Sunday, 31 March 2013

Normal service will resume very shortly

I returned home from Newport yesterday afternoon, and have been busy with all the things you do when back from any holiday. The biggest task has been to process some 300 photos, mainly of visits to Cardiff and Blaenavon. Cardiff is the Big City. I visited the Cardiff Bay area where the old docks used to be, and the National Museum of Wales. Blaenavon is a World Heritage town at the head of one of the Valleys, and apart from the town itself there is the Big Pit mining museum, the old ironworks, and trains in steam on the Pontypool & Blaenavon Railway, the highest preserved line in the country. All those photos have taken time to deal with, but the job is now done, and I can incorporate some of them in my next posts, and considerably more on my Flickr site.

So we kick off tomorrow with Cardiff. As usual, whatever I've seen will lead to a digression on some other vaguely related topic before coming back to the main thrust. I seem to be incapable of sticking to one topic per post, but who cares! I have to say, Cardiff Bay impressed me. But it was knocked into a cocked hat by Big Pit, and yes, I donned a hard hat and went underground. What happened down there will be revealed in the following two or three days.

Monday, 25 March 2013

Mixed luck

Did I say I was remarkably lucky in my last post? Perhaps I spoke too soon!

First, I was checking Fiona's tyre pressures yesterday, as part of my pre-journey checks (I took the caravan to Newport in South Wales today) and discovered that one of the rear tyres had picked up a small nail. The tyre pressure was normal, but air hissed out when I attempted to extract the nail with pliers. I hammered it back in quick! Damn. That will require a repair, or even a new tyre, when I get home again. More expense. Damn, damn, damn. Meanwhile, despite towing, and despite motorway driving, the pressure held up overnight and all the way to Newport. May it stay that way for now.

Second, while travelling down this morning I found the kitchen section of the caravan floor streaked with water from somewhere. It was quickly and easily mopped up with tissues, but I could not figure out the source of the water until I used the toilet in the bathroom. The toilet rinse reservoir was quite empty. I had drained it last November, and had forgotten to pop the bung back in for refilling a couple of days back. So all the fresh water, along with 250ml of fragrant pink Aquarinse, had leaked away. The reservoir holds a bucketful of fluid. But the kitchen floor had barely a cupful on it. Another cupful was still in the toilet cassette chamber, where the drain was located. Where had all the rest gone? I had to assume it had somehow found its way out of the caravan and onto my drive. I hoped so: it would be bad news if a big pool of pink water was still trapped inside the caravan, sloshing around and soaking into parts that ought to stay dry. So a silly mistake with disturbing consequences. Honestly, you fly-off-to-Tenerife-on-a-package-holiday people have it really easy.

But let's be of good cheer. On arrival, I had two bits of compensating good luck. I found I'd reserved four nights on a 'fully-serviced' pitch. That is, a pitch where you not only have electricity, but you can connect fresh water and waste water pipes. Plumbing was not required! I'd somehow made an error when booking online. But the pleasant and very patient lady on reception was able to change it to five nights with electricity only. For £44.90 instead of £54.80, giving me an extra night - and therefore another full day to play with - but still saving me a tenner. Nice! And the other bit of good luck was that I reversed the caravan onto its pitch on my first attempt. A smooth, neat, nonchalant manoeuvre, just like a real pro! And if you've ever reversed a one-ton trailer onto a small spot you'll know how good it feels to do it tidily. And myself 'just a woman' too.

Apart from the background din of the M4, which you get to ignore, it's nice here at Tredegar House Country Park. My pitch gets the afternoon sunshine. But it's very cold outside. Inside it's comfortable, but I think it's a night to leave the electric heating on.

Sunday, 24 March 2013

East meets West: Rupert and the Spring Adventure

Way back in 1994, M--- and I had an evening meal at the Wenlock Edge Inn in Shropshire (see http://www.wenlockedgeinn.co.uk/index.php). Apart from giving us a very decent meal on a dark and frosty night, this pub was memorable because the son of the then owner was keen on Chinese Astrology. It emerged that M--- and I were extremely compatable, she being a Wood Monkey (a clever and adaptable character-type in Chinese Astrology) and I was a Water Dragon (a glittering sky-dwelling showoff type, but lucky, and the Most Likely to Succeed).

For many years it did seem that in our cases Chinese Astrology did not lie, and that our character-matching was spot on. And I still think, whether it's nonsense or not, that Chinese Astrology described our characters perfectly. Up to a point, anyway. M--- was clever; she did adapt to many changes in her circumstances; but she couldn't adapt to the one I presented her with in 2008.

As for myself, I was always a showoff if I felt confident enough, which wasn't often. I was, and remain, lucky beyond reason: whatever happens, there always seems to be a silver lining, some kind of happiness or pleasure or consolation to be pulled from the wreck. Have I been successful? Hard to say. By some measures yes, certainly. Let me put it this way: whatever I looked into properly, and planned out carefully, without compromises, and without deviating from my own best judgement, has turned out fine for me. To be sure, some of my life has been influenced by circumstances beyond my complete control, and that part hasn't turned out so well. But it is the nature of Dragons to fly above setbacks, and keep glittering. So I don't care much about failing sometimes. Life goes on. Best to live it with a cheerful face and no regrets.

A pet dragon features in the fourth of the Rupert stories in my 1958 annual. Its full of oriental stuff, a most exotic piece, and must have been a delightful project for the artist Alfred Bestall.


The opening double-pager shows an Imp of Spring looking into a hole in a tree-trunk, while a Pekinese called Pong-Ping watches. With him is his pet dragon, a chain around its neck, and the dragon is breathing out fire and smoke, as of course they do.

Well, Rupert is out for a country walk on a lovely day in April, and sees a lot of scorched grass and bushes. One of his pals appears, a country mouse, and Rupert calls to him: 'Hi, Rastus! What are these black patches?' Hmmm. The only other Rastus I ever heard of was the hero of some dire schoolboy jokes about a dashing young man, straight out of Gone With The Wind, who has a permanent humungous stiffy. Unfortunately a Rastus joke has now come to mind. Part of my 'male baggage'. Do you really want to hear it? Oh, all right. On your head be it.

Marie-Lou is in her boudoir, making herself pretty for a big night out with her beau, Rastus.

Suddenly the door creaks open a little, and ten inches of erect penis poke through the gap. It's Rastus. He says: 'Marie-Lou, are you ready?' But she says: 'Lawdy no, Rastus. I ain't ready.'

Ten minutes pass. Another twelve inches of erect penis are pushed into the room. Rastus says: 'Marie-Lou, are you ready now?' And she says: 'NO Rastus, I ain't ready yet. I need more time.' 

Half an hour goes by, and a further nine inches of throbbing erect penis are pushed into the room. Rastus says, excitedly: 'Marie-Lou, are you ready NOW?'  And she replies: 'I'm a-ready, Rastus!' To which he replies: 'Marie-Lou! I'm coming up the stairs!''

Yes, well. I did try to head you off. It's so puerile, and any modern person reading that might well cringe at the historic stereotyping. And justly so. But it was what kids joked about in 1960, if we are being truthful and honest; and this joke clearly left an impression on my own puerile and male-tainted mind. At least it's the only one that I've been able to remember.

Thank goodness that 'trannies' were not a concept in 1960: presumably there would have been sniggery schoolboy jokes about them, just the same.

Back to Rupert. His mouse friend can't explain the burnt grass and bushes, but he has already run into Pong-Ping, who is uncharacteristically put out by something. Rupert goes to see him. Yes, his pet dragon, made frisky by the arrival of Spring, has burnt a hole through his garden hedge and escaped. He brightens up when Rupert shows him the scorched verdure that he has seen: the dragon can be tracked, then! He asks Rupert to find him:


Rupert soon succeeds. But the playful dragon is not going to be caught so easily:


Hasn't Mr Bestall made the dragon look lively and distinctive! Rupert can't get his hand on the chain, and the dragon bounds off. A little while later, Rupert finds a young farmer watching smoke issuing from the roots of a tree. And this, dear reader, is what a stylish (but puzzled) young farmer was supposed to look like in 1958. Bow tie, tweed jacket, jodhpurs, riding boots, cane and all. Absolutely dressed for the country. He's very eligible, isn't he?


