Saturday, 29 December 2012

My plans for the year ahead

Just now I'm really keen to get focussed on what matters to me during the next two years.

The key event in the future is the start of my State Pension on 6 November 2014. My eyes are on that. It will make such a difference. A second pension will give me more spending choice, and the ability, at last, to save significant amounts towards all the things I'd like to do - or will need to do - by age 70. But I will not feel the full benefit of that greatly improved financial state until 2015 dawns.

So: two complete years ahead of watching the pennies! In the meantime I'm looking at what I can do to get fitter, make new friends, and travel extensively.

Fitness
First, my diet. I've responded all too well to the oestragen sloshing around inside me, and it's been a losing battle to stay trim.

I've got to fess up, and admit that no measures I've taken in the last 22 months have done much to curb a steady weight gain. Yes, I've eliminated the sweet stuff from my fridge and cupboards. And I've tried not to overload my dinner plate. But my goodness I love my food, and my appetite is as brilliant as ever. So my weight has risen, and remained stubbornly high. It's now 95kg - that's fifteen stone! Heavier than I've ever been in my life. I really don't know where I put it all, because although I bulge here and there, I'm not exactly a blob. But my weight is unhealthy, and has got to be addressed.

I hadn't actually resumed strict calorie-counting, which had proved so effective in the run-up to my op in early 2011. It was a bother, but the discipline of it led to very good results.

So calorie-counting has now started again. This time using a convenient spreadsheet on my tablet, weighing and recording everything I eat or drink throughout the day. It's still a pain, all that weighing and recording, but it's revealing why I wasn't able to reduce my weight in recent times.

Basically, I was eating too much high-calorie stuff, taking in what I needed to maintain my weight, but not to reduce it. The steady-state intake level is presently around 2,300 kcals a day, given the light exercise I take. But I must have been exceeding that on many an occasion. So now I'm adjusting my diet and portions to get the daily intake down to 2,100 kcals - a 10% reduction. That's significant without being drastic. It's sustainable, and over time I will now certainly lose weight. And I will lose it faster if I step up my daily exercise.

I'm not aiming for instant results. This is a project for the entire year ahead. In particular, I want to go carefully on fat reduction. A few less bulges will be fine; but I mustn't lose those girly curves.

Second, serious exercise. I've first looked around the house to see what I can do at home at no cost. Ah, the spare steps for the caravan - perfect for step-aerobics! And look, an exercise mat I can lay on the lounge carpet for muscle-toning exercises! So now, after a light breakfast, I do 50 steps starting with each foot in turn, wash the dishes, and then lie flat on the mat and go through a further series of exercises to stretch and tone the muscles in my arms, legs and stomach. Afterwards I just move gently around freestyle to relax everything. It makes me feel I've accomplished something good.

As I feel fitter, I can do more steps and more mat-based stuff. I chiefly want to make myself supple and bendy. I don't want to build up visible muscles - I just want to stop them wasting away, and to give myself a bit more strength. 

Exercise to build up overall stamina and to avoid breathlessness is something else again. So after 22 January (pension day) I'm going off to the leisure centre to renew my lapsed subscription, and join a fitness group or class. 

Making new friends
Over the last year, some old friendships have become firmer, and some new people have come into my life. But I still need a wider local friend base. Joining a fitness group may lead to some new friends, and I would be delighted if I get to know some local natal women that way. I'm also thinking of looking at Meetup.com and other online sites that focus on social activities that both sexes can enjoy together, but not mere dating. I want to avoid dating, because I don't want a close relationship and all the intimacies and commitments that go with it. But an interesting set of amiable new friends would be very nice! And I'm quite capable of plunging in and finding want I want. Frankly, shyness is a luxury I can't afford.

Travel
I can't afford foreign holidays. Nor country hotel breaks. Nor even posh bed and breakfast. The best I can do is to hitch up the caravan and take it somewhere on the UK mainland.

Far and away the major cost of caravan touring is diesel for the car. The pitching costs are small by comparison. Roughly speaking, it costs me £100 to tow the caravan 400 miles. So I need £200 for a trip to the north of England and back. Phew! That said, I'm looking at two big trips in 2013 - a 'Wales tour' and a 'North of England and East Anglia tour'. With visits to friends and family along the way in both cases. These will eat into my holiday budget, so there will have to be fewer trips to the West Country. But you can't do it all.

So there you have it. Three broad areas to tackle in 2013: fitness, friends and seeing fresh places.

I hope the little Leica can handle it: my handbag-sized camera has taken over 36,000 shots since June 2009, and although it shows no signs of fatigue, it is not immortal. I just hope it won't pack in before 2015!

Wednesday, 26 December 2012

Christmas Day - booze and blowout!

I received several Christmas Day texts and emails yesterday morning, and so, around 11.30am, I decided to brave the driving rain and find a pub, the intention being to reply to them over a glass of red wine, with a log fire ablaze in the background. I didn't go far, just to one of the village pubs. I was the first customer of the day, and got a table of my choice, plus the wished-for wine and blazing fire, although I gradually worked out that it wasn't a real log fire, only a gas one. Never mind; it was a good heartwarming start to the day, and a taste of much-needed social life. As locals drifted in, I saw however that it wouldn't do to hog a table entirely on my own, and so at noon I went home, catching my next-door neighbours in. I knocked on their door to wish them a Merry Christmas, and ended up spending the next couple of hours sipping red wine, first in their home, and then in another village pub by then in full swing. A local man offered me a corner stool - very pleasantly done - and I settled down for another hour of chat and laughter with various neighbours who came in. I gladly accepted a lift home. This was my state by then:


Who's this floozy? Way too much in your face!


Ah, that's better. A slightly tanked-up woman is always better at arm's length, you know! But I wasn't incapable. Within the hour, I had my Christmas Dinner ready to put in the oven. Chicken, lamb chops, bacon, potatoes, carrots, onion, brussels sprouts (cooked separately on the hob), stuffing, and gravy to pour over it all. The perfect antidote to a little too much red wine:


That's how it went in. And I judged the cooking properly. My Christmas Dinner emerged from the oven looking very good. I soon had a blowout meal piled on my overloaded plate, and was proud of the achievement (but if you like fine dining and artistic presentation, look away now):


So different from the charred sacrifice I 'cooked' for myself three years ago, in 2009:


Anyway, I was nicely in time for Sister Wendy (reflecting on her life), then Richard Hammond (reflecting on all the James Bond cars of the last fifty years), both on BBC2, followed by Kung Fu Panda and The Incredibles on BBC3. For once, non-stop viewing for five hours on TV! Tonight's Boxing Day viewing is dire, although I will certainly give Miranda on BBC1 a look. But I can see myself resorting to one of my DVD films, blogging, or just reading.

You may be wondering why I nearly always stick to the BBC. The reason is that I can't stand the adverts on the commercial channels. They break up the continuity of programmes, irritate, insult your intelligence, and stink of a vacuous spend, spend, spend society. I do spend money all the time, but I hate being prodded into doing so by people who want to take over my free will.

Facebook finally deleted from my life

Just a quick post. It's late and I'm tired, Christmas day turning out to be rather boozy (drinks with neighbours). I also cooked myself a whopping dinner for myself once home again, and that has induced sleepiness as well.

Late on Christmas Day afternoon I decided to have another quick peep at my Facebook account, which had been in 'deactivated' mode since July - really only hibernating, because it instantly came alive again when I logged in.

It was as confusing and irritating as before. Still not for me. 

