I got chatting to a woman on the train. When I found she lived in Swanston I cadged a lift there from Nupton, saving about forty minutes waiting in the cold or clanking along in the bus. I almost warned her not to trust strangers, but am delighted with this stranger’s kindness.

I must get a notebook. The train recording voice kept repeating something like If you have a pushchair, please step onto the platform first then remove the pushchair backwards. I love “Please do not behave like an idiot” notices and announcements. Presumably they had a pushchair accident recently, perhaps with shopping (please God not a toddler) falling onto the line. We could condense announcements: Please remember to take all personal belongings, including pushchairs, if you are leaving the train. “I knew there was something I had forgotten” is not an excuse.

I can more or less remember the words of the recorded voice, repeated at each station, but not of the plummy young accents in the train to Birmingham. They were gossiping of a girl who, desired by a young man, made out with another woman to mess with his head. I could have noted the details, and the words they used- something like “psycho bitch” in tones of approval, but if I try to remember now I would write the kind of thing I myself would say enthusing about her. The character would flatten out. Or the man who sat beside me. He wanted to tell me how he did not understand the ticket machines. He had not used them before. He had left his travel pass at home, so had to pay £12 for a ticket. He has family in “Cov”, but he likes his flat in Birmingham, where he has lived for twelve years. He smelt a little, but not the worst I have smelled. I wondered if people from there generally called it “Cov”.

A woman on the bus got the Metro free paper. The front page story was of a rapist aged 17 who had attempted to murder his victim to cover up his crime. “That’s somebody’s son,” she said. “Seventeen, and his life is blighted for ever”. I hope that is a commendable ability to see the suffering of all involved, rather than a patriarchal valuing of the boy even when he does something so vile. She did not comment on the woman involved.

I went to Birmingham to meet Lucy. She was delayed by snow, and I hung around a bookshop. I hated “The Chimp Paradox” so much I almost bought it to challenge my preconceptions. A psychiatrist, Steve Peters, simplifies brain physiology to argue your frontal lobe is your human part, rational, compassionate and humane, and the limbic system is your “inner chimp,” the emotional part which thinks and acts without our permission. You have to tame your inner chimp. I am with Mary Oliver, You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves and Walt Whitman, I know I am solid and sound. Like all people. It behoves us to know ourselves, and have all parts in concert, but there is no “rationality”, not even any analytical thought, without emotion. Reason is the slave of the passions, and if I subdued my “inner chimp”, or “soft animal”, I would merely become the slave of someone else’s.

Day out

I went into the men’s loos. They smell awful- they don’t use the same floral air-freshener as the women’s. Who knew?

I got oil from my chain on my hands, and wanted to wash them. There is no soap in the women’s loos. The friendly cleaner explained that replenishing of the soap had been contracted out to PHS, a service company, and there was no soap in the station to refill it. He suggested I could go into the men’s, as the place was quiet. No soap there either.

He then unlocked the disabled people’s loo, so that I could wash my hands there. That’s not under the same contract, so there is soap there; however I noticed the disposal unit in there had the same PHS logo. Neo-liberalism in a nutshell: poorer service, greater cost.

I told this story on the train, where three of us round the table chatted and one sat silent, and there was the sound of conversation from all the carriage. Something in the air. The woman asked me if my bike was safe and I said once I had left it unlocked at the station for a day: no thief had bothered to check, or noticed. She has had four bikes stolen, but wanted to cycle to the station before work, as parking was £9.50 a day. Get a cheap reconditioned bike. When she started at work in the 90s they typed memos for internal mail, which would take two days to be delivered then two for a reply. As email increased, her line manager, who was in Miami, was copied in on every email she had- for support rather than surveillance, she thought- and broke down under the strain. Even on her day off, going for a meal with a friend she used to work with, the only former colleague she has ever kept in touch with, she has to keep checking her work phone. She is in contact with people from all over the world. Scandinavians are happy with a reply within two days, Russians want a reply immediately, even if it is 5am here. “Do you work?” she asked. God, do I look unemployed? Hardly a rentier, no-one would retire on my income willingly. I write a little, mainly on spiritual matters. I tried to explain Quakerism, to an avowed unspiritual person. “Spirituality” is one way of putting it. Some people might call it “life lessons”.