Here I'll show an example of the proper reading text that appears beneath the picture frames:


The annual was not just for children who couldn't read well, and had to rely on pictures and simple two-line rhymes. There was proper reading matter, that needed a decent vocabulary and a good knowledge of punctuation. And in the text, children were encouraged to be sceptical of myths, because the farmer gravely says, 'There are no such things as dragons', and, 'But hold on a minute, what's all this nonsense about dragons?', suggesting to the thinking child that the world might not actually contain Father Christmas either. But Rupert knows it isn't nonsense, and races back to Pong-Ping for advice. On the way, he encounters a charming little Imp of Spring - and I don't need to tell you who they are, and what they get up to, now do I? - who tells him that the dragon is burning the roots of all the trees with its fiery breath, and they, the Imps, can't do their work of making things grow.


So nothing less than the successful establishment of Spring in England has been thrust upon the little bear's shoulders! Back at Pong-Ping's home, the Pekinese decides to try catching the errant dragon with some of his favourite food. Notice the contemporary 1958 kitchen furniture and decor. Students of mid twentieth century social tends and consumer taste can learn much from studying Rupert annuals:


Back with the Imp, Rupert is shown a secret stone that tilts to reveal an underground passageway, lined with the roots of the trees above. Clutching that bag of tasty dragon food, Ruperts descends and looks for the creature. He soon hears it coming. Dropping a little food on the ground, he calls to the dragon, who scuttles over to gobble it up with relish. It's then easy to grab the chain, because the hungry dragon lets him. Then they rush home to Pong-Ping, the Imps watching from the boughs:


I really think that Mr Bestall is fantastic at drawing believable characters, scampering movement, and realistic foliage. Notice how, in the last pair of pictures, the bottom edge of the right-hand picture frame cuts off the dragon, who is merely implied by the taught chain: the focus is on the Imps draped on the tree, who are delicately drawn to suggest they are as light and fluttery as leaves.

Pong-Ping is very happy indeed to have his pet restored to him, and thanks Rupert, who then returns to tell the Imps that the crisis is over. But all he can find is the young farmer, who isn't best pleased. Everything green is now turning black! Whole swathes of grass, and hedges, and bushes and all the trees. There's more to do. He runs into another friend, the little Chinese girl Tigerlily:


Now this Tigerlily is really very cute, and I know for a fact that in an era that lacked porn magazines for ten year olds to study, she was the next best thing, and regarded as a hot chick. Nowadays all that has long evaporated, and one can appreciate her simply as an authentic oriental child in traditional costume, such as might have been seen anywhere in the 1950s English countryside. 'Oh,' she says to Rupert, 'It just as me t'ink. A dragon has done this. But it is you who do not understand. Dragon fire is not the same as other fire. Maybe it can be cured. Come, we will go and ask my daddy. He can do many clever t'ings.' Which is not like the locals spoke when I visited Hong Kong and Kowloon in 2007, nor did they look like her, but hey ho, perhaps they used to look and speak like that before Chairman Mao took over, and reformed this and that. Anyway, it's good to know that dragon fire is something special.

Her father, known as The Conjurer (although he's clearly a powerful white wizard), receives them sternly. 'O honourable papa,' says Tigerlily politely - what a thoroughly nice, respectful child she is; I modelled myself on her, by the way - 'we have found strange burnings of grass and trees. Behold here this blackened twig.'


'It's dragon's work,' The Conjurer soon declares, and he goes off to prepare a healing brew in a flask, to be sprayed on all the scorched plants. Tigerlily comes along to see the effect, but must keep out of sight in case the Imps won't show themselves to her. 'That spray velly good in China,' she says. And indeed when the Imps lead Rupert underground again, so that he can spray the tree roots, it endows an instant cure and fresh green shoots appear again. Rupert tells Tigerlily all that happened while with the Imps, who have gone, and returns the flask. Next he meets the young farmer, who is amazed at all the regeneration going on. And it really is amazing! The English trees have started to grow grapes and peaches! He presents Rupert with some of the fruit. 'Oo, thank you, how topping!' cries the little bear. Ah, such is the generosity of farmers.


Encountering Tigerlily once more (she's off to spray Pong-Ping's damaged hedge with more of her father's brew), he shows her the fruit.


She isn't surprised. 'Me tell you that spray very good in China and may be different here,' she declares, 'It is different and velly nice, yes?' 'I think it's wonderful,' cries Rupert, 'But I ought to have known that queer things always happen when a conjurer gets to work.' Indeed they do. Wise words, little bear.

(I should perhaps explain for a twenty-first century readership that the phrase 'queer things' means 'strange things', and is not a reference to gender variance. The English Language is as frisky and mutable as a Chinese Dragon)

Saturday, 23 March 2013

Sperm banks and transsexual babies

It's a standard question (quite rightly asked) when contemplating feminising hormone treatment: would you like to use a sperm bank? And not only asked orally. The same question was in a written statement of understanding that I jointly signed with Dr Richard Curtis before treatment actually began. I've just looked at my copy. No mistake: there it is. It was an important matter, for of course the hormone treatment would in time make me sterile.

However, I didn't want to bank any of my sperm. I thought that (a) I had been a step-parent in the 1980s, and had enjoyed it, but I'd never wanted to create children of my own, and wouldn't want to in the future; (b) for all I knew, I had always been sterile, or had always had a uselessly low sperm count; and (c) I was, in any case, now too old to embark on future parenthood on any basis - too old to cope well with the role, and too old to be an active and inspiring parent while any future child or children grew up.

I think all of these were good reasons to feel content with the inevitable self-sterilisation. And it was 'self-sterilisation': it was my own decision to seek medical help with my gender issue, and it would be my own decision to commence treatment and continue with it. Nobody was forcing me to do anything. I hadn't been 'brainwashed'. I knew the consequences, and had made my own mind up about them.

There were other things I could have thought about.

Perhaps my sperm could be donated and used by a childless couple desperate to have children. Was it right to prevent that? But then, surely there was no onus on me to donate in that way, any more than any other male-bodied person. And besides, might not my sperm generate transsexual children, a horrifying prospect for some people? In fact, probably not, as the best bet theory on what causes transsexuality points to overexposure to testosterone in the womb, affecting only one particular child. A one-off situation. In other words, there is no 'trans gene' to pass on. And indeed my younger brother never showed signs of being transsexual himself, though we came from the same womb. Nor do trans women who have fathered children before they transitioned seem to have sired a generation of trans children.

I know this isn't in any way 'proof' that sperm from a transsexual person is 'uncontaminated'. There will be some fearful people who will demand that trans people ought not to reproduce, and I'm surprised there hasn't been a tabloid newspaper crusade on this subject. These are the same people who would say that anyone with a characteristic they don't like should be banned from reproducing, because it will lead in time to the Breakup Of Society As We Know It. (Perhaps, who knows, they would be among be the first casualties)

Some might say there is a divine imperative, or at least a moral or social imperative, not to render oneself useless for reproductive purposes. This might carry some weight if the human species were on the verge of extinction through lack of numbers - say in a post-apocalypse situation - but that isn't the case at present. The world is hugely over-populated, and Food Wars might become a reality in the future if we do not act sensibly now. It seems essential for the survival of a healthy, decently-fed and decently-housed world population that people are encouraged not to have children - nor to facilitate the birth of children with sperm donations - if they don't wish to. Individuals who can voluntarily forego reproduction should certainly not be criticised for it.

At the level of nations, there might be pressure to keep the birth rate high, so that armies will always have recruits (or conscripts) to sustain them, and stay effective as aggressive or defensive forces. In those countries, rendering oneself infertile might be considered unpatriotic or even treasonable, certainly a matter for punishment. But this is a local or 'tribal' attitude that ignores the wider picture. No question, the size, mix, state of health and proper aspirations of the human population on planet Earth needs to be looked at globally. Nationhood is an old-fashioned concept that often gets in the way. I don't mind being distinctively 'British', but I'd also like to be a world citizen with world rights and expectations, and a good future.

