Looking good

I am proud of this photograph.


I looked good. These were the glamorous photographs, with studio make-up, that helped me to see I could look feminine. I fitted conventional thoughts of beauty at the time. The photographer worked to make me comfortable and relaxed. Having your portrait done is a lovely experience.


This one is not too bad either. I used the timer on my camera. I like the surroundings, the quizzical look, the hair and clothes are OK. I like my face. It is more lined than it was twenty years ago, and lines add character.

This programme on image is fascinating. An artist with very short limbs and a fashion photographer took pictures of people who disliked their appearance, and made them look beautiful. One had all her hair fall out when she was eleven, and he made her feel feminine and attractive for the first time, without her wig. One had lost his left leg in an accident, and he looks fine, standing tall on his prosthesis. One had body dysmorphic disorder. She finds the sight of her face unbearable, though she looks pretty enough to me, to the photographer, and to her mother. Her beautiful portrait still did not satisfy her, she still hated how she looked. Having seen herself as beautiful, bald, the other could go out without her wig for the first time.

The first two are physical issues. Hairlessness is not how a woman should be. Limblessness is not how a person should be. Yet- it has to do with thinking positively or negatively. Thinking negatively, I perceive a lack, which is distressing. Thinking positively, I perceive a person with strengths and beauties, and the lack will not vitiate that. That is not to say, the lack does not matter; but that it is not the only important thing. Mourn, accept, move on; recognise everything that is good.

It is OK to be a woman who is bald. She has such beautiful cheekbones. It is OK to be you, just the way you are. Let us celebrate your strengths. Alison Lapper’s ways of getting around in a motorised wheelchair and adapted car- far more expensive than Motability would ever have paid for- overcome her limitations, and let us celebrate the creativity which lets her transcend.

I don’t know whether there are “real” trans women who simply are women, in some way different from me, who would transition even if there were no differences at all in gender roles and expectations apart from the physical reproductive system. That some people might assert that they are does not reduce my uncertainty. For me, it feels that it was not OK to be me as a man, but it was OK to be me, expressing myself female. This Celebrate Yourself gospel pains me, because I could not- so I made the changes so that I could, and am now told they were unnecessary? It had felt that I was not acting, expressing myself female, and now the wig feels like an act; though returning were as tedious as go o’er.

I cycled into Swanston this morning to shop. It drizzled a bit as I went there, and one puddle stretched almost the width of the road. It seemed the cars were not giving me as much space, when passing- the Highway Code says 1.5m, or five feet, is the necessary gap. I hate that scuzzy old waterproof jacket. The fruit stall was not in its usual place, and there was no fruit on the market. As it was raining when I got to the supermarket, I went inside before putting on my wig: I am self-conscious about that, no matter what Alison Lapper says about the beauty of baldness, or my refusal to skulk about changing in lavatories. If I had money, it would have been different. I would be in better clothes, dry, having got out of a car, my wig presentable having been sheltered by an umbrella. The coward slave, we pass him by- I loathe looking poor, and my shame for once seems related to reality. The self-checkout machine did not recognise the weight of the tuna, and I slammed the tins down on the scale then was rude to the assistant. I hate that unavoidable irritations move me to rudeness and violence. Then I pedalled home, telling myself- the weather is good, on the whole. The rain is light. The wind is behind me.

And- that beautiful photograph can still comfort me. I am a beautiful person.

Flocks of geese

The geese take off from the lake, fly around in a great flock, as far as three miles perhaps, then alight on the water again.


It is very beautiful. I saw them on Friday, but was with a friend so did not want to be messing about with a camera. Now, the next sunny day, I wonder if they will repeat. I see no flocks of geese as I approach. Just my luck if they had all emigrated!


The self-aware swan, nervously looking at its reflection, is some consolation.


Then- there they are! It would be beautiful, just to contemplate them; but I want a good shot. They are towards the sun: perhaps from over there I would get a better view.


They fly so close together! Many shots are less well focused than this.


I love this shot:


I stood around for about half an hour, waiting for them, then snapping away, seventy shots, most unfocused, some just of sky or trees. I got chatting to an old bloke who comes here every day, can tell different kinds of geese apart, and has been watching them from the causeway.


This family has four young, a good survival rate. They were ten yards away, aware but unfazed by me.


