Friday, 31 May 2013

But did I waste their time?

In yesterday's post I celebrated the girls I knew thirty to forty years ago, who all helped to shape me into the relatively capable, confident and grown-up person who later married W--- and then, later still, the person who became the long-term partner of M---.

Those more recent relationships were a lot more enduring, and certainly involved a degree of personal commitment that I simply could not have mustered when younger. I contributed good things to that marriage, and to that partnership, only because of the prior education and moulding I received from the people who filled my life from 1974 to 1982. I owe them all such a debt.

Do I also owe them an apology?

As I emphasised yesterday, all those girlfriends became 'ex'. The happy beginning fizzled out in every case, sometimes amicably, sometimes not so well. The same with W--- and M---. A promising start, a period of contentment (very prolonged in M---'s case), but in the end a collapse into nothingness.

Whether the relationship lasted weeks or years, is a case to be made against me for wasting their time? Indeed, where W--- and M--- are concerned, is there a case that I wasted the best years of their life? It's a troubling matter.

Let me say at once that if I'd known, in my twenties, that I was transsexual - meaning specifically that a medical expert had diagnosed gender dysphoria in me that needed treatment, or that I suspected this to be precisely my problem - then all these relationships would have been on a completely different footing, if they had existed at all. I would at best have been just another female friend. (And of course my whole life would have been profoundly different)

But no such diagnosis was possible in 1974, certainly not by timidly approaching an NHS doctor in a Southampton suburb. The family doctor I have in mind was a very nice man, and he might well have known something about the common neuroses of young persons. But although Harry Benjamin had been publishing papers and giving lectures on transsexuality for years before, and had written a book about it in 1966, I doubt whether our family doctor would have been familiar with gender dysphoria, or Gender Identity Disorder as it was termed in the early 1970s. He would instead have gently talked me round into accepting that I simply had worries on my mind, concerns and feelings of inadequacy that made me want an escape route, a way out. Thinking that I might be female was simply a straw I was clutching at, a fearful hangover from childhood or an uncomfortable puberty.

He would reassure me. He was a very nice man. He would have suggested good ways to get a grip. I would have left the surgery convinced that there was nothing to be concerned about: work pressures, or low self-esteem, or still being a virgin, were my real problems. All I needed to do was face up to my challenges at work, and get myself a girlfriend without delay. So in that light, it was natural to pluck up the courage to ask a girl out, and then see what happened. And lock all the nagging questions up in a box. I could be normal. There was no need to mention my doubts to anybody. No need to air those deep reservations about the male role I felt forced to develop. Indeed, best not - it put girls off.

So I set to. And didn't do badly after a while.

Was I unique? I bet I wasn't. Even so, I took up the time of several women during the four decades to come, and stopped them finding anybody else while I was around. I also tugged at their hearts. If a man did that, it would be bad enough. But someone who turned out to be a woman?

Did I waste their time? I can't evade the question. It's especially acute in the case of W--- and M---.

Well, I brought many things to the table. Love, cash, mobility, the will and means to have a great lifestyle that might go on indefinitely. I also brought emotional support, empathy, company, and I was there through thick and thin. I was above all The Partner, the person on the arm, the one who could give and receive cuddles and embraces.

Are good times and lovely memories really spoiled because a medical condition is discovered a long way down the line? I can't agree that any of the shared enjoyments have vanished without trace, as if they had no reality. One sees them in a fresh light, no doubt, but for me at least they are not poisoned or tainted memories. And I don't feel like a horrible person who has killed the past, binned it, and soured it with deceit, or whatever the accusation might be.

There's another side to the issue, of course. I devoted myself to being a 'good chap' for nearly forty years. Done because I went along with a male role assigned to me at birth, apparently without the possibility of appeal or revision, and lived up to everyone's expectations. Where is my compensation for the awful consequences of that initial mistake, and all the misdirected effort that followed? I'm not saying that the time given to playing the man was completely wasted, because I learned so much. But look at my position now: two thirds of my life gone. It's like having served a very long prison sentence in the belief that one was justly convicted - and then finding out that one need not have gone to prison at all. Should one feel embittered?

I think the best thing to do is move on, make the very most of what lies ahead, and sidestep any blame game.

Mutual accusations of timewasting can achieve nothing. They can't alter the past. They can't pay back lost months and years.

And who is to say that the alternative life, the one not lived because I 'stole' the time for it - the life that might have been - would have been a better one? Impossible to know.

Just as I can't know how an alternative life as a 1970s Lucy Melford would have been. But I suspect that the grass would not have been greener. I would no doubt have lost my job, fallen into sex work and drugs, become infected with HIV, and end up an early victim of AIDS. If I were not battered to death first. How could I have avoided it? Think of the prejudice, the hate, the lack of understanding, the hopelessness of a 1970s tranny down in the gutter. No-one would have been my friend and protector. I'm glad that I at least tried to live the life people wanted me to.

