Saturday, 31 October 2009

what's in a name?




What names do transsexual women adopt when they transition? In some ways it is a bit of a privilege to be able to choose again, rather than go through life with a name chosen for you and which you may not be happy with. I, for instance, never liked my original name. Which is why I adopted 'Drew' in my teens. And when the time came formally to change my name, 'Drusilla' suggested itself, or rather, it was suggested by three other people, and I sometimes go by the Rule Of Threes. So I did on this occasion. As far as I'm concerned, the full version is for official purposes only, and I'm still just Dru. It might have been better to go for a more decidedly gendered name, to help people to make the mental jump from my old self to my present one; but it's a bit late to worry about that, if I were the worrying kind.

This is what TS Roadmap has to say about TS names in general, and this is what it has to say about my name, even if they can't spell it properly:

Soap-opera names: Lexie, Reena, Drucilla, the sorts of names you've probably never heard used for real people.

...well, those nice folk at TS Roadmap are American, and apparently in America everyone is called either Randy or Cindy-Lou, so sucks to them.


I did a little research. I looked at the names of 700 transsexual women, and if they cropped up more than once then they're on this list.


Alex (var, Alexandra) 7

Alice 2

Alison (var. Allyson, Alyssa) 9

Amy (var. Amelie) 7

Andrea 2

Angie 2

Anne (var. Anna) 6

Becky (var Rebecca 5) 10

Bethany 2

Brenda 2

Caitlin (var Kate 1) 3

Caroline (var Carol) 4

Catherine (var Cathy) 6

Charlotte 2

Chloe 3

Christine (var Chrissy, Kristy 3) 8

Claire (var Clarissa 1) 10

Debbie 3

Ellen 4

Emily 2

Emma 9

Erin 2

Eve 2

Fiona 4

Gemma 3

Gill 3

Helen 2

Jackie (var Jacqui 1) 3

Jane (var Jayne 2) 6

Jennifer (var Jenny 6) 12

Jessica (var Jessa, Jessy) 6

Joanne (var Johanna) 5

Judy 3

July (var Julia 3) 5

Karen (var Karina, Karine) 5

Kate (var Kathy, Katie) 13

Kin 3

Kirsty 2

Laura 2

Linda 5

Lisa 5

Louise 2

Lucy 4

Madeleine 2

Maggie 2

Marie 2

Melissa 3

Michelle 5

Natalie 7

Nicola (var. Nicky, Nikki) 7

Paula 3

Rachael 8

Rebecca 3

Rose 3

Sarah 10

Vicky 2

Zoe 2


Thursday, 29 October 2009

blue sky parking



Bristol is a centre of excellence when it comes to innovative solutions to maximising the use of cars in a crowded urban environment. I have previously documented some of the ways in which drivers have found parking spaces where once there were none. Bristol Traffic is an indefatigable campaigner for the freedom of car drivers in Bristol, threatened as they are by the muddled thinking of the pro-bike lobby. I humbly follow in their wake.

This is an interesting bit of blue sky thinking, when it comes to parking for the man-on-the-go. The driver of this Mitsubishi Colt, R643KAV, has found a way to avoid those wasted moments usually spent lining up the car parallel to the pavement. Unfortunately, I missed the arrival of the car, so I couldn't see if the driver jumped out and crouched behind the wall, covering the house door with a handgun and shouting "Come on out with your hands up! Get out an APB and get on down to the DA's office! Carter, you slaaaag! Right, you're nicked!" or any of the vocabulary of television crime shows of the 70s.

But I did see him saunter out and drive away a while later.




Wednesday, 28 October 2009

Portland interlude

A quick look at life in Portland in May 1997. I was working on MV Havelet, a ferry that had been retired from the Channel Island run and which was now tied up in the former navy base, waiting to be bought by somebody. There was a small crew of Poles- a bosun, a deckhand, a greaser and a steward- there was Jim Nelson the Chief Engineer, and there was me. It was a fairly relaxed time, tinkering with stuff that wasn't working, and eating the awful food that Roman the steward produced- chickens deep-fried whole, indeterminate soup of a gray colour with gobbets of Stuff in...

