Thursday, 31 October 2013

Lucy takes on one of the Big Six

If you thought I was going to do a horrific/creepy/scary/gory Hallowe'en post, then tough titties.

No, I want to celebrate a victory (of sorts) over one of the 'Big Six' power companies, all of whom are very much in the news at the moment for eye-watering electricity and gas price rises. And I wasn't going to be immune. It was a depressing prospect, paying yet more for the same.

The electricity bill was not the problem. It was the gas bill: I use gas for heating and cooking. It's the really big bill.

As it happens, my annual fuel consumption has stabilised at 2,000 units (that's 2,000 kWh) of electricity, and 2,200 units (say about 24,200 kWh) of gas. These figures are not going to change unless I do something radical like improving my existing loft insulation, or having my cavity walls filled. But then that would make my loft unusable for storage; and I've heard of damp problems associated with cavity insulation. For now, I'd prefer to have an attic I can use. As for solar panels, the roofs of my house aren't ideally orientated, and in any case I can't afford to fit them - any more than I can find the cash for a more efficient gas-fired boiler. But being the sole occupant of my house, I can if need be ration my power usage without affecting anybody else. Or turn it up in a what-the-hell, carpe diem spirit. Hot water-bottles I don't mind. I actually quite like 'em. But I refuse to wear mittens in indoors. Nor ghastly thermal underwear. Nor a sleeping-cap in bed.

Southern Electric (part of SSE) supply both my electricity and gas. I suspected that they might now be trying it on a bit with their charges - as company policy, in fact - so that their loyal shareholders could enjoy a Warm, Happy and Festive Christmas, while the rest of us - the loyal customers - turn our thermostats down, and send our children out to beg for alms or forage for firewood.

That said, they have hitherto been pretty reasonable. And I have done several things to chip away at my bills. I have opted for paperless billing, monthly payment by direct debit, and have committed myself to a fixed-rate tariff that doesn't expire until next year. I have also given my date of birth in the online profile - it just might make a difference if they positively know that I'm a vulnerable Old Age Pensioner (over sixty anyway), presumably living alone (they know it's 'Miss'), presumably in fragile health, and entirely at their mercy unless they choose to be kind.

Well, an email yesterday told me that my latest bills (in pdf form) were ready to view (I download and keep them). Did I get a shock?

I had suspected that I'd been paying too much each month for electricity, and lo and behold, the bill showed that they now owed me £108! But the hounds did not offer a refund. They were simply going to carry it forward. They were also going to leave my monthly payment unchanged, when a small reduction would be in order. It was absolutely certain that the £108 would never get used up against future bills, and the credit balance would simply grow. So I wanted that repaid immediately - or offset against my gas bill. Grrrrr.

As for the gas bill, I knew that I'd been paying slightly less than I should each month, and it was no surprise when the bill said I owed them £49. However, they wanted to increase my monthly payments by a staggering £30!

Right. I phoned them up at 8.00am sharp this morning, just as their call centre started up for the day, and got through at once. Hmm, that was unexpected - a good omen! A very nice girl spoke to me. I said I accepted their figures and projections - no problem with those - but could we look at three things: (a) offsetting that £108 overpaid on the electricity account against the gas account; (b) recalculating the gas bill; and (c) renegotiating the monthly direct debits for both fuels. The last item might of course be the tricky one!

But I was wrong. The girl made the offset, and did some figurings. How about (she said) amending your present £31 a month for electricity to £27? A £4 saving each month. In other words, a 13% reduction in my monthly electricity costs. Yes, please!

Now the gas. How about amending the £110 a month proposed on the bill to just £94 a month - a £16 saving on what had been asked for? In other words, a 14% reduction in my forthcoming gas costs. Yes, please!

At the end of the day, I would still of course have to pay more each month than I do now - £121 for both fuels, compared with the £111 I'd been getting away with. That's a 9% increase. But if I'd shrugged my shoulders and hadn't made a fuss, the combined cost would have been £141 per month - plus they'd have kept the £108 owed to me. So this is why I feel that I've got a very good result, just by picking up the phone and talking to that nice person.

I made a point of thanking her for what she'd been able to do for me.

Of course, any of the small suppliers might be able to offer me a distinctly better deal altogether. I'll be looking into that, when my fixed-price deal with Southern Electric comes to an end in a few months' time. (Although there surely must be a snag, such as terms and conditions that lock you in, or transfer problems if the small supplier happens to fold)

Tuesday, 29 October 2013

Mission accomplished

Today's shopping plans have been fulfilled.

I went first into Stamford, and although I found the cheese shop out of Stinking Bishop, Nelsons did have shop-made pork pies cooked to the proper 'Melton Mowbray' recipe - apparently only ten or so butchers/bakers in the Midlands have the required accreditation as makers of the genuine product. I bought three. I also bought a long length of Black Pudding. Believe me, you can't have too much of that.


I could have been lazy and left it there. Not me. I gave Fiona the scent, and we careered off to Melton Mowbray at breakneck speed. Arriving still fresh and unwinded at Oakham, a pleasant town halfway, I decided to tether Fiona and instead take the train into Melton Mowbray, reasoning that if it was market day there, the traffic on the way in could be very slow, and it also might be difficult to park. The traffic was almost gridlocked, as it turned out.

The train was packed. I've been travelling on trains quite a bit this year, and I've noticed that whether its Sussex, or Devon, or Leicestershire, trains seem to be carrying a lot more people than they did a few years back, no matter what time you travel. But I got a seat, and it was a very comfortable journey. The ticket man was very nice, but he somehow got the impression that I lived only to eat. It was my talk of pies and cheese, I suppose. Thank goodness I didn't mention the Black Pudding.

Melton Mowbray's market was still in full swing. I was single-minded, and looked first for Ye Olde Pork Pie Shoppe. It was amusing to see that this is so famous that the official council signposts had a metal finger pointing the way to it!


But it was a proper shop, not a tourist trap, and I bought three more 'genuine' pies, the shop owners, Dickinson & Morris, being another of those 'accredited' makers. So I now had three pies from one shop, and three from another, and all was ready for myself, K--- and V--- to conduct a Pie-Judging Contest once I was home again in Sussex. I also bought six slices of succulent Cumbrian ham, for personal consumption over the next day or so, in case malnutrition set in on the journey home. One mustn't risk getting skeletal.

I still wanted some Stinking Bishop, so I asked where Melton Mowbray's specialist cheese shop might be found. After all, that nice ticket man on the train had drawn my attention to an official Network Rail sign at the station which said 'Welcome to MELTON MOWBRAY - Rural Capital of Food - Home of Stilton Cheese - Melton Mowbray Pork Pies'.


Well, my hunch that the place was a good spot for tasty edibles obviously wasn't wrong. I felt there must surely be a good cheese shop tucked away. So there was, called The Melton Cheeseboard, up a sidestreet.


And they had half a Stinking Bishop cheese. And it was so expensive that, at £34 per kilo, that half-cheese would have cost me nearly £30! Way too much. But I bought £15 worth. Perfect for a meal for three, to include soup, pies, salad, bread, cheese, and of course red, red wine.

Chatting away in the cheese shop, I found I'd cut it too fine to catch the 2.34pm train back to Oakham, and so, to kill the hour before the next train, I went into the town Museum. This had recently been revamped to display not only Melton Mowbray's market town past, and its fashionable status in the 19th Century as the country's Foxhunting Capital, but to suggest to today's visitors that it was now a wonderful place to live. Well, they had a point, even if I still thought that Stamford was nicer, especially as it had a Waitrose. But actually, whatever their attractions, all these Midland places had - for me - a fatal drawback: they were not close to the sea. I couldn't live happily without easy access to the sea.

I did manage to catch the 3.34pm train back to Oakham. I made sure that I arrived at the station ten minutes before the train was due. Consequently, I was reminded of some things that I don't like about public transport. You do have to wait around. You do have to spin out the waiting time sitting in a very cold breeze. And there is no guarantee of a seat when the train comes. Driving everywhere in Fiona avoids all these things. In fact however the train was bang on time, and although once again it was almost full, I got a seat next to a pleasant young woman. We got talking, once I'd first apologised for the somewhat ripe smell of the cheese. It was a really good conversation starter. It's so new and fresh and original to say winningly: 'Oh, I'm so sorry for my niffy Bishop!' Or one could try: 'Can you guess why I always carry six Melton Mowbray pork pies around with me?' Or even, though riskier, 'Would you like to see my amazing Black Pudding?' Perhaps not.

