Sunday, 28 April 2013

Seafood

I love ordinary sea fish, bought over the counter from a quality retailer. My favourites in that department are (in order of how often I enjoy them at home, the most frequently-eaten first) sea bass, haddock, salmon and hake - these are my four faves - then, if I feel self-indulgent, halibut, turbot and dover sole. Occasionally I will have something else, monkfish perhaps. And in my time I've eaten swordfish and similar. Usually it's a big thumbs up; although I tried pollack the other day, and didn't much care for it.

I'm not above having fish out of a tin: sardines, mackerel, red salmon, tuna; on toast as a midday snack, or with a salad. I've even attempted to make and cook my own fishcakes. But they weren't a patch on the delicious ones that M--- used to do. (How I miss her cooking!)

When in New Zealand in 2007, the fish was always superb. 'Fish and chips' in seaside places meant whatever had been the catch of the day. You didn't specify cod, haddock, huss or whatever as you would in the UK. It was pot luck, but never disappointing. M--- and I bought memorable take-away (and fresh) fish in all parts of New Zealand, for eating in our campervan as we toured around the two islands. Fish such as hapuku, blue moki-moki, butterfish and tarakihi. Here's an example of blue moki-moki from remote Collingwood, in the north part of South Island:


This fish was really flavoursome. Back home again, I once saw some hoki on sale in Sainsbury's, but only the once. What a shame you can't easily get hold of any NZ fish here. But then, does it make sense to fly it right across the world, just for UK consumers? Not really! Except that I can't see how I will ever be able to afford a trip to NZ again...

So, I love sea fish. But I'm a bit half-hearted where other seafood is concerned.

I quite like crab. And on the one and only occasion that I had lobster thermidor (in 1975, at a restaurant called O'Rourkes in New Alresford in Hampshire, when out with a past girlfirend) I enjoyed it immensely, even though it broke the bank. Not being a journalist, I've never tried Bolly and lobster. I used to like freshly-caught cockles, on the quay at Padstow in Cornwall. 

But shellfish generally? Hmmmm.

Two things here. First, on odd occasions (a Lymington restaurant in 1977, and a Budleigh Salterton pub in 1999, quickly spring to mind) eating seafood that someone else has cooked has led to horrendous illness. That's got to reflect bad practice with food freshness and kitchen contamination, but it did make me wonder whether I might have a disposition to tummy upsets after eating anything in the shellfish line. It certainly made other people wonder. I well recall having to forgo - on my parents' say-so - a delicious-looking prawn starter at the sit-down meal that followed my wedding in 1983. And (with some reluctance, because I knew I would never return) driving past the nationally-renowned oyster packing plant and sales outlet at Bluff in New Zealand in 2007. Bluff oysters are reckoned the very best in NZ. We really should have stopped and got some to eat. But lingering doubts make me drive on. I have regretted it ever since. But those doubts have always prevented me trying a single fresh oyster. I've never eaten one, and have no idea what I might be missing!

Second, to be really honest, I don't find that shellfish has much flavour, and because of that it's rarely my first choice for something to eat when out, let alone to cook up at home. I so hate bland food. I'm not saying that shellfish has no flavour, only that it's most often a subtle flavour, easily overwhelmed by sauces and spices and stronger-flavoured food. Nor would I plead that shellfish always has a rubbery texture, because that chiefly depends on the cooking time. But fears about over-cooking - so easily done - have inhibited me from buying seafood when standing at a fish counter.

Till now. I'd been noticing that scallops featured regularly in Master Chef, and, not having tried them before, decided to buy some and see what I could make of them. It helped that I'd seen it demonstrated on screen what you do. I also looked on the Internet for best advice. Emboldened, I asked what price at Waitrose, and secured four ready-shelled scallops for about 90p each. It seemed a bit pricey, but not pricey enough to hold me back.

Back home, into the fridge they went, and then within a few hours I got them out again, washed them, patted them dry with kitchen tissue, put a slick of melted butter into a pan, and gave them all 90 seconds on each side. Then I added them to the rest of a salad that I'd already prepared - including sliced, seasoned and sautéed potatoes as the other hot element in the salad. This was the result:


Considering that I'd never cooked scallops before, it wasn't a bad outcome. They all had that lightly-toasted look top and bottom. The flesh had turned white, but it was still soft, and it tasted vaguely sweet. Each one was a luxurious morsel.

Would I have them again? Well, these four scallops cost me nearly £4 - not exactly cheap. Nor were they what you might call 'tasty and filling'. They were an appealing little treat, elegant parcels of white flesh. But frankly they reminded me of monkfish goujons. I don't think I'll be buying them again. And I would certainly hesitate about ordering them in a restaurant, given the price that might be asked.

Saturday, 27 April 2013

I changed my mind

Nobody is going to believe this! I've just changed my mind about my accidentally-reprieved Twitter account, and my freshly-opened Facebook account. Yes, I've now permanently deactivated both. Yet again, you might say. In 30 days time (Twitter) and 14 days time (Facebook) both will be good for good, without any option of revival. And I made sure I followed the right procedure in each case.

Clearly there's more going on here than meets the eye. It's not simply that Facebook and Twitter seem to have no useful place in my life. I am obviously psychologically unable to tolerate them.

At this point I should mention the notion of 'virtual identity suicide'. Various papers have been written about it (see http://online.liebertpub.com/doi/abs/10.1089/cyber.2012.0323). The gist of this is that having set oneself up on, say, Facebook, a subsequent deactivation - which might be entirely rational, or in contrast an emotional and impulsive act - can amount to a form of suicide in which one's online identity is obliterated forever. And I suppose that if you build your life around online networking of this type, it might well seem as if 'life is over' when you delete yourself and try to continue in a friendless vacuum.

I dare say that people who suddenly decide to end their blogs, and hide all trace of their past blogging, might also experience a similar kind of 'suicide'.

Well, I don't feel like that about my Twitter and Facebook accounts, because quite independently I have this blog, supported by my Flickr account, as a substantial Internet presence. I don't feel that my online persona has been snuffed out. No, Facebook and Twitter get at me in other ways. I'm very uncomfortable with them. And Facebook is the one that bothers me more.

# They are meant to be the modern thing, the modern way of meeting and communicating with people, and it's almost a convention to be part of both. But I dislike doing the conventional thing. My reaction to pressure, to entreaties to join in and be trendy, is to stay out of it.

# I don't like being part of any clique, or the member of any in-crowd. I much prefer to be an outsider.

# I don't like any kind of intrusion. I don't want to be tweeted or poked or otherwise bothered by frivolous reminders. I don't want silly things brought to my attention. Someone once said to me, jokingly, that I should join Facebook asap so that they could 'see what I was getting up to'. Absolutely not: I don't want anybody keeping tabs on me, thank you.

# Nor do I like the awkward feeling of looking in on other people's lives, out of the blue, without warning. It's an unhealthy kind of curiosity - checking up on people you might know but don't necessarily want to speak to, or link up with. Just to see how they are doing, what they look like, and who they know. It's a form of spying, and I don't want to be a spy.

# I have grave doubts about the privacy angle, and what redress there might be for any mistakes that make supposedly private details public. Well, none of course.

# And I have a nagging feeling that the ultimate purpose of Facebook, in its mature form anyway, is to exploit its members without compunction or remorse. In recent times, both Facebook and Twitter have acquired a commercial flavour (should one say taint?) and it's well known that the people who run them are trying to generate income in all sorts of ways. I for one am not going to play.

Basically neither 'feel right' to me. That's my gut feeling, and it's quite enough reason to ditch them without further elaboration.

If you absolutely love Twitter or Facebook, or both, then I have no problems with your enjoying them. But please count me out.

Friday, 26 April 2013

Twitter - not gone after all

It's still there! My Twitter account @lucymelford.

I set it up on 15 October 2012. Three days later I had a problem with my PC, and that led me to deactivate my Twitter account forthwith, on the suspicion (although apparently I was mistaken) that somehow Twitter had introduced something nasty to my PC.

