Friday, 26 June 2009

Consigned to the Ark

I've now moved into my parents' former home. It's a bit chaotic of course: I need more bookcases! And my own bed too. But it's otherwise very comfortable and well-equipped, and as a viable living capsule it could hardly be bettered. I have slept and cooked and eaten and showered and washed clothes in it, and it's beginning to feel like a proper home.

Funny, before I moved in, I was eager to make plans for a radical redecor and other changes as soon as may be - not straight away, out of respect for the place, but certainly by September. I'm no longer in such a hurry. I will still do it, but for now the appearance of the house is having a calming effect. I feel safe and very grateful for having this place as my own. It's not to be messed up, or badly used, but cherished as a prize. I feel that the house is looking after me, as if left final instructions by Dad, instructions that it will faithfully carry out until I have found my feet. I am an orphaned child that has to grow up, and my parents have fashioned this Ark for me to live in while I do that. They foresaw. I am reminded of the 1972 film 'Silent Running', the one in which Bruce Dern, alone on a spaceship with a couple of little robots, lives for the remnants of Earth's forests, preserved in domes attached to the ship. Except that I am not looking for the same ending. The house is now my home, my base, my safe haven, my exclusive retreat, my private fortress, my hurricane eye, my mother's womb. I need to reposition, regroup. It doesn't matter if I drift through the universe, I can get back as soon as I have mastered the controls. I suspect that one day I will settle into the chair on the bridge, set a course, and confidently go where I never dared to go before.

Thursday, 18 June 2009

Saturday Night Fever

Well, to show the world that I'm back in the land of the living, and not doing a Queen Victoria (i.e. stay in deep mourning for eighty two years), I'm going to Transister in Brighton this Saturday. I've been there before, of course, so I know what's what, if not exactly who's who. If you want to spot me and say hello, I'll be in a white number with black splodges on it (as if someone has chucked some paint over me), black leggings, black shoes, black bag, and probably an orange scarf. Otherwise as I look on Flickr or in a recent posting, because I don't go anywhere in heavy disguise.

Transister is a friendly, cheerful and very welcoming venue for a classy pay-on-the-door night out all dressed up. So far as I can see, transvestites outnumber transsexuals five to one, and I think that you can distinguish a transvestite because of the outstanding care and attention given to dress, hair and makeup. Perhaps because it's a part-time thing, transvestites really go to the limit when they get a chance of a glam night out. Physically there's no telling. Amazing things can be done with padding and sticky tape, and presumably corsets, although there's nothing you can do about bad legs except cover them up. There are always a large number of real girls, meaning natal females, and I suppose many come with their transvestite partners. Male-to-female transssexuals may have 'girl friends' but mostly not girlfriends in the normal sense, and (sadly) almost certainly not a female life partner. Some real girls come without males in tow, and just join in the fun. That's how Transister is, easy and relaxing and non-threatening, a world away from any cattle-market. Mind you, meeting up and making new friends is meant to be part of the night's business, although if you want to chat quietly you do need to go outside with the smokers. That means the sea breeze as well, so some kind of shawl or wrap is a good idea.

Brighton being the place it is, there is no problem about walking between where you parked your car and the entrance, and then back again at 3am. Nobody attacks you or even notices you, or if they do it's all very good-natured. At any time of the day it's a normal thing to see unusually-attired individuals in the city centre or on the seafront, generally street musicians and suchlike rather than goths and drag queens, but it's the sort of place that can cater for any style. That's why you're safe to express yourself. It's a great place to go people-watching, and to study for example what the foreign students are wearing, if you want to emulate that look. I very much like just walking around, especially when it's sunny, blending in, another tourist out for the day (and they come in droves, all year round).

