Monday 26 May 2008

...crit lecteur, mon semblance...

There has been an outbreak of hennaing in Schloss Marland, and a messy old business it is too. Katie is now Very Red Indeed, while I did my usual mix of henna and indigo, with a bunch of ground cloves thrown in for good measure. It's a very satisfyingly hands-on, potion-y experience.

But we didn't get round to taking the 'after' shots, so here instead is Richard, who sent me these photos asking which one I thought was better for publicity stuff.

Richard's hair is, as far as I can tell, entirely natural.

As is his twitchiness about his appearance, of course. So I cautiously opined that the first one was sort-of-Melvyn Braggish, in a nice way, and that it was slightly too serious, while the second was slightly too smiley. But that they were both good photos.

Mind you, it's always a dangerous thing, constructive criticism. I once made what I thought were some very pertinent points about a song that a musician acquaintance had done, and she never forgave me for it.

What, never? No, never.

They're. Very. Nice. Richard.

Saturday 24 May 2008

all quiet now the interviews and the reading are out of the way and it's time to get on with the everyday stuff. It was nice to be able to overhaul the brakes on the car at last, in time for the half term hols which mean that Katie and I shall be adventuring again. It's nice to travel, but it's nice to be able to stop when you want to.

And I cleaned out the fridge. There were places at the back which had gone feral since the last time I ventured in there.

...and made some bread and some chicken and chickpea stew, which was definitely chicken and chickpea stew for the soul.


Thursday 22 May 2008


I met up with Richard in the courtyard of the V&A and we drank tea and ate buns and rehearsed our reading; decided that an off-the-page dialogue was feasible, and ran with it.

What a great place the V&A is. The courtyard was like being in Italy, but without the scooters and shouting. And without the heat, brrrrrr. But hey.... And then we wandered around a bit and turned a corner and blow me if it wasn't Trajan's Column. Right next to the tympanum of Santiago de Compostella.

The V&A is now officially my fave museum.

Now then, to business.

So we met up with Charlie and ate pies in a Bloomsbury pie shop, and arrived at Gay's The Word to find it thronging, and extremely welcoming.

The reading and the Q&As went well, and then just about everyone packed into the pub over the road and we all stayed up Very Late Indeed.

There was a really good buzz that evening. Everyone seems so happy about the book, and the new perspective it offers. Richard got a round of applause. They even gave me one, for that little victory over P&O. I valued that more highly than I can express.

It was so nice meeting people I've only previously known as internet presences. And meeting people I didn't know. And meeting a few old friends too. And just for the evening, we all became that nebulous and peripatetic thing, the trans community. It rocked.

Tuesday 20 May 2008


Never one to eschew the obvious, so here's a picture of a horse. Sort of.

Thinking about a comment made on Chris' blog about relationships that survive a transitioning partner. Here's a poem I like, even if I'm not quite sure I agree with it.


I've never seen a soul detached from its gender,
but I'd like to. I'd like to see my own that way,
free of its female tethers. Maybe it would be like
riding a horse. The rider's the human one,
but everyone looks at the horse.

Chase Twitchell

gazing skyward

Another radio interview, and an exercise in pointlessness. I'd been asked onto the Dave Barrett programme on Radio Bristol. It quickly became apparent that he hadn't read the book that I'd dropped off for him last week, and I floundered through a Q and A sequence of what must have come across as a standard trans narrative; "Do you think that attitudes are changing?" -to which the esprit d'escalier answer is "I was treated abominably by my colleagues for two years, abused and assaulted, fought for another two years to take the case to a Tribunal, and the press treated it as though it were all a Little Britain sketch. You tell me, David; are attitudes changing?".

But it wasn't the answer I came up with on the spot, dammit.

It was wrong in so many ways. It entirely missed the spirit of the book.

I started listening to the interview on podcast and gave up, it was so upsetting.

What have I learned from this? -perhaps that I should have an agenda prepared for any possible future occasions? -I think I'd rather not; people with agendas* always sound like people with agendas. And, while I do have an agenda, I think it's impolite to air it in public. If you see what I mean.

