Saturday 29 December 2012

an occasional table - the movie

The mystery that is the occasional table. The film poses questions but refuses to answer them.

Thursday 27 December 2012

Spark interview

A while ago, I was interviewed by Fiona McClymont from The Spark, Bristol's 'alternative' magazine and one that we in Bristol are very fortunate to get free, four times a year. Fiona was most concerned that we should get it right, and I am very happy with the finished article. Thanks, Fiona! The interview appears as one of their 'Changemakers' pieces. You can read it here, hopefully. I'm on P 47

...I do feel ambivalent about doing this sort of thing,  because there is an inherent contradiction in appearing in a magazine precisely because I have a trans history, and the central message of the piece which is that 'there's more to me, and more to life, than being trans, so let's get on with it'. Still, as long as trans people are exoticised and treated as caricatures, then it remains a message that needs telling, and the only way of telling it is to be 'out'.

I have had quite a bit of positive response to the article. I also just found this message to me, which, as it represents a point of view very much at variance with my own, I add here.

 Hi Dru

Yesterday I had the unfortunate and unwanted task of dealing with your irresponsible article. In fact I've only just finished crying. By your and others necessity to continue to label themselves as "trans" has made my life more difficult and its only when I explain to people that I don't associate with the Trans term and that I'm a women do I get treated as a women. So thank you for that.

a place for everyone who identifies as transgendered, in whatever way

I'm in the last few months of supported Wpath NHS transition which is a wholly medical process known to those that dish it out as Transsexualism. I am a women, always was and will be. The idea that people with gender dysphoria and gender identity issues are labelled Transgender is all well and good, but I don't suffer from gender dysphoria or gender identity issues so this umbrella term no longer applies. Your use of trans as a pronoun or adjective is most unfortunate as all you are saying is that you are an "illustrator that used to have a penis". This off course is totally open for all to make unwanted associations; as you allude to. Which is why I'm upset and baffled as to why you want to continue to label yourself as such. My understanding is that you are a women, but how you want to call yourself is up to you off course, but if any body calls or labels me "a trans person" then I'm disgusted and angry as any woman would be. How dare you suggest that I'm ugly or look like a man. Unfortunately a whole swath of people that have entered the GICs in this country are now throwing the Trans word around as though they own it or define it. Those people are pushing and hurting those like myself that remain quietly going about our business. For me and many others there is no third gender. All we ever wanted was to appear as how we felt. Now even that is being spoilt by articles such as yours.

Basically you're trying to make people associate me with being a tranny, a cross-dresser, a transvestite, a drag queen or gender queer; which usually comes with a gay man somewhere in there. This is the most saddest and most destructive and dangerous part of my life. I have to avoid the associations that articles, such as yours, and practices, such as those I've -already mentioned, that can put me directly into a frightening, unwanted and dangerous situations. I am a normal women that doesn't have any interest in cross-dressing, transvestites or any such stuff. You've just put that straight into peoples head. Thanks again.

Any hows, I've had to cut out and delete most of what I originally wrote as it probably was too upsetting or strong. But really thanks for putting yet another downer on the whole affair.

Wednesday 26 December 2012

vol de nuit

 Sometimes on a winter night here, you can see the wild geese flying high overhead, lit by the city lights. The first time I saw them, I was in the back garden drinking coffee before setting off on my motorbike to join a ship; I felt like a fellow traveller. Last winter I saw them when I was up on Observatory Hill admiring the snowy landscape.

Vol de Nuit is a book by Antoine de Saint-Exupery; checking up, it turns out it's not one I've read, and it ends badly. I used it as the title here because of that feeling you get when travelling at night, which reminds me of the mood of his books. And of course it sounds dead arty. Pretentious? Moi? Oui, cher lecteur.'s the soundtrack for a night journey- Jonathan Richman and the Modern Lovers: Roadrunner.

Monday 24 December 2012

The Oxen

 The Oxen
Christmas Eve, and twelve of the clock.
   "Now they are all on their knees,"
An elder said as we sat in a flock
   By the embers in hearthside ease.