With the Royal Navy pulling out, Portland had become very quiet indeed. Wildlife had begun re-colonising the dockyard; seagulls were everywhere, and the bridge wings were littered with the bits of seaweed that I think are what seagulls use as love tokens, rather than boxes of Milk Tray. The security guards in their little hut by the gate had made friends with the local foxes, who used to sit in the hut and share their sandwiches.

At the other end of the dockyard, Cable and Wireless had set up shop, and there was some activity around a floating dry dock that had sunk. Apparently, the pump that kept the water out had either been switched off or tripped, and the night watchman had just watched it settle lower and lower in the water and go under. Attempts to refloat it had failed, and it was being cut up and removed bit by bit. You can see the big floating crane that did the salvage work, Norma, down there in this picture .

Also down there is HM Prison Weare, a floating prison which had been used as accommodation in the Falklands.

Sometimes things would be livened up by the appearance of the SBS, who would come down and practice assaulting ships. They didn't wear uniforms, because they liked to be inconspicuous. But a trained eye could pick them out, as they arrived in the biggest 4x4 you ever saw in your life, with a matt black paint job, smoked glass windows and heavy mesh over the windscreen.



This is a speed boat they were playing with. It was dropped into the harbour from a Chinook helicopter, and spent the afternoon haring around with helicopter in pursuit, presumably trying to pick it up again.


And this is British Telecom's CS Sovereign, a cable-laying ship that sat alongside us waiting for a job to come along. We were grubby and rusty; Sovereign was pristine, and periodically large groups of men in spotless overalls would appear on the deck and sit in a big circle drinking tea in the sunshine, before going back in to re-polish something.

Tuesday, 27 October 2009

when the klondikers came to Weymouth

In October 1996, Weymouth Bay was home to a fleet of ramshackle Russian factory ships, and Weymouth harbour was crowded with fishing boats, a large proportion of which came from the Scottish east coast. The fishing boats offloaded their catch onto the factory ships. The Scottish trawlermen introduced Irn Bru to various Weymouth bars, not least of which being The Moorings, where we ferry people used to hang out too. The Russians would occasionally pootle over to the quay in their rackety old lifeboats, belching black smoke, and rummage their way through the town's charity shops. Some people would complain about the noise, the smell, the occasional slick of dead mackerel being washed up on the beach, and their complaints would make their way into the Dorset Echo. It was all quite lively and fun.

I was babysitting MV Havelet, also parked up on Weymouth quay, and drew the scene above on Thursday 17th October. Evidently the man with the money had turned up, and all the Russian lifeboats spent the day shuttling to and fro with cargoes of cabbages, potatoes and lumps of frozen meat.

I think that was the last year the Klondikers came to Weymouth. So I'm glad I saw them.

Havelet was sold to the Montenegro Shipping Company and sailed off to Bar. Here's a couple of maps of the voyage there, which was interesting. And hot and thirsty.

Weymouth quay

Klondiker at Tolverne, Cornwall. This ship featured in Granta 61, a piece called Waiting For St Petersburg

Saturday, 24 October 2009

look sea

Ortac, home to a gannet colony off Alderney

I collected all my old diaries when I was visiting Richard the other week. It was odd, and quite cringey, reading through them after all this time. But there are some fairly nice pictures in there too, little records of things that happen rather than attempts at art. I'm looking and thinking of something good to write about my seafaring days. All in good time. Meanwhile...


Watching fish rising in Portland harbour one summer's evening, with a Mulberry harbour and Chesil Beach in the background

Bunkering (taking on fuel oil) in Weymouth harbour



A lifeboat (well, duh!)