O well, off to London today. I expect the Q and A session will be a lot more informed; but then, we're playing to a chiefly expert audience.

*by the way, with self-acceptance comes the acceptance that, while the plural of agenda is agenda and its singular is presumably agendum, sometimes you just gotta go with the flow.

Sunday 18 May 2008


...A comment from Jo on a previous entry, regarding Muggles' responses to transfolk:

"He sort of reminded me of the 'tranny starers'. You know the ones I mean? When you're out and about, and you're attracting no attention at all, and then you find someone just staring at you. Just staring. They seem to have forgotten all the rules of normal human courtesy, forgotten that you are a human being even, as they peer at you like a museum exhibit for minute after minute."

Well, yes. In a way, I feel quite privileged to experience this; like when I first worked behind a bar, and discovered that some people could be quite nasty and selfish in their dealings with bar staff. It was a chance to see how people really are, when the mask is taken off. You learn to appreciate real niceness when you find it.

A privilege, too, in a way, to be treated as a woman; I have been an inside observer of unreconstructed and not-particularly-bright-or-nice men during my working life, and I know what they really think of women. Only they know enough not to let on, generally speaking. With me, on the other hand, they felt able to let rip, because I didn't qualify, in their eyes, as a *real* woman.

It was useful. And maybe it counts as payback for whatever male privilege I picked up along the way. (hmmm, let's not go there...). It took a long time to get over, though; but I have learned, or re-learned from a new perspective, that there are good people in the world.

Oh yes, Hartlepool. The town where, notoriously, they hanged a monkey because they thought it was a Frenchman. This was back in the days when people openly gawped (at the very least) at strangers. Things haven't really changed that much, but if you want to experience, say, a bit of unreconstructed 18th century savagery, change sex. S'easy.

As LP Hartley said somewhere or other, the past is a different country, yadda yadda, which is a perfect excuse to introduce this poem by

Imtiaz Dharker

They'll Say : 'She Must Be From Another Country'

When I can’t comprehend
why they’re burning books
or slashing paintings,
when they can’t bear to look
at god’s own nakedness,
when they ban the film
and gut the seats to stop the play
and I ask why
they just smile and say,
‘She must be
from another country.’

When I speak on the phone
and the vowel sounds are off
when the consonants are hard
and they should be soft,
they’ll catch on at once
they’ll pin it down
they’ll explain it right away
to their own satisfaction,
they’ll cluck their tongues
and say,
‘She must be
from another country.’

When my mouth goes up
instead of down,
when I wear a tablecloth
to go to town,
when they suspect I’m black
or hear I’m gay
they won’t be surprised,
they’ll purse their lips
and say,
‘She must be
from another country.’

When I eat up the olives
and spit out the pits
when I yawn at the opera
in the tragic bits
when I pee in the vineyard
as if it were Bombay,
flaunting my bare ass
covering my face
laughing through my hands
they’ll turn away,
shake their heads quite sadly,
‘She doesn’t know any better,’
they’ll say,
‘She must be
from another country.’

Maybe there is a country
where all of us live,
all of us freaks
who aren’t able to give
our loyalty to fat old fools,
the crooks and thugs
who wear the uniform
that gives them the right
to wave a flag,
puff out their chests,
put their feet on our necks,
and break their own rules.

But from where we are
it doesn’t look like a country,
it’s more like the cracks
that grow between borders
behind their backs.
That’s where I live.
And I’ll be happy to say,
‘I never learned your customs.
I don’t remember your language
or know your ways.
I must be
from another country.’

knowing my place

A bit of thinking time at Schloss Marland. I was a bit frazzled after the radio interviews; in short order, we did R4, RTE2, and Newstalk (an Irish radio station).

This blog would be valueless if it was only used for propaganda about the book; I want to look at how the process affects me, too. So the disclosure here (such as it is) is difficult, in the same way as I felt uncomfortable thinking back to the Gerry Ryan interview; it is about disclosure of things which I would not normally talk about. Were my answers to his questions the correct response, or should I have pointed out to him the inappropriateness of some of his questions? -I think I did the right thing; give listeners the chance to make their own mind up about me, and about Gerry Ryan. It was funny that he obviously thought that women shouldn't work in engineering; and his disclosure that his eight year old daughter is experimenting with heels and make-up was unintentionally quite funny, if rather worrying...