Any amount of regret is better than being dead and beyond feeling anything at all.

Thursday, 30 May 2013

Old flames

It shouldn't surprise anyone to learn that I still have an archive of old photos of former girlfriends, and that I look at them from time to time. I'm after clues.

Clues to what? Clues as to what drew me to each of them, and what they saw in me, and what the photos can now tell me about myself and them, for no written diaries or letters survive.

Clues as to what aspects of femininity in them spoke to my subconscious, bearing in mind how I really was inside all the time, even if I was unaware of the fact. Things like that. I now believe that each was in some way a role model for me, as well as for the time being the centre of my emotional world.

So this post is a gallery of old flames, representing all the women I went out with from 1974 to 1982. I can imagine that some people might say, hey, what's all this about? Why show these pictures? What are you trying to prove? That you could turn the heads of some very pleasant girls?

Think that if you want to. My motivation is more complex. I was aged twenty-two in 1974, thirty in 1982. What I did between those years was my best shot at obeying nature and finding a soulmate while still young. But remember that every one of these girls faded from my life. None of these relationships lasted; they all failed. So this is not in fact a gallery of personal successes - something to crow about - but a gallery of failure. A reminder that from beginning to end, I have never been able to handle relationships, and still can't make them work.

I wondered whether it was a good idea to not only show the pictures, but also put a name to these girls, but then (a) this is an autobiographical blog - such details matter; and (b) it's ancient history - all these pictures are at least thirty years old, and everyone must look very different nowadays. I lost touch with them all long, long, ago, and have no idea where they now are, what they are called, or how life is treating them. I do hope all these old girlfirends have found happiness, and now, in their fifties, sixties or seventies (the age range is wide) are still enjoying life.

The first person is Gill, whom I knew in 1974. She was never a proper girlfriend - her own eyes were elsewhere - but I do think that a couple of afternoons at her home playing records (she liked Elton John and Santana), picking her up for evenings out, meeting her parents, she meeting mine, and having her along to my cousin R---'s wedding reception, all signified more than just a completely casual and empty friendship. Here she is:


This is Gill with her best friend Jo in a fun venue in Southampton:


The fun venue was a bar called The Painted Waggon, opposite Southampton Civic Centre, long gone of course. I wonder if anyone can recall it now? For months on end in 1974 and 1975 it was the favourite meeting-up spot for an evening out. If I'm really honest, Gill really didn't have too much time for me: I was uncool. I didn't have that special way with girls, not like my brother at that wedding reception, who had no problems whatever:


Happy days. Next up is Jenny, my love of 1975. Now this was a proper relationship, to the extent that I defied my disapproving parents over her. They did not like her at all. Well, even if she was - as accused - simply a good time girl, she was a good time girl with a heart. And she was still my choice: I resented my parents' attitude. It made home life very awkward, and changed forever how I felt about Mum and Dad's standards. Jenny and I stayed together for nearly a year. Here she is in her Totton bedsit, with Moon Bear, her favourite cuddly toy. Just out of sight is the Jason King poster. Jason was much more charming than I was, but he was only a poster.

   
And here she is dressed for a big night out:


After Jenny came Edwina, who was my girlfriend in 1976 and 1977. After that, when my work took me permanently away from Southampton to London, we were simply good friends. But we stayed in touch for a long time, and I think I last saw her in 1984, when I visited her with W--- and A---. Here she is in various locations:


Edwina was a fun person who lived with her elderly parents, loved cats and dogs, and was extremely popular with a host of friends, neighbours and acquaintances. She had a grown-up son called Martin, and an extended family in Southampton, North Wales and Liverpool, whom I met. The girl draped with Edwina over my pale yellow Renault 12 car is Barbara, Martin's girlfriend at the time. The collie in the last picture was called Sabre. She loved him to bits.

Next up, Sarah, my first post-Southampton fling in 1978 - a summer romance you might say:


Sarah looks a bit coltish in these photos, but she had sophisticated ways. She was tall (taller than me), slender and elegant. I met her parents, and indeed stayed over. They were very nice to me.

After Sarah came Deborah, who was a sweet little thing, and my love from 1978 right through to 1982, despite our splitting for a short while in early 1981. We actually got engaged in 1980, but she jilted me on St Patrick's Day in 1981. As you will see from this sequence, she grew up and matured:


(That's Deborah with Edwina, who was remarkably goodnatured about hostessing the women who came after her)


(With my Mum and Dad. She still looks like a child)


The last I ever saw of Deborah was in 1984 or 1985, after I married, when she was driving down my road in London, saw me, skidded to a halt, and then had a breathless ten-minute chat with W--- and myself at our front door. I very much doubt whether life has subdued her enthusiasm, energy and skittishness: at least I very much hope not.

