Tuesday, 31 July 2012

Goodbye, Vicky

Some of the most heartfelt partings are not with old friends, or step-daughters you may not see again for years, but with people you have gradually built up a commercial relationship with. Such people can move on, often quite suddenly and without warning, and leave you feeling sad and bereft.

So it was yesterday. Over the last two and a half years, Caffyns of Portslade have been the Volvo dealer for my area. When I narrowed my new-car choice down to a Volvo XC60 and the nearest equivalent from Audi, I went to Caffyns for a test drive, and was given a sporty version of the XC60. This was back in January 2010, when I had been on hormones for only ten months, and my voice wasn't great. But they took me seriously, were very courteous, and I heard no chortles behind the scenes. They let me put the car through its paces for two hours. I was impressed. It wasn't quite the top-of-the-range SE Lux Premium version I was actually considering - that would be slightly more luxurious - but the snappy R-Design variant they gave me had the same D5 Auto engine, and roughly the same handling characteristics. It was close enough to base a proper decision on. After a gorgeous two hours (the large and powerful XC60 was a revelation to drive, after my 1999-vintage Honda CR-V) I took it back, spent time discussing my already-prepared option choices and costs, and then placed my order. Thus Fiona was conceived and eventually born.

I was impressed with Caffyns' customer service. Of course, a cynic might say that they were selling upmarket cars, and would be as polite and friendly as it took to achieve a sale, even to an obvious tranny. But then the courtesy and helpfulness didn't relax afterwards. I got to know the servicing reception staff one by one, a mixture of men and women. Both treated me very well.

Fiona has proved pretty trouble-free, with only three faults so far in nearly 39,000 miles, none of them the sort to stop me in my tracks: a spurious faulty-airbag warning; a squeaky drivebelt tensioner; and - at the moment - a suspected faulty outside-temperature sensor. But there have been how-to questions to ask, services, new tyres; and for a while I suffered repeated freak damage to both my door mirrors, needing special visits.

All these have meant that every now and then I'd drop in to Caffyns to discuss the latest thing. It was convenient to do so, and the reception was always very friendly. Remember, this was part of the Motor Trade, which for a long time had an evil reputation for chicanery and condescension to women. I expected trans people to be treated even worse. But it became clear that Caffyns was a decent outfit with a professional attitude, and they really did value my custom. More than that, I got the distinct impression that they enjoyed my visits. I went out of my way to be businesslike but very pleasant, and made a friend first with Eugenie, then Vicky. I'm sure it paid dividends. They got to know the car well (the semi-distinctive registration, SC10 CUR helped), remembered its history, and remembered me. I wanted to be treated as an individual, and they readily obliged.

It was something like the relationship you build up with your hair stylist: you both chat, you both share some of your life, and you do it because there's a rapport. The business connection - the car, the hair - is what brings you into contact, and money is the real thing at stake, but nevertheless it's a small but valuable part of your social life.

I was sad when Eugenie left, to take up a better-paid job in a different field. We'd got on so well.

And yesterday, Vicky explained that she too was moving on.

I'd popped in, because the outside temperature sensor on Fiona was giving me some strange readings. It might be faulty, or there could be a dodgy electrical connection, or a software glitch - something that needed investigation anyway, and it was best done asap, in any case before the winter frosts. She came out to look at the car and decided to book me in on 10 August, almost the earliest date Caffyns were presently taking bookings. Oh, I asked, why was that? Then she told me that the whole Volvo setup there at Portslade was being taken over by another firm. Most of the staff, whether technicians or reception and sales people, were joining the new firm and remaining at Portslade. But she had decided to stay with Caffyns, who traded at several locations, and before the end of the same week would be working in their VW dealership at Haywards Heath. Same job, just a different location and different cars.

I said I'd miss her: she'd been very good to me. And I'm sure a lot of customers must have said the same, for there was a hint of wetness in her eyes. I didn't push it, not wanting to upset her. Nor did I say anything about the challenges of joining a new team in a new workplace. She wouldn't welcome this kind of change, and hadn't asked for it, I'm sure. I guessed that this had come suddenly, and that she'd had to make a quick choice between a new contract with the firm taking over, or staying with Caffyns. With her marriage looming, and not wanting to chance her luck with the new firm, she may have had no real choice at all. I might have asked her about this, but another customer had come in, and was waiting. So I just wished her well.

But once gone from Caffyns, I felt curiously heavy-hearted. A bit of me felt that I'd just lost a friend. I'm feeling upset about it right now, as I write this. I must be a very odd person, to miss a commercial acquaintance so much.

It just shows how life is built on the little connections we make with other people, and how much one relies on continuity.

Monday, 30 July 2012

A quick dip into Facebook - I wish I hadn't

I set up a Facebook account in 2010, used it for a short while, then deactivated it because it simply didn't suit how I wanted to communicate with other people. I felt besieged with too much news about too many 'friends'. I couldn't see what was supposed to be so special about 'social networking' done this way.

Facebook was most certainly not the right place for putting my passing life and current thinking into the world at large. I wanted much more control over presentation. And I wanted to write at length in good English, eventually creating a long series of essays that built up a rounded picture of who I was and what was important to me. The Facebook format was all against this. Blogging wasn't.

I did not want to 'chat'. I did not want to use Facebook to 'keep in touch' or to 'find new friends'. I enjoy meeting new people, but to my mind 'meeting people' means actually being there with them in person, face to face, and not exchanging jokes and banter and silly one-liners over the Internet. As for keeping in touch, what is so deficient about texting, or emailing, or indeed the terribly old-fashioned (but oh so special and personal) handwritten card or letter?

I do have a preference for electronic messages, because they don't disrupt anyone's daily life. I've never been keen on voice calls, especially ones out of the blue, which always catch me in the shower, on the loo, up in the attic, or eating, or driving, or otherwise when I'm busy or just ill-prepared for them. Even so, I will say that a voice call is far more personal and immediate than any electronic message. It's the way to communicate if you want to get an answer or arrange something right now. The thing is, would you speak over the phone in the daft way people 'chat' on Facebook?

After a gap of a year and a half, I had reason today to reactivate my account expressly to look up two people who said they had published photos on Facebook that they hadn't otherwise made available. I didn't go through the reactivation process without misgivings. I just knew that I was wasting my time. I was so right.

First off, I was surprised how easy it was to log in and revive my account. Clearly it was in no way dead and buried, only sleeping!

I tried to find those photos, but found the labrynthine meanderings of Facebook as bewildering as before, and had no success.

I did have a quick read of a friend's posts. That wasn't uplifting. I thought she was selling herself short, and creating entirely the wrong impression. She had adopted the usual Facebook posting style. Her real personality was obscured. She seemed inane and trivial. I found it disturbing.

What is it about Facebook? When I hear friends speaking in real life they seem sensible and articulate, well worth listening to. But when writing their 'thoughts' on Facebook, coherent English goes out of the window. A casual style is appropriate, but I object to all the silliness of what is being said. As for the photos, well, very few are properly composed, or properly in focus. They seem snatched, off the cuff, taken without attention to technical excellence, just like the words. Perhaps that is actually the point: a rough immediacy is taken to be genuine and 'true', having the same appeal of reality TV. (Which is not the kind of TV that I willingly watch)

OK: I'm a fuddy-duddy and a word snob. I like anything written to be worth a second or third reading some time afterwards. I appreciate other people's posts when they are like little essays, or serious newspaper articles: crafted with obvious care, using a wide vocabulary, good grammar, perfect spelling, and - not least - with significant content.

