Friday 27 August 2010

sparking memories

.....galloping on horses, their hoofprints
Splashes of light, divots kicked out of the darkness,
For some reason, that Michael Longley poem I quoted yesterday had me thinking of horses galloping along beaches, which seems a bit showy. I guess it was the pelagic references that followed, that reminded me of Into The West, which is a bit of a skiddly-diddly, redemptive-power-of-the-celtic-twilight sort of movie, in my opinion, and as this trailer will possibly demonstrate.

...but it also reminded me of Gawain setting out in his quest for the Green Knight

He sperred the sted with his spures & sprong on his way
So stif that the stonfir sprong out ther aft
'stone fire' is a nice way of describing the sparks...

Anyway, I have neither galloped into the celtic twilight, beachwise or otherwise, not quested on a charger. Though I did like the hymn we used to sing in primary school, 'When a Knight Won His Spurs'. Adjust pronouns to suit your own circumstances.

When a knight won his spurs in the stories of old
He was gentle and brave he was gallant and bold
With a shield on his arm and a lance in his hand
For God and for valour he rode through the land

No charger have I and no sword by my side
Yet still to adventure and battle I ride
Though back into storyland giants have fled
And the knights are no more and the dragons are dead

So let faith be my shield and let hope be my steed
Against the dragons of anger the ogres of greed
And let me set free with the sword of my youth
From the castle of darkness the power of the truth

It was only later that I realised that the writer of the words was Joyce Maxtone Graham, otherwise Jan Struther, author of Mrs Miniver, which is a very good book if a rotten movie.

Oh yes, memory. Walking out on the sands of Morecambe Bay, beyond Arnside, at Christmas in 1980 or so. A still, clear morning. Silent except for the occasional scream of a gull and a train passing over the viaduct and rattling along the coastal railway track.

View Larger Map

And then a roebuck emerged from the woods on the shore and galloped across the sands, until it reached another promontory and finally disappeared into the woods again. And we wondered, and carried on our walk.

Thursday 26 August 2010

coffee spoons

Sometimes it feels like I spend too much time measuring my life in coffee spoons. Wandering around the flat thinking "I really must get out more". Gazing at blank sheets of paper. Idly reaching for the Digestive biscuits.

Meanwhile, it rains and rains, and when it rains especially hard Katie dashes up onto the roof and dances in it, as you do.

It got me thinking of a Michael Longley poem, so I dug it out.


We should have been galloping on horses, their hoofprints
Splashes of light, divots kicked out of the darkness,
Or hauling up lobster pots in a wake of sparks. Where
Were the otters and seals? Were the dolphins on fire?
Yes, we should have been doing more with our lives.
...though I'm not sure about the galloping horses thing. Sounds a bit showy. It reminds me a bit of the sticker you sometimes see on the back of Land Rovers, the one that says ONE LIFE LIVE IT, as though driving to Waitrose in a Land Rover was somehow a more intense experience than doing it in, say, a Nissan Micra. Discuss.

I took some of my pictures down to Minuteman Press in Bedminster, and they scanned them into TIFFs for me. Then the nice folk at Niche Frames in Stokes Croft ("Bristol's Cultural Quarter") ran off some giclee prints for me.

They look very nice. I am pleased.

Wednesday 25 August 2010

a big thumbs up

A survey yesterday revealed that 94% of people approve of the use of Gender Confirmation Surgery, where indicated, in the treatment of transsexual people.*

The survey was carried out by Charlotte Horsfall, in a laudable attempt to drum up traffic on her cosmetic surgery website, Good Surgeon Guide.

To bump the sample numbers up a bit and make it easier to use her calculator without ending up with lots of numbers after the decimal point, she popped out of the office and questioned some random strangers, whom we can identify as Gerald Ratzinger (purveyor of crap jewellery to the Pope), Twinkle the Hamster, and that shouty bloke at the back of the bus. You know the one.

