Return to Edinburgh

I am very happy. I met my great-niece for the first time on Saturday. At ten months, she is standing up, and walking round furniture or when supported by two hands- sometimes by just one hand. She stood on my knee, and I told her how strong she was, and how wonderful that was. S tells me that “great-aunt” sounds much older than “grandmother”, but I am not convinced.

That is the first time I have seen the family since 2013. I suppose I am closer to them than at any time since then. I am unused to blogging like this, I am being especially politic: I restrict what I write to my reactions and feelings, but today not even all those; yet I can share the positive ones. I am happy. I may go back, even later this year, to scatter my father’s ashes, where we scattered my mother’s. The child’s parents are getting married. I hardly spoke to him, but he seems a decent bloke, attentive to his daughter.

Peter invited me, on the occasion of his thirtieth birthday.

-You’re not old enough to have a nephew aged 30, people tell me.
-I have an older sister who married young.
“I had him when I was fifteen,” joked S.

He has moved in with Amy, and they are getting married. He is happy with his job, and believes it has prospects, which pleases me. He picks things up. His MS has got no worse since he was put on a clinical trial, and he hopes the drug will be licensed. I worry for them, more than for my great-niece’s parents, and suppose they will face the difficulties couples face, and surpass them or not. She told me several things, some of which a parent might not want to hear, which I think are alright, actually. She is older than he is, and I like older women so I think that is fine and some people don’t.

It is never perfect. It is good enough.

I like her. I like her insecurities, they show sensitivity. And she arranged a good drink. I stayed with Fran, then walked along the Union canal to the restaurant, then to a pub, then another pub, then a third pub where Amy had arranged a downstairs room which she got for free if the people spent £300 on the bar. They did. The birthday cake was chocolate in the shape of a Wookie. Then I walked home along the canal, just before midnight, lit by tiny lights each side of the path, which was uncomfortable but safe enough.

Enough, enough, enough…

I went to Fran’s house, and was introduced to her daughter’s guinea-pig. It had beautiful long soft fur, but when I said yes I would like to cuddle it, and its cage was opened, it scuttled off into its box. I felt it is entitled to its autonomy so did not insist, but back in the living room picked up a teddy bear and stroked that.

I don’t like being human. I want to be a disembodied intellect.
-I know, said Tina.

Or, I want to be a fulfilled human. This need for closeness is such a pain when I cannot satiate it!

Being polite

RAF portrait small file

kilt portrait croppedUp to London, then up to Edinburgh, all in one week. I had no conversations on the train, at all, which disappointed me. I cut cheese for lunch on Tuesday 12th, and the man next to me gave me a wet-wipe to clean my penknife. “Be prepared is my motto”, he said. Well- I lifted the knife. He had thought of getting one, but they are £19. Several people helped me with my heavy case, going south.

I wrote that on my last leg, then a man sat opposite, and we chatted. He is a chemical engineer from Ohio. His daughter is 13, and wants to be a writer: at the moment she is devouring books, hundreds of pages a day. He adopted a child belonging to a neighbour, and the child thereby avoided a life of crime. Despite this, I found his talk boring, perhaps for lack of affect.

I had wondered why I had not been subjected to a medical for my ESA yet- but I saw the GP on Monday, and she told me that it was time to put some structure in my life. Then, perhaps my face fell, perhaps it was my bereavement, she gave me another three months. Stopping being on the sick does not put structure in my life, it makes me sign on every two weeks, and possibly get sanctioned. Possibly SEMA expect GPs to put us off the sick, rather than doing it themselves.

I got the 9.20 bus, and my sister picked me up at Waverley at 4.10. As I thought, we were polite to each other. That evening, we could have talked but I was finishing off my draft minutes for AM. Then we could have talked, but she was watching soaps. So, rather than getting drunk, and weeping together, and sharing our feelings, we were polite, and went to bed around ten.

The next night I watched her daughter, who continues her Architecture course, design a building by CAD, loving the way she manipulated it. She creates disabled access, and the principle is that the disabled person’s experience of the building should be the same as that of the able person. No going round the back for disabled access. I looked through Dad’s photographs, and my nephew looked too.

And- I just passed them to him. We did not discuss them. I did not point anything out to him. So while I resented how polite and flat of affect we were, as I predicted, here was I at least taking my part in creating that. I don’t know whether we could have expressed real feeling. It could be worse, fighting and blaming each other would be worse than mere politeness. We refer to when I will next be in Edinburgh, but I do not know if I will ever see them again.

The funeral was beautiful. We started in St Vincent’s church, where Dad worshipped for years, and where the presbyter Rodney, 87, was his good friend. Rodney celebrated the Eucharist, and preached, then preached again at the crematorium.

It had been suggested that I not share the funeral car with Dad’s wife, but I did, and six of us drove in a silent dream up the hill through new town and old town. Beautiful city. Past the Liberton hospital, which is a happy memory for me.

The crematorium is being renovated, so we had the smaller chapel, which seats fifty: we had people standing at the back. Rodney spoke of Eternal life, the life with God, more than once saying “Which Alec is now experiencing” and I thought, I do not believe in that; but his voice is beautiful. The family wore black, which I had not thought to do, and Dad’s wife asked me to the line at the end, greeting everyone, which surprised me. Form’s sake, or sympathy, I do not know. Bomber Command Association and dancers and walkers and Piskies and friends: none I really recognised.

