Monday 26 December 2011

five ducks a-walking

five ducks a-walking, originally uploaded by Dru Marland.
...these ducks survived Christmas, to the best of my knowledge. They live down at Barbaryball, just east of Launceston, where I stayed in the spring. I'd wanted to have a go at painting them for ages. And the barn, with its composite of different stone and cob. Finally got round to it last week.

Christmas day is a good day for heading out, if you're spending it on your own. I heard a deep cronking in the morning, and dashed up onto the roof in time to watch a raven swoop past and bob along in an exuberant sort of way downwind and out of sight, a little touch of wildness over the city. They do enjoy windy days. So do I, though the Moggy was a bit lively on the Severn Bridge, suddenly yawing wildly as we passed to leeward of the towers...

By the time I had passed Usk, patches of sunshine were starting to appear on the Blorenge, and the day became one of squalls and sun. And of wind, roaring like a river in spate through the mountain trees.

Journey's end was Partrishow, in the Black Mountains.

Sunday 25 December 2011


The longest night of the year merged into a muggy dawn, which I ignored as I was concentrating on the picture I was painting. Come 9 o'clock, I finally got up and opened the curtains, and found a big sky full of blue. 

We just had to go out into it.

Not too long later we were rumbling across the Severn Bridge, admiring the milky sunlight on Avonmouth, glinting on the wind turbine blades. "Open the Cherry Coke, please", I asked Katie as I munched my way through the bag of special offer Christmas pretzels. We'd stocked up on fuel at the Shirehampton filling station.

She put down her strawberry flavoured Wonder Winder for long enough to pass the Cherry Coke. I gulped briefly and handed it back. "Thank you. Just think of all the adventures we've had that started off with us driving over the Severn Bridge and drinking Coke and eating crap," I said. "Remember canoeing round the coast in Pembrokeshire?"

"And me saying 'I'm tired' and lying down in the bottom of the canoe."

"And falling asleep instantly. Dead impressive, that. I was paddling for ages against that tide and getting nowhere. Those were the days, when we did stupid dangerous things together."

"And I was too young to know any better."

"Too young to know that you could say no..."

These days, expeditions are by negotiation. Today Katie's here by her concession, and we use our  history as a tentative shared language, a touchstone.

"That's a rain cloud," she observed. "Sunny in Bristol, look - head to Wales and it starts raining."

"There's a patch of sun over there on Twynbarlwm," I said. "If you don't like the weather, something different will be along in a minute. Purse is in the bag; sort out the toll money, would you?"

I threw the £5.70 in loose change into the hopper on the toll booth. Coins chinged down into the rejected coins bowl. I pulled them out, threw them back in. The barrier lifted, as more coins spat out into the change bowl. "Come on come on come on," Katie said anxiously as I grabbed the change and passed it across. We accelerated sedately away from the toll booths as cars  and lorries hurtled at us from both sides. Scary places, motorway tolls with everyone pretending it's a Le Mans start at the other side. "Whoo, one pound forty. That's good."

"It's an omen."

We passed the waypoints of our westbound journey- the stalinist fortress of the Celtic Manor, the eagerly-looked-out-for Castell Coch- and arrived at St Fagans, the open air museum on the western fringe of Cardiff.

I'd not seen the celtic huts before. We entered the smoky one and crouched near the fire. The woman looking after it was very knowledgeable and enthusiastic. "My flatmates complain I come in stinking of smoke," she said. "It's not so bad if you get down close to the floor; the smoke rises."

They'd had a solstice feast, a few days back. She described the preparations; a chicken, rarely eaten as valued more for the eggs, but killed for the ceremony; spelt flour for the bread, ground twice in the quern because it's so hard. "The stone gets ground into the flour, so their teeth wore away quite quickly."

We wander around buildings that have been familiar to me for over forty years, and see the dark interiors, smell the woodsmoke and polish, miss the tang of the animals in the Rhayader longhouse.
"I like the idea of sharing the house with the cattle; it must have smelt really nice", I say. "If you like the smell of cattle..."

"They'd be kept in over the winter," said the guide. "They'd keep the hay up there in the loft, and milk them. They'd give milk through the winter, then."

We warmed ourselves at the fire. "People say it must be nice just sitting in here all day," he added. "I say, you try sitting here next to an open window..." 

I remembered the first winter I came here with my parents, in the 1960s. It was snowy, and we sat in a settle in a big fireplace and warmed ourselves and talked with the guide. It was a glorious memory, and one I hold on to. Now my past is mixed up with the history.

We went into a recent addition, a small schoolhouse. "It looks very much like my school at Llanfrechfa," I told Katie. She looked pained; I'd already commented on the familiarity of the Workmen's Institute and the ironworkers' cottages. I admired the school room's big coke stove, and recalled the milk bottles ranged round it to thaw out, to the woman sat at the teacher's desk. "Lots of people remember that," she said kindly, pausing from her knitting.

Friday 16 December 2011

chip wrapper

A quick mention for the online publication The Journalist, whose current issue has a feature called 'Mature Approach Needed To Transgender Issues'. You'll find it on pages 12 and 13. Inexplicably, the writer, Phil Chamberlain, claims that the PCC ruled in my favour when I complained about an article in the Daily Mail. I've written to the magazine, and added the PCC ruling in my case to my earlier blog post about it, as well as the Daily Mail's weasel letter.