Their responses were instructive. In no particular order, they were

"Lock them up! Lock them all up! Send them back to wherever it is they come from!"

"Meep. Meep."


"Don't be silly, of course I haven't stopped beating my wife".

These responses were taken to mean that 6% of those questioned, when asked a particular set of questions, ticked the box that said that they thought that surgery for transsexual people should be illegal.

As Charlotte said, when our reporter caught up with her on her website,

"Remember, we're just like you. We're not qualified- apart from our real-life experience. We're not a clinic, so medical questions will be beyond us! But we'll still try to find the answer for you even if it's that we don't know...."

*figure extrapolated from the results of the survey, using a methodology which Upside Down In Cloud has decided is at least as good as Charlotte's

Tuesday 24 August 2010

joining in

Commenting on my post yesterday, Lucy suggested that it was a bit retrogressive going along on the Bristol Pride march. I kind of get what she means, but then perhaps there are all sorts of Prides, and each one is what you make of it. Or it is the sum of what the people who have organised it and participated in it, make of it.

The Bristol Evening Post mentioned the event on their website, and attracted some interesting comments, some of which sadly got deleted (also sadly, my own comment didn't actually make it onto the website, but hey)

I like the opinion expressed by Patrick, that

not only my LGBT friends but every other minority in this country ....have their particular views and preferences thrust in front of my face all of the time!
I think it was worth joining in Pride just for that...

It's a tricky business, balancing between acknowledging and dealing with my trans history, and just getting on with life. And I suppose there are no right answers, and possibly no particularly wrong ones either. But, reading the EP comments section, it's evident that there's still no shortage of ignorance. The sort of ignorance that can lead to bad things happening to people.

As I was looking through my old stuff yesterday, I noticed that this is what was happening in my life, on board the Pride of Bilbao seven years ago. It's good to look at it and think how far I've come since then. Seven years. Crikey!
So a notice goes up in the Engine Control Room about the Shipboard Management Meeting, where crew grievances will be addressed; we are invited to write our whinges on the adjacent paper. The usual gripes come up; Why is the food so crap? (because it is...); When are we going to get financial parity with the Deck Department? (when hell freezes over...). I add my own; When are we going to change filthy pornographic calendar in Control Room for pictures of fluffy bunnies and daffodils? ...the next day, I find that it has been laboriously scribbled over to make it entirely illegible, and FUCK OFF scrawled under it.

"Right, this is war," I think.

But, to get things in context first, I check the big book of Company Regulations. There's stuff about drugs and drink, standards of appearance and something called 'horseplay'. But there is no company policy on pornography. I take a photocopy of this month's FLUFF 'N' STUFF calendar girl hanging in the Control Room, and show it to some of the girls who work up in the passenger department. They blanch, and express their shock that it is allowed. Fortified in my resolve, I pen my amended question; What level of explicitness should be deemed appropriate for the pornography displayed in work areas? -for example:

* tits?
* tits and bums?
* tits and clits?
* blimey, you can see what she had for breakfast?

.this is what I understand is called a When Did You Stop Beating Your Wife
question, which cannot be answered without the answerer damning themself...

But I think I'd better have a word with the Chief to sound out the water. He points out that making an issue of the calendar might alienate me. He really can't see anything wrong with porny calendars. He puts it down to my hormonal changes; "In all those years at sea, you must have read pornography, surely, Dru?"

"No, Chief; I've always felt just the same about it as I do now..."

The Chief wants to keep the matter 'in house'. And so the matter rests, with a vague understanding that next year's calendar will be a little less, er, risque...

And next morning, to make up for it, Chief enters the Control Room with a brisk "Morning, ladies and gentlemen."

"I don't see any ladies," says Dave S, the electrician, a grumpy old sod from Hartlepool, a town whose inhabitants gained notoriety for hanging a monkey, thinking it was a french spy.

"Drusilla," says the Chief, gesturing royally in my direction.