Next day, my sister went back to work and her daughter lay in bed as I scanned those photos. I had nothing to say to her, hardly even meaningless expressions of good will.


Mound-I woke in a world ruled by women.

I leaned forward, conspiratorially. “You like that, don’t you?” His face changed, a fierce joy in admitting something one does not, normally.

-They’re not aggressive like we are.
-Like we’re supposed to be.

And then S came back, and we talked of other things. I wanted to get back to this subject, but could not get him to talk of it, though I alluded to it later when we were alone. It occurs to me that if we do not have an accepted cultural way of expressing this, and are forced to find our own ways- there is no “Community”- I might find other ways of expressing it painful and embarrassing. Androphile and gynephile trans women can bicker about which are the real, or primary, transsexuals, and oppression by kyriarchy could divide us, rather than bringing us together. I have fear to overcome before I can empathise.

I walked along the North Bridge, and took photos of Calton Hill, and it seemed to me that I was monitoring all my movements, all my responses, like a spy in a foreign country. I must not express myself in my body-language. It seems this is my normal way of being, inwardly focused all the time, and it seemed to me a small child’s way of being, and I could just stop. I reset myself, into Presence. I am here, now, and OK as I am. The poison becomes the medicine.

I took my father out. We used his walking frame, designed for indoors only, and we walked out of the ward to the lifts, down to the ground floor, out the main doors and to a bench about twenty yards away, to sit in the sun. I love my father. I hate to see how he is fading away, his judgment impaired, his walking unsteady, and now he has had his third minor stroke. He broods, unhappily, about the past and gets disoriented. And- he is still alive, and I get to hug him, once a year or so. His stroke is the excuse for my current visit.

Then I took the bus back to Princes St., and spent some time trying to photograph the gulls flocking by the shopping mall. One picture worked. To the Royal Scottish Academy summer exhibition (no photography, unfortunately). There is a video of a woman’s face- “Study of a face perceiving itself”. She looks down, then glances up at the monitor, slightly to the side of the camera. She could be nervous or irritated. She is not beautiful or stylish, but she draws me in, and I am high on art. It is speaking to me directly, and moving me. There are eight discs of polished stone- gneiss, basalt?- on the wall, which are beautiful, and a sculpture of a mud-monster walking with thick legs and arms. His expression could be threat or perplexity. I got chatting to an Irishman, who agreed some of it is beautiful and immediate, and some just dull. A “Stewart’s Cream of the Barley” whisky bottle, with words blacked out so it reads “wart Cream”; and a metal tripod supporting a rock over a round metal bowl filled with water and, surprisingly, weeds and rocks- I love the contrast. When it swings- the man’s wife pulls on it, to my consternation then delight- it does so majestically.

Charney Manor

I sit on the grass in the sunshine. I am in the state of presence, aware of my surroundings: I give my full attention to the rose in front of me. This is a healing place. Breathe it in. Yesterday was not a good day, but I am here now.

Not the best train trip here. I got here at 10.30, when most had already gone to bed, and spent an hour fiddling on the computer in the library. The taxi driver talked of flooding round there years ago, this road was impassable to 4x4s, and charged me £25. On the packed train, the woman beside me watched several episodes of a Polish soap on her iPhone, and my kindle complained that it needed charging.

That photograph of the Castle occupied a bit of the afternoon before then, as did hot chocolate in Waterstone’s bookshop. I probably could have left my bag longer in the National Gallery- which gets all the London exhibitions- but lugged it around with me.

In the National Gallery I saw the exhibition Van Gogh to Kandinsky: Symbolist landscape in Europe. There was a Munch. Oh come on, you know the Scream- it is only just less famous than Mona Lisa- but do you know any other Munches? Odd. Some of it I found beautiful, like Heat Wave. I am on a different wavelength to the one who wrote the captions- “The terrifying Heat Wave”. There is a Mallarme quote- You know, the Afternoon of a Faun bloke. Interesting to see a Mondrian with bendy lines. Yes, the bits of culture which I absorb, they are so few, it is luvverley to dust them off!

To name an object is to suppress three quarters of the pleasure… Our dream should be to suggest… in order to reveal the underlying feeling.

There is also a quote equating mysticism with woolly thinking. Axshully, I think mysticism is clearer and more accurate thinking, but we must always be aware of the Rationalists ready to pounce when we fall below their high standards.

Oh yes, and the start of the day. That job interview. The bloke delved so deeply into why I was sacked as a solicitor. I decided next day that if asked again, I will refuse to answer. Why do you want to know? It was twenty years ago (this month, actually). I worked there eleven years and there for four, I must have some value as an employee. I said that. I noticed how I had my head on one side, and he had his head on one side, and so lines through our eyes would be at a 90° angle.

