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The Last Post

  

Today is my thirty-seventh birthday and the first anniversary of my residency in England; it’s also my final post for this blog.

Right from the start, I’d always intended for Bean Love to be a year long project, so I’m really happy to have gone the distance with it, even if I did go a little off topic a lot of the time.   

Back in the summer of 2014, when I decided to chronicle my house move from Renfrew’s concrete jungle to Sudbury’s soporific pastures, I knew that I would also be embarking on an intense psychological journey that would not only catapult me, as a disabled person, into a greater state of independence, but it would push me to diversify my writing even further as well as making or breaking my relationship with Antonia. I wanted to record my journey in a way that I could share it with people back home who I was unlikely to see for a while, which is why I chose to make the blog public. I’d also just finished reading Alison Bechdel’s ‘The Complete Dykes To Watch Out For’, and it reminded me of some of my friends and what I call the ‘Bean Scene’, and I was tickled by the idea of writing about queer culture and the way we gay ladies often perpetuate lesbian stereotypes ourselves.

Antonia, the wee delicate flower that she is (or was) said that moving to Glasgow was a ‘culture shock’ for her: she’d never before been exposed to the grittiness of West Coast living, nor had she encountered off-licenses with electronically-tagged Buckfast bottles; she’d also never heard anyone refer to their friend as a ‘cunt’ by way of friendly greeting and, as a result, she gained a whole new vocabulary in the three and a half years she spent there.

But was it a culture shock for me? Well, yes and no.

Sudbury is different from both Renfrew and Glasgow in lots of subtle ways: for instance, a garden here is not a garden unless it is at least half an acre, and most people talk ‘proper’ English and can’t understand half of what I say; there aren’t many buses in Sudbury either, because not many people need to use the bus – Antonia says most folk in this town wouldn’t even consider having less than two cars per household and that her family (of six) once had half a dozen cars in the driveway, and that was when two of them couldn’t even drive. Then there’s the ladies at the tennis club, who were terribly offended by the whole Scottish independence thing because they couldn’t understand why ‘but why?!’ Scottish people wouldn’t want to be in the United Kingdom. Of course, everyone is Sudbury is perfectly polite and nice to me – at least to my face – and on one of the two occasions I’ve heard someone shouting in the street here, one of the culprits sounded like they were from Govan.

Much like Renfrew, there’s not a big bean scene in Sudbury, nor is there a vegan one. But I know we’re not the only queers or meat avoiders in the village because I’ve seen a few lady-couples tramping around town in their wellies and Barbour jackets; and after recently joining the Suffolk Vegan group on Facebook, I’ve discovered there are a few fellow herbivores hiding in plain sight in Gainsborough Street’s ‘Niche Café’ behind their super salads. There’s also not much going on in terms of literary events and networks; and after my own attempt to start up the ‘Breakfast Writers’ Club’ failed, I joined the over fifty-five’s group at the library (and so far no-one has complained that I’m nearly two decades too young).

If my recent trip back to Scotland has taught me one thing it’s this: I am incredibly lucky to have lived in a place that allowed me easy access to the various diverse communities that helped shape the person I am today; and this, in turn, has prompted me to think about going back more often, as well as making me want to put more effort into venturing out into London and some of the other East Anglian towns in search of my tribe.

Overall, I’m stepping up my game in the coming year: I’ve been invited to an interview in East Acton with prison arts organisation the Koestler Trust, and I’ve posted my application for an eleven-week course aimed advanced writers in Covent Garden; I’ve also just signed the lease on my apartment for another year. And whilst, this may be my last post on this blog, I’m not saying I’ll never blog again, nor am I saying this is the last you’ll hear of Bean Love… a wise friend recently suggested that I should consider rewriting it as a work of fiction… and, you know what, I just might do that…

Summer In Scotland

  
Last week, Antonia and I were back in Scotland; back visiting friends and family and old haunts.

We set off early Saturday morning with the intention of stopping for lunch at Hebden Bridge (the lesbian capital of the UK) but, due to traffic constraints and Antonia accidentally driving in the wrong direction, we fell four hours behind schedule and ended up in a motorway Marks n Spencer’s instead of a quaint wee vegetarian village café.  

The weather in England was practically tropical, but as soon as we hit Gretna Green there was a downpour – I was completely oblivious to this as I was busy reading aloud to Antonia, so I got some very strange looks when I stepped out of the car during our penultimate pee-n-tea stop wearing shorts and bright orange sunspecs. When we eventually arrived at Fiona’s house in Glasgow, she also commented on my attire; and when I told her I’d packed three pairs of shorts she replied: ‘You’re optimistic’.

