Don Pasquale

“They were doing really well, cycling up that hill” said Pat. There’s nothing difficult about that hill, with reasonable gears. “You must be really fit then,” she said, and I realised how proud I am of it, how it delights me striding along in top gear. There is not much I feel proud of. The next day someone in cycling gear rather than jeans and a t shirt overtook me easily. He was probably going further than me, too, and not necessarily much younger. Oh well, my jeans and t shirt label me not a Serious Cyclist, and yet I am still proud.

I got to my friend’s house in the dark, hoping to change into my pretty frock. She was running late, and her garden is not overlooked so I put my light on a chair and changed and made up. Then she said she was more than half an hour away, so I went to the pub to keep warm.

-Haven’t seen you in here before.

We got chatting. He used to work in the shoe factory in Marsby. Very little shoemaking in the county now, I say. My turn. I’m going to the Opera. They don’t believe me. Where’s that then? I tell them of that concert, and they say there’s no church in Dell. So we get our phones out.

“Set up- say ‘yes google'” says my screen. Oh, why should it be so complex? Why should my location be continually known to the phone company, Google, facebook, whoever?

“Was that what you meant?” asks another man, who finds that the concerts are usually in the Manor-house. Yes, but I know the difference between a church and a manor-house: one room is most of the building and you can see the roof from inside. Though I give up explaining.

My friend had worried about going in there in case anyone thought she wanted to get picked up. I am still worried about going into pubs in case I am abused as trans- but actually I was uncomfortable there, because I am an Outsider.

Don Pasquale by Donizetti was performed by Opera Minima, four singers and a pianist, and a silent Maid whose hammy facial expressions were hilarious. I spent most of the second half feeling complete delight, loving the voices, harmonies, tunes, and the English translation which rhymed, scanned, made sense and was singable.

Hieronymus Bosch, The Temptation of St Anthony, detail 8


The car passed very close, so I cycled at the edge of the road, then pulled into the edge forcing me to stop. “What did you shout at me?” demanded the angry driver. I told him, correctly, it had been “Don’t stop!” So there we were, and I was not going to back down.

He said it was a private road, and I should go by the footpath over the fields. I asked, politely, if he would not mind me going by the road through the farm buildings, and he refused. So I refused to go by the footpath. It is not clearly marked. He told me I would have to go back, and I refused.

He then grabbed my front wheel and started dragging me back along the road. That did wind me up. I said “Let go of my bicycle. This is criminal damage. Let go of my bicycle now.” He stopped, and we continued confronting each other. He called to his colleague to shut the big gate across the road. “That’ll stop you,” he said. “I am sure I could get my bike through the gaps in that, I said.

“Where have you come from?” I told the truth. “Is that where you live?” “Yes,” I lied. He threatened to call the police- please, please do; run my bike over with a tractor, or the car, or throw it in the ditch if I moved an inch forward- so as he retreated, I moved forward. He called me a whore, a mental patient and a benefit claimant. I have a day off work, I said. A man with a pressure washer cleaned one of the farm vehicles, and the same idea crossed his mind at the same time as mine. “Have you got a long hose?” he called out. He did not keep to this threat. “Are you a thief? You are on private land, so you must be a thief. What have you got in your saddle-bags?” But he did not try to open them, either.

-Why are you so angry?
-Are you a psychologist, or something?

He phoned his boss, and complained. “Do you want to talk to him?” he asked. No. “She is refusing to talk to you.” I asked if he wanted to talk to me. The man on the other end of the phone was abusive, calling me “mental”. Andy put out his hand and demanded his phone. “He’s asking for the phone back, are you finished?” I asked. “It’s my phone!” Andy expostulated.

He sat down on the gate, his back to me. His colleague brought him orange squash to drink. I replaced my chain, which had derailed in the scuffle, and watched men replace the wheels on a tractor.

After eighty minutes, the owner turned up, with a rather different accent.

