Thursday, 17 April 2014

A Walk By The Tyne - Part 2 - The Bridges of Tyne and Wear County

It's not a long walk from Dunston into Newcastle.  The whole route follows a path by the river unless you want to divert into the Riverside Park above and visit a sculpture trail.  Something for another day.  I left you with a view down the river, some of the bridges over the Tyne.  Of course this post isn't about all the bridges of Tyne and Wear, just the few that you walk under when walking into Newcastle or Gateshead along the river.  I've walked the paths on the other side of the river last year when a 'short walk' from home suddenly included a bus ride into Denton before walking down a recently flooded Denton Dene until it meets Hadrian's Way, then down to the river and into the city.

One of these bridges is the famous "Tyne Bridge" but it's shrouded by the five bridges in front of it.

The first you come to is Redheugh Bridge.

This is a modern road bridge, opened in 1983 by The Princess of Wales.  It's the third bridge on the site.  The first, opened in 1860, had to be closed 25 years later because the structure was unsafe.  The second lasted for 50 years before succumbing to the same fate.  The current bridge is meant to have a life of 120 years so should be there a while.  Including the approaches it is 897 metres long.  That central span is 160 metres long and it's 26 metres above the river.  It's a long way up.  Or down.  That's enough statistics.

Moving on you come to the King Edward VII Bridge.  I'm guessing that even if you live in Newcastle you wouldn't know that.  We had a local knowledge quiz at a church social evening a while back in which we had to name the first seven bridges over the Tyne in order.  Nobody could name this bridge.

This rail bridge was opened in 1906 by Edward VII and Queen Alexandra.  Enough said.  If you're a train or bridge enthusiast there's plenty of information online.  One interesting website, covering all of the bridges on the Tyne from source to estuary is  For anyone elsewhere in the area there are links to bridges on other local rivers too.  It's the site of a happy enthusiast.

 A train!

Four bridges in the background and in the distance the tower of St Willibrord with All Saints, previously a Church of England building but currently an Old Catholic church.

With my upbringing it would be abnormal if I saw arches and didn't take a photo.  The KEB has arches.  Here's the photo.

It's not all bridges on this walk.  Here's the riverbank by the path.

And here is some of the (not very) wildlife.  Out of the city there are plenty of herons, cormorants and waders by and in the river but I didn't see them yesterday.  The water looked murkier and cloudier than I've seen it before.  There seemed to be far more floating in it too.

Onwards again to another bridge, with the unimaginative name "Metro Bridge" or to use its full title "Queen Elizabeth II Metro Bridge," opened in 1981 by The Queen.  Do you think she is happy that the Metro Bridge is named after her?  According to the Bridges on the Tyne website, "trains plunge into tunnels at either end".  I'm not sure "plunge" is the right word.

A Metro train.  You don't have to wait long to spot one - most days there are ten an hour in each direction. Unless Metro is apologising for the delays, a situation not unknown to the seasoned Metro traveler.

Another spire.  This time it's St Mary's Catholic Cathedral.  I am informed that it is the 5th tallest building in Newcastle.  All Saints (mentioned above) is the 7th.

If you're into stained glass, this site has good pictures of some of the windows of St Mary's.

To the next bridge - the High Level Bridge.  A double decker bridge.  The top level is for trains and the lower level for pedestrians and for buses and taxis heading from Newcastle to Gateshead but not in the other direction.

One more church tower - the Anglican Cathedral, dedicated to Saint Nicholas.  To its right is Newcastle Castle Keep, the official end of my walk.  To its left is the "Turnbull Building", built in the early 1900s.  The building has been a print house and a store for prosthetic limbs but is now full of apartments.  The penthouse apartment became the first home in Newcastle valued at more than a million Pounds.

The "High Level Bridge" was built in the 1840s and so is the oldest of the bridges that cross the Tyne at Newcastle.  Sometime soon I must cross it again on foot and take pictures of padlocks.