I met W--- and her daughter A--- through Deborah in early 1982. That's quite another story!

I'm proud of the women I knew before I got married. They weren't 'conquests'. They were friends who in different ways tutored me, and helped me make the best of a difficult decade. They all let me in on some aspect of life, on things connected with growing up that had hitherto passed me by. They enlarged my experience and moulded my personality. I am very grateful to them all. Any success I had at playing the 'male role' with W--- or M--- can be attributed to these girls, who treated me (I now see clearly) with a forbearance and kindness that seems astonishing. I have no idea whether any of them ever guessed that deep down I had huge questions about myself. Impossible to say; and I can't see how we would ever now meet up and discuss it.

It would be a very interesting conversation, I'm quite sure.

Wednesday, 29 May 2013

The Job Happlication an' Hinterview

Curious, I went to the John Lewis Partnership Recruitment website and looked at their list of jobs in south-east England. I set myself up with a User Name and Password.

There was nothing local to me just now, but there were supermarket counter jobs about an hour's drive away, at Godalming in Surrey, and although that was really too far off, I decided to find out what the online application process was like. I applied for the position of an assistant on the deli counter. It paid £6.89 an hour. I said I was interested in a permanent but part-time job.

Providing basic details about myself (as Lucy Melford of course) was easy. They didn't want to know my age - that would become apparent anyway from my work-experience details - but height was an issue, although that's not surprising when you think of it, as a supermarket has stock on shelves that might be out of reach to a staff member who was especially short.

I had no problems listing my academic qualifications (Three A levels, grades A, B and B: they still stack up, even now), and what my friends might say of my remarkable personal qualities. Giving examples of achievements that I am proud of was a poser. Really nothing in the Old Life, except maybe getting decent A levels and passing my driving test. But two things stood out in the New. I was very proud of fixing my 'voice defect', and I was also proud of my 'creative writing' on the blog. In they went.

But then I saw that the application might be binned at the first filter. Because I came next to a page to describe one's work experiences in the last five years, and I had nothing to say, having retired in 2005. There was also this ominous note about employer job references:

It should be clearly understood that reference enquiries may be sent to all persons named. No reference will be asked for until a provisional offer of employment has been accepted.

How was my old employer going to provide a reference without giving away the fact that I was once that Other Person? I didn't want that to be known. I wasn't ashamed of having transitioned, but I wanted on principle to apply for the job on the same footing as any other woman, and not be given special treatment because of some diversity policy, however enlightened. I wanted to get the job because of my personal qualities and relevant work experience, not because it would be deemed politically correct to employ me, or to satisfy some quota.

I pressed on however, and on the next page I was able to briefly describe my 35-year Inland Revenue career from 1970 to 2005. It was easy enough to state what I'd done, why I'd left, what my final salary was, and what my Revenue experience would bring to the table by way of personal skills useful in a busy shop environment.

By this time I'd completed four or five online pages, and had reached the point where they now asked for two personal referees. This is how it was put:

Referees should have known you for at least 3 years and must be over 18 years old. Do not give names of your relatives. Details of a personal and/or academic referee will be required if you have less than 5 years' employment history. Please give two names.

Hmmmm. Two people who were not related to me, who had known me for at least three years, and known me well enough to give a meaningful reference. Who? J---, my neighbour next door? A committee member at the Clare Project? One or two of my blogging friends? Yes, I could muster two names, if they were both willing to be contacted.

But I stopped there without actually putting in any names and addresses, and logged out. It was a useful dummy run. I'd got the hang of the process, and would be ready for any more local positions that might come up later in the year at Burgess Hill or Haywards Heath.

Who knows, I might find myself doing this for real sooner than I thought. I could easily imagine how it would be, if the application led on to an interview:

Lady Haslemere (interviewing): DO come in! Miss Melford, isn't it?

Lucy Melford (eager job applicant): Good morning, mum, nice ter meet you. (Curtsies, hat falls off, trips over parasol)

Lady Haslemere: DO sit down. And don't snivel, please. Just be yourself. There's no need to be afraid.

Lucy Melford: Thank you, mum, much happreciated. I confess that I ham just a little nervous. (Giggles hysterically, wipes nose on sleeve)

Lady Haslemere: Your application was satisfactory on most points, but we were intrigued about the things you mentioned as being proud of.

Lucy Melford: Oh really, mum? (Drops parasol again)

Lady Haslemere: Yes. For instance, what is this 'voice defect' you refer to?

Lucy Melford: Why, bless you, mum, it was just that I couldn't talk proper. It didn't sound right. People larfed at me. Called me funny names an' whatnot. I 'ad to 'ave lessons. With Professor 'Iggins. But it's all right now. I can talk like a real lady whenever I want, see?