Wednesday, 21 October 2009

willing mischief


Others, I am not the first
Have willed more mischief than they durst



If the thought is father to the deed, and it certainly seems that way to me; and if the deed that is the logical consequence of that thought is immoral or illegal or just plain wrong; then how free should you be to express that thought?

This came up in the discussion over my previous post, with Carolyn Ann wading in in defence of freedom of speech as covered by the US First Amendment. I have difficulty with the notion of total freedom of speech. The Jan Moir piece in the Daily Mail, discussed in that post, is certainly odious and offensive; plain stupid, even; but it's useful in a way, because it's alerted lots of people, myself included, to just how odious and offensive people like Jan Moir are. So it was a useful piece of information, in that sense. I don't imagine she won anyone over with the strength of her case, because it wasn't really a case; it was just a nasty little squib. And I don't suppose any of her intended audience has changed the way they think as a result of the backlash against Jan; they probably think, like her, that it's just an orchestrated campaign by people who haven't even read the article. Well, duh.

Still, as I say, letting her have her say and then responding to her is perhaps the healthiest option. What to do with Ray of Liverpool, though, who commented on the Daily Mail's story about a 'sex-change prostitute' (evidently 'woman' was not enough for the Daily Mail)...

.....Perverts are like irrepairably broken machines. Can't be fixed. Should be disposed of. Rid the world of their defective genome.
-this was a comment that had passed the moderation process, remember. (It has since been pulled, as have all comments on that story). Should Ray really be allowed the freedom to say that transssexuals should be murdered? I rather think not, but then I would, wouldn't I?

People don't really change their opinions very much or very easily, so 'debate' is really more about who can shout the loudest. Should we allow anyone to shout whatever they like? There is a quotation that usually gets dragged out at times like this, and usually attributed to Voltaire; "I may not like what you write, but I will defend to the death your right to say it."

I've always had problems with that idea. I certainly have no desire to defend to the death, the right of people whom I dislike to say detestable things. Because then I'd be dead and they'd still be saying detestable things. There seems to be something fundamentally wrong in that relationship, from my point of view at least.

Another problem with the idea is the assumptions behind it. It seems to presuppose that the speaker is in a position of power, and is granting permission to the detested party to say what they like. Imagine instead the position of an isolated minority being subjected to verbal abuse from the majority around them. How do you think the persecutors in this relationship would react to their victims coming out with the Voltairean line? -Heave half a brick, I should imagine.

I watched a BBC Panorama programme last night, filmed on a Bristol estate about a mile from where I live. Two reporters, British moslems, lived undercover for eight weeks, and recorded the acts of verbal and physical abuse that they experienced on a daily basis. It was truly shocking. On the plus side, two of the perpetrators have had their collars felt by the police, for an attempted mugging and an assault. On the other hand, so many of the persecutors behaved so very badly, and despite being named (not, presumably, shamed) have got away with it.

And this evening, Nick Griffin, the leader of the BNP, and himself a man with a conviction for incitement to racial hatred, will be appearing on the BBC.

Sunday, 18 October 2009

why there was nothing 'natural' about Jan Moir's death

...or at least the death of her scribbling career.

(Well, if only...)

There was something cosy and reassuring about Jan Moir's writing. It was like a nice mug of Ovaltine, spreading the warm glow of self-righteousness and quietly homo-, xeno-, trans-, wotever-phobic smugness among people who don't like to think very hard. You know, the target audience of the Daily Mail.

come out of there, Jan!

Her latest column is a case in point. We get:

A criticism of women in the workplace having too many rights, which describes the Equalities office as a 'citadel of gender gelding'

A celebration of muffins, which nostalgically looks back to Jan's days of drunken sexual predation (alarm bells there, but don't worry; it was chilled white wine that got 'em loaded, and it was Jan and her girlfriends doing the predation. For men, so that's OK too. Posh and heterosexual. Phew).

A bit of tosh about autumn ('the season we Brits do best' -rah, the Brits!):

This is the season for freshly cracked-open books, rough-skinned English apples and woodsmoke; for piles of russet leaves and the smack of your big soled boots on a city pavement.

