Tuesday 29 January 2013

three rabbits

Here's the latest picture. Style-wise, it's a nod back to pictures like the fox and the badger, and the cover for Dart, where the border is formed of foliage

Anyway. I've not really painted rabbits much before. Hares, yes, but not rabbits. So there we are. Maybe I should do three rabbits like the three hares...

Now then. The Traveller has been misbehaving lately, with water in the petrol. I think the water may have been in there for a while, but I got some contaminated fuel the other week and now the water level has reached the suction pipe and ...Something Had To Be Done.

So I took the filling hose off the top of the petrol tank, and syphoned out the liquid. I got a full demijohn of water, then another inch or two of water, then a load of flaky rubbery stuff that had been floating on top of the water but below the petrol, and then finally petrol. So that's one less thing to worry about! -When I drove to Crickhowell a fortnight back, the engine kept conking out at low revs, and I set off across the Severn Bridge in a snowstorm thinking "This is daft! Please keep going." Anyway, that particular problem is sorted....

Friday 25 January 2013

crossing bridges

Mal and I were down at the Trinity Centre last night, for their  Bridges project short story competition. We'd both entered a story, using noms de plume

...which in my case was Madalin Durrell, which is not quite an anagram of my name. Excitement mounted as the third and second places were announced, and then the fist prize was given to Susana Rimbly... and it took a moment to remember that it was Mal who'd won. Yay!

The stories will all appear on the Trinity website in the fullness of time, but in the meantime, this is my unplaced one, which is probably a bit more of a travelogue than a short story, and is based on a trip I did with Richard a few years ago.... but so it goes....

Crossing Bridges

I pulled my fingers across the water’s surface; small whorls eddied in their wake, and Richard’s cigarette end bobbed and circled as it passed astern. Deeper down below the calm surface, great gouts of silt rolled up from the secret deep, sparkling a bright, flecked yellow-brown in the spring sunlight.

“It’s like we’re paddling across a great huge lava lamp,” I remarked. “Gloop. Gloop.  More chocolate?”

“Not so much paddling, if you don’t mind,” said Richard, whose own paddle lay idly across the gunwales above his knees. “Maybe if we just sit here the current will carry us to Chepstow. Yes please.”

Chocolate is good for expeditions. I broke off two blocks from the big bar in the plastic box, and passed one forward. The canoe wobbled as Richard half-turned to get it, and a paddle blade slapped the water. I let the chocolate melt in my mouth and watched the distant wooded hills slide along, marching silently westward behind the church tower over there on the Welsh shore at Mathern.

“We are going at a fair old lick, aren’t we? Don’t want to end up headed for Gloucester though. That current gets a bit fierce past the Hen and Chickens. Up the Slime Road, yuk.”

I dabbed with my paddle, and swung the nose back around towards Wales. Richard lit another cigarette, and exhaled luxuriously. The sun was warm on our shoulders, and it was good to be just drifting quietly with the flood tide. To the north and south, the traffic on the two big bridges rumbled relentlessly; the slab-sided lorryloads of cornflakes for Cardiff, the rolled steel from Port Talbot bound for Southampton; and all the little executive BMWs, carrying individual servings of company reps for the business parks of the M4 corridor. If they were to glance aside from their Blackberries and look along the estuary, they’d probably not even see us down here. Busy, busy, busy.

I squinted to filter out the factories and pylons, pictured the shores as they would have appeared to the earlier travellers, those dark, not-yet-welsh tribes in search of pastures new, their flocks hobbled in the bows where the watchman gazed wonderingly at Twyn Barlwm and the rounded billows of the Gwent hills; or that long ridge to the south, meandering towards the distant Cotswolds. The two opposing shores looked so similar; the low water meadows where the brown cattle grazed, the hawthorn hedges white with blossom, the out-of-sight rhyne from which a heron ascended on great lazy wingbeats. But they are two different countries, their differences made possible by the dividing water. War parties have passed this way; the Romans sailed by on their way from Bristol and Gloucester, to fight Caractacus and the Silures. Alfred and his thanes pursued a Danish horde along that north shore, and slaughtered them in what was now the shadow of the Severn Bridge. The water keeps enemies apart, but maybe it also creates the differences that make enemies.

The canoe wobbled a little as I stowed the box of chocolate back in the space behind me. Boats don’t come much smaller than this one.

Richard was gazing down at the eddies in the water. “I wonder how many wrecks we’re sailing over? Thousands of years’ worth, all covered in mud. Wouldn’t take much to swallow us up.” He rocked the canoe side to side a little, to demonstrate.