Even in a rant like this, I'm polishing my little effort as I go along, so that it will flow logically and read well; and, most importantly, polished so that my meaning and intention will be clear. If I am being enthusiastic, or radiantly happy, or heartbroken, or whimsical, or apologetic, or down in the dumps, or frustrated, or angry, or minded to attack or offend, or minded to praise or defend, you will know it without any possibility of mistake. Not so with the incoherencies on Facebook.

I gave up after only an hour, finding it difficult to locate the 'deactivate' link, which was itself an irritation. Facebook hadn't changed since I last ventured into it. I still can't see what is so 'marvellous' about it. It's a confusing, shallow mess. I wasn't surprised that its commercial rating has slipped somewhat.

There is still a Lucy Melford on Facebook. It's not me. It's a lady who used to be Lucy Billington, but she must have married and acquired Melford as a surname. She's got young kids. I'm surprised she has any time for posting things.

Saturday, 28 July 2012

Self-acceptance

It's an interesting subject, self-acceptance, by which I mean coming to terms with something about yourself, and then making the necessary adjustments. It could be anything. You might for instance suddenly discover that:

# You were extremely talented in some way, and that you could base a wonderful new career on it. This might easily lift you away from home, family and friends if the opportunities to exploit this new career involved a new location, or constant worldwide travel.

# You were in fact an adopted child, and not the natural child of your parents. This would upset your entire self-view. And getting to meet your natural parents, and all of your other brothers and sisters, could easily become an obsession.

# You were gay or lesbian. I don't need to elaborate on the impact of that.

# You were suffering from an incurable disease that must kill you within five years. Assuming you could overcome the initial shock, this would completely rejig your priorities, and sharply refocus your endeavours in the short time ahead.

For trans people, it's the realisation that they are not what they thought they were, with all that implies. The probable upheaval to their lives is daunting and frightening. It could alienate parents, split families, kill a career, and mark the trans person down as abnormal and different for the rest of their life. Worse: impoverishment, loneliness, lies, abuse and danger might come their way. It's no wonder that self-acceptance might be difficult for many trans people. Who would want to embrace transness if it meant disaster?

Well, of course, nobody does embrace it: it embraces you, an irresistible thing about yourself that drives you into another world, plunges you into the cold water, sink or swim. More than once, I've heard trans friends say that others have called them 'brave' for 'doing' what they had to. It certainly might take courage and fortitude to out oneself, or appear in public in strange clothes, but I'd say it's mostly the courage of a soldier caught up in a battle: he has to push forward, and fight well and fiercely, because if he doesn't he will die. As simple as that.

A lot of non-trans people seem to think that it's all an easy, deliberate choice: a way of turning one's life around, a selfish self-indulgence, a method of resolving personality issues, a response to a mid-life crisis, a mental breakdown, a perverse desire for a better sex life, a ploy to free oneself from an unwanted relationship, even an escape from boredom. This is all either mistaken or crass. They do not see the lack of choice in this. How there is no other course to take. And that, if there is any decision, it is what to do at the moment of realisation - how slow or fast to proceed, how best to break the news, who to approach for help, where to live.

Everyone else has the luxury of choice: how they react, whether they will support you or turn their face away from you, whether they will spit on you or give you a happy hug.

It's no crime to understand what gender you should be, and then adapt to that knowledge. Perhaps some trans people recoil from their self-realisation because of the stigma that will come their way, the embarrassment, the criminalisation. That's understandable, but of course it doesn't get rid of the inner urge to be the proper person. You can't fight that forever. It can't be debated away with rational arguments. It's not something you can be talked out of, any more than it's something you can be talked into. It's a feeling that you're not right as you are, and that you must act or be lost.

Did I have a period of doubt, in which a perception of 'wrong gender' had dawned, but felt like a forbidden type of thinking, something to be shrugged off? No. I had instant conviction. Instant self-acceptance. Instant (though fearful) acknowledgement of the likely consequences. That's down to my nature. Others with different natures will have approached the thing differently, perhaps in a more drawn-out fashion lasting many years. Some will have recognised that they were misfits in their assigned gender from their earliest memories, and may have fought a lifelong battle with themselves. The end is the same for all. Eventually we submit to The Process, and emerge transformed. If we survive, that is. Some don't make it.

I do wonder what would have happened to me if I'd closed my mind to my 'eureka moment', if I'd carried on as if the thought of being a woman was a wild mistake, best thrust into a box and the key thrown away. I think the strain of living a lie would have corroded me, embittered me, and made me a horrible person, less than human. A life wasted.

Friday, 27 July 2012

Chariots of Fire

Grrrrr. I knew this would happen. In the last day or two Google has become slow and buggy, and it's because of the Olympic Games starting in London.

The servers are all getting clogged up with vastly increased traffic. When I heard that the mobile phone companies expected breaking-point pressure on their airtime capacity, and welcomed people using wi-fi as an alternative if they wanted to stream stuff to their mobile screens, it became utterly predictable that the Internet would choke up. It's bad enough that TV is dominated by Olympic events. It's doubly aggravating that computer services will also suffer from this plague. I blame the ancient Greeks as well. They should have known better.

Really, if you're simply not interested in sport, you are likely to get seriously hacked off by all this medal- and money-driven frenzy. I am personally going to explode with irritation if I'm not careful, and it's not hormonal. 'Look' (I'd like to say to any to anyone DARING to ring my doorbell, to sign me up for Sky Sports or whatever), 'I'm FED UP with all this. I DON'T CARE if Great Britain wins every gold medal going, or if all previous attendance and income records are vastly exceeded. It's a nuisance and a bore. And if you think I want to sign up to WATCH any of it, you are greatly mistaken and risking my simmering wrath, which I assure you is deadly at twenty paces. GO AWAY.' Same to anyone plugging any aspect whatever connected with the sporting activities that may spin off these Games. Watch out: don't push me too far.

If you have got the drift, that I am not even mildly intrigued by the circus going on, then you'd be spot on. As for buying tickets, well, what do you think?

I might take a retrospective interest in it as a social phenomenon. An historian's view. And I hope it does prove to be a huge boost to the government's Economic Recovery Plan. But no doubt it will really be just a cynical money-making exercise full of fraud and personal pocket-lining and every kind of scandal  - just wait and see.

The final Closure Event might be worth a look because of the fireworks, but I probably won't make a big effort to sit down and view it. I'm not knocking the athletes' personal ambitions, but they can't make me share their competitiveness, nor their tears if they lose by three-hundreds of a second. And if they behave badly, they can't expect any sympathy and support from me. Sports people are not divine. If they fall, they deserve the same censure an ordinary person would get.

The slightly gimmicky countrywide torch-bearing is now over. Did it really make the country as a whole feel they were part of the Games? Quite possibly it did. I didn't get to see any of the torch-bearers, but I think it might have been a bit like witnessing a beacon being lit for the Queen's Diamond Jubilee: the same ignition of community spirit. A little more more stage-managed perhaps, with more crowd-control, but still tapping into local feeling. Bearing a torch might even have had more to do with the pure ethos of the Games than the sporting contests themselves. Yes, maybe I missed something there. I nearly got in the way of a torch-bearer when threading my way through the middle of Cirencester, with the caravan in tow, but that doesn't count.

