Wednesday, September 30, 2009

The Jewellery That Hates Me

Jewellery and me don't get on. Which is a shame, because I love other people's jewellery sometimes and I like to see people wearing jewellery as long as it's not that kind of "I'm really rich and I'm going to show you JUST how rich I am" - type jewellery.

I like real jewellery made of gold and silver and precious stones and I like costume jewellery made of all sorts of things and I like strings of beads and - - well, most types of jewellery really.

But it doesn't like me. It knows I am, at heart, a Russian peasant, like my ancestors. It knows that Jeans and T-shirt is my natural home.

My brother-in-law, who was then working as a silversmith, made my wedding ring which is very simple - strips of yellow gold and white gold altenating. I never had an engagement ring - - I just didn't want one. I thought there were better things to spend the money on and I think I knew even then that jewellery doesn't like me.

Susan, one of the actors I work with, gave me an Art-Deco-type small silver brooch a few years ago and I wear that a lot. And that is the total of my jewellery collection - - at least, that's it for the jewellery that I actually wear.

I used to wear a lot of little metal badges with slogans on, usually ones that I thought were funny. I probably still would, if I saw one that I liked.

I saw a pendant that I liked in - - er - - Sainsbury's, and bought it for an extravagant £6.00. (No, Cartier has never been troubled by my presence).

But it has one of those hooks at the back where you have to press a tiny lever in so that it opens and then hook it onto the chain to fasten it round your neck. How hard can it be?

Well, I found it really, REALLY hard. Even looking in the mirror and with the fastener pulled round to the front I just couldn't see what I was doing. Then, when I finally got it fastened, it was the wrong length - - it was too low, dangling below the V of my top.

So I spent another hundred years or so trying to unfasten it, and then another couple of millennia trying to get it the right length.

And finally, it was in the right place. So I looked in the mirror - - - and it looked all wrong. Why? It just DID. You can take the woman out of the jeans and T-shirt but you can't take the jeans and T-shirt - - - etc.

It only took me about another decade or so to finally unfasten it and stuff it back in the old wooden box where I keep such things.

So I'm afraid that, for this lifetime, that's probably it for the jewellery. I've given it a try, and it hates me. Make-up hates me too, by the way - - the last time I wore any was a small amount of eyeshadow when I got married. That was in 1980.

I bought a pendant-type thing in Italy for one of my colleages: I knew that the colour would go with many of the clothes she wears, and she often wears such kinds of things. I gave it to her: she put it on: it looked great: she was delighted. End of.

Why can other women do this and not me? I feel completely female and feminine - - except when I try to wear jewellery, or make-up. Then I just feel like an idiot.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Autumn in the Park

It was a beautiful day on Saturday when we walked in Roundhay Park. Lots of people doing different kinds of exercise:

Dozens of dogs being taken for walks amongst the trees:

Trees reflected in the water:

and the occasional fisherman:

Oh yes, lovely. But there'll be a price to pay, of course. November fog. Frozen mud. Heating bills. All those winter things we choose to forget.

Autumn may be pretty, but I'm suspicious of it because of what will come after. Spring's the time I like, and early summer. A glorious May morning with the whole summer to come - - wonderful.

So what does autumn mean to me? - - - It's nearly winter, that's what. And I don't like it.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Deja Shoe

My roleplay finished earlier than expected this morning and I called in to get some petrol, since I'm taking my Mum to Hull later on today to see the excellent band Djangology.

Then, having got petrol, I thought - I'm near the shoe shop. And hey, I could do with some new smart black shoes because I need to look like a Proper Person with Proper Shoes, because I start working with some university students tomorrow.

So I drove to a parking space near the shoe shop, and walked to the shoe shop, and looked in the window, and saw a pair of smart black shoes that looked exactly right - - - and slightly familiar - - - - strange, I thought - -

And then I remembered.

Just before we went to Italy (I've been to Italy, you know), I called in at the same shoe shop to buy some new sandals: they were excellent, I wore them all the time in Italy (did I mention that I went to Italy recently?).

Whilst I was buying the sandals I noticed a pair of smart black shoes and thought hey, I could do with a pair of smart black shoes because I'll be working with some university students in the autumn, and I'll need to look like a Proper Person with Proper Shoes.

So I had already bought the identical pair, back in August.

I stepped quietly away from the shoe shop and came home, and found the smart black shoes in their box in my bedroom.

I've always prided myself on my good memory but I think that's it now. Gone. Goodbye. No more. It's only a matter of time before people will start patting me on the head and calling me "dear".

I'll write more tomorrow, when I'm back from wherever it is I'm going tonight. If I can find my way home, of course.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Soup of the Seventies

In general, I like the idea of soup more than the reality.

I don't like the word "soup" for starters. I don't know why not, I just hate it, it makes me cringe and sets my teeth on edge. Ughhhhhhhhh.

As for the real thing, though, I like home-made chicken broth with barley and vegetables, just like my Grandma used to make. I like onion soup. I like most vegetable soup. I quite like tomato soup.

But that's it really. Fish soup? That's just wrong, somehow. It's as if the fish were still alive and swimming around - - but they're not, they're dead and in pieces. Horrible idea.

But - - and it's True Confession time now - - I like this soup, below. Instant packet soup!

Many years ago - - well, in about 1970 I suppose - the school I was at had a minor revolution and leapt forward into the twentieth century with a hot drinks machine.

As with all schools of the time, everything was always a bit chilly because the buildings were big and the heating was inefficient.

So a hot drinks machine at break was just bliss. Some days we had hot chocolate, and some days we had soup.

Last week, when I was waiting in the garage for my car to have its MOT and service, I found the hot drinks machine. Then I saw that the machine sold hot chocolate and chicken soup.