Lady Haslemere: What was wrong with your voice exactly? Could you explain a little more? We need to know, in case it impacts on our customers.

Lucy Melford: Well, I hain't sure I can rightly tell you, mum. It was sort of deep and rough-like. Not like a proper woman's voice at all. My friend Sal, she says to me she says, 'Hey, girl, you hain't never going to get yourself a nice job 'less you get your voice sorted like what I 'ave.' 'Is that so?' says I to 'er. 'Well,' I says, 'I'd better go an' see that Professor 'Iggins what 'angs around Covent Garden takin' notes of what people is sayin' and stuff. 'E'll get me sorted good an' proper.' So I goes an' sees the Prof an' I says to 'im, 'ow about it? An' 'e says 'e can make me speak just as fine as a real lady speaks. In fact, 'e says to 'is friend Colonel Pickering 'e says, Pickering, I fink we can pass this girl off as a duchess, an' they make a bet on it. Next fing, I'm at Ascot all dressed up an' everyone sayin' I'm a foreign princess.

Lady Haslemere: Really? How astonishing! Well...what about this other thing you mention...your 'creative writing.' Is this poetry, perhaps? Or have you published a learned monograph?

Lucy Melford: No mum, it's me blog, innit.

Lady Haslemere: Pray, what is a blog?

Lucy Melford: You want ter get out more, mum. Why, a blog is a fing on the Internet, an' you just type out what's on your mind so that other people can read it an' make comments hif they want. I consider meself a great blogger 'cause I know lots of fancy words, and I can go on an' on an' on, longer than most other people can.

Lady Haslemere: What kind of things do you write about?

Lucy Melford: Stuff a real lady likes ter read, mum! 'Ere, 'ave I got that job or not? I've got a lot of himportant happointments what won't wait, an' I can't waste time if you fink I'm too good for the billet on the deli counter.

Lady Haslemere: Ah, yes...I'm afraid you are - as you say - too well-qualified. In fact, I'm afraid we can't really see our way to giving you this position. Sorry.

Lucy Melford: That's all right, ducks. Not sure if I wanted it anyways. My friend Sal she says to me she says, 'Girl, you want to watch it with them supermarkets, no place for a lady what is goin' places, an' not good enuff for the likes of you.' 'Sal,' I replies,'You 'ave never said a truer word. I fink that now I've got these 'ere voice skills, I'm goin' into business on me own account.' 'As what?' says she. 'Oh,' says I, 'I'm goin' to offer helocution lessons and make meself a fortune.'

There we go! A career as a champion voice coach looms!

Monday, 27 May 2013

Another kind of strap for the shoulder bag

The orange leather shoulder bag that I resurrected a couple of weeks ago has proved to be a very practical bag indeed for everyday use.

It is of course larger than the faithful-but-getting-tatty black Radley bag that I've used most of the time over the last four years, and consequently it will swallow a bit more stuff. I had initial doubts about the carroty colour - would it go with my clothes? - but the colour hasn't mattered, and the bag has won me over. We've bonded.

It hasn't got a special name yet: I still automatically think of it s 'M---'s bag' or 'the Florence bag', and that's how it may stay. That said, if it develops a definite friendly personality, and particularly if it shares some unforgettable adventure with me, it may find itself with a name. I believe (having given this matter deep thought - someone's got to) that utilitarian possessions do tend to acquire a special name if they are there at your side all the time, to help and support you in everyday life, and especially if you find yourself interacting with them. As if in some sense they were 'alive' - though don't take me literally on that! Thus my car - whom I drive, and who has her quirks - has a name (Fiona); and similarly my individually-customised touchscreen tablet and phone have names too (Papagena and Eloise respectively).

But my house and caravan remain nameless: they are both merely living spaces - well-loved comfortable safe havens certainly, one fixed, one mobile, but neither is a personality, just a base for operations, a warm shelter from the weather, somewhere to cook and eat and sleep. Whereas I can get out and explore (and have all kinds of experiences) with my car, my little gadgets - and my bag. They are companions, and thus deserve a name.

Bonded though we are, the Florence bag has one niggling drawback: it slips too easily from my shoulder.

Now that's a very common complaint that women have about their bags. Shoulder bags are desirable, and they score very highly for style - it does look swish and trendy to hoick a smart bag up onto one's shoulder. Somehow that position shows the bag off best; or at least makes it catch the eye most, because it is carried high. It's a jaunty, catwalky, young person's way of carrying a bag - not like having it crooked on your arm, like granny might have.


