Town Girl Lives in Countryside

A Jar of Strawberry Jam, the one with the seeds in and that tastes of Strawberries and not just dissolved sugar in red jelly, a bag of Granola with some red berries in that I couldn’t tell you what they were without looking on the packet and a jar of Olives. The ones with the pimento stuffed inside which look pretty but don’t really add any taste that’s totally disguised by the brine – and I only went in to get my debit card back which I’d stupidly left in the self service till; again.

If there was ever a good start to an Easter Bank Holiday Monday then I guess getting my card back from the supermarket was a good start, that and the blue sunny sky amongst a bit of hazy cloud and the fact that my legs had recovered from the long bike ride to the mountains the day before.

Riding up to the mountains was amazing. It was hot but I’d slathered on the sun cream and reapplied every few stops to catch my breath and avoidedt-shirt neckand permanent socks. The sky was an ultimate blue that just gave out happiness by looking at it and the breeze, when going down the downhills, just felt freeing. I’d picked a lightweight ice white t-shirt with cropped sleeves and the more comfortable and thinner pair of my three quarter length running trousers. I’d curiously thought for a moment, as I cycled, about what I was wearing. Had I grown too confident and should I be embarrassed. Seemed silly to think this given how long it had been since the last time I’d felt this way and how I generally didn’t care anymore, it had felt normal now, but I guess from time to time these thoughts will make a regressive come-back.

But I entertained the thought. The question was more along the lines of, “Why am I wearing these particular things today.” I didn’t think about the alternatives which would have probably been some baggy male long-shorts in drab colours and a rugged top of some kind; which I don’t own anyway. I suppose I was wondering what I was getting out of it. I mean why should I get anything out of itat all other than feeling comfortable and happy, and that was the first answer that came. The clothes were comfortable, they were right for the weather, with a hoodie tucked away in a bag just in case, they felt light which made me feel lighter and freer. Unrestricted physically and emotionally. Feminine for outdoor pursuits.

And that was the end of that. The thought came and was answered immediately and thoroughly and I was happy with that answer. It felt honest and authentic. That’s all I needed. I carried on.

Gravel pinged under the tyres of my bike as stones flew aside and a satisfaction of making progress along the land free of any fuel charges, under my own steam, with a little help from gravity and a banana. Sheep in the adjacent fields of this old disused railway line – now a european funded cycle path – made that sheep noise in a way that sounded like grown men in sheep suits making sheep noises, it just doesn’t sound real. Town girl lives in the countryside.

I suppose the reason that thought crossed my mind, especially at a time when I should be distracted by riding steep hills and stunned by stunning mountain views is that with another delayed visit to the Gender Clinic pending soon I’m wondering what progress I have made since I saw them last and what I really need out of them. The last time I went they asked that question ‘What do you want from us.’ Help, seems the obvious answer and guidance is probably a more descriptive one. I struggled to answer last time because I really didn’t know what I wanted from them. The ball was firmed in my court, placed by them succinctly in a particular place and orientation and they had no intention of moving in anyway until I played some move.

If they ask me this time then I think I’ll be stuck in the same place, in a rut doing the same thing. I’ve thought about whether to make some more progress now, before I go, or on the other hand am I happy where I am and should I just go along and say, “thanks so much so far, I’ll be in touch.” Of course if I do that I’ll get signed off I suspect and if I decide I want more help from them I’ll be back on the waiting list which I believe is now well over a year. Waiting lists though and having to make progress shouldn’t be a thing that anyone must do. The gender thingshould always be at your own pace and with your rules. The problem with the gender clinics, and this isn’t a criticism as such, that they have a proverbial check-list, Have you told your family and friends? Have you told work? Have you changed your name? Here are some hormones, you’ll see the surgeon in N months. Thank you and goodbye.

Okay, it’s not quite that brutal and some of the clinicians are interesting and have a certain stance on gender identity but there isn’t quite the digging and support you’ll get from a good psychologist. I guess I’ve been there though and the gender clinic is just a gateway to make things more official and, if decided, more physically countenanced. May be I should just leave the gate-keeper aside until I know what I want for sure and free their time up.

As I climbed the long steep road, now much slower with most of my energy sapped, long freshly laid asphalt with lashings of thick white dashed road paint, the view had gone from stunning to breathtaking with hard grey dependable rock cliffs to the top of the mountain surrounded by wild green weather hardened grass and moist pine trees that make me think of Canada. I felt like I was a million miles away from home and my problems but also a long road away from an answer.

Until next time.

Hannah x

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Permission to Shiver – A Five Year Anniversary Special

I sat in the cafe, noisy and busy. A cheap coffee in front of me that was just about this side of dish water and the right side of a pound coin to make it worth drinking. An upstairs view across the housing of the west of the city and a table full of runners – post run. It had been damp and the rows of charcoal grey old tiled roofs were drying in the wind that had hit us head on that morning. I hugged my cup with the rest of my comfort from a delicious chocolate muffin that stood off-centre on the plate.

Five years. Five years since I started writing about my thinking and looking back at my first I wouldn’t have said back then, that right now I’d be sitting amongst other runners while wearing the long running tights that I’d always wished I could wear and a high ponytail without feeling anxious and fraught with butterflies and too afraid to move. It makes me wonder where I’ll be in the next five years. I sat there, which today happened to be with the other women, and listened to the conversation.