The next day, I decided to wear jeans; and Antonia, Fiona, Sophie and I went to Ayr for a coastal drive via the nearest Tesco, where we picked up a box of vegan Cornettos to eat en route. Antonia’s plan was to do some ‘wombling’ on the beach but we stopped first at a local pub and she and Fiona became engrossed in watching Wimbledon. Sophie and I eventually got bored of making ‘Wombles of Wimbledon statements’, and watching them watching, so we went for a walk along the seafront. Later, we discovered that the vegetarian café we’d planned to visit was shut on Sundays, but we had a really great meal in the Chestnut hotel instead.

My dad’s birthday was on the Monday. Antonia and I went for another coastal drive around Wemyss Bay in the morning, and then at 2.30pm we took my dad to see the new Terminator film – I got very excited when Antonia pointed out Emilia Clarke from Game Of Thrones playing the new Sarah Connor; and although we thought she was very good, we both still prefer Lena Headey (Sarah Connor Chronicles, 2008-2009).

On Tuesday, Antonia dropped me off in the city centre and I went to Caffe Nero for a slushy drink (some habits die hard) and sat outside in Buchanan Street watching pigeons and street performers, whilst she went off to catch up with her old college cohorts. Afterwards, I met my friend Tracy in Paisley for lunch and we chatted and charity-shopped and I bought several second hand paperbacks to add to my ever-increasing must-read pile. Antonia drove out to get me later, and we joined my family for dinner at the Toby Carvery (which is surprisingly vegan-friendly). We ended the night by going to Ikea to look for another bookcase for me before stopping off at Tesco again on the way back to Fiona’s to get yet more vegan cornettos.

On Wednesday, I met my crime-writer friend Elaine for coffee and we moaned about books and our writing and our mad families. It was great to see her, after a year of missing our Waterstones meet-ups, and I was so engrossed in conversation that I had to sprint down Buchanan Street to make it in time for lunch with my poet-friend Nicola. It turned out that Nicola was running late too, but I ran into Michael, another writer-friend, and it was nice to see him and be able to chat about books and his writing while I waited. Nicola and I both ordered seitan burgers when she arrived, and we also talked about books and our writing and our mad families. Afterwards, I went to my parents’ and my mum told me all the same stories she’d told me the night before, and as I was leaving asked if I’d heard about her neighbour – the one with the two sticks who can hardly walk – absconding from the hospital while she was in to get an operation. Somehow, my mum had managed to miss out this crucial bit of gossip which involved a door-to-door police search in the early hours of the morning and a sixty-something woman in a medical gown!

On our last day in Glasgow, I went shopping and was accosted on Buchanan Street by a middle-aged man who asked if I could give him fifty pence. I told him that I had no money, to which he replied: ‘Welcome to my life, I wake up with no money.’ I then told him I was on benefits, thinking this would get rid of him. It didn’t. He proceeded to follow me around town asking various questions about which benefits I was a recipient of and at what rate, as well as giving me a detailed financial breakdown of what he received. It took me almost an hour to detach myself from him and not before he insisted that I shake his hand.

 I then went to meet my friend, Jane, another writer who recently had her debut novel published. Over lunch, we talked about books and our writing and she convinced me to think again about rewriting my novel King Street – the problem novel I first drafted about eight years ago – with a crime fiction slant, but to perhaps to start it again without looking back at my previous material.

Later, I went out to dinner with Sophie, Fiona and Antonia in Saramago and I retold them what had happened to me with the beggar in Buchanan Street. As they sat sniggering, I wondered if there was any scope for turning him, and my mum’s hospital absconding neighbour, into fictional characters.

On Friday, during the drive home I got an email to say that an extract of King Street was to be published in issue nine of Glitterwolf magazine. Obviously, I am very pleased about this: knowing that my work has found an audience makes toiling over the manuscript worthwhile; however, I am still trying to decide whether to call it quits with King Street (after all I have had three published short stories out of the idea) or whether to take a long and winding road to writing draft five from scratch.