And I could just tell that it was the identical soup mix invented in those we-love-E-numbers days of the Seventies. Even the plastic cups were identical. It was a Time Warp Hot Drinks Machine.

So I lavished 30p on a cup of it and it was like a journey back to Roundhay High School break, circa 1970. As soon as I smelled it I thought I was back on a parquet floor with double Domestic Science for the rest of the morning.

When I tasted it I thought of the French test the next day, and thought I'd better get working on the imperfect tense.

It was so very evocative. Strange how smells and tastes can take you back to a different time faster than anything else.

I loved it so much that I had a second cup of it, and then I stopped being thirteen and leaped forward nearly forty years to see if my car was ready.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Or Perhaps It's Just Me

About fifteen years ago, and rather against my better judgement, I took part in a weekend called The ISA Experience.

I work with actors, and a lot of people I knew had done it, and several of them were very keen that I should do it.

I had had a tough time, losing my first baby, and then had postnatal depression when Olli was born, and several people thought, from the best of intentions, that this might help me. My usual "pull yourself together and move on" method wasn't working, or not very well.

The trouble is, this weekend requires you to throw yourself into it, whole-heartedly, suspending all judgement and just going with the flow.

I'm not like that. I just can't do it. I am sceptical about everything. I wish I was religious, but I'm not: I'd like to believe in homoeopathy, but I can't: astrology, but it's a load of rubbish (I'm a typical Cancerian, mind) - - and so on. I have a suspicious mind. What's in it for the person who's pushing this theory, I wonder? And at the base of many things it seems, for me, to be crowd control, or money, or sometimes both.

A couple of hundred of us were asked to sit in rows in a big hall on a Friday evening. Loud music was played and the facilitator came in and pointed dramatically at the cd player and the music stopped.

At this point I thought - - - oh no, this isn't for me, I'm out of here. And I was delighted, years later, when Ricky Gervais' parody of a motivational speaker in the television comedy The Office included just such a moment.

But I didn't leave. I stayed, for the whole weekend. I couldn't take part in my head, but I pretended to. I put my hand up in a "Let me Speak!" kind of eager way and tried to mirror the enthusiasm of those around me.

I'll say one thing for the chap running it, he did clock this and came up to me and whispered in my ear "You are not participating very much."

"No, mate," I thought, "because you are trying to brainwash me." No clocks to show the passage of time and a really sudden effort to get a lot of intimacy with those in the room. We all had a "buddy" who was supposed to help us and we were supposed to tell them every detail of our problems.

I'm usually pretty open - I don't have any serious secrets and my close friends know pretty much everything about me. But over the course of the weekend, I got more and more closed and more and more miserable.

Everyone else, it seemed, was getting more and more open and delighted.

By the end of the weekend we all had to go up on a stage, one after the other and say "What I don't want you to know about me is - - "

People talked about their relationships, the abuse they had suffered as children, all sorts of deep torments.

One girl said "I'm an heiress and my problem is that I have too much money and it's ruining my life." I resisted the urge to shout "I can help you! Give it to me!" - - or, more seriously, "Give it to charity, you stupid cow, problem solved!"

Then it was my turn. "What I don't want you to know about me," I said, "is that I don't take part in things like this. I go through the motions, but I'm not really here. And there are plenty of decent people in this room who'll be very disappointed in me."

There were. By the end of it I was about as gloomy as I've ever felt. Everyone else, it seemed, felt that their lives were transformed. They were moving forward! Changing! Everything would be wonderful from now on!

Ten days later, we had to go to a reunion and answer lots of questions. I went, of course. One thing about me is that I do tend to see things through.

"Have you managed to continue to feel the huge feeling of happiness that you felt at the end of the weekend?" was one of them (though I'm paraphrasing).

I found one of the leaders and pointed out that this was what is known as a Leading Question.

They glowered at me and tried to get me to do a follow-up course. I hadn't played a full part in the course, clearly. (True) I hadn't seen the light, or whatever. (True again)

I was in a dark tunnel of cynicism by now, feeling much worse than I had before I started. I never went back.

But I found that, on my course, there were people who had done the whole thing fifteen or sixteen times.

The weekend, in those days, cost £225. I have no idea what it costs now: the website doesn't appear to tell me.

Crowd control. And money.

Or perhaps it's just me.

She's Back

Ten days ago, my mother, who you may remember is 85, took herself off to Tenby on the train. It's about 250 miles and two changes of train but you can book assistance with these and it worked a treat - someone turned up, carried her luggage, took her to the next train and found her seat.

It's been good weather and she's had a wonderful time, staying in our favourite Park Hotel where they all look after her really well. (And I notice that Park Hotel has a new website wooohooo where you can see its rather old-fashioned characterful gorgeousness).

She has swum in the sea every day except one day when it was a bit blustery. She has swum in the hotel's outdoor pool every day before breakfast and usually before lunch as well.

She has walked everywhere in Tenby and even along the ridiculously steep path to the next little bay, Waterwynch.

She has quite a suntan and looks fitter than any eighty-five-year old that I've ever seen. She's fairly bubbling with happiness.

Just before she went it was the Communist's birthday - or would have been, if he was still alive. He died last December, age 85. My mother's not good with dates - - or numbers of any kind since the stroke she had when she was sixty-eight - and she didn't know.

I didn't tell her. She's moved on. I'm sad, but I'm glad. Or, more truthfully, I'm glad - - but I'm sad.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

A Couple of Years Ago

In June, 2006, I wrote a post on this blog which somehow meandered from Desmond Dekker to Land of Hope and Glory.

Someone calling himself Silverback wrote a comment on it - - - and I read his his blog - - then I found I was reading it regularly and enjoying it tremendously - - anyway, after a lot of me reading his blog and him reading my blog and some emails, and me finally being bright enough to work out that when he wasn't in America he lived about two miles away, and then me working out that he was about to go back to America for six months and finally having the good sense to invite him round - - we met for a cup of tea and a Jaffa Cake.

