Thursday, 31 July 2014

Fifty thousand follicles

And by 'fifty thousand follicles' I mean that over the five years that I've been having electrolysis, this is the number of times that a needle has been inserted into a hair follicle - mostly on my face - and an electric current passed through, electrocuting the hair. That's obviously fifty thousand moments of pain, of course. It's been bearable, but talk about slow torture! Many a reader will understand perfectly how exquisite the discomfort can be.

It's a simple calculation to arrive at 50,000 hairs. Roz (who has throughout wielded the needle, except on two occasions when her business partner Trish lent a hand) uses the blend method of killing the hair. Going flat out, it's Death To Bristly Hairs at the rate of one every five seconds, or twelve per minute. Each session lasts ninety minutes. So in theory that's 12 x 90 = 1,080 electrocuted hairs each time. But Roz reckons that her true rate has been about half of that, so more realistically it's about 500 hairs per session.

And yesterday it was the 100th session! So we have 100 x 500 = 50,000 hairs cleared by electrolysis since it began in mid-2009.

As with the 50th session, I gave her a bottle of wine to mark the occasion. But it also happened to be her birthday tomorrow, so the bottle has served a secondary purpose!

There still much to do, even now. Clearing the upper lip took so long, as there was so much regrowth. It is now cleared of all the darker bristles and most of the lighter-coloured stuff too; and lately Roz has been able to give prolonged attention to hairs elsewhere, on my chin and jawline for instance. But cheeks and neck remain practically untouched so far.

If only I'd had dark hair! Then laser treatment could have quickly killed off swathes of the offending hair growth, and I might have been done with it all much, much sooner. But laser only works on dark hair, and being naturally fair-haired (some would say blonde, of course) and old (like Father William in Lewis Carroll's poem), most of my facial hair has been colourless, grey or white. Lasering would be useless for that. It had to be slow-but-sure electrolysis, and therefore a long, long tale of hot needles.

Apparently - depending on the individual - it can take 200 to 300 hours to get rid of facial hair by electrolysis alone. I've had 150 hours so far. Roz is now getting into parts where there shouldn't be any regrowth, so once fixed, it'll stay fixed, and we will make faster progress henceforth. Or would have. Roz and Trish are both retiring, and from November, possibly from October, I will have to find another place to get my electrolysis. Fortunately a local friend has recommended somewhere in Brighton. I'll give them a go when the time comes.

One day I will get to the 'maintenance stage' - when basically it's all cleared, and although the odd hairs will still come through, they can all be dealt in a brief session once every six weeks or so, just like an ordinary woman with a hair problem. But I think it'll be another two years before I get to that stage.

The ambition of course, is to get rid of everything except the soft downy vellus hairs, unnoticeable on me. O Happy Day when that state is achieved! I have loathed facial hair - really all hair except head hair - since puberty kicked in. It'll be so nice to finally feel soft-faced and 'clean' fifty years after the onset of what I've always regarded as a dreadful and depressing disfigurement.

Wednesday, 30 July 2014

Alone late at night on the streets of Brighton

Yesterday I enjoyed the usual Tuesday late-afternoon meetup, which involved a couple of drinks and a jolly good chat at the pub. It was warm and sunny. Even by 8.00pm it was quite unnecessary to wear more than a summer dress. K--- had prepared a tasty 'stew', and I willingly accepted her invitation to join her at home for an evening meal. Just she and me. With Schubert tinkling away in the background, we discussed many a topic while we consumed the 'stew', over which K--- had clearly gone to much trouble. People who really like to cook always do take pains, even over the simplest dish. It was delicious. And she had a fantastic choice of wine to go with the meal. But then, in her earlier life, K--- had been the Wine Columnist for a Well-known Newspaper, and she knew her stuff.

So a great evening. Time flew. Midnight came and went, but neither of us felt tired, and the conversation never flagged. But as 1.00am approached, I said farewell and stepped out into the night.

K--- had suggested a taxi to my car. Fiona was parked about a mile away, and I would have to walk southwards through the North Laine, then east past the Dome Theatre, then up lonely Edward Street. I said no to the taxi: the cost for such a short distance, at that time of night, would be outrageous. Miss Independent! It was a fine, dry Tuesday night (well, early Wednesday morning by then). The Friday and Saturday night rowdies wouldn't be around. I was not going to walk up or near St James's Street (notorious for late-night encounters with dodgy characters). Edward Street, which ran parallel, might be lonely, but it was wide and well-lit and I'd be passing close to the Police HQ. I was confident that it would be a trouble-free walk.


And yet after the first few yards, I began to regret my decision. I felt very much the Woman On Her Own, an object of speculation to anybody else abroad at that late hour, in a way that I wouldn't have been with a companion beside me. In similar situations - walking back to the car late at night - I had always had someone with me. This time, not. And it was rather later than usual.

I have friends who go to late-night gigs, or parties, and think absolutely nothing of tramping home, on their own, at 3.00am or later. They have so far survived unscathed. And indeed, central Brighton does not have a bad reputation for muggings and attacks and street nuisances after dark, at least if you know your route, if you keep to well-lit parts, and if you don't stagger around like a tipsy butterfly in high heels. Their experience bore that out. But I still felt keyed up, and watchful for problems.


The streets were not by any means deserted. The ordinary shops were of course shut up for the night, but here and there people were still coming out of a pub or restaurant that stayed open late. I passed one pub that at 1.15am was still in full swing, with a lively mixed group milling around outside, somewhat worse for wear I thought. But mostly it was a case of walking from one bright pool of light to another, trying to keep 'sensible' people in sight if possible - that is, people who looked OK, and who might respond to an appeal for assistance. I carefully scrutinised the men walking towards me on their own. None made me uneasy as we came closer; but it did no harm to stay alert and ready to react. On the other hand, to stare at everyone I encountered would be a sure signal that I was nervous; I needed to be surreptitious about it. I tried to radiate a relaxed but purposeful air, as if I knew exactly where I was going, wasn't going to stop for conversation, and was thoroughly used to walking empty streets at night.