Getting back to my main theme, how do I now feel about being forever incapable of generating a child? Perfectly happy. It helps that one is that much older, moving steadily into senior citizenhood, and if you like beyond the call of duty. I will never now be conscripted to fight in a war. Equally, I will never now be expected to create babies. Rather, young soldiers will be asked to die so that their weaker elders - such as myself - can live. And if they survive their battles, they will produce the children.

And what about the yearning to produce a child from one's own womb, that is supposed to crush male-to-female transsexual persons because it is an impossible dream? This isn't a myth. Some certainly do feel this yearning, and acutely, to the point of tears. But I'm afraid I haven't. If that makes me a pale transsexual, with no mother instinct, then so be it: but it's still not an issue for me.

Friday, 22 March 2013

Blood on their hands: Lucy Meadows is dead

Lucy Meadows was found dead at home three days ago. She was a primary school teacher living and working in the north-west of England, who commenced her male-to-female transition during the 2012/13 Christmas break, intending to start the new term in January as her new self. She had full and overt support from the school and many parents.

The national tabloid press soon took up the 'story'. In particular, the Daily Mail was assiduous in informing its readers what it thought about male-bodied teachers who embark on transition in schools for younger students, pushing the view that it was a selfish act committed without proper regard to the children's sensibilities. I understand that the particular Mail article on this topic, the online version, has now been edited so that Lucy Meadows is no longer directly named. One wonders why such editing was necessary, if the article was, in the first place, a fair and reasonable piece of reporting done strictly in the public interest.

The authorities have not yet said what the cause of death was, but they are not suspicious of foul play: that hints at natural causes or suicide.

At the time of my writing this post, the online BBC News website has not mentioned her death, except to direct those interested to an external article published by the online Huffington Post. The BBC do however feature an article on the cancellation of a Pooh Sticks contest. Pooh Sticks is a game where persons drop floating sticks into a river and watch them get carried away by the current. It's simple and light-hearted. Suicide is where a person takes their own life, usually because of a reason important to them. It can be simple, but is not light-hearted.

Sigh.

The press are resurgent. I knew they would be. I knew that the evidence given to Lord Leveson would count for nothing in practice. The press will push boundaries. It's done to make money from a business sector that is contracting but very, very far from dead.

What, in essence, has changed in the last twenty years or so? What can possibly change in the future? If 'free speech' means that newspapers can destroy people's lives for the sake of a 'story', then it's not worth having 'free speech'. There is no merit in something that leads to unhappiness and possibly death. Surely it would instead be better to have a right to tell the plain unembellished truth, and not more than that. Not opinions. Nor beliefs. Nor speculation. Just the basic truth. To apply in any medium: newspapers, TV, radio, the Internet. In blogs too. Just what is absolutely true. With penalties for publishing anything else. Boring? Not entertaining? Wouldn't sell? What are the right priorities then?

I can't help thinking back to Diana, Princess of Wales. She died in 1997, hounded to the end by people looking for a story - and pictures to go with it. Some think she courted that attention, and attempted to use the press and other media to hit back at her husband. Others see her as a victim of obsessive and oppressive press interest that just grew over the years, so that the news industry became a voracious pack animal, rabid beyond cure.

Whether he was a likeable man or not, I was most impressed by the eulogy Earl Spencer gave in Westminster Abbey on 6 September 1997 to his dead sister, on the day of her funeral. Here is the part that comments on the pressure exerted on her life by the press and its satellites:

There is no doubt that she was looking for a new direction in her life at this time [her last days]. She talked endlessly of getting away from England, mainly because of the treatment that she received at the hands of the newspapers. I don't think she ever understood why her genuinely good intentions were sneered at by the media, why there appeared to be a permanent quest on their behalf to bring her down. It is baffling.

My own and only explanation is that genuine goodness is threatening to those at the opposite end of the moral spectrum. It is a point to remember that of all the ironies about Diana, perhaps the greatest was this: a girl given the name of the ancient goddess of hunting was, in the end, the most hunted person of the modern age.

She would want us today to pledge ourselves to protecting her beloved boys William and Harry from a similar fate and I do this here, Diana, on your behalf. We will not allow them to suffer the anguish that used regularly to drive you to tearful despair.

Words that might apply to others.

After her death, the press did back off somewhat. You might also think that they simply shifted their focus, and looked for new targets, so that the kind of people who read tabloid newspapers for their salacious content, and kept the industry alive and well, would carry on buying. It was fortunate that new targets came forth. Targets such as Lucy Meadows. Otherwise many professional writers would have been out of a job. And shareholders would feel disappointed.

Thursday, 21 March 2013

Ma Vie en Prose

That's nice. Overnight my cumulative pageview total has topped 200,000. Well, that's 200,000 since February 2009, so it has taken about four years to get here. On the other hand, there have been 100,000 pageviews in the last nine months, so the readership seems to have accelerated somewhat in recent times.

I hope it continues. Meanwhile, a big thanks to everyone who has followed the blog, and in particular those who were able to comment, whether or not I completely agreed with your point of view. But I hasten to say that I usually found much to agree with. Because this is a blog that seeks common ground, and it most certainly isn't one that sets out to provoke or stir things up. Very much not. I'd like to think it has a cheerful and positive atmosphere, describes a happy life, offers coverage of a wide range of topics, sets good standards of writing, and is a safe place to visit.

A visitor won't be exposed to hate and vile prejudice, and uncomfortable emotional challenges. I dare say that the pageview total would rocket if the blog ever became a vehicle for radical sentiments, but I don't want it hijacked by a dark image and a polarised following. As it stands, it's not exactly a family show: but it isn't a scurrilous and unprincipled piece of jounalism either.

Where is this leading? Well, I want to encourage many other people to try their hand at blogging. It's a perfect medium when you have something to say at length, and would find one-liners on Twitter frustrating or pointless; or can't get on with the one-size-fits-all format of Facebook, and the vacuous levity that seems normal there. Besides, these websites exist for social networking. A blog exists to publish stuff that might not be suitable for discussion. It isn't a forum. It's a personal showcase, a diary. The essential thing that distinguishes a blog from a private diary is that its content is made public. But that's the point: a blog says, 'This is what I think and do; what I believe is true; this is my point of view; and I want everyone to know'. And I think a lot of bloggers understand that their blog will be so personal that it will never be widely-read. That doesn't matter: but getting it Out There does.

A blog can be very individual, and the format allows full expression of what you want to say. All my own posts are really essays - some of them a bit too long, I suspect - but nevertheless I can set out exactly what I want to say, and include my own photos to drive home the point. It's like publishing a Sunday-supplement article every couple of days, but with full control over the content and artistic presentation.

This started out as a typical transition blog. You know, 'My Journey'. Even though I'm now two years post-op, it's still is peppered with trans-related articles and references, and because of that I hope it still deserves a place in the daily listing on T-Central.

My position now is, however, to show how the Ongoing Life unfolds, what happens, and where it takes me. This helps to fill a niche. There are indeed several other great blogs that deal with post-op life, but not very many. I think it's a rich and unexploited field, and the bloggers active in it can provide feedback on a number of things. For example, whether one can be fully content with life after irreversible changes. What the continuing issues are. What setbacks arise. What pleasures come your way. In short, whether 'transition is worth it' - although that was never a question for me personally. I always felt, and still feel, that transition was an irresistible process that I'd have to face up to regardless of the consequences. It worked out fine. It went to plan. But if it hadn't, then the blog would say so. Because you have to be honest. So that was why, at the end my last post ('Social position'), I mentioned that I hadn't yet found a way to experience a deeper part of female life, and feared that I never would.

Although a blog isn't for social networking, it can make connections between people. Through this blog I have made several friends, some of whom I have actually met. It felt safe to do so, because we said so much about each other in our blogs, and it was possible to get a good 'feel' for each other's personality as we gradually edged towards a meeting. So far I haven't felt let down by this process. In no case has it felt like a completely 'blind date'. These were experiences that wouldn't have been possible unless I had blogged.

Which brings me to the question of how much of your real self do you reveal in a blog. This is a very personal thing. It's well-known that everything published on the Internet stays there indefinitely, and can be searched for. Even if a post is deleted, the links to it (including a partial quote of the contents) will remain. And anything copied to another blog or website prior to deletion will stay there to be rediscovered at any time. The problems all this might cause in the future certainly justify a very careful approach.

