Friday 30 September 2011


eric pickles, originally uploaded by Dru Marland.

Sometimes, you have one of those 'did I really hear that' moments. One of them came along for me this morning, as I was listening to Radio 4 while cross-hatching some ocean on a drawing. The bit of ocean in question had to be big enough to sink a liner in, so it was taking a fair bit of time and concentration, let me tell you.

"Did I really hear that?" I asked myself. (You can see why you call them 'did I really hear that' moments, can't you?)

I Googled a bit. Yes. Eric Pickles, who is an Important Person in the Conservative Party, really said it:

"It’s a basic right for every English man and woman to be able to put the remnants of their chicken tikka masala in their bin without having to wait a fortnight for it to be collected"

Craaazy, as Speedy Gonzales might well have said.

Here in Bristol, we went over to fortnightly waste collection a few years ago, with a weekly recycling collection, which includes the contents of the compost bin, where, if you were throwing out a chicken tikka masala (the dinner of choice for Conservative MPs), is where it should be found . Which is more than adequate.

It's a bit worrying when a Tory thinks that human rights are about TV dinners. There are surely more important ones to worry about. Like, maybe, equality, work, the right to peaceful protest....

Here's the cross-hatched ocean in question.

Wednesday 28 September 2011

chick lite

Spotted at our local ASDA.... are these books really 'womens fiction'? And if not, to what category, extant or otherwise, would you assign them? 'Men's Fiction'?

Tuesday 27 September 2011

a traffic coney island of the mind

traffic cone, originally uploaded by Dru Marland.

Along with the mists and the conkers come the first students of autumn to Bristol. Late at night they may be heard, scouring the after-pub streets in search of traffic cones to adorn their Clifton garrets. We dream that one day, a more just and equitable society will provide every student with their own traffic cone. But for now, here's a handy cut-out-n-keep one. Enjoy!

Monday 19 September 2011

catching the moon

There I was on Saturday morning, up on the roof, staring westward and waiting for the Space Station; 0610 and four minutes to go. The just-past-full moon was overhead, haloed by the thin cloud whipping past. Southward, a great swell of grey cumulus rolled towards morning, surmounted by a great grey fin, like that of a pilot whale caught in the act of breaching. The brighter stars, and Venus, shone out of the clear patches.

But no Space Station. Wrong sort of cloud.

A bat, wind-tumbled and fluttering, like an autumn leaf but with a greater sense of purpose, fell across the sky.

As I went back down through the skylight, I caught the moon's reflection in the dewfall on the flat roof, and thought, but did not say, "Moon! Moon!"

Actually, I may have said it. Quietly, obviously.

I was thinking of the Ted Hughes poem.

Full Moon and Little Frieda

A cool small evening shrunk to a dog bark and the clank of a bucket -
And you listening.
A spider's web, tense for the dew's touch.
A pail lifted, still and brimming - mirror
To tempt a first star to a tremor.

Cows are going home in the lane there, looping the hedges with their warm
wreaths of breath -
A dark river of blood, many boulders,
Balancing unspilled milk.
'Moon!' you cry suddenly, 'Moon! Moon!'

The moon has stepped back like an artist gazing amazed at a work
That points at him amazed.

That description of the cows unfailingly and vividly brings back the sense of times in my past. Though I had to move to the big city and study Eng Lit to learn the ancient rural craft of catching the moon in a bucket.

Wednesday 14 September 2011

the smell of Jeyes Fluid in the morning

blackbirds in the holly, originally uploaded by Dru Marland.

I'm working on another book with Geraldine, and here's the first pic for it; the holly tree in her garden has a bit of a population explosion on the blackbirds front. The holly reminds me that I've seen the first Christmas things in the shops; rows of chocolate Santas in Sainsbury's, yesterday. Ick.

Closer to home, the roof started leaking in the heavy rain and wind we had yesterday. Very musique concrète, it was, the drops from the ceiling plinking into the buckets. I think I might make it a permanent installation.

I found a note on the stairs, from the landlady, thanking me for replacing the time-delay light switches..... We used to have three pneumatic time delay switches in the stairwell. They were useless, frequently jamming in the ON position, so that I was regularly stripping them down and cleaning them up so they'd work again. Anyway; I found some electronic time delay switches; press the button, and the time delay is done by circuitry rather than a spring pushing against a piston. Far less to go wrong. I installed them. Problem solved. Then landlady calls in electricians, and they take them out and replace them with old type mechanical switches. Which start to jam on after a week. "I am going to call A*****lectrics again", she says, after lamenting the failure of the lights again. I explain as best I can what the problem is. And order three more electronic switches (the professional electricians took the old new ones away). And yesterday I installed them. Always exciting working with live circuitry; the little wires sparking cheerily, and trying to weld themselves together..... there's a note saying thank you, and a cheque for the cost of the switches. And a bottle of Liebfraumilch, LIDL's finest. Very kind, though Jeyes Fluid is better for cleaning the drains. But probably more expensive.

Still, the lights work.

Monday 12 September 2011

sic transit

Ten years on, my transition from male to female is pretty much something-I-once-did, and the main transitions on my mind these days are the ones from young to old (or (eek!) from middle-aged to old), and from occasional seafarer to illustrator. And whatever other transitions life throws at us all, of course.

There are people I know, and count as friends, who are at earlier stages of their own journeys, and with destinations uncertain. Which can be hard going, sometimes. I was just reading a blog by the wife of a MtF transitioner, which made uncomfortable reading because I recognised, in the description of the transitioning partner, some resonances with my own transition; my self-centredness, my selfishness, I suppose. I also recognised that sense of simmering resentment from the wife. I recall a friend whose partner worked hard to develop a musical career, while she supported them as best she could, paying the bills, cooking for the musos who were always around the place, trying to be positive and not feel marginalised. And after a few years, the partner said, "I've changed; I've been mixing with artistic and creative people..."

