Tuesday, 10 November 2015

An Interesting Day

Back in June, prior to departing to the Lake District for a holiday, I discovered that the tyres on my car were coming to the end of their safe life, so I bought four new ones which I felt was a good idea bearing in mind the travelling I was about to do.

Saturday, half way through my holiday, found me negotiating the infamous "Hardknott Pass", which links two of the Lake District Dales. It's not for the faint-hearted and although I safely made my way to the summit, on the way back down I misjudged a bend and ripped open one of my brand new tyres on a piece of Cumbrian granite. The following day saw a visit to Workington for a replacement.

This morning I was doing nothing more outlandish than heading to Horsham for a bit of shopping. I'm feeling better after what has been a difficult few weeks of colds and vaccination reactions and was really looking forward to a browse around the shops.

Driving along a country lane I've driven many times before, and keeping to my side of the road in order to avoid an oncoming vehicle, I suddenly found where the local council had been trimming their highways budget. A whole chunk of tarmac about six feet long and one foot wide was missing. My front near-side wheel went into this and the serrated edge of the remaining tarmac ripped it open. It went off with such a bang that some golfers from the nearby golf course came over to make sure I was okay.

I was fine but sadly the same could not be said for the tyre. So out of the four new tyres in June, only two now survive. That's after about 3000 miles on the clock.

But my difficulties were just beginning. Having assured the golfers that I would be okay, I quickly discovered the realities of the modern air-powered nut spinners that these tyre shops use. Back in June, it had been a close run thing as to whether or not I could actually change the tyre as the damn things were on so tight it took all I could muster to shift them. Now, back in the homelands of West Sussex, it proved impossible. What was worse I was starting to damage the looking wheel bolts key. So, I had to do something I've never done in over 45 years of driving – I called the AA…….

Thankfully I was in a spot where there was some mobile coverage (you wouldn't believe the dead spots we have around here and so close to major towns). Of course I had to deal with the (sadly) expected misgendering on the phone. Having given my name and membership number, the operator asked who I he actually was speaking to. This is the usual reaction when the voice doesn't meet their perceptions of what it should be. I wasn't in the mood for this and so promptly told him he WAS speaking to Mrs Grove, even if my voice didn't match his expectations. He seemed to accept that well and the rest of the call proceeded okay until I got the “Thank you Sir” at the end. I just replied “MADAM!” and got an apology.

Having been given a lead time of 90 minutes it was good to see the breakdown van turn up in half that time. I really didn't think he was going to be able to crack the key problem and I had visions of seeing my car being taken home on the back of a breakdown vehicle. But he persevered and in the end I'm not sure who was the more relieved when the awkward bolt finally moved. From then it was a quick job to fit the spare tyre, do the paperwork and be on my way.

Sadly though, the day was over as far as shopping was concerned. The priority was to get a replacement tyre and that took up was little time I had left. Then of course there is the matter of sorting out a claim against the council. I'm not letting this go and made sure I took photos of the damaged road and my ruined tyre. I've also got to sort out what to do about the remaining locking wheel bolts. The priority is to free off all the wheel bolts on the car and do them up to a level where I know I’ll be able to undo them. Then there is the matter of deciding whether or notto keep the locking wheel bolts. I've had problems in the past with the key failing and causing trouble. I can’t help feeling there must be a more reliable alternative.

The damage to the tyre.
As well as the main cut near the rim,
There is a smaller one above the lettering.
 Both would have been fatal to the tyre.
The Offending Road Damage.
The photo doesn't give the full impression
of how deep the rut is.
In fact it was about six inches deep and
I felt the car fall into it before the tyre burst.
My stranded car is at the top of the photo.

When, as a transitioning woman, you find yourself in situations that are new and something you’re not used to, it can be rather intimidating. Today was full of such events and gives you cause to consider how it went and more importantly, how you yourself coped. The situation with the AA calls centre I've already mentioned and I was happy with my reaction. I've reached the situation now when at the slightest sign of confusion or misgendering I tell them firmly who I am, even if my voice doesn't match their expectations. That usually does the trick. But it can be wearing.

The AA mechanic who attended the call was no problem. However, as we conversed I was left with the impression the he was talking to me as if to a man. Perhaps that was just me and in the end it’s difficult to know how to react, so long as there is no obvious misgendering.

At the tyre shop again, I was treated well. When it came to paying I was shown the computer screen with both my old and new identities on it and nicely asked to confirm which one I wished to use.

The most interesting about today was that it confirmed in me that I can deal with a wide range of situations. I've been aware of this as the first year of my transition has proceeded and today confirmed this. It’s been a bad year in many respects, at a time when it should have been the complete opposite. In fact it’s been rather draining and left me with many fears for the future.

