Tuesday, 31 December 2013

Google+

After some deliberation, I've decided to open a Google+ account. Not, I may say, for 'social networking'. I simply wanted to set up another type of connection with people on the Internet, having already firmly rejected Facebook and Twitter. It will function as a link to my blog and my photo stream. It won't be a substitute for proper contact with people through emails and physical meetups.

The style and presentation of Google+ seems on first acquaintance a bit more to my taste than that of its more popular competitors - more orientated towards 'serious' special-interest and business groups, less open to misuse or the accidental leakage of information, and certainly easier to set up and control. Some say however that Google+ has a dark side, and is none other than The Matrix in real life, so that it will by stealth take us all over. I see what they mean; but I don't expect to build my life around it and render myself vulnerable to manipulation, nor in any way become dependent on it. I'm hoping that Google+ will, through its links, simply reinforce my existing Internet presence on Blogger and Flickr.

I will give it a fair trial. If it proves redundant or a nuisance, it will be closed down, or at least reduced to an empty shell. I read somewhere that if you get rid of Google+ completely, there is the danger of losing your Gmail account along with it, and I don't want to do that!

Immediate sequel
Guess what. Yes, I've deleted my Google+ profile already! Nothing had happened, nobody will be affected. And I don't think, reading the notes on consequences, that deleting Google+ will impact on my Gmail account (but fingers crossed).

This is now a familiar pattern of behaviour with me. I open a social networking account, then very quickly change my mind. I've done it with Facebook (twice), LinkedInTwitter, Ask.fm, and now Google+. Interactive social networking is, for me, unappealing and I don't know why I occasionally experiment with it. I need to tell myself firmly that setting up a networking account merely gives the host website valuable personal information, adds complication to my online life, and creates a potential portal for criminal exploitation. I should stick exclusively to the much more controllable environment of blogging.

Sunday, 29 December 2013

Happy times with friends and family 2

On Christmas Day, I drove the fifty-plus miles westward to Gosport to the home of G--- and C---, my ex-sister-in-law and her husband (she was married first to my brother in 1978, then re-married in 2003), to make up a family party of five, the other two persons being my niece J--- and her husband K---. Plus Sooty and Sweep, the two cats.


All I had to do was turn up with a cheerful face and a bottle of wine, and spend the rest of the day chatting and eating. In short, an easy, relaxing day free of worries and disharmony (because we all get on well). It was much quieter than the previous evening at V---'s, but small family gatherings tend to be like that. I didn't mind at all. It was cosy. The cats gave me plenty of attention. They seemed to think I had influence in the kitchen. They liked duck with all the trimmings, too.

Getting to Gosport was a journey full of freaky weather. It started off just dull, then there was a pitter-patter of rain. Then it lashed down, with hail from time to time. I'd decided that the 'fast' road, the A27, which is fairly direct and stays near the coast, would be crowded with thousands of families driving to and fro in a bid to get to a Christmas Lunch somewhere else. In fact it would be excruciatingly slow. So I was using the inland route via Storrington and Amberley. West of Amberley the road crosses the valley of the River Arun on a low causeway, just a few feet above the water-meadows that flood now and then. As I approached the causeway I saw that major flooding was in progress. The water wasn't yet across the causeway, but would be very shortly if the rain kept up. At the other side of the valley I pulled in and took these shots, looking back:


I could see that valley becoming a big lake within the hour. I've driven along submerged roads in the past. It's no fun. The sideways pressure of water is disconcerting, and it's scary not quite knowing where the road is. It's certainly not to be attempted after dark. I made up my mind that I would definitely not come this way going home! (I took the A27 all the way instead. But saw three road accidents, two of which involved fire engines and foam on the road. What a horrible way to end Christmas for the victims)

The next potential hazard on my outward journey, once back on the A27, was where that road joins up with the A3(M), the motorway coming in from London to Portsmouth. It then becomes a five-lane racetrack in both directions, with people dodging suddenly and inexplicably from lane to lane, generally without signals. The best plan is always to stay in the outermost lane, close your eyes, say your prayers, and push the accelerator into the floor with your welly. That way you can keep ahead of the pack, and may live to tell the tale. Lashing rain, pooling on the surface of the tarmac, just makes the experience more intense of course. This time, survival was a little easier than usual. The traffic was thinner, and I made it onto the M27 safely. Thenceforth it was plain sailing to Gosport.

