Sunday, 30 March 2014

Gemma

Yesterday it was Bude. I drove there using the A39 (the 'Atlantic Highway') from Bideford, westwards past Clovelly, past Hartland, and south to Kilkhampton before entering Bude the back way, via Poughill. I stopped off in Kilkhampton to inspect the church, admire the masses of daffodils outside, and to contemplate a certain little pink-washed cottage next to the village stores that I once had the pleasure of visiting.

The forecast of a sunny and warm day hadn't been fulfilled: it was dry, and that was the best you could say. I parked at Flexbury, and walked over the golf course into the town centre.

The main objective was Wroes, Bude's surprisingly good department store, and its sunny Ocean View Café with that amazing panorama of Bude Haven. I have visited this Café on every visit since 2009. It was the scene of that wonderful phone call from the selling agents in 2011, when they told me that the Cottage had been sold, releasing me in an instant from four long years of frightening indebtedness. I had owed £325,000. That was now off my shoulders. I was light-headed with relief, and I nearly cried. The awful strain of coping with such debt has made me unable to consider ever getting into the same situation again, even slightly. I got my life back, and that's no exaggeration.

As it usually does, the sun came out as I drank my tea and tucked into my cake. Then I wandered into the store's cookshop, and bought a neat little frying pan and two red silicone cooking spoons. And I caught sight of a young woman who looked familiar, who had served me in the linen department two years previously in July 2012 when I'd wanted a king-sized fitted flannelette sheet. At that time she was pregnant and due to quit to have her baby within a few days. She'd nevertheless ransacked the behind-the-scenes shelves for me, and had come up with exactly what I'd wanted. Now she was back at Wroes, but in childrenswear and lingerie. Her name was Gemma. I went up to her and discovered that she'd noticed me too, as a customer she'd seen sometime before. She wasn't good with names, but remembered faces (gosh, mine must be like a gargoyle if she could recognise it after nearly two years!). She was delighted when I asked how the rest of her pregnancy, and the birth, had gone. She'd had a protracted labour, but had produced a lovely 7-pound baby girl. My cue of course to mention Matilda! Babies are a brilliant topic for women to discuss, who only casually know each other.

It was so nice to see her again. In fact it made my day. I wondered if this encounter might be the first of a trio: if Gemma in Bude, then why not Libby in Sidmouth, and Lorraine in Axminster? I was now in the mood for whatever unexpected reunions the gods might find it amusing to arrange.

That wasn't quite all of my Bude experience. The town also has a very good electronic retailer called Woolacotts, and on display in their TV section was a monster 4K screen by Sony, a snip at (gulp) £2,999. As a matter of fact, it wasn't possible yet to receive the relevant TV transmissions, so they were showing recorded stuff on it. But wow. Such amazing sharpness and detail, such subtle colour, and what a good 3D effect! I decided there and then that I'd want nothing less when I eventually discarded Mum and Dad's old non-HD widescreen for a better model. The asking price would have to come down somewhat, of course! And I'd probably put a kitchen makeover before a new TV in any case.

Saturday, 29 March 2014

The most unlikely kind of encounter

You could be forgiven for thinking that I'm not actually on holiday! But there's quite a list of posts on holiday subjects that I could write:

# My beach walk at Burnham.
# The railway station I found that has just two trains per week.
# My visit to Angie.
# My Mendip tour.
# A Dartmoor lunch, and my walk to an ancient standing stone.
# A thought-provoking chat in a Barnstaple phone shop.
# A posh, dressed-up dinner at The Commodore Hotel at Instow, pearls and all.
# Taking the Tarka Line train to Exeter and back.

But most of these require the insertion of photographs, and will have to await my return home, and access to the PC and my home Broadband. (If you have ever tried adding photos to a post over Mobile Internet, or the average public Wi-fi spot, you'll appreciate why it's best done from home)

The weather since I set off on the 20th March hasn't been too good. The odd morning or afternoon has been beautifully sunny (and sometimes warm) but mostly it's been a tale of intermittent showers. Just what you'd expect for late March, in fact. It hasn't stopped me getting around and having an interesting time, and in fact just being away is enough. Today it's Bude and the Atlantic Coast, with the promise of a very bright afternoon. Tomorrow, another visit to Dartmoor, if the weekend weather stays fine. Monday is my last day in North Devon and I won't go far, but it could be an evening in Appledore - fish and chips, and then maybe folk music at one of the pubs there.

I keep on meeting local or holidaying couples, and chatting to them. Nobody expresses surprise that I travel about on my own. Doing things solo is unremarkable nowadays, even things that require some effort and technique like caravanning. That's good. In the past, I've felt rather eccentric, holidaying on my own, and it's heartening to discover that there's a lot of people like me out there.

But, when I'm pottering around, I never seem to encounter people who are 'like me' in another sense. Do trans people, like pub bouncers, only come out at night? Or - outside certain well-known urban centres - are they just very, very thin on the ground, and an encounter would be an extraordinary event? Or are we as a rule too shy by far, and tend to walk the other way? I'm prepared to be accosted at any time, in the unlikeliest of places, with a hesitant 'Are you Lucy Melford?'. But, you know, I don't think it will ever happen!

Friday, 28 March 2014

Salacious publicity

The BBC is presently reporting developments in the Max Clifford trial. I dare say other news agencies are doing the same, but (rightly or wrongly) the BBC is my first choice for hard news and information, and I am therefore denying myself the opportunity of seeing what his former media 'customers' now have to say about him in print. How ironic that a peddler of salacious human-interest stories to the highest bidder should now be a salacious story himself.

Can one say 'poor Max Clifford'? Well, guilty or innocent of the charges against him - and I can offer no opinion - it can't be pleasant to be accused of sexual crimes, with all the speculation and mud-slinging that generates. Some would say that the stress of this very public examination will be a salutory lesson to a person who made a very good living from being a 'publicist' - the man you would go to if you had a sensational story to sell for as much money as possible. Max Clifford handled negotiations on your behalf, for a fee. He provided a service. A good many people will have been disdainful of what Mr Clifford did for a living, but it was not illegal and he had a talent for it.

I always took the view that any story likely to be snatched at by the competing media empires would easily sell itself, and no bribery - sexual or otherwise - was necessary to promote it. It simply needed a tough middle man (like Mr Clifford) to control the game. And if such a man did secure the best cash offer, then of course he earned his fee.

Was it 'casting couch' territory? If I had ever gone to Mr Clifford myself, as Lucy Melford the Wronged Woman who was Forced to Debase Herself in ways Sunday Readers would wish to salivate over, then I would be expecting a strictly businesslike meeting with a professional, and no hanky-panky to confuse the deal. My focus would be on the sales potential of my story, and what cash I could make from it. And only that. Indeed, I would have my solicitor with me.