So long as I was in the North Laine, this approach worked perfectly. But as soon as I turned east to walk past The Dome my heart sank. There were groups of young men about, crossing and re-crossing the road aimlessly. The restaurants opposite The Dome had closed for the night, but at least two still had their front doors wide open while the staff stacked chairs and cleaned up for the night. I could duck inside if necessary. Then the groups of young men seemed to coalesce on one side of the road. I tucked in behind a guy walking on the other side, on his own. For all I knew, he was also watching the same drunken idiots, and thinking to himself that, statistically, he was a likely victim if they decided to mug him. There were enough of them to seem threatening to anyone. Fortunately they didn't call out to either of us. He went one way, I another, and I was alone again.

Then it was across The Steine, and up Edward Street. This is a straight road that slopes gently but relentlessly uphill. Meaning that it gradually makes you short of breath. Unless pretty fit, you end up puffing and certainly not in a state to run away from anyone. But, as I have said, it is well-lit. And normally you can see far ahead (and behind), and can evade any potential trouble simply by nonchalantly crossing and re-crossing the road. Unfortunately they have been digging the road up, to put in posher kerbstones (rather a waste of money, if you ask me) and the road was full of contractors' machines and fencing to channel motor traffic and pedestrians. You couldn't see far ahead at all. The route for pedestrians was diverted this way and that between those fences, and it was impossible to cross the road or see any alternative places to walk, not unless you were prepared to leap fences and other obstacles. I didn't feel up to that in my summer dress.

And it was at this point that I encountered two guys not far ahead. They were ambling along slowly, and I couldn't help catching up with them. They started to talk to me. 'Hello, love, where are you off to, then?' - that sort of thing. I kept quiet. They weren't drunk, just curious. At night, all cats are grey. At a casual glance, I was indistinguishable from any other woman on her own. But most women try not to walk alone at night, certainly not at 1.30am. So they were naturally inquisitive. They adjusted their pace so that they stayed just ahead. A couple more jokey questions were directed at me. I stayed silent.

Then the pedestrian route became ambiguous. It seemed to veer left, up the forecourt of the Magistrates Court building. Or perhaps not. It was confusing. Which way? We all halted, uncertain. I think it was at that moment that they realised that I was not a late-night good-time chick ready for a bit of fun, but a nice, slightly-worried middle-aged lady who just wanted to get home. Their tone changed. 'Sorry, love, we didn't want to frighten you.' And with that, they climbed a fence, crossed the road, and disappeared from view, much to my great relief. I tried the forecourt: yes, it was all right, that had been the correct way.

Fiona lay up a side road only two hundred yards ahead, and I wasn't sorry to open her door, flop in, and press the 'lock all doors' switch. I texted K--- at once, to say that I'd made it to Fiona, and was now safe. Once I'd got my breath back, I fired her up and drove home.

The odd late night is unavoidable. And from time to time, a walk across the town will arise. Next time, I'll try not to do it alone. I was OK last night, as it turned out; but one shouldn't always rely on luck.

If there were an incident that became awkward, what exactly would the outcome be? I haven't the strength or technique to fend off a determined abuser or attacker. Ironically, height might be a wonderful visual deterrent in such situations: an assailant would reckon to have much more trouble intimidating and subduing me (or any moderately tall person) than a young girl six inches shorter. I would have a longer reach, and (for instance) be able to knuckle them in the eyes. So walking tall is plainly a good strategy.

Tuesday, 29 July 2014

Ho Chi Minh

About a month ago I was in Newhaven, that small Sussex ferry port, for an evening stroll. It looks like this. First a 2010 shot:


Next a 2014 shot, with the evening Transmanche ferry coming in, dwarfing everything else in the scene:


There have been ferries shuttling between Newhaven and Dieppe since the mid nineteenth century. It was (and still is) the only proper ferry port for France between Portsmouth and Dover. But it has in recent decades had only Cinderella status, and the opening of the Channel Tunnel in 1994 almost did for it. Reinvestment in the port facilities, and the ships, ceased before the Tunnel was opened. Here for instance was the ferry as I photographed it in 1991, then run by Sealink, and looking distinctly rusty:


Other operators stepped in and have kept the ferry service alive. But Newhaven continues to feel a bit shabby and hole-in-the-wall. The twice-daily sailings are still an event, though, and give a sense of purpose to a town that really has no other good reason to exist. (Hot tip: if you want an inexpensive house on the coast, reasonably close to Brighton or Eastbourne, look in Newhaven!)

Well, having witnessed the Transmanche ferry's arrival, I went down to get a close-up view of the boat while it was still disgorging its cars and lorries:


And noticed this fairly new addition to the quay on which I was standing: a block of stone, with an inscription on it:


Ho Chi Minh? The Ho Chi Minh?

Ho Chi Minh (1890-1969) was a famous (or infamous) figure from the mid twentieth century, associated mainly with the struggle of the people of Viet Nam to throw off their colonial status - Viet Nam was once part of the French colony of Indo-China. America's later involvement in the Viet Nam War made his name familiar to everyone in the non-Communist world. You can read all about his life at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ho_Chi_Minh.

Tucked away in the Wikipedia article (with a warning that there is no verification) is the mention that Ho Chi Minh worked as a pastry chef on the Newhaven-Dieppe ferry. The favourite date for this is 1913, but some report that it was after the end of the First World War. (Perhaps they don't really know the dates of that War) Anyway, these online articles from 2013 will give you more details of Ho Chi Minh's surprising connection with Newhaven:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-sussex-21444222

http://www.vietnamuknetwork.org.uk/event-news/news-tenders/cerebrating-the-link-between-the-president-ho-chi-minh-and-newhaven-_east-sussex_/

The 'pasty cook on the ferry' story has clearly emerged only in recent years. It isn't mentioned in my 1990 copy of Hidden Sussex - The Towns, a BBC Radio Sussex publication (ISBN 0 9509510 5 6). But it is referred to in this 1998 article from The Independent: http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/travel-channel-ferry-gets-that-sinking-feeling-1192377.html.

