Monday, 31 March 2008

Ein feste Burg

Wrætlic is þes wealstan, wyrde gebræcon;
burgstede burston, brosnað enta geweorc.
Hrofas sind gehrorene, hreorge torras,
hrungeat berofen, hrim on lime,
scearde scurbeorge scorene, gedrorene,
ældo undereotone. Eorðgrap hafað
waldend wyrhtan forweorone, geleorene,
heardgripe hrusan, oþ hund cnea
werþeoda gewitan.

Another expedition to the Forest of Dean, this time searching out the old workings that are being slowly reclaimed by the forest. The Romans were here, two thousand years ago. When the Saxons advanced across the land, they looked at the works left abandoned by the Romans, and concluded that they were the works of giants. Perhaps it was this advance through the remains of empire that coloured their vision of wyrd, the all-powerful force that would get you in the end...

I imagined that I was visiting Bristol in two thousand years time, and finding it similarly abandoned. It was a nicely melancholy thought.

Katie was fascinated and at once adventurous and slightly afraid. The trees creaked loudly in the wind. I ate a leaf of wild garlic, which tasted as fresh as the new season opening before us. And reminded me incongruously of pizza, for some reason. Maybe it was the Roman influence.

Wild garlic has another, saxon name, of course; ramsons. Perhaps the saxons ate pizza too
The poem was written about Bath, probably. Here's a translation.

This masonry is wondrous; fates broke it
courtyard pavements were smashed; the work of giants is decaying.
Roofs are fallen, ruinous towers,
the frosty gate with frost on cement is ravaged,
chipped roofs are torn, fallen,
undermined by old age. The grasp of the earth possesses
the mighty builders, perished and fallen,
the hard grasp of earth, until a hundred generations
of people have departed.

Tuesday, 25 March 2008

without a city wall

Fish. It's a Christian thing, apparently.

Now then, secular Easters are a bit problematic for me. I could see the point of a Christian one, although the notion of fasting and penance and then the great rejoicing at the resurrection seemed a bit odd; after all, we knew how the story was going to end.

Mind you, we were a bit restrained in our church anyway. Anglican, you know. But they did give us Cadbury's Cream Eggs at Sunday School, and explained that the egg symbolised Christ in the cave; the brown chocolate is the rock, the white gloop is the shroud, and the yellow bit in the middle is Jesus.

Quite apart from the appalling sweetness of cream eggs, where the sugar is practically crystallising out on your teeth, this story was enough to make eating them seem somehow cannibalistic and necrophiliac.

Having shrugged off that side of things, along, apparently, with most of the population, I seem to be left with the Feast of Chocolate. Families have Easter egg hunts, apparently, and the supernatural agent is the Easter Bunny.

I'm a bit bewildered.

Easter Sunday: young K says, "What are we going to do for Easter?"
Me: "We could go to church if you like...."
K: *makes rude noises indicating disgust at notion*

So it goes. She attends a Unitarian church when not with me. It sounds a bit like cheese and wine christianity. Spirituality is elsewhere.

So we go on a bike ride, in search of spring.

Saturday, 22 March 2008

disenchanted forest

I have looked across the gorge from Great Doward, on a misty autumn dawn, and heard the stags grunt in the far woods. I have stumbled out of my tent on the Kymin and startled a herd of deer, and watched their white tails bob in the starlight as they bounded over the hedge and away. I have seen peregrines wheel above the cliffs of the Wye. In my imagination, the Forest of Dean is a place where the wild things are, and the scattered human population is scripted by Dennis Potter. And to make sure I didn't dispel the old enchantments, I made sure not to go there, although I've skirted the boundaries plenty.

Until yesterday, anyway. B invited me to join her for a walk, while the boys Went Ape at Mallards Pike. This involves swinging around on aerial ropeways and making Tarzan noises, and is the sort of thing that right thinking children everywhere should do as often as possible.

We left them kitting up, and wandered along one of the many waymarked tracks, trying to get lost. Dogs barked at each other while their owners shouted at the dogs. Family groups on bicycles wobbled dangerously by. Optimistic ducks in hopes of crisps paddled up to picnickers, at the side of the pond that had, the sign said, been created for leisure purposes.

I hate leisure. There is an industry devoted to it, there are clothes designed for it that some people not only buy but wear. This place in the Forest of Dean is apparently dedicated to it. But what is it?

