Tuesday 29 April 2008


If I climb up the ladder in the bathroom and out onto the roof, I can see across to Wales.

Look, it's the Severn Bridge.

I was at my desk yesterday afternoon, when I heard a screaming. Dashed to the window. Three swifts zoomed past the house for a second time. I grabbed my camera and went up on the roof. They didn't return.

Still, it was a good day to be goofing around on the roof.

And the swifts are back!

Monday 28 April 2008

in that hat? I don't think so

Here's a tale involving a hat, though not this hat.

I'm still friends with one of my college tutors, whom I shall call Dr Chaucer. And with his wife, whom I shall call, well, Mrs Chaucer. Mrs Chaucer was reading through "Becoming Drusilla" and came to an incident involving Dr Chaucer and me, which she hadn't heard of and he'd forgotten. It's only lightly dealt with, and the full story is worth an outing. It's when I'm (briefly) a murder suspect.

Back in the day, I was lodging with someone whom I shall call Nigel, because that's his name. One afternoon, we were both in the house (I was applying advanced avoidance techniques to an essay, he had a day off work) when there was a knock on the door.

It was two plain clothes policemen.

They wanted to question me. Nigel was in the room too. They asked me if I ever went to some pubs which they named. The names meant nothing to me, being a relative newcomer to Bristol. Nigel looked a bit askance though, as he knew that they are (or were) gay pubs.

They asked if I could recall what I had been doing on a particular date.

"I'll just get my diary," I said; "That'll say"

Unfortunately, there was no entry for the date in question.

Presumably they decided that, had I been the murderer, I'd have put something in the diary like "Went on a nice day out to Weston Super Mare. Stood on pier. Watched a seagull. Then watched another seagull".

So I heard nothing more.

Nigel got a bit funny after this incident. Apparently , in his student days, two of his flatmates came out as gay together. If Nigel has any issues, I am not going to conjecture here. And lord knows what he made of finding out that I was trans, when the time came...

I was a bit mystified by the visit. How did they come to choose me?

The next day I was in college, and Dr Chaucer met me in the corridor.

"Did you get a... visit from the police?" he asked, rather sheepishly.

He explained that the detectives had gone around the university with an artist's impression of the murder suspect, asking the staff if they recognised a similarity with any of their students. And he'd seen a resemblance to me.

So that solved the mystery for me, and all was well again. For me and Dr Chaucer, anyway. I don't know if they ever caught the murderer.

My friend Brendagh, to whom I told this story, remarked that she'd seen a similarity there, too. But she thought that I'd never allow myself to be seen in a striped bobble hat, such as the suspect was wearing.

And she was right. I mean.....

Sunday 27 April 2008

the Guardian Weekend feature

main photo, by Neil Drabble

"You worry too much, sometimes, you know," I tell myself.

"All the time, more like. And your point is, exactly....?" I reply. And go back to worrying.

So I was in a right lather on Friday night, wondering how the piece would look, and how the photo would look.

Finally thought "I give up" at about 3:30 AM, and had a cup of tea and drove off in search of an early newspaper.

The seagulls take over the town at night; they sulkily waddled aside to let me pass. Drunk people held each other up outside nightclubs, while taxi drivers assessed the probability of their potential fares throwing up in the back.

Dawn started happening.

I heard on the radio that Humphrey Lyttelton has died. Gosh. I've been listening to him on the radio since I was about 12; his Monday evening music show was my early education in jazz. The first gig I ever went to was Humph, in Cardiff, and I had to walk home afterwards. Twenty miles or so.

But this is not the time to write an appreciation of Humph. Except that I already have.

Moving on...

Anyway, finally I got a paper and anxiously dived into the magazine.

It's OK. Edited excerpts from the book. When I switched off my internal hyper-critical filter, it seemed just fine. And the photo looked good. This was a relief after all that time wandering around Hay Bluff in a gale, getting progressively colder and more bedraggled. And they used one of my pics, too.

So. I took a couple of Nurofen Plus, washed down with Rescue Remedy, and got back to life as it is lived. Like, doing the washing up.

Tuesday 22 April 2008

bloody birds

I got stuck into some serious drawing yesterday; it's time to get the Downs wildlife book sorted out and put to bed. Nearly finished the bird section now.

By mid-afternoon I was seeing spots in front of my eyes and it was time to go out on my bicycle. So I put the Big Lens on the camera, and went searching for the red kite that had been spotted over the Downs on Sunday.

No kite; but I saw lots of swallows. A few flitted by and I got the camera out and scanned the sky watching for their return swoops. No such luck. They all seemed to be heading north, funneling along the Avon gorge and snacking on the insects as they go.