Some of us have growth spurts in our self-development. If we're lucky, anyway. If we're even luckier, our partners, if we have partners, will be developing in their own way and with a sufficient overlap of sympathies, affection, or possibly love, for the relationship to survive, or (better still) to flourish.

Some people stay together through insecurity or inertia, and put up with a large pile of personal unhappiness. Sometimes you don't recognise how unhappy you have been until it's all over, and one day you wake up and spend a while wondering what this strange feeling is that you've got, and then you recognise that you're happy. Been there.

And some people break up, and you look at them and think what a shame it was, because they seemed to be so good for each other.

No hard and fast rules. We're all on different paths, and write our own happy endings. Being trans is quite a big thing, but there are lots of other big things out there too. It's not uniquely wrong or evil to transition; it doesn't disqualify you from rights or responsibilities, any more than coming out as a musician. Say.

Good luck, everyone who's journeying or who's with someone who's journeying (which is a journey, too, of course, though possibly with someone else at the helm). I wish you well.

Thursday 8 September 2011

silent sky

shhh, originally uploaded by Dru Marland.

We'd been in the kitchen eating microwaved pasties for lunch, and I wandered back into the workshop with my mug of tea, ready to start up the lathe. The TV set up on the high shelf showed a New York skyline, high buildings haloed by morning sun. There were excited voices.

"Something going on," I remarked.

An airliner appeared out of nowhere, and in the few moments before it plunged into a skyscraper I recognised a Boeing 737. The television voices became even more excited.

"It looked like a small private jet", said a commentator.

"Oh no it wasn't," I thought.

I didn't know what it was, but I knew that something Very Big had suddenly happened, and that the world had changed.

Part of my reaction was a very selfish one; my life was so full of drama and angst that it seemed unfair that world affairs should intrude upon it and demand my attention too. My home life was falling apart; my partner was busily building herself a new life without me in it, but just for the while we were still occupying the same home, or at least two homes in parallel. I was worried about my relationship with my daughter; I wanted to spend more time with her, but felt trapped in the role of chief earner, and the bills and rent had to be paid. I was commuting to Dursley, a long haul up the motorway every day, to where I was working for a former colleague, a marine engineer, building specialist tricycles for people with special needs. He was not particularly sympathetic to the problems in my private life, making remarks such as "If she said 'shit' you'd jump on the shovel" and "You don't need surgery for something that's wrong in your head".

Because I was waiting for something to happen. I'd been to see my doctor that summer, describing my feelings about my gender identity. He'd been very understanding and helpful, and had set wheels in motion. But then the local PCT had responded, saying that they had no funding available for gender identity services, and recommending I go to see Prof Richard Green at Charing Cross, as a private patient. I was waiting for this appointment, which was another month in the future.

In the afternoon, we sat in the garden outside the workshop, taking a tea break. The sky was silent; Green One, the transatlantic air superhighway, passed directly overhead, and nothing was flying.

I thought about the future. The seemingly enormous gulf between where I was, and where I wanted to be. The forces of darkness, mobilising.

Sunday 4 September 2011

pictures or it didn't happen

The more interesting life gets, the less you're likely to hear about it. It's a 'revolution will not be televised' kind of thing. Thus, for instance, these pictures of Catherine and me, canoeing along the Avon the other day, up towards Bradford on Avon. It was a good trip, along a stretch of river we'd not been along before. Kingfishers flitted about the place, the purple loosestrife flourished on the banks, the sun was just the right shade of warm, and the breezes were always following ones.

What the pics don't show are the bloody great plastic barrel with the dry gear in it, which I'd secured to the afterdeck of my kayak; I spent the first mile wobbling like a drunken tightrope walker, until we found somewhere to land, and from then on I towed it behind me, like a faithful mine.

But you can't see that in the pictures.

Another thing you can't see is the weir at Limpley Stoke.

The trouble with weirs is that, unless you're the sort of masochist who thinks that 'only dead fish go with the flow' and therefore only ever paddles upriver, then your first inkling of a weir ahead is the roaring noise. Then you will see a slight ripple, which is where the water is going over the weir. Approach with caution, and try to determine whether it's the sort of weir that you can shoot, or if there's anywhere to get out and inspect the thing.

We came alongside the central section of the weir, which was dry. I laboriously uncorked myself from the kayak, and found that Catherine's had taken advantage of the kerfuffle as she got out, and was drifting towards an ominously-roaring sluice.

It got caught in a tree. I got back into my kayak, and bore down upon it, Catherine holding the rope that was tied to the stern. I grabbed the runaway kayak, and she pulled me back to safety.

And then we scrambled down the wall of the weir, and carried on our way.

But there aren't any pictures of that either.

That weir is like poetry, as Wordsworth described it; 'emotion recollected in tranquillity'. Except back to front. I was quite calm at the time. Now, I think back to it and imagine getting caught in the sluice and drowning. Funny how things are just 'what-you-do' at the time, and give you the horrors afterwards.

It wasn't that bad really, though. Quite fun, in fact. It's like breaking down in the car. As i said to Katie the other day (just after the clutch linkage on the Moggy had broken, and I bodged it back together with a safety pin) "It's really good when you break down, if you manage to fix it and get home, because the happiness you feel at sorting out the problem outweighs the misery of the problem happening in the first place".

She didn't agree. Tchah.