Thursday, 31 March 2011

Giving to charity

I'm in two minds about charities.

On the one hand is this pure and altruistic idea that a person can have an unselfish impulse to assist others who are in a desperate plight, by donating money, goods or personal effort to alleviate their suffering. What a noble thing: surely one of the very best outcomes of establishing a civilised society?

On the other hand - human nature being what it is - there can be a certain embarrassment in stepping forward, an inertia to act, and sometimes a need to prick a complacent conscience, or overcome plain mean-spiritedness. All of which means positively encouraging the act of giving. Professional fund-raising has to use a variety of coercive techniques. At some level that can become the relentless pressure of the hard sell, and very objectionable.

Yesterday the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Chidren overstepped the mark so far as I was concerned. God knows, I respect the NSPCC's work. Child cruelty, exploitation and neglect is an abomination and self-evidently needs to be fought against. The NSPCC are not the only charity active in their area, but they are a major national organisation and an obvious body to give money to - if you have an impulse to help in that area, and in that way. I mean, you have a choice, don't you?

Here are the roots of my annoyance. First, there are so many wrong things in the world. Where do you begin? It is often said that charity begins at home, which I interpret to mean that if a family member or close friend or a neighbour gets into difficulties, you can step in with appropriate help. Widening the circle, you might make a worthwhile donation to a local organisation that is doing good and effective work and clearly needs personal support. And I have indeed given from time to time in some of these close-to-home circumstances.

Then it starts to get less personal. I generally respond to the Lifeboat people, the RNLI. Almost always, in fact. I am - for family reasons - sympathetic to Cancer Research. Who next? Well, that's a good question. Most charities are engaged in work that deserves attention and support, but you can't give to them all. Another thing. At at this level, it's always a question of money. And there's always a gulf or distance between your donation and whatever effect it has. The feeling of personal intervention is quite absent. You have only a vague glow from handing over cash to a hired stranger with an ID card.

So when I picked up the phone yesterday and was assailed by the polite but urgent voice of an NSPCC fundraiser - not even the charity itself - I felt backed into a corner on a matter that while important was remote from my local world. And this was the third phone call from them in a week. Clearly I was on a list, and being targeted. Just because a while back I'd felt impelled to make an online donation of £20. A one-off donation. Now they wanted to pressure me into setting up a regular monthly payment by direct debit.

I was annoyed, and objected. First, I felt badgered by this insistent telephone approach: no more of it please! This was promised. Second, where was the spontaneous charitable impulse in a regular monthly payment through a bank? This was losing sight of the very essence of charity. It might be an efficient way of raising money, but it was degrading the act of charity to a routine bill, or a kind of tax, that one would hardly notice.

If there had to be a levy, then I'd rather see a penny on income tax and the government handling the money raised, controlling it centrally, and channeling it directly to a limited number of benevolent agencies.

The NSPCC affair still rankles. And of course I'll continue to get written approaches from them, in both my old name and the new. What a waste of resources. Grrrr.

Wednesday, 30 March 2011

I know who I am

No, I haven't got an identity crisis. Nothing could be further from my mind. I always had a strong sense of individuality, of me-ness, and that has not changed at all.

I have a very clear and rounded perception of who Lucy Melford is, how she should look, and how she should most naturally interact with other people. Also, where she is going at the moment, and the kind of life she will best enjoy in the future. I'm not saying 'I have it all planned out' because who knows what might crop up, but I'm not drifting, and I have absolutely no intention of standing still. Because I now see some of the possibilities that exist for free spirits to grasp. It may be that the only genuine limiting factor is advancing age: in other words, there won't be time for everything, and I'll have to be rather picky. But I haven't the slightest doubt that Lucy Melford can do it. Maybe, with some things, being Lucy will actually be an advantage. If so, all the more reason to explore in that direction.

Does any of this include the usual ambitions? Such a quiet, cosy life as a wife or partner? No. I'm too independent, too easily bored by a routine existence in a domestic box. I'm not especially loving or lovable, and most definitely not one to share things. I'm hard work, not easy to get on with. I know that makes me most unattractive as a potential soulmate, but I do want to be frank.

I insist on not merely 'enough space' but total freedom of action at all times. That probably makes me forever a solitary figure, but quite honestly that's my happiest state. And it's completely compatable with my personal take on womanhood. I respect other takes - it's an individual thing after all - but I'm going to do it my own way. And being Lucy is the enabling means. I feel potentially fulfilled by being this version of myself. As indeed I should. Taking on a new identity is not the same as transforming oneself with a costume and gadgets into (say) Batman for a few hours. It's permanent - a one-way trip over the waterfall, a plunge into a new world, a revelation of new feelings and experiences. When I hang my clothes up at the end of the day, I don't revert to the old person. I'm still Lucy, even if naked. That was true pre-op, and is obviously even truer now, with my external appearance enhanced.

So what's stoked this particular fire? It's inactivity at home. I want to be out and doing. Fiona has had her service; I'm free to go off to towns, gardens, parks and woodlands for walks and fresh air. See you later!