This time I found and searched the help pages to find out whether I could delete my Facebook account altogether, so that it could never be revived, and everything relating to me would be finally binned beyond recall. Amazingly, the answer was yes, complete deletion was an option, and there was actually a link to another page on which I could authorise permanent deletion. I duly did so.  It'll now all disappear in two weeks time.

Meanwhile Facebook will allow me to change my mind, simply by logging in anytime in the next fourteen days. No doubt they are hoping that I will have second thoughts. But I don't think so!

Of course, while fiddling around, I managed to send out one or two accidental friend requests. It just shows how easy it is to mess up on Facebook, and set things in motion that you didn't intend. I'm so much happier in the well-controlled universe of blogging. I don't do 'social networking' the Facebook way. It will be so good to escape, leaving hardly a trace behind.

Monday, 24 December 2012

If I ruled the world

No, megalomania has not seized me!

If I Ruled the World was the title of a song that did quite well in the charts in 1963. It was sung by Harry Secombe - more on him in a moment. The song itself has suddenly popped into my head while looking through the Radio Times to plan what I'd like to watch on TV tonight. I was hoping for some decent stuff, this being Christmas Eve. But there was nothing that appealed. The best on offer, so far as I was concerned, was:

Norman Wisdom: His Story (8.00pm, BBC4)
Various people, family included, were going to talk about his life and career. My lifelong reaction to this funny man had always been to cringe. His humour was not my humour. Had I misjudged him? Would I, at any rate, see lots of fine views of the Isle of Man, where he lived in later life? He was well-loved when he died in 2010 at the ripe age of 95. Surely a recommendation.

Lewis (9.00pm ITV3)
An episode called The Great and the Good. Lewis and Hathaway uncover a web of deceit, and sordid secrets, in a rape case. This would be a sophisticated drama: upper-class, sniffy, über-civilised Oxford persons versus dogged Northern policeman. But why did I like Hathaway, and felt comfortable and intrigued with his character, but disliked Lewis himself, whose character irritated me?

Father Ted (9.00pm More4)
How many times have I seen this already? Daft Craggy Island surrealism. It's the 1996 Christmas Special. Father Ted wins the Golden Cleric Award, only to get a mysterious Christmas visitor determined to steal it. Among other things equally odd.

In the end, after my Traditional Christmas Eve Waitrose Chicken Korma - a mistake, I had intended to pick the much spicier Chicken Jalfrezi instead - I phoned my elderly aunt in Newport. I spoke to my niece also, who happened to be visiting my aunt. And then I replied at length to two emails received in the last day or so. By that time I'd missed Norman Wisdom entirely, and Lewis and Father Ted were both too far advanced to be worth watching. So I decided to write this post and then watch a DVD. It's a choice between Casablanca, Singing In The Rain, Toy Story, RED, Bridesmaids, and part one of The Lord of the Rings. Or maybe just go to bed, to be in great condition for the solitary delights of my Christmas Day! Rumour hath it that the Sun will be coming out. (You know, that Strange Luminescence not seen since early November)

Now, if I ruled the world, the Christmas TV schedules would be packed with all the things I love to watch, instead of the rubbish we are actually fed with! I'd insist on programmes on art, history and science, for starters. Forget Charles Dickens, Strictly Come Dancing, Vicar of Dibley and the rest.

I'd like to see films like Davy, which came out in 1957 and has not seen on TV for a very long time.  This starred Harry Secombe, who as well as being a comedian was a very fine tenor. Wales produces the best singers, and Harry Secombe was from Swansea. Anyway, I must have seen this film on TV during the 1960s when I was still in my teens. It had a profound effect on me.

Davy is about a family of theatre entertainers, a successful touring act, and Harry Secombe plays the young man who sings best among them. In fact he can belt it out, and is the mainstay of the show they put on. But he realises that his voice really is very special, and ought to be put to better use. He goes to London and auditions for the opera. He sings a magnificent Nessun Dorma. A solo career opens before him. But without him, the family show will fall apart. He struggles with this. In the end he renounces the chance of personal singing fame so that his family can carry on as before.

This seemed to me a terrible sacrifice to make. Outstanding talent is so rare. It seemed a crime to deliberately smother it, to kill it off. In fact I was enraged and upset. This should not be.

And yet, there was the family to consider.

I saw a message in this film that individual feelings must submit to family needs. That family comes first. That something special and personal must always be stifled if it would hurt the family. No matter what.

Harry Secombe let his shoulders sag in resignation as the film ended. He was trapped. I felt for him. I felt trapped too, and saw no way out. One could only carry on, alive but not living.

Sunday, 23 December 2012

Screen goddesses and ultimate tests of love

Yesterday evening there was an enthralling programme on BBC4 (do I ever watch any other channel?). One of those occasional Arena documentaries. It was about Screen Goddesses: those women who were famous in their day for their beauty, their glamour, their allure, their sexiness, and in one or two cases, their on-screen cruelty. Famous too for being victims of the star system at Hollywood, or for transcending it.

It kicked off with the likes of Theda Bara, Lillian Gish, and Clara Bow, who had such an impact on innocent, impressionable audiences in the silent era of the movies. Then on to the the female stars of the talkies, such as Jean Harlow, Marlene Dietrich, Bette Davis, Joan Crawford, Rita Hayworth and Ava Gardner. Untouchable Scandinavian goddesses such as Greta Garbo and Ingrid Bergman. And finally Elizabeth Taylor, Brigitte Bardot, Sophia Loren, Audrey Hepburn and Marylin Monroe. What a list of names!

I have to say, the goddesses of the silent era had such expressive faces. Huge eyes (all the better for captivating the audience), and luscious lips glistening with dark lipstick (all the better for making the audience yearn). I realised while watching that one of my friends looked exactly like Lillian Gish, and I texted her at once to tell her so. She was blown away with this exciting news.

I've checked: I haven't a single book about movie stars on my bookshelves at home. A visit to the second-hand bookshops of Sussex is indicated, I think!

Of course, most of these screen portrayals were manufactured, but clearly these women also had something extra which they could slip past the rigid requirements of the director. I especially liked Marlene Dietrich's style, and the feisty attitude of Jean Harlow.

But there was a type of goddess that I really didn't like - the narcissistic controlling sort, who made their men go through hell in the name of love. In one film, one of these big-ego goddesses challenges the man in her life to destroy the gorgeous sports car he made with his own hands, by pushing it over the edge of a cliff. He hesitates, then complies. That's awful, I thought. A thing of power and beauty sacrificed to your need to put this man to an ultimate test. (She was of course getting rid of a 'rival', as well as demonstrating her own power) Immediately after the beloved car crashes onto the rocks far below, she asks him when they will get married, supremely confident of his reply (the bitch). 'Tomorrow' is his gruff reply, through gritted teeth. No, walk away now, I thought, walk away before she totally consumes you!

I don't know how that film ended, but I bet the man was twisted into a mockery of himself before she killed him off. Not nice.

It reminded me of those wives and girlfriends who insist that their man discards his teddy bear, his lifelong friend. No woman of sense and sensitivity should even contemplate such a request. It kills love, not proves it.

I would never demand it. Never.

Would you, though? How much of an imperious goddess are you?

Alone at Christmas, but heartwarming Christmas cards

I had my electrolysis session on 20th December, and I'm attending my sister-in-law's family gathering on 30th December. In between there are no social engagements or meetups. That's ten days alone over Christmas. All  my local friends are on holiday, or away visiting their parents or other family, or else have social arrangements in place that I feel disinclined to bust into. 

