Sunday 26 February 2012

the times are a-changing

What would Sunday morning be like without a thumb through the saucy stuff in the Sunday papers? And what better than to gawp and guffaw at the tranny, looking all ill-at-ease in the grainy photograph taken outside a law court, under the headline "No nobby bobby keeps jobby", or "Sex swap ferry flirt rattles men in engine room". What larks! Thank goodness we're normal. We'd give 'em what-for if they tried that sort of thing round here.

And so it's off to the pub while the wife makes dinner, and somewhere out in make-believe land there's another ruined life that the papers intruded into, exploited, and went on their way.

Funny things have been going on lately, though. The characters in the Standard Tranny Narrative have been talking back to the newspaper writers (we can hardly call them journalists) whose exclusive domain it has formerly been. Goodness, they have even started writing their own scripts.

Helen Belcher recently  presented the Trans Media Watch submission to the Leveson Inquiry into press ethics. She detailed the sort of media coverage that trans people routinely experience; intrusiveness, inappropriate language, 'othering', inaccuracy, bias.... my own experience was included in the evidence. There have been worse things done by the press, but there; it is an ill-favoured thing, and mine own.

To hear Dominic Mohan, editor of the Sun, at the Leveson Inquiry, you might think the bad times were behind us. He accepted that the Sun's coverage of trans stories had at times 'crossed the line'. but reckoned that things had changed; "We've raised our game in terms of transgender reporting", he said.

To prove this, a week later, the Sun initiated a witch-hunt for a 'pregnant man', with a hotline for its readers to call if they knew of his whereabouts. This, at the same time as the same Sun complained, with a complete lack of any apparent sense of irony, that it was itself being subjected to a witch-hunt.

As you might expect, the Daily Mail was only too happy to goad itself into a frenzy of inconsequence over the same story. Perhaps my favourite coverage was by Bel Mooney, whose liberal credentials extend, I understand, to liking William Morris wallpaper and wearing Laura Ashley while sitting on Solsbury Hill. "I'm a liberal", she said - "but a man giving birth is freakish  and beyond the pale." No, Bel; a self-identified liberal policing other people's bodies is what is beyond the pale. Sorry if it's confusing.

The week got even more interesting when Paddy Power, an Irish betting shop outfit, produced an ad intended for TV, in which Cheltenham racegoers are invited to play hunt-the-transgender-woman, or 'tell the stallions from the mares' as they described it. What fun, as any trans person who has ever been shouted at in the streets would agree. Though this ad managed to be offensive to all women, surely.

After a storm of objections and complaints to the ASA, the ad was deemed unfit for broadcast after all. Paddy Power were ungracious about this change of mind, pointing out that the ad had been discussed with a 'leading transgender group'. This group turned out to be the Beaumont Society, one of whose members had, the week before, confirmed to the Sun the existence of the 'pregnant man', thus sparking their witch-hunt. The Beaumont Society caters chiefly to transvestites, and seems a bit out of its depth when it comes to recent media coverage. Presumably they were surprised by the storm of opprobrium that broke over them in consequence of what might kindly be decribed as naive and ill-advised responses on their part to approaches from organisations that were only too happy to exploit them. I understand that they, and the other parties involved, have now got the message that BS are emphatically not the 'go-to' organisation when it come to trans issues in the media.

Because times are a-changing. Social media have proved a terrifically good way of creating ad hoc groupings to respond to problems. Back in 2009, an ITV 'comedy' programme, Moving Wallpaper, proved the starting point for the group of individuals that coalesced into Trans Media Watch. And, in the nature of social media, anyone can have input. It's very much a case of being able to start your own revolution and cut out the middle man. 

And there are more and more articulate voices joining in. Because, while it would be nice to put all trans stuff behind us and just get on with living, it seems that there are always people determined to interfere with our lives. Which can be rather annoying, when that determination is based on nothing more than the desire to 'other' us. A desire that can unite the looser cannons of radical feminism with the self-appointed defenders of family values. Thus the Daily Mail's manufactured outrage over Zach Avery, the child who recently decided to live as a girl, and is in consequence described as a 'victim of the politically correct gender identity industry'. The same industrial process that exists in Julie Bindel's mind, too, if not in real life. 

Certainly, there's a lot of trans stuff in the papers at the mo. Especially in the Daily Mail. Maybe Daul Dacre is annoyed that the TMW submission was critical of his paper, even if the PCC, which he chairs, has exonerated it. (Historically, by the way, the Mail covers far more trans stories than any other paper.)

But more trans people are coming out into the open too. Maybe the message is getting across, that you can be trans and happy and successful and fulfilled. More so than if you suppressed it, even. It would be nice if the papers which so much want to be arbiters of their readers' thoughts, could rejoice in parents who are happy to allow their children to explore their own identities, rather than police their gender. Happy children, or messed up children? Your choice.