One other thought: even with my lengthening hair, thinner eyebrows, fuller cheeks, and more feminine lips, I can see in the mirror a distinct physical likeness to the old person. Ah, continuity! The same family features. Of course I will bring to mind the old me. And I shouldn't be quick to destroy the resemblance. For I see in the mirror the sister I never had. The daughter Mum once said she wanted, but did not conceive.

Yes: Lucy is the incarnation of another sibling who could have existed. Nobody can say what a real sister would have been like. But I think she'd have looked like me, and had some of my ways.

Well, it's a harmless fiction. And one that makes some kind of sense.

Tuesday, 29 March 2011

Always read the small print!

One should never be complacent. Just when things seem to be going nicely, something can come along and set you back. Temporarily, anyway.

I'm still fairly inactive, partly because my suture lines remain tight and uncomfortable - although things have definitely improved in the last week, and 'sore' isn't now the correct word to use. But I'm disinclined to be on my feet much. The other reason for inactivity is that I'm constantly tired, with limited energy reserves that are easily used up. That's even after four weeks! My goodness, how long will it take to feel fit again?

Tight suture lines and a need to rest a lot combine to make reclining in a comfortable chair my typical daytime pursuit. As if I were on a cruise, in fact. And naturally this makes bowel movements sluggish. So I needed to be pretty free with the Lactulose laxative supplied by the Nuffield. It ran out a few days back. I experimented living without a laxative, then decided that I really would have to take something to help clear me out, pending a return to normal activity. Pre-op, I'd bought an over-the-counter product called Dulcoease, and now gave it a try.

I had to take one little capsule every four to six hours. So I took one just before sleeping on Sunday night, and another early on Monday morning before drifting off to sleep again. Two hours later I woke feeling odd. I felt on fire. And in fact much of my torso was covered in an itchy red rash. My bottom was the same, with thickening of the skin also. And my face was red and puffy, much as it had been over Christmas when seared by the salty sea breeze down in Cornwall. The overall effect was as if I'd fallen asleep while sunbathing in the nude. My skin felt hot and raw, but I was shivering nevertheless. I looked and felt awful.

Just what I didn't want. I fired up Fiona, went to the surgery, and was lucky or pathetic-looking enough to see a doctor after only 15 minutes, despite turning up without an appointment. The doctor thought that I might very well have had an allergic reaction to the Dulcoease. He recommended Piriton allergy tablets to combat the effects. He also prescribed some more Lactulose, which had no side-effects.

Since then I've got a bit better. Much of the soreness and itchiness has gone, and the rash is fading.

The principal ingredient of Dulcoease was 'docusate sodium'. And, now that I look closely, the makers have flagged up an agent called 'sunset yellow' (E110) which they say 'may cause allergic reactions'. I wish I'd read this before. Well, next time I'll be more circumspect.

Isn't it forever true? Always read the small print.

Monday, 28 March 2011

The Census

Census Day came and went. I had TWO forms to complete, as I presently own two houses, my home and the Cottage. Neither took long; that for the Cottage required little more than a few ticks in boxes.

I thought the questions about myself and my home could reasonably have been much deeper and more extensive. In a modern, complex society a government genuinely interested in demographics and social planning absolutely needs a broad range of information, and this Census - although clearly more useful than a straightforward head count - seemed way too simplistic to me. I'd have happily provided much more information, for example about my actual use of local services, my use of the Internet, and how well served I felt by public transport in my area. I think the government missed an important opportunity here.

Perhaps it was felt that the public would revolt if too many questions were asked. Well, there are always those ready to get up on their favourite high horse and wave a sabre against burocracy and needless intrusion. Have they no vision? Or is it a matter of fashionable cynicism? Trendy and clever to complain about a task that, after all, is imposed only once in a decade.

I don't believe I'm naive and idealistic in supporting the notion of Good Citizenship. I am very proud to have the right to vote in parliamentary and local government elections. And the forthcoming referendum. It's not a right 'they' let you exercise very often, and so I absolutely make the most of this personal morsel of democratic power. I never miss a chance to vote, and I scorn those who - from whatever motive - sneer at the process and stay aloof, or do their bit to wreck it, or treat it as a bad joke. Such people deserve a bad joke government as their just reward. Unfortunately all too often that's what we've ended up with, because people didn't care. Or didn't look at the full consequences of their acts or omissions. Sigh.

Of course, I photographed each completed page of my Census Forms. And now, looking at those shots today, I see that I Did Not Follow The Completion Instructions In Every Particular. Where entering words, I didn't split a word as required. For example, instead of entering 'INSPECTOR OF TAXE' on the first line (this was describing my former job) and then 'S' on the second line, I put the entire word 'TAXES' on the second line. That left a big gap after 'OF', and the machine that will scan the form will doubtless baulk at this, and flag my form up for a human phone call. How careless of this conscientious Good Citizen!

How very awkward if I'm dilating when the call comes.

Sunday, 27 March 2011

First post-op drive in Fiona!