There are times when in my darkest moments I think of giving up the whole thing. It's not a realistic reaction I know, but at times it's hard to deal with. I just wish I could re-kindle that feeling of optimism I enjoyed when I set out on this path.

Saturday, 14 June 2014

An Unusual Anniversary

It's the middle weekend of June 2014 and the weather is warm, windy, muggy and cloudy. There's nothing unusual about that, in fact it's a typical British summer's day. What is out of the ordinary is that all around me cars are sporting miniature England flags and many houses are decorated in a similar way. In our newspapers and on other media, especially television the tempo is rising and armies of pundits are preparing themselves. Yes, it's World Cup time again.

For the dyed-in-the-wool fan this is a festival that comes around just every four years and has to have the most made of it (although here in Europe the European Nations Championship somehow manages to bridge the gap in between). However, for those of us who aren't enthused in such a way the feelings can be quite different. When I was young I did have a degree of enjoyment for the game and regularly attended my local club with a good friend (who happens to be as keen on the sport as ever). Indeed, I can still recall clearly that magical day in 1966 when England won the World Cup, to some degree against expectation.

But for me personally that represented a high water mark as far as being a follower of the sport was concerned. Nowadays none of it does much for me and to be surrounded by all this enthusiasm can at times feel quite irritating and deep down all I want is for it to be over. If you happen to be a fan of the game then I'm sorry, but that's the way I feel nowadays. I can no longer feel your enthusiasm, probably in much the same way my love of steam railways is difficult for you to figure out.

But all this activity does cast my mind back to the last world cup in 2010 and events that occurred to me then. The early part of that year had seen me taking my first tentative steps into the world as Susan. They were fairly short and nervous steps but my desire for more was growing. But in the June of that year with world cup fever reaching its customary fever-pitch ahead of England's first game and idea formed in my mind. While the rest of the country was glued to their televisions on that Saturday night, I would treat myself to an evening out as Susan.

I suppose one reason behind this might have been with the rest of the country stuck indoors watching the football, the outside world would be seriously underpopulated which at the time for a fledgling transwoman might have been a serious consideration. But somehow looking back my primary motive lay in making a symbolic gesture in disassociating myself from an overriding male stereotype. But putting all the theory aside, I decided to head of into the Sussex countryside and a spot on the South Downs near Lewes.

In those days leaving home was very much a planned operation and something of an ordeal. I would get myself dressed and made up and them don a track suit and remove my wig. That way I perceived that if any neighbours saw me they wouldn't notice anything out of the ordinary. Although anyone who knew me well might wonder what I was doing wearing a track suit, especially on a Saturday night. After all, I've never been know for my sporting prowess, but needs must. So this particular Saturday evening saw me parked at a favourite car park on Ashdown Forest where I completed my preparations before heading south towards the Downs.

My memory of the drive was how quite it was for a Saturday evening - hardly surprising. My destination was Firle Beacon car park, somewhere I knew very well and had in fact been the location of my first every outing some three months earlier. It was far from totally deserted but still quiet enough to give me the space to enjoy the evening and take some photos.

With the sea behind me - A prefect evening
Looking Straight into the setting sun
at Firle Beacon Car Park

I was probably only out for a few hours but the enjoyment of the moment was something special and far better than sitting at home watching football.

Six days later was England's second match and I decided to repeat my plans for this evening too. However the weather wasn't as kind on this occasion and a trip to Bewl Water in Kent was a bit of a damp affair. But I did get the chance to take a few photos.

A Damp Evening at Bewl Water

So, here we are now four years later and this time I won't be heading out for the evening. The imperative that drove me in 2010 has been diminished by the progress I've been able to make in the meantime. The year 2010 turned out to be a bit of a non-starter as far as my progress as Susan was concerned. By the autumn I felt rather disillusioned by my ability to go out in public as a woman. The following year saw me make a determined effort to put things right, with a reasonable degree of success. But it was 2012 that was the real game changer (sorry about the sporting expression). I was lucky enough to develop some new friendships that continue to this day. There's far more details in my previous blogs about how this came about and of course names are named.

On the other have I don't how much the England football team has progressed, but I'm sure we'll find out later on this evening.........

Thank you for reading this.

Susan XXX

Thursday, 28 March 2013

Spring is Going to be a Little Late this Year

Well, that's a statement that's going to cause little or no surprise to anyone living in the UK. Spring 2013 started on the 1st March or the 20th March (Spring Equinox) depending on your opinions/beliefs. However, writing this in the last days of March it's hard to remember what spring is actually like.

It's a Cold Spring
According to the meteorologists a strong high pressure system to the north of the country is bringing cold Arctic air down across the country and preventing warmer air coming up from the south. Thankfully here in the SE of England we've been spared the awful weather that has hit so many northern parts. For a time last weekend it seemed that we were going to have our share of snow too, but by Monday that threat had passed. But the cold winds persist and this ensures a high wind-chill factor which makes it feel as if temperatures are permanently sub-zero. On higher ground you can still see the remains of snow drifts that fell nearly three weeks ago.