Brighton is even better if you have company. And in this respect I'm a bit stuck. It's all very well being self-sufficient and happy to do things on my own, but many things are best shared. Last night I had a moment, a pang, of wanting a drink and a chat with a friend. But their landline was engaged, and when I tried a little later they didn't answer and had perhaps gone out. Not wanting to intrude on their evening, I didn't phone them on their mobile. I have these self-imposed rules, and I'm desperately anxious not to 'use' people to alleviate personal unhappiness, distress or boredom. The sad thing was that there was nobody else I felt I could contact. This has to be a warning light flashing. I am now very, very isolated and must for my own social wellbeing find myself a wider circle of friends. The internet is an obvious source, and I'm moved by the supportive comments to my blog posts and the occasional personal email. For those who have sent me such responses, many thanks indeed! And do I mean it. But we are all scattered, and it seems that we will never actually meet and form proper friendships. I hope I'm wrong about that.

There are also websites that specialise in bringing people together (tvChix, for example), and possibly this offers more chances of contact, although most site members appear to think that a photo of themselves in stockings and suspenders, with a frank rundown on their sexual status, is going to find them the right people to share their time with. I find this mildly distressing, partly because sex is a difficult subject with me just now, and partly because I want to meet three-dimensional, interesting, articulate trannies with some culture. I don't want to see only bums and tits.

Lumberjacking's no life for a girly. Perhaps I should put on women's clothing, and hang around in bars.

Wednesday, 17 June 2009

We are experiencing an unprecedented volume of calls, and all our advisors are busy

I'm finally getting on with the aftermath of any big change, all the phone calls to say that Dad is no more, that I'm taking over his account and can I give you my details, or can I cancel entirely? Hours spent on the phone, because there isn't an address to write to, or if there is, you're still tempted to phone anyway because it just might be that a few hours spent listening to Frank Sinatra singing 'New York, New York' while waiting for an advisor will be more enjoyable than composing ninety-four letters and posting them. Well, surely it must be? Sigh.

I'm tempted to be cynical. All that stuff about pressing 1 for bill payments, or 2 for technical enquiries, or 3 for moving house, or 4 for a nipple massage might be bogus. Could be that any button pressed takes you to the same person, who just puts on a different voice in between going to the toilet or playing sudoku or whatever callcentre people do all day. Actually I am being unfair. Many people I've spoken to recently at such places have been very nice and genuinely helpful, and it WAS a whole lot easier than writing a letter. But don't you hate the music in between connections?

One outfit I'm looking forward to phoning is Sky. Dad had the full package, phone calls and all. The person on the other end is going to be desperately put out that I don't want to continue, that I want to cancel it all, and amazed to hear that I hardly watch any TV, no time for it. Or if I do watch, the four main channels will do nicely thank you, and for preference just BBC1, BBC2 and Channel Four. And that I'm fond of Radio 4. I'm just not a TV person. I'd be frantic if deprived of my computer for ten minutes, or nowadays my phone, but TV is dangerously low on my horizon. There is absolutely no inducement that will make me watch a programme I don't seriously want to see. Actually this is true of films as well. I'd rather talk or read, or be doing something real. Sorry, Sky. The only snag with cancelling Sky is that the landline may get temporarily cancelled as well. No big deal.

Wednesday, 10 June 2009

The new specs

Well, two VERY positive comments about my new specs in reply to my last posting (thank you, Lucy and Chrissie, you gorgeous creatures) and now uniformly good reactions from people I've spoken to in Brighton today. That's my hair stylist at Trevor Sorbie, bless her, and friends at the Clare Project. And yes, the specs must look girly enough: I was accosted by a man walking down from the station towards the town centre with 'Excuse me, madam, can you tell me where the Clock Tower is?' (For those who don't know Brighton, the ornate Clock Tower is at an important road junction in the middle of town) He wasn't being sarcastic, he was absolutely serious. I hadn't been addressed in this manner before, so either the hair or the new specs had to be responsible. Maybe they acted together. The man was very nearly where he wanted to be, so I just pointed, then walked on with a grin I couldn't suppress. It made up for an earlier episode in the car park, when I was approached by a slimeball who said, 'Do you want your car washed, mate?' No way, if you call me 'mate' when I'm dressed up.

I went into a shop called Mimco and spent 25 minutes selecting a new purse in white leather and stainless steel. The shop asistant was a lovely girl, and we talked at huge length about the stock and bags in general. Clearly a shared enthusiasm. This purse is something special, a real eye catcher, and I'll post a picture of it on Flickr soon.

