Tuesday 30 December 2008

plenty of parking

Ha! That's what "off-road" means!

I used to know this artistic and creative bloke who once let it slip, when he was squiffy, that he was one of the ten best drivers in the country. I was seriously impressed by this, not least because I had actually been driven by him several times and had never guessed this. I guess it was his natural modesty. I used to wonder why he absent-mindedly and slowly pumped the accelerator as we bimbled along the motorway, so that I would find myself rocking gently forward and back as the car responded. Perhaps it was 'cadence'; he was a musician, after all. We used to refer to him as the Finest Swordsman In France, because it kind of fitted, and had he been a swordsman and in France, I'm sure that he'd have been the finest.

There are lots of arty and creative people in Bristol, and I have often been impressed by the way they apply that creativity to the art of driving and parking. Such people surely deserve a degree of latitude in their treatment of the city's roads; where they lead, we dull sublunary creatures can but dream of following. Here is a small selection of their comings and goings.

This chap has installed an 'en suite' in his Land Rover Discovery, and is able to complete his toilet while driving through the city centre, ensuring his completion of his journey in a minty fresh condition.

The owner of S100NDR is enabling a young girl to gain vital experience in negotiating the open road with her scooter. Pavements are not for scooters.

YY03VHK often parks here, just around the corner from the local primary school, so that cars have to slow right down to negotiate the corners. This is obviously a Good Thing.

WP07MVA has parked on the pavement so that it barely extends into the roadway beyond the the double yellow lines. This has allowed the Clifton Tractor to continue unimpeded on its school run. And we pedestrians managed to squeeze by in the bit of pavement left to us. This is a positive result.

CE54SXC has cleverly addressed the problem of reducing visibility at corners by acting as a separation zone, so that cyclists can easily pass on the inside.

The informally-accepted rule of the road in Bristol is that, if you park so far onto the pavement that the double yellow lines are clearly visible outboard of your car, then it doesn't count as an offence. So this chap who popped the wrong way down a one way street so that he could use the cashpoint machine sensibly used the pavement, to avoid giving a nasty surprise to traffic turning into the road in the officially-approved direction. This is on Lower Redland Road, just a few yards from the police station.

It was just opposite here, more recently (on Christmas Eve, in fact) that I watched a Range Rover mount the pavement so that the woman in the passenger seat could pop into the organic butcher's to collect her turkey. (This is a difficult time for the exemplary middle classes, who are 'time poor' at the best of times, and we must appreciate the difficulties they face in getting all the trappings of Christmas together at the last moment- it was hell at Waitrose, let me tell you....)

She hopped out of the car and saw me watching. She paused guiltily, then walked towards the butchers. I was pushing my bike along the pavement towards Whiteladies Road (it is, as I have said, a one way street), and there was only just enough room for her to pass, what with a Range Rover on the pavement and all. And as she went by she said, in self-righteous sort of way, "You shouldn't be on the pavement either, you know".

"I'm pushing it, you silly fool," I replied sharply.

And then felt bad about it because I should have handled the encounter more positively.

Oh well.

Monday 29 December 2008

...and Christmas presents

Over on a forum somewhere we were exchanging tales of best and worst Christmas presents. Here's my fave for this year, from young K. It's an okapi. I have called her Edna. Edna O'Kapi.

It doesn't take long for me to come up with the Worst Christmas Present Ever. The winner by a mile was a cut-out-and-build book called Kokigami: Performance Enhancing Adornments For The Adventurous Man. It came from someone to whom I am related, though not a blood relation (name withheld, even though she's most unlikely to read this...). I unwrapped it, and I and my then partner gazed in disbelief, before burning it and washing our hands.

It is, of course, all too easy to laugh at the inappropriateness of some presents, going beyond the well-meantness of Betjeman's Christmas:

The sweet and silly Christmas things,

Bath salts and inexpensive scent

And hideous tie so kindly meant

. And so, as it is nicely undemanding occupation for the dead time between Christmas and New Year, why not? Over to you. I'm making Edna her breakfast.

Field observations indicate that the okapi's mineral and salt requirements are filled primarily by a sulfurous, slightly salty, reddish clay found near rivers and streams.

Friday 26 December 2008

Christmas present

With young K away with the Other Parent for Christmas, it seemed like a good time to head for the mountains. So I did.

I was over the Severn Bridge and approaching Abergavenny when the dawn had begun properly; clouds cloaked the summits of the surrounding hills, including Ysgyryd Fawr, where I was heading. I had vague hopes that I would ascend through clouds and emerge into sunshine, though it looked a bit unpromising. The thing is, unless you get up there, you can never tell, can you? Last Christmas I'd gone up Pen y Fan through similarly murky gloom, and it had cleared just as I reached the summit. As you can see.

Corn Du from Pen y Fan, last year

It had been quite busy up there. For a mountain, anyway. I hoped for a slightly quieter time today.

I ascended from the south, through woods where blackbirds called, and past the great cleft in the hill which is supposed to have been broken when Christ was crucified. The way got steeper and mistier, and then I was on the ridge in cloud and buffeted by the wind all the way to the summit, where the ruins of St Michael's Chapel lie next to the trig point. After the Reformation, local Catholics would come up here and hold services, keeping the light of their faith alive in dangerous times.

There was another walker already up there, sheltering on the lee slope. We exchanged hellos, and I plonked myself down close by, but not too close. Mountain top etiquette. Shortly after, he wandered off and left me to my thoughts, which started off with "God, it's cold" and progressed thence to "I really fancy a cup of tea". Fortunately, I had my flask with me, and I wrapped my scarf around my head to keep the wind out of my ears. I listened to the wind blowing through the dried grass, and tried to think of a description of the sound, which was a bit like waves seething over very fine, sandy shingle. I wondered at the tenacity of the moles which had been industriously burrowing around the summit. Presumably they were unaware that the Skirrid is too holy to permit the presence of snails or worms.