-Are you feeling all right? he asked.
-Yes, thank you, I said politely.
I still claimed to live in G-A-, which is slightly posher than where I do live- everywhere is posher than where I live- and agreed I would not cycle through this way on my return. I won’t go that way again. So Mark told Andy to open the gate and let me through. Then, as I had missed the Story-telling- I would have missed it had I turned back and cycled the long way round- I turned round and cycled back the way I had come.

The thing which makes me feel some compunction is that he told me they had had “people with guns” in the fields, and the police from Kettledrum took three hours to come.

“Add Media” says the button, and Medea is so close…

Henri Klagmann, Medea

Mustn’t grumble II

-it could be worse.

Today, I have saved myself £8.49 by reading my water meter. The water company sent a plumber round to see if I could save water, who put a mechanism in the cistern so I could use less water flushing and gave me a smaller washing up bowl. I have used thirty m3 of water in just under seven months, that is 30,000 litres or 150 litres a day: I don’t fancy carrying it five miles on my head. That is about low/ average in the UK, about 77p a day. The charges went up 10% on 1 April.

I cycled 25 miles on Tuesday, including two on minor roads which turned out to be stony and unmetalled- silent, beautiful trees, but boneshaking and unpleasant. It took about two hours and forty minutes- so I cycled not quite the distance of a marathon in more than the time top athletes would run one. I could not find the “historic church”- has the sign been turned round? I thought of cycling a similar distance this afternoon but did not get round to it.

I don’t want to be a glass half full person! I want to be a glass overflowing person!

I typed some emails about Quakers this morning. Yesterday, I did one about the knotty problem of arrangements for business meetings next year. It is knotty because there are underlying issues. This actually took much of the morning, though perhaps it could have been done in less time had I had less. I spend a lot of time thinking about clerking.

I had a nap in the afternoon. Yes, yes, small children and old people, but-

He called me a “Cross-dresser”! What? Well, cross, certainly-

I watched two episodes of Person of Interest, which has only got to season 3 in the UK. It is reassuring to have clear goodies and baddies, and the mindless violence is quite fun, and the political message- the baddie was a corporate bigwig, making lots of money- fits my politics.

Should I apply for that job? It is a move of 300 miles north, for a contract lasting six months. I would be a professional tranny- campaigning, training and lobbying about hate crime against the trans community. It might shake me out of my rut, and given that a trans woman would be good for the role they might be more likely to look more favourably on my work history.

That can make me miserable. But that is no reason to stop it- I am, after all, angry and miserable most of the time… H does not have cancer, and having worried so much about seeing the consultant does not feel much better now.

I read a bit.

One of my first questions in any situation is, how am I wrong? I don’t despise myself as much as I did; I am still dissatisfied. I can’t see a way to improve my life, particularly, and have less fear than I had that it could get much much worse.

I have been coughing for about four weeks. It sounds dreadful, but I don’t feel otherwise debilitated. I took off the UK Biobank activity monitor. For a week, it has monitored the duration frequency and intensity of all my activity, not just exercise as I had thought, by measuring speed of movement in three dimensions. I wore it out of some desire to do something useful, and now from my movements they will know that I sometimes do not shower until the afternoon. Though I have not yet sent it back…

Human givens.

Delacroix, The Winter - Juno Beseeches Aeolus to Destroy Ulysses' Fleet

Cycling at night

The light is beautiful. The last light in the north-east sky, fifty minutes after sunset; the ethereal reflection of my headlight on my racing handlebars. That cyclist has a very bright headlamp. Once I turn off the main road out of the town onto the country road through Candleford (nothing to do with Flora Thompson) there are very few cars: fewer than twenty in nine miles, in either direction. The air is balmy- in shorts and t shirt I overheat.

I take it slowly and carefully. The second glass of wine has a cost, as I did not judge the curve on that roundabout well. I know the road, but not quite well enough.