“I was in Tasmania a few years ago; picking up a boat in the Darwin River. There’s a great huge bridge across it, and upriver there’s an aluminium smelting plant. And one night a freighter went into the bridge; captain was drunk, most likely; knocked a great section out of the bridge; the concrete fell on the ship, the ship sank right away- went down, there and then. And in the dark, the cars were driving across the bridge and just dropping off into the water. Suddenly no road. Falling. Bloody deep river. Bloody fast current. Gone.”

You put a lot of trust in a bridge, when you’re on it. And it only takes one little wrong step to take you right out of that world of straight lines and destinations. And it doesn’t even need to be your step that’s the wrong one.

A shadow passed across the water; a seagull. I shivered and looked again at the bridge.

“Did you ever walk across the bridge, Richard?”

“No; not sure I’d want to. It looks a bit high…”

“I’ve been over, a couple of times; in the middle, you can feel the bridge bounce whenever a lorry goes by. And just those railings between you and the drop. It’s all right when you’re up there. Well, sort of all right. I wake up in the night sometimes with the horrors, going over what I’ve done. It’s not the doing things that’s scary, it’s the thinking about it afterwards. But suspension bridges only work because they’re a bit elastic. Try to be solid and they’d just crack.”

Why were we down here in this little canoe? Maybe the bridge is just a bit too easy for a big arrival. You really know you’ve arrived somewhere when you have to work at it.

And sometimes there just isn’t a bridge. And sometimes we have to set out, cross those uncharted waters, draw the map as we go. But you need to have an idea of where you’re heading, maybe. At least you need to know when it’s time to go. If you were looking down from the bridge on that spring day you’d see two men in a canoe. And now there’s me sitting writing this. I know how that particular voyage ended. And I know about a bigger voyage that one of them is going to take. But they don’t know anything about that, yet; and so you don’t know anything about that either. That’s in their future. Let’s leave them to pick up their paddles again. They can’t float there all day; the tide’ll be changing before too long.

Off they go.

Is there a happy ending? I’ll let you know that they passed safely by the chapel of St Tecla, at the mouth of the Wye. They’re hoping to get to the pub at Chepstow in time for a lunchtime pint. You can allow them to succeed if you like.

Two men in their canoe.

One woman writing this.

Thursday 24 January 2013

snow and communities

I'm trying to settle down and get on with painting pictures, which should be the important thing in my life at the moment, instead of getting embroiled in trans stuff. Which is difficult, as the last fortnight has shown. It's wearisome going through the same old arguments against the same old people saying the same old things from a position of wilful or pretended ignorance. It's like being stuck in a room with a bunch of those troglodytes from Narnia, all chanting "Many come down, but few return to the sunlit lands".

On the bright side, it's been the cause of some jolly good thinking and writing. One component of the us-and-them-ness has been a battle between old media (Batty, Bindel, Burchill, Moore) v social media (a hugely empowering tool for minorities), and there has been misunderstanding or mis-stating of the nature of community, and indeed of where the power lies; in some ways the petulant gruntings of the Old Guard bring to mind  some elderly dinosaurs complaining about those rascally mammals coming over here and taking their jobs. I came up with my useful 'how the internet works' diagram, but Cathy Butler has written a very good article about it, which I strongly recommend. 

 Anyway, I've been away to Crickhowell, which was very nice, as the snow arrived just after I did and made further travel impossible for a couple of days. 

I like the way that people get very cheerful and friendly when it snows. I was also impressed with Powys County Council's snow clearing team; they prioritised the roads, but then they actually had a baby snowplough and a gritter that did the pavements too.

Back in Bristol, I cleared the snow from the path at the front of the house, and  the neighbours walked past and said "Good work! Well done!" and smiled hugely.... but did not do their own path. I mentioned this to a Rather Middle Class type I sometimes encounter (he had employed an enterprising youth to clear his own frontage) and he said "You could offer to do it; make a few pounds!" -which totally missed the point. What the hell is wrong with these people? Twice I've been told that I shouldn't clear the path in case I get sued, it's Health and Safety gone mad. Wrong! No-one is going to get sued for clearing the footpath.

The late Chris Hutt and Jon Rogers did some useful gritting in one of Bristol's hazardous public spaces two years ago; but despite Bristol's new mayor, George Ferguson, making encouraging noises on Twitter, the message just isn't getting out there that we should be more responsible and actively do things to make our community a better place.