The next bridge - and the last on this walk - is the Swing Bridge.  You can't pass under this one without getting very wet and I didn't take a picture of it - just a few from it.  So here's a postcard from the past, showing the bridge in action.  It still swings, but far less often than it did when dozens of ships went up and down the Tyne - some to Dunston Staithes.

Finally, from the side of the Swing Bridge we get an unimpeded view of the famous Tyne Bridge - the model for the Sydney Harbour Bridge.  In the background, along the Quayside you can see the Gateshead Millennium Bridge

Views were obscured.  People are in the process of repainting the bridge.  In the left gap is the Millennium Bridge.  In the right gap is the Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art.

So the walk was nearly complete.  There's only one trouble with this river walk.  The river is in a valley.  My bus stop is not.  Hence this, and more than this:
There is a road from the Quayside to the city centre but these, "Castle Stairs" are quicker and lead eventually to the castle, a short walk from bus stops - and charity shops that I can never pass by.  I may not have wanted to wander round all the clothes shops in the Metro Centre but when charity shops have one Pound sale sections I can happily browse.  And on this occasion I bought a skirt and a top.

The end of the walk.  Not a long walk but with much to enjoy and with opportunities to repeat the walk later and detour from it and see more things.  This is the Castle Keep.  I've been up the tower twice.  Once as a child and once as an adult, with my child.  And both times with my parents.

To finish.  My first visit, in 1977.  Here I am with my brother and mother at the top of the Keep.  I am the little one on the right.  Canny people will note that the view has changed since 1977.

Wednesday, 16 April 2014

A Walk By The Tyne - Part 1 - Metro Centre to Dunston Staithes

Yesterday I went to the Metro Centre.  It's not my favourite place.  Some people enjoy going there regularly and have a fun day but for me the range of big chain stores, big chain cafes and restaurants and wandering through big enclosed corridors of commerce does not appeal.  If I must shop I'd prefer to be among smaller shops and more inspiring architecture.  As large shopping malls go the Metro Centre could be a lot worse.  But it's not my idea of an ideal fun day out and I was not inspired to take photos of the place yesterday.

However I was at the Metro Centre.  I've been going there regularly in the last year for laser treatment.  This is for hair removal on my face.  Scroll down to the photos if you want to avoid my transgender talk.  I know there are very hairy women and some with conditions that mean they have as much facial hair as any man.  A century ago some of them were exhibited in freak shows.  Now we think ourselves far more civilised so we just stare at them, point, or make rude comments if they don't shave thoroughly or have painful hair removal treatments. 

Anyway, I don't want to be looked on as either the bearded lady or as a guy in a frock.  So I've been visiting the Metro Centre.  The simple reason is that the clinic there is the cheapest for laser treatment in the area.  It's still not exactly cheap, just less expensive.  In theory there is funding for laser treatment for facial hair removal on the NHS for transsexual women, but first you need to be thoroughly diagnosed.  This takes time.  I have not been diagnosed by a "medically qualified" person so I cannot be referred for treatment.  So in practice many, perhaps most, transgender women pay for lots of the treatment themselves.

For me it's been important.  I live as myself full time and wear skirts almost constantly.  Feminine skirt combined with masculine stubble doesn't make walking round Newcastle easy.  The plan is that I won't have any more treatment until the NHS helps but that may be a while.  They now say my appointment with that "medically qualified" person may not be until June (it was meant to be in March) and I could well have to see her twice before she gives a diagnosis - which would take another eight weeks.  And then who knows how long it takes for the laser referral process to happen?

Anyway, this isn't meant to be another lengthy transgender monologue.  Back to the Metro Centre.  Not a place that inspires me to great raptures of excitement.  But I had a plan.  I decided that since the weather was good I would walk from there into Newcastle.  Much of the route is along the river so it seemed a good idea.   And there would be photos.  Too many photos.  Too many bad photos.  I'll post some here, and then some more later.

It's not a long walk from the Metro Centre bus station to the river.  Just across the road you join the Keelman's Way.  This is a cycleway that runs for 14 miles along the river or near the river and is part of a longer national cycleway that starts in Darlington.

