Friday 22 December 2017


Frosty start at Semington

The frosted meadows glittered in the rising sun
and mallards walked on water, laughing fit to bust,
the day we broke the ice from Seend to Semington.

We stamped our feet, and let the engines run
to warm them up, as prudent people must,
and noticed frosty cows can also glitter in the sun.

Our bargepoles smashed the way - such fun!
- to steer a course out to the middle of the cut
and onward through the ice to Semington

Moorhens who interrogated their reflections
were chased off by the sheets of ice we pushed
that rafted up, and glittered in the sun.

The props clanked on the fragments now and then
and hulls were scoured of blacking, weeds and rust
by that infernal ice en route to Semington

And chastened, we agreed; all said and done,
wise folk who like their boats stay put,
when meadows glitter in the sun
and ice is on the cut from Seend to Semington.

This happened last year, when Chris and Jinny on Netty and I went up to Seend, despite knowing that the canal was closed beyond there and we'd need to come back without turning; so we went up doing a push-me-pull-you, with Netty breasted up on Eve who was facing backwards. It sort of worked, but the return trip to the ice was one we really have no intention of repeating! 

We've started a new poetry group on Facebook, Poets Afloat, for developing poems about and/or by boaters and the waterways. It's a closed group, so you can't see posts unless you're a member, which means they're not officially published (this matters if you're thinking ahead to potential submissions). The format is inspired by Jo Bell's 52 group, which was very good and fruitful. And small though the new group is, there have been some startlingly good new poems already. Do join in, if that sort of thing floats your boat.
Here are some rakish characters heading by through the ice, on an unrelated occasion.

Thursday 21 December 2017

shear legs and engines

The floating village of the canal is long and thin, and the people who live there are never still for long. You might arrive at a very quiet spot, moor up and drink in the splendid isolation; and a day later find yourself surrounded by other boats. And then you may just squeeze into the last space in a bustling place, and wake up one morning to find yourself all alone and wondering 'Was it something I said?'
When I came up to Semington last week, I towed Deb's boat along with me, because her engine is kaput. A dead engine is no excuse for not moving, in the eyes of CRT, so move she must. Her partner Jim had sourced a replacement engine in Devizes, and it was obligingly delivered here. Over the next couple of days, a few other familiar faces drifted in, and we had enough bodies to heave the old engine, a very heavy BMC Commander, onto the towpath and away, and then heave the replacement Isuzu into place.
As you see, there was a bit of ad hoc craning, with a few tree trunks used as shear legs. A passing dog walker exclaimed, ' That reminds me of Dartmouth!' He was formerly a Fleet Air Arm pilot, we learned, flying Gannets. The Services do seem to like playing round with telegraph poles; I did something similar at Biggin Hill once, long ago, when going through the selection process. And then we did this once, at RAF Hereford...

building a bridge

...there's a fair bit more work yet to be done on Deb's new engine before it's chugging along again, but at least the heavy stuff is done. And we all got filthy dirty oily and muddy, and had to go to the Somerset Arms and drink cider. As you do.

Tuesday 19 December 2017

a villanelle on proscribed words

Our hold on freedoms can be slender;
fascists hate all instinct of diversity.
They have a special loathing for transgender

people, and would cheerfully amend the
law to strip your bodily autonomy
with fetuses; yes, freedoms can be slender.

Vain, the science-based arguments you tender
them on climate change; and, honestly,
they really really hate folk who’re transgender!

Attempts to reason are a waste of effort, when the
evidence-based approach hits dogma; see,
the freedom to speak truth is really slender.

Vulnerable as we are to such gross men, the
entitlement they wave can surely be and must be
fought; for freedom may be slender
but it’s our own, whether we’re cis- or we’re transgender.

Whatever this poem's dubious merits as poetry, it is intended primarily as polemic, containing as it does the seven words apparently declared undesirable for the CDC, the USA's health body.

(my thousandth post! Crikey!)

Sunday 17 December 2017

down the toilet

Proposed changes to the Gender Recognition Act will result in a flood of male pervs dashing into women's toilets all across the land. Allegedly.

Whoah, though, where did this come from?

Where indeed? If you're worried about the prospect, though (and who wouldn't be?) then do consider;  when people talk about nasty men coming into the women's toilets to, I dunno, do nasty voyeuristic pervy things, they're actually talking about me.