'Tis the time for a shot of whisky in a sparkling glass, the blip of venison stew on a low flame and cold, fresh air pouring through the bedroom window at midnight.

(I try to keep the cold,fresh air out of my bedroom at midnight, but then I don't have central heating....)

The Nolan Sisters, who, we learn, are a bit tubby and don't have much dress sense (thin ice there, Jan!)

A comparison of Tara Palmer Tomkinson's dress sense with that of a 'tranny' (unkind to trannies, Jan!)

-oh, and the piece that insinuated, without any evidence, that Stephen Gately died of immorality. Because he was gay.

This has become a bit of an overnight sensation. Charlie Brooker very quickly wrote a very good piece in the Guardian, and no doubt you can find plenty more if you look.

And, what with Twitter and Facebook spreading the word, the PCC internet portal crashed under the weight of complaints, and the companies whose ads were being run on the same page as the story pulled them off in protest.

Jan's response was to complain that she had been subjected to an 'orchestrated campaign', by people who hadn't read her column properly.

Now, in my book, an orchestra is a bunch of people who get paid to play the same tune, with minor variations. You know, like Daily Mail journalists. Their victims are, or should be, the disempowered and voiceless.

Which is why Jan's nemesis is so unnatural. In the natural order of things, the Daily Mail makes nasty snidey comments, and if someone complains then the Press Complaints Commission, a bunch of poachers judging a fellow poacher, look at the complaint and usually say "We can't see anything wrong with this" and go back to sleep. Like they did with me, once. Blogged here, PCC response here.

Oh well, that was yesterday. Business as usual at the Mail today; a story from their website this morning asserts that a woman murdered in Brighton had a transsexual history. Which, if true, is irrelevant to the story, and its revelation, should she have a GRC, an offence. And in the comments below the story, under the bit that says The comments below have been moderated in advance, we find


One of her flock, no doubt. Perverts are like irrepairably broken machines. Can't be fixed. Should be disposed of. Rid the world of their defective genome.





here come the redwings

This is the time of year that Redwings arrive from Scandinavia, and it was a beautifully clear night, so I scrambled up onto the roof at four o'clock this morning. Sirius high in the sky, and all the other stars in the right place too. And very cold, of course. I was wrapped up in fleecies.

I sat and listened to the night city murmuring. And after a little while I heard a TSSSIIIIIPPP sound that may well have been a Redwing calling to its friends as they flew overhead.

And then a fox started crunching what sounded very much like a bone. It sounded as nice as you can expect it to sound when a fox eats a bone with its mouth open.

So I left it to it and went to make a cup of tea.

Friday, 16 October 2009

light in the sky

There has been quite a lot of weather around lately; beautifully clear skies and terrific sunsets. The other evening, I saw this. It's a column of light standing above where the sun had gone down. It was there for ages. The photo doesn't do it justice; I only had my little compact camera with me. My Flickr friend Woodlands1968 was watching it too, from the top of the Malverns, or the Sleeping Dinosaur Mountains as we know them here, as they look like sleeping dinosaurs if you sort of squint at them as you drive down the M5.

I saw something similar, though even more dramatic, in the Bay of Biscay once; same sort of area I saw the sea monster, as it happens, but I've already mentioned those incidents here, and I don't want to do the Ancient Mariner thing too much...

Things are busily happening. I got a nice letter from BRERC , telling me that my interview had been successful and I am now on the register of call-out staff. Which means that, if anyone wants hedgehogs counting, or whatever, then I could be asked to help out. It's nice to be wanted. Even if there's nothing much needs counting just yet.

And a good response from the British Library, which I shall write properly about very soon.

(the Sleeping Dinosaur Mountains, from the M5 last year)



Wednesday, 14 October 2009

more Brizzle

proper dog!

