Bad Men

There is a man at the front of the top deck. People who want to sit at the front of the bus are usually quite sweet: who else would want that experience? I sit across from him. The other bloke sits further back, and they start chatting.

He snapped his thumb a few weeks ago. He’s got to wear this splint another two weeks.
-How’d you do that then?
-Fell off me bike. I didn’t know I’d done it.
-It must’ve been painful, I said. But no: he lost the feeling in that side of his hand years ago, in a car accident.
-Did it all bruise up? I asked. He went to the doctor and they sent him to the hospital immediately.

Cannabis farms should hire one of these buses, he says.
-Only when it’s sunny.

His mate’s sister moved to Spain. Million pound villa, four floors, he’s been there. Her bloke does the airport runs.
-Where you working now? Whitworth’s?
-No, I’m back on removals. Easiest job I ever had was leaning out the back of a lorry putting cones down on the M1. Danger money.

Is that phone 4G?
-No, it’s an old one.
He’s thinking of getting a tablet. The police took his phone, computer, tablet, but couldn’t prove anything, so he just got done for criminal damage. £700 fine, he’s paid it off now.
-They should give you your stuff back after five years.
-They came to the door once with these smelly old trainers, I told them they weren’t mine, I didn’t recognise them. I put them in the bin.

He had a six month driving ban.
-Someone dobbed you in, didn’t he?
-Yeah, I don’t know, Why would anyone do that? I don’t mind what people do. Still, he didn’t need his car and it saved him money.

The estate could just kick off when it’s hot. (Actually I’ve found it peaceful for the last five years, and hope he’s just trying to shock me.)

-I think I’ll have a cold beer later.
He tells his mate he was on Pubwatch, so banned. Then he went in the Old England- up by—.
-Rough?
-Skinhead pub. I was banned from that for three months, then I went last week, got in an argument, got banned again.

At the station there is the Security Announcement: keep your belongings with you at all times, report anything suspicious to the police.
-You wouldn’t want to bomb Swanston, would you?
-That’s just what I was thinking, she said, and we were away. She was working in Debenhams when the IRA were bombing everywhere. She had to check her department every night before leaving, but they said if they want to bomb they’ll put it in something you won’t even notice, won’t think it suspicious. They had six bomb scares in five years. It was hard getting people out of the restaurant. “I’ve just ordered my dinner.” Yes, madam, but there’s a bomb scare. You can stay if you like but I’m getting out. Then places which sold furs had those animal fanatics threatening them.

I asked her how she would vote. Vote Leave, she’s decided, she’s not listening to the arguments. England was better before we went in, we were better with the Commonwealth. She’s in housing association sheltered housing, there are fourteen studio flats empty because people don’t want them. She’s frightened they will fill up with refugees, Poles, Lithuanians, Syrians- it’s terrible over there, all those different religions. Her nephew went into Iraq, and he said, now we’ve got the tiger by the tail and we’ll never be able to let go.

How did you vote in 1975?
I don’t remember the vote, then, it made no impression on me.

Miro, untitled etching

Psychotherapy and Psychology

We discuss therapy, and she feels I would be better working with my subconscious. Psychology works with conscious thoughts, psychodynamic psychotherapy with the unconscious. I would prefer that too.

-Can you think of good and bad experiences with therapists?

The bad experience was spending about forty minutes almost silent, psyching myself up to share something which I was ashamed of. Near the end, I did; and she would not see me again.

M. agrees that is a bad experience.

I knelt on his floor, and smoothed out the wrinkles in his rug. It was what I wanted to do. I did not like the wrinkles. I also thought my desire eccentric, so doing it was liberating. I could do what I wanted. So much of this unconscious work is in symbols!

The best thing that counsellor said to me was “Of Course you are transsexual!” And I did not see him again for six months.