“My fingers are sooo cold still.” Karen said clenching her fingers. She hadn’t even been running this week, helping out marshalling the course; standing around, still, can be even more freezing than an oncoming wind.
“Try this.” said Lea, handing Karen a small rectangle material hand warmer. Lea was an older women of a generation above. Karen took the hand warmer and clasped it between the palms of her hands.
Beth jumped into the conversation from across the table, loud and coarse, “You know she’s been keeping that warm on her fanny.” Lea smirked embarrassed and shy. This was Beth all over, this was a girls conversation, just as much as men’s conversation can be similar female chat can be just the same with just some slight differences. People of different genders might be different, but we’re not that different.

It hadn’t been the first time. The week before about four of us were milling around at the end of the run doing stretches to warm down, or cool down depending on which way you like to argue. One of the younger women was lunging, stretching her legs out long and low. Someone mentioned, “That’s a great stretch that is, I’ve heard about that.” Beth cut in, “Great for stretching yer fanny.”
We laughed, I felt I had to ask, “I don’t think it’ll help stretch mine.”
“Good for your balls.” she replied. Great.

I think about how things have changed from five years ago and also what I have achieved. One of those things is what I’ve buried. Not my male past but actually part of my female side, or at least a part of the experience of finding my way along my gender. Back in the early days I had started meeting similar people in another city. A chance to get out at night and experience part presenting as what I felt people needed to see. I’ve talked about it at length many times and the definition, as my friend Sarah had said, was those nights out were just an extension closet. I hate the word closet used for talk of gender issues but it clearly, succinctly, defined the limits of what those nights were. They were of limited progress, great for building confidence, but it wasn’t real. It wasn’t real life. It was a fancy dress party without the fancy dress.

What I had done over the proceeding years, since I had stopped meeting with those friends of circumstance, is talk about it to put it in the past. When I had stopped all that I had left was a hole in my life and in part of my social calendar. All that excitement and enjoyment had gone. Take away something so strange as a double life, sort of, and there would be a gap. As time went on I could feel that need slip away and the reality of my gender thing was there and needed to be dealt with. Writing about those nights out really helped to put it to bed and away forever.

I remember my last night out. It was kind of a one-more-time thing after I hadn’t seen some of my friends for quite a while. We went to this odd pub just outside of the city centre. “It’s a great place.” Sarah said trying to be reassuring in case she thought I’d bottle it and not want to go. “People dress in all sorts, Vagabonds and Beggars this week I think.” It was a strange place. It encouraged people to dress in a way that was out of the norm. They had a small stage area near the door with a few stage lamps creating sharp shadows and a spot for performers. The acts were odd, poetic without the poetry and it was so left-field you could have put cows in it and call it a farm. Despite Sarah’s excitement at going and her wife for company we didn’t stay there as long as I thought we would. Before long we were onto another pub where we sat in a beer garden in what should have been a warm summer night but the coolness would get to your legs in no time.

This is an absolute example though of not real life. It may have been an extremely straight bar but it had the thing about a dress code of dressing in far out ways that it was giving me the pass to dress how I wanted but all I wanted was to dress the way I want and be accepted as normal, in everyday life, not be given permission to do so. This was not everyday life, as enjoyable and a bizarre place it was. While I have the memory of that time in my life and it wasn’t all bad, I’m happy that its now over ten years behind me.

In the last five years I have told a counsellor, doctor, psychiatrist and physiologist about the gender thing. The counsellor was the hardest one to tell. I had only been going for stress and depression. When the first session ended, which I found so helpful, I remember thinking on the way home how mad I was at myself for not saying that I was transgendered. I could have kicked myself. I had bottled it. Looking back now though I needn’t had been so hard on myself. It was probably one of the biggest moments for me because when I did eventually tell her at the beginning of the next session it made talking about it so much easier in the future.

I’m still not quite where I want to be but may be where I want to be isn’t quite so far as I think. Writing though can be one of the best parts of self-help therapy. I would recommend it to anyone whether it’s on the web or in a paper diary in your top bedside draw. I thank all those who take to the trouble to write to me, you the reader, while there aren’t many public comments I receive private messages and comments on forums all the time. If you weren’t reading then this would also likely be on paper in my top draw. So thank you for reading regularly and coming back. Also a thank you to T-Central, a blog directory that have kindly given me feature place on a number of occasions that without I wouldn’t have quite so many visitors and for the kind words of Calie. There are many well written blogs there. Lastly to my RL friends. You know who you are.

Thank you for reading.

Until next time

Hannah x

Fog Obsession

“Oh no, not another day of thinking about it.” My eyes open and my head foggy way before my alarm on a working day. Even the sun hadn’t brought a gentle glow to the dark curtains and if I listen very carefully I can hear, almost distant, the sound of next door snoring through these modern walls. It’s when I’m super tired I think it. It’s not that I suddenly at that moment not want to change my outward gender but just feel entirely fatigued about having to go through another day of half compromises and worrying about which way, through the day, people will find me.

Of course it’s not a thought that lasts. Within half an hour or so, once the fog of a restless sleep clears, I’m once again back to normal. The curtains are open, the fresh light of a delicate sun clears the air like it clears my head and I feel that I know who I am again.

It’s a worry when these thoughts while very tired, which is a relatively new thing for me, had come to the foreground. It was like being super-tired was making me tired of being gender identity incomplete. It was a worry that may be the feeling of being the wrong outward gender had passed and that it was no longer a thing. A few decades of my life that would come to an end and the gender thingwould just float away and be a thing of the past.

The worry wouldn’t be about feeling that I was wrong or had wasted my time; after all the whole reason to think through about something so important – fully, like a change of gender, is so valuable no matter what the outcome is. The worry actually was that if the conclusion was that I no longer felt I identified as female, or at least somewhere mostly in that direction, that I would feel I’d loose a huge part of who I am. I’d no longer be expressing myself through character and clothing. No longer enjoying things that people find feminine and no longer enjoying interacting with people that pick up on my feminine side and react accordingly. It would be an eternally sad thing to loose something that plays such a big part of my life.