So, despite fifteen years (at least) in which to check not merely the likelihood but the actual truth of the tale - from crew lists and other documents that might yet be extant - it still had the status of an attractive but unverified theory in 2013. It certainly is an intriguing notion, that a personage of world reputation was humbly kneading dough aboard a ferry boat, and perhaps had modest lodgings ashore. But surely you do need proof that he actually stepped ashore, and did things in Newhaven, to justify 'The Ho Chi Minh Connection', a big ceremony, and a memorial stone?

I mean, you have to imagine this as well. The young, easily-led (and not yet wise) Ho Chi Minh hitting the town on Saturday nights with the rest of the crew. Getting drunk; swearing, blowing his pay on gambling, mixing with the local whores, throwing fists at policemen, and generally getting into trouble. No, I can't conjure up this image of him either! All I see is the older man, the revered Communist Leader with sober eyes. A man unburdened with embarrassing memories of debauched nights out in Newhaven.

So (although I may be wrong of course) I think that stone on the quay is a bit of a leg-pull. A spurious assumption turned into a local myth, to draw the tourists in. All on the strength of his working on a boat that came in and out of the port.

Was he ever the mayor of Newhaven? No.

Did he in later life mention Newhaven to his Communist colleagues as a fond or inspiring memory? No.

Was his alternative name Viet Nam Joe of Newhaven? No.

It's as surprising (and unlikely) as 'discovering' that Russian President Vladimir Putin once took (or could well have taken) a summer job at Sainsbury's in Newhaven. Before he was famous, you understand.

Ooops! Please, please ignore that last suggestion. It's a figment of my imagination. I swear it.

It's a well-known fact that anything that appears in print, especially on the Internet, gets lifted out of context and misquoted again and again until it is an accepted fact. Even if there is an immediate explanation from the originator. Look, I didn't mean it. I am as certain as can be that President Putin never, ever, worked on the fresh meat counter in Sainsbury's down in Newhaven on Wednesdays, Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays. The afternoon shift before he attended night school. Nor was he known to the other staff as 'Vlad the Impaler'. Nor did he have a local girlfriend called Annie, and gave her lifts on his Vespa scooter. You've got to believe me.


No, it's too late. Damn. I now expect to see a stone block outside Sainsbury's in Newhaven any day now, commemorating 'The Putin Connection'.

Monday, 28 July 2014

Improving the sound from a mobile phone

Before I took the plunge and bought Demelza last April (that's my Samsung Galaxy S5 phone), I read all the online reviews. I gleaned from them that the S5 wouldn't be vastly different from the S4, just a slight all-round improvement that was termed 'incremental' (written with a sneer by some reviewers). It was so when comparing the S4 with the S3. It was clear enough however that each version of Samsung's flagship phone was better than the last, and that they all sold well. I felt confident that the S2 I was going to trade in would be eclipsed by the S5. Well, you'd expect a 2011 phone to be eclipsed by a 2014 phone, wouldn't you?

So far as I was concerned, the S5 had to be better in only two key areas. First and foremost, I wanted a significantly bigger screen. I got it. And I love it.

Second, I wanted the music it played from the loudspeaker to be better. This was of course one of the things you couldn't decide from an online review. The subjective judgement of the reviewer wouldn't be the same as my own. We would have different ears, and we'd like different types of sound.

I did gather that the S5's sound quality when playing music from its single rear-facing speaker was 'decent'. Hmm. Faint praise? Nobody said 'outstanding'.

Its rival, the HTC One M8, had two front-facing speakers, and its reviewers were ecstatic over what they heard. Apparently the HTC was the phone to get if you wanted the very best sound quality. One reviewer sourly commented that the S5 sounded 'miserable' by comparison.

Miserable? Really? I was immediately suspicious about their using such an emotive word. I detected prejudice. And a desire to be arresting. It was - and continues to be - fashionable to criticise big manufacturers like Samsung (and indeed Apple) for any feature that falls short of perfection. In any case, a reviewer must strive to keep ahead of the pack: so departing from a cool appraisal, and using provocative language, is the sign of a reviewer on the make, someone who wants the public to think they are worth reading - and trusting. I wasn't going to fall for it. I decided that Demelza's speaker didn't have to be the last word in audio performance. It just had to do the job reasonably well.

For one thing, my hearing is not the best. I can't really appreciate the difference between the good and the superb. My hearing just isn't acute enough. I am also most comfortable with treble sounds - I don't want an intrusive, overwhelming bass.

Secondly, I have discovered that in actual home use, the sound quality from the S5's speaker can be greatly improved. It all depends on which room, and the exact placement of the phone.

At home, I nearly always listen in my bathroom. The speaker is situated low down on the back of the phone, and so, if I place the phone so that its bottom quarter overhangs a shelf, the sound is sent downwards, bounces, and then scatters all around the small space. In the process it gets modified for the better. Much as one's own voice sounds richer when singing Rule Britannia, or Vissi d'arte from Tosca, in the average bath or shower.


This overhanging technique works nearly as well in the kitchen (which is still a fairly small room). It also works beautifully in the caravan, another confined space. So much for fancy speakers! You don't necessarily need 'em.

But elsewhere in the house, or when driving Fiona, it has to be the earphones - and the sound quality is then truly excellent, at least to my less-than-perfect ears.

Do I hear murmurings that surely I bought my S5 for other things? Such as the camera? Or the health apps? Or the waterproofing? No, I didn't. Only the screen and the loudspeaker sound quality ever mattered. (So concentrate on those, please, Samsung)

Sunday, 27 July 2014

Trans Pride in Brighton


Well, I went to Brighton Trans Pride yesterday afternoon, at the New Steine, which is a small park in the heart of Kemp Town, near the sea front, with railings all round and a gate. So it was safe and secure. I arrived at 1.30pm and left at 3.30pm. But I didn't get home till late: other people followed me, and some of us had an evening meal in town.