It was so nice to see most of my 'close family' together! Missing were my nephew M---, his girlfriend C---, and Matilda, their very young baby girl who was featured in a recent post. Although Matilda is not too young to travel, they don't possess a car, and it would be a long and awkward journey by any other means, involving a train journey from (say) Wimbledon to Portsmouth Harbour, the Gosport Ferry, and a couple of buses or taxis at each end. However, I'm sure they'll be there next Christmas.

As mentioned above, we had duck with all the trimmings. It was a very nice meal. Here's my niece J--- with her Mum G--- in the kitchen beforehand:


And this is J--- with myself:


That's my late brother's daughter, you know. She and I have always got on exceptionally well.

I took two other pictures of myself that I almost threw away when editing. One was taken to record an attempt at putting my hair up, but the shot turned out way too twee:


This was the other photo, which I thought made me look way too old:


My goodness: I could see my Dad's face, a feminised version of it. Compare it to these shots, which I took of Dad in 2009, during the month before he died - one on the cruise, one in a pub:


There's such a resemblance. I wonder what Dad would have thought of me now, nearly five years on? Surely he would have become accustomed to Lucy, and no longer horrified or embarrassed?

He'd be 93. Too old and tired and achey for cruises, but still up for a pint in a country pub. Like so many a Christmas in the past. My becoming his daughter wouldn't stop us clinking glasses with a smile.

Cheers, Dad!

Saturday, 28 December 2013

Happy times with friends and family 1

It would be completely false to give the impression that my Christmas was brought down by computer backup problems. I actually had a great time, as this and the next post will reveal.

Let's kick off with Christmas Eve. I was going out that evening, and decided to wear a long dress that, strictly speaking, was more suitable for a visit to the opera in summer. But I couldn't resist. Here I am, trying it on at home. I was wearing my pearl necklace, and intended to put my hair up at some point. For a bag, it had to be the glamorous black Prada, what else! Underneath, no bra, just panties and hold-ups - possibly a little too unseasonal? - but I intended to take a black angora cardigan to keep the chill at bay, and in any case I had for my outer garment the classier of my two long grey Windsmoor overcoats. Black flats completed the ensemble.


The shot above wasn't a 'selfie'. I got my cleaning lady T--- to take it. Here she is, hoovering my study a few minutes earlier:


She's a very cheerful person. She's been cleaning for me since the middle of 2010, but has known me since from the early days of my transition - three and a half years already! A trusted ally.

Anyway, satisfied that my kit would pass muster, I left T--- to it, climbed aboard Fiona - with the Veuve Cliquot champagne in the Prada bag, but (of course) forgetting the angora cardigan at the last moment - and we raced off to Brighton. By six o'clock I was at V---'s.

It was going to be a mixture of her family and friends, but sans the children. The initial line-up consisted of V---; her sister C--- (over from Paris); fellow-shopowner A---; friends B--- and her husband I---; K--- (helping with the cooking); J---; and myself. Later on, after the meal, we were joined by I---'s sons T--- and A---, both down that evening from London; and then even later by V---'s youngest daughter L--- who came in at midnight with romantic news. I knew everyone except the two sons. So eventually there were eleven of us. Plus Co-Co the little dog.

First things first. Champagne! There was Lanson Black Label on ice. (There was in fact so much Lanson Black Label in the house that we never did open my bottle of Veuve Cliquot, but V--- is keeping it for whatever celebration turns up early in 2014) And not only champagne, but smoked salmon and pâté on toast, so much that the two sons T--- and A--- were able to snack satisfactorily on the remains despite missing the main meal.

Champagne has an amazing effect. You become so frivolous!


Then V--- and B--- helped me put my hair up.


I checked the effect in better light in the bathroom. The photos tell me how to gather the hair, ready for pins or a claw, and what the result looks like - so they are in fact instructional and not just narcissistic (that's my line, anyway).


