Sunday, 27 May 2012

Taking back Symonds Yat

You can reclaim the past. You can revisit places where something awful happened, and exorcise them. Today I drove over to the Forest of Dean, and after exploring the Forest to an extent never before attempted, I rounded it off with a visit to Symonds Yat. The high place that overlooks the River Wye as it takes a sharp loop through a deep valley that is almost a gorge.

This wasn't my first visit. I came here in July 2010, with M---. We arrived in a state of exhaustion. She had spent most of the preceding hour giving vent to her feelings over how my transition was affecting her. Any wife, any girlfriend, who has a transitioning partner can imagine for themselves what M--- in her distress might have said. It began as a reasonable low-key discussion on some aspects of my feminisation, then - she simply couldn't help herself - M--- launched into an excoriating critique of my attitude, my selfishness, my uncaring and callous indifference to her suffering. How I had set aside love, set aside all wisdom and decency and consideration for others. I answered this as well as I could at first, but reason and soft words merely fanned the flames. Then I tried compliant agreement and even acquiescent silence, but these made it worse still. All the time I was driving up the winding Wye valley, and had to concentrate hard on the road. M--- knew she was damaging what was left of our tattered relationship. She said so; but she could not stop until she ran out of words. I was practically shaking by the time we approached Symonds Yat. It was my birthday, by the way.

Once in the car park, the mood changed. I won't say it changed completely, but M-- had her balance back, and could function normally. We took a look at the magnificent view of the River Wye far below in its deep valley. M--- spoke to an ornithologist from the RSPB about the nesting hawks in the cliff face across the way. I was watchful, wary, battered and braced for another tirade on the way back to Newport.

But it never happened. It never did happen again like that, ever. It was M---'s last fighting effort, the last assault by verbal force. After that she was infinitely regretful, sad beyond any telling, but she never again hurled words at me in that way. As you can probably sense from the way that I'm telling this, I'm not without sympathy for her world-view and what she saw as a devastating personal loss, something that was then still worth fighting for, even if the passion might get out of control. I can't blame her, and would defend her if anyone said she should have shown restraint. It wasn't humanly possible for her to do so. But it was still one of the most difficult hours of my life. It was also the final end of our caravanning together. I can't speak for M--- (though I can easily guess) but as I write this I feel a heavy weight in my heart about the forced ending of a nine-year activity that we both enjoyed so much. This is despite my present delight in solo caravanning. And the practical impossibility of doing it together again (how could I dilate in the same small space?). Well, you can have two contradictory feelings at the same time, believe me! Symonds Yat became for me a place ruined by a bad memory, a symbol of defeat and failure, a forbidden destination. But I wasn't going to leave it that way. Hence my visit today.

Did it work? Yes. It was reclaimed and exorcised. Bell, book and candle weren't needed, just plenty of sunshine, an ice cream, and a nice cup of tea. Same person, same car. I'd like to think that, quite independently, M--- has made - or will make - a parallel visit to reclaim this beautiful place for herself. And everywhere else that we loved as a couple, to take them back for herself and then enjoy them in the time to come, as I will.

Saturday, 26 May 2012

Secret Agent

Being trans and going out into the world, living a day-to-day life as a woman, is rather like being a secret agent! To be natural and accepted you have to immerse yourself in 'the part' and basically believe that you really are who you present. That's not difficult if you do truly adopt female ways in everything. Not just your appearance, voice and movements, but your demeanour, your very personality. So that men and women can tell from what catches your eye, or your reaction to children, or how you fiddle with your hair, or how you get into your car, that you are indeed what you seem to be.

This even extends to slovenliness and shortcomings in your appearance. It is a very good cardinal rule that a woman should get her hair and makeup right before going out of doors, even if it's just a quick walk to the local shop and back. 'Right' can mean 'minimal' of course; there's no need to pile the stuff on, complete with beauty patches, under a Marie Antoinette wig: that might excite remark. But no woman who cares what the world might say will ever leave her front door looking like a tramp. Not even to pop something in the bin. This applies even on caravan sites! But, and here some real skill and judgement comes into it, women can and do slop around in all kinds of get-ups when the occasion is relaxed, and the mood is Holiday, and all other women are doing the same. So even if a suggestion of mascara and lipstick have been applied, it's OK to wear shapeless shorts or a worn-out top, and flip-flops, provided this is de rigeur for the day, the reclining sunchair is in position, and the sun is blazing.

I'd say that if you can do Casual correctly, you have arrived.

But secret agents need further accomplishments. Inevitably women strike up conversations at every encounter, it's the way of women, and one must be happy and prepared to join in with gusto. A nod, even a smile, will definitely not do if it isn't accompanied by a confident launch into chat. Looking at just my present situation, this could happen outside the caravan, in the shower block, getting water, washing dust off the car, walking by new arrivals, catching those departing, walking into town, in any shop at all, in the churchyard, in the park, buying coffee and a panini, asking if a magazine is in stock at W H Smith, looking into a town hall and discovering a line dancing class in progress, and almost getting sucked in. And so on.

And not just encounters with women. In the last two days I've chatted for instance with two men in the big church in Cirencester, who were refilling the candles with oil (did you know that most church candles are oil-filled, despite their waxy appearance?) and with the guys at a filling station who seemed to like my rather skimpy attire. Yes, a secret agent has to learn at least some of the arts of flirting!

And when speaking with women, you have to deal with so many subjects. Yesterday, while chatting with the girl in the caravan on the next pitch, she told me that although she now had two lovely little boys she had suffered eight miscarriages in her attempts to have children. Eight! What does one say? Whatever I did say to this must have struck the right note, but it just shows that one must be prepared for anything to come up once people feel at ease with you, and start to share confidences.

Then there is your Cover Story. I don't mean The Big Lie. I mean the story of your life that you can tell, the version that is plain provable truth. OK, the bits you'd rather not mention are left out, at least when speaking in casual encounters with strangers you'll never see again, but nothing is false. Perfecting the Cover Story takes time. You have to get used to telling things as if you had always lived the full female life, and yet, as I say, never introduce stuff that you couldn't possibly have done or felt. Eventually you have a complete personal history that you can relate with utter conviction and feeling, or just bits of it - it depends on whom you're speaking with - and it all hangs together, so that it can be supported with photos and documents and the evidence of your rings and teddy bears and all your little knick-knacks. They must all be woven in. Good enough to satisfy even the proverbial Gestapo.

Just now I find I'm trotting out my best holiday experiences. As you naturally do with fellow-caravanners. For instance, the wonderful two-month campervan tour of New Zealand that M--- and I had in 2007. So much to say, and enough people have been to NZ for many to relate to it. I have no difficulty now with mentioning M---. I always say that she was a retired widowed friend who introduced me to caravanning, and that we don't do it together any longer. There's no need to elaborate. M--- wouldn't want me to discuss her casually. I respect that. But of course I can't say I toured NZ or Scotland or wherever without - at least up to 2010 - bringing her into it a little bit. Because it can raise eyebrows for an older woman to do these things on her own. I can also laugh off my more recent solo caravanning by saying that after thirteen seasons I'm experienced enough to have confidence, and of course (indicating Fiona) I do have the right car for the job. Plus, I'm something of a photographer, so that's reason for heading off on my own. All of this, every word, is true, said with conviction and enthusiasm. And it all blends in with my overall Cover Story. At some point I shall stop thinking in terms of stories and what would be proper womanly behavour, and just Do It All Without Thinking. I'm hoping that it will come quite soon.

Thursday, 24 May 2012

Stay away from public men!

The judgement given today on Ms Carina Trimingham's rights to privacy is said to have parallels with the salacious reporting of former President Bill Clinton's affair with his intern Monica Lewinsky back in the late 1990s. Hmmm. It wasn't as if Chris Huhne was the most powerful man in the world, or nearly so well-known. Still, you can see a sort of similarity. The point seems to be that close association with a public figure makes a girl public property. She then loses rights to privacy, because she is too close in some way to the man in the public eye.

Very disturbing, this notion! Ms Trimingham was having an affair that involved sex, and some of the press photos on the Daily Mail website make the point that from certain angles she has legs that any red-blooded male would tear up a marriage for. Equally, and I am not being catty, from some other angles she seems a little plain; but then her personality does not sing out in these shots, and, as we all know, personality is most of it. And not legs.

But supposing she had merely been an acquaintance? Genuinely a colleague and no more? Would that kind of non-sexual association with Mr Huhne warrant press interest?

And what if the association was completely accidental? A reporter sees a lady speaking to Mr Huhne on a train from (say) Birmingham to London - a couple of hours chatting together - and they seem to be smiling and generally behaving in a friendly fashion. As anyone might if they fall into conversation on a journey, and find that it goes well. Should that reporter follow her after they get off the train, find out who she is, tap her phone maybe, just in case there's a story there?

What if I or you found ourselves seated next to Mr Huhne (or any politician, or indeed anybody well-known)? One of my biggest fears is unknowingly standing or sitting next to a famous sports personality (whom I'd not recognise, not caring two hoots about sport), and next day finding myself in the middle of press reports that 'So-and-so Gets Haughty Cold Shoulder From New Flame'. Or worse, 'New Tranny Flame', because even the teaboy at The Daily Tabloid would find this blog if given reason to look. And then, despite the Leveson Inquiry, I'd become oppressed by press interest. It could ruin my caravan holiday.