Friday 9 December 2011

Shout Out

Liz Sylvian and I were on Shout Out, the LGBT show on BCFM, Bristol's community radio station. We talked about care provision for transgender children, My Transsexual Summer and the newly-forming TransBristol group. You can find a podcast here, the show headed Trans In The Media.

Wednesday 7 December 2011

making a stand

bike stand, originally uploaded by Dru Marland.
After yesterday's blatant plugging of my Etsy shop, I feel relieved that at least I'm not as cynical as the folk who organise this 'flea market', who have locked a derelict bike to one of the bike stands on Bristol's Gloucester Road in order to provide a free billboard for their sale of tat. (note: I may well have tweaked the words a bit. Can't help them out, can we?)

Tuesday 6 December 2011


busy, originally uploaded by Dru Marland.
just at the moment, the gurt A0 drawing board that looms over my room like a big looming thing is overwhelmed with stationery, as I package up yet more cards. It seemed daft to keep getting them printed them in dribs and drabs, so I took a deep breath and ordered 500.... so, thanks to the economy of scale, I am selling them in my Etsy shop at £15 for 20 cards.

They are also available at £5 for 5. Or, heck, as few as you want!

Just sayin'.

Friday 2 December 2011

de tropes

The final episode of My Transsexual Summer was broadcast this week. How did I feel about it? It was certainly flawed. The annoying voiceovers continued, along with the focus on surgery; we are told that Karen, who was shown undergoing surgery in the first episode, is "now... the woman she always knew she was"; Lewis is seen counting the money from a benefit gig, because "the NHS refused to pay for (his) surgery, so now he's got to raise £5000 to go private". This conveniently erases the advice given Lewis that the decision by his local PCT could (indeed should) have been challenged and overturned. Advice that was given in front of the camera but edited out. Because it makes better television to have a heartwarming scene of plucky young things putting on a gig to raise funds. All very Cliff Richard, indeed.

 And then there's the gender normative aspirations. A closing scene has the seven subjects posing for the camera with something to symbolise their hopes for the future. Karen, who has been working as a lorry driver and evidently finding it a challenging environment, poses as a secretary, holding a mildly submissive pose with a notebook and pencil. Donna holds an inflatable male doll, to symbolise her hopes for a relationship. Drew wears a beautician's tunic. I wince. As I do when Fox has a night out with the lads, in Brighton, and is seen shouting "Orright darlin'?" at women on the street.

Still, should we expect them to be other than this, 'better' than this? Three observations:

  1. I watched this on 4OD (the 'on demand' internet stream), and had to sit through some adverts at intervals through the show. I saw Jean Claude Van Damme standing on a mountain, talking about beer and, apparently, his penis. Then the Boots Christmas ad, where the intrepid womenfolk dash around, Charlie's Angels stylee, to create Christmas for their sleeping families. I mean. Are we a vanilla nation, or what?
  2. We can't all be gender warriors, and not all of us want to be, I guess. Certainly, in the early stages of transition, any instance of you fitting in and being seen to fit in with your target gender role can be hugely affirming. Even if it isn't a positive experience in the wider sense. Thus the trans women in the programme are happy to be trivialised and condescended to in the pub by the blokes playing pool. Because they're being treated like women. Some cisgender women like that sort of thing too, I understand.
  3. Should we expect a better understanding of gender politics from those who cross from one side to the other, or indeed live outside the binary, than those who stay put? My instinct is to say yes. I have heard some trans women angrily say "I don't understand men, because I have always been female". This seems mildly disingenuous. It is possible to be female and live as a man. Just as it is possible to be male and live as a woman. It's the difference between core indentity and performance. And performance may only be performance, but it still takes you to places where you might expect to have an insight into how your fellow performers, er, perform.
Looking on the bright side, some insights manage to sneak past the vanilla curtain. Max queries the "assumption that when you can pass enough, you're no longer trans". And Sarah's insight, so early on in her own journey, that "the key to successful transition comes from within, is to be happy".

 Reading tweets about the programmes on #transsummer, the response to them from outside the trans community seems overwhelmingly positive. So hurrah. For many people, trans folk are something almost mythical, not knowingly encountered in everyday life, and so liable to be casually 'othered' by unthinkingly going along with the lazy stereotypes that abound, such as the Little Britain 'trannies'. In this series, we have seen the seven participants being human; and encountering bewilderment, hostility and casual discrimination; like the woman who decides not to let her vacant room to Sarah because she doesn't want bricks thrown at the house; or the potential employers who turn Drew down because they are afraid of what their customers may think. I think that this sort of treatment, encountered on a daily basis by so many trans people, may have come as a surprise to some viewers.

And then there's the sense of empowerment that comes from a sense of community, of belonging somewhere. Drew was quite moving when she described her fearful and lonely life, when she thought "all I'd ever have is being stared at badly", and comes to the realisation that "these are my streets as well as anyone else's".

For my part, having watched this, I was inspired to get involved with the newly-forming support group TransBristol. Just sayin'. If you identify as trans*, and are in the Bristol area, do join in!