But it's still easy to see Mr Clifford's vulnerability to an accusation against his character. Now and then he must have refused to handle a story, or made less from it than the client expected, and the client would then feel aggrieved and inclined to punish him. Perhaps Hell hath no fury like a disappointed client?

Thursday, 27 March 2014

A special birthday gesture I can't make

I don't usually have a problem deciding on what is the best course, but this particular decision is a difficult one for me.

It concerns my ex-partner, M---. This year, in August, she has an Important Birthday, one that in ordinary circumstances nobody would fail to acknowledge. August is five months away, but I can't shelve the issue. I need to make my mind up about it now.

M--- and I, when together, always paid great attention to our birthdays and never let them go by without some kind of celebration. There would always be a nice card, very carefully chosen and sometimes handmade; and a present; or at least a treat of some sort, such as a romantic meal out. Myself in July, M--- in August. It was a summertime thing, often while we were on holiday and in a festive mood anyway.

Even the onset of my transition did not at first affect our tradition of treating our birthdays, and especially Important Birthdays, as very special events. I think the underlying reason was a romantic one: the accumulating years together made our relationship seem ever more successful and enduring, and we siezed on birthdays and anniversaries as little landmarks in our life together. But of course my transition did eventually compromise, and then wreck, the mutual feeling that celebration was in order.

M--- faltered first, as soon as she realised that the relationship was not going to survive. More particularly, perhaps, that it would become something she couldn't live with. By unspoken consent we curtailed the birthday fuss. It seemed inappropriate. It also seemed dishonest and unrealistic and unhelpful - energies were better spent coping with all the emotional damage that was piling up. By the middle of 2010, M--- was unable to control her grief and bitterness, and a permanent parting was the only solution. Selling the Cottage enforced ongoing contact by email till August 2011, and then her insistence on having scanned copies of certain photos from our early years in the 1990s meant monthly CDs until the end of 2012. But ever since, silence. We have no reason to be in touch, and never encounter each other out and about.

Looked at dispassionately, I think I might be well advised to leave things at that, and let sleeping dogs lie. There is also the concern that if I break the silence, and send M--- Important Birthday greetings, I will annoy or distress her by reminding her of my existence and of what she has lost.

And yet, to me, it seems unspeakably churlish and incivil to pretend that I have 'forgotten' this very special forthcoming birthday. For I bear her no ill-will, even though the death-throes of our relationship hurt me too. I really would like to know she is all right. Greetings sent now, separately from the rush of greetings she will receive from family and friends in August, might open up a dialogue, and at least create the chance of better trust and understanding between us.

And yet to what end? Last year I pondered the pros and cons of contacting certain Old Life friends who wouldn't yet know that I had become Lucy. People who were educated and intelligent and (you might assume) receptive to something new and different. But on analysis I'd decided that it wouldn't work. They had liked the Old Me, and wouldn't want to embrace the New Version. Better not to disturb their memories. I can't help feeling that much the same now applies with M---. Yes, it would be almost rude not to acknowledge her Important Birthday. Yes, there is a possibility that a handwritten letter from me (not a card) might be interpreted as a friendly gesture, an olive branch, a sign that I had not forgotten her. But a communication from me would also churn up emotions and reopen barely-healed wounds and resentments. No, I must not do that.

So - mainly on the ground that I don't want to hurt M--- further - I seem to have reached a conclusion, that I had best not write to her, now or later. She is after all entitled to be Lucy-free for the rest of her life, and I ought to respect that. In fact, if she has built a fresh life with someone else (I have no information on that) then I absolutely mustn't pop up again to divert her from making a success of it.

What I can (and will) do is raise a personal (and very private) glass to her on 14th August, and wish her all the best. She'll never know about that toast, but I will have saluted her, and it's something harmless and well-intentioned that I can do every year.

Sunday, 23 March 2014

Pampered prisoners

I drove over to Newport yesterday, paying the usual Severn Bridge toll - now £6.40 - to enter Wales. That's the Welcome in the Hillside.

I was visiting P---, my elderly aunt. I found her pleased to see me, but surprised, because she thought I'd be visiting her in the following week! It was a mix-up that didn't really matter, and nobody's big mistake. She ought perhaps to have written my visit date down while actually speaking to me on the phone two weeks previously, but it was no crime not to, nor within half an hour to forget exactly what I'd carefully said to her. And I should perhaps have phoned her a couple of days before arrival, to confirm things, but again the omission was not a great fault in itself.

On the whole, however, I thought the onus had mostly been on me to make sure that the date and time of my visit were clear. P--- was after all aged ninety-two, and beginning to get a little vague. I should have reminded her.

Unfortunately my aunt does not possess a mobile phone, and doesn't do texts. So we can't send a few quick and timely words of enquiry to each other. She only makes voice calls - the communication method of a past era. Me, I loathe voice calls. They always catch me at an awkward moment. Often I can't give an answer without a bit of thought. And I don't like chatting on the phone. This is why I naturally opt for emailing or texting, which is much more efficient for exchanging information and settling on a definite plan.

A particularly nice thing about texting is that you can (for instance) send a quick text to say that you got home safely. It seems much appreciated. My aunt would find the same comfort in receiving such messages if she ever adopted texting. But she won't. Much as my Mum, the same age as my aunt, thought that so much was 'not for her'. Dad embraced his computer, but I don't think Mum ever went near it. It was 'not for her'. Similarly, my aunt would politely say 'thank you' if you ever bought her a tablet to access the Internet - and then leave the thing in its box. She'd probably do the same if you set her up with a mobile phone, especially if it had a touchscreen. It just wouldn't be for her.

One of the things my aunt and I did was to go and see M---, another aunt of mine, at her care home in Rogerstone. P--- had given me all kinds of news about M--- for a long time, but I hadn't actually seen her in person for many years. She did know about my transition, and had told P--- that she'd be pleased to see me if we called by. This said, I didn't have high expectations. And sure enough, she looked at me blankly when P--- introduced me, even though P--- said 'This is J---', using my old name. I suppose I simply seemed too unfamiliar. She must have looked and listened for J---, but saw and heard only a stranger who might have been one of P---'s grown-up nieces. It was sad in a way, but we had never been especially close, and so I was in no way put out. I found a seat, and waited for P--- and M--- to finish their chat.

We'd found M--- comfortably ensconced in one of the care home's lounges, and there were a dozen or so other elderly ladies close by, all watching a quiz show on the big TV screen. The constant background noise of the TV would have irritated me, but everyone seemed interested in the show. It wasn't the only thing to do, but it was the easiest option and they all took it. Some watched TV tucked up in blankets for extra warmth. One or two walked about. It was surprising how similar these ladies were. They all had identical perms, the same kind of white hair, much the same clothes and glasses, and much the same expression on their faces. M--- was no exception.