One other little detail on the Trimingham court case: she has to pay £250,000 in court costs for losing. OK, she's said to be insured. But someone will have to pay out this eye-watering sum, and a team of legal bods will rake it in. And eventually, as it will be their income, HMRC will have its 45%. And so quite a lot of this will flow back to the Treasury, and eventually be channelled into the pot from which MPs salaries are paid. Funny, this flow of money from here to there. All because a woman felt harrassed by press attention, and decided to challenge what was, and was not, to be regarded as 'in the public interest'.

Showers and sunshine

Aaaaah, that's nice. Although Club Sites necessarily mean that when you step out of your own little private space, you see nothing but other caravanners scattered through the trees, rather like a sylvan hotel, undeniably the handy facilities are pleasant, and they can make a difference. I've just had a really good shower, and washed my hair, and I feel fresh again. I also exchanged amiable hellos with half a dozen people on my stroll to the toilet block and back, and with two ladies inside the shower section, just as I was smearing oil onto my hair, to help with the split ends. All terribly enjoyable.

How nice to feel that the ladies toilets are my territory, and that I have a government-backed (and irrevocable) right to go into a ladies' shower block, strip off, and let hot water work its magic on skin that felt rather sticky after yesterday afternoon's heat.

In fact it struck me afterwards that maybe it wasn't all about getting clean. Perhaps in a small way I wanted to assert my rights, or at least (because I'm not a political person, given to shouting loudly about what I ought to have) to indulge myself a little, to make a statement of sorts that I, Lucy Melford, was comfortable and carefree about tripping off to a female sanctum, and acknowledging greetings from Manchester Man or Worcester Woman on the way.

And these were not exclusively ancient, retired men and women either: nowadays caravanning - with an elegant touring caravan I mean, not those ghastly box-like static caravans on huge sites like the one at Porthcawl - has become popular with (well-heeled) young families. Because after the initial outlay on caravan and towcar, the rest is peanuts. Well, comparatively so. I've done some sums, and the fuel cost rules out another tour of Scotland till my State Pension kicks in. But if I were a parent with a young family, with an income of £50,000 a year, and I was tired of airport hassle, tired of all the extra costs that seem to get heaped onto a supposedly fixed foreign holiday package, and reluctant to speak anything but English, then I'd be looking at self-catering holidays in the UK - or caravanning - as a cheap and flexible way to take the family away for a couple of weeks.

And such families come to proper Club sites, because it's nice for the kids, nice for them, a guaranteed easy time in quiet surroundings. They tend not to visit the farm sites, where I like to go, because there's less for young children to do, and they get bored. And nothing kills a holiday more than bored children. Except perhaps a simmering marital breakup.

It started off overcast today, but the forecast is hot sunshine, and it's brightening up. I think I'll stroll into town this morning, suss out the place, find out where the action is, have a coffee and a baguette somewhere, take some architectural photographs, visit the Museum maybe. Then relax this afternoon. And if there's a sunset - or a wild thunderstorm - take Fiona out to some vantage point and feel the wind in my hair.

Wednesday, 23 May 2012

I nearly quench the Olympic Flame!

And here we are, live from Cirencester Park Caravan Club Site via the magic of wi-fi!

I arrived this afternoon, and I'm here for nine nights. Cirencester is the 'capital' of the Cotswolds, and a nice old market town with Roman (actually pre-Roman) origins. I saw something of it as I drove in, because I took a wrong turning somewhere (all roundabouts tend to look the same) and found myself towing the caravan through some narrow old streets. And the strange thing was, they were thronged with people (soldiers too) all waiting for something. Not me, of course! Visiting royalty? A procession? I hoped I wasn't going to get stuck in some impossible place where I couldn't turn round - it's very difficult with a caravan! Or worse, get in the way of whatever was coming through. I learned later that the Olympic Torch-bearer was going to run through Cirencester that very afternoon. Well, of all days to arrive here...

By mid-afternoon, I'd checked into the Site, paid my £94.65 fee for the nine nights, paid also another £15.00 to have twenty hours of wi-fi time (that's £0.75 per hour - is that good? It seems inexpensive anyway), and selected my pitch. This was on a west-facing hardstanding backing onto a beech grove with little bunny rabbits hopping around, and surrounded by immaculately-mown lawns. That's the thing about Club sites: they're always very well maintained, with excellent facilities. The only real snag is that you have to share them with a hundred other caravanners and motorcaravanners. Not that any of them are unfriendly, or make a noise or anything: they are simply there, and despite the leafy surroundings, there's no sense of having got away from it all. That's why I prefer to stay on farms, where only five caravanners can go, and off-season there's a sporting chance of having the place to yourself. There's usually a fine view too.

But I'm in no way knocking this Site. It promises to be pleasant, convenient, and a good place to chill. I'm going to walk a lot more than usual. There's the Park itself, right on my doorstep. And it's only half a mile into Cirencester, and it's a town well worth exploring on foot. My camera should get some exercise as well, then! Cirencester has got a Waitrose unintentional detour on the way in showed me where.

Incidentally, I'm typing this with the bluetooth keyboard. So it's being put together pretty rapidly, and with the minimum of effort. The weather has been magnificent. It's been sunny all day, and frankly by mid-afternoon it was too hot for me, so I got out a deckchair that I'd brought and sat in the shade to cool off. I'm just beginning to think about cooking something tasty. The Site looks serene in the orange light of approaching sunset.

Monday, 21 May 2012

Two problems solved!

Communication crisis resolved
Well I'll be damned. On the morning of the very day that the BT engineer is meant to call and fix my Broadband problems, the service has speeded up amazingly! Like I'm suddenly getting 6 to 7 megabytes per second coming in, and can send about 0.4 megabyte going out. I can watch the BBC iPlayer, and upload shots to Flickr again. And ordinary stuff is really snappy. Good enough. I've cancelled the visit.

If anything, Broadband on my Sony tablet - which relies on a wireless connection of course - is even better than on the ethernet-connected PC. I suppose it hasn't got the PC's Vista overload to contend with.

Well, I'm astonished at the change. I don't quite understand why it has happened. I did check the cabling around the house, and I simplified it to bare bones; and I disconnected the PC's wireless adapter, and substituted a wired link to the router using an ethernet cable. I can't see how these minor tweaks would have so drastically improved the pathetically poor service I was getting only two days ago. It's as if BT has turned a tap on full, and the Broadband is flooding out in a massive gush, instead of a trickle. I just don't understand it.

Well, never one to look a gift horse in the mouth, I'm happy to go with whatever has been done by BT in the background. At least I can go off on holiday knowing that this incredibly annoying problem is apparently fixed. I'd been seriously wondering whether it would be possible to upload my Cotswold snaps to Flickr when I got back. Now I know I can. (So expect a deluge of those, if you like to see my stuff)

Identity crisis averted
And another problem has been knocked on the head too. If you recall, after my new Birth Certificate was created earlier this year, there was suddenly a mismatch between the name on the Birth Certificate (Lucy D---) and the surname I am known to the world by (Lucy Melford). How on earth to make a link between the two without having to show:
# My original 'male' Birth certificate
# My 2009 Deed Poll, showing my old 'male' name and my new 'female' name
# My Gender Recognition Certificate

I wanted to have one, entirely new, document that would provide the link. I pursued the notion of a fresh Statutory Declaration, although I needed guidance on the wording. So I emailed Gires and the Gender Trust for advice. That was over two weeks ago, with no response. Not impressive!

Then I thought a bit more. What about a fresh Deed Poll instead? One that said I was born Lucy D---, but was now Lucy Melford (and had been for some time)? I went back to the people who had handled the first Deed Poll in 2009, the UK Deed Poll Service, and explained in an email what my situation was, and asked for their advice. That was yesterday morning (a Sunday morning). I had a response within hours. On a Sunday afternoon. What service!

Yes, another, suitably-worded Deed Poll would do the trick, and I needn’t send out umpteen copies to all and sundry. Just keep it on file for possible future use, or for the imformation of my executrix. So the thing could be done quite cheaply. And, as a previous customer, I’d get a £10 discount! So be it, then. As soon as I’m back from my Cotswold jaunt, I’ll be onto this. I can’t do it before, because the Deed Poll arrives from them in a stiff package that won’t go through my front door; the postman will have to hand it to me, and I won’t be around for that till I get back.

This is the simple solution I was looking for. I just have to execute it with a witness present. A neighbour, of course. No messing around with solicitors, or a second appearance before the Brighton Magistrate!

This has all made me feel very upbeat.  And the sun’s coming out. And I’ve discovered some deckchairs in the garage - I’ll take one on holiday, and sit around in the sunshine next to the caravan, getting a tan, and not do quite so much driving around. Happy days.

Sunday, 20 May 2012

Something was wrong

The confidence I have in my appearance has taken a slight temporary knock! On more than one occasion in the last couple of days I think that I've been 'sirred'.

I first noticed this after I'd had a fringe trim two days ago, on Friday. I then went to Waitrose and was served on the till by a young girl who seemed to add a half-stifled  'Ssss' to the phrase 'Would you like some carrier bags?' so that it sounded like 'Would you like some carrier bags, ssss...'. Just as if she had meant to say 'sir' but changed her mind while saying it.