The exhibitions, as well as the chance of forming some sort of relationship with my father and sister, are good reasons to go to Edinburgh. So the email, After some discussion, the Management Committee decided that the post should be offered to one of the other applicants we saw, so I am afraid you have not been successful on this occasion, was the perfect end to a perfect day. I emailed back,

Having met you at interview, I would have accepted the job if your input into it was strictly limited. I found your interview technique extremely unpleasant, and do not think it was beneficial to you. I hope you may accept this as useful feedback. I hope the selected candidate is good for the post.

I still have not told Dad I did not get it.

At Charney Manor: Penny has nearly completed her training in teaching mindfulness techniques for therapeutic purposes. There is some hope to get it on the NHS as an alternative to CBT. She gave me the best reason I have heard so far for concentrating on the breath: it develops control, one may step back more easily from the current of thought, and identify less closely with it. Yes sometimes the thoughts can have value, what pops into my head is Inspiration- and the control is useful discipline.

And on Saturday night we entertained each other, and several people after complimented me on my poems, my intense delivery and my piano-playing.

In Edinburgh

There is building work in Waverley Station. The steps up to Princes St. are now covered over, and have an escalator- very swish. It is beautifully sunny. This end of Princes St is all dug up for the tram tracks.

Dad fancies going to Jenners for a coffee. He complains that this until recently family-owned department store has now sold out, and gone down-market, yet another sign of the general decline. Thence the Abbotsford pub on Rose St. for dinner.

I can hardly remember any of the conversation. We got onto the Church- my last vicar was gay. He says his priest is gay, which surprises me, but is the way people become tolerant- get to know one of the formerly despised group. He says I am not to tell anyone, as he would not want to get S into trouble. This angers me- his bishop must know, they have known throughout his career, it is alright as long as no-one says anything. Politics depresses him with Wee Eck as the First Minister, the Tories have no chance and are too far to the left for him, and perhaps he fears us disagreeing.

This “shameful” characteristic- it is how I am, so shame does me no good, and if I honour it I may integrate it, and part of that is voicing it. So I do, and he says “Oh”.

There is a rather unpleasant smell in the Abbotsford, where we have a bottle of merlot. We have a glass before going upstairs to eat. Outside the evening sun is on the beautiful stone of St David St.

Do I actually want this job, or am I just going through the motions? Or pretending not to because I do not get jobs and do not want to be so disappointed? I do not know myself, so I do not know; I guess at my unconscious motivations, try to make them conscious, the conscious thinking bit thinks it through, and the unconscious bit can block. It would be good to live in this wonderful city with its vibrant cultural life and unique character, and be able to build a relationship before it is too late with my father and sister. Or, that is what I feel I ought to think. Or something.

I really enjoy the venison steak. It is pink as I requested, very juicy, and I expected it tougher: I read that venison must be stewed rather than roasted or grilled because it is wild. Perhaps this animal was not full grown. This is a pub, which thinks to serve its cheesecake imbued with tarragon on a slate. The tarragon is subtle and fitting. Better than in Swanston.

I found last year’s visit depressing and now I look back to it fondly. I have been reading old copies of The Spectator today, dating back to February. Conversation does not flow. Dad is no longer walking across the estate each morning to get his newspaper, but we go out across the park together in the afternoon. A man greets him: Dad explains that the man helped him up when he last fell. Dad calls me “he” and “Steven” out of carelessness. They have two bedrooms: Margaret has consented to me visiting while she is here, but insists Dad and I share a room.

That “investment” where a glib fraudster, selling moonbeams and rainbows, conned him out of half his capital has got between us. Possibly I could build this relationship. Getting ready for bed in the same room does not help.

Margaret points out the woodpecker on the birdfeeder in the garden. I go to take a photograph, but it sees me through the glass back door, and flies off before I get the door open.

We had three particularly lovely hugs. As I left he said, “I feel I know you again”.

What will people think?

In August, eating al fresco with my father in the Grassmarket, I took my wig off, and the world did not end.

It is a noble cobbled plaza just to the south-east of the volcanic plug crowned by the castle. The high tenements have architectural frolics, like that conical cap to a turret down Cowgate. It brings to mind the cheery rhyme,

up the Grassmarket
and up the West Bow
Up the long ladder
and down the little tow

because public executions were held here until 1864. But that day, the world did not end, I did not find myself at the centre of an HM Bateman cartoon. Even my father, circumspect in his advice when the heat is in me, said nothing untoward.

At camp in the Summer, I wandered around with my wig off, and that was alright. I have done it while touristing, in a sun hat with a wider brim, and a long, loose cotton skirt, something unambiguously to show that I am female. It is too hot in the Dordogne in August, for a Scot in a wig.

Insofaras I can say that there is any constant I among my changing thought and morality, it is that I am Female. If there is any constant desire it is to express myself female and be seen as female. In 2002 I put on my wig and padding and painted my face, and took off my pretense, the strain of acting male. I could just be.

But my head, with terribly sparse hair at the front, none on the crown and thick round the sides so that, shaved, it produces a mannish shadow, gives this the lie. It proclaims I am male, which I cannot bear. I almost do not care what others think, whether they see me as a person, or see my character and personality truly and so still see this aspect of my physical being as feminine, it proclaims maleness to me, so I hide it. Someone I met wore a wig in bed, she was so upset by her baldness.