Mother nature seems to be reacting badly to all this with spring bulbs far from their best and indeed many still not in bloom. What's more there is hardly any sign of leaves starting to appear on the trees. I've been comparing photos taken a year ago with the current levels of vegetation and I would estimate that spring this year is running about 10 days behind last year.

So, how does this affect your average trans woman? I suppose that depends on how much cold weather you can endure because it's all too easy to prefer the warmth of your home to the chill winds of outdoors. As a dual role (or part time) trans woman, it's all too easy to get out of the habit of going out at this time of the year. So therefore I try to make a deliberate attempt to go out one day a week as Susan, regardless of whether I need to or not. But it's not always easy.

Last week I didn't really want to go out on the day I'd picked. I was tired from the day before and I had more than plenty to get on with in the warm surroundings of home. This coupled with the fact that I couldn't actually think of anywhere to go made it rather difficult. However, in the end I settled on a brief shopping trip to Redhill in Surrey. It's not a big shopping centre but it does have a medium sized Marks & Spencer and a range of other shops. I've been there many times before in male mode and it's a place that's always struck me as a bit on the "tough" side, so I felt a little wary.

But it was ok, even if I wasn't there too long. I picked up a few pairs of knickers in M&S (a girl can never have too many) and then had a general wander around. I think I was aware of one "reading" but didn't feel threatened at all. Then it was back home to the warm and all those jobs I should have been doing.

Today was my day this week for going out and once more it was very cold and I couldn't think of where to go. I know I must be in need of some warm weather, just like all of us. Yesterday brought us quite a lot of sunshine although it was still cold. This morning as I opened the curtains in my nightie (strange place to have curtains) the sunshine flooded in and I could feel the warmth all around me. Then I realised the heat was coming from the radiator in front of my legs. Back to reality............

The problem of where to go was partially solved when someone pushed a booklet through my door extolling the virtues of our local countryside and inviting me to explore it. I've always felt that I know my local countryside very well but this booklet had a few surprises. One of them was the "Toad Rock", near Tunbridge Wells in Kent. This is an outcrop of sandstone that has been weathered over the centuries into a form which looks like a giant toad sitting on a rock.

Me and "Mr Toad"
So, that was one place to go and another destination came from the local television news which featured a new modern sculpture that had been unveiled in Mayfield parish church, not far from Tunbridge Wells. So, that would do as another place to visit.

The Toad rock is located on the common at Rusthall, just west of Tunbridge Wells. I've long lost count of the number of times I've driven past the village and not knowing this feature was there. In fact, it took me a few goes before I found the right place. But having done so I went to see it and of course get some photos.

Whether or not it does look like a toad is something you'll have to decide for yourselves, but regardless of that it is a strange looking formation and no doubt this has encouraged people to attribute the likeness to it.

Winter, err, Spring on Ashdown Forest
I had been tempted to call in at Tunbridge Well's retail park whilst in the area, but it does have a fearful reputation for traffic jams and being the last day before Easter I thought better of it and so headed south towards Mayfield. Being an old village it has something of a parking problem with many of the roads badly clogged with parked cars. Thankfully I found a free car park (yes! - free) with some spaces. The sculpture in the church was very modern but somehow seems to fit in. For those interested there is a short local news item here.

From here I made my way home via one of my old favourites, Ashdown Forest. On a "spring" day like this there wasn't a great deal of attraction in the place. I got the impression that the gorse was far from being in the sort of bloom you'd expect by now. And of course it was very cold up there. Still, I managed a few photos, followed by an ice cream from the seller who seems to be there regardless of how cold it is. That still went down well with some chocolate I'd picked up in Mayfield. Not exactly a healthy nutritious meal, but it did me the power of good.

Regardless of the cold it was an enjoyable if brief day out. I'm finding it important to get out on a regular basis, if only to maintain my confidence levels. The last year has seen me making a lot of progress, thanks in so many ways to help from others. It would be awful after all that to let it slip away by default. With the Easter break upon us and with family commitments the next week or so may be difficult. But in two weeks I've got a long week away with friends and then I'll have all the Susan time I wish.

Thank you for reading this.

Susan XXX

Wednesday, 20 March 2013

An Interesting Day Out

As I mentioned in my previous post a painful knee was one factor the prevented me from getting out for a few weeks. But by mid-March I'd had enough and decided I was getting out for the day, come what may. Having decided that the Thursday of the week was the day to go out, what did come on the Monday was a very heavy fall of snow which caused disruption all over the South-East. But, I was determined about this and I told myself that I was going to get dressed and made up on Thursday morning, regardless of whether I could get out of the front door or not. As it turned out, Thursday was the best day of the entire week, so my luck was in.