The brief negative thought of not wanting another day having to deal with gender identity was in itself more telling. It made me realise how much it is a part of me and how much of it is natural and just being explored and allowed to come forward. It’s unlike when people first question their gender identity and think ‘what do I need to do to become female (or male)?’ and then promptly do things that are hyper-feminine or hyper-masculine which ends up being over the top and unnatural. Some thinking they should start speaking falsetto or laughing with ‘teehee.’ It does happen.

The realisation actually comes, though, when we start being natural and allowing the subtleties of gender to come through rather than to draw it in thick crayon in the form of makeup and stereotypes. When this happens the real discovery of whether this is a genuine discovery of actual gender, rather than an obsession, though the dealing with the question itself can be an obsession, then this natural discovery is when things become normal again and life is still life as it was before. We get on with the things we enjoy, the work we do to survive, the tired mornings having to get up at silly-o’clock, the walks on high mountains taking in panoramic views, the breeze along the sea shore, happiness, pain, elation.

I do wonder if there will be a day that becomes a decision-day. A time where a specific decision has been made to commit to being female. A day of no return rather than a day of transitionthat is more about saying to myself ‘Yep, this is it, I’ve reaching the goal. From here on in it’s womanhood – as I am.’ The very idea makes me feel like I should grab a big fat cigar (I don’t smoke) and celebrate. Not to celebrate leaving behind maleness but to celebrate the combining of the parts of us that are both masculine and feminine. We all have it to some extent but this would be a moment of self acceptance and knowing from here on in. I will be what I always want to be and an acceptance of the little bits of the masculine side that will remain. To throw those away would just be being untrue to myself, throwing away would be that falsetto voice or a teehee moment. The cigar of course is figurative, besides, it would take a huge toll on my running, coughing my way through five kilometres.

A disconcerting thought when waking up one working day has changed to an enlightening moment. Another moment of self discovery and confirmation. And the next time I find myself in a moment when my gender comes into question with others I’ll know that being genuine and true to myself, allowing myself to be me naturally, then I’ll be rest assured that what I’m doing is right.

Until next time,

Hannah x

All Clear

Box after box just piled high in the corner of the garage. Handling them they felt just a touch damp, cold and soft even though the garage doesn’t leak. They just seemed a little neglected. I have plenty of reasons that I can say they haven’t just sat there for the decade or so since I moved in, one reason was half of them were in the shed, until that almost fell down some years later after a storm, that and a mouse getting in there and so eventually moving my junk to the garage.

Hoarder, small hoarder, more like Monica from Friends hiding things away in the cupboard to keep the rest of the house tidy and less so than a hoarder with piled high newspapers in the house that have to be navigated by compass, climbing boots and belaying equipment. But enough that it has to go — somewhere.

I had to go to the hardware store to buy some ladders to allow me to push most of this stuff into the loft. It might sound like hiding hoarded junk away but it will allow me to see the space it will create and to judge how much better I will feel for that space. Once that time comes I’ll be able to get a box down, one at a time, and sort through and recycle whatever I can. It’s a method that any hoarder, minor or extreme, will need to get through and accomplish the goal, to clear space and to let go.

The hardware store with long isles piled to the ceiling was populated by married couples sheepishly browsing things that will make their home feel better and execute some new year resolution plan, and men pushing large trolleys and loading up things that can be sawn, drilled or hammered. Nothing gets more manly than bashing things into position and having tools with features, accurate numbers and power. The look on their face is usually one of being on a mission and purpose, though secretly disguising huge satisfaction that they’re about to build something; and, if they’re lucky that the job requires it, get to use a drill which is the nearest thing to being Clint Eastwood in Western Europe. That’s not to say women don’t get the same satisfaction from DIY but for men it’s a rite of passage.

I must admit, born with testosterone running through my veins, I have probably succumbed to that at some point but with ladders under my arm and some bits and bobs I was heading to the checkout. There was no browsing the cement isle trying to think of an excuse to buy some. I would leave that to the men.

The problem I have with sorting hoarded boxes of my past is I have to do it at the right time, when I’m not low, tired or feeling nostalgic. If I’m not in the right state of mind I can become emotional about the things I’m clearing and deciding whether to bin can become painful. Quite simply anything could trigger it and these days when I know it’s triggered I stop and finish for the day.

I stop when emotional because it’s not the junk that’s important but the memories those items hold. More powerful than any relationship break up. They hold grief. Every time I pull an old toy from my childhood it’s as powerful as if I were to see a relative that had long since departed, just for moment, before being taken away again. It’s a resurrection, a ghost, no matter how pleasant the memory, in fact the more meaningful it is the more powerful and emotive it will be. If it were bad memories it would hit the wheelie bin immediately. The memories make me grieve for my childhood and for the lost moments. Some of these things I can even remember when they were given to me, whether it was a birthday present, Christmas present or just a kind gift. This makes changing my gender identity, in the eyes of others, more difficult than it already is.

But at the same time I am already different. I’m an adult, more mature (some might say), I have found more of myself and expressed it. If I wasn’t that different then I wouldn’t be grieving and feeling emotional at the sight of things that, to anyone else, are simply junk but to me more valuable than any precious metal. If I hadn’t changed and left those things behind they would still be just the things I own and not these items in a grave yard of memories in the back of a cold garage. Yet despite their emotional value they aren’t kept in exquisite condition in air tight, dirt-tight containers in a regulated temperature away from anything harmful. They’re just piled into cold boxes.

