Sunday, 31 January 2010

Labels, labels, labels

Melissa (and Sophie in Mental Boonies) also said something about a current debate going on concerning what is a transsexual person.

My own take is that you know if you are, and there's little more to say. When I realised what I was back in 2008, it hit me like an express train. I had absolutely no doubt, and still haven't. And I instantly saw that something had to be done about it, and fairly urgently, because my life was running out. A close definition of what I was didn't seem to matter. In any case, I wasn't the analytical sort. I've had to become much better at self-examination, but it's not something I find fascinating, and frankly I'd rather get on with the practical things that need attending to.

I suppose I'm 'an older pre-op male-to-female transsexual with infant and adolescent self-perception problems but a discontinuous past history of cross-dressing'. So what? I'm also (and more meaningfully) a healthy retired outgoing single female person with ample means and education, ecologically and politically aware, and able to insist on my consumer rights. I hope I'm just as empathetic as anyone else, and sane and responsible to boot. I'm a keen motorist, caravanner and photographer, and a life member of the National Trust. I've also got blue eyes. There's no label to cover all that adequately. So I don't try. And even if there were a label for me that everyone could understand without error, I'd be developing all the time, and then the label wouldn't fit any more. So there's no point. And I'd hate to think that being 'older' or 'pre-op' might place me in a distinct group, so that I could never talk freely to 'young' or 'post-op' people. Labelling is divisive. It can lead to in-fighting and defensive attitudes, when really there are no differences.

And if I were obliged to stand up and be counted, and sign petitions, and lobby MPs, I think I'd be more inclined to do so as a 'senior citizen', and not specifically as a transgendered person. Despite their voting power, and in some cases economic clout, old people as a class are dismissed as an irrelevant nuisance in today's Western societies. Successive governments in the UK have treated older people in a most shabby fashion, eroding their social position, building insecurity in their minds, and making daily life complex and inconvenient. A few disabled parking spaces here and there, and an extra tenner at Christmas, are no substitute for vanished post offices, being forced to grapple with the Internet, and many other little humiliations. Some old folk cope easily; many do not. They've made their contribution, even if they simply paid their taxes. What about an adequate payback? David Cameron, Nick Clegg, David Miliband et al please take note.

Cowboys and Indians

Melissa (of Melissa's Meanderings), in a very recent post, touched on the film The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly. I like it too. It's a bit long, but certainly a film I'm prepared to sit through. For A Few Dollars More is another favourite.

A pity that the Western genre has had its day. I think it died with John Wayne. I really loved the many old TV westerns, whether they were at kiddy level, like Hopalong Cassidy, Champion the Wonder Horse, and The Lone Ranger, or something more sophisticated (?) like Boots and Saddles, Davy Crockett, Rawhide, Bronco, Cheyenne, Bonanza, Maverick, Gunslinger, Branded, The Rifleman, Cimarron Strip, or High Chaparral. Even spoof series like Alias Smith and Jones. I'm ashamed to say even films like Blazing Saddles. They all in their way captured something about the Wild West that strongly appealed and they felt heroic, or at least dealt forthrightly with simple issues in an uncomplicated way, and had good endings. And they quite rightly put emphasis on self-dependence and the love you can feel for your horse. ELO's track Wild West Hero evokes it all quite well.

Alas, the world has changed. Conflicts can't really be settled by Randolph Scott riding into town. The nice guy doesn't automatically get the sweetheart. Bitter rivals don't just shake hands and agree to share the waterhole. And if the old Westerns celebrated pride, fortitude, honour and principle, they also celebrated gambling, robbery, hard drinking, gunplay, casual killing, and the mass slaughter of native Americans.

I don't agree that the Star War films and their imitations are the same thing. The emptiness of space or the confines of a spaceship are too sterile. In the background of every Western was the land, the rock and dust, and weather that could kill you. Over and above any threat from being shot in a saloon or ambushed by outraged braves fighting a doomed battle against the rise of modern American culture, was the challenge of survival on the vast prairie. That frontier feeling was well depicted, so special, and had so much appeal. Where can you realistically have such adventures now?

Perhaps the Western will come back, when we are tired of computer games and want to return to a simpler life.