We pictured the meek mild creatures where
   They dwelt in their strawy pen,
Nor did it occur to one of us there
   To doubt they were kneeling then.

So fair a fancy few would weave
   In these years! Yet, I feel,
If someone said on Christmas Eve,
   "Come; see the oxen kneel,

"In the lonely barton by yonder coomb
   Our childhood used to know,"
I should go with him in the gloom,
   Hoping it might be so.

Thomas Hardy

I love this poem; it fits my own feelings at Christmas quite well. I remember the sense of magic about the Christmas story, and feel its absence now I am both older and a lapsed Anglican (ex-Anglican? post-Anglican?); magic, for me, is now far more elusive, though still there sometimes in the corner of my eye.

So I wanted to do a picture to go with it. It was a bit of a rush to get it finished in time for Christmas Eve! We had a good day; House Teenager was busily either painting at her desk or learning Fairytale Of New York on the ukulele, and I was doing this.  The gold paint for the detailing on the dressing gown was a bit of an experiment, and I quite like it- you can't see the glow of the paint on this image, but it's there! House Teenager posed for the picture, as did Ted, Deborah's lively galoot of a collie.

Saturday 15 December 2012

excessively feminine

exaggeratedly female

An interesting article on Huffington Post focuses on the implications of a line from a telly show, Husbands:  "I'm a man with an exotic femininity in a society that regards the feminine as a sign of weakness."

I found it particularly interesting because of my own, trans experience of that attitude. From an early e-mail from an old friend telling me that I wouldn't solve my problems by flouncing about like a pantomime dame (she hadn't seen me, she just naturally assumed that this is what trans women do, I guess) to a criticism of my behaviour by the Chief Engineer of the Pride of Bilbao, cited at an Employment Tribunal; "she acted in an exaggeratedly female manner", he said, though he didn't explain how I managed that.

He wasn't there in person; his 'statement' was read out by Sandra Ray, a personnel officer with P&O. "Has anyone ever accused you of acting in an exaggeratedly female manner?" I asked.

She seemed a little surprised by the question.

The surprise was, of course, due to the perception of my femininity as being purely performative; as they evidently saw me as a man, any feminine behaviour on my part was exaggerated (though I'm still not sure that I did anything that I would have described as characteristically gendered either way). But in a wider sense, femininity is seen as performative, whoever is performing it. Indeed, some people see all gender behaviour as a performance (in the sense of it being artificial), rather than simply performative (in the sense of being what we do); and some see femininity as a divergence from best practice, which is, by default, masculinity.

There's an element of this attitude in the uber-trans woman who insists that she never wears skirts, but lives in jeans, when others lower down the pecking order are enthusing about their new-found freedom to explore female clothes options. It's one-up-person-ship, of course, but still buys into the narrative.

Julia Serano is a useful read on this stuff, by the way, if you haven't encountered her "Whipping Girl:  A Transsexual Woman on Sexism and the Scapegoating of Femininity".

(a quick and imperfect post, shall review it later...)

Friday 14 December 2012

cold feet

Of all the corvid family
It's rooks wot wears the trousis
Though only then down to the knee
-the rest the cold wind blowsis
The last few days have been seriously cold in Bristol; the hoarfrost remained unthawed for ages, and the local crows have responded to the freezing conditions by shouting obscenities in the trees at the back of the house; "FAAAACK....FAAAACK". Crow calls on cold days seem particularly appropriate. It got me thinking of how cold birds' feet must get. Hence the rhyme, which doubles as a useful aid to identification. 

House Teenager's feet must get pretty cold too, being generally bare. "Why don't you put some socks on," I asked. "I don't have any socks," she said. I suspected that this meant that the socks were under the great heap of clothes that covers the floor of her room. But I dug out a pair of hiking socks for her, anyway, from my marginally less chaotic pile.

Change is blowing in now, though; a breeze sprung up in the night, and it's gone all foggy and, well, at least it's above freezing. You notice the weather when you don't have central heating!

Saturday 8 December 2012

the trews is out there


One of the first acts of Bristol's newly-elected Mayor, George Ferguson, was to change the name of the Counts Louse to Bristol City Hall.

