Friday, 30 September 2011

Perfect presentation - is it possible? And if so, is it ethical?

Perfect presentation: I dare say this is the goal of most trans persons who aspire to live a normal female life at some future point. The ability to look and sound and behave exactly like a natal woman, and to be apprehended as one by everyone - adults, children, eagle-eyed border guards, lovers, perhaps even pets. Presentation so good that nobody in the whole wide world would ever for a moment think there was anything unnatural about oneself. Total acceptance for what one seems to be. Not the slightest suspicion aroused. The ability to carry off a tour de force of deception that is way beyond mere 'passing', because one would be living it totally, and not acting or attempting a big bluff.

I think there are individuals - and they need not be post-op - who indeed have such good presentation that they are as accepted in public as natal women at all times, and without question.

But just above I used the word 'deception', and this gives a hint of a possible moral or ethical concern. Is it completely right to have a presentation so flawless that there is no discernable difference between oneself and a natal woman?

This will only be a talking point if you are uncomfortable about fooling people bigtime. I see can that many will not mind being undetectable, and will feel the utmost satisfaction if they can pull the wool over the eyes of bigots and anti-trans busybodies and fussy jobsworths who want to be obstructive. I can personally share such delight - up to a point. But I also hate downright lying to people I like. And the thought of conducting a long-term masquerade, however successful, is not attractive. I did that, unconsciously, for decades before I transitioned, and I don't want to deliberately repeat the performance. It seems so dishonest, and undermines some of the joy of being one's real self at last.

But neither am I an idealist or perfectionist. I supect that the kind of deception I'm talking about is something that must be lived with. So that once anyone has committed themselves to a certain winning presentation, then the best practical plan is to carry on with it with gusto and determination, constantly fine-tuning and improving it, especially if it leads to rewards and high regard.

Sigh. Any better notions? Can the circle be squared on this one?

Thursday, 29 September 2011

Consumer review: my new 38mm Femistent dilator

I've been able to post this up sooner than I originally thought possible. I'd assumed that I would need to spend quite a while getting accustomed to a full 38mm. But not so. Mungo has replaced Big Jim overnight!

Why Femistent? Well, they make dilators for natal women who have vaginal issues, as well as for post-op trans women. When I studied it, their product range seemed entirely serious and well-conceived. In particular, the products seemed very well made. This would be a dilator that I'd hope to use for a long time to come, and perhaps never need to replace. It was a purchase rather on the lines of my car Fiona: an investment in a quality product that would be very durable and suit me for years ahead. In that context, a high price wasn't such a turnoff. And believe me, this was an expensive purchase.

It's the same old story. Products for a limited, captive market with a medical aspect to them always command sky-high prices. It's much like the stuff manufactured for elderly people with mobility and other old-age problems. It's terribly expensive. You just have to take a view. Do I buy this, when (a) I really do need one, and (b) I want something well-made that will last? There were cheaper alternatives to what Femistent offered on their website ( but they looked less attractive, less likely to last a long time, and, I might add, they seemed less credible - meaning that they didn't inspire me with great confidence. I wanted to be sure that what I bought had the proper medical requirements in mind.

This is what I got for a total outlay of £257.70 paid online by debit card. Bear in mind that I'd embarked on a new spending and saving regime, and was not now willing to lash out on 'luxury' items unless I saw genuine and tangible benefits from doing so:

'Pandora' dilator and handle, 38mm (1.5 inches) diameter, in 'Rosegold': cost £155.00
Thigh grip, in 'Platinum': cost £89.75, with a discount of £45.00, net £44.75
Vaginal gel lubrication inserter (complimentary)
Travel bag (complimentary)
Usage advice booklet (complimentary)
Packing and postage: £15.00
VAT: £42.95

The packing and postage costs were unexpected. I'd got the impression that if I bought the grip, those would be free. Hmmm!

Unpacked on arrival, this is what it all looked like:

As you can see, the essential items consist of a dilator 6.5 inches long; a 'handle' that screws into the end of it, which effectively lengthens the dilator seamlessly to 8.5 inches; and a ball-like 'grip' that you clench your thighs on, which screws into the dilator (whether lengthened or not). The grip is supposed to allow you to keep the dilator fully inserted while you read a book, or do anything that requires two free hands. Without the grip, you simply hold the dilator in place with your fingertips in the ordinary way.

It's all made of medical-grade plastic, very smooth and well-finished indeed, and the individual bits each have some weight to them - I don't mean they're 'heavy' - they just have a satisfying heft, and are clearly not hollow. The plastic is something called 'Tecason P MT' (polyphenylenesulphone) and according to the usage advice leaflet this can be routinely subjected to boiling-water temperatures for proper cleaning and sterilisation. I duly popped the dilator, handle and grip into a pan and gave them the recommended half-an-hour's boil-up before trying them out. They were obviously up to it.

Here's another shot of the tout ensemble, on a silver salver that my man Withers has left out:

Ha! The dilator has caught the attention of the china hen. You can trust a hen to know a good cock when she sees one. A valuable endorsement.

Back to the review. One feature I haven't mentioned yet is that the dilator and its extending handle are marked by grooves at half-inch intervals, beginning with one for '3.5 inches'. So, once inserted, you can tell accurately by feel how deep it's in. You use a fingernail to match the groove that lines up with whatever you personally regard as your vaginal entrance - in my case, a position just inside the labia majora. 

Now, what's this new dilator like in actual use? Having got myself all ready for the first go, I smeared the new dilator (sans handle) very liberally with KY gel and eased it in.

First surprise: there was no problem whatever with sliding Mungo inside me to the maximum depth achievable. No sense of stretching or straining the vagina; I just felt well-filled and quite comfortable. I could lightly and without fatigue hold Mungo in place with either hand, or both hands simultaneously, using my fingertips. There was a tendency for him to be ejected unless some gentle restraining pressure was kept up. But that wasn't hard. 

Second surprise: the depth-measuring grooves told me that I'd got 3.5 inches only. If I pressed Mungo in a bit, then it was slightly closer to 4 inches, but that wasn't really sustainable. However, I could waggle Mungo sideways a bit. Clearly I had possibilities of lateral expansion, and could probably take an even fatter, wider dilator; but depthwise I was shallow, and that wasn't going to change.

I gave Mungo an initial quarter of an hour. I twirled him around in case the gel began to stick, but it didn't. I moved him in and out, but again no sticking. He didn't feel at all uncomfortable. I attached the handle. No difference, except that putting my fingertips on the end was now rather a stretch, just as it was with Little Joe and Big Jim, who were both about 9 inches long. There was clearly no point in lengthening Mungo, so I removed the handle.