Despite my antipathy for the Games, one question bothers me. What would I have done if approached to be a torch-bearer? For my past services as the Village Tranny perhaps, or in recognition of my Contributions To Blogging? Would I have refused, or would I have simpered with delight, and done my hundred-yard dash for Mid Sussex? The big scene from Chariots of Fire, all over again. Vangelis playing in the air. Hmmmm.

Thursday, 26 July 2012

Hot weather - bare legs, skirts, and a pretty face

This summer will be the first in which I am happy to show the world my bare legs, wearing either shorts or a skirt. I've done it before in specialised situations, such as wearing a swimsuit on a beach (once!) and from time to time I've worn a summer dress or skirt in Brighton. But my normal habit has been to wear cropped trousers, leggings or jeggings all year round, on the basis that my legs are simply not shapely enough, and apart from that, are blemished with blue veins and freckles.

But lately I have to agree that these same legs, while not of wolf-whistle quality, have acquired enough proper shape to get by. Moreover, the recent very fine weather has given them a slight tan, enough to take the edge off their terrible defects.

Very well, then: I can unleash them onto an innocent public, and they can put up or shut up. It's too warm to mess about. I need cooling breezes playing around my pins. So I've now made a few moths homeless, and my small selection of summer dresses are getting an unexpected airing.

I really need to buy a few more. There are sales bargains everywhere, but the stuff in the sales all seems to be the wrong size, or the wrong colour, or there's something strange about the styling. Which of course is why it hasn't yet sold. Given my new Strict Financial Regime (a) I don't want to spend much, and (b) I don't want to make any mistakes. Perhaps it's best to make do with what I've got, because this hot spell may the only real 'summer' we get, and it'll be over within days. Holding the Olympics in rain-lashed England (of all places) pretty well guarantees that.

As for the pretty face, well, friends have been making positive comments about my facial features.  The word 'attractive' has been uttered more than once, and not with a chortle of mirth either, generally in a conversation about the prospects of pulling. (This type of conversation, whether whimsical or deadly serious, seems to crop up more and more among my Brighton Set)

I give a knee-jerk denial if a friend tells me that I'm attractive, unless I see that they really mean my lovely car Fiona. But hang on...I've got to admit that on waking up in the mornings I no longer look so rough, despite the ravages of extreme old age. I think the contours of my face really have been changing over the last few months, as if physically I've entered a New Phase. Certainly, all my contemporaries (meaning those who have been taking feminising hormones for about as long as I have) look prettier and more feminine to me. So I suppose they must be able to make the same observation when looking in my direction. Maybe.

Well, if it's not a delusion, then it's a very welcome development that should assist everyday passing even more.

At sixty, I don't need to look fabulous, but like any woman I'd be thrilled if my HRT did bring about a significant makeover. I'd hope for some subtlety: a realistic amount of sagging in the face, combined with a hint of dignity and refinement and wisdom; a brightness of eye, and a mobility of lip; the whole suggesting mellowness, maturity, good humour, and an appreciation of fun. A face that would offset the big tummy, and win allies.

Ha, I wish!

Monday, 23 July 2012

Peace Camp

Yesterday evening I decided to have a coastal walk in the cool of the evening - it had been a hot afternoon (not that I'm complaining). The Alt-Berg walking boots were already in Fiona and avid to go. I ate early and set off for Cuckmere Haven, intending to park at South Barn (above Seaford) and then walk down to the Haven from there. According to the apps on my tablet, the tide would be right out at sunset. I aimed to reach the shore about half an hour before the sun set.

Approaching South Barn, I noticed a couple of signs saying 'No Access To Peace Camp'. What's this? Greenham Common all over again? Would the shore be crawling with angry people behaving badly in the name of World Peace and Brotherhood? But the car park looked normal enough, albeit with rather more cars in it than I'd thought likely for 8.30pm on a Sunday evening. But then a good sunset always does bring people out to admire the pink light playing on the tall cliffs of the Seven Sisters.

As I reached the old coastguard cottages, a large collection of little tents came into view. Ah, the camp. But something was odd about it. No sign of peace protesters. Just a few young-looking officials in high-visibility jackets. And quite a number of ordinary people like me wandering about, taking snaps with their cameras. And voices, reciting poetry: but no sign of the speakers.

It was an outdoor artwork, an 'installation'. The sounds of voices were recorded, coming from inside the tents, and when darkness fell a light inside each tent would glow eerily. All set against the backdrop of the Seven Sisters, the River Cuckmere, and the sea. I got hold of a leaflet:


As you can see, it was all part of the 2012 Olympic celebrations, I suppose an allusion to the ideal of world harmony expressed in sound and light. There were eight simultaneous and identical  'installations' like this around the country, and by chance I'd stumbled upon this one on its final night. Just as well. This was likely to be the only part of the Olympicfest that I'd want to see. As the light dimmed, it really did seem mysterious and haunting, a fascinating and surreal spectacle. There were lots of visitors. More and more came. Some simply sat on the ground, enthralled. Here are some shots that I took:


Obviously the thing needed guarding through the night. That's what the people in the yellow jackets were there to do. I spoke with two of them, a young man and a young girl. They had both been on standby to do a 'night shift', and would be there, with their torches and walkie-talkies, from 8.00pm to 8.00am, whatever the weather did. It looked however as if it would be a calm night.

The installation would look very strange and unworldly in complete darkness. I wondered if the recorded voices would be on all night. It would be a long and monotonous vigil if the sound were switched off.

I hoped someone would come along and give them hot drinks and bacon butties to keep them going.

Sunday, 22 July 2012

Angharad Rees and the subject of Love

I was very sad to hear of the death yesterday of Angharad Rees. She died from pancreatic cancer at the age of only 63. In fact it was only five days after her birthday. A little research suggests that this cancer - marked by weight loss, jaundice and abdominal pain - must have been with her for years, gradually growing worse, and it's tempting to link the start of it with the shattering death of her 25 year old elder son in a car accident in 1999. There is apparently a strong tendency for pancreatic cancer to run in families, but it can be induced with a poor diet, such as one might lapse into following a terrible personal loss.

Be that as it may, I suppose most people will remember her as a warm, vital, and very pretty actress - the girl who stole the show in the 1975 TV series Poldark, playing Demelza, the young wife of romantic and tempestuous Cornish mine-owner and former army captain Ross Poldark. That's how I best remember her.

My goodness, she was a lovely little thing. 'Angharad' means 'well beloved' in Welsh, and she must have inspired all kinds of love-orientated thoughts in mens' hearts, some lusty, some tender, quite apart from being an obvious role-model for women. She played the well-meaning-doxy-aspiring-to-be-a-proper-lady to perfection. What she was like as a real person I do not know. I hope that I would not have been disappointed if I could have found out. People generally have incredibly complex inner lives, and she would be no exception.

Before Poldark, I noticed her in earlier TV productions, although I kept mixing her up with Jenny Agutter! After Poldark, there was never any possible confusion.

Hmmm. It's about time that I watched Poldark through again. It's a jolly good eighteenth-century costume drama, highly enjoyable, with a satisfying end to the first series, which is all I want to see. I must get the DVD set, although a quick look on Amazon suggests that it would cost nearly £40. Too much for a casual knee-jerk purchase. In adherence to my new financial regime, I'll wait until I really have the money saved up for it. Just now I'm busy putting my pennies away for another five days in Lyme Regis in early August.