"He's got balls, hasn't he? If he's got balls, he must be a gentleman."

With insight like this, one might reasonably fear for the safety of any
monkeys unfortunate enough to find themselves in Hartlepool.

I come up with the great answers to that one, later, of course. Too late. O


(and this one from August 29 2003)

You may recall, and if you don't, then read the aforegoing, that the porny calendar incident was left hanging; along, indeed, with the porny calendar.

A fortnight ago finds me back in the engine room after a few weeks' absence. I find that the calendar in question has been graffitied; someone has written "DRU" in a very immature hand, and an arrow pointing to the vagina. I am outraged. I discuss it with the engineer of the watch. He gives his opinion that I should let it lie; "You've got to be broad minded at sea," he says.

I mull it over, and by the next morning think maybe he's right. Don't want to be confrontational... but then I go into the Control Room and see everyone sitting drinking their tea, and this THING hanging on the wall as though it was perfectly normal. I take it down, call for everyone's attention, point out the graffiti, and say that it is entirely unacceptable. I then rip up the calendar and bin it.

Instantly I get two men shouting at me; one tells me I'm "....going to get done in; not if, but when...." I leave the engine room, and award myself the morning off....

(a friend helpfully suggested I have a word with the Union rep. "It was the Union rep who threatened me," I replied.)

The Engine Room Trolls have a mutter, and decide to send me to Coventry. At last count, there are seven of them not speaking to me; they sort of glower sulkily as I pass, like little boys who've been caught out doing something they shouldn't.

Monday 23 August 2010

Bristol Pride

It's been quite a Pride week in Bristol, and Saturday was the big day, with a march and a party in the park. I tagged along, and bumped into lots of friends, some of whom I'd only met online before.

There was a terrific mix of people there, some extremely flamboyant and eccentric, some looking dangerously like Normal People. All getting along very well together, and celebrating it being OK to be whatever they are. Which is sort of what Pride is about, isn't it?

This is what I wrote after we went to Bristol's Mardi Gras event in 2005. Big difference.

Well, Katie and I went down to the Bristol Mardi Gras yesterday. I'd explained what gays, lesbians and bisexuals are. As we cycled down the hill, she asked if a group of girls we'd passed were lesbians. "Impossible to say," I said.

The Canon's Marsh Amphitheatre was ringed with steel fencing for the occasion; we went in and wandered round feeling lost. Some people on stage were playing stuff from Rocky Horror. There were some drag queens. I looked at some gumph on the FFLAG (Friends and Families of Lesbians and Gays) stall and was blanked by the blokes running it. We left; Katie was rather upset. "I don't think they like women very much," she said. I was feeling alienated.

I really must get out more. 'Normal' people can be nice enough, but, as I've long since discovered, they don't really want me as a friend because I'm a nice, liberal, middle-class person* trapped in a freak's body, and it's uncomfortable for nice, liberal, middle-class people to think that about me, I guess... and then I go to this event and feel entirely out of place. Maybe I'll take up group knitting...
*well, OK, not that nice, liberal, or middle class, but you get the drift

Saturday 21 August 2010


it's a rainbow thang, apparently

Bristol Pride is in full swing, and last night I was down at the Watershed for a talk called Gender Trouble- What is gender? What does it mean?

It was a bit Gender 101, but it was nice to meet up with people, which is possibly part of the point of it. So I won't delve into what was said, because you had to be there really.

What was fun, though, was that the toilets had been labelled as UNISEX for the evening. Maybe it was because the management were nervous about having trans people around the place. But I prefer to think that it was a subversion-of-the-binary thing.

So when I went to the loo, I did a quick eeny-meeny-miny-mo and went into the first of the doors. And there were a couple of chaps standing at a urinal, doing what chaps do. That's OK, I'm cool with that. I popped into a cubicle trying not to feel out-of-place.