I must cut down on things. Some things will be thrown away once I find the point of view and positive reasons that will come to allow me to do so. They are the memory corpses that need to be buried, permanently, so they can no longer be resurrected and hopefully I can remember my memories through rose tints with the aid of photographs, memories and stories. I’ll be able to continue to move on and make my future my way without the guilt of the past. It’s one thing to tussle with the problems of gender identity but even harder when your past is a wall of boxes full of reminders.

Amongst the Christmas gifts I had this year was some scent free wipes in a packet. It was from my Mum knowing I like to use scent free soap for the most of the time and a thoughtful gift it was. Laying on the sofa I glanced at the coffee table. I spotted the packet still unopened and sat up and smiled at that little extra present with a lot of thought and something that would never end up in a box in storage. It was a gift for now, different to all the hoarded toys and teenage presents in the boxes I’d seen while clearing the hoard through the day. I held the pack and read the smaller print on the label ‘cleaning facial wipes’ and underneath, ‘removes waterproof mascara.’ Well, I guess my gifts as an adult take on a whole new meaning.

Until next time.

Hannah x

All In Good Measure — A New Year Special

The kettle started to fizz slowly, the sound creeping up as it started to heat the water. A cup of tea was a good excuse to have some gingerbread men I had for Christmas and the biscuits were a good excuse for a cuppa. The kettle was soon rumbling violently, it was like thoughts coming to fruition.

New Years Eve is a strange feeling. It’s not like Christmas Eve full of thoughts of snowy pine forests, dazzling razor sharp white fairly lights and misty eyes. It’s more fresh. The cold light of day. A bit like New Year’s Day but without the hang over — or less of a hang over at the least. The eve is the last throws of the year. Every last thing we want to finish that is part of our routine but knowing we can’t really fit it in all one day. It’s silly when we think so much of the change of the year as if it’s one huge event but it’s just another day and the world turned one more time, just about, but we just do and why not. It gives us something to look forward to and reflect and decide on changes. That’s the big event.

Like I’ve said before I like to think of my resolutions as adjustments. I do it though out the year and when it comes to New Years resolutions I look at what has made me happy through the year and decide what I will keep and what I will adjust rather than make a set on huge goals that might just get on top of me and I’ll just fail at them. If I just made one huge resolution, right now, to go and sort the whole gender thing fully and whole heartedly then I would probably fail. It’s too big and not thought out. I certainly couldn’t make big decisions based on five minutes of thought.

That said, it can be a time to push a little further. Think of how I might go one step further and make myself more content and happy. Throughout this year I have achieved in my running more than I ever thought I would. My running time had fallen dramatically and I’d never felt so proud of myself as much as I felt so proud to be wearing the type of running things in front of other people, friends — even family! The knock on effect, from a superficial clothing perspective, means I’m now looking for new running clothes like a new set of running tights to add to my others because I want to and not just buying cheap because I worry I’ll not wear them or I’m not worth it. I’m looking at slight more expensive ones with a design I like, a shape I like and of better quality that will last. All this rather than lots of cheap and shoddy running tights. It’s about self worth and buying female things that are worth more make me feel worth more. Worthy and validated. That’s what it’s all about. There is nothing worse than buying cheap and realising I’ve just bought it for the sake of it.

I’m quite happy with what I’ve achieved this year and my experiences. It was the one year I was short of money, while taking a year out, and in that time I’ve done things that were new to me. I spent time working in the music industry for a few months and seeing things I’d never thought I’d see. I took long bike ride adventures along the valley seeing small old villages and stunning views of rugged landscapes and more oxygen in my lungs than I ever have had. Watching the sun set and forgetting time. I continued my piano journey and moved my playing on a quantifiable amount and enjoyed it. And the gender thing — oh so subtly moved on a little here and there. Feeling more comfortable in myself and just being rather than thinking quite so much.

I want more of that next year. I want to run in more amazing places. Travel and find other sunset finishing spots and just feel at one with the world for those twenty or thirty minutes or so as the sun fades over a silhouette of trees breaking up the horizon. Just talking about it to you I can feel that warmth on my face fading and a cool evening setting in. Zipping up my jacket to stop the frost catching my skin. Breathing in every ounce of pine filled air before having to leave.

I want to spend time with these things rather than waste time in front of the tv or social media but at the same time all in good measure. I want to cook new foods to refresh my pallet and rejuvenate meal times once again so they’re not an after work chore but and experience full of colour, flavour and scent.

While I feel like my New Years Resoladjustment should be full of turning up the saturation just a little on the good things I already do I also want a certain amount of surprise and spur of the moment thinking. Nothing feels more planned than having a plan and may be part of my gender identity journey will be just like that. Moving on a little when the moment takes me. I know it will happen just, when it happens.

The new year for me is more about freedom, enjoying me, enjoying the female side whether it be clothes or inner personality, the stronger side of being female with achievement and self belief that would have once been associated with being masculine. Building on what happiness I found this year and improving how I spend that time. Finding adventure from time to time and not letting life just slip by in a typical British way.

The sun almost set, only visible because of the single colour blanket of grey that’s been covering our skies, is slowly dimming and the Christmas tree lights slowly and barely perceivable becoming the glow in the room. Family members falling asleep from the late nights of Christmas week. Today isn’t one of those adventure days. It’s a slow day of spending time with loved ones but from tomorrow the adventure, freedom, the standing on top of a mountain and letting the breeze blow over my face and flutter my hair. Sitting on a hill side and watch the world turn from the sun. Walking bare foot on the sand and letting the shallow cold sea wash over them. Feeling comfortable in my clothes as well as my own skin. Feeling that rush of endorphins after an energetic run and feeling like I could just do anything I wanted at that very moment.

Whatever you want for the new year I hope you find it; because it is out there.