It's not a big deal for me, that 'alone' bit, because there's several things I can always get on with to fill the day. And the emotion of 'loneliness' is (for me) simply a bad feeling I occasionally get when out of doors in the dark, a sort of primeval panic that I'm exposed and vulnerable, and need to get to a place of safety. It's cured by bright lights, cheerful voices, warmth and closed doors. It's not a depressing state that endures for day after day, and can only be resolved by having someone special constantly at my side.

Still, ten days is still a long time without some company. My answer to this is to do what I would do if on holiday: drive off and find a place where people congregate. That does the trick every time. I'm quite happy in the casual company of strangers.

What I will not do, especially over Christmas, is impose on people I know, to 'use' them as a 'people fix'. I don't think that's right. Christmas is a Family Thing, and it would be improper to invade a family space without an invitation so warm, and so insistent, that it would be rude to refuse. Similarly with friends who live alone, but who have made definite arrangements with another friend: no way am I going to turn a twosome into a crowd, by suggesting that I join them.

The upside is that there is no pressure on me to rush around, nor do anything in particular, for days on end. I've covered all the essentials: I have for instance bought a lot of food of all sorts, so I can dine off steak, or monkfish goujons, or posh bangers and mash, just as I feel inclined. If I really want a turkey dinner with all the trimmings, then there are plenty of pubs around that I can go to. I've got apples and dates and cheese and cold meats and pickle, but no chocolates or sweet stuff, no biscuits, no ice cream or Christmas puddings, and no booze at all except a wine bottle or two that I keep strictly for meals out in other homes. The central heating's doing it's stuff, and I'm dressed casually for comfort. The little ceramic Christmas tree looks fantastic in the afternoon and evening gloom, and, at night, my lounge looks like a soft colourful Aladdin's cave. And there's Ted for company.

So far I've received twenty-six Christmas cards. I don't think that's a bad total for someone in my position. All my family have sent a card; some of my friends (not all of them do send cards, and some really can't afford to buy them and post them); the professionals that I see regularly; and I got three cards that were especially significant.

One of the three was from a couple I met when caravanning at Cirencester in May. They were very pleasant. The warmth of their greeting shows that they must have found me pretty good company! They were the couple who treated me to a meal out at a hotel. I do hope we can meet up on a site in between Cumbria and Sussex during 2013 - they live just east of the Lake District, in Penrith, which is unfortunately a long way away from me.

Another was from M---, addressed to 'W D Melford' - note no 'Miss'. 'W D' means 'Water Dragon' (which is what I am in the Chinese astrological system). Inside, no kiss; the tone was strictly neutral; and she called me Water Dragon, not Lucy. But I was nevertheless very pleased indeed to get a card from her. It keeps the communication door open, although I'm becoming convinced that she will never now step through it.

The third card was from am old friend of  Mum's, who still lives in Barry in South Wales. She'd sent a card to my home last year, addressed to Dad - she obviously didn't know that he had died. I wrote back, explaining what had happened to Dad, and also what had happened to me, that I was now Lucy Melford. Well, the card she sent this year was addressed to Lucy, and was very friendly, and included her phone number! Clearly she wasn't fazed at all by my transition. I will ring her up in early January and take it from there. I intend to spend a week in South Wales during March, and if she's up to it, I would love to visit her and catch up on the last fifty years, for I haven't seen her since 1963. She must now be in her eighties. It just shows that you can't be dogmatic and assert that 'old people can't cope with transition, it confuses and upsets them.' That's not my experience at all, whether you're talking about old ladies or old men. There are always exceptions of course, but very often old persons put younger people to shame, and not just on the subject of boys discovering they are really girls.

Evening update
Neighbours across the road have popped a lovely card through my front door. Twenty-seven!

Saturday, 22 December 2012

Playing with a change of title

For an hour last night I added seven little words beneath the usual Lucy Melford header, hitherto unchanged for nearly four years.

Without wanting to change the tone or appeal or coverage of the blog in any way, I decided that the time had come to define its intended readership slightly better. It was still to be called Lucy Melford, but also now A blog for all kinds of women. A blog written especially for all women, natal or trans, right across the spectrum.

I wanted to draw in more natal women. I thought it proper to emphasise what I had in common with ordinary women, especially women in their fifties and sixties. I wanted to hear more from them. But I also wanted to keep the trans element strong. It 'explained' me, revealed where I was coming from, and why some of my future goals were always going to be different from the average woman's.

It was no coincidence that recently, as well as strictly trans posts, I'd written posts on subjects of concern to women generally, such as stalking, and some men's bad behaviour. And a few posts back, I played with fire somewhat by commenting sympathetically on the new Christine Benvenuto book. As a member of the bookbuying public, and trans, I was obviously entitled to do so, but I underestimated the polarity that quickly overwhelms discussions on such books and such authors, especially when it's all chiefly an American concern. You live and learn. The experience made me hesitate to post anything on the controversial subject of American gun ownership, even though this is much in the news at the moment.

I haven't kept those seven little words. The title has quickly reverted to plain Lucy Melford. I didn't want to limit my choice of subjects, nor to imply that the blog wouldn't be of interest to male readers.

I think that it's a good principle to make the nature of a blog quite clear, but not at the expense of narrowing the topics dealt with. Besides, let's face it, the blog is in fact mostly about me! And so the title was always right, and ought not to be meddled with.

Friday, 21 December 2012

The Midwinter Solstice and Mayan time cycles


Wow! (you might say) Lucy got up really early this morning to take these shots of the sunrise at Stonehenge, on the very day of the Midwinter Solstice!

Sorry, no, I didn't! These are shots I took late in November 2008, at sunset. It's impossible to take pictures like this of Stonehenge at the Midwinter sunrise, because a sea of people will be present and in the way, some of them latter-day Druids, and the atmosphere of timeless mystery will be ruined.

I'm not against Druids as such, nor of people wanting to witness what they do. But at Stonehenge? I do care about the probable damage to this important archaeological site - ground compaction from trampling feet, for example - and I hope that one day these crowds will move away elsewhere, perhaps to a replica Stonehenge some distance off. I want solitude and silence, not invocations and chants. Just me and the stones; my own interpretation of the event; and no high priests or New Agers, thank you. Or just me and a bare handful of miscellaneous keen photographers who have driven through the night to be there, and simply want a clear view of the rising sun. (You know, I bet this is possible on the mornings before and after the Solstice. I just might attempt a three-hour dash to Stonehenge next year, to check that out)

Today is also the day when a Mayan time cycle ends and a new one begins. Apparently our Gregorian Calendar date of 2012 coincides with the ending of what would have been the thirteenth baktun of the ancient Mayan civilisation in Mexico, and the beginning of the fourteenth. A baktun was 144,000 days. It's a bit like the year 1999 coming to a close, and the year 2000 starting, with the same kind of end-of-era, start-of-a new-century, Hail the New Millennium! significance.

You have to appreciate that the ancient Mayans were fascinated with numbers and time, and linking up astronomical happenings. Investigating large periods of time was their secular and priestly preoccupation. I personally think that despite their computational skills, they got bogged down in elaborate and pointless figurings. It was certainly no practical use against the Spanish conquistadores.

Some people living in 2012 have made a big thing about the arrival of the 14th baktun. For them it signals an era of disaster and destruction. Despite global warming, extreme weather et al, I think that's taking an unnecessarily pessimistic view. Why indeed feel bothered by the arrival of an ancient civilisation's New Year? It's a superseded calendar. In any case, what will be will be: meteors, black holes, all of it. We might as well enjoy life as best we can, and not live in fear. One thing I've noticed, in the course of sixty decades, is that tomorrow always comes. So it's no good hiding in a hole. Get out and buy tomorrow's chicken dinner, because you'll be hungry if you don't. 