Friday, 29 January 2010

BBC4's programme about Sibelius

Earlier tonight I saw the second of two programmes on BBC4 about the Finnish composer Sibelius, entitled Jean Sibelius: Maturity and Silence. Two things you don't associate with me, incidentally!

The programme dealt with the later symphonies. The music was haunting. I knew the 5th Symphony quite well. Clearly I needed to hear the 6th and 7th.

I rate Sibelius very highly. There is a personal connection, in that in the last months before my marriage broke up, my wife was introduced to Sibelius's 1st Symphony and played it often at home while thoughtfully drinking her dry martini. I came to associate it with the stress and turmoil of a marriage in deep trouble, and there were many points in the music where it surged in a way that suggested rising arguments and their exhausting fallout. And yet this was extraordinary music, quite new to me, and despite its negative associations, I liked the 1st Symphony and explored some of the others, notably the 2nd and 5th. Sibelius evoked the Northern European lakes and forests with his strings, and his loud brass passages were an heroic call to Finnish national pride. Later I discovered his violin concerto, and through it Mendelssohn's, then Bruch's, then Tchaikovski's, and so on.

I'm afraid I can't claim to be musical. I do like stirring music, however. But then so did Hitler. (Not a flippant remark - see for instance the article at http://fcit.usf.edu/HOLOCAUST/arts/musReich.htm)

Vroom, vroom

I don't mess about. With the new driving licence safety stowed in the Melford purse, I fixed up a test drive in a Volvo XC60 without delay.

This was at the Volvo dealer in Brighton. The person I was talking to was the Sales Manager. He was extremely courteous, took a lot of trouble to answer my questions properly, and pushed nothing at me. For instance, I had to raise the subject of insurance myself, and we didn't discuss finance at all, except to confirm that when paying the balance a debit card would do for the entire amount. He clearly took it for granted that I was a cash buyer, and wouldn't need a loan. There you are, the Prada handbag said it all!

I liked the general setup. The place was modern, comfortable, well-lit, and nice to wait around in. It was busy too, and yet I wasn't left unattended and without coffee. I felt welcome. All good signs. Outside there was a Volvo ambulance waiting for its service. So vital vehicles like that came here? Another good sign.

I got to drive an XC60 with the specification I wanted - all wheel drive, the most powerful diesel engine, automatic transmission, the right trim and accessories. Having adjusted the seat, I sped away for a two-hour run on roads I knew thoroughly, so that I could make proper comparisons with my existing car, the old Honda CR-V.

The XC60 was a large car, but nevertheless easy to drive, and seemed very smooth and eager. The diesel engine had a nice growl when starting off, but became rather hushed when cruising along at fifty, and it seemed to get quieter as speed increased. Surely this wasn't really so? Well, all I can say is that it zapped down the overtaking lane at eighty with no effort at all, and yet I never went above 2,500rpm. The XC60 was leaving traffic well behind, even on uphill sections of the Brighton by-pass. It was funny how cars pulled in to let me go by. Of course, the headlamps were on, as they always are with Volvos (a legal requirement even in daytime in Sweden), and perhaps they thought I was an unmarked police car or something. Well, there must have been some good reason for my regal progress!

The leather seats were oh so comfortable, and my driving seat quickly moulded itself to the Melford bottom. I'd read reports that these seats were 'slippery'. What nonsense.

The ride was very good, and felt very safe. Larger 18 inch wheels were fitted, with lower-profile tyres around them. They had impeccable grip. But I thought that 17 inch wheels (with more sidewall to the tyre, and more flex when going over bumps) would definitely give me a softer ride. Even so, there was really nothing to complain about. The all-wheel drive was very reassuring. I was able to take corners faster than I could with the Honda, with never a hint of slip or instability.

I was highly amused by the satnav. It was obviously set up for a journey to somewhere that lay to the northwest from the dealer's premises. But my round trip soon veered off north, then east, then southeast, and clearly I wasn't playing the game right. Despite this, the calm, pleasant, rather cultured man's voice that was telling me when to turn remained friendly and unflappable. He never lost his rag, and never gave up. His English was really very good - not at all like your typical robot or dalek. I had to admire him. It would be interesting to listen to the female voice instead. Maybe they have a tranny voice too? It would be amusing to switch to another language - ah, a way to get some Swedish conversation practice! It was reassuring anyway that the satnav would always quickly recalculate my position and would not blow a fuse in despair.