The man, a widower, volunteers at the Nupton theatre. As a volunteer he gets to see the shows. His wife died, and he had to get out of the house, being retired.

To the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition with H. There are thousands of works, including two complementary prints, each of three columns, light-dark-light and dark-light-dark, each an edition of 20 for £1200 each. £48,000 for at most a week’s work: one might produce several candidates, then print off a favourite. The income could support you for a year, while you made any art you liked.

Here there are two figures, about eight feet tall. I don’t know what the core is, but the exterior is fabrics. They are gagged with tights, with £20 notes stuffed into their mouths. One is male. One has breasts, but the forehead and chin look male, and the hips narrow. They are horrible. I don’t like the blowsy, sagging shape of the breasts, a bra visible. I talk to a stranger about them. Yes, it could be one of my lot.

To the Royal Albert Hall for my first Prom concert since 1986. After the Berg violin concerto, the conductor stands with his baton poised. Often with a quiet, contemplative ending there is a period of silence, but here it extends for an age. The I-player shows it is 24 seconds, but I have not experienced anything like it. Five seconds’ pause is rare.

To St Pancras, where I play the piano for the first time in months. There are three people round it: the old man says there are often more at this time of night. He often comes to play, living about a mile away. He says “She’s classically trained,” of me, appreciatively. “Is that Chopin?” asks the woman. Yes, the C Minor prelude. I haven’t played the piano for months, but can remember this.

Why haven’t you played? Too depressed. Too lacking in energy. And now- they changed my meds! I had an experiment with nine days of Norethisterone, synthetic progesterone, and had a wonderful high on it and colossal downer after. So now I want to experiment with taking it for longer, and see if the increase of energy continues. She says it never does. I hope it will.

He plays by ear. He plays the tune of Summertime, and stabs vaguely at other notes. Sometimes he makes useful chords, sometimes not. I sing it, baritone, I want to play with gender. No-one minds.

After YM

Moving through life, making myself memorable…

Why should you not cycle in a dress? Well, it might catch in the chain, so the back wheel jams, and you go over the handlebars as the dress is torn from you. But that is unlikely. Actually the buttoned front stuck on a clamp on the frame, but I freed it easily enough. At another time the torch I was using as a headlight showed its objection to the juddering by going out- but I hit it, and it came back on.

-Yer shawn yer knickers! shouted a woman from a car. This was unlikely, as I was sitting on my dress. Hurrah! I shouted back.

I had many worthwhile conversations at YM, and then after lunch on Monday I was satiated. I have nothing more to say, nothing more to share. I walked towards the baggage store, and saw Jeffrey. I said that to him. “I have nothing to say! but that it is lovely to see you, and hear you.” He and his wife smiled, and we hugged, and I went on. I collected my bag, and went to the door. This is a definite change of way of being, walking out that door- many felt it; the clerks warned that even though we are at Yearly Meeting, we are in the centre of London, and please challenge anyone without a name badge. There is that sense of being out of the normal world. Yet, it is complete for me. It has been wonderful. I walked away.

In the train, a man got out a book on the philosophy of aesthetics, and I read a bit over his shoulder. I got chatting by saying how fascinating that looked. Friends House had been giving out remaindered books for free, so I was reading one: I gave it to him. Who knows, he might read it.

When I met R in the tea-shop, we saw we had made a difference, and feel rightly proud. Previously we had loudly mocked the feedback slips, which had read “Your opinion matter’s to us”. The ones now available read “Your opinions matter to us”.

TItian, the worship of Venus

A well-travelled man

I may be passing better. I had not seen Serra for nine weeks, and she thought I looked different. You can’t tell you are passing better because of pleasant conversation with strangers, because people are capable of courtesy, even to an obvious tranny. Imagining that if I am read people will avoid me or be horrible is internalised transphobia; and yet I feel more relaxed, more comfortable in my own skin, and people may be seeing me as a woman. When someone is actually horrible, that is a better guide: would he take the opportunity to insult my gender, if he read me? You can’t be certain.

I got chatting to Faye on the train. She had been to York for a day’s tattooing. She has had three days, now, and expects five more to cover her back with a complex floral design, at £350 a day. It was this, or a car. If the colours fade, she will have them redone. “I have had electrolysis,” I said.  I wanted to show I shared the experience of painful needle insertion. When she asked where, I said, “Upper lip,” which is misleading as I had it all over the face and did not want to say so. We shared experiences of trying to relax. It was lovely. We connected, talking of feelings.