They were obviously in a well-appointed, caring environment, warm and well looked after; but I found it all rather disturbing and I was glad to go. Every resident had surrendered their independence. And with it, some of their individuality. Looking at them while I waited, I clearly saw the difference in demeanour between P---, who still lived in her own home and seemed relatively alert; and M---, who had become a completely passive care home resident. They were equally frail. But P--- had a real life to cope with and think about, and it seemed to stiffen her posture. No doubt she felt very much alone at times, and vulnerable, and she relied on her family for shopping and any travel, but otherwise P--- had the complete management of her affairs. M--- had company, security, and no worries because everything was arranged for her. But she had no important choices left. While the money lasted, she was paying £600 a week to be a pampered prisoner.

P--- didn't want this kind of life. And most certainly I did not. And yet, how could it be avoided? Was I really future-proofed? Supposing one day - hopefully at least twenty years hence - some bad illness, or a stroke, or dementia, reduced me to such feebleness that a care home was the only viable option? Perhaps, if struck down so badly, it would not seem awful to sit all day in a comfortable chair, watching a TV show. I would be past caring about it.

I didn't get to see it, but presumably M--- had a nice room, with the pick of furniture and books and personal possessions from her own house. That would be something. But I can't help remembering N---, an aunt of my former partner M---, who died in a home in Hove in 1995. She was almost one hundred, blind and nearly deaf. And all she had at the end was a miscellany of tatty things in a lot of plastic bags. Another kind of prisoner. When the money runs out, you end up in a dingy room with only pain and confusion for company.

Thursday, 20 March 2014

Carpe diem

Honestly. What a hoo-ha over the Budget proposal to let people reaching retirement age spend their personal pension scheme fund exactly as they wish, rather than buy an annuity with it! In other words, to have a choice. And why not? If I were approaching retirement, I'd be dismayed at having to sink the entire amount of my pension pot into something that would generate so little income. I heard of some such miserable figure as a pension of £150 a month from a pension fund of £30,000. That £150 isn't going to go very far. Whereas £30,000 (quite a handy lump sum) can be used to set one's home up for extreme old age, surely a very sensible use of the money. So much better than an annuity that covered the cost of one glum visit to ASDA each week, but no more.

The fuss is about the improvident folk who will be tempted to squander their £30,000 on silly things. And then, having had their self-indulgent spree, will look to the State to support them.

Personally, I would say that such irresponsible people are unlikely to build up a pension fund worth the name, and will therefore not find themselves in any position of temptation. I am talking about the 'carpe diem' types whose notion of 'planning ahead' is to count on winning top prize in the National Lottery. They are not the sort to adopt a sensible savings plan, stick with it through good times and bad, and ultimately find themselves with a decent sum to add cheer to their closing years.

The ones with pension pots worth spending are the far-sighted ones who looked ahead long ago, and made their plans. They are not the sort to recklessly fritter their savings away.

One thing I have noticed, though, is that once one is old enough to tire easily, or to have mobility issues, then a final stage of sitting around at home watching golf or antiques programmes sets in. You go nowhere, eat sparingly, buy next to nothing - and cash rapidly accumulates in one's accounts. I saw this happen with my parents. If inactive, it's possible to live comfortably on much less than you think. It's while you are active and energetic and full of unrealised ambitions that you need cash in bucketloads - which is an argument for adopting a modified 'carpe diem' stance in the years immediately after retirement. Modified, because you do assume a future life, and you work out what you'll need for it. You must keep that in hand, but use the rest of your resources to buy experiences - and fun - while you are in a fit state to enjoy it all. I believe that anyone who can plan for Old Age should be trusted with the unfettered use of their pension pot - and not be nannied.

Wednesday, 19 March 2014

Off tomorrow

Thank goodness, I've got a sunny day for my holiday packing. There's a keen breeze, but that's nothing.

It's all going smoothly. The caravan is all spick and span after a spring clean. Tyre pressures have been checked. The bed is made. My chosen clothes are hung up, or folded neatly into drawers. Boots and shoes are in their proper storage spaces. Tins and packets are in the side locker. Fresh food is in the fridge, frozen food in the freezer. Medical stuff is either loaded, or ready for loading. Books, maps, guides, videos, you name it, they're all packed. Rosie too. By late afternoon I'll have swept up the leaves in the back garden, had a shower and washed my hair, and be looking forward to a steak dinner and what will probably be the last TV for two and half weeks.

Such is the advantage of living alone: you can get on with things at your own pace, and to your own plan. I have still-vivid memories of stressful getaways in past years, when I shared my holidays and things did not proceed so well. There would be maddening delays, or last-minute searches for necessary things mislaid. And likely enough I would end up being at fault, for not being patient enough, or for being too inflexibly organised. I sometimes wondered what was the point of going on holiday if the very process of departure raised one's blood pressure, never mind the likely aggravations along the way or when we arrived. Holidays in a touring caravan can be delightful, but getting ready is like preparing for a long sea voyage. There's an awful lot to go in, and nothing vital must be left at home. A calm, considered approach is most important.

Well, by this time tomorrow I'll have reached Cheddar, and be set up, and (if it looks like a good sunset) thinking of driving to the coast at Burnham-on-Sea, where the sunsets are always good. The sun goes down over the Quantocks - or Exmoor, depending on the time of year - and the nuclear power station at Hinkley Point is merely a small rectangular silhouette in the distance:


Burnham-on-Sea has a lot of sand close to the shore, but further out it gets muddy. Nevertheless, I've always found it to be a clean, sunny kind of place, and I can forgive its amusement arcade and unromantic pier. It was the scene of a notable childhood family holiday, and therefore a nostalgic Mecca for me. It also possesses one or two quirky features, such as this disturbingly-leaning church:


It was built in the fourteenth century, and the foundations shifted almost at once. But since then it has not moved further from the perpendicular. A tourist notice nearby points out that the Leaning Tower of Pisa leans five times as much. Burnham's best-known bit of quirkiness is however its two lighthouses, a high light among the dunes, and a low light actually on the beach, in the form of a little two-storey hut on stilts:


When I last visited the beach light in 2011, it had acquired some proper steps up to its door, and nobody stopped me climbing up them to see what the view was like at the top, even if the the door itself was locked.


Pretty good, eh? Imagine this elevated hut being one's home. Presumably certain high tides would maroon one for a few hours - at least if one had no waders to put on! This distinctive building featured in a 1979 or 1980 TV episode of Shoestring, starring Trevor Eve as Eddie Shoestring. It was a series about a Somerset private eye who was also a local radio broadcaster. In the episode referred to, the lighthouse on the beach was (if I remember correctly) the retreat of a girl mixed up in some local racket, whom Shoestring has to find. Idle thoughts of buying this miniature lighthouse and converting it into a chic bijou pad must be dismissed out of hand: it's a grade II Listed Building. Nevertheless, it makes a great destination for a beach walk if the tide is out, and that's exactly what I have in mind.