Two years ago today.

Byron, the actor who was working in our office that day, said the following, I noted at the time:

"Can I pretend to be from Eastern Europe and tell Silverback that I used to read your blog too, and called round three months ago, and now you won't let me leave, and that there are six more of us upstairs?"

"No, Byron."

A lot of water's flowed under the bridge since then - - and some of it was flowing under the Rialto Bridge in Venice, which Silverback, Stephen and I crossed this summer on our wonderful holiday together in Italy.

But through everything that's happened in the past couple of years - and there's been a lot, some fantastic, some good, some terrible - he has been an absolutely brilliant friend to me, and to the whole family. He may have been known to tease and mock me ever so slightly once or twice and he is always very, very funny.

Right, that's enough compliments for one day. Hurrah for the internet, says I.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Early Autumn Flowers

It was sunny when I was outside today but it was definitely autumnal sunshine and not summer sunshine.

It can be stunningly beautiful, autumn, but nevertheless I don't like the fact that winter's on its way.

I do like some of the flowers that are still about, though.

Michaelmas Daisies:

and nasturtiums:

They're one of my favourite flowers, nasturtiums - they don't have any scent but I like the fact that they come in lots of different shades of red, orange and yellow, and I like the big round leaves.

I like eating the leaves too! They have a bitter taste, a bit like rocket I suppose - - - but I was eating nasturtium leaves out in the garden in the days before anyone in this country ever ate rocket. In those days "salad" meant lettuce, cucumber and tomatoes - - none of your fancy stuff.

I don't think I'm good with change, and there's been a lot of it this past year: I don't find it easy. Suddenly it's autumn before - weatherwise - we really knew it was summer.

Thinking back over the summer, I've had some great times and been to some fantastic places. It's all gone far too quickly.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

From the Adriatic Sea to Scotthall Leisure Centre

A couple of weeks ago, Silverback and I swam in the Adriatic Sea in Rimini, Italy. Stephen didn't swim- he was busy testing one of the proper Italian sun loungers, for Rimini is a very traditional Italian resort.

You have to pay a daily fee to use all the beach's facilities. That system in Italy has clearly been going for quite a while as beaches like that are what I remember from childhood holidays in Italy.

It was slightly out of season and hence the beach was fairly empty, though it was a hot, beautifully sunny day.

And the waves were huge! You can't really tell on this photo but the sea was shallow and the waves were coming with so much force that you had to be very careful to avoid being knocked over.

The sea was warm and clear and blue and I loved it. It was wonderful. I think Silverback enjoyed it too.

Back to reality.

Today I woke up at six - - wide awake, I wondered what to do and I thought - - it's too early to start work: what shall I do? I know - I'll go swimming.

I want to do the Great North Swim next year. It involves swimming a mile across beautiful Windermere in the Lake District, which is England's largest lake.

I know it will be quite different from swimming in a warm pool or even a warm sea such as the Adriatic. It'll be Very Cold Indeed.

But actually, I've swum in cold seas all my life. My mother, who is 85, is currently staying in Tenby, South Wales for ten days, and she has swum in the sea, by herself, almost every day. Not just a bit of splashing about - - she'll have done backstroke for half an hour or so. She loves it, and so do I.

But I wanted to see if I could still swim the distance I generally used to do, which was forty lengths of our local pool, which is a kilometre.

I got out of the habit of going when the Communist got ill and I was just too busy, so I want to start again.

So at eight o'clock this morning I was in the water.

It wasn't quite the Adriatic, though it was very warm. The changing rooms were really grubby and unpleasant and in fact the pool is going to be closed for twenty weeks from mid-November whilst they're all refurbished.

I managed to do my old time - which is a length a minute: I did forty-two lengths in forty-two minutes. I always do an extra couple in case I've counted wrong. Non-swimmers are always impressed by a length a minute but it's not fast for a proper swimmer: just not too bad for a Woman the Wrong Side of Forty. Oh, all right then, the Wrong Side of Fifty, damn it.

I swim a slowish breast stroke but I do have a pretty good style. You may remember, because I've written about it before, that I had an excellent swimming teacher on childhood holidays in Tenby.

You may also remember that his name was Ivor Fish. Brilliant, eh?

It wasn't quite the Adriatic, this morning. But I did enjoy it: I could have kept on going a lot further and it made me think - - yes, I can do the Great North Swim.

I have preregistered for when the applications open, and I'm going to apply. And next time I wake up too early, I'm going to go swimming.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Simple and Brilliant

Here's a sink in a petrol station in Italy. What do you notice?

Firstly, as I've mentioned before, it's sparkling clean.

Secondly, it has no taps.

Now then, taps on public sinks in Britain are of several kinds:

1) Two taps of the type that you turn on, rather grubby. Often only one of them works.

2) The type where you press the top to make it work. Sometimes they're jammed on and won't stop flowing. Sometimes they're jammed off and won't start.

3) Those automatic taps where you have to wave your hand in front of them. The tap gives you precisely four drops of water and then stops. You wave your hand and get another four drops. Then it sulks for a bit and won't give you any at all. So you have to go all down the row of sinks flapping your hands like a fledgling learning to fly, until you find one that gives you another four drops.

In Italy, they have a solution that is simple yet brilliant, and I have never seen it in this country. It is this:

It's a switch on the floor. When you want water, you press on it with your foot and the tap on the sink above provides you with water. And when you have finished with the water, you leave, and you take your foot with you, so that it's impossible to leave the tap on by accident.

Simple and brilliant.

Yes, the floor's clean too. Have you ever, EVER seen a clean floor in a toilet in a British petrol station? Perhaps the owners clean them and the customers throw stuff on the floor, I don't know. But they are never clean.

