St Mary the Virgin, Burton Latimer

The church has a “Church Open” sign as I cycle past, so I pop in, and find the 13th century wall paintings. There was a cult of St Catherine here then.

Catherine challenged the pagan emperor Maxentius for his persecution of Christians. He brought the best philosophers to argue with her, but she refuted them all. He proposed marriage, but she declared herself espoused to Christ. Then he killed her. Angels carried her body to Mount Sinai, where her hair still grew and healing oil flowed from her body.

These pictures were covered in layers of limewash. It is amazing they have survived. They were restored in the 1970s. There has been a church here since the middle ages.

I have light conversation- mostly things we can agree on- with the woman who staffs the church on Sunday afternoons when it is open. We don’t know much about church architecture, but we know those arches further from the altar are Romanesque, those Gothic. We tend to like the altar brought forward West of the choir, so that the priest celebrates facing the congregation. She likes the 1662 rite, loving the richness and familiarity of the language she grew up with. You don’t have to try to understand what the prayer is saying, just dwell on aspects of it.

The Twelve Tribes of Israel date from 1600. I am surprised that the church would be so high as to have that decoration then. This was such a wealthy area, with so much to spend adorning its churches.

There is a tiny face in the bottom corner of one of the St Catherine paintings. Is it later? It is in Mediaeval form, but very clear.

Labels

At first, you just are. You are immediately aware of your needs, and state them. You are made happy when your needs are met. You express your feelings when you feel them.

Then you are moulded and socialised. Some things are not OK, and are restricted with labels, or names- “bad” or “good”, and more specific words. “Stupid”. “Lazy”. We need to be socialised. We are part of a society and cannot live well on our own.

We pick up labels from our parents then the wider society. Labels can be used best for the good of all including us. Other labels are used for the good of the dominant individuals, or for the group but not for the individual labeled. Ostracism is the most terrible punishment. A label like “awkward teenager” might goad a person into trying harder. You seek to fit in. With practice, you actually do. You find you like it.

Or, it is too much and you find a label to free you from that coercion. I am an “introvert”, you say: not bad, not less than others, but with different desires and gifts. You do not need to crave the label “party animal” which always seems out of reach. Labels can liberate. I am “introvert”, so it is OK for me to feel or behave this way. I am an “introvert”, so behaving that way will be genuinely difficult for me. It is not “my fault” and it does not mean I am less than others. I will find difficulty, and still it may be worth my while practising behaving that way.

Labels control, goad, punish. Sometimes they get someone to behave in a different way, and sometimes they simply immiserate them- incorrigible, incapable, I hide away. And labels liberate. Saying I am “transsexual” allowed me to do and feel as trans women do.

Labels can help me learn to navigate society. I am socialised in a particular way, coerced and constrained by labels, and other labels permitted me to be. Feeling that is OK because I am X. Wanting that is OK because I am Y. Others are not like that, so feel and desire differently.

Labels which liberate can still constrain: my understanding of “introvert” can make me imagine myself differently from my true nature. At best, I can understand myself without words, and then create the words to understand better. The words are a scaffolding to build understanding, yet for freedom I must be willing to build higher.

Possibly I have no “true nature”, I am a creature of words, in society, moulded by others and by the ideas I take in through words. Possibly I have an essence or being in some things and not others; but possibly I cannot know. That in me which others have most desired and enforced might be the part of me which I most cling on to, terrified of their sanctions. Of course it is Real Me!

Sometimes the words fall away, and like in infancy I simply am. Aware of my needs, desires and feelings, I do what I do without conscious analysis, flowing like water, following the Tao.

Yet still I use words, to communicate with people on the other side of the world. People here I can communicate with more directly, and yet still use words to communicate as I have learned to. More learning is possible.

Sometimes I choose a picture particularly for a post, sometimes I just go through a series of pictures with little relevance to a post, and sometimes going through my series I happen upon a picture which fits perfectly. Here’s one:

Community

Are you part of a community? If not, does it matter?