Pork pies and stinking bishops

It's the last day of my East Midlands holiday today, and it's bright and sunny and rather cold. Perfect for market-going. I'm hunting for pies and cheeses today.

This part of England has a reputation - well-deserved, so far as I can judge - for foody excellence, and when I'm home again I'll take you through my two visits to The George Hotel at Stamford, where I had a succulent lunch and a georgeous evening meal. These were high-quality experiences, but came with a price tag to match. In fact the evening meal was by far the most expensive meal-for-one I'd ever paid for in my whole life! It was however my deferred Birthday Meal, because I'd intended to go to The George way back in early July, but an electrical problem on the caravan had hastened me home without the planned posh nosh taking place. I was now simply putting that right. Completely just and proper, as I feel certain you'll agree, and not in the slightest bit self-indulgent. Of course not.

I've packed in quite a lot while here, the mostly-fine daytime weather being a boon. I arrived on Friday, and the forest walk was covered in my last post. Saturday was Stamford for lunch, shops, and dinner, and Peterborough for the cathedral. Sunday was Burghley House. Yesterday, Monday, was a visit to A---, aka the Eclectic Chicken, whom I'd not seen for over two years, and, on her recommendation, a visit to Crowland to view the abbey and the famous three-way bridge in the middle of the town. I also took Fiona into the network of dead straight but very bumpy fenland roads to the south-east of Crowland - my goodness, what lonely and windswept countryside! All these things will get a post written about them once I get home tomorrow, except my visit to A---, to preserve her privacy. I had visions of churning out posts while actually here, complete with photos, but although posts-with-photos are theoretically possible with Google Chrome, I was thwarted by the slow speed of wi-fi when away from home. Uploading shots to Blogger was taking much too long. So the holiday will end up getting reported (as usual) after the event.

Back to cheeses and pies. There's a cheese shop in Stamford, my first stop today, that seems to specialise in selling whole cheeses. One, called Stinking Bishop, caught my attention.


I think it's a type of locally-made Stilton, but I shall enquire, although if they are asking too much the Cheese Project will have to be abandoned - or else I'll just get a few samples of various cheeses for immediate eating at the market I have my eye on. The Pie Project will be no less vulnerable to cost limitations. I am going to Melton Mowbray. The market there is held every Tuesday. I'm in search of a whole freshly-made classic Melton Mowbray pork pie. Surely some local baker or chef will have a stall there. Failing that, there is a well-known proper pie shop, Dickinson & Morris, and another I've heard of that rejoices in the name of Ye Olde Pork Pie Shoppe - or are they one and the same? It sounds like a place for the tourists to me, but nevertheless the shops (or shop) clearly warrant a personal visit.

Given that Melton Mowbray must be heaving with wares that Simple Simon would take a keen interest in, I thought my quest would be clear and straightforward. But when I discussed this with A--- yesterday, she put a spanner in the works by suggesting I check out Nelsons in Stamford first. Apparently Nelsons make pies that kill you with ecstacy, and have to be tasted to be believed. Her daughter emphatically agreed. Well, I listen to such things. So maybe I'll end up with a whole collection of pies, from both Stamford and Melton Mowbray, and will have to hold a jolly Pork Pie Tasting Contest when home again! Plus another: Who Dares To Smell The Stinking Bishop?

Time to get going before they sell out.

Saturday, 26 October 2013

Shelters

I'm now up in the East Midlands, not far from Stamford, on a Caravan Club site in Fineshade Woods. Rain fell heavily yesterday evening, and it was very windy. The rain drummed against roof and windows, and the wind hurled itself against my home on wheels, very fiercely sometimes, but I was snug and warm and secure, and I didn't care. In my spotlight-lit and electrically-heated retreat all was cosy comfort. The site has wi-fi, and after cooking and washing-up, I lazily surfed the Internet. Just like home.


Of course it would have been very different if camping in a tent. In the face of what nature can do, tents are flimsy, insubstantial things. Thery are not up off the cold wet ground on wheels, not absolutely watertight, not insulated, and can be invaded by ants. Modern tents are no doubt easier to erect than the sort my Dad used for our family holidays for years on end from the mid-1960s to the early 1970s. His was made of orange wind-catching canvas draped over an elaborate framework of metal poles, and stretched tight using dozens of pegs that all had to be hammered in. There were unlit inner tents for 'bedrooms' in which one got sleep of a sort on inflatable li-los. A total faff to set up. A total faff to pack away. Very basic cooking on a fold-away Camping Gaz hob. No mains electricity for light and heat. Uncomfortable folding chairs to sit on. Unless willing to use the normally unheated on-site toilet and washbasin facilities - no showers - we all made do with a plastic bowl to wash in, and a potty at night to pee in. I couldn't face all that now, not for any inducement. Holidays must be comfortable experiences, or else I'm not going!

And yet there are basic shelters about that have a certain appeal. Beach huts for example, the sort that line the British coastline, whether painted in council-regulation green or blue, or gaily in any colour or style that the owner likes, complete with a whimsical name like 'Idlehours' or 'Sundream'. Although you can't usually sleep in them, these are genuinely weatherproof little cabins fit for any sort of day, whether gloriously hot and sunny, or cold and stormy. You go there to escape, to drink tea or coffee, eat sandwiches, heat up hot soup, read a good book, and watch the waves through a doorway, out of the wind; or if the weather is suitable, sit outside on sun-loungers, and smile at passers-by. Or just close your eyes and relax. Beach huts are very undemanding: you don't have to tow them about, nor do you have to set them up. Just stroll there with a basket of fresh milk and something tasty to eat, unlock the door, sit down, and dream on.

Yesterday, after arriving in the caravan, there was time before sunset to explore the nearby woods, which are in the care of the Forestry Commission. I came across a 'Youth Base Camp'. Curious, I had a closer look. It was in a clearing. There was a central place to build a big fire, with logs around it to sit on. Set back from this, but still close enough to get some light and heat from the fire, were three very well-built shelters, with a Scandinavian look to them. Each was a low rectangular pinewood cave, open towards the fire, offering a clean and dry place for a few kids to sit around on their sleeping bags, right out of the wind and any rain. The three shelters were all raised off the ground, and had thick, overhanging roofs that were grassed over. Given a big, cheerful fire, you could easily imagine being warm and perfectly sheltered on a frosty night. Or even in light snow.


Was I tempted? Did the spirit of outdoor adventure stir within? Well, no; but I do wish the obligatory and dreadful New Forest Camp for second-formers that I'd had to endure in 1965 - a Durance Vile in every way - had used these rather appealing pinewood shelters, and not the smelly bell-tents we had to inhabit like pigs in a hovel. (There are stories connected with that New Forest Camp, illustrating how I violently asserted myself and won respect, and how I scorned the chance of tempting home comforts on Parents' Visiting Day, that will feature in another post)

Thursday, 24 October 2013

The girls that made my old world wobble

I always speak of my 'eureka moment' when, having in July 2008 reached a crisis, I made a commitment to get therapy, but also to carry out intensive Internet research in order to equip myself for the sessions ahead. Initially I thought I should concentrate on whether I might be gay. Then I saw it was Something Else. That was the eureka moment, when a whole lot suddenly made sense and could be explained, an instant of total conviction. I just knew that I'd found the answer to some lifelong nagging questions:

Why do I know that I'm a different person from the one people see? 

Why, even after all these years, and all the encouragements and praise and adoration, does my life feel wrong and misdirected? 

Why do I still push against my given role and the behaviour that comes with it? 

Who am I really?

But there had been earlier moments, when I was confronted with a passing situation that got me off-balance, that got me thinking for a while even if self-understanding did not follow. This post is about a few of those incidents. They were caught on photos, and I'll mostly let the pictures do the talking. If I searched, I dare say I could come up with more such photos from my vast archive. But these will do. And - I hardly need to say it - there were also many, many other incidents not captured on camera.

So. It's July 2001, twelve years back, and M--- and I are in Portsmouth on a sunny afternoon. It's Guildhall Square. We are admiring the very imposing Guildhall.


But from somewhere is coming a rhythmical crashing noise. In one corner of the vast Square is the University, and that's where the noise seems to be coming from. We wander over.


Yes, there's a small crowd of students, and some of them are banging away on drums of various kinds, not quite together. It seems to be: have a go, make a Big Sound! Perhaps it's the Last Day of the academic year. The atmosphere is good. Other ordinary members of the public are watching too. We both take a shot or two from a slight distance. This is one of mine:


When I come to edit my pictures at home later on, I notice something. One of the girls is looking straight at me.