I love some things about Britain, particularly my family and friends and the scenery.

But sometimes I'm just SO tired of the things that we put up with here.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

A Bit of a Scam

Do you get plastic bags coming through your door that you can put clothes etc in? The charity that gave you the bag then calls a few days later to collect your old clothes.

All very well - - - but some of them aren't what they seem, and I think this one, which came through our door the other day, is one of them.

For a start, I've never heard of the Little Treasures Children's Trust - - but it does have a charity number, and it could be genuine - -

But if we look at the back - -

Two things alert my nasty suspicious mind:

"ELT will be operating collection service and will be delighted to collect these items from you"


"In excess of £2000 each month will be donated to the Little Treasures Children's Trust Charity."

Now then - - I take that to mean that ELT - whoever they are, because it doesn't tell us - will do all the collections, flog the clothes and - hopefully - give £2000 and one penny to this charity - - and then keep any profit over that amount.

I have seen similar bags offering to help the Third World by such means and if you read the small print, again it says it will help the Third World by giving the people work sorting the clothes.

You may not mind. You may just want someone to take your old clothes away to save you the trouble, and you may not care if they make a profit out of it.

But if that's the case, I think we should be told.

Saturday, September 19, 2009


It was a lovely sunny morning today in Roundhay Park, Leeds:

The willow-herb of late summer still had some flowers:

The lake round the far side was shallow and clear:

And there they are, floating on the top - - beech leaves. Because autumn's coming.

I'm not happy about it. I've just got some summer clothes. I've just got used to it being warm. I'm not ready for woolly jumpers, central heating, frosty mornings, chestnuts-roasting-on-an-open-fire or anything else to do with winter.

Bring back summer, say I. Not that there was much of a summer, not here in Britain, anyway. And I'm just not ready for autumn, okay?

Never Seen Together, Ever

This evening we watched a film with direct relevance to our recent lives - - Roman Holiday .
Audrey Hepburn plays a princess from an unnamed country who goes AWOL in Rome and meets Gregory Peck.

I enjoyed it tremendously. It's quite a long film, but I was never bored - though sometimes amazed at the slowness of it compared with today's films and especially lightning-paced television - "Are we going to watch him walk right across there - - yes we are!"

Audrey and Gregory visit lots of famous places in Rome, many of which have been visited far more recently by Silverback, Stephen and me, and they look much the same in the film as they do now (though I expect they've put blue plaques up since we three visited).

So I felt that an important part of my job this evening was to shout "Ooh, ooh, we've BEEN there! We've BEEN there!" and similar cries, and I think I fulfilled this role well.

Aud and Greg visit lots of places that we visited including, for no particular reason except it looks pretty damned impressive, the Colosseum (which may also be written Coliseum, a fact which has been confusing me for some weeks now). It looks much the same in the film as it did when I took this photo - - perhaps because, in the greater scheme of things, from 1953 to 2009 is not very long in the Colosseum's life.

Though, I have to say, it's a very long time in my life, since I wasn't even born in 1953.

During the film I had a moment of revelation and I'm going to confess this to you now and I don't care if you laugh. Well, okay, I care a bit, so don't do it too loudly or I'll cry.

A few weeks ago we watched Hitchcock's North by Northwest and that starred Gregory Peck too. Although - - - thinking about it - - - it didn't. It starred Cary Grant.

And it occurred to me that I don't know which is which. Having looked at their photos on Wikipedia, and having seen two films each starring one of them, I still don't know.

In fact, it's entirely possible that my whole life I've thought they were the same person. They look rather similar and are both tallish and slimmish and suavish and dark-haired. They both have names that nobody else would have. Gregory Peck. Cary Grant. Gregory Grant. Cary Peck. Interchangeable.

So - tell me this and tell me n' more, as Jim McDonald used to say on Coronation Street. Gregory Peck and Cary Grant. Have you ever seen them both together in the same room?

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Spaghetti alla Carbonara alla Daphne

I've had Spaghetti alla Carbonara in Britain quite often. Spaghetti with bits of bacon and a kind of white eggy sauce which I liked a bit, but not a lot.

When we were in Italy I had it several times and I liked it a lot more. The sauce was less white and more - - well - - eggy.

So when we got back, I thought I'd have a go at making it. Delia Smith gives a recipe here: - but hey, what does she know? Okay, quite a lot - - but I wanted a simpler version and here it is.

Three eggs

90 grams of spaghetti per person plus a few extra bits that were heading out of the packet

a large pan of boiling water

a packet of lardons (those are bits of bacon and you find them everywhere in France and now they're to be found here too)

a frying pan

some olive oil

a tiny drop of milk

a bit of Proper British Cheese - I used Double Gloucester because that's what there was in the fridge, and because I like it


1) Put the spaghetti into the boiling water and shout at it a bit until it bends round nicely and starts to cook

2) Beat the three eggs and add a tiny amount of milk and a bit of grated cheese

3) Fry the lardons in some olive oil till they're just about crispy and make a delicious bacon-is-cooking smell

4) When the spaghetti is cooked, drain it in a colander and put it back in the pan that it cooked in and leave this pan on a gentle heat for a moment

5) Add the lardons and oil etc from the frying pan

6) Add the beaten eggs mixture

7) You may at this point wish to consider Black Pepper. It's horrid, if you ask me, so don't put any in

9) Stir it all together at top speed until the egg cooks

10) Dollop it out onto plates

11) If you have any Parmesan Cheese, don't on any account put it on top, because it's another horrid thing with a really vile smell and why people like it I really don't know

12) Eat the Spaghetti alla Carbonara alla Daphne

And here's the result (before it was eaten, obviously)

Modesty doesn't prevent me from saying it was Jolly Nice.