On the other side of the table, Dave was trying to make friends, telling a man of Bangladeshi origin of his trip to India, not put off by the other’s lack of interest. He told how there was nothing like Mumbai, of how Delhi was nothing like Mumbai- “In what way?” asked the man. Delhi is an old city, full of parks and old buildings, Mumbai is just crazy. “What do you mean, crazy?” So fast, such a buzz! Would you like a beer? Dave is on his second Newcastle Brown Ale, and we all decline.

Dave announces that he missed his train by fifty seconds, and now will have to “lie through my teeth” to the ticket inspector. He got the train from Tongue, he could say. I tell him the nearest station is Thurso. Or he could say he just got on at Leicester. Kye is looking up the timetable on his phone so Dave can make a plausible fib.

He wants us to introduce ourselves again. “I have heard your name twice, but still am unsure of it,” I said to the man.
-What is it then?
-Don’t be horrible, says Steve, rebuking him, protecting me, and my skin crawls just a bit more. I don’t need his protection. The name is Rakesh: not a name I am familiar with, so it takes longer to go in. I got it the third time.

Rakesh reverts to silence, and Steve tells me of walking and climbing in the Pennines, then for the third time of his plan to lie- “Don’t tell us, we might shop you,” I said. He did not reply. His father met his mother in an orphanage in Woking, and aged 11 told her he would marry her. He died of a cerebral haemorrhage aged 44, having become a middle to senior manager in BT just before there was that great reduction in the BT management.

-How long was he unemployed?
-Two seconds.

He got himself a better job immediately. Steve’s parents hated each other. His father had a string of affairs.

I don’t know whether to believe any of this, or how Steve has always lived in London except when he lived in Winchester, which is horrible because it is not at all diverse, just self-satisfied unquestioning middle-class.

When we approach my station he wants a hug goodbye, and we have an A-frame hug. Then he wants to take my hands. “Oh, she’s taking off her gloves!” he exclaims. Well, yes. That seems to me merely courteous. I don’t find it threatening only because he is so bizarre. He might have tried to make a connection by telling of “Trans people I have known”, had he noticed.

Rousseau, the Monument to Chopin in the Luxembourg Gardens


My friend whom I identified as working class nevertheless has her standards. She can’t stand tattoos.  “If I see a woman in the High St with tattoos, in hoop earrings and lots of gold chains of varying lengths round her neck and they’re usually wearing leggings, I just know they are common.” She has some friends with tattoos, but they tend not to be as bright, and she likes good conversation. She then showed me the villanelle she wrote yesterday.

If I had a tattoo, I would want it more than one colour, and I notice that red in particular fades. I asked the woman on the train about this, and she said the answer is lots of high factor sun block- or keep it covered up when outside: she is fair skinned, so wears sun block anyway. So there you go, my tattoo tip. The train had been packed, and I had been sitting in the aisle seat in the forlorn hope of sitting alone. A man told me to move my bag, and let him sit down. I observed that most people request that rather than require it, and he told me how rude I was to have my bag on the seat in the first place. I replied pithily, and he said, “You know what, I don’t want to sit beside you”, at which I was relieved.

When she sat down, the woman observed that she had wondered what the altercation was up ahead, and I admired her tattoos, covering both arms. Her fiancé did them, and was happy to show off his own art work. She is an assistant — nurse, supporting the nurse who assists the surgeon, and next week starts training to be the more senior nurse. She works for a number of surgeons: the woman is utterly lovely with her patients, and very strict with the nurses- well, it is a matter of life and death. We chatted away happily for the hour train journey, though I observed she did not wear leggings- what a world of difference there is, to slim-fit jeans- gold chains or hooped earrings.

And- home made tattoos: Yuck! Ghastly! I saw a man, as I cycled home, who had tattooed cheeks. How Awful!

Boucher, the triumph of Venus


Feeling tired and a little teary, I took the train, and a trans woman joined me. I had heard the voice, grating and nasal but pleasantly variable in pitch. It seemed to be explaining stuff unnecessarily.

