Monday, 28 March 2016

Days of Gratitude - Hindu Gods, Ambition and Anniversaries

Another week of my posts from the Sunday Assembly gratitude group.  Life is good.  On the worst of days life is good.  In the past week I've had days on which I haven't been able to leave the house.  Those days will be in the next gratitude blog post.  But even for those bad days I can find gratitude.

Yes, life is good.  It really is.  And for me it's so much better than it ever was, because I have become more free and keep seeking to break out of the prisons in my own head that have walls built over decades.

I struggle a lot and sometimes worry that what I'm posting doesn't actually reflect my life.  It's the rose tinted spectacles version maybe.  Sometimes I mention that it's hard - one of these days is a real mention.  But it's not all fun and games and photos and ice cream and happy smiling Clare.  Oh no.  Some of it is hell.

But life is good.  It is.

Life is hard. With this head it's very hard. It truly is. Most people don't understand quite how hard it is. But it's good. And I realise that to a large extent it's good because I have chosen to make it good. And it's improving because I have chosen it.

And when you make that choice the universe looks at you after a while and says, "Hey, she must enjoy a good life because she's chosen it, so we're going to send a few more good things to her."

When we mope in misery (which I've always been good at) the universe thinks that we enjoy being miserable so after a while cooperates with us by sending some more misery for us to enjoy.

Of course we all have our troubles but I'm learning that if we choose the good, more good comes our way through "coincidence" and random connections than if we don't choose it.

16th March

Grateful that after playing the piano I can close the lid and reveal these tiles. Grateful for having the piano too.

I know it's a godless assembly, but here are a bunch of gods! But as one Hindu said, "We have 10,000 gods but not one of them is divine."

17th March

This week I've been massively social for me. Or at least I've tried to be. It costs me so many spoons even if I want to do it and love the people. (Except for a couple of people who cost no spoons because they are safety.) Arranging it and preparing my head for it wears me out lots.  If I go out of my way to meet socially with someone it generally means they are really important to me.

Nevertheless, I arranged to go out on three occasions and meet with people. All three of them pulled out on the day for different reasons.  It's nothing personal.  They all had good reasons.  But changing plans is also very costly for my head.  And building myself to be social and then it not happening costs me a lot.

I am grateful.

Not for repeatedly trying and failing to have a social life. But because I am really proud of myself. Because I didn't then just sit at home but went out anyway and did things on each of the days. For me, that is something big, something that's very hard work.

 Today: A walk down to the Tyne and then to the Baltic and Sage and back over the High Bridge in stonkingly gorgeous Spring weather. So glad I managed it. This is such an amazing place to live.

And I took too many pictures. Many more than these.

18th March

Grateful that thanks to Megabus I can get to Manchester twice this month.

Grateful for the love we share and for the silliness and the freedom too.

 19th March

Grateful for our trip to the seaside.

For doughnuts, for double ice cream, for chips, for the freedom of riding on a Victorian carousel, and for more double ice cream.

The simple things can be the best.

Image: An awesomely cool person sitting on ambition
 20th March

Grateful for this stupendously super friendship.

Grateful to be spending these days with someone so awesomely cool.

21st March

Grateful for a really good day with Amanda , the last for a while. Seven months since we met.

Grateful for all the people you can learn about at The People's History museum, without whom all of our lives would be far less free.

And grateful for carer free tickets which meant our trip to the theatre last night only cost £4 each. Photo taken while waiting for the bus afterwards.

22nd March

Grateful to be home again and with a few things to look forward to. Grateful that my time away was so good. I have quite a lot of problems but I really am very, very fortunate.

23rd March

I guess it would be odd to not post this for today.

Twenty years ago, this happened in a church in Aberystwyth.

Twenty years on, we are both very different.

And though I have put her through so much - especially with my mental health but other things too - we are still here and she has not walked away.

Sunday, 27 March 2016

Days of Gratitude - Awesome People, Art, and the Sacred Harp

Catching up.  Another eight days of gratitude.  Except I missed a day because Manchester was so busy and I didn't have time to think of posting.

