Wednesday, 28 September 2011

Indian summer

    Here in Southern England, it's apple harvest time. And it's a good one too, the cold winter followed by a late spring gave the trees a decent dormancy so the yield this year is huge.
    So as we get a final burst of warm weather - the Indian summer of this post's title - I'll be spending a while in the next few days picking apples and pressing juice.
    There s a comfort in the stability of the rural calendar. Whatever happens elsewhere, you know what to expect at home. On Sunday I was passing the spot where I was standing back in March when Dawn told me her friend Grace had died. That tree is in full leaf now, just starting to turn. Life goes on.

Saturday, 24 September 2011

Tell someone

    By now if you knew her, you will probably have heard that Melissa, of 'Melissa's meanderings' fame, has passed away following a fight against cancer. I'm not very good at writing tributes because I always have the feeling that anything I write sounds trite and hollow, but others have penned eulogies for her that both celebrate her life in this sphere and express the sentiment of our community. Rest in piece, Melissa.
    As is so often the case in our world, Melissa kept her female life and her online life separate from her family life. As I understand it her sister was quite accepting of her but her mother, while aware, was not. Thus when the end came none of her online friends were aware she had passed away, and now the news has reached us there is no way for any of our tributes to reach her family, or for her family to be aware of how she was respected in our community and perhaps gain some comfort from it.
    Following a conversation on this theme with the other bloggers behind T-Central, later today I'm going to have a word with both my wife and my sister. I'm going to give them instructions that in the event of my untimely demise, they are to both announce it here and introduce both this blog and my wider involvement in this community to those among my scruffy bloke friends and wider family who are unaware of them. In that way while my oversized girl might come as an unwelcome surprise to some of them, my writings and  the friends I have made here might also bring them some comfort.
    Of course, it's easy for me. I'm quietly open about all this. Anyone close to me already knows about Jenny. I appreciate that those of you who are deeper in the closet might not have the luxury of a handy person to have that conversation with but I urge you to think about it, would it be worth telling someone and leaving instructions for the handling of your dual lives after you have gone? Because once the unthinkable has happened, it will be surely too late.

Sunday, 18 September 2011

A short and informative post about oil and gunk

    A few weeks ago I was in despair. Black grot everywhere, a very sickly sounding Wreck indeed, and an alarming consumption of oil had left me convinced that the older of my two cars had a broken piston ring, something that is rather annoying to fix.
    So I borrowed C's compression tester, a pressure gauge on a bit of pipe you screw into the hole where the spark plug goes, and measured the compression on all four cylinders. Perfect, all nearly the same, and all exactly where I expected them to be. This is an old engine, and it was designed with a low compression to run on the nastier grade of 1950s British petrol.
    So the car hadn't destroyed a piston ring. Great. So what's up?
    Back in the summer I overheated the car as its aged 1950s thermostat failed. Fortunately it's a tough engine so it can take it, but unfortunately it boiled its oil and a lot of it escaped in an impressive cloud of smoke. I had to buy a can of oil from a garage, and they didn't have the old-style 20w50 grade that used to be the mainstay lubricant for cars like the Wreck. I bought modern 10w40, a much thinner and more high-performance oil that wouldn't do the Wreck's engine any significant damage but definitely isn't the one recommended for it.
    I think I've found out why 10w40 is not recommended for Wrecks. The thinner oil seeps past the aged rubber oil seals with ridiculous ease, which meant the cylinders were filling with oil from above rather than below as it flowed past the valve stem seals.
    An engine flush that brought out an impressive amount of thick black gunk with the used oil, followed by new 20w50, a new filter and a can of oil seal rejuvenation additive, and I once again have a car that shows some semblance of reliability.
    Why on earth do I run a car that does things like that to me? If you have to ask, you just don't understand. :)

Sheer bloody-mindedness.

    If you have never cooked hotdogs with a Trangia storm cooker on a cliff top overlooking the North Sea, you haven't lived. If you have ever walked over a moorland summit with breathtaking views only to find yourself in a local dogging hotspot judging by the litter, you have my commiseration. My wife and I are back from a week's holiday doing all the above and more; wandering the Yorkshire uplands by day and sampling the Local Delicacies in the evening. Fish and chips, for example, taste best when bought from a chippy over the road from the quay on which the fish was landed earlier in the day.
    That has been the good part of the last week. The annoying part has been that we're both suffering from interrupted sleep. Sometimes my medication doesn't help much, and my wife has also started having problems remaining asleep.A less-than-comfortable British seaside guesthouse bed didn't help either. Fawlty Towers? In part a comedy, the rest a documentary.
    So I'm back in front of a real computer again, a week's blog posts to catch up with. A week without letting the girl out of the bag has weighed heavily upon me, yet again I'm left with the feeling that I'm not winning this. More than one person has talked to me of the moment at which they realised they had to transition, I have to admit to having reached the point at which I can empathise with that position. I don't want to get up in the morning and be the bloke for the day any more. I should have that particular chat with the psych next time I'm up at the GIC, but I won't. Instead I'll stick to my line, hang in there for my wife. The really sad part? I think she's reached the conclusion that I'm not going to win as well, and since I'm bringing her down simultaneous with doing all this for her that's rather upsetting. Sheer bloody-mindedness, or just stupidity in the face of the inevitable?
    Good holiday though.