Meanwhile, I can always begin reading my entire collection of Poldark novels by Winston Graham. I bought these a long time ago, and I've got them all.

Or I could tackle Daphne du Maurier's Rebecca yet again, another quite different Cornish tale of youth and love and murder, set in the 1930s. Actually, I've got quite a nice little collection of books about love and its trials. Billy Liar by Keith Waterhouse; Life at the Top by John Brain; A Severed Head by Iris Murdoch; The Secret Lemonade Drinker by Guy Bellamy; Randall and the River of Time by C S Forester; The Scapegoat, another of Daphne du Maurier's. In the past they were a good read, but confused my thinking about what Love was. I wonder if I would now understand the subject better, or stay puzzled?

Saturday, 21 July 2012

Now we are sixty: hardening arteries and hardening attitudes

A couple of posts back - it was the one about getting a ten-year plan in place - I said that entering a new decade of one's life was like turning a page, a fresh beginning, and it called for a new outlook. All true. I could also have said that I would now enjoy great personal empowerment.

When I retired early aged only 52, I felt terribly vulnerable to criticism. I was fit-looking, sprightly, and apparently idle, and yet with money to spend. Of course I was still living the Old Life, but even so, I was (and felt) gloriously liberated for a while. The Big Fact was that I would never need to work again; for me the War Was Over.

At the same time, I felt that at any moment I could be denounced in the street by stick-waving whiteheads as a Benefit Fraudster or Rackrenter or Shady Dealer or Pimp, because nobody would believe at a casual glance that I could possibly be self-sufficient on a government pension earned honestly over many years. I must be either On The Fiddle, or engaged in Criminal Activities.

I braced myself for verbal abuse. I was totally mistaken of course. The abuse never came, although I noticed many an appraising, possibly envious, glance. But I stayed on my guard, slightly on the defensive. As it happened, this was all good practice for when I really would become one of Society's Outcasts. It took the sweet edge off my early retirement though. I felt I might need to explain, or even apologise, for my situation, and account for it fully to any stranger who challenged me.

Clearly, my self-esteem had dropped, and - with time on my hands - certain personal issues, long suppressed, were starting to bubble to the surface. I never fell into a pitiable state, but I did feel a bit cheap and second-class. A person who had no moral authority, because I did not work, did not earn, did not suffer any hardship, and had no family responsibities worth a mention. I didn't even have a home of my own: I was staying with my partner. I was a drone. Later, I began to feel like a mere cypher, just someone who was there and always tagged along because I was one of a couple. And someone else ruled the roost.

I was anything but confident and self-assertive. I kept out of sight. The strains showed in a certain irritability. I might protest at some plan, but I'd back off. I had no fight. I just showed a readiness to 'go with the flow' on everything. Anything for an Easy Life, anything to Avoid Argument and Keep The Peace. In short, I appeased people even more than ever before: my partner, my parents especially. And officialdom. If I got a parking ticket I'd be inclined to just pay up, whatever the injustice. I could afford to. I didn't want to fight. But I'd let myself be pushed into mounting a challenge. I lost control of my life.

Mind you, those car parking challenges did pay off. I noted that: some fights were really worth it. I also noticed that standing up for yourself in any situation would usually wrong-foot people, making them consider your case more carefully, and that it paid to ask for stuff even if it wasn't clearly on offer. But left to myself I'd not bother, and lose out.

How I have changed! No wonder some people don't see anything much of the Old Me, the compliant easy-going me, in the person who now so confidently faces the world. But then I feel I have acquired moral force. It wasn't as simple as making a few lifestyle choices, and spending a lot of money. Everyone who goes through The Process has to do heroic things that no ordinary person would face up to. I'm proud to be one of that special sisterhood.

Socially, the transition process was in many ways no surprise. I feared that people would instantly withdraw from me, and mostly they did, in horror and embarrassment, aghast that I could 'do this' to parents and partner. I expected huge expense, and indeed I spent a small fortune, with lasting consequences. I also never doubted for a moment that - fearful and unhappy I might be about the dire damage that would come - I'd have to see this through for my own sake, and that somewhere down the line it would all seem for the best. And so it was. It was however shattering to discover that those closest to you might turn on you the worst. It was also heartening to see who your true friends were. The experience toughened me up, gradually made me stronger and more resolute, less likely to wobble and panic, much more likely to address myself to important one-way decisions. But for a long time, really until the Cottage was sold in August last year, I was still inclined to soft-pedal on how I needed to deal with situations. That's not so any longer. The dragon has emerged. It had to.

Turning 60 has done something to my mindset. I've gone through the Looking-Glass, and some have gone with me, others not. I feel that those who wouldn't jump through with me had best be left behind now. And I can't let myself regret it. I've got - health permitting - twenty active years ahead, then maybe ten more of slow decline. I really have to get the most I can out of all those years. It needs a no-nonsense approach.

I don't have to be selfish and all me, me, me. I can be caring and good company, and always willing to help. But I'm tired now of anything that resurrects the negativity of the past. My positive future began fifteen days ago on 6 July, and I shall keep my eyes forward.

Of course I won't be able to avoid some nostalgia for the Good Things of the Old Life. Happy moments at Happy Places. There were many of those. And I'll want to mark certain anniversaries. And, who knows, some still stuck in the Old Life may yet come to see me with fresh eyes, admit they were wrong about me, and follow me through that Looking-Glass and catch up. If they do, then welcome, but they will have to run fast with me in my race, to my rules.

Wednesday, 18 July 2012

Corrective surgery, the Cornish Giant and I get chatted up

All my longer-known trans friends are looking great. It's amazing what two or three years of hormone treatment can accomplish. And the oestragen will carry on doing its slow and subtle work for years and years ahead, softening and smoothing the skin, plumping the figure out convincingly, and generally making one resemble Barbie much more than Ken.

Some friends have helped themselves on the way with a little facial and throat surgery to get rid of  heavy brows, fat noses, square jaws and jutting adam's apples. And to give a pleasing and girly fullness to cheeks that aren't prominent enough, and to lips that don't pout sufficiently. Plus botox injections here and there, to smooth out wrinkles. Then of course there are breast implants and the use of liposuction to reduce fat tummies. And any amount of nips and tucks can be considered.

I've not had any of that, but I admit the results of such work have generally been pretty good, and if I still had a spare couple of thousand I'd be at least be looking at some of this stuff - a nose reduction in particular. However, noses are tricky and expensive, the facial feature most subject to long-term gravitational droop, and perhaps they are best left alone. Besides, any surgery may leave numb patches. And it's not hard to see that one surgical correction might make another necessary, to keep the face looking 'right'. Then one could slide into a regular cycle of enhancements, in the quest for perfection.

Perhaps it's just as well that I have no money left for this kind of thing!

I must admit that those friends who have made the most of their face and bodies seem well set-up for the dating game. Of course, if you're dull and boring, if you're selfish and uncaring, you will be found out and your lovely new relationship will not get far. But it's the first impression that matters. When you're looking to catch attention in the street, or want your photo to stand out from the rest on a dating site, then you must have a face and figure that arrests the eye. Cynically speaking, a sexy face and figure. Given this reality, I will say that if you're serious about finding a partner, for sex or for long-term, then corrective and cosmetic surgery is perfectly justified.