As you can see, it was a hot, sunny day that justified not only sunglasses but a sun hat! I could only stand two hours of the heat before a retreat to a cool pub and a long cold pint of iced Coke became imperative. Some people took part in the opening march through the town in the morning, and stayed till it all ended, and they must have been burned to a cinder.

It was a very friendly event, not unlike a regular village fĂȘte, as there were tents for all the local support organisations, plus tents offering refreshments and things to nibble. The Clare Project was running a raffle. But there were no stalls selling second-hand clothes and books, nor bric-a-brac, nor fudge and honey and jam. Nor were there old gentlemen tottering around in panama hats, nor quaint old ladies with parasols. The emphasis was on young Brighton, with plenty of tattooed arms and legs and backs in evidence, as well as a fair sprinkling of rainbow-themed outfits. And there was a stage - from which a cacophony of noise that some might term 'music' was erupting as I arrived. But fortunately the acoustics in the New Steine were not very good, the sound fading to bearable levels only thirty yards from the stage. (More on the consequences of that sound-fade further down)

There was a wide mix of people. So far as I could tell, the greater part of those present were transgendered in some way, but there were plenty of non-trans people too, such as gay men and lesbian women who had come to show solidarity. With a great many individuals you had to make your best guess, based on little clues, as to where on the trans spectrum they might be. If you could be bothered, that is: it really didn't matter. We were all given a numbered purple wristband as we arrived. I wasn't sure what purpose it served, as there was no entrance charge. I suppose it did demonstrate that you had attended! Here's mine:


And here are some pictures to conjure up the atmosphere, in the sequence that they were shot - so the scene gradually becomes more crowded:


There was a little group who had spread out a huge print of Chelsea Manning:


What does queer+ mean? Pass.


It was a great occasion for meeting friends, some of whom one might not have seen for a while. I was delighted that Jenny (from Oxford - the author of the Large Blooming Flower blog) had driven down for the day with a friend. I hadn't seen her for nearly two years.

One friend, Alice, was actually performing on the stage. At around 3.00pm the music stopped for a while, and the poets had their chance, one after another. Alice was fifth in line, I think. I thought she was the best. She certainly put the most passion into what she was saying, a short poem about holding her freshly-delivered child, still slippery from the womb, being very powerful. Here she is, in action:


But you had to get quite close up to hear the words clearly. Speech, even amplified speech, doesn't travel well in the open air, and I felt that what might sound amazing in an intimate auditorium lost a lot of its impact in a park. In my judgement, then, poetry is not suitable for an open-air event like this, because it can't be heard properly. Nevertheless, there was a big audience:


And I'll happily admit that Alice has a lot of bottle to go near a stage, and face a sea of people, no matter how much they radiate goodwill. I wouldn't do it!

Saturday, 26 July 2014

An offer from China

Or at least an offer from someone who sounded like a Chinese person. It was an email, and it could have come from anywhere of course. I'm posting about it because it's yet another instance of someone wanting to use my blog to set up a money-making scheme for their own benefit. But of course it could be your blog too. I am therefore going to spread information about a practice that I don't like. Tell me if I'm nannying.

The email was from 'Yuan Zhang' and arrived at 7.07am this morning. It was repeated at 8.45am, at which point I alerted Google to its status as spam. This what the email had said:

Hi,

I have seen your wonderful blog. I love it very much. I think it very fashionable and beautiful. What’s more, I want to tell you that I would like to cooperate with you.

My e-mail: zhangyuantongchuan@gmail.com

Details of the cooperation:
1.   I give you a topic
2.   Some keywords about the topic
3.   A live link of the topic

Here, I want to highlight as follows,
1.   You can write something about the topic with the keywords(do not overstrike the keywords)
2.   Add the live link twice(it should be hyperlinks)

When you finished the writing, please give the links to me and I will check. In the end, I will pay you in paypal. (Money is related to the pr of your blog and included number)

That is the rule of the writing.

If you are interested in the writing, you can.

I am waiting for your reply as fast as possible.

Six choices you can choose from:

1.    topic: Catsuits
Keywords: cheap catsuits, cat suits for women, plus size catsuits, red cat suits, black catsuits
a live link: http://www.tidebuy.com/c/Catsuits-104069/

2.    topic: Lycra-Catsuits
Keywords: cheap lycra catsuits, spandex catsuit, lycra catsuits online, lycra catsuits for women
A live link: http://www.tidebuy.com/c/Lycra-Catsuits-104086/

3.
Topic: Metallic-Catsuits
Keywords: pvc catsuit, leather catsuit, discount metallic catsuits, metallic catsuits online
A live link: http://www.tidebuy.com/c/Metallic-Catsuits-104087/

4.   topic: Zentai
keywords: zentai suit, zentai costumes, skin suit, full body suit
a live link: http://www.tidebuy.com/c/Zentai-104060/

5.   topic: Morphsuit
keywords: cheap morphsuit,  spiderman morphsuit,  morphsuits for kids, green man suit, morph suits
a live link: http://www.tidebuy.com/c/Morphsuit-104067/

6.   topic: Lolita-Dresses
keywords: lolita dress, lolita dress pattern, cheap lolita dresses,sweet lolita dress,classic lolita fashion
a live link: http://www.tidebuy.com/c/Lolita-Dresses-4461/

This was much more specific than usual as regards explaining what was required, which gave it a spurious air of seriousness.

I copied the text to Blogger via Windows Notepad, which deactivated the live links in the email. The business mentioned in the links (Tidebuy.com) is real, and appears to be a perfectly all-right online retailer of wedding and other 'special occasion' clothing, although they do also market sexy skin-tight apparel and fantasy dress. You can easily find Tidebuy for yourself on the Internet, and deal with them direct. There is no need for an intermediary.

So what is this Yuan Zhang actually up to? I think he is trying to create a network of blogs that carry links to Tidebuy.com, and therefore take potential customers to that retailer. The number of 'click-throughs' can of course be accurately measured. In return for the flow of interest generated, he gets a kickback, and (in theory) each of the bloggers gets a small share of that. Yuan Zhang can do the same with any other retailers willing to deal with him, and in this way multiply his income. So it's a viable business model.