Then there's the question of where my place is, or is perceived to be, in relation to the book. Because ultimately it's Richard's writing, and I am afraid of looking foolish by seeming to appropriate it as my work too. I obviously feel very involved with it, and pleased with the physical contribution I made to it, though haiku and drawings are not hugely important in the great scheme of things.

I flatter myself that I can write fairly well; I was amused when the P&O defence lawyer described me as articulate and intelligent (and a whole lot of other things), intending this description as a criticism; someone in my position is not supposed to be those things, in his world view. How much I respect his opinion, you may imagine.

But Richard is a writer; he's worked at his craft for a long time now, and it shows. I was practically hugging myself when I first read his text, at the felicity of it all. I could never come near that.

Having acknowledged that, I still feel very much part of the process.

OK, that's the Sunday morning state of the nation address.

Tomorrow, Radio Bristol. Then Tuesday, TransLondon.

Onwards and upwards.

Thursday 15 May 2008

in the air

Up to London on Tuesday, ready for an early morning car to Broadcasting House. We were on the Midweek programme. It was a good experience, and Libby Purves is intelligent and informed. And she thinks Richard is a "really nice man". I think she may be right...

...and then across the road to a Small Back Room, for a link to Dublin for RTE2's Gerry Ryan show. This one was hilarious, with Gerry asking some extremely inappropriate questions. It's hard to say whether he's really naive or just disingenuous. But it was fun wondering. And we learned what a "Biffo" is while waiting for our slot, which cuts in at about 1 hour and 17 minutes into the show (if you have the patience to 'listen again', it's either "yesterday's show" if you're reading this on Thursday, or the Wednesday show if not, until presumably in a week's time it will slide quietly off the edge of the ether and disappear for ever into the void. Hellooo? Echoooooo!

Monday 12 May 2008

this is the BBC

We were interviewed by Clare English on BBC Radio Scotland's Book Cafe, this lunchtime. Richard was in a studio in London, and I was in Bristol's Whiteladies Road studio, which was a terrifically friendly place; I was invited to a party, I had a nice chat with Peter who looked after me, and when I went into the building I found that they even had one of my photos on the wall. Hey, is this fame or what?

Or what, probably. There was a display of photos from the BBC My Bristol Flickr group, so I saw a few familiar names among the credits; and this was my contribution...

Richard did well; I faltered, and then faltered some more, but the world didn't end.

Thanks to the miracle of Interweb technology, I was able to cycle home and listen to myself. Ouch. Ouch tiddly ouch.

Must think of something intelligent to say for Wednesday.

Here's the link to the programme, if you enjoy the sound of someone tripping up repeatedly. Our contribution starts soon after 20 mins into the show, if you don't want to listen to Misha Glenny. But why wouldn't you?

Sunday 11 May 2008

crows to the rooky wood

I did my early morning look out of the front room window, and saw that the wood pigeon wasn't there. She'd been sitting on her eggs all week. "Odd," I thought.

This was on the pavement when I went out for my morning bike ride. Magpies, probably.

I did like the woodpigeons in the tree at the front, even if they pooed on my car roof sometimes.

As opposed to the town pigeons which are besieging the flat. I opened the skylight yesterday, because it was insufferably hot, and I had to keep shooing them out. I guess they're looking for somewhere to nest. Blighters.

Out and about, I tracked a few warblers and gazed over the gorge. An elderly man saw my camera and asked what I was doing. "Taking pictures of birds," I said. "It's a lovely morning to be out and about."

"It's a good morning to be doing things," he replied. Was that a hint of suggestion there? I half-smiled and rode on. Later he passed me in a car, going the other way, and slowed right down. I nodded and continued. Blimey. The Downs are a bit dodgy at night... OK, make that "several days into dodgy country" at night. A shame that early mornings have their hassles too.

