Thursday, 29 January 2009

good roads

Following on from a comment by Anji, I dug out this excerpt from Flann O'Brien's The Third Policeman, about being on the right road. Because it's the sort of thing that is cheerful making.

The dawn was contagious, spreading rapidly about the heavens. Birds were stirring and the great kingly trees were being pleasingly interfered with by the first breezes. My heart was happy and full of zest for high adventure. As I walked down the road I was pleased enough with everything.

The road was narrow, white, old, hard and scarred with shadow. It ran away westwards in the mist of the early morning, running cunningly through the little hills and going to some trouble to visit tiny tOwns which were not, strictly speaking, on its way. It was possibly one of the oldest roads in the world. I found it hard to think of a time when there was no road there because the trees and the tall hills and the fine views of bogland had been arranged by wise hands for the pleasing picture they made when looked at from the road. Without a road to have them looked at from they would have a somewhat aimless if not a futile aspect.

De Selby has some interesting things to say on the subject of roads.Roads he regards as the most ancient of human monuments, surpassing by many tens of centuries the oldest thing of stone that man has reared to mark his passing. The tread of time, he says, levelling all else, has beaten only to a more enduring hardness the pathways that have been made throughout the world. He mentions in passing a trick the Celts had in ancient times - that of 'throwing a calculation' upon a road. In those days wise men could tell to a nicety the dimension of a host which had passed by in the night by looking at their tracks with a certain eye and judging them by their perfection and imperfection, the way each footfall was interfered with by each that came after. In this way they could tell the number of men who had passed, whether they were with horse or heavy with shields and iron weapons, and how many chariots; thus they could say the number of men who should be sent after them to kill them. Elsewhere de Selby makes the point that a good road will have character and a certain air of destiny, an indefinable intimation that it is going somewhere, be it east or west, and not coming back from there. If you go with such a road, he thinks, it will give you pleasant travelling, fine sights at every corner and a gentle ease of peregrination that will persuade you that you are walking forever on falling ground. But if you go east on a road that is on its way west, you will marvel at the unfailing bleakness of every prospect and the great number of sore-footed inclines that confront you to make you tired. If a friendly road should lead you into a complicated city with nets of crooked streets and five hundred other roads leaving it for unknown destinations, your own road will always be discernible for its own self and will lead you safely out of the tangled town.

Sunday, 25 January 2009

space cadet

There I go again, clocking up more motorway miles. Totting up the distance I've driven in the Traveller since I got it, I find that it's roughly the equivalent of going to Proxima Centauri, which is not too bad going, even if Proxima Centauri is about as near to the Earth as it's possible for a star to be. Unless it's the sun, of course.

There are other similarities to interstellar travelling, as well. Like that funny business with relativity, where when you come back from space you find that you've only aged a little bit but everyone else has got much older, or is now long dead. What with the needle on the Trav's Smiths speedometer rarely venturing above the 60 mark, I observe a similar effect when I get back from a trip to the Midlands, except that I've got older too.

What got me thinking about space travel was the stuff I was eating while driving on Friday night. I got some pasties before we set off, from Joe the Baker on the Gloucester Road. They were very nice, and sort of qualified as astronaut food in that they came in a sealed container, even if it was made of pastry. Of course, you can't suck up the contents through a straw, but hey. If I were an astronaut I think I'd like to have a stock of cornish pasties on board, for those moments when you're being attacked by the Mekon and you fancy a bit of comfort food..

Much more astronauty, I can't help feeling, and what got me thinking about this stuff, was the packets of crisps I bought at Hopwood Park service station. They were doing a special deal, two packets for a pound, and there were some interesting flavour options. (I like to push the culinary boat out now and then - I once bought a Full English Breakfast pizza at Tesco's. It had bangers on it, and bacon and egg, and beans, and it was just about as delicious as you can imagine.) So I had a packet of Fish and Chip flavoured crisps, and a packet of Cajun Squirrel flavour.

The fish and chip flavoured ones reminded me of Great Yarmouth, when I found myself there one rainy Easter. I was wandering around the industrial zone, past the abandoned Birds Eye factory, looking for the Nelson Monument. The tide was out, and there was that rich, fetid smell of damp and decay in the air. I wondered if the person who had mixed the artificial flavourings had ever been to Great Yarmouth when the tide was out. Whatever, it was inspired.