8th March

Grateful to be heading to Manchester today to spend a couple of days with Amanda.

We met 200 days ago. When I got up 200 days ago I could not have imagined her, or being so close, or sharing what we share. When I got up 198 days ago I had the hope that a solid, long-lasting friendship would develop. Totally grateful for those days.

 (isn't she awesome?)

10th March

Grateful that it was five years ago today that we moved to Newcastle. Grateful that we made the crazy move when it wasn't in our list of possible options. I could write lots on why it's been a good move and how many of the good things would have been pretty much impossible had we stayed in North Wales.

These photos were taken just before we left Wales (brown door house) and just after we arrived here.

The kitchen photo is the last taken of me in the old house. The lounge is the first taken of me in the new house. 

It's fair to say I've changed a bit! And that the changes aren't over.

11th March

Grateful for the awesome time I had in Manchester and for something unexpected that happened.

Grateful though to be home and that this parcel was waiting for me. I have a drum.

12th March

Grateful for entertaining books received in the last week.

And for the meditation group and lunch today. Hoorah for things that are free!

13th March

Grateful that, though it was damn hard, I got through this morning's appointment without a full blown panic attack or meltdown. Just.

Grateful for spending rather more money than expected on water colour paints due to the accidental (oops) addition of two lots of pens, water colour pencils, glitter paint, a large glitter set, sketch pad and pencil sharpener that is NOT going to get borrowed and then get lost. Grateful for the masking fluid and paint pens bought yesterday too.

When Clare gets a streak of enthusiasm she over does it!

14th March

Grateful to see the Tyne and the sea today even if I didn't take many pictures.

Grateful to have been able to put my clothes away tonight having cleared out thirty tops. The wardrobe is still full.

15th March

Grateful for having the energy and mental well being to get out and sing in the evening. Grateful too for not too many wrong notes even though it's a while since I sang this wonderful stuff. 

For anyone in Newcastle, people sing from this book and sometimes other similar songs every Tuesday evening in the Bridge Hotel from 7.30 to 10.  It's free and there are copies of the book to borrow and sing from too. It's sung in various places across the country - as detailed in this list.  Go on, try it.  You might find a new love and get excited about the sound of it and the experience of singing in such a way.  Or you might hate it.  But that's okay, you won't have spent lots of money finding it out and you'll have still experienced something new.  For some more information about this book and the shape note singing tradition look at

I first encountered the book when a man named Robin Fox led a singing school at the Fylde Folk Festival in Fleetwood in the mid 1990s.  I loved it and bought myself the book.  The book then sat on the shelf for a long time as I did not encounter shape note singing again - it doesn't happen near Fleetwood or Bangor.  But not long after we moved here I saw a poster advertising a singing school and since then I've intermittently been singing again.  Hoorah!

Saturday, 26 March 2016

Days of Gratitude - Persimmon, Piano and a Preserved Human Hand

Wow!  I've got behind on this.  At the start of the year I joined the Sunday Assembly Newcastle gratitude group.  There aren't many of us left but I'm still there and haven't missed many days of posting something for which I'm grateful.  But I've got behind on blogging my gratitude diary.  I'm doing this primarily for myself, so I can look back at some of the good things of my life when I'm having a bad time.  And sometimes the times are very bad.  But I know that some other people enjoy this too and a few are even inspired by it.

So it's time to catch up.  Tonight, the first week of March:

 1st March

Grateful for the meds that gave me enough head space that I could go out for a while today. Grateful that I was rewarded with books to buy.

Grateful to have been able to make noises with guitar, piano and voice tonight even if the improvised, never to be heard again, song on the guitar was a little strange. This photo may be a repeat. I should remember to take pictures every day.

Grateful for the CD currently playing of the Jacques Loussier Trio playing Vivaldi's Four Seasons.

And grateful, so damn grateful, that some dreams don't come true. 

