Tuesday, 31 July 2012

The Ministry of Happiness

Olympic graffiti

I did write a long screed about the Olympics here, but it came over as rather petulant, so I deleted it. A billion quid of your hard-earned taxpayers money being piddled away every day for a couple of weeks will do that to you.

Thursday, 26 July 2012

The plate and me

    You know what one of the best things about moving from a lifetime working for tiny companies in little industrial units to working for a global brand with its own office campus is?

    On site catering.

    That's right, for the first time in my life I have ready access to high quality gourmet food you'd pay quite a lot for in some restaurants, always there, always tasty and always cheap. For the price of a sandwich from some High Street lunchtime eateries I can have a full-on plate of top-quality nosh, and let me tell you, I take full advantage of that canteen!

    I have a problem with food.

    Other people deal with life's ups and downs with alcohol or fags, but me? I comfort eat. When you're my size you can pack away an astounding amount of food, so my life is a constant battle not to pack away too much. Being overweight is surprisingly easy to hide on a tall skeleton, so while most people think I'm pretty thin in fact I'm constantly skirting the upper end of the healthy BMI range.

    I try to deal with it through exercise. If you can't eat less, you move more. But gyms are so deadly boring, and the half-hour brisk walk that used to be my morning commute has been reduced to a 5 minute stroll, so I'm left doing marathon walks at the weekend with my mother's dog. Bless her, she's only a little thing. I end up carrying her in this hot weather, she reaches a point of defiance at which she just sits down and refuses to move.

    Depression is a funny thing. Perhaps I'm medicating it with sugar through my eating, which explains why I find diets difficult. So I've become a mostly vegetarian at work in an effort to cut the fat and gratuitous calorie count as far as I can. I have something of a taste for the roasts, fried fish, home-made hamburgers and pork belly that the chef serves to so many of my colleagues.

    Fortunately I like veggie chili, stuffed aubergines and braised fennel. And our chef does a mean veggie stir fry. Eat like kings in the publishing business, we do!

    As vices go it could be worse I guess. And my BMI has hovered at the same figure for years, so I'm probably in less danger than I think. But I'm acutely aware that only the high metabolism of a testosterone-crazed body is between me and obesity if I keep it up, and an oestrogen-led endocrine system could upset the apple-cart.

    I'd probably be one of very few women who'd be glad for the fat to land on her thighs.

    The first step in any rehabilitation is to recognise that there is a problem in the first place. Maybe it's time I started eyeing up the salad bar.



Monday, 23 July 2012

Bad taste

    I found myself in an argument with some radical feminists over the weekend. It's always a little wearing to engage with radfems, but there are times when their utterances just need calling out.
    In this case the thing I was calling them out on was an attempt to hijack the recent cinema shootings in Denver for their cause. It seemed the shootings were a radfem issue because the shooter is male and men are behind all violence in the world.
    Strangely, I can't disagree with them on the male front. Testosterone's a mixed blessing, it probably is no coincidence that such public shootings seem never to be committed by women. Perhaps if they'd been unfortunate enough to experience the stuff they'd have a better insight.
    But there is a time and a place for everything. If they had been thousands of miles away in Colorado (Or closer to home in Hungerford or Dunblane, perhaps...) they might have understood something of the grief being experienced by those close to the attack. To attempt to hijack the moment in support of their rather wacky cause seemed to me to be the height of insensitivity and bad taste, something that could not go unchallenged.
    Naturally this was not met positively. I was attempting to stifle the truth, I was even by some crazed logic exploiting the grieving families myself. My reply was simply that if they were unable to see why exploiting such a disaster was offensive then I was sorry for them.
    Moral high ground is a funny thing. Both I and the radfems felt we possessed it, but who was right? One thing is certain, I know something of Westerners and they tend to be the salt of the earth but they don't suffer fools gladly. Had my radfem correspondents encountered any Coloradans they would have been given a much rougher ride than I gave them.