As I descended, the mist began to clear. Ravens played in the air around the summit and the Monmouthshire lowlands emerged from the murk. By the time I was down again, the sun was shining brilliantly. It would have been a good time to be on the summit. But that's mountains for you.

Home again, I opened a present from my friend Catherine. It was a lovely edition of Richard Jefferies' Wildlife in a Southern County, with illustrations by Charles Tunnicliffe; and the first chapter had a description of the sound of hilltop wind blowing through dried grass on a summer's day:

A faint sound as of a sea heard in a dream - a sibilant "sish, sish" - passes along outside, dying away and coming again as a fresh wave of wind rushed through the bennets and the dry grass.

Christmas past

An icebreaker rescuing us in the Baltic. Nothing to do with the story here but quite Christmassy.

From my diary for 2003, an account of Christmas on board Pride of Bilbao:

Christmas at sea… since we were taking 1300 minicruisers to Spain for the occasion, the crew had their main celebration in advance, on Christmas Eve. We anchored up in the Solent, ate a huge lunch, and then partied on down in the main bar, with a discotheque, as you youngsters say, and FREE FANTA AND CRISPS. …. Hey, we were just wild childs… and tried not to be resentful of the other P+O boats alongside in Portsmouth, which had relaxed their “no alcohol” rule for the occasion… it rather reminded me of those uneasy social occasions of my youth, when the local Air Cadets and Girl Guides would meet up in the church hall, and eye each other mistrustfully.

…and Christmas Day in the Bay of Biscay. In honour of the occasion, I wore my festive flashing Christmas tree earrings, as I loped around fixing air conditioning and vacuum toilets.

“There’s something wrong with your ears,” said a passenger; “They’re flashing”

“It’s the radiation sensors,” I said. “They must’ve had another meltdown in the engine room.”

…and, in the evening, to the bar again, to see the special Christmas show that the entertainment team had come up with, and to see if Santa’s podium, constructed for the occasion by the repair shop, would collapse. At one point late in the evening, young Tim the singer bounded through the audience distributing rather unconvincing plastic imitation mistletoe; he rather gallantly proffered me a sprig; I looked around for a suitable snogee, and gave up on it. And so a d
ay of mass self-indulgence, gluttony and drunkenness ended with a rendition of “Feed The World”, with audience participation and a complete lack of irony.

Fa la la la la la la la la, and so on

Wednesday 24 December 2008

the umpteenth Noel

So the cake is finally in the oven, and half the Christmas cards actually got sent, and the sun has long set on Christmas Eve. Untogether? Moi??

...does anyone ever admit to being ready for Christmas? -certainly I have agreed with lots of people over the last week or so that we are Very Far From Being Ready. It's like at school when people told each other how unprepared they were for exams. Except in my case it was true.

I like a good carol, and have been hunting for a version of While Shepherds Watched which I heard on the radio some years ago. I think it was a West Country version, and I can remember the tune and sing it while driving. Or sometimes sing the carol to the tune of Ilkley Moor, which also works. It also fits the theme tune for Monty Python, as my friend Murray once demonstrated.

The picture is the card design that K and I collaborated on. She did the cunning fox. Me, I did the partridge in a pear tree. I like pears and I like partridges, but if someone gave me them for Christmas I'm not sure I'd want them for my true love.

Just saying.

Happy Christmas!

transsexual behaviour

nunc dimittis

Exciting news from the Pope. It seems that he has said that saving humanity from homosexual or transsexual behaviour is just as important as saving the rainforest from destruction.

I was a bit curious to know what this was all about, so I listened in to Radio 4's Today programme, and was rewarded with a little discussion between Christine Odone and Joanna Bogle (podcast here). I've got a lot of time for Joanna Bogle; there is something awfully compelling about someone who has apparently never doubted, never half-believed. She speaks in one of those loud and strident voices that flatten opposition with the dead weight of their certitude. She could have stepped off her hunter and out of the pages of a Waugh novel, horsewhip in hand. And, perhaps oddly, I find myself broadly in agreement with her on her core premise:

We are made male and female, and it's just bad science to pretend that it's an artificial construct. There's this fantasy going round today, a kind of flat earth theory that you invent yourself as male or female. This is just not the case. ...maleness and femaleness is much more important than we thought ...male and female matter.

Jolly good, Joanna. We're singing from the same hymn sheet, though we may be in different choirs.

I looked up her blog, and found that we have heaps of things in common. We both, to employ her terms, live cheerily among lots of books and no TV. She loathes instant coffee, extreme feminism, narrow-mindedness, cold pasta, "inclusive language" and stewed tea. I'm OK with the extreme feminism, and don't mind inclusive language, but I'm solid with her on the rest, although I do bear in mind that one person's narrow-mindedness can be another person's clarity of purpose; I recall a Chief Engineer on a ferry defending the display of hardcore pornography in the workplace by asserting that "you've got to be broad-minded at sea". Quite.

Our favourite modes of transport are train or bicycle, though I'm sure that if she had a Morris Traveller too, she'd have added it to the list.

She likes buttered toast, sticky chocolate cake, rain, old-fashioned detective stories, Pope Benedict XV1, making jam, winter teatimes, sleeping out of doors on warm summer nights, Christmas, Pimms, ginger wine, and making patchwork quilts. Me, I'll take a raincheck on the Pope, and I prefer felting to quilting and damson vodka to ginger wine; but hey, close enough.

She's got a list of men who ought to be bishops. I used to have a list of men who ought to be strung up and/or castrated, but I got over it.

This is almost scary. I wonder what will happen if Joanna ever realises that she engages in transsexual behaviour. (If you have stumbled upon this blog for the first time, by the way, I should perhaps clarify that I am a woman with a transsexual history, if you see what I mean)

Disappointingly, of course, it turns out that the Pope never actually said what the media have said that he said. This is the problem when you've got an elderly Austrian pope surrounded by Irish cardinals and it's getting late in the evening. What he actually said was probably more like, "Well, it's been lovely talking with you but frankly I could murder a pint of creme de menthe*, so auf wiedersehen, Kameraden".