Yesterday was another of those sunny, spring-like days we've been having a lot of down here in Sussex, but there was an edge to it: the daytime temperature was not quite what it had been. This was an important consideration, because I felt ready to sit in Fiona, unused for mearly four weeks now, and try firing up the engine. And then sit there a while longer, letting the engine idle, so that the battery would have a chance to recharge, if it needed to. I'd know, because if there was any difficulty starting it could indicate a battery that had run flat, or nearly so. And with Volvo coming out on Tuesday to collect Fiona and drive her over to Portslade for her service, it would be best to discover any starting problem now.

Anyway, if I was going to sit in the car for half an hour, I'd best dress in something that could fend off the cold. (Which indicates a foggy brain! Because of course the climate control would kick in, and keep me cosy, but I'd 'forgotten' that. Oh dear!) So I selected my Olde Trustye Leathern Jacket from Gap and duly donned it before picking up Verity and my keys:

The neckwear (which you'll see more clearly in some future shots) was a little creation by Ubu of Paris - basically a thick black leather choker with a half-axe chrome piece at the front, simple but bold. I bought it in Tunbridge Wells a month ago, on the day I bought Verity, at a Pantiles shop called Glitterati. The lady in there was modelling it - a perk of the job - and it looked so good on her that I tried it on myself and fell in love with it. It was warm from her skin, too, which made it come alive as a piece of jewellery. I felt as if a baton had been handed to me in the race of life, a baton from a natal woman, passing on to me some part of her essence as a living female being that I'd talked to and engaged with. I look for such things. It was going to be one of the first pieces of 'new jewellery' that I'd reserve for post-op wear.

Anyway, I was prepared not only to sit in Fiona with a comfortable heat-retaining jacket on, but, if there were no starting problems, actually go off on an experimental drive in her.

I shouldn't have worried. Fiona sprang into life as soon as I pressed the start button. As if I had driven her only hours before. Maybe that means I could take her up to the far north of Sweden, leave her overnight by some hut in the wilderness (in one of the trekking areas near Sarek?) and be confident that whatever the frost, she'd fire up next day. Or, more likely, I could feel reassured that a tactical overnight stop in a snowdrift on the side of the M40  wouldn't mean an ignominious roadside rescue! Good old Fiona. She's my kind of girl.

I didn't drive too far to begin with. I pulled in on Ditchling Common to take stock:

Look at the pleasure on my fat face! Oh, YES! This was the definitive moment when I really felt well and truly out of bed and back in the world. The end of the beginning - if not yet by any means the beginning of the end - of my long convalescence.

I drove on. In the course of 45 minutes I covered 16 miles along country roads. I never went over 50mph. Usually it was much less. I felt in control, but not yet ready for a fast, sharp, motorway dash. Nor was I entirely comfortable. I was sitting on a big maternity-type towel inside my knickers and my sutures were still sore. After less than ten miles I was very much inclined to go no further, and head for home. But at least I'd proved that Fiona was alive and kicking, and so was I.

Saturday, 26 March 2011

Of freaks and a better society

Alex used to be a long-time, well-known and inspirational blogger, who, after a gap, is blogging again, and with a media presence too. I'm delighted to discover this. See her blog A Journey With Alex (

Her latest 14 March post is entitled When Does The Freak Show End? and is mainly about the complications that arise where there are children, and to what extent the transitioned parent (Alex herself, for instance) needs to accept access terms insisted on by the other parent. Alex has put her children first, and, not without reservations, has abided by those terms. But they arguably sustain the notion that trans people are freaks not fit to be seen. And yet insisting on more open, less secretive, access might lead to upsets and consequences that could make the children unhappy. What a dilemma for any trans parent.

I'd say though that in time it will all get easier. And, if you consider the past plight of other groups once regarded as freaks, and how they have all now moved forward into a better public situation, there really is hope.

Take the blind, for instance. Yesterday I was in a shop in the village and saw the proprietor gently and caringly help a blind man into the shop - there were steps and other obstacles - and then later out again, personally seeing him safely to the pavement on the main road through the village. All at a pace that the blind man could cope with. I was impressed.

How different from the way blind people were treated when I was young in the 1950s and 1960s. They were not shown compassion and patience then. They were in the way, a problem. Nothing was made simple or easy for them. They were not allowed dignity. They often looked odd, dressed anyhow, because the clothes then were complicated and hard to adjust. A man might have buttons in the wrong holes, a tie askew, flies not properly done up, a brown check jacket with blue check trousers, odd socks, and black shoes not well laced. Hair all over the place. Not properly shaved. Not so if there was still a loving wife to see to these things; but all too many single or widowed men looked strange, like tramps, and were figures of fun to kids, who guessed that they smelled. Oddly, I don't remember seeing any blind girls or women - perhaps they stayed indoors. Home was, after all, considered the right place for any female to be, blind or not. It was still the standard assumption.