-Can I sit here?
-It’s unoccupied.
-The seat is free.

At this point, I only clocked that the person was a bit weird. She started to explain that she had been at a festival, that her phone battery had run out, and that she needed to charge it up all while leaning down round my legs to the electric socket. Hurriedly I suggested that we swap seats.

However that meant standing up and entering the aisle. At this, a ribald shout went up from three seats behind. “Oho! You’ve got a right one there, love. Good luck!” I mentioned this to her.

She plugged in her phone, and moved in a load of shopping bags, round my legs as well as hers. “You’re trans, right? So am I.” Yes. “Have you had the operation?” I said I thought that even with a trans woman this was too personal a question for such a short acquaintance. She told me that she had not had the operation, but that her name was Denise- she hates Dennis. She showed me her black denim jacket with “Denise” embroidered on the right breast, then her driving licence. “The driver number is what declares your sex,” I said. “Yeah I know.” She held it with her fingers obscuring all but the name and photo. I was uninterested in the name: I tried to see the driver number, but she put it away.

She identifies as gender-queer. She is really a tom-boy, she explains: a butch woman. She has had her facial hair removed with laser and electrolysis: have you had electrolysis? I confirmed I had. She felt the need to expatiate more on being a tom-boy, but did not add anything.

It is only ten minutes to my stop, but I know quite a lot about her. She knows I am trans, and my name. “You said people on the train were nasty to you, earlier?” she asks, just as I am getting off. I think of trying to correct the misunderstanding, but decide against. The misunderstanding intrigues me. I told her that they were rude about her, and she has converted this to rude about me. “Everyone is very accepting”, she declared, definitely. I have rarely seen so clear an instance of someone not hearing what they do not want to hear, though I have one possible example of me filtering out unpleasant information and working it out later.

And this need to explain, to a total stranger. She is not interested in me, particularly; she wants to tell me about herself. Perhaps she needs to reassure herself, or work it out for herself, and each such conversation helps her understand or accept herself better. After all, such explanation is what I am doing, here.

Oh! We suffer, so much!

VR Women reading a letter on a couch


A man died in an industrial accident in a car factory. The machine was referred to as a robot, and because it was first tweeted by Sarah O’Connor, a journalist, the angle was that it was a death like in Terminator. I read of this over Naz’s shoulder, and commented that it was ridiculous. He agreed, and was happy to chat.

It is an industrial accident. We only hear of it because they have an angle to horrify us. Our conversation moved onto Greece, with whom he has no sympathy- “They have maxed out their credit cards. They want to continue spending on their credit cards.” I mentioned Keynes, and he said it was a balance. Greece should sort out its tax system. Our in-work benefits were too generous: simply take people out of tax, which is better than one system to take money off people then another to give it back. He knows people who have lived on benefits for decades, and he thinks it wrong.

I started talking about my experiences in Oldham, but when I mentioned arranged marriages he cut me off. He has an arranged marriage with someone from India, it is just his culture. He is a successful businessman, his brother has a business, his father has a business. Other people should be self-reliant.

Disagreeing, I do not want to convert him but hear why he feels this.

At Charing Cross I listened to an obese man stating quietly but determinedly what he would do, and bemoaning being 26 next day- so old! Then Lucy and Nick sat down. Lucy is cis. Nick is painfully thin, flat chested but petite, with a feminine face. He needs T. She does group work, art with mental health, dementia and learning difficulties among other client groups. She bemoans how difficult it is to get everyone’s name, and how important.

-What do you do?
– I connect with people. Like I’m talking with you now.

She accepts that, not everyone might. Our conversation moves to wild swimming and how lovely it feels, so I tell her of Loch Caolisport, how it is so shallow so that it warms in the sun.

Oh, that is so lovely! Lucy starts to rhapsodise. Imagine how beautiful, to just relax into the water, out in the open in the sun, far from the shore yet able to stand up… Nick, how do you think swimming outside would differ from being in a pool?

Nick grins shyly but says nothing, and I realise she is here as a paid escort rather than a friend.

Stuart Lorimer is quite friendly. He orders blood tests, and I am typing now having waited forty minutes for a phlebotomist and anticipating at least another hour, at the rate they are going. I thought he would discharge me, as I do not need surgery.