Hints and Tips:

a) You can't really taste the cheese - - it just kind of brings out the flavour

b) Preparation Time: From leaving the office down the corridor to thinking hey, I'm really very hungry now - - about fifteen minutes

c) Fat Content: Well, quite a lot but a LOT LESS THAN DELIA'S

d) Calories: Well it was very filling but nowhere near as rich as Delia's so a LOT LESS THAN DELIA'S

Yes, we'll be having it again. Can I have my own telly series now?

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

The Last Palm Tree and the Sunflowers

My love of palm trees is well-known to my family, friends and readers of this blog. Those cheery explosions of leaves at the top always gladden my heart.

Here's just about the last palm tree that we saw in Italy, outside our motel near Rome:

A palm tree against a blue sky - - lovely!

Another plant that's always cheery is the sunflower, of course. I remember seeing them in France, in previous years - - fields and fields of them, turning their large faces round towards the sun as the day goes on. Tournesol, in French - - Girasole in Italian - - both meaning "turn-sun".

We saw sunflowers in Italy too. Brace yourselves:

Fields and fields of them, all dead, because it was early September. Of course, the seeds were ripening ready to be made into sunflower oil and margarine and suchlike, and I'm sure the farmers were very happy to see them like that - - but I wasn't, because I am a sentimental fool, and to me, a field of dead sunflowers just looks SAD.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

About Not Having an Eye Test - - and a Birthday

Yesterday would have been the Communist's 86th birthday. He died last December, so wasn't around to enjoy it, which is a great shame, as he loved his birthday.

I had an appointment for an eye test yesterday. It was to check for Diabetic Retinopathy - - in other words, for my diabetes causing damage to the retinas of my eyes, something I dread. So far my retinas have been fine.

Two years ago, when I first had the test, they explained that they'd put drops in my eyes for half an hour to make the pupils larger, and that this would make it easier to see my retinas.

So they put in the drops and I waited for them to take effect.

After about ten minutes, they came for me early, took the photos - - and then I thought hey, I feel a bit funny - - and woke up on the floor.

Only then did some distant memory come to light of the exact same thing happening when I was a small child, when I had drops in my eyes then, when I first got glasses, age five.

I felt a bit embarrassed, as you do when you wake up on the floor with lots of people looking at you. I felt really rather ill for some time and had to lie on a bed until I was well enough to get a taxi home.

So last year, when I went for the same test, I explained my fainting fit of the previous year.

The staff were initially confused by this, but finally looked it up and found it to be a rare - but known - allergic reaction to the drops.

I had the test without drops and the lady doing the photos said she could see my retinas perfectly and they were fine.

You're not allowed to drive after the test, so Silverback kindly agreed to take me in his car yesterday.

They called me in early, before my appointment time. I explained about my allergic reaction to the drops again - I had explained it on the phone when I booked the appointment.

"Oh, sorry, we can't do the test then, not here," they said.

I said, in a rather bewildered way, that they'd done it the previous year.

Ah yes, but the regulations have changed. They can't take the risk of doing the test without drops, and telling me that my retinas are fine, and my retinas turning out not to be fine, and me taking them to court.

So what must happen now is that they will send me another appointment, this time for the specialist Eye Hospital (not just the Eye Clinic). They will put drops in my eyes: they can't do the test without them anywhere now. I may well faint, but at least there will be a doctor on hand to pick me up again.

All very tedious, and I'm not looking forward to it. If they'd have told me all this on the phone when I rang to book the appointment then a lot of time would have been saved.

Anyway, it now being still lunchtimeish, Silverback and I went for a pub lunch, and it was tremendously enjoyable, and a lot more fun than a Diabetic Retinopathy test.

I thought of the Communist, as we had lunch on his birthday. I know what he'd have said, though.

"Waste of time, having lunch on my birthday for me, when I'm dead and I can't enjoy it."

I posted the piece about Olli yesterday so it would be on a significant date, and many thanks to all for your supportive comments.

So: Happy Birthday, Dad, for yesterday.

"What's the point of wishing me Happy Birthday when I'm dead and I can't enjoy it?"

Yes, Dad. I hear you. But Happy Birthday anyway.

Monday, September 14, 2009

The Thing I Couldn't Tell You

Some time ago, I wrote on this blog that there were things going on that I couldn't tell you about. But now, at last, I think I should.

I asked Olli to write something for my blog and this is what Olli has written.


Longtime readers will have noticed that my mother used to mention her only child, a daughter called Emily. This daughter then mysteriously disappeared, and was replaced by another only child called Olli, one, judging by my mum's lack of pronoun use, of indeterminate sex. I have been asked to write a short explanation for her to post, enabling her to use the correct name and to avoid the convoluted, pronoun-free sentences.

This will be very old news to some people reading here, if you know my mum in Real Life, but bear with us – the rest of the Internet doesn't.

This time last year, I changed my name to Oliver, as I'm a female-to-male transsexual man. That will mean a variety of things to some of you, and nothing to others, which is problematic – as the concept is difficult to explain to the majority of people who aren't in a similar situation. Simply, I'm a great deal happier living as male – seeing myself as male and being seen as male – than I was when I attempted to live as female.

Of course, a cynic might say, it's much nicer to be seen as male full stop, what with the better pay and lack of sexual harrassment and all. But that's not it; there are plenty of male-to-female transsexual women about, who have given up all those privileges in order to be true to themselves in a similar way.

The minimal amount of research conducted on transsexuality suggests it's inborn, forming while the individual is still in the womb (which is why headlines like “World's youngest transsexual” are frustratingly inaccurate). But that doesn't matter, particularly – either you're trans (I will use the abbreviation from here on, as it encompasses everyone whose sense of self is strikingly different than one would expect, considering the sex they were assigned at birth, and not just those who wish to change their physical sex characteristics) or you're not.