Next, I attached the grip. But this didn't work as advertised. No doubt it was down to my strange anatomy, but the heft of the dilator-plus-grip, left unsupported, pulled down the outward end of the ensemble, making the inward end point up inside me - uncomfortable! Then it all fell out. I couldn't seem to get my thighs around the ball part of the grip if I had my legs flat on the bed. Maybe, if I'd had my knees up, I could have clenched the ball and stopped everything from falling out; but then, would I still have had the inward tip at the correct angle? Anyway, I detached the grip, and reverted to fingers on the basic 6.5 inches, which seemed perfectly fine.

I ended up giving Mungo a full half hour and more, with no after effects at all. All parts cleaned off easily. Verdict at this point: I wasted cash on the thigh grip, but otherwise top marks for comfort, quality, appearance, ease of depth-measurement, and easy aftercare. I was happy.

Subsequent dilation sessions (with Silky Lube from Boots) have highlighted a couple of other positive things, and found another use for the grip. Do read on.

There's no doubt that having an opaque dilator with a bit of colour to it, even if merely cream, is psychologically much better than the superclinical transparent look that Little Joe and Big Jim had. They were clearly made of medical-grade plastic too, but they were pre-eminently items intended for a Medical Procedure. They couldn't possibly be imagined as sex toys, let alone real penises. And quite rightly. In the early post-op weeks, you need to stay focussed on doing dilation correctly, exactly as taught in the hospital, and no nonsense about appearance, or comparisons with real-life lovemaking. But later on, it definitely helps to introduce a less robotic element.

Then there's the girth and thickness of the thing. 38mm is generally reckoned to be the diameter of the average erect adult penis. And yes, it does seem to have the right dimensions. It isn't of course authentically penis-shaped, but its 'realistic' size adds a lot to daily dilation, lifting it from the level of a routine procedure onto the level of rife imagination and speculation. Regardless of whether you actually want physical intercourse, you do wonder what the real thing could possibly be like as an experience. Nor have I ever sucked a man's penis in my life, but I popped Mungo in to find out how it felt. I was surprised how easy it was to do; and by the way Mungo filled my mouth up, as if both had been made for the job.

I don't think any of these tentative experiments are unhealthy. In fact I can see that, for many people, using this size of dilator, or a phallus-shaped vibrator, would be a manageable way to enjoy a kind of sex without personal or emotional risk. Since one has to dilate all life long, it does seem immaterial whether it's achieved by dilator, sex toy or real-life penis. Just so long as the medical requirements are safely and hygienically adhered to.

Now, that alternative use for the grip. Oh dear, I can see that Disgusted of Cheltenham, Revolted of High Wycombe, Aghast of Harrogate, and Appalled of Tunbridge Wells are all going to give me the lash of their tongue. But here goes. As you'll have noticed, the grip is almost a perfect sphere. And spheres can roll. I attached it to the basic 6.5 inches of dilator, and, kneeling, I carefully lowered myself onto the dilator. Just as if I was on top of a male partner and impaling myself on his penis. Carefully paying attention to how much pressure I put onto the dilator tip, I was able to pivot on the spherical grip. So I could for instance lean forward and practice no-hands shallow in-and-out penetration. Or I could sit back somewhat for a deeper penetrative experience, again hands-free. All without the assistance of a hairy unshaven grunting thing with smelly armpits! Much nicer.

Finally, am I worried by my lack of depth? 3.5 inches isn't a lot. The basic answer is that it's totally pointless to worry: I'm stuck with it. It's a natural consequence of not being especially well-endowed in my former life. But I'm assured that what I have is enough for any ordinary purpose, and I have been cheered by articles such as this one from Dr Anne Lawrence ( Personally, from a practical point of view, a shortish vagina is easier to clean, easier for a doctor to inspect if there is ever any trouble, and it will almost certainly be fully and properly expanded by real-life penetration - whereas a very deep vagina might not, with unwelcome consequences. Not all men have an elephant's trunk between their legs, and if their member is short, then the bottom of the vagina won't get stretched and may contract unless you do regular dilation as well. So while not exactly smug, I'm far from perturbed. The trade-off in my own case seems fine.

Now, what do I do with my two redundant dilators? They're souvenirs of my eight days at the Nuffield Hospital last March, so I'm reluctant to get rid of them. And in any case, you couldn't sell them on eBay, now could you? Perhaps they could be the first exhibits in the Lucy Melford Museum of Dilation?

Wednesday, 28 September 2011

All I want for Christmas is my two front teeth

The title of course of a song from way back, the sort that seemed to be played a lot when I was a child listening to the music request show on radio on Saturday mornings in the early 1960s. A different world. Not just a child's world, but a whole different social culture. Tommy Steele singing about the Little White Bull. Someone else singing Three Wheels on my Wagon. Happy days? Hmmm...that's so very hard to answer! Let's not dwell on it.

Today's post is all about my two front teeth!

For my generation, which typically guzzled sweets when young, I think I've done rather well to keep my natural teeth. Most of the molars have been filled, and some crowned, but they are all still there. White, unstained, not crooked, not broken, nor even much chipped.

But one of the front teeth had got rather thin, and had lost a corner. It could only get worse, and not only was a really noticeable gap beginning to develop between it and the other big front tooth, it might soon suffer a much more serious break when (say) biting into an apple (which I do a lot). So I've now taken up my dentist's suggestion of remedial cosmetic work.

She has strengthened the tooth with layer upon layer of some carefully colour-matched resin or whatever, then smoothed it off and polished it up. The missing corner has been magically restored. She kept to the general look of my teeth, which is ever so slightly uneven, so that the work isn't glaringly obvious. And now I can give the world a really lovely smile as I speak. It's not the dentition of a film star, but I'm pleased with it. The cost was £65, and I'd certainly consider further work at that price if it becomes necessary.

Here's some shots. Can you decide which tooth it was?

Sunday, 25 September 2011

Turning the tables: a protest against abandonment

The process of transition, once under way, leads to many upsets. We all know the kind of thing I'm talking about.

Different agegroups have their own problems to face. Teenagers and those of student age may well have to battle with parents who see them as sadly misguided children who have lost their way. But some face destructive and violent opposition. That kids can be hit or thrown out of their homes for 'coming out' and left to rot is astonishing in the twenty-first century, when we are all meant to be enlightened and well-informed, and free of the ignorant and old-fashioned dogmas and prejuduces of the past.

But that is just not the general reality. We are lucky to find acceptance, whatever our agegroup. As a late transitioner in my fifties - not a child - I faced horrendous opposition from my parents, who at first attempted to control me. But of course it was a knee-jerk reaction with no real clout to it, apart from the possibility of disinheritance, which did not actually occur. To their credit, Mum and Dad did not cut me out of their Wills. But I think I was lucky.

The expectation is still that the announcement of gender dysphoria will send everyone else into a spin, with entirely unpredictable individual reactions. A few will immediately cluster round. Thank God for them: they can never, never be repaid fully for their goodwill - that strong comforting arm around one's shoulders when it is needed most. Many will sit on the fence, attempting to be neutral but not in fact helping at all. And some - from desperation or shock or outrage - will become enemies, whether they mean to be or not.