Planet- either Planet Group or Planet Housing Association- has a Community Investment Officer to design support projects for people in the Eagle’s Nest and Marsby, particularly those currently isolated, and sent round a woman to conduct a survey on community engagement; so I talked to her, and saw my life through others’ eyes- or through my own eyes but as if it were someone else’s.

What three words would you use to describe Eagle’s Nest? Quiet. Peaceful. Beautiful.

What word do you think an outsider might use? Mmm. I remember a council estate plonked down between Linlithgow and Falkirk, with nothing to do, a few buses, a wee shop/post office; and I thought it “Godforsaken”.

She asks how often I use the amenities of Marsby, and how important I think them. The hairdresser- I remove my wig. Not at all. The doctors’ surgery. It is very important. The church. I have been there a couple of times. Anything else? The Lakes- the park is very beautiful. I don’t eat out in Marsby, or use the take-aways. I don’t use the pubs, I go into Swanston or Kettledrum. I have used cafes occasionally.

Do I know anyone locally? Are there people I could ask if I had practical problems? No. I say hello at the bus stop, even have conversations on buses occasionally, but do not really know anyone.

-Do I use the community centre?
-It must be a community- it has a community centre. I was last in there to give blood.

-Do I use social media? Am I aware of social media pages for Marsby?
-No. I suppose I am what I used to refer to as “difficult to reach”.
-We say “Hard to reach,” she says. I don’t think this is a political correctness change of phrase.

Am I isolated? Well, today I shall go to Swanston for tea with a friend. Yesterday I went to Kettledrum for coffee with a friend. On Monday night an old friend visited from Nottingham. This is an unusually busy week for me, but I see people. On Sundays I go to the Quaker meeting.

-Anything else important to you?
I indicate the television.
-Yes, that’s important to a lot of people.

-On a scale of one to ten, how satisfied are you with your life?
Mmm. One and ten- bored and frustrated, but- I say, “This is the life I have created for myself.” We agree on seven.

R thinks they might do something like the Swanston Housing Association: committees, residents’ associations, that sort of thing. Did he join in? God no, he says. I am more isolated because I do not have work or family, but I doubt many people have more community connections than I have, more friends or see them more often. I wonder about campaigning for the county council election in May. It would be good to get the Tory out.

How old am I? She is fifty as well, she says. Hers is a job I might have been doing in very slightly different circs.

What would I create here if I could have anything at all? An art gallery, I say. It would be good to walk to the Hockney exhibition. I wish them well with this, and it might even benefit my mental health if they got something going, but I don’t see what they can do.

Say… something nice

To Stanwick Lakes, for the Doctor Who costuming group. Missy is my favourite fictional trans character. I could dress in her style with my own clothes, for she dresses like a trans woman.

The David Tennant character has his hair like that all the time. Perhaps just a little more gel today. His friend is in the Sealed Knot, and they really take it seriously, live it for a whole weekend then pack it away in the car.

Queen Victoria, in her wheelchair, absolutely refused to play Davros. Victoria appeared in the story “Tooth and Claw”- she reminded me, and I remembered the story, including why the Koh-i-noor diamond was repeatedly cut, to be far smaller. Only repelling aliens could justify such vandalism. We chatted away, and her UNIT soldier stood by her without speaking, but when she got fed up with her lace cap and took it off, he folded it carefully and put it in a pocket.

Lisa as Sarah-Jane Smith had the hand of fear, which became Eldrad. It was the hand of a mannequin which she had spray-painted with rock-like paint. Someone else had badges which were given free with cereal in the early 70s: the set of six is £750 on e-bay. Lisa’s favourite Master was Roger Delgado, always failing, his mind control did not work because people were too strong, his allies were always betraying him. She did not like John Simm. We both love Michelle Gomez, and quote lines at each other.

I was sad their Peter Capaldi lookalike was not here. He tends to be more Malcolm Tucker than the Doctor when in costume. Ace’s baseball bat was signed by Sophie Aldred.

What do you do? Dress up and take photographs.

Missy would not be fazed by a cyberman. The voicebox produces a cyber voice too.