I had a brief look at dating sites a little while back, and was put off. And in any case...well, you know what my current thinking is about any fresh relationship. It's not what I'm looking for at all. But it's impossible not to find yourself being eyed up by men who assume that you are available and must be looking for love.

An incident arose at the end of my recent holiday in the West Country. Now at Bude there's a picture of the 'Stratton Giant', Anthony Payne, who grew to be 7 foot 4 inches tall. An interesting man: he was very clever, as well as very strong and active, and loyally served the Royalist cause in the Civil War, helping to rout the Roundheads at nearby Stamford Hill in 1643, and then in a later battle near Bath. When he died in 1681 they had to cut a hole in the roof of his house in order to get the coffin out. He was pretty outsize for the time! Here he is:


And this was me, standing next to his picture, and looking just as fat-faced:


Now you can gauge my height in millimetres! (1760 millimetres, when last measured at the hospital).

The point is, for I've digressed again, is that this is what I looked like when sitting in a hotel lounge at eight in the evening a day or two later with my Sony tablet, doing stuff using the free wi-fi. I was tucked away in a corner, with a large glass of wine for company. Then a man came in, and sat down in another corner. He spotted me, and came straight over. He said that he was on holiday himself, and staying at the hotel. He didn't drive any more because of his defective eyesight. So he travelled around the country by train, staying at hotels as he fancied, usually with a purpose: he was a great follower of certain singers, and liked to attend all their shows. He especially admired Susan Boyle, and got me to to display his YouTube channel on my tablet, where he had put together all the best videos of Susan Boyle for the benefit of other fans.

I've never knowingly heard Susan Boyle sing, but I understand she's a shy and sensitive performer with forty-something looks and a beautiful voice. It wasn't however a way into my heart. Was he suggesting that I resembled her in some way? And why?

But it seemed that he was chiefly interested in my tablet. He had to travel as light as possible, and he'd been thinking about a small laptop, but my tablet seemed just the thing. He even dashed off to his hotel room and back to get his reading glasses, so that he could examine the display more closely. He seemed satisfied with that, and pleased also with the sound volume. Yes, it did emailing and all the other usual things. He wasn't put off by the price. He made a note of the make and model.

The talk then drifted on into the practicalities of attending a performance. He was aged 62, rather tall, and confessed that sitting through any performance was an uncomfortable business for him, because the seating was designed for smaller people, especially in traditional theatres. I got the impression that there was no wife in the background, or at least not now, and that he lived comfortably on an MOD pension. The thing was, he treated me as a woman. Eventually I made a graceful and friendly departure, but he had given me his email address, offered me another drink (which I didn't accept), and the conversation had lasted for well over an hour. I chatted pretty freely, but I didn't give him any contact details. I promised to email him when I got home, to supply more particulars of the Sony tablet. (I didn't, because I couldn't decipher his handwritten email address)

Hmmm.

Back at the caravan I mulled this encounter over. He definitely spoke to me much longer than strictly necessary. Was it a subtle chat up? Or simply one person on their own enjoying the temporary company of another? Either way, I clearly didn't need facial surgery to catch the eye of a man of my own generation! This one hadn't in any way extolled his virtues, or bragged about himself, or tried to flatter me. I think he even claimed to have had little education, although that couldn't be true. I didn't get a strong impression that he was interested in me, but I'm not yet skilled enough at this game to tell. Natal women I've mentioned it to have told me he might well have been wanting more than just casual conversation. But he seemed a nice man nevertheless, so I'm not going to look for a dark motive here.

Well. Food for thought.

Monday, 16 July 2012

Wind and old concrete: RAF Davidstow Moor and RAF St Eval


RAF Davidstow Moor was one of Coastal Command's many airfields during World War II. It lies at the north end of Bodmin Moor in Cornwall. It didn't see much action. Seventy years on, Nature is slowly destroying the concrete runways. The main control tower (centre shot) still stands and is still imposing, a modern ruin, a monument to the men who flew from here, and to some who did not come back. In the bottom picture, Fiona looks quite out of place, an alien usurper on an apparently empty scene that is nevertheless full of ghosts.

I have always found these old airfields so evocative. You can almost hear in the breeze the echoes of aircraft engines and urgent radio conversations. Each old airfield is an outdoor museum that is crumbling away a bit more every year. So many were built. So many are now just places for pig farms and radio aerials, and for flying your model Spitfire or Hurricane. After the war, part of RAF Davidstow Moor was a motor racing circuit. Nowadays microlites must use the best of the three runways - hence the '02' painted on the concrete in the top photo. I suppose the disintegrating concrete should give us all an assurance that there is no such thing as 'countryside spoiled for all time' by a motorway or some such. In just a few years, if the structure is left to rot, Nature will reclaim.

Not nearly so sad and desolate is another Cornish airfield near Padstow, RAF St Eval. This was in much longer active use, and did see plenty of action during the Battle of Britain in 1940. There was actually a village called St Eval, but as in all these instances the requirements of national defence meant that the villagers had to move, and their homes were flattened. The modern settlement on the south-east edge of the airfield was the former married quarters for RAF personnel, now occupied by a motley collection of people who were prepared to queue for days to secure a house when they all came up for sale to the public. If you are desperate for your own home, then any chance of one is worth an effort, even a house set miles from anywhere. But I noticed that they at least had a shop, which must have once been run by the NAAFI.

The original village church was allowed to remain. It's full of RAF stuff. Services are held here regularly. It was sunny when I visited it, the day after my recent birthday:


I'd been here before, in August 1973, with my younger brother W---. You can't do it now (Health and Safety!), and you couldn't when I returned in 1980 with my girlfriend D---, but forty-odd years ago in 1973 you could climb up to the top of the tower and get a magnificent panoramic view. Here's W--- giving a salute from the top of the tower, to prove what I say:


He liked his leather wristbands! He was 17 at the time, and I was 21. We got on very well. I often wonder what he would now think of me as Lucy, but of course he died seventeen years ago in 1995, and I can never know.

St Eval church and its grounds were spruce and well cared-for, with a very impressive stained glass window in the church. But there were no empty runways, no gaunt control towers, and I heard no frantic messages from battered aircraft limping home hanging in the wind.

Sunday, 15 July 2012

Well used and well loved

While on holiday I wandered into an upmarket bag shop that stocked ladies' bags made by Radley. I was only looking, by the way. But I love bags, and can't resist seeing what the latest bags are like.

And I very much dig Radley. They really do seem to know what is needed for a leather bag that you will use all the time and grow to appreciate. Some of their colours are a bit odd, but their black bags are a very safe bet. These are well-made, well-designed bags that have a quality look, free of silly bling. I personally do not like their cute 'little dog' logo, but a lot of their bags keep the dog subtly out of sight. Much of their range is in the £100 to £150 price bracket - definitely not for cheapskates then. But still much more affordable than something from, say, Mulberry. I remember once discussing Radleys with a lady who said she collected them. I really think she had at least ten. That's not something you can do with bags by Prada, or any of the big-ticket fashion houses, not unless you are so well-off that buying a new bag can't mean anything much.