If you're not trans (i.e. when you were born, a doctor pronounced you to be male or female, and you agree with them) you're cissexual or cis.

Incidentally, I'm talking about physical sex here in terms of a decision, rather than simple fact, because sex is far more complicated than one might expect. Hormones, reproductive organs, chromosomes, and brain sex all come together to make the sex of a body, and in a great many cases not all “match” to produce a body that's definitively male or female. This is why (oh morons who are making that ginormous fuss about Caster Semenya) a sensible person accepts someone's assessment of their own sex and gender, rather than “well, this transsexual person's taken some hormones, so their skin and muscle is three-fifths female, their mind is female, their neural map is female, their genitals are nine-tenths male...” or any similar pointless and intrusive rubbish.

Therefore, I'm male. I'm “Oliver” to strangers, “Olli” to friends, “he” “him” and “his”. Anyone who persists in calling me “she” etc. is communicating effectively that they don't care that I have a personality or sense of self, and that they consider me nothing more than a perambulatory life-support system for my vagina. Forgive me if I thus no longer bother with them. If someone uses female pronouns by accident, an apology is appropriate (of course, these rules apply the other way round if someone assigned male is living as female).

Now, I'm not the most stereotypical, red-blooded heterosexual male – I don't spend all my time playing sports and chasing women (indeed, as you'll know, my husband Gareth is also male). My interests are very gender-neutral, so it's not a matter of “I like fast cars and explosions so I must be a dude!” it's entirely about my body and voice, and the body and voice I should have.

About that husband. My coming-out process was more uneventful than most, primarily because I haven't had to cope with the rejection of a lesbian or straight male partner, which is obviously common “You're a man? But I don't... like men...” and, of course, said partner hasn't had to cope with that feeling of loss. Gareth was proudly out as bisexual a long time before I broke the news, and his reaction was entirely supportive, especially after meeting other transsexual men. He's been really helpful throughout the past year – thanks, Gareth (Thareth). Another person who's really gone out of their way to be very awesome is Joanne, a friend from uni who might be reading here (Thoanne!).

In the next couple of months, I will hopefully start testosterone therapy, which will redistribute my fat and break my voice, fixing some of the major problems I have with my body. Alternately, it will just give me some awful side effects, and I'll have to stop taking it – it's obviously powerful stuff, and it's hard to predict how an individual system will react. It'll also make me infertile, so Gareth and I are hoping to use a surrogate to make kids in the future; call me a cynic if you will, but I can't imagine the adoption process being full of delights for same-sex couples that include transsexual men.

So... yes. Any questions? Sensible questions, I mean. (Because trans topics on the Internet tend to attract EVERY VERBOSE MORONIC TWUNT IN THE WORLD, I suggested that any offensive comments ought to be deleted. My mum reckons they should be left up, and soundly mocked, so that is what shall be).

Daphne writing again: I will be happy to answer any questions, of course. And actually, I think those who read this blog aren't likely to leave offensive comments.

But just to pre-empt some questions that you may want to ask:

I didn't want to keep using the name "Olli" with no explanation (Yorkshire Pudding asked me about it a while ago but I couldn't give a full answer then - apologies!) But I couldn't explain anything until Olli was clear what was happening, and that took a while.

Just to add a bit of explanation - - and Olli, I hope you won't mind this - - Olli is twenty, and just about to start his third year at York University studying Archaeology. When known as Emily he always appeared to be a completely normal, tall, slim girl so we didn't see this coming at all, in any way. The only unusual thing about Olli when Olli was known as Emily was the exam results, which were always superb to the point of being rather scary (how often does someone get 100% in English Literature A-level, for example?)

Am I finding all this difficult? Oh, yes. I'd guess that all parents of transsexuals find it hard. Some huge percentage - - maybe fifty per cent - lose all contact with their children. Olli, of course, is just the same person that Emily was - - but, for nearly twenty years, I thought I had a daughter, and it's hard to adjust to having a son instead, particularly since Olli's my only child (I did have a previous baby, a boy, who died aged three weeks in 1984).

Do I love Olli as much as I loved Emily? Oh, yes, of course. And I'm delighted to see Olli so much happier than Emily was. Will I lose contact? No, I jolly well won't: not with Olli and not with his lovely husband Gareth (they are legally married - they got married in February 2008).

Because being transgender is not a lifestyle choice, that's the thing to remember. It makes your life SO much more difficult that nobody would choose it if they didn't have to.

If you leave any questions in the comments we'll be happy to answer them as well as we can. Or you can email me at . From now on, I'll be referring to "Olli" using the pronoun "he".

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Sailing By

When I hear an old song on the radio, I often wonder - - when did I last hear it?

It's impossible to know. I just don't seem to have any timescale in my mind for working it out, unless there was some special event going on that made it stick in my head. I can pin it down to "recently" or "a long time ago" and that's about it, usually.

Today, on my friend Rebecca's Facebook page, I came across a song that I hadn't heard for years and years - - that's all I know - - I don't know how many years.

It was in the charts in 1976, when I was twenty, the same age that Olli is now. The group was Sailor and the song A Glass of Champagne - -- and here it is.

How strange that I could still sing along to it, even though I haven't heard it for decades.

Then I remember that they had another song that I really liked: Girls Girls Girls.

Fun song, great chorus. I've heard that one more recently, I know - - but how recently is that? A year ago? Ten years? Fifteen? Twenty?

I still love both songs and I hope you'll enjoy them too. But what's that bit in our heads that can tuck them away for years and years, and then find them again, and still know all the words? And, if we really like a song, would it be possible ever to forget it completely?

