Snowdrops

And now, some snowdrops, seen under a tree by the roadside as I cycled home from the Quaker meeting. Unwisely, I ventured onto Mumsnet where yet another pile-on on trans rights is occurring, with allegations of threats to women and women’s rights and much offensive language, and I just can’t be bothered.

Look! Snowdrops!

First someone cited my blog as evidence of sex offenders pretending to be trans. Well, there is a suggestion of prisoners falsely claiming to be trans, but of the estimate of about eighty trans people in prison, only someone with access to their medical records and criminal records could report reliably whether they are mostly sex offenders, or what diagnoses they have of gender dysphoria, or whether they transitioned before entering prison. If an IPP (Indeterminate sentence for Public Protection) is generally problematic, it should be problematic for a trans woman. Some people in segregated units are sex offenders, but other offenders can be sent there if they are under threat in the general population, as trans women often would be. One, who committed suicide, was a rapist. Women need protected from rapists; but the arguments about whether trans women should self-ID outside prison and about where trans prisoners should be held are different. I try, here, to show the complexity of the situation, so am vulnerable to parts being taken out of context.

Then they linked to Autogynephilia, to argue I am a sex pervert, so not entitled to consideration. Women need protected from such as me. There was a long post from an androphile trans woman, and some sympathy for her being lumped in with us perverts. Well, that’s inconsistent: unless you accept the arguments of brain differences in androphiles, where feminists challenge the arguments of brain differences between the sexes, the androphile is as offensive as the gynephile. The other argument against androphiles transitioning is that the desire comes from homophobia, the thought that they must be women as they are attracted to men. I don’t know if anyone who clicked the link got the point that the autogynephilia hypothesis could not explain transition being a cure for gender dysphoria. As more people clicked than posted, possibly some did.

Then they linked to A Nurse who is Trans. A trans woman, who had not transitioned, went to give a cervical smear to a woman who had requested a female nurse to do the test. The trans woman got a cis woman to do the test, but not before blurting out that she is trans. The reason she has stubble and close cropped hair is that she has not transitioned yet.

I was angry, posting then. One mistake on a smear test appointment, quickly put right, is not news, but the Murdoch press pick on it to inflame passions against trans women. My post was used to argue autogynephiliac perverts have no empathy for the concerns of women. I have, actually. These concerns matter, though I feel Women’s Aid is quite capable of deciding whether they can employ trans women, as they are considering now, so women working full time on women’s rights for the most vulnerable don’t necessarily have the same absolutist position as some posters on Mumsnet.

I need somewhere to go. The “All-Gender toilet” in Tate Britain was formerly the disabled person’s toilet, so my choice is between risking confrontation with a carer angry at my occupying the toilet they need or a woman angry at me in hers. Fortunately the general run of society, apart from some vocal conservatives and Evangelical Christians, tolerate me in both. Even some gender critical feminists tolerate me!

In Tuscany

I had moments of complete delight on holiday. Some was with art, with Botticelli’s Primavera or the doors of Pisa’s cathedral. Some was with the countryside: in the Boboli gardens, looking over the town to the surrounding hills, I was enraptured by the beauty.

The colours of the town, even in winter sun! There was the porcelain exhibition, beautiful things I was not inclined to study but enjoyed glancing at.

Getting to places was a bit of a pain. We were a long time getting going in the morning, and at Pisa station wanting to go to Florence we went the wrong way, taking an extra hour: I did not recognise the name of the place, but was sure the time indicated the correct train. The lift at the station was undergoing repairs, so we struggled down the stairs together. I was always concerned about my pennilessness, and while there were plenty of places for tourists to sit, inside and out, they all involved buying at least a coffee. I saw one public bench, sat on the steps of a statue, and considered sitting on the concrete anti-terrorist blocks, painted white and red to be clearly visible and make the townscape ugly.

Alright, two public benches, one not even close to anywhere I wanted to sit.

Getting to places: we walked slowly because of disabilities, and ended up walking separately: I heard the tap, tap of his walking stick behind me. The joy of his company was overwhelmed by the stress of getting around, seeing what we wanted to see. And once we were sitting in the cathedral in Florence, having been queueing in the cold outside, only to be corralled in the nave, bored, waiting for the others. I was not finding it hugely inspiring. The cordon was west of the picture of Dante, so I could recognise him but not consider him. It would be better to go in the other door, reserved for prayers. The ideal tourist state is linked to a spiritual state, open and receptive. Not being able to photograph things would release me from the compulsion merely to imagine things as images within a frame. I could just glimpse the dome, where someone was captured in his endless fall into Hell.