This is my Radley:


I bought it at House of Fraser in Chichester on 20 August 2009, so I've owned it for nearly three years. I remember that purchase very well. It was a sunny afternoon, and I got to the store late in the afternoon. I'd examined the bag on a different occasion not long before, but I still spent fifteen minutes considering it carefully before I made up my mind. It cost £150. After purchase, I wandered into Chichester Cathedral opposite and sat down. A service was about to begin. The sunshine streamed through the windows, accentuating the soft shadows. There was a restful, dignified, but involving atmosphere that felt personal. Words were spoken that brought comfort and cheer and hope. Then prayers were said and a hymn sung. It should have been pleasant and soothing and uplifting, and I suppose it was, but the moving hymn music made me think only of poor Dad, who had died less than three months before, and after a while I had to leave because I was on the verge of tears. Such was the birth of my relationship with this bag! Recovered, I stopped off on the drive home and walked up to Halnaker Windmill, wearing my new Radley bag of course:


Another - much more happy - reason to remember the purchase day!

Back to the bag. It's made of softish leather but stitched together to give it a proper shape and avoid floppiness. It has a long strap, so you wear it across-body and can have both hands free. It's perfect for town and country wear, goes with any outfit except very dressy stuff (for which I use the Prada bag), and the big flap that comes forward over the entire bag has a magnetic fastener, and is ideal for keeping the weather and light fingers out.

You can see that the blackness of the front side (really the flap) is now disappearing with exposure to the elements. Underneath it's the original deep black leather.

This is a very practical bag, with three main compartments, and inside, well under cover, two large zip-up pockets and two smaller open pockets. The inside fabric is light-coloured cotton, so that you can find stuff in poor light. I can accommodate the following with ease:

Purse
Phone
Passport and NHS Medical Card
Leica camera
Spare battery for the Leica
Comb
Tissues
Mirror
Lipstick
Penknife

The killer feature, which I've not seen replicated on any more recent Radley bag - or any other quality make, come to that - is that big outside pocket, which in my top two photos has the handle of my comb sticking out of it. This is so useful. Without opening the bag, I can grab a tissue or the comb, and it's an ideal place to put a shopping list, or a used car parking ticket, or to keep a map handy.

Important occasions aside, this has been my daily bag for almost three years. And naturally there has been some wear and tear. And I had been wondering for some time whether I should get a new bag to replace it, on the principle that a girl needs to look smart. Against this, I had become very, very attached to my Radley, my so-useful companion.

And then, to calm my doubts and confirm my huge appreciation for this bag, the lady in the holiday bag shop said to me as I entered, 'Ah, a Radley, and a well used and well loved one, too!' That was a risky thing to say to someone like me. Whatever nice things might be on sale, having said that she had bonded me even more securely to my bag.

It was All Right then, to have a well-worn item like this! So be it. The marks of wear and tear would henceforth be displayed with pride.

It was just as well, of course. I couldn't afford another Radley just now, and shouldn't even be looking. It crossed my mind also that well-used bags acquired a certain personality. They said something strong about their owner. I wasn't quite sure what my bag said about me, but according to that lady it must be something very positive!

Friday, 13 July 2012

Cheap wins out

Back in early 2009, as my transition was getting under way, I made two very expensive purchases. One was a TAG Heuer ladies watch. The other was a Prada handbag. The watch cost £950. The handbag cost £910. I never bought anything else so expensive as these two items. But they met an important need. Both were props to shore up my battered self-worth and self-confidence. The bag especially attracted attention of the right sort from interested women, and led to several positive conversations that boosted my morale. They also said to anyone who saw them that I had money (which I did, at the time), and that I shouldn't be casually dismissed as yet another tranny living on benefits, someone to laugh at and perhaps punch in the face. They made people pause, and see me as an individual. They bought me space when I most needed it.

Of course, the price tags were outrageous. But these luxury accessories did the job. Nobody ever laughed at me. Nobody punched me in the face. And gradually I learned to walk through my new world without brandishing a shield.

I still use the Prada bag. Actually, more than ever - because it's the only posh bag I have that will swallow (a) my Sony tablet, and (b) a change of shoes and a light raincoat. It still looks good, and I still carry it proudly.

The TAG Heuer watch has been less successful. It's too understated to get the same attention as the bag. To remind you, this is what it looks like:


The day after I bought this watch in January 2009 in Watches of Switzerland at Brighton - spending that £950 - I went into Argos at Burgess Hill, and bought a cheap backup ladies watch, this Timex:


Guess how much for the Timex? It cost only £11.75. And yet it had in many ways nicer styling, its simplicity and plainness giving it as much elegance, in its own way, as the vastly more expensive TAG Heuer. The Timex's black strap was made of leather. Both watches had the same type of electronic movement. Both used a battery. It made you wonder what was the difference, apart from such superficialities as the brand name, type of strap, and the exterior finish.

To be sure, the TAG Heuer was, externally, the more impressive, and better suited to a posh occasion. But it sacrificed a lot to style, and possessed a silly flaw: the date window was so small that you couldn't make out what the date was.

In the end, both watches did no more than tell you the time. Both seemed equally accurate. But I thought the Timex won hands down on clarity.

So when the TAG Heuer's second battery in three years expired, I did some thinking. The cost of a replacement battery would be around £70. Why? Because the watch had a fancy seal that made it totally waterproof, not only in the shower but a long way under water. As if I was ever going to stroll around on the sea bed! But every time the watch was opened, a fresh seal had to be fitted. That meant sending it away for at least a month. So I faced a long wait, a big bill, and the same thing again every two years. It was time to put the TAG Heuer quietly away, and turn to the still-pristine Timex, whose battery had just expired after lasting three years.

It was all done in less than five minutes at H Samuel. One new lithium battery popped in for £9.50.

One Timex watch up and running.

One giant step for mankind.

My particular Timex watch is still made, but it now costs about £25 online, or £30 if you get it from Timex's own website. But most watches in their range cost rather more. It's still an inexpensive brand though. You can pay a couple of thousand for a snazzy big-name timepiece that has the same electronics inside. And if you want a wind-up Rolex or similar, you are talking silly money. The joke is, nowadays nearly everyone carries a mobile phone, and that will give you the time. So what is that thing on your wrist really for?

And what is the point of having a watch at all, when nothing is punctual, not trains or buses, not Big Ben on the digital radio, not other people, and least of all yourself? Watches, however fancy, have never made me run on time.

Thursday, 12 July 2012

Now for a Ten Year Plan

My mood was completely positive this morning. I awoke to sunshine, and although it's got a bit cloudier as the hours have passed, it's still dry and bright. I've got a lot of coming-home jobs done already, and my to-do list is shrinking. To cap it all, a leap onto the scales revealed that I'd actually lost a small amount of weight while away. Just how I do not know! But it's encouraging.

Funny how your brain works at things while you sleep. I now feel really good about becoming sixty. It feels like a corner turned. A new decade of my life. Time for a fresh outlook, and a fresh start.

And of course the next ten years need some goals. Let's take stock first.


Where I am now

# Apart from personal possessions, and a mass of photos, all the old life has been blown away. If I ever had an ambition to complete the essential parts of my transition by age sixty, then I've done it, and done it properly. The transformation is ongoing of course, with some additional feminisation, fuelled by the hormones, yet to come. And of course I am still an 'apprentice woman' and will remain so for a long time. There's so much to learn. But it's substantially 'job done'.