So what was the outcome? After two hours Miss Melford and the XC60 were one, a perfect symbiotic driving combination. I'd enjoyed myself. Back with the Sales Manager, I asked my questions, we discussed the options, and he calculated the cost. I liked what I heard, and signed on the dotted line. No procrastination at all. They will even get my personal registration - SC10 CUR - set up on the car for me.

All I have to do now is wait. The car is not likely to arrive before April. Oh well, the balance of the purchase money can continue to earn interest then.

What shall I do tomorrow?

Thursday, 28 January 2010

And now the driving licence has come

I've got both of my key ID documents now. The licence arrived this morning. And yes, it too sports the female indicator! This is more subtly shown than on the passport. I expect you know what it is, but if not I'll explain. It's in the Driver Number. If the second numeral is a 0 or a 1, you are male; if it is a 5 or a 6, then you are female. Thus my Driver Number begins MELFO55... - the second figure 5 tells anyone examining the licence that I am female. So the policeman won't have to say 'I'm afraid you'll have to accompany me to the station, sir'. It'll be a warm smile, a smart salute, a friendly 'That's quite all right then, Miss!', and hopefully a full police escort through the gridlocked rush-hour traffic.

Wednesday, 20 January 2010

Time to get focused

Now that the excitement over the passport has passed, it's time to take stock and see what needs to be done. The driving licence is in hand. But I still need to wrap up Dad's affairs; sell my old home; buy the new car; spring clean the caravan; spring clean the entire house; get the garden in order; make visits to Salisbury, Newport, and some other places; book the Italy holiday with M---; then that drive to Sweden and back. And all the while (so far as breaks allow), press on with hair removal each week, and voice therapy every two weeks - on and on with the transition without easing up.

Looking back, it's been almost like a military campaign so far. As soon as I knew what I had to be, what I had to do, I got on with it. I got on with it so that I wouldn't suffer the anguish of delay. And I've been lucky with my medical team and choice of new friends. Or just lucky.

I have sometimes wondered, as surely you do, whether the knowledge of my need to transition, and the possible consequences, preyed on my Mum and Dad's minds, hastening their deaths. I do believe that the morphine she was taking soon relieved Mum of such worries, and that over the months Dad's view changed from being appalled to some degree of acceptance. But I could not see into their hearts, any more than they or anyone else could see into mine. I simply don't know how they really felt. But I hope that if they could be here now, and watch what is being achieved, they would have much less concern and start to feel hopeful for their child. In a way I owe it to them not to let up. That's the least I can do to repay the incredible gift of security they left me. Repay it with success and a rebuilt life.

Monday, 18 January 2010

I've got it! I've got it!

I'd love to show you a photo, but the risk of identity theft is too great. But I've got it at last. My new passport with the 'F' for 'female' in the sex box! I sobbed with joy when it arrived. Couldn't believe it. They have accepted my representations on femaleness. It's official. I will be strip-searched by another woman at the airport. I will go Holloway Prison if I commit a crime. I can be Miss World. I can be a weather girl on TV. Yes! Yes!

The driving licence application has now been posted. They check my ID with the passport people (this must be 'joined-up government'!), but nevertheless I'm enclosing a letter from my GP confirming my permanent adoption of the female life, and her request that I have the female marker on the licence. I hope that works.

In two weeks time I want to sashay over to Volvos and go vroom-vroom in their test car. It'll probably sound like a tractor, but if I pull off a double whammy with both passport and licence in the bag, then I will burst with total euphoria!