Behavioural activation did nothing for me in practice, but that article makes sense: when people become depressed, many of their activities function as avoidance and escape from aversive thoughts, feelings or external situations. Depression therefore occurs when a person develops a narrow repertoire of passive behaviour and efficiently avoids aversive stimuli. As a consequence, someone with depression engages less frequently in pleasant or satisfying activities and obtains less positive reinforcement than someone without depression. The problem is identifying them. In theory walking in the sun should make me happier. I don’t want to. What might make me happy?

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy concepts like Situation Thought Emotion Behaviour and black and white thinking made sense to me and gave me answers to the inner voices, saying I am useless.

Thirteen parcels of books are being delivered from Friends House and stored in the meeting house. I could have had these delivered to my house, but that would mean needing a friend with a car to deliver them to the meeting house. So I spent Saturday at the meeting house so I could take delivery there, and not need a friend. How can I trust, or rely on someone? It is a common job interview question, how are you at team work- I can give, but do not want to take.

I also told my history. That rejection, that knock-back. Her manner is lovely, sympathetic: this in itself may be therapeutic; at least it makes me feel better in the moment.

Liz drove me over to see this Quaker psychologist, and Quakers will probably pay for therapy. That made me feel cared for, loved and valued. It is a precious feeling. Hold on to it.

Bosch, the ascent to Heaven

Edgar Degas

I do not like Degas. Consider these faces. It may be a commonplace- I got it from Alasdair Gray- that you cannot paint a facial expression that you cannot wear, so these are he.

I had noticed it, but could not deny the feeling with this actress. The face is hard. The lips, sexual red, are a gash, the eyes expressionless. She is in her dressing room, perhaps checking make-up, and still.

The café singer peers out at us through thick, fleshy eyelids. Her mouth is twisted. I do not understand those parallel stabs of white, but they cross her out. She is bovine.

This singer too, forced to use sex, imbued with the disgust one feels immediately after masturbating.

And the audience.

“People are like that,” Degas might say. Not all of us.

Fun with pedantry

“It was their/there/they’re yesterday”. I found this facebook grammar test so insultingly simple that I decided to subvert it: “I phoned my friends in Australia this morning- it was their yesterday”. R pointed to the feedback form for the tea-shop, which had a greengrocers apostrophe, and expressed-

Disgust? Derision? Anger?

What of this one? “A room of one’s/ones own”. He picked “one’s”, and most people would, but the reason the possessive has the apostrophe is that in origin it was like this: “John Smith his book” becomes “John Smith’s book”. The apostrophe indicates a contraction, as in “it’s”. “One his book” makes no sense. I will carry on using ones.

Reading someone’s writing, their they’re or there for “their” is evidence, but not proof, of poor education and even less conclusive about poor intelligence. It may just be a hurried mistype. Also we should “bear one another up with a tender hand”- it is rarely relevant to point it out.

That anger- the world is not as it ought to be, and not safe, so the anger may indicate fear. I am in control of so little that clear grammatical rules give me a precious sense of safety in a small part of my life. It is as consoling as rocking or cutting might be. Or, objection can be a way of excluding those who are not “people like us”, a fragile way of finding someone to look down upon. (Great writers have been using prepositions to end a sentence with since Chaucer.) Or a safe channel for anger against other things. All these are unhealthy.

We disagree on TTIP, as well. How could it work without ISDS? Well, Mr Corbyn as Prime Minister might relax the Working Time Regulations because he had no other option. R finds the thought appalling, and so do I; but I see no point in anger against it. I would do what I can against TTIP, but must accept the things I cannot change.

I was unreasonably delighted to have page views last week from Iran and Uzbekistan. This means the largest territories uncoloured on my map outside Africa are Turkmenistan and Tajikistan.

geoviews Iran

I would like the DRC, Chad, Niger and Somalia too, but the dopamine surge I got from Iran was huge.

I object more to the “nākd. strawberry crunch” bar. “Raw fruit crunchies and nut bar simply yummy” it insists. “Join the wholefoods revolution! Replace over-processed foods with nourishing wholefoods and get ready to be happy. This satisfying slice of simple goodness is a great place to start. Hope you love it as much as we do! Nature is nice.” It has a picture of some strawberries and another of a cuddly-looking bee.