Where to go?

There is a view that's been expressed in TG circles that it is a good idea when going out to have an aim or objective in mind. This helps to focus the mind and perhaps overcome those nerves that can plague us. It's something I always try to do but on this occasion I just couldn't come up with any idea of what I wanted to do. The weather forecast seem to indicate that it would be warmer in the West, but only just. But it was enough to give me a direction.

Eventually I decided to head for Midhurst in West Sussex, have a wander around the shops and then head into the countryside. As it was, whilst putting my makeup on I realised that I was starting to run low on foundation so, I would head for Boots in Midhurst and buy a replacement. That's rather a long way to go for something I could obtain almost anywhere but at least the day was beginning to take on some direction.

The main route into central West Sussex is via the A272. That might just sound like another UK route number but in these parts it is rather notorious. A glance at a map will show that it stretches from a junction with the A267 in East Sussex to a similar one with the A30 in Hampshire. So it could be said to connect two un-regarded road junctions in the middle of nowhere some 70 miles apart (as the crow flies). In some places the road is made up of good straight former turnpike roads, but in other places it is no more that a series of signposts through small villages and towns. There was a story going around in the 1980s that in the event of the UK getting involved in a continental war the road would be closed to normal traffic and used to move the military to the channel ports. The mind boggles at how the road would have coped with that sort of traffic!

But of course if you want to go west without the delights of the M25 or the Folkestone - Honiton Trunk Road (known around here as the A27) and you're not in too much of a hurry then it is not a bad option. And it does have the advantage of connecting a number of large size towns, as well as the City of Winchester. It was my choice on this occasion, helped by the fact that it passes through the ancient streets of Midhurst. (Try and imagine a fleet of tank transports making their way through here.)

The drive to Midhurst wasn't too bad on this day and a pleasant surprise awaited in the car park when I discovered that the first two hours were free. It's only a year since I was last here and I don't recall free parking then. So, perhaps this is indeed a very rare case of public parking charges actually being reduced! Having sampled this delight I set off for the shops and it was now that something odd and unwelcome happened.

My confidence and spirits had been high all day but now I felt my nervousness increasing and my self confidence plummeting. Quite why this was happening is hard to understand, but other trans women in my position agree that it is not unusual. The only thing you can do in these circumstances is to face it down and just get on with it. To make matters worse, as I arrived at Boots a large crocodile of school children arrived from the opposite direction, under the supervision of teachers, and stopped for an impromptu local history lesson outside the shop.

Groups of children are something that we tend to be wary of, mainly because of there lack of inhibition in the presence of something out of the ordinary. But given such a large group, even under supervision, I was dreading that some of them might pick me out and come out with unwanted comments. Consequently I was relieved to get inside the shop. I soon found he item I was after and as a bonus I also obtained a new eyebrow pencil I had been unable to obtain elsewhere. But when I went to pay I was a bundle of nerves and at one point found it difficult to get the money out of my purse.

Sunshine in Midhurst
The most annoying aspect of this "nervous attack" was the fact that it was entirely self-induced. There had been nobody causing me any problems - even the school crocodile outside Boots had appeared to ignore me. In such situations I find it's just best to push on and hope that my confidence returns. So I left Boots (crocodile still outside) and wandered up the high street taking in a few shops including the usual charity outlets and a general clothes shop which must one of the most over stocked and untidiest one I've ever been in.

Heading back down the high street I stopped at a coffee shop for a much needed latte. By this time my nerves were easing but still not as I would wish. But I wanted a drink and at times like this I find that determination often overcomes nerves. Once again I was treated well and I enjoyed my coffee indulging bin a spot of people-watching through the coffee shop window.

Afterwards I carried on back down the high street towards the car park with my confidence gradually restoring itself. The weather was still quite sunny so I took a little while to wander across the causeway towards Cowdray House ruins, and get a few photos.

At The Gate
From Midhurst I made my way to Didling and to pay another visit to the ancient little church there. I've been here a lot over the years and it is a location I enjoy visiting and spending some time at. The peace of the place has to be experienced and it always does me a power of good.

From here I enjoyed a steady drive through the countryside before starting to head back home. I called in at Uppark which is a National Trust property. I have been here before many years ago and it is somewhere I'd like to visit once more. But on the day of my visit it was still closed for the winter although I was able to enjoy a walk in the grounds.

My last stop before leaving the area was one which was to provide the only sour point of the day. The Weald and Downland Open Air Museum houses an impressive collection of old buildings and artefacts on a large site near Chichester. I've been here on previous occasions many years ago but never as Susan. I wasn't intending to visit today, but I knew the book and gift shop can be accessed without entering the museum and so I decided to stop there for a while and have a browse.