Later in the evening, I needed to go again, so I used the other door. By this time, the drink had been flowing generally, and there were several other people milling around. And all the people going into the right hand UNISEX loo were men, and all the people going into the left hand UNISEX loo were women.

Fair enough, probably. It reminds me of the time in John Reed's account of the Bolshevik revolution, Ten Days That Shook The World, where the revolutionary council votes enthusiastically to abolish smoking, and then continues smoking.

Friday 20 August 2010


There was a terrific sky just before dawn yesterday, and it reminded me of the sky in Evelyn Dunbar's wonderful picture A Land Girl and the Bail Bull. Though by the time I'd got up onto the roof with my camera the sky had reddened with the imminent arrival of the sun at the horizon. But you can still see it, can't you?

Another motorway day, picking up Katie. So we came down the Welsh border on the way home. With rain threatening, swimming in the Wye didn't seem appealing, so I proposed a visit to Chepstow Museum, to see the exhibition of paintings from the days of the Wye Tour.

Katie was quite emphatic that she didn't want to go.

We went anyway, because I am still bigger than her. Just.

The woman on the desk at the Museum asked if we were coming in out of the rain.

"No," I said, "It's not quite raining yet, and we actively want to see the exhibition".

There were lots of people in there, and the exhibition is in a small room. The pictures are packed in close together, because the space is limited and they have therefore pragmatically decided to display the pictures in similar manner to the way they would have been exhibited were it the late 18th / early 19th century. So there was lots of good stuff in a small space. I occasionally called Katie over to look at something, and she would give me a Look and ask me not to do that.

I tried to guess who was in there because of the weather, but failed. There was one bloke in a beard-and-Tilley-Hat who positioned himself in such a way that you couldn't see the last six pictures properly, and adopted the deeply contemplative manner of one who is inwardly calculating the time remaining before he could decently go to the pub. I peered around him for a bit then gave up. He was quite wide.

Outside, two people were sketching the front of the museum. I furtively took this photo because if you ask people if you may take their photo they tend to get self-conscious. I wish I'd asked, now. Then I might have got a picture without the tourist information sign growing out of her head.

Wednesday 18 August 2010

getting out a bit

Here's a picture I'm quite pleased with. It's Jet the retriever. The picture was a commission from a friend, for her brother's birthday. R shares his birthday with the opening of the grouse shooting season, which seems somehow appropriate...

It's been a good time for watching the night sky, lately. Last week I was down at Richard's, in Oxfordshire, and I was camping in the garden. At 0200, I looked out and saw a perfectly clear sky full of stars and Milky Way, so I shuffled out a bit and lay snug in my sleeping bag, watching as shooting stars flared across the sky- it was the height of the Perseid meteor shower.

In the city, where the darkness of the night is diluted by the loom of the city lights, or on a cloudy night, if a shooting star were to go shooting across the sky then you might see a sudden glow or a flicker in the corner of your eye and think "Was that a shooting star, or was thart my eyes playing tricks on me?" And you just would not know for sure.

But here in this garden in Oxfordshire the stars were sharp and glinting, and the shooting stars zipped suddenly and silently across the night. If the night had been a big piece of silk, and Saladin had been on the other side, showing Richard the Lionheart how sharp his scimitar was by slashing across the cloth so that the bright mediaeval sunlight suddenly streamed through the line of the blade, it would have been a bit like that. Suddenly there, suddenly gone.

I saw six or seven shooting stars, and then I got sleepy, and my blinks got longer until when I opened my eyes again I saw that it had clouded over, so I wriggled back into the tent.

Last night I was a bit wakeful, so I went up onto the roof. No shooting stars this time, but just before 4:00 a bright white light- the brightest thing I've ever seen in the night sky- moved silently eastwards, passing overhead. "Ooh, a satellite" I thought. And then I went to sleep, while tawny owls hooted from the Downs.