As ever, kids were cruel. And in general adults behaved little better. Blind persons with their tell-tale white sticks were figures of ridicule, and the occasional target of crass practical joking. For example, if a blind person wanted to know where the post office was, some kids might send them off in entirely the wrong direction, especially if they had almost reached the right place.

It was rare to see anyone in a wheelchair, at least in hilly Barry. Again, even if they had the courage to venture out, there were no ramps, no low-level handles, no special toilets for them to use. Getting a paper from the local newsagent might be an exhausting expedition fraught with problems. Cars might ignore you if you wanted to cross a road. You might anyway not get further than the first kerb. If your house had steps to the front door, then you were a prisoner. The luckiest had tiny, three-wheeled light blue cars made by a firm called AC. But they must have seemed like death traps.

And then there were some really freaky people called spastics. I well recall seeing them about as a child, and how grown-ups looked away and hustled their children aside, as if 'these people' were lepers. Poor devils. It was not realised why they had so little control over their movements, and why they couldn't speak properly. General ignorance, and fear of the odd and unusual, made spastic boys and girls, and especially spastic men and women, all persona non grata. Or worse, the butt of especially cruel humour. In school, it was for a long time a fashionable jibe to call someone a 'spastic'. Or to say, 'you've forgotten to put your leg irons on today'. Unbelievable! And I confess to joining in. It was nothing to greet someone with 'hello, you old spazz' or to refer to someone as 'that spastic Smith'. Or indeed, 'that homo Smith'. Such was the insensitive banter of grammar-school life.

But the victims of the thalidomide debacle left everyone speechless with horror. It just wasn't funny. It was awful. And yet there was no immediate concern that I remember for the little babies, just outrage and despair on the parents' side, and an immensely long battle to secure not just compensation but recognition. But all done almost in secret. 'Thalidomide' was a word of deathly power, like 'cancer' - too much to take in, its hapless victims too dreadfully maimed to dwell upon. All that changed, gradually. The public got braver, faced up to the reality of 'new wonder drugs' not properly tested, faced up to the increasingly frequent sight of limbless children. Maybe the social climate was changing anyway, but I like to think that the army of thalidomide victims led the way towards a higher plateau of tolerance and compassion. And also wonder at how a person so deprived of ordinary human form could nevertheless be a full citizen, a person to admire, and yes, a mother. For the thalidomide generation won the right to parenthood. It was no surprise to me when the nude statue of a thalidomide mother was erected in Trafalgar Square. The ultimate disabled person - celebrated for being as able as any. What an honour - both on her, and on a more mature society.

I believe that the tone of British society has improved immensely in the last forty or fifty years, and that the pace of change is quickening. So I suggest that for transsexual people there is much reason for optimism. After all, a dialogue is usually possible, laws exist, we have access to the media, and many of us are eloquent. We may seem different, but we are not freaks. We can explain and educate and bring about change.

It seems unlikely that we will be ordered to sew a yellow star on our clothing, or made to have our wrists tattooed with a special number, or herded into a ghetto, or trundled off to Treblinka in a cattle truck, stripped and naked, to be done away with. But anyone who has had a good explanation of what drives us, who has really thought about what we are, and yet still thinks we are not ordinary human beings - ordinary mums and dads - is helping the narrow-minded who would tidy us away if they could, murderously if need be. We are entitled to the same things as the rest. The same pleasures, and the same pains too. But also a chance to excel, to serve society, and improve the lot of human kind. Rather than be victims of its unthinking intolerance.

Friday, 25 March 2011

Armchair traveller

As you must guess by now, I do take a lot of photos. In fact I maintain a spreadsheet which tells me how many shots I've taken with all my successive digital cameras since going digital in 2000. The total is currently just over 85,000. Of course I've ruthlessly edited this, keeping only around 50,000, but then there's all the pre-digital stuff going back to 1965 to be added on - prints, and before that, transparencies, mostly not yet scanned into digital form. I don't know, say a ballpark figure of around 70,000 images to manage.

Unlike many people, I look at past images all the time. And I can because they have always, since my teens, been meticulously arranged in accessible storage boxes (if transparencies or prints), or in a logical hierarchy of folders on my PC (if digital). All of the digital ones have several backups. I don't mean to lose anything!

Photography is one of the enduring passions of my life. How wonderful that transitioning never could make the slightest difference to my main hobby. Nor incidentally, to any of the others: books, maps, art, food, travel, driving, walking, clothes and accessories... the emphasis simply shifted a little. Put it another way, so far as my main interests were concerned, I was Lucy - unconsciously - decades before that moment in 2008 when I woke up. I had no specifically male-gendered interests, and so I haven't had to discard anything simply because it seemed 'too male' and would jar with a female persona. I didn't even have to change or modify my handwriting. It was all seamless; it must have helped me keep cool and sane through the process.