*Creme de menthe: the drink of choice for popes. A Well Known Fact. It's a papal behaviour thing.

Thursday 11 December 2008

cover story

The proof of the cover design for the paperback edition of Becoming Drusilla arrived yesterday, so here it is for you to see. Richard and I are hoping to get some reading events sorted out in May, when it comes out. Hopefully by then the bookshop folk will have a better idea of what the book's about and, as it were, where it's at. There had been some initial confusion; indeed, Jo tells me that she found a copy in a Waterstones in Maidenhead that had been filed under LGB. Funny business.

My eyes are not what they were, and I need stronger prescription specs. So I got a new set of lenses and felt a bit seasick wearing them, because they're strong reading glasses and everything else is like being under the sea. So I want some varifocals. Finding nice frames is very hard, though. There is a lot of fashion involved in specs, and the current crop does nothing for me at all. I picked up this pair on e-bay. They too arrived yesterday. I quite like them. Now I need to get the lenses changed to my prescription.

...fairly inconsequential, this post. I guess I want reassuring about the specs.

Friday 5 December 2008

noise annoys

Julie Bindel speaks to the nation....

While I (and no doubt you) would just as soon hear nothing more about Julie Bindel, she's still out there and she's still sounding off. About transsexuals. And, as has so often the case in her writing on this subject, it's been characterised by ignorance and untruth. She's been twisting things around a bit. Well, OK, a lot.

So, as long as she's spreading disinformation, I suppose that I have a moral imperative to refute her.

OK, so she gets columns in the Guardian, I have my blog, but we do what we can do, I guess.

Now, where were we? -When I last mentioned her, a protest was being organised outside Stonewall's champagne bash at the V&A, where Julie Bindel had been nominated for the award of "journalist of the year". This protest was because of the views espoused by Bindel about transsexuals, which I have already described in earlier posts and so shan't go through again. It was pointed out to Ben Summerskill, Chief Stuffed Shirt at Stonewall, that Bindel's views on transsexuals were not a million miles away from the opinions held by Iris Robinson, the DUP type who was awarded Stonewall's 'bigot of the year' title for opining that homosexuality could and should be cured by psychiatry... Ben's response was something along the lines of "We've already sent the invitations out, and anyway we're all right Jack so get lost".

So the protest took place. About 150 people, all told, and a cheerful and well-conducted bunch of people they were too. Here are some of them...

IMG_2255, originally uploaded by onequeerone.

...and there was a counter demo. As you can see, Julie has many friends...

IMG_2087, originally uploaded by onequeerone.

...though they seemed a bit lost, especially when the actual reasons for the anti-Stonewall demo had been gently explained to them, and they sort of shuffled off early...

Julie didn't get the award, of course; that went to Miriam Stoppard...

Anyhow, next thing you know, Julie's written a piece for the Guardian's Comment Is Free. It's quite a remarkable piece of writing, even by her standards. She seems to lump transsexuals in with people-who-screw-cats as odd folk who want to join in the Stonewall "equality for nice middle class gays" party. Wrong in so many ways, Julie!

Julie Bindel:
"I for one do not wish to be lumped in with an ever-increasing list of folk defined by "odd" sexual habits or characteristics..."

..."I vont to be left alone", says Julie. Sadly, that is not a courtesy she extends to trans folk. She was at it again last week, in a magazine called G3 (you will find her piece on P 98). I'd never heard of the magazine before. It's a glossy lesbian job. Not quite an intellectual heavyweight, if you see what I mean. Julie gives her side of the business which began with the 2004 Guardian piece yet again, and says how some nasty trans folk have said bad things about her. The magazine's editorial agreed with Julie. After all, she's a Stonewall Journalist Of The Year nominee, and the biggest lesbian on the block. How can she be wrong? What's journalistic integrity anyway?

It is true that some people have said harsh things about Bindel, of course. Maybe even more people than there are fingers on one hand .....without wanting to go too far into the tit for tat stuff here, though, I would point out that there are any number of loose screws or cannons out there in cyberspace. Here is one person giving us their opinion about the Bindel business...

trans communities/forums/chats far and wide are literally losing their minds (or whats left of their minds after being drugged) over Julie's nomination. This has even cropped up in multiple so-called "trans-feminism" communities, due in part because the disordered men occupying these communities obviously remain male despite the cosmetics, and in part because they remain faithful to their conditioned patriarchal male privileges that nary a one has ever given up...

and then someone called mAndrea is the first to comment on this blog on the f word for the Transgender Day Of Remembrance, when we remember trans people who have been murdered.

Normally, we consider people who use their emotions in place of reason to be utter fucking morons.

The basic premise of transgender ideology is that girl and boy brains exist, and are different from each other. Girl brains luv pink, and are rilly soft and gentle. Boy brains luv blue, and are rilly hard and aggressive.

The basic premise of feminist ideology is that no such difference exists. Oops, we have a discreptancy!

Since some women are quite the aggressive fuck, they must be a boy. Therefore, they are transgendered. Amazingly enough, wanting a penis is not required for women to be an aggressive fuck, so something is quite illogical regarding your theory.

Perhaps insanity is the answer.

It makes interesting, if distasteful reading. But let's not get too distracted by this guff. It would be stupid to extrapolate from this and think that these semi-literate, possibly semi-sane voices are representative voices of feminism. Wouldn't it? If Julie, on the other hand, wants to demonise the trans 'community' because of a few individuals' intemperate expressions of anger.... well, she would, wouldn't she? The important thing is that the anti-Stonewall demo was discussed, organised and executed in an open and intelligent way, despite the occasional trolling of the Facebook site by Bindel and others.