When I woke up again it was cloudy, and there was a long red streak on the horizon. And my sleeping bag was a bit dewy. Time to go down.

I did a bit of online research, and found that what I'd seen was the International Space Station. By this time, they'd already been round the world a few more times, and were over the Indian Ocean, somewhere off Madagascar. And as I'm writing this, they're zipping past Spain. Crikey. And all before breakfast, too. Good morning, Alexander, Tracey, Mikhail, Fyodor, Shannon and Doug! Busy lot, aren't you?

Tuesday 17 August 2010


James Russell wrote an enjoyable piece about trout fishing in America and about Trout Fishing In America the other day. And I thought it would be nice to read it again. So I did a bit of hunting, and found this first edition at Oxfam. It cost more than a paperback edition, of course, but it is a nice book. And it means that Oxfam get a useful-sized contribution to their funds, at a time when they really need it. And I get a really good book. A bit of a win-win situation.

Because it seems a bit ironic that I've been celebrating messing about in rivers at a time when Pakistan is having such awful trouble with floods.

Anyway, I mention this because it seems like a v good idea, because I hadn't known about Oxfam's online secondhand bookshop until now, and maybe you didn't know about it either. Here it is.

postscript: talking of Richard Brautigan, Andy Mc Carthy over on Flickr introduced me to this lovely Lovely Eggs song....

Monday 16 August 2010

canoeing down the Thames

We had great plans for an adventure down the Thames, Richard, young Maud and me. And then he went and pranged his leg, during a cricket game. The shock waves from the snapping of the tendon set things a-bobbing furiously in the Beard household, and the ripples even reached Schloss Marland. No canoeing for Richard. However, Maud was still keen for the adventure, and so was I.

So we set off to find the marina in Abingdon that had been recommended to me as a launch point. But then I got horribly lost. This was fortunate, because it meant that we found this slipway on St Helen's Wharf, which is just the right size for launching a canoe.

View Larger Map

Here we are, putting on our lifejackets and stowing the gear. Camera in the watertight barrel, check. Chocolate, check. Paddles, check. Stove and tea-making stuff, left in the car. Damn. It was only later that it would come to feel that it would have been a good idea to have taken that.

Off we went, then. A kindly wind blew us on our way, so that we were able to overtake the occasional pedestrian, and exchange nods and smiles. Groups of teenagers sat under willow trees, practicing being disaffected. They were getting good at it. They neither nodded nor smiled.

We saw a pair of grebes, the first of many pairs. For some reason, there was a single parent and a single young grebe in each duo. And in every instance, the young one was volubly saying "Feed me!" At least, I guess that is what it was saying. Grebe is not one of my languages.

Beyond Abingdon, the river banks became surprisingly wild and impenetrable with tangled trees, chiefly willow and alder, and brambles, nettles, Himalayan balsam, monkeyflowers, and these vivid purple spears whose name I do not know.

(edit: I have been informed that this flower is purple loosestrife. Thank you, Julian and Larry!)

We passed fishermen, who resolutely blanked us as we passed, because fishermen are a miserable lot. A small boy, who'd been told to go fishing with his dad and uncle by his mum who wanted to get them all out of the house, shouted excitedly to us as we passed, asking if we were enjoying ourselves and telling us about the fish he hadn't caught. His father and uncle sulked over their beer cans at him letting the side down. We gave them a smile just to rub it in.

There was a fork in the river above Sutton Courtenay; to the left is the cut that leads to the lock, and to the right is the village, and four weirs. The village and the pools below the weirs looked much more interesting than the cut to the lock, so we went that way, paddling determinedly past the sign that said DANGER. I'd recce'd the area on Google Map, and read up on the weirs to see how dangerous they were. Weir No 4 sounded plain scary; it has drowned loads of people apparently, because once you go down it you are trapped by something or other underwater and then that's that.

So we didn't want to go that way.