Sunday, 17 January 2010

Wallander

I've just watched another episode of BBC1's Wallander, which is a detective series set in Ystad in the very south of Sweden. It's based on or inspired by the books of Henning Mankell. This is not the original series of Swedish-language films with subtitles produced a few years back and recently shown again on TV that star Krister Henrikson as Inspector Kurt Wallander, but the English-language series created specifically for television starring Kenneth Branagh. The style of the two versions is rather different. The Henrikson series portrays a Sweden full of dark undercurrents, secrets, difficult relationships, and emotional lockdown; and the language is crisp even when murmured. The Branagh series is less inhibited emotionally, the characters are easier to relate to, and the storyline is easier to comprehend; but personally I find the anglicised pronunciation irritating. Both series use the rolling Skane countryside, the woods, and the coast, very effectively as an atmospheric backdrop.

On balance I prefer the Henrikson series for 'authenticity', but the Branagh series is still very enjoyable. Branagh manages to create a more likeable character, who reminds me of John Thaw in Inspector Morse, very empathetic towards women, but without Morse's ponderousness.

Wallander (either series) strikes a chord with me. Mum's family came from Sweden, and my family tree is littered with Carlsons and Wallbergs going back to 1791.

In 1973, when in Southampton, I began a Swedish O-level course. It was run by a Swedish lady from Hultsfred called Monika. Her husband was a professor at the University. They had two boys, and in the winter of 1973/74 welcomed me into their home. I learned all about Swedish life in wintertime. Quite magical. I've never forgotten. I wonder where Monika and John are now? And the boys must be in their forties with families of their own. The course folded in 1974 from lack of students, and I threw out my course work in 2005, but I still have my grammar book. Monika was a good teacher. I learned a good vocabulary (though she insisted on not telling us what the swear words were), and I paid attention to pronouncing the language properly, including the way it rises and falls as you speak. I must have forgotten most of it by now, but it wouldn't take too much effort to get it back.

I've always wanted to visit Sweden. Once I've bought the new car, I think I'll take myself off to Sweden by road and just drive around a bit, and see what I find. A 'back to my roots' experience, going where I please.

Talking of cars, I notice that Wallander drives a Volvo XC70. Yes, it'll have to be a Volvo. Fate is pushing me towards them.

The point of it all

I read a posting on someone's blog a couple of days ago, and I can't find it again. This is annoying because it was a thought-provoking piece of writing that I'd like to study in case I misread anything. It was about the point of genital surgery, and what a natal female most values about being a woman. The author, who was American, wrote at length in white lettering on a blue background, and that's all I can remember.

The writer had never had the genital operation, and had decided there was no need. She postulated that the main thing about being a 'real' woman was the sensation she got when giving herself to a man, that feeling of being wanted so very badly, of surrendering, of being taken and then possessed. And that the clothes, accessories, makeup, and every other thing that conventional transsexuals hold dear meant nothing compared to a natal woman's glorious moment of ecstasy and fulfillment. The writer seemed to be saying that if any aspiring trans woman wanted that, then they were on the right lines. If they didn't, they had lost the plot. And that you didn't necessarily require genital surgery to be sexually active and satisfied, there being several ways to have sex of course.

Hmmm. You can see why I'd like to find the posting again, and read it more carefully.

I certainly think that the writer spoke much truth. But surely not the whole story. There was no mention of a woman's intellectual and cultural life, nor her personal ambition or dreams, nor of children and motherhood, and her position in a family and in her social circle. Aren't those things important to a 'real' woman too? And I don't believe that having an attractive appearance isn't a central concern to any woman, whatever her age. As for the genital surgery, what was right for her (no surgery) might be quite wrong for someone else. Each person must be guided by their own inner feelings.

Moral: bookmark anything interesting as you go along, not later.

Passing

I seem to 'pass' pretty well face-to-face. Nobody has ever actually said to me 'Are you a tranny?' with the intention of embarrassing me. There was one occasion last October, on a dance floor (see 'Hello Barbie, let's go party' on 18 October 2009), when a youngish Japanese tourist said 'You are a tranny?' and invited me to come outside for 'conversation'. And on another occasion about then, a chav-like man said 'Hey, mate!' as I walked past him in the street. And despite the new voice, I got called 'mate' by a wrong-number male caller on the phone a week back. But these are isolated incidents. 99% of the time, it's 'madam' and 'darling' and 'love' with every sign that the speaker is perfectly at ease with what they see and hear. This is my evidence for saying that I pass in face-to-face situations.