People of colour, I presume African migrants, perhaps illegal, sold selfie sticks and Philip bought one. How are you going to use that, asked Richard, when your phone has no jack-plug for it? Philip had intended to use the timer, not realising they had a button on the handle to take the picture. I told the man he should give Philip his money back. He gave back a €20 note, and waited for Philip to return the change he had been given, then he and another spent some time plugging various sticks into the phone to see if they could work, but none could. I told them I would not have confronted in that way, when I was younger. I was keen not to show up Richard for not confronting.

I was glad to meet H. I liked her a lot. I would not have read her as Aspie, perhaps because I am less used to the indications in a woman, but it is not a compliment to say that she “passes”. Her gift is a disability because of the way society is organised, and she shared her shame and resentment around that. I noticed how the near sides of her shoes were broken down, how she walked off the sole, and how otherwise she presented and carried herself proudly. It is frustrating not to have opportunities to fulfil our capacity.

There were wonderful moments linked to a particular place: an art work, some cacti, the quality of sunlight which led people to block it out of their homes, rather than seek it: I type now staring hungrily at my picture-window, thinking of that sun on my skin.

Pictures from Pisa

I love this; but not all shots along the river from the bridge are the same. I love the balance of light and shade, and the reflections in the water, but a boat or a bird would improve it; and not all my shots from the bridge were as good.

How do you show the angle of the tower? It is so familiar, and so deeply weird:

I loved the fallen angel, a recent sculpture, with its broken head and arm, which I took from up the tower:

I did not at first notice the screaming face in its wing:

Pigeons feasted on a display of bread at a street cafe. The man who chased them off was peeved.

A flower, from the tropical hothouse:

Pisa pictures

Men with sub-machineguns prowled around the cathedral and tower, and ordinary city police had holstered pistols. I am perturbed, but the other tourists do not seem bothered. How to photograph them? I took these from behind, as when Philip pictured them he got into a contretemps. Then, emerging from the tower, I thought to take that carabinieri from a distance:

but did not think it through, just snapped and walked on, so did not even notice that my lens was at too wide an angle or that a man had just walked in front of him anyway. Police here do not like being photographed, though they are happy to intimidate ordinary people demonstrating, by taking detailed video. The policeman on the left was paying attention, and thereby showed his face for the picture beautifully, so my terrorist cell- if I had one- could identify him.

On the West of the South transept I spent some time admiring the door. Such craftsmanship:

It’s yet another Annunciation. It looks childlike, compared to the West door, where some people just dashed by, instead of admiring:

That chap has no wings. Is it Christ, giving Lucifer a push? Some of the figures on the door stood out from it, away from the plane. Wonderful technique.

The fresco of the last judgment in the walled burial ground was cruel. Half was Hell; but Christ is a quarter of the way along the picture, and there are people in the half I first thought was Heaven who are on his Left. That is not a good place to be.

Note that he is looking to his left. At the moment captured, he is not greeting the Blessed, but condemning the Damned, who are being repelled by sword-wielding angels. I am not familiar enough with Italian Judgment scenes to be sure, but it seems unusual to me to have the Queen of Heaven seated in apparent equality.

I am also unused to sights like the chap among the blessed, who should not be there, being hauled off by an angel. There is arguable Biblical authority for that, but the picture is designed to inspire fear rather than Love. Even the Blessed look pretty scared.

A thin layer of plaster containing the pigment was taken away, preserved, and brought back to be hung on metal supports, away from the brick wall.

Looking at paintings

In my friend’s secondary modern school, in the corridor by the head teacher’s office, there was a small reproduction of Botticelli’s Birth of Venus. At a dark time in his life, with little aesthetic pleasure, it was a vision of beauty, and he decided he must see the original. Nearly half a century later, he did last week, and I went with him.

I was unenthusiastic. It is a famous painting, and will be surrounded by crowds, with little chance to appreciate it. Familiarity with the image made me uninterested. I have seen it so many times already, or so I thought. Of course I have not.