Having posed the question, I'll cop out and not try answering it. It's too early in the day.

I am of course a Very Serious Person, and I have no leisure time. My forays into the wilds are for research purposes only. That or advanced avoidance tactics. So the nagging voice in my head reminding me of unfinished projects is always there, and I can be assured of remaining unleisured.

B and I walk on. Away from the huff and bustle, we begin to catch glimpses of wildness in small places. There are mounds and hollows, where once miners mined, now being swallowed by nature. There are old oaks, and walks off the path. I approve, cautiously.

On the way back to Bristol, we stop at Lydney Harbour. The full moon and the equinox have combined to make a very low low tide, and a huge sandbank is exposed. I've looked at these sandbanks on the Severn Estuary before, and wondered what it would be like to walk on them. Today we find out. There's this odd thing where the sand is rippled and dry, and then you step on it and it magically turns to quicksand underfoot. This can be a whole lot of fun, if it doesn't suck you under. And it didn't.

Friday, 21 March 2008

take your pic

After a flurry of e-mails and phone calls, I picked up Richard and Neil Drabble, the photographer, from Bristol Parkway station, and headed for the Black Mountains just as fast as the Traveller would go; the weather forecast was ominous, and we hoped to get some daylight up on Hay Bluff.

We did, too; apparently, the days are already half an hour longer than the nights, so the sun didn't set until 6:25. Give or take a few minutes. This is probably to do with the precession of the equinoxes, or global warming or something.

Whatever, it was a spectacular sunset, and we did indeed see it from Hay Bluff, where it was Very Cold.

My spectacular photo of it didn't work out, unfortunately. That's why Neil's a professional photographer and I drive the car.

And so to Hay, and the Swan, Hay's best and indeed only hotel. Last time we were here we were lucky to find somewhere to pitch our tent in a field three miles away. But that was during the Festival.

How to move up in the world; go off-season.

Actually, now I think of it, the first time I stayed overnight in Hay was when I was walking Offa's Dyke in 1984, and I slept on the old castle mound by the cattle market. I was travelling light.

On that occasion, I also discovered the Three Tuns, one of Ian Marchant's thirteen unspoilt pubs. It was dark and slightly smelly and nice, and hoovers still hadn't been invented when it had last been cleaned. I looked forward to seeing if it was still the same.

It wasn't. It'd had a fire, and been restored. Sympathetically enough, perhaps, but it looked aridly nouveau oldy-moldy when we looked through the window and didn't go in.

So we ate in the Blue Boar and drank until ...long past my bed time.

We took an early walk around town. It was market day, and everyone was bustling and setting up stalls. And my bustling photos didn't work out. We walked the river bank, and were harangued by a scottie dog. Blackbirds were hauling tufts of moss to their new nests. A jogger jogged by. Richard had bags under his eyes. I mentioned the Estee Lauder light-reflecting concealer I had in my bag, designed for such times as this. Did he take me up on the offer? What do you think?

Breakfast was hugely cheering. English breakfasts are theoretically wonderful and set you up for the day, but you usually end up being fobbed off with watery bacon and pallid, tasteless bangers. None of that at the Swan, though; I complimented the girl who'd brought us breakfast (and who'd booked us in last night, and then served us at the bar a short while later, and was still looking cheerful after all that). She said the sausages came from the Welsh Venison Company, just up the road. So there you have it.

And so to the hills. I staggered to the foyer with a heap of rucsacs and outdoor gear, and collapsed it next to Neil, who was gasconading with the Girl Who Does Everything. Several people wished us luck on the expedition. I didn't have the heart to tell them that the stuff was only for props, and adopted a self-effacing expression suitable for an understated heroine of the Himalayas.

It was even colder up by Hay Bluff today. At least it solved the problem of what to wear. Anything warm, basically.

setting up

The mountain tops were in cloud, and the sheep were huddled in whatever cover the gorse afforded them from the screaming wind. Richard huddled in the car between shots and tried to be brave. I took some more shots that spectacularly failed to be spectacular. Neil enthused about the light, and continually wiped his streaming eyes to squint into the viewfinder.

So now we wait a few weeks to see the results.

Monday, 17 March 2008

bubble rap

View from the front room window.

Just gone four in the morning, and I was listening to the robins singing and decided it was time to get up. The blackbirds will be joining in before too long, and then eventually dawn will kick in and the day will be in full swing.