But that doesn't necessarily mean that I really 'look like a woman' or ever will. I do try hard to look unambiguously female. I'm sure I succeed. But I suspect that I only look sufficiently feminised to make the situation comfortable for the other person. So that they feel the person in front of them (me) doesn't look strange, doesn't sound strange, and therefore won't embarrass them. So it really boils down to having a low personal embarrassment or awkwardness factor. I look the part, can be accepted as credible, and so everyone relaxes, even if inwardly they may be thinking 'There's something not quite right here!' or even 'That's a tranny, no mistake!'

Do I worry? No. I will in any case get 'better' as time passes, but meanwhile I feel safe from exposure, ridicule and hostility, provided I have regard to ordinary people's sense of what looks 'normal'. Just as when I was trying to play the man in years gone by. No change in behaviour at all, when you think of it!

Saturday, 16 January 2010

First bra

I forgot to mention something that I've started to do full-time - wear a bra. A really important event in my trans life, and it was pushed out by blather about external hard drives and diesel engined motors. Tsk!

Devotees of this blog will recall when I had my first bra sizing (see the posting 'Oh dear, not big enough yet' on 19 August 2009). That demonstrated that back then I had nothing to shout about, and needed to let nature take her course a while longer.

A few days before the sizing, I'd bought a nice white 36AA bra on the spur of the moment. It was rather tight, and so I put it away in a drawer. But last Monday, as I was going up to London, I decided to dig it out and try it on again. This time I paid closer attention to the strap adjustment, and lo and behold it fitted in a can't-breathe, bulging-flesh sort of way. Well, it wasn't quite that bad, but it stiffened my resolve to lose some weight!

For the first few minutes it felt rather strange to have this garment on, then, irrationally, it felt pleasant and reassuring. I felt protected, and visually much more female. And most definitely more shapely, although really the bra added very little to the size of my breasts. I suppose it lifted then up slightly and gave them 'definition'.

Well, I wasn't going to swagger around drawing attention to this new development. For instance I didn't tell Christella Antoni, my voice therapist, whom I saw on my first 'bra day'. I didn't straight away tell any friend I met up in London. And they didn't immediately spot the difference themselves, so that shows that the visual change is subtle. Even M--- didn't show any signs of noticing a couple of days back in Chichester. That's all fine by me.

Now I have three bras to wear. I ordered two more from Marks & Spencer Online. Size 38AA. These are from their 'Angel' range, and are intended for teenage girls who have been wearing some kind of bra for a couple of years and are ready for something that looks a bit more grown up. Mine came in a set of two, white and pink. Little hearts on the straps. Very cute, I can tell you.

Did you know that the Swedish for 'good' is 'bra'?

Friday, 15 January 2010

Potential new chariot



Now that I'm turning serious thoughts to a replacement car, fate is thrusting in my face examples of the sort of thing I want. Here's a Volvo XC60 seen yesterday in Chichester. Looks very nice. Nice inside too. I spoke to Volvos twice on the previous day, and they were mentioning £5,000 to £6,000 off the list price while the government's Scrappage Scheme lasts. So I'd better make up my mind before the end of February.

Small gadget, huge memory


My photos are very precious. I download a fresh batch almost daily. The backup made then (I call it my Immediate Backup) is an integral part of the initial downloading/editing/copyrighting/renaming process.

At six-monthly intervals I back them all up again, this time as they appear in the hierarchy of folders on the PC that they get filed into (that's my Periodic Backup). Both types of backup have been using up an inordinate number of disks, and the process has lately been taking up far too much time and effort. I've been looking for a better solution.

This is it. An external hard drive. But not the rather bulky and super-expensive dour box of yesteryear. The slim shiny little PDA-sized gadget in the photo is a Transcend StoreJet 25C portable hard drive with a nominal 500GB capacity. I've just used it for my January 2010 Periodic Backup. It cost (with delivery) only £71.49 - that's less than £0.15 per gigabyte.

I've ordered more. Another 500GB drive for the next Periodic Backup in July 2010, and a 250GB drive for my future Immediate Backups. And two 500GB drives plus one 250GB drive for M---, as a kind of present with the identical backup routine in mind. They all come in a nice black leather (or 'leather') sleeve, weigh very little, and can easily slip in a handbag or pocket for travel.