Tuesday, 17 July 2012

Three days of peace and Sparkling

    Last weekend saw the annual Sparkle transgender celebration in Manchester. I was there as I was last year and met my sister, except that this time my wife came too and we stayed for the weekend. And as last year our time wasn't just spent in the relative closet of Sackville Gardens but in the wider world of Manchester City Centre. It's a city that has changed beyond recognition in the last couple of decades, now it has the feel of an international city but when I first encountered it back in the days of the music scene of the early 1990s it was something of a dump.
The Alan Turing memorial in Sackville Gardens
    Everyone comes to Sparkle for different reasons. Clubbing on Canal Street isn't my thing at all, but for others it's their only such outing of the entire year. It's a shame, some members of our broader community are repelled by the sight of some of the more outrageous among us, but the truth is Sparkle is what you make of it. I was there as a tourist with respect to the bad trannies in their painful heels, ill-fitting miniskirts and lank wigs, or the beautifully turned out French Maids and LGs. Their path is different to mine, so I have no discomfort at a fleeting association with them by attending the same Pride celebration as them.
    In the last year, I've come a long way. Beard lasering and a female-appropriate hairstyle have given me a much more natural female appearance, and my confidence in female presentation means that the blending I never imagined possible has at last come my way. Three days as full-time girl in a big city, in the motorway services, shops and restaurants of the wider world of muggles, albeit with an interlude at a transgender Pride, and I'm left feeling rather let down on my return to a more scruffy existence.
     I bumped into my friend A a few weeks ago, she about whom I've blogged before. She's now settled down, a very attractive girl, but firmly retreated into a closet of her own making. We went for a meal together, and she felt she had to inform me that she would have to drop me like a hot potato if I transitioned. As I suspected, and a shame because she rather evidently still has massive issues that she's failing to run away from. She looks very nice, but her voice isn't quite right and she has that cookie-cutter face you only get from FFS - both together a dead giveaway if you've ever met any trans people. Yet she's scared of her own shadow, and trying to erase her past hasn't made that any better. I wish I could help, but all I can do is be there for her should she need me.
    It is because I don't want to become like A that I like going to events like Sparkle. If I can face that and laugh and enjoy it then I'll have won, if I am constantly running to escape an unshakable shadow then I'll have comprehensively lost, because I will never be happy.

Friday, 6 July 2012

The village poos

    It is interesting to observe the reactions of a group of people when it becomes clear that one of their number has done something bad, but nobody knows quite who it is. My classmates back when I was twelve years old reacting to the theft of a ten pound note, or the people in my village reacting to a mystery dog chasing sheep a few years ago, nobody owns up but everybody has their own Prime Suspect.
    I remember in the class of twelve-year-olds the culprit turned out to be the last person anyone would have suspected. The "bad kid" that became Prime Suspect turned out to be blameless and the criminal was found to be the anonymous kid at the edge of the crowd, the one who never crossed anyone's radar. I learned a lot from that episode.
    The village I grew up in is a hotbed of finger-pointing at the moment. It's the periodic sewage eruption that's done it. You see we're a tiny village in the middle of nowhere, and we're not on mains sewage. So every house has its own arrangements, in some cases a septic tank, or in about half the houses a spiffy new biodigester. The latter devices are a miracle for the rural dweller, they efficiently process all waste and emit only clean water that's safe to put in a stream, while the former are stinking piles of mess at the best of times.
    So every time we get heavy rain, the septic tanks can't cope. They have difficulty draining away, and they can't handle any extra water. So raw sewage ends up going down their outfalls.
    Raw sewage sounds bad, but surprisingly it needn't necessarily be a bad thing if there's not much of it. If left, it'll rot away pretty quickly. You wouldn't want to come into contact with it, but the countryside is a pretty big place so it's likely to remain unseen. The problem in our village is that a row of houses share the same outfall pipe, so we don't just get a small outfall from one tank, we get the combined outfalls of a great row of them. So the ditch it runs into ends up a festering mass of sewage, the water overflows onto the road, and the whole place smells of sewage for a few weeks. Not very nice, is it.
    This situation has been going on for decades, on and off. Lots of recrimination and a few waved fists, but nothing done about it. The houses have morphed from farm workers dwellings into flashy homes at the top of the property ladder for the idiots who watch those awful shows on TV about moving to the country, which simply means that recrimination is more likely to entail solicitors letters.
    Unfortunately though someone has committed the cardinal sin, and complained to the council about it. A walker, faced with an overflowing ditch with raw sewage in it on a public footpath. And their target was not the culprits who made the sewage, but the unfortunate landowner across whose land the ditch runs. Not surprisingly he's hopping mad at a problem not of his making.
    The council are Bad News in this context. The Environmental Health people have powers to Fix It, and Now! which means in practice they can issue an order to the source polluters which in effect says "Get a biodigester or we'll turn up with the JCBs and send you a very large bill".
    And here's where the finger pointing starts. In a whole row of houses, everybody's blaming everyone else. There is even a faction who are blaming the landowner on whose land the outfall is ending up, as if he's the possessor of the arsehole from whence the poo came! It all seems like so much fiddling while Rome burns, as if the Environmental Health JCBs are revving just over the horizon while they blame everyone else. I am sure the legal threats will soon be flying, and I'm very glad my parents live in a different part of the village and already have a biodigester. These people think nothing of spending many thousands on a shiny new 4x4 or a keep-up-with-the-Joneses home improvement, but they won't spend similar money on something that will have a real effect on those precious house prices they care so much about. It's all about maintaining a jetset lifestyle on credit, these days.
    So there you have it, news from the countryside. If you have romantic notions of what it's like based on those stupid TV property shows, that's the reality in the 21st century. The countryside smells of poo, and always has done, except the neighbours are now likely to dish out legal threats first and think later.
    Remind me why I keep going back there? Oh yes, I'm one of very few left born into it who didn't follow the script and move out to make way for people from the cities without a clue.