Monday, 17 March 2014

Women gagged

I've just finished watching Oh Do Shut Up, Dear! Mary Beard on the Public Voice of Women on BBC iPlayer. The programme was shown yesterday evening on BBC4. It was timely viewing, because I'd been thinking about writing a post on what I thought of the limitations imposed by society on women, and whether to accept them demurely or not. Professor Beard's lucid talk has given me a better focus on the matter of women's speaking rights.

She is Professor of Classics at Cambridge, and the Wikipedia article on her is here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mary_Beard_(classicist). I first began to notice her TV appearances during 2012, but she has been discussing important issues for some time.

My original post was to be on the lines that when contemplating transition and its effects on my life in 2008, I had understood perfectly that once I had lived through the coming-out, and the initial year or so of transition, and had begun to be accepted as an ordinary woman, then I would tumble downstairs in the pecking order.

I saw that I might get ignored if I had a point to make. I had never been notably resolute or assertive in my spoken dealings with people, but having the basic right to speak had never before been denied to me. It came automatically with male status. Whatever I said might of course be examined and rejected, but nobody was going to stop me putting forth an opinion. But being female meant that I could be stopped. Alternatively, I might stop myself - using 'keeping quiet' as a basic passing technique.

The point I am making is that in my very first thoughts on what transition would entail, I recognised that personal power would slip from my hands; that I would lose status and credibility; and that on occasion I'd see bad decisions made on my behalf by self-important men who 'knew best'. Men who could decide on matters affecting my future without any reference to what I wanted. They would not let me intervene, nor have a say. They could refuse to listen, and get away with it. This aspect of female life, being pooh-poohed and dismissed by condescending men, would be galling. But it seemed inescapable. I resolved to endure it as part and parcel of the whole package I was going to get, a reality that had to be faced.

It was ironic that successfully feminising my voice would rob me of clout. Professor Beard, in her historical survey of the roots of current male attitudes to women's speech, made the point that the high-pitched woman's voice had always attracted a host of put-downs. Men had likened it to hysterical yapping and squawking. In contrast, a man's deep voice was considered dignified, and full of good sense, something to pay attention to. In operatic terms, it's the soaring emotion of the soprano versus the heavyweight power of the tenor. No woman can sing Nessun Dorma properly. And no man can sing like Madame Butterfly - but what man cares?

So where now? Professor Beard made her case well, how women had in all ages - including modern times - been discouraged to speak, but she had no instant general remedy to suggest. Nor have I.

It does occur to me however that a trans woman has an edge in this matter. Such a woman has had male-role experience, for example if she ever had to put across complex ideas at office meetings, or was required to conduct contentious interviews. She would know what it is to be carefully listened to. I therefore think it is incumbent on trans women to use their past experience to jolt men out of their complacent assumption that they are the best speakers, and the only ones that deserve to be heard.

Saturday, 15 March 2014

Disco diva discourses on dresses and skirts

Since last summer I've started to wear skirts more than I have hitherto. Now that's interesting, because for a long time I tried hard not to. Wearing skirts - brightly coloured printed ones for instance, but especially miniskirts - was no way to differentiate oneself from the stock image of the transitioner. One needs a waist, and prominent hips, to look natural in a skirt, and although I was better-endowed in the hip department than some, I was highly conscious that I wasn't by any means a perfect female shape. So I usually played for safety, and turned to leggings and jeggings instead. It was boring but safe.

Dresses were always an easier proposition than skirts, and if the occasion were suited to a dress, I had fewer qualms getting into one. And dresses could look expensive, stylish and even elegant, conveying a message about the wearer that might generate interest and some respect - at any rate, the kind of interest and speculation one stirred up when sporting a very posh, desirable handbag or some other gorgeous accessory. And because dresses hung from the shoulders, one's body shape did not matter quite so much. I wore nothing but dresses while going through my inevitable disco-going phase in 2009. None were pink, but some were frilly. All were cheap and loud. This, for instance, from March 2009:


For a short while - a few months only - club discos or special events served a definite purpose. One went to them not for the so-called music, nor to have a drink, certainly not to chat (who can in a noisy disco?), but simply to be somewhere where super-feminine attire was the expected thing, the celebrated thing; and nobody was going to bother you, no matter what you wore. Places where being over the top was entirely the norm. So it was no surprise to be faced with this when turning up at some event:


Nor to encounter this kind of dress code within:


In October 2009, with a possible visit to a London nightclub in mind, I equipped myself with a red rubber dress from Lust in Brighton - complete with a spiked collar and lash:


I never wore it. It's long gone. (Into the bin - I baulked at taking it to a charity shop!)

My very last gasp at the LGBT disco scene was in December 2009, at the Brighton Oceana, a multi-disco extravaganza at which Boy George was a guest DJ. By this time, my notion of suitable attire had developed just a little:


All those days are well in the past. I stopped needing special events because I could be Lucy all the time, every day, 24/7, and I had acquired sufficient know-how and confidence to dress in my own style, and to vary what I wore without fearing public ridicule.

It became possible to wear dresses and skirts often, and look credible. I am packing a good selection of them for my West Country holiday, now only days away. And when I return in April, there will be the issue of what to wear at the Speed Awareness Course. It'll be ho-hum jeggings only if the weather is foul. Given a lovely sunny day, I think a dress will be perfectly in order. And obviously a dress for the Wedding in May...

Friday, 14 March 2014

The purging season

I've been going through my wardrobes, and have already taken a first batch of discarded stuff to the local charity shop in the village. More will follow.

I do this every now and then. As time passes I become aware that this or that item of clothing, or this or that pair of shoes, has hardly ever (or never) been worn, and won't be. Then it's necessary to give it away, to make room for new things that will suit me better.

I've gradually developed a feeling for what I can wear, and what I can't. It's not based on following other people's inflexible 'rules', and certainly not as simple as 'dressing for my age', nor even 'wearing what the other girls are wearing for this time of day, and this place' - although those are definitely good general maxims. I have regard to subtler things, such as my build, my complexion and hair colour, and of course my personal comfort. I know I won't look great in something if it causes me mental or physical anguish.

This time I concentrated on jackets and boots.

I had built up a goodly collection of jackets, but wasn't wearing some of them very often. What was wrong with them? The common factor was what they did for my shoulders. It might be the cut, or it might be the padding, but all of the jackets that I wasn't wearing made my shoulders look wide and mannish, particularly from behind - a look I definitely didn't want! Even though they were nevertheless fashionable, or had a good label.