One of the practical functions of photography is to bring back memories and transport yourself to distant places you have visited. What a fantastic thing this is, when you are ill or largely immobilised. I can whizz at will to favourite foreign places and recall the exact moment. Such as in Rome in 2009:

There are no dummies so well dressed as Roman dummies. I also visited the Vatican:

That really is my photograph, but it's a technical cheat: I shot a programme about the Pope on the TV, and did not actually have a private audience with him. But let me make the point that you can take pictures for your own travel collection from any source that comes to hand. Why not? How else will you shoot an erupting volcano in the Andes, or a walkabout on Mars?

Italy stole my heart. I especially loved Florence. I spent hours there, just wandering around:

The Ponte Vecchio, and the seething crowd of tourists on it. Girls fascinated by the 'living statues' near the Uffizi Gallery. How I longed to be dressed like them:

There were gorgeous bags in shop windows:

Some girls wore as many as three bags at once, although that did seem a little excessive:

The freedom of wandering about alone made me bold. I found it easy and natural to not only ask for a tub of ice cream, but specify the flavours:

Ah, fond memories. Let's instantly change the mood and location - let's now go off to Hong Kong in 2007: Wanchai at lunchtime, and Kowloon at night:


I hope I've made my point. Even if I were bedbound for the rest of my life, and could never travel anywhere again, I have ways to see the world!

Another outing in the sun

My friend A--- came over yesterday, and after a light lunch at home we went up to a local section of the South Downs in her car - to the Jack and Jill windmills above Clayton village. Here I am all set to depart:

These are the windmills, and a shot of myself  - on my feet! - ready for a slow but steady walk along the South Downs Way:

One mile was quite enough! Back home it was a cup of tea and a doze in the sun streaming into my lounge, on these lines (this photo was actually taken the day before):

Talk about a beached whale! But how luxurious to bask out of any breeze, with the radiator toasting one's toes!

It was really very nice up on the Downs. Hardly any breeze, quite warm even. The blackthorn blossom was out. And such a clear view! I was able to point out Blackdown to A---, and that's far to the west, near Haslemere. There were some spring lambs in one field, and in another  a tractor was doing its stuff:

How can one not feel uplifted, as spring gets under way? A fresh beginning for everything.

Wednesday, 23 March 2011

To-do lists and hormones

That was yesterday's line-up of tasks for the day ahead - pretty typical for the present! I know some people would never plan out their day like this, and good luck to them, but my temperament is such that I like to have these to-dos, and tick them off as the day progresses. For one thing, I overlook nothing essential; for another, each task nags at me till I get it out of the way, and then I feel entitled to a little reward - a nice cup of tea and a kitkat, perhaps. But never before I feel I've 'earned' it. And when all tasks have been cleared from the screen, I have that great feeling of satisfaction that my day's 'work' has been done. It's all a playful bit of psychology, to help me get through a long day in a structured way.

Note the first task - apply a hormone patch! Yesterday was the day I could resume my hormone therapy, three weeks after the op. This is what I had been using until mid-January, when I had to stop as part of the pre-op requirements:

The patch of course is a clear plastic rectangle inside that packaging, which you press onto your lower abdomen, put the flat of your hand over it, and count to 80 while maintaining firm pressure. This works fine with my kind of skin, although I've heard that other people have problems making a patch stick. It must be individual skin chemistry. As a possible clue, I've never been plagued with insect bites, or indeed much in the way of interest from insects generally - except from the dreaded black sandflies in New Zealand, who turned my exposed flesh into a mass of horrible red blisters full of pus. (But it all healed up, honest!)

It'll take a while for the patches to boost my oestragen level, but I expect some results by mid or late April, when I'll have to get some tests done and revisit Dr Richard Curtis in London. He may well prescribe a different ongoing dose. I shall try and persuade him that what I want now is a nymph-like figure, goddess-like beauty, and big boobs. Not a lot to ask!

And, looking back at the hormone-deprived weeks, did I suffer? Not a bit. No mental wobbles, no hot flushes, no gorilla appearance. Perhaps I was just lucky. I certainly wasn't stuffed full of raging testosterone that might have created merry hell. Back in October 2008, well pre-hormone, my testosterone level was only 16.0 nmol/L. That's not high. It amply explained why I was amiable to the point of asexuality. And this modest level quickly dropped to 0.9 nmol/L once hormones commenced in March 2009, gradually edging back up to 2.4 nmol/L by September 2010 - just a bit above the ordinary female range, but scarcely anything to worry about. And now, it's anyone's guess what the level might be; but I'm confident that my oestragen patches will have an effect like never before.

That will mean more weight of course. But I don't mind at all, if it goes on the right parts!

By the way, this morning's weigh-in revealed that I'm still 81.4 kg - the same as last week - despite seven days of hearty eating and rather too many little snacks. Body fat is a fraction up, muscle mass a fraction down. But clearly my energy levels are rising, and that means a greater inclination to walk and do things, and thereby burn off some calories. Wait till I can walk the beaches!

And this was me, about to foray forth yesterday for a little essential shopping:

Definitely on the mend.