Orange Is The New Specs

  

Yesterday, during a quick trip to Colchester, my hay fever got so bad that I had to invest in a pair of protective goggles. I did look a bit silly, mostly because they were florescent orange – and I definitely was not rocking the librarian-chic-look inspired by prison drama star Laura Prepon – but it was necessary because I was on the verge of committing murder as Antonia dragged me snuffling and wheezing around a DIY store; because the last thing a person wants to hear when they are contemplating gouging their own eyeballs out, is their stanley-knife-wielding other half telling them in a high-pitched wee know-it-all voice: ‘Don’t rub them, henny, or you’ll just make it worse!’

Over the last decade, I’ve tried a multitude of different medicines and countermeasures to curb my itching and sniffing and sneezing, including over-the-counter anti-histamines (liquid-form but not tablets because the pills always have lactose in them), flower remedies and edible flowers, eye washes and nasal washes, homeopathic treatments, herbals teas and even a good old-fashioned salt pipe. However, nothing seems to work. Or if it does, there’s usually a nasty side effect which is just as bad, if not worse, than the actual hay fever.    

For instance, almost all the pharmacy-bought medicines make me drowsy – even the children’s and the non-drowsy ones – I know I’m a bit of a unique case because these side effects are aggravated by the petit mal seizures and associated neurological problems I’ve experienced ever since my brain injury twenty-two years ago (https://beanloveblog.wordpress.com/about-me/)and I have been known to start drifting off to sleep at the dinner table shortly after taking them and on a couple of times I’ve actually slipped off my chair altogether. On one occasion, I also ended up at A+E with a swollen eyeball because I had an allergic reaction to a cucumber slice I placed on my eyelid for a few seconds – oddly enough, I have no problems eating cucumber. The salt pipe did slightly alleviate the problems I had with my sinuses, and I might well have persevered with it had it not been for Antonia pointing out that I had started to produce a very unpleasant salty aroma every-time I sneezed. And then there’s nettle tea: a recent article in  http://www.veganlifemag.com cited this as a good natural remedy, and they were absolutely spot on: it cleared up my hay fever symptoms completely within twenty-four hours. However, it also made me pee non-stop (it’s a strong diuretic), kept me awake and agitated and fidgety for nearly forty-eight hours; and caused me to have such a bad allergic reaction that a health professional described me as ‘looking like I was on ecstasy’.   

I later discovered that nettle isn’t suitable for everyone: pregnant and lactating women should avoid it, as should young children, anyone who suffers from epilepsy or has neurological problems (although I’ve also read contradictory information which says nettle can aid certain neurological conditions); and if you’re diabetic it’s best to consult your GP first because it can affect blood sugar levels.

My GP sent me to the hospital for allergy testing a couple of years ago because my hay fever symptoms were so severe (and persisted from February through to November) that he wanted to make sure I wasn’t suffering from some other ailment. Unsurprisingly, the results showed that I was allergic to grass pollen, four different types of tree pollen (I now wish I’d asked which ones) and dust mites. The consultant gave me a sheet of paper with instructions on how to manage my condition. It said something along the lines of: ‘Don’t go out in the morning. Don’t go out in the evening. Don’t hang your laundry outdoors. And take coastal holidays.’ As I was leaving, she added: ‘Obviously, if that advice doesn’t suit then just ignore it.’

  
Currently, I am taking a cocktail of Vogel’s flower remedies: Luffa Complex (drops), Pollinosan (nasal spray) and Eye Bright (drops). I had some itch-relief between two pm and three thirty today and almost felt normal, but now my symptoms appear to be coming back with a vengeance. If this continues I might have to take more than a coastal holiday – I might have to move to a seaside town. I suppose there is always Brighton: it’s very vegan and very gay and Ruby Rose (Stella from ‘Orange Is The New Black’) is appearing at this year’s Brighton Pride, which conveniently takes place on my birthday.

Funnily enough, last year, when I was working in the jail, one of the prisoners told me that there had been an inside clamp down on anti-histamines because they were being sold illegally. I was completely confused by this as I couldn’t work out why anyone would want to take them if they didn’t have an allergy. The answer: they give you a good night’s sleep.

I am now starting to think that a few weeks in the hoosegow away from all the evil pollen wouldn’t be such a bad option for me: I could stay indoors and yet still toddle along to the dinner hall and the library and the gym… and I’m sure it would inspire some interesting pieces of writing…

Confection Perfection

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‘If a confection company produced the perfect candy bar, what would it contain?’