At some point - if the photos do not lie - we broke into a song. Here's V---, B---, K--- and myself doing an ABBA. Mama mia! But it was the champagne singing. I'm pretty sure nobody said Thank You For The Music.


Then we sat down to eat at the main table, which was groaning with plates and bottles, and the lovely food that V--- and K--- and cooked. Crackers were pulled, jokes were read, paper hats put on (then taken off, because you needed to be a pinhead to wear them), and there seemed to be much to laugh about while eating.


V---, by popular request, played on the piano:


And thus the evening passed, full of fun and good cheer. I had a lovely time. As it happened, the cardigan would not have been needed. After midnight, I dropped K--- and J--- off on the return journey. I had paced myself well. I felt full up, but there was no hangover or headiness whatever. Just as well, because next day, Christmas Day, it was going to be the turn of my own family, and I wanted to be fresh for that. Tomorrow's post.

Thursday, 26 December 2013

Boxing Day

I had a very jolly Christmas Eve down at V---'s in Brighton, and an equally jolly Christmas Day at my sister in law's in Gosport, and a post on it all may follow, once I have processed the many photos. Lots of pix always indicates an enjoyable time!

But Boxing Day has been a comedown. Most Boxing Days are. This one is no exception, despite a cheerful exchange with a family walking their dog this afternoon, while I was getting some local fresh air, and some light-hearted texting just now with J--- my next door neighbour, who, with husband and two dogs, has been spending Christmas (and will be seeing the New Year in) on their narrow boat somewhere in the Midlands. Perhaps J--- and K--- have a romantic stretch of canal all to themselves, like this:


Or this:


But I expect they are actually moored with a lot of other like-minded boat-owners, and making a party of it:


These pix are from my own archive: I quite like narrow boats, and canal life has a certain appeal - provided that you can keep snug and warm. My neighbour J--- assures me that their boat is presently so warm they are roasting.

In the distant past - I mean in the mid-1970s, when Mum and Dad still lived in Southampton, and I was still at home - we would drive out to the New Forest on Boxing Day, almost always to the The Old Beams pub at Ibsley, near Ringwood - a thatch-and timber-frame sort of place - and have a drink there, sometimes a meal too. It was practically an annual ritual. I liked doing it. The Old Beams is still going strong, and seems unchanged externally from how it looked forty years ago. Here's a summer shot, taken off the Internet:


Now why am I really not so joyeuse today?

Well, the social life has been turned off for the next few days, partly to preserve funds. It's expensive to party every other night! But I'm already starting to miss seeing friends. I'll almost certainly relent by Saturday.

And there's precious little to interest me on TV. We did watch Toy Story 3 yesterday in Gosport, but as usual I found the storyline hard on my emotions, tears running down my cheeks at the end. My niece was very sympathetic! Well-loved toys do seem to have an inner life of their own, and whether that's completely imaginary or not, it feels true, and I can't understand people who sneer at the devotion children often give to their favourite toys. You hear of people throwing themselves into rivers in spate to rescue a dog. Well, I'd do it for my teddy bear. Anyway, if a toy comes to harm, I personally find it upsetting; and my goodness, the toys in this latest Pixar tale have a lot to contend with before the happy ending!

The only other film I have watched on TV was a bleak and scary Vin Diesel thing the other night. Set in deep space, it was called Pitch Black, and like all these attacked-by-unseen-aliens films, it goes too far and isn't at all within my definition of 'entertainment'. Tonight's film was Independence Day, which - OK - has a happyish ending, in the sense that the aliens get defeated, but the devastated cities and zillions dead can hardly be overlooked. Are the TV companies trying to depress us all?

But the major issue today, the one that got me down most, was my Sony tablet not accepting an SD card in the slot provided for it. It was time to backup my important files onto an SD memory card, something I do every three days; and if home I then copy the backup onto my PC as well. Call me 'backup mad' if you will, but these are essential Word and Excel files which I fear losing.

The SD card slot is obviously a key element in the backup. It must work. But for some reason, the card wouldn't stay in when inserted. I couldn't believe that the slot had suffered mechanical failure. After all, the SD card slot on my camera has been used hundreds of times without trouble. I've never heard of one going wrong. I struggled with the problem for two hours, and then suddenly the card slot was functional again. Just like that. The delayed backup then went smoothly. The problem was somehow solved, although I do not know what exactly made the thing work again.