Monday, 8 June 2009

And here is the one favoured by the gods

Favoured in the sense that I have been allowed to live on, with a house and cash thrown in. Lucky me. Let's not forget the fractured relationship with my partner, and, at least for now, my estrangement from many people I love and respect. Still, time may heal and reconcile. And changes will happen willy nilly. None of us can stand still, and nothing stays the same forever.

Incidentally the picture is me in my new specs, taken just a couple of days ago. Not quite sure whether I like them. They were chosen when Dad was still alive, and I had to consider my appearance carefully. They had to look OK with male garb. I suppose that if I were running a business in my female life, and had to impress Sir Alan Sugar, they'd look sharp. But as Dad's gone, and as I don't need to impress anybody, they're not quite right. I don't think they're girly enough, though I'm not quite sure how I would alter them. Maybe something vaguely pink and oval?

If only my brother were here now

This is my brother in 1993, two years before he died. We were attending the funeral of a favourite uncle in Newport, Monmouthshire, and here he is in a suit. He could dress very smartly. He had a very good sense of humour, more sophisticated than this comic shot suggests. He ran rings around me for intelligence and quick-mindedness. I do miss him, and wish he were here now. My parents never got over his death, never ever.

Pictures of the people gone forever from my life

Here are three pictures, all taken by myself, of the people who have vanished from my life. The top one was taken last month and is the very last shot I have of Dad alive. We'd just been to Liphook in Hampshire so that he could keep a dental appointment (Dad used to live in Liphook and liked the dentist there). Appropriate that I shot him with a pint on the table and the pub grub he liked. It was at the Red Lion at Fernhurst. The centre one of Mum and Dad was taken in 2007. The bottom one is of Mum, my brother, and Dad, taken in 1995, the year my brother was killed in a car crash. Why have I survived them all? Is it just chance? Being the survivor makes you feel that life must not be wasted. How is that compatable with exploring one's identity, and pursuing radical changes that benefit only oneself? Is self-discovery a waste of time, or a necessary stage in the progression from child to adult, from taker to giver?

Saturday, 6 June 2009

Three days after

Everything went well at the Funeral and the reception that followed. Everyone was very kind. Everyone seemed to like my address or eulogy. Apparently I delivered it beautifully. I was however very upset and only just managed to get through it. I can't believe that Dad has gone, that both my parents have now disappeared from my life.

Their house looks as if they have just gone out to the shops and will be back in a moment. I don't want to make it a shrine to them, but I can't bring myself to change anything yet. It has fallen into my hands, and I've decided to make it my home, but claiming it will be a long process. I know that a time will come, in late summer maybe, when I am ready to set to and clear away the old furniture and ornaments and plan a fresh decor to suit my own much lighter, plainer, clutter-free taste. Till then I think the place needs respect. It has a welcoming atmosphere, but I know it fears what I might do, and I need to win it over, to show it that I won't do anything ill-considered or brutal; and that I want it to live again, for me.

The garden is peaceful and private, well planted. At the bottom is a rockery, and both my parents' ashes have been scattered there. I wonder if they know. The very fact that they are 'there' in a real, physical sense makes me reluctant to sell the house too soon. I expect to stay there for at least three years, perhaps longer. The location is next to a park, in a quiet cul-de-sac quite near the heart of the village. A potential des res in a modest sort of way, in so far as a 1960s bungalow can be a des res. It isn't however the ideal spot for someone going through transition. The immediate neighbours all know me as I used to be, and may not care to see Lucy Melford all of a sudden - but I dare say that in time, by degrees, I can get them used to a very different 'look'. And I can remain with my doctor, who is being supportive. And Brighton is a fast drive over the South Downs, not a crawl along the coast. And I have easier access to trains for days out in London. Oh yes, it's less rural than where I am just now, and the sea isn't so close, but there are handier shops and services. It makes sense in every way to move there during the months to come.