At least I thought that I had deactivated it. In fact I'd merely logged out. I got an email from The Huffington Post (a retweet?) yesterday, which alerted me that my Twitter account was still alive and kicking.

I have now found out how to deactivate the account properly - but I have hesitated.

Does it have a use, a role in my life, that I haven't understood yet?

I really can't see one. But I could be wrong...suppose I get caught up in some breaking news event? Such as being trapped in a tall building as the flames creep upwards? Or hiding from masked terrorists, who have taken over the shopping centre? Or stranded up a tall tower, as the tsunami swirls below? Or dodging a troop of sex-mad bull elephants?  I could call for help, before I'm roasted/shot/drowned/gored/rescued.

Supposing I ever wrote that bestselling book? Or appeared on TV? Wouldn't I want to know what the instant public reaction was?

Maybe...

But I don't want to tell the world that I'm eating toast and marmalade for breakfast today. Nor do I want to be a sad person who draws attention to silly newspaper articles, as their sole reason for living. Nor am I capable of terribly witty one-liners, and other oh-so-clever comments. And I certainly don't want to be associated with vitriolic hate campaigns, and other out-of-control bandwagons.

Well, for now my Twitter account is doing no harm, and I've tweaked my settings so that it shouldn't irritate me with unwanted notifications. I will suffer the thing to exist, just in case it's ever useful.

And letting my Twitter account live has prompted me to set up a fresh Facebook account. Amazingly.

But not like the old one. I intend to keep rather quiet about it - none of my Brighton friends read this blog regularly, so they'll never know - and be very careful how I use it. It has a recent photo of me (to prove that I really exist), but the public will see no other personal information whatever.

This new account is not there to promote myself, nor to explain what I think about life, nor to make friends with. It's to let me find out what people may know about topics that specially interest me. So I may join one or two special-interest groups, as a friend did. Some of them, no doubt, of an official nature.

I certainly don't want to use it for general 'social networking'. Texts and emails are quite good enough for that, and a good deal more private. And if I want to say anything about my life and attitudes, then there's the blog as always.

As a footnote, I was surprised that I had to set up a fresh Facebook account at all. Although I went through the full deactivation process on my old account at the end of 2012, I harboured a suspicion that my old account would merely be archived. And that when setting up a new one Facebook would say, 'no need to set up a new account, Lucy, here's your old one, which we kept going just in case you ever came back'.

But no, it had really gone, although I suppose there must still be some old photos and posts embedded in other people's Facebook pages. That can't be helped, and it's a kind of awful warning of what can happen.

The lipstick effect

I caught a BBC Radio 4 news item this morning, which said that UK consumers were being much more prudent nowadays where spending money is concerned. And the 'Lipstick Effect' was mentioned - meaning that women were still allowing themselves a little expenditure on cosmetics and beauty treatments, as an affordable way of feeling good, despite having to watch household costs in all other directions. (They didn't say what men were doing to keep their own spirits up. I'm guessing that they're just staying quiet, not wanting their wives and girlfriends to find out, and putting a stop to it)

No figure was put on what the average woman was spending on cosmetics or beauty treatments. It must vary hugely, and surely depends upon your age, the culture you belong to, your social status, whether you need to look good at work, whether indeed you go out much at all, and a host of other factors - the actual cash in your purse being just one of them.

You may for instance have overriding personal standards of appearance, and will put looking great ahead of eating enough food.

You may even have a psychological dependence on makeup, a terror of being seen in public without first 'putting on your face'. And really that's not something to laugh at. An awful lot of women might well feel horribly exposed if seen without at least the minimum of makeup.

Some may simply see it as an essential part of the persona they present to the world: and what indeed is a Goth girl, if she isn't wearing the proper amount of Goth makeup?  

Speaking as a retired middle-class woman in comfortable circumstances, who likes to look well turned-out on both formal and casual occasions, but who can cheerfully slop around at home and in the garden without a qualm, I would say that my own spend in this area is as little as I can get away with.

For a long time now, I've spent cash only on lipstick, mascara for my eyelashes, and hand cream.

For me, that's all I really need. I have this theory, based on observation, that older women tend to use less and less in the way of cosmetics. It's something to do with the way the skin ages. Young girls, with their flawless elastic forgiving skin, can paint themselves up as they like, and the effect can look fantastic. But older women run the risk of looking like clowns - or female impersonators. The only way out of that, I think, is to look to endless beauty treatments, which if any good may put fresh life into tired skin, and allow a fancier cosmetic indulgence. And of course there are those lucky women who are naturally beautiful into old age.

I am not one of them. Nor am I willing to devote a significant part of my pension to a regime of rejuvenating treatments. So, not wishing to look like Co-Co the Clown, or Danny La Rue,  I avoid excess where cosmetics are concerned.

What is my rock bottom line? Well, if I suddenly had to dash out at very short notice, I would still apply some lipstick, even if there was no time for anything else. That's my one essential item. I think it's the single most feminising cosmetic:


There, a shot from last January. An age-ravaged face redeemed just enough by a bit of lippy. Nothing else. No foundation, face creams, powders, etc. I think there may in fact be some mascara in the eye department - but who would really know, when you wear glasses?

Even in dim light, as illustrated in the next shot, the lipstick on its own pops obvious femininity onto a nondescript face:


Another thing about lipstick is that it defines the shape of one's lips, as the above pictures show. And - obviously - lipstick draws attention away from other parts of the face, such as a big hooter. And that's why I always wear it when out. Even when washing the car on my front drive! No kidding.

What will happen when I suddenly get a bit better-off in 2015 - when my State Pension begins to flop into my bank account every four weeks? Will I change my tune, and decide to treat myself to some beauty?

Ah, we'll have to see. I may have greater spending priorities. I think it's likely that I'd prefer to do more holidaying, attend more cultural events, and eat out more than I can presently afford. And many people would say that's putting sanity over vanity!

Wednesday, 24 April 2013

Château Melford 2013 proves to be a fine vintage

I'm sure you will be relieved to learn, as I was, that the suggestion of blood in my urine checked out OK. The doctor phoned me yesterday about the sample I provided. Nothing to worry about.

So, combining this with the routine kidney test last February (also OK), I feel confident that my liquid waste disposal system is functioning perfectly. Very nice to know.

Concern about such things must be baffling to younger people, but, believe me, it's very easy to start worrying about all sorts of basic stuff going wrong as you get older. You realise that you are not immortal, that your parts do wear out, and that a life of careless dissipation is going to catch up with you. I can't say that I ever over-indulged in anything to a dangerous degree, but that was as much accidental as deliberate. In the wrong company, the seeds of destruction could have been sown. As it is, my chief vices (where health is concerned) are a liking for tasty food in satisfying quantities, and not giving enough time to exercise. Both of which can be addressed, and do get addressed now and then.

I had my first salad of the year tonight. That will help reduce my unwanted bulges if repeated often enough!

Tuesday, 23 April 2013

Arms, legs and naked gardening!

It's a lovely sunny morning out there, and the forecast is for a warm afternoon. I'm in the mood for clipping two large shrubs in my back garden. And I hope to get some sunshine on my arms and legs, especially the legs. They have become pallid appendages over the long winter, and badly need a tan. So despite the risk of scratching them to death on the bushes, I will set about my gardening duties very lightly clad.

And I will do so all summer if possible. Those arms and legs need the kiss of the sun pretty badly.

And I won't be presenting the neighbours with an eye-popping spectacle. My rear garden is quite private. I could actually prance about in the nude if I liked. But I won't, just in case a neighbour pops in, or roofers suddenly start work nearby. I imagine that roofers are always on the lookout for sunbathing housewives. Anything female with the right bits to leer at. I've no intention of satisfying their base animal intincts.  