In fact, I didn't really want to shoot any of the weirs today. So we tied up next to the friendliest of them, N0 2, and went looking for a path down to the pools below the weirs. What we found was a passing cyclist, who directed us to a short track to a sandy beach. He helped me lift the canoe out of the water, and offered to help carry it down there. Which was jolly nice of him, but I said that we'd be OK with the wheels. And so we were.

Here we are, about to launch into Sutton Pools, and catching up on a bit of chocolate therapy.

And in no time, we were back in the wilds. So wild that I began to wonder if we'd taken the wrong turn and were heading along a hitherto unknown waterway, as the banks were so wild and we seemed to be the only people in this particular part of the world. But then along came a narrowboat and a cabin cruiser, and we were back in Oxfordshire instead of Heart Of Darkness Congo country.

And then the sky darkened, and it poured down, and we went alongside a wharf by Wittenham weir so that we could get our waterproofs on. But a man in a big cabin cruiser alongside us popped out with umbrellas for us, and invited us on board for tea. We gratefully accepted the brollies and reluctantly declined the tea. Well, I did; Maud didn't get any say in the matter. It was getting late, and I had no idea how much longer it would take to get home.

The rain eased, and we paddled on. And soon arrived at Day's Lock. I intended to carry the canoe around the lock, because I find the idea of going through locks in a canoe a bit scary, and so we went alongside and tied up, were about to hop out when the lock-keeper called and gestured for us to enter.

And it wasn't really scary at all.

And then the sun came out, and the wind dropped to nothing, and everything was perfect on the river, and there round the bend was the bridge and church of Clifton Hampden, and journey's end.

Sunday 15 August 2010

little boxes

I'd arrived in Abingdon, and was looking for somewhere to launch a canoe. So I parked up next to the river and looked around.

Actually, I'd been driving for a couple of hours and I really needed to pee. So that was top of the list of Things To Do.

Next to the car park (60p for the first hour) there were two shiny metallic toilets, looking for all the world like little spaceships. I didn't take a photo of them, so here they are on Street View

View Larger Map

...actually, what they really reminded me of was the rather scary machine things on Doctor Who that pull people inside them and turn them into Cybermen. And, to add insult to injury, you have to pay 20p to use them.

Rather than risk being turned into a Cyberman, I sneaked into the bushes and peed there. It was a quiet spot, and someone had had a discreet fire there, in an arch under the bridge hidden behind a screen of willow.

I then turned my attention to the river bank.

On my side of the river was something of a quayside, about five feet high and therefore no good for canoes. There were lots of cabin cruisers and narrowboats moored up there. Someone was mustering his supplies of food and water on the bank next to his boat. We exchanged good mornings.

Across the river, the rooftops of Abingdon were surmounted by the tower of the Town Hall, looking for all the world like Winstanley's Eddystone Lighthouse. But since it had been built prudently in the middle of an Oxfordshire town rather than on a rock in the English Channel, it had avoided the fate of both Winstanley and his lighthouse.

I didn't take a photo of that, either. So here's one I prepared earlier.

On the riverbank opposite was a building I'd sort-of-noticed before, but not registered. I looked again, and noticed the central tower with the wings radiating out from it; and the tiny windows with bars on it. It was a prison. In fact, it reminded me of the description of the French prison in Victor Serge's book, Men In Prison; not so much a 'machine for living in' as a machine for keeping people alive, but confined, in as efficient a way as possible.

No doubt that sort of thing is necessary, but it still seems an odd and rather anti-life thing to do. It's hard to imagine giraffes, say, doing it to each other.

Anyway, it's no longer a prison; it was a leisure centre for a while, apparently, but now they're struggling to think of what to do with it this time round.

I asked a chap in the boatyard by the bridge where I could launch a canoe. He told me that the marina at the other end of town had a public slipway. As it happened, I found a nice little place next to the parish church, from where we managed to launch quite easily. The parish church was interesting because it was at least as wide as it is long. But I didn't take a picture of it either.