And so we come to yesterday. A debate was hosted at Manchester Metropolitan University between Bindel and Susan Stryker. It was described as "A Feminist Perspective on the Transsexual Debate". Way to go. The dynamics of that title are quite telling, aren't they? Who decided that transsexuality was up for debate? Is there a 'lesbian debate'? -a.... oh, fill in the blanks yourelf. Is not Bindel's arrogation to herself of the right to 'debate' the very existence of a group of people indicative of an assumption of privilege on her part? -anyway; I watched the webcast. It made interesting viewing. Susan Stryker is very intelligent. Susan began with a slightly magisterial expression of surprise that Julie should still be bogged down in this stagnant backwater, when there is so much more useful and constructive stuff to be getting on with. Julie declared her wish to abolish gender; Susan described gender as "a medium we swim in". Julie stated that her own feminism began and ended with fighting violence against women, and she had seen no evidence that transsexual women had worked towards the ending of violence against women. She was directly given examples from the personal experience of Susan and several other women present.

Hmm, anyway. The general gist of the event was that Bindel accepted that on all the points raised, she was less informed than other people present at the debate. And those better-informed people refuted all her points. Giving chapter and verse. Maybe I'll expand on this later, but for the moment we'll leave it at that. Bindel continued to maintain that there is a substantial and presently-organising caucus of what she termed "survivors" of the "sex-change industry". This is news to me, but then, what would I know?

This is what I do know. That I, and many others, have been thoroughly angered by Bindel's interference in trans matters. She has either not researched properly or she has ignored the facts, because the existence and experience of transsexuality is incompatible with her ideological theory of gender. Her opinions are published in a national paper. There is the risk that she can influence policy which directly affects us. She has been trying to mess with my life, and she has been dishonest in the attempted furtherance of her ideology.

It would be really good if Bindel would finally just shut up about transsexuality. Her case against it just doesn't hold up. She's been sucking the air out of the room for too long. Go and do something useful instead, Julie. Please.

Saturday 29 November 2008

night's dark agents

I drove up to Nottingham with young K after school yesterday; it's an away weekend for her. As the sun set, we watched mist rolling down from the tops of the Cotswolds in a very dramatic way. And then the fog set in pretty solidly.

I was very late back to Bristol, and thought that I'd have a mooch around Avonmouth to find something photogenic. Apart from the car I was driving, of course.

...and then I went out early in the morning, because it's nice to be abroad early. I took this picture in Clifton...

...though I kept a weather eye open for other people. There have been five sex attacks in Clifton over the last fortnight. The local police have helpfully published advice on staying safe, which basically involves not going out alone or after dark if you're a woman. Hmm. As Annie points out in her blog, why not tell the men to stay at home instead?

There is a Facebook group now, organising a Reclaim The Night demo. I want to join in with it, as it affects both me and young K - knowing, as she does, about the events in Clifton, she was worried, when we were climbing up Glastonbury Tor in the dark last week, that there might be someone posing a threat there too. As it was, there were a couple of hippies... mostly harmless...


Thursday 27 November 2008

The Bristol Downs: another book event

So. On Tuesday 2nd December, we're doing a little show at Bristol Zoo, which will include Geraldine giving a talk, and me doing a Powerpoint thing about illustration. And there will be mince pies, apparently. And I shall be taking along my big bottle of Damson vodka, too. What's not to like?

Friday 21 November 2008

gendered lingo

Here's a fun thing I found on Helen Boyd's blog. It's called GenderAnalyzer,
and it tells you what gender it thinks you are based on your blog.

Last time I tried one of these gender analyser things (spelling hem hem), I put in stuff by Charles Dickens and Jane Austen, and it said that he was a woman and she was a man. I prudently kept these findings to myself, as we don't want to go rocking the foundations of Eng Lit, do we?

Upside Down In Cloud is 65% female. Apparently. Must add more fluffy bunnies.

Sunday 16 November 2008

watching winter coming in

Cloudes kesten kenly the colde to the erthe;
With nyye innoghe of the northe the naked to tene

The flat got inspected last week by Brian, from EAGA (no, he doesn't know what it stands for either) which falls under the aegis* of DEFRA. I know someone who also works for DEFRA, as it happens, and she does something to do with soil. The fellow at the next desk is in charge of squirrels. Now that sounds like a job to have.

Anyway, Brian had come down from Liverpool and was surveying the homes of people in the area who have applied for Home Front grants. The point of these is to make homes energy efficient for people on a low income. People ike me.

So he rootled around in the attic, and measured things with his tape measure, and counted the windows and gave the immersion heater a Serious Looking At, and then got out his baby laptop and tapped away for a bit, and gave the flat its score for energy efficiency.

Reader, out of a possible score of 100, we scored 1.

I felt rather distinguished, I have to say.

Not that it's any great surprise; this is the sort of flat where the wind just slows down a bit when it reaches the skylight, and you don't actually get the benefit of having a heater on unless you sit on it with a blanket over you. Of course, being a hardy, ex living-on-top-of-a-mountain sort of type, I am sort of used to it, but it would be nice not to have water freeze in the glass overnight for a change.

So they're going to put insulation in the loft. I don't have gas, otherwise they would have offered me central heating too. Gosh. Brian said that I could have storage heaters if I wanted. I said I'd had them once and hated them; stiflingly hot in the morning and cold by the afternoon. He nodded agreement. Brian isn't a storage heater person either.

*aegis: a sort of ancient greek bus shelter. I think that's where the smokers go during coffee breaks.

Thursday 13 November 2008


It seems so long ago now that I was out gathering fruit. The flat has taken on its winter chill. Still, the jars and bottles of stuff around the kitchen look cheerful, especially when the sun is shining.

Last week we went along to a sort-of-alternative Harvest Fair at the Cube Microplex, a volunteer-run arts place down town. We'd been asked to come along by Kayle, who makes her own Cola and whom we met up my favourite mulberry tree a couple of months back.