The cajun squirrel tasted like nothing I have ever tasted before. So it probably tasted like cajun squirrel. Not jambalay, crawfish pie or fillet gumbo. Cajun squirrel.

I did feel a bit ill by the end of it. But no-one ever said the life of an astronaut was all plain sailing.

Thursday, 22 January 2009

face to face

Here's J's birthday party. Two of her daughters were there through the magic of Skype. So they had to supply their own slices of cake, as they're down in the far South West.

When I first had a place of my own (room in shared flat in Portsmouth, £7 a week) there was no phone in the house; there were phone boxes a few hundred yards in either direction, though. And hardly any of my friends had phones, so when I went off to sea I wrote letters and so did they. Once, the Christmas post missed me in Den Helder and chased me around the North Sea for a while, finally catching up with me in Aberdeen in April.

I'm slowly getting up to speed with social networking sites. I've recently reconnected with a bunch of chaps I worked with on Karen Bravo, a seismic survey ship, when I first ran away to sea. It's nice catching up with them again, and a feeling akin to re-entering the crew mess after being on leave for a few weeks; a casual but friendly greeting and an exchange of jokey pleasantries. But in this case the gap has been over twenty five years.

of course there were only black and white photographs in those days

There's a reunion being planned in the spring, so...

Meantime, as my Facebook friends list increases, I have started seeing postings on those friends' pages from people in my family whom I no longer have any contact with. In the welsh chapel sense, that is. (Old welsh joke; every village has to have two chapels; the one you go to, and the one you don't go to). So they and I comment without acknowledging each other. Funny business. I guess that in netiquette, blanking people is as unremarkable as the Big Casual.

Tuesday, 20 January 2009

Monday, 19 January 2009

out at sea

Stormy old weather. I sat in the Downs cafe watching redwings pretending they didn't mind the hail that was hammering down and carpeting the grass around them.

I'm working through a bout of self-loathing. I handled the photo shop business badly, and should have just walked away. There are more important things in life to worry about. I can't trust my judgement as to whether the assistant was being snarky or just responding subconsciously; what my friend Suzanne describes as 'information'. The information in question being the way that I am perceived.

Walk on. Learn.

My New Year's reso (I don't do reso's, of course, but this year I am....) is to work assiduously on my voice until I am finally happy with it. Which means no longer being afraid to speak in case it 'outs' me, and not being 'sirred' on the phone.

Meantime, our Home Counties correspondent and mystery shopper (Hi, J!) tells me that Waterstones in Newbury have moved their copy of Becoming Drusilla back from Biography (whither she had relocated it) to the LGBT section. It is now sitting on a shelf next to an anthology of "BDSM Military Fantasies"...

Hmmm. Now wash your hands...

I was talking about Saturday night's storm with Geraldine. She recalled a Ted Hughes poem, which captures the feeling perfectly:

This house has been far out at sea all night,
The woods crashing through darkness, the booming hills,
Winds stampeding the fields under the window
Floundering black astride and blinding wet...

Sunday, 18 January 2009


Saturday was a day of dramatic weather; we headed north under an apocalyptic sky, which cleared to cloudless by Gloucester. And shortly after I got home in the evening, a storm hit Bristol and the house shook in the wind. I had to lash down the skylight to stop it blowing away.

Anyway... having dropped K off, I came down through Wales and took a walk around Newport with my camera. It is a very camera friendly place.

And I met my old friend Mark who runs a book stall in the market, and caught up with the news. And then bumped into a protest over the Israeli action in Gaza. It was good to see something happening in Newput more animated than booze and fags and junk food

...walking back to the car, which I'd parked in a bit of wasteland near the river, I was accosted by a bloke with a razored head. He bounded across the road to me, with one of those smiles that aren't really a smile, and said, "It's funny, isn't it?"

I looked blankly.

"It is funny though. You're always taking pictures of these arabs. What about the white people? The homeless white people who've been here all the time?"

This was some time after I'd left the demo. He had no reason to suppose that I had been taking photos of the demo, other than figuring that I looked the sort... must be doing something right then.