The January Periodic Backup included quite a lot of Word and Excel documents, but was substantially devoted to photos, some of them M---'s, but the bulk mine. Over 83,000 items altogether, and 123GB was needed to back all that up. The July 2010 Periodic Backup will need more space, with another six months' photos having been added. In January 2011 I will write over the previous January's backup, and in July 2011 I will write over the previous July's backup. And so on, so that I always have the latest full backup, plus the previous one. And of course the 'live' version of my stuff on the PC. Plus the backup disks of old. Plus any copies on my laptop. Plus the Immediate Backups on the 250GB portable drive, and the old ones on the disks.

That's an insane number of backups, but you can't be too careful. It's nice to know that if I woke at night and smelled fire, I could grab my portable drives with everything on them, my handbag, and Teddy Tinkoes, and be outside in seconds to watch it all burn down. No doubt recording the scene with the Leica as I shiver in my flimsy night attire. At least my entire recorded life would be preserved for downloading onto a new PC.

Memo: Keep some spare warm clothing in the caravan, just in case that fire really happens!

Sunday, 10 January 2010

Brighton Museum and Art Gallery, part 2





The Brighton Museum also has a very good collection of 'ethnic' artifacts, such as ritual native costumes from around the world. I'm always fascinated by these, and have been ever since I saw such things during the 1980s in the former Museum of Mankind in London. (I believe that museum has now been absorbed by the British Museum: please correct me if you know better)

Some of these costumes, masks and carved figures are grotesque; others are frightening. You can feel their power. I can quite understand how, in a claustrophobic tribal world of gods, powerful priests, strict rituals, hypnosis-inducing incantations, drumming and dancing, an ordinary person would feel caught on a swaying tightrope stretched over an unimaginable abyss. One slip, and you fell into the waiting jaws of devils. At night, these creations, lit only by firelight, or perhaps brooding in menacing silence inside a dark hut or cave, would inspire terror beyond any withstanding.

I am only mildly superstitious. It extends only to wearing my 'lucky' jewellery, without fail, and (almost frivolously) saying 'White Rabbits' as my first utterance on the first day of each month, for good fortune. My PDA reminds me to. I have no lucky numbers. I scoff at having a heart attack if the salt spills. But I do avoid walking under ladders. And I wouldn't like to put any 'serious' piece of superstition to the test. If spending a night in a haunted house, I'd prefer to do it inside a pentacle, whatever reason tells me, and risk being called a daft old woman in the morning. I wouldn't face a night amid a stone circle of ill repute, or murmer the words to a spell if it just might bring forth some demon. I know, any 'demon' would be entirely conjured up by my own imagination; but if it seemed real, what's the difference? Why drive myself mad with fear?

In the modern world we have moved away somewhat from the old biblical representation of Awful Beings From Hell. More recently it has been Something From Outer Space - the Alien - or the Intelligent Computer That Gets Out Of Control. Nevertheless I think that the ancient primeval fear of dark nights, odd noises and strange happenings is not far away in our minds. It's easily aroused. And there is the related fear of People Who Are Not Like Us. Anyone can be a witch. Anyone can be pointed at and set upon in the name of Community Safety.

Brighton Museum and Art Gallery, part 1






While I was killing time in Brighton yesterday afternoon, I went into the Musuem and Art Gallery. I hadn't been there for months. It was nice and warm! (Outside it was positively icy)

As provincial museums go, this Museum is on the small side, but to be fair, there is a large detached exhibition of natural history in the Booth Museum some distance off, and if the two were combined in one building the total impact would be almost comparable to Bristol. There were several new things to see at this main site. Some of the exhibits were to do with the rapid development of Brighton as a resort town from the Regency Period, and a few of the displays are shown above.

Thursday, 7 January 2010

Passport application completed and posted, just before the snow came


I changed my mind about which photo to use for the passport. This shot shows a face devoid of expression - well, I'm a bit pop-eyed, but no matter - and it should pass all tests.

