Friday 26 February 2010


Hey, we managed it! Richard and me, in the same place at the same time doing a reading!

Not only that, but we even managed to be on the same train, which I joined at Bristol and Richard at Didcot.

The countryside was powdered with snow. I admired the muddy inlets we passed around Ipswich, reminding me of Arthur Ransome stories. And a plastic egret guarding a lonely pond in a big field. And a rail-side chapel with a hoarding that warned us to PREPARE TO MEET YOUR GOD which I thought unnecessarily alarmist.

We had a quick explore of Norwich (Richard used to live here in his UEA student days, so he can hardly be blamed that we got lost several times) and then joined Natasha, who had invited us and organised our reading, at a tea party in celebration of the work of Barbara Ross, who has been doing good work for the TG community for some years

Here's Barbara, with the dynamic Shelly Telly, who's been very active in Norwich's LGBT History Month events.

In the evening we went to UEA's Drama Studio, and gave our reading and then had a Q and A session, which I always find a bit tricky because I'm not good at ad hoc talking. But it went well (I think) and it got me thinking about things too, which is probably a Good Thing.

It was good to meet so many good people who are busy getting on with stuff. I came away feeling rather sluggish in comparison, and determined to do better. Thank you, Norwich.

Sunday 21 February 2010

dividing up

We went down to the harbour for the launch of a new book, Pirates and Privateers out of Bristol. There was shanty singing and people dressed up as pirates. There was also Matthew, the replica of the caravel in which Cabot had sailed to America. And lots of other stuff. But we didn't stay long because Katie expressed a strong antipathy for 'smelly men with beards'. Which wasn't entirely fair, but hey. She's a teenager.

Chris Bertram was wandering by with his camera while I was staring at the engine of the Traveller, contemplating wrapping some self-amalgamating tape around the radiator hose where it is beginning to split. So we had a coffee break, and he asked if I'd got anywhere with my quest to have books with transsexualism in them reclassified in the Dewey system.

I admitted that I have rather stalled on the project; I was distracted by my bike prang and then one thing and then another, and so on, and suddenly it is five months later and time to do Useful Things in the world again.

Talking about classification systems and their pitfalls and limitations, Chris asked if I knew the Borges one about animals. I didn't. So he later sent me a link. It's great.

These ambiguities, redundancies and deficiencies remind us of those which doctor Franz Kuhn attributes to a certain Chinese encyclopaedia entitled 'Celestial Empire of benevolent Knowledge'. In its remote pages it is written that the animals are divided into: (a) belonging to the emperor, (b) embalmed, (c) tame, (d) sucking pigs, (e) sirens, (f) fabulous, (g) stray dogs, (h) included in the present classification, (i) frenzied, (j) innumerable, (k) drawn with a very fine camelhair brush, (l) et cetera, (m) having just broken the water pitcher, (n) that from a long way off look like flies.

Thursday 18 February 2010

falling out of a tree

It's a good time of the year to huddle over the desk swathed in fleecies and scarves, and get on with drawing. And procrastinate over doing the accounts.

This is yesterday's effort; a young crow getting into trouble while trying to perch in the midst of linden blossom.

Wednesday 17 February 2010

on the roof

I was up a step ladder round at Marta's, fixing the thing that fits on the end of a gutter to stop it dripping onto the windowledge below. One pair of the ladder's feet was on the paving, the other was in the kitchen, and the ladder was at a bit of a jaunty angle. Marta held onto the ladder, just in case. "It's all slanty," she said; "How do you manage to stay on?"

"All those years of seafaring," I said.

On which subject, I listened to a dramatisation of Jack London's "Sea Wolf" on BBC Radio 7 last night. And then had nightmares about being back at sea again. It happens.

Eight years ago I was somewhere in the middle of the Indian Ocean about now, watching the stars and eating flying fish, and enjoying the company. So it wasn't all bad.

Marta's roof had moss growing on it, and it looked beautiful, especially with the pendant raindrops hanging off it.

Tuesday 16 February 2010

splashing paint around

I'm getting on with the new book I'm doing with Geraldine. I'm still having trouble with skies, as it were. I was quite pleased with the way the grass turned out on this picture: masked the birds, branches and Geraldine with latex masking fluid, then painted over it with that big soft brush. Then rubbed off the mask, and the green looked really good, but the details needed retouching because I'd rubbed half the paint off along with the mask.

And then I dripped a tiny drop of water onto the green.

And tried to smooth over it.

And the patch got bigger

And bigger

And I ended up re-masking the picture and repainting the grass.

