Wednesday, 7 August 2013

My new shawl

I've just bought a new shawl. This was at the shop at Wakehurst Place, jointly run by the Royal Botanical Gardens and the National Trust. Wakehurst is just outside Ardingly, in the heart of the High Weald. Wakehurst has the nation's Seed Bank, and is a centre of gardening excellence. It's also a lovely place to visit if you simply want to wander at leisure down its paths to meadows, lakes, and green valleys, and explore some sandstone outcrops. It has areas planted to themes, such as Himalayan or Japanese or South African. It has lawns. It has walled gardens. It has artistic forms made of wood and wickerwork. It has birdlife. It has laboratories. It has an old mansion house. It has a very good modern shop and café (with toilets to die for). And it has a restaurant for something more like a proper meal, or just a relaxing coffee and croissant if that's all you want, and you can sit inside or outside, in the sun or under shade.

It's very, very popular for a somewhat upmarket meetup with friends in well-tended country surroundings. It's open almost every day of the year. Parking is free. And if you are a National Trust member like me, Wakehurst costs absolutely nothing whatever to visit, apart from refreshments, and the purchase price of any goods you can't resist buying.

I had two reasons to be there yesterday morning. First, I wanted to buy a birthday card in the shop. Second, I hadn't eaten anything for twelve hours, and was desperate for a tasty snack and a cup of coffee. I'd had to fast for a visit to the surgery, to provide three blood samples for a battery of tests. I do this every six months, but this time, as well as the usual tests, there were the trans-specific tests for Dr Curtis in London to see. I was going to have one more regular visit to him, and then move onto an ongoing 'only as needed' basis. But to sign me off he'd need to see some up-to-date data on how my body had finally settled down under the post-op hormone regime, and discuss how I felt generally. There was for example a perennial thyroid issue to be considered. I was in any case highly curious to know what the test results would be.

But fasting for twelve hours, and drinking only water during that time, had placed a dire strain on the Melford metabolism; and since it was a gloriously sunny morning, I decided that not only did Fiona, newly-fixed and champing at her bit, deserve a little canter northwards to Wakehurst, I deserved it too.

I quickly bagged the birthday card, then scoffed a bacon sandwich with an Americano. Revived, I couldn't help noticing a stand with some lovely-looking shawls on it.

I have a weakness for shawls. I have a drawer full of them. It's a comforting idea, a lightweight but warm garment that you can drape over your shoulders, to fend off the breeze. And a shawl can be a very attractive fashion accessory - better than a scarf, in my estimation. In fact I'm not a scarf fan at all. I haven't worn one for a long time. I know they seem to be de rigueur with trans women, often because they hide adam's apples (or the scars, if throatal surgery has been performed). But I'd say that is part of the problem: scarves have become a 'trans badge', a sort of giveaway. Opinions will differ enormously on things like this, but to my own way of thinking, if a trans girl is lucky enough to have no discernable adam's apple, then she needs to flaunt that smooth throat out there in public, for all to see. It'll be another very good female indicator, way too good to cover up. At any rate, for me a loose-fitting shawl is a much better, easier-to-wear proposition that a scarf wound tightly around the neck.

In any case a shawl has multiple uses. It can be a stylish hood. It can be a shelter from the hot sun. Depending on how tied, it can be a top, a skirt, a sling. Something to sit on; something to drape over a car seat, so that it doesn't get too hot; an improvised curtain. It's light enought to carry all day, and folds up (or scrunches up) into a small bundle you can get in your bag. As a cabin is to a house, it's a minimum outer garment if you need some protection from cool weather, but having a coat or jacket along would be awkward.

The first shawl I ever had - in the Old Life, of course - was a square arab keffiyeh (or kufiya) in a red check pattern with white tassles all around the edge, in pure cotton. I've still got it, but it has faded, and the red dye has run, and it looks a bit scruffy now. M--- bought it for me in the mid-1990s. She was already using one as a big scarf for our South Downs walks together. Hers was in blue check. Mine made me look distinctly arabic (even though I too used it mainly as a loose and bohemian-looking scarf) and we called it my 'Yasser Arafat', because the Palestinian leader was never seen without one - although the political nuances for a Western wearer were tricky and potentially awkward. Eventually I bought a series of plainer or Indian-styled shawls as some of the very first girly items in my transition, and I've been buying them at odd intervals ever since.

This latest one is a big rectangle, a combination of polyester, wool and nylon. There's a fair bit of wool - the label said 40% - and it seems a bit warmer and more comfortable than some of my other shawls, less inclined to slip off. These shots will give you an idea of what it's like:

Plenty of material and embroidery for my money! It cost me £75. I love it. I tested its worth yesterday evening down in Brighton, popping it into my bag for later use. By 10.00pm It was just cool enough to need something extra over one's top half, and my new shawl was just right. It'll be even more useful when I go off to the West Country in September.


  1. Fasting for blood tests is a pain but unfortunately necessary. It has been a while since my last test and they only screen for cholesterol these days, in fact I do not remember if they ever checked for other things! I can't remember when my last test was it was so long ago, probably more than eighteen months! I have one or two shawls, if you could call them that but I never wear them now. I think they put years on me so I don't bother with them.

    Shirley Anne x

  2. Ah, you don't have to wear them like a grandmother would. I quickly found a YouTube video that showed ten ways of folding, tying, and draping a shawl to look trendy, intended for young women.



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