So I don't blame any person for not publishing photos of themselves, or for using a pseudonym, or for not mentioning facts that might identify them to family, neighbours or their employer. It's a pity though. Because such strategies make them harder to know, and can be a barrier to credibility. But with the world as it is, there is too much to lose if an indiscretion is seen by a person with malicious intent.

I personally feel safer than most in describing my life, but I remain vague about my address, and I don't think I will ever again publish pictures of the pre-transition me, except perhaps myself as a child. Such things can get used elsewhere in ways that I would not wish. It's already happened, and I don't intend to provide further ammunition for people who want to sneer at me!

Should a blog promote a political agenda? Or campaign in any way for a cause or belief? Or be a watchdog on such things as human rights and abuses? I'd say yes, if it's done fairly and cleanly, and gives out well-researched information that can be checked for truth and worth. The trouble is that blogs exist that do not meet this standard, and if cleverly-written might persuade you of 'facts' that are really mere personal theories or assertions. Some of them are written by anonymous writers who have no profile, whose status cannot be verified, who are unknowable and untraceable as real people. Would you give these people time, if they were not on the Internet? I wouldn't. But each potential reader must decide for themselves.

I will say, don't let your own blog become like those, if you wish to develop a broad-based following. On the other hand, as I suggested above, an aggressively-written blog might become hugely popular. I am well-pleased with achieving 200,000 pageviews in four years. But some blogs have millions of pageviews every month. I think it's entirely possible to do as well as that, but I can't see how any blog could be so popular without playing to the audience, creating a cult following, and perhaps selling out to commercial interests. And in the process losing any connection with the real person behind the blog, and their authentic views.

Wednesday, 20 March 2013

Social position

Transition, whether accomplished at glacial speed or in a rush, changes one's life forever. And one of the consequences is a radically altered position in society. There's no getting away from it, the social dimension is paramount. Whatever you may think about yourself, however you have rationalised your new position, if you show yourself in public then the public reaction is the thing that matters for day-to-day living.

And the question then arises, how integrated into society can one really become? Or will there always be, to some extent, a barrier, a degree of social isolation, that separates a transitioner from everyone else?

To me, 'public acceptance' means being treated like any other 60 year old woman. So I would expect to receive courtesy and consideration wherever I went, and to be listened to with attention. I would expect to be assessed like any other 60 year old woman if, for instance, I decided to be a candidate in a local council election - especially if that meant getting the backing of a political party. Or if I applied to become, say, a local magistrate. These are the kind of public situations which I would regard as acid tests of my credibility. And if the people judging my suitability could not take me seriously, then I'd know that, socially, I had a lot more work to do.

I certainly don't regard getting friendly attention in Brighton bars and restaurants as evidence of being perfectly integrated into society. For one thing, Brighton is a special case, where uninhibited exchanges between casual strangers are commonplace. At all times of the day, the streets east of The Steyne are full of people hugging and kissing and generally being very matey. A friend of mine (who is much prettier than myself) got attention like that the other day, right in front of my eyes. We were walking along, chatting, and then a man she'd never seen before spontaneously crossed the street to give her a hug and a kiss, leaving her in a state of euphoria. She values such encounters very much, and she thought the episode highly validating. It was. But I also think that the in-your-face bohemian atmosphere of central Brighton makes such impulses easy to conceive, and easy to carry through. It wouldn't have happened in Dover or Barnstaple or Gloucester or Whitby or Dumfries.

And it didn't happen to me. The man totally ignored me. This was interesting! Why had he fixed on my friend and not me? Her more feminine appearance was the obvious answer. But possibly I was 'too ordinary', so he automatically dismissed me from his mind. I think that's good. It's yet more evidence that, when out in the street, I merge into the background really well and get taken for granted. A ho-hum ordinary woman, but who cares, so long as I am as invisible as any other woman would be to a man like that.

And there's this thing called 'male privilege'. What does it really mean? If I'm taken for an ordinary woman, how can I possess 'male privilege'? Because no man now regards me as 'one of them'. I've felt that for a long time. Back in September 2010, when writing that series of pre-op essays called the Twelve Accusations, I summed up the male attitude to MTF transsexual persons in these words (taken from Accusation number 2):

Let me assert at the outset that someone who is transitioning is leaving behind manhood. They are no longer in the world of men. They have resigned from the club. The bonds, if there were ever any, are now broken, and there is no going back or temporary re-admission if things are not going well. I can’t claim to know or understand men deeply (that sounds very odd I know; however, you may see what I mean), but I reckon they would cry ‘foul!’ if you, the renegade, pleaded to come back. You have put yourself beyond the pale, you are apostate. From observation, a lot of men clearly think that you have betrayed the male world, let the side down, and now that you’ve made your bed you must bloody well lie in it without complaint. They don’t respect you anymore. They don’t want you. You’re just a castrated eunuch now. Or if you’re really a woman, then behave like one. Otherwise stay away.

And:

The way society is presently arranged, there is no middle place. And it would be inhumane, and against all the intentions of a civilised society, to wilfully isolate an individual. So I have to say to any ‘real’ woman - a ‘natal woman’ in trans parlance - that having quitted the male house, with the door slammed behind me and the key taken from me, it is entirely proper for me to knock on your door, the female door, and be let in. Yes, I want to claim womanhood, and I must. Rather like a stateless refugee must claim asylum in another country. Except that in this scenario there are only two countries, and if refused entry to both then I have nowhere else to go.

A couple of years on, I think I've moved forward a bit on men's attitudes, and indeed on my precise position in society in general, but I still think there are plenty of men around who do regard trans women as strange beings - impossible to understand, very uncomfortable to think about, not people to be seen with, a threat to their manhood, and certainly not like them, nor any longer one of them. Such men are going to put you down, and keep you down. Maybe not in quite the same way as they would keep down a natal woman, but I know they will discriminate against me, and might do me wilful harm. And that they will never regard me now as a member of their club. I do not want to be; but I have definitely lost all my supposed 'male privilege'.

Of course I have the legacy of 'male conditioning' and 'male knowledge'. Some of that is useful. Other bits have quickly withered away from non-use, or irrelevance to my present life. I don't think that any of it gives me a decisive edge over ordinary women. And bear in mind that if I am accepted as a woman, I certainly can't behave like a man. So if a man wants to help, and then patiently explains to me how to do the things I became expert at during the course of fifty years or more, I can't tell him I already know. Not without confusing our man-woman relationship. 

What is scarcely mentioned is 'female privilege', and at the moment I am finding it hard to tap into that. Yes, men do extend courtesies and assistence to me. Yes, chaps do rush over if I seem to be struggling with my caravan. And so on. But at a deeper level, I haven't yet acquired 'female privilege', nor the skills and background to use it. I just hope it's not too late.

Monday, 18 March 2013

A single-handed voyage

I've always been fascinated by the sea, and voyages, and especially what it must be like to sail single-handedly around the world. No light undertaking! It's been done many times now, of course, and wouldn't make the headlines like it might once have. Although headlines are irrelevant: it seems to me that the essence of a solo long-distance voyage is the relationship between you, your boat, and the sea itself. Nothing else can matter.

Imagine it: the sea and the stars, and an empty horizon! Endless danger. But the freedom...

I wouldn't regard it as an 'escape from the world' because you'd be heavily dependent on the outside world for navigational purposes, if nothing else. And I don't think I could do without a daily half-hour or more of the BBC World Service. No, I wouldn't want to cut myself off from society. I'd just want the constant novelty of reaching another little port, and the next, and the next.

Don't worry - I'm not going to sell my house, buy a ten-year-old tub and sail away. For one thing, I have no seafaring skills whatever. For another, I haven't got the courage. And I don't think it's wise for a 60 year old to pit themselves against the implacable ocean.

But many do feel such an urge, and are ready to take up the challenge regardless. One person whose story has always been in my mind is Donald Crowhurst. I have two books in my maritime collection that deal with his single-handed voyage in 1968/69. The one on the left devotes a chapter to him. The book on the right covers his story in detail:


Donald Crowhurst was a competent amateur yachtsman. He was likeable and engaging, very clever, and the very man to seize an adventurous opportunity. He built his life around a series of challenges, taking them on to wipe away past failures. He had a way of persuading people that he could do anything he set his mind to. But he was not a successful businessman; and when his small electronics firm in Bridgwater ran into difficulties, and bankruptcy loomed, he was ready to gamble. A national newspaper had organised a prestigious sailing race with a decent cash prize. The key elements of the race were that the participants must race each other around the world, they must do it single-handedly, and their voyages must be non-stop. Crowhurst was going to be up against some of the world's finest.