Until next year.

Hannah x

What Would’ve

I sat looking out of the cafe window. Shoppers darting back and forth much like the sheets of rain wafting across in the strong gusts of wind destroying any use of an umbrella and leaving those forced to Christmas shop with wet legs and soggy socks. I contemplated where I was, not just sat in a warm cafe over a hot chocolate, but the decisions I’d made of the years that took my life on this path to where I am now.

It’s so easy to think what might have been if I’d made some decisions sooner in my life. May be sort the whole gender thingwhen I was eighteen and probably had been much more on my way in my early twenties, I think we all think that way at some point, but what if I had done nothing. Nothing at all. No telling certain people about my gender identity. Not experiencing and expressing myself around others. The list would go on.

I suppose if I hadn’t told Maddie well over a decade ago we’d still be together. We’d have naturally got engaged and married. Another celebration for both families to attend that didn’t happen. An expensive well-cut suit that would have fitted extremely well butjust didn’t fit. Some time later the natural urge to have children would have taken over us and my internal guilt would have become a plaster too super-glued to my skin to pull off. That plaster would be stuck for life and I would have been eternally trapped with my gender identity on my own.

I think back to how hard it was to tell Maddie all those years ago and even harder for both of us, emotionally, that it eventually broke our relationship but I also think how terrible it would have been keeping a secret like this in a relationship and even a marriage. Some people manage it, some even feel no guilt and some feel the guilt but the problem is just a little greater than the guilt.

I wouldn’t be wearing some of the things today, that make me – me, without that decision way back then. But even more importantly I wouldn’t be socialising with people in quite the same way I am now. The thing is, there really was no right or wrong decision. Both directions in my life would have been painful in some respect. It is what it is, it happened how it happened and I wouldn’t have thought in a million years I’d be where I am.

What ‘would’ve’ didn’t happen though and the pain of that decision has long since faded. Things are good. I still have my health as my Nan would have once said. I still keep in touch with Maddie and we remain close. She was able to move on with her life. I have been able to work through who I am and my gender and getting comfortable with that in small portions.

While there is some time for self acceptance of the feminine parts of me that I previously would have felt guilty and embarrassed of, there is also acceptance of the masculine that in itself can feel like self defeating traits that really can, in their own twisted way, be validating as female – the strong woman, the inspirational woman, the active woman and confident woman. Being female doesn’t have to be all pink.

In finding my own acceptance of both sides of the gender coin I have found validation. It wasn’t a ‘would’ve’ or even ‘should’ve’, I didand that was the outcome. Finding which parts of me were genuine and allowing the rest to fall to the wayside. I guess much of this comes with age and maturity as much as it comes from self discovery. With maturity comes thinking of ones self more than what others might be thinking.

My cup was near empty, just a concentrated milky mud of chocolate and it’s sugars that I finished, grabbed my coat and ‘hooded-up’ dashing out into the rain and headed back to work. The paving stones shining gloss and that game of chance of whether the next paving stone would tilt and eject a clump of rain water from underneath carefully targeted at seeping through my shoes and into my socks of the afternoon. A twisted umbrella sticking out of a city street bin – a victim of the winter Christmas eve-week wind. The only thing that I ‘should’ve’ that day is take a spare pair of socks to work.

Until next time,

Hannah x

November Christmas

Long sticks of coal glowed in a bundle with colours from white ash to deep infrared sat under the grate with heat I could feel on my face all the way from the counter. German sausages lined up in their tens and coming off the rack and slotting into long bread buns as fast as they were hitting the grate raw. The cold air around me accentuated the warmth on my skin and added to that feeling that it was November-Christmas; that subtle time where Christmas is hinted at with market stalls selling wooden sculptures, berry gins and lanterns but without the crayon thickness of Christmas tunes, mostly from the eighties, in December roaring from department stores full of the hard sell.

With guests visiting for the weekend I spent at least two hours catching up on my vacuuming, dusting and frantically washing work clothes, includethose gender-thing trousersfor the week after before they arrived for the weekend. I’ve still yet to understand how Garlic paper finds it’s way to the bedroom floor, let alone the front hallway or living room. May be one for the New Year Resolution, ‘check floor for garlic skin after cooking.’

It was a far away scene from the working week stuck on crowded trains. It’s hard enough being hot from a rainy walk to the station but, if I’m lucky to get on the train, it’s a place of people pressed against the doors and a line filling the aisles end to end. Cattle shipped to work and back each day. When it’s like that a thought passed briefly, that moment when everyone is finally jammed on this already late train and the doors close and I wait for that little bit of silence before the engines start and I would shout, “tickets please!” Somehow I don’t think it would go down well at seven something in the morning. I suspect I would be lynched from the nearest luggage rack if anyone was able to move more than a spare arm across the chest.

I kind of enjoyed the return to commuting. I felt like an observer. As if it was a temporary thing that I wanted to see how the commuterarti lived. Like Jarvis sang, ‘I want to live like common people.’ except I wanted to travel like the working middle classes. But with the crowding so bad it was hard to people-watch like I might in a cafe over a hot chocolate topped with cream. Looking how people felt in the morning by the look on their faces and how people dressed for work in the winter, especially with Christmas coming up. In fact what I did see of those morning faces they, at least, didn’t look too bad, certainly not like those on the Tube in London. There’s nothing more winter-certain than a patterned scarf and dark coats or long dark hair over a warm red coat.

I can’t help myself looking at other women’s shoes and thinking, ‘I wonder if I could get away with wearing those’ or a pair of trousers and wondering if that pattern and colour would be my next purchase for work. It may take longer to get to work by public transport and, my god, is it more expensive than driving, but there are some times when people-watching is as much entertaining as it is comparing and looking for ideas and lifestyles.