Here's how it goes. It gets personal here, because when you start banning people, you aren't banning your idea of someone, you're banning real people, and I am real. And it's not really about toilets, or not just about toilets. Bear with.

I'm a trans woman, or, if you think that women already get labelled too much, then I'm a woman. Sixteen years ago, I began the long and tricky process of transitioning away from my legal and societal status as male. Back in the day, I carried around what we jokingly referred to as a 'get out of jail free card'; a letter from the psychiatrist I'd been seeing, stating that I was 'officially' transsexual. It was intended to help me out if I was ever challenged; I used it once, in a supermarket in Weymouth, when I stopped to get some things for dinner after a hard and dirty day working in the engine room of  a ferry. Fair play to the young woman at the till, my grimy and overalled appearance must have seemed a bit at odds with the female name on the bank card.

In the early days, I had some vague idea that I needed permission to do what I wanted to do; I was always a bit conformist and excessively deferential to authority. It took a while to realise that essentially I was setting off on my own, my very own, journey, and had to pretty much make it up as I go along (the subtitle of this blog hints at that...). You don't need permission to be yourself. Of course, other people need no permission to refuse to accept the validity of your identity, but that is another matter and we may come to that later.

You do need some sort of official permission and agreement along the way to gain medical assistance, if you choose to go that way; hormonal intervention is only officially sanctioned after a couple of diagnoses and some time spent living 'in role'. But changing my name was a simple matter of printing out a statutory declaration and getting it witnessed. Title, too; by now, the weight of documentary evidence (the letter from that consultant psychiatrist that agreed with my self-diagnosis, and my own stat dec) was enough to get things rolling in the big changeover; NHS record, bank account, passport.  Everything. Except my birth certificate, and the information held on me at the heart of the System. Under all the layers, I remained officially male at the core. So should I be unfortunate enough, for instance, to be sentenced to a term in prison, then to a male prison I would have gone. 

Then in 2004, along came the Gender Recognition Act. It allowed me to change that very last layer, and gave me a new birth certificate to wave at the sort of officialdom that likes that sort of thing. It also protects my past official history from people deemed not to need to know. No doubt somewhere deep in the machine, my past is safely on record, of course, but just for the moment there it is, snoozing in the vaults of Somerset House and the database of HMRC.

It did take a good few years for me to get a Gender Recognition Certificate, though. Firstly, it took ages to get a referral to a Gender Identity Clinic in London, and then even longer to reach the point where surgery was offered me. You can get a GRC without surgery, and rightly so, since it's a bit of an insult to everyone, not just to trans people, to insist that their gender identity is rooted in what's between their legs. And some people choose not to go down the surgical route. Fair play to them. It was just the path I wanted, and chose, and got. It did make it easier to get that GRC, too. The process of applying for and getting it is difficult, expensive (you need reports, for which you must pay) and perhaps rather too medicalised. Remember, this whole process, right from the beginning, rests on self-diagnosis. Official sanctioning of that diagnosis is simply an affirmation that I'm not potty, and a recognition that, while the shrinks and everyone else involved may not understand what it is that makes trans people trans, they do understand that the best treatment for the condition is to accept that that internal sense of identity works for them, and, by increasing the sum of happiness, it works for everyone else too.

The proposed changes to the GRA simply make the getting of that GRC a bit simpler and less medicalised.

Now, when, if ever, during my sixteen years of living as a woman, should I first have be allowed into women-only spaces? And if you think that those spaces should be policed to protect it from people like me, how would you propose to do so?

If you're a woman, you may well have seen someone in a public toilet and thought they were trans. You may have been right. You may have been wrong. But whether or not you have spotted one, you may be perfectly sure that, unless you never ever use public toilets, then you have shared that space with trans women.

Lots of times.

Because that's the way it is. For every 'obviously trans' woman, there's even more that you'd never guess. Is that a scary thought? 

Remember, there is no law ruling who may or may not use which toilets. It is only politeness and convenience (and perhaps embarrassment or even fear - I mean, have you ever been in a men's toilet?) that causes us to conform to the gender signifiers on them. This could change, unlikely as it may sound now. North Carolina enacted a law forcing people to use facilities corresponding to their birth certificated gender. The result of that was an increased policing of women's appearance, and there have been and no doubt will continue to be harassment of women who choose not to dreass or appear in stereotypically 'feminine' ways.