So no nudity in my back garden. But I know that casting aside all clothing, and taking a natural approach to gardening, has much to be said for it. You may in fact have heard of Ian and Barbara Pollard, the Naked Gardeners of Abbey House Gardens in Malmesbury, Wiltshire - a little town just off the Cotswolds. On 'Clothes Optional' days, they may be observed planting, weeding and clipping in their birthday suits, and why not? Here they are:

 

Well, that's a bit of a nudefest! Of course, there's nothing wrong with any of this public skin exposure - of course not - but what exactly would one say if one walked innocently around a giant shrub - or through a gap in a tall hedge - and were then suddenly faced with a Naked Gardener? Perhaps: 

'Oh, hello! Lovely weather today! Isn't the sun so marvellous! God, it's warm! Don't you feel stiflingly hot, without any clothes on...?' (blushes and faints)

'Oh, sorry, I didn't know you were there! I love your hat! What a fabulous toolbelt you're wearing!' (blushes and faints)

'Oh, I hope I didn't interrupt anything! I can see you're really busy! You must be doing this all day! Um, aren't you worried about these bees stinging your...?' (blushes and faints)

'Oh, sorry, sorry, sorry, I didn't mean to intrude! I'm sure you don't want people looking at...Oh, what lovely gardens! What lovely plants! What an amazing bush you've got there!' (blushes and faints)

But then I'm completely inhibited, and so easily embarrassed. I will blush horribly at anything, including myself. Of course, most people take this kind of everyday sunworshipping in their stride, and indeed coachloads of garden-loving tourists visit these famous gardens every day during the sunny months of the year. To my credit, when last staying on the Cotswolds, I dared myself to go to Abbey House, and nearly did, but would you believe it, they weren't open? I had to visit the American Museum at Claverton instead. (Phew)

It's well known that men, if keen naturists, will pose around unabashed, but I have to admire the bottle that Barbara shows (if the camera does not fib) by revealing so much of herself to the public gaze. That said, you'll notice that the photos all have pot plants, arms, elbows, toolbelts and saucers placed just so, to conceal the naughty bits.

Barbara isn't shy about her breasts, however, and good for her. Actually, I don't suppose I would be, in the right circumstances. Nor complete exposure, if a thousand other people were doing it, and you'd look an idiot if you didn't join in. There, I'm not afraid to admit that I'm Pure British when it comes to Revealing All. And, of course, if we all went around naked, there would be no point in going to the Abbey Gardens at Malmesbury. Except to see the plants. I just hope the National Trust doesn't copy the idea.

Monday, 22 April 2013

Property auctions

I've attended two property auctions, one in September 2004 and one in June 2011. I haven't been to any other type of auction, but you can easily see antique and collectables auctions on daytime TV, and I've done that. I'd say that a property auction is much the same as those, except that (obviously) the bidders see only a list or a brochure describing each lot, nothing is on view or held up to see, and much more money is normally involved. You would never make a frivolous or incautious bid at a property auction, because of the dire consequences of accidentally securing a house or a plot of land that you do not have the money for.

You always go to a property auction with at least some preparation done.

In the case of a town auction, of town properties, you will surely have registered with the auctioneer - it may be compulsory - and you will have studied the brochure. If you are a landlord (as is very likely with town properties) you will know pretty well what income you might expect to make from the property if you buy it, and therefore what you can afford to spend on its purchase and refurbishment so that the return will be worthwhile.

In the case of out-of-town properties, farmers' fields perhaps, you will have driven out to inspect whatever you are interested in.

In any event, you must have your solicitor's contact details, and your cheque book. An immediate part-payment is required at the conclusion of bidding, when the sale becomes binding. Exchange of contracts is deemed to have taken place at the fall of the hammer. And that's the advantage of selling by auction - if there are bids that at least reach the reserve price, the property will be off your hands at once, with only a month to complete the legal aspects in full, and of course to get the rest of the money in. If it sells. One of the lots at the June 2011 auction I went to was the Cottage I owned at Piddinghoe. There were no bids. But thankfully there was post-auction interest, and a deal was done through the auctioneeers. Sometimes that's how it goes.

In my last post, M--- and I had in September 2004 been taken with a field at Melplash, north of Bridport. This is what my contemporary auction notes said about it:

We attended our first property auction on 24 September 2004 at The Brownsword Hall in Poundbury, Dorchester, from 2pm. We heard about it by picking up a pamphlet at the Bridport offices of Symonds & Sampson on the previous day. We had time to view some of [the lots]:

# an agricultural contractors' depot at Melplash, not far north of Bridport (Lot 1, 0.45 acres, guide price £20,000). It would need a lot of clearing up - old oil tanks, rusty machinery, and so on.

# two fields near Melplash. One (Lot 6) was on the main road (14.31 acres, guide price £40,000). The other (Lot 5) was set back down a lane (2.39 acres, guide price £10,000). We were very taken with the smaller field, which was level and very spacious, with something of a view of the higher surrounding countryside, really rather attractive; and for an evening we wondered how we might buy it - neither of us had brought a cheque book. By next morning, we had decided that we ought not to try. We would just go to the auction for the experience.

# three fields near Askerswell, east of Bridport (Lots 2, 3 and 4; 15.22, 3.26 and 14.99 acres; guide prices £50,000, £15,000 and £40,000).

We were mainly interested in buying a plot of land on which to park the caravan when visiting the area, and eventually erecting something more permanent. [We] went to the West Dorset Council Offices in Bridport first thing on the day of the auction, spoke to the Planning Officer (who was luckily available) and discovered that planning permission would be needed just to site the caravan in the field, and there was no way permission would be granted to build anything. This seemed to rule out using the land for anything other than pasture (its current use). We would have to acquire a property with a house on it already, in the conventional way. 


A photo of the auction hall on our arrival. It became absolutely packed with heaving humanity.

[The auction] was due to begin at 2pm sharp. We got there at 1.20pm, when there were just a handful of people present, all of them sitting down. But after 1.30pm the hall began to fill up rapidly. Soon all the seats were taken, and it was standing room only for most. By 1.50pm there was not enough room at the back for everyone to get into the hall. So the people in seats were asked to move their chairs forward, and bunch up a bit. This seemed reasonable, although probably not strictly in accordance with fire regulations! The hall became absolutely packed. One of the solicitors present - there were staff from two or three firms - actually took some photos of how well-attended the auction was: there must have been unusual interest in the lots.

It was clear that the best place to be - if you wanted to see everything, no matter what the crowding - was along a side wall, about one-third of the way from the front, seated if lucky (but that wouldn't matter if intent on bidding). 

The auctioneer explained that successful bidders would be presumed to have read the General and Special Conditions of Sale, and understood the Rules of Auction, but he made particular mention of these points:
• bids should be obvious ('bold') - he would not be able to see nods or winks at the back of the hall.
• no Buyers Premium would be charged - what you bid was the price you paid.
• the successful bidder would immediately be asked to complete a form giving basic details about themselves, and who their solicitors were - two ladies were on hand to help get this done - and he or she would have to write a cheque (no cash, because of the money-laundering regulations) for 10% of the purchase price.
• exchange of contracts would be deemed to have taken place at the auction, at the conclusion of bidding.


The auctioneer always began the bidding with the guide price. Usually he got no bid, and would suggest a lower price, often half, then got the bidding under way in steps of £1K, £2K or £5K. It was most often £2K. Bidding proceded briskly. The only lot that took a longish time to reach a final price was the Martinstown barn (Lot 9) - two bidders were overbidding each other in £2K or even £1K steps, all the way up to an eventual £251K. 

This is the result [of the bidding]:

Lot                           Guide price        Sold for
1    Depot                £20K                   £41K
2    Field                  £50K                   £67K
3    Field                  £15K                   £15K
4    Field                  £40K                   £40K
5    Field                  £10K                   £26K
6    Field                  £40K                   £58K
7    Field                  £15K                   £15K
8    Field                  £20K                   £20K
9    Barn                  £100K                 £251K
10  Barn                  £120K                 £163K
11  House               £160K                 £170K
12  Tel exchange   £25K                   £85K


All but four of the lots were sold for more than the guide price. Four went for more than twice the guide price. That seemed to demonstrate that an awful lot of people were keen to buy land, and that some would pay way over the guide price for rather unsuitable properties.

The surprises were:

• The high price paid for Lot 9 (West End Barn at Martinstown - we had a look at it afterwards: it was in good condition, certainly had potential, and was unlisted; but as it was still in an 'agricultural' state, you’d need to spend a lot more to convert it into a home.