And bought the Right Sort of rubber for removing masking fluid. It's sort of crepe rubber, just so you know.

And then I totally goofed on the sky and ended up replacing it with a sky that I'd photographed up on the Skirrid on Christmas Day.

O well, onwards and upwards. Still learning.

Richard is getting into gear ready for the Norwich reading next week, and here is a story about our walk across Wales, on his blog.

Sunday 14 February 2010


Apparently the Valentine's Day luurve connection was started by Chaucer, who reckoned that today is the day that birds choose their mates. If you don't have any plans to pair off in the immediate future, you may prefer to observe Lupercalia, which is apparently a celebration of the she-wolf who suckled Romulus and Remus.

The version of this story you see above was carved by an Italian prisoner-of-war up on the Mendips at Green Ore. He got on very well with the locals, apparently, and went around fixing bomb damage, and left this statue as a farewell present.

And here is a Chinese ivory carving I found in Bristol City Museum while hunting tigers. I didn't find any tigers, unfortunately. Apart from the rather tatty tiger that was stuffed after King George (I think) shot it in Nepal.

Thursday 11 February 2010

flights of fancy

Usually when I've seen a sparrowhawk it has been a fleeting blur of deep blue, flashing through the trees or over the crest of a hill and away, before I could even say "Did you see that?"

But yesterday I was looking out of the kitchen window at the flurries of snowflakes falling slowly to the garden below, when a sparrowhawk wafted along the walls and bushes that divide the back gardens of my road from the back gardens of the next road. It perched for a while in the ash tree, then wafted back the way it came, swinging from side to side and fluffing out its wing and tail feathers to make itself big and slow, or at least slow for a sparrowhawk. It was hoping to flush out one of the small birds that come down to the gardens for the food that I and the neighbours put out; next door is very popular with the goldfinches and tits; our garden is mostly patronised by magpies, pigeons, squirrels and the occasional fox or seagull; the hooligan element of the local wildlife.

I mentioned this incident to the a chap I was having a cup of tea with, last night, when I was round at his house picking up Katie. He seemed to think it was odd to take such an interest in the local wildlife. I think that not taking an interest is a bit odd, missing out on all the creatures that don't so much share the city with us as exist in a sort of parallel space. Sometimes I try to imagine what it would be like to see this environment as they see it. Sometimes I stand on the roof and half close my eyes and imagine that I'm on a coral reef, and the birds flitting overhead or swooping through the gaps between the houses are really fish, and we're all at the bottom of a very clear ocean.

And then I come back to the surface again and get back to work.

Tuesday 9 February 2010

Burwalls Cave

I hopped over the wall of the Suspension Bridge buttress, and scrambled round to Burwalls Cave. I'd heard about it through the Flickr group, and had arranged to go exploring with some of them, but I was the only one there at the appointed time.

I slithered down a steep bank, then hauled myself up a bit of a crag with the help of a piece of rope that dangled down. And then I was there.

Lee was just finishing his breakfast. He stays here when he's in town. He was very friendly and nice, but rather shy; when we heard the distant crashing that announced the imminent arrival of some fellow-photographers, he decided to leave me to it. It felt a bit voyeuristic taking photos, but I did anyway.

It's a lovely place. And it's probably about the oldest dwelling in the Bristol area. And no council tax either.

Sunday 7 February 2010

on the road again

Meanwhile, over in Norwich, there's an action-packed LGBT History Month going on. Including, on 22nd February, a talk about Becoming Drusilla, by Richard and me.

We're really looking forward to this, as it will be the first reading event we'll have done together since the launch of the book. (Regular readers will recall Richard coming down with chicken pox even as I flew to Dublin, and then me being rushed to hospital while he was travelling to Birmingham... exciting times...)

It's at UEA's Drama Studio, at 7:00, and it's free.

Here's a link to the Facebook group, too

...and, just in case you missed the blurb, here are some reviews.