I'll describe the canoeing trip another time, though.

The next day, I was driving home. I took the A420 across country to Swindon. It is the sort of road where you get people in cars who want to go very fast, and then they find themselves behind me in my Traveller, going at 50 or 60 miles an hour, and then they do stupid dangerous things to get past. I had three stupid dangerous drivers getting past me, that morning. And ten miles later, two were still in sight ahead of me and one had turned off the road a few moments after overtaking dangerously...

I remember talking about cars with someone, a couple of years ago. He thought that it was silly or even wrong of me to have a Morris Traveller. He thought that the proper thing to do was have the same sort of car as everyone else, so that you could fit in with everyone else.

It was rather a jolt to realise how fundamentally our approaches to life differed. It also reminded me of the freely-given opinions of someone to whom I became related by a family marriage, who used to volubly accuse me doing things just to be different.


Doing things just to be different is as silly as doing things just to conform. I celebrate my commonality with people when it happens, but I was never much good at trying to fit in just for the sake of it.

Tuesday 10 August 2010

time out

I've been down to East Prawle again, with Katie, Barry the gorilla, great mounds of camping gear, and a big Canadian canoe on top of the Trav. Which meant that, when we passed Exeter and began the long ascent of Telegraph Hill, we were down to first gear and a speed of twenty miles an hour. Still, we got there.

Fires, swimming, walking, Cirl Bunting, and so on. Here's a few pictures.

Meanwhile, Richard was in hospital, after sustaining a rather nasty injury to his leg, while playing cricket. Sport. A Bad Thing. Possibly.

Sunday 1 August 2010

whine list

"the decor is unassuming, but the house white was agreeable"

I feel massively contrite today.

I have learned that my idea of the Press Complaints Commission, as a club for white middle-class chaps who like to have a bit of a laugh at funny people who aren't like them, is in fact rooted in my own ignorance.

And that must be right, because Paul Dacre said so. And he should know, what with him being the editor of the Daily Mail and the chairman of something called the Editors' Code of Practice Committee.

I should have learned my lesson at the time, when I complained to the PCC about the Daily Mail's article about me, headlined "Would you Adam and Steve it? Transsexual wins £65,000 for taunts by P&O crew". The PCC found that there was nothing wrong with the headline, or the paper's gratuitous revelation of my former name. But the Daily Mail offered to write me a letter of apology, and indeed did so.

...the headline was not intended to be pejorative. The article is very positive to your case and fully reported the tribunal's findings.

Nonetheless, it is most regrettable that you were distressed by the piece.....
You see? The regret was not that they wrote something offensive, but that I should find it 'distressing' (which I didn't, of course. I just found it offensive). So it was all down to my imperfect understanding.

And evidently I shouldn't have done so.

Anyway, I see that Clare Balding has similarly made a fool of herself this week. AA Gill, who writes the Sunday Times restaurant column (well, to be accurate, he dictates the column. He's dyslexic) described Clare as a "dyke on a bike, puffing up the nooks and crannies at the bottom end of the nation."

Clare took exception to this, and was firmly put in her place by the Sunday Times editor, John Witherow, who said

"In my view some members of the gay community need to stop regarding themselves as having a special victim status and behave like any other sensible group that is accepted by society.

"Not having a privileged status means, of course, one must accept occasionally being the butt of jokes. A person's sexuality should not give them a protected status."

Well, quite. I'm sure that Mr Witherow wouldn't mind us joking about him, either, although it may be hard to fix on a characteristic that is intriniscally funny about him, as he isn't black, or queer, or a tranny; or, indeed, anything else that's particularly interesting. Though he did run a headline about Michael Foot being a KGB agent once. Which is pretty funny, but not in the ''heave half a brick at him" sort of way, sadly.

Just to be going on with, though, entering into the spirit of things, I could propose describing AA Gill as 'the dickhead with the dictaphone'.

Does that work?