Although I picked this up immediately, I made no sign that I had. And she did go on to treat me as if I were just an ordinary woman shopper. This left me wondering. Then, having parted from her with a smile, I noticed that she did exactly the same thing with the next customer, a rather slender older lady with very short grey hair. But this following customer was unmistakably a woman.

So what could I make of this?

First off, I'm clearly sensitive to these things just now - maybe over-sensitive! (I wonder why)

Second, the young girl might simply have poor eyesight. So that all tall or thin or short-haired women might look vaguely male to her. Or indeed anyone who wasn't as obviously pretty as herself.

Could be.

Then, yesterday, I had a conversation with a BT engineer down the road, who was investigating a service complaint made by C---, the neighbour who lives two houses along from me. We're all ringing up BT to complain at the moment! It's my own turn to have an engineer around tomorrow.

Anyway, I walked over to him in my breast-hugging black top, black leggings, and black slippers. I dare say my hair could have been a little tidier and fresher. And I wasn't wearing lipstick. But I felt that I looked feminine enough. He was examining what lay under the pavement cover. A tangle of wires inside a connection pod. I engaged him in conversation long enough to see that when the pod was opened some moisture had got inside. I said to him, might that affect the quality of calls and the Broadband? He agreed it might, just as the other engineer had done the other day. But all he was going to do was put in another pod.

The thing is, I was hovering around him for nearly ten minutes. It wasn't a fleeting thing. Whatever impression I gave him at first, he had plenty of time to reconsider. He was seated. I was standing, and looking down at him. Like a woman would. He may even have got a glimpse of cleavage. Anyway, he was perfectly friendly and at ease throughout. And then, as we parted, I could swear that he said the word 'mate'.

Did he really say that? My hearing isn't the best. I wasn't sure. He certainly didn't say 'Cheers, love' or similar.

I couldn't believe it. The top and the leggings showed off my figure well - and it wasn't a male physique. My voice was fine, as always. My demeanour and stance and movements were all properly, naturally feminine.

And yet.

Back in my house, I admitted that the fringe trim, combined with hair that could do with a wash, didn't make me look especially alluring. And, sans lipstick, the bare lips were not especially female. Maybe he'd assumed that I was a gay person wearing clothing for dance, or some other kind of performing art. Maybe an ancient ladyboy. Oh dear!

Well, at least he had been civil and friendly. That was something. But I was mildly annoyed all the same.

And what on earth had 'given me away'? Or at least subverted all the other female signals? After all, I've been out and about looking much less girly than this, when country walking for example, and yet I've not not knowingly been clocked. It must have been the hair, and the lack of lipstick. Strange that equanimity should rest on simple things like that. A lesson then!

Friday, 18 May 2012

Ignorance and poor education may be life-threatening

You know, it strikes me again and again that the poorly-educated are much more vulnerable to harm than those whose personal stock of intelligence has been developed.

I speak of 'education' as learning all you really need to know about human nature, and how to live a successful life.

This involves a lifelong willingness to look into what is going on, to understand it, and to shape your actions to increase your chances of happiness - and to decrease the chances of illness, misfortune, abuse and death. Yes, a 'formal education', mastering your chosen specialist subjects, is a way of getting a good job and achieving material comfort. But you can't rely only on schooling. You must mostly teach yourself, for all your life, without ever stopping. Watching events, especially watching other people and getting insight into what people of all kinds think, and why they do what they do. And how to tell lies from truth, and possessiveness from genuine caring.

Education opens your eyes. Education shows you that there are other ways to do things. Education makes you question the hysterical 'facts' that you are spoonfed 24/7. To sift the news for its real significance. Education allows you to break free from damaging social situations, because you'll recognise that they are damaging. You'll know when it's time to cut and run, to get out. You'll know that there's a better place to go to, a better life than what you have.

Who hits the news, when there's some dreadful case of cruelty or neglect or violence directed against an adult? It's usually some badly-educated person, stuck in a destructive relationship they can't think their way out of. They have not been told the danger signs. They have not seen how perilous their position is. So they cling to outmoded or traditional or naive beliefs about their situation and the people in their lives; and as a result, those who would do them harm can easily have their way. You see the outcome in case after case. And if the victim is education-starved, all too often is the perpetrator also.

I can't exempt babies and young children from what I say, because their welfare is in the hands of their parents, and parents (of all people) should be very well-educated to fit them for their vital nurturing role. And for 'parents' I mean also those in loco parentis. Responsible adults who have children in their charge.

I'm not saying that simply stuffing yourself with experiences and facts will automatically make you a nice person, or wise. Any fool can seem like a walking encyclopedia. Many scientists and politicians, the people who affect our lives so much, are men and women from dazzling academic backgrounds. But not all have developed the capacity to improve the world. And the most horrible criminals are the ones who have trained their minds.

But I do believe that understanding can only come with knowledge. And you can't place a limit on it. Education must never end. Everyone needs to tell themselves that.

Which is why I am wary of anyone whose demeanour or speech suggests that they are not well-educated, or have stopped learning anything fresh. I will expect from them a narrow outlook, a lack of perspective; a fixation on points of procedure and belief that don't matter two hoots; perhaps a tendency to generalise without insight, or not see the value of another point of view; a tendency to despise alternative modes of living, to laugh at different types of people. Perhaps a dangerous tendency to bigotry and prejudice.

It used to be thought that the uneducated Noble Savage - a human being who lived in a state of unspoilt naivity - was something to be admired. A person untrammelled by the complex and artificial standards and desires of the developed world. Except that the actuality was in its own way just as bad. An elemental world of unexplained and unexplainable natural dangers; a world of evil spirits and watchful ancestors, and taboos, where innovation and change was impossible unless stimulated by crisis. A closed-in world full of fear and immutable customs, and arbitrary control, with no known escape. And not just on isolated places like Easter Island. Such conditions obtained in ragged, reeking villages on the fringes of Europe in the Dark Ages. They obtain now in many places around the world, on every continent, in corners of every town.

But education can change it all, and make it safer to be alive.

Thursday, 17 May 2012

Are trans people more intelligent than most?

Has this ever been asked?

I made a comment on a post written by a non-trans blogger (CoolSouthwoldian, whose blog is called 'I'm Not Really Me' - see my blog list). It was his post entitled Are we or aren't we? on 13 May, chiefly about coping with austerity measures. My comment went as follows:

It's very hard to reduce your standard of living once it's become a habit. But it can be done, and the process of prioritising expenditure, so that you live within smaller means, can make you feel 'still in control', which is psychologically good. People like Alvin Hall make a living advising others how to get realistic, trim their costs, and start saving - even when they feel they're stuck in a financial hole. Given A Plan To Follow one can keep cheerful.

If only governments could do the same. The Coalition in this country is now having to admit that its initial cost-cutting review set in motion money-wasting initiatives as well as genuine economies. It was a hurried, patchy effort that Alvin Hall would have deplored. It was of course coloured by political considerations, something that a private citizen can ignore. The coalition had to produce a draconian scheme that clearly slashed budgets in most areas, yet left some bits 'protected', simply because this looked good. A private citizen wouldn't have done the same. A private citizen would, for instance, have got us out of Afghanistan. Then we could have afforded a proper defence strategy, more focussed, with proper cost controls; with certainly a less embarrassing outcome than the present fiasco. But the political courage wasn't there, and is still not there.

National pride plays a huge part. Look at poor Greece: the people feel sold out to the EU money men, their heritage and way of life mortgaged to the point of hopeless negative equity. No wonder they want out.

The same with the French: the French Way Of Life is now at stake. So exit Sarkozy: although personally I doubt whether anything much can be done under the new regime while politics interfere with everything.

Still, strong cultures can survive long submersion beneath iron regimes. Look for instance how France survived Nazi Germany's jackboot rule during its Occupation. The French Way of Life was sorely tested during that ordeal. Some would say it fell apart. But it came back. And all over the world, there are examples of cultures that have been ravaged by war and hyper-inflation, but still regenerate.

So the present situation in the UK is actually quite mild. May it stay that way. Or else we shall have to invoke the Blitz Spirit to see us through, won't we?

I just hope that the Argentines don't bankrupt themselves this year by mounting a Malvinas Invasion that will oblige us to respond.


And CoolSouthwoldian replied: 

Hi Lucy, thanks for those valuable insights, you're very well informed, and I mean that genuinely, not patronisingly.

Do you find that most transgendered people are of above average intelligence ? When I lived in a city a few years ago I mingled a few times with local male and female bdsm enthusiasts, and was struck by how intelligent almost all of them seemed.

Perhaps it takes a certain application of intelligence to realise that it's okay, not dirty and pervy, to live as one chooses, so long as no one is harmed (excepting consenting adults who want to be hurt during safe and sane play) ; I don't know.
Best Wishes, ~ Martin. 

Which seemed a pretty decent and well-intentioned response to me. I'm assuming that he wasn't actually implying that trans people are the same as fetish folk, nor specifically that I was pervy but ipso facto keenly intelligent! Of course, who knows what goes on in my mind (if I have one)? 