As Charlie said in the previous post about the Bristol accent, with its suffixed 'l',

Diana Wynne Jones in one of her books tells of a Bristol woman whose daughters were called Norma, Eva and Ida - hence, Normal, Evil and Idle...
...which reminds me of a story of a couple of students discussing post-graduation plans, while they were at the pub.

One of them announced their intention to work with VSO in Africa.

"'Ere, you don't want to go there," said the landlord. "Africal's a malarial areal."





Monday, 12 October 2009

speaking Brizzle




Listening to Arthur Smith on R4 a moment ago, talking about the "North South divide", got me thinking of regional accents. I spent my early years in Lancashire but there isn't much trace of that in my accent now. At least, I don't think there is. I worry quite a lot about my voice, because I want to be able to 'pass' on the phone; it's a nuisance sometime when I'm gendered male in telephone conversations.

I find that if I consciously put on a northern accent, my voice deepens; if, on the other hand, I adopt a Valleys accent (the South Wales valleys, you understand) the pitch of my voice goes up quite a lot. But I don't want a Valleys accent, thank you very much. So I continue with my voice exercises and slowly saunter up the gently sloping foothills of pitch....

Anyway, Bristol has a very distinctive accent. Though, like so many regional accents, it's not as distinctive as it used to be, what with people being more mobile these days, and watching television lots. I once asked a barmaid where her accent came from; she had a curious rising intonation at the end of her sentences, and sounded Austalian.

"Bristol," she said, evidently wondering how I could be so stupid.

Discussing this with a chap who worked in the Oxfam bookshop once, he told this story of a fellow Bristolian he'd met in the Far East during the war. As happens at times like this, they were swapping experiences of their shared city, and the fellow Bristolian said, "Go on then, what part of Brizzle am I from?"

My friend thought a bit and said, "Old Market?"

"Nooooooo!", he said, as though my friend was mad; "Lawrence Hill!"

As you can see from this map, the two locations are a few hundred yards apart....


View Larger Map

Sunday, 11 October 2009

finding something worse

shut up and do as I say!

You may recall my ongoing correspondence with the British Library, about where books concerning transsexual people belong in the Dewey Decimal System, and where the condition of transsexuality itself belongs in that system - at the moment, it lives in the Sexual Orientation grouping, which is so obviously wrong that I wonder how the heck it got there in the first place. Along the way I learned a useful new word, ontology, which for our purposes here can be described as the way we organise and categorise things; or, as is often the case, 'experts' organise and categorise things, including, apparently, me. SteveL kindly provided a link to Clay Shirky's essay on the faults of ontology, which elegantly expresses the failings and limitations of this system.

Meanwhile, in the (slightly) wider world, there is trouble brewing over the medical categorisation of transsexuality. It exists (sort of) in DSM-IV, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, which is the standard textbook cited in treatment. In that edition, it is described as 302.85, Gender Identity Disorder. Now, the next edition, DSM-V, is due to come out in 2012, and working groups are already working out what they think needs changing. And there are plenty of people who are unhappy about pathologising their condition by classifying it as a mental illness. On the other hand, the fact that it is classified in this way provides transsexual people with an access to medical and surgical services.

Now, it seems that there is a movement called Stop Trans Pathologisation 2012, and, using this umbrella term, someone called Dennis Hambridge has called for a demonstration outside Whitehall next week. And he's got a Facebook page for the occasion. Now, some people have expressed concerns about this call for de-recognition of a condition without proposing anything to take its place. And Mr Hambridge's response has been to delete their comments and ban them from the group. He evidently thinks that, as a cisgendered (a term he himself rejects) gay male, he knows better than us what is good for transsexual people. And, apparently, what is good for us is challenging the gender binary

Being transgendered is not a mental illness. We are simply part of the diversity of humanity. Gender Identity Disorder is therefore not a valid diagnosis. Homosexuality we removed as a mental health diagnosis diagnosis in 1987. For us to achieve true liberation and recognition we need to throw off this unjust stigma. We are not ill, just different