I can't afford to have my application rejected for tiny nit-picking reasons. Much to my consternation, I realised that the only person of standing who had known me for the required minimum two years, as both J--- and Lucy, was my former GP who retired last July. And he was just about to go off with his wife for a two month holiday in the Far East! So there was no seeing him again for a second attempt at the application form. It had to be correct first time.

He was very kind, and phoned me as soon as I emailed him, and actually came to my house to countersign the two sets of photos and forms, because he did my driving licence form too. The driving licence people can check with the passport people that I am who I say I am, but they need a separate signed photo. So once I have my new passport, I'll send the DVLA their form. And then hopefully by mid-February I'll have both a new passport and a new driving licence!

I enclosed a letter from Dr Richard Curtis with my passport application in which he supported the female marker. And I have a similar letter ready for the DVLA from my present GP. Asking for a female marker is a complication that will almost certainly mean delay, and may entail an interview. Well, bring it on!

New car thoughts


Now this is the kind of car you need for bad weather. It's a 2009 Volvo XC90, the five-cylinder diesel automatic version, with permanent all-wheel drive, and I would feel safe and confident in something like this. I wouldn't actually buy an XC90, as the running costs are apparently a bit high, and can only get higher, but I will be looking at a Volvo, maybe the XC60, as well as the latest Honda CR-V with the brand new diesel engine and (at last!) automatic transmission.

My 1999 petrol-engined Honda CR-V is adequate for most things, but it's eleven years old, and it clearly won't cope well with the bleaker, wilder weather we'll be getting as Global Warming really starts to bite. I felt quite vulnerable driving home from Brighton in falling snow on slippery roads two nights ago. I never went into a skid or lost control, but the Honda's part-time four-wheel drive - drive to the back wheels cuts in and out as required - didn't feel very reassuring on the freezing snow. Definitely needed a heavier car with drive to all the wheels all the time. I took a very roundabout route home in order to stay on main roads and avoid hills. So a journey that ordinarily might take twenty minutes took forty. I must be getting more cautious than I used to be! Thank goodness I wasn't towing the caravan.

Of course the purchase cost of any new car like this will punch a massive, massive hole in my capital that I can't hope to fill again in my remaining lifetime. But then a durable, quality car ought to last me over ten years, and that makes the costs more reasonable.

No decisions yet; and in any case it all depends on the test drive and the precise deal that can be put together. Perhaps even on the choice of colour. And because I want to use one of my 10-registration plates, the thing can't be registered before the first of March. So the faithful Honda will have a three-month swansong. I hope it's a glorious swansong, and that I can find it a kind new owner.

Local snowy scenes




And this is what we were out in yesterday. Not a blizzard, but the sun wasn't shining and it was very cold. As you can see, perfect for tobogganing down the local slope (we just watched!). Great atmosphere.

Welly photocall





As promised (to Anji anyway), here are some shots of my new wellies. Also one of the pairs of socks to wear inside them. And that's me doing the modelling. Socks and wellies performed very well in deep snow (not to mention slush, ice and mud) on a walk with M--- yesterday, and the bottom shot shows how the hen-covered rubber boots emerged unscathed and ready for more. Judging by the unrelentingly bad weather, they will get their opportunity.

I bought socks and boots at a shop called 39 West Side in Shaftesbury not long before Christmas. Socks by Snuggly Warm. Boots by Joules. Well-timed purchases, I'd say!

Monday, 4 January 2010

Sweet Talkin' Woman

That's the title of one of ELO's songs from the late 1970s, and rather describes my present status, now that my new voice is getting some practical use. What freedom a decent voice brings! You can open your mouth and not give yourself away; ask for things that you wouldn't dare to otherwise; and just talk and talk rather than scurry away to safety after the minimum essential words have been spoken. It's enlarging my life. I'm ready for interviews. I'm ready to argue and complain. I'm ready to sweet talk and persuade.