I'd been there for about five minutes and had worked my way from the books to the rest of the varied gifts on display. I hadn't found anything that I really wanted but decided to give the books another go before I left. Whilst browsing (and out of view of the sales counter) I heard one of the women there exclaim "it was a bloke!". Now, I might have misheard her, or she may well have been talking about something else altogether. But somehow my instincts told me that they were referring to me.

As it was I was on the point of leave and decided on the spur of the moment not to delay my departure. Later on, looking back, I wished that I had bought something, just so I could have given her the opportunity to look me in the eye, and perhaps prove that I am indeed a human being, after all. The description of me as a "bloke" is on reflection rather laughable. Even when I'm not Susan I'm hardly what today passes as a bloke. I don't go around with large groups of men, with a can of larger in one hand and a half eaten kebab in the other. And I don't dribble on for hours about football.

This is a place I've enjoyed many visits to in the past and their work is something I strongly support and feel that they do a terrific job. Their website is friendly and makes a point of welcoming all potential visitors, regardless of personal circumstances. It's just a shame I was made to feel less than welcome the first time I went there as Susan.

But I was determined I wasn't going to let this incident ruin my day and so I set off for home taking a route along the uplands of the South Downs. As I indicated earlier in this part of the county there was still evidence of the heavy snow that had fallen earlier - even to the point that once or twice I wondered if it was a good idea to be on a particular road.

There remained one last stop on the way home and that was at Sullington. I've written in the past about a previous visit here in an attempt to try and solve the mystery of why the name "Chantry" appears in so many local place names. Since my previous visit I've received information for other sources that there was indeed a Chantry Chapel in the parish church in the middle ages. So I went for another look, this time armed with the new information.

But this is really a subject deserving a blog entry of its own and therefore one that I will do another time. But for this day it had been, in spites of its ups and downs an interesting one and hopefully one that I'd learnt a bit from.

Thank you for reading this

Susan XXX

Monday, 18 March 2013

New Year Outings

After my visit to Somerset at the beginning of December, there followed a period when I didn't get out at all. The onset of colder days, poorer weather and of course the family demands of the festive season all combined to reduce the opportunities available. In addition to this, one aspect of my TG social life firmly ran into a brick wall. I don't intend to write about this at the present time, but it did have a definite effect on my attitude to the social side of being a trans woman.

Before I knew where I was, it was the end of January 2013 and I realised that I hadn't stepped out of the house as Susan for over six weeks. So, it was time to do something about it.

Windswept in Rochester

Return to Rochester

In August 2012 I had passed through Rochester whilst in that part of Kent and had hoped to stop and visit the cathedral. However, being the height of the summer (and with weather to match) parking proved to be impossible. So now, in mid-winter I decided to try again.  This time  I was in luck, at least as far as parking was concerned as the number of tourists was what you'd expect in mid-winter. The trouble was the weather matched the time of year too.

Having parked the car and paid for a ticket I was just making my way towards the town centre when the heavens opened. So it was back to the car to change into my boots. Quite how these were going to help may not be immediately clear, but one thing you discover quickly when going out in a dress or a skirt is how much you are aware of rain on your legs.

So now booted, I headed off towards the town centre again and the historic cathedral. The first port of call was the cathedral refectory for a much needed coffee. Then it was on into the cathedral proper. Rochester is one of those places that has resisted imposing entrance fees. Of course those fees are there to help towards the upkeep of these ancient buildings and I often wonder if free admission encourages greater generosity when it comes to making a voluntary donation.

Down in the Crypt
The cathedral itself dates from the 7th century although the current building was started in the late 11th. The overall impression I got was how small it is in comparison with other medieval cathedrals I've been to. This is not in any way to detract from Rochester. It's size and proportions give it a warm feeling that is perhaps absent in larger buildings.

I enjoyed my visit and was treated well at all times. After leaving a had a short stroll along the high street before heading back to the car. My next stop was an out of town shopping centre at Sittingbourne, where I wanted to visit BHS & M&S. I didn't get what I wanted at M&S but the visit to BHS was successful. Afterwards I had a steady drive back across Kent in what had turned out to be a rare sunny day and for me the prefect first outing of the year.

Down to the Seaside

A week after my trip to Rochester I was out again. I try to get at least one femme day out each week, although circumstances (and weather) don't always make it possible. As is often the case at this time of the year I initially found it difficult to come up with a destination, which is a pity as I think on these occasions it's always a good idea to have a plan for the day when you leave the house. Another problem I had to contend with was a bad pain in my left knee which had started the night before. It was an old injury that had cropped up and if I'd had any sense I would have cancelled my day out. But I wasn't going to let that happen.