Oh my God. A moment of Revelation! Sixty years! Of course. It's a natural cycle!

Let's call it a Lucy Period. So from 6th July last, I have been living in a New Personal Era. And I didn't realise. That's so humbling. And yet so cosmic.

And what if your personal cycle intersects with mine? Let's not even go there.

Wednesday, 19 December 2012

Happy days

It's all done! All the Christmas cards have been posted or handed out in person. Cheques written, the one present sent off. Food's in. Fiona's had a big drink of diesel. I've only a little cash left before Pension Day on Saturday, but I can relax...

The pre-Christmas social events are all over too. Apart from one electrolysis session tomorrow, I needn't see a soul until 30th December, when I drive off to to Hampshire for a New Year family gathering at my sister-in-law's. That's a big blank spot in my diary that spans more than a week, but I don't mind. I can slop around, chill out, and if I really want something to do, the garden beckons. I can control what I eat, and I won't drink a thing unless out and about and a cheerful pub draws me inside for a turkey sandwich and a gin and tonic to keep it company.

Days spent simply mooching about, as the whim takes me, no commitments, no timetable, no rushing, no need to plan anything except what to cook in the evening. Lovely.

It may be of course that I'll get an unexpected text out of the blue. Someone will say, how about coffee? Mmmm, you're on! It happened two mornings ago. Here's me at Café Coho in The Lanes in Brighton:


A friend from Kent had texted to say she was in town, and what about meeting up? So we did. I had to arrange a fringe trim at Trevor Sorbie anyway. And I wanted to look in Fat Face, and buy a top. But most of all, I wanted to see this friend. We hogged the table, chatting for over an hour. This particular café is good for yummy pastries, one of which you can see bottom left in the picture above. Here's a close-up:


We did split it, honest!

Changing the subject only slightly, I've got a playlist of songs called 'Christmas' on my phone, and there are some nice tracks there, 'nice' meaning 'cheesey but well-loved'. At this time of year, close to Christmas, it's pleasant to play them in the bathroom, or as I cook, or when driving along.

I still remember a long pre-Christmas afternoon drive I made alone to Yeovil and back from Southampton, I think in December 1976. As I went westwards along the A30, the light was fading fast. At Yeovil it began to snow. I heard carol singing. Outside the parish church was a huge lit-up Christmas Tree, and traditional words of goodwill and cheer filled the air. It seemed that all the townspeople had abandoned their last-minute shopping to gather round, entranced. I felt drawn in, part of it, and I didn't want to go home. Snowflakes settled on us all. At five o'clock, very reluctantly, I wrenched myself away, went back to my car, and headed home on my sixty-mile journey in the dark. The A30 was tricky, but my usual luck held, or else the gods that protect travellers in fey and elated states of mind reached down and intervened. There were one or two slithery, scary incidents before the snow thinned a bit short of Salisbury. But I made it safely back by seven o'clock.

I've never lost the magic of that afternoon. And yet it was unshared. I was by myself. Just me and the car. It has so often, in hard or doubtful moments of my life, been 'just me and the car'. That's partly why cars are so special to me.

I've often wanted to recapture that day, and others in different years and seasons that were equally intense. But of course you can't do it to order. All you can do is hope that other days like it will come about, happy days when life seems supernaturally glorious, every moment significant and memorable. Perhaps some combination of sun and snow, chill winds outside and soft warm rooms inside, red wine and candlelight, welcoming smiles and muted voices, kisses and hugs, and bright eyes lit up by the flames from a flickering log fire.

Here's Eyeworth Pond near Fritham in the New Forest, on an icy afternoon very early in 1977: 


And here's a poem I wrote for M--- in 1995:

WINTER

Think of me, facing the pale winter sky,
At the edge of the wood as the leaves blow by.
And think of the crow up above in the trees,
Whose breakfast and supper are nothing but breeze.
And look at the mouse who is not yet in bed,
Driven by hunger to forage instead.
The frost is an adder that gnaws at the land;
And the pale winter sky with the leaves blowing by
Is as empty and bitter as poor Nature's hand.

But remember the curtains that keep out the night,
And remember the sunshine, so brilliant, so bright;
And the crystals of ice, their symmetrical art,
And the roaring log fire that cheers the heart.
 
To M---, with love.

I may never again in my life write a poem for someone so special, but I do know that happy days can come again.

Sunday, 16 December 2012

Masterchef winners

I was thrilled by the closing episodes of this year's Masterchef - the Professionals, which reached its climax last Thursday evening - see http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/entertainment-arts-20724309. I was all along rooting for Keri Moss, but had to admit that Anton Piotrowski's creations were just as unbeatable. So when Michel Roux Junior and Greg Wallace proclaimed them joint winners, it seemed only fair and just.

I don't feel that either of them has been robbed of recognition. It would have been quite wrong to say one was clearly 'better' than the other, because that was just not so. Nor do I feel that the other chefs, at least the ones who were contending in the semi-finals, were inferior; simply that they did not have what it took to convince the judges on the day. Oli Boon particularly, the losing chef in the three-contender final, was really 'as good' as the winning duo. Putting this another way, I'd be very happy indeed to eat food prepared by any of these chefs.

That said, only Anton Piotrowski has a kitchen I can access easily, on holiday, next time I'm in Devon. He's down near Plymouth, at the Treby Arms in Sparkwell, on the south-western edge of Dartmoor: see http://www.thetrebyarms.co.uk/index.html. Maybe a treat for myself on my next birthday in July? (Perhaps I'd better get the booking in fairly soon, though!)

'Ha, you're a food snob,' some might say. Well, not so. I just love eating nice things. I dislike bland cooking, the same old stuff, even though my own cooking is pretty unadventurous. And fine dining is a definite experience, something to be savoured and long remembered, and worth paying for if it's genuinely good.

Of course its a 'luxury item' and costs way more than might seem reasonable. Top restaurants are often criticised for asking so much for the food on offer. But you're buying the best ingredients, expert cooking, and artistic presentation. And think what the operation requires: it's not just the chef, and his or her skills; it's the rest of the team in the kitchen; the front of house staff; and all that is needed to create the particular ambience - layout, decor, lights, furniture, plates, cutlery, wine glasses, flowers, menus, uniforms for the staff - the list goes on and on. And fine diners are very fussy. The smallest departure from high standards will be noticed. That includes the personal skills of table staff. In my case, there is a potential difficulty with how I may be treated. I don't mean as a trans person. I mean as a single diner. I don't want to be relegated to a dim corner. I want to be able to nod and smile to other diners, and discuss the menu with my nearest neighbours. I want to feel that the staff are alert to my needs, and there for me in an instant. I want to be beautifully fed and wined, and beautifully looked after. So that I take away a memory of pure pleasure. If the restaurant can do that, then I don't mind paying a fair price for a top-quality experience.

Getting back to Masterchef, it's surely good for any chef's career simply to be a contestant on that programme, because it's a showcase. Some kind of career boost can be expected if you do well, and outright winning isn't needed to prove skills and style. I'm sure that most of those who take part realise that they won't get to the final. They are after the TV exposure.