Tuesday 15 January 2013

lobstergate explained

It's hard to keep pace with events, as the Observer removes Julie Burchill's post (not a move welcomed by any trans people that I know, as it should be available so that people know what we're up against). Then the Telegraph posts it up instead. And various reactionaries talk about censorship and freedom of speech....  the orcs are gathering in the forest.

So here's the business expressed as a Venn diagram. Just to keep things in proportion.

oh, the lobster reference? -from Julie's piece, describing her meeting Suzanne Moore: 

"I’ve got an entertaining budget of £12.50!" she said proudly. "Sod that, we’re having lobster and champagne at Frederick’s, and I’m paying," I told her. Half a bottle of Bolly later, she looked at me with faraway eyes: "Ooo, I could get to like this…’ And so she did.

Sunday 13 January 2013

for whom the belle trolls

Good old Julie Burchill has weighed in on the Suzanne Moore shitstorm, I see.

If you're out of the loop, this all started when the New Statesman published Suzanne's article Seeing red: the power of female anger. Quite a good piece, but containing the problematic line

we are angry with ourselves for not being happier, not being loved properly and not having the ideal body shape – that of a Brazilian transsexual. 

I winced slightly but saw her point. Others were less forgiving, and pointed out that it was an unfortunate comparison. Rather than engage with this idea, Suzanne got angry on Twitterfinally saying

People can just fuck off really. Cut their dicks off and be more feminist than me. Good for them.

....before quitting Twitter.

Julie Bindel tweeted  Can those of us who hate bullying PLEASE do something about the trans cabal running a witch hunt everytime they get offended? 

-which misses the point of how Twitter works, and how cabals work

Anyway, Julie Burchill's piece in today's Observer is little more than a potty-mouthed litany of 'tranny' jibes, and is presumably intended to provoke a reaction. Though when she says

I must say that my only experience of the trans lobby thus far was hearing about the vile way they have persecuted another of my friends, the veteran women's rights and anti-domestic violence activist Julie Bindel 
...she reminds me of the time that Beatrix Campbell also lectured us on the need to give Julie a respectful hearing. "Transgender activists who seek to ban her from speaking are wrong – we need to hear Julie Bindel on gender politics", she said.

Presumably Beatrix and Julie Burchill were unaware that Julie had already been given respectful hearings, both at the BBC and at Manchester Metropolitan University, in which her woeful lack of knowledge on transsexuality was made painfully apparent (description of the MMU debate from Sarah Brown here, and Christina here . My take on it here) . Which didn't stop her from continuing to air her opinions on the subject, and characterising the increasingly exasperated response from trans people as victimisation.

What the Julies, Beatrix and Suzanne share, apart from an admirable sense of solidarity, is an apparent disdain for trans identities; it's a shame, because I'd like to think we have more in common than they apparently believe. I also think that the new wave of feminism is far more embracing; intersectionality, slightingly referred to by Suzanne, is hopefully the way forward.

No doubt there'll be another shitstorm today in the wake of Julie Burchill's inflammatory piece. That's what it's there to provoke, after all.

I won't be joining in.

Saturday 12 January 2013

a failure to care

It's been quite a week for trans news. On 6th January, David Batty wrote in the Guardian about the GMC's investigation of Dr Richard Curtis, whose  Trans Health Clinic provides a private alternative to the sometimes problematic access to medical services for trans* people under the NHS. It is alleged that Dr Curtis made errors in prescribing hormones in some cases. As David Batty says,

The case seems likely to revive the furore over the treatment of gender dysphoria in the UK triggered by the GMC inquiry against Dr Russell Reid, a psychiatrist who provided private treatment for transsexualism. Reid was found guilty of serious professional misconduct in 2007 for breaking international guidance between 1988 and 2003.
 It's possible, of course. I do remember that case very well; I was a patient of Dr Reid's, back in 2002, and thought him a very good, understanding and professional man; I was alarmed to find that he was subjected to this treatment by the GMC, and was not alone in thinking that the case smacked of territorialism on the part of the three senior consultants at Charing Cross GIC, who brought the case.

As for reviving a furore, though, that seems to be more David Batty's intention than the GMC's. The juicy element  in both stories, from a sensationalist perspective, is the presence of someone who transitioned and then regretted it and blamed the medical practitioner who helped them. In the case of Dr Reid, it was Charles Kane / Sam Hashimi. In the present case, it is an unnamed patient who underwent a double mastectomy.