I pulled my phone briefly from my pocket to check the usual cycle of email, text, Instagram and what have you, one day last week and then I realised – I was missing out on the scenery going by and just life. I sit in front of a screen most of the day and have plenty of other times to check my phone. I put it away and glanced around. It was difficult to find anyone that wasn’t glued to a small screen. Watching some video, listening to music or endlessly scrolling through Facebook. I thought for a moment, ‘Is that what it looks like from the outside? Twenty minutes fixated on that little ice white rectangle of light.’ I felt privileged to have realised that sometimes it’s good to put it away. For some, I guess, it’s to keep themselves shielded from the depressing obscurity of monotonous late and cancelled transport.

It was the weekend though and when my guest, Maddie, arrived – Maddie, my ex-who-knows-from-a-decade-or-so-ago – I felt all my stresses fall away. A weekend of hints of Christmas in the air, a visit to a National Trust manor house and coffee in the cafe allowing time to just float away. It’s at times like that the gender-thingjust kind of takes a backseat and I just am. That is, I’m not worrying about it or thinking about next steps and stuff like that.

You know, I think it’s another one of those moving on a stepkind of things, where if I mull over some of the advances I’ve made in the last year or so in who I am and how I present myself and where in the past I would have been a bag of nerves about it – I now just sort of smile to myself how good I feel about it. It’s slow progress but it’s my pace and in my own time and that’s what matters.

I think my heart would have stopped at the very thought of say, wearing my running clothes at my parents after one of the running events, yet a few weeks ago I was sat across the table in a cafe, my three quarter length running trousers, from my Mum over a coffee and having one of our chats. Just another little more at a time.

Until next time,

Hannah x

Above It All

Traffic passed along the carriage way slowly but at least moving. I stood on the side of the road, keeping warmed up, waiting to cross. The sun long gone with the winter sunset times and headlights beaming in the cold air of the early evening. I started running again through a break in the traffic and headed down the old quiet road between the fields and towards the small village on the hill. The road soon became devoid of street lamps only a patch in front lit by my mobile phone. Flashing lights on my trainers lighting the tarmac behind and warning unlikely drivers on this near dead road of my presence. A brief patch of light approached from a lone street lamp along side the cemetery beaming through the old iron black fence and then back into darkness for a short while until I reached the well lit road at the bottom of the hill that snaked upwards into the old village.

At the junction at the bottom, which was surprisingly busy with modern cars commuting home, stood a boarded up building, an old workshop of some sort and next to it a tiny cottage with painted boarded up windows. Not the usual chocolate box large cottage that serves as a farm house or a typical English thatched roof cottage from an oil painting but a small Welsh shoe box cottage with dark black Welsh slate in the shadows and quarried stone work. It looked just a little too unkempt to be saved but too old and frail for anyone to pull it down guilt-free. It felt like an introduction to the little village on the hill where the road climbed steeply enough for me to take a breather from my run.

I stopped half way up for a moment and looked across the land that fell away to smaller flatter countryside that stretched ten or so miles to the sea. The difference running on a dry winters evening was the view of darkness and the lands bumps, dips and woodlands only suggested by the pins of lights. It started just at the bottom of the side of the hill, a small town crowded with white lights and hints of colour from branded shops. The lights then spread like arteries into the darkness with pairs of lamps flowing towards the far reaches of darkness carrying people home.

I stood their in my running tights thinking, ‘I think it’s about time, given it’s winter and all that, I should get some full length ones.’ It wasn’t cold enough to worry about it that-night but I knew colder nights were probably coming and thinking this way instead of taking a stiff upper lip attitude to making dowas a sign of the new job I had started and having money again.

It wasn’t the only thing that the new job had created. I was now wearing to work size 12 trousers rather than 32. Inches were now a dress size for trousers and while I’d always wanted to try them and take that part of me to the working day and work place I wasn’t sure how I would feel about it. Like I had said before, start as I mean to go on, and I did just that on day one and things just felt right. They may be black but it made me feel like the day was in colour rather than grey scaled and it wasn’t that hard. I’ve spend so long wearing skinny jeans and running gear in ladies styles during my free time that it just felt like another day – without the saddening effect of wearing dull same as the next pairof mens trousers.

It started a few weeks ago in the run up to starting my new job. I flicked through rails of trousers both mens and ladies and I felt torn. Was I kidding myself being able to bring that part of me to my work life. In one shop I found a pair I liked. They felt like a good start, a basic pair of nice black trousers that would be good for an office job – but they didn’t have my size. I desperately tried the next size up in the changing rooms in the hope that their sizing was different, but they weren’t. I looked through the mens trousers but that feeling of being their before, the style, the colour, that straightness. Don’t get me wrong, these trousers look fine, just on other people. I felt, well, bored by them.

A few days later with time running short towards my start day, and while looking for those bootsin the city, I visited another branch of that store where I found those trousers I liked – and there they were, in my size, reasonably priced, and they fitted. I still felt a little on edge about whether to get them. I hadn’t started work yet and while money was tight and a pay day would of course come along, I still hadn’t started this new work and until it was in my hands it didn’t feel real. I really needed to know that I wanted them and that I wouldn’t end up putting them in the cupboard and not wearing them. But I bought them. I still wasn’t sure but something inside just said do it.

I feel so much better about myself now, a few weeks later, wearing them and retiring the remaining work trousers that had hung around, with a half life of several years, since my last office job over a year ago. Now that I realise how much better it makes me feel about myself I feel I’ll be getting more and may be this will make me feel good about the working day; after all we spend so many hours of our week in work.