The Downs cafe had been vandalised, and there was debris of late night shenanigans scattered widely.

As I was taking this photo of the Seven Sisters, a bloke with a dog (not this bloke with a dog) came by and said, "It's all very well taking photos of that; did you know it's an offence to ride your bike on the Downs?"

I assured him that I did know.

Heck, I'm just a hooligan, me.

Saturday 10 May 2008


Marsh marigolds, in Brendagh's pond.

Over the last couple of days, I've been up on Annie's roof, sorting out a water-pouring-through-it problem; hunting for a short in Tom and Catherine's lighting circuit, which has a mind of its own; and working out why Brendagh's bath wasn't getting any cold water.

I've never entirely got over my initial misgivings at fixing things; my father always seemed so very competent at everything, and I never even tried for years because I thought I was not the practical type.

I had a road to Damascus experience long ago in Portsmouth, when I had a problem with my BSA Bantam. There was a rather strange fantasist (whoops, careful Dru) called Stevie, who practiced martial arts in the back garden and once went off to interview for a job as a mercenary. He blew it when they pointed to a jeep and told him to drive it; "I can't drive," he said... Stevie tells me he used to be a motorbike mechanic, and kindly offers to help fix my bike.

He's clouting the engine with a big hammer and I'm thinking, "I may not know much about mechanics but I know that he's not doing this right".

And so I started to learn.

Never got over that quiet sense of surprise that something I'd fixed actually worked, though.

Friday 9 May 2008

are you receiving me?

Had the researcher from the BBC on the phone, just checking out a few details in readiness for next week's Midweek.

She assured me that she'd read the book and it was Very Good.

"Have you had chance to read it yet?" she asked.

I assured her that I had....

"You do illustrations?" she asked. "Animals?"

"Yes, mostly wildlife," I said. "And this book. I illustrated that, too."

Hey ho. Perhaps my intended role on the programme is to simper. Can you hear simpering on the radio?


just some village Hampden....

It's my annual appointment with Andy Levy, sprightly and professorial endocrinologist at the BRI. He's on good form, and describes DNA bonding very enthusiastically when I describe my misgivings at loss of breast size since the op and the change from Ethinylestradiol to Estradiol Valerate. I'm lost after the first sentence, of course, but nod enthusiastically.... He agrees that a slightly increased dose of EV may help, so I shall go from 2 x 2mg Climaval a day to 3. And then I resume last year's plaint about my tiredness. My testosterone levels are low but within the normal female range. He agrees to let me try some testosterone gel to see if it alleviates the exhaustion. So I am happy, and we part well.

Funnily enough, back in 2006 when I came out from the BRI after my appointment with Andy Levy I had a run in with some chavs, as described on my diary in Aug 2006

I'm cycling up the Cheltenham Road. There's a lorry parked on the cycle lane. A bus passes me and stops level with the lorry, impeding my progress. There are road works ahead.The lights are on red.

I wait. A shower of white gravel falls on and round me.

I look round. There are four chavs in the car behind me.

I look away. The same thing happens again.

This happens a few times. Finally I see the bloke in the back behind the driver doing the throwing.

The lights change, and we move off. I swing out wide to stop them trying to get past until we're past the narrow bit of the roadworks. I then move closer to the pavement, and give them the finger.

As they draw level, I brake hard in anticipation of something happening. The spit that they gob at me passes ahead of me. They drive on, laughing.

Further along, they've stopped at another set of lights. The one who'd done the throwing has his head leaning out of the window. He's looking ahead. Obviously he thinks I'm history.

I swing into the middle of the road and speed up. As the lights change I reach him. I smack him round the back of the head, hard.

He squeals like a piglet.

I dive through the oncoming traffic, as the shouts of abuse come at me, and disappear down a side road. They're stuck in the forward-moving traffic, and can't pursue even if they wanted to.

Five minutes later, I'm shaking.

O well, maybe they've learned not to mess with stroppy bluestockings on bicycles.

But I doubt it...., I am pushing my bike along Queens Road past the Wills Building, heart of the University. There are lots of bikes locked to the railings.