But you're lucky if it stays up there for long. Just look around: everywhere women are reslinging their shoulder bags again and again, because they slip off. Making the bag heavy helps, but that's not good for you. So there are commercial solutions, mostly based on introducing a measure of friction between the strap (or straps) and the shoulder, to keep the bag in place. Thus we have discreet strips of stick-on rubber or suede, and even clever velcro and hook systems, to stop that bag dropping down. I may well become a humble disciple of Silicone-Do ('The Way Of The Stick-on Rubberised Strip' as taught by the Korean martial arts masters), and the bag's wide leather strap is especially suitable for this solution; but meanwhile I have been busy pursuing another solution entirely. Something for sunny Bank Holiday Weekend afternoons, when you are happy to stay at home and do some sewing.

Procedure is as follows. Keep eyes on honourable opponent throughout.

1. Buy length of wide black webbing (three metres, to ensure sufficiency), plus reel of strong black polyester thread.
2. Take one orange leather shoulder bag with matching brown leather shoulder strap and clip-onto-bag brass fastenings.
3. Detach matching brown leather shoulder strap, and carefully put aside for future use, as will be when this person is black belt in Silicone-Do.
4. In attic, find unused long shoulder strap made of wide blue webbing with clip-onto-bag brass fastenings.
5. Measure ideal length for long shoulder strap in wide black webbing that can be worn cross-body, long enough to form continuous loop with six centimetres of overlap for join - exactly two metres needed for this person's unworthy physique.
6. Cannibalise brass fastenings from wide blue webbing shoulder strap, and attach to orange leather shoulder bag.
7. Loop two-metre length of wide black webbing through brass fastenings and sew ends together.
8. As refinement, fix strap into positon by sewing both surfaces of looped webbing together at rear fastening.

Ah so!


I suppose that what I've got now resembles a messenger bag, but that's where the bright orange colour comes to the rescue, and adds a jazzy note that dull, dull, dull messenger bags lack. And I can still swap between the original short strap and the new long strap at will. But the new one gives me that cross-body option, which means it's a lot easier to wear when I need both hands free, and it's much more secure from being snatched by thieves in city situations. Cross-body would definitely be my preferred strap mode for a country walk, or scrambling over rocky coasts, or for any long day out for that matter - it's an unglamorous but practical way of wearing a bag that is also better for neck muscles and one's spine.

Black webbing is fine, but it's not ideal for this particular bag. I will be on the lookout for dark brown webbing, if it can be bought, and then remake the long strap. Another possibility is buying an inexpensive (possibly secondhand) bag with a long dark brown strap (it can be leather or webbing) and brass fastenings, and then transferring that strap to the orange Florence bag. Then the setup would be perfect.

Sunday, 26 May 2013

Riding the air

Now here's a sport that I would love to indulge in - if I dared! Being scared of heights, and always prefering to have my feet planted on firm ground, completely rules it out. But of course one can watch.

I am referring to paragliding - see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paragliding. If I have a preference, I prefer to watch paragliding to hang gliding - see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hang_gliding. I suppose it must be the slower, more graceful, and photographically more interesting way that paragliders move through the air.

You don't seem to see so much hang gliding done nowadays. That may be due to the less expensive and much lighter equipment needed for paragliding - basically an aerodynamic fabric wing held into shape by cords, with of course a harness, almost always attached to some kind of 'seat'. The key parts of the ensemble can be collapsed into a backpack. Whereas the rigid struts needed for a hang glider mean more bulk and weight, and setup is more of a rigmarole.

Another point would be that hang gliders fly horizontally, face down, and landing safely is trickier. Paragliders can land on their feet. But of course both variations are at the mercy of the wind, and a sudden gust, or an unexpected drop in the wind, can be potentially hazardous. A hang glider, with a wing that can't deform, is more suitable for very strong winds, and can fly higher. All such considerations are irrelevant to me, because there is no chance whatever that I will ever let myself get airbourne by either method. But I like to see others do it, and I admire their skill and fearlessness.

Over the years, I've amassed quite a collection of paragliding shots in various locations, usually taken close to sunset, when the image of the solo high flyer drifting into the setting sun is at its most potent. Here's a selection (from 2002 to 2013) taken from the South Downs and Beachy Head in Sussex, and at Rhosili on the Gower in South Wales:


What a sense of freedom these shots give me.

Thursday, 23 May 2013

Restless

Fiona has been fixed. She's already had a service and her MOT, and the punctures in the rear tyres have been dealt with. And now, today, she has had brand new rear brake disks and pads fitted. I can go off on my Northern Tour next month with complete peace of mind.

I'm more-or-less ready to go now. The caravan has been turned around in the driveway, ready for hitching up. If pushed, I could load it up in just a couple of hours, and then be on the road. How tempting that is! I'm beginning to feel somewhat confined, not having gone far since March. I can't imagine never going away like this from time to time. A constant change of scene seems so important.