But, being a Thinking Girl, I reflected on the episode and found much to feel unhappy about.

I thought it was sad that the Digital Age had made making backups so essential. However achieved, it was vital to copy and preserve one's data. Modern life depended so much on it. Losing all one's data was a calamity, and I had a lot of it to lose. And yet, my parents hadn't had such worries.

I was surprised how panicky I felt when my usual backup method - not the only one I could use, of course, but the one that was the most convenient - seemed to fail. Panicky with real emotion. I was upset. And actually, it was only the backup that couldn't be done. I hadn't lost the data itself! What a state to get into...

I had actually wondered (after two fruitless hours of trying this and that) whether I should immediately junk the tablet - an expensive one, incidentally, that had been working faultlessly since purchase in 2012 - and buy another tomorrow. And to hell with my New Year Savings Plan. Well! I thought I was proof against hasty impulse buys! Not so! That really is awful.

It's now time to cook something, so I'm not going further with these reflections, but honestly it says something very disturbing about myself and/or modern life, that a temporary SD card slot malfunction can transform the mood of the day from mild anti-climax to outright panic. That's bad.

Monday, 23 December 2013

The Battle of the Little Big Horn

This is the name of a board game by Waddington's that my younger brother Wayne got as a present for Christmas 1964, when he was aged eight, but closer to being nine. I have never heard of anyone else owning this game, and I suspect that it was soon dropped from Waddington's stable of games because of (a) increased consciousness of the injustice done to the American Indian nations - it wasn't good to cast them as 'the enemy' in a game intended for impressionable children; and (b) more sophisticated appraisals of the campaigns against the Indians, which were coming to be seen as cynical, government-approved land-grabbing and ethnic cleansing - especially obnoxious in the supposed Land of the Free.

But in 1964 it was still possible to enjoy a game of Cowboys and Indians - or cheerfully re-enact Custer's Last Stand - and my brother and myself certainly liked playing The Battle of the Little Big Horn very, very much.

As I said, when bought for Christmas, he'd be eight, and I would have been twelve. It was in active use for some years and might have become tatty, but Wayne, like me, looked after his stuff, and guarded it jealously from harm and pilfering. So that's why, even forty-nine years later, it is still in decent condition, with nothing missing. I wouldn't mind playing it again - how odd is that? - and if Wayne were still around, we would surely by now have got into an annual ritual of battling it out by the Big Horn every Christmas. But of course he was killed eighteen years ago.

This game is one of the very few tangible objects I own that belonged to my brother. I've got his guitar, some of his LP records, some tapes on which his voice is recorded (which I can't, even now, bear to listen to), and this game. So it's precious indeed.

However, it's still a game meant for children, and it shouldn't be seen as a relic but as a source of excitement and amusement, especially if you like battles, and playing with plastic figures. Let's have a look at it.

First the box, which has a stirring scene on the front worthy of any John Wayne cavalry film (e.g. She Wore A Yellow Ribbon - see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/She_Wore_a_Yellow_Ribbon):


The bottom side of the box describes the historical background - simplified of course! - and what's in the box. Wayne has written his name there in different-coloured inks:


Lifting the lid reveals a folding cardboard battle-map, which, in Indian fashion, resembles a stretched painted skin inside a wooden frame:


Removing that discloses the hand-painted plastic figures, the Seventh Cavalry Flag, the single dice (or should that be die? Or douse, as in mouse?) and the rules of play:


A little of my own handwriting from the early 1970s is evident, so we must have been playing this game on and off for ten years or so! The figures, whether Cavalry or Indian, are splendid, and worth closer examination. First, Custer in his buckskin jacket, toting sixguns, and the Flag:


Next, his two officers:


Wayne and I named each one of them 'Swordid' for obvious reasons. Next, the other men:


We called both the standing troopers at the top left 'Wangy Man', because they tended to flop over too easily if you accidentally touched the board. Each of the two men firing on one knee we called 'Shorty' - why, I know not. You'll note that although this is the US Cavalry, none of them, not even Custer, has a horse. They can therefore only escape from their exposed battle position one square at a time - a huge handicap.