I set off again up the hill running around the road curving into the village into a narrow road between tall old houses overshadowing the pedestrian walkway that narrowed even more so. I took a lane away from the road, my ankles taking the strain of the uneven cobble stones and spartan lane lamps that peppered the floor with a spill of light into darkened walls that bordered the gardens. I was soon clear of the old houses and cottages that clung to the side of the land, many of which had been there long before the last century, the path lead through a cattle gate under a tree and out onto the wild tough grass that took the brunt of the climate that came from the sea hitting the Welsh countryside.

I may have not seen the sun set but the darkened view with the moon cutting through what little cloud glowed orange around it was as inspiring as the oxygen that had bought me a couple of miles. I stood there for ages. I had imagined what I wanted at the destination of my run and it didn’t disappoint. Seeing people rushing around in their cars and the last of the workers in the shops below having to work on into the evening. It was serene being above it all. It was energising evening after a tiring day. I hoped it was a sign of things to continue. To take an opportunity when the mood took me and to feel good about it. All I had to do now was run back.

Until next time.

Hannah x

Emotional Twenty-Two

There it is again. Just ignore it and keep typing, “During my time at the digital agency..” Again. Go away. Rising up my face and sinuses with what feels like the side of my nose, inside my face, trying to clench onto the pressure to stop it happening. Damn it, how on earth would I manage if I had female hormones if I’m like this now. It was no good. Whatever I did I was going to well-up and for no particular reason. It was just a place my body was in either from lack of sleep or strange work patterns or may be just because.

I was sat at the dining table, the doors to the living room open which made the house feel bigger than it was but it was the silence that had made me feel like a small person in a large room alone. I had switched off the TV so I could concentrate on this job application form online and I hadn’t realised that the silence had echo’d my emotional state back to me amplified ten fold. It’s happened in the past plenty of times but I seemed yet to find a way to cope with it. Sure, I knew the one thing I shouldn’t do at times like this was go through old possessions that I want to throw away because nostalgia and the hoarding fairy would quite clearly win – outright, but that was about it.

The thing is I was filling out an online form for a job application. ‘Add Employer’ it said, and I had to fill out every single employment I’ve had over the last twenty years. It seemed to be taking forever to repeat everything from my CV into their perfect-fit boxes but as I got further down my CV in the descending order of years, remembering managers names and their positions, trying to remember addresses of the offices which they had probably departed some fifteen years ago, it started to come over me. The welling-up. It’s not particularly those places I worked that I was longing for, in fact only one, may be two I can think of I would, rose-tintedly, feel I missed, but just the times around them.

The one place I worked at fell dramatically in the dot com crash in 2002. I went out to lunch one day and came back to several people missed due to redundancy. It was cold, horrific and axe-lead. I was one of the lucky ones being freelance I was served a good warning well over a month with another renewal promised. The poor girl opposite was invited to the hotel next door for a meeting, “oh, bring your bag with you.” I never saw her again. When my time ended there were staff enthusiastically moving to another part of the office in one of those, “let’s move the desks around to refresh and rejuvenate everyone.” Sometime later the whole place was shut. It was the place that seemed to have so much promise. The place I worked with the most well known names. The place I saw police walk in the office and arrest a member of staff for stealing books. The place I saw the Twin Towers fall thatmorning while everyone watched in silence around the office cafe television.

I guess with that particular place what I felt was a missing end. When I’ve left somewhere in the past it’s been down to a new and better opportunity or because I can’t stand the politics anymore. But with that place it ended because no one could stop it. Rose-tinted indeed though. Things had become quiet in what had been a very vibrant and post-modern work-place of the noughties. I liked most people there and the politics rarely ever affected me because I wasn’t a permanent employee despite being there for two years.

The place still reminds me of having admirations of the Web Producer. I just remember how confident she appeared and important she looked. Talking to clients and then bringing that to us. It seemed an exciting role and place to be, especially as a woman, but that wouldn’t have been an aspiration I could have worked on at the time being extremely secretive about the gender thing, in a relationship that I didn’t want to loose and, well, I was a contractor, disposable, no career path – worse still lacking the confidence to do anything about it. Now I feel so much older and past that youthful optimism, an expression I recently read in a job description.

I couldn’t take it anymore. That silence was cutting into me like a knife for every emotion rush in my face. I switched on the Hifi, turned up all the knobs and found some music dangerously from the time period. It was like the loudness of the music overruled the emotion. The neighbours were out and shaking the walls just wouldn’t matter. I thought picking music from the period would either shout the emotional state away or it would make it ten times worse but get it out quicker. It did neither other than mask it; but it was something.

I think this is a little more than nostalgia for times past though. I think there is more to it. I think the emotion reflects where I am now rather than where I was. Here I am applying for an office based job, somewhere which will be fraught with structure, business ethics and dryness, though good pay and holidays, but also leaving a job where I see exciting venues and working for famous people but for very little money and zero security. When I mix that with my current gender situation I think, “What am I doing?” Doing it all over again going back to something that’s dull but respectable and ignoring what I should be doing with the gender thing. Surely by now I should be applying in my female name?

Then I also feel like I’ve been ignoring my female side. When was the last time I remember putting on a skirt, yet when not actually paying any attention to it, surely that’s the normality of living a female life? That’s the reality of it. I go running I wear my female running shorts and whatever else goes with it, it doesn’t have to be unbelievably obvious. I mean, that’s what it feels like, it feels normal and so that’s what’s making me feel like I’ve not been giving enough time to it. A catch twenty-two of feeling guilty about not giving enough of my feminine side but wanting things to be normal and genuinely natural.