I've got to admit it, I've become a restless kind of person, who enjoys their home but needs to get out often. I really don't think that I could ever now settle into a quiet, go-nowhere existence totally centred around a local job or a local interest. There's some point in discussing this, because I've heard that Waitrose (my favourite supermarket) is expanding its operations in mid Sussex. The store at nearby Burgess Hill is being extended, and a completely new store will be opening in Haywards Heath. It has crossed my mind that it wouldn't be a bad idea to get myself a part-time job with Waitrose from the end of this year until my State Pension kicks at the end of 2014. Say I cleared £80 a week after tax and NIC, and the expense of driving to work and back, and kept it up for a year. That would be very handy money. It would let me do more caravanning.

But then, would I have the opportunity? The commitment to do the job would stop me going away for anything more than short breaks. And would I really want to pin myself down to a go-to-work routine again? All right, it would only be two or three days a week, and it would be local. But once the novelty has worn off, I can see myself getting demotivated if extra money is the only incentive. Especially on sunny days, when I could be down at the seaside...

Sigh. I've become institutionally retired! How sad!

Wednesday, 22 May 2013

The new Flickr

They've just revamped Flickr in a major way (see http://connect.dpreview.com/post/1636474797/flickr-update-terabyte-android-app?news), so that one's Flickr Photostream pictures are now presented quite differently - still in upload sequence, but as a mosaic of shots without gaps between them, not all the same size, and without captions.

I think it's meant to enable many more pictures to be seen at one go, and to maximise the use of screen space.

You can of course still find out everything you need to know about a shot (including the caption) by clicking on it, but my first reaction is that hiding information about the picture is a great loss. Assuming a proper caption, how will you be able to tell at a glance, without moving the mouse pointer around, exactly who or what is in the picture? And what is the point of inventing a witty caption, if it won't be shown? But no doubt we will all get used to it.

Apparently the people behind Flickr were losing money, and decided that it needed a massive makeover. It's now much more phone- and tablet-friendly, which is fine if all you really want is a gallery of shots to scroll through.

But there are complaints already that by going in that direction, Flickr has moved away from a presentation that professionals would prefer. Well, two things here: (a) no pro would ever expect to sell anything from Flickr: they'd do that from their own website, and charge accordingly, and of course no marketable shots would ever be placed on Flickr itself; and (b) the new presentation is very reminiscent of the 'lightbox' used to view transparencies in the old days, when a selection of images was being made for possible publication - and so in that sense the new-style Flickr Photostream is not at all 'unprofessional'.

The money-making endeavour will now include thrusting advertisements at Flickr users if they have the bog-standard Free version, which all new Flickr users (or existing non-Pro users) will get by default. It does however come with a terabyte of space to fill, which represents an awful lot of photos.

If you don't want ads, then you must pay about £35 a year to have an Ad Free account, or, if you want two terabytes and no ads, then it's about £350 a year for a Doublr account. Existing Pro users (I'm one) can carry on indefinitely, paying about £17 a year for no ads and unlimited space, easily the best deal.

All users will get finer rendition than before, to show off their work to the best advantage. I have to agree that looking through my own pictures is now a better experience than ever. One wonders what investment in computing power must have been made to make things this good!

It just shows how photo-conscious the world has become. Is there anything, from the Oklahoma tornado damage, to today's London street killing, that isn't instantly caught on camera by dozens of nearby people, all using their phones as cameras? It seems that Flickr management implied in their announcement of the new-style Flickr presentation that professional photography was dead. They got into trouble for that, and quickly modified their message, but I do think they had a point. There are certainly circumstances when a 'specialist photographer', who will be a professional, is needed - in scientific, medical and engineering contexts, for instance; and some will go on securing work from weddings, pop concerts, fashion, and shooting catalogues. But in everyday life? What is left for a professional to do? Everyone has access to either a decent phone with a built-in camera, or, if the bug has taken them, they possess a proper camera capable of amazingly good results.

Cameras have been good enough for all normal purposes for several years now. The camera I use (my Leica D-Lux 4) was bought in June 2009, and was first launched in October 2008. It has a 10 megapixel sensor and an f/2 zoom lens, and it's small and light and fits in my bag, so I always have it with me. It's taken over 38,000 shots so far, and I'm hoping it will last until 2015, when I can afford a replacement. It will no doubt have taken 50,000 shots by then. But if it's still going strong, and nothing special is on the market, I shall stay with it, and defer replacement until there is some technological breakthrough that genuinely warrants spending £600, or £700, or whatever it will cost.

It was all very different in the days of film photography. Very few people could afford to blast away with shot after shot, because film, and development and processing, was so expensive. Good cameras were the province of keen amateurs, who shaded off into frank professionals. The rest of us made do with shoddy plastic things with plastic lenses that relied on flashcubes in all but bright sunshine. Only professionals had the negative and print storage problem nailed.