This sign appeared outside the building the other day, and was immediately adjusted to include George's 'trademark' red trousers.

Friday 30 November 2012

a song for Leveson

Leveson, oh Leveson,
I still hear your testifying,
And recall the papers lying.
We're all watching, Cameron
-better act on Leveson.
...I do have a dog in this particular fight, of course...

Thursday 29 November 2012

back on the road again

 Driving an old Morris isn't all Housewives Choice on the radio and bowling along Devon lanes in search of cream teas and ginger beer, you know.

Sometimes, maybe.

Grubbing around underneath the car on a winter's day is a whole lot less fun, but sometimes inescapable. The rattle that had been coming from the front wheel was getting worse. I'd thought it was a worn rubber bush in one of the trunnions (trunnions are the things that connect the upsy-downsy bit to the lefty-right bit on the front wheels. Sorry, but sometimes you have to use words like 'trunnion' and 'kingpin', because otherwise there aren't any convenient words available).

It wasn't that, though, it was the damper. The damper has an arm that connects to the top of the wheel assembly, and smoothes out the up-and-down motion as the wheel rides over bumps or leans into and out of corners. It's got a little hydraulic piston inside it, that damps the motion. Hence the name.

Anyway, the damper had come loose from the bulkhead, and the retaining bolts and the place they screwed into had been damaged beyond repair.

So there was much quiet intaking of breath at the thought of the narrowly-averted disaster of a wheel collapsing at speed. And 'O no! How am I going to fix this?'. There was quite a bit of that, too.

When I  finally got going, and had all the stuff I needed (after cycling miles and miles all around Bristol, to the Charles Ware Morris Centre on the southern fringe of the city (UNF bolts and recon damper), Bristol Tools (ace shop on the Gloucester Road) and Stone's Fastenings in Old Market (ace nuts and bolts shop in Old Market)) ....finally, as I say, getting the bit between the teeth, it was quick and straighforward.

I drilled two big holes in the cross-member, to get access to where the retaining bolts go through. Then drilled out the worn threads of the bolt holes. Then inserted extra-long bolts, and secured them with nuts and spring washers. Job done.

You can only see one of the holes in this picture, because the torch is sitting on top of the other hole, illuminating the bolt end there. See?

Here, by the way, is what the damper arm looks like if you take away the wheel assembly. The trunnion sits on that pin there, with a couple of rubber bushes sleeved on.

Tuesday 27 November 2012

monkey see monkey do

Oh dear, the rot's set in in the leafy suburbs of North Bristol.

The front of the Moggy has been getting very rattly lately, and yesterday I finally gave it a Serious Looking At. The starboard Armstrong damper has come loose, and the bolts holding it to the cross-member have stripped their threads. So I rolled the car up onto the pavement, so that the wheels are just on the kerb. This allows me to crawl under the engine and gain access to the inside of the cross-member. Today I shall go and get some replacement bolts and hopefully all will be well again.

This morning I looked out of the window and saw that someone, presumably inspired or emboldened by my example, has parked right up on the pavement.

This represents a further instance of the increasing encroachment onto pavements of cars, whose owners are presumably more concerned about the safety of their wing mirrors than that of pedestrians, who are, after all, inconsequential.

Hence the occasional sight of a parent pushing a pushchair down the middle of the road because there isn't enough room on the pavement to get past the cars; or of a blind person trying to negotiate a BMW 4x4 parked across the dropped kerb at a junction, which I saw recently.

No, honestly, little silver car person; this road's big enough for you to park on it!

Some other fine examples of Bristol parking can be found in this Flickr set

Saturday 24 November 2012

Bristol Local History Book Fair

Today is the Local History Book Fair at Bristol Record Office, down by Cumberland Basin in B Bond Warehouse.

There are some interesting talks:

William Fairney (Diesel Publishing) on West Country engineers
Helen Hart (Silverwood Press) on self-publishing
Mark Steeds (Long John Silver Trust) on pirates and privateers
Michael Manson (Tangent Press) on the Bristol Bridge massacre.