Keelmen were men who rowed keels - smallish boats.  I say "smallish" but they were 40 feet long by 19 wide and I can't say I'd have enjoyed rowing such a boat if it were empty, let alone fully loaded.  The keelmen would row up and down the river from collieries, where they would be loaded with coal, to collier ships down the river.  The collier ships were too large to navigate up the Tyne.  Their work looked a bit like this - at least according to JMW Turner in 1835 in this painting "Keelman Heaving In Coals By Night."  

It was hard, hard work, with low pay.  The Keelmen would make a decent blog subject but there's a perfectly good wikipedia article already.  And there's a song, which some of you will know.  Here's an instrumental version played by Kathryn Tickell.  The words are included on that page.

Back to the walk.  On joining the Keelman's Way it's a short walk to join the river for the first time.  Here, the first view down the river towards the centre of Newcastle and Gateshead.  A police helicopter is in view in the top right corner, but I didn't know why at the time.

And two views across the river.  The spire is of St. Stephen's Church, Low Elswick, which closed in 1984. Only the tower remains.  Behind it is St. Michael's Catholic Church.  Just about visible poking above the trees on the right of the second photo is another tower, that of Newcastle Central Mosque.  That's a pretty new building - their previous mosque was burned down by racially motivated arsonists.  I must wander round that area sometime and explore it properly.

And so I came to Dunston Staithes.  The was a sad situation ongoing yesterday.  Police had been called to the river at 12.26 because there was a woman on the wrong side of the barriers on Redheugh Bridge.  That's the high bridge in the background of one of the photos below.  By the time they arrived the woman was in the river.  By the time I passed, which was only about one o'clock there were police and fire officers lining the river at intervals, several boats scouring the water, ambulances waiting on both sides and the helicopter searching from above.  The tide was coming in quickly so they were searching upstream.  They found the body of the woman last night as the tide fell, downstream near the Millennium Bridge.

If you want to you can read about it by clicking here.  A sad story.  There are photos there too and you can see Dunston Staithes as viewed from the other side of the river if you're not too overcome by the story.  It did seem a bit weird to be taking tourist pictures with such things going on but it wouldn't have helped in any way for me not to take these pictures.  I did at least wait for the police boat to move on before taking the pictures!

Yes, that's Dunston Staithes.  But what is this thing?  It was built in the 1890s and had rails on the top so coal could be transported from the coal fields direct to the river and transferred directly onto big ships.  At their peak, 140,000 tonnes of coal were loaded here every week.  It is claimed that they are the largest wooden structure in Europe with over 3,000 tonnes of wood.

They're not looking too healthy as they haven't been used in decades and there have been two fires since 2000.  Apparently there is lottery funding to restore them and work is meant to begin very soon.  Yes, lottery funding to restore something that is of no use to anyone beyond being a curiosity of industrial history.

Three Dunston facts:  (1) If I turned round I'd be looking at some flats and houses partly designed by Wayne Hemingway of the Red or Dead clothes fashion label.  They're rather nice, for a new development, but would be better if money existed to finish the estate.  (2) Brian Johnson, who has been lead singer of AC/DC since 1980, grew up in Dunston.  Yesterday there were rumours that the band may be retiring. (3) Dunston Power Station (now demolished - Costco is built on the station ash pits) is visible in the movie Get Carter.

Things looked a little different a century ago:

Onwards.  There was more walking to be done.  Looking towards my destination from Dunston.  Bridges.  Lots of bridges - sorry about the low resolution.  Believe me, six bridges are visible here.  From front to back:  Redheugh Bridge (road), King Edward Bridge (rail), Metro Bridge (Metro), High Level Bridge (road and rail), Swing Bridge (road), and Tyne Bridge (road).  Not visible is the Gateshead Millennium Bridge (pedestrian) as that's just round a bend in the river.

Next time I'll take a little look at a few of the bridges - yes, more photos - and finish the walk.  It really isn't a long walk.  With photo stops and at a very relaxed pace it only took 90 minutes to get from the Metro Centre bus station to the centre of Newcastle.  Not far at all and I recommend doing it if you have the time and opportunity.  If you aren't into spending a day in a shopping mall then get the bus there and walk back.  If you are wildly keen on such a fun day out then walk there and enjoy the river and the sunshine, rewarding yourself with food and drink when you arrive.