This unexpected and unsettling, and I nearly discard the picture. It makes me feel like I've intruded, as a voyeur would. Remember, it's a general shot of the students, not of this girl in particular, and yet here she is, looking directly at me with a challenge on her face. She seems to be saying, Who are you looking at? How dare you? What's your game? Although I see no connection between myself (thirty-one years into a career, and getting stale) and these young students (about to start their adult life), her accusing look and expression - and therefore the photo - seem worth preserving. It says something to me. I don't know quite what, but it's important. There's a message: that my life needs a fresh start. A fresh start as what?

I keep the photo and then look at it from time to time. What was that girl saying to me?

Let's jump forward to June 2006. Two years before my eureka moment. M--- and I are on the beach at Bude, with sunset coming on. There's a breeze, and a storm is brewing somewhere, but the light is really golden and there are interesting rocks to examine and photograph.


A group of three girls pass us on the beach, heading for the waves. They are not dressed for the sea, and only two of them are wearing the sort of waterproof jackets that the location and the weather demand. One has an incongruous hat on, and is carrying a handbag. She seems dressed up for an evening  in town, and not for a windy walk across wet sand to whatever is going on at the shoreline.


I see that some boys are in the surf. These are the girlfriends then. They've come to watch. Or just to meet up and walk back with their boyfriends. And indeed, the girls end up standing in a group, while the guys splash shorewards as far as the shallows, but not yet onto dry sand. They are pretending they haven't noticed the girls, who wait patiently some way off in the very stiff breeze that's developed. It's a case of treat 'em mean and keep 'em keen, apparently.


Such dedication to love! I think there are two guys and three girls. Which one then, is the spare girl? Is it the one with the hat and handbag? Is she a visitor from an inland city, down for the week? Why am I so fascinated? Why do I remember the incident and keep the pictures?

Then, in August 2007, two more incidents, and this time I'm not merely curious, I'm shaken, and need a while to absorb the impact. First, two children at the shoreline at Birling Gap.


Brother and sister. Same age. Ying and yang. It screams to me: two aspects of the same person: myself. Look at their attitudes. The boy, watching the waves, relaxed and self-contained. The girl, eyes closed, face turned up, body stretched, not at all relaxed, leaning into the wind, fiercely alive. I feel lucky to have caught this on camera. It's one year ahead of my eureka moment. Of course I don't know that; I am still struggling with the old life; and it seems that I shall have to find a way of coping with it, for all of the long years that lie ahead. I do not want to see scenes like this, to remind me of what might have been.

And five days later, in sunny Horsham. A lively brass band is attracting an audience in the Carfax. M--- and I just happen to be there. I take a shot, framed on the left side by a woman who is watching the scene too.


There's something about her. I can't see her face, and never do because having taken the picture, I rejoin M---, and we wander off to a bookshop. Back at home editing, I look more closely.


Need I catalogue what I see? Nice hair, nice tan, off-the-shoulder top, bra strap showing, the waist, the hips, the big bottom, the bag, the way she's holding it, the stance. Not a teenager this time, she's thirtyish, a grown woman. This is hard to take. I imagine the Impossible. Then I file the picture away.

And now, in 2013, there's no need to imagine. I don't look anything at all like the persons shown above, but the old life has vanished, and the new one has more than a passing affinity with what these pictures contain. It does strike me as very strange that I managed to capture these pre-2008 moments, and preserved them, even though they represented a fantasy dream that at the time was completely unreal and quite beyond my reach.

I'm very glad I did though.

Wednesday, 23 October 2013

New glasses

It's done. I went to Specsavers in Brighton this morning and first had my overdue sight test, then chose new frames for the new lenses I now need. They will be ready for wearing next week.

The comprehensive sight test revealed that my eyes were healthy, but (as I suspected) my near vision needs correction, as both eyes have become more long-sighted since my last test in May 2011. I can now look forward to seeing crisper print in books and on my much-used tablet. Away from leisure use, the new specs will let me read the often tiny print on food packets without resorting to a magnifying-glass!

The set-up at a big shop like Specsavers in Brighton allows various members of staff to deal with some aspect of your appointment in turn. First, the initial reception, including (for the first time in my experience) an NHS form to claim that I am now over 60 and entitled to a free sight test. No bagatelle that - it's £21. Not having to pay is most welcome. Second, the test itself, with plenty of opportunity to discuss the results, and ask about what kind of new specs would best suit the prescription, and why. Third, the actual selection of new frames. I'd had an exhaustive look at Specsavers' website, where you can upload a face photo of yourself and 'try on' whatever frame takes your fancy. I'd saved a series of images, and transferred this 'shortlist' of five frames that I'd liked to my tablet, so that I could show these pictures to the two ladies who were helping me with the section. I think one of them was being trained up, but it was nice to have two persons' opinions as I tried the frames on for real, and considered how they sat on the three-dimensional Melford face.

There was a snag for me when looking in the mirror, in that the display frames only had dummy plastic lenses, and I couldn't clearly see what I looked like wearing them. They were all quite similar. No problem: the girl leading the selection process took photos of me wearing each of the specs in turn, with an iPad, and I was then able to study the pictures with my present glasses on.

In my shortlist were the specs that I wear just now (which have the style-name of 'Krissy', if you want to find them on Specsavers' website - look in the £45 range). They have gold metal frames, oval, with no decoration. I'd been wearing them since February 2010, and (quite understandably) I now wanted something slightly different. I would stay with practical gold metal frames, but I wanted a more rounded look. And I wasn't averse to some discreet decoration as well - the Krissy frames were perfectly good-looking and functional, but except for being oval not especially feminine. I felt I needed the odd twirly bit to tone down the functionality.

Eventually my choice rested on the 'Alice' frames - same price - which seemed to boost my facial allure in the way I was after, and were comfortable to wear. The total cost was £234, of which £189 related to the varifocal lenses being fitted.

Of course, some hours later, I am now wobbling a bit over having different frames. Despite the wish to have a more feminine look, I'm asking myself whether I won't miss the clean uncluttered lines of my old specs! Perhaps these new ones will look odd, even though they seemed a brilliant choice at the shop, both ladies also thinking them the nicest.

Sigh. It's inevitable post-purchase regret. It's how it is with all important purchases. I had it with my camera. I had it with Fiona. I had it with my tablet. I had it with my cooker. Now I'm having it with a metal-and-glass device that will sit on the front of my fat face. It'll be all right. I shall go through a natural process of getting used to the new glasses, and quickly come to love them. After all, the 'new look' won't be radically different. It will be really good. It will still be practical. It won't clash with any part of my wardrobe. Nor will it make a strident statement of any kind (as those 'designer' frames tend to do). It'll be all right. Indeed, these new glasses will make me seem a fraction prettier - now that'll be a most welcome bonus!

do have pictures, but I won't show them yet. But expect a photo-fest in early November. Especially if I buy something fashionable for the winter during the week ahead, in Nottingham or Peterborough perhaps, because I'm off again shortly on a short late-autumn break.

Most likely, however, I'll spend my holiday cash on eating out, and at markets. I particularly fancy a traditional pie from Melton Mowbray, from the very best shop I can find there, one big enough to fill the fridge on the caravan! Wicked but yummy.

Tuesday, 22 October 2013

I've got a lisp

It was the night that I was over at V---'s, when K--- and I (with the help of V--- and her son B---, and a lively little dog called Co-Co who was eager to rest on my lap) had a practice run at making an audio podcast. The position there, by the way, is that K--- is editing the idiotic stuff we came up with to produce a smooth and sophisticated version, complete with sound manipulations and - who knows - a menacing gangsta rap beat and monologue going on in the background, to give it an edge.

Anyway, at one point, V--- exclaimed to me, 'Lucy, cherie, you have a lisp!' (She is French) A lisp? Me? I denied it, but in the days since I have been listening to myself carefully and, my goodness, I think she is right.

What I'm talking about here is a slight speech defect, where your sibilants - your S sounds - become indistinct, slurred or disappear entirely through incorrect articulation. The possible causes are many, and include physical impairment and of course being drunk. Looking at the Wikipedia article (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lisp) I think I have developed a mild form of dentalised lisping, where for some reason my tongue is slightly touching my teeth as I articulate S. And tho, jutht a little, it theemth ath if I am thpeaking like thith. I'd say that the very definite (and admittedly rather hissy) S sounds I've deliberately cultivated in order to feminise my speech have now slipped into lisping. It'll have to be corrected. I can do it.