I like Southwold, it's a bright and cheerful place on the breezy east coast, with a distinctive seafront (famous beach huts), a distinctive modern pier (crazy sculpture), a distinctive townscape (with a lighthouse stuck in the middle of town, close to a pub, the Sole Bay Inn) and a distinctive brewery (Adnams). And this chap who lives there seems distinctive himself, and well worth reading. I suppose I appreciate anyone who has a rational point of view and can put a publishable piece together. I can easily forgive CoolSouthwoldian for not yet being well-attuned to the trans world. He's the person who miffed Jane Fae somewhat in an earlier post about an elderly man getting his op on the NHS (Gender Reassignment on 1 May), to which I made this comment: 

Well, the person in question might say, 'Hey, I could live another twenty years. I'd rather do it as the person I always should have been'. Who should play God and deny 'him' the chance to be 'her' for their remaining lifespan? Such a life-enhancing operation will make all the difference. It did for me - I invite you to dip into my 'Lucy Melford' blog (do a Google search using 'lucy melford'), and see how I'm now doing at nearly sixty, with (I hope) thirty-odd years of life still ahead.

By the way, transsexual people are driven to this, as you would be if tomorrow you woke up with a woman's body and had to face the world like that. You'd go nearly mad. And if, while trembling with the enormity of the situation, the NHS phoned and offered you remedial surgery to make you look like a man, wouldn't you jump at it? And wouldn't you defend your right to such surgery if it really was on the NHS menu, and you couldn't afford to go private? Especially if you'd paid taxes and NIC most of your life, and were a good citizen?

By the way, it isn't at all easy to get hormones and hair-removal and voice therapy and surgery from the NHS. There's a huge waiting list, and they are very careful about proceeding unless you convince them you really are trans. You can't just walk in and ask for these things.

It's not a simple matter to secure treatment even if you pay for the whole thing yourself, as I did.

It has cost me, by the way, about £20,000 so far for the medical side, and I still have two years of electrolysis to endure. Plus £200,000 (I kid you not) in lost savings. Those were invested in a property that had to be sold prematurely at a loss, just to repay a private loan from my ex-partner. Because of course I have lost a slew of people from my life - a social (and emotional) cost that the papers generally discount. Anyone transitioning can expect to have their life turned upside down and inside out, with collateral damage all round. Which is why it is good to transition as young as possible, in your late teens, so that you look better and won't bust up a career and a marriage and a family.

Nobody transitions for fun. Trans people are not transvestites, in it merely for the clothes and other trappings. They want the entire female (or male) life, all of it, and the clothes are incidental. They know it could leave them lonely, impoverished, and possibly dead if they fall victim to hate crime (remember the two trans girls murdered in London and Brighton in late 2009?) There will be a changed state sometime in the future that will feel 'right', but - my goodness - it comes at a cost. It's not a lifestyle choice. They are dealing with an inescapable condition that must be addressed or they will go bonkers - and ruin everyone else's life in the process. The NHS know this. And they've done their sums too. Don't believe a word you read in the papers. The Leveson Inquiry, which took evidence earlier this year of dreadful treatment of transsexual men and women by the press and media generally, is going to hammer the press on their attitude, but of course it won't make much immediate difference. Admittedly they've stopped poking fun at trans people, but the attack continues with NHS horror stories and 'they don't deserve it' articles.

Just you thank God on your bended kness that you're not transsexual and a potential victim.

As for the 'does this person deserve it' question, well, how can anyone judge? Did George Best 'deserve' his liver transplant a few years back, even though it was pretty clear he'd lapse into drink again and 'waste' this expensive operation. On principle, yes. On realistic gut feeling, maybe not; but could you or anyone else have condemned him to an earlier death?

Trans people - like eveyone else - want to live active, useful lives, which they can do once 'fixed'. They want to be out there, doing things in society, like every other ordinary person. I do. And I think my blog portrays the truth of this.

A person who is better than before, who is free of inner doubt, who has acquired a zest for life, is able to function so much better. That has to be good for the Big Society - and I'm not being cynical.

Lucy Melford 

There. Off the cuff opinion at 12/6 per yard! Cheap at half the price.

But the question here is: are my comments intelligent? And if they are, are they intelligent because I'm trans, and ‘therefore’ have a better brain than many? In other words, are cleverness and mature awareness of what's happening the common possessions of trans people?

I will at once depersonalise this, and speak generally. It does seem to me that (for instance) many trans blogs are written by articulate and educated men and women who have kept themselves very well-informed. But they can hardly be typical, because most trans people do not publish their thinking on the Internet. So the comparative few who do should not be used to measure the general standard of intelligence. It would be better to look at what people write on, say, Facebook, where the format is not at all formal and essay-like, but spontaneous to the point of inanity, and tends towards quippy one-liners. I think it would then be decided that trans people are as intelligent (or not) as the rest of society.

And when you meet trans people, they do not usually come across as anything more than averagely bright. I'm thinking of the dozens of people I have met at the Clare Project in Brighton since December 2008. There have been dunces and dreamers as well as committed rocket scientists.

I suppose a general case could certainly be made for a greater degree of quick-wittedness and nous. Trans people, especially those who are early in their transition (and therefore vulnerable to public scorn and ridicule) quickly develop a radar for trouble. But this is saying no more than experience hones and sharpens the mind; it's a simple matter of survival, of learning how to avoid danger and the bruising effects of discrimination.  

All this could be settled if some university carried out a research project into the IQs of trans people. But no such research seems to be going on.

Personally, if any funding ever becomes available for studies of this kind, I'd rather see it directed towards understanding the long-term effects of taking hormones. And not to discover whether trans persons ought to feel rightly smug about their enormous brainpower!

Tuesday, 15 May 2012

100,000 pageviews! Will BT let me post some more?

Please bear with me on the preamble!

I've lost my landline connection again, and can't use it for either calls or Broadband. My nextdoor neighbour K--- is having similar, though less severe, difficulties. Today the BT engineer came to look into his connection problem. The engineer couldn't touch mine: I needed to report my own fault first. Sigh.

But I did have a word with him. He showed me the local cable setup in the box sunk into the pavement outside. Several thick black cables converging onto a big black pod. Not a recent installation. Some corrosion evident. Water splashes on the pod. And it was only just suspended above a foot of rainwater that had collected at the bottom of the box. A very damp environment for those cables and their connections. That wouldn't be good for calls and Broadband. I mentioned K---'s theory that this local setup was in any case now overloaded, and needed an upgrade. He seemed to agree. I made remarks and noises that might encourage a recommendation to upgrade as an urgent priority.

So no blogging on my PC till I get my Broadband back. And no blogging on my tablet, unless - as with this post - I can find a public wi-fi spot. And no blogging on my phone, because Opera Mini won't now work with Google Blogger, or at any rate you can't create and edit posts any more, only view them; and doing it with Vodafone Live! is impossible.

It's a wonder that I'm not totally discouraged with all things Internet! But how can I fail to be heartened, now that my Blogger pageview total has passed 100,000? Mind you, it's taken three years to do that, so the achievement is not really so impressive as it sounds. And it must be dwarfed by the pageview figures on the most popular blogs. Even so, it means that a lot of people have found the time and motivation to glance at my posts. I'm tremendously flattered. I hope that nobody felt it was a waste of time. I hope that, more than occasionally, my experiences and points of view have spoken meaningfully to a wide group of people.

Anyway, there will be more of the same, if BT allows it of course!

Monday, 14 May 2012

Open kimono

Lying in bed this morning, at about 6.20am, Radio 4 touched on the latest financial news, and the scandal at J P Morgan was mentioned. Then in the same peice, the phrase 'open kimono', which in this context meant revealing all to the regulators and investigators: coming clean about what had been done wrong, so that the bank could move forward with its integrity restored.

Figuratively speaking, it refers of course to letting one's wrap-around robe fall open to show what lies beneath: some underwear one hopes; but if none, then the naked body in all its glory. Or in all its sorditity, depending on what it looks like.

And here we enter Forbidden Territory - Taboo Land - for, despite decades of openness since the Swinging Sixties and Sexual Liberation, and a raft of TV programmes that show Problem Bodies and discuss all the things that parents born in the 1920s couldn't tell their children, it's still a Very British Thing to be slow in getting one's kit off to Reveal One's Natural Beauty. Naked bike rides still provoke salacious reactions, a rush to the window to take a look at topless girls having a giggle. British Men still love to take a gander at a Nice Pair of Knockers, and say 'Cooooar, look at that, mate!' even if the socially sophisticated deplore such lewdness. The 'Bums and Tits' TV and film genre typified by 'On the Buses' - and especially by the now very dated 'Carry On' films - still raise a snigger in many quarters, most typically from uncouth beer-swilling men who haven't a hope in hell of attracting some lissom flirty young thing with lovely curves and an enormous bust. Presumably they would, in reality, and if it were on offer, settle for a plain dumpy older girl with much more cuddly dimensions - which is where the phrase 'open kimono' begins to have an edge to it. For cuddly women of sensibility are often fragile about exposing their assets in public. I for one.