I'm naming no names. But I'm looking back; and I'm looking at what is; and I'm thinking of the future. I want to figure it out. Why did so many of those who populated my former life seem to abandon me? And why do they stay away? Especially when we got on so well once.

I can of course think of some possible reasons - instant judgements of me based on nothing - that could persist in people's minds. Reasons to distance themselves from me, and then stay well away:

# This is too hard to understand. It's embarrassing. Keep it all at arm's length.
# I've been having a 'mid-life crisis'.
# I must be seriously mad, or suffering from some awful mental delusion, disease or condition. Like Borderline Personality Disorder or some kind of Autism. I'm behaving as if possessed.
# I've been somehow 'radicalised': I've read something and I've seized on a dangerous idea that is completely wrong. Evidence of imbalance and a weak mind.
# I've fallen under the influence of medical people with an interest in exploiting me - I am therefore revealed as an easily-led victim of cynical professionals and quacks.
# I must have a fetish about all things female. I must be steeped in sexual perversion. Morbidly interested in genitalia. A disgusting weirdo then.
# I'm out of control, liable to self-harm, and mutilate myself with unnatural surgery. Even more weird.
# I must in fact be an all-round pervert.
# I simply want attention. I'm utterly selfish and cruel. I care only for myself. I'm horrible.
# I must have deceived everyone all my life. What a devious, dishonest, two-faced person I must have been all along.
# I've betrayed my parents and my partner. Unforgiveable.

None of the above was ever true, and nobody who abandoned me ever got in touch to ask what on earth was going on, and could I give my side of it so that they could understand better? And maybe help in some way?

There was one person who wrote in late 2009, not knowing what had happened. He'd been a schoolfriend. I replied with a letter in which I said baldly that I was transsexual. The Iron Curtain came down. I have not heard from him since. He was incidentally a Christian. So much for the brotherhood of man.

I do want to know what really made them all leap backwards away from me and shun me henceforth. But I suspect that I will never know, and must leave things as they are. They have gone from my life, even though I was very fond of many of them. And perhaps they can never return. Too much time has gone by. The moment back in the autumn or winter of 2008/2009 when they could have picked up the phone, written a letter, sent an email, has long passed. They were not there when I needed them. It's much too late to help now. There's a gulf that nothing can bridge.

I was made to feel an outcast. I was made to feel that I owed an apology. That I had to make the first move towards any reconciliation, risking rejection, or a snub that might have destroyed my remaining self-esteem. I was criminalised. It was 'my fault'. Not a consequence of the way I was made. I had a conscious will to disrupt and destroy, not caring what happened, and that was my crime.

Well, I protest.

I've nothing more to lose now. And I protest. I don't need to elaborate on what might be said to those who chose to leave me and stay away. All transsexual people can fill in the words. We know. And we know that there is no going back. All you can do is remember the best moments from the past, the best achievements, the things that can still be cherished, and then take your life forward on an entirely new footing that necessarily excludes most of what came before.

What do I say to anyone who once knew me, realises that all was not black-and-white, realises that they could have asked for my version and seen something different, and now contacts me to build a bridge? Well, I'd be delighted, if they had the guts to try. I wouldn't put them off at all. But they'd have to face reality. It wouldn't be possible to carry on as if nothing had happened. The rules of engagment have changed. I will be insisting on certain things. And they'll have to adapt to the new me, and accept me for what I am. So no rebuilding what was: instead, an entirely new construction from the ground up. From Ground Zero you might say.

Saturday, 24 September 2011

Another night at the opera: Tosca at The Grange

A week ago I met up with friends M--- and S---. First we had lunch in Winchester. Here's a picture of myself by Winchester Cathedral:

You can see that it was a very sunny day. We lunched pleasantly in the back garden at The Bishop on the Bridge, a pub right on the riverside, and then drove out to The Grange for the evening's operatic performance. No marquee was provided for picnicking this time. We just put some thick blankets on the ground, and drank white wine:

All around us other people did much the same, or sat on the stone steps:

A great atmosphere, even if this was a distinctly less formal occasion than in the summer. 'Smart casual' was the official dress code for this late-in-the-season production, and so most women avoided very long dresses and the regalia that goes with them, and dressed more for a stylish outing to Oxford Street. Similarly the men mostly wore smart jackets and nice trousers, but not DJs and bow ties. Actually not many wore ties at all. I regretted that. I think that if a man is going to don a decent jacket, then a tie is needed, and not that untidy open-necked look. Perhaps it's just my personal prejudice, but I'd like to see a bit more formality return to men's attire. (Which of course would create more opportunities for women to wear really nice things too!)

Anyway, a bit before 6.00pm we found our seats. Puccini's Tosca is one of his most popular works. It's a simple story to follow. It's set in Rome. A political prisoner escapes, and seeks refuge in a church where a mural painter (Cavaradossi) with the same anti-government sympathies arranges a hiding place for him - at his villa. Cavaradossi loves a famous singer, Floria Tosca, who is a jealous diva. The corrupt and manipulative chief of police, Scarpia, suspecting Cavaradossi, spins her a yarn about the painter's dalliances, and thus tricks her into saying where the villa is. He despatches his men there. They don't find the fugitive but arrest the painter, bring him back to the castle that is Scarpia's HQ, and question him severely. Scarpia then summons Tosca, and offers to desist with the torture of her lover, stage only a mock execution of him, and let them escape with a letter guaranteeing a safe passage out of Italy. In return, however, she must betray the fugitive, and submit to Scarpia's cynical desire for her. Cue for major aria from her (Visse d'arte). Further cries of pain from Cavaradossi offstage compel her to reveal what she knows. Scarpia then writes the letter, gives instructions to his men about the mock execution, and prepares to make vile love to the extremely unwilling Tosca. But she finds a knife, stabs him to death, and gets away. Cut to Cavaradossi, about to face the firing squad. Another major aria, from him this time (E lucevan le stelle). The squad shoots, and Cavaradossi dies as Scarpia always intended. Enter Tosca, who discovers her murdered lover. Enter the police, who have just discovered the murdered Scarpia. Exit Tosca over the parapet of the castle, falling to her death to evade the officers. All through, dramatic music and powerful singing. Moving and most satisfying!

I was of course already familiar with the two main arias from CDs, but not having seen the opera performed live before, I hadn't felt their full effect. I was very impressed.

The original opera was set in Rome in 1800, with Napoleon in the background. This production rather cleverly set the action in the fascist Italy of the late 1930s, which allowed some of the menace of those times to colour the plot. It's perfectly clear from the outset that this can't end happily, and that the regime (epitomised by the excellently-played - and sung - figure of Scarpia) will be the doom of them all.