Odd sort of business. There were people with nettle beer, cake, homegrown tobacco, and my stuff- damson vodka, mulberry gin, pickled walnuts and home-made bread with poppyseeds from Brendagh's garden. And there was an urban hunter. And, a late arrival, a woman with a chocolate recipe that I shall describe later. We set out our stuff and people looked and poked and sampled. I had bought a pile of little plastic shot glasses and was offering my damson vodka and mulberry gin at 50p a shot, but ended up giving lots away. And someone helped herself to the gin while I thought, "Shall I say something?" and ended up not doing. Grrrr.

Then we trooped into the theatre bit and a chap called VI did something called 'noodling' on a synthesiser while young K writhed in agony. I bore it with fortitude; I have, in my time, sat through an entire concert by Keith and Julie Tippet, in a Very Hot And Packed Room upstairs at the Albert in Bedminster. ("Someone asked me the other day", said Keith, ""Keith", he said, "where do you draw your inspiration from?" And I paused and said, "I just carve it from the living air.... like sculpture."")

And we did a show and tell, and the Urban Hunter described his year's adventuring in search of truth through food. He has killed and eaten a rabbit and a squirrel.

"It's taught me a lot about myself. About what it means to be a man. And what it means to be an animal"

(voice from the audience) "What has it taught you?"

long pause
(another voice from the audience (helpfully)) "Something you can't put into words?"

"Yes, it's something you can't put into words"

We left early. K felt out of place. I think I did, somewhat, too.

Still, the woman with the chocolate was nice. Shame we didn't get chance to talk properly. She does similar stuff to me, I think. And she'd brought along some chocolate to which she'd added the damsons which she'd had left over from making alcoholic stuff. It was inspired. I went home and did it with some of our damsons. Result!

Monday 3 November 2008

busy, busy, busy

The launch of The Bristol Downs: a natural history year took place on Wednesday, and went very well. Loads of people, lots of books sold and signed. Geraldine gave a lively talk, then I did a Powerpoint show about illustrating the book. Which also went well; people even laughed. In the right places.

And then I took a day off and drove my newly-fixed car up a Welsh mountain. There it is, look. That's Mynydd Maen. I used to live up there. Cosy, isn't it?

Stonewall again

Julie XIV

More on Stonewall's Bindelgate.

As the night of Stonewall's 'champagne gay' beanfeast at the V&A approaches, preparations continue for the protest against the nomination of Julie Bindel (whose opinions on transsexuality continue to be at variance with transsexual people and, apparently, anyone else who knows much, or indeed anything, about the subject), for their 'prestigious' Journalist of the Year award.

Over on Facebook, the group formed to discuss the protest has been periodically visited by Julie, who threw around a few accusations of anti-feminism and anti-lesbianism, her reasoning presumably being that she is the living embodiment of these qualities, a bit like Louis XIV, who may (and may not) have pronounced "L'État, c'est moi!"

But as she hasn't said anything either new or interesting, we shall pass on to Roz Kaveney's response to her recent statement, because that is worth reading.

And now let's ignore Julie, as the main interest here is the indifference of Stonewall, a supposed equalities group, to equality for transsexual people. Some, evidently, are more equal than others.

Wednesday 29 October 2008


The books did indeed arrive yesterday, and are very nice. I'm getting ready for the launch event at Standfords Bookshop. I'm taking a big bottle of my damson vodka along to help things out. The damsons came from the Downs.... the vodka came from Sainsbury's...

I'm really poor about remembering anniversaries, but I was reminded of this date by a chance remark a few days back. So. Today is the second anniversary of my going into Charing Cross Hospital for a major operation. Seems a long time ago now. Well, two years is quite a long time, I suppose. So that figures.

Sunday 26 October 2008

another launch

At last! The books will be here from the printers on Tuesday, and we do a launch at Stanfords in Bristol on Wednesday evening.

It says I did 'over 200 illustrations'. Gosh. I'm sure it's right. No wonder it took so long.

universal sufferage

I finally found the problem with the car, whose worrying squeaking had developed into an even more worrying graunching noise, accompanied by juddering.

Reader, it was the universal joint.

It was quite a relief, because

  1. It's always much nicer to know what a problem is, than to have a problem and not know what it is
  2. It was something I could fix myself
So I crawled under the car and uncoupled the drive shaft from the rear axle and pulled it off the gear box, and contemplated the Workshop Manual.

In obedience to the instructions, I applied gentle blows to the yoke with a copper mallet.

And then rather less gentle blows.

and then I used the blowtorch.

And soaked it in release oil.

And hit it lots.

And put it on a piece of teak (rescued from a skip some time ago. I knew it would be useful one of these days) and whacked it even more.

And finally it came off.

And then all I had to do was cycle across to the south side of Bristol for a new UJ (as we mechanical types call them)

And put it all back together again.

And now the car is working beautifully. At last.

Wednesday 22 October 2008


Right, back to the ordinary stuff of life.

I see that Richard has posted up the piece he did for Arena magazine about "Becoming Drusilla" back in August. Reaching out to Lad culture, as it were. Is Arena lad culture? I dunno. Well, getting the word out there, anyway.

And this morning I shall re-set the tappets on the Trav, and take it out for a bimble to see if I can identify the irritating little squeak. For half-term is almost upon us, and that means Adventures.


Tuesday 21 October 2008

nowhere to run to

I said in my previous post that I wanted to look more deeply at the Vancouver Rape Relief centre business. I'll flag a few points and then move on to my own experiences and opinions.

Kimberley Nixon, a transsexual woman, challenged the centre over its refusal to accept her for training as a counsellor. Here's the chronology as stated by the VRR themselves...