I want to know why would I be taking hormones, now. He says purely to stave off osteoporosis. Perhaps I should have challenged him, because they seem to have an effect on energy and lability. He refers me to Penny Lenihan, when I thought he would have discharged me. I quite like coming into London, but am unclear why I would want to be here. He gave me a feedback form, and I wrote that everything was lovely.

Rubens, the descent from the cross

National Theatre II

I find myself constantly close to Mindfulness. Perhaps it is my latest religious experience. Or it could be embracing my “disabled” status: I have nothing to prove, and may venture into the world. With hours to kill, I wandered off along the South Bank.

I could not remember who World Vision were, but looked around their display, two huts. In one, there was no ventilation for the cooking fire, and they said a child had died of smoke inhalation; in the other, there was a chimney, and much more light because the roof was now translucent corrugated plastic. They wanted £22 a month for child sponsorship, but took in good part that I could not pay but wanted to see what they had to say.

Waves break on a small patch of sand, and I stand by the railings to hear them.

Then I went to the Oxo Wharf, to look round little shops selling beautiful pottery, art work, jewellery and colourful velvet clothing. Then I wandered slowly back, and hung around the book-shop where people sat in chairs, reading. Then to eat.

The walnuts in the pasta have my full attention.

Are those two mother and daughter? The complexion could be the same age, but the hair style not, the “younger” making an attempt at fashion, the “elder” none. One looked out, and said “the trees are so beautiful at this time of year”. I looked out, and said, “I overheard. Yes, they are”. They were. They were worth looking at. We said nothing else to each other, but they gave me a brilliant smile and “goodbye” on leaving.

Then the Dorfman Theatre, formerly Cottesloe. A big man walks over, supported on a stick, slowly but surely. He asked if he could sit at my table, and I said I liked to talk to strangers. He assented. He is a retired television director. The BBC was very good to him. His companion, who will join him shortly, is an actress specialising in voice work: she does some audio description here. What do I do? “I am a recluse- [beat]- a very sociable recluse.”

-You say that with such simplicity.

He introduces me to V., who interrogates me. Why the book on mindfulness? Because that is where I am. She leafs through it. She has this picture on the wall of her flat in Paris.

-The original?
-If only.

She tells me how to pronounce the artist’s name. With her questions, I feel challenged.

-I had an experience on Monday of being suffused with Love; an intense sense of my own rightness and beauty as I am.
-You’ve never had that before?
-Intellectual acceptance, but never heart-felt.

The play is wonderful, and after I see them again. What did you think of it? His comment makes me see it as a whole, in a new light. We kiss cheeks.

I rush to St Pancras, and join a woman who has just been on the set of Midsomer Murders. She plays a chef, and describes a scene making a huge gout of flame with brandy. They kept telling her to make it bigger, and she is surprised her eyebrows survive. Her other job is as a freelance cook, principally to country house shooting parties. The houses tend to have huge Agas, and guests prop themselves in her kitchen, gently steaming. Once, the hostess rushed in, panicky- “We’ve got a Vegan!” A Vegan on a shoot? She made a quick risotto. So the train passed very pleasantly.

Next day, alone at home after voting, I mourn the loss of it. Bloody Willy Loman.

Gustave Caillebotte, the floor planers

National Theatre

It is not true that “in my weakness is my strength” or “We can be at our most powerful when we are vulnerable“. Rather, we are powerful when our vulnerability cease to matter to us, either to correct or disguise. When I delight in my vulnerability it ceases to frighten me.

Without a series of coincidences- petty ones, bus late, that sort of thing- I would not have been on the South Bank on Wednesday, or had the experiences I had. If I had realised the theatre ticket Mona was offering was for a 45 minute interview with Anthony Sher I would not have bothered. If the bus had been on time I would have had my mobile phone- ask, if you really must- and not have tried to contact her by borrowing one. First I tried in the train. The woman opposite was typing furiously on her lap-top, with precise hand-written notes; I read, “£1.6m”. She had her business face on, but was very sweet when I said “excuse me”. But her mobile had ceased to work. The man beside me had no signal, but leant me his when he caught one. We had a brief conversation about mobiles. Nearing the station, she stood up, and I noticed she was trembling.