Friday 24 February 2012


"My friend saw a pair of dead jays on the Downs when she was out running. Can you go and rescue the blue feathers? -they were lying next to a pile of garden rubbish in bin bags, next to St Monica's Trust".

It was an unusual request, but I wondered why there should be two dead jays together on the Downs. One would be unremarkable; two could mean nefarious. 

And blue jay's feathers are beautiful. Some years ago, Katie and I were admiring fishing flies in a shop window in Hay on Wye, and shortly afterwards we found two of the feathers, in the hedge, at White Castle. So we made a fishing fly with them, using bits of wire for the hooks, and hung it in the window, and very nice it looked too. And an object that posed no threat whatsoever to the fish population.

I cycled around the Downs, and finally found them. 

They weren't jays, as you see.

Wednesday 22 February 2012

exit pursued by crows

exit pursued by crows, originally uploaded by Dru Marland.

Oh no! Got an e-mail from Richard Jones at Tangent Books, asking if I had a picture for Geraldine's nature column in the next Bristol Review of Books. And realised that I'd completely forgotten about it. 

So this was yesterday's picture. 

I quite like the sky, layered up with gouache because it was a bit thin with Cotman indigo. Maybe I'll deepen the shadows on the woman, I'm still experimenting with light; it probably shows....

Monday 20 February 2012

serf will get it clean

 So many reasons to boycott Tesco, so little time. The idea that unemployed people should be used as free labour is an obvious step in the direction of a feudal society, but it's still a bit odd looking at the banal reality of a Jobcentre ad for shelf-stackers offering 'JSA (that's Job Seeker's Allowance, if you didn't know) plus expenses (bus fare, presumably)'.

Tesco claim the ad was an IT error. If so, there's a lot of it around. I see that Superdrug in Bristol are offering the same terms.

I lean out of the window and listen to the birds. The dawn chorus is starting to get it together; robins, wrens, a dunnock, a blackbird chinking. A crow in the distance. Last year, to the day, I recorded blackbirds singing. I long to hear them again; they mark a serious waypoint in our journey into spring.

Sunday 19 February 2012

soggy snails

It's one darn thing after another, sometimes, with the Moggy. I'd been waiting for the weather to get better before putting the nice new tyres on the front. And a sunny day duly came along, last week. So I did the portside wheel, cleaning up the brake pads while I was at it ( a quick rub down with sandpaper, to deglaze them). Then I found that one of the starboard brake cylinders was sticking, which explained the squeaky noise and general sense of slowness that I'd been meeting lately.

So I squirted some penetrating oil around the piston, and hit it a bit with the rawhide mallet, andput it back together again so that I could drive over to the Morris centre for some new cylinders and brake pads.

Yesterday morning looked a bit fresh and windy, but I really wanted to get the job done. So I started.
And it started to rain.

I put the new brake pads on, and then couldn't get the drum back on over them. Because I'd repaired the snail cam adjuster, exactly(ish) one year ago,

...and the added thickness was OK for a part-worn brake pad, but didn't give enough adjustment for a new one.

So I took the new brake pads off, and cleaned up the old ones as best I could, and put them back.

And put everything back together, and bled the brakes.

And it was pouring down.

Reminded me of my last trip in the North Sea, working on the gun deck on a stormy night in March, with the ship rolling and water sluicing down on me from the helideck above every time it rolled. And I wondered what strange fate had led me to this.

So I lugged all the oily, dirty, soaking tools up to the kitchen, and wiped them dry and sprayed them with WD40, and balanced the tool boxes on top of the oven to dry them out, and threw all the clothes into the washing machine, and stood in the shower until I started to feel warm again.

And looked for a new snail cam on Ebay.

And when it arrives, I can put it on and then put on the new brake pads.

Keeping a close eye on the weather.

Wednesday 15 February 2012

Secret Blackbird

Some more pics for Secret Blackbird, my new collaboration with Geraldine Taylor. I was quite pleased with the pics I have already done, such as the titular blackbird

-but they were lacking a bit in narrative content, as it were. So, here's a few cartoony ones.

Tuesday 14 February 2012

becoming invisible

Every now and then, a blog post becomes practically invisible to Google searches. By which I mean that, unless you enter very specific search terms, it simply does not show up. It happened back in 2010 when I wrote about the opening of a new restaurant in Bristol; and it happened again when I wrote about the recent closure of that same restaurant, and the unpleasantness that was associated with it, by former employees and their 'supporters' attacking the local feminist group online, .

As you see, with search terms  and the URL of the specific blogpost, it appears, like this

....otherwise, nowhere to be seen.