So the charity shop got 'em. I threw out the black Tigi jacket from last year, a dusky pink Gerry Weber jacket from 2012, and a light brown leather jacket by Gap from 2010. It was a wrench to part with them, but they all increased the risk of being misgendered. I hadn't forgotten being 'sirred' by a male assistant in Specsavers last year, when I walked in wearing the still-new Tigi jacket. It was its death sentence.

I also discarded three pairs of black leather boots that I wasn't wearing. Two of these pairs, both dating from 2009, had heels. The heels weren't terribly high, just an inch and a half in one case, two in the other, but like all shoes and boots with heels they made me seem taller - something I wanted to avoid like the plague. It's bad enough being five foot eight. That's taller than most other women, but one can get away with it. I did not want to be jacked up by heels to five foot ten.

I do have two even taller friends who are lucky enough to be slender and willowy, and so they look like the typical tall thin girl you see around. And there are some naturally tall and hefty women too, who also cause no special comment because big-and-hefty is just another normal body type. But I'm not like either of those, and have to be careful about gaining extra height. I know high heels make you seem elegant, statuesque and sexy, but I don't necessarily want to be like that.

The third pair of boots had no heel, but the fitting was slightly too narrow and my rather broad feet therefore felt a little confined. I like roomy footwear. This snugness had been a niggle. The boots were nice to look at, but they had been a mistake waiting to be purged. Now their hour had come.

All my remaining boots and shoes are flat, except three never-worn-outside-the-home shoes in brown and black which I have been keeping for 'formal wear'. These have medium heels and go nicely with some of my posher dresses, such as the three numbers by Diane Von Furstenberg I bought in 2009, or a little creation by Jacques Vert bought in 2011. You might say they they are part of my 'cruising collection', and are therefore strictly for evening wear in very special circumstances. My guess is that they will stay unworn in my wardrobe for the next ten years at least!

The first replacements were bought almost immediately. I went down to Eastbourne. I got a short beige raincoat, with a belt that you tie, which makes me look like a Girl Detective. And a pair of soft dark tan leather boat shoes - flat, of course.

Tuesday, 11 March 2014

Taking a little testosterone

It seems weird to me that, having done so much to eliminate excess testosterone from their bodies, some post-op women then decide to add some back. It's done so that one's libido is active enough to want plenty of sex, and of course to reach orgasm without difficulty. It's perfectly official. You go to your GP, explain matters, and get a testosterone preparation on prescription. Then you go to it.

It's weird to me because I'm actually very proud of the fact that my own testosterone level is so low. It seems like a most noteworthy achievement. An unwanted hormone all but expunged without trace. I want that level low so that the bad aspects of testosterone - loss of feminine shapeliness, muscle gain, body hair growth, scalp hair loss, various life-shortening effects, and a tendency to aggression - remain banished from my life.

Of course, there's a price: I am simply not geared up for sex. Not even looking for it. And if I were mildly in the mood, I doubt whether I would (or could) get any satisfaction from it. The flame of desire (and love too) is not quite out, but it's burning very low. I prefer serene contentment and a calm outlook to the frantic pleasures of an active sex life. I don't want to be tugged in all directions by instant desire. Nor torn apart by desire not returned. Nor hurt by a love affair that flares up gloriously, but ends horribly - and possibly dangerously.

But some women do. In fact I think I'm in a minority. I've come across several women who have expressed a great keenness to get some sex for themselves, and if possible love as well. It seems quite general for people in my position to want an intimate partner to share the rest of their life with. Well, there's nothing wrong with that, is there? It's absolutely the norm. Just don't accuse me of unorthodoxy or oddness if I prefer something different.

Back in 2011, some months after my surgery - which I paid for myself remember - a pre-op woman was trying to get the lowdown on how sex was for me now. She was really eager to find out. And she was perplexed as to why I hadn't had any, why I hadn't at least experimented. And when I said that I had no plans at all to get the old bedsprings creaking with anyone, she asked me bluntly what had been the point of my surgery?

It took me aback, because the point of my surgery was to give me an authentic appearance, and to satisfy a vital psychological need. I thought that did not have to be explained. Yes, the ability to have sex exactly as a woman could was a bonus, but not the driving purpose. In fact I remain to this day happily unravished.

But each to their own. I'm not a prude. If anybody in my circle wants to take testosterone and expose themselves to uncontrollable urges, then there will be no tut-tutting from this quarter. I really hope you enjoy yourself. Why not? I also hope you understand the risks and the possible drawbacks. Good luck to you. Count me out, though, if you want me to join in!

Monday, 10 March 2014

What's happened to my eight years?

I've just written to the government's Pension Service again.

According to them, I have thirty-eight qualifying years to put towards my forthcoming State Pension, but only thirty are needed to provide me with the maximum possible pension under current rules. What then do they do with the eight not required? They must have a value. Can I get a refund?

A refund would be very nice indeed. I'd probably use it to buy additional pension benefits in October 2015. According to a recent announcement (which may be made clearer in the Budget on 19 March), people like me, who reach Pension Age before the much better New State Pension starts in 2016, will have a one-off chance between October 2015 and April 2016 to purchase a top-up. If affordable, this will close the gap somewhat between the old and new pensions.

I'm quite sure that my eight years have some value. I don't know what it is, nor how it would translate into an actuarially-calculated pension top-up, but I can tell you that in the last eight full contribution years in employment up to 2004/05, as much as £17,029 was taken from my salary in employee contributions. You have to add the employer contribution to that. So you're not telling me that there is nothing in the 'surplus contribution' pot!

I've searched the Internet for any information easily available on what is done when a person has 'too many' years in hand. But so far I've found nothing useful. I'm beginning to suspect that there is a gap in the law. In the past, until the Pensions Act 2007, 'surplus years' were hardly heard of. Now they are appearing - but there may be no legislation to say what one does with them.

I don't necessarily need a cash refund - I'd be happy to know, in writing, that my eight years have a definite credit value, and will buy me a top-up that way. What I don't want to hear is that the eight years are going to be 'lost', and become in effect an extra bit of tax, and hard luck on me.

And if I don't get a cash refund or a top-up credit, and the Pension Service won't (or can't) quote the piece of statute that says 'no', what then? Well, there are pensioner groups who lobby on behalf of their members, and they may be running with this already. The obvious one for me is the Civil Service Pensioners' Alliance. Alternatively, there will be at least one MP who champions pensions issues, and who can look into it on my behalf.

Sunday, 9 March 2014

Why one should buy friendship

No, this is not about paid companionship - nor about bribing people to join one's personal sycophantic entourage!

Yesterday evening I paid £15 to become a Friend of the Appledore Book Festival for the rest of 2014.