Thursday, 5 July 2012


    When you own an engine of more than a couple of decades age, you are not merely its owner but its custodian. You feel its every ache and pain, you know it intimately from crankshaft to valve spring, and its every revolution comes with a frisson of worry that something in its running might be inexorably destroying it.
    I own more than one machine with a geriatric motor. The Wreck and the motorcycle have 89 years on the road between them, one has an engine made of soft and easily worn cast iron while the other has a highly stressed engine made from Japanese alloy with a cam chain tensioner inexplicably made from metal with wear properties similar to chocolate.
    In the season when the roads are not covered with salt, my engines worry me. Because I use them, and the worry comes from the thought that each mile might be their last. The number of ways in which a geriatric engine can expire are many.
    Which brings me to the subject of this post. The Wreck's engine is weighing heavily on my mind at the moment. With its new radiator it's now happily hanging on to all its coolant, but I'm acutely aware that previously it had overheated a few times.
    You're probably familiar with the basic layout of an engine. A piston is moved up and down a cylinder by the petrol being ignited above it and the crankshaft below it. The piston is made of aluminium and in the case of the Wreck the cylinder is made of cast iron. The seal between piston and cylinder is made by hardened steel piston rings.
    Nowadays, engines are pretty reliable. Advanced metalurgy means the cylinders are much stronger, and synthetic lubricants mean that engine wear has been reduced to a shadow of its former self. But back when they made the Wreck they hadn't perfected those materials, so the Wreck's engine just has cast iron bores and good old-fashioned multigrade oil. So Wreck engines wear pretty quickly at the best of times, and overheating accelerates that wear.
    Years ago I had an Austin engine that I thought I'd done pretty well to get to a hundred thousand miles without a rebuild. When I removed the cylinder head and inspected the cylinders, their bores were so worn you could feel the point at the end of their travel with your fingernail, the pistons were slapping around in the bores held only by carbon deposits from burnt oil. Funnily enough there is an upside to an engine like that, they may be about to expire but in that state they can have a little bit extra power because the wear gives them extra capacity. Stories are legion in kit car racing circles of races won by cars sporting hundred thousand mile engines from family cars against competition with expensive hand-built race engines.
    But the Wreck has a much lower mileage engine than that. What scares me isn't simple wear like the Austin engine, but that I might have damaged a piston ring. If the wear is uniform you simply have the bore honed out to a new size and fit larger pistons, but if you've broken a ring there is always the worry that it will have scored a groove in the bore that simple honing can't remove. So your engine becomes scrap.
    As you might imagine, the supply of 50-year-old replacement Wreck engines is meagre. So I'll be nervously testing the compression on the Wreck engine, and if it becomes necessary, lifting the cylinder had to inspect its bores. Not something I fancy, the nuts and bolts holding the exhaust manifold are notorious for seizing up and I don't want to end up with a broken stud to complicate my reassembly.
     So there you go, my bores are worrying me. I never want to see another car again.