Of course, it's obvious that top chefs do value themselves realistically, and contend fiercely. The Big Names of the business, whose kitchens we saw in the later stages of the contest, were clearly dedicated to their artistry, and forthright (even ruthless) with anyone unable or unwilling to do as they asked. No wonder it can make a lesser chef quail with anxiety! That fear of slipping, of making a mistake, seems to haunt the top professionals. I suppose they can never be complacent, nor even relaxed. They have to keep in mind that the paying customer is the ultimate judge and paymaster, and that a single bad review, let alone a hygiene scandal, could be the death knell for their reputation. Knife-edge stuff indeed. Hot physical effort, and mental torture combined.

It would not be a career for me, and I salute anyone whose love of top-class cooking wins them success. It's very, very hard work.

Saturday, 15 December 2012

Christmas on one's own

I really ought to be pressing on with my last Christmas cards, but I need a break!

How many people will be spending Christmas quietly this year? Quite a lot, I should think, and not only on grounds of cost. Somehow the Old Ritual has lost its magic. 

How pointless it all was - buying costly presents, always better than last year's, and the immense labour of wrapping them all up; staggeringly long greetings card lists; relentless Christmas Eve preparations till way past midnight; Buck's Fizz for breakfast on Christmas Day; hot, red-faced slaving in the kitchen till halfway through the afternoon; the same old stodge; the same old Christmas crackers; silly hats; too much booze; indiscretions; arguments; bad temper; tears; more slavery in the kitchen to get a mountain of pans, plates and cutlery washed up; the struggle to stay awake; the headaches and the bloated feeling, and the occasional tummy upsets. How much nicer to have an easy-cook oven pizza or curry, and just chill.

In their heyday, in the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s, I generally found Christmas at Mum and Dad's very congenial, with singsongs in the kitchen and a crisp afternoon walk later on in the park, or up at Waggoner's Wells. But on other occasions, in other homes, including my own when married, it was much as described above. Each year you'd swear not to do it again. But you did.

And staying away over Christmas seemed such a cop-out, the abandonment of family. And yet, at a price, it was in fact a very good solution. I've had two Christmases away. In 2003 Mum, Dad, M--- and myself went to a country hotel near Worcester. And in 2010 I took the caravan down to snowy Cornwall on my own.

This year, unless I get lucky and receive an unexpected invitation, there is every prospect of spending Christmas Day and Boxing Day entirely without company. It has just worked out like that. I really don't mind at all. At the very worst, I can cook myself a yummy lunch or evening meal without the pressure of people arriving halfway through the day. I can if I like - and I probably will if it's sunny - take myself off in Fiona and drop in at some village pub. It'll be heaving with locals. I may get drawn into whatever is happening. It's company. Why not? I'm certainly not a timid stay-at-home person.

But if the weather's foul, and it seems like a waste of car fuel to venture out, I won't be bored. Nor introspective.

But some will be.

I hope that everyone who has lately been cast out of their old home, and is making the best of it on their own, and is hurting, will find a way to stay cheerful. It will take a very big effort. In the dark days at the end of the year it's very hard to smile.

But I have a tip. Turn off your electric lights, and light a candle. Then sit and watch it. Candles are things of warmth and hope. Lighting one will help.

Wednesday, 12 December 2012

Still adding to my music collection

I wouldn't say that music has ever played a big role in my life. I certainly like plenty of  classical pieces, some opera arias of course, and I enjoy listening to an eclectic mix of pop songs that were, for decades, the casual soundtrack to my life.

But I have no instrument-playing ability whatever, despite occasional strange dreams of being a virtuosa violinist.

And I'm not much interested in live music, as performed in pubs and similar venues. I might politely come to a gig with you, but my attention will wander, and at some point I will definitely feel that I'd rather be doing something else, such as enjoying a yummy meal in a restaurant.

As for huge festival events like Glastonbury, these have always been a complete turn-off for me. Especially if they involve crowds, and noise, and chaos, and mud, and insanitary conditions of any sort. No thank you! I wouldn't attend one at any price, not even if you offered me free tickets. I mean that. I long ago decided that I wouldn't be interested in free tickets to the Wimbledon Tennis Final, nor the World Cup Final, nor anything connected with the Olympic Games. Likewise, even a Resurrection Concert featuring all four Beatles playing together again wouldn't tempt me. I'd refuse the tickets, or rip them up, and simply walk away, my music credentials intact.  (The crass credentials of someone who knows nothing about music, I mean)

So it's a bit odd, I admit, that I put any effort at all into perfecting the collection of mp3 tracks installed on my PC, phone and tablet. Moreover, what you might consider a 'perfect' collection, and what I do, are probably not the same thing. I'm after the last hundred or so tracks that will fill the gaps in that 'background soundtrack to my life' mentioned above, and most of these tracks are barrel-scrapingly obscure, and rarely heard now. They were not cool at the time, and are now so mouldy and dreadful that the most merciful thing might be to leave them in the vault. In fact I don't know anyone else who would do what I am now going to do, which is to mention some of them.

Lots of these tracks have already been disinterred, their mummy-wrappings unwound, and the withered corpse left to ming inside my phone. Such classics as Puff, the Magic Dragon by Peter, Paul and Mary; Downtown by Petula Clark; Love's Just a Broken Heart by Cilla Black; Lydia by Dean Friedman; and Rasputin by Boney M.

Too much information already? It gets worse. I've recently formed the opinion that I'll need to buy more mp3 tracks than I thought. Songs like:

My Old Man's a Dustman by Lonnie Donegan.
Wonderful Land by The Shadows.
Crying in the Chapel by Elvis Presley. 
Black is Black by Los Bravos.
Go Now by the Moody Blues.
Gentle on My Mind by Dean Martin.
It's Getting Better by Mama Cass.
Govinda by the Radha Krishna Temple. 
Bangladesh by George Harrison.
Knock, Knock, Who's There? by Mary Hopkin. 
Bye Bye Baby by the Bay City Rollers.
She by Charles Aznavour.
It Don't Come Easy by Ringo Starr.
Don't You Want Me, Baby? by the Human League.

I'll say no more, not wishing to provoke too much disgust and horror.

It's Amazon's fault really. I thought it was impossible to find a good source for these zombie-like tracks, the Undead of our Musical Heritage. But Amazon sell music, and they have a vast mp3 collection, rivalled (I believe) only by iTunes. And priced at 69p to 89p per track - which makes grave-robbing an affordable passtime. And curiously fascinating. It makes you wonder who owns these songs, and why Amazon thought they could ever sell them in quantity, enough to cover what they paid for the rights. I hope they're not relying on me!

Not every artist or band of yore has songs that can be purchased. Copyright problems and suchlike can make their output inaccessible. For instance, I'm wondering when the Dave Clark Five's output will be released. Lots of lively foot-stomping stuff there. Glad All Over, Bits and Pieces. Can't wait.

Tuesday, 11 December 2012

Maybe a job next year?

What a lovely morning! It's very cold outside, a thick frost, but the sun is shining brilliantly, I've had a hearty breakfast, the bed is made, and the dishes done. The only things on my agenda today are to write my Christmas cards (which will take the rest of the morning); shower and wash my hair; and then contemplate dropping in at the Clare Project late in the afternoon, afterwards adjourning to our 'favourite' LGBT pub, The Marlborough, for a couple of glasses of house white. Then, an evening meal (with more wine) at the home of a friend - an intimate, cosy, pre-Christmas thing. And so another leisurely day is under way, with good company and cheer thrown in. It can't be bad. 

Of course, my leisurely days depend on two things: not having to work, and not having anyone special around. I like it that way. But working and relationships are the chief things in life for most people, and without them I'm arguably 'not living a proper life', just existing, albeit in a self-indulgent bubble of pleasure.

We (some friends and myself) were discussing jobs only last Sunday.