There are conventions most weekends. The actors come- Billie Piper was in Birmingham last weekend, “David Tennant” had met Julian Glover- so we reminisce about his episode, forging copy Mona Lisas to free himself from being shattered through time and space.

And- a female Doctor!

Explaining ourselves

We got to the villa, large and well-appointed, which we got cheaply because of being slightly before the season. The owner welcomed us, and showed us round. He introduced us to the three big dogs- as we walked through the town later to the café, there was a dogs’ chorus. Be friends with your burglar alarm: he wanted them to get to know our smell. “If you have any questions, please do ask,” he says, but we have no questions for him. Really, we want him to leave.  His parents in law are the next house, overlooking the garden. His English seems excellent, with little foreign accent.

We are shy. We do not want to explain ourselves. “They are shy of you, because they have Asperger’s Syndrome,” I could have said. I am shy, because I am Trans. We can pass as normal if we interact as little as possible. Why on Earth would we want to pass? Because explaining does not necessarily make others friendly- they might be put off by our odd manner, but might be mocking or hostile if they knew what we really are. Or even exploit us! And- I am worthwhile to know, but not trusting. I want you to spot that, imagine I might have good reason for it, and work to gain my trust!

Self-hatred is very useful for being able to pass. I have no right to be as I am, and the hostility of others is only to be expected. Or, you despise them, you put on an act for others. The main cause is fear. We pass because we fear you.

One of us ate something which disagreed with him, and as soon as we got home he was copiously sick in the gutter. There is a hose in the car port, and I hosed it down the drain. Later, the father in law came over. “We wondered if you are all alright? We saw he was sick in the gutter.” This could be friendly concern, and I experienced it as checking up on us. What are they doing wrong? Make them stop. Even, punish us in some way. We just want him to go away. No, no, we’re absolutely fine, there is no problem at all, and we say this not meeting his eyes, looking shifty. I fear, loathing the thought, that I come over as submissive.

I did think, later, of going over and asking for help, taking both at their word, getting to know them a bit, letting down my guard, approaching directly not circumspectly. Are there any tourist attractions for our friend, who has huge difficulty with stairs? I am a human being. Every human being has idiosyncrasies. I should not be judged for mine.

There is a large pile of wood, and a fireplace between the living room and my bedroom, with glass doors to each. I get a fire going easily- just call me the Pyromage! It has a strong draw, but we have more difficulty getting heat out of it rather than going up the chimney.

The kitchen is lovely. Twice we had sausage and mash, and twice we had pizzas. The trouble with passing, of living in fear of and at war with the world, is that you have less energy to explore how the world’s beauties and gifts may delight you, or to make it delight you, for you do not realise you deserve that.

Bill

Why do violent men want to tell me their life stories? He started talking to me at the cycle stands, so I said good morning to him. His name is – he reeled off at least eight names, including “Ulysses”- What’s your name? “I’m Abigail,” I said. “You are named after the love of my life, who lives in Southampton,” he said. He asked if I would like to go to his girlfriend’s birthday party, on 5 May in the ——– pub by the ——— centre. Come between 8 and 9 and he will give me an invite. He then told me he had read me as transgendered, because of my voice.

“But I don’t care about that,” he said. “I don’t mind if you want to be transgendered.”

No, I did not say, “Gosh! Thanks! That’s really kind of you, permitting a stranger to do this harmless thing.” Rather, I said that I don’t care either, and I don’t mind people knowing. That’s why I do this- I took off my helmet, and put on my wig. “My friend said I should go to the toilet over there and change in private, but I don’t care,” I said.

He can do anything, because he is going to prison. He’s just been cycling in the Arndale Centre, which is against the law. He kicked the soft tyre of the bicycle lying on the ground- “I’ve got those inner-tubeless tyres”.

-It’s great to be transgendered. You can be a man and have sex with a woman, have sex with a man and get pregnant
-We don’t have womb transplants.
-You could adopt…

Someone has dropped a letter from the Council. An award of benefit, a demand for payment, something more personal- he picks it up, reads it, says “Interesting” and stuffs it in his pocket. A woman on walking sticks picks her way, slowly, resentfully, past the bicycle lying across the usual path round the corner.