Sunday, 11 September 2011

Without enhancement

    This week has featured a couple of significant landmarks for me as I navigate the choppy waters of alternate gender presentation. One was expected, the other wasn't, but they were both very welcome.
    Last week I wrote about my hair having finally reached a length at which it can be presented in a female style. As I wrote then, last night I went out for the first time wigless presenting as female, to this month's Swindon TG Group meeting.
    Fantastic, not having to worry about a wig.
    I flatter myself that I don't look too bad in my wig, but I have never felt secure in it. Aside from a comedy moment in which it became hooked in a climbing rose at a friend's barbecue it has never parted company with my head, but it is the feeling that it could do so which has has haunted me. Maybe my head isn't a good shape or something, but I have always felt that the wig is trying to work its way upwards. A keen observer would probably notice my hairline oscillating over the course of an evening, hardly a good look.
    So I was very happy indeed to spend the evening at the support group and join the usual meal at an Italian restaurant, all without a thought to the security of my coiffure. Nobody noticed me in the car park as we mixed with the Swindon late-night revellers, and my confidence knew no bounds.
    That was the expected landmark, what about the unexpected one? An aspect of my medication that has rather crept up on me in the last month or two is that I seem to have experienced one of the side-effects of Finasteride. The thought of gynaecomastia triggers the imagination towards hoping for the kind of breast growth that might come to someone given a hormone prescription, so since I have resolutely failed to sport a chest that might make Dolly Parton proud I had always concluded that I had missed out on that one. But over the past month or so I've begun to realise that I've very slowly gained a little more there than I had before. Nothing you'd notice in my scruffy male guise, but let's say my man-boobs are a lot more wobbly than they used to be. In fact, if they are marshaled into place, they even start to resemble something that might have a cleavage, and without involving the yards of surgical tape employed to that effect by some people of my acquaintance. Could a bust, however small, have crept up on me? Time to find out.
    Small bras in larger band sizes can be hard to come by. I'm fortunate in that my 38 inch band size places me within the normal female range, but it seems few women with my ribcage size are under-endowed. Fortunately the British standby on matters of female underwear, Marks and Spencer, do cover 38A in their range, so this afternoon when my wife and I found ourselves in time we paid M&S a visit.
    I settled on their "2 sizes bigger" push-up bra. I've heard others praising this product so it was time to see whether it could work its magic on me. Sadly I didn't have the chutzpah to have a bra fitting in a crowded store while presenting as my scruffy bloke persona, so I had to make my purchase and try it on at home.
   The result is rather pleasing. This bra is one of the more padded bras on the market, it seems to be more padding than bra. However when my meagre endowment is scooped up behind the padding it does give a pleasing curve above the cup and a definite, though small, cleavage. And it's comfortable to wear, something you can't always say for breastforms.
   I have replaced breastforms with a bra that all but contains breastforms, but the key result here is like that of going wigless. Just as having my own hair puts me on the same footing as any other woman, so too does presenting a credible female bustline to the world using only enhancements made for natal women.
    And those two coming together in the same weekend is nothing short of priceless.