Emotionally I am closer to the edge than I've ever been. But I have a lifelong habit of thrusting feelings into a box and sitting on the lid, and although that's not a good way to handle them, it will save me from despair and depression. What I really need is a complete break for a while, to recharge. A short caravan holiday will have to do. And I won't underestimate the value of picking up the threads of my normal life. And I do have a good holiday to look forward to. I've discovered that Dad paid in full for the November cruise last March (when he could get the maximum discount). I don't want a refund; I will go, and enjoy Madeira, the Canary Islands and Morocco in warm sunshine. And think of Dad when I drink my wine, or sip a Manhattan.

Tuesday, 2 June 2009

My address at Dad's Funeral on Wednesday 3 June 2009

Another day, another funeral. You don't often get the opportunity to send both parents off in the same year. Or maybe you do: I hear that surviving partners generally do not want to carry on.

I feel deathly tired, and sad beyond measure. Outwardly, though, I seem pretty cheerful. Well, that's how I function, ignoring emotional pressures, some would say ignoring reality. As if I'm not dreadfully aware of my loss. I've had my tears. Now it's time for duty.

I saw Dad in his coffin yesterday. I spent an hour with him. He looked very dapper in the clothes I'd supplied, just like he did on the cruise. But he was beyond rousing, and no matter how long I might wait, his eyes would never again open with a smile. And when I kissed his poor head, the skin felt so cold. I am not religious. I don't believe in heaven or an afterlife, but I so wish he were Somewhere now, and knew what was in my heart. He was once a physically big man, but years ago he lost height when he had a double knee-replacement operation (early-onset arthritis) and in recent years he had shrunk further. Now, laid out, he seemed to fill the coffin, and was tall again. I wrote 'I love you, Dad' on a card and pushed it into his jacket so that it couldn't be seen and might stay there with him to the very end. I didn't really like to think of him consumed by flame. Burials were more harrowing events, but there was a grave to visit at a future date. Not so with cremations. He was born at Hollis Green near Kentisbeare, a village in the Devon countryside between Cullompton and Honiton. If only he could have been laid to rest in Kentisbeare churchyard, in the grounds of that beautiful church with its chequered tower! Well, at least I could mingle his ashes with Mum's, in the rockery at the bottom of his garden. Together again.

I tidied up his house today, in readiness for the funeral reception tomorrow. It's my house now. I decided to move some of the furniture around, to make it easier for the people coming back, but I didn't alter the general look of the place. Let it seem as if Dad were simply out for the day, and might return later. If only that could happen. Tidying up and cleaning took me quite a long time, not because there was much to do, but because I was slow. An old friend phoned me halfway through, proposing a pleasant-sounding 'two-old-mates-together' weekend in Barry, South Wales, where we both lived when young. Serious nostalgia overdose, yes, bring it on. I hadn't the heart to tell him that I'd changed somewhat, and that he might be embarrassed if he saw me now. But I will tell him after the funeral is over and done with. I could simply suggest that he look at this blog, and then contact me if still interested in meeting up. I might be surprised. I'm finding that many people are accepting me. The attitude seems to be 'it's your life, go for it, and we're with you all the way'. Many people are now saying that; but not everyone.

Tomorrow's funeral will be similar to Mum's in February (see the blog posting for it), a Humanist ceremony or celebration. I shall have a six or seven minute slot, and this is what I shall say about Dad:


Thank you, everyone, for coming here to celebrate Dad’s life, and share this final moment with him.

All deaths are sad, and this one is especially so because Mum died less than four months ago. Dad has followed her so quickly. But you must look for silver linings. I can see three things that should console us all: that Mum and Dad both lived a long life; that they were together and united almost to the end; and that Dad did not have to live on for years without Mum by his side. Mum was his life. He loved her, and when she was gone there was no special reason for him to continue.

Dad was 88 when he died. He had been retired for 28 years, and we used to joke about this unexpected longevity, and how the Government must be grumbling at the annual drain on the Exchequer. No doubt the Chancellor had a list of elderly Civil Servants on pensions who refused to lie down. Dad was certainly on it.