Now the Indians. First, the three mounted chiefs. The top shot includes my fingers, to give a sense of scale:


Next, the three mounted braves:


And the Indians on foot, with the die, douse or dice:


Gosh, quite a lot of hand-painting here! It must have been hard to keep manufacturing costs down. Let's now set up the game, with the board flattened out on the carpet:


Actually, I've set it up wrong. The mounted Indians ought to start in the positions behind the rocks on the far right of the board. And they can't ride around in bushes. In a proper game, the Indian encampment would at first be defended only by braves on foot.

Like Custer and his men, the unmounted Indians can only move one square at a time. But the six mounted chiefs and braves can move three squares at a time, and clearly this enables them to swoop down, and whizz around the board, in a very satisfying fashion - although of course horses can't go on squares containing rocks or bushes, and no figure (on horse or not) can cross the stream except at the fords. There are also distance and sightline limitations on who can engage who - it matters much whether you attack with a rifle, or are in cover, or if there is cover in between. The outcome of combats is decided by a roll of the dice. This may signify a miss, or force one figure to retreat, or it might mean a kill. A six means instant death.

The Indians are likely to win, of course! They need only eliminate Custer and all his men. Or capture the Flag. But - unlike historical fact - it is possible for the Cavalry to win, if they kill all three chiefs, or somehow get the Flag to one of the two blue arrows at the left corners of the board. I'm afraid though that a Custer win is rare.

Nevertheless, the game is well worth playing. Wayne and I liked being both the Indians and the Cavalry, taking turns, with no great preference for either. If the Cavalry, we treated Custer as a self-glorifying idiot, eminently expendable, and, leaving the Flag in the safe hands of one of the Swordids (serious men of good sense and high duty) we'd let Custer (stupid and insane) draw the mounted chiefs' fire out in the open. In this way, Custer became a kind of mindless and relentless Terminator figure to the Indians, a slow-moving but deadly Nemesis, someone who menaced their free movement and had to be destroyed before they really got down to business. On at least one occasion, Custer got lucky and managed to shoot down all three chiefs before anything else happened, bringing the game to a premature end. The bastard.

Who put up the best show? Well, all the Cavalry men (except Custer) were valiant beyond belief, to the very last man. Custer was a slobbering mad dog. All the Indians on foot were notably brave and self-sacrificing, although we tended to regard the three with red loincloths as lesser men, fit only for guarding the fords and wigwams (wherein, presumably, squaws huddled). The three mounted braves with tomahawks were definitely the ultimate in reckless courage. The conduct of the three mounted chiefs was, on the other hand, always rather questionable, especially if there was only one left. He tended to skulk in the rocks, preserving his cowardly hide, and would only emerge at a gallop if the Cavalry were in danger of winning.

We did play to win. But we didn't play scientifically. We wanted fun and side-splitting laughs. Most often we'd each employ Kamikaze tactics, on foot or mounted, turning the game into an unpredictable but hilarious bloodfest.

But you can of course tackle matters in a cool and properly-analysed way. Have a look at this: http://boardgamegeek.com/thread/725087/a-beautifully-crafted-game-from-the-1960s-that-tur. And if you want some insight into the world of uncomputerised weekend War Gaming with model figures, then this also: http://wargamingmiscellany.blogspot.co.uk/2010/07/cow2010-personal-review.html. My word, they do take it seriously - but gaming done that way should be.

As for the historical facts of the real Battle of the Little Big Horn, so far as known, see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_the_Little_Bighorn.

I suppose I'd better put Wayne's game back up in the attic. But not till after Christmas. It's one way of having him around.

Sunday, 22 December 2013

Matilda sends me Christmas Greetings

Fourteen-week-old baby Matilda has sent greetings to her Great Aunt!


How sweet! And such well-formed handwriting - remarkable for one so young! Clearly she will go far.

The Christmas Feeling is with me this year. I've decided not to descend into cynicism, however fashionable. So no Bah, humbug! No wearing the green willow. I'm going to enjoy it, wallow in it. After all, I may only have twenty or thirty Christmases left to celebrate, and I'd best make the most of them!