Tuesday, 22 March 2011

Three weeks post-op, and first time out of the house

Yesterday was pretty special. I felt up to putting on proper clothes, makeup, and getting out of the house for the first time since coming home after my hospital stay. It was a glorious morning - strong sunshine, blue sky, mild, and I felt ready. So I got dressed, and considered my invalid appearance:

Not too bad. So I put on a coat, and put Verity over my shoulder:

Could be worse. I'll do. I picked up the spotted Cath Kidston shopping bag and, with a slender chestnut walking stick to lean on, I walked slowly and very carefully towards the village. When I reached the park, I couldn't help recording the moment:

Not the best shot of me, all nose and chin, and the sun has made me screw up my eyes, but I think you can sense the intense feeling of satisfaction and wellbeing! I'm a housebound invalid no longer! I'm in the fresh air, and standing up straight!

I badly wanted to draw some cash, pay in a cheque, and pick up just a little light shopping, and I did all of that. I admit that by the time I began my homeward journey I'd had enough. I was tired, and it seemed a very long way. It wasn't, but distance is relative to your energy resources, and I was just about used up. But I made it, and once home could relax.

I did the same thing today, partly in the company of my next door neighbour J--- and her two dogs. And, unless the weather is foul, I'll try to get out for a walk every day from now on. I'll just about run out of easy local walks when Fiona becomes rideable, and then I can extend my range to the South Downs and beaches!

Monday, 21 March 2011

Big events coming up! And my new douche!

My friends are amazed how organised I can be - in between bouts of utter ditsiness of course. Or is it senility? Anyway, the organised side of my life is all down to my PDA. Rather an old-fashioned term nowadays. It means 'Personal Digital Assistant' and someone like - but I'm not saying it necessarily was - Steve Jobs invented that name when the first pocket-sized gadgets that did calendars and to-do lists and so on began to appear in the 1990s.

So long ago! Such functions are now on every smartphone, and there's absolutly no need to have a separate device. Except that a separate device can be completely divorced from the Internet and therefore immune from attack or data robbery; and be protected by its own heavy-duty encryption to boot. A pocket Fort Knox.

And in some other ways a PDA is better to use - it has a bigger screen for one thing, and might as well be regarded as a mini-tablet. It also has a substantial battery. My Hewlett-Packard IPAQ 214, which I bought in 2008, is a quality item of hardware and should soldier on for a long time yet. It carries my personal stuff, and the Excel spreadsheets, and the Word documents, and all the really useful apps, and the searchable city street plans, and the entire 1:50,000 Ordnance Survey map of Great Britain, from the Scilly Isles to the tip of Shetland. And national coverage at other scales too. And the South Downs and New Forest at 1:25,000. All searchable. Very handy indeed to have a decent map with you at all times, especially when there's no phone signal!

If you snatched my Nokia E71 mobile phone and ran off with it, all you would get would be some phone numbers and email addresses, one photo of Stonehenge, and 690 music tracks that you might very well not like. You wouldn't get my secrets. Not one, except my dire taste in music. My life would be uninterrupted. There would be temporary inconvenience for me, to be sure, but no breach of personal security. I could soon buy another phone, as in half and hour's time, and if it were a Nokia, I could resurrect all the contact details from my PC. Meanwhile my PDA is safe and secure. 

Of course one day my trusty PDA will be dead and buried, and I'll be obliged to put everything onto a single device. The security issues will be very challenging. I'll have to think hard what to encrypt, and what can be left open to view. Thank goodness I'm not at that point yet.

But I digress. Yesterday evening I looked at tomorrow's events and saw this:

Ah, Tuesday the 22nd March will be a momentous day indeed. First, an important anniversary: six years ago (Six years. How time flies!) I got confirmation that my early retirement application had been approved. An impossibly unlikely bit of good fortune. A frantic reappraisal of all my investigations took place; the best were passed on, but I managed to push some to settlement myself in the short weeks ahead. And then it was suddenly all over. The story is told in the post entitled The Pension in February 2010, if you have the time to read it. As approval was given on the 22nd of the month, this is also the day my monthly Civil Service Pension is paid.

And every Tuesday my cleaning lady comes. Very important to me always, but just now an essential service!

But look at the other two events. I can resume hormones! Hurrah! (More on that soon)

And, more mundane, but actually just as significant, I can abandon the special disinfectant the hospital supplied for the first three weeks' douching, and switch to plain warm water instead. Worthy though it might have been, I didn't like that disinfectant, because it stained everything yellow. And I wasn't keen on its smell either. Look what it did to the douching kit supplied by the hospital:

That plastic bottle and screw-on nozzle were pristine and transparent two weeks ago, and now they look as if I've been pumping liquid nicotene into myself for years on end! The Brighton Nuffield Hospital (Liz Hills actually) didn't rate this particular kit at all highly. It was similar, or the same, as the corresponding kit issued by Charing Cross Hospital. But it wasn't the best experience you could buy. It was too basic, and Liz said that the imperfect finish on the nozzle had led to an accident at Charing Cross, one girl getting nicked by an unsmooth edge while inserting. So Charing Cross, playing for safety, were considering a switch to syringes instead - a retrograde step, surely. There were many superior (and completely safe) douche kits on the market, but of course they cost a lot more than this see-through bottle and nozzle! But Liz recommended me to look on the internet, at the website, and buy one of the StreemMaster douches.