Politics, anger, non-action

Tao Te Ching 48:

In pursuit of knowledge,
every day something is added.
In the practice of the Tao,
every day something is dropped.
Less and less do you need to force things,
until finally you arrive at non-action.
When nothing is done,
nothing is left undone.

True mastery can be gained
by letting things go their own way.
It can’t be gained by interfering.

Non-action. I think that is something to do with presence or mindfulness. Rather than consciously thinking about what I do, I can just do it. Washing up can be like this. It is a simple task. Often I would switch off and think of something else while doing it, but I can pay full attention to the task itself. Several times in the day I wash my hands: I can stop conscious verbal thought, and notice the scents, feelings, the look of it as my hands simply move. A novice golfer is thinking of their position and movement, a professional just does the stroke.

Politics is horrible now. What the BNP did to get votes fifteen years ago, and UKIP last year, the Conservative party is doing now, after the Brexit vote: as well as working to destroy the NHS, by depriving it of staff and funding, and privatising it. I hear of housing costs and my hackles start to rise, and if the speaker is angry I am likely to go off on one. Of course there has been extremism in the Tory party before; I may still have somewhere The Sectarian Song-book, written by young men deliberately trying to shock:

Burn the broad Left in their middle-class homes
Crush Wedgwood-Benn and make glue from his bones

Oh we’re saying goodbye to the Left
As safe in their graveyards they rest
[can’t remember, diDada diDada]…a regular army
the boot-boys of FCS.

The Federation of Conservative Students was replaced by the Conservative Collegiate Forum in a purge of leadership by the party hierarchy, before I joined.

Mrs Clinton’s record of lying is a disgrace. Politifact puts her at 10% false, 2% “pants on fire”. It is not enough that it is not as bad as Mr Trump’s. So, on politics:

I will tell the truth as best I know it.

I will permit my anger, but not get overwhelmed by it; to be calm and loving in action and demeanour.

I will hear the arguments of my opponents, and address them, rather than only my own side.

I will think of other things beyond politics. However I cycled to Swanston to the Independent Socialists meeting to hear Derek Wall and get his book Economics after Capitalism: A guide to the ruins and a road to the future. I may even read it!

The British drama 1990 has dated but its title sequence remains evocative. The world is beautiful and strange, and may be seen through a glass darkly.



This is my prayer, this my worship:


At the Lakes, there is a display of owls: shown on wooden perches and happy enough to be stroked on the tummy. Children crowd round, at first shy, but seeing others stroke are emboldened to try too. It seems exploitative to me. “Owls to behold” rescues and rehomes birds. They are tame, so releasing them perhaps would be cruel, and the petting zoo funds their care; and the fact that I am disturbed does not stop me wanting photographs. He also sells owl pendants and tea-towels.


Could you ask her to spread her wings? I asked. He lifts her from the perch, and explains that they do that in order to balance. He moves his arm to get her to spread again. “Did you get one?” I did.


This one, when I stroke her tummy, “plays with” my finger. It is not a nip: the beak goes right round the finger rather than pinching flesh. It is playful, exerting a tiny part of the force that back-breaking, flesh-tearing beak could.

Beautiful plumage.


This one fluffs out her feathers before settling them again, I hope more comfortably.

It was an unexpected pleasure to find the owls. I was here to meet C., who has just discovered my Quaker meeting. We talked deeply of our lives and of politics, and then walked around the park. She asked of my trans experience. And I found that I was closing off discussion: she would say something deep, and I would say, “Look! An Iron Age hut!”

The hide is beautiful. That door is self-consciously rustic, with metal binding its edges even a bit steampunk. At its back, a wooden awning juts out like a prow, supported by a pillar. I have had a lovely conversation.

Thinking on the fifth circle of hell. Depressives, lying under the muddy stagnant water in marshes by the Styx, turning anger in on themselves- such a psychological insight for a Renaissance poet! Yes, I am there; and also open to new encounters, and new views. After, I walk home and have some of the last of the blackberries: lots are shrivelled but some are still ripe and round. Worship and prayer is where I, simply myself, unadorned, unpretending, look out and pay complete attention to- something other than myself, a person, or a blackberry, or an owl.


The frog’s lair

In the park there is a beautiful den.


From the far end, anyone full-grown would have to crawl in, but here I can just bend my knees slightly.


The willow was planted four years ago. Willow can grow like a weed: these cut branches rooted easily. Branches within are woven together to make a tunnel. At the far end there is a pipe so the whole can be irrigated if necessary. Then it widens out, to reveal


The Frog.