So eventually I decided on Shoreham-by-Sea in West Sussex. Shoreham is an ancient settlement at the mouth of the River Adur on the English Channel coast of West Sussex. The original settlement can be traced back to pre-roman times although the name is of Old English origins and the current layout and situation owe much to the Normans. The mouth of the River Adur has altered much over the centuries, largely due to Long Shore Drift.

This has resulted in a huge shingle bank about four miles in length just off the shore. The river now flows out through the haven created by this beach and enters the sea through a modern channel about mid-way along the beach. The eastern arm of this haven is a heavily industrialised port whilst the western arm is quieter and leads up river. One result of this geography is that the river as gradually silted up over the years which has resulted in the town being moved about one mile nearer to the sea. These two settlements became known as Old & New Shoreham, although nowadays they form one large town.

The two Shorehams  each have their own ancient parish churches although both are very old and one of the reasons for my trip was to visit them. But the town has some modern attractions too and one of these is one of the largest branches of Marks and Spencer in the area at a retail park on the edge of the town. So I could hardly visit the area without taking in a bit of shopping there. There were plenty of fabulous items in store but in the end all I bought was a pair of knickers (vital, but nice all the same).

New Shoreham Church
Then it was on into the town proper and after parking I made my way to the New Shoreham parish church. I'd just about reached it when I realised that my camera had been left in the car, so back I had to go. That sorted out, I returned to the church for a look around. The church you can see today is in fact the remaining half of what was originally a much larger building. The church used to have a large nave at the west end, but this fell into disuse in medieval times leaving the east end as the parish church. Why such a huge building was provided for a relatively small community is not clear, but some think the original intention was to establish a priory on the site. But this never happened.

Sadly for the modern casual visitor very little of the church is accessible as most of it is closed off behind railings and a gate. If you really wanted access to the whole building then there was a phone number to call, but otherwise you are restricted to a small area near to the entrance. No doubt this is a sign of the times we live in.

The Entrance to Shoreham Harbour
After the church  I had a wander through the town down to the waterfront, where I enjoyed just sitting in the sunshine for while. On the way back I took in a second-hand bookshop as well as some charity shops. Then it was back to the car and on to Old Shoreham. The church is located in what is now a quiet residential part of the town and thankfully there was full access to the building.

It's a smaller and indeed darker place but as is always the case there is an overwhelming sense of history in the stones, Parish churches may not have the splendour and size of a cathedral. but I always feel myself thinking about the countless generations that have used the building and stood in the same place as me.

The final port of call (terrible pun) was the entrance to Shoreham Harbour on Shoreham Beach. As I mentioned earlier, the harbour is formed from a huge shingle beach which has been cut in two by the river/harbour entrance. The western arm of this beach is called Shoreham Beach and is the site of a large residential area. Most of the housing is relatively recent and if you went back 100 years the place would have been very wild and undeveloped. Facing the sea on this western arm is Shoreham Fort, which dates from the period of concern about the French in the 1850's. Today the seaward defence wall remains and the site has an enthusiastic group of volunteers who care for it.

So, that was about it for my day out. All that remained was a steady drive back home. By this time my knee was really painful and was soon to result in a visit to the doctor. The worse part was that along with some pretty dodgy weather, it would keep me from going out for a few weeks.

More to come later, but thank you for reading this.

Susan XXX

Wednesday, 13 March 2013

Christmas Shopping in Somerset


Heading Down

At the end of my holiday in Cornwall with Lucy and Mandy (please see my earlier blogs) we talked about when we would see each other next. It's a matter of regret that we live so far apart and meetings have to be planned and organised. I suggested that a trip to Somerset for some "Christmas Shopping" would be a good idea and tentatively arranged it for the beginning of December.

So, the last day of November found me heading West once more for a long weekend with Lucy and Mandy. As it happened, the day of my arrival coincided with an important appointment in Taunton for Lucy and the awkward matter of getting her car to the garage to get the clutch fixed. How she got it there without a clutch is worthy of a blog entry of its own and I'm sure she has described the episode fully elsewhere.

The journey down to Taunton was an easy one and I arrived almost at the same time as Lucy and Mandy returned, with the car and a working clutch. After greetings, we were soon heading off into the town centre as I'd promised to take Mandy around the shops in order to get her Christmas presents for Lucy. During this time, Lucy was obliged to remain in her favourite coffee establishment chatting to a friend. The shopping trip was successful and after collecting Lucy we headed back home.

By this point it was time for me to book into my hotel and to be honest I was approaching it with a degree of apprehension. Although I've stayed in hotels before and come and gone in my female identity, this was to be the first time I'd actually booked in as a woman. It was all the more nerve tingling as I'd stayed in the same hotel a few months before, but then I'd booked in as a man, (even though I'd spent most of the time there coming and going as a woman).