A pair of drongos are walking ahead of me, one pushing a bike. He sees a wire basket on one of the locked bikes and removes it. They start to move on, with him carrying the basket.

I call out "Put it back!"

They stop and stare at me, wondering whether to thump me or whatever...

I repeat, more loudly and firmly: "Put it back!"

Bloke with basket pauses momentarily, then does so. I watch him replace it, then carry on. They can't see me quake.

A short while later I pass a bus. The driver is ethnically asian; a black Community Support Officer is confronting a bearded drongo on the bus platform, while an asian female CSO stands on the pavement watching. Drongo is repeatedly and a bit drunkenly pointing out that he was born in this country.

Blimey. Somehow I don't think Drongo's favourite tunes included UB40s Burden of Shame....

Wednesday 7 May 2008

little boxes

Just a quick squib... I popped into Borders Bookshop in Bristol, to see if Becoming Drusilla was on the shelves yet. Tried the biography section. Nada.

Tried a search on their computer terminal. An assistant kindly came along and helped me. It turns out that they haven't received their copies yet.

"What section will it be in when you do get it?" I asked.

"Gay and lesbian", he said.

I thanked him and left.

Fair play, I suppose. After all, sexuality does get a mention in the book.

In passing.

In one paragraph.

Monday 5 May 2008

hobgoblins, the occasional foul fiend

...and of course Godzilla, who is just a great bloke. For a radioactive lizard, obviously.

I felt as though I was really getting sophisticated when I learned that Godzilla is correctly pronounced Go-ji-ra.

Then again, when do you pronounce things the same way as the people who invented the word, and when do you pronounce it the English way? -tricky.

Working with multinational crews, I observed that British seafarers almost invariably pronounce forrin places in a Very English Way - "Saint Marlowe", "Lay Harve" - and are contemptuous of Forriners who pronounce English words less than perfectly - "Souss- 'ampton".

Only quietly contemptuous, though. They're not uncivilised. Not completely.

I had a bit of the same treatment from a Frenchman, who sneered at my attempt to pronounce "Le Havre" correctly. But then he was a drummer. And I am still struggling with "pneus".

Before I leave this topic, which I should perhaps never have started in the first place, I offer the observation that the BBC are generally rubbish at pronouncing Welsh words.

Here's a useful tip. Useful-ish, anyway. If in doubt, the ll- sound you get at the beginning of Welsh place names (Llandaff, Llantilio Crossenny, Llanfihangel Crucorney, and so on and on) can be fairly well approximated by making the "tl" sound in Bentley.

You'll thank me for that, one day.

It's a quiet news day at Schloss Marland; bear with me, though, please, if I report that, following on from yesterday's concerns, I found this article in the Daily Mail, which is a fairly stock Daily Mail treatment of a trans story; a bit of a non-story in reality; transsexual woman and her former wife are joined in civil partnership. Rather than view this as at least a pragmatic way forward for the pair, or even a shining example of the principle that "amor vincit omnia" (which it may or may not be), the paper invites its readers to look on this as somehow false and wrong. It also refers to the transwoman's former name and refers to her as 'he', despite her having a GRC and theoretically being protected from this sort of disclosure.

In practice, of course, papers print what they please, because unless you've got some severe financial clout and can therefore muster lawyers, you are going to get nowhere, as I discovered when I made a complaint about the Daily Mail to the Press Complaints Commission.

The comments left on the article about the civil partnership are instructive: the writers admit that they don'[t know much about the subject (er, you don't say...) but are generally agreed that it is somehow immoral and ungodly.

Fairly normal stuff, really. It's odd that people with a medical condition can be described as immoral and/or ungodly because of it. But it happens.

On the other hand, I got a nice e-mail from a red panda yesterday (this is the sort of thing that can happen in cyberspace, and I find that it's easier if you just go with the flow). The panda in question is a Christian, but despite this (or, more likely, because of this) is very far from being judgemental, and said some encouraging things about the book. He doesn't read blogs (it's a busy life being a panda) so there's no point saying 'thank you' here. But I shall.