The Martinstown barn. You can see why people would bid for it. But when M--- and I passed by in September 2009 - on one of our last caravan holidays together - the barn was still in its 'agricultural' state. Somebody made a big mistake buying it.

• Ditto, the telephone exchange at Beaminster. (A small, squat building: what would you actually use it for?)

'Our' field (Lot 5) realised £26K, which was in line with our best expectations. We were sorry to see it slip away, but it would have been unwise to buy it without proper prior research, and we certainly wouldn't have paid so much [on the off-chance] we could have got planning permission. 



'Our' field in September 2004. Nothing but grass.


Hello, hello! Three years later, and there's a gravel drive, new fencing, fast-growing shrubs, and a posh new stone building complete with the kind of logs you chop up for wood-burning stoves. Seems rather more substantial and well-appointed than the usual horse shed! Easily convertable into a holiday home, we thought. Just waiting for the right moment? My contemporary notes on that:

But in fact we missed an opportunity. We revisited the field on 20 September 2007, and found that:
• The old entrance gate had gone.
• A gravel drive had been laid out, with fencing separating what seemed to be a 'garden' and the paddock beyond. Various plants were growing.
• A substantial barn-like 'stable' had been erected in brick and flint, somewhat concealed behind the roadside hedge. It looked as if it could easily be converted or extended to make a proper house... Just as we thought someone might do. They would make a killing. 


[The auction] was all over within an hour. As soon as the final lot went, everyone started to leave. We went back to the car feeling that it had been a most interesting experience, and probably not the first.

Footnote on 10 November 2008
The property market slumped from October 2007. Almost certainly there would not be the same level of interest in most of these lots now, unless the prospective buyers were lucky enough to have plenty of spare cash and were prepared to take a long-term view. In late 2008 there was no sign of the property market picking up anytime soon. We ourselves had lost a fair bit on Ouse Cottage, bought just before the slump. If only one had a crystal ball.


And of course little has changed since November 2008 - the UK property market is still in the doldrums. Here and there, people who bought at a good price, and sold at the right moment, may have made some money. Here and there, a speculative purchase of land may have become the setting for a dream self-build, as planning regulations relax a bit. But I rather think that the people at that 2004 auction who bought pony pastures in the hope of using them for something else have mostly been disappointed.

Sunday, 21 April 2013

House hunting

No, I'm not doing any house hunting just now. I like my home very much, and mean to stay put for a while yet, although whether I will be here for the rest of my days is another matter. But lack of cash for a move (nothing in the bank for a deposit, for instance) will in any case tie me to my present location indefinitely.

But ten years ago M--- and I were an item, and very serious house hunters indeed.

This urge to look at properties was driven mainly by M---, who treated it as a Grand Project. And something more than just that. Having the ideal house was her own personal dream: a spacious rural or coastal residence, with extensive grounds and a good view. It was a dream I did not share with the same zeal. But if we ended up with a large, well-appointed country property then I was not going to complain, and would doubtless enjoy whatever M--- would make of it.

But I would be equally happy in any property that I could feel at home in. That might include a small modern build, so long as it was snug and convenient. M--- was looking for a property with potential, probably something old and run-down, that could be developed and turned into something very special and individual. And it had to offer space and separation from neighbours. She was ambitious about this, and we looked at many properties that frankly I would never have considered if buying only for myself.

But M--- was bold, and could see the potential of a place. She often said she should have been an estate agent. She loved looking at properties, and I am quite sure that my transition, and the ending of our relationship, was a terrible blow to her dream of owning that lovely million-pound property she so badly wanted. And if my transition had never taken place, if the property market had never faltered at the end of 2007, then we would today still be together, and the proud owners of just such a residence.

To give you an idea of how we conducted our house-hunting in its heyday, here are extracts from the contemporary notes I kept at the time, with some photos of course if I have any. First, a bungalow in the New Forest, and two properties in Dorset, all viewed in June 2003:

A major interest while staying in Milford on Sea was to investigate the housing market in the local area. Unfortunately our notions of finding plots of land for a self-build, or even bungalows with a lot of land around them, were dashed. Properties with large grounds existed - at a price. But suitable places were few. The only one we found in the general area that had the land and semi-rural position we wanted was on the edge of Tiptoe, almost on the New Forest boundary, and it cost a whopping £575K when our realistic budget was then only £300K [that would be around £400K in 2013 values]. In general you were paying a premium to be near the coast and/or near to the Forest. And clearly there would in any case be lots of competition from other people looking for a holiday or retirement home. Still, Milford on Sea remained a top choice throughout the holiday.

We looked carefully at a bungalow in East Boldre, a New Forest village off the B road between Lymington and Beaulieu. This was on offer at £396K. Again, in theory too much for us at the time, although by then we were starting to consider ways to find such money.  It was on a plot nearly as large as the Ashley Heath property (see below), but enclosed by high hedges which gave shelter and privacy - though they meant isolation too. Its only access was over a cattle grid - most necessary, since across the road outside lay the genuine forest, grass and gorse with distant trees, and of course wandering ponies who would long for the succulent grazing in a garden. The bungalow itself was modernised, with extensive use of big sliding patio doorways, all double-gazed of course, and a wood-burning stove. It had two moderately-sized bedrooms, a good lounge, a smallish kitchen, a small hall, a loo, a bathroom, an accessable attic reached by aluminium pull-down steps - and that was all. Almost nothing in the way of storage space. We decided it was too small: it needed at least one more good-sized room. But that was next day. At the time we were both quite taken with it. The couple who lived there, both keen on sailing and caravanning, were more than pleased to show us over the property, and very chatty; in fact we arrived at 5.40pm and did not get to leave until 9.20pm. I got the impression they were glad to have visitors. And that was something else about the situation of the house – all the properties in East Boldre were strung out along a two-mile minor road, quite well separated, and getting to know any neighbours would be difficult. Some of them sounded rich and snooty. The one village shop was a long walk away, not at all convenient. One might feel very lonely and cut off when it was dark and dismal outside, and the forest soggy and uninviting. It would not be a welcoming prospect in the winter.  


No photos of the East Boldre bungalow, I'm afraid. It was, anyway, somewhat hidden from view when standing in the road, as most properties thereabouts were. Getting to know your neighbours would indeed have been difficult!

While staying at Milford on Sea we drove all over the area bounded by the New Forest in the E, Shaftesbury in the N, Dorchester in the W, and Wimborne in the S, to assess the scenery and the villages. Although there were larger numbers of affordable houses inland, we kept on remembering that Milford on Sea was on the coast, and the sea might be within walking distance there - rather than an hour's drive. So there was something of a coast v inland contest in our minds. 

Although the land was higher W of Blandford Forum, it wasn't as likeable as the lower but rolling land to the E, which had wide, open views. We thought the nicest village there was Gussage All Saints. In general, the Gussages and the Tarrants to the E of Blandford were nicer than the Winterbournes to the W. Okeford Fitzpaine was enveloped in a strange smell, which seemed to come from some works from which large container lorries were sent out. Perhaps it was an abbatoir. The Shaftesbury area had some fine scenery. Shaftesbury itself - up on its hill - enjoyed impressive views to the S. An attractive place, with associations for me going back to the early 1970s. And there were some nice places near Dorchester, such as Buckland Newton. Dorchester itself was a pleasant centre with good shops. We must have got 30-odd agents' house particulars, and sought out most of them, though doing no more than viewing them from the road. A bungalow...at Stour Row, near Shaftesbury, was one of these and stayed in mind as a possibility. It was on offer at £237K. But we had a proper look at two Dorset properties in particular.

One was a bungalow in Ashley Heath, a posh residential area near Ringwood. This was [in] Lions Lane. It was on a vast level rectangular plot, had an extensive drive and a detached double garage, and the asking price was £365K...This was actually inexpensive for Ashley Heath. It looked as if the occupants had had to leave suddenly and were not going to return. The gardens front, side and rear were overgrown with grass. It was out of our price range at the time, though tempting, as there was so much space. But Ashley Heath, though high-class, was characterless and lacked any kind of village or community centre, and the busy A31 was not far away. Besides, it was completely without that rural feeling we wanted.