And then I heard a blackcap singing.

So it was a good trip out, even though the nice woman at the post office (I was posting a book to my cousin) suggested that I might be a 'bit of a twitcher'.

O dear, I hope not.

Sunday 20 April 2008

just because you're paranoid

I put off going to IKEA for years, because I figured I wasn't the sort of person who needed IKEA in her life.

When I finally did, I had a bit of a panic attack. OK, make that a major panic attack. All that maze of twisty little passages, all alike stuff.

Time passes, and I learn to live with IKEA furniture and try to have some of their meatballs in the freezer comaprtment for whenever.

I was in there a couple of years back with my then-flatmate Barbara, who was a bit of a Serious Shopper. She had a notepad with measurements in it, and took a tape measure along. You know the sort. We were there at quite a late hour of the evening, for shopping.

I looked around. There were loads of people, mostly couples, earnestly consulting notes and wielding tape measures.

"Who'd have thought we'd become the sort of people who shop at IKEA?" I remarked to Barbara.

"I am NOT the sort of person who shops at IKEA," she replied with all the huffiness that a former colonial administrator's daughter could muster.


Katie and I went bimbling down IKEAwards yesterday, because we wanted a picture frame for one of her works.

There was a scary amount of traffic everywhere, and loads of policemen all over the place.

Paranoia kicks in. If the balloon ever goes up, I seriously do not want to be caught in a traffic jam when it's happening.

We abort the mission, and drop in to the petrol station at the adjacent Tesco to refuel.

While I'm paying, I ask the woman at the pay desk what the palaver is.

"It's the IKEA sale," she says.

I roll my eyes and do one of those expressions.

"Funny," she said, "Everyone asks the same question and then does exactly the same as you when I tell them".

reading in London

Richard and I will be doing a reading from Becoming Drusilla followed by a Q&A session at next month's TransLondon meeting, Tuesday 20th May, at Gay's The Word bookshop in Bloomsbury. This is a TS-specific meeting, but we're also trying to get some more readings for a wider audience too. After all, getting to a wider audience is a great deal of what this book is all about.

Friday 18 April 2008

making a summer

Martins, not swallows. I've been uploading some pics from the soon-to-be-published Wildlife Rescue, by Angela Wilkes, pictures by *hem hem* moi, and packed full of useful tips to help you work out what to do when you meet an animal in distress. I found the advice useful not too long ago when I ran over a cat.

Not that I go out of my way to run over cats, you understand.

I was bimbling along Hampton Road when a small furry thing hurtled out from the other side of the road and straight under the car. BUMP. That horrible noise that a car makes when it's just run over a living thing. I pulled over hard, and followed the cat which was crawling desperately away; it got through a locked garden gate; I rang on the doorbell.

A girl answered the door.

"I've just run over a cat, and it's in your garden," I said. "May I go through and rescue it?"

Wordlessly, she waved me through.

The cat saw me arrive and scrabbled furiously at the wall, afraid that I was going to take it back to the road and finish the job off.

I threw my jacket over it, and bundled it up so it couldn't struggle. Then went round to my friends who live just down the road from there, and phoned the RSPCA. The cat was hyperventilating. I was feeling a bit distressed, too. Tom gave me a whisky, which helped. Me, anyway.

The RSPCA chap arrived and took the cat away.

Later, I got a phone call from the cat's owner, thanking me for rescuing her pet. Very guarded thanks, obviously; I don't think she was happy that I'd run over her pet.

But then, I wasn't happy about it either.

Cat probably wasn't, too.

We do what we can.

Darn, I was going to write about something entirely different. Better start a new topic.

Ha, swallows. Saw my first one of the year, on Monday. It was flitting about in a huge blue sky as I photographed gargoyles on Wraxall church.

Now, where was I?

Sunday 13 April 2008

Podcasting pearls

Richard and I were up at Random House in London on Friday to record podcasts for the book. I was a bit croaky, with the cold I've had for a couple of weeks. Damn. Oh well, I don't suppose anyone's happy with the sound of their own voice.

Hm, hold that thought...

Here's a recording of Richard, reading the opening pages of the book (the picture is Richard doing something clever with a compass, somewhere west of Llandrindod...):

...and this is my contribution; it's my take on the project... piece out our imperfections with your thoughts... (it's Katie's portrait of me, by the way. I love it)

Wednesday 9 April 2008


Gosh, did I do that?

A copy of the finished version of the book has arrived at Schloss Marland, and very nice it looks too.