I admitted that I would look for a job in 2013 or 2014 if there was something I badly wanted or needed, and extra money had to be found. Like a fantastic holiday, or a new central heating boiler.

After 2014, my income would have risen, and I'd be working only if there were some other reason. Widening my non-trans friend base would be one - the buzz of working with congenial work colleagues was not to be lightly dismissed. Giving myself something important to do would be another. But only if my social life was lacking, or I'd become bored with my present way of life, tired of leisure, and needing something new and challenging. The point was rightly made that my current work record was stale, and I'd need to refresh it with a preliminary series of jobs to demonstrate that I was reliable, sensible, honest, good to work with, economic with resources, and produced exactly the results that my employeers were looking for. Then I could apply with confidence for that really interesting position, the one I'd want to stay with.

Let's look at this. What sort of jobs? My previous 35-year career ended in 2005, and the experience it gave me is not easily transferrable to modern workplaces. I'd been an Inspector of Taxes - engaged in investigation work directed at individuals and companies and trusts - a long series of responsible casework and management jobs in different locations, ending up at a big office in Croydon, where I was a senior Corporation Tax investigator. It hadn't been a self-chosen career, but I'd stuck with it, I had done a conscientous job, and when the chance came to apply for early retirement there had been a strong possiblility that my skills and experience would disqualify me from leaving.

But all of it is useless experience if I now fancy driving a bus, or working for the National Trust, or being a checkout or delicatessen girl at Waitrose. So rejoining the work market means a fresh start right back at the bottom. Well, I have no hangups about having respect for past status or technical ability. I feel that I am up for most kinds of work except positive drudgery, provided that I can do it well, will get proper recognition, and that it adds value to my work record.

Being as old as 60 seems like a problem, but it might not be. I don't see it as any kind of impenetrable barrier. So much of working well depends on how you relate to your colleagues and your customers. I'm sure that I have adequate interpersonal skills, that I will see to the heart of problems, and will apply the right solutions. I might be tripped up on technical expertise, or product knowledge, but that's something time can fix.

Compared to my age, being trans is much less of a problem, especially with any employer that has proper standards in place and enforces them. Such an employer won't be thrown by my transness. And to be honest, if I am taken on to meet some trans recruitment target, it won't make me feel uncomfortable. The precise considerations do not matter. I will be in, and can go on to show what I can accomplish.

Funny how being able to choose how I spend my time, without interference from anyone else, makes the idea of a job seem strangely attractive. I don't mean that I really wll take steps in the new year to secure one - that depends on my spending plans -  but it's not a fearsome prospect by any means.

Meanwhile, I don't feel I'm wasting my life. And one thing you can say for retirement, it gives you the time to find out so much. If something takes your interest, you can nowadays research it to your heart's content. And that could easily involve travel, to see some place or relic or artifact for yourself. I wouldn't be able to do nearly so much of that, if tied down by a job.

More cash then, or time to pursue a multitude of interests? For me, this is the essential choice.

Monday, 10 December 2012

Amateur astronomy loses a hero: the death of Sir Patrick Moore

In front of me is a paperback that I bought in the early 1980s, and still dip into, because it's an amusing read. It's called A Directory of Discarded Ideas, by John Grant (the edition published by Corgi in 1983, ISBN 0-552-99013-2). It's a book that discusses a multitude of daft (and not so daft) theories about life, the universe, and the cosmic forces that pseudo-scientists have thought they could tap into. Patrick Moore (not yet Sir Patrick) is mentioned several times as an investigator of some of these theories, and a gentle debunker of them.

In 1976 Patrick Moore published a book titled Can You Speak Venusian? which I once read. It was much in the same vein as John Grant's Directory, and came out when a lot of ordinary people were still inclined to take alternative cosmologists and theorists like Immanuel Velikovsky, W R Drake, and Erich von Däniken quite seriously. But he didn't confine his attention to their kind of revelations. For instance, the Directory mentions George King, self-appointed representative of the Cosmic Masters. Mr King went on to meet one of these very Masters, a person named Aetherius, who lived on Venus. And after that, several other august entities. Mr King held public meetings, and attracted followers who became known as the Aetherians. Mr King, the Aetherians, and the Cosmic Masters protected planet Earth from Evil Forces, and claimed to have done marvellous work in saving us all from a variety of terrifying fates.

Such successes were recounted in the Aetherian Society's journal, Cosmic Voice. But in 1957, a series of articles appeared in the journal, apparently written by eminent scientists and thinkers from all over the world. They had odd names, but of course that was only to be expected of foreign contributors. Names like Egon Spünraas, Walter Wumpe, Dominic Fidler, N Ormuss, L Pullar, R T Fischall, E Ratic, Dr Hotère, Dr Lupi, and Dr Waathervan. The Directory relates that 'when it was rather publicly pointed out to King, in the newspaper Psychic Weekly, that he was perhaps the victim of an L Pullar, he furiously cracked down on such spurious contributions to knowledge - accusing the British astronomer Patrick Moore, among others, of being the perpetrator of the hoax.' Really! Well I never. I mean, would Patrick Moore, admittedly a playful thirtysomething at the time, but already a serious force in his field, have poked so much wicked fun at Mr King? Nothing was ever proved, nor can be now. But I like to think he done it, all right, m'lud.

Sir Patrick Moore lived a very long life, and his passion was astronomy, but he was skilled in many other things, including music, and as time went on he developed a distinct persona that was delightfully at odds with cool, and yet somehow cutting-edge in the scientific sense. He wore a trademark monocle. He was a character, a national institution, and Selsey's most famous resident. He was venerated by generation after generation of amateur astronomers. Right up till 2012 he appeared on The Sky at Night, the TV series he hosted for decades. The Wikipedia article on him is a comprehensive summary of his life and achievements (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Patrick_Moore).

I never met him, and I rather think I would not have shared some of views. But he had his reasons for those views. His girlfriend was killed in the last War, in a German bombing raid, and he found the loss irreplaceable, so that he never married. But then, he filled the space in his life with so much else. In many ways he was like my Dad - or was it that Dad to some extent was very like him? Dad also had a monocle that he kept in a drawer, and in more socially active days would wear at club dinners, as part of his get-up. Mum thought the monocle was ridiculous, and eventually laughed Dad out of wearing it. But many a time I saw Dad feign surprise, so that he could open his eyes wide, and let the monocle drop out of his eye socket in the proper manner. Sometimes into his soup. Most amusing! My brother and myself, if there, would suppress giggles - and wish we could get away with wearing one, and pulling off a fun wheeze like that. I'm sure that Sir Patrick liked to splash soup and gravy around just the same.

Here he is on The Sky at Night last June, when already aged 89. I was watching, and happened to take a few shots with the Leica off the TV screen:


Note the monocle, the tie, and the wayward collar. He does remind me of Dad. Sir Patrick was by then suffering from severe arthritis (as Dad had suffered), with a bad back on top of that. I wonder if he knew that he'd not see the year out.

I'll stop there, if you don't mind. I feel really quite sad about his departure.

Sunday, 9 December 2012

Same-gender marriage in the UK

Looking back at yesterday's post, I think I laid too much emphasis on the pain and regret. There were also triumphs of personal development.

I found myself forced to attempt many things that in my previous life I would never have contemplated. Who, in ordinary life, ever risks public humiliation or punishment by dressing up in different-gender garments? Or the trauma and consequences of coming out? Or the irrevocable results of radical surgery? Or forever alters their legal status by pursuing their options under the Gender Recognition Act 2004?