In the National Theatre, I did not notice Mona, so keen was I to borrow a mobile. The first I asked said she had specifically switched her phone off for the theatre, and the second showed hers was on the blink. You have to take the battery out, apparently. She could not remove the SIM. Then we stared at a line crawling across the screen for an age. With no signal inside, I took the phone outside in the rain, and Mona chased after me. She had been talking “to two old women- women my age”. An hour later, she said, “I have two messages- oh, they’re from you”.

I did not ask Sher my question, about his role as a psychic transsexual. Mona’s question was that she had noticed aspects of his Falstaff in his Willy Loman, and wondered how he laid down a role before starting a new one. It is not a problem, he said, nothing he had ever even considered. She tried to ask a follow-up, speaking over the interviewer, and later was going “yeah…yeah” as if we were at a table with him, rather than in an audience. At first I was embarrassed, but before the couple in front looked round disapprovingly I had decided Mona was my friend, and I would support her. Perhaps she was not used to the strong painkillers.

Sher played Falstaff as a ruthless, homeless alcoholic. His charm was part of the complexity of the character- Shakespeare writes human beings. Sher’s comment which has hurt me was that the fantasist Loman has a strong will: I do not know what to do with my strong will, either.

Mona had tickets for the play, but not one for me- but not for that night, either, she had the day wrong. I got a ticket. I have at last embraced Disabled status, which got me a £34 discount, without needing any evidence or explanation.

Paul Cézanne - Nature morte avec pommes et pêches

Train conversations

Taking the train up, I sat next to Emma who was happy to chat. After drama school she was in a musical on Shaftesbury Avenue, and now works for Barclaycard. She rarely visits London but is going for a Sherlock convention: the actors will be there, and she will have her picture taken with “Benedict” [Cumberbatch]. Myleene Klass visited her office, and she shows me a picture of the two of them, one poised, one embarrassed but happy. I would find it interesting, but not enough actually to go.

Going North, I sat by a proud mother and her 19 year old son who had just done the London Marathon. She is head of customer relations. The man sitting by us had done ultra running, and told war stories: his main knee injury was on a 5k run in the North-East, where he had not checked out the course and there was a steep hill down just at the start of it. His knees had not warmed up. She saw her son at 12 miles, and he looked “anguished”, then at 22 miles and he looked much better. “Only four miles to go” said the man. “You were just behind Chris Evans”. People had their names on their shirts, and spectators encouraged them by name. Some had not put on vaseline: their shirts rubbed their skin, and drew blood. The exhausted son thinks his toe-nail will come off. He put his feet in his mother’s lap. “They’re sopping wet,” she said, and removed the ankle supports then rubbed them happily.

Peter, the tenant from whom H sublets, was in the house. He had been at a pipers’ meeting. I said something about crunlooers (he can’t pronounce crunluath either) then we talked of the Jacobites. They should have gone on to London, I said, knowing he would have an opinion: he says they could have taken London, but not held it. Cumberland was in Stone, Staffordshire, not knowing where the Prince was.

Jamie said some people have huge ups and downs, and need hospitalised; some have small ups and downs, and can cope with ordinary life and work; and some have larger ups and downs and are arty types. I suppose he knows his market, I suppose we are. The course is Transforming Shadows, looking at those parts of ourselves we suppress. People tell us not to be that way, and we take it in. Some over 45 will have been told not to be that way with a slap round the head. We are all terrified of rejection, desperate for approval, so behave in the way we think will be approved. We all contain all human possibilities. We seek comfort, but all art and life comes from the edge of the comfort zone. When we are uncomfortable, we are juicy, visceral, potent. Feel! Be visible! Life is precious, and there is the Real person underneath the masks. Just as we breathe and digest without thinking of it, so we heal, mentally as well as physically.

Life continually sends us challenges, to show us our uptightness. We manipulate, control and condemn to avoid feeling. When angry, all our old anger comes out, disproportionate to the stimulus. Even if the other person is wrong, my reaction is still the product of my own life: rather than reacting I should pause and feel, then choose the action. When willing to feel, to know what (not why) the feeling is, we can heal.

He talks of “full body listening”, being present in the moment with myself, or wu wei, active non-doing.

His way of accessing the real person is by writing with the non-dominant hand.

John Lavery, Portrait of a Lady, thought to be Mrs Ralph Peto