There was also something not quite right with the roof: it sagged a bit. Inside, through the windows, it was like the Marie Celeste, things left just as if the owners had popped out for two minutes, meaning to come back. We wondered what illness or crisis had overtaken them. The long grass in the rear suggested that the house had been empty for most of the summer, and was presumably in the hands of executors.

The other property was an L-shaped barn at Melbury Abbas, near Shaftesbury. This was in its working state, and on offer at £128K. 22 acres of farmland came with it. The story here was that the divorced farmer had sold off bits of his land, and a company now owned the barn and the 22 acres. It had tried various ways to develop the land, but couldn't get planning permission. The land was offered on condition that if the buyer did manage to develop the land, the company would have a share of the profits. Who would buy on those terms? We wouldn't. The barn itself was in good condition, and certainly had potential. Some surrounding land would be nice to preserve ambience and perhaps the view, but 22 acres was really rather too much.


It was certainly a property worth seeing, but it would have soaked up money in getting it habitable, and that profit-sharing stipulation by the company was a killer.

We also considered plots of land. In September 2004 we found one we really liked not far from Bridport:

While caravanning near Lyme Regis, we had a good look around the area, and thought that Seaton and Bridport both had much to be said for them as small towns with good facilities - especially Bridport. Lyme Regis itself was very attractive, but it was really too hilly, and did not have a wide range of decent shops. But you could get a good meal there, and it had sand and a fine harbour.

We discovered that there was an auction of local land on 24 September 2004 at Dorchester. We very much liked one lot just south of Melplash - a 2.4 acre field - and decided to attend the auction. We didn't have the time to research the field much, and hadn't brought our cheque books, so we didn't bid. It went for £26K. Perhaps it was just as well that we couldn't pay - we might have been tempted to bid! We very much doubted that it was being bought simply as a pony paddock: someone was making a little investment on the off-chance that one day they'd get planning permission for a house. (We'd revisit the field in a few years' time, to see if it had been built on)



It was a south-facing field off a rural lane, with no electricity or water connected, but it had space in abundance. I'll have more to say about it in my next post.

You can see that a good part of our holiday time must have been given over to looking in estate agents and visiting properties! It was sort of fun, but M--- was more interested in doing it than I was. But then, she had that dream driving her forward. And if she had actually found the ideal place, she would have pulled out all the stops to secure it. She had learned that if you have the vision, if you believe you can do it, then you can. Me? I was the junior partner in this. I would simply have been carried along by her determination, a twig swept along by a river in spate. It would not be so nowadays, of course.

Melbury Abbas, Melplash. You can see why I thought 'Melford' was a West Country name!

Saturday, 20 April 2013

Insurance

Life is full of unexpected mishaps, but I've noticed that if you are careful, and prudent, and can look at the risks sensibly, then you don't always need insurance.

I am regularly bombarded with junk mail concerned with insurance. In April and May it's car insurance. In October and November, house insurance. And at all times, caravan insurance, life insurance, health insurance, travel insurance, and insurance for my mobile gadgets. The competing insurance companies (and those retailers who have a nice sideline in selling Care Plans) know when my annual policies are up for renewal, and all about my purchases, and when the manufacturers' guarantees are due to expire.

My beef today concerns mobile gadget insurance. This is an area where you can really waste money.

Before me is a letter from Currys/PC World recommending me to send them £95, for 12 months cover with their Whatever Happens Care Plan. I bought my Sony tablet from them a year ago, and the manufacturer's guarantee has now run out. So they say - I haven't checked - but even if it's true, why should I need a Care Plan for a tablet?

The Sony cost me £380 on 10 April 2012. And they want 'only £95' to 'protect it' for the next twelve months. 'A small price to pay' they say. What? It's a quarter of the purchase cost!

They stress the likelihood (and inconvenience) of repairs, breakdowns, and mishaps such as damaging the screen or spilling a drink over the device. I'm sure all these things can happen, but my personal track record on loving my gadgets, and treating them like the crown jewels, is second to none. I have never yet lost, dropped, sat on, or short-circuited any electronic device. They never go into perilous situations, never fall behind sofa cushions, never end up on the floor, never get soaked by the rain. And I am not ham-fisted, nor clumsy.

I suppose that if I lived a chaotic life and treated my gadgets like toys, then this Care Plan might make sense, especially if I'd bought a Currys/PC World special-deal, super-cheapo, low-status-brand-name tablet with low-status reliability. But a Sony? In the hands of a careful and knowledgable user? I think not.

It seems to me that Care Plans are simply a way to squeeze more cash out of the customer. Year after year. After all, if you are pursuaded that your purchase might fail in Years One and Two, isn't it even more likely that it will fail in Years Three and Four? Stands to reason.

After buying my cooker in February, and feeling that I'd paid more than I need have by getting it from a High Street shop, I looked in Currys to see what they would have charged. Sure enough, I could have saved myself at least £80, all things considered. But that excluded the cost of their heavily-promoted Care Plan. If I'd had the Plan, it would have worked out very much the same as the High Street price at the point of purchase - and who knows what it would have cost in the long run. Of course, I would have refused the Plan. But did I really want to haggle with a man determined to sell me one? How much aggro can one take?

Friday, 19 April 2013

Oh no, not Rolf as well

The latest person to be named in Operation Yewtree, the police inquiry into persons accused of historical sexual misconduct following the exposure of Jimmy Saville as a serial sex offender, is Rolf Harris. See http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-22212131.

Yes, Rolf Harris the well-loved Australian (but UK-resident) entertainer, musician, and artist, of Animal Hospital fame, the man who sung the sentimental but heartfelt Two Little Boys (a celebration of noble unselfishness in childhood and adulthood), an icon of my childhood, whom I would have credited with as solid a character as any person alive. I can't believe it. Look at his life and career here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rolf_Harris. I never thought there was anything remotely suspect about him. All I will say is that I never liked men's beards: but it's not a crime to have one.

And yet the police have something on him, and his name has been made public in connection with an accusation of an act or acts that should not have taken place. Even if completely innocent, the damage to his reputation may be irreparable.

The damage to my own childhood equally so. Maybe yours too. There was, when I was young, a host of male TV entertainers and personalities who seemed whiter than white, and utterly 'safe'. So you could watch Blue Peter, and Crackerjack, and other programmes like that, with complete confidence that the male presenter or co-presenter was a Nice Person and no threat whatever. Indeed the very notion of a man being a possible threat to any child was not part of my world: men (well, reliable-looking kinds of men) were people you could run to, and appeal to for help if lost or hurt. (Children in less protected circumstances may have been more worldly-wise, of course) As you grew older, you naturally saw these men differently. Some time after I outgrew Children's TV, I began to hear of these presenters' sundry human failings, such as behind-the-scenes affairs with adult women, and health problems from too much booze. But nothing that would attract the attention of the police.

It's easy now to say that a person like Jimmy Saville was odd and creepy, and 'obviously' the sort of man to abuse his powerful position. Back in the sixties he merely seemed zany, a strong TV personality full of life and energy, a DJ with his own very individual style. The sort of person that the BBC would hire in order to seem hip and trendy to young people. They wanted a big audience for the newly-launched Radio One, and it was important to make Top of the Pops on the telly an unmissable weekly event. So that 'Did you see the Beatles - or the Hollies, or the Tremeloes, or the Small Faces - last night on Top of the Pops?' (or, later on, 'Did you see Pan's People?') would be the buzz. People like Jimmy Saville were perfect for such programmes. All the original Radio One DJs - such as Emperor Rosko - had their own quirks, their particular catchphrases. Strange, outlandish behaviour was expected. I dare say the BBC was anxious to get well away from bland, lounge-suited presenters of the past, such as David Jacobs. And perhaps was institutionally unable to spot the signs of questionable behaviour until that person had established an unassailable position.

It seems now that the people who commanded our respect, whether extrovert or not, should all be looked at in a fresh light. I find it all very saddening. It is right that those who misbehaved should not get away with it. Even if they are now in their seventies or eighties. You have only to imagine the feelings of their victims. But I do feel let down and disillusioned, and something about my young life has been destroyed.