But oddly enough not on the beach, nor in any situation where giving the sun access to one's skin is the most important thing. Different standards suddenly apply. For the sake of a golden tan, an all-over tan indeed, all the rules about modesty and reserve are temporarily suspended. It's nothing to see women who should know better progressively doff their beach outfits as they lie face down on the sand, until even blubbery all matrons are wearing almost nothing. On French beaches, when I last looked, frank nudity was (and presumably still is) de rigeur among those who worship the sun. And not just among tubby men of the naturist persuasion. Their wives and girlfriends aussi.

As I write this, I am becoming aware that I'm sounding just a little bit prudish. Let's try a thought-experiment. Would I strip off and join them, if the amiable French nudists just mentioned invited me to? No, I think not. It wouldn't be because I disapprove of nakedness in any way. Believe me, speaking as a person without religion or other conventional ties, speaking as almost an outcast, as certainly a marginalised member of a minority group, I have lost the need or inclination to disapprove of anything except ignorance and bigotry. And besides, I do pass muster: I'm a bit overweight, but not a horrible sight, and all my female bits are present and correct and nice to see. 

No, it's my sense of modesty. And a reluctance to 'join in' - I'm emphatically not a team player. And also a conviction that if I want to cultivate those elusive qualities of allure and attractiveness, it's best not to fry myself to a cinder in suntan oil on a hot beach.

All right, would I open my kimono on a private patio, in romantic circumstances as the day ends? Ah, that's different. Although I don't know quite what I would do, if I really found myself in this situation.

Changing tack a bit, I don't possess a kimono. But the idea of wearing one appeals. When I see Madama Butterfly at the end of June, I'll study what the ladies are wearing.

Friday, 11 May 2012

Girls' Night, Skype, and Tesco does OK

The Girls' Night Out was just me and J--- in the end, the others being tied up in some way. But we had a great time. Our village Indian Restaurant is good. They know J--- well, which helps. And the meal was so pleasant that we just stayed on and on, eventually putting away not only a bottle of wine but two liqueurs each. Chatting all the time, of course. I was known to be chatty in my past life, but not on this sustained level! Something has clearly affected my brain, and flicked one or more 'enabled' switches.

Today it was down to Brighton for lunch with my friend A---, another friend J--- joining us. More wine. Well, it was an occasion. A--- had an Australian friend of long standing, a natal woman called E---, who had just moved (following her divorce) to Ballarat in Victoria state. Earlier that day she had moved into her new bungalow, and although barely unpacked, the plan was to Skype her and for the three of us to give her greetings and a toast. Briefly put, we did it, and got a guided tour of her house and a good impression of it, even though it was mid-evening there and dark outside. But it was a video call interrupted by a horrendously poor connection, and we frequently lost all vision, even though most of the time we could still hear E---, and she us.

Even so, I was tremendously impressed by Skype. It was the frst time I'd seen it in action. Amazing to think that we were in touch like this over such a great distance!

I eventually went home, and as the evening came I realised that I needed a few things, such as the Radio Times, some more milk, and so on. Enough to spur me into firing up Fiona and driving off to Burgess Hill. And instead of Waitrose, I chose Tesco for a change.

I reckoned that Tesco would have all the things I wanted (as it did) but I wasn't expecting a high-class experience. Just like I wouldn't expect one at ASDA. Keen pricing, yes, but the wrong atmosphere. However, it was much better than I thought it would be. The shelves were fully stocked; all was pleasant and neat and inviting; and there were enough tills open to avoid a long wait. And my bill was lightweight. It included a DVD - Red, starring Bruce Willis and Helen Mirren - for only £5.00. What a snip.

So, well done, Tesco. You may just see me again. (I sometimes go there for diesel anyway)

I still prefer Waitrose though. I like their stuff, and I especially like the atmosphere. The staff are always faultlessly cheerful and polite and friendly and - I don't know how to say this without sounding like a snob - somehow more intelligent, or at least they seem to take an interest and a pride in what they're doing, and clearly strive to do it well. Maybe the John Lewis ethos and profit-sharing scheme have something to do with that, but I still reckon Waitrose staff are a cut above even Marks & Spencer. Not that the other stores don't try hard. I consistently have a good experience at Sainsbury's, my 'number two' Big Store. Morrisons are also eager and convincing contenders, and although I don't rate ASDA for high quality food, I've always found the staff there to be exceptionally friendly. But somehow ASDA, taken as a whole, seems unappealing. It just isn't my kind of place.

Funny, I hardly ever shop on price. I go where I will feel welcome and comfortable. And several people at Waitrose in Burgess Hill know my face, and will have a chat with me. That's nice. And whereas Tesco (and Sainsbury's) have both figured in bleak gender-nightmares about being challenged, Waitrose has not. Sorry, Tesco (and Sainsbury's). The image you have is down to your priorities, your staff selection and training, your concern for your customers, and how well the good things you do come across to customers. It's your fault if the vibes are sometimes bad.

But tonight Tesco was fine.

I wonder how much depends on the other customers' behaviour? ASDA seems full of folk who might have a go at you if they don't like your face. And that's probably the main reason I don't go there.

Thursday, 10 May 2012

Out with the (natal) girls tonight!

Well, one natal girl at least, my next-door neighbour J---. But maybe it'll be a threesome. I'm really looking forward to this, because I've had it up to my neck and beyond with computer-related stuff, and it'll be so nice to just chat and eat, and have a merry glass of wine or two.

An entirely informal evening of course: jeggings and a top of some kind. I don't bother with skirts at all at the moment. They make me look frumpy, and besides, who is wearing skirts on the street? Or even around the village? A student might wear a mini over leggings, but mostly women and girls - unless dressed for work - are in denim of some sort or other, because it's practical and it's warm. And what other women and girls do, I do.

It's no good wearing 'statement clothing' or stuff that 'expresses one's true personality'. I say, if you want to be one of the girls, wear what they do. Personality can be reserved for the little details and peripheral items, meaning rings and neck decoration, and watches, and handbags.

Well, it works for me! I do happily wear a dress, a really nice one, if the occasion presents itself, but not around town during the day, and not to the local curry house at night. Especially if it's inclement and I'm walking there. And positively no heels. And I wouldn't say I'm a plain or unimaginative dresser, or unfashionable, or inelegant (insofar as a chubby person like me can do elegance!).

Oh, all right, I'll briefly tell you why I'm a bit cheesed off with computers. Having struggled with those music transfers - aaaargh - I then lost my landline connection two days back, and with it my Broadband. Just when I needed to do some online banking! Grrrrrrrr. So much of one's modern life is now dependent on access to the Internet. I did have access of a sort on my Nokia mobile phone, but it was small-screen and subject to what Opera Mini could render. It wasn't good enough for shifting funds around. Fortunately K--- next door offered usage of his PC, and I was able to log in and do what I needed to. But J--- and K--- are often out. You have to have your own working connection.

And then, guess what, because I couldn't post anything using the PC or tablet, I attempted to do it on the phone. But having recently switched to the new-style Blogger layout that Google is pushing, I found that Opera Mini wouldn''t work with it. So no posting either. GRRRRRRRR!

Then I got my Broadband back this morning, suddenly.

Well, the deprival experience has brought me down to earth on what is important in life. Meaning that getting on with Real Things That Ought To Be Done and Having A Great Curry With Natal Girls I Like is much more important than fiddling around with DRM-locked music tracks.

Do you know - and please don't laugh - I've now decided that I wasted a lot of precious time setting up the tablet. I should merely have said to myself: what needs this big screen? Answer: Internet browsing, email, documents and spreadsheets, photos to show, video, mapping and games. And not music. Music is best played on your phone, which already has the Full Collection, and sounds good even in loudspeaker mode, and absolutely superb with earphones.

So why did I spend so long with those 100 missing tracks, when really I didn't need any music on the tablet at all? It must have been some obsessive urge to install everything the tablet could handle. Daft. Worrying. Evidence of senility or worse. At least a sense of proportion has returned.

Now they're there, I'll keep the 1,150 tracks that did install; but I won't do anything about the 100 that haven't; and if I need to free up memory - and 5GB is presently devoted to music files - I'll delete the lot.

Hah. An escape from the snare of gee-whizz technology. Delivered from slavery. In control. A free woman again!

Now I'm now really looking forward to that curry. I might even tart myself up just a little...

Monday, 7 May 2012

DRM defeated; and a song I waited years for

What a lovely morning - the sunshine has come back! And I've solved the 'music problem' on my Sony tablet.

You must be tired of hearing about it now, but, in a nutshell, I had 100 music tracks that could not be transferred to the tablet. These were all tracks that I badly wanted there. The music collections on my PC, my mobile phone, and my tablet would then all exactly match. But the heavy hand of Digital Rights Management meant that these were all 'protected' tracks in .wma format, and that meant that after purchase they could be installed only onto the PC and one other designated device. I originally bought them from the Nokia Store for my Nokia E71 phone. So the phone had them all. And the tablet would have to do without, unless I repurchased from some other source with the Sony specifically in mind. Prices vary, and Nokia is not a cheap source. I'd paid either 79p or 99p for these tracks. So I was looking at a £99 repurchase cost at worst, maybe only £79, possibly even less, but a substantial outlay in any event.

It was worth an effort to find a way of 'rescuing' the 100 tracks, and avoiding a large spend on buying them all over again.