I posed this question to Antonia and her friend, Sarah, when we were sitting outside ‘The Cabin’ (http://cabininthepark.com/today whilst drinking our soya coffees. Sarah said she wished there was a vegan banoffee bar, whilst Antonia misunderstood what I’d said and began listing all the various chocolate bars she’d previously eaten before giving up dairy, right before we descended into a debate about whether or not there had ever existed such a thing as a ‘Peanut Boost’ and what exactly was in a ‘Star Bar’.

Personally, I’ve always preferred savoury to sweet things and crisps and nuts to chocolate and candy (although I did once make the mistake of trying chocolate-flavoured crisps during the early nineties, and in my opinion they were truly, truly vile); but back when I still consumed animal products, I was partial to the occasional ‘Cadbury’s Fruit ‘N’ Nut Bar’ – although to be honest, it was cartoon advert with the wee jingle that I liked best about it: it went something along the lines of ‘everyone’s a fruit and nut case’ and has been stuck in my head ever since; the other thing I remember trying around the same time period (summer of 1993) was a dairy milk block of chocolate that I’m sure had strawberry yoghurt in it and may have been called something like ‘Silk’ or ‘Satin’. Nowadays, I wouldn’t thank you for a rice milk alternative to either of these things; and with the exception of the legendary ‘Vego’ bar and ‘Go Max Go’s vegan version of a ‘Snicker’ aka ‘Jokerz’, I generally avoid sweeties that arent high in cocoa and low on sugar, whilst my super sweet-toothed girlfriend can mow through ‘Moo-Free’ snacks and ‘Mini Moos’ like they are going out of fashion.

I like Booja Booja’s products, for instance their ‘Hunky Punky’ chocolate icecream which contains simply water, agave syrup, cashew nuts and cocoa; and today I finished my second box of Booja Booja luxury truffles since Easter. I think it’s fair to say that if Booja Booja brought out a fist-sized cherry cognac truffle-bar then there’s a chance I’d be a little bit fat. However, being the fitness freak I am, my favourite candy bar would have to be something that contained some combination of superfoods and several different seeds as well as having a fruity middle and a rich dark-chocolatey topping to pique my taste buds. I’ve pretty much described the box of ‘9 Bar Indulges’ that I won a couple of months ago from ‘Vegan Life’ magazine, the same luxury cereal bars I devoured within days of opening and then couldn’t find anywhere in the shops.

I asked Antonia again what her perfect candy bar would be and the conversation went something like this:

Me: Ok, so you can have any kind of candy bar you like.

Antonia: Emmm… I don’t know… A vegan Lion Bar…

Me: Seriously… you could have anything in the world, any ingredient, and that’s what you choose?

Antonia: Uhh, well, I don’t know, a Toffee crisp then…

Me: (sighing) Use your imagination, hen, if you could invent your own sweetie what would it have in it?

Antonia: Oh, well, (she grins and I can almost see a wee lightbulb switching on above her head) I would have rice milk chocolate on a waifter (pause) no, wait, a caramel waifer… plus a layer of that squidgy chocolate stuff that’s in the Boost …obviously it would have to be vegan… and those wee chewy bits you get on the outside of a Toblerone… I think they might be nougat… I would like those on the top … and I want lots of them…

Me: So you don’t want much then.

Later, I googled ‘Peanut Boost’ and ‘Star Bar’ and discovered they were the same thing. Apparently, the Star Bar preceded the Peanut Boost but it was taken off the market and then rebranded, only to later be taken off the market and renamed Starbar once again. I can’t even remember what either of them look or taste like so they couldn’t have been that good.

Divergent

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Last night, Antonia and I went to the cinema in Braintree to see ‘Insurgent’, the second film in the ‘Divergent’ series, which is based on Veronica Roth’s trio of sci-fi novels aimed at young adults.

Set in the futuristic dystopian city of Chicago where society has been divided into five factions (Abnegation, Dauntless, Candor, Erudite and Amity) determined by personality type, the Divergent books follow the story of Tris Prior, an Abnegation-born sixteen-year-old who defects from her faction after discovering during an aptitude test that she possesses rogue ‘Divergent’ traits that make her an apparent threat to her closely-controlled civilisation.