I had my reservations about Tosca knifing Scarpia in order to escape with Cavaradossi. He wasn't actually going to kill her, and it seemed too drastic a solution to her predicament. But on the other hand, she clearly had no time to think of a better plan. And no doubt a chief of police in a fascist regime richly deserved to die anyway. I did however wonder whether, if Tosca and her lover had got away, what she (with her firey jealousy) might do if she ever truly suspected him of infidelity. Another stabbing? Who can say?

Just three more shots: first the three of us (our shoes anyway), then our shadows, and finally the silhouettes of opera-goers during one of the breaks:

Then it was back in Fiona to M---'s for a late supper. I got back to the caravan around 1.00am. But what a good day out!

Thursday, 22 September 2011

Tempted by the Devil

Isn't it strange how, when you have made firm plans - based on a rational and sensible assessment of how you stand - something comes along to upset the scheme and set you back? I'd looked at my post-Cottage financial situation, decided what to do to improve it, and had begun to put it into effect. Then this.

And what am I talking about? Those Dubarry boots. Here's a link to their website so that you can see what I'm fussing about: Yes, they cost around £300. And that's three months savings at the current rate.

I was down on the Dorset coast a few days ago, specifically on Foreland Point near Studland. I was there to see the Old Harry Rocks, which are big chalk stacks off the end of the Point. This is a picture I took of them:

Old Harry is I think the stack on the far right, and in the past there have been smaller stacks to keep him company, known as his wives. The main wife fell, a victim of relentless sea erosion, in 1896. He must have felt quite sad about that. He is now himself in danger of collapse. Such is the nature of chalk: it's soft, and it erodes quickly, and all chalk cliffs (notably Beachy Head) steadily recede through frost damage and the pounding they get from the sea, which undermines them and makes them unstable. These stacks off Foreland Point look very much like the stacks known as The Needles, off the western end of the Isle of Wight, a dozen miles to the east, and in fact they were once an unbroken chalk ridge; but the sea created holes in it, which became arches and caves that collapsed, and in only ten thousand years the entire length of chalk in between was broken up and vanished. It must have looked like an immensely long natural rock bridge at one point, and definitely worth a shot or two!

There are other rocks off Foreland Point, known as The Pinnacles. The sea has worn one of them down so that it looks sharpened like a pencil:

I was, by the way, standing right on the cliff edge to get these pictures, and in imminent peril of being blown into the sea. There was a strong and steady breeze that wanted to push me over the edge:

Anyway, having messed up my hairstyle and seen enough of the Rocks to last me for a long time to come, I walked back along Ballard Down towards Studland. And lo, there was a young girl. And with her a lady whom I took to be her mother, but possibly her glamorous grandmother. And this lady was wearing Dubarry boots, which are instantly recognisable (part of the whole point about them). They seemed to be blackberrying, in a genteel we'll-have-to-put-the-berries-in-our-Barbour-jacket-pockets sort of way. The path took me close to them. I wanted this lady to notice me, and say hello. Then I could say to her, at some point in the conversation, 'Aren't those Dubarry boots?' and she'd reply, 'Why yes; they're SO comfortable, and I love wearing them' and the daughter would say 'Mummy even wears them around the house!' and the heavens would rent, and a finger would point down at me, and a deep voice would say 'Lucy! I command you to buy a pair for yourself!' and the lady and daughter would say 'There! Now you simply must!' and I'd obey that divine injunction straight away.

I'm afraid none of this happened. But the seed was planted in my mind, and it grew into a fearsome temptation. As if the Devil himself were out to make me spend, and abandon my thrifty plans.

Well, 'Old Harry' is another name for the Devil. Clearly I'd invoked something with my clifftop visit!

Am I going to get these boots? I mean, am I going to spend three months savings on them, not from any supernatural prompting, but from an ice-cool and rational assessment of the situation, applying logic and wisdom and the garnered common-sense and nous of my fifty-nine years? Well, maybe. The fact is, I've got no brown knee-length boots that I like to wear. I've bought cheap ones, and they just do not satisfy, quite apart from the fact that they don't really fit well. In this case, buying cheap has been a waste of money.

I know what will happen - I was discussing this with T---, the lady who cleans my house for me - I'll look hard at the upcoming crop of cameras this autumn (notably the Fuji X10) decide that none of them is quite good enought to replace my well-used but still very functional little Leica D-Lux 4, and then go for a less expensive 'consolation prize', i.e. the Dubarry boots. Sigh.

Or I could be strong. Watch this space, as Lucy slugs it out with Old Harry.

I've decided that instead of the boots, I'll attend to a somewhat more necessary purchase. The time has come for a larger-diameter dilator. Big Jim (30mm) is no longer stretching me. So Mungo (a full 38mm) must take over. I've ordered him today from I've bought their cunning thigh grip as well, which was on special offer, and pushes the total order up to a level where I get free delivery. This is a decidedly unglamorous substitute for those Dubarry boots, but medical needs have to take priority!

I expect Mungo will seem huge and impossible to get in at first, but really he's only the width of the average erect male penis, and given sufficient patience and lubrication, I'm sure I can train myself to accept him. Expect a consumer report in due course.

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

The joys of caravanning

This is what I like to do. This is a recent shot of my favourite site near Salisbury in Wiltshire, when it was nearly full up. It's on a farm, but as you can see it's well mown, has electricity to plug into, fresh air, peace, and as is often the case, a wide view from its elevated location up on the downs. And since the users are limited to a maximum of five, you can't feel crowded in by your neighbours.

It's a world away from the popular image of caravanning in static caravans in regimented ranks at Porthcawl  and elsewhere. And forget the sort of clapped-out caravans you see mocked on Top Gear: modern caravanning - or motorcaravanning - is strictly for the well-off. An average new caravan will cost at least £15,000, and you can pay over £20,000 for a well-equipped large one. And you need a suitable car to pull it, not necessarily a car like my Fiona (£40,000) but to get the right weight and power let's say at least £20,000. And it's quite usual to see upmarket towcars such as some version of the Range Rover or Discovery (£50,000 to £70,000). New motorcaravans start around £30,000, but realistically you'd be paying a lot more.

These are eye-watering prices. But it isn't camping in tents or in any way roughing it. It's having the comfort and convenience of a luxury apartment on wheels. And being mobile, you can tour, visiting a string of locations, but without constant packing and unpacking. You can follow the sun, or your whims. Advance booking is more necessary than it used to be - this way of seeing the country is getting more popular - but outside the main holiday times you can phone up in the morning, book a pitch somewhere and arrive the same afternoon.

And the payoff, once equipped, is a ludicrously cheap nightly rate. If you can make do without mains electricity, relying on your leisure battery and gas, you can find beautiful places that charge only £5 a night. £10 will get you mains electicity, and possibly some other facilities. Compare this with £30 or more for bed-and-breakfast at a guest house; or at least £70 a night at a half-decent hotel. The £80 I paid recently for two nights B&B in Devon would have paid for over a week's site fees if caravanning.