And I did. Here it is:

Now I think you'll grant that this is a pukka piece of equipment. I've washed it out carefully, but not actually used it yet because I don't want it spoilt by that yellow-staining disinfectant. But from tomorrow - first thing - it'll be whooooosh and a whole new world of douching! I can't wait to finish my first dilation of the day, to find out how good this little gadget is. 
That's a good philosophy: always have something nice to look forward to.

Sunday, 20 March 2011

Oooh! Another twinge!

I don't want to put anyone off, but you really endure more discomfort once home than you ever did in hospital. I'm talking about the surgical site.

Remarkably, you never seem to feel anything connected with the vagina itself. I honestly don't know why. The poor thing has been cannibalised out of the former penis, and you'd think it would be a mass of stitches and whatnot, and the epicentre of all pain, but not so!

The immediate pain, such as it is, which isn't much all told, lies with the visible suture lines on the right and left sides of the groin. They feel tender, and as they heal they tighten up and that tenderness seems to increase. And if - like me- you've suffered from a lot of swelling of the fleshy parts, then those suture lines can seem fit to burst sometimes. Of course, it's not going to happen, just like the closed-off inner end of the vagina isn't going to give way when you ease a dilator in. But it definitely gets worse before it eases off.

And the healing process is fraught with more little twinges than you'd credit.

It's as if Bill, the senior technician at the Control Centre in my brain, has just radioed Harry, the engineer who is testing neural connections way down in Section 14, an inch or two left of my vagina.

Bill: How are you getting on, Harry? Over.  
Harry: Just finished rewiring the connections in this Section, Bill. I think we can test a few over the next hour or so. Then I'll move on to Section 9. Over.
Bill: Right you are, Harry. Throw the switches when you're ready. Over.
Harry (after a few minutes): Switching on now, Bill. Two or three at a time. Over.
Lucy: Oooh!
Bill: That seemed fine, Harry. Now the next lot. Over.
Lucy: Ooooh!
Bill: Looks pretty good up here, Harry. When do you think you'll have done Section 9? Over.
Harry: Sometime after tea, I reckon, Bill. Stand by. Over.

And so at very irregular intervals I get a twinge as Harry and Bill test out another batch of nerve connections. Clearly, it's quite a long job. Got to be done though!

So what's it like? Mostly like a mild pinprick. Occasionally like a mild sting. Now and then like an electric current. None of these sensations actually 'hurt' - well, I know what I mean when something hurts, but your notion of what's painful may differ from mine. But by golly, they come out of the blue, and can sometimes provoke an expletive! All part of the process, though.

And I suppose you could say: no pain, no later gorgeous sensation when you start to experiment with that vagina. So what's it to be?

Saturday, 19 March 2011

Hospital pictures 3

Monday, the last full day before going home, was a funny sort of day. I'd mastered dilating and douching. The food menu was back to normal, and in fact I'd switched to 'home' mode so far as eating was concerned - that is, nice things, but with restraint. It felt a bit like killing time.

Except for one thing, that made me a little anxious. Mr Thomas had been detained up in London, and hadn't managed to get back to personally remove the catheter, and of course have a good look at his handiwork at the same time. And while the catheter remained in place, it was a bind getting out of bed for some exercise (a snail-like 'jog' up the corridor). My personal nurse Carla fitted me up with a small version of the catheter that strapped to my right leg, which certainly made walking more straightforward, but it filled up faster, and the weight made it slip down the leg, quite apart from the problem of having to empty it more often.

And that was another thing. While the catheter was in, I didn't have to worry about having a pee. I could glug down as much fluid as I liked. But as soon as it was removed, I'd be needing to go to the loo frequently. That might ruin any hope of sleeping much. And what if the new urethra didn't work! So I was not a little apprehensive.

Then, earlier than expected, Mr Thomas arrived. He was very apologetic, very pleasant, seemed very happy with the look of things down there, chatted away to me as if we'd known each other for years, and ...oooh! what happened there?...he'd pulled out the catheter tube in one deft movement, and it was done and over in a second. I didn't really register any definite sensation. Mr Thomas carried on with his pleasant talk, explaining to me what should now happen with my urethra and the rest. Then he went away, with a smile on his face as he glanced back at me. (I think I could have been one of his more co-operative and amiable patients, but it may just have been two Welsh people saluting each other)

Now...could I pee? The chance soon came. Suffice it to say that on the second attempt I got the body position right and produced the golden stuff in proper quantity. A bit of blood in there, but that was expected and not a problem. Quel relief!