Actually, I may be verging on being a bit cocky. Like today. I needed two front tyres for my car. So down to the tyre place in the village. It's so convenient, they do the job well, and I always use them, although this time they haven't seen me for two years. In I go, and ask the cost of the two tyres plus the usual wheel alignment check and so on. £240 (it's a 4x4 remember). 'Oh', I say (producing the 2007 bill for four tyres fitted then at a unit cost of £75 each, plus the other things on top), 'What's the price per tyre then?' It's £109. 'That's a bit much, I think, even for a two year difference. Can you do me a better price than that, please?' I didn't say it sharply, but I said it with my best Welsh accent. As the world knows, in Wales you expect value for money and no nonsense. And I got the overall cost down to £216. And the job to be done next morning. 'Perfect', I said, and then promptly asked why, when you're buying a new car, you get a choice of wheel sizes, and what was the advantage of having 18 or 19 inch wheels over 17 inch wheeels? (I was curious about this, as I'll be changing my car in March). The answer was: larger tyres mean better traction, but tyres for 19 or 20 inch wheels are very expensive. It'll be 18 inch then. Useful to find that out.

Then off I went, thinking that many people would have got a keener deal than I did, but a drop from £240 to £216 wasn't bad, and I'd done it using my new voice. It was all down to that, because frankly my appearance wasn't that female (it was a skinny jeans day). The voice let me pass. I'd been standing two feet away from two mechanics who were obviously neither blind nor fools. And not a sign that they saw anything other than a middle-aged woman who felt she ought to have a little off the quote. Result!

I encored this with a stop at the caravan dealer to fix up the annual service on the caravan, this time speaking in a chatty way with a real woman. My luck held. Still no exposure!

But by the time I made the supermarket and the fabric shop I was thinking that the voice wasn't quite as good as earlier. So I said little, got my stuff, and went home. You can push things too far. Even so, when the voice has recovered a bit, I'll be ready for another bold foray.

I'm impatient for my next session with Christella.

Sunday, 3 January 2010

New fur hat


Now what do think of my new hat? It's made by 'Betmar of New York' and I've no idea whether that's a recommendation or not, but it's certainly a nice warm comfy sort of hat, nice to touch, and just the job for these cold wintry days and nights. I didn't nip over the Atlantic to buy it. There's a ladies' fashion shop in Shaftesbury in Dorset called Shirley Allum Fashions and I saw it there. The lady who served me decided that it suited me better than another, lighter-coloured hat I first saw (to match a fur-trimmed jacket I had my eye on) and I had to agree.

I had quite a good shop in Shaftesbury, the haul including not only the hat and the fur-trimmed jacket but some light blue wellies with hens on them and long warm stripey socks in blue and red to pad around in. Well, it was pretty chilly outside, you know.

WANTED! $10,000 Reward!


HAVE YOU SEEN THIS WOMAN? Wanted by the FBI for odious crimes too awful to mention. Distinguishing features include a curious anatomy and a strange high-pitched voice. She is dangerous. If seen do not approach. Just phone the police.

Of course I jest. Really. My little sense of humour, don't you know. This is actually the photo I chose out seventy-odd that I took on New Years Day with the Nikon D700 on Ye Olde Trustye Tripod when there was actually enough good natural morning light to make it worthwhile. It's for my driving licence and passport applications.

I know it's not very glam, but you're not supposed to doll yourself up too much for this kind of shot, or smile, or wink, or have hair falling seductively across your face. So that's the plain me, with just a touch of lip gloss, and perhaps the suggestion of a very good mood.

New year, new kettle



I'm not a backward-looking person, so no big review of 2009 I'm afraid. Persons interested (would there be any at all? Seems unlikely) in what I got up to, or in my profound reflections, or in my trenchant observations on life and the universe will have to wade through all the postings. There's a kind of index on the lower right of this page if you scroll down a bit, and there's a search box top right.

When I got back from Bristol I found that Mum and Dad's kitchen kettle had decided to die while I was away.

I suppose that, left to themselves, things like kettles and washing machines and hoovers and PCs get to ponder on their existence, and may come to the conclusion that their time has come. So they exit forthwith. A kettle, which is switched on to make cups of tea and coffee all day long, might particularly miss the hand of its accustomed owner. I dare say it wished me well, but it's my belief that Mum and Dad's kettle pined for them, and just took its chance to join them in heaven while I was absent on my pre-Christmas jaunt.

So now I've got a brand new shiny kettle of my own. And as you can see, you can have fun treating it like a fisheye lens!