...and other stuff. I'll be down there too, with some of my books and pictures.

Thursday 22 November 2012

Saint Werburgh and the goose - cards

I thought that the story of Saint Werburgh and the geese would make a good subject for a seasonal card, not least because the central goose in the story is resurrected after having been eaten. A good story for a  gluttonous festival.

And now the cards are back from the printers (those nice folk at Minuteman Bristol), and available from my Etsy shop:

Pack of 5 cards for £5

Pack of 20 cards for £15

...though if you want more than that or fewer than that, just say the word and we'll sort something out!

Saturday 17 November 2012

brewing up in the woods

What's Westonbirt like at the mo?

Sometimes it doesn't take much for an instant adventure.

If it's anything like Leigh Woods, pretty colourful. I'd rather go to Great Doward though. Wild, and... free!

Two hours later we were there.

You can take a flask of tea on your travels, but it's just not the same as a Trangia steaming away, is it?

That's the Biblins down there, where I first came on a school camping and canoeing trip. The site's run by the Forestry Commission, for youth groups. Beautiful place. Especially first thing in the morning, when the sounds echo through the mist and the stags are barking in the forest.

No stags today; I guess they've finished rutting now. Just the nuthatches and the crows. And the stillness in between.

We got lost in the woods, wobbled across the swing bridge and back again, then scrambled up to the Seven Sisters, the limestone crags that overhang the gorge, and had our tea and pasties.

Heading back for Bristol, we stopped just north of St Arvans, as the low sun was lighting the trees spectacularly. Actually, it was on a drive down the Wye Valley that I composed a haiku for the first time in ages, a few years ago, and liked it so much that I started making a habit of composing haiku.

Damn- a speed camera?
-phew, no- the low autumn sun
flashing through the trees

what country, friend, is this?

This is the view across Lancaut, a peninsula within a loop of the Wye, with the cliffs of Wintour's Leap beyond. I learned from Deborah that the font from the ruined church there has found its way to Gloucester Cathedral, which is a step up in the world, but give me the wild any day.

Thursday 8 November 2012

rebel ell


 Bristol City Council have recognised the dangers posed by homemade wine, as you can see from this local road sign.

This is where Tania lives...

...and, just down the road in Portishead we find the Flight of the Phonics.

Today's blog post is brought to you by the letter C for schadenfreude...

Monday 5 November 2012

pictures in Bedminster

Peter Wise of Minuteman Press

After the recent exhibition of my pictures at the Oxfam Bookshop in Cotham, Peter and Lucie Wise of Bristol's Minuteman Press thought that it might be good to do something similar in Bedminster.

So we have.

They've done a terrific job of hanging the pics, and doing great big A1 reproductions of some of my pictures in the window. Which kind of figures, since that's their business, and very good at it they are too!

50% of any sales of my pictures at Minuteman will go to Oxfam.

The prints (limited edition giclee) cost £25 unframed, or £40 framed. Except the little one of the three hares, which will cost you £20 unframed, or £30 framed.

Thank you, Peter and Lucie. And Ryan, for the coffee!

Thursday 1 November 2012

getting knocked off my bike: closure

Just over three years ago, I was knocked off my bike. The driver pulled out on me as I was turning into a side road. I sustained broken ribs, a banged head, and sundry cuts and bruises. The police took no interest in the case; indeed, the chap at the Collisions Support Unit told me that they had considered charging me....

Three years later, after assistance from a local bike-friendly law firm, I've finally got closure of a sort; yesterday a cheque arrived for just under £3000.

I'm pretty certain that the photographs I took at the scene, which contradicted the allegations made against me, made all the difference to my claim. If there is a perception that the police side with the motorist in the case of any incident involving a cyclist, then my experience did nothing to weaken that perception.

I always carry my camera anyway (the day it doesn't go out with me will be the day that something incredibly interesting will happen, of course).

But I'm also thinking of getting a helmet cam. Even though I hate helmets.