...and, from a write-up about the court case,

"Vancouver Rape Relief Society v. Nixon et al., 2003, Ms. Cormier listed the collective political beliefs that the Society requires its volunteers not to disagree with:

1. Violence is never a woman’s fault,

2. Women have the right to choose to have an abortion,

3. Women have a right to choose who their sexual partners are, and

4. Volunteers agree to work on an on-going basis on their existing prejudices, including racism.

The requirement that a woman be a woman from birth was stated to be complementary to the tenets to which all volunteers and members of the Society must subscribe in the Court of Appeal case. "

First, what Julie Bindel said in 2004, and what she stands by still:

The arrogance is staggering: having not experienced life as a "woman" until middle age, Nixon assumed "she" would be suitable to counsel women who have chosen to access a service that offers support from women who have suffered similar experiences, not from a man in a dress! The Rape Relief sisters, who do not believe a surgically constructed vagina and hormonally grown breasts make you a woman, successfully challenged the ruling and, for now at least, the law says that to suffer discrimination as a woman you have to be, er, a woman.

A few pointers:

Kimberley Nixon had herself been sexually assaulted. She had received support from another women's organisation at that time. Had she attempted to access the VRR, she would have been excluded for the same reason that they wished to exclude her as a counsellor. She had begun training as a counsellor with this other organisation, and was described as "exceptionally gifted". (reference here)

More widely, from my own experience and that of my friends:

  • Men can be violent to women
  • Women can be violent to women
  • Women can be violent to men
  • Counselling can be a pretty intense experience. You can either work well with a counsellor, or not. And there can be any number of reasons for that. And there are always other counsellors.
  • There are transsexual women, both 'out' and 'stealth', who work and have worked in women's refuges

O heck, that's enough of that. There's plenty of info out there, and any amount of noise and clutter, and slinging of terms like "male privilege", "cisgender privilege", "transphobia" and even "lesbophobia". You pays your money, you takes your choice. Do you suppose that Julie Bindel had taken the trouble to acquaint herself thoroughly with the facts (which, presumably, one would expect her to, given that she is supposed to be writing about them) when she described Kimberley as "staggeringly arrogant"?

Thank goodness, I've never been sexually assaulted. I've had verbal and physical abuse, and vividly remember the wholly world-turned-upside-down experience, after I was assaulted, not only of no action being taken, but of being myself blamed and told I'd been 'asking for it'. Not a unique experience, of course, but bear with me; it's never easy, I'm sure.

Sorry I keep coming back to the P&O business lately; it affected me deeply, and this present silliness is bringing it back.

After it was all over, I joined the Gender Trust because I wanted to be able to help other people who may be going through similar difficulties to myself. Maybe it's fairly normal; after the trauma and healing, an ardent desire to go out and make the world a better place. It didn't work out with me and the GT, as it happens; I guess I'm just not suited to committees and politicking. Anyway...

...I am very careful about entering women's space, personally, although in practice I haven't really had occasion to, beyond changing rooms and loos, of course. But that's my own life path. Fairly late transitioning, with a few indicators of my male history about me, in my features and my voice. I recognise that for some people I may be "something rich and strange". It can be a nuisance: at a local photographers' meet, there was a woman whose work I admire, and I was looking forward to meeting her.

As it happened, I couldn't get a word in edgeways.

She mailed me the next day and apologised, because, she said, she had been nervous and afraid that she might inadvertently offend me. I told her that being open about things was the best way to not be offensive...

...as for my female friends, I think that for some I was or am on probation. Still wearing the L plates, as it were. Fair enough. It's a hearts and minds thing.

Mostly, I get treated as, er, myself. The 'man in a dress' thing? I've had that from a few males cited in the harassment case. And, evidently, that's what Julie Bindel thinks too.

It's a shame that there's so much shoutiness and divisiveness going on out there. While a major architect of it keeps quiet.

Monday 20 October 2008

Stonewall and Julie Bindel

So I wrote to Ben Summerskill at Stonewall this morning, adding my voice to the protests against Julie Bindel's nomination for the Journalist of the Year award. Text as follows:

Dear Mr Summerskill,

You’re probably sick to death of the finer points of this business by now, but I would like to add my voice to the protests at the Bindel nomination.

I believe that, by Stonewall’s own definition, Julie Bindel is transphobic. Nothing she has said since the notorious Guardian piece in 2004 has indicated that she has changed her opinion that transwomen are really men.

I understand that you are an LGB organisation rather than LGBT. But as a transwoman and a lesbian, I feel betrayed by this nomination. I urge you to withdraw it, however late the stage in the proceedings.

Yours faithfully,

....and then we had a chat on the phone. He said that, as the nomination had been made by Stonewall supporters, it would be impossible for the organisation itself to withdraw it. I suggested that Stonewall make some form of statement deprecating Julie Bindel's stated position on transsexuals, which ticks several of the boxes on Stonewall's own checklist of "what is transphobia?". Which includes these items:

• the belief that trans women are not “real women” because they have been raised and socialised as men
• the belief that trans men are not “real men” because they do not have, or were not born with a penis
• the belief that transsexual people are actually gay people in denial
• the assumption that transgender people are “sick” or that they are psychologically unstable
• when a transgender person is excluded from services, activities, discussions or decisions because it is felt that that person doesn’t “fit in”
• the refusal to recognise or acknowledge the true gender of a trans person and the continual insistence to refer to them by their former name

Meanwhile, Christine Burns, formerly of Press For Change, had lunch with Bindel and recorded the conversation. Some key points:

Julie acknowledged that "some of the things I said in the 2004 column were hateful and offensive and could actually incite offensive behaviour towards transsexual people"

(no fooling; I've been at the receiving end of precisely that sort of behaviour. The language used by Bindel in this article could just as easily have come from the hairy-arsed seafarers I was getting grief from at the same time... )

However, she said "I absolutely stand by the core premise which was my anger at a particular member of the community who almost brought a rape crisis centre to its knees; I have not changed my position on that case at all".