‘How big is the change from man to woman? Becoming Drusilla is a brave and intelligent book, because it is not so much an attempt to answer that question, but to strike out all the previous answers with a red pen.’
Diane Purkiss, Daily Telegraph

‘This is a gentle, wise and touching book, full of warmth, humour, friendship and humanity (though I don’t mean to be winsome: Beard doesn’t flinch over the gory details of the operations, nor, among other things, over Dru’s heroin addiction). Like the good novelist that he is, Beard has resisted the lure of a predictable transsexual ‘transformation’ narrative and the temptation to look for answers. As a result, by the end of the book, Beard – and we along wih him – has arrived at a genuine and much more subtle understanding of what his friend has been through, and what she has become.’
Nick Parker, Literary Review

‘A fascinating biography … [Beard] is an excellent communicator and excels at turning the academic knowledge into understandable sound bites … optimistic, poignant and ultimately uplifting.’
Dr Harvey Rees, Bristol Review of Books

‘Excellent … enlightening and brave … not only does he write a sensitive and subtle biography, he also deconstructs his own ideas and assumptions about himself, and what it means to be a man.’
Hot Press

‘This beautifully written and thoroughly well-researched book is Beard’s searingly honest attempt to understand what his friend had gone through … It is deliciously un-PC, unpreachy, refreshingly free of sentimentality, and, at times, drily comic.

This book’ s genius is to tackle the life of Drusilla Marland and give us a sense of her lived experience, her ordinariness as a woman, born in a particular time, under a particular set of circumstances, in a particular culture; he gently portrays her inconsistencies and foibles, her talents and weaknesses, her courage and nobility – in other words, her humanity.

Beard’s graceful admission of love and humility, at the end of this gentle tribute is touching and life-affirming. This book left me marvelling about human nature. There aren’t many of those kinds of books about.’
Dermod Moore, Irish Post

‘A wonderfully sympathetic account of how and, possibly, why Drew became Dru.’
Val Hennessy, Critic’s Choice, Daily Mail

‘A sensitive and attractive account of a renewal of friendship . . . Beard comes to realize that the extraordinary thing about his friend is just how delightfully ordinary she is.’
Roz Kaveney, Times Literary Supplement

‘Funny, touching and insightful.’
The Oldie

‘Honest and deeply thoughtful . . . [a story] gently handled by this most sensitive and, at times, very humorous book.’
reFresh magazine

‘Fascinating and funny.’
Libby Purves, Radio 4 Midweek

‘Becoming Drusilla is a remarkable story of friendship, courage and humanity. Achingly funny, bruisingly heart-rending and deeply honest and personal, the story is gracefully and humbly told and free of mawkish sentimentality.’
Irish Independent

T is for Token

It's LGBT History Month, and here in Bristol, as in other places all over the country, it is marked by events and stuff. As the City Council mission statement says,

For many years the discrimination and hostility towards LGBT people has caused many lives and achievements to pass unrecognised. This has often meant that images of LGBT people and their contribution to society have been distorted and stereotyped. This ignorance has in turn led to prejudice that shows itself in homophobic bullying and negative discrimination. By presenting an honest appraisal of LGBT lives we hope to replace ignorance with knowledge and understanding.
Which is a very good thing, of course. I approve of replacing ignorance with knowledge and understanding. For instance, take Barbara Janke, Leader of Bristol City Council, who said "This month of events offers an opportunity for people, no matter what their own sexuality, to celebrate, discuss and re-examine the contribution made by lesbians, gay men, bisexuals and transgender people." She might learn that transsexuality is an identity thing, not a sexuality thing. Though where would she learn that? In a book? Hang on-

I was at the library the other day and picked up their list of Recommended Reads for LGBT History Month. (click on the images to make them larger)

The list might possibly be admired for its steering clear of the obvious... sometimes, anyway. Gertrude Stein's Alice B Toklas is jolly good stuff. Though I tried reading Herman Melville once and found him quite hard going; but no doubt Billy Budd has got something useful to contribute to our knowledge and understanding, as it was written in 1887 and has been suspected to have some homoerotic content, in there somewhere.

Patricia Duncker's historical novel about James Barry, the nineteenth century surgeon who was apparently born female, is presumably the T element of the list. Or can you spot anything else?

Meanwhile, over in Norwich.....

Saturday 6 February 2010

starting up again

My birthday is near as heck the same as Imbolc, or Candlemas, so we combined the two and went off to the reed beds at Aust to make a Bridget's Cross.

And then we went hunting for a fish and chip shop, because we like to celebrate birthdays in style. Severn Beach has nothing to offer the hungry reveller, but Avonmouth has not only an Indian restaurant but a pizza parlour, a Co-op and a chip/kebab shop. So that was all right.

I've been unwell, hence the inactivity on the blog. B did some acupuncture on me a few days ago, and it was really useful. I am now swimming back to the surface.

And, as Imbolc marks, the world is coming to life again after the snow and ice. There are snowdrops, there are daffodils on the kitchen table, and I saw a black-headed gull in its new season's balaclava.