I'm bound to say that if any blogger were minded to make a bit of cash from creating links to a retailer, there is nothing to stop them approaching that retailer direct, and cutting out the middle man. In other words, now that Yuan Zhang has brought the existence of Tidebuy.com to my attention, I could email them and set up some kind of agreement myself.

But, of course, I am not going to. I would scorn to. So it's a big 'no thanks' to Yuan Zhang and anyone else trying to use my web space for their own ends.

I may seem to have dismissed this offer with lofty despatch and contempt. But I am also niggled. The formula used to gain my willing co-operation, using the phrases 'your wonderful blog' and 'I love it very much' and 'I think it very fashionable and beautiful' is empty and insincere. I hate false flattery. I also feel cheapened that someone couldn't be bothered to delve a bit into my output. Surely nobody can really say, if for instance they take the last twenty-five posts as typical, that I am a fashionista - or, worse - that I am obsessed by fetish clothing? I feel not only cheapened but misjudged. Sigh.

Friday, 25 July 2014

Otters and foxes

If you hate the entire notion of blood sports, then look away now. Not that I am going to describe disgusting scenes of beleaguered animals torn to death by hounds. In fact I am definitely on the side of the hunted. That stated, I am no saint, nor an anti-hunting activist. I simply dislike seeing any animal hunted and killed for no good reason.

And there may be good, or at least adequate reasons. Culls, for instance, are sometimes needed where nature does not control animal numbers. I am not sentimental about that. Or if a dog from a dangerous breed gets loose in the locality, and begins to maul people while on the rampage, I will be very relieved to hear that a marksman from the RSPCA or Police has hunted it down, and rendered the locality safe again.

But cornering an animal, to bait it for 'fun', or to see it pitted for 'sport' against some fighting animal - now that's something I'd want to stamp on hard.  

I am duty bound to tell you that my father, who grew up in the Devon countryside, regarded hunting (on any level, including poaching) as just one of those activities that are part of rural life. He was an older-generation conservative, and thought (for instance) that it was going too far to ban fox-hunting, because it would remove one of the colourful and time-honoured traditions of the countryside. I loved and respected my father, and I have not found it easy to disregard or distance myself from his views.

I am also bound to tell you that, over the years, farmers and other country dwellers have told me several harrowing tales of what a determined fox can do to their poultry, despite high fences. How a fox will kill every cock and hen within reach, as if completely out of control and in the grip of some blood-frenzy. So far as farmers and smallholders are concerned, the fox is a great pest. I have without doubt taken their actual experience, and their antipathy, somewhat on board.

And yet, when driving around the countryside, I frequently see individual foxes going about their business. And I always like to see them, and I salute them, and wish them good luck. After all, every animal has to eat to stay alive; and any animal with a hungry family must go out and do its best. That's what humans do, after all.

I see myself in two minds here - agreeing with the need to drive foxes (or crocodiles, or sharks) away, and possibly control them by lethal means; and yet sympathetic to them, because they have a natural purpose to fulfil, a niche in the natural order of things.

I am however in one mind about certain human aspects of hunting that I simply do not like. First, that it encourages a certain madness or obsession in its followers. You know, the thrill of the chase that overrides safety and courtesy. The need for a kill as the climax.

Second, in types of hunting that require guns, the acquisition of a deadly skill that might lead to a tragic accident. I don't want to see guns in the hands of anyone but a narrow group of specially trained professionals.

Third, that some hunting activities (pre-eminently fox-hunting) encourage snobbery. Fox-hunting for the well-mounted always was a pastime for those with money and leisure: the gentry. The elitist attitude they had lives on in a wider range of folk who have the time and means to get up on a horse and look splendid. Why do they do it? Well, if you've ever got up on a big horse you will know that the world looks quite different up there! It's no wonder that the crack cavalry regiments used to believe that a company of horsemen in dazzling uniforms and riding in tight formation could cut through any infantry like a knife through butter. On a horse you feel above those on foot, in more than one sense. The very kit - hat, boots, whip, special coat and breeches - makes you distinctive and distinct, and not an ordinary person at all.

It's not good for anyone to feel they are above ordinary people. I remember saying as much to a ruddy-faced and rather patrician lady at a hotel in Bransford, Worcestershire. This was in 2003. Dad, Mum, M--- and I were staying there over Christmas. This peppery lady bristled at my remarks. She almost exploded. Within twenty-four hours we had reason to think that she had vented her outrage to all the other guests, because we noticed a certain coolness and ostracism from people who had seemed friendly, but now wished to distance themselves from us. And I think it was all down to pointing out that fox-hunting can be a snobbish business.

So let me now justify the title of this post.

I mentioned in a recent post that there is a National Trust property near Aberaeron in Wales, called Llanerchaeron. This is a preserved country estate - the farm and land, as well as the big house that John Nash created in 1795 for the Lewis family, whose male members (army men) enthusiastically engaged in all the regular pursuits appropriate for gentlemen at the time, hunting among them. The trophies from this activity are a feature of the house. In the entrance hallway, for instance, you see the wall-mounted heads of otters and foxes:


And there are stuffed polecats in glass cases, tearing their prey to bits:


There's a framed photograph of all the Masters of Hounds for 1885-86 in Cardiganshire, maybe two hundred men (I haven't counted them up):


One item on the floor of the Morning Room caught the eye - a curled-up, stuffed otter:


It was a footstool. Imagine resting your feet on that. But it would have been admired when new. The estate was self-sufficient, and game was caught for eating, as well as for stuffing and display. So it was no surprise to see two 'freshly snared' rabbits laid out in the kitchen, for the cooking staff to turn into a pie or whatever:


Poor things. Even a stuffed rabbit seems fragile and insubstantial, small and vulnerable, so easily killed. I once killed a rabbit myself, by accident, when driving down a quiet Sussex lane. It was in the early 1990s. I wasn't going fast. A rabbit darted under my wheels, and I heard a little thump. I knew I'd injured it. I stopped, walked back, and picked up the still-living creature from the tarmac. It died in my hands. The eyes went dull, and the body quite limp. I gently placed it in long grass, knowing that the usual birds would find the carcass soon enough, but it was the very least I could do for the present. Only a little bunny; but I felt like a murderer.