# I am not merely passing, I am living a full female life. I don't think there is anything that a woman can do at my age that I can't attempt with assurance. All the proper documentation is there. And I don't think, on the evidence of how I interact with people, that I have any handicap that would - for instance - prevent me getting a job, apart from ordinary age and sex discrimination, or lack of relevant work-experience. I am quite sure that so far as looks and voice and manner go, I'm as good a proposition as any other sixty year old woman.

# I admit there is no romantic side to my life, but then I don't want to pair off with anyone. I'm a thoroughly independent person, and love it that way.

# I have friends. I value them all. There must be an upper limit to the number of friends you can realistically spend your time with, but my friends base is still growing. And all done without Facebook.

# I have no immediate family, no dependents or other family responsibilities.

# There remain some unresolved issues. There are people who used to know and love J---, and can't accustom themselves to Lucy. I don't know how this will get dealt with.

# I am in good health. My weight is too high, but if I build a bit more exercise into my life, and resolve to eat just a little less, then I can slowly shed some kilos.

# I have a varied range of interests, the principal ones (such as photography and driving) requiring me to get out and around. I'm pretty restless, certainly not a couch potato. I simply can't watch TV or films for long, or do anything so passive. I have loads of 'serious' books to read.

# I have a decentish pension. It's less than the average wage in the UK, and I have to run a house and big car on it. I'm also minded to give priority to a social life, some cultural pursuits, and my caravan outings. I also like to spend money keeping the house and garden looking nice. These things mean that I can''t save much at the moment. I'm struggling to maintain an emergency fund of £1,000. It'll be better once my State Pension kicks in, but that's two years off.

# On the other hand, I have no debts. Nor any expensive habits - I don't drink much, don't smoke, don't party, don't entertain, don't gamble in any form whatever, don't belong to any clubs, and don't collect things. Nor do I spend nearly as much as I used to on clothes and shoes. I wouldn't claim to be thrifty, but I'm weaning myself off the spend, spend, spend of the past. The psychological need has gone.

So, to summarise: I'm presently in good health, confident, solvent, and free to do as I please.


Where I'd like to be in ten years' time

# In good health, weighing less, and fit enough to do another ten years with no problems.

# In a future-proof house that will last me through to the end of my life. The house I'm in now will do well enough. But I inherited it, and it wasn't my free choice. That said, it's a very nice little house, very well positioned for shops and services and hospitals, and I have great neighbours. Why move at all? And Sussex weather is the best in the south-east.

# I'd like £10,000 in my savings account. More if possible, but £10,000 is realistic if I can save the geater part of my State Pension when it starts in November 2014. The snag here is that the State Pension has ceased to be 'extra pocket money' and will instead be a vital part of my income. I suspect that rising prices, particularly rising fuel prices, will limit what I can save. But I will try.

# I'd like a large network of friends and contacts. You can't know too many people! You need a reason to get out of the house.

# I'd like to do more travelling while I have the energy. And I can't do it all in the caravan. So there's the cost of flying and hotels to consider. This is probably not consistent with accumulating £10,000. So what's it to be? Unforgettable experiences, great photographs, or the security of some cash in the bank? It's a hard one.


Some would aim for different goals. At 70, quite a number of people might well be in regular employment, or running a business they've built up. But I don't find the commercial life appealing. And despite an interest in art, or at least artistic pursuits, I can't quite see myself learning how to be a silversmith or sculptor or actor or any kind of amateur musician or performer.

I still haven't abandoned the notion of singing. And I dare say it would be possible to take up a skill such as bellringing. When in Cornwall, I saw this photo in Blisland church (click on it to enlarge):


Taken two years ago, these are the St Breward and Blisland Church Bellringers. They look a jolly bunch. Both men and women in there, you'll notice, and a spread of ages. The trouble would be that I'm not someone who joins anything. Partly because I'm not around when fixtures come up. I'm always away somewhere. Should I change my mode of life, to become one of such a merry band? A twice-weekly commitment, albeit with real ale thrown in? (The Blisland Inn was a renowned Real Ale pub. I chatted there to two male rambling types, who clearly loved the stuff. I stuck to gin and tonic) Adapt or stay apart? Tricky.

Wednesday, 11 July 2012

Crime scene

My first night back home. And although nothing has actually happened, it feels a bit like a crime scene, as if I'd been burgled while away and everything of value has been removed, and taken from me, never to be seen again. Of course I speak figuratively, and exaggerate. The house was waiting for me, friendly, looked after in my absence, and Teddy Tinkoes was on guard, ready to repel any intruders, if there had been any, with an austere glance. But while I was away something went out of my life, and it really does feel as if I've come home to find that a kind of robbery has taken place.

I can't quite put my finger on it. It's in my mind, of course. A question of how I feel. Perhaps it was saying goodbye to my fifties, and stepping into the unknown sixties?

The holiday in Cornwall was not a success. I was not able to meet up with my stepdaughter A---. The weather was pretty awful for much of the time. And I couldn't help feeling worried about the cost of my 60th birthday gathering, and further costs to come.

I suppose that, of these three things, not having any word from A---, let alone the briefest of meetups, got me down the most. I told myself, this is their vital break from the unrelenting round of visits while in the UK. You simply musn't feel bad if you are kept at arm's length. But it was difficult not to feel forgotten and very unimportant. And it was certainly an opportunity missed. If A--- wanted to have a heart-to-heart with me about my transition, she could hardly have had a better chance. But the days passed and that chance was not taken. Probably for perfectly good reasons. But it was an opportunity lost.

I countered this negativity with runs out in the comfortable and completely weather-proof Fiona, to places like Cotehele, Fowey, Bodmin, Doc Martin City (aka Port Isaac), and Boscastle (where there was a fantastic sunset). And there were a couple of warm and sunny afternoons. I spent one of them at Trevose Head and Treyarnon Bay, both west of Padstow. But then that was sad for a different reason - it was the scene of several Cornish holidays with Mum and Dad and my brother W---, long ago when I was in my teens. I couldn't help feeling emotional about my utterly vanished family. Still, the sunshine and the breeze and the sparkling waves were a strong tonic. I simply couldn't be downbeat for long when the sun was out, and the sky was so blue.


And on my 60th Birthday, on the 6th July, I had the very best company anyone could want. Angie and S--- came over to join me in a meal at the St Tudy Inn. A candlelit dinner. It was fun! The landlord, dapper in his bow tie, took note that it was a special birthday and made it a proper occasion for me.


To be honest, encounters with other people redeemed this holiday. So thank you to a dozen or so people who made my day in one way or another, although two stand out: the lady who discussed women's life chances (and church matters) with me at St Petroc's Parish Church in Bodmin, and Gemma, the very friendly girl in Wroes department store in Bude, who searched their store of bedlinen for me and discovered exactly the right king-size fitted flannelette sheet that I'd been looking for. But I bumped into nice people everywhere I went. Our eyes met and that was that. I can't tell whether I exude friendliness and good vibes, and so draw people to me, or whether the world at large is full of really excellent people who have time for you and seem to relate to what you have to say. I dare say I really do catch their eyes somewhat - something a bit different or unusual about my appearance, perhaps, I can't say really - but however it is, we begin chatting. Strange that. And yet those who assert that it's a dangerous jungle out there must be right too.