Tuesday 30 October 2012


Avenas, in the hills of Haut-Beaujolais, is never livelier than on an autumnal Sunday morning. Convoys of trail bikes thump past, riders as gaudily armoured and accoutred as  knights of old. Big 4x4s park up along the road, with corrugated kennels bolted onto the back for the hunting dogs. As I rootled about at the front of the house, the jingling of bells heralded the arrival, not of a herd of goats, but of a sedate beagle, in company with a weekend warrior, a stout gentleman in his sixties, clad in camouflage and webbing, puffing on his pipe and jauntily swinging his 12-bore shotgun.

 Fortunately, as I was not wearing a bell, I'd already taken my own walk up the hill on Friday. Harebells were still in flower, and there were berries all around; and lots of fungus, including this fine parasol mushroom that had evaded the hunter gatherers.

...and lots of Fly Agaric, looking rather beautiful. By the way, did you ever hear of a book called The Sacred Mushroom and the Cross? -Christ as a magic mushroom.... one of those culty books of the 70s.

"Anne's son was in Scotland, and he found lots and lots of mushrooms," said Marta. "He asked the locals if it was OK to pick them, and they said 'Go ahead! We never eat those things!' So he filled two rucksacks with them, hitched to Paris and sold them for lots and lots of money. Went back, every autumn. Paid his way through university with those mushrooms."

They do take their mushrooms far more seriously than we do. In Cluny, a hall was full of tables covered in loads and loads of different species, dutifully labelled and described.

...and the experts were on hand to pick through the offerings brought by visitors.

Sunday 28 October 2012

out of the river, always something new

On my little trip down through France last week, I packed the small binoculars just in case any accidental ornithology presented itself. They didn't get much use, though. Maybe the birds get shot more in France...

Although I saw no raptors up in the hills of Haut-Beaujolais, the autoroutes on the way there and back were attended by buzzards, regularly spaced on the deer-proof fence, like those little posts with numbers on that mark distance.

Oh look, a buzzard
Perched on the autoroute fence.
Oh. Another. And...

(haiku, whatever their literary merit, are a useful  and tweet-friendly way of keeping awake and marking events on a journey...)

I heard mostly nuthatches in the wooded hills, and lots of them, all around the village. Not a particularly cheerful note, but there you go. At dawn the wrens sang nicely, then the church rang the Angelus and the local dogs had a jolly good bark-along, in tenor, baritone and bass. They sounded like the sort of dog you wouldn't want to cross.

Coming back across the Channel, we were in thick fog all the way. I went up on deck an hour before arrival in Portsmouth, by which time we were probably somewhere off Bembridge, IOW. The upper deck was busy with chaffinches, blackbirds and thrushes; one thrush stood on the steps I was ascending, beak gaped wide open, unmoving even as I approached within a foot. Birds do seem more indifferent to people when they're encountered on a ship- my first close-up look at a chiffchaff was on the deck of the Pride of Bilbao, out in the Bay of Biscay. And my first ever view of a firecrest, come to think of it. Oh, and the woodcock on the back deck of the Karen Bravo; when I mentioned it in the mess, the Filipino messboy grabbed a knife and set off to find it....

...and up above all this (there for the warmth, perhaps)

crackling in the fog,
a great squabble of starlings
huddles the funnel
Were they migrating, or lost in the fog?

But best of all was the morning after arriving in Crickhowell. I went down to the river, and sat watching the dawn. And a sweet song started up, one I'd never heard before. As the light strengthened, I made out the bird on a rock in the river. Thanks to the camera, you can see it even more clearly here, though you can't hear it. The brown bird with the white breast. See?

the Usk rumbles past
this torrent of bubbling song-
dipper on a rock

If you want to hear one and don't have access to a river right now, you can do here on the RSPB website.

Saturday 27 October 2012

in the picture

 I'm featured artist in the new Bristol Review of Books photography section! Which makes me very happy. Their website allows you to read a copy online (Summer 2012 issue is there at the moment). The BRB is available free from all good places around Bristol- they don't have it? -then leave immediately! -for it is obviously not a good place. Or you can subscribe, and have it sent to you wherever you are.

Thinking photographs, here's an early morning shot on the Downs in Bristol. I rather liked the picture, but even so was taken aback when it got into Flickr's Explore, and rapidly became the most popular photograph in my photostream (and I've been on Flickr for seven years now). Goodness!