...Every day, almost everywhere around the world, Transexual, Transgender, Intersex people face violence, abuse, rape, torture and hate crimes. The only motive : they are not conforming to social stereotypes about the way they should appear and behave in society as men or women.
...Far from protecting Trans citizens, States and International bodies reinforce social transphobia through short sighted negligence or reactionary politics: To have their preferred gender identity recognised by society, if at all possible, they have to undergo forced sterilization or other major surgery. Yet, States do little to ensure Trans people get proper access to the health care they want or need. Adding insult to injustice, the World Health Organisation still classifies them as « mentally disordered ».
(My bold). It's hard to pin down what makes me uncomfortable about this, but that business of 'enforced sterilisation' reminds me of Julie Bindel's flawed critique, characterising us as 'survivors' of the 'sex change industry'. I get a feeling that Mr Hambridge wants us to be genderqueers in his brave new world, in the creation of which, apparently we are welcome as foot soldiers, but only if we ask no questions.

By the way, spelling is evidently not Mr Hambridge's strong point, and I notice that the umbrella Facebook group STOP Trans and Intersexual Pathologisation goal 2012 has several officers who describe themselves as 'trans rights proffesionals'. Sock puppets? Who knows?

Here is a link to RozK's description of her dealings with Mr Hambridge, and here is a link to Auntysarah's thoughts on the matter, for good measure.

Anyway, I'm certainly not going to be joining in the proposed demonstration. I may be unhappy about the DSM-IV classification, but until we come up with a good alternative solution, I'd rather stay at home than argue myself out of official existence. As Hilaire Belloc said, Always keep a-hold of Nurse, for fear of finding something worse. And yes, there can be something slightly infantilising about jumping through hoops for the medical profession, but it got me where I needed to be, and I met some good people along the way.




Thursday, 8 October 2009

little van man

the library door

My doctor was right when he reckoned I'd have a week of pain from the rib. By yesterday it was more bearable and I was aching (as it were) to get back on the bike. So I went down to the library.

Coming home, I was riding along Durdham Park, which is a useful route home for me, being relatively quiet and more direct than the main road.


View Larger Map

As you can see, it's quite windy and usually parked-up on both sides for a lot of the way. So when cars come too fast around the corners, as they often do, and meet other cars, they end up having to reverse again, or, equally likely, sit there and face down the other driver.

A van came up behind me. It came quite close behind me, in fact, and started gunning the engine to express the driver's impatience to get past me.

So I stopped and got off. I motioned for him to wind his window down. He wouldn't. I said, "There isn't room for you to overtake safely, so will you please stop revving your engine at me".

He looked all sulky, and forced his way past me.... to be held up immediately by a taxi going head-to-head with another car. When they moved, he pulled into the kerb, because he had arrived at his destination, about a hundred feet ahead of the place that he'd been so keen to get past me.

He got out. He looked very small, unprotected by his little van.

"What's your problem?" he shouted.

"Arseholes in cars," I replied. " I got knocked off only last week".

"I wouldn't knock you off", he said in a peculiarly nasty way.

"Meaning...?"

"I wouldn't knock you off," he repeated in a dubious way, presumably because his remark had fallen on stony ground. And then he returned to the mobile phone conversation he'd been conducting throughout this encounter.

I think it was some sort of sexual innuendo, thinking back. Wasted on me. Just as, apparently, my suggestion that he should not drive dangerously was wasted on him.





Wednesday, 7 October 2009

Alabaster Thomas



There's never enough time, is there? -today is National Poetry Day, and apparently the theme is Heroes and Heroines. So expect to see gossiping shoppers swapping sestinas, commuters quickly composing haiku, mechanics mouthing sonnets under bonnets. Heroically.

Or something.

My poem that I've been working on is still unfinished, but here it is, because when I put it up on the blog it will take up a life of its own and almost certainly sprout a good final verse. It's based on an encounter I had over in Wales last month.