For now, though, the city's holding its breath. And I'm drinking tea.

I took down the bubble-wrap DIY double glazing in my room yesterday, and gave the windows a good clean. And spotted a pile of dead flies on the window ledge, and shuddered, and did lots of hoovering. It's still cold in the flat, but not bone-achingly so. And now it's clean. Well, cleaner. And lighter. Come on, spring.

Saturday, 15 March 2008

making Hay

Arriving at Hay

There is excitement at Schloss Marland; the Guardian Magazine is going to do an extract from the book, and so we're doing a photoshoot in Hay, next week. Richard is going to be airlifted in from France in the Random House Chinook, swooping majestically down from the Black Mountains; I shall putter up there in the Traveller, which can probably find its own way there by now...

Worrying about what to wear, now; Catherine advised me to go for smart rather than boho, and I nodded cautiously. And looked anxiously through the wardrobe... Richard will no doubt be wearing writer's stubble and a post-postmodern attitude. Easy for some...

What the heck. Boho is as boho does.


TodayAlan is starting his stint as poet-in-residence on the Herefordshire mobile libraries. Wave if you see one...

Tuesday, 11 March 2008

skylark have you anything to say to me?

The sun warms my face.
I squint and see, high up there,
A skylark sing spring.

Only the other day I was wondering when I'd hear my first skylark of the year. And now I have, on a walk in the Chew valley.

Monday, 10 March 2008

worth the paper

There has been a heated debate going on in a group I'm in, about the relative merits of being 'stealth' and being 'out'. Being a wishy-washy liberal type, I can see some merit in both positions, and personally take the middle road, being neither loudly opaque nor invisible; don't ask, don't tell. Except for here, of course...

...some 'out' transfolk can tend to arrogate to themselves the moral high ground; "Stealth transwomen enjoy the advantages of any change for the better which we bring about, without doing anything themselves." To which a stealthy woman might reply, "I am demonstrating in my person that I am a normal and socially assimilated woman, which is surely what it's all about. And by the way, do not presume to speak for me".

That is a problem; if you aren't out there, then someone else may just do that. Like, as a recent example, Rebecca Dittman, Chair of the Gender Trust, writing about Iranian transsexuals on the Woman's Hour messageboard's not a major thing, but I felt uncomfortable reading it and hoped that people would not assume that she was indeed speaking for all of 'us'. The existence of a TS 'community' is also a debatable matter. As has been pointed out, sharing a medical condition does not a community make...

Coincidentally, I'd just resigned from the Gender Trust, which I'd joined, filled with the urgent desire to make the world a better place, after having just won my Employment Tribunal. After a while, I realised that I just don't work the same way that the GT does.

There is quite a growth industry in Equal Opportunities at the moment; much hammering out of policies and attempting to work out ways of monitoring workforces -there is an obvious difficulty in working out how many transsexual people there may be in a workforce if their trans status is, as it should be, confidential.

Take, for instance, this attempt by ACAS to 'audit' attitudes among a workforce towards 'transgendered' people.

Now, picture the scene. The questionnaire is handed out. A potential or actual harasser ticks all the boxes that say that they quite enjoy harassing people actually, and then hands the questionnaire in to their manager.

I don't think so, somehow.

And this is an audit of attitudes? -After which the company in question can say, "We have a demonstrably good policy in place" and everyone is happy.


When I began to put together my case for sexual harassment against P&O Ferries, I felt rather daunted at the prospect of going it alone. So I wrote to the Equal Opportunities Commission, to a member of Press For Change (the TS campaigning organisation) and to the RMT (whose departmental rep had threatened me with violence).

They weren't interested.

So I did it with the help and support of my friends.

No doubt the apparachniks of this brave new equalities world believe that they're doing good work; I recall a breathless account of the TUC's LGBT meeting, written by a transwoman who had been invited to participate. It reminded me somewhat of John Reed, in Ten Days That Shook The World, describing a Bolshevik meeting in Petrograd, where the delegates enthusiastically vote to ban smoking in the meeting... and then carry on smoking...

Thursday, 6 March 2008


Ironically, given the previous post, here's a map of a voyage at sea...

I used to collect maps, in a small sort of way. I particularly liked the ones where the ground is different colours between different contours, so from a little way away they looked like you were gazing down at the earth from a great height.