The story is outlined here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Donald_Crowhurst. It ended in tragedy. Crowhurst left in a hurry to meet the starting deadline for the race, which meant that his boat, the Teignmouth Electron, was not ready for its voyage, and some equipment was left behind or not installed. He also quickly found that his boat was not suitable for serious single-handed ocean racing, and when it began to leak he was forced to put into a small Argentine port for a makeshift repair, which broke the race rules. By that time he was a disappointed man looking for a way out. But he had already committed falsehoods and exaggerations connected with his speed and position, making it impossible for him to simply throw his hand in and drop out of the race. It was already far beyond questions of money and fame: his integrity was compromised. He was in reality far from where had made himself out to be, so that giving up and facing a shore reception would willy-nilly expose a sorry tale of shameful deception. An unbearable reward for all the support given to him.

He resolved to stay in the South Atlantic, marking time, as the best plan in the circumstances. And then, later on, at the right moment, he would resume the race in such a way that he would appear to be a 'brave loser', coming a close second or third. A runner-up, whose logbooks would never be scrutinised.

But fate intervened. Robin Knox-Johnson got home first, but in a time that Crowhurst could easily 'beat' even if he coasted home at a snail's pace. His unexpected reappearance in the race, at a position that put him dangerously close to home waters, made another competitor, Nigel Tetley, push his boat too hard so that he sank. It became a certainly now that Crowhurst would clinch the main prize for the most rapid voyage. But if he did, he would get intrusive and overwhelming publicity. His logbooks would be meticulously examined, and exposure would be certain. He wrestled with his predicament, and what the enormity of his deception would mean for his family. He was stressed to breaking point.

As he approached the Azores, and the dreaded homecoming preparations got under way, his mind snapped. It is presumed that he committed suicide by jumping into the sea. But he left all his navigational notes behind, so that his real voyage could be reconstructed. I like to think that he did this as a redeeming act, so that the truth would be known.

He also left a mass of personal writings, including narrative pieces and some poetry. He was throughout his voyage very much thrown upon his own inner resources. He had no human company, and the birds and fish he saw meant much to him. He described one particular bird in an essay called The Misfit. It was about a land bird, an owl, that had found his boat in the midst of the South Atlantic ocean, and was struggling to keep up with it. He says this about the owl:

He was unapproachable, as a misfit should be. He flew away as soon as I made any effort to get near him, and on to the mizzen crosstrees, where he hung desperately to the shaky stays with claws useless for the task he had set himself: bedraggled, shivering, eyes closing with heavy fatigue, head withdrawn, his feathers fluffed up in scant protection against the icy wind, his wings twitching into a slight spread from time to time to take him instantly into the air if he should lose his grip... Poor bloody misfit!...I could not slow up to make the misfit's life easier. I had seen my own clearance on the distant horizon. At last the owl abandoned his insecure perch and gamely fought his way out of sight to windward. My heart turned to lead and my eyes filled...somehow I knew he would not return. We were both victims of the one malaise. The victims of that malaise grow used to little quarter, and learn not to ask for it, drawing only on what is found by chance. Out of their own resources they delay as best they can the inevitable exhausted subsidence into the icy waters of death...he was a misfit, in all probability destined like the spirit of many of his human counterparts to die alone and anonymously, unseen by any of his species, yet accepting that one chance in a million of knowing things unknown.

And there was a short poem about the Misfit:

Save some pity for the Misfit, fighting on with bursting heart;
Not a trace of common sense, his is no common flight.
Save, save him some pity. But save the greater part
For him that sees no glimmer of the Misfit's guiding light.

It seems clear that Crowhurst identitfied strongly with that owl, so far from land, so lost at sea, and was foretelling his own demise as well as the owl's. And indeed how many of us have not felt a bloody-minded urge at some point to defy all common sense and fling ourselves headlong into the roaring waters? For that one-in-a-million chance of success, or just survival? Isn't it the final mark of a human being to face an impossible challenge, and meet one's nightmare face to face? 

Saturday, 16 March 2013

All set for a holiday in Shetland - and all about the Shetland Metro and Shetlink schemes!

I really think that when it comes to North of Scotland holidays, Shetland will have to get priority over Orkney.

I know, I know: Orkney is so rich in world-class archaeological sites - a stone circle to die for at Stenness, and much else, such as Skara Brae and the Dwarfie Stane. And the Pier Arts Centre at Stromness (see http://www.pierartscentre.com/) is surely almost unmissable - they are a Tate Gallery Partner, incidentally. Plus I could easily take the caravan there.

But Shetland, more distant, harder to get to, fascinates me more at this point. It's also 'Scandinavian' to a degree that Orkney is not - and remember that I've got Scandinavia in my blood, and so has Fiona! Shetland has its archaeological treasures too - Jarlshof and the Broch of Mousa, for instance. And although it's a personal matter, and based mainly on my Google Street View meanderings, I think that Lerwick is on par with Orkney's Stromness for town-centre character, and certainly has more in the way of interesting shopping and eateries than Kirkwall. But I can do unique things in Shetland. I can drive Fiona to a car park that's just walking distance from Britain's Most Northerly Headland, the one that looks out at that collection of offshore skerries on which stands Muckle Flugga lighthouse. Orkney is just not north enough for me!

I've done some preliminary costings. At Spring 2013 prices, and if I took Fiona there, I'd be looking at £1,525 for a week in Shetland, as follows:

# £250 for fuel, Sussex to Aberdeen and return.
# £525 for a return voyage on the Aberdeen-Lerwick overnight ferry - Fiona and self, plus the cost of a cabin. The voyage takes 12 hours, so a cabin might be well worth it. The alternative is a reclining lounge seat - not a good idea for so long.
# £250 for a week's decent Bed and Breakfast in or near Lerwick.
# £250 for a week's fuel for Shetland motoring, including inter-island ferries.
# £250 for meals out and travel incidentals.

If I left Fiona at home, and flew up there instead, it would be a little less expensive, only £1,405:

# £330 for an Economy return flight from London Gatwick to Sumburgh on Shetland, with presumably at least one change of planes.
# £300 to hire a medium-sized car for a week at Sumburgh.
# £250 for a week's decent Bed and Breakfast in or near Lerwick.
# £250 for a week's fuel for Shetland motoring, including inter-island ferries.
# £275 for meals out and travel incidentals, such as the home-to-Gatwick return fare.

In either case, this is not affordable before 2016, even though the gross cost would be offset by the daily amount I allow myself for expenditure on fuel, food, clothing and leisure activities while at home, which would be £40 a day by 2016 - that's after my State Pension kicks in, of course - meaning £440 for the eleven days involved. (Two days to get to Aberdeen, seven days on Shetland, two days to travel home) That would reduce the overall costs to £1,085 with Fiona, or £965 without, at 2013 prices. Uplifted to 2016, the figures might be £1,250 and £1,100 respectively. That's the money I'd actually have to put together for a holiday taken three years from now.

Do I leave Fiona behind? Do I deny her the fun of a Shetland run? Do I deny myself the convenence of my own lovely comfortable car, loaded up with all my stuff? Would I really enjoy driving a hired Ford Mondeo? I think a resounding No! to all of these.

Of course, by 2016 a car may not be necessary to get around Shetland, at least in the Lerwick area. Last year, proposals for an Shetland Underground Rail System were put forward, duly reported in the Shetland Times:


And here is the relevant article: http://www.shetlandtimes.co.uk/2011/04/01/revealed-ambitious-plan-for-six-line-isles-wide-underground-rail-network.