It's a sobering thought that only a tiny proportion of the millions of pictures taken prior to the digital age will ever be 'published' so that the rest of the world can enjoy them. So different nowadays, when shots can be taken and posted to Flickr (or anywhere on the Internet) in an instant, for all to appreciate. Billions of them. And the cameras can ensure that they are at least technically good shots.

What happens if Flickr ever folds, though?

Monday, 20 May 2013

Bulging bodices, bluebells and bombast

A couple of days ago I went off to Chiddingly (which you pronounce 'chidding-lye', and not 'chidding-lee'), a village set in a very rural area between Uckfield and Hailsham.

It was a warm and sunny afternoon, and my prime objective was the parish church. This has a very tall spire made of stone, which is unusual, because stone spires are very heavy and tend to fall. This one has however lasted six centuries, and indeed survived the effect of a V1 flying bomb that the Germans sent over in 1944, and which shook up a marble memorial inside the church.

As you must have gathered by now, I like history, and the best places outside museums to see very old things are the churches scattered around the countryside. They are usually open, and there is no charge to go inside, although I do sometimes make a donation, or pay for a candle if I want to sit a while and think of my parents; or just be still and think.

Apart from their historical interest, each country church has a subtly different character, and each has a hushed atmosphere of peace, very suitable for contemplation. I avoid times when a service might be going on, but I don't mind encountering any of the people who look after the church, such as a voluntary cleaner or flower-arranger. But best of all I like to have these places to myself. Or at least myself plus whatever other Invisible Presence there might be.

Sometimes I do feel like an intruder, even a trespasser. But most country churches seem very welcoming, very much the gentle, mellow sanctuary. And in return I treat them with huge respect, walking about them carefully with soft footsteps, and trying very hard not to break the spell. Very few churches are in any way forbidding or threatening, with a tense and watchful atmosphere and little unsettling noises that could make you feel uncomfortable. But they do exist. I don't revisit them.

Chiddingly was actually a bit of a find. It's a strung-out kind of place, with its 'modern' focus at Muddles Green, and the older, original centre a bit up the road, where the Six Bells pub, the church, and a now-closed-down drapers and grocers form a traditional nucleus. It's very leafy, and from the churchyard, between the trees, you can see a wide open space where cricket is played. In fact, a game was in progress during my visit, the white-clad bowler throwing perfect balls, and the batsman making perfect clunking sounds with his bat. I didn't see any runs made, but perhaps nobody cared. It was entirely in keeping with the slow-paced, sunny afternoon full of pollen and bees and butterflies.


Inside the church, the chief interest is a large marble and alabaster memorial to members of the Jefferay family, although this is only the most prominent of a number of monuments and floor slabs and plaques that are scattered around inside the church. It was erected in 1612, four hundred years ago:


In the middle, lying down, are (top) Sir John Jefferay, who had high office under Queen Elizabeth I and died in 1578, and (underneath him) his wife Alice, who died in 1576. Standing to the right is their daughter, Elizabeth, who died in 1611; and standing to the left, her husband Sir Edward Montagu, who died in 1644. The little figure right at the bottom, possibly kneeling on a stone cushion, is in fact a child: Edward and Elizabeth's daughter, also named Elizabeth. She died in 1654. Her mother, the older Elizabeth (standing, right) prevailed upon husband Edward to have this memorial created 'in memory of her discent and ofspring' as the plaque at the very top explains.

As I have remarked before, these stone figures are very strange. Are they meant to show the person in a pious pose? Well, they don't here. Sir Edward looks pretty self-important, and not at all humble and penitent, with his fine robes and haughty mien:


And his wife, Elizabeth, is herself rather smug and self-satisfied, and dressed in the height of early-1600s fashion:


The stone carvers have attempted to give her a big starched wing collar, a fan-shaped hairdo with ribbons in it, a super-tight bodice - so tight that her bulging boobs are fit to burst out at any moment - and a peplum at her waist that has become a horizontal platform, from which a pleated skirt hangs straight down, like the Victorians would drape a round table to hide the legs from view. Presumably the real-life skirt was supported by a hoop of some kind. A very odd fashion to modern eyes! Even odder, the little daughter is dressed exactly the same. At least the daughter is kneeling and praying. Her plump-faced mum certainly isn't.

You''ll notice the missing hands. All the parts of this monument that are within easy reach have suffered deliberate damage at some past point. The two most popular theories as to whodunnit have pointed the finger at (a) the Puritans in the Civil War, or, much later, at (b) simple country folk mistakenly thinking that the Jefferays were related to the hated and feared Judge Jeffries of Bloody Assizes infamy. But it may be that hands and other bits were knocked off in the Captain Swing riots of 1830. Here's a description of them from a website on the local history:

In 1830 there was a wave of agricultural unrest known as the 'Captain Swing Riots', which swept across Sussex from East to West in a matter of weeks. They took the form of machine-breaking, rick-burning, riotous assemblies and a great deal of damage was done to the property of parson and squire. Riots took place at Hellingly and Ringmer, the latter in the churchyard. The interior of Horsham Parish Church was badly damaged and it is not impossible that there was such an incident at Chiddingly, in the course of which damage was done to the monuments. The riots, which went on for two years in the South of England and East Anglia, provoked savage sentences from the courts. Over four hundred people were transported and nineteen hanged.