Did I say that this is strictly for the well-off? Well, that's not strictly true of course! You can still have the essential experience without a huge initial outlay by buying both caravan and towcar secondhand (or thirdhand). It's possible to find a really nice used caravan for under £1,000, and a decent 4x4 to haul it for maybe £3,000. But they will be up to ten years old, and you must know what you're doing. From around 2003, caravan decor and comfort and equipment took a massive leap forward, the builders offering a much more scandinavian and high-tech look and feel to the interiors. Before then - and this is where the cheap used stuff is - you will probably end up with something that offends the eye even if it doesn't offend the pocket. However, all of it can be uprated if you have DIY skills, although some reasons why I'd personally never look at an older caravan include the lack of good insulation, poor bathrooms, unluxurious seating and fittings, and possible water leaks.

I think many people take the same view, and buy new for the same reasons. At any rate, I meet and talk to a great many people who feel just like I do about caravanning. Perhaps we all end up on the same kind of sites! Birds of a feather and all that. Socially we like to wave hello and goodbye, and maybe have the quick word; but we don't intrude on each other's space, and most definitely don't sit around in a circle in shorts, guzzling cheap wine and boring each other to death in the name of bonhomie.

For me, caravanning is about communing with solitude, the wind and the sunset. I don't want to be part of a jolly holiday camp.

I like it when the day comes to a close, and the lights come on, and it's time to put together a nice meal. (Sea bass in this instance)

And eat it as the sun sets, because caravans are all windows.

I'm home now till mid-October, and I will probably set off again in mid-November. But not over Christmas. I want some winter cheer with family and local friends.

Sunday, 18 September 2011

I can do this too

I'm coming to the end of another week away. This one was very good socially: I saw friends on three consecutive days, was able to talk over several things, and had amazingly uplifting comments and feedback on my demeanour, attitudes and appearance. Some of this - if it could be generally useful or interesting - will form the basis for a few posts.

I'll kick off with the gist of a discussion about sex. This was with a trans girl who has been a friend for nearly two years, although I see her only now and then because she lives 70 miles away. She's very easy to talk with, and although she's thirty years younger - quite young enough to be my daughter - that is no problem. We are in the same boat. We have knowledge and experiences to trade.

Anyway, this friend, who is pre-op, is actively battling her way through the NHS obstacle course to surgery (and given her intelligence, common-sense, and doggedness, she will win out eventually). Meanwhile, as a pretty, attractive young thing with physical and emotional needs, she had the opportunity to have a fling with another trans girl - and was willing to discuss aspects of it with me. They had upper-body sex only. I don't have to go into the details. What most struck me was the emotional side of the experience.

First of all, she was treated completely as a woman. Not as a female with unusual origins; she was treated as a ordinary girl. She found that in itself almost overwhelming. There wasn't even a feeling of being 'accepted': acceptance didn't enter into it, it was irrelevant. It was total surrender and total sensation, with no nagging background spectres to intrude. No decisions to face, nor anything to overcome.

Throughout my life so far, I've never been able to experience that. The significance of what she was saying was huge for me.

Then, almost secondary, was her description of the physical delight she experienced. I'm not going into the mechanics, but it was something that I could achieve myself, given the right circumstances. I could do this. It opened another door in my mind.

A feeling is growing in me that I need to 'go back to school' where physical and emotional matters are concerned. I need to set aside what I think I know, forget past failures and hangups, and just humbly accept that I must start again. But this time on the right lines.

I've gained two things from that conversation.

One: I have the right bits, and they are there to be used. No power on earth can or should prevent me enjoying what I have to the full. I'm not 'too old'.

Two: I can go back to the beginning and retrain. I'm not stuck with an ingrained set of attitudes and responses. I don't need to sigh and plead that it's 'too late for me'. I can do it all differently and so much better.

My goodness, just think of what has already been accomplished. Why should it be impossible to learn to love?

Monday, 12 September 2011

Buck's Mills: hideaways and lonely retreats

During my quick visit to North Devon a week ago, I revisited one of the little places along the coast called Buck's Mills. I was last there in May 1998, with M---. And I couldn't help thinking about her.

The village lies at the sea end of a deep river valley, to my mind rather vulnerable to the sort of flash flooding that might occur following a heavy downpour - such as happened at Boscastle in North Cornwall a few years back, and of course most notoriously at Lynmouth in the early 1950s. But in ordinary times this is a most peaceful spot - quite unlike its neighbour Clovelly, a bit to the west, which is a real tourist honeypot. Buck's Mills was once an industrial site of a kind: there were busy kilns producing lime for agricultural use. But all that activity has long gone. Just the ruined stone structures remain. The village has become simply a pretty place to pause on the Southwest Coastal Path. I was told that most of the cottages are strictly for summer use. 

The village hangs above the beach, and the river is forced to tumble down in a waterfall. You have to go down a steep path to reach the shore. Halfway down is a tiny stone cottage. This belonged to two women, one an artist, one a poet, who used it during much of  the twentieth century. They found Bucks Mills inspirational.

Isn't the cottage quaint? And what a view! It's now in the care of the National Trust. There was no sign that it is ever open for inspection, but the garden gate was unlocked and I got up to the windows and looked in.

Hmmm. A bit basic. You'd think that two women would do something to soften the general bareness with colourful wall hangings, nice padded chairs, and other stuff. I would have, even if this were only my summer home. So far as I could tell, the place consisted of two very small downstairs rooms, two very small upstairs rooms, and a little outhouse built on. There was space for a larder and a stairwell for slim ladies. Very little garden: the cottage was built on a terrace, and completely exposed to the winds and salt spray. Ideal for a seascape artist or writer, or anyone romantically inclined. The ladies were not isolated, because all the local fishermen and holiday visitors would have passed their front door; but, sitting inside, for much of the year, they would have a view only of the ever-restless sea, and no sound but the waves and the wind.

I've always been attracted to the notion of a highly individualistic home in wild surroundings, but I've never wanted to 'rough it'. It would be a home with mod cons. When I saw it in 1993, Dylan Thomas's Boat House at Laugharne in Carmarthenshire in south-west Wales seemed a bit closer to my sort of place:

That's more like it. You've still got the sea right on your doorstep. The waves, the gulls, the mists, the call of mermaids. You can imagine Thomas mooching moodily into the nearby village for a few pints, now can't you? And I'd call up the same vision of Richard Burton, that other sightly younger Son of Wales. Burton's was the main narrative voice in Thomas's radio play Under Milk Wood. A sonorous, distinctive voice. Like all Welsh voices. I watched a TV documentary the other evening about mining in the Glamorgan valleys in the 1920s and 1930s. It made me cry to hear the singing. I don't know why - my Dad wasn't a miner, we knew nobody who was. But the voices got to me.