So with the last question mark removed, I could relax and set to with my day of dilations and dejeuners. Soon, immense energy burst forth. I felt in the mood to lay down some serious music, such as had never before been performed in the Nuffield. I broke open my air guitar and went off on a mean and super-seismic solo:

That's right, look 'em in the eye and make them fear the janglings of my axe. I'm gonna shoot the sherriff, but I won't shoot the deputy. I'm a Voodoo Chile who's standing next to the mountain and is gonna chop it down with the edge of my hand. I'm gonna pick up all the pieces and make an island, might even raise a bit of sand. Yeah.

Bloody hell. My air guitar solo got out of control and went extreme. That last chord must have pulverised all Sussex! Maybe it did. I went back home over the Downs, avoiding Brighton. So I don't know for sure yet that the place wasn't shattered, and will have to be entirely rebuilt. That really wouldn't surprise me.

Ah! So nice to be totally unplugged from catheters and other tubes, and on my feet!

Next morning, early. I'm almost completely packed and only have to dilate, douche, shower, get into 'normal' clothes, and be off. Liz Hills will have a word with me first, and I've got chocs for the nurses by way of thank you. Young Carla comes in super-early just to see me. I'll miss the Nuffield. Everyone was so nice, so helpful, and they all came to my assistance quickly on the few occasions I called. It made my stay far more than merely bearable. It made it a pleasure, and perhaps more importantly gave my recovery a flying start.

Er, what's happened to my figure? Sorry about the full-sized knickers, but on the authority of Bridget Jones, full knickers do have a certain je ne sais quoi  - and mine are fringed with lace!

R--- and her car Sparky got me home by way of a smooth and pothole-free route. Well researched, R---, and thank you! This is a picture of Sparky in 2010, with his cool surfing driver. (Sparky's a 'he' by the way. Not all cars are girls like Fiona)

That was in sunny Guernsey, and that's a Guernsey plate which Sparky proudly sports over here on the UK mainland. R--- says the plate turns quite a few heads, and even if the plate isn't noticed, the car is an import not usually seen on UK roads, and so attracts plenty of attention on its own account.

Back to my homecoming. It was a sunny morning, but chilly, and once home I found that the central heating had stopped working - a boiler problem. Hey-ho. Out with the electric heaters! Thus the glow in my bedroom, as the afternoon dilation approached:

It was reasonably cosy. And three days later the boiler had a new part fitted and proper heating - and running hot water - were restored. My shower had its own electric heater, and I'd been able to keep clean in luxury all along. The shower was the warmest place in the house. Because of that I enjoyed my morning ablutions and the day's dilations very much indeed, as it meant using the shower!

Three final images:

The first evening home, reclined and fed, and it's thumbs up! Nice to be home. No place like it.

Another day. About to dilate. Just had a nice thought. Happy days!

A sunny day, feet up, this month's Top Gear magazine to browse through. Out of view, a steaming cuppa. What more could I want at this moment?

Friday, 18 March 2011

Hospital pictures 2

The surgery has been performed. I've woken up in the recovery room, feeling ultra serene and perfectly OK, and have just been wheeled back to my room. I'm still wearing the oxygen mask, and immediately checks are made of my pulse rate, blood pressure and temperature:

I'm warm and comfortable and sleepy. I'm going to chill. But first, once the nurses have gone, a shot to show that I can smile. What a dedicated shooter. Hey, I'm alive. I feel good.

Next day I looked and felt even better:

By the third day, I will confess that being stuck on my back was a pleasure that was wearing thin. No backache, but continuing bleeding problems meant that I wasn't allowed to put a pillow between my legs and lie on my side, which I'd love to have done. And my entire groin area was swollen, and the suture lines were uncomfortably tight. But I could see the TV, and although it was impossible to use a laptop - very glad I left it home - it wasn't difficult to read:

Eating and drinking is hard when you can't sit up, and for the first days the diet was low-residue and decidedly plain. Then suddenly I was allowed toast! And then, next day, something much more interesting:

Then, on the Saturday - having had the op on the Tuesday - I could at last get out of bed and sit in a chair. Well, kind of slouch and recline, because I couldn't sit up straight - the swollen bits wouldn't let me. The nurses gave me oxygen in case I felt dizzy. I think it was a wise precaution. But this was definite progress! Wheeee.

I'd been getting cards and flowers and some visitors. Here's the accumulated evidence:

And now it's Sunday, a Big Day. The day I'm 'unpacked' - all the tape that's been stuffed into my new vagina since creation comes out, and dilation must begin. And douching. I won't show the gory shots. The unpacking went quickly and well, and I learned how to dilate and douche without problems. I felt I deserved to savour my late-morning tea and biscuits - with butter! I'd forgotten how good butter can taste on biscuits.

And to cap even that, I was able to tuck into a very nice Sunday Roast, with chicken, stuffing, roast poatoes, carrots, parsnips and gravy. Gravy! The only thing missing was any green stuff - broccoli, beans, asparagus, but I was going home in two days' time, and I promised myself that I would rectify that omission tout de suite. Meanwhile, this was Heaven.

And it was a fine, sunny afternoon with a great sunset. another good omen. This was the view across the downs and out to sea from my room:

The next post will cover my last full day at the Nuffield, and my homecoming...