I was very excited by the first ‘Divergent’ book. It was my favourite in the trilogy, although part one of the film adaptation was pretty nail-biting stuff and part two (in mine and Antonia’s joint opinion) was even better. Both book and film were fast-paced and slightly furious, and I identified heavily with the feelings of guilt and anxiety that Tris experienced when she was faced with the choice of leaving her family in order to find her true identity or stay with them out of a sense of misplaced loyalty and duty. I know it’s a rite of passage that most people go through during adolescence, but it was particularly poignant for me because even though I left my parents home nearly seven years ago, having a brain injury has meant having to do things much later in life and I only truly left their guardianship eight months ago. We thought Shailene Woodley was particularly brilliant as the somewhat volatile Tris Prior, and I thought Naomi Watts as the leader of the factionless was, well, rather hot… but I don’t want to say too much and spoil it for anyone who hasn’t seen or read the first installment yet…

Antonia and I have been having a running joke recently about what would happen if we were suddenly transported into the pages of one of Roth’s books. Having read all of them (apart from ‘Four’ which is a recently released companion book of short stories) just weeks previous to our movie outing, we are both well-endowed with the knowledge of customs, beliefs and dietary restrictions of each faction. I personally fancied myself as an Erudite initiate – not because they are the most intelligent but purely so I could spend all my time reading, writing and learning about new things. I’m certainly not noble enough to join Abnegation who value self-sacrifice over any other quality; and as much as I value honesty, I could never deliberately ride roughshod over someone else’s toes just to tell my version of the truth, so Candor wouldn’t be suit me either; Dauntless is out too because their whole idea of jumping off moving trains and buildings just for fun seems like a scary prospect (Antonia said it’s also because I’m what the Dauntless-born call a ‘pansy-cake’). To me, Erudite seemed like the perfect place because I could just sit there and google things on the internet. However I realised that I probably wouldn’t pass the IQ test, and if I did I’d be laughed out of the place for being vegan because the Erudite aren’t particularly compassionate.

In the end, I decided the most appropriate faction for me would be Amity. Being the most peaceful, tolerant and friendly lot I’m sure they’d have no problem with my vegan ethics, and I could be perfectly happy living on their eco-farm ploughing the land and planting seeds… and reading my books. Antonia the bleeding heart said she’d go with Abnegation. This is typical coming from the person who once told me her mission in life was ‘to serve’. But she then went on to say that she thought she’d be a Divergent – of course, in my opinion that’s because she always has to be the best at bloody everything!

I’m looking forward to seeing the third film (‘Allegiant’) even though I wasn’t happy with the ending of the book. I’ve got at least another year before it is released though, so I suppose now I’ll have to go and read Roth’s short stories now – either that or start ‘The Hunger Games’.

London Vegan Adventurers

Today, Antonia and I went off on a vegan adventure in London. I suppose you could argue that all our adventures are vegan ones because we are vegans and have been for years, but in this instance we did specifically go in search of previously untried plant-based products and unconquered veggie establishments.

We ended up in Bethnal Green, a part of London I’d never visited. In a cheery wee charity-run coffee-shop called ‘The Gallery Café’ (http://www.stmargaretshouse.org.uk/thegallerycafe/). I was excited to find this place because it had been recommended to me by a chap I’d met last January in ‘Inspiral’ (a vegan café in Camden which overlooks the canal) who told me that it was his favourite food venue in London. And, after sampling the food and the atmosphere, it wasn’t hard to understand why. Between us we ordered a full English breakfast (which was comprised of veggie sausages, beans, mushrooms, toasted sourdough bread and a generous helping of scrambled tofu) and a cheesy, garlicky potato bake with salad. We did our usual eat-half-then-swap-plates, although I ate about three quarters of the food because it was so tasty, and because Antonia has been ill recently and it’s stunted her appetite.

Afterwards, Antonia went to an art exhibition in Whitechapel, and I waddled a few metres along the road to the Museum Of Childhood. I had a really good time looking at all the vintage kids’ games and toys, especially the He-Man figures and the Carebears and the old-fashioned super hero comics. However, I was mildly disturbed by the 1960s stuffed koala bear toy which was a dead-ringer for the koala my mum has had since childhood. According to the placard in the MOC, it was made from kangaroo skin – and I don’t know why this should offend me more than the leather seat of an 80s chopper bike or the many happy plastic farm animals on display, but for some reason it did; and I know I’ll never be able to run my fingers across the fur of mum’s koala toy ever again.