(...she refers to the refusal of Vancouver Rape Relief to employ Kimberley Nixon, a transsexual woman who had herself been the victim of domestic violence, as a counsellor. I want to examine this business at greater length. Later)

When Christine asked, "Am I a woman, for instance?" she replied "You have a right to self-determination. ....what do you mean by that? What makes you a woman? ...and part of that has to be the socialisation that we experience when we grow up ...as girls in girls' bodies as they're growing up."

So that's 'no' ,then.

On what Julie characterises as the "sex change industry" "....traditional psychiatrists and medical practitioners see men and women as odd or suffering from a syndrome if they behave outside their gender norms, and I do think that practice continues in diagnosing people as transsexual", Christine quoted Stuart Lorimer, consultant shrink at Charing Cross, who said that, on this matter, Julie was "spectacularly ill-informed".

"There's a difference between being spectacularly ill-informed and having a different opinion", said Julie.

Now, I've been to Charing Cross. I've seen several shrinks there, including Stuart Lorimer. I agree with him, and not because I've got Stockholm Syndrome but because he is intelligent and questioning and knowledgeable. Julie is consistently missing the point about transsexuals: it's not about gender roles, it's about being the sex we identify as. She misrepresents what actually happens in gender clinics. Given that this is supposedly her specialist subject, in my book I'd call that pretty spectacularly ill-informed.

Julie says she wants to "continue a debate about the so-called condition and about surgery as a solution to the diagnosis of transsexualism".

Well, yes, of course she does, because it's column inches for her, but why indulge her? -and is it a debate anyway? In these four years, she hasn't really changed her position, which is based on ideology, always a bad starting point for a discussion on medical matters. Why should we be constantly expected to explain ourselves to her, when she doesn't actually listen? -why does she want to explain us to ourselves or to deny us treatment (beyond 'talking therapies'), when she doesn't have the courtesy either to study the subject properly or to think outside her own box?

Hopefully, Julie and her moth-eaten and simplistic theories will slide into the dustbin of history. Along, perhaps, with Stonewall, who don't seem to want to or be able to shift on this one.

Friday 17 October 2008

the emperor's new sock puppet

Peggy (an artist's impression)

Back to the Bindel story. Now, a few years ago, in the aftermath of her Gender Benders Beware piece in the Guardian, there was a lively discussion going on about it on Technodyke, an internet forum which does what it says on the tin. Or did; it no longer exists in quite the same form, alas. Anyway, a newbie, Peggy by name, weighed in in support of Julie Bindel, and said nice things about her and snarky things about the trans women on Technodyke. Only it turned out that it wasn't Peggy but Julie, using an assumed identity. Peggy/Julie was thrown off Technodyke by the site owner, who deprecated her narrow-minded divisiveness. Life went on.

Apparently this practice of using an assumed online identity to promote one's own cause or, heck, create mayhem or whatever, is called sockpuppeting. This word makes me happy, and here in the Schloss we adopted it for a while as a gentle term of abuse.

OK, here's what's been happening over the last few days.

Stonewall and the Gender Trust have had a little chat, which went something along the lines of:

Gender Trust: We are unhappy that you have nominated a transphobic woman for your journalist of the year award

Stonewall: We understand that you are unhappy, but there aren't that many journalists on the national papers who identify as lesbian, and she hasn't written anything particularly transphobic in this last year, has she?

Gender Trust: Oh all right then, let's do lunch sometime. What're you drinking?

This didn't go down too well with the hoi polloi. There have been resignations from the GT. Other people, including myself, would have resigned if they hadn't already resigned for.... other reasons.

Plenty of seething grassroots activity going on . There is going to be a protest outside the V&A on the night of the Stonewall beanfeast. Julie has told Sarah, one of the more articulate objectors, that she has shown her stuff to a libel lawyer. It's nice to be appreciated, Sarah...

...and a Facebook group has formed to muster support for Julie, proposing a counter-demonstration in favour of her. It will be interesting to see how many of this group owe their origin to the hosiery section at Marks and Spencer.

If you would like to sign the petition deploring Stonewall's invitation to Julie Bindel, then here it is

...there is change in the air, I feel. This may be only a small pond, but it's the one I'm swimming in. Bear with me.

Wednesday 15 October 2008

through the square window

This is to illustrate Geraldine's latest piece for the Bristol Review of Books. I am very pleased because I couldn't think of anything for ages and ages, and then I started it this morning and just did it. And now it's done and I can stop worrying about one more thing.

The other thing I can stop worrying about is the car.

After rebuilding the engine, it was still getting too hot, and I decided that having eliminated all the other possibilities, it was time to bite the bullet and change the radiator. So I did. And now the temperature climbs sedately to 80C, then slowly drops down to 70ish as the thermostat opens, and then climbs back up to 80 again, and so it see-saws up and down as we bowl along. Better than the telly, it is.

Monday 13 October 2008

an owl's cry, a most melancholy cry

I spent some time driving up and down motorways this weekend, taking K to and then from the Other Parent. It was a beautiful autumn day, and very hot. So hot indeed that I was worried about the engine temperature, and drove with the heater on full blast and windows wide open. When I arrived at the rendezvous, Checkpoint Chav, a motorway service station in the Midlands, I brewed up some water on the Trangia...
(Richard demonstrates the lighting of the Trangia)

....to top up the radiator. It was fun. I must remember to pack all the stuff for making a brew, so I don't have to buy the expensive drinks they sell in these places. Though brewing up in service stations is hardly The Call of the Wild...

Heading home again, we came down the Welsh border. I'd hoped to make it to Symond's Yat in time for the sunset, but at least we were there to admire the mist in the valley below. And the moon glinting on the river, and the lights of two anglers wading far below. And the bats. And the owls, which were hooting up and down the Wye gorge. Hence the title of this piece, which comes from an Edward Thomas poem I remember from school. Although for me it was a nice melancholy. Must be that Welshness rubbing off on me.

Downhill I came, hungry, and yet not starved,
Cold, yet had heat within me that was proof
Against the North wind; tired, yet so that rest
Had seemed the sweetest thing under a roof.