There were people having their picture taken with it, and I did so too:

I now see that with your head in front of the shell, at her feet, is a better picture.

I loved it. The real thing is so much more than the arrangement of characters. I was even more enchanted with Primavera, in the next gallery.

This gave me moments of bliss, considering details like the flowers of the forest floor:

or this pattern on the lady’s dress:

Of course I know her face, it is a common selected detail, but I am less familiar with her floral ruff; and was enchanted by the beauty of the creation of her foot, the subtle movements of colour and line showing it on a flat plane without brush strokes I could differentiate.

The moral is that however delightful images on a computer are, they have little of the impact of the work itself. Fortunately you do not have to go to the Uffizi to get a similar experience. It is available in any city art gallery, and possibly the galleries of large towns.

Portraits on holiday

Something prickly: and a cactus.

The cactus was in the Botanical Gardens in Pisa. In that hothouse I was enraptured by the beauty and strangeness of the cacti. Some straight ones looked like dildos, one long enough to murder Edward II. The bamboo was there as well, growing outdoors. We went to a small museum there, with cheap portraits- a black background, as scenery is extra, and one unfortunate man could not afford to have his clothes depicted- but showing personalities beautifully.

The same day we took in the Baptistery, which of course is only of use as background. These pictures are not selfies, as I got others to take them- though according to my precise direction, sometimes after I took a picture of my victim to show them exactly how I wanted it to look.

This is in Florence, in the Boboli gardens, just behind the Pitti Palace, where I had another moment of bliss, enjoying the colours of the city and the mountains in the sunshine, even in January.

I had more than one dress with me, honest, I just wore that one two days.

Up the Leaning Tower. The passer-by said the cathedral dome was washed out, but I like the colour of it. Framed by the stone, read from left to right, there is dome, bell, me.

I took one with the timer. I love the bright blue background.

Up the tower, I asked a Sydney-sider what she thought of it, and she enthused. She has relatives in Somerset and Yorkshire, though has been in Australia for generations. She is an academic, teaching nursing, and finds leading people to critical thinking challenging. She wondered what the mountains were. I thought the Chianti hills- how decadent, to name hills after a wine- she thought Switzerland, and her daughter with Google thought the Apennines.

I looked, speculatively, at that barrier. Properly determined, and jumping from the stone steps, you could get over it, though I hope others seeing your purpose would hold you back. It would be a peculiarly vile way of committing suicide, with all the tourists about to be shocked, even traumatised, by a death. And- it ran in my mind. I would not like a chest high rail as protection up there, it would not be sufficient. People are strange.

One final view of the tower.

The Leaning Tower of Pisa

People go to Pisa to create anew the iconic shot of holding up the Leaning Tower. Here at least five people are attempting it: I love the fun they are having.

People embrace it:

fist-bump it:

even push it with their feet.

It is more difficult than it looks. Climb that bollard!

Don’t have the hands too far back:

or have the palms showing.

Pernickety photographers may need to adjust their victim’s subject’s hands:

This is my best attempt:

This is the least blurred of my friend’s. If only he had deigned to crouch, I might have looked less peeved:

Hedgehog

I saw the hedgehog, and was instantly delighted and affected with concern. Is it alright on our tarmac yard? I thought they were nocturnal- they are, primarily- is it confused? Should it be considering hibernating, and can I feed it? And, I want to get my camera.

Cheese is the best thing I have for it, according to this site. I could boil an egg, but that would take too long. I don’t want just to photograph it, as if it were mine to do with as I please. As I can give some recompense, that pleases me. I set to forced flash off, as I do not want to hurt its eyes, but there is a little weak sunshine.

This fellow-feeling, and wish to do it good, seems common. People like hedgehogs. You can even buy specialist hedgehog food. It went off to hide under the rain-cover of my neighbour’s motorbike.

Next day, it was still there. It was still squeaking, but not as loudly. I was worried for it. By the evening, it was lying on its side and I feared it was dead, but it twitched. On tarmac under a motorbike is clearly not a good place for a hedgehog.

O God, I hate being human sometimes. The thought of it dying there distressed me a great deal. What can I do for it? I boiled an egg and mashed it up, and put out some water. I phoned the local animal shelter. Yes, they take hedgehogs. I have just carried it there in an old washing up bowl. It curled up when I picked it up, but lay fairly unresponsively in the bowl, opening up and looking about a little but making no attempt to escape, which worried me. If it were alright, it would object to being carried. It is not tame, or bred to relate to humans, and would not know I meant it well. Having handed it over, I am concerned for it, but feel I have done something worthwhile.