My motive was this. The Festival is being held from Saturday 27 September to Sunday 5 October, and I plan to be on holiday in North Devon throughout. The tickets for the many events go on sale to the public in July. Those for the most popular events - with nationally-known names speaking - sell out very quickly. If you are a Friend, however, you get a chance to book before the public at large can, and therefore you should be able to secure a ticket for every event you particularly wish to attend. £15 for that privilege did not seem too much.

I missed last year's Festival, but went to the one held in 2012. It happened to be a year of very wet weather in the South-West, and there hadn't been much in the way of pre-bookings, so I was lucky and could still pick up some good tickets locally at the start of the Festival. In fact I attended five events, two of which stood out. One was an entertaining/serious talk by Martin Bell (former war reporter, former independent MP, now author and lecturer) with whom I had a few words (and was able to take a picture of) - see my post Meeting Martin Bell on 2 October 2012. The other event was a one-day workshop on writing women's fiction, which was a personal test of how I might survive a close-knit and lively women's discussion group for a morning and afternoon, some of whom were already published authors - see Inspired by fifteen women at a workshop on 3 October 2012.

This year, if I can afford it, I intend to invest about £100-£150 on selected events. That money should buy me at least one event to attend every day, with a couple of blockbusters thrown in. The Appledore festival has not yet become elitist and expensive.

Another all-day workshop would be brilliant. But I would stress that even the minor events are good, and there are other pleasures too. The town is quaint and pretty and maritime, and is throughout the year an acknowledged centre for pubbing, local arts, live music, and historical goings-on. But during Festival-time it really comes alive. The Festival organisers put on an awful lot, and have to press all kinds of halls and hotels and other spaces into service, as there is no single very large community centre. So throughout the day you will see festival-goers rushing to and fro in a high good humour to attend the next event. And you get to recognise the same people, you quip and chat with them, and look forward eagerly to your next encounter. The atmosphere is so friendly. The volunteers who direct you here and there also get to know your face, and by the end of the Festival they may actually know your name. This happened to me - see Andrea and Lorraine on 27 September 2013.

As you can see, I am very enthusiastic about the Appledore Book Festival, and regard it as one of this year's unmissable events. What an excuse - as if one were needed - to visit North Devon, one of my favourite destinations. I am in fact going there very shortly, of course, as part of my springtime caravan getaway. But the forthcoming week there will be much more of a laid-back sightseeing, beach-walking, and exploring-the-country-lanes type of holiday; and in no way a strain on the brain, nor my people-skills!

Saturday, 8 March 2014

The Girl Warrior plays a new game of Super Economy

I seem to be doing a lot of motoring-related posts lately, but I can't resist adding this one.

My lovely Fiona is more than capable of an impressive surge away from a green light, and then rapid controlled acceleration up to 90mph and beyond. It's not bullet-like performance, but it's really quite surprising how such a heavy car - from the Volvo stable too - can get going, and keep going, and basically leave most other cars panting for breath.

I've certainly wiped the smirk from the face of many a male driver in a posh chariot who thought he had a right to hold the traffic up. Fiona has often made such folk give way. Fiona has shown them that their car is not top dog after all. And all done with a smile, and without any flashing. I suspect that Fiona - with her headlights always on - looks like rather like a Police car coming up fast from behind, and that panics the guilty-minded to change lanes and let her through. I like to reward them by twirling a wisp of blonde hair negligently as I pass, so that the man who thought he was Charlton Heston in Ben Hur will know he was whipped by a bimbo. The point is made even better by holding (and turning) the steering wheel in the most amateurish and girly fashion possible.

No question, cars are a statement, and give you tremendous psychological leverage. You can puncture big egos, and tease the puffed-up. Fiona has let me demonstrate the meaning of Girl Power to many Kings of the Road. It's fighting the Good Cause. Every time, it's a blow struck for equality on the highway, a reminder to arrogant men that women have a right to enjoy driving too.

But after four years of making such points, of being a Girl Warrior, I'm now retiring from the fray. It's time to show a decorous restraint. And it fits in with the vital need to carefully observe all traffic law strictly from now on.

Ever since being caught speeding on 5 February, I have been very attentive towards speed limits! You can easily see why. I've had the intense embarrassment of being caught, the depressing sensation of being caught up in an implacable legal process, and then a wonderful reprieve - no conviction! - with a chance of redemption thrown in too. I've realised that a large part of my active life away from home depends on being able to drive myself wherever I wish. I'm not going to mess about with that. So, henceforth, it must be a law-abiding Lucy - and a serenely-driven Fiona!

You don't think I'll keep it up? Well, there's a solid incentive that's not based merely on a fear of being caught again.

During the last five weeks I've noticed my fuel consumption improving. Not just marginally either. For most of the four years that I've been putting Fiona through her paces, I've rarely got better than 30 or 31 mpg out of her. This is when not towing, of course. 31 mpg was OK for a big car with automatic transmission, and permanent all-wheel drive, and permanently engaged climate-control, and all the rest. But when I first had Fiona, and before I began to use her for towing the caravan, there was a moment when I achieved 33 mpg. I never got up there again. I guessed that as soon as I was used to driving her faster, and with a certain spirited verve and panache born of increased confidence, I wasn't going to see dizzy fuel consumption figures like 33 mpg again.

But look at this. A photo of Fiona's dashboard display after arriving home yesterday from a day out with my friend E---. That was 150 miles covered on roads ranging from motorways to country lanes, plus some slow town traffic in Tunbridge Wells:


Notice anything? All right, a closer view:


Yes, 36.1 mpg! Never seen on Fiona before. Unheard-of economy. And simply because I was observing all speed limits. And no doubt driving more smoothly in general. It was my impression that the figure was steadily increasing, too. I consulted my 2010 edition of the Volvo XC60 brochure. What was the fuel consumption for the five-cylinder 2,400cc diesel engine with Geartronic automatic transmission and all wheel drive? Urban, 28.0 mpg. Extra urban, 46.3 mpg. Combined, 37.7 mpg. My own 36.1 mpg result would be that 'Combined' figure. Hmmm.

I am now very much inclined to play a new game called Super Economy, and see if I can match Volvo's own Combined figure - or even improve on it.

This matters. I know that in the twelve months to 28 February I spent £2,885 on 2,087 litres of diesel fuel for Fiona. Supposing that my new restrained and law-abiding driving habits give me a consistent 15% improvement in fuel consumption, then I will save a significant amount of cash. 15% of £2,885 would have been £432. And this why I think my new inspiration to Be Good will last.