All these things required getting one's mind out of a stultifying rut, embracing the 'impossible', overcoming fear, defying convention, developing enormous self-belief, and perfecting the art of serious self-organisation. It was also a stern test of resolve, of emotional resiliance, of whether one had the grit to undergo major surgery and the rehabilitation that followed. And to face the possibility of a future life of impoverished loneliness, and memories that would hurt.

I did face all that, and won out. So I would claim that the last four years have made me a better, stronger person, with knowledge and insights and experience I would never otherwise possess. If you asked me to compare the person I used to be with the person who now is, I would confidently tell you that I am now much better qualified to be a 'useful citizen' or an understanding 'good samaritan'. But not a saint. And no longer 'a strong arm' around anyone's shoulder - a role that disappeared when I lost the male look and mindset. But I can cry or rejoice with you. The old person was much inhibited where emotional expression was concerned; but then 'his' hoary protective shell was very thick and inpenetrable. Nowadays my garden fence and front door are the only barriers needed. You can look in, and see me, and call to me, and I will answer with merry eyes.

There would be no blog if I was afraid of revealing myself. You know that has to be true.

And now to the subject of this post: same-gender marriage (let's refer to it from now on as SGM). In public discussion it's always referred to as 'same-sex marriage', as if the words 'sex' and 'gender' were interchangeable. As ever, the 'sex' element taints the basic concept with images of What Happens In Bed, and whether such a marriage has any utility in Saving The Species. So it's preferable to speak of 'same-gender' marriage, because then these issues recede somewhat, and the discussion has a better chance of weighing up the pros and cons, and getting to a rational conclusion.

Wikipedia has an article on the current national debate on SGM at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Same-sex_marriage_in_the_United_Kingdom. It's a useful overview on how attitudes are developing. The thrust of the pro-SGM argument is that 'marriage' is an excellent thing, encouraging a stable home life and all the positive effects that flow from being a member of a universally valued institution. It matters that vows have to be spoken, in a hallowed place, and that the commitment is perceived to be higher in status, more exacting, and more permanent, than the mundane Civil Partnership. And that it is wrong and discriminatory and unjust that some of those who aspire to marriage can't get it.

Opponents cling to the narrow 'man and woman' concept, chiefly because time and custom have made it the norm; or because their particular secular or holy authority is against anything else.

Being neither a traditionalist, nor religious, I can look at this question without those biases. Nor do I have a special personal interest: nobody has proposed to me, or is likely to.

I look at it this way. Discrimination is always wrong. The existence of any kind of underclass harms society. We need to eradicate status differences, not perpetuate them. A marriage that works well is definitely a good thing. Two people working together in a respected, high-status relationship can achieve more than two people who feel they are being held down in an inferior kind of setup. They will feel more valued, more responsible, and no longer marginalised but mainstream. They will have more public recognition, more of a stake. So they will want to strive harder, which may have very good economic results. They will worry less about their position in the community, which might mean less anxiety, and better overall health. And if they are a family unit, it will be a better thing for the children. Happier parents, and therefore happier children, will mean fewer kids go off the rails. All of this adds up to a great case for making SGM available to all who want it.

The location of the ceremony could be in a church or at a register office. I'm indifferent as to which, but those with religious beliefs may prefer church. But surely not just any church. I don't think that clergy should be forced by law to paticipate against their own inclinations: they should have the option to refuse service if they wish. It seems only reasonable. And indeed why would any couple wanting a gloriously happy wedding put themselves through an ordeal - a ceremony in which the person officiating was doing it insincerely with gritted teeth, and in front of a hostile congregation? Even if they thought that God himself was looking on with a blessing on his lips?

If the national debate leads to new legislation allowing SGM, there is a welcome spin-off for trans women who married their female wives as 'men' before transitioning. They will be able, at last, to apply for a Gender Recognition Certificate under the 2004 Act, without needing to divorce first and then remarry. What a good thing. To be Mrs and Mrs, with official approval. Brilliant.

Saturday, 8 December 2012

The fourth anniversary of Lucy Melford's debut

She made her public debut on 9 December 2008, in Brighton at the afternoon Clare Project Drop-in, and how nervous she was!

It seemed like a no-return decision to attend. I'd settled on my new name just a few days before. As I announced myself, I felt I had fixed my identity for evermore. They might take everything away from me as my transition went forward, but not my name. I was glad that I had 'gone public'.

And now, on the eve of the fourth anniversary of that momentous event, how do I feel? How do I stand? Have I really 'found my true self'?

Well, a Big Yes to finding my true self.

I've never felt so complete and self-confident. It seems obvious to me that this is how I should always have been, my natural state, and I'm very happy that the rest of my life will be spent as Lucy Melford. I'm a little sad that my transformation began at 56 rather than 16 - forty years later than it might happen nowadays - but the date of my birth meant that early diagnosis and sympathetic treatment were simply not possible. As said in previous posts, had I been able to recognise and articulate what was wrong with me at age 16, I would either have been laughed at, or sent to a mental institution to be drugged or electrocuted until I was a docile imbecile. I escaped that fate, and that escape is some sort of consolation for the 'wasted decades'.

Do I blame anyone in particular for my late transition? No. I suppose I could say - although it means little - that 'society was to blame'. But then it always is. It's the same story now, in 2012. Society is not yet ready for certain things that will be normal for the next generation. It's a constant rule. But change always does come, as history has proved with the gradual acceptance of all sorts of things that were not normal in my childhood - for instance: rights and equality for women in the home and at work, cross-cultural relationships, guiltless sex before marriage, straightforward divorce, legal abortion, a normal life lived on credit, rights and legal protection for gay and black people.

It may in fact be that I've managed to transition at the best time, and will be among the first transsexual women to enjoy a full life in every sense, without having to consider stealth at all, and (hopefully, post-Leveson) without having to contend with mockery and censure from the press and other powers that could drag me down.

How do I feel?  Optimistic for the future. Content with my present life. But sad for what the last four years brought.

Look what I've lost in that time: my parents (both dead); my partner (hopelessly estranged); some of my family (they can't cope with my transition, or are averse to it); a very old and dear friend (the same); all of my partner's family and friends (the same); all my life savings (taken away or spent). The emotional battering in particular has been dreadful.

All this said, any or all of it is the usual experience of people in my position. And of course, the loss of both parents meant that I inherited a home. I was also obliged to buy out my partner's share of the caravan, but then this placed a holiday asset entirely in my hands. And I did equip myself with a lovely car to to tow it with. So it's not all bad by any means. But please don't tell me that a nice home, a jolly little caravan, and Fiona, mean that I've popped up smelling of roses. They don't compensate for the loss of so many people that I used to love.

I keep several diaries going. There are two holiday diaries, Caravan Diary and the more general Travel Diary. There's Money Diary (all my bank, credit card and major cash transactions, with a running balance and a daily spending target). There's Photo Diary (where and when for every photo shoot). And there's Event Diary, which records the stuff that I don't necessarily put in the Blog. I was reading up November and December 2008 yesterday evening. I wanted to look at the background events that led to that debut at the Clare Project. I'd written at some length. And I read on, well into 2009, up to Dad's death in May 2009.

Funny how your memory plays tricks with you. I hadn't remembered anything wrongly, but I'd forgotten that the Lucy Melford debut occurred amid a storm of negativity from my parents and partner. My goodness, I was being hammered! I'd put all of that out of my mind, forgotten it. It was shocking to read all about it again, but - four years on - it didn't upset me. It was after all firmly in the past.