Thomas had a hut near the Boat House, where he was supposed to have worked on his writings. Looking in, it was a ramshackle, untidy place that I couldn't have put up with:

Last autumn, when up on the High Pennines in the north of England, I came across this lonely habitation, or barn, nestling at the foot of Pen-y-Ghent, one of the famous mountains of North Yorkshire:

Believe me, this was well away from a main road. You'd be cut off for some of the year! But what scenery. What solitude. Not for me - I'd want the sea within reach - but in many ways an ideal home for anyone seeking not merely an escape from town life, but a place for the mind to grow into, and a sanctuary in which to slowly regain a sense of reality.

Saturday, 10 September 2011

Reining in

I'm not one to be parsimonious. I like to spend money! But for a long time I've been quietly taking a cool look at what is coming in and what I let go out. I've actually been making choices, and I've prioritised. Maybe some of my priorities wouldn't be yours. But at least I've weighed up costs and benefits. And I've gradually reduced my impulse expenditure.

You may not think so! My posts are full of things like caravan trips (imagine the fuel consumed!), buying pictures, going to the opera, new walking boots, and so on. As if I've still got pots of cash and don't care how I splash it around.

But it isn't quite like this. Running two houses on one pension, combined with all the heavy costs of transition, made me face the facts. The financial hit was enormous. The outflow of money relentless. It all nearly drained me of funds.

Now that the Cottage has been sold, I can preserve what's left and modestly add to it. But it will take discipline. Well, I've made my plans, set some things in motion, and made several resolutions. The Coalition Government is not the only body capable of strong-minded measures.

So for now no more big trips, no more big purchases, and I won't be signing up for monthly membership of anything.

No weekend breaks at hotels. No days out in London, not that I go there much now.

Caravan trips only to spots within a hundred miles or so. And Christmas at home, not away.

I won't be buying those Dubarry boots.

I won't be replacing my camera - not unless I can cover the cost with sales on eBay, or with some other windfall. (There might actually be quite a bit I could sell on eBay)

Probably a little less eating out, and no home entertaining to speak of. (Not that I ever did much of it)

I'm not broke. I still have enough left to feel unperturbed if I were suddenly forced to buy, say, a new gas cooker, or two more new tyres for Fiona, things like that. But over the next few months, in fact until after the next pension increase in April, I'm going to be looking at my spending more closely than for many years. 

Life will become rather more home-based than it has been, and that's just as well. I need to be at home to tackle garden work that I've long neglected. It really won't take very long to get it well in hand. Almost like getting the harvest in late. And once done, when all is neat and tidy, and put in order, I'll have paid the house back somewhat for looking after me since my parents died. I don't know how I would have managed without this comfortable and peaceful place to use as my safe retreat. It was my sunny recovery capsule when I was post-op. I do owe it so much. Now it will get some TLC, though alas, no makeover.

I still want to get away again in mid-October, but not far, probably no further than my usual spot near Salisbury. Lots of local walking in the chilly autumn breeze. Solitary tramps along shorelines. If I'm lucky, sunshine and swirling autumn leaves. Or a bleaker scene, as in this poem:


Think of me, facing the pale winter sky,
At the edge of the wood as the leaves blow by.
And think of the crow up above in the trees,
Whose breakfast and supper are nothing but breeze.
And look at the mouse who is not yet in bed,
Driven by hunger to forage instead.
The frost is an adder that gnaws at the land;
And the pale winter sky with the leaves blowing by
Is as empty and bitter as poor Nature's hand.

But remember the curtains that keep out the night,
And remember the sunshine, so brilliant, so bright;
And the crystals of ice, their symmetrical art,
And the roaring log fire that cheers the heart.

I wrote that in September 1995, and it appeared in a post I did on 14 November 2009.

I feel that this period of reining back, of being more thoughtful, not just over expenditure but about all matters, could be a good time. It's time to face the cold wind, and appreciate the warmth of a snug home.

And I would like to gaze into a fire and dream.

Friday, 9 September 2011

Getting ready for a managed withdrawal

Two recent incidents have made it plain to me that I'm not going to be part of the mainstream 'trans world' for much longer. If, that is, I ever was!

The first incident was last Tuesday evening, when enjoying the Clare Project Posh Nosh evening meal out in Brighton. Somehow I felt a bit out of it. The company was fine; but, fresh from ordinary everyday social encounters in North Devon, it seemed like a specialist event that wasn't right for me any more. Frankly, I was having to work at being 'trans', and at talking about trans stuff, rather than simply being another woman in a restaurant. It came as a bit of a jolt. I had faithfully attended most Clare Project functions for the best part of three years, ever since my first public debut as Lucy Melford early in December 2008. Now, suddenly, a feeling was crystallising that this was no longer my scene.

I feel sad about this realisation. I suppose it was inevitable, but I thought that I'd have a regular role to play as an 'experienced transitioner' for a long time to come, and would still be attending CP drop-ins and other events for as long as I lived near Brighton. But now it feels like hanging around your old school, when you've taken your exams, passed with good grades, and are already immersed in the next stage of your life. Really, a closed chapter. I'm sure that I shall still turn up at the Tuesday afternoon drop-in as much as before, but only because I hope to see people I like. And I want to attend the Christmas gathering. But maybe no more Posh Noshes.

The other happening was only yesterday. A friend emailed me about poems she had written on her personal trans experiences, and she asked me whether I'd evaluate their worth. I had to say no.

Firstly, I hate offering any criticism, whether well-intentioned or not. I simply couldn't be 'honest' if it might be damaging or upsetting. I'd want to find only nice things to say, positive things. People's feelings matter, especially where creative writing on an intensely personal subject is concerned.

Secondly, dealing now with technical issues, who was I to judge whether the form, style, language and effect of the poems was 'right'? In my view, poetry was a completely free medium for written self-expression, and there were no 'rules'. I did say that bad poetry was verse that was meaningless and failed to engage the reader. But I knew of no tests for 'good' poetry.

Thirdly, the subject was the friend's personal experiences. I didn't know her well, which would be a handicap. But I felt that in any case her experiences might be very different from my own. How was I to relate to them? Supposing she'd had feelings far deeper than than I am capable of? In several ways there could be a gulf of misunderstanding, and while this wouldn't be a bar to actually reading the poems themselves, I wouldn't want to pull them to bits with only my own trans experience and emotional background to refer to. That would be very unfair.

I went on to think how far from typical I am. But then many, many other trans people must surely say the same thing. We all go through a similar medical process, but really there is very little other than that process to bind us together. We were different before transition, and we'll revert to our differences afterwards. I suppose this means that many people who come into one's life during transition will at some point disappear from it. Quite a saddening thought; but you can't sustain a connection once the active bond has receded into the past.