Later, we reconvened and went to Kensington on an egg hunt. I like Hotel Chocolat (because they’ve always catered well for vegans) and I’d heard they had some original Easter goodies. However, the only seasonal dairy-free delicacy I could find was a dark chocolate ‘egg sandwich’, and I couldn’t separate that in my mind from real egg-salad sandwiches. So we sampled a couple of their hot chocolates instead and went along the road to Wholefoods. And despite there being a much wider variety of cruelty-free eggs in this shop, I emerged from the chocolate aisle with a box of Rhubarb and vanilla Booja Booja truffles (and a packet of chicken soup flavoured ‘Ten Acre’ crisps) and Antonia picked a giant Vego bar, some jelly sweets and a bag of marshmallows for her Easter treat.

(We did get some normal foodstuff as well… fat green olives, dairy free almond-cheese spread, veggie haggis… thinking about it is making me salivate so I’ll say no more…)

On the car ride home, I began compiling a list of all the vegetarian and vegan places we’ve ever been to for my new up-and-coming blog page ‘Bean There’ (it was Antonia’s idea), along with a mental plan of where I’m going for my next London Vegan Adventure.

Self-Love-Hate

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Yesterday I created a collage out of a pile of old ‘Diva’* magazines. I’ve called it ‘Self-Love-Hate’ because it mirrors the way I often feel about myself and my writing. It also represents the shifting internal homophobia that many lesbian women experience throughout different points in their lives.

I got the idea from Julia Cameron’s ‘Vein Of Gold: A Journey To Your Creative Heart’, which is a companion volume to her acclaimed self-help manual,‘The Artist’s Way’. First published in 1996, Cameron describes VOG as ‘a pilgrimage’, ‘a journey of healing’ and ‘a prescription for artful living’, and it includes advice on how to combat creative stumbling blocks as well as over a hundred inspiring and imaginative exercises which focus on ‘inner play’. (I have been working through this book for over five years now, and although it has produced several light bulb moments, I’ve sometimes found it to be a bit of a slog)

Anyway, yesterday’s cut-n-paste task appeared on page two-hundred-and-fifty-five in section six of the book which is entitled ‘The Kingdom Of The Relationship’ – the book is separated into seven sections each one dealing with a different aspect of creative restoration. Here, along with other recommendations on how to evade destructive interactions, it is suggested that you collage your most toxic creative relationship. This was initially a bit of a puzzle for me, because having read several of her other books I am more than familiar with her thoughts on how to eradicate the people she refers to as ‘crazy-makers’ and ‘creative monsters’; and I realised that after doing many of Cameron’s exercises (and attending one of her conferences in London last year) that I’ve successfully managed to ditch, diminish or diffuse all of the other negative influences in my life. So… the only person left was myself.

The thing is, I have had several small successes over the last few months: I’ve finally finished a collection of short stories and a novella, as well as receiving a hundred percent on four out of five of the assignments related to the distance learning crime fiction course I’ve been doing. But often these tiny wins are only enough to stave off doubts for a few hours or (if I’m lucky) days; and then I’m back to storming through the house like a tasmanian devil, threatening to destroy every word count and manuscript in my path. And I don’t know why I’m like this. Or when it started. (I suspect it’s been a gradual disintegration of confidence over the years that one day suddenly snowballed.) There’s no point speculating though. It only leads to procrastination and then frustration because I could have been using that wasted time to solve a plot-orientated issue.

It’s no surprise to me (or to Antonia who once received a rather risque Diva-inspired valentines collage from me) that my hotch-potch of clippings included naked ladies; there were also three pictures of Wentworth’s Nicole Da Silva (aka Frankie Doyle) alongside Orange Is The New Black’s Lea Delaria (Big Boo) and Laura Prepon (Alex). The word ‘queer’ appeared three times in different fonts as did the word ‘vegan’. The collage wasn’t intended to be a masterpiece. I simply cut things out willy nilly as I skimmed through the pages, so any subtexts that may have arisen are accidents. And in retrospect I think it’s far too cluttered, and I could have did without captions such as ‘study this’ and ‘I’m changing my name’ and ‘how to write pulp’. It was a worthwhile exercise though, and I enjoyed doing it. But I’m still waiting for the ‘clarity and relief’ that Cameron claimed came to her when she worked on this same theme.

I asked Antonia what she thought of my new magnum opus and how it fared in comparison to my previous collages. She simply shrugged and said: ‘I don’t know, hen, they all look the same to me.’