2nd March

Grateful that Grainger Market had these today. Didn't think I would be seeing persimmon, or kaki fruit as they called them, for quite a few months.

A friend is jealous as she has been even more addicted to them than I have.

3rd March

Grateful to have been given some guidance tonight. Especially as it totally matches what I already knew.

Grateful for the brainwave to move something big from my bedroom into the spare room, and that I know that I won't miss any of the things I've cleared out today. At this rate the bedroom will become a more comfy place instead of a room made oppressive and tense by the sheer quantity of stuff and clutter.

 4th March

Grateful to have got the best Metro seat travelling both to and from Sunderland.

Not sure if the other picture is a grateful but I am grateful that it was conversation tonight. I found I have a piece of linen blessed by the Holy Hand of St Edmund Arrowsmith. This is the hand in question. It's in a church near Wigan. Grateful too that my piety isn't traditional Catholic now, if my piety exists at all!

5th March

Grateful that I have taken the plunge: I just ordered myself a bodhran.

It's a cheap one and it was ultra cheap because the ink on it is a bit smudged into the edges of the drum. But that seemed entirely appropriate because we already have smudging at the drum group I go to.

It may not be the last bodhran I buy but it's definitely the first.

Neighbours will be pleased that this bungalow is detached.

No photo, but after yesterday's preserved hand that may come as a relief.

6th March

Grateful for drumming in the evening and for buying second hand books while I was there. Grateful for a quiet day at home before that. Very grateful indeed that an unwell friend was able to get home safely from London.

 7th March

Grateful for rainbows. And sunshine.

The sun made this rainbow on my skirt as I travelled on the Metro this morning. And then this afternoon it shone through the crystal in the window and made rainbows on the walls.

When I am told that Autistic Pride is a bad thing

 The background:
A comment on Facebook saying that we shouldn't have autistic pride - or gay pride, black pride, Etc. - because pride comes from achievements not from something innate.  A comment that said that all this "pride" noise comes from people who see themselves as substandard.  A comment that said that after autism pride could come left big toe pride, skin pride and oxygen-breather pride and it would make as much sense.

That's an opinion.  And he's entitled to have that opinion.  And disagreeing with an opinion is not a judgement on a person.
But I'm the kind of person who is into the whole Pride thing.  I am transgender and I'm autistic and that's made life hard.  But I am proud of who I am and proud that I am finally learning to accept myself and be myself and that will lead to a better future.  And I'm so into it that I wear badges that say "Autistic Pride" and a bracelet too that was made for me.  So a short (by my standards) response to the comment happened.

I'm posting it mainly because it's part of who I am and I can look back on it here when I am feeling bad about myself or feeling low because of the latest social or sensory problem that's hit me or I've not managed some really basic thing due to a lack of EF skills.  That's a function of this blog for me, or at least it has been recently, that I can look back on the bad days and know that actually life is pretty damn good even with the difficulties I have.  If there were zero page views I would still post because it's worthwhile for my own well being.

Image taken from here. I'd be very tempted if I lived in the USA.
The off the cuff response:
I'm proud to be autistic (and queer and trans ...)

All of the various pride groups come from people being told they have to be ashamed of one aspect of who they are or told they are less than other people because of that aspect or are or have been discriminated against socially and/or legally.

We are proud to be these things because we've been told we shouldn't be. It's not because we see ourselves as substandard. It's because we've been told that we are substandard and we deny it, and continue to deny it and say that we're as good as anyone else and we're proud to be who we are in the face of having so much crap thrown in our faces by those who would put us down.

One of the definitions of pride in the dictionary is "conscious of one's own dignity." Yes. We're proud. We know our dignity as autistic people. Even though it's been a fight - and it still is a fight in some ways and in many places - to have our dignity accepted by others. We refused to have our innate dignity stripped away by society or individuals. Because we KNOW that we are different, not less. Autistic pride is autistic self respect. It's acceptance.

Well I'm proud anyway, regardless of whether anyone else is proud.