I gave him a smile-that-wasn't-a-smile and said nothing. And walked on.

Saturday, 17 January 2009

male, female, e-mail

I was picking up some camera stuff from a local shop the other day and after I'd paid the assistant called me 'sir', twice. A small act of disrespect, I guess, but I didn't respond. These days my guard is down because I don't want to be constantly on the lookout for this sort of thing, because that's no way to live.

(At one time, I was constantly at the receiving end of nasty stuff, and it took a while to get over it; on the platform at Cardiff station a couple of years ago, a nice old lady stopped and said how much she liked my hat. I thanked her. She looked again;

"Are you a woman?" she asked

"Yes", I said; "Are you?"

She looked hurt. "Well, it's a nice hat, anyway", she said and walked on, and I wished the ground would swallow me up)

Still, the shop incident bugged me, and I figured if it bugged me then I should do something about it. So I sent an e-mail to the manager.


I am a photographer and illustrator. So I buy things from camera shops sometimes. I am also a transsexual woman. This is not usually a fact that I broadcast, because it is not usually necessary. I get on with life, and life usually gets on with me these days. It wasn’t always that way; in the past, I’ve had some fairly serious grief from people, and dealt with it.

Nowadays I am more relaxed, and am not constantly on the lookout for insults. So when they happen, as every now and then they do, they take me by surprise.

On Wednesday afternoon I came into your shop and bought £40 worth of things for my D70. A fairly normal transaction, but when it was completed the assistant addressed me as ‘sir’, twice.

As you no doubt realise, good practice in retail is to address customers in a manner appropriate to the gender they present as. Gender neutral language is always a simple option too. Calling me ‘sir’ is a sure fire way of guaranteeing that I shall take my custom elsewhere.

I wish I had confronted the assistant directly, but, as I say, I was rather taken aback. So now I write to you instead.

Yours sincerely,

Ms Dru Marland

...and he replied:

Dear Drusilla,

I have spoken to the member of staff who served you on this day, and he has assured me that at no time does he recall referring to you as 'sir'. He has always been a polite and cordial member of staff, and I have no reason to doubt his integrity on this matter. I apologise wholeheartedly for any misunderstanding that has arisen, and I hope you can accept that there has been no malice of forethought. ... I sincerely hope you continue to shop here as I assure you that we always try to treat our customers with the utmost politeness and respect.
Hmm. Well, I guess the lesson learned is to respond immediately when this stuff happens. Or not let it bother me, of course.

Thursday, 15 January 2009

sharp focus

Yesterday I was out and about getting photos of trees for a picture I'm working on. Near the side of the Avon Gorge, I heard the cry of a peregrine falcon, hurried over to the edge. Too late to see it in flight, but a watcher helpfully lent me her binoculars and pointed out the two falcons perched over in the woods at the other side.

They were a bit far away to photograph, but this jackdaw wasn't.

Then a little later a buzzard flumped down in a tree just by me. Here it is.

It's nice having all this wildlife stuff on my doorstep, along with all the advantages of the city, like the slob in the Jaguar who tried so hard to force his way past me, gunning his engine just behind me as I cycled along a very narrow residential road on my way home.


Pencils are sharpened, rapidograph pens soaking in cleaning solution, just about run out of advanced displacement activities- cups of tea, Tunnocks Snowballs, cleaning the bathroom sink.

Time to get going then. But as Chandira kindly posted a haiku about her new teapot on my last blog entry, I'll pause to submit this one about the joy of putting on new specs after floundering around for ages in a state of un-focus. Small things can be big things, you know.

How finely woven,
This spider's web by my head.
Thank you, nice new specs!

Wednesday, 14 January 2009

cat sighs

I was looking for a photo of clear winter days, as a requiem to the cold snap that's just finished. But I couldn't find one. So here's a road picture instead.

Last week I was heading up the motorway to a rendezvous in the Midlands. It was a cold and frosty afternoon. I got caught up in the aftermath of a fuel tanker falling over on the M5, which meant that the motorway was closed for hours and hours, and alternative routes were either choked with traffic or dangerous with ice. When I finally escaped at Tewkesbury, I cut across country through the Forest of Dean and went home.