*Diva is popular UK magazine about lesbian life and style

Eclipse Of The Heart

Today is the first time since 11th August 1999 that the UK will see a solar eclipse. It is also the day that Antonia’s brother, Joshua, is getting married. On one hand, this wedding has been a bit of a whirlwind – Josh and Penny only got engaged at Christmas – but on the other it’s been a long time coming, considering that they’ve lived together for the last twenty-one months with their three and a half children (Lucy and Russell from Penny’s first marriage; baby Sebastian; and the one on the way), and were once, many years ago, childhood sweethearts. Of course, there were a couple of disasters at the eleventh hour: Penny falling and twisting her ankle last week on Friday the 13th; and then yesterday the mother, father and youngest sister of the bridegroom almost didn’t make it home in time from Fuerteventura after their plane was redirected… By the time this post is let loose in cyberspace, I’ll hopefully be in the Sudbury town hall watching the lovers tie the knot. This is only the second (full) wedding I’ve ever been invited to. The first was Sophie and Tracy’s seven and a half years ago, although we weren’t allowed to call it a wedding back then. I was one of two ‘best women’. If I ever have a wedding I’d like it to be a vegan one. Antonia agrees. I suppose it’s easy saying that when you have a vegan partner. But then I’ve talked to other vegan couples and they’ve said that they wanted a vegan wedding too but their families objected. When I say vegan wedding, I do just mean the food. Obviously, if I was going to wear a kilt then I’d want it to be a non-wooly one with a sporran that was made from something other than dead animal, but I certainly wouldn’t insist that all my guests had to be wearing faux leather apparel (unless I was paying for the outfits) because that would be a wee bit intolerant. I also wouldn’t say to my omnivrous or vegetarian friends ‘oh sorry, you had a cheese toastie yesterday so that means you cannae come’. Anyway, I may never get wed. And not just because of the vegan thing. Because even though it’s legal for gay couples to marry now in the UK, I still have my reservations. Mostly, I worry about disappointing my parents: a) because I’m never going to be that a traditional bride in a meringue (or any) dress; and b) because my mother has made it abundantly clear over the years that she would prefer it if I were to marry a man. So, of course, I worry about inviting my parents to the wedding. And I worry about not inviting them. I don’t know what would be worse: if my mother were to decline an invite, or for her to appear with her face tripping her all day long. And if I didn’t invite her, how could I invite my dad and my sister? I suppose we could always elope. But then I’d miss the wedding waltz and a golden opportunity to buy a snazzy new suit. I may not be one for traditional customs but I do like formal-wear; and I’ve always fancied myself in a crisp white morning suit with a matching waistcoat and tie… Anyway, this is supposed to be about Josh and Penny… I hope they both have a really wonderful day. I’m sure they will… unless Penny goes into early labour in the middle of the ceremony… but that would make for quite a good story!

Much Ado About Butchness

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The last time I ever wore a dress was around the end of 2001: it was at a ‘suit party’ in the Glasgow Women’s Library, and I decided to be contrary by getting my nails and make up done professionally as well as curling my hair before slipping into kitten heels and a sexy wee black number that I bought cut-price from ‘Jane Norman’ in the Braehead shopping centre. This was during a fashion-phase where it was socially acceptable for women in general (and not just lesbians) to wear neck-ties, and I had a different one for every Friday and Saturday night that I spent strutting around in Glasgow’s pink triangle.

I was reminded of my ridiculous dress-and-heels endeavour after going to ‘WOW’ (‘Women Of The World’) festival last weekend at London’s Southbank Centre to see ‘The Butch Monologues’, a play which celebrates female masculinity, written by Laura Bridgeman (‘Hot Pencil Press’) and performed by ‘The Drakes’, a collective who describe themselves as ‘dandies’, ‘rogues’ and ‘kings’, as well as ‘a gallus band of butches, transmen and gender rebels’. I had seen the advert for the performance a couple of weeks before it made it’s debut at last year’s South Bank Centre, and I was thoroughly disappointed when I missed it.

Because butch and transmasculine people are so under-represented by the mainstream media that we rarely get to hear their voices. In fact, the term ‘butch’, when being attributed to a female-bodied person by someone other than themself, is usually meant as a slur, and often used interchangeably with the word ‘ugly’; and even in modern lesbian-orientated TV programs and films do we rarely see realistic depictions of strong, dapper women who don’t wear skirts and buck the traditional typecast of what a female is supposed to look like.

TBM was well worth the wait though: autobiographical stories from real butch, transgender and non-binary-identified individuals were acted out in the spirit of Eve Ensler’s controversial show, ‘The Vagina Monologues’ ; and it proved to be a candid and somewhat hilarious performance about identity and desire which packed a powerful emotional punch. One of the things I particularly liked was the way the monologues were used to point out the fine line that often exists between butch lesbians and those who are on the transgender spectrum, and yet at the same time it was made abundantly clear that for many people those two identities are poles apart.