"But what one will remember about New Bethel is the crowd of monuments in the BURIAL GROUND, and in particular the presumptuous memorial to James Thomas 1901, bearing a statue which overtops the chapel roof”

John Newman, Buildings of Wales: Gwent/Monmouthshire


Alabaster Thomas

Startlingly luminous there in the evening sunshine,
Mr Alabaster Thomas towers high above the tombs,
His haughty gaze fixed north to Pen y Fan on the horizon
Across New Bethel's rooftop cast in crepuscular gloom.

St Tudor's congregation saunter up to Mynyddislwyn;
Or sheep, come down for shearing, clatter down upon their way.
His gaze remains averted; other flocks are all alike to him
Intent to watch his chapel folk until the Judgement Day.

The crowded graves below him are both even and gregarious;
Grey Pennant slabs that huddle in the lee of the high wall.
Although his lofty pedestal is draughty and precarious
He scorns to turn his collar up and fears not the fall.

He has seen the hilltop slagheaps spread and grow above the pitheads
And the coal that fuelled an empire go to Newport Docks by rail
And the grass that spread and blanketed the slagheaps and the sidings
And the fires of Blackwood's foundries flare, and flicker out, and fail.

Rust upon the iron railings, creeping ivy on the masonry;
The roots of rosebay willowherb caress the resting skull;
The worms by now have long since tried that long-asserted dignity
Where the mouse that eats the blackberry takes refuge from the owl.
With the setting of the sun departs the glow of Alabaster-
He's just a deeper shadow now against the wheeling of the Plough.
Cars on the dual carriageway bring shoppers home from Asda
For dinner with the telly on then up the pub for after,
Time please, then car doors slamming, and the sound of distant laughter;
Then silence, and we say "Goodnight - but just for now..."


by the way, thanks to the wonder that is Street View, you can stand next to the chapel. But you won't see the sunset that Alabaster and I saw



View Larger Map

Tuesday, 6 October 2009

The Coffee Thrush


The latest book that I've illustrated is fresh back from the printers. It's The Coffee Thrush, by Geraldine Taylor, and it's a sort of adventures-in-birdwatching book, which is a really bad description. More 'stories of what life is like when birds play a big part in your life'. Here's a flavour:


One of these mornings

You’re going to rise up singing


November 2008


Sunrise. Three dog walkers and I stand round this ivy covered ash, listening to the commanding phrases of a song thrush, in the way that people once gathered around bushes containing nightingales.

Early one morning in February, I was passing a bush just as the song thrush in it started to sing. The bird warmed up with a loud medley sung from the roots; then it rose up through the branches, singing with thrilling sharpness.

I talk to the birds, ask how they are doing, encourage them along. Sometimes they react with clucky exasperation or by jumping in the air, but often they continue singing while I listen and watch. They are not singing for me, of course, though my heart finds this impossible to accept. Also, as a therapist, I find myself trying to make a relationship with everything I see.



The Bird of Perfect Summers

May 2009

Meadow now, in Ashton Court Estate where the bird song is as thrilling as the morning: skylarks on scramble, rising up singing; goldfinches ringing like bells on blossomy hawthorns; willow warblers in small corners, tiptoeing into song.


The willow warbler is the bird of perfect summers, now and long ago. Their dainty song melts our hearts. Nature writers write lyrically about these little green birds, and birdwatchers speak of them with great affection. I wish I could know willow warblers as individuals like the Coffee Thrush or the Observatory Robins.


I wonder, for example, if the length of their song varies between individuals: although I have reservations about turning up in the meadow with a stopwatch to time them. What is it like to hear willow warblers in the dawn chorus? Can they hover like sparrows and blue tits?


Sparrows and other small birds can hover like hummingbirds for short periods. I’ve seen a sparrow hover for over a minute to catch flies under a garage roof: once, I saw a robin attempt this, less successfully. Sometimes blackbirds hover for a second or two and this is usually the product of indecision. Blue tits include a hover in their fussy flying pattern – land on one branch, take off and hover; land on another, take off and hover, and so on. It’s pretty to watch, especially around hazel bushes in the sunshine.





