) Sometimes I am offered gallant assistance from chaps who leap forward to assist, or offer well-intentioned advice. Well, they can't know that I've been doing this for eleven years, and may have learned a thing or two! I meekly listen and accept their help - usually. Why not? If men want to be men, why not?

I suppose everyone else decides that I'm a mildly odd but brave girl who copes marvellously. I'm not alone. Widows who lost their husbands when still young enough to be active write in to the caravan club magazines and say how they've discovered that you can go caravanning alone - although it's usually to add that they've met their second husband (a widower) that way. It's nice to hear of outcomes like that. Mind you, I haven't found myself beseiged by older men looking for love and companionship, even though it's absolutely usual to drop into friendly but casual conversation at some point. If you seem to be pleasant, you'll rarely be ignored.

In fact I'd say that, if you really want it, caravanning is a much more sociable activity than staying at the average hotel. Caravanners love to talk about the places they go to, the places they've found to eat out at, and to show you their gear. And while many caravanners slop around in any old tatty clothes, some do the whole thing in style. It's actually a big kick to emerge from one's caravan glammed up for a posh restaurant, or an evening at the opera. Long dresses and farm gates don't usually mix! But that onboard wardrobe means you can bring all your best stuff along, doll yourself up properly, and be the butterfly. And how good it feels.