But reading on into 2009, I couldn't help noticing how Dad kept imposing restrictions on how he wanted me to be. It was the same old control being laid on. For example: not to begin hormone treatment (a request that I had to quietly ignore). Not to have surgery while he was alive (he made me promise that). Not to embarrass him with female clothing and behaviour (which forced me to be a part-time woman until he died). In late February 2009, Dad announced that after our April cruise he wanted to have a 'man to man' discussion with me about where I was going. That sounded very much like an attempt to 'make me see sense before I went too far'. Then in mid-March he made me an offer: he'd sell his house and we'd move to North Devon, buying a really nice place there instead, which I'd have when he died. Somewhere sunny and beachy. But I'd have to give up 'becoming a woman'. It was a frank bribe to stop my transition in its tracks. He really didn't understand what was going on. It was meant to be a very tempting inducement; but I couldn't stifle the feelings inside me, and I said no.

Reading the Diary now, I realised that I had discarded most of these incidents from my ongoing memory, and had clung instead to those moments on the cruise when Dad and I seemed to bond. Now I saw that Dad wasn't by any means acquiescent to my transition, didn't understand my feelings at all, and was going to keep fighting me on it. M--- always maintained that he would never accept me as Lucy. I think now that she was more right than wrong. I don't say that Dad would always have set himself against me, as Mum did, but he'd need a lot of time to accustom himself to Lucy and get to appreciate her. And time ran out for him so soon.

He died of a cardiac arrest, and I have often wondered whether, in those last months, he abandoned careful eating and indulged himself in heartwarming fry-ups to an unwise or reckless degree. He'd certainly had a tasty fry-up as his meal on that last evening. I knew he missed Mum badly, and had only me to live for. It's not a good thought, but my 'stubbornness' in carrying my transition forward might have made him feel the best thing would be to eat what he liked, and let Nature intervene with an inevitable death. A kind of suicide or self-euthanasia. If he made that decision, he said nothing to me about it, and all the indications were (when I examined his personal effects after death) that Nature intervened sooner than he expected. He was caught off guard, unprepared. But I don't enjoy the notion that I may have contributed to my father's death.

Well, it's another thing to live with. I don't feel guilty; just sad if it's true.

How do I stand, then? Pretty well. In four years I have acquired the appearance, voice and demeanour of an ordinary middle-aged woman, and I seem to be universally acceptable in public. I am secure with a pension, a nice home, a nice caravan and a car to be proud of. I am surrounded by a stack of personal possessions that reflect my many interests. I eat well, have a good social life, and get away for 60-odd nights of the year. I'm a bit overweight, but otherwise in good health and mentally active.

What's missing? Well, I'd like to have more non-trans friends. A little more money. More fitness. I can do something about those things.

What about love, and a close relationship? Ah, not so easy; and not something I feel I need urgently. Or could fit into my life as it is now. Or would really want to.

Is happiness simply a state of mind? What's better to go for - short-lived thrills and sensations, or long-term contentment? The eternal dilemma. At least I'm free to choose.

Friday, 7 December 2012

Let's take heart - it could all be so much worse!

As 2012 draws to an end, and 2013 looms, and the weather is dull and wet and cold, and the Recovery From The Recesson seems endless, it's easy to feel downhearted.

I have not the slightest doubt that most families in the UK have wanted to cut down on spending this Christmas, just to stay on top of all the ordinary bills. But the usual pressure to lash out on presents for everyone, and the wasteful food and drink frenzy of a more affluent decade is so hard to resist. It almost seems that Government Policy is to get us all into the shops, as if Buying Stuff were a matter of National Economic Survival. Do your bit for Britain! Empty your savings account, ramp up your personal debt! Every successive Christmas in recent years has been measured by shop sales. I'm really wondering whether the Traditional Christmas of old has now had its day. It's arguably a ruinously expensive anchronism. Life has changed.

It is desperately annoying to know that global financial irresponsibility during the 2000s is to blame for the current Austerity measures. Bad planning at the top, unrealistic forward predictions, fictitious asset-creation, lax controls, reckless incentives, cynical mis-selling, a tidal wave of easy credit for those who had no prospect of repaying it - all brought us to this. The financial institutions abandoned prudence, and governments stood by as the inevitable tidal wave appeared on the horizon, then got closer, then washed over. And only when the appalling destruction could be seen did they do anything. And we, the ones they were supposed to care for, who had to take them on trust, are now suffering. We are the fall guys. We foot the payback. No wonder people have become distrustful of politicians' policies and promises.

And these people don't go away in shame and retire. We still find ourselves electing the same old duffers again and again.

Standing back, I can't see an awful lot of difference between the parties. There is good and bad in all of them, and some reasonable ideas, but plenty of incompetence and weakness, and the party hue hardly seems to matter. Why don't they all work together? Why is it all so confrontational, and not a model of co-operation? Why are so many planning predictions wrong, or subverted by political expedience, becoming expensive mistakes that benefit nobody?

Who in fact really knows what they are doing? Or what's just around the corner? The next crisis coming up? Sometimes I think that the people in charge are either naturally blind, or have made themselves so.

However, it could all be much worse. Somehow I got onto the subject of dystopic futures recently. Visions of how the world might be within a few decades, if things go a bit wrong. Not post-apocalyptic visions, such as how it would be if there were ever a global nuclear war; just what might happen if we go down certain paths, and disturbing things become dominant.

In this vein, what's coming up?

Well, if we think of films set in the near future, 2018 will see the world of Rollerball arrive. Do you remember it? Global social control by corporate means, the individual reduced to an insignificant spectator of brutal sport.

Then in 2019 we might have the world of Blade Runner, in which everyone who can get away has bought a ticket to a new life elsewhere in the solar system, leaving behind only the poor and the very rich (who run gigantic corporations). It's still a stylish, consumer-orientated world if you have the money, but no fun if you have nothing, or are on the run. High-tech mixes with eerie crumbling apartment blocks, and bio-engineering has produced artificial humans who can kill you. It rains all the time.

On to 2022, just ten years off, and it's the world of Soylent Green, in which pollution and over-population have run out of control. Basically the world is an overheated and partly-sterile mess, in which descent into irretrievable destitution is always a short step away. Life's ordinary little luxuries like real meat and strawberry jam are strictly for the very rich. Nearly everyone lives on soya or plankton derivatives, and thereby hangs an awful tale.

Thank goodness, none of these dystopian visions from the 1970s and 1980s are likely to become reality. Any more than the darkness of 1984 came to be. I don't rule out the social breakdown and tribal savagery of the Mad Max films becoming reality at some point (oil wars, nuclear attacks, ruined cities, basic survival living), but we'd all have to go seriously off the rails for anything of the sort to happen.

I'm confident that in the year 2100 the UK will still be mainly brick houses and bungalows, ordinary blocks of flats and shopping centres, and trains and buses, much as we know them today. No doubt domestic interiors will look different, more minimalist than now perhaps, and stuffed with discreet electronics. And parked outside will be a car that doesn't run on petrol or diesel. Towns will be larger, but not out of control, and the beauties of the countryside and coast will be rigorously preserved. But it will seem like Canada or Scandinavia. I fear the weather outside will be frightful, even if the warmth indoors will be delightful. It won't be utopia, it'll just be comfortable suburbia endlessly repainted and proofed against the worsening climate. You won't be able to escape off-world, but then neither will you have to eat 'Soylent Green', nor watch Rollerball instead of footy or cricket or tennis or snooker. 

But to have a reasonable income, and pay your bills, you won't be retiring till you're 80, maybe never. And they'll still be making predictions about when the Recovery will really get under way.