I tried a solution that involved burning the tracks onto a CD but the labour of adding track information made this impractical, although later research on the Internet unearthed an easier method of copying track information into each file. It was still a chore with drawbacks though. A comment from Samantha on my last post led me to install iTunes with the idea of importing these songs and carrying out a conversion process, to make them tablet-ready. But it didn't work, although having now got iTunes on my PC I'll retain it, in case they have some obscure track that I still want (more on that aspect below!).

So yesterday I looked into a software solution, and eventually found Music Converter by Aimersoft. Music Converter has done the trick. It has stripped away the DRM restriction on each of those 100 tracks, and allowed them to migrate to the Sony, what I wanted. Hurrah! Admittedly this clever bit of software cost me £20.70, but I reckon it's saved me at least three times that in repurchasing costs, so I'm content.

Or I was content when I first posted this. A few hours later, I'm not so happy.

I left the conversion quality on default, and the .mp3 files produced are about half the size of the former .wma files. And what a difference this makes! You don't immediately notice it, and I didn't, but on more extended play the sound from each track definitely has less sparkle, and occasionally it jumps. Damn.

I suppose I could re-run the whole conversion process at higher quality (I've kept copies of the .wma files, and can certainly do it) but converting at bog-standard quality took nearly six hours, and the same thing again at twice the quality will take forever. Well, I suppose I could tackle the bestest most favourite creme de la creme tracks first, and see how it works out. Say five or so. And if that is a great improvement, then the rest in a rolling programme.

Aren't I a slave to music?

You may be a bit puzzled at that remark. I've never claimed to be a music buff, and I say to all my friends that I have no taste or discrimination in music; and indeed have no personal musical ability whatsoever. So why this immense fuss over my music collection? Well, the 1,250 or so tracks in my collection represent part of the background to my life, and they are an important way of reinforcing an overall continuity. I don't go in for 'eras that I'd rather forget'. I got something of value from every decade of my life, and the music collection, which spans all decades from the 1950s, is the soundtrack to many memories. This is quite apart from the merits of each track as an enjoyable audio experience. I do in fact like them all very much.

1,250 tracks doesn't sound a lot, but then I have cherry-picked what I want, and every track is golden as far as I am concerned. I am now down to hunting out the last two dozen or so must-have tracks that the Nokia Store didn't have, which is where iTunes may help, and Google Music may deliver (when available in the UK), although sometimes you just have to wait until negotiations have been concluded and a deal is struck between a label and the online store. I can be patient.

For instance, I waited nearly three years for Nokia to make available a little-known Frank Sinatra song called I Will Drink The Wine. This was was written by Paul Ryan, the song-writing half of the Paul and Barry Ryan partnership. Paul Ryan penned a string of hits for his singing brother Barry around 1969, the most famous probably being Eloise. He eventually came to Frank Sinatra's attention, and Ol' Blue Eyes (who was getting pretty old by then) featured one of his last compositions (this I Will Drink The Wine) in a 1971 filmed cabaret show at one of Frank's usual venues, The Sands perhaps. You can find it on YouTube. Paul Ryan died of cancer not long after. The song was released as a single, but it barely got into the top twenty, so it's a rare item if you collect vinyl. I have a scratched version in my attic. So why do I like it, and was hungry to find it in Nokia's downloadable archive?

Well, first, the melody and lyrics are totally Sinatra. It's absolutely his type of song, and I don't mean a song like New York, New York from his Swing Era, but one of his much later 'look back on a full life' songs, typified I suppose my My Way in 1969. It's the song of a rich and powerful old man who has lost all innocence, can't connect any more with the simple things, but knows that his money, his connections, his personal clout, can get things done. Exactly the position of the Mob-backed Sinatra, who had had a highly successful singing career, in later years boosted by his 2% cut from the Mob's legitimate Las Vegas operation.

The second reason for my liking this song is that nobody else ever liked it. It stated too clearly that money and power must win: and that message was wrong. But I think the song had a deeper meaning, and I saw what it was. And especially as I now enter the last third - maybe the last quarter - of my own life, I am glad that this song is in my collection, and that I can ponder it to my heart's content.

As I can with many other songs and other items in my collection. Most entertain me while I do the ironing, or wash, or drive along, but some make me think.

Friday, 4 May 2012

One long tiring day...but did I really achieve much?

For the third day in a row, I've been ticking off a plethora of little jobs at home. These are all indoor things. Just as well - the weather outside has been uninviting, or frankly cold and damp, and there has been no point going anywhere. But I will go out tomorrow, just to get some fresh air.

So what did I do today?

Unresolved post-GRC identity issue
You may recall that the new birth certificates created a problem, in that they showed me as Lucy D--- (i.e. my father's surname) instead of Lucy Melford. So how would I manage if required to show my new birth certificate to anyone in the future? In connection with insurance, or a visa application, say. The person seeing Lucy D--- on the birth certificate would want to know how I became Lucy Melford. Obviously I wouldn't want to demonstrate the link by showing my original 1952 birth certificate (born as J--- D---), and the 2009 Deed Poll (proving that J--- D---- became Lucy Melford).

The best suggestion I've heard so far is to make a Statutory Declaration to link Lucy D--- directly with Lucy Melford. I therefore want someone to tell me the proper wording for my situation. So this morning I bunged off emails to Gires and the Gender Trust, and I hope they can assist.

Memory Map: that missing Scottish island
I sent a nicely-worded email to MM, and impressively got a reply just a few hours later, with a very reasonable explanation and an offer. They said that when getting the map data from the Ordnance Survey, the OS omitted to include Canna. The OS have since owned up to their error, but nothing can be done at the moment to correct MM's 1:50,000 Landranger map.

However, at no cost to me, MM have offered to give me a section of the larger-scale 1:25,000 Explorer mapping that covers the island. Brilliant! I've accepted of course. I simply download this tiny little map of Canna, and free up 3GB of memory on the tablet.

This is the detailed large scale needed by walkers, and I've established since yesterday that you can do the Wednesday Mallaig-Rum-Canna-Rum-Mallaig voyage in a day, as a foot passenger. You get a couple of hours on Canna; and a quick bit of exploration, using ped power, with tablet in hand, will be an experience I would like to have. My CalMac ship information is admittedly two years old, taken from their Summer 2010 brochure (retained after the Scottish caravan tour that M--- and I had), and it would obviously need to be checked, but it seems that I can firm up on a big YES to a Small Isles jaunt when next up in west Scotland! What a lovely thought.

I take on DRM and lose
Why did I struggle? I mentioned that 100 or so music tracks didn't make it onto my tablet. They didn't have the right license. I could not transfer them from the PC (which runs Windows Vista) to any mobile device. So I couldn't simply connect up a USB cable and copy-and-paste these music files into the tablet's Music folder. I mean, it was physically possible, but they wouldn't play.

I spent the entire afternoon trying out a Cunning Workaround. I saw that I did have rights to burn these tracks to CD. So as an experiment I produced three CDs. I popped them one by one into my laptop, and then ripped off the tracks. The laptop ran the older Windows XP, and therefore had a much less fierce Digital Rights Management environment. The tracks showed up in Windows Media Player, and could be played there, even though the laptop must be a 'mobile device'. So far so good.  

The first snag then was that each music file had to be renamed from 'Track 1', 'Track 2' and so on to 'Hats Off To Larry-Del Shannon' or whatever. Tedious!

That wasn't all. I found it best to edit the tracks as they appeared in Windows Media Player to specify the name of the song and the name of the artist all over again. Even more tedious.

And all kinds of track information was still missing, such as which album it came from.

Anyway, having done all this, and transferred my experimental tracks to the tablet using an SD card, they played! Result!

But it was a messy and VERY time-consuming way of dealing with the problem. And it meant, annoyingly, that 'Unknown' often appeared for the artist's name in the tablet's Music Player. I couldn't see why. And there was no album art. So I now think that I'll have to bite the bullet and repurchase these tracks. It'll be from Google, so presumably I'll spend less money than getting them from some other sources. But I'm not especially happy with having to spend anything at all. DRM is very heavy-handed, and very inconvenient, and it costs the consumer every time music needs to migrate to a new device.

Oh well, you can't win 'em all. Time for my evening meal and some telly. It seems to be a choice between two Fleetwood Mac documentaries on BBC4, or the film Wayne's World on E4. Hmmm. After this afternoon's music track failure, I'd rather something quite different to cheer me up!

Thursday, 3 May 2012

I canna see it!

Having lauded my Memory Map collection in the last post, I've now discovered a little flaw in the 2012 Landranger map of all Great Britain!

I know my GB geography. I'm perfectly familiar with what should be there. And I quickly noticed that one of the Inner Hebrides, the small island of Canna, had vanished. Gone without a trace. Perhaps it had drifted away up the Minch and out into the North Atlantic, possibly to be holed by a passing iceburg, and then to sink in the darkness, its twenty or so inhabitants never heard of again.

This could not be. I had to act. So I installed an older version of the Landranger map onto my tablet. Hurrah! Canna was back! The inhabitants were safe!