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Lake Como and the Miniature Elephants

When we opened the shutters in our hotel room at the Hotel G.L.A.V.J.C. on Lake Como we first gasped, and then laughed as we just couldn't take in the absolute glory of the view from the window:

As with all the hotels except the one in Rome, (our Rome hotel was the Sheraton, pre-booked on a fantastic deal found by Silverback) we were driving past and just liked the look of it.
We liked it even more when we saw it from the lakeside - - our room was one of these, below, hence the view:

But there's a quirk in my brain (some would say there are quite a few quirks and this is just one of them!) that means that when I'm in a wonderful place, with great company, happy - - - something in me goes no, this isn't for you, you don't deserve this.

During the day I am very much a glass-half-full, everything-will-be-fine person: I genuinely believe that it will be - often I arrogantly think that, if I care enough - and I usually do - then I will make it so!

Night time is a different story though. One of the themes that troubles me most is that I am not looking after those I care about well enough. Any disturbing dreams are generally centred around this subject. Often, in my dream it's an animal I'm not looking after properly - - - but when I wake, I know it's my loved ones I'm thinking of.

And this brought me to the miniature elephants.

In the room with the stunning view over Lake Como, I dreamed that there were some snakes that needed to be fed, and that hadn't been fed, and it was my job to feed them: they were all very thin and I felt bad about it.

The snakes would usually be fed on dead, frozen mice. (Olli used to have a snake and this was indeed the case).

But, sadly, the pet shop had run out of mice. Instead, they gave me a bag of miniature elephants and I was to feed the snakes with these.

The elephants were only about four inches long. They were in a polythene bag, lying sideways on top of each other. I was to take out the top one and feed it to one of the snakes.

But they weren't frozen. They were still alive, lying still, awaiting their fate.

As I reached in to take out the top one, it caught my eye and blinked. The look in its eye was of deep resignation and of deep, deep sadness. Unbearable.

All the sadness in all the world, it seemed to me.

"I'm surprised you go to sleep at all," commented Silverback when I told him and Stephen about the dream, over breakfast the next morning.

That morning we drove to the town of Como and went for a boat ride on the lake: an hour of sheer enjoyment and stunning views:

By the end of it, I'd blotted out the image of the elephant with as many as possible of the lake.

Not entirely, though - I think it's a dream that I will remember forever, made all the more poignant because it happened on such a lovely holiday, in such a beautiful place.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Arrivederci Roma

So, after slightly over two weeks, Silverback, Stephen and I are all back home in Leeds.

We visited Rome, Siena, rural Tuscany, San Gimignano, Pisa, Viareggio, Como - and Lake Como - Bellagio, Venice, Rimini, San Marino, Assisi, Pitigliano and then back to Rome for the flight home.

It was never intended to be an in-depth, see-every-museum tour - - more a "Flavour of Italy" tour and oh boy, it was most certainly that.

We saw scenery that made me gasp, both man-made and natural. We met very many friendly people. We saw wonderful works of art. We ate lots of pasta and quite a bit of ice-cream.

We took literally thousands of photographs: here's Silverback taking one of his many excellent photos: this one was in San Marino, and you can see more on his blog:

I haven't even begun to sort through mine yet: but here's one, again from the tiny independent country of San Marino, which is completely surrounded by Italy. I think it sums up the quirkiness and fairytale qualities of many of the buildings that we saw.

In San Marino there are several such towers, incredibly high above the surrounding landscape. If there's anywhere in Italy a mountain or hill that seemed impossible to build on, the mediaeval Italians clearly saw it as a challenge.

I'm really tired this evening - - - but as I said yesterday, it's been wonderful. Very grateful thanks in particular, of course to Silverback and to my husband Stephen for doing so much to make it so. To misquote Brian Clough - - Silverback and Stephen may not have been the best men who toured round Northern Italy in a car this summer, but they're in the top two.

And also thanks are due to Michel Thomas - - he may be dead and he may have been Polish, but his excellent audio course helped me to relearn my Italian and I plan to learn more.

Now I'm trying to get my head round being in Leeds again. It's not easy. Italy's grabbed a big piece of my heart.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Driving in Italy

It isn't difficult, driving in Italy.

Well, it hasn't been difficult for me, anyway. I've sat in the back of the Ford Focus Wagon throughout, eating my way through a selection of Italy's best sugar-free sweets, with my comfy little nest - as Silverback described it - consisting of a box of paper tissues, some water, my floppy hat, my camera and rather a lot of sweet wrappers.

From time to time I 've called out helpful things such as "Ooh, look, a tower on a hill!" (this happens a lot in Italy as there are very few tower-free hills) and occasionally "Look, a hotel with a pool woohoo!" Really, Stephen and Silverback could never have managed without me. Sometimes I even offered them a sweet.

Stephen was Driver whilst Silverback ( - I can't do the link on this computer) was Map Master and Navigator - crucial as, where possible, we've taken the scenic route and avoided the autostrada (motorway, interstate etc). And there are lots of stunning scenic routes in Italy.

Stephen had checked all the driving regulations but they are still tricky to follow as often a speed limit is given for a particular set of circumstances - but sadly the signs omit to tell you when the limit no longer applies.

They do have helpful parking signs though, throughout Italy - all legal parking is marked. If it's free, the bays are white. If it's residents only, they're yellow. If it's to pay for, they are blue. And if you shouldn't be parking there at all, they have graphic pictures of a tow truck.

Silverback has, however, had a near-constant struggle with the fourth inhabitant of the car - Sheila, the GPS or satnav as we call it in Britain.

Silverback put a lot of work into planning the routes before we left and this has been brilliantly useful, and Stephen has found his frequent verbal updates - "We're on this road for thirty kilometres" really useful too. However, Sheila has not always been totally co-operative. She has failed to get her act together on many occasions, often saying a confident "Turn right" when the screen says exactly the opposite.