I didn't resort to Retail Therapy. Well, not much. Seasalt in Fowey had two flattering dresses that I tried on and tried to dislike, but couldn't, and simply had to buy. But that was all. They are the same dress, but in red and blue, and so comfortable. They'll probably get a post to themselves.

Hmmm. Writing this has lifted my mood like magic! Ah, the power of blogging!

Sunday, 8 July 2012

The last night in Cornwall

Look - it is possible to blog from North Cornwall! Even if formatting this properly will have to wait till I get home. I'm sitting in the Bullers Arms Hotel in Marhamchurch, just outside Bude, with roast lamb on order and a gin and tonic to sip. It's so nice to find somewhere to do this. It's been a week of pleasures and disappointments. The chief pleasure was meeting up with Cornish friend Angie on my 60th Birthday night. A lovely meal at the St Tudy Inn. Dessert served personally by the jovial landlord, with a candle to blow out! The chief disappointment was the weather - almost unremitting cloudy skies and rain, with only a couple of sunny afternoons. Never mind! I got out and around, and made the best of it. As is my usual habit, of course. Dinner has arrived. Yum! More when I get home.

Sunday, 1 July 2012

The morning after

I held my 60th birthday Family Gathering at my home yesterday. I now need to examine how it went. It was an important event for me. My stepdaughter A--- attended with her husband S--- and their two little children, T--- and K---. A--- and T--- had not seen me since 2008, S--- not since 2007, K--- never. Basically none of them had met 'Lucy Melford' before. So as the time of their arrival approached, you can imagine how nervous I was getting.

In all it was a party of fifteen, most of whom had met Lucy, and were well-used to her, one or two of them (my immediate neighbours) on a daily basis. I can't express how grateful I was for my neighbours' warmth and goodwill. The same for the one friend whom I invited (she deserved to be there, as I had met her family, and she had worked tirelessly to get my garden in good order). It would have been a social or culninary disaster without their help. This was the list of guests who could actually attend:

My sister-in-law G--- and her husband C---.
My nephew M--- and his partner C---.
My niece J--- and her partner K---.
My stepdaughter A---, her husband S---, and young children T--- and K---.
A---'s schoolfriend E---, whom I'd known almost as long as A---.
My friend R---.
My neighbours J--- and T---.

Fifteen is not a large number for a get-together like this, but I rarely entertain, and I'm not used to organising such a gathering. So for me it was a potential nightmare! Fortunately it was all ready on time, and so far as the basics went, nothing was lacking. Even the sunshine! Despite a terrific downpour at breakfast-time, it was dry and warm by kick-off at 1.00pm, and it stayed warm and sunny all afternoon. Everyone arrived punctually, they were all cheerful and chatty - model guests! - and all seemed to agree that the sun was lovely, the seating great, the food was excellent, and the tone was spot-on. The kids behaved themselves - although I expected nothing different - liked the presents I gave them, and so far as I was concerned moved from initial shyness to easy familiarity. I was 'Auntie Lucy' by the close of play.

All this said, I don't think it was, for me, an unqualified success. I quickly overcame my first nervousness, but then I made the classic error of staying too much in the kitchen, and not being outside enough with my guests. Not that I needed to be constantly in everyone's eye. Although it was my chief 'birthday event', it had to be held on a day convenient for everyone, and not on my actual 60th birthday (6 July), when in fact I'd be away in Cornwall. So although I was presented with cards and a present or two, I didn't feel I should personally behave as if it were My Day, and my day only. It was just as much a chance for bits of my family to see each other again. And indeed, I wanted the children to be the ones made a fuss of.

In any case, I hate being the star; I shy away from too much attention, because it quickly gets overwhelming. I'm not good in crowds. Even fifteen was a little too many for me. So I think that to some extent, although I was genuinely busy, I 'hid' in the kitchen, merely emerging for brief periods. Nothing wrong with that. But it wasn't what I should have done if I wished to let A--- and S--- get a proper idea of what I was like nowadays. I did talk to them, but it was in snatches: nothing deep. An opportunity missed. And I hardly spoke with one or two of my other guests. Not good. Not good at all.

It wasn't how I'd dreamed in the past of first meeting A--- and S--- as Lucy. I'd imagined a trip to New Zealand. I'd be so changed, so womanly, that on arrival at Auckland airport I'd actually be able to walk past them as they waited to greet me in the Arrivals hall, and I'd have to tap them on the shoulder, to their delighted surprise. This so-much-less-exotic first encounter in Sussex was not ideal. And that decisive moment of initial appraisal had now gone forever, never again to be experienced. I was so glad to see A--- again now, in 2012, and not in 2017 or 2018, but I felt I'd missed some better opportunity, and perhaps a delayed first meeting would have turned out happier for me.

Everyone had gone by mid-evening. I was very tired. I'd been on my feet for nearly twelve hours, with almost no sitting down, and of course a certain mental and emotional overload was present. But despite this, my driving instinct was to get the furniture and ornaments back into their normal place, tidy up, wash up, restore Ted to his regular spot, and generally recreate the old, familiar, comfortable home. Then, and not next morning. I badly needed to. I felt a huge sense of anti-climax. An escape into ordinary daily life was as vital as a nice cup of tea. I felt upset that I'd not had a breakthough with A---, no definite moment of total acceptance for Lucy. There was still only cautious goodwill. I kicked myself for not being much more at the heart of my own event.

But this morning I do take a more relaxed view. The agreed arrangement in Cornwall is that A--- will phone or text me when up to a meetup down there. That's fine; it's their escape from London, a holiday within a holiday, and I certainly won't intrude unless invited. But of course, if they don't actually meet me in Cornwall, then I may not see them again before they depart for home in New Zealand at the end of July, and that might mean not seeing them again for years to come. So I'm now pinning rather a lot on some beach or afternoon or early-evening rendezvous, just them and me, at which some more significant conversation might take place. We'll see.

So what went really well at my Gathering?

Well, apparently the food I served up - mostly cooked or created by myself - got a big thumbs up. There was a lot of it, and I won't go into everything that I offered, but the star components were the tasty Old English sausages bought from Clive Miller the Hurstpierpoint butchers, the cold meat pies I bought from the deli counter at Waitrose, the vast Vegetable Bake I made, and the delicious Eton Mess made with my neighbour J---'s help, using raspberries. Not everything was consumed: the lychees, for instance. Not a problem - I finished those off myself, with relish!

I greatly over-estimated the amount of meaty things that people might want to tuck into. So I now have a boatload of sausages, chicken breasts, burgers and thick back bacon on my hands. But I can freeze it all, and gradually eat it up between now and Christmas. I simply regard it as ordinary food shopping done in advance.

And now, today, the attention is on getting the caravan ready for Cornwall. Off at nine tomorrow morning. There's not a lot to do, compared with the frenzy of the last couple of days. If I want to take a break, there's even an invitation to a barbecue at 1.00pm in Stanmer Park on the edge of Brighton, but I think I'll have to keep focussed, stay at home, and send my apologies. It's a seven-hour journey down to Cornwall, stops included, and I need to be all packed, and properly rested for such a trip!

Incidentally, I think that I'll probably have to resign myself to 'radio silence' while away, so far as this blog is concerned. It may be possible to find some place in Bodmin, Launceston, Bude or Liskeard that offers wi-fi in suitable surroundings, but I'm not too hopeful. I'll see what I can do.