On the other hand, should I? I may have acquired a positive speech asset here. I mean, no man ever speaks with a girly lisp does he? So my way of speaking as Lucy, already pretty good I'd say, may now have developed a little extra female authenticity.

That said, I don't want it to go further. It wouldn't do to sound like a winsome child. Nor do I want my speech to become hard to understand. It's there to get me through any possible situation. My voice is a communication tool as well as my best female badge. It's got to be clear and effective, and any affectation or imperfection that spoils that aim must be controlled, and if necessary ruthlessly discarded.

After all, I'm constantly up on my hobbyhorse about the top importance of a good speaking voice. In fact, I would say that clear, correct articulation is the key to finding a credible female voice that will get taken seriously and listened to attentively. I'm all for Professor Henry Higgins in Pygmalion (or the film musical My Fair Lady) insisting that former Cockney flower seller Eliza Doolittle practices the following until she can't go on:

The rain in Spain falls mainly on the plain

In Hertford, Hereford and Hampshire hurricanes hardly happen

How nice of you to let me come

Or indeed more traditional phrases and tongue-twisters that require perfect articulation to succeed:

How now, brown cow

She sells sea shells on the sea shore

If Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers, where's the peck of pickled peppers that Peter Piper picked?

But then, by Jove, Eliza gets it! And can be passed off at Ascot as a duchess. And so can you be, if you really try hard. Of course, you'll have to brush up on your grammar and deportment skills...

I'm not saying forget your pitch-raising exercises, but I do say open your mouth, stop murmuring and mumbling, as men do, and make those consonants crisp and distinct, and your vowels full and round. This kind of control automatically helps to maintain pitch and eliminate croak. It also makes it easier to say the same thing with heat or coolness, with a different tone, or with a subtler nuance, so the same words can be a desperately urgent order, a coy remark, a gentle question, or a lover's whisper. It'll slow your speech down at first, and might make it seem staccato, until you get the knack. Then you can start to speed up again, adding elisions, so that your words flow into each other naturally.

Well, this is what I've been doing for a long time, and my extensive testing in the field, all over Britain, suggests that I'm onto something. But all the time I take my hat off to Christella Antoni, the London Speech Therapist who did so much for me. A few lucky people have voices that need no special tuition. But for most of us, sadly, a really good voice needs professional help, and it costs. You also have to dedicate your life to voice practice, not just an hour or two each week, but right through your waking hours, 24/7 if you can, and with as much conversation with natal women as you can contrive. If your job or personal situation makes that difficult, then watch chat shows for women on television, and pretend you are taking part, or doing a voiceover for the rest of the audience. Butt in on the studio chat. Don't be shy. Don't be put off if they seem to ignore you! Study how they use body posture, their eyes, and their hands, when they speak, when they exclaim and laugh. Learn how to giggle, wail, boo, snarl, sneeze, cough and cry as these girls do.  

But don't go too far - and learn to lisp. Bad.

Monday, 21 October 2013

300,000 and counting

Of course I can't resist popping champagne corks and setting off fireworks - the pageview total has now exceeded 300,000. 160,000 of that in the last twelve months. Yippee!

It's small beer compared to the millions of hits some websites get every week (or even every day), but not bad for a strictly amateur personal blog, written by an obscure trans woman who is not even young and beautiful. So a big thank you to all who have been visiting my little corner of the Internet since February 2009!

I tend to regard the pageview total as the proper measure of how much interest a blog really attracts. As opposed to other measures, such as the number of followers, or the number of comments. The ups and downs of the pageview total constitute the best feedback I can get. It's still very hard to decide exactly what the general public actually wants to read, or what trans readers in particular want to see. Posts on something (or someone) in the news, or something very controversial, are clearly going to attract attention. I oblige, but it's much too easy. It's a lazy person's style of blogging. I don't want to turn myself into a mere news pundit. No, as the blurb by my picture says, this is basically my autobiography, written as I go along - Lucy's Life and Adventures, if you like - and I try to keep mainly to that. The strange thing is, this personal stuff is often very popular, and I can't quite see why. Not that I'm complaining, but I'd prefer to know what the precise appeal is, in case I ever want to carve a late career as a columnist in some magazine, online or otherwise.

Meanwhile, I feel encouraged to continue, aiming now at 400,000 and then 500,000.

One last thought. If I ever post less frequently, then the pageviews fall off. There is clearly a link between frequency of posting and how many readers will regularly take a look at your words. So, if you want to race ahead on your own pageviews, get writing!

Chrome is still a good choice for me - but will I stay with Android?

That's nice. I've just discovered that, using Chrome, I can now insert photos when composing a post on my tablet, which runs Android. That's significant and very welcome, because the default browsers on my Sony tablet and my Samsung phone, both Android-fired, wouldn't allow anything but text - enhancing posts with photos was a feature only available when using Windows on the PC at home.

Now I can do proper posts when on holiday, either (1) direct from the tablet using wi-fi, or (2) by publishing them over the 3G mobile network provided by Vodafone. Assuming the local signal is strong enough for a data connection: that might be a very optimistic assumption for the out-of-the-way places I tend to go to! But in principle, at least, expect an illustrated write-up of my adventures as they happen, and not a report some time afterwards when it may all have become a bit 'last month' and somewhat ho-hum.

I know that Chrome is a bit plain and simplistic, but it does the job, and I haven't experienced much in the way of glitches, nor found that it was impossible to accomplish something that I badly wanted to do. Once or twice, but not lately, Chrome published post-comments of mine in duplicate - some problem it had with Wordpress. And some of its standard features, things I don't want, are non-removable, or non-modifiable. Given Google's slow rate of development for its apps, that won't change soon. But it isn't a deal-breaker, and if really thwarted, I can always fall back on the default browser, or indeed F-Secure's own mobile browser, which is installed on both my tablet and my phone.

I like Chrome's 'clean' look, and its tabbed interface works very well, as good as Firefox's used to. I make extensive use of bookmarking for web sites or particular web pages, and Chrome handles that well too, at any rate once you discover where to find the bookmark manager. As ever, it's a question of familiarisation. Once you know your way around, and how to do things, it all becomes straightforward and easy.

Naturally Google want to hook you in with Chrome and all the rest of their apps. I continue to like Gmail very much, but I don't care for everything in their stable, and have for instance stayed clear of Google+.

They want Android to become the dominant OS. I think they are succeeding, so far as mobile devices are concerned. One can't help feeling that Apple has now lost its crown, and will become Number Two henceforth. And that the only other system with a chance of doing really well, Windows, arrived in touchscreen form far too late, and will forever trail the Top Two.

The perception of the buying public matters: the best products will be launched where demand is most intense. Manufacturers' ads on TV, and authoritative reviews on influential websites such as TechRadar, can of course affect public perception by suggesting what is a cool lifestyle choice, but it really comes down to bog-standard cost, usability and reliabilty. Just like buying a car. For some time there has been a perception that Apple make perfectly designed devices but take too much profit, and that Android devices are better value. Personally, I am impressed every time I see an Apple device doing its stuff. They always work smoothly and well. But the best of the Android crowd, and that probably means Samsung and HTC, with Sony and LG not far behind, offer products that in a world without Apple would be considered beyond reproach.

Where is this going? Well, in August 2014 my current two-year phone contract with Vodafone expires, and I'll be going back to buying a phone, supported by just a SIM-only contract. And in 2015 I may very well want to replace my current tablet (not because it's wearing out, but because by then I'll need a lot more internal memory). Do embrace Apple, or stay with Android? The wise spending of hundreds of pounds is at stake here.

There is no chance that I will recede from owning at least two mobile devices. They must be compatible with each other. They must also be compatible with what is on my desk at home. By 2015, at the latest, I shall want to upgrade my Dell PC to the latest Windows OS. But I might decide to jump horses and go the whole hog with Apple - home desktop (I mean a big laptop), tablet and mobile phone all at once. You can take it for granted that any such change will be based on cool and critical specification comparisons, and much other careful research, and not merely by handling the lovely goods in a high-pressure Apple shop - which is a sure-fire way of being seduced into a big purchasing mistake. All the time I shall be thinking how this product or that will improve my ability to process and display photos, and write a good blog post, whether at home or away. Nothing else is so important.

Just now I feel that I'll most likely stay with an Android/Windows combo, but who knows what will be on offer within a year or two?

Post-op attitudes

It will surprise nobody if I say that most - not all, but certainly most - of the people regularly in my social life are trans - and trans women at that. They fall into three groups.