Friday, 9 September 2011

The perfect crime

    When something dodgy happens once, it's unfortunate. When it happens twice, it's a coincidence. When it happens three or more times however, nobody could be excused for smelling a rat.
    T is a homeless bloke, a friend of a friend. An honest bloke who takes pains to keep out of trouble with the law, he lives on a piece of wasteland somewhere in my town and sells the Big Issue to support himself. My friend trusts him, and so do I.
    For a while, he used to have a flat. A tiny cubicle in a large house subdivided by a dodgy landlord into as many units as possible to milk the benefits system, but it was somewhere to call home after years on the street. His housing benefit was paid directly to the landlord, he never saw any money directly but since the flat was of more value to him than the money that suited him fine.
    After a few months in his new flat, he was evicted. Why? None of his benefits had been paid to the landlord, leaving him in arrears. The system had failed him. To add insult to injury, the benefits people claimed he owed them money because they'd overpaid him. Money he'd certainly never seen, as neither had his landlord, that is.
    He's a lot more positive than I think I'd be in his position.
    You might say T's case in unfortunate. But as the aftermath of recession tightens its grip, it's a story I'm finding rather familiar. Take my friend R, for instance. She's living at the moment in her caravan, parked next to my parents' cow shed. A year ago she lived in a small house with her two children and had a decent job, then she was made redundant. Yet again, she claimed housing benefit to be paid directly to her landlord and her landlord never saw a penny of it.
    She was evicted early this summer.
    Touch wood, she'll find herself back under a roof fairly soon now. Unlike T, she has the children to take care of, so her case will have higher priority. It's been no less stressful or disruptive to her life for that though.
    T's case followed by R's case, you might say they are just a coincidence. But I could relate several more very similar tales from my pool of friends and acquaintances, all of whom have claimed housing benefit which has been processed by the system but has never reached its destination. And I am just an ordinary person with a pretty normal life and social group, I don't move in any circles that make me more likely to meet benefit claimants, these are just normal people like me who have fallen upon hard times. It is not a huge stretch of the imagination to interpolate the experiences of my acquaintances across the entire benefit dependent population and reach the conclusion that this must be happening to a huge number of people.
   When something dodgy happens three or more times, I smell a rat. This is public money, taxpayer's money - My money - being spent on the safety net that protects us all, and it's being processed by the system but not reaching its destination.
  I sense a scam, money doesn't just disappear. I think our housing benefit system would benefit from a significant audit, because somewhere along the way a lot of money is being diverted from its intended recipients. It could be that the system is so incredibly incompetent that  mere non-payment is the norm, but since we are not hearing politicians crowing about unexpected surpluses in our benefit budget it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that significant fraud is involved. Whether this is the work of many small-scale fraudsters within the system or fewer fraudsters working on a larger scale doesn't matter, both as taxpayers and as potential benefit recipients we're being ripped off, and that is not acceptable.
  It's the perfect crime, if you think about it.The benefits people are uncaring and inefficient so hardly bother what happens, and the victims are largely people at the very bottom of the pile to whom nobody will listen to. The amounts of money involved in each case are fairly small, perhaps a few thousand pounds, so there is never enough money disappearing at once to raise an alarm. And even if an alarm was raised, our tabloid press have made such a good job of demonising benefit claimants based on the outrageous few rather than the deserving many, that there is no political capital in it being pursued. Diabolical in its cleverness, you might say.
    There was a time, many years ago, when I might have looked upon this issue with a "So what?" attitude based on youth and inexperience. Sadly in my town at least, compassion fatigue is the norm as the public view of the homeless is one of aggressive beggars, alcoholics and drug-addled criminals. But that is a dangerously naive view, as a long career in the tech business featuring several lengthy spells on the dole has taught me. It's getting crowded on the outer edges of society, and the crowds are formed not of a demonised feral underclass but of normal people like you and me who have fallen on hard times. As well as short changing the taxpayer, this disappearing money hits those who can least take it, and in most cases they were also taxpayers once.
    I'm afraid I don't expect to hear any time soon that they've fixed it though. 

Saturday, 3 September 2011


    It is now nearly nine months since I last had my hair cut in a male buzz-cut and just over seven months since I had the Long Chat with my hairdresser and started having my hair cut with a view to growing it out into a style suitable for both male and female presentation. In that time I've had it thinned and trimmed on alternate visits to my hairdresser, and though it has only gained a few inches in overall length I now have enough hair to cover my ears and reach down my neck, and I have the beginnings of the same wave that both my sister and mother have in their hair. Over a year on Finasteride has also in a small way reversed some of my hair loss, so fortunately I have little to worry about in the hairline department.

    In short, I think after today's very light trim I'm almost at the point of having a dual-purpose haircut.

    Being a bloke is an easy look to cultivate. You don't bother to dry your hair properly, you tuck it behind your ears and use a little bit of styling wax on top to give it a bit of body if it looks too slicked down. You're expected to look a bit scruffy, so as long as you do just that nobody bothers to look at how your hair is cut behind the facade.
    If I brush it out from behind my ears from this blokish start I can see where I'm going with it but something isn't right. Too flat, I just look like a bloke with a really bad haircut.
    So what's to be done? Wait for more length? Not a bit of it! I am now at the point at which if I blow-dry my hair, instead of looking uncontrolled as it would have in months past it settles in that pleasingly fluffy texture and stays where I put it. Five minutes with the hairdryer and when I look in the mirror I suddenly have a female hairstyle. The sides cover my ears and curl in towards my eyes, while behind my ears and on my neck the wave gives it an outwards curl. And the body given by the blow-drying gives it substance, bounce even.

    Pleased? I should say so!

    My most important critic, my wife, also rates it as a success. And she would not deliver such a verdict lightly. It's a short female haircut and there is room for improvement (the word she used for it was "retro"), but she voted it acceptable to wear to my support group meeting later in the month.
    I am like a teenage girl who has just discovered a grown-up look.