Maybe I should learn to stop worrying so much, particularly about the opinions of the life forms which exist in ponds and under stones. There are hobgoblins and foul fiends out there, and I've met a few of 'em; but mostly people are pretty much OK. Or better.

Sunday 4 May 2008

take a deep breath

I love this time of the year.

Katie and I walked up through Prior's Wood, overlooking the Gordano Valley, on Friday evening. The sun was low in the sky and getting lower. A pair of roe deer broke cover ahead of us and disappeared around the corner. We admired the bluebells. I asked Katie to practice walking as quietly as possible, because if you do that then you see more. I remember when I was her age, working very hard at walking silently and keeping my eyes on the ground, watching out for twigs to avoid stepping on, and so not seeing very much else... a cloud of swallows rolled past, hung over the valley for a while, and disappeared to the west as we descended the hill again.

I've been feeling odd, and almost tearful. It's a funny feeling, knowing that the book is out there and people who I don't know are reading stuff about me, and maybe judging me. It's as though I were on trial, somehow. Someone on a messageboard which I read, posted a link to my Flickr page with the walk pictures on it, saying that she'd found it when she was "hunting around, trying to ascertain whether this book was fact or fiction, or both".

There is a difference between the book, which is, after all, a book, and me, which or who is or am me. Er, if you follow me. On the other hand, the version of 'me' in the book is a pretty close approximation of the me who's writing this. I think. Am I fact or fiction, or both?

We should not seek validation in other people's assessment of us, of course.

I tell myself that, and then continue to worry a bit.

Back in the days of my Employment Tribunal against P&O Ferries, I closely monitored the Internet for references to me, to see how the reportage of the case was dealt with and understood. There was a fair bit of distortion to make the case fit the standard media tranny narrative; and the sort of people who you would expect to pick up on that to confirm their own prejudices, did indeed do so. But, though I was occasionally exasperated, I was also fairly impervious, because I knew the facts of the matter.

This is more personal...

Friday 2 May 2008

onwards and upwards

It's all happening. The book was officially published yesterday. Several people on the forums have received copies from Amazon, although it seems that Amazon have now sold out... this is Very Good News in a way, of course.

Favourable responses all round, so far. And a really good review from Nettie, over on MHB.

I went to the lunchtime poetry reading at the Central Library, and read a couple of haiku from the book, and waved it around and mentioned that it had just been published. The gentle art of the hard sell. Be afraid. Be just a tiny bit afraid.

Home in time for an e-mail from Patrick at Random, to say that we're invited to appear on R4's Midweek on May 14th.


Called in on Catherine Mason at Broadcast Books; she's just got the proofs of Wildlife Rescue, so I had a quick look before she headed off to Slimbridge to let the WWT people have a look. It looks good, too.

I cycled down to the harbour in the evening, and met the Bristol Flickr people on the Grain Barge, a big boat with beer in it. People ate plates of pie and mash. Other people, or sometimes the same people, took photos of pie and mash, of the harbour, of each other, of each others' cameras. A rainbow ascended from Spike Island, disappeared into the dark clouds, and reappeared over towards St Michael's Hill.

Thursday 1 May 2008


A moment's peace

I towed a caravan down to Cornwall. The caravan belonged to a friend, and the car belonged to another friend. The caravan was going to live in a field north of Wadebridge, and this was my first and, hopefully, last experience of towing a caravan. I presented a blithe facade, to avoid worrying my friend, and inwardly quaked. We drove overnight, to avoid creating a twenty-mile tailback on that road that snakes north around Exmoor and over Bodmin Moor. We put it in a field. Then I fell asleep almost instantly.

Wandered around a little bit of North Cornwall the next day, gazed across the estuary towards Padstow, drank v posh and expensive coffee, pressed a sprig of fennel in my notebook, ate a Thai fish salad in a gallery cafe and cast a critical eye over the art...

Funny business.

Crunched on a beach looking for nice shells. Realised that it's been a long time since I've been in Cornwall.

And I didn't feel entirely there then, either.

And so home again, and I've spent the subsequent two days getting over the caravan lag. Like jet lag but slower.

Happy Beltane!