Thursday, 6 March 2014

More computer aggro

It wasn't so long ago that I reported the SD card slot failure on my Sony tablet (see Boxing Day on 26 December 2013), which created immediate backup problems neatly solved by placing my many documents and spreadsheets up in the Cloud (see Dropbox to the rescue! on 3 January 2014). Since then Dropbox has proved to be a major success story: any document or spreadsheet updates made on any one of my devices get synchronised perfectly with the others; backups from the Dropbox folder to the PC (and thence to a separate SD card) are very, very easy; and Dropbox is also a good channel for importing or exporting the odd file - more convenient than Bluetooth, I'd say, when using Wi-Fi at home.

That SD card slot failure on my Sony tablet shook my faith in it for a while, but faith returned. Now it has been tested once more.

I suppose I should expect this. I treat my Dell PC, Asus laptop, Samsung phone and Sony tablet like the crown jewels - but the tablet in particular has been very intensively used ever since purchase in April 2012. No gadget can take constant use forever without something eventually wearing out.

Anyway, two days ago my tablet suddenly switched itself off and would not start up again - it would get stuck on the booting-up screen. Naturally I tried all the usual methods for kicking it into life. Then I wondered whether the on/off switch was malfunctioning. But this seemed to be more of a software failure, as if all the fragmentary remains of apps tried and rejected, and files imported then deleted, and orphaned bits of code, had clogged the Sony's innards up too much so that it had rebelled, plaintively crying, 'I refuse to start up! Restore me to factory condition, and clean me out!'

I found out how to do a 'factory reset' on the Internet. It worked. But I was of course now minus all the apps that I had installed since April 2012. A bit of work there, to reinstall them and then set them up to my preferences. No money cost, but time to be spent. Grrr.

It wasn't all bad. I feared massive data deletion. Not data loss - it was all backed up elsewhere, but hours of inconvenience ahead while I got everything up and running as before. But of course all the apps that synched with my Google account - Gmail, Calendar, Contacts, for instance - had their data restored in a flash. Similarly with Dropbox: all my documents and spreadsheets instantly returned. I was however afraid that I'd lost a big special collection of personal photos (about 3,000 of them) and all of my downloaded Ordnance Survey maps - but not so. They were safe and sound in the tablet's internal memory, which hadn't been wiped.

In fact there were only two casualties of this 'factory reset' - the contents of two listing apps - one that handled what to pack on my caravan holidays; and one that showed past and future events, and how many days away those events were from the present time. Not a disaster to lose any of that.

But I now feel that the best days of my Sony tablet are over, and that these signs of mortality, or at least of feeling the strain, will regularly recur. I will brace myself. At least one major catastrophe is now forestalled - I have copied that special personal collection of photos onto my PC, in case one day I can't even perform a 'factory reset'.

My Samsung phone is loaded up to do and display whatever the tablet can do and display, plus of course handling voice calls and texting as well. I generally have to rely on the phone if away from home. If the tablet became a totally unresponsive piece of plastic, the phone could stand in. But there is really no substitute for the tablet's larger screen. Mobile Life without a tablet would be less convenient, and detrimental to my eyesight.

As always, this latest episode of computer-malfunctioning caused me aggravation and lost time. And it is bound to happen again, as my devices age and become more prone to senior moments. And something like it will be necessary every time I buy new devices too. They all have to be set up. It's a constant cycle of setting up and maintenance and troubleshooting. And it's hard work, a source of anxiety and frustration, diverting one from many other ordinary things that require attention. Getting out into the sunshine, for instance.

And yet you can't abandon these handy electronic gadgets. Not now. It's easy to forget what hard work paper records used to be. And paper's vulnerability. Diaries and address books that might fall out of pockets, or be stolen. Endless lists, that had to be endlessly rewritten. The sheer bulk of paper records. The impossibility of rearranging them, of sorting them, or searching them with a keyword, or easily copying them. No backing up, no encryption, no sharing. Scribble, untidiness, illegibility, crossings-out, all on fragile paper that might turn into pulp if wet, or flutter away in the breeze.

Modern life is geared up to massive computing power and astonishing electronic wizardry, but accessed using products that are not built to last very long. And one has to submit to a global regime of relentless marketing hype, desire-implantation, and fear- or envy-driven pressure. I resent being a slave to it, however much I appreciate what computers can do, such as having the world, and all the world's knowledge, at one's fingertips. I have not forgotten, and never will, that the Internet opened my eyes to what kind of person I really was - and what I could do about it. So I forgive the occasional glitches. That doesn't mean I enjoy dealing with them. Certainly not those moments when I want to do something useful with my favourite gadget, and find myself locked out.

Tuesday, 4 March 2014

Hormone patches and baby oil

My 2009 Event Diary has this item under 'MARCH 2009':

On 2009 0328 I got my initial batch of Estradot hormone patches from Boots in Burgess Hill.  The very first one went on at 4.10pm the same day.



How time flies. 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014.... Very nearly five years of putting Estradot patches on twice a week!

Patches are used most often by the older transitioner, whose liver can't take the punishment that tablets would inflict. Particularly (as with me) if there is existing medication (statins, in my case) that is already putting pressure on liver functions. One can also take hormones in the form of gel smeared onto the skin. Gel or patch, the idea is for the hormone to be absorbed through the skin, and then directly into the bloodstream, by-passing the liver completely.

In the case of patches, this process is intended to be a slow, low-dose leak over several days. Quite unlike the situation with daily tablets, which is a high-dose delivery method to ensure that enough active hormone gets past the liver-processing. No question, tablets are more convenient. But they mean a lot of work for the liver, and the 'daily big hit' appears to give some people problems with mood swings and other side-effects. I had no choice. It had to be patches. But I'm completely used to them, and the routine of replacing them is fully integrated into my weekly life.

Placement of the patches - where you stick them on - matters a great deal. It's no good putting them over bony parts, or anywhere without a good blood vessel network under the skin. On the other hand, it's dangerous to place them close to body structures highly sensitive to hormones, such as one's breasts. Nor should a patch be put in a position where it might get rubbed off. So it has to be somewhere on the lower abdomen. As you know from a recent post, I now pop my patches on my bottom, but where I can comfortably reach them.

It is a bit of a performance really. The patch comes out of the box in an individual sealed packet, which you have to tear open, making sure that you don't damage the transparent plastic patch within. The patch has a peel-off backing, in two halves. When ready (i.e. you have a clean, dry area of skin to put the patch on) you peel off one half of the backing, and place the exposed half of the patch onto the skin. It sticks. Then you peel off the other half of the backing, and smooth the rest of the patch onto the skin. Then, with the flat of your palm, you press firmly on the whole patch, and count up to eighty (I've just found from experience that eighty is a good number to count up to, if you want the patch to stay firmly stuck). Finally you put the two halves of the unpeeled backing into the opened packet, fold the lot, bin it, and dress.

Once the first half of the patch adheres to the skin, it's best not to attempt any repositioning if you can possibly avoid it - the patch doesn't seem to stick so well afterwards. So the initial placement needs to be just so.