And it wouldn't have just been men on TV. What about ordinary people, the men who lived in my town, in my street, and may have harboured thoughts that would have frightened me if I'd ever known what was in their minds? Who made a habit of saying hello to me, when I was a child? Thank goodness it's so long ago that I can't remember. (And I won't be having therapy to recall it from my subconscious)

And what about the ladies I knew? The social culture of the time made women's misbehaviour a forbidden secret so enmeshed in taboo that it was unimaginable or at least undiscussable. But of course a minority of women, some of them in public life, must have been abusing children. It will rock the nation when we find out who.

I do wonder what else is coming. And what the long-term effect will be on how people feel about each other. 

I am all against maintaining artificial assumptions about what certain types of persons are like. It is a stupid kind of blindness, it makes it easy for crimes to occur, and makes it impossible for victims to be listened to. But it will take a strong society to fully examine its members and come out of that with the notions of trust and innocence intact.

Thursday, 18 April 2013

Bone scan, urine test, breast screening

A little while back I went to the local hospital for a bone density scan. I happened to be seeing a doctor earlier this week (more on that in a moment) and asked what the result was. She got it all up onscreen. All the scans taken showed that I had 'better bone density than the average for my age'. Well, that was not entirely unexpected, but gratifying nevertheless. And, yes, I confess that I did feel a little relief. One less thing to feel concerned about, anyway. No mention was made of any pelvic abnormality: perhaps nobody had been looking for it.

I was seeing the doctor - not my usual one, as it happens - because I'd detected a pink tint on tissues when wiping myself after a wee. Just a spot, and it was light pink, not bright red. But I immediately thought of blood, and it obviously needed to to be checked out without delay. Especially after I had read up about kidney problems, bladder cancer, and sundry possible urinatory tract infections - although in fact there was no accompanying pain or discomfort or functional difficulty whatever. But there should be no blood, whatever the source. So I made an appointment online.

Two days later the pink tint disappeared. But I didn't cancel the appointment.

I had a spare sterile sample bottle, and presented the doctor with some fresh Château Melford 2013. The première cuvée, as it were. Pre-breakfast anyway. It seemed to me entirely normal: clear, golden, with a delicate bouquet redolent of spring meadows and butterflies. At any rate a litmus test (or whatever it was the doctor tried at the surgery) showed no problems. But she said she'd send it off to the lab for proper analysis, and phone me during the following week. And we will then take it further if need be. Meanwhile I shouldn't be overworried by bladder cancer. She thought it might simply be that a local thickening of tissue near the bottom end of my urethra had become temporarily irritated. That made sense. Because of course that very section of the urethra was 'created' during my surgery, and it had had a catheter tube up it while in hospital. So some scar tissue was to be expected. It might remain sensitive to irritants. The night before the appearance of the pink tint in my urine I'd drunk a lot of wine, and eaten a lot of spicy chili. So maybe.

She offered to examine my urethra, but I ducked out of that. I was super-clean, and didn't mind taking my kit off. But whereas my usual lady doctor knew all about my medical history, I didn't want to present this lady, whom I'd not met before, with any unexpected surprises. I was sure she was unaware of my trans status. The onscreen record surely didn't highlight it. And there had been nothing in our conversation to make her realise that I was one of the handful of trans women handled by the practice. So she'd come to my particular anatomy unprepared, and although  it would surely pass muster on a nudist beach, I wasn't ready to expose it to a doctor's close-up scrutiny, not if the symptoms had receded and examination was merely an option. Besides, did 'examination' mean threading some kind of tube up the urethra? Oooh, no thank you! Full marks to her, though, for making such an offer to a patient she'd not met before.

The medical reviews don't end there.

Coming up on 7 May is my second breast screening. Older women - women over 50, that is - have these every three years in England. They'd not had much breast tissue to work with at my last screening in 2010. There was a little more now: an AA cup in 2010 versus an A cup in 2013. My neighbour had her own three-year breast screening just the other day, and talked about it over coffee when I invited her in. It's apparently still the same old 'get 'em out, and we'll squash 'em in the machine' routine. So I'm in for an uncomfortable few minutes. But being small-breasted it shouldn't actually hurt. And so worth it, if screening can spot cancer and nip it in the bud.

More soon on all this. After a visit to the dentist...

Wednesday, 17 April 2013

Ooooh, you are awful: British drag

This post touches on a topic that many British transsexual people would regard as anathema: men pretending to be women - for laughs. I look at three such men, all now dead, who dressed up and assumed a female persona in the name of Entertainment. Their assumed personas were each different, but all of them were based firmly on British sterotypes.

So Americans might like to look away now: this isn't for you. It isn't drag as done in Las Vegas, or on Broadway. It's stuff for the British sitting room.

The three people I'm looking at were all big names on stage and TV during the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s. We've long moved on from that era, and surely wouldn't want to return to it, but that doesn't mean that the humour of the time has completely passed from popular culture. I'd say this kind of humour, from this sort of performer, is now enshrined in British Nostalgic Memory, which is a powerful thing, greater than the Crown, greater than Parliament, and not to be dismissed.

My first selection is Dick Emery (1915-1983). His life and career, surprisingly varied, is at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dick_Emery. I knew him primarily from his TV appearances in the 1960s, and I watched him because Mum and Dad watched him. There was no choice about it. They monopolised the only TV in the house. If I was tired of sitting in my bedroom, and wanted to watch something on the box, I had to fall in with what Mum and Dad wanted to see. In those days kids had to negotiate - or plead - with their parents, usually unsuccessfully, for TV time. It was very difficult to watch a particular programme if your parents wanted to see something else, and of course parents never went out anywhere in the evening. Well, mine didn't. My greatest personal triumph of negotiation or pleading was to persuade my parents to watch The Beatles' 1968 Christmas Special, Magical Mystery Tour. You can imagine how it was for me, with shock-horror vibes and negative comments coming from my parents as the admittedly baffling film unfolded. Why was it so full of incomprehensible drug-induced sequences? What was the plot? Wasn't it sad that the Four Lads From Liverpool had sunk to this state? The Beatles' film rendition of  I Am The Walrus, in strange costumes, at a forbidding concrete location, and its mockery of policemen, was almost the last straw. To my parents' credit, we did watch it to the end, but their verdict was not favourable, and I never got away with so much at home again. And yet I was expected to put up with Dick Emery.

Mum loved his programmes, but he made me cringe. Here he is:


Clearly a cheerful and swinging-sixties person. I'm not saying that Dick Emery's humour lacked cleverness, but he had a variety of strange characters such as a rather odd vicar. His clear favourites were female characters, one of them a playful sex-starved creature in a shiny blonde wig:


The catchphrase Ooooh, you are awful! is his, and was the title of a film that Wikipedia refers to, in which nude girls' bottoms are a key part of the plot:


This type of humour was not a million miles away from the sniggering innuendos of Leslie Phillips on the classic 1960s radio comedy The Navy Lark, but was at least lighter and defter in execution than Benny Hill's indescriminate gropings of female flesh on contemporary TV. Dick Emery helped to maintain a prevailing view, also exemplified by comedy series such as On The Buses, that normal men could treat women's body parts as nice plump areas to ogle and fondle at will. Something told me it was profoundly disrespectful and demeaning for men to portray women as ridiculous bimbos, especially by dressing up as one and pretending to be sexy and coy in a blonde wig. Don't think me a teenage prig. I was just empathetic towards girls, secretly on their side, but socially separate from them, and unable to openly protest. I was ashamed to be a party to all the ogling, and very unhappy when it was assumed that I eagerly wanted to do the same.  

Although empathetic, I did not idolise girls. They clearly weren't perfect beings beyond tarnish or corruption. After all, I'd seen plenty of petulant and selfish girls about. Plenty of ignorant and loud-mouthed and devious girls too. And I knew from casual observation on beaches that pretty girls turned first into pudgy mums, and then into over-tanned fatties with stretch marks, cellulite and scrawny necks. That seemed to be the reality that awaited any teenage girl, no matter how cute.