As many of you may know, Dad gave long service to the Crown. Before the War, he was a junior Post Office official at a time when that body was at the very heart of town and village life, and when the ‘Royal’ in Royal Mail actually meant something. He served his country during the War, not as a frontline soldier firing bullets, but as a key member of the support personnel who made sure that the troops had something to fire with. He was with the Eighth Army in North Africa; he was in the decisive El Alamein offensive; and later on he was in Italy. After the War he joined the Inland Revenue and made his way up, reaching a senior position by the time he retired in 1981. He was in charge of several Tax Offices, one after the other, occupying a position known as ‘District Inspector’. It was very like being a ship’s captain. It was a fully independent command, where you used your own ideas and your own judgment, all on your own responsibility. And like a ship’s captain, you needed more than just seamanship: tact and diplomacy, and an understanding of human nature were also required. Dad had all of that, plus a reputation for being innovative, and willing to take a bold, radical, but thoroughly well-considered approach. This earned him the gratitude and appreciation of the Board of Inland Revenue and a trip to Buckingham Palace in 1977 to collect a Jubilee Medal from the Queen. It was followed by further promotion. By any standard, he had a successful career. But he was good at many things. Drawing, painting, do-it-yourself, crosswords; he played golf for many years, and later on he wasn’t too bad at bowling, which he could share with Mum.

Dad gave the impression of a confident, well-spoken gentleman. He was never rude or angry, had a light and pleasant sense of humour, but he was highly practical and firm when required. Yet he’d had an unhappy childhood in rural Devon, and very little education. Let me tell you something about those early times.

Dad was born in the deep heart of the Devon countryside, but his mother died when he was only two, and his father did not look after him. He was left in the hands of other relatives. As a young child he lived with an aunt and her husband in London. They had a nice house and sophisticated ways on the fringe of the entertainment world, and it was at this time that he lost any Devon accent he may have had, and acquired the BBC voice that he eventually passed on to me. Dad was well and kindly looked after, even if there wasn’t much real affection. Then, without warning, his father whisked him away from this cosmopolitan existence and dumped him with a rough family in Devon, who lived in a primitive farm cottage. His father still didn’t want to look after him. He paid that family money for Dad’s keep, and just turned up now and then for a couple of hours. Poor Dad never knew any parental love. But he was philosophical about that and overcame any feelings of loneliness and neglect. He became very self-reliant. Fortunately he had a good deal of freedom, and adapted to his rural existence very well. He loved the woods and meadows and all the wildlife, and got to know their ways. He became a true countryman. At school, or what passed for school, he was instantly nicknamed The Professor, because of his wide general knowledge, his eagerness to learn things, and his London manners. Dad soon had to face up to the school bully, who was out to get him. Dad was a gentle person with absolutely no fighting experience, but he wouldn’t submit, and, hoping for the best, landed a professional-looking punch on the bully’s nose. This hurt so badly, and brought forth so much blood, that the bully had to retire in tears. That lucky punch gave Dad a spurious but useful reputation as an unbeatable prize-fighter, and he was never challenged again. I don’t think he ever encountered another situation like that in his life, but the episode showed him how right it is to stand up against people who want to push you around, and how luck can come to your aid if you seize the initiative.

There isn’t time to mention anything else about Dad’s young life, but I think you will see that although Dad was starved of affection his character was robust, and that he was brave. This was still true at the end of his life. How I admired his determination not to be defeated by crippling arthritis! Despite the increasing pain and discomfort he led a normal life right up to the end, doing his own cooking and shopping, although (thankfully) the cleaning and gardening were done for him. I showed him how to use a computer, so that when he didn’t feel like going out he could place an order with Tesco online, and have it delivered to his door. He had all his home comforts, and he had an alert mind, even if he often now felt very tired. I liked to play cards with him, and have pub lunches with him, and we had a Mediterranean cruise together which he thoroughly enjoyed. But he must have brooded on the terrible loss of W---, my younger brother, some years before. And he did not have Mum with him anymore. Nothing could replace her. He seemed to face his loneliness with fortitude, even cheerfulness, but I could see that it was eating away at him.

What would Dad say if he were still here? I believe he would say these things: that you must never give in; that nothing in life is better than the love and support of your partner; and that raising children to be proud of is the finest ambition you can have. The rest is dust.

I hope I can deliver all that without faltering. I managed it at Mum's funeral, and perhaps I will at this one. Please wish me well.