So let's be hearty, and tuck into goose and turkey roasts, and all the fixings! And pull crackers, even if they don't go BANG!!! as expected, but simply scatter daft plastic gifts, and jokes that make you cringe. And let's wear silly paper hats that slip down onto your nose. And laugh till we hiccup. Or cry. Funny how laughter makes the eyes brim, as you remember the Other Things that are so sad. Then, if partying, you have to lock yourself in the loo and howl. Even me, sometimes. But then you rejoin the throng, as if nothing happened.

Amid all the carousing, however, my real personality will assert itself and I'll drive off on my own to some beach, or some peaceful woodland, or to a quiet ancient town - or just drive - reflecting on the chance events of my life that, for better or worse, brought me to this point. And since I believe that this is my real moment, the truest time of my life - and to be frank the most rewarding bit of it that I've ever known - I have to salute whatever and whoever got me here.

The far future however lies with babies like Matilda. Does she have a fighting chance? Of course she has. So long as she believes in happiness, and never gives up. I'm looking forward to seeing her turn into a lively and beautiful little girl.

(The green willow reference, not specifically a Christmas thing, comes from Steeleye Span's 1975 hit, All Around My Hat, which some may remember. Good stuff.)

Saturday, 21 December 2013

Vera and Charlie send me a Christmas card

Cast your mind back six months, and I was up in Scotland, along the coast east of Edinburgh at Yellowcraig, just outside North Berwick. My stay there in the caravan overlapped that of a cheerful older couple from Banchory, up the Dee valley west of Aberdeen. They were called Vera and Charlie. I mentioned them briefly in a post on 19 July 2013 titled Potential embarrassment outside a St Andrews caddyshack. Here they are:


They had a dog called Ben. After a few polite exchanges they must have made up their minds that I was a Nice Person, and so one afternoon they gave me tea and cake, and a look inside their caravan. Then we sat outside and chatted. I found them very pleasant, very sweet, and I enjoyed their company and hospitality very much. We swapped addresses, as you often do on caravan sites. We also took a couple of photos. I wanted to remember them, and once I had my trusty digital Leica out, they disinterred their trusty film camera. Back home, I kept a promise to write and enclose prints of my best shots.

I did not really expect to hear from them again. We lived too far apart. It would be one of those memorable encounters with no follow-up.

Then, yesterday, I got this. After six months.


Wow. I was touched, almost to the point of tears. To think that I had been thought of, after a space of six months. And with the card came prints of two photos they had taken of me, that I had quite forgotten about. Here's one of them:


That's Fiona and my caravan. I was about to drive off for a long day out in Fife, and would see the Forth Bridge, view lots of pictures at Kirkcaldy, buy Rosie (my Wemyss Cat), walk the streets of St Andrews, and end up devouring fish and chips at Anstruther.

It was too late to send Vera and Charlie a Christmas card. But I will write to thank them in the New Year.

I seem to relate many heartwarming tales of how my caravan holidays generate friendships along the way. I suppose it must help that I'm not shy and reserved, and that I'm quick to detect a kindred spirit. But in my situation, I can't afford to be any other way. In the Old Life I was subdued, rather secretive, and my private life was determined by my partners, and populated with my partners' family and friends. I made almost no friends of my own. How surprised those Old Life people, who thought they knew me inside out, would now be! And items like Vera and Charlie's Christmas card prove to me that it isn't simply a case of caravan site bonhomie, so easy to assume, so easy to set aside after saying goodbye.

Friendship is so important. It costs nothing to be approachable, pleasant, cheerful and helpful.

I do wonder sometimes whether Making Friends and Valuing Others ought to be a compulsory school subject, taught continuously from the nursery stage, and repeatedly examined throughout every pupil's school career. If all children were taught the reasons why it's good to make friends, what the advantages are, and exactly how to do it successfully, then I'm sure it would help an awful lot of kids to enjoy a brilliantly rewarding childhood, and confine any tendency to bully and disrupt to the children who are frank psychopaths. Such teaching would also help them resist the pressures at home and elsewhere to take sides, to become prejudiced, and to believe that certain people should be sneered at, pushed around, and perhaps killed without pity.