The light which dapples through the trees in sunshine is beautiful, and now the trees make it quite dark. And the light of those two cars’ headlights glares into my eyes, so I could hardly see. I slowed down, pulled into the side, and stared at the grass verge passing to keep in the right place on the road.

I was not scared but reasonably apprehensive of this. I have only cycled at night once before, last century.

Having done it with only slight winds in such warm weather, I might do it later in the year. This is the step I can take, now, towards freedom. I have said I was doing teenage, and never more than now, using the bicycle more so I can get out of the house. I can go out in the evening if I can get home afterwards.

(I didn’t like it. It scared me. The unspoken Truth, the Truth you dare not state-

Different voices in me. One resists. It is all too much. I do not like it. I feel a reasonable response is, it is bearable. It has its pleasures. I am not that Other Person, and freed from that expectation in me I can become a more powerful person than I experience myself, now. What is possible ceases to be merely ridiculous and poor and repellent. It is the step forward which is available.

I want to be in that other place, but this is the step forward I can take, so I take it.

Positive thinking! The experience had beauty, though it was not merely and entirely pleasant. It achieved something I wanted, and holds forth the prospect of achieving more later. Only positive thinking lets me move forward.

Turner, Fishermen at Sea

Everything is beautiful II

I wrote on facebook,

Our mistakes, errors and failures
are beautiful

and Hazel wrote, “Mine aren’t.” Oh, Hazel!

Right now, consumed with shame, I wonder whether anyone has wasted her life and talents as badly as I. I have no job, house, children, savings, pension- prospects- I maunder away my life, bored and resentful, watching TV, dozing off, writing here.

(Attentive readers will notice the word “partner” is missing from that oft-repeated list. I have gone out a few times with someone. I would love to say “I am going out with” her, and only avoid that from fear of being presumptuous.)

Onywye. I reason myself out of my shame, and I feel my way out of it. I have always done my best. I could almost say, they are not mistakes, errors and failures, but attempts. They have been my best shot given my knowledge, understanding, levels of energy and motivation at the time. And if there is so much that I am not attempting, now-

my hurt is real. It is not, just, that I am weak, and should pull myself together. “I get on with life” said Neil, and I said, “Well, so did I, until I stopped”. That stopping, that Moment-

I thought I should cycle on the ball of my foot, rather than the instep, so put up my bicycle seat. Cycling felt wonderful. I noted that sometimes I was slipping my arse from side to side, and it felt like it could hurt my back- Dean later told me the seat too high can hurt the back, not necessarily for this reason. My metal pedals have a side with a bit of grip, so it will grip my toe rather than sliding down to the instep. Next day I climbed to the top of St Pauls, and that evening felt something go in the back of my ankle- I was frightened my ligament was damaged. The day after that, exuberantly I started pas de basque, and felt something go in my ankle again.

I watched other people cycling- not races on telly but people in the park, and the South Bank of the Thames, and ruefully saw that they all cycle on the instep. Though Dean says the power should come from the calf muscle.

Friday night I tried cycling. My ankle feels alright. I decided to leave the seat up, and do that nine mile run. I was monitoring my back, thighs, knees, legs, taking care, taking reasonable risk.

I showed courage. When my inner critic denies this- I know enough not to project her denial onto you-  I say I had experienced pain, and feared I had damaged myself, and doing the same thing scares me, quite reasonably. Yet I did it, safely enough. I am proud of myself.

How wonderful to learn to value myself and take care of myself! I am not just listening to the voice saying “Fucking get on with it you useless prick, there should be nothing to it for anyone not as worthless as you…”

How wonderful to achieve what I have, when I did not know this! That stopping, that Moment

It was the best thing I have ever done!

Topmost niche

Control II

Sunlight through trees dapples the road. I go down into the dip as fast as I can then stride up the slope on the other side (it’s rolling, rather than hilly, countryside) in top gear. Cycling Highs! I did nine miles, which is an hour’s pleasant, mild exercise rather than a serious effort.