This must all have something to do with identity. I've said before that so far as I am concerned, I am never likely to fully complete my transition, because there is simply so much to learn about 'being a woman' and so much to forget or suppress about 'being a man'. I think it's likely to take the rest of my life. But clearly the major part, the essential part, of the 'transition process' is now over. That fact alone might lead me to say that I'm no longer an active member - or a member at all - of the 'trans community' as generally understood. No longer in the midst of a great transformation that might be the subject of a TV documentary, for example. I certainly don't feel able to say anything now on the Angels or Roses's websites. And I don't want to be a 'trans personality' or 'trans spokesperson' or in any way a representative for the community.

So who I am now identifying with? Well, ordinary women. And doing it quietly. I seem to be completely accepted for what I appear to be. Putting it another way, I'm not having to assert womanhood. I just do what I want to, go where I want to, speak to whomever I want to, and live a life that is getting increasingly less self-conscious. That's good. It means I'm engaged in a real and natural life, with much more attention for other people; more attention for practical things that have been set aside for too long and must be returned to.

Whither the blog? It will just go on. It has several roles quite independent of my transition story:

# It's an illustrated portal to my day-by-day life. My online diary of significant events and thinking. And in fact I copy the text twice a month and save it in Word documents for backup and future reference.
# So if there's a 'transition book' in me, I've got a growing body of material to base it on! But nobody should hold their breath for this august work.
# It's a portal to my Flickr site. Which is also geared to revealing where I go and what I see.
# It's a way for people to find out what I'm up to nowdays, and what attitudes I take. People who are no longer my supporters and allies, but who still want to keep tabs on me. I have faint hopes that eventually some of them will see that I was genuinely driven, was innocent of bad intent, and now live a fulfilling life that they ought to acknowledge.
# And of course for a long time to come I will have much to say about post-op life generally, and getting to grips with a world in which I'm treated as a woman in every context, not always to my advantage. Some of that could make interesting reading.

I missed the six-months anniversary of my surgery the other day. Completely forgot about it. It just shows how that event has disappeared into near-oblivion. I still have some visible suture lines and skin discolorations, but they are much faded, and there are no ongoing healing issues. So it's been easy to forget the immediate post-op regime. There's only the daily dilation, and that's as routine as cleaning my teeth. Some like to regard their surgery date as the first day of their new female life - a new Birth Day in fact. They are perfectly serious. I've met them. But for me, my birth date is the same as I ever had, and I see my life as a continuum, with the developments and events of the pre-transition era as valid and worth recording as those in the present era.

I'm emphatically a woman with a past.

Thursday, 8 September 2011

Unwell and going nowhere

I've had to cancel my caravan trip to the East Midlands. I felt dog tired when I came home from North Devon on Tuesday, and (perhaps unwisely, but the effort seemed worth making) I went straight down to Brighton to attend a Clare Project Posh Nosh at a Thai restaurant. I felt urgently in need of sleep by the time I got home, but well enough to watch a little of the programme on Russian art on BBC4, and then fire up the PC for my previous post.

Next day (yesterday) I woke up feeling awful. I was hot-faced and felt as if my blood pressure was way up. I was running a temperature (38.8 degrees C). Several urgent visits to the toilet. And in the afternoon the hotness was replaced by a shivering fit that lasted three hours. I eventually got to sleep and awoke during the evening feeling weak and wobbly. I could face only toast and chicken soup. The day should have been spent loading up the caravan. I had a half-good couple of hours during the early afternoon when I refuelled Fiona and turned the caravan around on my drive, ready for hitching. But that was all I could manage. I never returned to the preparations.

This morning I'm a little better - my temperature's down - but I'm still weak, and I still need to be near the loo all the time. So I've cancelled my site booking. Fortunately they let me off paying anything.

So what's all this about? It seems like a dose of upset tummy caused by something I ate on Tuesday night. The restaurant is not conclusively to blame: I ate some other things as soon as I got home, as a snack, but then they'd been in my fridge and were fresh enough. It will however put me off having a similar meal out for a while.

But I think it was also something else. I've been packing in a lot of gadding about since July - lots of trips - and I think that it's caught up with me. It's been an understandable reaction to the enforced post-op inactivity in March, April and May. But I am not a spring chicken, and I get used up and drained sooner than younger folk. I need to pace myself better.

I am going to my usual place near Salisbury next week. That's still on. I'll be recovered by then, and it's a nice familiar journey with plenty of places to stop and rest on the way, and an easy-peasy set-up when I arrive. I think though that I'll be spending more time than usual simply walking gently along the local downland, and less whizzing off to towns and beaches forty miles away. But there is one unmissable event: opera at The Grange. It's Tosca. I'm determined to be well for that.

Wednesday, 7 September 2011

Not the attention I want

Over on my Flickr pages, I was astounded to find a huge leap in daily viewngs yesterday - no less than 438, pushing the total viewings total since February 2009 to almost 66,000. Wow.

Analysis of those 438 viewings revealed that persons unknown had been ogling photos of me trying on swimming costumes, and other pictures revealing a bit more than usual of the dumpy Melford figure. Well, not quite unknown. A German cross-dressing person had obviously liked what she saw, and had made me a 'contact' of hers, which is the Flickr equivalent of following my blog. So now, whenever I upload new shots, she'll hope to get an eyeful of Melford bosom or whatever.

I'm not best pleased. It would be naive to deny that photos of female flesh, even my flesh, must always excite a reaction in some quarters. 'Tis the way of the world. But like any woman, I'd prefer it if the admiration came from someone I'd like to know, and for reasons that seem wholesome.

So (for instance) I'd be flattered if the Dunvant Rugby Club followed my blog or my Flickr pages and, in their lusty men's way, treated me as a pin-up girl. Thank you very much, boys, if you're doing that.

But I don't want attention from a cross-dressing person who takes poor photos of bits of herself wearing the usual cliche outfits, and blanks out her face. It recalls my early days of transition, when I briefly joined sites like TV Chix to see what they had to offer. It quickly seemed to me that these sites existed to bring people together for clandestine dressing, a kind of symbiotic mutual grooming, and, presumably, sex. So far as I was concerned, they had nothing to offer. I was already going about in public as Lucy Melford. I wore ordinary female clothing without resorting to special arrangements. And I did it without dire consequences. Nor was I interested in finding anybody for sex.

I saw plenty that saddened me. There were obviously quite a number of people on the internet living fantasy lives, and there were some socially inadequate persons also. And, more disturbingly, there were some strange persons whom I later learned to call 'predators' or 'tranny fanciers', people who were fixated on trans girls. Most must surely have been harmless, but a few could have been dangerous. In any event they were not the kind of people I'd choose for company.

So anyone who thinks I'm going to be turned on by shots of their stockinged legs in high heels, or their well-filled knickers, or their bra collection, is making an error. Nor am I impressed by talk of ten-inch willies or immense height. I'm just not that kind of girl. So go away please.