When I think about it I realise that the subtle place I’m in of femininity isreality. It’s normal, but more importantly genuine and innate and may be all this emotion I’m feeling today is just a normal natural cycle that is part of that which sometimes we like to think of as a natural feminine trait. May be what I need to do is get my head into a state of what I want next. Where do I want to be not just in employment but also how I live that female side of life and how far I go. Do I stall here for a while or move on a little more. The thing is I know this is a passing emotional moment. It’ll be gone in a few hours. Tomorrow I might be on for a positive and enthusiastic high with all my goals and wishes as clear as spring water.

What I know I should do is pin up the past on the cork board of things I did in my twentiesand be happy about them. If they fall off again, pick them up, take a look, smile and pin them back up. Forcibly put a metaphorical full-stop on them so that the end of them is very clear. Move on to new things that will over-shadow the things of the past with happiness and contentment.

I went into the garden for a moment. My bare feet feeling the roughness of the concrete slabs and tufts of grass, where the cement had broken away, had grown between them over the last few days of rain. The sun was shining again, hot on my face and amongst the green weed leaves, yellowed grass and a few yellow flowers, a single white bloom of seeds of a dandelion. I know I don’t want to be readywhen it was too late. I didn’t want to have gone to seed when the other flowers were already out.

Until next time,

Hannah x

By The Book

The vibrant sun drenched reds contrasted against the ice white plate with cured Serrano ham and different chorizos. The smell of the meats and green basil rich pesto drizzled on top rose from the plate and took me to Italy in a second. Hot Spanish omelette contrasted the freshness of the cool salad leaves and the sun-dried tomatoes gave depth and richness. It was just a meal but it said a lot about my aspirations.

The day was hot and even the occasional choppy breeze, that would quickly fade to stillness, made no change to the feel of the temperature – it was still hot and continental. It felt like part of the life that I aspired to had been brought to me, here, in the UK; all I would need is a gentle lapping ocean flung against the bottom of the garden and I’d be complete.

The thing is, about my aspirations, is that my tastes are simple but the ingredients are expensive. To relocate to a Mediterranean villa where mornings are yoga stretches on the patio and pre-lunch times are a quick swim in the pool before returning to a laptop under the sunbrella or at a local cafe to write for income; already the spend has far exceeded one point five million Euro and I’ve not even mentioned the family cost.

It’s the conflict of my aspirations with my emotions. The thought of being so far away from my family that it overrides the actual reality that I couldreallybe home on a plane in little over an hour and if I were that well-off to buy some premium property then I’d probably be visiting homeas often as I do now. These dream ideas of living along the azure are of course short of a lottery win and further away from reality than they are as far away from here; given I have little money right now. The thing is I see some people, when they reach whatever age that it is that is important to them, decide that these dream life styles to settle on are so far away and unreachable that they give up and settle on what they have with the monotony of everyday British culture. Work, TV, Pension (if you’re lucky) – death? I never want to do things by the bookand sometimes I just want to be left-field whether it’s the things I buy and the material objects I own or the things I do. Giving-up just isn’t me.

Some sea salt crunched between my teeth as I eat the salad leaves. Flavours from the red stalks enriched by the salt; I really had brought a little of my dream to my own home for a moment. The thing is, the more I think about it, as balanced as I can, I have the dream correct it’s the work balance and work itself that is keeping me from moving to where I want to be and more importantly me and my own body that’s holding me back. That’s not gender but lack-lustre. There will be days when I want to write solidly or start some project that might make a difference to my future but tiredness will just get the better of me or I’m run-down and just can’t function mentally to get anything solid for my future. Fatigue is my Achilles.

Saturday evening and I find myself in the garden again and even though the sun has departed westward the sky is still a bright blue with only the faintest hint of the dusk about to fall, the heat still present and close. The air is fragrant where someone has watered their lawn and the smell of fallen pollen has risen. A clank of cutlery on plates a few houses away break the dull noise of near-by roads along with magpie squawking that reminds me of the wild parrots in the trees of my last holiday.

Were these hints at what to do or hints of what I have means I can have them here? “The grass is always greener.” “A change of pasture makes fat calves.” Proverbs, useless answers for everything and a proverb for every opposing proverb. The fact is what we do is as good as what we make of it and if we don’t at least try we won’t know for sure whether it’s right – and if it’s not right then we do something else or change back and do what we were doing. Live where we were living, do the things we do and eat and drink what we know. Not everything is a one-way street. There, I’ve done it, made a proverb. “Not everything is a one way street.” Tut. I’ve defeated my own nonsense with more nonsense.

I’ve had a break from my career. It was more of a test the water break. I took a year out in the past and enjoyed every minute and it rejuvenated me for a while. It helped me see what I did and didn’t like about working in new-media, how I fancied a change and that, to some extent, my career had run it’s course.

On this break it was about trying out other things. Looking for what was out there and seeing what I wanted to do. The job I’m currently doing, all that setting up stuff for those international stars, was a temporary job that was carefully selected as it might stir up some ideas about working in another industry. It certainly did that and although it was never going to be a long term thing, and I enjoyed it for the most, it was also underpaid with an undercurrent culture, in certain parts at least, of racism, sexism, homophobia and drugs. So while I’m certainly looking to move on it also told me one important thing, I cando something else and there areother things I can do that are interesting and motivating. Christ, anything that can get me working through the early hours of the morning on an eleven hour shift must have intrigue.

I’m a realist. Some finances are just so high to reach for some dreams but I know some dreams do come true. Plenty have for me, some small, some life changing, and very few came my way without making them happen, taking a chance, grabbing onto them and not letting go and they usually fore-fill more than the dream but just in a different way. May be I should just make more things happen. May be there are certain plans in my life that need trying.

Until next time.

Hannah x