I'm glad to say that I haven't killed another rabbit since.

Thursday, 24 July 2014

Lucy claims her State Pension

The claim form arrived from the Pension Service at midday, and by 4.00pm it had been completed and sent back by Special Delivery. So tomorrow some lucky manager will be staring at it, thinking - no doubt - that he (or she) didn't deserve this on a hot Friday. I say manager, because of course I am a Restricted Access case, and junior staff can't process my claim. In any case, there are complications beyond just the GRC - nothing special, but I'll be surprised if the claim can be processed with a snap of the fingers. That's why I'm setting the ball rolling running three and a half months before I reach State Pension Age. There may be lengthy issues to resolve. And ideally I want the first payment hitting my bank in time for Christmas.

Actually, just to get the State Pension definitely promised, with an assured First Payment Date will be enough for me. Then I can, at last, be relaxed about my financial affairs. It will make a big difference.

It seemed like a long form to fill in, but in fact it wasn't difficult at all. I was the complication - a change of name by Deed Poll; the GRC that followed, which altered my State Pension Age; marriage and divorce in the past. The marriage and divorce questions were relevant because the impact of the ex-spouse's national insurance contributions had to be assessed. In my case, this was looked at in 2005, shortly after I retired. But that was nine years ago, and I thought it prudent to enclose copies of letters, and certificates, so that it could all be looked at again if need be. W's contribution record, presumably still extant, had no effect on my State Pension effect then, and presumably would have none now, but who knows.

They wanted to know my bank account details of course, so that a four-weekly payment regime could be set up. It felt a bit strange giving them. This was the first 'cash benefit' I'd ever applied for in my entire life! Once aged sixty, I'd claimed exemption from prescription charges, and free eye tests, but those didn't involve crisp tenners that you could fan out in your hand, gloating. I'd never claimed unemployment benefit, nor any kind of low-income supplement. Now I would join the ranks of benefit-claimers. Wow, actual extra dosh - even if it was only a bank credit at the point of receipt!

And other things would become available, like a bus pass - although there isn't a cat in hell's chance that I would ever prefer a bus, no matter how swish and modern, to the comfort, safety and convenience of Fiona. But even so, the odd occasion would crop up - using a bus to cover the outward or return leg of a long country walk, for instance. I could travel for nothing, if I wanted to. Who knows, I might get a liking for it.

All of this is of course months away, and depends on the successful processing of my claim. So now that the form has been despatched, I think it's best to forget all about the pleasures to come, and concentrate instead on other things!

A good afternoon's work, though. The lever has been pulled, the button pressed. The machinery has sprung to life. Let it chug and whirr and clank, and eventually drop the metaphorical shiny finished article off the end of the metaphorical conveyor belt. Perhaps, as I said, in time for Christmas!

Wednesday, 23 July 2014

Flickr overtakes Blogger. And ghost writers needing exorcism.

As I begin to compose this post, my Blogger pageview total - the number of times people have looked at the blog - has reached 421,220. But over on Flickr, the number of viewings of my photos (which is a comparable statistic) is now 422,145. So for the first time, Flickr has edged ahead. And I expect it to increase that lead, certainly beating Blogger to the 500,000-viewings stage. Flickr will get the Gold Lucy award. Blogger will have to make do with the Plastic Lucy for Best Runner-Up.

Of course these figures, which may seem impressive, have to be put in perspective. They aren't so noteworthy when you remember that in both cases they are cumulative, and simply measure the times that an unknown number of persons clicked to see what the latest post or batch of pictures looked like, spread over the five years that I've been publishing. It doesn't mean '421,220 persons' or '422,415 persons'. Or even (since I have reason to believe that those who like my posts are not the same bunch as those who like my photos) '800,000+' persons. It might just be 100 persons who are die-hard regulars, plus an unknown number of casual visitors who look once, then turn away bored, puzzled, disgusted or outraged, never to come back for more.

I do think that a sense of reality is needed. Viewing totals are some evidence of popularity, but are not an end in themselves, certainly not the reason why one hammers away on the keyboard, or selects a few sunset shots from one's photo collection. I don't churn out words and pictures merely to edge these totals up and up, as if some contest were going on. Although naturally, when they exceed 500,000, or 1,000,000, or some landmark figure like that, I will feel pleased, as if I've achieved something, and who wouldn't? But it's no measure of excellence.

I will remark that the viewing rate has accelerated in the last two years. The Blogger total was only 115,000 in July 2012, two years ago. And it was only 90,000 for Flickr at that point. So both my jottings and my camera snaps have attracted more attention in recent times.

Why, God knows. I mean, I've kept to the same old formula - my interests, my life experiences, and what I see when out and about or when on holiday. It's all a bit personal. Whatever the post title, I am the real subject, every time; it's an unabashed ego trip. At best, a kind of diary. The blog hasn't become a serious platform for social change, or political reform, or a focus for new ideas, or even a spot where you can read about fashion and beauty. You won't tap into the Zeitgeist. It's only me, sounding off. That's not, I would have thought, a winning recipe.

But evidently I'm mistaken. Well, if the blog readership, and the photo enthusiasts, want more and more of the same old stuff, then I will carry on obliging! I like doing it, anyway, for its own sake. It's an outlet for my creative energies, such as they are.

When I last 'sounded off' about the perils of popularity, I mentioned the pest of advertising agencies wanting to use likely blogs to place ads of their choice. Even my blog, once the pageview total had grown a bit. There would be a deal, and the reward for the blogger would be a small amount of cash. Some of these agencies offered 'advice' on how to whip up a wider readership. Of course they would. They'd want your popular blog to become even more popular, so that the ads they promoted could reach more potential customers. This all smacked of artistic interference to me. In any case, I felt that a blog that had been 'monetized' (even in a low-key way, by Google themselves) was a blog disfigured and compromised. The ads were an irritating intrusion, a commercial presence that was especially inappropriate whenever the latest post happened to deal with some personal crisis.