I wanted to cycle as the weather was perfect for it. I have put my seat higher: this will mean cycling more efficiently as I use my calves, but at first it might mean soreness at unaccustomed muscle use. Actually I found I was still pedalling on the instep rather than the ball of the foot, and wiggling my bottom from side to side over the seat. Would that strain the back?

I was sure I wanted to cycle, but I was writing my post from yesterday, wrestling with gender essentialism, analysing. Where is integrity and freedom? What do I want, and why? Who am I? I want to know. Knowing is control. Not knowing can be just too frightening. From what I actually do, it appears I want to write, instead, and not submit that for publication elsewhere than my blog.

I am sick, objectively disordered, wanting to stay in my living room rather than going out. Here I am in control. Yet the sickness is the pain which I am healing: the desire to remain indoors is beautiful and healthy, because it is my way to healing.

I question everything. I don’t do what feels comfortable, I do what feels frightening but less frightening than the other thing. Or do what I have been used to doing, suppressing my pain fear and anger until I cannot. From wrong to wrong the exasperated spirit moves-

There were three people ahead of me in the queue in the Marsby post office, and when I entered the woman in front of me stepped two yards to the side, as far as she could get from the others. Another conferred briefly with her, then they left. It looks like an exercise to me: go to the post office, a testing, stressful but hopefully manageable task one could complete if conditions were propitious. She is in control sufficiently to abort the mission. I drifted outside and looked after them, wondering if I could reassure her I was no threat, or in some way show her my great-hearted Love as an antidote to her pain, but had no idea how to communicate, and it was not my problem anyway. Not theirs, either, perhaps.

I sat outside in the sun, in a recliner with a cheap, lumpy cushion, my head resting on the metal bar. It would be more lucrative to argue successfully before the Court of Appeal, but this is what I want, now, looking up at those birds. This is where my love and beauty, the love of God and the beauty of the World have brought me, now. I let go of what shall I do next. What shall I do, now? Meditating, cycling, writing here, analysing, sunbathing- appears to be what I want, from what I actually do. Perhaps it is alright. I went for another cushion for my head.

Part of 1000 voices speak for compassion.


Not inadequate

Feeling inadequate was so long my default position. I responded by seeking always to be in control, at last by retreating from the world. This morning I avoided control, chose what I wanted though it might not have worked, and felt liberated. It seemed important:

I wanted to cycle this morning. My front tyre was just hard enough to ride, but when I pumped it to harden it further there was a hissing noise. Is it slow punctured? I would be later than arranged with Richard, and could not let him know because he did not answer his phone or have an answerphone. It was about the best day for cycling I would get in January, forecast sunshine with light winds. I felt I wanted the exercise and the challenge, and decided it was not my inner puritan driving me. I liked the exercise, and the frost on the grass and hedges, and the view over the valley in the sunshine.

And it felt like had I been Seeking Control, I would have caught the bus: it would have got me to the café on time. I would have fulfilled my obligation unquestionably. Richard said he was scrutinising each person coming in, disappointed it was not me: I felt a pang at that, because I have felt the same way.

Coming back it had clouded over. The direct sunshine makes such a difference: I was cold, it was a slog, and at home I put on my coat and stuffed a hot water bottle inside it. I warmed up well enough.

It seemed I had done what I wanted, even if it were not sensible, and taken a risk, which made me uncomfortable but was alright; and so I am pleased with myself. I have learned more about dressing for cycling. Being sensible is not as overwhelmingly important as I had feared.

Monet Haystack, snow effect, overcast day

Christmas II

Opening the presents

First, a Poem:Adjusting the balls

Please give way to the cyclist, cos the cyclist is me
I’m a squishy, breakable cyclist, and I don’t want to die you see
It’s fun to be a cyclist, in the sun with the wind behind-so-
Please give way to the cyclist, if you don’t mind.

Please give way to the motorist, if you don’t want your frame all bent.
I don’t want to deal with the paperwork, but I don’t mind a scratch or dent
The roads have a plague of cyclists, all getting in the way-so-
Please give way to the motorist, if that’s okay.