However, there were no problems and the young man on reception was very nice, even calling me Susan. After the day's exertions it was great to relax for a while. I took the opportunity to repair my makeup and change into a dress for the evening before heading back to Lucy and Mandy's for an evening meal.

A Trip to the Seaside

Les Trois Dames en Rouge
We'd discussed at length how to spend the weekend and it had been agreed that the Sunday would be spent shopping in Taunton. So for the Saturday we'd settled on a trip to the seaside and had decided to visit Weymouth. The day dawned bright, but very cold with a heavy frost. As I stood in the hotel car park scraping the car windows, it occurred to me that this was another first for me as a woman - although one I would rather have done without.

By the time we headed into Dorset a fairly heavy and patchy fog had descended, but fortunately it didn't affect the coast. The weather in Weymouth was bright sunshine, although on the chilly side. We spent most of the morning touring the town centre, as well as taking in a coffee stop. The town was one of the venues for 2012 Olympic Games, staging the sailing events for both the Main and Paralympic Games. It was rather a shame, therefore, that we felt an air of the town centre being a little run-down. This is something that affects so many British coastal resorts these days so it can only be hoped that the town will gain some long-term benefits from the events of the summer.
Observing the Scene

Following lunch in the town we headed for the sea front to take in the sea air and enjoy the December sunshine. We had quite a stroll, taking in the main promenade and then out to the pier and harbour. Of course most of the paraphernalia of the Olympics had gone by this time. In fact all we saw was a rather sad and dilapidated piece of sand sculpture that was in the final stages of falling apart.

Soon it was time to head back to the car park, but not before a brief walk out to Radipole Lake, which is an extensive local nature reserve. Lucy decided that she wanted a photo of herself with the local aquatic bird life.

Then it was back to Taunton, via a Dorchester supermarket to pick up supplies. Once back in Taunton we enjoyed a fish and chip meal from the local chippy and as ever it was delicious.

Sunday in the Town Centre

Christmas in Taunton
We'd always planned that the Sunday would be close to home with a shopping trip to Taunton town centre. As is the usual practice, we walked into town along the side of the River Tone. Over the course of a very wet 2012 this river had seen an awful lot of water pass through it and only a week before my visit it had been seriously high. By now it had dropped to a safer level although by no means back to normal. In quite a few places there were signs of the debris that had been washed down in the most recent heavy rains.

The shopping in the town was as enjoyable as ever although we all agreed that it was far busier than normal for a Sunday. But given that Christmas was only three weeks away it wasn't really surprising. I picked up a lovely houndstooth pencil skirt in Debenhams and at a reduced price too. I was also after a particular dress from Bonmarche which I wanted for a forthcoming Christmas party. They had the dress, but in dark maroon instead of the black that I wanted, so I decided to wait and try again nearer to home.

Look - No Water!
We had a lovely lunch lunch in The Coal Orchard, one of the towns pubs where we received a friendly service. Heading back home, we went via Vivary Park, the town's main park which had just reopened after the latest bout of flooding. The flooding on this occasion had been so bad that the BBC had been using a photo of the flooded park gates as a backdrop to their apocalyptic weather bulletins. Thankfully by now the waters had receded and we were able to enjoy this lovely park once more.

After our stroll in the park we headed back home where we enjoyed a nice Sunday roast, courtesy of Lucy's dad. Then, sadly it was time once again to say goodbye to my lovely hosts for the last time in 2012. The year had been a very significant one for me in my progress as a woman and this had been very much down to the help and encouragement of these two lovely friends.

Heading Home

The journey home on the Monday was uneventful and I made good time. So I decided to stop at Basingstoke and see if their branch of Bonmarche had the dress I wanted. Although I drive past the town often when heading to and from the West Country, it must be nearly 30 years since I'd actually been into the town centre. Even if things hadn't changed over the years it was going to be pointless relying on my memory to find my way to a suitable car park. So I was at the mercy of the local road signs and after what seemed like a lot of roundabouts I ended up in a car park, although I had no idea how close to the shops it was, let alone Bonmarche.

So, I was very surprised to find it was not only the main shopper's car park, but Bonmarche was one of the first shops I saw when I emerged into the daylight. There, though, my luck ran out. Once again they had the dress, but not in the black as I wanted. Once again I decided to try elsewhere. For 11.00 am on a Monday I found the town centre very busy. But of course it was the Christmas rush still having its effect. By then I felt I'd had my ration of shopping for a while and decided to head on home.

For the record I tried again near to home but again couldn't get the black dress, so I ended up with the dark maroon dress that I could have got in Taunton. To make matters worse the party I had bought it for turned out to be a very unfortunate episode and consequently it was only worn for a short period. It's still in the wardrobe awaiting a suitable occasion.