Now what was going on here? My first thinking was that nothing had changed on Canna in the last half dozen years, and because no revisions were needed, somehow this led to Canna being overlooked for the 2012 upgrade. Yes, as like as not. Well, it's Not Good Enough. I shall send a stiff email off to Memory Map tomorrow, pointing out the absence of Canna on my tablet, and requesting action. After all, it's ridiculous that I need to have two installations of the same map on my Sony, simply to see Canna instead of a blank area of sea. The older version of the Landranger map is using up 3GB. But I'll be careful what I say, because Canna does appear on the PC version of the 2012 map.

You might well be thinking, so what? Never heard of Canna. It can't matter, especially if you'll never be going there, Lucy! Get a grip.

Ah, but you'd be wrong. 'Twas another childhood ambition of mine to visit each of the Small Isles, of which Canna is but one, the others being Rum, Eigg and Muck. Come now, surely you'd also want to see such places before the Grim Reaper makes it impossible? I do. Perhaps en route (with Fiona) to the Outer Hebrides, to drive the entire length of that string of windy islands from Barra to the Butt of Lewis - only two ferry crossings are needed now. And, for the sake of the photo, I could take Fiona onto Canna's ultra-short road system. And check out the effects of Compass Hill, which is a lump of iron ore that can wreck ships' compasses. So I need a proper map of the place. If they've got any pride in their product, Memory Map must provide a fix. And pronto.

There in my hand as I cross the foaming Orinoco

Well, the tablet is coming along nicely. And I've just installed something that, on its own, would justify buying this lifestyle gadget. I'll reveal all shortly.

Meanwhile, let's take stock.

The Sony tablet - or any tablet, iPad included - is basically a memory card, with a processor and decently-sized touchscreen tacked on. All in a handy flat lightweight package. With almost no moving parts, so it's inherently robust.

A tablet hasn't got the storage capacity of a laptop, let alone a desktop PC, but my Sony's 32GB is enough to accommodate an awful lot of stuff - mainly of course applications, and the various types of file they use to provide an audio-visual leisure or work experience.

I've now squeezed in about 2,200 photos, 1,200 music tracks, and 500 documents and spreadsheets. Together with apps for a lot of things. I can play the piano, or a drum kit, or cards, or a video, or a radio podcast, or (given a really fast wi-fi connection) the BBC iPlayer. I can calculate and make a typed note or checklist. I can (of course) browse the Internet, or read my emails and reply to them. I can check the time in New Zealand, or set an alarm, or find out when sunset will be, or when it's low tide at Bognor Regis, or what my house looks like on Google Earth, or buy something online. All these useful things. Never a dull moment indeed! Who needs a life?

Plus The Things that I'm not yet disclosing. And I've still got about 10GB left. I can't see myself using up much more of that 10GB in the useful lifetime of the Sony - which is maybe three or four years, I think. (I expect it to be working fine in 2015, but by then tablet technology will have moved on, and a hardware update will be in order!)

Just now the Sony tablet is my 'entertainment and information device'. The Nokia mobile phone remains my 'communication device'. And the Hewlett Packard iPAQ has become simply my 'organiser and scribble pad', with its extremely good calendar, to-do-list and notetaking software. The iPAQ works with a stylus; but although quick and precise to use, it's old, has-been technology. The phone works with hard buttons; it's also somewhat old technology, but it's a slim, elegant device - although, mind you, making space for the buttons means a small screen that's a bit too small for my tired old eyes. The tablet is larger than either of these pocket devices, but not much heavier; it will travel well in a handbag (or rucksack), and not be a burden for a day out; and all you need to use it is a finger. I don't know about you, but I've got...let me see...oh, a lot of fingers to choose from. I could lose a few to piranhas while crossing the Orinoco, and still fire up the old Sony tablet over the evening camp fire. No worries on that score!

All this expedition talk brings me onto what I see as the Sony tablet's best reason for existing. Remember that it's a handy, lightweight screen that you can comfortably hold in your hands.

What if you loaded it up with maps?

Aha, what if you did? Well, I have. Cue Memory Map, the website that specialises in downloadable digital Ordnance Survey maps. I've bought maps from them before. Now I've got their free Android plug-in, and I've purchased a set of 2012-edition maps covering the whole of Great Britain at the 1:50,000 Landranger, 1:250,000 Motoring and 1:1,000,000 Route Planner scales. Actually the last two came free with the 1:50,000 Landranger map, which set me back a cool £99. But this represents a fantastic bargain, when you consider that to achieve the same coverage with the 204 paper Landranger maps would (at £6.99 each) cost you an eye-watering and purse-busting £1,426! I've also loaded up two digital 1:25,000 Explorer maps that I had before - the New Forest and the South Downs - obviously at no fresh cost.

This is what the 1:25,000 Explorer maps look like on the tablet screen:

Imagine having this to refer to on a hike. No struggling with a flappy paper map in a breeze. Or finding you haven't brought along the next sheet to the west. No squinting in the failing light, not with a backlit screen. Zoom in, zoom out, pan with a finger, add an overlay with your waymarks and destinations on it. And these maps are all seachable. Type in a placename or feature, and you're taken there instantly. Pouring down with rain? Snowing? Crossing the Orinoco? No problemo: pop the tablet into a sealable clear-plastic freezer foodbag, and your finger will still do its stuff. You say that it'll fall from your hand. No, it won't. There's a lanyard for your wrist. No wi-fi in range? Irrelevant. These are downloaded maps that work offline. But if you can obtain a wi-fi signal, or contrive a G3 mobile phone hookup, then you can use these maps with GPS as well. And the tablet's battery will last for hours...

If motoring along rather than footing it, then the larger scales look really good too. Here are some examples from the vast 1;50,000 Landranger map, having searched for 'Lerwick', 'Aberdyfi' and 'King's Lynn':

Oh yes! And for a wider take on the area, to plan the nicest way to Wisbech, Cromer or Norwich say, here are the 1:250,000 and 1:1,000,000 maps:

If you love maps - and I have adored them since I was a young child - this way of viewing them is a dream come true. Before I was ten, I passionately wanted a handheld device that would scroll a One-inch OS map of Great Britain. I thought then in paper terms; and couldn't see how it could be done. But now that child's dream has been realised electronically, in digital form. Another lifetime ambition fulfilled!

And the tablet won't just load up with OS maps: any compatable maps - foreign ones maybe, ones I've scanned maybe - can in principle be viewed. Wow. What a thought.

So perhaps Julia Bradbury is on TV tonight, frighteningly fit, tackling some remote corner of the Lake District, or Scotland. Well, sitting in my armchair, eating my Aberdeen Angus steak or sea bass fillets or whatever, I can follow her on the OS map. And maybe decide that some day I'll go to that amazing spot as well, and see that astonishng view for myself.

I'll mark it on my digital map now, and save it for the future.

Wednesday, 2 May 2012

Ladyboys, trans pride and grandmotherhood

The Ladyboys of Bangkok are back in town. Their show opened in Brighton last Friday, and is very popular indeed, and not just among the transsexual or transvestite communities: the general public have taken the Ladyboys to their heart, and getting tickets to see their performances is not so very easy. But then, the Ladyboys more-or-less kickstart the entire annual Brighton Festival, and the best performances in the Festival are always a sellout. Although with so much alternative stuff going on, a dedicated follower of this outpouring of culture and comedy can't fail to find something to see (or take part in) throughout the day at locations dotted around Brighton and Hove, many of them in pubs and even private homes, not just the 'official' venues.

But back to the Ladyboys. A friend of mine, who enjoys them very much, tells me that back in Thailand they have no special legal position, indeed no rights as such, but do occupy a recognised position in Thai society as a kind of 'third sex'. And this is without undergoing castration and becoming one of a special holy caste, as happens elsewhere in the East, India I believe. So if a Thai male person feels his calling in life is to live as a woman, then it can be done without the social finger-pointing and ridicule (and potential danger) that besets such a person in the West. Of course, earning a living is something else. And plainly the sex trade or the entertainment industry are the chief practical occupations for a young, beautiful ladyboy from a poor background. But how much better than ending up a head case or a suicide statistic somewhere in the UK because in your town they just don't understand...

That said, there are signs that the trans scene is changing apace. Again and again, That Programme, meaning My Transsexual Summer, is mentioned as affecting the views of the general public for the better. Certainly, anybody watching MTS over its short lifespan last year would, if they were fair-minded, have got the impression that transsexual people are ordinary girls and guys who have ordinary and non-sensational aims in life - the things we all want, like a job, success, the love of close ones. And not freaks in any way, nor cobbled-together abominations, nor pageant queens, nor mentally disturbed. Trans people have parents and brothers and sisters. Trans people have natal girl and boy friends. Trans people can be highly educated, very knowledgeable, worth listening to, accomplished and talented, with vim and determination and social skills. Trans people want to work and be useful, and not to be a drag on everyone else, nor treated as perpetual medical cases. Trans people can be very attractive, great characters, nice to know, loving, gentle, useful caring and responsible people, champions of the best causes, not just their own. They are out and proud, and some are undeniably strident, but it's now OK to say you're trans, and to be doing something to fit yourself better into society, and make a proper go of it all. And it really is something that you can tell people about without shame. It's not something you need to hush up, or lamely admit to if pressed. And you expect to be given more than just a dog's chance. Trans people are part of the Big Society... right?