A rapid-transit rail system on Shetland may seem an odd idea! But bear in mind that Shetland has a very scattered population - the only major urban area being Lerwick; that the major employer (BP at Sullom Voe) is way up in the north; and that the airport at Sumburgh is a long way down south. Also that there are a number of outlying islands dependant on ferry links, and that the council-owned ships will all be comimg to the end of their useful life within fifteen years. Replacement road tunnels and road bridges are very, very expensive, even though badly needed - see this Shetland News report about the acute problems of getting on and off the island of Whalsay: http://www.shetnews.co.uk/news/3216-tunnel-dream-a-nightmare-for-whalsay. In any case, the Shetland Islands Council (SIC) wants to discourage car travel if at all possible, to improve the carbon footprint (as mentioned in the Shetland Times article). Remember also that free electrical energy from wind farms will be coming online in a big way during this timescale. Bring all that together, and a Shetland Metro makes an awful lot of sense.

It has to be largely underground to preserve the unique Shetland landscape; but in any case, a lot of the track will run under the sea bed so that islands like Foula in the west, Bressay in the east, and Whalsay, Yell and Unst in the north, can all be linked together for the great benefit of the resident population of Shetland. And not just for them. Tourism is now so important that the SIC are regarding the provision of twenty-first century travel facilities as a vital draw for tourists, not just from Britain, but from all over the world - in much the same way that London put in this kind of infrastructure for the 2012 Olympics.

Missing from the Metro system is Fair Isle, between Orkney and Shetland, but the people there will instead be served by a proposed rail link, long in the planning, and known as ShetLink. This is the provisional map from 2006:


In its current form, this major project will take a high-speed railway from Georgemas Junction on the Scottish mainland out across the Pentland Firth to South Ronaldsay in Orkney, and thence to a station at Kirkwall; then, tunnelling once more, across to Fair Isle (with an International station, serving the world-renowned bird observatory) and onwards to Sumburgh on Shetland, where there will be connections with both the airport and the local Metro trains. Then, inside its own dedicated tunnel, this high-speed line will continue on to Lerwick.

Apparently this line is but the northernmost section of HS4, the Glasgow/Edinburgh-Aberdeen-Inverness-Northern Isles Strategic High-speed rail route. The Scottish Parliament are especially keen on this project, as it connects Northern Scotland with the Central Belt, typical travel timings quoted being 150 minutes from Lerwick to Edinburgh and 160 minutes to Glasgow.   

The tunnelling work will of course be the most difficult part, but a new technique that induces nanoshearing within granite crystals, leading to an easy shattering of the rock, will allow rapid progress. That's why the useful Scalloway-Lerwick-Bressay line should be open by 2016. Gneiss one, you might say!

Of course, the SIC have had regard to the local job-creation potential of the Metro. With the oil industry slowly winding down, fishing and other sea-based industries may not be able to take up the slack. So the many jobs associated with an expanding rail network look like an attractive option. My question: who will be the Fat Controller?

Friday, 15 March 2013

Wet knickers and Monty Python


The above, dear reader, is a Female Bottle. It's called that because of the distinctive shape of the spout, which fits over a woman's nether parts so that she can pee into the bottle if she needs to.

The way women are constructed, you have to bare your bottom and squat behind a bush if you are far away from a proper loo - out on a country ramble, say. And apart from the problem of finding a bush that will make you invisible to prying eyes, and the occasional difficulty of shooing away inquisitive animals, or finding you're hovering over a wasps' nest, this can be a serious physical feat if the ground is uneven or sloping or slippery, or your leg muscles aren't used to squatting for long.

And that bare-bottom business is a decidedly chilly ordeal when it's a breezy winter afternoon, and there's still snow on the ground. Add to all that the facts that a woman can't aim her pee, can't really see what she's doing, and can easily spray herself if she's not careful, and you can understand why women like to carry tissues to mop up with, which the more environmentally-conscious then need time to poke well into the ground. It's not surprising that some women, if they can, try desperately to hold it all in till they reach a civilised place to relieve themselves.

I don't suppose there are many women under sixty who would feel seriously inhibited about dropping back and disappearing into a bush if they had to, but notions of modesty die hard, and in mixed company I for one would certainly hesitate to do it. Men can be embarrassed much the same, but young bloods and bluff types just unzip and do their business against a tree, and it's all over inside half a minute, and very likely nobody will notice or care. But a woman might have layer upon layer of clothing to hoick up, or pull down, and then afterwards tuck in and rearrange, and it's not possible to do it in a flash, and without drawing attention to oneself.

Believe me, men have it easy.

Well, yesterday I went for a South Downs walk by myself. It was a sunny but cold day, with plenty of deep snow still lying in sheltered spots. So I wore my Dubarry boots for grip and style:


I have to say yet again, these boots amaze me. They are waterproof and warm, and clean up so easily. I also had my trusty hazel stick with me, as a 'third leg' - and in the slushy or muddy spots, it saved me falling over many a time. (Quite apart from its possible utility in holding off attacking men, or raging bulls, or lions)


The photo makes my stick look very substantial, but really it's not much more than a twig.

So long as I kept moving, I stayed cosy. But it was really slippery underfoot, and slow going, and I knew that I'd be caught short long before I got home again. In fact I needed to have a pee only twenty minutes into my walk. Fortunately (a) nobody was in sight, so I could dive into a wood without going through some pantomime to suggest that I was Britain's Wildlife Expert, and had just spotted a lemur or octopus rarely seen on these Sussex uplands; and (b) I had with me, in my trusty rucksack, that green Female Bottle.

I'd bought that bottle from Boots two years ago, and I'd been keeping it in Fiona's boot, just in case. But hitherto I'd always found a proper public loo. Or else it was simply easier and less fuss to hop over a drystone wall, as found on the High Pennines, and squat there - although the parked Fiona always gave away the fact that Someone Was Having A Pee On The Other Side Of The Wall as clearly as if I'd stuck a notice in the ground saying 'This way for a great view of Lucy's bottom'. Although I'd make sure that the likelihood of anyone coming along was highly remote. On the particular Pennine occasion I have in mind, I'd parked high up on the wild and desolate moorland road that connects Dent and Garsdale railway stations in Cumbria, a real Road To Nowhere, and it was close on sunset and getting dim. I'm glad to report that no sex-crazed men came along, nor any hill farmers with sharp-toothed sheepdogs; nor was I menaced by stags, or eagles, and no helicopters with searchlights and loudspeakers hovered.

Back to the bottle. Now because I was wearing my Dubarry boots, which come up to my knees, I wouldn't be able to haul my jeggings and knickers down very far, which meant that they would prevent me squatting with my feet planted wide apart. But there was enough space to get the bottle into position, more-or-less standing up. This I did, and started to fill the bottle. But the next thing I knew, there was pee all over my knickers and jeggings. Damn! The only way I could continue was to squat right down.

After mopping up, pulling on my somewhat damp garments, emptying the bottle, wiping it with snow, and popping it inside a plastic bag in my rucksack, I pondered the disaster. I think that not having my legs wide apart meant that the golden fluid couldn't jet, but merely dribbled, and some of it dribbled over the lip of the spout and onto my garments not far below. Proper squatting got these garments out of the way, and let all the dribble run into the bottle. So using a bottle was not a completely duff idea, it just needed the right technique. Although frankly it was more trouble than it was worth.

It was hard to continue in style with wet knickers. But these things happen, and I wasn't going to let it spoil my walk. (Obviously, once back in Fiona, I sat on a blanket, and everything went into the wash)

I mention all this at length, just in case you have been toying with using a bottle when out in the sticks. I know you can get a special plastic contrivance or device that is supposed to equip a woman with a 'penis' for peeing through, and give her a man's ability to do it standing up (and presumably whistling), but on this showing I have my doubts. I'm going back to squatting properly, and just hope for decent bushes or drystone walls when I need them.

The walk itself was good, but at the most outward part all I could do was a loop around a field, and then return the same way I had come. This was because the intended return path was knee-deep or more in snow:


Ooh, that's a bit too deep. You couldn't walk through that. Suppose a leg snapped off? That would slow me down. And if both legs went, I'd be in real difficulty. So I did the sensible thing, and backtracked. It was a good walk all the same, and justified a hearty meal once home again!

All this discussion of urinatory matters brings to mind a scene from Monty Python's Flying Circus on TV. A scene I remembered only from the phrase 'The King is like a bat's piss'. This was the actual script: see http://www.phespirit.info/montypython/oscar_wilde.htm.

I think that's quite enough on the entire subject, don't you?