So I wrote a second post linking to the first, and it appeared in search results, thus (note that the original post is still invisible, though)

...and that was fine too. Until this morning. Now that's disappeared from search results as well.

Monday 13 February 2012


 It was the sort of evening for standing on the bank of the Severn watching the sunset and seeing the starlings flock. So we went to New Passage again. The starlings have decided to relocate, though, so we saw a great cloud of them far away towards Aust, wheeling and curling in the air like a spotty lava lamp. A little detachment circled above us a few times before diving into the Leylandii. Starlings of more mature years, tired of all the gallivanting, maybe.

Later on, I was taking House Teenager to the shops. We stopped to get petrol. The chap at the counter was looking quizzically at the car. "That is a large dog in the front of your car?"
I looked across. "Oh.... no, that's a panda."

Hooters closure in Bristol

After it was announced that the Hooters 'breastaurant' in Bristol had closed, there was a storm of hostile comments on the BFN Facebook site, some discussing assault upon a BFN member. Screengrabs here (the post in question is invisible to Google search at the time of writing)

Sunday 12 February 2012

META - a new magazine covering trans* stuff

META is a magazine written by trans* people. All sorts of good stuff; writing by Paris Lees, Natasha Kennedy, Roz Kaveney, and loads more; and I contribute my thoughts on use of the word 'tranny'. 

It's only available online or as an app (is that the same thing?) 

The PC-friendly version can be found here 

or for 69p, you can get the app here

Friday 10 February 2012


The Bristol  'breastaurant', Hooters, closed this week. It was part of an American chain, whose USP is its scantily-clad waitresses. Prior to its opening in 2010, objections had been raised to the licence application. During the Council meeting which discussed it, an objector invited the councillors to imagine a similar restaurant in which men were employed on the basis of their physical characteristics; the Lord Mayor reprimanded him, saying "I think you are stepping over the bounds of decency." Interesting notion, and one which I developed a little  here.

It was not the campaign which ultimately closed the place, so much as market forces; though perhaps there is a cultural swing away from the notion that such a restaurant would be a place that you'd want to go, let alone take your children; a cultural swing which feminist activism might be helping to influence; it would be nice to think so. This did not stop a claque of pro-Hooters people descending upon the Bristol Feminist Network's Facebook page, saying unpleasant things- you know, the usual "you're humourless feminists, and you're only jealous because you couldn't get a job there and you're all lezzers anyway...".

In a couple of cases, the hostility spilled over into actual threats, focused on Sian Norris, a BFN spokeswoman.The threats have been recorded, and action is being taken. Sian wrote about this in the Guardian yesterday.

My small contribution was helping monitor the hostile comments; the second capture contains this exchange:

RM: I hope someone kicks her in the vagina
BDA: Shall we?

..and the third capture discusses this exchange

BDA: Sorry, what 'assault' am I discussing?
DM: (quotes previous exchange)
DM: That one
BDA: Ahh, okay, well I hope you take that as it was meant, in jest. A private joke between friends. However, to avoid any further offence, I will remove it.

There was then some backtracking, and claims by his friends that he was referring to going to eat chicken wings, and demands that I apologise for putting the wrong meaning on things. It was not nice.

I do know that some people don't quite realise that the objects of their online hatred are real people too, and that hate speech is damaging. In my small way, I've been on the receiving end of that sort of thing in the past, and I know how it feels; I also recall the furious backtracking that took place when I challenged people who suddenly realised that they were not joking about some mythical creature, but someone as real as them.

I also know that there are perfectly decent men who just don't realise the amount of misogyny and hate speech that goes on on the internet. I know this because of comment made to me by a friend; it came as rather a surprise to me to hear what he'd said. I can strongly recommend a quick read through Helen Lewis Hastely's article in the New Statesman, if you need a primer.  Because if you're not part of the solution, you may well be part of the problem. And sometimes, if you do not actively challenge something that is wrong, then you definitely become part of the problem.

Just don't say anything online that you wouldn't say to someone's face, with your parents and/or children present, and your boss and a police officer in attendance. Then hopefully you won't hurt anyone, and you won't end up damaging your own reputation. This really shouldn't need saying. Be nice!

Wednesday 1 February 2012


Dart map, originally uploaded by Dru Marland.

Here's a map of Dartmoor in the 14th century, at the time of the Black Death. It's for Deborah Harvey's novel Dart, due to be published this year. It was fun to draw, once I'd worked out how to go about it- something vaguely in the style of a mediaeval map, and those brightly coloured postcard maps that you used to get in the 60s.

A useful tool for getting the perspective right was Google Earth, and a fun by-product of using Google Earth is goofing around on the flight simulator that's available in the tools options. Flying under the Saltash Bridge in an F16 is great fun, and one unattended by the risk of a knock at the door from the CAA. Very unmediaeval!