To my mind, Elizabeth's arms seem too large for her head and torso, and there is a theory that in order to get the monument finished quickly, an entire team of carvers were unleashed upon it, so there was bound to be a little inconsistency in style and skill here and there!

Another thing that caught my eye in the church was a brass plate set into the floor of the main aisle, commemorating the first John Jefferay who died in 1513 (that's my feet in the upper shot):

 

It reads:

Of yor charite pray for the soules of John Jefferay and Agnes his wife the which John decessed the xxviii day of Juyn the yer of Or lord M V xiii on whose soules Jhu haue mcy

It beats me how anyone ever thought that blackletter was easy to read! And presumably, to compound illegibility, each engraver formed his letters as he felt inclined, and spelled as he saw fit. At least it was in English. Jolly good-quality brass, though, considering that people have been treading on it since 1513!

Full descriptions of Chiddingly church and its monuments can be found at http://www.coopersfarm.co.uk/church/churchguide1.htm and http://www.coopersfarm.co.uk/church/nadfas2.htm.

Having checked out the church, I set off across a field, at first following the Wealdway footpath as the first leg of a clockwise jaunt to Muddles Green, and then back to where I had left Fiona near the church. It was so peaceful and pleasant. I came across woods with bluebells in them. Bluebells surely typify the English Springtime, and I am certain that those Brits who decide to live abroad in their retirement years must think of dewy bluebells with an aching regret for what they have left behind. You don't get 'em in sunny Spain or Tuscany or Greece, now do you? And I remember how M--- and I felt at that moment in our two-month holiday in New Zealand when, despite all the wonderful sights, we suddenly yearned for the shady woods of Sussex and a carpet of bluebells.

Here I am, with said bluebells in the background:


Gosh, I look a bit better (and happier) than I did a day or two previously, after an ill-conceived experiment with eye makeup that made my eyes water:


On the way back to Fiona, opposite the school at Muddles Green, I noticed a recreation field with an entrance between two brick columns. On one column was a shield with a somewhat forbidding message for the little local schoolchildren:


I've played around with the rendition of the shield, to make the words clearer. They say:

FEAR GOD
HONOUR THE KING
PLAY THE GAME
This entrance gate was presented to the children of this parish by Alan Richardson Esq of Bosham, and opened on the King's Jubilee May 6th 1935

I bet all the kids tugged their forelocks or curtsied, and said thank you to Mr Richardson - or else! Personally I think this is an outrageously intimidating bit of nonsense. A little child shouldn't be frightened to death by thoughts of an avenging deity, or an irascable monarch (it was George V), or a ridiculous public-school ethos that had been brutally discredited in the muddy, bloody trenches of Flanders twenty years previously.

It was easy to track down details of Mr Richardson and his family on the Internet - see  http://www.thekeffs.freeserve.co.uk/richardson.html. Despite the mention of Bosham (a village at the far western extemity of Sussex), Mr Richardson had strong links with Chiddingly. His father was a wealthy banker and stockbroker who considered himself the Chiddingly village squire during the late nineteenth century.

Alan Richardson himself was a Colonel in the army, a title he used till he died, so the schoolkids would have heard him referred to as 'Colonel Richardson', and they would have been suitably overawed. He must have been treated much like elderly Marshal P├ętain was treated in France at the time - another old soldier with an unassailable reputation. Colonel Richardson lived from 1854 to 1942, so was aged 81 when he gave the village children these entrance gates.

I suppose I shouldn't blame him for holding God, King and Cricket so dear. His was a generation that venerated the myths and illusions of an Imperial Britain, and he clearly had a military mind to boot. Was he very much different in personal outlook from the Jefferays commemorated on their monuments inside the church?

Only a few miles away from Chiddingly is Hamilton Palace, the unfinished mausoleum of Nicholas van Hoogstraten, who made his millions as a ruthless landlord during the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s, before concentrating on his foreign interests. If it is ever completed - construction has stalled just now - this vast building will house Mr van Hoogstraten's art collection in a perpetual trust. It will outdo any memorial that other upcoming families of Sussex have ever devised in the past. But naturally Mr van Hoogstraten will have to pop his clogs before his mausoleum scheme will work.

I wonder if he has thought of a way around that. He's a very clever man if he has.

You know, it's the same old snag. No pockets in a shroud.