Occasionally, perhaps in a huff as we've been ignoring her, she made a random remark, such as "Toll charge" when there is no such thing. Silverback would say something like "She won't need to chirp at us for another fifty kilometres" and then she decides that a Viareggio housing estate is a point of interest that we really shouldn't miss.

Many a time she's taken us up a picturesque little cobbled street leading exactly nowhere (the Italian for this is "Deado Endo" explained Silverback once, to my amusement). From time to time she tried to take us up a vertical unpaved track. But hey, by and large she was a great help and Silverback made excellent use of her.

Now we're in a motel near Rome airport, prior to flying back to a sunny, hot Yorkshire tomorrow.

Okay, probably not either of those. Cold and rainy is my best guess, though it's hard to imagine from here.

It's been wonderful.

Sunday, September 06, 2009

The Exploding Tyre

Hello from Venice, which was even better than I expected. I've enjoyed every single moment of this wonderful holiday so far - - - except for when the tyre exploded as we were driving along the motorway.

I say "we" - - - it was teamwork. Stephen was driving, Silverback was navigating and I was making sure I would be fully alert by having a little snooze in the back.

I awoke to a very very loud bang of the kind you don't want to hear coming from behind you whilst travelling in any kind of motor vehicle.

Stephen managed to pull onto the hard shoulder and we surveyed the damage, which was a bare wheel where a tyre should have been and some damage to the bodywork too.

My first thought was to ring the assistance provided by Budget and get them to rescue us, since we were on a very dangerous stretch of road with big lorries roaring past. This I did, and it required all the Italian that I could muster. They kept ringing back and saying they couldn't find us even though Silverback had given me the exact co-ordinates from the GPS and the exact roads that we could pass on.

But more immediately I was aware that Silverback was saying quietly and persistently that we should get off the road. It was a concrete barrier and I scrambled over it with assistance from Stephen and Silverback and we were now in between two concrete barriers - a bit scary but not too dangerous.

An Italian driver kindly stopped to see if we needed help but at that moment the tow truck finally turned up. We had to be lifted up onto the truck still in the car. He drove us to the nearest Ford garage, shut in the car high up on the truck, and I waited for him to let us out.

But he didn't. There was a huge long kerfuffle as the Ford garage didn't have a new tyre, or wheel, or whatever was needed, and the driver just left us up in the car with no explanation. And it was getting hotter and hotter.

After a while I could stand it no more. Since 1984, when I was shut in a room, unable to get out, whilst in labour with my first baby and nobody believing me - - - well, I just don't DO being shut in with no information.

So with a suitable dramatic cry in my best Italian I made it quite clear that unless he let me out of there I was going to jump off the truck. So, rather rapidly, he did. And I rode with him in the truck back to their base where it became obvious that we'd have to get a whole new hire car as they couldn't mend this one until at least Monday, and it was now only Thursday. Truck Man just kept muttering that it was "a disaster".

The garage staff back at his base were really helpful though Budget expected us to do all the work ourselves and I don't think that the garage staff understood how expensive it was for me to make all the calls from my mobile. Never mind that we had been involved in a really scary near-accident, were stuck in the middle of nowhere with a car that couldn't be driven and a garage about to close for the night - - - Budget's great contribution was "You will have to pay for the new wheel." Sadly I didn't know the Italian for "Sod off"!

Finally the roadside assistance lot found us a new car, from a different hire company, Avis in Piacenza, fairly near, and we got a taxi there. Some confusion ensued as they expected us to bring the new car back to Piacenza, in the North - - - but I said very firmly that we weren't coming back that way, we were going to Venice, and they finally accepted that.

So we'll land back in Rome eventually we'll have no car from Budget that should be there - - and a car from Avis that belongs in Piacenza - - and if Budget try to charge us for the whole holiday we shall NOT be pleased.

But it made me very glad indeed that I'd worked on my Italian before the trip! And I must say that almost all the Italians were really helpful.

And today we've been in Venice. This Eee doesn't always work even with wifi and Silverback has put some great photos on his blog of our previous travels - - I'm sure that photos of Venice will follow.

We've been to Rome, Siena, rural Tuscany, Pisa, Viareggio, Lake Como and, just today, the amazingly beautiful Venice. They have all been wonderful and Stephen and Silverback have been wonderful travelling companions, of course! I'll tell you more soon.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Hello from Tuscany

Ahhh well, you've all commented on my lack of apostrophes and other typos in my last post, but do I care? No, because I'm in Tuscany, that's where I am, typing on the Eee where I can never find the shift key so it's all very sloooooow.

Rome, as I said, was fab, and then we collected the hire car, a Ford Focus, from the airport so that we can take it back there. It has a good-sized boot which is just as well as there are lots of jolly nice things in Italy and I am hoping that Stephen and Silverback won't notice when I smuggle them into the car. I was particularly keen on a plate about a yard across which I found in Siena but they noticed and cruelly forbade me to buy it. They are keeping eagle eyes on me and I think they are working as a team, pah.

Since then we have visited Siena and San Gimignano. I liked both but I thought Siena was just breathtakingly wonderful. The mediaeval buildings around the big open space known as Il Campo in the middle are stunning.

Having struggled our way up to the dome of St Peter's Basilica in Rome the other day - 320 steps - we'd clearly got fitter and positively sprinted - okay, perhaps a slight exaggeration - the 500 or so to the top of the huge tower in Siena and the views from the top were amazing.

We have between us taken about a squillion photos and I have to say that Tuscany is as lovely as everyone says, and the Italians generally very friendly.

We're currently staying in a lovely hotel in Castellina in Chianti. I'll write more when I can. Arrivederci for now! And do read Silverback's blog - I'm not sure that I can do the link properly on the Eee so it's .