I also liked the bit of geography that deals with how landscapes work; how they came to look the way they do now, carved by glaciers and people and time... I like to look at a landscape and try to understand how it got to be like that. I liked Raymond Williams' People of the Black Mountains, which follows the human story in that area from the last ice age through to ...well, it was going to be right up until the present day, but he died before finishing it, unfortunately.

And then there are our own personal maps...

My friend Annie was talking about psychogeography, which I'd never heard of before, but instantly recognised the idea. At least, the idea as it suggested itself to me. Annie's working on something along those lines. She mentioned this exhibition at the V&A, and since I was going up to London anyway, we were there yesterday.

There were some interesting things, though I think I was looking for a more personal and empathetic relationship between the artist and the landscape, and a lot of this stuff was more about ideas, clever clever stuff.

At least it got me thinking, anyway.

...I dug these maps out last night. Harry Harris, a Flickr friend, added a quote from Jeanette Winterson which I really like:

Maps are magic. In the bottom corner are whales; at the top, cormorants carrying pop-eyed fish. In between is a subjective account of the lie of the land. Rough shapes of countries that may or may not exist, broken red lines marking paths that are at best hazardous, at worse already gone. Maps are constantly being re-made as knowledge appears to increase. But is knowledge increasing or is detail accumulating?

A map can tell me how to find a place I have not seen but have often imagined. When I get there, following the map faithfully, the place is not the place of my imagination. Maps, growing ever more real, are much less true.

And now, swarming over the earth with our tiny insect bodies and putting up flags and building houses, it seems that all the journeys are done.

Not so. Fold up the maps and put away the globe. If someone else had charted it, let them. Start another drawing with whales at the bottom and cormorants at the top, and in between identify, if you can, the places you have not found yet on those other maps, the connections obvious only to you. Round and flat, only a very little has been discovered.

(from Sexing The Cherry, by Jeanette Winterson)

Tuesday, 4 March 2008


Haymaking, Hafod Fach 1984

This is the 1980s, or at least a little bit of the 80s. You can tell because it's black and white, and there's a CND sticker on the back door of the van.

Well, you'll have to take my word about the CND sticker.

Time passes; one of those people is dead, and where this whole farm was is now a big hole in the ground.

Time passes.

I played a game of Trivial Pursuit the other evening; it was a 1987 edition, so we were all frequently flummoxed by some of the popular culture questions, about TV shows of the time, that sort of stuff.

On the other hand, I was surprised at how much information I'd retained...

Talking last night with some old friends, whom I knew from back then and who, if they ever did live in black and white (I don't think they did), are definitely in full technicolour now. We discussed comedy programmes, among other things, and I remembered that I know very little about modern TV culture, as I Don't Watch TV. And listening to Radio 2 on the way over to them, I'd already realised that I was completely out of touch with modern pop music. assuming that Radio 2 is in touch with modern music, anyway.

So, if I played a recent edition of Trivial Pursuit, I'd probably be even more hopeless than with the twenty year old one.

I'd not seen M for a couple of years. He asked if I'd changed much since I started taking hormones and living as a woman; developed an interest in having lots of cushions about the place, that sort of thing. I had to admit that things haven't really changed that much in the way I live. As in, in a permanent state of disorder. I know I have changed, though; but there are things that you just don't notice, or get used to and forget that they were once different. I remember initially being almost overwhelmed at the intensity of sensations a short while after starting to take hormones; the sun felt so warm on my face, colours were so vivid, my emotions were all over the place... it was quite wonderful. I just feel normal these days, so normal that a lot of the time I forget how unhappy I was before...

Not that I'm free of bothers, of course; talking with friends yesterday, on two occasions I introduced a seafaring anecdote, and then beat myself up about it afterwards... I don't want to have to consciously modify either the way that I talk or the subjects that I talk about, but sometimes it feels just plain wrong. Apart from the ship stuff itself, there was the immersion in an all-male environment. And men do talk differently to women. Like, conversations that are mostly exchanges of information.

Was I different before I packed my bag and flew off to join my first ship, back in 1982? -I think so. Can I forget the past? -No, and I don't know that I want to, either. Can I unlearn behaviour? -I really hope so.

I've been looking backwards quite a bit lately, still sorting out stuff in my head from the messy business at P&O and the Tribunal that followed it. I need to move on. And oh, how I want to.