H meets me off the train, having taken an hour to drive to the station. The rain is lashing down, and the forecast is worse storms, but people have still got their last shopping. At home, I meet her cats, who are completely gorgeous, and welcome me in. I love to be sat on. Then they jump off, busily opening the presents and rearranging the tree decorations.

Best present for the child, 7, is a motorised ballerina. Press the button and her tutu spins round like the rotor of a helicopter. Up she goes, bounces off the ceiling with her rubber head, drops about two yards then moves upwards again. Her arms out, she rotates in a stately manner against the direction of her skirt. I would love a skirt like that: I have the legs for it! So has C, now 15, in a skirt which looks like a belt: her mother told her she could only wear it with opaque tights, but after I tell her with her black eyeliner she looks like a Goth, her legs are bare. She got an iPad Air, which means she can be completely sociable and ignore all the people around her. She is Snapchatting, a selfie with every text: another social media site I had not heard of.

If the ballerina is knocked off the vertical, she becomes unstable and falls. “Don’t fly it under the light!” says Daddy, with greater emphasis on the DON’T each time. I am unsure. When it breaks, how much upset will there be? Once you watch it going up and down, how much more excitement can you get from it? It is lovely for me, though, spending a day with the toys. She brings out her hamsters, with their black eyes, and H and I cuddle and coo over them. They have hollow plastic globes: put one in, and it can scuttle round the floor and not get stepped on, or escape. The balls are more fun than motorised toys, but they have to be put away before Granny comes, who does not like little mammals.

I have been coming here for ten years, after my father did not want me there after his marriage. I met H at a dinner my trans email support group held, to mark the death of one of us who had killed herself after she transitioned and could no longer see her children.

St Peter’s

I want to be near you
You’re the One, the One, the One

I live in the countryside. I can walk across the field, along the river and round the Lakes, such a beautiful walk that I need no other. And- that town of 45,000 people is just over there, and there are 35,000 just that way, and the duel carriageway and the other duel carriageway.

I am not a serious cyclist, and I can cycle away from those two “urban areas”, and quickly be in proper countryside. The metalled road has no number, and I can hear no cars or machinery, only the birds. There are sheep and lambs in that field.  “Woodbines- a great little cigarette” says the metal sign. I thought tobacco advertising illegal, and Woodbines discontinued- the more disreputable George Orwell characters smoke Woodbines. On to ———-, which was a town before Mercia was a kingdom, and eat under the awning of the pub.

The rain is so light, that the tiny droplets could almost be mist- a “smirl”, I would call it. Across the fields, the trees more distant are mere impressions, and the Willow only hundreds of yards away is quite clear. So beautiful.

These tiny villages are in the Domesday Book, with huge stone churches: all that love and respect and wealth going into building a place of worship. The church is open: I prop my bicycle outside, disdaining the lock. This is no longer the way I worship, but the stone and the Victorian pews make me feel instantly at home, in childhood, and my heart is warmed. Standing in the bell tower at St Peter’s, you see that the chancel bends off to the left: in the 12th century it was believed that if anything was perfect, the Devil would pay it particular attention to damage it, so the church was made imperfect. Parts of those two stained glass windows, one of St George, one of St Christopher, date from the 14th century, around the time of Bannockburn. I stopped the woman driving away from the Old Rectory to ask her to confirm that. I am amazed that stained glass could survive our cultural revolution under Edward VI.

Going through G—, I hear a familiar tune. At the infants’ school, the six year olds are country dancing, to a tune I danced to when a child, and which Playford might have known. There is a crowd of parents, one filming on her iPhone, some carrying trays of cakes. I stop to watch. Here are some words, not quite the words I remember:

 The first couple separate, go out around the ring
 You meet your partner going out, you meet her coming in
 You honour your corner lady, promenade your own – sing
 I want to be near you, you’re the one, the one, the one
 I want to be near you, you’re the one for me