Had another go the next day. Made it this time. Here I am with a Nice Cup Of Tea at Hopwood Park services. I'd packed my emergency gear, you see.

O look, here's a clear wintry photo, and something I wrote while driving up the motorway on a clear wintry day. It started as a haiku but then sort of spilled over.

Full moon still,

Black crow bobbing in a big sky.
I can see
Every twig in every tree.

Friday, 2 January 2009

been counting

'TIS the year's midnight, and it is the day's,
Lucy's, who scarce seven hours herself unmasks ;
The sun is spent, and now his flasks
Send forth light squibs, no constant rays ;
The world's whole sap is sunk ;
The general balm th' hydroptic earth hath drunk,
Whither, as to the bed's-feet, life is shrunk,
Dead and interr'd ...

Personally speaking, being a bit of a pagan, I tend to observe the winter solstice (if only from a distance) rather than Christmas, which strikes me as being the sort of thing that's a bit of a nuisance if you don't have a family to spend it with, and possibly a bigger nuisance if you do . Who was it who described Christmas as the only time that an Englishman would spend willingly with family rather than friends? -whoever it was, I know where he was coming from. Fortunately, I managed to lose my family somewhere along the way (all except for young K, of course), so I don’t have to do that stuff any more. Hence the ‘Christmas on top of a mountain’ option. It gets me away from the palpable air of overindulgence, regression and overwrought familiarity that seems to hang in the air.

Having already lighted a small flame against the darkness at the longest night of the year, it seems a bit redundant to do it again for New Year, which is only a bean-counting sort of event really. Or, in the case of the Spanish, a grape-counting event- I witnessed this custom on my last winter at sea, when, come midnight, the chimes of Big Ben were relayed around the ship followed by the captain rather solemnly and self-consciously wishing us all a Happy New Year: then, an hour later, the Madrileno equivalent of Big Ben (Benito el Grande?) did the same thing as the Spanish crew marked each chime with the swallowing of a grape. And all very cheery it was too.

However, despite myself and my sniffiness about new year resolutions and all that malarkey, I've clocked up a few memorable new years along the way. Like 93, when I was in Weymouth, working on the Channel Island ferry and my then partner travelled down from Bristol for the night. Weymouth does New Year big style, with the whole town thronged with revellers in fancy dress. So she and I swapped clothes for the evening and joined in. It was a bit of an eye-opener; the dragon in the room had come out into the open, and turned out not to be a dragon after all. The world didn't come to an end.

From where I am now, I can see it as the first step towards transitioning. At the time I felt that something momentous had happened, and wondered what to do about it. I'd recently been reading Seamus Heaney's Seeing Things, and a phrase he used came to mind: "I want to credit marvels". That phrase resonated with me. I walked on Weymouth beach the next morning before the town was awake, and found a scallop shell. I pocketed it as a keepsake and with a sense of pilgrimage yet to be made.

And then there was New Year's Eve 2001, when I first stepped out among friends as Dru. It was a very good evening, despite a small girl shouting "lady Dru!" at me rather too often as she thought it was too good a joke to use just once; and a rather dull lawyer type who got a bit alarmed at midnight, having conceived the fear that I might kiss him (fat chance!). "I....I don't think I'm quite ready for that," he stammered. Hopefully he's still not ready for it. Other than that, my friends did their best to get the hang of the new me, and it was all very positive.

It'd been a hell of a year, with my marriage falling to pieces and me wandering apparently endlessly picking up pieces in the trail of other people's doings... I'd made a start at the way ahead, having seen my GP and then a specialist in London, but I was still in the void between the collapse of what had gone before, and a new start for myself.

At dawn, I was up on the roof, admiring the sky. It was massively cold and clear, and the sun was glinting on the dense fog that hung over the Severn, to the north. It was the sort of morning, after such a night, to think bold and dramatic thoughts. So I did. "This is going to be the year it all happens," I thought. And, heck. I was quite right. And so were the following years too.

This New Year was very quiet. Young K had to wake me up, in fact, so that we could listen to the fireworks going off around Bristol. I like quiet. We'll do momentous sometime else, maybe.

Crikey. Seven years.