Bah! Humbug!

Abashed. Delighted.

The demand that everybody display in public his innermost motivation, since it actually demands the impossible, transforms all actors into hypocrites; the moment the display of motivations begins, hypocrisy begins to poison all human relations.

-Hannah Arendt

She talked of politics, but that applies in knowing myself- I found years ago that I could discern good and bad, selfless and self-aggrandising, brave or cowardly, mean or generous, motivations for any act of my own. Seeing another, I feared he tortured himself by desiring to be Good rather than do as he wanted- for the moment you analyse possible motivations, you cannot know yourself to be good.

Where not constrained to act for a necessary end, should I just do what delights me?

I was delighted to find this Marion Donaldson dress in a charity shop. It flatters the figure, and stands out, with bold floral design in blue, red, green and intermediate colours. Then I went for a coffee with a friend. I noticed the other women could dress in a beautifully feminine manner- that floral sweater is pretty- yet all wore separates, mostly trousers, and I was abashed. Then a preview of a BBC4 documentary: the academic presenter wears a dress, and I feel delight: I am not alone. I noticed in France a few years ago more women wore dresses, perhaps because it is hotter.

Do I want to stand out, or fit in? Thinking of it, it might be good to improve my eye for these things, and get a wider range of clothes. I am fifty, and I am doing teenage still. I resent that it is so much effort, and want just to carry on as I am until a sudden intense feeling that that is not good enough.

Transition seems to be awfully to do with clothes mocked Lionel Shirer in Prospect magazine, but well, clothes are how we present ourselves to others.

I like dresses, and I wanted dresses for the Summer, and people do not generally wear dresses. I will wear them at Yearly Meeting: I don’t expect others to, but there some non-conformities seem OK.

I would like it clear and sorted, and it is not. I want to be, not all the time to have to become. As opportunities arise, or I have energy to seek them out, I may get a wider range of clothes to express myself or fit different situations while dealing with other issues. And that sudden self-conscious discomfort was useful information: it does not mean that I am useless and stupid, but that there are other possibilities…

I can’t make sense of this. I have conflicting desires and feelings, different levels of energy or discomfort,

but it is alright, really-

Degas, before the mirror

Beyond binary

What does the BBC have to say about genderqueer or gender-fluid folk? Here is Analysis:

-I am neither a man or a woman.
-Whoah, we can hear you thinking- what’s going on?

Not me, of course. I am thinking, Testify!

People who identify as non-binary feel they fall outside those male/female categories. They also might identify as transgender…. this is a movement with traction, especially in the West, among the young. The concept of non-binary challenges pretty much everyone’s thinking. Prepare to throw some of your assumptions about gender out of the window. I paraphrase throughout.

Tamsin, AMAB, considered transitioning to female, but it did not seem quite right, until they saw the term “non-binary” on line, which immediately made sense. It meant freedom from expectation.

You’ll have to get used to pronouns. Often people with a non-binary identity prefer something gender-neutral. Grammarians might disapprove of using “they” as singular, but please take a deep breath and go with us on this journey.

Linda Pressly, presenter, understands and sympathises, but imagines none of the audience will, which irks me.

Tamsin is taking female hormones, so their features have softened and they have the beginnings of a bust line.

It is a choice. Intensely personal details are passed on. The advantage is that some in the audience might sympathise more with a person than the abstract “some people take hormones”- but others might hear a freak show. Is that my own transphobia speaking- “They will see us as freaks!”? I am still uncomfortable.

People still read Tamsin as male, female, or a trans woman, not as non-binary.

Kate Bornstein wrote “Gender Outlaw” in the early 1990s. I always thought of KB as a trans woman, indeed that most non-binary people were AFAB. Linda corrects me, then reveals their surgical status. Kate: I was spending time with transsexuals, and was accepted as neither.