This is the strange, repressive endgame of TERFs - forgive me if you find the term unfamiliar or objectionable. It means 'trans exclusionary radical feminists'. It is a bit inappropriate in all sorts of ways, but chiefly in that there's nothing either radical or feminist in their aims, only one of which is to drive a wedge between trans people and other feminists. I use that term advisedly; just about all trans people I know, male, female or queer, are feminist. Given our 'gifted' insight into gender and roles, we'd have to be pretty obtuse not to be feminist, let's face it.

This week, the Trump administration issued the USA's CDC (their public health agency) a list of forbidden terms. One of those is 'transgender'. As Orwell suggested with Newspeak, if you remove the language for something, you go some of the way to erasing it. This will be a move welcomed by TERFs of course. If alarm bells don't ring when you see an effective coalition between them and a repressive far-right regime, perhaps you need a hearing test?

Thursday 14 December 2017

off to the launderette

The rain's stopped, and the wind has died, so I'll move the boat this morning to a slightly better mooring. Across the water, a cow has resumed her mooing; her calf was taken away yesterday, and she lamented all the rest of the day. This morning's mooings are less frequent.

I had an unusually comfortable night, because I wasn't sharing the bed with heaps of clothes and books for a change. Yesterday I needed to get some orders posted off and some printing done, and  Chris and Jinny, my boaty neighbours and friends, took the opportunity to join me for a jaunt to Devizles. As they were doing some laundry, I thought it was about time I treated myself to a laundry experience too, and do the bedding while I was at it. It's a bit of a struggle doing it in the twin tub, and my indoor airer is simply not big enough to hang sheets on.

In the launderette we met Shed Will, who lives in various unofficial places along the canal. At the moment he seems to be bivvying in a pillbox near Sells Green; "They complained about my fire last night. ...I was burning plastic, but it WAS night time..." He gets tokens from a local Christian organisation that enable him to do his laundry, and he has a dandyish streak in him; today he was resplendent in gold spandex trousers, a black halterneck top and mahoosively oversized biker boots. Sort of canal normal though... I realised that my hands were pretty mucky, with ingrained dirt from fixing bikes and heaving things around in the mud; it's only when I go into town that I become moderately self-conscious about it. 

A squall blew into town, and sent catspaws across the market square where the heavy rain had sheeted the tarmac. It was no weather to be out, but was we were out I exchanged rueful smiles with other folk caught out in it, and counted my blessings that I have a home to go to, and that I'd streamed out my anchor on the towpath on Sunday, when the last great storm hit. It's always a worry when the weather gets a bit extreme and I'm away from the boat.

Saturday 9 December 2017

Two Rivers watercolour paper

Here's a nice thing. It's a box of hand-made rag watercolour paper, and it came from Neil Hopkins of the Two Rivers Paper Company, up on Exmoor. Just the thing for Christmas! ...Neil gave me a couple of sheets to play with a while ago, and it was fun and interesting to see what I could do with them.

I usually use Daler-Rowney Langton or Fabriano Artistico papers, because they are very smooth and allow me to draw and paint very fine detail. The trade off is that they will only take so much depth of colour, and are relatively unforgiving of mistakes. And I've stopped using erasers or masking fluid because it almost always damages the paper surface. 

The Two Rivers paper is quite textured, but I was still able to get good detailing in, in this picture of Melangell seen in progress here. And you can lift the paint back out if you goof, without any perceptible harm done to the paper. You can get quite an intense depth of colour too. 

I've got ideas for some more pics using the new paper... when I've got a couple of little commissions out of the way...

Friday 1 December 2017

flat batteries

The north wind is blowing, and temperatures just around zero. Out of the wind, the days have been rather pleasant, and the moon is waxing and nearly full, so it's nice looking out at night.

It may be the low temperatures that administered the coup de grace, but my domestic batteries, on which I depend for light, the water pump, and the tiny circulation pump on the woodburner's back boiler, are just about banjaxed. This morning the lights dimmed to a faint glow as soon as the water pump cut in when I was filling the kettle for my tea.

I primed the pressure lamp, but there was no paraffin left in it so it didn't light up... I love this lamp; it's an Austramax, an Australian version of a Tilley lamp that I found last week at the informal reuse/recycle centre that is the boaters' bins. And it started the first time (but I now need to refill it; fortunately, there IS a tin of paraffin somewhere in the boatman's cabin...)

Today I must move up to the wharf at Bradford on Avon, ready for the weekend's Floating Market. And then maybe hunt for some new batteries, PDQ.