First, the Clare Project crowd in Brighton, whom I see every Tuesday when I'm home in Sussex. These are primarily people starting their transition, or not very far into it, all pre-op.

Second, there are the people whom I meet up with for meals and drinks away from the CP, but still in and around Brighton. These have mostly finished their transition, and are post-op.

And then third, there are my co-bloggers past and present, the ones I have met at least once, who number fifteen so far. Some are starting their transition, some have finished. Some are pre-op, some post-op.

As you can see, although most of my social circle are trans women, they are at various stages between caterpillar and butterfly. So naturally they say different things about themselves and their lives, and what their attitudes and priorities are. It's very interesting to note how these change with time and development.

For instance, take attitudes to the genital surgery. Five years ago, when contemplating my own impending transition, this type of surgery was the huge glittering prize, eclipsing all other considerations. But its significance shrank. It remained an essential step towards full transition, but once the hospital arrangements were made it became simply a planned event that approached, arrived, was experienced, and then receded into the distance, rather like a much-anticipated holiday. And like such a holiday, all I have left of it now are memories and some photos. The surgery settled down long ago, the scars have healed and have mostly become unnoticeable, and the form and function of my new parts are assured. I am very aware of my female physicality, and the effect this has had on my outlook and behaviour, but the surgery itself has lost its novelty. It feels as if I have always been like this. And to be frank, I have forgotten how it once felt to have anything different.

Even the word 'surgery' has taken on a fresh meaning. Nowadays it means to me the normal cosmetic stuff that any woman might want, such as breast enhancement or face lifts. And in time it will refer to life-saving operations, as cancer and other dread things come into my life. But never again specifically and exclusively genital surgery.

I've noticed the same post-op attitude change with other members of my social circle. The merits of various cosmetic procedures might very well get talked about, including their cost, and whatever pet justifications there might be for the expense. But the genital operation, once over and done with, is not mentioned much, and maybe never will be again. That may be because it was not an operation that a natal woman would have needed, and therefore it's uncomfortable to refer to it. But I think it's mostly the effect of post-op living - you are able to get into the female role totally, and the enabling surgery simply becomes something that happened in the past. Something that you might remember clearly, but never need to discuss, like passing your driving test. People can see that you own a car, and so presumably you passed your test at some point, perhaps long ago. They won't be quizzing you about the test itself. Nor will you ever be mentioning it.

I can think immediately of at least one post-op person who bucks the trend here, who will be celebrating their 'real birthday' for as long as they live. And indeed why not? But among my Brighton friends this is not how it is.

And it seems that for post-ops the notion of 'transition' also becomes less and less significant. The same friends who have dropped genital surgery as a hot topic and want to talk instead about their jobs, relationships, dogs, and leisure activities, seem also to have stopped mentioning their transition. In other words, to the world they have always been 'like this', and so there is no need to discuss what was 'before', and the things that got them from 'then' to 'now'. I understand that - I tend to do the same. Life is definitely easier without a change process constantly in mind. I'm sure that a certain amount of beneficial self-deception is occurring here: if you can imagine (to the extent of effectively believing) that you have always been what you have now become, then every response you make is more natural, and everything you do and say is done and said with more conviction.

Where does this all lead to? What does one think when ten or twenty years post-op?

I'm guessing that there comes a point when all the events in transition are but very distant memories, like the events in a former marriage, long after the divorce. They do not touch present life, and are never mentioned, and might as well be forgotten. What, forget even the surgery? This must seem impossible to those beginning transition and struggling to start basic hormone treatment. But I feel sure that this is indeed how things do pan out in the long run. And it makes sense. If post-op life is to be a success, if assimilation into the world of women is to be fully achieved, with complete self-belief, one cannot keep dwelling on past events.

Saturday, 19 October 2013

Freedom to speak out

Throughout my life I have known people who think they will never be able to give up working hard, not because of personal circumstances, but because gainful activity is in their blood. They need to be mentally stimulated, they enjoy the income, and they are prepared to sacrifice much of their leisure time for regular but brief moments of high-level self-indulgence. To them this self-indulgence is a justifiable and reasonable recompense for the personal effort put in.

They also have the less quantifiable rewards of success and enhanced reputation in their field. They like being on top of whatever game it is, and want the satisfaction and trophies that come with that.

Their self-motivation is often extraordinary: it clearly isn't necessary to be inspired by a morality that imposes a strict work ethic. I dare say that if you probed, you would generally find that they had always been achievers, with interested and encouraging parents at the back of them. But in the end it comes down to the individual. These people work hard and long because it's in their nature, and they will never really retire.

In contrast you have people like me, who always recognised the necessity to work, but regarded it as one of life's chores, something to be endured until age and opportunity offered a release. Then one could really start living, after having put life on hold for so long. 'The Job' was never my reason for existence, and certainly not the thing that defined who I was. It was simply a money-generator, and when release came I turned my back on it and walked away - and have stayed away.

Some would say this is an appalling attitude, and point out the health benefits of working, even if the money isn't needed, and the status-rewards mean nothing. I acknowledge all of that, but remain unmoved. Because I have a prize beyond compare: unlimited freedom. Unlimited leisure to do what I want, when I want, and without having to consult anyone for their permission or approval. I therefore have no need to justify what I get up to, no need to apologise or feel guilty; and I experience no stress or feelings of inadequacy. What I do is my own business, and anyone who thinks they can interfere will get a custard pie in their face. Done in the most friendly fashion, of course - unless they are intent on being a bore or a brute. This freedom is a magnificent prize, and I am not minded to surrender it.

And the freedom makes me powerful, because I have become - for ordinary purposes - untouchable. By which I mean that with no job at stake I can speak my mind without repercussions.

I remember being on a train to work once, and an announcement was made about penalty fares for those travelling without a valid ticket. It didn't bother me, not the message, nor the tone. It seemed like a perfectly fair warning. Shortly afterwards, one of the train crew passed through the carriage. A professional man who looked like a lawyer stopped him, and in a domineering voice asked him whether he was the person who had just made the penalty fares announcement. He said he was. The lawyer then viciously tore into him with with all the sharpest words at his command, threatening him with a personal lawsuit that would, he promised, cost him his job. Apparently the penalty fares announcement, clearly a statement that the crew member hadn't composed himself but was simply reading out, was in some way not strictly accurate. I was sitting not far away. I itched to intervene and rescue the poor man from this legal bully who was sadistically exploiting his nasty way with words. I'm sure that I wasn't the only one to feel that this was inexcusably rude and cruel behaviour, and that the self-important lawyer needed to be taken down a peg or two. But I stayed silent. The right moment to intervene passed. Ingrained caution against speaking up against powerful people, especially persons who might be able to harm one's career, had made me hesitate. I have little doubt that this vindictive lawyer carried out his threat, and that a letter of complaint went to the railway CEO, and that the unfortunate crewman found himself in trouble.

I wouldn't let it happen now. That lawyer would get a no-nonsense reprimand from me. I would embarrass and humiliate him, because I'd have no employer for him to write to, and he wouldn't be able to threaten me. I think it would actually help that I was not quite the usual sort of older woman, but a person he might be reluctant to mess with in an exposed public situation. I could wrong-foot him, because he'd know the law and the danger of any retaliatory slander or harrassment in front of witnesses. He'd soon see that I was dangerous to him. I'd make it my pleasure to throw that custard pie in his face and grind it in. And I would accept cheers from the carriage as I did so. It's a daydream of course, to strike blows for ordinary folk like this. But you see my point: with freedom comes the chance to play the comic-book superheroine for real, and right wrongs.

Retired people are often considered spent forces. They need not be. I don't want a job to earn money. But I think I'd consider being a voice against unfairness and injustice wherever and whenever I encounter it. There is nobody now left in my life to appease. Or be afraid for. Just me. I'm free to speak out if I want to.

Friday, 18 October 2013

Sitting on a packing case

I'd driven over to Kent to have some electrolysis, and instead of travelling back as I usually did, via Tunbridge Wells, I decided to come off the A21 just north of Sevenoaks, and take the A25 westwards until it met the A22, when I would turn south towards home. I reckoned this would at least avoid the tiresome traffic that builds up at Tunbridge Wells in late afternoon. But it would also be a novelty. I hadn't driven along the A25 for a very long time. I recalled that it went through some attractive countryside, and was the epitome of leafy Surrey. The towns I'd encounter - Sundridge, Brasted, Westerham, Limpsfield, Oxted - were all small and I should be able to bowl along with few stops, not especially fast, but without maddening holdups. To keep moving does give an illusion of progress!