Linda: A legitimacy of sorts has come for those who transition from one gender to another. There is still violent prejudice but gender affirmation surgery [better on the words than I am!] has become more common, and trans women and trans men are far more visible.

Kate: Miley Cyrus says she is not man, not woman.

Many find the identity on line. Tumblr is an influential site: Jen-Jack, a researcher, uses the pronouns he and she. Everyone under 30 has been on Tumblr, affected by surgery pictures. People try out levels of masculinity and femininity.

I was a tomboy. I had a male persona called Tom when I was two or three. I don’t want to be what’s known as a girl. Finn is 16. Their mum feared how the world would react, but now celebrates that Finn can be themself.

The Tavistock Clinic for under-18s. Linda: They may be prescribed hormone-blockers giving them a space to explore their gender. They may take cross-gender hormones. Some may want surgery.

I object. Linda does not state how rare this is. The number of referrals has increased ten-fold. 1400 were seen last year. Girls outnumbered boys two to one. She means “AFAB outnumbered AMAB”. Polly Carmichael, the director, says, The non-binary group are challenging assumptions. Transition is a well-developed pathway in the UK health system, but non-binary challenges pre-conceived ideas. Some want hormones but not surgery. There is a developing language- we are all learning along the way. It is not a matter of needing to prove anything.

Many seek no medical intervention, but bind their breasts.

Linda: If Finn was your child, how would you feel about them taking testosterone or having chest surgery? Finn’s mother when she heard “cried and cried and cried” but six months on finds herself in a different place. Finn: No parent wants surgery for their child, but as with any surgery there is an issue that needs to be fixed. I can feel comfortable in my body, first binding and then knowing that within five years I won’t have breasts.

Alok: We experience discrimination at work, physical and verbal harassment, housing insecurity and poverty, and misgendering. Linda: Alok, an activist, wants gender to cease to be a criterion for the way we organise society. Alok gambles with their personal security every time they get dressed.

Brave or foolish? You decide! Every time they go out in a skirt or a dress or make-up they are harassed- because they are not seeking to pass, perhaps. They wear “men’s clothing” not seeing it as men’s, but as safety. Women challenge them in the women’s loos.

Alok: These conservatives are only concerned with women’s safety when it has to do with trans people. YES!! Let’s end street harassment of women!

Pips Bunce, the global head of Fixed Income & Derivatives IT engineering at Credit Suisse, identifies as gender-fluid, or gender-variant, and half the time expresses female at work, “a beacon of immaculate corporate femininity”. It was wonderful having the support of the company: they have to look professional. They is more engaged, integrated, happy and content as an employee.

Linda: When you’re Pippa are you still your kids’ Dad?

Yes, says Pippa. I don’t like that question: it could be seeking information, but it sounds like a challenge to me. Speaking to the audience, Linda challenges prejudice- I would prefer the programme to explain who people are, rather than bully listeners into denying what we are not. Why assume discomfort?

I suppose Linda is speaking for that non-accepting audience member, so that Pippa can answer: It’s much more accepted than when I was at school. Children see it all the time.

We felt the wrath of non-binary activists during our research. Well, yes. Do you need to make an issue of it? Can you not just accept us?

People who transition feel their own journeys and identities may be invalidated by these gender-queer upstarts. I like what she says here, how we are prickly because of societal transphobia. I can accept others if I can accept myself.

21:17: Then, there are feminists. No, TERFs, a subset of feminists. We put the objections to our youngest and oldest contributors. This enables Linda to says things like lots of women and girls are gender non-conforming.

Finn: I didn’t identify with women… When I wear dresses I want to look like a boy in a dress, that’s the kind of non-binaryness that I want to see myself having.

Linda: To be non-binary, you have to believe in the binary.

Kate: I want future without gender to be fabulous, anything you want it to be.

I want fun with gender. I want to provoke, and be looked at. I want to challenge. And I want to fit in: I am exploring, just as they are. Oh, let us not fight!