Monday, 7 April 2014

Quick Changes, More Overcoming of Fear and Waiting For the Great Leap Forward

I've had a speech therapy appointment today.  It seems that the bulk of male-to-female transsexual speech therapy can be summed up as follows:

  • Speak higher
  • Modulate with a feminine rise and fall
  • Just do it
While I was there I asked about the appointment I'm waiting for with a gender specialist, the person who can give me a diagnosis.  Until I am officially diagnosed I can't be referred for hormone treatment or laser hair removal.  Since I have lived full-time as myself for the last eight months this is difficult.  (full-time in this context means living at all moments in one's preferred gender 'role' - it also gets called 'real life experience'.)

I can't complain too much though, it was only recently that someone like myself would have had to be full-time for a period before being referred for treatment - it's only in the last few years that the NHS has moved towards removing that mandatory period.  And the waiting times for appointments used to be much longer - indeed, in other parts of the UK they are still much longer.  I talk to people who transitioned more years ago and their stories are even harder.  A woman I know could not be diagnosed at all until she had lived as herself for a year and then had to sit before a panel of psychiatrists and fight tooth-and-nail for that diagnosis.

Socially, the process of transition was much harder then.  The stories of suffering dwarf anything I've experienced in the last year.  Every transsexual person who transitioned back then amazes me for the things that they had to go through.  And I thank them for what they've done, that their actions and courage and, often, campaigning have been big steps to making the whole process comparatively far easier today.

But it's still hard to do this.  I've heard people ask, "How did people manage to go full time without hormone treatments?"  Answer: you just do and you cope with the difficulties that come your way as a result.  At least that's my experience.  But my experience is not anyone else's experience - there isn't any single right way or right experience in gender dysphoria.

One thing I find hard is not having control over the process.  I had almost complete control - and support of family - in moving from living as him to living as her.  I could choose times, places, clothing, levels of comfort or discomfort, the levels to stress I was prepared to face head on and overcome.  I could choose who to tell and when.  I could choose the speed of the process.  Most of it in any case.  It did speed up after my mother accidentally let things slip a bit too publicly.  In the end that worked out well because people were not shocked or dismayed and it meant that I got the whole process of coming out over with in a much quicker burst than I might have done.  It was stressful, but the stress of not telling people and the fears of what might happen are almost always far worse than any consequences of telling them.

Early in the process I saw a video on youtube.   Click here for the link if you feel like watching it too.  I haven't turned into a transgender video addict but there have been some useful ones.  The video was about fear overcoming fear.  The fear is normal.  But inaction doesn't tend to remove fear.  And it doesn't remove many of the barriers that seem to stand against oneself and positive action.  Yes, we're back to overcoming fear but this isn't the blog post I've been meaning to write about it.  Sorry about that.  Maybe I'll have to let that post slip away.

The question was asked:  "Which is worse, the possible consequences of being yourself or never being yourself?"  That's not just a transgender question.  That's a question we can all ask ourselves.  Is what people might think of you worse than being yourself?  And if you're not yourself who are you going to be?   It turns out that many people's reaction to me has been based on this question.  They say things like "You can/only be yourself."   "You only live once - so live."  They don't generally say "Eeeuurrrrgh!  Go away and hide in a box."

At the start of June last year I quoted the video on my facebook account - of course without saying where the words were from.  Lots of people liked it.  I'm sure people could find lots of problems with the video - people generally do - but in those days of early June it helped me immensely.  The video helped in my decision to run with my identity and live it to the best of my ability.  If we could all be inspired to do that for ourselves and let others do the same for themselves then society would be transformed in amazingly powerful ways.

Most of you are not transgender.  But take these words to heart and be courageous.  Go out.  And live.

"Don't let fear stop you. 
Because it will take away the minutes of your life
and then hours, and then days,
weeks and years
when you could have been you, 
when you could have been happy."