Wednesday, 13 March 2013

Post-Prada, post-GRC

The years from 2008 onwards have turned out to be the most eventful of my life, in good ways and bad. Mostly good, I'd say, at least from my personal standpoint. Others might disagree, and shake their heads in sorrow or disbelief. Let 'em. I've got plenty to celebrate.

Events throw up anniversaries, and I've got quite a collection of these, important and not-so-important. I think that from now on I'll quietly drop some of them as subjects to write about - I mean, where do you stop? If you celebrated or commemorated everything, then nearly every day would eventually send you down Memory Lane, and it's surely better to keep most of one's attention on What Comes Next, rather than dwell on What Happened Years Ago.

Today sees two anniversaries. It's exactly four years from the date I spent a ridiculous amount of cash on a fantastic luxury item: a Prada handbag, bought from their London shop in Sloane Street. And it's exactly one year from the date my Gender Recognition Certificate was granted by the Panel at HM Courts and Tribunal Service.

The Prada bag was significant because it was the first expensive accessory I bought for myself as Lucy Melford. I was still at the very start of a wider public life in my female role. I'd scuttled furtively around 'safe' Brighton, but now it was time to brave London, and do it boldly. I needed a Statement Bag, the kind that said 'I know I look a bit odd, but no matter what you may think, I have this expensive bag. I therefore have resources and the pizzazz to spend real money on something like this. I am not ashamed of myself. I am worth it.'

The well-known outrageousness of the prices asked for glamorous Big Name bags like this was an essential element in its psychological message. I calculated that my Prada bag would make people look more carefully at me, and see me as an individual person of means and consumer power, someone who didn't fit the standard conception of a sad tranny decked out in charity shop oddments.

It wasn't an edifying thing, being taken for a fashionhead with a bulging purse, but it's the way of the world to respect money and display; and so I reckoned that an image like this, however crass in its way, would be a vital suit of armour. Thus my female look might be less than optimal; but my bag said that I believed in myself, had supreme self-confidence, and what's more the money to back it up. And it worked. Apart from that, it was an immediate passport into the world of natal women, who noticed it and wanted to discuss it. It generated many a pleasant conversation.


Four years onward, and the Prada bag is still my Best Bag, the one I take to Posh or Important Occasions. It still looks fabulous. I don't need its psychological support any more, but I love carrying it and being seen with it. But would I buy another like it now? Certainly not. Will I celebrate its purchase in the future? Might do. 

The GRC is quite another thing. This is the document that has given me legality as the female person called Lucy Melford, that has given me a new Birth Certificate showing 'girl'. And it's forever. There are plenty of people who object to what they see as a 'rewriting of history'. They don't recognise it as the correction of a mistake. In any case, their objections are futile. The Government has spoken. The objectors will have to man-up (it's most often men who object) and accept it. Although if they won't, it's not going to spoil my life!

This said, and despite originally believing that the GRC would rank with my surgery as the Most Lifechanging Event of my transition, I think this will turn out to be the only anniversary I shall celebrate. Because the GRC is not something I can show. It's only a piece of paper. Yes, it's a fundamental part of my citizenship and legal standing - and I'm so pleased to have it! - but it's a background item, without even the clout of my passport or driving licence as ID, and important only if I need to get married, or get involved in a law suit. So it's carefully filed away, and must stay hidden in my archives with other things of the same kind.


My GRC means nothing to the general public. If I'm ever challenged in the street, I will get nowhere by saying 'Oh, I've got a Gender Recognition Certificate, don't you know. So let me pass, please.' That won't cut any ice. No, in the street you stand and fall on your presentation, whether or not you possess a GRC.

Unlike a Prada bag, it's not a suit of armour. Nor a weapon. Can you swing your GRC into a threatening man's groin? No, you can't. But you can with a handbag full of heavy odds and ends! (Then run like hell)

Tuesday, 12 March 2013

My first bone density scan

I had a bone density scan at the local Princess Royal Hospital in Haywards Heath today. Another woman of my age had suggested it in February, to check on the onset of osteoporosis. So I asked my doctor about it two weeks back, and she immediately agreed that it would be a good idea. She'd refer me. The hospital got in touch within days, and I went up there in the snow this morning.

Because of the snow, they had actually cancelled all the day's appointments, many of the persons having such scans being of course thin-boned and likely to break if they slipped up. But they couldn't get in touch with me, and so, as I'd attended, they saw me as a special one-off.

The nurse who dealt with the scanning was also called Lucy. How nice! We had a good chat, although I think she was being routinely conversational, to take my mind off the scanner's whirrings. She explained afterwards that some patients are very nervous about these machines, quite separately from any worries they may have about the results. I was fine about the entire procedure; but then I'm not a frail 80-something.

So what was it like? I had visions of a huge high-voltage drumlike thing, that would envelop me, and move backwards and forwards over me, or around me, while magnetic or sonic waves zapped into me me with a crackling noise. Not a bit of it. It was just a flat blue plastic bed, firm but comfortable, with white markings on it so that the patient could be easily centred. You just plonked yourself down on your back, with arms at your sides, palm down. No straps. No clothes except boots had to be taken off. The scanning device was just a horizontal bar that jutted out across the width of the bed, and slowly moved from the foot of the bed up to the head, then back again. It made a gentle humming noise. It was clearly a sophisticated device, but not a frightening one.

For the first scan, I simply had to lie still and let the scanner move up to my torso and then back. This took a scan of my lower spine.

For the second scan, this time of my hips, I had to bring my arms up to my chest, so that the hands would be out of the way, and a spacer was placed between my legs so that they were exactly the right distance apart. I also had to turn in my toes towards the centre - the nurse said that some patients can't manage that easily, but I was a star.

The third scan was of my right wrist, and for this I simply sat next to the bed, with my right wrist placed just so on a plastic template that rested on the bed: the scanner then ran over that.

And that was all. No discomfort whatever. My doctor will have the results by the end of the month.

The nurse routinely took my height and weight. And these measurements seemed at variance with what I was expecting.

My height was 175cm today, whereas it had been 174cm back in October 2011, when I last visited this hospital. Closer then to five foot nine than five foot eight. Evidence of improving posture?

The really strange one was my weight with clothes on, though boots off. It was 89kg - about fourteen stone - not exactly a featherweight then, but this was still 5kg less than what my electronic scales at home had last told me, after the best part of a week just sitting around, taking no exercise whatever, while I ate well and endured the worst of that cold. Could it be that all along my home scales have been out of adjustment, and have over-stated my weight?

No, I don't think so either. Back to the diet.

Monday, 11 March 2013

Murder - take your pick

(There's a sequel to the main text, involving New Zealand, if you skip on)

It's 8.20pm as I start this post, and it's a cold night in Sussex. It's actually snowing out there, harder than they said it would. A night to settle down in front of the telly, and watch something absorbing. But there's a potential viewing nightmare at 9.00pm tonight. Do I watch the second part of BBC1's police/murder drama Shetland, or the second episode of ITV's police/murder drama Broadchurch? Which one?

The Scandinavian police/murder series The Killing, now sadly gone forever, has clearly made producers keen to capitalise on an unexpected public taste for unusually-located dramas, despite any language or accent problem. So it was no great surprise to see that Broadchurch had a West Country setting, and wasn't in a large city, but a small seaside town - somewhere recognisable, where many might have spent happy holidays in real life. I suppose that's the point: you may actually have been there, and grown fond of the place. Little did you know that as you tucked into your fish and chips, and the children made sandcastles, murder was afoot.

Shetland is set in a much more out of the way spot: in Lerwick, the main town of Shetland, a collection of islands halfway between Scotland and Norway. As much Norse as Scottish. And up there, the wind is strong and cold, the skies are cloudy, and instead of Punch and Judy there is fiddle-music. In fact the first episode of Shetland was shot through with plaintive fiddle laments, that helped to set a sombre tone. But the locations also determine the mood, and are high in the list of characters.