Linda: Some would say there are male bodies, and there are female bodies. Alec was born intersex, neither male nor female. They was attacked on the street presenting as a butch lesbian, so started to present male as they could not deal with the vilification.

That’s the point. While there is vilification, let us be gentle with anyone’s way of expressing non-conformity.

Linda ends, “The future is looking a lot less binary”. That means freedom for everyone.

Buy holy water!

Holy water, available on Amazon! What would you use it for? The happy reviewer wrote, living in shoreditch i have regular problems with foxes and vampires. This particular holy water didn’t work so well on the foxes but was just so effective against the undead. I splashed just a small amount on this vampire once and his whole face fell off.

The forum Catholic Answers- To explain and defend the Faith– debated this. Veteran member Dorothy said, Right away it is problematic, as new age “holy water” is not blessed by a priest. You can obtain holy water that is blessed from your Catholic Church. Note the scare quotes: make sure only to use proper, Catholic, holy water.

Porthos- probably not the Musketeer- said, Further, any blessed item loses its blessing when sold. Revert_Jen wanted to see citations for that: I suppose a controlled experiment could be held easily enough, unless experimenting on blessed items makes them lose their blessing too. Lovely, to see her Mediaeval way of finding truth prospering in the Catholic church.

I checked with eBay. If a blessed item is sold, the blessing is lost; to claim otherwise is the sin of Simony, and a mortal sin for the seller. Further, blessed items have no special power, only sentimental value. The Pope’s blessing is worth no more than a deacon’s, a rare non-hierarchical rule for his church. But this bit is odd: Any blessed item may be given to another person, whether that person is Catholic or not, and the blessing is retained. The exception to this is for items blessed under the old regulations on indulgences. These blessings have all been abolished. These blessings were personal and do not pass on to another person if the item is given as a gift. So, if someone were to give you an old indulgenced crucifix or rosary you would not be able to gain the indulgences. The item is, however, still considered blessed in the ordinary sense.

I had thought the RC church last sold indulgences before the counter-reformation.

eBay again: what about “Papal Blessings” obtained from Rome? In this case the person obtaining the blessing is paying for the parchment of declaration, packing and shipping, and any administrative fees. Remember, the people involved in producing the document and packing and shipping it must be paid. There is no charge for the blessing per se. Any fee is to pay those involved in the process of procuring and sending the document.

Parchment Papal blessings may be granted, if there is a nihil obstat, for the 18th and 50th birthdays and every decade thereafter, and requested in writing or by facsimile transmission equipment- telefax (+39) 06.69883132- but not by email or telephone.

Direct From Lourdes provides Lourdes Water, Rosary Beads, Miraculous Medals and a large collection of the best Catholic Gifts. Our fine range of quality and unique Religious Goods and Catholic Jewelry can be sent to any location worldwide. A grateful recipient writes, The Catholic Products were beautifully packaged and I am very pleased with the quality of your Catholic Gift Shop. I even cried when I opened the package and held the water in my hand. These things give many people a great deal of comfort.

Murillo, Maria Immaculata

Emotional ambitions

As I accelerated downhill towards the chicane, a white van passed me. When I caught him up at the junction, as his window was down I had the delight of shouting at the driver: What if someone was coming the other way? What if you had had to stop suddenly, and I had run into your back?

-There wasn’t anyone coming the other way, he said.
-There’s a blind bend! You’re an idiot!

My throat is a bit sore.

The brakes on this bicycle are a lot better, so I would not have run into his back. I might’ve, on the other one. Anger is not the best response when rushing down hill with nothing protecting your head but a lump of polystyrene. And there is a feeling of freedom letting it out shouting.

I read that climbing I should look for a cadence of 72rpm, far faster than I am used to. It uses different muscle fibres. I tried it. I will try it again. I am pleased by learning this.

Normally I would not want to go off on one. One is cool and calm, until wound up by something which seems totally wrong or unfair especially where I do not anticipate it. I can forgive my father- he is just like that- though a rebellion phase of expressing anger may be useful, and perhaps anger after might be effective.