I even knew what they really looked like with their clothes off. I had one seedy, late-teens experience, never to be repeated, in the company of friends from work. This was to watch a pair of real-life strippers at a pub in Eastleigh. It was sagging boobs in a smoke-filled bar, tired flesh exposed for the delight of raucus, beery, cheering men who nudged and winked and told very dirty jokes. It was sad and exploitative for both performers and voyeurs. It was a timely reality check, so offputting that it quenched my forlorn aspirations to be female for some time. But not forever - even though I knew that I might, if ever magically transformed into a woman, look blousy and flabby, with poor skin; a mere plaything to be leered at, and pinched, by belching men. I long pondered which was the better (or worse) fate: to be male or female?  

Strangely, my Mum did not seem purturbed about Dick Emery's blonde impersonations, and she didn't see what was so bad about women's second-class status in society either. She laughed. How could she do that?

My second choice is Danny La Rue (1927-2009). His life and career are at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Danny_La_Rue. He represents the classic British Female Impersonator, and I think his stage and TV persona, gorgeously attired in gowns and feathered hairdresses, remains the iconic depiction of a drag queen, in British eyes anyway. Here he is:


Another performer that Mum went out of her way to watch on TV. She always told me it was the flamboyant, over-the-top costumes that especially appealed. Yes, I can see why. But Danny La Rue's repartee with his audience was just as well-known. In fact he came up in discussion only yesterday evening, over a drink with friends. How he had dealt with a sulky Princess Margaret at a London nightclub. I have no idea whether this is really true in every respect, but the story goes that one night the princess was there, and not in a good mood. Danny La Rue came up to her table and said something sharp and witty and coquettish to her that made her slap him in the face. He immediately slapped her back, hard. She departed haughtily, clearly outraged. But nothing else happened. Well, the story goes on that later that week she came back to the nightclub, but instead of vilifying Danny La Rue, she asked him to forgive her. Make what you can of that! We thought that it was something to do with being larger than life, with playing a part, and feeling beyond normal rules and constraints. Something that might have applied to both performer and princess.

Danny La Rue made me cringe even more, and I rarely watched him. The problem was that although he made no secret that he was impersonating a woman, and was really a man all the time, in his prime he looked too convincing to be comfortable. There was an ambiguity there that went much deeper. Possibly his gayness was adding something that straight man Dick Emery couldn't put in. Maybe, maybe not. I'm sure than ordinary blokes found him extremely embarrassing, a non-subject. My Dad certainly felt lke that. In fact I never, ever heard any man refer to Danny La Rue in any context. This made me think that if ever I could be a girl, I'd have to contend with the mental image that Danny La Rue had created in the nation's psyche. People would automatically assume that all men who felt they were really girls wanted to be Danny La Rue, and would parade around dressed up, and made up, like that. A notion perpetuated by films such as Priscilla Queen of the Desert: 


And, I dare say, by the stage version too. With this kept in the mind of the public, it's still hard to educate people that most trans women are rather different.

My third and last selection is Les Dawson (1931-1993), whose life and career are at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Les_Dawson. Les Dawson was essentially a multi-talented Northern Comedian who got typecast as a lugubrious but lovable comedy act and game show host, such as his appearances on the highly successful Blankety-Blank. He also did panto. And he was fond of putting on women's clothes, an ugly male mug in old-fashioned outfits, complete with hat and handbag, a version of the sort of overdressed woman seen at the seaside in the 1950s. Here he is. He often did smile, and he could look (almost) dapper in men's formal wear:

 

I had more time for Les Dawson. He was funny, and his female characters did not threaten. But they were grotesque to watch. He wasn't trying to do 'female' properly: there was no illusion intended. He wanted you to laugh at Les Dawson dressed ridiculously, and saying (or mouthing) things no woman ever would. It was anti-drag if you like.

Did it help or hinder the cause of womanhood? The characters he played were certainly not sexy bimbos or glamour queens. They shouldn't have been a threat to any young woman's dignity. But it was certainly a parodying of older women. And as an older woman I would now object.

And what of drag now, in 2013? I haven't a clue. It's not my thing, and although you can regularly see drag acts in Brighton, I've not been to see them, nor would I want to. Not even for a laugh.

Monday, 15 April 2013

They want my vote!

In my corner of Sussex, we are having County Council elections on 2 May. This is the Council that stands over the various District Councils.

In my simple world, District Councils do bins, and County Councils do roads. I want both of these things seen to properly, and if a council can do that, I don't mind paying my Council Tax.

As it happens, most Sussex roads are in a dire state - bumpy and pitted with potholes - just the thing to destroy the suspension on your car, even a Volvo. And the Labour Party have clearly identified this as a potential vote-winner, or at least a Big Stick with which to beat the Conservative Party, who presently control the County Council, and have done Many Bad Things according to a Labour leaflet that came through my door this morning.

Will this mean that if the Labour candidate comes to the village, and pesters me at my doorstep, I will jump to it, and sign my name in blood and spittle on their list of Angry Voters who will support Labour, and Get The Tories Out?

No! No more than when, two years ahead, I am pestered for my vote in the next General Election.

The truth is, no party that gets into a position of power has ever delivered exactly what they promised. The easy seductions in party manifestos (and leaflets popped through your front door) do not in practice get translated into the kind of effective action that will bring broad smiles of satisfaction to most of the electorate. Vested interests, political posturing, and the very machinery of government itself, whether local or national, will glue the wheels of action. I am actually surprised that so much does get done at any level.

Nowadays I take a very broad view, and I look for trends. In other words, where exactly is a party going? Who is running it? Who influences its decisions? How are its core policies developing? Has it got what it takes to serve the country well?

What does my instinct say - do they 'feel' right? If they say all the right things, but they feel wrong, then they won't get my vote.

People on your doorstep might want to talk about the existing government's record on, say, managing the economy, or their 'austerity measures'. I can see that Tory Singlemindedness On Cutting Benefits And Hammering The Poor will be a popular theme for upcoming elections. Similarly: Tory Tax Increases For The Middle Earners, and Tory Handouts For the Undeserving Rich. I will certainly be asked to consider how Tory Unfairness has affected me personally.

Well, actually, not too badly.

Take, for instance, my main monthly expense. Diesel for my car. I was paying an average of £1.46 per litre in March 2012, but only £1.43 per litre in March 2013. It went down! Good old George Osborne! Hurrah!

And what about the income tax I pay on my pension? Let me see. In 2009/10, Labour's last full fiscal year, the tax I paid represented 14.4% of my gross pension. In 2012/13 it was only 13.5%. Down again! Less tax than when under Labour! Good old George Osborne! Booooo to Labour!

Of course, I'm ignoring the price of food, and indeed the price of domestic fuel such as gas, which have crept up quite alarmingly. On the other hand, I'm not affected by cuts in cash benefits because I claim none, and indeed have never qualified for any.

How your purse or pocket might suffer depends on so many things, and at the end of the day it's your own personal hit that matters. I'm terribly sorry for families who feel squeezed, but when casting my ballot, when it comes to scratching 'X' on the ballot paper with that strange blunt pencil they provide, I will chiefly recall the injuries that targeted myself.

Such as who it was that switched the calculation of annual pension increases from RPI to CPI. Well, it was that robber and thief George Osborne, wasn't it? He done it all right, m'lud.

And who is likely to deny me my winter fuel allowance, before I even have a taste of it? That recidivistic miscreant George Osborne again. And I'm not a fatcat banker, not a higher-rate taxpayer, just an ordinary woman doing the best she can. Boooooo!

So, assuming the state of the local roads moves me to vote on 2 May, who shall it be? The Conservative Party? The Labour Party? The LibDems? UKIP, maybe? The Greens? The Pinks? The Zombies? The Monster Raving Looney Party? Or any of these parties from a jocular list I once produced:

The Sensible and Decisive Party
The Just and Reasonable Party
The Equality Party
The Social Justice Party
The Law and Order Party
The Philosophical Party
The Power to Pensioners Party
The Love and Kisses Party
The Extreme Sex and Sensation Party
The Sunshine and Ice Cream Party
The Chocolate For All Party
The Barbie and Ken Playtime Party
The Boring Old Fart Party
The More Pay For Bankers Party
The Appallingly Bigoted Party
The Mindless Cretin Party
The Hunt Out All Deviants Party

Ho hum. Now which of these will fix the potholes properly?