Saturday, 3 September 2011

The next big step - the Gender Recognition Certificate

The time is approaching when I shall make my application for a Gender Recognition Certificate under the 2004 Act. I've already downloaded and printed out the 15 page application form and the 25 pages of guidance on how to fill it in. That's a lot of pages! But then, this is a Big Thing, even more important than a passport application.

The application form is assessed by a Panel who, if they need to, will be all judicial and summon me to appear before them. But they make it clear on the website ( that in most cases they expect to deal with the application on the basis of paper evidence alone.

I can see at once that filling in this form is something that will have to be done 'just so', if I want the process to go smoothly. And in particular, I will need to ensure that my paper evidence of full-time female living during the two years prior to the date of the application is very solid. It won't do to simply attach the doctors' letters, a legal copy of my Deed Poll, and mention that I've been presenting myself as Lucy Melford in a public blog since February 2009!

Obviously the date of the Deed Poll itself is pretty decisive. That was 1 November 2009, and originally I planned to submit my application as soon as possible after 1 November 2011. But now I think I'll make it later in November, when I can show some of the letters I received in response to the name-change notifications.

I can show some pre-November 2009 items (actual documents, or photos of them) that demonstrate that I was representing myself to the public at large as Lucy Melford the woman. For instance, an eye test in May 2009; a signed note left in Kentisbeare Church visitor's book in July 2009; a receipt adressed to Lucy Melford for a painting I bought in August 2009; and the Electoral Register form for 2009/10, completed in September 2009 by Lucy Melford, and signed by her. But I want to show a flood of evidence.

Actually, I've got plenty of time. Having got my Certificate, there will be no changes to my day-to-day life - apart from the ability to claim a woman's rights and protections in legal situations - until my State Pension kicks in late in 2014. So I could do this anytime during the next two years. But I want it in the bag. It'll be another important transition landmark: the definitive official validation of my female status. Psychologically, an achievement absolutely worth striving for.

It's also irrevocable. Once 'certified a woman' I can't change my mind. It's much, much more of a one-way ticket than surgery. I've thought about this. But it's not any kind of worry. Nor am I frightened at making a life-long commitment, with consequences that I will be saddled with forever.

Ah, the joys of being able to wave that magic piece of paper at someone!

To the brutal tranny-hater: 'Stay your hand, fellow. Look, I'm actually a proper woman. It says so here.'

To the absolutely gorgeous person I'm longing to get closer to: 'I fancy you to bits. Let's go to bed. By the way, here's my Gender Recognition Certificate.' 

On the sinking Titanic: 'Hello, I want a place in that lifeboat, please. Women and children go first, and look, it says here that I'm a woman.'

That GRC will be endlessly useful! I won't leave home without it. 

Thursday, 1 September 2011


I very much doubt that I will be believed if I say that I have never smoked.

But it's true. Even though I grew up in an era when most people did. Even when I was in my last years at school, and almost the entire sixth form were smoking their heads off, I still did not join in. By then it was stubborn general defiance as much as anything else: I simply wasn't going to conform, not to the school system, which I loathed, and certainly not to peer pressure of any kind. I was regarded as a bit weird, but I didn't lose respect.

Nor did I smoke when going for promotion at work in the 1970s. It really was an era of ridiculously hard lunchtime drinking, when lunches lasted three hours, and when any man who dodged out of it was dismissed as a 'wanker'. Chain smoking in foggy pubs was as much the royal road to the boss's approval as knocking back pints until you gagged.

Well, I acquired a certain prowess at drinking (and I flinch at what it could have done to my health), but managed to avoid lunching off a packet of Marlboro or Gitanes. Despite challenging the norm, I still got two promotions.

I disliked cigarette smoke from the start. I had no objection to cigar smoke - that was aromatic, and even today reminds me of Christmas. Nor did I mind the smoke from pipe tobacco - that was usually interesting, and pipes (and the ritual of lighting them, and keeping them going) had a certain fascination. And I associated pipes with reliable, friendly men in comfortable tweed jackets. But cigarette smoke stank; it was choking and smelly and just Not Nice. So even as a child I took an outsider's attitude to it. And I'm convinced that not smoking saved me from the world of drugs. Yes, even more incredibly, I never tried those either. Miss Goody Two-Shoes. (Hold on - I don't need to apologise!)

Now I'd better make it quite clear that I'm not going to be high-and-mighty and superior about what was, after all, a negative childhood reaction that I sustained into adulthood. If you smoked a bit in the past, I'm not judging you, even if it was more than just pure tobacco. And if you still do, then again, I'm not judging you.

As always, I insist on taking my own line, but I'm perfectly tolerant of what anyone else wants to do. Tolerant; but not necessarily without concerns. When my ex went back to smoking after a couple of years of marriage (she had reasons that she felt were good ones - intense work pressure being one of them) my heart sank. Not because I'd failed to make a convert - I won't foist my beliefs and attitudes on anybody - but because she had given smoking up for love, and clearly love wasn't now so strong. But equally, I fretted over the fresh danger to her long-term health. It seemed like voluntarily embracing a slow death. (I hasten to add that when I last heard, she was alive and well)

Dad and my Uncle W--- both gave up smoking in a pact around 1960, when I was eight. Up till then, they smoked as much as any ordinary person at the time. I think Mum had been nagging at Dad to give up. But perhaps W---'s wife, my Auntie P--- (the aunt who was 90 the other day) took a slightly more relaxed view. I was thrilled when Dad gave up smoking, glad that my Dad didn't smell nasty any more, but then (isn't this silly?) immediately missed the colourful cigarette packets. In his time, Dad had tried Woodbines (of course), Senior Service, and several other brands I can't name now, although I recall that he was smoking Gold Leaf in that red and white packet with gold foil inside when he stopped.

You see, I liked to play with the foil inside discarded cigarette packets, and cut out the designs, and try to make things with the matches. I even 'collected' match boxes for a while. Dad always bought the England's Glory brand, which had interesting things written on the back of the matchbox. All that ended.

Now where is this leading? Or rather, what provoked this post?

It was the news report today that Philip Morris, the US cigarette manufacturer, was applying legal pressure under the Freedom of Information Act on the staff of a UK university. They were researching, on behalf of Cancer Research UK, a big UK charity, why young people begin smoking. This was research funded therefore by donations and assisted by students and others who had disclosed their personal experiences to the researchers in confidence. The scientific integrity of the research was supposed to be impeccable, and ongoing government policy in this area was being informed by what the university was finding out. The results were being published as they became available. They touched on such things as what kids found attractive about the image of smoking and what might be persuasive about packet design. Philip Morris wanted the raw data. They were maintaining that they hadn't understood clearly what the published results had been saying. They denied that they needed it for marketing purposes.

Here's an ad of theirs from the 1950s:

And let's have some balance. Here's another old ad for cigarillos:

Mmmm. He knows that cigarillos attract red-lipped women with pointed breasts. They can't resist.