I loved carrying it. I loved the beauty of its spines, and each time I caught sight of its snout my heart melted anew.

Bath

When I want something, I will work for it. At least when I see a clear path, effort to achievement, or trying a few things and seeing progress, I will. Or something. I see myself acting and achieving, and am surprised. Yvonne invited me to the Quaker Gender and Sexuality Diversity Community gathering in Bath. I would speak, and they would pay travelling expenses. So I got up at 3.45, set off on the bicycle in the rain at 4.30, and got to Bath at nine. I wore jeans to cycle, and changed into a dress and suede jacket on the train. I did not bother to put on my wig before changing. The train is quiet and I did not hear anyone’s objection. A woman who works on the railway complained about a driver who has been off sick depressed, and was brought back into light duties, no driving, but is unreliable. I listened in.

On the train I met Richard, who had a camera round his neck. I asked if he had any good shots. He has been taking photos of trains, and got out his laptop to show me recent pictures. There are several of a ginger cat not doing anything particular, on a road, taken from above, and several from his walk along a canal- a bridge, a boat. I see no attempt to find an interesting frame or angle. It is a pretty view, so he snaps it. He has had one published in a specialist railway magazine, and several on a friend’s website. He hurries to write the web address for me as we approach my station, tearing a scrap from a receipt, but I have lost the paper.

I waited in Bath Abbey, the parish church. There is a “suggested donation” to enter, which I cannot afford, so I did not meet the eye of the woman standing there; but she spoke to me and gave me a leaflet. After, I said I love the fan vaulting. She only knows of one or two other places like it, which I find strange, as it is in the cathedral of her diocese; but perhaps she means the pendant, how the arch continues down to a point in mid air, where it stops. That is in Westminster Abbey too. I noticed this altar frontal with candle holder, the decorative barbed wire woven into the Crown of Thorns. Like the Cross, the instrument of torture, is made beautiful so is the barbed wire, the instrument of exclusion. It is disturbing. Jeffrey Dean said this poem in Ministry at the Quaker Life gathering, and it makes a similar unity. I felt joy and terror, at the same time.

At twenty, stooping round about,
I thought the world a miserable place,
Truth a trick, faith in doubt,
Little beauty, less grace.

Now at sixty what I see,
Although the world is worse by far,
Stops my heart in ecstasy.
God, the wonders that there are!

I was nearly asleep on the last train, which is only 10.26pm from London. Four Chinese young women wondered if this was the train to Nottingham, but the last train there had gone. A woman told them to get off at Loughborough, get a bus to East Midlands Airport, then a bus from there to Nottingham. Or get a taxi from Loughborough to Nottingham, which would be safer. That’s 15 miles, for five people. The train stops at Long Eaton, which is in Nottingham, a rather cheaper taxi ride, but I did not know this then, to tell them.

Beauty of the shopping centre

The shopping centre is open. There is not enough parking mid week, and long delays getting out of the car parks. And it is by the Lake, where you can walk. Two rows of shops face each other, and I could not find a shot with any attractiveness at all, but where you walk to the Lake, by the coffee shop, under the House of Fraser restaurant, it pleases my eye. There is an effort made.

I like these curves. It’s not just a shelter from the rain. More appears as you walk round, moving towards the lake. I like the lines.

The board walk, benches and shelter- as if it rained a lot round here, the water company increase prices and say we are in drought- move us from joyless spending and acquisition to the beauty of the lake. There are paths, and some wildlife might not yet have been scared off.

The curves together are lovely. The colours are autumnal. I like this view, and worry that I have damaged my camera sensor. I must have had the sun or a very bright light in shot.

Trying to find a shot of the front of the shops, which are just standard dull shopping centre, I hovered behind someone emptying a bin. I explained what I was doing, and she enthused about the goose, the way its head is carved, its feet folded up beneath it. It is beautiful, and it is a pleasure in her job: she sees it daily, and has got to know it. “Come and find me, and show me what you took,” she said. But I only took the sculptures.

We are on the board walk. The wild ground is rigorously fenced off, behind fences and bars.