These are the stories the tabloids love, and apparently David Batty loves too. Part of the spin-off from the Reid case was the BBC Hecklers programme in which Julie Bindel argued that 'sex change is unneccessary mutilation'. Julie's opposition to transsexualism is ideologically-driven, and for several years she seemed to make it her mission to Stamp It Out. I recall the debate between Susan Stryker and Julie Bindel at Manchester Metropolitan University in December 2008, in which Julie again displayed what I concluded must be a wilful ignorance of the facts. I wrote at the time
The general gist of the event was that Bindel accepted that on all the points raised, she was less informed than other people present at the debate. And those better-informed people refuted all her points. Giving chapter and verse. Bindel continued to maintain that there is a substantial and presently-organising caucus of what she termed "survivors" of the "sex-change industry". This is news to me, but then, what would I know?

Yes, there are people who regret transitioning or surgical reassignment. There may be all sorts of reasons for that; gender transitioning is not a panacea; it may solve a fundamental problem for the person who does it, but it can create all sorts of other problems too- the result of prejudice on the part of other people, mostly, of course. Even so, I contend that the number of people who can say "No, I made a mistake, my true sex is congruent with that which I was assigned at birth" is extremely small.

Which does not stop the newspapers from trying to hunt them down. Sarah Brown put out some bait for them on Twitter, saying that she, a trans woman, had undergone surgery following a misdiagnosis. Five minutes later, the press were phoning her up wanting the story. Sadly for them, the surgery in question involved Sarah's hand. This was not deemed newsworthy, and off they slunk.

The next day, Sarah began the Twitter hashtag #TransDocFail, which quickly became a catalogue of instances of bad practice in healthcare:

 ...people being called “abominations” by their doctors, people bleeding to death being refused treatment by A&E departments, vast numbers of GPs telling people to pull themselves together, or “sacking” them as patients, sexual assault by unnecessary and repeated genital examinations, and so on.

This material should be the stuff for campaigning journalists, not stories of individual doctors who are criticised for giving people what they want.

Fortunately, times are changing. At the time of the Russell Reid inquiry, trans people were a group that was talked about by other people. Nowadays, we have got our own voices, thank you very much.

Friday 11 January 2013


Sometimes, you see something that just cries out to be photographed. And so it was the other day, when I saw this herd of cherry pickers, driven south by the cold weather. Though they're gentle creatures, they can be fierce in defence of their young, so I kept very still, scarcely daring to breathe, as they passed by.

Wednesday 9 January 2013

fixing a toilet that has stopped flushing

 When you have to pull the toilet flush handle several times to get it to flush, or if it simply refuses to flush at all, there's a good chance that the problem lies in the syphon diaphragm. This is a flexible piece of plastic that pushes water up the syphon tube, then flexes to allow the full contents of the cistern to flow through the syphon. The picture above shows a broken diaphragm that I removed from a toilet. That was one that I made out of one of those plastic document wallets, last year. So it didn't last very long. Mind you, the original diaphragms don't last very long either; so rather than replace the entire assembly (you can't just buy the diaphragms, of course!), I wondered what to replace it with.

What we want is something that's both durable and flexible. The heaviest polythene I could find was the sort used for damp proof courses; but even that doesn't seem particularly good. So here's what I did.

I took a piece of polythene (from a roll I got from a builder's merchant, to put up temporary double glazing one cold winter). I doubled it up, then doubled it again. So there are four thicknesses of polythene.

I sandwiched it in brown paper, then placed it on a flat board and ironed it

The iron was at a medium heat setting.

Then put a pile of books on the paper (to stop it crinkling) and allow it to cool off . If you try to peel the brown paper off too soon, the polythene will stick to it.

Here's the welded polythene.

I used the old diaphragm as a pattern and cut out the new one

...and put everything back together. Success!

Now, let's see how long this one lasts!

Tuesday 1 January 2013


...a remote church in the Black Mountains, with the shrine of St Issui, and, in the valley below, a holy well. A good place, and I like going there. There's all sorts of things going on in the picture, but I'll leave them for you to find and put your own story on. (Click on the picture to see it large)

A picture for the year's turning. I've been thinking of how to do this picture for ages, and then just got stuck in and hoped for the best. There are bits of it I'm really happy with, and I'm also happy that I've started the new year with a new picture. Even though it meant I was very antisocial on New Year's Eve.

I've got some prints done, and they are available in my Etsy shop. There are two sizes, small (roughly A4) and large (roughly A3). 

There's a Fibonacci spiral in there somewhere, by the way!