He showed me his T-shirt, and explained it. It is black, with pink Gothic writing. “Real men wear pink!” I said. “Yes, because we’re not afraid to show our heterosexuality. ‘Gay’ used to mean happy,” he said. On the front, it reads,

United
Patriots
that
Hammers
Excite.

It’s an acrostic. Up the Hammers. On the back, it says FTW then ADGD then there’s a pink silhouette of a seated cat. What do I think FTW stands for?

“Fxxk the World,” I said. He did not demur. It could be Floreat the Wombles, I suppose. GD is Gail Dawson his girlfriend, and AD is their daughter, the most wonderful thing he has ever created. The cat is he himself.

Anyway, he’s been charged with disobeying a policeman who told him to stop and put his hands behind his back, and breaking the wrist of that policeman. The policeman put him on the ground and caused this- he points to a graze on his forehead. He’s been in prison twice, but only [slang term].

-What?
-On remand.

He has studied Jujitsu, a bit of Karate, a bit of Akido. Jujitsu is soft power, go in soft then hit hard. “Use the energy of the opponent against him,” I say. “No, that’s Judo,” he says. He could have really hurt that policeman and he didn’t. He shows his stances. You bend the front knee, or your opponent could break your leg, he says. Yes, kick the knee. If his front leg is bent he can’t be pushed over. Go on, push me as hard as you can. I push him, and he indeed does not fall. But if the front leg is straight and the rear bent he can be pushed over. He rolls on the ground. “It’s always OK to fall, because you can roll into a break-fall,” he says, “Just always keep a guard and be ready for a scissor-kick”. He mimes it once or twice, then takes my arm gently and shows how he could break my wrist.

He is a soldier of fortune, but the British Army rejected him. He used to live next door to some Provos, and they were friends with a real IRA man who taught him all he knows about soldiering. Like, how to make a Molotov cocktail, with whisky or other alcohol, a light-bulb bomb- drill a hole in the metal base, fill it with paraffin, fill the hole with wax, they switch it on, the wax heats up and melts and boom. He showed him how to make a fertiliser bomb, a matchbox would be enough. Bleach bomb-

-Yes, bleach in the toilet, something else in the cistern. [I want to keep up with him.]

No, a bleach bomb. Someone blew up his garage in Southampton with a bleach bomb. He came home and there was this hole blown through the back wall. The other garages did not blow up, because there was thick ice and snow on top of the garage.

-Absorbed all the energy.
-Exactly. Anyway, they had rigged up the garage so a brick swung down and hit him on the head. He rigs up his garage with booby-traps.

-Fishing line with hooks?
-No, you don’t need hooks, just twine at neck, waist and ankle level as a trip wire, a brick to swing down and hit the head, then you’re in the dark tied in the twine. You have to let policemen postmen and bailiffs onto the curtilege of your property but not over the threshold. He sets up his booby traps when he goes out- when he is in, he is the protection.

-I can’t remember your name.
-Just call me Bill. Do you like to be ‘Abi’ or ‘Gail’?
-I like the whole thing. I am Abigail.
-All right then. Come to the party. Bring £10 to pay me so I can pay for the drinks, because charity begins at home. And bring me a present, something Hammers related, maybe a keyring with a hammer on it, I’ll get lots of those, not that Lionel Messi thing because it’s £350, you don’t have to spend that much. He’s been a Hammers fan since his aunt took him to a game, she had a spare ticket, she asked him if he wanted to go, he said who’s paying? she said You are.

I thought the party was for his girlfriend.

I have to go, as I am late for tea with my friend. I wonder if he has tried stand-up. He is highly intelligent with wonderful felicity with words. He may be going to prison. See also Ben.

Obidos

This Moorish fortress-town, still with Moorish street plan, is stunning. We picked it almost at random returning from Fatima- we had been advised to pop into somewhere as we drove back, but almost did not, lacking enthusiasm.