The palaver doesn't end there. As the body flexes, the patch shifts around ever so slightly, and this creates an exposed sticky area all around its outer edge on which fluff will tend to accumulate. So that after a few days, when you come remove the patch for replacement, you always have a definite rectangle left on the skin, where the patch was. This has to be cleaned off specially. It won't simply wipe away. At first, I picked at it with a fingernail. But that tended to damage the skin. Then I tried gentle rubbing with a soft flannel wetted with hot water. That was much better for the skin, and faster. But although it was successful enough a method to use for almost five years, it wasn't quite satisfactory, as it was too easy to over-rub and abrade the skin.

Then quite recently (as occasionally happens) the pharmacy at Boots couldn't get my usual Estradot patches at short notice - I am not of course the only person on HRT in the vicinity, and they do sometimes run out - and had secured for me some Evorel patches instead, as a one-off solution. I took them, although I was doubtful about using them as a friend had had skin-irritation problems with Evorel. But I might not. I might as well give them a trial. It was exactly the same dosage - just a different brand, and a different size of patch.


As you can see, the patch is a quite big - more than twice the size of an Estradot patch. But I had no trouble putting it on (using the usual routine), and it came off nicely too, although (as expected) there was a monster square fluff residue left on my bottom! But I had a sure-fire solution all ready, never tried before.

The Evorel instruction leaflet was a small mine of useful information on the product. And one tip that caught my eye concerned how to clean off the skin after patch removal. They recommended baby oil. The Estradot leaflet hadn't recommended that! How remiss. And it ought to do the trick. So I got hold of a 500ml bottle of Johnson's Baby Oil.

And I've just tested it for efficacy, applying it with a wodge of cotton wool. It works. I won't say it's faster than the flannel-and-hot-water method, but the oil prevented any abrasion of the skin, and the end result was the total removal of residue and a soft, baby-like bottom. So this is a technique I'd recommend.

As for the Evorel patches, there is no sign of any skin irritation yet, and I'm thinking there won't be. Which is a useful discovery. It's always good to know that if one product isn't available, there is a decent substitute that can be pressed into service.

Monday, 3 March 2014

Elgar and renaming the UK

We are already splitting up
Whatever the conservatives may say (that is, conservatives with a small C, which means all people who dislike change, right across the political spectrum), the breakup of the United Kingdom as we presently know it is coming. It may happen soon, or it may still take years, but the trend is for the historically distinctive parts of the British Isles to find their own voice and assert their own independence from England, the top dog.

Even if a series of small and independent political entities is not actually formed, and we all adopt a federal set-up, the notion that Scotland and Wales and Northern Ireland are historically distinct countries with a particular outlook of their own - very different places from England - is a notion now firmly implanted. It's bound to grow more intense. It certainly won't go away. The days of being overshadowed by England are over. It's not a 'one island nation' any more. Really, it hasn't been 'one island' since the first stirrings of modern nationalism created the Republic of Ireland. And think of how that flowering of nationhood came to be, and what stirred it into life in the first place.

At the very least, Scotland and Wales and Northern Ireland will be looking for a huge increase in autonomy, well beyond what they have now, even if matters - such as defence - are best dealt with at a higher level, in the hands perhaps of a joint overarching Council - the British Isles Strategic Authority, to coin a name and a concept. I dare say the Republic of Ireland would take a view on that, being geographically part of the British Isles, although precisely what view I cannot say. Logically of course the Republic ought to have representation on such a council.

So far as England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are concerned, all this means that the 'United Kingdom' will be no more.

So what name for England now?
We can afford to be jocular. Its the British way. I saw a TV programme about the composer Elgar the other day. And it struck me that once England is minus Scotland and Wales and Northern Ireland, and cannot be the 'United Kingdom' any longer, why not call it the Land of Hope and Glory? The particular piece that was made into a song of this name (with lyrics by A.C. Benson) comes from Elgar's Pomp and Circumstance March No 1, and it seems to conjure up everything that is traditionally and nostalgically English. It is a gentle, reflective piece, and not bombast like Rule Britannia. Although if ever there were two songs set to music that will stir English people to flag-waving and tears of pride, it is those two songs - as any Last Night at the Proms performance will demonstrate. Either would be a great choice as the English National Anthem. I would for preference go for Land of Hope and Glory, except at sea, or when having a bath or shower, when Rule Britannia would seem better. I don't care that both songs might to some smack of empire and imperialism. Those days are long over. The British Empire has gone. The United Kingdom is going. But we still have the freedom of the seas, and we still have the magic of clearing skies over Shropshire, or that sweeping view from ancient Cotswold heights across the Severn Valley, with the stalwart Malverns on the far horizon. The views that epitomise the Heart of England.

And the flag?
Scotland and Wales already have their own well-known national flags, and Northern Ireland has emblems that could be the basis of a really good national flag. England has the red cross of St George. But I don't see why England shouldn't keep the Union Jack - the Union Flag to pedants - which has evolved over the centuries, and records the country's history. Why change it?


Many countries and states and provinces around the world retain historical elements in their flags, to show their heritage. The Hawaiian flag has a Union Jack in it. So do the flags of British Columbia, Manitoba and Ontario in Canada. But the flag of Quebec features French fleurs-de-lis. The Maryland flag is an heraldic design based on the coat of arms of the Calvert family when the state was first colonised. And so on. Why shouldn't the flag of England itself show that it was once joined to three other great nations, none of whom will want to use the same flag?

Well, that's sorted. Carry on.

Sunday, 2 March 2014

Matilda update

Babies are irresistible. Especially if they are family, and you have the opportunity to forge a connection with them as often as you like.

Yesterday (1 March) I went up to London and visited my nephew M--- and his girlfirend C---, and little Matilda, who is now just over five months old. She looked like this:


Not quite yet able to sit up unsupported, but getting there. And no longer the slightly wrinkled little thing she was last November:


Don't three months make a difference? She was still very well-behaved: lots of smiles and noises of pleasure, and not many trembling tears of woe. Let's have a short Matildafest:


No, C--- wasn't trying to teach Matilda to read! She simply liked to touch things, and found books good for that. Her favourite 'book' was in fact a fabric affair, with all kinds of things sewn onto the 'pages' that were interesting to touch...or bite...


Oh, who's that then?


I got to hold her twice this time. She didn't turn a hair.


And here's proud Daddy:


Thirty-one years ago, in 1983, M--- was the baby. My late brother Wayne was just as pleased to be a father:


And did this feisty, carefree young man of twenty have any clear notion in 2003 that one day he'd be a parent himself?


So the years pass, so the generations rise in succession. Some of us push it all forward, as parents. Some others, like me, stand aside and simply watch in admiration. And get to hold the baby as a delightful privilege.