That was just my opinion, of course. But I wasn't going to succumb to any blandishments from an advertising agency unless the deal were so incredibly good that nobody could blame me for selling out. I was talking about a regular income of thousands of pounds here. But of course, it wouldn't be offered.

A more recent annoyance is the 'ghost writer'. I've been approached several times by such people.

Now in the past, I vaguely understood that a ghost writer was someone who would write a book or article for you. Done typically, I suppose, where the person named as the 'author' couldn't string a grammatical sentence together if their life depended on it, but nevertheless had a publishable tale to tell. A ghost writer would be engaged to take notes, and turn those into a hot and racy autobiography, or a serialised Sunday-paper confession story. Readers, hoping for a juicy tale well-told, would be surprised but delighted that the author was such a talented writer. The 'author' would get a fee for their salacious story. The unnamed ghost writer would also get a fee for the work carried out. And the publisher would make a lot of money. Happiness all round.

One or two of the approaches made to me have been on these lines. Basically: I (the ghost writer) can do it better, and you (Lucy) can take the credit. That's insulting. No thanks.

Then more recently I have had approaches from people wanting to introduce their own work into my blog. It wasn't quite clear how this would be done. But supposing it was a travel piece on The Mysterious Maya of Mexico. It couldn't be passed off in my name, because (a) people who knew me would realise that the experiences being described couldn't be mine, as I'd never been to Mexico; and (b) some of them would understand that I couldn't possibly risk visiting a Latin-American country, in case I were horribly murdered by a macho man. So I suppose it would be a case of my openly sponsoring the actual writer, much as T-Central introduces its Guest Bloggers and their work. I'd write an introductory paragraph or two, and then let my 'guest' have publishing space. For a fee, I would hope. But maybe the deal would actually be: my amazing piece will increase the appeal of your blog, Lucy, and that's your reward.

In which case, no thanks. I can do my own travel-writing well enough. Even if it's only about Welsh coastal towns.

So whether it's advertisers, or aspiring writers wanting to piggy-back on your own success, it's got to be 'no'. It's my blog, my unsullied and individual creation. Leave it alone.

Tuesday, 22 July 2014

The treadmill of bodily perfection

Is there anyone who doesn't wish that their body or face were better? Whatever your age, if your body or face doesn't compare well with what your friends have, or what you see on TV, or in magazines, or on the Internet, or in eye-catching advertisements in the street, or in glossy holiday brochures, you can feel undermined and second-rate.

My list illustrates how hard it is to avoid images of people with great bodies and beautiful faces. Of course, you have to be susceptible to suggestion. A lot of people do have a high resistance to mental manipulation. But the advertisers know their business, and the constant daily exposure we are all subject to has its insidious effect. None of us match up completely to those alluring images of happy people with beautiful bodies and vibrantly attractive faces! And the message seems to be: if you get yourself a body - or face, or teeth, or hair - like that, your life will be so much better: you'll enjoy more pleasure, more fun, more laughter, more sex. Even the weather will be sunnier. It's the promise of a good life based on appearance alone. And it's used to sell almost anything.

My parents accepted that one aged naturally. Mum had her little vanities, and did things to her hair to make it seem (in her eyes) more stylish, although in the end it was just the standard hair-do of an older lady. Dad did nothing at all, beyond training the remnant of his head hair across, so that he wasn't quite bald on top. My parents looked to suntans, smart clothes and appropriate jewellery to divert the eye from their bodily imperfections, of which there were many, multiplying as they got older. It was a definite consolation that nearly everyone else of their generation looked exactly the same. If you went on a beach, or on a cruise, you'd see sagging and withered bodies galore, only partly disguised by suntans so deep that they risked skin cancer. But as everybody had that look, it was acceptable, and absolutely normal, and no-one was made to feel uncomfortable.

But they have got us on the run now. Sagging fat, scrawny muscles, withered skin with blue veins and blotches - all remain the inevitable fates in store. For you can't naturally prevail against gravity, the sun, and the gradual dissolution that comes with maturity. But a giant beauty industry tries to persuade us that it can all be avoided or reversed. And some of the measures developed to combat ageing can help, at least for a while, although all of them need renewal or repetition to maintain the original palliative effect.

Some simple and low-cost solutions, such as a properly nutritious and balanced diet, or inexpensive moisturising cream, or not frying oneself in strong sunshine, will work as well as anything. It is human nature however to seek the magic elixir of youth, and laboratories all over the world devote massive resources to finding such a thing - or better, an entire suite of products that will market at top prices, especially if the laboratory, or the beauty house behind it, is a Name. I would be prepared to speculate that as much money and effort is poured into beauty products as is committed to proper medical research. And if true, that would seem to many a gross immorality.

Myself, I try to ignore the smooth messages and concocted images, and simply aim to look reasonably pleasing to the eye. And live happily with the result.

Of course, people like me have a special consideration - the female look, so hard-won, must be maintained. It's all very well to feel your mind emerging from a smothering fog of decades' standing. You want to see your external shell morphing into a good approximation of what it should have looked like from birth. And then make sure that there is no reversion.

From five years and more of studying how well friends have achieved their own transformation, I can see some standard expectations:

# That once on a good hormone regime, a year or two will see a pronounced and very obvious effect on body shape and skin texture.

# That ongoing hormone treatment (especially if post-op) will add a certain perfection to the initial changes. 

# That fully embracing the female life alters one's habitual posture, ways of moving, and behaviour, and these things reinforce the physical appearance. 

You can still spoil it all if you open your mouth and reveal insufficient voice training, but we are concentrating on 'the look', and there is no doubt that hormones alone can achieve a significant transformation - if you give them time to do their work.

Unfortunately, hormones need a lot of time. Once the first effect is achieved, think in terms of years for anything comparable. My own observations do seem to confirm however that ten years after first treatment, most traces of the Original Person have gone.