I had not seen how beautiful it all is. I walked there in the morning, then cycled back for the photograph this afternoon. I was less than two hours before sunset- just in time. Tomorrow might not be so beautiful.

Bad taste

I just love this. And yet-


I know it is bad taste, getting photographed with a prop in a restaurant. The booths were covered in bright yellow fake leather. The cocktails, rather than sophisticated/touch of decadence luxuries, were OK drinks from the bar. The food was Steakhouse. This is the Albert Dock in Liverpool: round the water, with a stunning colonnade, there is a series of steakhouses and coffee-bars. And Tate Liverpool, which can’t move now. I wonder if friends might object on the grounds that polar bears are endangered- how did they acquire it?? Yuck!! And yet I wanted that photo as soon as I saw the thing, and would rather the stairway was not there. I had to squeeze past the paw to get in position. I am still second guessing.

Magical London

I haven’t gone a swing in years. I never really mastered it. I needed pushed, and did not know how to work it up by myself other than by kicking the ground. I had not until today realised what good exercise it is, kicking forward and leaning back. I almost but not quite got to look over the top bar.

Strange days in London. I came down on Monday  to see Art. Walking through the church yard at the East end of St Paul’s I look at the trees and am centred. I am here. A woman in a black dress sits looking round herself looking cynical, yet interested and engaged. A woman in a wedding dress poses amid lights and long-lensed cameras.

I want a book, to swot for Francis Bacon tomorrow, and the Turbine Hall bookseller sends me to the Switch House. I cross the hall to The Tanks, and am overwhelmed- these great columns, the curving staircase, the bare, smooth, naturally-coloured concrete change my way of  being in them. They could be oppressive but are liberating: I walk taller. Here are video installations in a dark room with cushions scattered on the floor. The first has confused running and shouting like a demonstration gone wrong. Another room has huge works, possibly musical instruments.


In the Georgia O’Keefe exhibition I see a woman in a pink top hat with Steampunk goggles, pink tights, multicoloured top and electric wheelchair. I tell her how beautifully she is dressed, and she compliments me. We get chatting. Efrat, from Israel, has to dash off to get a train to Lancaster for a conference, but fbfnds me. So we stare at our phones for a bit.

Then a brief time with Bhupen Khakar, gay Indian painter reminiscent of the brightness of Henri Rousseau. In the story of Yayati the winged one and the old man embrace tenderly, their erections straining towards each other. It’s beautiful.

I go to the Members’ room for tea,  feeling a bit mind-blown. I chat to the staff member on the door who loves Bhupen Khakar. From there, I see this art work:

man-on-cubeman-on-cube-2 man-on-cube-with-bag

I am dreading going into Bank tube station at 6pm. Indeed, I was pressed against the other people in the Central line coach. But before then, going into Cheapside, I have a thought which becomes a haiku:

In every moment
there is a right way to be.
I choose it. Always.

This is a radical rejection of my habit of judging and second-guessing how I respond, which does no-one any good.

On Tuesday I went to Liverpool with H to the Francis Bacon exhibition, and on Wednesday morning walked with her along Regent’s Canal to work. I am at a loose end in the plaza between Kings Cross and St Pancras stations with an hour before my train. Behind me is a geodesic dome in which the European Lung Foundation is giving free lung tests. In front of me is a tall structure like a bird cage, with a swing in it. A security guard has a go on the swing, while his colleague videos him, and I watch how he kicks forward powerfully to work the swing up. He leaps off, laughing. I am second-guessing what I should have said to Sîan this morning, and how the various options might make me appear. These spiritual growth lessons never just take. They all need practice.

I go for my free lung test but am suspicious. I have to exhale into a machine, and do so as it bleeps, trying to get it to bleep one- last- time… I am suspicious, even though they have not asked for my name or email address. I am “normal”: I want to hear more. I want to be normal for a 30 year old man. I interrogate Kersten who is in charge, and outside recruiting, what happens to the data. It is not scientific, she says, because there is no proper sample selection. They are testing in various parts of London, and could record variations. They are offering a FEV test because most people do not have one until they are concerned and ask their doctor.