It's noticeable how, at The Clare Project in Brighton, more new faces are attending, and mostly they look very good and behave not like frightened mice or crazy parodies but as normal, confident human beings who have found their natural way of living, and just want to meet others in the same boat while they go through the necessary transition process. Rather different from when I took my own first steps into the trans world only four years ago. Then I felt exposed, a potential hate crime victim, certainly a potential target for embarrassing street incidents. And looking back at my photos of late 2008, and throughout 2009, I'm still amazed that nothing happened in public to turn me into a terrified outcast, afraid to show my face anywhere.

The same 2008 face would fare better in the streets nowadays. The social climate has evolved, and there are more of us to share worthwhile tips and techniques, more scope for finding trans friends when they are most needed, many more places to go to where one might enjoy life as ordinary people enjoy it. And although the skilful presentation made at the Leveson Inquiry (to highlight the shabby press attention given to trans people over the years) will probably not have much impact on public perception, at least in the short term, it's a sign of the times that such evidence is now taken seriously and given weight.

I never felt quite comfortable going to specifically trans events, such as Transister in Brighton. I felt on parade. It was a 'safe space' but also a commercial exploitation that really only offered a chance to dress up in the typical 'tranny uniform' and 'enjoy' another kind of disco experience while sipping expensive drinks. Not really much glamour there. Or fun. I'm not doing it again. I never made it to Sparkle in Manchester, nor clubbed at Pink Punters in Milton Keynes, nor the Way Out Club or other clubs in London, and I will never go now. Why would any ordinary woman wish to go?

I'd sooner lunch smartly at the Randolph Hotel in Oxford, then wander around the Ashmolean. Or join the windy queue at Stonehenge; or walk a Coastal Path; or go beachcombing; or spend a morning at the National Gallery; or see another operatic production at The Grange; or simply sit in a nice sunny pub amid a score of other ordinary people, and chat with them if I feel so inclined. You can see what I'm getting at: life has become a lot fuller and more sophisticated lately for all trans people, if they want it to be like that. You don't need to attend garish heels-and-mini events to demonstrate that you're a Girl. Nor do you need to be loud. Quietly consuming coffee and a teacake (or a six-item breakfast!) in the restaurant at Debenhams at Brighton or Taunton or Middlesbrough is quite enough. That's what women do, when they want to fuel themselves up for a two-hour browse around the shops. And also because Debenhams usually have nice loos. Women often shop with a friend or daughter; but if you're alone it's still all right. So much is fine and kosher nowadays.

Ordinary one time it seemed impossible to arrive at this point. When parents and partner had reacted badly, when only that inner flame that could not be quenched told me that it had to be transition, at whatever personal cost, or suffer a slow living death of mind and spirit. And now I'm here. And others will get here as well. As indeed many already have. All achieving that peace and stability. All merging into British Everyday Life. It has to be good for society if wrongly-perceived people are allowed to sort out their lives and become better citizens.

Some things remain out of reach - motherhood, for instance. But perhaps not grandmotherhood. While up in London a couple of days back I did something that made me feel exactly like a doting grandmother. I won't say what - yet - but it was so much fun, and I want more of it.

By the way, this is the very first post put together on my new Sony tablet. I used the bluetooth keyboard, and that made getting the words out easy and quick. I did it in an imagined caravanning situation where I didn't have wi-fi on site, but could compose offline, then go into a nearby town, get online there, copy and paste the text into the Blogger 'new post' text box, and then publish. 

It didn't go quite as expected. I found that copying slightly formatted text directly from a Word document didn't work, even though it should have. So, just this first time, I pasted it into a notes app (ColorNote), where it automatically showed up as plain text, but with paragraphing apparently intact. I then copied this plain text and pasted it into Blogger. But it all came out as one long screed without paragraphs when published! Oh dear! I had to fire up the PC and edit into a proper form - as you see it now. 

Clearly I need a better workaround than this. So until I find one, please find a way to endure my tablet experiments. I do hope to have the technique sorted out before going off to the Cotswolds late in May.

Tuesday, 1 May 2012

Busy, busy, busy!

My blogging frequency has dropped in recent times, mainly because of time pressures. Take the last two weeks. When I wasn't giving necessary attention to the new Sony tablet, there were these social events to fit in:

17 April - Clare Project (and apres-CP drink) in Brighton
18 April - Electrolysis with Roz in Bexley
20 April - Hair at Trevor Sorbie, Brighton
22 April - Friend R--- visiting me at home, partly to help me in the garden, and then to share an evening meal cooked by my own hand
23 April - Four new high-performance tyres fitted at Caffyns (the Volvo dealer) in Portslade
24 April - Clare Project (and apres-CP drink) in Brighton
25 April - Lunch with some former HMRC colleagues at Zizzi in South Croydon
26 April - Lunch and shopping with my sister-in-law G--- at Gunwharf Quays in Portsmouth
28 April - Electrolysis with Roz in Bexley
29 April - Sunday lunch at my friend A---'s in Brighton, with four other friends invited too
30 April - Consultation with Dr Richard Curtis in London

This is not an untypical two weeks. I really do end up driving big distances across the South of England every couple of days. This is mostly why I cover some 17,000 miles a year, despite not working. It takes up time. And if you take into account the minimum time and effort required for food shopping, cooking, washing up, clothes washing and ironing, gardening, and my own ablutions - not forgetting time out to sleep - then in a busy period the blogging is going to get squeezed. Thank goodness I can afford to have a cleaner! And thank goodness I don't have to spend hours on Facebook!

It's been an expensive two weeks. Two electrolysis sessions: £154. Hair: £70, plus tip. Four new tyres: £856. Dr Curtis: £120, plus rail fare. Another £1,000 gone. Plus diesel for Fiona, and food in and out. Oh, and one top bought at Sainsbury's for £8.

The tyres Fiona uses have to be the wide, low-profile type for 18 inch wheels: size 235/60 R18. So it's not surprising they're expensive. When new, she had Pirelli Pzero Rosso tyres fitted; now I've switched to Continental Gross Contact. The Continentals are nicer - just as good at getting the power down onto the road, but quieter, much less rumble. 'Gross Contact' is an odd name! I think they're made in Germany, so I'm guessing that it's an Anglicised version of 'Gross Kontakt', which would perhaps translate as 'massive grip'. As opposed to 'obscene touching'. They're great tyres though, and I hope they last as well as the Pirellis did. I was getting 17,000 miles from my front tyres, and exactly double that, 34,000 miles, from the rear pair. Not too bad really. I should cut down on my motoring, and eke out their lifespan, but that would be inhibiting. After all, driving about is a major pleasure for me, an enjoyable and exciting activity in itself. Here's Fiona looking super-capable and freshly-booted in the Gunwharf Quays underground car park:

That was the second South Croydon lunch I've had with ex-colleagues. It went just as well as the first last year. There were five of us - including three still-serving officers, so obviously I can't show any table pictures. But here's one of myself, anyway, in the upstairs ladies' loo at Zizzi, having a playful time with the mirror reflections, as you do:

The Sunday lunch was delightful, a lot of fun (and a lot of wine). Again, five of us. For once, I'll break my convention and show a picture of The Gang (or is it the Rat Pack?), although I'll stick with my convention by not identifying who they are - except to say that I'm the tubby person in green on the left:

It's not actually my picture. The girl standing next to me is a pro photographer and used her Nikon on a stout tripod. The result seems very good. These are my 'Sunday Lunch' friends, and I have others whom I see at the CP or elsewhere. R---, for example, my surfing and tennis-playing friend from Guernsey, who helped me plant the azalea recently. I just wanted you to see that I really do have a proper social life! 

The visit to Dr Curtis today was almost a signing-off. I'd been seeing him at least once every six months since December 2008, and henceforth it'll be only once a year. The latest test results showed all the right levels for oestragen, etc, and it was clear that I've stabilised. So an annual consultation will be adequate.

I did ask him about two things. First, my testosterone level is very low, just the trickle you'd expect from the adrenal gland, and, prompted by someone else, I enquired about medication to tweak the testosterone up a bit, with a view to feeling sexier overall. Dr Curtis advised against it though. Introducing more testosterone might easily interfere with my other medication, and there was no drug he could recommend that wouldn't lead to unwanted hair growth. I didn't mind too much. Although my libido is low, there's no real point in jacking it up, if I'm not seriously going to look for a partner. I might simply end up frustrated! I'm quite happy to stay cool and serene.

Secondly, I asked about taking Progesterone to enhance breast and nipple development. Dr Curtis's negative views on Progesterone were well-known, set out in a paper he wrote, although contradicted by the experience of some people who had bought and used this drug. He thought that because it would simulate the pre-natal state, I'd simply put on more weight. Certainly, the extra fat gained would tend to increase breast size. And yes, some milk duct tissue might form behind the nipple, which could lead to a 'better' nipple shape. It depended on the individual. But if I was satisfied with what I already had - which really I was - then again it was an exta layer of medication on top of all that I was already taking, and it was not worth courting unwelcome side-effects or conflicts for a very small effect on my bust size and shape. I did rather share this view myself - I was already popping too many pills!

I began this post on 30 April and now it's 1 May. Right then, white rabbits! (You have to say 'white rabbits!' to ensure good luck throughout the month to come. Trust me)

Time for bed.