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The defensive structures are impressive. English and Welsh castles are all ruined because they could not cope with Civil War artillery yet were still used as fortresses in that war. I am glad that did not happen here. In 1580 a Spanish coup took over the country, but in 1640 Portugal achieved independence again- as a Scot, I am delighted by that, and their English alliance is a mirror image of our Auld alliance.

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These are the remains of the International Chocolate Festival, a delightful idea. The fifteenth is this year, 10 March to 2 April.

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We walked round the walls. I would not have enjoyed it with more tourists about: passing, with one pressed against the wall and the other close to the drop was mildly unpleasant. Would there be safety barriers if this were in England, or would walking be forbidden?

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We climbed that high turret. I did it just for the photo, and without a safety barrier felt a bit ill. A small girl blithely ran up the stairs, letting me take the wall-side. Later on I found a woman, clearly overcome by the experience, walking very slowly down two yard wide stairs to ground level. She leaned on the wall for support.

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Note how these graves are all lying on the surface. I wonder if they are on the bare stone, and the bodies lie just below those low sepulchre lids.

obidos-7-graveyard

We stopped off for a coffee, and I bought my only piece of tourist tat, of course a pendant.

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Lisbon Cathedral

I really want you to look at my header photo. I have not seen a beggar like that in Britain. At least the Cathedral chapter allow her to be there, unlike St Paul’s Cathedral.

There are more decorative churches in Lisbon than its cathedral. Its facade is almost bare, its columns unadorned.

lisbon-cathedrallisbon-cathedral-from-the-galleryThe guide book said it was not worth seeing, with just “a couple of tombs”, but it has grandeur. I was glad to be there, after the great difficulty we had getting there. With few tourists it has a more peaceful, even holy, atmosphere than Jheronymus.

Here are the tombs. I love the dogs, and the thought of reading and contemplating while awaiting the Resurrection.

lisbon-cathedral-doglisbon-cathedral-readerThe West window is easily interpreted? Twelve apostles and Christ at the centre, smaller than they, for some reason.

lisbon-cathedral-west-window-1 lisbon-cathedral-west-windowI paid to go into the cloisters, which are being excavated. Some of the buildings uncovered are Roman, some Moorish, and there is a Roman sewer.

lisbon-cathedral-cloister-excavationsOutside, the trams shake and judder up the steep hill. They are a tourist attraction, he went to ride one while I was in Belem. Notice the English. I had not realised how quickly my camera battery would run down, and took the rest of my photographs on the phone.

lisbon-cathedral-tramThat beggar, again. Leaving, I handed her a 20c coin. She kissed it. I did not, as the Pope advises, look her in the eye and touch her hands, wishing her “Bom dia”- I looked away, embarrassed.

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The hilltop palace at Sintra

The undeserving rich, the moneyed elites of Portugal, looked at Brighton Pavilion with envious eyes, and built it on steroids.

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I love this place. I find it fabulously beautiful, and am delighted it exists; and appalled at the thought of living within miles, as it dominates the countryside. The king can get that thing built, even on that hill top, with all the labour involved, and just live there. Viva a revolução!

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All the tourists are about, and everyone is taking photographs. In the upper storey of the courtyard, below, I saw three together, all with cameras glued to faces, and they dispersed just before I could photograph them.

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The exterior is fabulous, the interior less so. When this was being furnished, sculpture had moved on from this cheap soft porn. The undeserving rich can have execrable taste.

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I find the chapel disturbing as well. The luxury-ascetic of it, such a rich depiction of death by torture. Christianity is full of paradox, the church saying the Magnificat- “He has cast down the mighty from their thrones”- while sucking up to the powerful, who pray in places of such adornment- how could anyone of any imagination get this place built then put a chapel in it? Serve God or self-indulgence, man- but you have to choose.

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Parliament

 To Parliament, for the mass lobby for EU citizens. Most of us there were not British, and spoke up for their own rights. I went to communicate my desire for co-operation in Europe, and treating people decently. After, there was a demonstration against Mr Trump, to coincide with the Debate on our demand to rescind the State visit invitation. 

Parliament is impressive. 

I claim Cromwell for Remainers. He fought for the people against the Moneyed Elites. 

More on this later. I don’t like writing on my phone.