And no asking "what about people who want to murder or rape?"  People always ask questions like that, just before asking one of the most common questions asked in any discussion group: "What about Hitler?"  Probably none of you want to do those things and none of you have become who Hitler became so there's no problem.  People ask questions like that seeking an excuse to not live for themselves.  In any case, murder and rape are not start points.  They are end points that very often arise in people who have not been allowed or allowed themselves to be themselves.  The truth is suppressed whereupon it mutates and what may have been a perfectly natural bit of anger or an attraction to another human being goes mouldy, strengthens and emerges again in a far worse form.

Anyway, as I said, I asked about the appointment I'm waiting for with a "medically qualified" specialist - because (she said cynically) you need to study for years and have a certificate on the wall before you can spot the profoundly obvious.  Anyone else who meets me can correctly diagnose me in two minutes even though they may not have a certificate.

When I contacted the clinic in February I was told the appointment would be late March, which is what I'd been told back in November at my initial clinic appointment with a "non medically qualified" therapist - someone who can have a different certificate on the wall.

A month ago I was told that my appointment would be in early May or possibly in late April.

And today I was told that my appointment would probably be in May, unless anything happened and it got knocked back.

It's frustrating and tonight I'm just a bit grumpy because they tell me one thing, then they tell me another thing, then they tell me another thing and at this point there seems to be no progress in how long the wait will be.  In reality I'm further up the waiting list but it feels a bit like being left on hold indefinitely, just much worse.  And each day I live as myself - I wouldn't have it any other way - but there are some challenges doing that.  I said I like to have some control.  I have control over my name, outward gender, clothing, reading, jewellery, perfume, and so much that has changed in the last year.  I have no control over my appointment - and no control as to whether an "expert" will even be able to diagnose me during that appointment or whether I'll have to wait even longer to get the help to begin to live the life I'm already living.  I controlled the practicalities of social transition and I'm very happy with the result and with the still ongoing process of self-discovery.  But nobody can control the NHS!

I didn't really have a choice - it was either live as me, quickly, or die again.  Or rather, I had choices but only one was acceptable.  Maybe it's because I'd so thoroughly squashed the truth that, realising it and pretty much healing and understanding my life in three weeks, I couldn't not jump in.  If I hadn't mainly successfully covered up who I am and rapidly stamped on any clues, if I'd been more aware of it all and more used to it then perhaps I'd have had a choice.  I don't know - as we can only really know our own experience.

So it was fast!  Swapped clothes totally in weeks, told everyone - family, friends, neighbours, strangers, church quickly, which meant weeks of hyper-adrenalin and stomach pain.  Got barred from the things I was doing in the church - which had been leading into much more official ministry.  The parish were supportive but I was told that word had come down from on high!  In this diocese that's not a big surprise.

And verbal abuse in the street was very regular:  I can't say I recommend the experience of walking as female before laser treatment and after having a short male haircut, while not being good at faking some bravado.  Abuse wasn't going to stop me - I could not go back, horrific thought (ah, my screwed up psyche!) and fortunately nobody attacked physically.  Nowadays that verbal abuse is pretty rare - wouldn't say I "pass" but I don't obviously "not pass" (to use that problematic term).

I tried to delay for a bit - I thought I should save my mother the stress because she was dealing with some big problems and I didn't want to add to them (I thought I was a problem).  And so there were lots of people I couldn't tell without risking her finding out from them.  But I couldn't bear not being truthful with her and having to lie on the phone about such a big part of life.  Glad I told her.  She accepted the news pretty easily.  And if I had delayed due to her situation I'd still be delaying now - that situation is still there, and worse than it was.  It also meant I could visit my parents last summer in my clothes not his clothes - which would have hurt so much.  Of course I didn't really know how to dress then and some of the photos are quite scary!  Happier face, terrible dress sense.

That's enough writing.  More than enough.  This is essay length - 1,800 words.  Sorry!  Congratulations if you've stuck with it to the end.  You deserve a medal.  Or at least a hug.