My problem has not been showing my feelings to others, but knowing them myself. I suppressed them. Now, my problem is facing and accepting them. This is why I shut them down with television, rather than opening them with meditation. Or why I procrastinate: I am overwhelmed by the feelings I anticipate, some of which I project on others.

Feelings, situations, even depression are OK- the problem comes in fleeing them. I am like Jonah fleeing God: the storms get higher. Escape the belly of the beast- come out into the sunshine- out of the Cave…

Tintoretto, Jonah leave the whale's belly

Behold, the man

More Ecce Homo pictures.

Rubens, Ecce Homo

At first I thought Rubens had got it completely wrong. His Jesus made me think of frown, and wrinkled lip, and stare of cold command- quite the wrong passions for the Passion. And then I saw this Christ as holding your gaze: demanding to be seen, as a human being, but any challenge is in the viewer. We may project, but Christ accepts. Pilate is defeated. He wants to release Jesus but politically has no power to.

Willem van Herp, Ecce Homo

You would expect a Dutchman of the time to give the Romans Spanish helmets. The soldiers mock, jeer and prod, and even the dog challenges, and Christ sits, powerless- the crossed wrists exemplify that for me- yet straight-backed. This is art as resistance.

Bosch or follower, Ecce Homo 1590s

More Bosch. Below there is tumult, and in the upper left- many possible stories there.

Love and Ritual

“Saxon Church” said the sign, so I asked if we could have a look. It has round, Roman, arches, which is unusual, but a pointy, Gothic, one between the nave and the sanctuary- this one architectural factoid does not take me far. I studied the many long, narrow stones making up the arch.

On entering, I noted a stoup marked “Holy water” so crossed myself. In nomini Patris et Filii et Spiritu Sancti. Liz would not do that. Up the nave to the Sanctuary, past the Victorian stained glass, “To the Glory of God”- of course- “and in loving memory of”- 1888. Jesus, in gorgeous robes fit for the most prosperous Bishop, looks with love at three different people whose lives are changed instantly. I note there is the usual altar/ communion table at the end of the nave, then steps up and an altar rail shielding a further altar. I go down the steps to the south chapel.

“I saw there was no light over the Aumbry.” These words mean nothing to her. I explained: the bread and wine are consecrated, and may be kept for later use, in a wee cupboard, but normally there is a lamp burning constantly above it, to stop the holiness, er, evaporating off. This don’t impress her much. I did not say that the light also indicates whether one should bow or genuflect when passing the altar. The lock protects the silver chalice, but the precious thing inside is the wafer itself.

Going out, I read the card under the stoup: when we cross ourselves with holy water, it explained, we remember our baptism and renew our baptismal vows. I would not go that far; but if I went a bit Buddhist with my Quaker friend and said the unusual sensation of the cold water on my forehead might put me into that sensitive sensory state we call mindfulness, that might mean more.

I have another job interview. She will hold me in the Light. When is it, exactly? Another Friend had been irked to get the wrong day; she had been Holding me a day early, so I rushed to assure her it is not time-limited. My Friends love me. This upholds me. I tried telepathy as a teenager- what, you did too? Powerless leads to desperate measures- and do not expect a sudden rush of a feeling of worth as I shake hands. The feeling of worth might also come from the new suit, from Planet- well, new to me, anyway.

The water is a symbol the love and care of the vicar for the church and all who enter it. Crossing myself, I acknowledge and partake in that love. I accept its welcome, and we come together though we do not meet. It is a deep stoup with a lot of water, so won’t evaporate away if unfilled for a day. I have seen tiny Catholic stoups dry, because they need refilled constantly.

John Paul II had to make a ruling- if you see him blessing a crowd on the telly as it happens, he said, it’s effectual, and he has blessed you. But not if you record it on video, and get it out for a blessing when you feel the need.

Rossetti, Lady Lilith