There was a time, long ago, when this section of the A25 was part of my daily commute by car from home to Bromley and back again. I was then the Investigation Manager at Bromley 1 tax office, a position I held from September 1985 to September 1990, before getting a less welcome transfer to Southwark in the heart of London. It was a busy period for me, as my job tended to expand with add-ons now and then, such as being appointed Liaison Officer for South East London between the investigation teams in the Revenue and their equivalents in Customs & Excise, two government departments with very different cultures. But it was for the most part a happy time at work.

At first I commuted to Bromley by train from Merton Park (near Wimbledon) in southwest London. But after moving house to Horsham (my first foothold in Sussex!) in the autumn of 1989, I decided to drive. It was a long cross-country drive too, but I enjoyed it very much, summer and winter.

It was by then not so good at home. I'd got married to W--- in 1983, taking on her daughter A---, then aged twelve, at the same time. I'd done six years of parenting, conscientiously but always with a light hand, and A--- and I had a great relationship. As for W---, I had wanted to marry her; I had rescued her from an unexciting housing association flat; and I'd given her a second chance at making a success of marriage. We had four good years trying. Then, little by little, it went sour. I saw even then that A--- was the glue that kept us united and focussed on holding everything together.

After A--- took her A-Level exams in the summer of 1989, she got on the plane to new Zealand to spend a year with her father. From then on, W--- and I began to flag. She had her job, I had mine. We didn't socialise much, except with family. We began to get ratty with each other, not because we disliked each other, but because the glue had gone, we'd lost our way, and the differences in temperament were loosening the bond.

It's a very sad thing, to realise that something is wrong and yet see also that it's not realistically worth the effort of repairing. One shouldn't be happier at work than at home, but that's how it became for me. And my long drive home often gave me opportunities of stretching the journey out, to savour the gap between the demands at the office and the demands that might face me at home.

In John Braine's 1962 novel, Life at the Top, the hero Joe Lampton, the company accountant, the Northern-lad-made-good, who married the boss's daughter after getting her pregnant, has become a smooth, respectable and compliant lapdog - a role he chafes at. The book opens with Joe and his wife Susan habitually starting to bicker after nine years of marriage. Neither wants that, but dissatisfaction is setting in. Just like myself and W---. Not just dissatisfaction; there is a realisation that one has failed; and that one must lie in the bed one has made for oneself, at least while it can be borne.

Joe's life is at a crisis. In a hundred small ways, he has lost his grip, lost the feeling of being essential and important. He has achieved enviable material success and comfort, but through a cheating shortcut and not by hard graft, his accountancy skills not mattering. He hasn't worked his way up from the bottom, he has slid in smoothly at the top. The steelworks boss, his father-in-law, a hard, sneering, devious old-school industrialist, despises him; so does his son; his wife has almost had enough of him; and only his little daughter still worships him. He knows that he puts up with his life only because of his daughter.

It was so easy for me, at the time, in 1990, to identify with most of this.

In Chapter 2 of the book, Joe is driving home, ruminating over two things imposed on him by his father-in-law that afternoon - a business trip to London, and his nomination (and certain election, because his chairman father-in-law will see to it) to the local council as a Conservative Party member:

The fact was, I realized, I didn't want to go home. It wasn't only that Susan would be angry about both my trip to London and my going on the Council; it was something much worse. For ten years now this drive home had been an escape; every inch nearer to Warley had been a farther distance between me and my father-in-law and my father-in-law's world...now he was going to be a fellow-councillor. Or rather he was going to continue being my boss...There wasn't going to be any escape...there was nothing to be done about it once the Selection Committee had made their decision; as Harry Runcett had once said in his cups, the Park Ward was so safe a seat for the Tories that they'd elect a f---g cat if the party chose to run one...Now, driving along Hawthorne Main Street in the rain I knew what the cat was. And it wasn't a tom. It was a neuter, a big fat neuter, that always did just whatever its father-in-law told it to do.

I put my foot down and the Zephyr gathered speed up the slope. The sooner I was home, the sooner it was over with...Then I was over the crest of the hill and I could see Warley; despite myself I began to feel more cheerful. ...I slowed down and opened the window to let in the rain and the smell of the forest...for a moment I was tempted to stop the car and for the duration of a cigarette sit quietly with the quietness.

I changed down into second; then changed up again; what I wanted to do was innocent and harmless and utterly impossible. I could hear the voices now... he's drunk, of course, they said. Why else, my dear? Why should he stop so near home? Trying to sober up, frightened to go home.

I wasn't drunk, and I had no overbearing father-in-law, nor was I going to be the subject of malicious gossip, but I did sometimes crave the chance to pull in, and let life flow by, rather than go home and (it always seemed) face the music night after night after night after night - until I had had enough. I exaggerate a bit of course: but like poor Joe Lampton, there came a point when I really did not want to go home.

As you drive through Limpsfield on the A25, and then under the tall railway bridge, and then up on East Hill into Oxted, there are some flats on the left. They were there in 1990. They would catch my eye. I began to imagine how it would be if things got too bad at home. Could I buy one of these flats? I thought only of buying, but it seemed perfectly feasible to do that, rather than rent - we had downsized to get out of London, and the Horsham mortgage was quite small. Surely I could at a pinch continue to cover most of the costs of our little house in Horsham, as a home for W---, while buying one of these Oxted flats for just myself?

I dismissed the thought every day that I passed by. But I could not get it out of my mind. It was at least a plan, an escape route if I couldn't take any more. I imagined a bust-up, a hastily-arranged short tenancy somewhere, and then moving in, my money now all gone, with only my car and basic personal possessions. No furniture, just packing cases to sit on, or scattered cushions on the floor, and a camp bed in a corner. Central heating, but a bare kitchen. But I'd be free. And I'd have peace.

It was a comforting notion, something to cherish, to cling to, and it sustained me up to the end of 1990. Then something else happened, and the notion never had to be turned into reality. W--- and I finally found that moment to discuss our marriage seriously. We separated in February 1991, W--- going back to London (what she really wanted) and leaving me in possession of the Horsham house, although not of course free to sell it. In fact, W--- forced me to wait five years before I could commence divorce proceedings and finally sell up at Horsham. By then, my preferred place of residence was near Brighton, rather than close to London, and so I never did end up living in one of those Oxted flats, sitting on a packing case, cup of tea in hand, soup heating in the bare kitchen, completely strapped for cash but in control of my life. And beyond hurt and vexation.

I think my present reluctance to form a bond with anyone, to share my home with them, has its origin not in my shattered relationship with M---, but that earlier failure with W---. In saying this, I am not especially condemning W---. I was inexperienced with what it meant to 'live together' and I am quite sure that I did not give W--- all that she might have expected, and that she had just grievances against me for my lack of understanding and patience.

But the first failure does cut the deepest. And of course the two consecutive failures undoubtedly reinforce each other, so that I am now desperately unwilling to risk yet another.

However, as a friend said the other day, never say 'never'. When I think of the people I bump into on holiday, and how in some cases the chemistry seems so promising, I can't at all dismiss the possibility of one more attempt at home-building. But I'm watching myself like a hawk.

Wednesday, 16 October 2013

The fatal footprint

Homophobia, transphobia...it's difficult to imagine a world, in my lifetime anyway, in which smiles of mockery, rejection, senseless prejudice and outright danger do not lurk in the background somewhere. I believe - and the numerous encounters chronicled on this blog surely prove - that a good voice, understated appearance, unselfconsciousness and natural behaviour are sure defences against being recognised (and immediately stigmatised) as trans. But I've also mentioned instances where past personal history gets explored, and some of the trip-ups in that area.

There is also my Internet footprint.

When this blog began in Frbruary 2009 I was in dire need of an outlet for my feelings. My Mum had just died. I had a grieving father on my hands. My partner, striving to cope with her own anguish, was not being supportive. I had urgent responsibilities, everything that my Dad - not physically mobile enough to traipse around - could not handle himself, or hadn't the heart to do, such as making the funeral arrangements. A lot of this was entirely new to me, outside my previous experience.

I had only just started the serious first stage of my transition, and walking on the streets of Brighton and elsewhere was still an exercise in controlled terror, because I looked pretty awful. I was in dread of meeting the wrong kind of people, and being beaten up or stabbed. Or bricks thrown at my car.