I sit, and finish off the book Accidental Saints. A woman holds her tiny child on her lap as she swings gently, another pushes her older daughter. A young man swings, all the while taking selfies. So I go to swing. I have been watching, tempted, all this time. I love it, it is exhilarating. After, Kersten asks me how I enjoyed it, and we get chatting. (I am looking round, in case her job requires her; someone else hands out the questionnaires.) It is beautiful. It is a lovely connection. I tell her my haiku, and she says “Of course”. And we second-guess and judge. I tell her there was a young man swinging, but when I say he was taking selfies she comes out with the standard judgment of screen-obsession. Where are you from? I tell her of the beauties of Swanston, including the extension on Bewiched and she imagines the building would be spoiled, though she is delighted when I tell her how lovely it is.

It is a beautiful connection, and she is a lovely positive person, and we are still judging and second-guessing. The adjectives I have for the concrete in the tanks imply ugliness or incompleteness, yet they are as they are intended to be and are beautiful.

In the shrubbery

Beautiful, mature tree. Beautiful old rhododendron. They tower up, and spread out. Any toddler could delight in this: the ways in would let no-one else stand upright, but the den opens out into a wide high space roofed with green. I love it, too. I am glad I crawled in here.

Orthodox Jews- I saw a boy skipping along beside his father, both in skull caps- cannot walk far on the Sabbath- today- but if they have an eruv, they may move within that area, and carry keys, though not mobile phones, which are mukhtseh. My barrier reminiscent to me of an eruv is made of string, tied to the trees and saplings around the den. I also have thick grey twine, in a great fankle, hanging from the string, like barbed wire. More like barbed wire is the holly west of the den.

I have a long roll of thick white paper, to do with as I wish. I use the masking tape to suspend strips of it from the string. There is now a wall between me and the most open way into the den. Other masking tape forms a barrier at the back of the den, towards the fence. I can sit on a bottom-sized lump of concrete, leaning against the tree, with the rest of the roll of paper as a mace. I sit, half-brandishing my mace.

The incurious or unobservant would still not see my den through the foliage, walking down the path, if thinking of something else, but anyone aware of their surroundings would be more likely to notice, as the white paper is striking in the green and brown life. The walls I have created would not stop anyone.

I can’t remember what the exercise was. I have expressed myself, here, and my situation. It is fun to play with symbols. After explaining it to the group, I burst out of my space, through the wall- though that may just be what I want to appear to want.

in the den

The Switch House

To the new part of Tate Modern.

Switch house members room 2

The members’ room is spacious and high-ceilinged, yet it feels claustrophobic. It is strange. Perhaps it is how small the windows are, or the thick concrete beams, but I feel enclosed.

Switch house members room

It is built onto the back of the Turbine Hall, whose wall is of course vertical- yet looking up at it, because of the angle of the new building, looks as if it is leaning over me.

There is now a bridge across the top of the Turbine Hall.

turbine hall ai wei wei

There is a viewing platform on the tenth floor. Please respect the privacy of our neighbours, say the signs. Perhaps those are exhibited for sale: they don’t look lived in.

The Two Towers

I love having this public space for art, and the large new works use it- there is one of Louise Bourgeois’ Maman spiders.

Going out

It is hot. It is beautiful.

Into the park. I have not walked here for some time, and take my camera.

at the top of the tree

This is how procrastination works. I can live with myself because I say “I will do this tomorrow”. I am not the kind of person who runs from this; I face things, and see possibilities, and take opportunities. And when it comes, I don’t, because I really really don’t want to but I don’t articulate that to myself. I find what I want when I see what I do.

The blossom is so beautiful.

wild flower

wild flowers

wild blossom

If I were to do psychotherapy, I would like more motivation. I hide away because I want safety now. I can understand that safety in the long term is a worthwhile goal, but now is more pressing. It is the way I know to find safety. It is terribly boring but it is, after all, what I want.

I would like to despise myself less.

I have not seen this path before. Maybe it has just been opened. It goes to the river, upstream of a weir, as a portage point for kayaks. I retrace my steps, and take another path. Perhaps I will have to go back, yet now I am walking beside a branch of the river, which spreads in the broad valley, where I have never been before. It is beautiful, an entirely unexpected new experience. I come out at the assault course.

climbing frame


assault course

It has been rebuilt, and looking at the scale I guess for about ten year olds. What a beautiful thing, to test yourself against! You can mature and grow, and still play on climbing frames!

It is hot, and I have taken an interest, and explored. Seeing something beautiful, I have recorded it, seeking to make my pictures beautiful. I remain perplexed, but slightly less distressed.