We've got a date for the Guardian Weekend magazine feature; it's going to be in on the 26th April, apparently. I just mention it in passing, you know....

red badger courage

The Burning Badger arrived in Bristol yesterday, to be met by protesters from the National Farmers' Union.

The Burning Badger was ringed by specially-trained Pit Bull Terriers, which did their best to keep the protesters at bay. Amid scenes of rowdiness and tussling, the badger was extinguished twice and completed its journey by taxi to a moving ceremony in the Eastville Tesco car park, where, after much fumbling with the England's Glory and a judicious sprinkling of petrol, it was reignited. Name Withheld Fortescue-Securitypurposes, who probably does something important in the city, proclaimed that "We have this day kindled such a badger in England, as, I trust in God, shall never be extinguished."

Then it went out again.

An NFU spokesperson said, "We strongly object to the taking of badgers for baiting purposes. It leaves less for us to gas and shoot."

A representative of the Peoples' Republic of Badger Baiters, who organised the event, said, "This burning badger is an emblem of hope and universal freedom. Badgers like being baited. Everyone knows that. And by the way, that NFU chap said 'less' when he should have said 'fewer'."

The Plain People of Bristol: Is this some kind of metaphor, and if so, where are you going with it?

Me: Lord knows. I'm going for a cup of tea.

Saturday 5 April 2008

The Finest Swordsman In France

I drive assertively
You drive aggressively
She drives dangerously

There's a chap I know who's one of the ten best drivers in the country. I know this because he told me. I'm not sure how he came to be assayed for this ranking; perhaps Stirling Moss came to him in a vision and said, "Hail, Rob, elect among drivers! Take up your Mercedes and drive!"

Perhaps not.

Being a passenger in the car with him driving was a queasy experience; I would sit there rocking .....forwards..... and then backwards..... and then forwards.... as his foot idly pumped down on the accelerator and then eased off again. And so we would proceed, in gentle surges.

Travelling in convoy with him, we would usually look for a lay-by immediately after any major junction, where we could pull over and wait for him, as his internal satnav invariably directed him to take the road less travelled. Differently lost, was Rob.

And one of the ten best drivers in the country.

That's how we came to call him "The Finest Swordsman In France." It kind of suited.

I am properly modest about my driving abilities, but quietly think that I have reasonable co-ordination and look well ahead and anticipate things. If I think that I'm a good driver, though, I certainly won't be admitting it here. I leave it to you to make up your mind about that. And, unless you have ever been a passenger in my car, you have no way of knowing how accurate that opinion is.

Anyway. Last week I have a close encounter. I am emerging from quite a tricky junction; I am turning right from the top of Hampton Road onto Lower Redland Road. It's quite a busy road, and a van has parked stupidly, restricting my view to the right as I reach the junction.

Edge out; all clear. Drive on. A car comes fast around the corner to the right. Keep on, I'm already committed.

The woman in the other car is mouthing at me and slowing down. We stop alongside each other. We wind windows down.

"Slow down!" I shout.

"You should wait there, you stupid bitch," she shouts, pointing at the junction, and begins to drive on.

"Try driving inside the speed limit, you cretin," I shout back.

Katie is looking shocked and upset. I'm upset as well. We talk it through when we get home. I wonder if I could have avoided the incident. I know that I could have handled it differently when it did happen.

Not been called a stupid bitch before, either.

Wednesday 2 April 2008


I resumed dawn patrols on the Downs this morning, as I figured the migrant birds might be arriving. I heard greenfinch, and goldfinch, and robin and blackbird and wren.... and then a chiffchaff. The first I've heard this year. Very cheerful-making.

So I stalked it for ages and got this picture, which is a bit dull. In part because it was a pretty dull sort of morning.

The sun came out this afternoon and I took a bike ride across the Downs again, and tried to get a brighter picture of the chiffchaff; but it was being much more evasive, perhaps because there were so many more people around.

So I went to the side of the gorge and got there just in time to see a peregrine falcon fly past. I watched it for ages, swooping and lofting up and down the gorge. It managed to get through a pretty large volume of sky. A couple of herring gulls attacked it, and it went into a shallow dive and whizzed out of range. Sometimes it would disappear behind a promontory, but if I kept on looking it would reappear; the distant silhouette just distinctive enough for it not to be mistaken for the pigeons, jackdaws and gulls that were up and about this bright and blowy afternoon.

I wouldn't like you to think I'm a twitcher, or anything like that; I just don't ignore birds when they come into my view. And sometimes I sort of head off with the hope of seeing something. And sometimes I just happen to be carrying a camera with a blooming great lens stuck on the front. You know how it is.