Blogging was a calming activity, a way of getting a grip. And I could explore what was happening to me. Even if it mostly remained beyond satisfactory explanation, I could at least make it clear that I was driven into this, for better or worse, and would have to follow this new path even if it left me injured, destitute and utterly alone. Conscious choice wasn't in the driving seat, my feelings were. Ironically, my partner would have said the same of her own predicament. I could only choose to delay the inevitable, or plan ways to modify its impact.

I thought from the beginning that the blog would prove to be a useful contemporary record. Something to tell me what actually happened. It was best written as it occurred, and not in recollection years afterwards. A record of was I was thinking at the time, right or wrong. Evidence made public, so that it could not later be retracted or tampered with.

So now I have this pile of words, about 700,000 of them, in almost 1,000 posts. It's a monument to getting stuff off one's chest. It's also a giant footprint on the Internet that I can never hide. I could of course change my name again, and my appearance, and adopt a fresh identity. But I won't, because it would be highly inconvenient to do it. And for what? I've no plans to enter into intimate relationships and possibly remarry. I want to carry on doing the things I now do: a single life built on personal interests, travel, and the merry company of friends. The blog is no threat to that.

Or is it? I've been wondering. When you have an odd moment, do a search using the words 'lucy melford' and see what you get. If you have already done it, you'll have seen exactly what I mean. If not, do it now. If I stopped blogging tomorrow, how many years do you think would have to go by before references to me slipped from the first few pages of results? Or were deleted automatically by Google? Again, not in my lifetime. I can't help thinking that at least some of the nice people I come across in my travels, potential friends and soulmates, look to see whether I might be on Facebook, and instead get presented with page after page of 'Lucy Melford' search results. And promptly decide that I am not suitable for ongoing contact.

I rather think that the point of no return on letting the blog slip quietly into oblivion occurred within months of starting it, so that abandoning the blog now would achieve nothing. The footprint is just too big and too definite. A permanent albatross to wear around my neck.

Except that I still don't regard the blog as a mistake. It's long moved beyond its original purpose. It's become general, much more appealing to a wide readership, magazine-like in its treatment of topics. It's turned me into a 'writer'. It's still a trans blog, but (as a friend pointed out) the trans bit has become subtle, revealed only in the occasional remark, or by the list of other blogs that I follow. I hope it still says something useful for trans people of all kinds. I hope even more that it says something useful to all and sundry.

Am I perturbed that the blog is bound to be under surveillance by security services worldwide? It sounds bizarre; but the recent leakage of information by whistleblowers suggests to me that nearly everything on the Internet is routinely spied upon, so why should this blog be an exception? I'm taking it for granted anyway that it is being monitored. And that, for instance, the Ugandan authorities will arrest me the moment I set foot on the tarmac at Kampala Airport. The charge? Does it matter? In a world full of hate and suspicion you can in a heartbeat be plucked from the street and disappear without trace. I don't want to be paranoid, but this kind of fate is something I do not dismiss, and I know I will always live with intolerance and persecution not very far away.

Tuesday, 15 October 2013

Stephen Fry: Out There

I wasn't expecting it to be enthralling, but I did watch the entire first hour of Stephen Fry's BBC2 two-part documentary last night, called Out There, which found him reflecting on what it meant to be gay in the UK and abroad.

In the UK the legal position for gay men and women is plainly much, much better than it has ever been, but Mr Fry pointed out that rights can be taken away as well as given, and attitudes and prejudices cannot be legislated away. Whatever the laws says, it can't prevent hidden malicious thinking in hate-filled minds.

As ever, the programme was almost exclusively about what it meant to be a gay man. Only one lesbian girl was featured, sadly reflecting the general lack of interest in (or refusal to acknowledge the existence of) female gayness. I don't think that was Mr Fry's personal intention, but the result of how the programme was edited. I say this because of his obvious deep empathy with his one female interviewee, a young black lesbian girl in Uganda, with whom he gently spoke and clearly liked as a person. At the tender age of fourteen, she was raped by a farm hand who believed that rough sex with him would 'correct' her. He penetrated her only once in a brief no-nonsense encounter, but it left her bleeding and pregnant. Her family arranged an immediate abortion for her, although of course this was yet another type of trauma for someone still a child. Naturally the 'corrective rape' hadn't worked, and she knew she was still gay, and would always be.

Mr Fry put the fact that gay people are born the way they are, and cannot be talked into being gay, nor talked out of it, to more than one Ugandan official. But to no avail.

It was so dispiriting to watch these men giving the church line, or the party line, on what they believed 'being gay' was all about. Men must use their penis only on women, and it was better for a man who was in doubt about his sexuality to rape a woman, than give way to an impulse to have sex with another man. Hmmm! I thought I detected fear of the Devil and Eternal Damnation in there somewhere. Stephen Fry himself was amazed at the total doctrinaire focus on sodomy and ludicrously-imagined physical effects (such as exploding penises). Other kinds of sexual expression, such as fellatio, and the deep love and commitment often to be found in gay relationships, were completely ignored.

And there was this idea that gay people wanted to recruit others to their way of life, to corrupt them - thus turning official efforts to hunt down gay people into a just crusade, to cleanse society of an evil thing. Clearly it was already a serious moral crime to be gay in Uganda; shortly it would also be a statutory crime, carrying severe punishment. How very sad and blind. More than that: an ugly manifestation of death-dealing bigotry. A Kampala radio station owner, himself cool and easy about gay Ugandans, thought that the proposed anti-gay legislation would prove unenforceable and fail. I wouldn't bank on it.

But even in the USA he found there were people who thought that gayness was an acquired condition that could be 'educated' out of you, or expunged with the right therapy. Stephen Fry went to see Dr Nicolosi (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joseph_Nicolosi) to enquire about his reparative therapy which seeks to 'cure' patients of their gayness. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Conversion_therapy#Reparative_therapy for a detailed discussion of various types of 'conversion' therapies, including Dr Nicolosi's. Again, the therapy was attempting the impossible, and bound to fail.

You will notice that I personally agree with Mr Fry on what being gay is about: that it is an inborn condition, and can't be got rid of by re-education, nor by the threat of punishment. It's something that needs understanding, and absorption into the mainstream of life, into normality.

I agree not because I am myself gay, but because I am trans, and see very close parallels. In fact, almost at every point, you could have substituted the word 'trans' for 'gay' in what was being discussed in the documentary. And of course there is the common misconception that every trans woman is really a gay man. The two things - being gay, being trans - are quite distinct. A trans person can be straight, gay, bisexual, asexual, anything at all. But much of the ordinary public doesn't get a grip on that. The confusion is compounded by the mirror effect of transition. What was 'straight' in pre-transition life becomes 'gay', and vice versa. Historically I had sex only with natal females, never with natal men, and so I was regarded as straight. But if I stick to females when (and if ever) I resume a sex life, I will be regarded as gay. In order to retain that straight label, I'll somehow have to develop a sexual interest in men. That'll be so hard. Actually, I want an uncomplicated independent life, without sex in it at all.

So am I safe to visit Uganda? I wouldn't like to put it to the test, because the very fact that I would be detected as 'trans' would (if not crime enough) label me as 'gay' or 'presumed to be gay', and my life would then be in danger. Perhaps it's just as well that I can't afford worldwide travel any more!

Monday, 14 October 2013

Postcasting



I spent yesterday afternoon with my friend K---, partly to enjoy a Sunday Lunch - a vast home-made game pie no less, with poached peaches to follow - but also to look seriously at humorous audio podcasting and to decide whether we really will try to produce a short series of them for the Internet. Audio, because neither of us are ready for a proper stand-up video session just now. (That is, standing up on a stage with K--- telling the one-liners, while I play stooge)

We listened to several podcast examples, to draw out what could be done, ending up hearing a lot of Richard Herrings's Me 1 versus Me 2 Snooker, Frame 35 which seemed hilarious. Recommended.

Basically we already have the essential equipment, including the software, and can produce something whenever convenient. K---'s Apple laptop is sufficient to record the voices of two persons sitting close by, and then to edit the result, eliminating awkward embarrassing pauses, deadend discussion topics, boring digressions, slurred speech, swearing, failed jokes, character assassination, slanderous statements, unPC remarks, prejudice, bigotry, ranting, yawns, farts, burps, belches, odd scratching noises, rasping graveyard coughs, explosive snot-ridden sneezing, cat miaows, dog barks, and other extraneous matter that might divert the listener from our core comedy performance. (Although if we exhaust our ready chatter in the first five minutes, we will certainly leave all of that in, just to pad it out a bit. Nobody will notice.) The aim is to produce ten minutes of top quality humour that millions of people will listen to on the Internet. K--- can use her audio expertise to add background music, or make it appear that Stephen Fry was there too, and generally polish our podcast to make it fit for release.