Sequel
This morning (Thursday 18 April) the Conservative agent came to my door, and asked me if he could count on my support for their candidate. I said no. Who was I going to vote for? I told him, the LibDem candidate. He pushed off. I won't necessarily vote LibDem. But I didn't like the look of the Conservative person. I was sure we'd have different views on everything that mattered to me. The agent made a big thing about his man living in the village, whereas the LibDem candidate lived in Bolney, some miles away. So what? 

It doesn't look as if there will be a Barbie and Ken Playtime Party candidate. Damn.

Sunday, 14 April 2013

Here comes the sun

One or two recent days have been quite sunny, and have felt warm. Yesterday however reverted to the kind of cold, wet, windy, wintry weather that suggests Spring will never really come. But as if to make up for it, today has been wall-to-wall sunshine, and quite hot. Here's me, in summer garb, enjoying the early afternoon sunshine in my conservatory:


As you can see, shades and shorts were justified. I was glad to air my pallid legs. But such was the heat, I could only stand half an hour of it, and then had to retreat, dazed with the glare, to my lounge, where I had exactly the same reclining setup but a little more shade. I dropped off to sleep. What a life.

I do hope this decent weather continues, although the forecast is for less sun and more showers in the coming week. Still, if it's warmer on the whole I will feel encouraged to do things in my garden before all the plants get into their stride. There's a lot of washing (big stuff from both the house and caravan) that I can't do until it can be hung out on a line to dry and air properly. There are gutters to clear, and paths to scrape. Stuff to bag up and take to the tip. In fact a whole string of fair-weather tasks to attend to.

It's just as well I'm staying home much more this year, to conserve my cash! The February purchase of my new cooker will affect my holiday spending all year long.

Fiona will be going in for her annual service in three week's time. Whether my Northern Tour in June is a free-spending one, or the kind of tour that Scrooge would go on, depends very much on that service being straightforward with no nasty surprises. I'm not anticipating any, mind you.

At least there's good news about the tyre that's got a nail in it. I took it to the Volvo dealer the other day, wanting to know whether this meant a quick and cheap repair, or an expensive replacement. The technician said replacement - the nail was too close to the tyre wall. Oh no! That would be over £200 for a new tyre! On the other hand, the tyre wasn't losing any air, and the nail wouldn't lead to an MOT failure on its own. I should keep an eye on it, checking the tyre pressure regularly, but it might last indefinitely. And in his opinion, I wouldn't be risking a high-speed blow-out when towing the caravan.

That was an unexpected answer, and a very reassuring one, and who am I to argue? If the tyre survives till its routine replacement next year, I'll be even happier. Car dealers (and the motor trade generally) have a reputation for saying that jobs need doing, especially when it's a woman, but this instance shows otherwise!

Saturday, 13 April 2013

Not fragile enough for men

I get out in public every day, by which I mean I'm on view to neighbours or actually walking on town streets. Not just driving about in my car, anonymously. I am constantly in people's eyes, and have frequent reason to speak to some of them. Their reactions - the look in their eyes, their expression, what they say and how they say it - suggest strongly to me that nowadays there is nothing wrong with my presentation. Whether it's a man or a woman, or a child, I am clearly being taken at face value. Which of course is excellent. De facto perfect passing - at least in a public situation.

My goodness, how it feeds my self-confidence! It's taken quite a while to get here, but I feel that I've most definitely got past the first step where general public acceptance is concerned. And consequently I feel happy to accept any invitation, go to any social gathering, and attend any event where I might be questioned before gaining admission. Confident that no sticky moment will occur.

I do recognise that other trans people must be able to spot me a mile off. But then I can spot them too. Truly, 'it takes one to know one'. We both know exactly what to look for, which little things give one away. But even in Brighton the chances of accidentally coming face-to-face with another trans person are very small. They are effectively non-existent elsewhere, unless at some special trans-centred or LGBT-centred event where people come together.

And some 'ordinary' people - strangers, I mean - must know the signs too. Perhaps the partner or ex-partner of a trans person. But again the chances of encountering them are vanishingly small. However, unless I were close to them, and saw recognition in their face, I would not know that they had spotted me. Which might be a source of trouble. But they still wouldn't know exactly who I was.

The dangers of blogging, and outing myself as a named person to the whole world, have been pointed out to me. But to be honest I think it most unlikely that any casual reader of this blog would know it was me, if we happened to meet in real life. It might be different if some of my posts had been videos, and they had seen my characteristic expressions and mannerisms, and heard my voice. But I've been careful not to expose myself like that. There are only the still photos - a lot of them, to be sure - but I'm of the opinion that a still image - a silent image - is not a patch on a video for conveying what a person is like in the flesh. So I haven't much fear that anyone will tap me on the shoulder in the street, or in some pub, and claim to know exactly who I am from glancing at my blog.

What am I saying so far? That I clearly pass well enough for everyday purposes, and that I'm pretty sure that I won't meet anyone who might see through my presentation, or actually know my name. So I should now be able to function as a bog-standard woman with no baggage - well, a middle-aged bog-standard woman - and expect to be treated as one, by everyone.

And women are behaving as expected.

But not so men! They do know I'm there. They certainly don't blank me. They clearly do see a woman. They are actively courteous and helpful, and often chatty if the situation permits. But not one has been amorous or flirtatious.

Now in a way I'm highly relieved. The last thing I want is constant pestering from men trying it on. Some might relish the ego-boost that provides, but to me it would be a problem, just unwanted attention, with no point to it, and possibly quite annoying. I don't want to engage in sexy banter with delivery men and scaffolders and sundry jack-the-lads. On a more serious level, I don't want to make any connection that might lead to a date and a possible relationship. Not even with the most urbane and sophisticated man-of-the-world imaginable.

So far as I can see, any woman who is nicely turned out, and still has looks of some kind, will get attention from a man. Therefore I have thought, not without reason, that once my passability reached a certain level, I'd be eyed up. And maybe a lot of the time quickly dismissed as plain and uninteresting, or too old, or too tall. But surely not always. Yet there has been no interest. Or rather, there was a small amount of attention early in my transition, then less and less as time has gone by. And yet my presentation skills have improved, and although I'm not 'beautiful' and never will be, I'm definitely a 'prettier' proposition than I used to be.

So why no 'hello darling' approaches, wanted or not? I think it may be more subtle than just a question of physical attractiveness.


I think it's that old bugbear, the male legacy. I spent thirty-five years at my job, learning how to assess situations, come up with ideas, make decisions, take the lead, be in charge, and just cope. I spent even longer playing the strong, reliable, dependable, can-do, never-get-lost, know-where-I-put-it, not-dependent-on-anyone bloke. You can't easily throw that off.

Yes, I can be attentive and quiet when a man wants to speak, waiting my turn; I can be bubbly and frivolous and playful as occasion requires; I can be decorative; I can talk like a woman, with woman's words. But I can't be a damsel in distress. Nor can I be the sort of woman that a man instinctively wants to comfort and cherish. Because I'm not vulnerable. I have it all sorted. I'm too organised and confident for my own good. I offer a man no role. I must seem too articulate, too well-informed, and too interested in current affairs, for the comfort of most men. How can a man show off and impress me?

Before anyone hurls accusations at me that I think only in stereotypes - asserting for instance that men want only dim-witted bimbos, or women who can't quite run their own lives properly and need men's helping hands - I hasten to say that I have in the past known men of brilliance and genuine discernment. They exist in abundance in academia and the professions generally.

I am making a simple point in simple terms: I am too self-assured and independent to be fanciable. I'm not fragile enough to stir men into playing the white knight on a steed. And I think these things will keep them away. Yes, yes, I know that's what I really want; but just now and then it would be nice if the odd Sir Lancelot gave me a wink.