The show was also a sell-out, with many people being turned away at the door. Now, I have no idea what percentage of the audience was lesbian, bisexual, trans or queer; and – despite my pre-conceived notion that this would only attract a gaystream audience – it really did not matter. Bridgeman took a fairly niche market subject matter and recreated it to highlight universal themes which could appeal on different levels to anyone, regardless of their sexuality or gender expression. Because most of the population has had disappointments in love; and we’ve all been forced by our parents or our school or workplace at some point to wear clothes that we hated; and it’s a rare person who has not felt socially embarrassed or, equally, elated when we have been ogled or when someone has disclosed that they find us sexually attractive.

The biggest giggles in our row seemed to be sparked when each Drake, in turn, announced their character’s preferred brand of underwear. Antonia actually snorted and nudged me in the ribs at this point. Yes, it’s true, I am a wee bit particular about what I like to wear down there; and, yes, I did once buy twenty-one pairs of identical ladies’ Bench boxer shorts (nineteen black plus a grey and a white pair) – and you can snigger all you like.

Antonia challenged me to celebrate my inner butch by writing this post. She also dared me to get my hair cut short, but that’s not happening anytime soon. Who says you can’t be masculine and have long hair anyway?

Generating New Ideas And Interests

The other night, I dreamt that the red, retro, replica telephone-box-cum-display-cabinet that Antonia got me as a Valentine’s gift had turned into a tardis. I accepted this phenomenon with no question whatsoever and was very excited by the prospect of travelling Dr-Who-style through time and space. Antonia, on the other hand, wasn’t so interested: she said she was way too busy with her college work (although to me it looked like she was playing some kind of Tetris game on her new i-pad). It was only when I said ‘fine then, I’ll go on hoilday to Italy myself – I just need to get my shorts’ that I turned around to find her wearing a giant multicoloured sombrero and wheeling a suitcase behind her.

The dream was truncated immediately after that, because Antonia nudged me awake. I tried hard to get back to sleep so I could recapture it, but she was persistent about the whole it’s-morning-and-I-want-you-to-open-your-eyes-and-pay-me-some-attention-thing. In the end, I settled for watching robot Santas attack people in the series two episode one Christmas special whilst eating my breakfast in bed.

When I say series two, I mean series two of the ‘New Who’ which was spearheaded by Welsh TV producer and screenwriter, Russell T Davies (‘Queer As Folk’, ‘Cucumber’, ‘Banana’) in 2005, and featured Christopher Eccleston and David Tennant as the incarnations of doctors nine and ten respectively, as well as ex-teen-popstar Billie Piper as his travelling companion Rose Tyler.

Now, I had previously never watched the show (in fact I purposely avoided it because I assumed it would be all cringey special effects, bad acting and dodgy plots) and was completely oblivious to the fact that it celebrated it’s fiftieth anniversary in 2013; and it was only when I read Roy Gill’s (www.roygill.com) short story ‘Generations’ – a beautifully written account of two young gay men in 1992 who tentatively correspond then meet and bond over their shared love of sci-fi-adventure stories concerning a certain self-generating alien-humanoid who calls himself ‘the doctor’ – that my interest was piqued. (I also gained some interesting early-nineties IT knowledge regarding the DIY duplication of VHS video tapes thanks to the how-to guide which was cleverly woven through the narrative.)

Anyway, I’m glad I did tune in. Because apart from being able to ogle Billie Piper in action for several hours (I don’t feel guilty at all about lusting after someone who’s playing the part of a ninteen-year-old, not when it’s a decade old episode and I know she’s thirty-two-and-a-half in real life), I have to admit that I’m quite fascinated by films and TV programs about parallel worlds and time travel and as a result I’m finding Dr Who very very addictive. It also inspired me to revisit a story idea I had a couple of years ago about a teenager who discovers she has the ability to rewind time after sustaining a head injury.

I just asked Antonia the question: ‘If you were a timelord and the telephone box morphed into your tardis, where would you take me on an exciting date?’

Her reply: ‘Sorry, hen, I’m a really boring timelord – I’m happy where I am.’

To be fair, so am I, but I might be tempted to nip back to the eighties to pick up a few collectibles on the cheap…