Here's a link to the other pictures in the book, and if you'd like the book, then it's
£5 including postage from EYE ON BOOKS, 28 Berkeley Road, Westbury Park, Bristol BS6 7PJ. Cheques made payable to Geraldine Taylor.

Monday, 5 October 2009

the freewheelin' Dru Marland


Thank you, everyone who has commented and messaged me after my little prang the other day. I've been a bit goofy and disorganised - things seem a little unreal after something like that happens - and it's about time to Pull Myself Together and get on with things. I'm doing stuff about the incident in question, but that's behind the scenes at the moment.

Onwards and upwards!

Thursday, 1 October 2009

prang


Bristol is of course a Cycling City. This means that the city council has got 22 million pounds to play with, and a target to double the number of cyclists in the city. On Monday morning a BBC Radio 4 programme looked at how things are going here. Chris Hutt wrote about it on the Green Bristol blog, where you can also find a download of the programme.

There was a lot of stuff I strongly agreed with, like the widely-agreed idea that cycle lanes are ill-thought-out, badly placed, dangerously intermittent, and just plain wrong in the first place, as they encourage a false sense of security on the part of the cyclist and a sense that cyclists should stay in the cycle lanes, on the part of some motorists. To ride safely, you need to look ahead, anticipate, use the whole road, be assertive. Not aggressive, assertive. Ride in the gutter and act tentatively, and cars will try to push past you and you all risk ending up in a mess. But the cyclist is always in more of a mess than the motorist.

But that was only one aspect of the programme. Some of the Bristol money has been invested in subsidised training for cyclists. As Veronica Pollard, a cycle trainer, said, "Both (cyclists and motorists) can be retrained but it's easier to retrain a cyclist; they're the ones whose behaviour can change..."

This struck me as a central fault in the Cycling City mission. The idea that the car-use culture and infrastructure is non-negotiable. Cars are here to stay, and we must modify our behaviours to accommodate that fact. Motorists are important. Other road users are 'little people', and quite often Bloody Nuisances. It would be a far more radical programme that addressed the problem of Too Bloody Many Cars in the city. And that, apparently, is a programme that we're not going to get.

I am a cyclist; I've been cycling since I was five years old. I also rode a motorbike for over twenty five years. Riding motorbikes teaches you to ride defensively. Because if you don't, you end up dead. Sometimes you end up dead even if you do. Someone whom I liked and who, in the fullness of time, might have become a friend, isn't going to. Because he was killed on his motorbike a few weeks ago when someone pulled out on him.

Yesterday I was in Clifton, dropping off a book for someone. I stopped at Victoria Square to pick some mulberries off the tree, and ate some- they were juicy and luscious, as mulberries tend to be- and wrapped the rest in tissue and nestled them in my pannier.

Heading towards the Catholic Cathedral, I prepared to turn right down a side road. A big car was preparing to emerge from the side road and turn right. We had a good, clear line of sight between us. I moved towards the middle of the road, signalling my intent with outstretched arm. I didn't establish eye contact with the driver because the light was reflecting from the windscreen. But the car was stationary, and I thought I'd been seen and that it was waiting for me.

I swung into my turn. The car accelerated forward. There was no time to do anything; it went straight into me, and then I was lying in the road.

I'm lying there testing my body, ticking off the bits I can still feel, moving feet and fingers. I see some red gunge. O no, my brains splattered on the road. No, it's OK, it's the mulberries. There are distant voices. They are talking to me, they want reassurance.

I slowly sit up. Still alive then.

There are passers-by helping. The driver of the car is in tears, and repeats "I didn't see her, I didn't see her..."

A policeman comes along, and a paramedic. The machinery of what-happens-when-there's been-an-accident swings into action.

Bent bicycle. Broken ribs, knock on head, badly grazed arm, bruises here and there. Still alive.