Then at the inn I had food, fire, and rest,
Knowing how hungry, cold, and tired was I.
All of the night was quite barred out except
An owl's cry, a most melancholy cry.

Shaken out long and clear upon the hill
No merry note, nor cause of merriment,
But one telling me plain what I escaped
And others could not, that night, as in I went.

And salted was my food, and my repose,
Salted and sobered too, by the bird's voice
Speaking for all who lay under the stars,
Soldiers and poor, unable to rejoice.

Saturday 11 October 2008

o look a dinosaur

Way back in January 2004 I sailed off to Falmouth on the Pride of Bilbao, for its annual refit in the shipyard there. I was a bit concerned about my personal safety; a few months earlier, the storekeeper (and RMT representative) had shouted at me, in front of the engine room crew, that I was "going to get done.... not if, but when", after I'd ripped up a pornographic calendar which had been graffitied with an obscene reference to me. Since that time, I'd always watched my back. But shipyards can be dangerous places in the dark. So I was worried.

Fortunately (and I use the word carefully) this fellow had been involved in a car accident, and had gone on what proved to be a protracted sick leave. So that was one thing less to worry about.

Eventually, of course, I was actually assaulted by someone else, and that brought to an end my time working for P&O. Not the end of my experiences with the company, though; I prosecuted a case for harassment against them, of course. It was funny, in a not-very-funny sort of way, hearing the stuff about me that the engine room troglodytes came up with during the case in an attempt to exculpate their behaviour. It was as though they were talking about a different person. Which they were. There were two versions of me; the actual me, and the one that the trogs described, which had no basis in reality, but was cobbled together from a ragged fabric of prejudice and bigotry. Very odd experience, let me tell you, encountering a bunch of people who look at you and perhaps even talk to you but don't hear you and don't see you but see something else entirely. But that's another story. Sort of.

Anyway, back in Falmouth. I bought a copy of the Guardian, and found an article by Julie Bindel called Gender Benders Beware, in which she exulted in a court ruling in Canada which vindicated the refusal of Vancouver Rape Relief to employ Kimberley Nixon, a transsexual woman who had herself been the victim of domestic violence, as a counsellor.

The arrogance is staggering: having not experienced life as a "woman" until middle age, Nixon assumed "she" would be suitable to counsel women who have chosen to access a service that offers support from women who have suffered similar experiences, not from a man in a dress! The Rape Relief sisters, who do not believe a surgically constructed vagina and hormonally grown breasts make you a woman, successfully challenged the ruling and, for now at least, the law says that to suffer discrimination as a woman you have to be, er, a woman.
A pretty odious article all round, really, and a bit of a surprise; I knew that opinions like that espoused by Bindel had been around in the 70s and even 80s, but had naïvely assumed that they'd gone the way of the dinosaurs. Apparently not.

"...those who "transition" seem to become stereotypical in their appearance - fuck-me shoes and birds'-nest hair for the boys; beards, muscles and tattoos for the girls. Think about a world inhabited just by transsexuals. It would look like the set of Grease."

Bindel does pop up now and then, repeating her party line that gender is a social construct (and so is sexuality, apparently). Maybe she thinks that if she shouts the same thing over and over again it makes her an expert on the subject. Sadly, she gets platforms for her views. She was doing it again on the BBC last year, when she proposed the motion, on the programme Hecklers, that "gender reassignment surgery is unnecessary mutilation". I think that it works something like this: as I am a gay man, I wanted surgery so that I could have relationships with men in a socially normative way. Whereas what I really should have done was challenge stereotyping and be myself. A gay man, out and proud, presumably.

Unfortunately, from that perspective, I fail on two counts. IDing not as male but as female, for one thing, and not being attracted to men but to women, for another. Which makes me a lesbian, in my book, and therefore one of those letters in the LGB, but not the same as the one Ms Bindel wants to assign me, which is at least disrespectful of her. And another thing. My personal experience, and that of many people I know personally, runs directly counter to the view expressed by Julie Bindel here, in the Guardian again:

"Feminists want to rid the world of gender rules and regulations, so how is it possible to support a theory which has at its centre the notion that there is something essential and biological about the way boys and girls behave?"

O well. It's a living, I suppose. As it happens, I think that 'gender rules and regulations' are silly and limiting, and adhered to by boring people. But I do wish she wouldn't take it upon herself to keep telling me what I am, or am not, with ideas based upon a flawed ideological approach rather than the inconvenient observable facts. Because there is something essential and biological about the way boys and girls behave. As any fule kno.

I only bring the subject up again because I learned today that Stonewall, who describe themselves as an LGB campaigning organisation, have shortlisted Julie Bindel for their award of Journalist of the Year.

Maybe I shouldn't get worked up about it; at £150 a ticket for the event at the V&A, it's a bit of a champagne gay event, and I'm far too busy getting on with life, fixing engines, cooking, cleaning (well, sometimes), drawing, and being a single parent, thank you very much. But I am a bit disappointed in them. I know that Bindel has written on other topics too. But I suppose it's as if the RMT had shortlisted Mussolini for the "getting the trains to run on time" achievement award at their annual bash. Perhaps I shouldn't take it personally, but I do.

Bright Field

I was talking about poems with Anji, and how I found my way to some of them, and I wondered if I could find the picture I did to accompany this poem by RS Thomas, which I did as a sort of goodbye to a place and a person.

And I did find it.

And hey, it's an autumn morning and that is reason enough for a spot of hiraeth.

The Bright Field

I have seen the sun break through
to illuminate a small field
for a while, and gone my way
and forgotten it. But that was the pearl
of great price, the one field that had
treasure in it. I realize now
that I must give all that I have
to possess it. Life is not hurrying

on to a receding future, nor hankering after
an imagined past. It is the turning
aside like Moses to the miracle
of the lit bush, to a brightness
that seemed as transitory as your youth
once, but is the eternity that awaits you.

R S Thomas