So, that was my Christmas Shopping Weekend in Somerset, and a very enjoyable time I had, thanks to my hosts.

Thank you for reading this.

Susan XXX

Monday, 11 March 2013

What's Been Happening?

Oh dear, things have got a bit behind lately. After writing up my blog for the Cornish holiday I concentrated on completing the "Leaving the Closet Behind" series, and with my speed of output that took until January of this year. Since then things have been in the doldrums in several ways and so I've let the blog keeping slip. So it's time to give a brief overview of what I've been up to.

So, what has been happening?

Winchester and Portsmouth with Amanda

A couple of weeks after coming back from Cornwall I received a message from Amanda Parnell asking me if I'd like to meet up in Winchester. Naturally I said yes and we agreed to meet outside Winchester Cathedral on Saturday morning. Unfortunately the cathedral was closed to visitors that morning so we had to change our plans for the day.

The Round Table in The Great Hall, Winchester
Amanda had a parcel to post so we wandered through the shops to the post office and then visited the castle great hall and attached museum. The most striking feature of the Great Hall is of course the Round Table. Once reputed to be "The" round table of King Arthur, it has in fact been dated to the 13th century with the decoration having been added in Tudor times. Whatever its pedigree, it is a most impressive piece of furniture. The museum houses a collection of documents, photographs and maps charting the city's history.

Following our visit to the castle Amanda suggested driving to Portsmouth to visit that city's cathedral. This is a different one from the usual English Gothic buildings that feature in our photographs. In fact I'd say it is one of the most unusual Anglican Cathedrals I've yet visited. The diocese of Portsmouth was created in 1927 and rather than build a new cathedral from scratch, it was decided to adapt and extend an existing church whose origins can be traced back to the 12th century. Like so many such projects in recent years, the work was suspended in 1940 on account of the war and didn't restart until 1990 with consecration taking place the following year.

Portsmouth Cathedral in the Sunshine
With much of the extension carried out in the Byzantine style, the building is a curious mixture of differing architectural styles. But like so many compromises, it seems to work well. Contained with the cathedral is the burial place of one of the members of the crew of the "Mary Rose". There is also a memorial to Admiral Bertram Ramsay, who was the mastermind of the Dunkirk evacuation in 1940 but sadly lost his life just before the end of the war.

After our tour of the cathedral we escaped a sudden downpour by heading to a local teashop. Afterwards with the return of some sunshine, Amanda shot a video for another of her mystery cities contests that she posts on her Flickr pages. All in all it was another great day and as ever Amanda was perfect company for a day out.

New Booties for Moi

Autumn Sunshine in Hampshire
Earlier in the summer I'd made a first visit to Tall girls in Alton, Hampshire. I'd been very pleased with my purchases and with the winter stocks now in I decided to make a return visit to buy some boots for the winter.

As before, I stopped on the way in Alton town centre for a spot of shopping. Unlike my previous visit it wasn't a hot sunny day, but it was still pleasant to wander around the shops and take in a coffee.

The visit to Tall Girls was fairly brief but very successful. I quickly found a pair of knee boots that fitted perfectly and also a nice pair of ankle boots. Once again I was delighted with the friendly service at Tall Girls and wouldn't hesitate in recommending them to anyone with a need for larger sizes.

With time to spare I stopped on the way home to take a few photos in the autumn sunshine.

Michelham Priory and Beachy Head

New Booties at Michelham Priory
Michelham Priory is an old Tudor manor house in East Sussex, built on the site of an old Augustine priory. It's somewhere I'd planned to visit for some time and keen to try out my new boots I decided it was time to go there. There's not a lot to add really other than to say I thoroughly enjoyed my visit and the new boots worked a treat.

I was blessed with some lovely late autumn sunshine so I spent a while wandering around the extensive grounds, as well as having a nice coffee in the cafeteria. The only down side to the visit was the fact that the gift shop wasn't open. A shame really but then there's always possibility of another visit at a later date.

After leaving Michelham Priory I took full advantage of the good weather and headed down to Beachy Head on the East Sussex coast. I had long been trying to get a photo of myself with the nearby lighthouse as a backdrop. Unfortunately the weather always seemed to be against me.

Beachy Head - and New Boots

This day however it was on my side and I finally got the shot I was after. It was taken by the side of the approach track to the old lighthouse at Belle Tout. This was the original Lighthouse at Beachy Head but being on top of the cliffs it was often obscured by fog. So in 1902 is was discontinued and replaced by the structure in this photo.

After the photos I spent some time wandering around the area and taking in some rare sunshine.

After this day my next outing would be a trip to Somerset to visit Lucy and Mandy for some "Christmas Shopping". Well, that was the excuse - if an excuse were needed.

More to come, but thank you for reading this.

Susan XXX