Popularity on Flickr is reckoned as a combination of number of views, comments and favourites. My next most popular is this fortunately-caught wildlife shot at Clevedon

..and then this balloon that flew past in the fog, a few years ago

In fourth place, this bit of agitprop from the 'Tesco riots'

...this chap in Aylesbury...

..and at last, in sixth place, one that is also a personal favourite. Katie on the Trav, down at East Prawle.


Thursday 25 October 2012


Getting out of the van at the Ouistreham seafront, I saw a bank of smoke roll across the road a few hundred yards away.
"Something's on fire!" I said.
A few moments later, we were engulfed in fog.
Marta beshawled herself with coats and scarves, and settled in to read Figaro Madame. I set off across a  boundless expanse of hard sand, following the scrunch of waves and the scream of black-headed gulls. "You'll get lost!" Marta called after me. "And then what will become of me, eh? I'll die of cold here and no-one will find me."

My world was a circle of twenty yards, with me at the centre. After a while, the circle contained a small pool of sea with waves coming into it and wheeling gulls. I picked up a cockle shell and set off back.

Presently we were seated in the Broche d'Argent, messily scooping mussels out of their shells and eating them. Outside, the ghosts of Normandy past loomed. A tall man in beret and pea jacket, a woman in large felt hat and cloak; evidently the skipper of a fishing boat and his wife, promenading. They seated themselves near to us, and shed their outer garments to reveal a homeward-bound British couple, who drank bright-coloured drinks through a straw and played questions-and-answers about their tour of the invasion beaches; she questioning, then, after a pause, she answering. I learned that I had been walking on Sword Beach, but not what the brightly-coloured drinks were.

I went on deck as we set sail. One man far below cast off the lines, another pushed the hydraulics button of the passenger ramp and lifted it away from the embarkation deck where I stood alone. As he and France together receded into the fog, I nodded a good night to him, which he quite properly ignored. It is only right that you should be surly if you are a docker, and even more so if you're a French one.

Sunday 7 October 2012

Pressure Cooker Bread

My canal trip last week revealed a disappointing shortfall in artisan bakers on the towpath of the Grand Union Canal. Nearby shops tended to be of the Spar persuasion; a neighbouring narrowboater at Cosgrove, an old canal hand, came by with an armful of tins of economy stew from the on-site shop of a caravan park; "...and they're open till seven," she said breezily. To be fair, my satnav, packed for just such an emergency, guided us next day to the Waitrose at Milton Keynes ("turn right when possible"), but such occasions are few and far between in the indifferent steppes of Mittelengland, where people little think of Elizabeth David.

So I've got thinking of ways of making decent bread in straitened circumstances. This was my first experiment.

Pressure cooker bread

12 fl oz warm water
1 tbsp sugar
1 tbsp dried yeast
20 oz plain strong flour
1 tsp salt

Put the sugar and yeast in the warm water (warm as in, comforatble to stick your finger in). Stir up and leave to froth.
Mix the salt into the flour. Make a hollow in the flour. Add the yeast mixture, stir and knead so that it's slightly bouncy to the hand. Roll it into a ball.

Put the dough into a cake tin, dust with flour (I use maize flour as it doesn't absorb so much into the dough)
Tie a piece of greaseproof paper over the tin and leave to rise. Or leave to rise and then tie the greaseproof paper over it, and then you can see it more clearly. As you please.

Put the trivet in the pressure cooker, add water to just cover it, and put the tin in.

Cook under pressure for ten minutes. Remove pressure cooker from heat and leave to cool and depressurise naturally. Rather than running cold water over it (or indeed, as I did the first time I used one, force it open. V dramatic, let me tell you).
in the pressure cooker

out of the tin
the first slice
Result: a fairly dense, bagel-like loaf, with an unearthly pallor. Daughter was v happy with it, as she hates crusts, and this loaf simply does not have one. It tastes OK, though I might add interesting things to the dough if I do it again.

PS: two days old, it makes terrific toast!