We are thinking of getting down to it for real in three days' time. It'll be K--- and Lucy: the Something Dialogues or some snappy name like that. Actually, we haven't yet settled on a title as such, and need to address this asap. It mustn't actually be anything like the Vagina Monologues, that's old hat and it's been parodied to death. In any case we won't be flying the feminist flag especially, nor will we be an advertisement for the trans community. We will simply be two up-and-coming young-at-heart female comediennes with a wining way with wine, words and wit. The perfect antidote, in fact, to the usual stuff that aims to make you chuckle. We shall aim to attract a universal audience, intelligent, hip and well-informed, who will be entranced by our lucid, cheerful and knowing dissection of the Hot Issues of the Day, spiced with original never-heard-before comedy and roguish digs at the vanities of contemporary life.

Unless we've eaten too well, had too much wine, keep losing the thread of what we were saying, and have to leave in the coughs, sneezes, farts, miaows and dog barks to make the thing seem interesting!


Friday, 11 October 2013

Just giving you a quick heads up...

This is exactly the sort of phrase that begins many a spam comment, and it's one that for some reason particularly annoys me. The words 'heads up' indicate that the person saying this wants to grab my attention, ostensibly to tell me something urgent and compelling that I should be aware of. That something ought to be important, but when I read on, it's clear that they are simply trying to get me to visit their own blog or website, which from the name of it will be offering a service that I don't want, such as poodle care, financial advice, or sex toys.  

It's mere self-advertisement, and I'm very glad that Google identified it as spam, and sidelined it for me. I delete such stuff without further ado. I don't want my blog infected with such nonsense. Sometimes Google doesn't divert 'comments' like this to its spam section, and they remain underneath my posts among the proper comments that I welcome. They don't stay there long. As soon as I spot them, they get consigned to the oubliette. But they are an irritation all the same. It's a chore to look at my lists of comments made, the ones published and visible to all, and the ones that were treated as spam and visible only to me. I resent having to be a censor. I resent being a target for people who are not interested in me personally, except as a potential customer, or possibly a gullible victim for some scam. I resent the intrusion into my space. It's like junk mail in the post, or being pestered with cold calls.

It's obvious that most of these 'comments' are generated automatically, and are not one-offs from some real person, because I see them appearing in my spam box again and again, exactly the same wording as before. I'm guessing that they are set up and sent out as standard responses whenever a post of mine (and presumably a post of yours) contains a certain trigger word. So if you were writing a heartbroken post on the death of a dear relative, and it happened to contain the words 'hospital' or 'flowers', you might provoke spam comments advertising medical insurance, breast surgery, funeral services, cheap viagra, wedding catering, and gardening expertise. It's obvious that your post wasn't read and considered by a human being, as the response is so irrelevant, and so lacking in empathy. Or if it was read by a real person, then how horrible it is that anybody can think it appropriate to push commercial messages at you at such a time.

A lot of spam comments are devoid of any clear purpose. Even if they begin with that phrase 'Just giving you a quick heads up' they ramble on about nothing at all, with misspellings and grammatical mistakes thrown in. Do they really expect you to wade through that? Why would you? Or any sensible person? Are they serious posts in any sense at all? Or just a way of dropping electronic litter?

I'm frequently complimented on the content of my post and the quality of the 'information' I have provided, in vague terms usually. I'm not fooled. Especially when they say 'You guys are always worth a read' or 'It's good that guys like you can be relied on to give the right information'. Why do they think I'm a team? Or they make out that finding my blog has turned their life around: 'I'm so glad I found your blog, I've been searching for years for something like this'. After the token flattery, I may be asked whether I can offer 'a newcomer to blogging' tips on setting up a website, choosing a blog host, composition, layout, how to avoid being hacked, all kinds of things. And, of course, to direct my answer to their website. Oh, come on.

Sometimes they criticise your posting abilities. I had several last month that accused me of writing posts that were too short, and of never illustrating them with photos! Yes really.

I've had people asking me whether I would like them to ghost write for me, implying that (a) I am super-busy, worn out, and need someone to take the strain, or (b) that my writing style is incompetent. What a cheek. Besides, they are ignoring the fundamental purpose of blogging: to put yourself out there on the Internet, in your very own words.

Increasingly I have been hearing from people offering me suggestions on how to make my blog score better for advertising purposes. That is, how to best turn my blog into a platform for advertisements, and make myself a bit of money. Thank you, I've looked into that. And I have no wish whatever to besmirch my lovely blog with annoying ads that take up screen space, or hide my posts. It's obvious who makes the real cash out of such advertising agreements. It won't be me.

Eagle-eyed sorts may have noticed that in the last few days I've rewritten my health warning for making comments. It now reads:

This blog is public, and I expect comments from many sources and points of view. They will be welcome if sincere, well-expressed and add something worthwhile to the post. If not, they face removal. 

Ideally I want to hear from bloggers, who, like myself, are knowable as real people and can be contacted. Anyone whose identity is questionable or impossible to verify may have their comments removed. Commercially-inspired comments will certainly be deleted - I do not allow free advertising.

Whoever you are, if you wish to make a private comment, rather than a public one, then do consider emailing me - see my Blogger Profile for the address.

Lucy Melford


I haven't said so with a fanfair of trumpets, but I've re-applied the 'who can make comments' filter, to block 'Anonymous' comments. So once again, people will need to be registered bloggers to say anything. It'll make almost no difference to the number of worthwhile comments received. But I notice, with gratification, that my spam box is now empty. No more 'heads up' messages. No more questions from 'newcomers to blogging'. No more offers to supply me with marketing skills and haircare tips. Bliss.

Thursday, 10 October 2013

The South Downs, with tea and panini, and a Morris Countryman

My recently-married niece and her husband are coming down to Sussex in two days' time. The plan (if the weather is OK) is to meet at Seaford station, take the bus to (say) Birling Gap, and then walk the Seven Sisters back to Seaford. The Seven Sisters are a series of steep chalk cliffs, where the South Downs meet the sea. This is what they look like from various angles:


You get the idea: up and down, up and down, for miles on end. Open, exposed grassland right up to the edge of a sheer cliff face, kept sheer by regular rocks falls. It's best not to go too close to the edge, because it's a very long way down!

To do all of the Sisters is quite a feat. I have no idea how fit my two visitors may be, but they are most certainly at least thirty years younger than me, and I am bound to get puffed sooner than they will. I may suggest we take the bus to Beachy Head, and just walk back to Belle Tout and then Birling Gap, catching the bus onward to Seaford from there. That'll be quite enough!

Today, by way of training for this walkathon, I decided to do a five and a half mile walk in another part of the South Downs. Last night's sunset had been pretty good:


That seemed to indicate a fine day to come. So it was. By 11.30am I was parked, booted, and stepping out on the South Downs Way, heading westwards towards Amberley:


It was chilly and rather windy. The hairband didn't really do its job:


But I made good progress. The Alt-Berg boots and the Wigwam socks were excellent:


After an hour I reached that part of Amberley near the river, that clusters around the station and Houghton Bridge, and had a nice little lunch (bacon and brie panini) at the Riverside Tea Rooms:


This consumed, I had a quick look at the River Arun...


...then it was south to North Stoke, a hamlet whose red public telephone box had lost its phone, but was now instead a little information kiosk, with maps and leaflets. What a good idea! Up the road was an increasingly rare sight - a Morris Countryman in good condition. This one must have been first registered before 1963 - no year letter - and was therefore at least fifty years old:


The AJ in the registration mark meant that this car had begun its career somewhere in North Yorkshire. There were two childrens' seats fitted in the back, so presumably Mum and toddlers were taking a stroll nearby, but there was no sign of them. I was now on a straightforward walk back to the car, using a series of constantly-rising paths that headed northeast.  The relentless upward slog made me feel somewhat weary. I was very glad when Fiona came into view! The walk had perhaps been a bit over-ambitious, but I had no blisters, no aches, and the weariness quickly evaporated. I must be less out of condition than I thought!

I met only a few people on my walk - most of them in the first half mile, including a group of three women who called me a 'silly girl' for not bringing any gloves to wear. I also encountered some men intently watching some hovering hawks with binoculars and cameras. I have no idea what the hawks were after. I should have asked. It could have been nesting chicks, but it was surely much too late in the year for that.

I hope you like the pictures of Sussex coast and countryside.