Both programmes stress the fact that 'it couldn't happen here'. But of course it does, even if not with the frequency of London or Manchester. Orkney (that other northern set of islands, a bit south of Shetland, but not much less remote) has had two murders of note in the last twenty years. One was of a waiter in a restaurant in the main town Kirkwall in 1994: a hit-style shooting by a masked killer, for which a local lad-turned-army-hero was eventually convicted, though not without room for appeal - see http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-north-east-orkney-shetland-20664094 and http://www.irr.org.uk/news/convictions-in-three-black-murder-cases/ for details. And the other, in 2009, on the Orkney island of Sanday: a love-triangle situation leading to tragedy - see http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/scotland/north_east/8498109.stm, or, for more lurid versions, http://www.scotsman.com/news/orkney-murder-accused-made-gun-threat-court-hears-1-473796 and http://www.dailyrecord.co.uk/news/scottish-news/sanday-murder-trial-the-orkney-island-1052099.

So small communities well away from the Big Cities do generate real work for the local police to do. That lends an air of plausibility to both programmes. But which to watch?

I could watch Broadchurch, and see Shetland at my leisure on the BBC iPlayer. But if Broadchurch bores the knickers off me, or its characters irritate me, that means I can't just switch over: it would spoil Shetland. So it comes down to the atmosphere of each programme, and the sombre, brooding, secretive feel to Shetland is, for me, more intriguing. Quite apart from the fun of recognising locations in Lerwick. I have, of course, toured the place on Google Street View, and I think I know the town centre, and the main roads in and out, as well as any visitor. The first two murders have both taken place on the offshore island of Bressay (which is basically across the harbour from Lerwick) and I've now 'done' bits of Bressay by Street View also, to keep up to speed. If nothing else, programmes like these turn you into an armchair traveller!

So it's going to be Shetland, and I'll catch up with the lesser-liked Broadchurch from next week. Such big decisions to make all the time!

Sequel
What a good choice. The livelier-paced but still very atmospheric second part of Shetland brought in a past murder and a death that was allowed to happen, both of them during the Second World War with the 'Shetland Bus' as a background. The surprising identity of the present-day murderer was kept a secret till the last five minutes. It was also a treat to see what sort of spectacular firey things happen in the annual Up Helly Aa viking-style celebrations in Lerwick - see this video report at http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-21249579.

We were let into the police inspector's private affairs a bit more, and I reckon all is set for another series later this year. Sadly we heard the police inspector's step-daughter confirm that Lerwick 'has no decent shops' - no Top Shop and no Marks & Spencer, at any rate. But I do know that it has a big Tesco, which I found on Street View.

You know, islands have always fascinated me, and I've had my eyes on Orkney and Shetland as places to visit for a long, long time. I could take Fiona to both, but only Orkney is a practical proposition for the caravan. That makes Orkney the 'cheap' option, Shetland the 'expensive' one. Both would be memorable holidays. Orkney may have a bit more sunshine, but Shetland is a bit more scenic. Maybe not much to choose between Kirkwall and Lerwick. I mean, neither has a Top Shop or Marks and Sparks, but both have a Tesco. So which? Another big decision to make...

These 2010 views on the A99 just south of John O'Groats show Orkney in the distance, the closest I've got so far. That's M--- and my old Honda CR-V car, by the way:


John O'Groats is much less tacky than Land's End, 800-odd miles away down in Cornwall. There's no equivalent to the dreadful Land's End theme park (the top shot is a library picture):


John O'Groats is like this. It's got a nice little harbour, with that Orkney view:


Odd that the mileage indicator mentions Bluff, although it is New Zealand's own Lands End, right down at the south end of South Island, and I suppose the most distant place from John O'Groats in the world. Well, I've been there too. Here are two of my 2007 shots:


There, I wasn't 'bluffing'!

Sunday, 10 March 2013

Mother's Day

I felt surprised when my diary told me it was Mother's Day today.

But of course. I shouldn't have forgotten. There have been the usual ads all over the place, and messages from retailers wanting to sell flowers and gifts for the occasion. Just as with St Valentine's Day and sundry other 'events' during the year. And if you were at all receptive to these nudgings, you'd have bought the Mothers Day card and flowers, and booked a meal for Mum somewhere nice, as a treat. Only that because I've been unwell, and have mostly stayed indoors, I've rather lost track of all this. And as you know, my mother has died, so there is nothing to buy or arrange. Nor has there been for four years.

To my mind, you can celebrate a person on any day of the year. And without any special artifice. I refuse to make this day the day that I will think about Mum, and spend, spend, spend, just because the card and gift industry wants me to. In truth I think about her nearly every day. Just as nearly every day I ponder all my other significant relationships, past and present. But Mum is a unique case. There is that biological tie: she gave birth to me, and nurtured me as a child, and was my mother for nearly fifty-seven years. I can never turn the page and forget her.

Fortunately hers is not a memory I wish to blot out. I was always fond of Mum. But I learned very early on to be careful what I told her. She was inquisitive, and inclined to probe if she felt there was anything she ought to know. She had no-nonsense opinions about all kinds of subjects, mostly based on her notions of what was plain common-sense. She trusted her own intuition, and would not be deflected by bland or strange arguments. She had a strong personal sense of what was right and wrong, and would not be brow-beaten by anyone in authority. She would take a robust line with bluster and pomposity, and was for instance firm and implacable with shop owners reluctant to give cash refunds for unsuitable goods. And she was positively fierce in the defence of myself and my brother, sometimes to our great embarrassment.

Most of what I have just said about her paints a very positive picture indeed. She was certainly a role model for me, showing me that it was no good appeasing people with concessions, no good making compromises that couldn't be lived with, and generally that it was right and proper to hold definite views in defiance of what others might believe or push at you. Dad had a more diplomatic approach to life, but basically upheld the same individualistic principles, and, like Mum, would never give up.

For most of my life, I did not come close to matching up to my parents' standards. But perhaps I found at last reason to be just as steadfast when I discovered what I really needed to do with my life, and embarked on transition as a first step. If you have done the same, then you'll know exactly what is required in the way of nerve, clear thinking, and readiness to face endless confrontation, criticism and hinderances.

It's ironic that when I took up this, the greatest personal challenge of my lifetime - and embraced it with my parents' conviction and determination to succeed - no support or approval came from them. And especially not from Mum. All I got was protest and the obvious fear of ridicule. Then denial. It was a failure of vision, a failure to recognise the true nature of the person they had made, and a failure to put the happiness and comfort of their child first. Some parents can manage it: mine could not. Of course they were getting old and worn out, and maybe mentally inflexible, and Mum had a death sentence from cancer hanging over her; but this was fundamentally an emotional and parental instinct thing, not something abstract to debate and rationalise and tire one's brain on. It was about my feelings, my dismay at the situation that I found myself in, and what the best, most supportive response ought to be. I still don't understand why they did not reach out to me in a heartbeat, and I still wonder how it was possible, whatever their age and decrepitude, to thrust their only remaining child away, and not be on that child's side. But, of course, parents are only human and they don't necessarily do the best thing. I half-knew they wouldn't; but it was, and remains, a major letdown and disillusionment.

Well, all that is gone, receding into the past, and I refuse to let it beat me. Mum's wish to keep me at arm's length in her last three months can be forgiven, and I do forgive. It wasn't her finest moment, but those three months really do not matter when stacked up against the preceding fifty-seven years.

And if I have painted a stern picture of her, don't be deceived. She was a laughing, chatty, very friendly woman. A woman I will have to rediscover. But you need to understand that although Mum was proud of her children, the real love of her life was her husband. They were inseparable and completely devoted to each other. I think these pictures, which I took in the years from 1975 (the first year she was touched by cancer) to 2008 (the year before her death), show everything you need to know about their relationship in their last thirty-four years together, and say a lot about Mum herself:


I hand-produced several Mother's Day cards for Mum over the years, to go with the flowers I bought her - as in this shot from 2008, her last Mother's Day of all:


Lovely flowers. I'm glad to have found them in my photo archive. I don't take nearly so many pictures of flowers nowadays: I need to get back to it.

I may have been a little wary of Mum, but I did enjoy her company, and liked to indulge her love of country walking. For years my Mother's Day treat was to take her out in my car - just her and me - to somewhere like the New Forest, or the Devil's Punch Bowl at Hindhead, and have a good wander together. It was nearly always sunny. These were our best and most intimate moments, when she might tell me some of the deeper things on her mind. They were an annual institution that I still miss.