Except of course the underlying bone structure! If this was unusually dominant before hormones, they will have softened it, but they won't have hidden the features that one doesn't want, such as too much height, or a very angular jawline. So there is a place for facial surgery, to get rid of strong brows and lantern jaws, to fill out cheekbones, to pretty-up the nose and lips, and banish sagging jowls and eyelids. I say this: look into it all carefully; and if you need it, then put funding in place by whatever means you can, and have the work done. I have no ethical or moral axe to grind here: it's your face, your decision. The experience of friends suggests that cut-price work will lead to problems and dissatisfaction. But on the other hand, it is clearly very easy to fall for a sales pitch and get ripped off. If ever I were going to indulge, I would consider what my friends had had done, and decide on its quality. And I would always put quality before cost - I do not want a bodged job on my nose, thank you!

There's a danger to bear in mind, though. One successful alteration might suggest another. The surgeon may even recommend it. A hard-to-resist package may be offered. And you can then begin a regular sequence (or cycle) of must-have surgeries. I'm not saying it won't make you look marvellous, but it won't confer permanent rejuvenation, if that was your aim - eventually the rejuvenation or restoration effect will unravel. However, the trouble, pain and expense may be worth it, to get rid of a feature hated since young, or to look fantastic (and employable) through the most active years of one's life. But it's like redecorating a house: a makeover in one room instantly makes the others look shabby, and you end up having to repaint the whole lot. At vast cost. Me, I'd rather spend my cash on holidays, memorable meals out, and a spot of culture now and then.

You know, the financial winter that overtook me after the sale of the Cottage in 2011 did me a favour. It made cosmetic surgery unaffordable. So I've never had any, not the slightest procedure. Now, in 2014, I feel past the stage where I would be tempted to tweak my appearance, whether it be facial work or liposuction. Fat and flab make my abdomen unattractive - or at least that's my opinion! - but that's curable with a little less eating, and a little more exercise. I don't need surgery for it. And my face seems to have passed some appearance threshold, so that even the awful nose somehow looks acceptable nowadays: subtly reshaped by a combination of hormones and ever-more gravity. I've decided to leave well alone, even when my long financial winter ends later this year.

A bit of fun now. In my last post, I went on about how nice Aberaeron was. Well, shortly after saying farewell to Anne, I looked for a public toilet. I had to ask, but eventually found it in a sidestreet, and pretty immaculate it was too. There was a polished metal mirror fixed to the wall, and naturally I used it to tidy my hair. I couldn't help noticing that it had bumps in it which acted like a fairground distorting mirror. I moved this way and that in front of the mirror. It was most amusing. This, for instance, was what I would have looked like if a lip job hadn't worked out quite right:


Or if I'd had serious jaw-reduction surgery:


No, the untouched face was definitely the best look for me!


Monday, 21 July 2014

Aberaeron and Anne

I was very impressed with Aberaeron, a small but very likeable coastal town on Cardigan Bay, south of Aberystwyth. I was pitched inland only a few miles away, at Oakford. I hadn't holidayed in this part of Wales before, and will definitely want to return, perhaps next spring.


The appearance of the town is rather a surprise. Unlike the average town in these parts (such as New Quay, the scene of the 'don't park here again' incident that has put me off the place), the houses have architectural merit. In fact, it's a Georgian gem. It is a planned Georgian town that has altered little in its layout since the nineteenth century. This 1905 Ordnance Survey plan could be used today:


I won't say it's a little Bath by the sea, and most certainly the likes of Beau Brummel never came here, but it has a visual impact that I thought very attractive indeed. The local council have decreed which house colours can be used in the town centre, to ensure that the overall effect is eye-catching but pleasing and harmonious, and without the dreadful colour clashes that you sometimes see. So there are no mustard yellows next to deep pinks. Or oranges next to purples. It's all rather more carefully done than that - and yet still so vibrant that if you respond to colour, you want to take pictures on every street corner. Here are some of the shots that I took on my two visits to the town. See what you think.


So far as I can make out, the deeper colours - predominantly blue and red - are chiefly on the main road through the town (the A487), while the harbour area and the back streets have more subdued, cooler hues. It isn't just the colours. The architectural detail varies too, so that no two adjacent houses are quite the same:


Aberaeron's harbour is very nice:


Truly a place to bask in the sunshine. I found a family crabbing, and a boat that had my name on it:


A river runs through the town to the sea - the River Aeron. Inland, it gurgles through a cool, shady park. More seaward, it becomes part of the harbour:


The beach is composed of pebbles, although there is sand at low tide. I was walking along the beach when a lady in a wind shelter looked up from emailing on her tablet, and gave me a smile. She would have seen me like this:


I went over to her, and sat with her for a long and lively chat that must have lasted half and hour at least. We were clearly both champion chatterboxes, but I think she just took the prize! Her name was Anne. Here she is:


She was three years older than me, but in her own estimation already a little too old to uproot herself, move a hundred miles from her old home, and then try to establish herself in a new place. But she had done it. Given how she felt, this was pretty brave of her.

She had made efforts to find local friends, but it was slow going. I felt certain that she would succeed in the end though. She had for instance taken the wise step of becoming a volunteer at the nearby National Trust property, Llanerchaeron, which would in time bear fruit. She had her own car, but (unlike me!) wasn't keen on driving. This didn't matter, because she liked taking buses to places like Carmarthen, and (unlike me!) had a bus pass and could do it for nothing. I thought she was a very nice person, and if I lived in Aberaeron I would certainly want her as one of my local friends.

Later on, after processing the shots I'd taken, I thought that she might like to have a print of the picture above. She had mentioned the number of her Aberaeron home, and where it was in town, but I didn't have her full address. However, undaunted, I produced a print of that shot of her in the shelter, and of that one of myself on the beach (so that she would realise who was getting in touch). I did my best to look up the postcode, and despatched the prints with a covering letter. There has been no reply yet, so I'm thinking that either I misheard the address and it's gone astray, or she did get the prints but decided not to reply. It would actually have been an unusual thing, a total stranger going to that kind of trouble after a casual meeting. I really can't blame her, if she was hard put to see how best to respond. Never mind.