Left-toe pride? Skin pride? Oxygen breathing pride? Of course not. Because none of those things has been a cause for discrimination, bigotry, hatred, or anything else. Nobody has insulted me in the street for breathing oxygen. Have they insulted you for it?

Friday, 25 March 2016

Street Art - The Arches Project, Gateshead, 17th March 2016

There's a little area behind The Sage in Gateshead that's well known for street art.  It's not static, the pictures and tags change as the artists do more work.  It's The Arches Project which includes digital music, dance, set design and more.  It's worth wandering past The Arches if you're anywhere near The Sage and taking a look at whatever art can be seen.

No comments about these.  Except to say that I really love the one that's kind of a Russsian doll.  This is what could be seen in the middle of March this year.

Of course, I didn't know of this person.  Taylor Cusack was found dead in his home.  He was only 17.  If you want to read about him the Chronicle has this moving report about his death, his funeral and tributes paid to him. Yes.  Rest in peace Taylor.

Blyth - A Walk along the Quayside and Beach

Today I just had to take advantage of some wonderful weather.  I've done something I have never done before:

Taken a bus to Blyth.

The plan was to walk from there to Seaton Sluice and there buy chips for lunch.  It was a good plan.  Except it's Good Friday and apparently half of the population of Northumberland want to eat fish on Good Friday and most of them want to buy it from the chip shop in Seaton Sluice.  I have to admit, it's a very good chippy.  But I wasn't about to join the back of a queue of probably 150 people just to get a portion of chips.

Anyway, I quite liked what I saw of Blyth.  Apparently that's almost a heresy - people have never spoken to me of Blyth in glowing terms.  Perhaps I was missing something but what I saw of it was pleasant.  A quiet shopping area with several charity shops.  And then straight to the water to walk along the quayside and then down to the South beach.  It really is rather pleasing and I'll go back.  It would be nice to visit on a school day as the park in Blyth has two very good play areas and there's the third one just before Seaton Sluice.  Of course, on a glorious Good Friday they were crowded with happy people.

Okay, a few photos were taken.

Wednesday, 23 March 2016

It Was Twenty Years Ago Today ... I Got Married

It was twenty years ago today ...

I got married.

Most of the words below are taken from a long letter my mother wrote afterwards to my brother, who couldn't come to the wedding due to being on the other side of the world to me at the time.   I've changed my name from that in the letter to my current name, because I had a different name then - and a different gender too of course, otherwise we could not have got married at all.  And I've just left initials for other names.  Those who were there will know who we all were.

Image: St. Mike's Church, taken from the church website
That's where we were married, the church of St. Michael and All Angels, Aberystwyth, or St Mike's as it's been known for a long while.  At that time we both worshipped there, with hundreds of other people because it was the largest Anglican parish congregation in Wales.  I'm not sure they had ever had a wedding quite like ours.  Photos below were taken on my very cheap camera today from those in our official album - which was made up by B.


... We were all in church at 6 o'clock for a rehearsal.  The Rev. Bell likes everything to run smoothly in his church.  Behind his back they all call him "Commander" Bell.  The musicians were setting themselves up and having a practice, while the ceremony was run through.  I asked Rev. Bell if he had ever done a wedding with a Best Woman before.  He replied that it had not occurred in 25 years!  "Well, I'm proud of you Clare," I retorted. ...

Yes, I had a best woman.  Turns out that I'm a woman too.  It's highly probable that St. Mikes has never married any other couple who turn out to both be women or men.  And unless things there have drastically changed in the last twenty years they still wouldn't want to marry a same sex or same gender couple.  In any case, it's nice to do things in a way that aren't average.

... The following morning, I slipped down a few steps at the guesthouse, on the way to the bathroom and severely strained my left ankle.  I hobbled down to breakfast, and then B went out to find a chemist for a support bandage and some anti-bruising cream.  I spent the rest of the morning sitting looking at the sea, with my ankle raised. ...

... We went round to Clare's place, for we were having their things for going away in our car.  He was very calm.  It's not many bridegrooms, I think, who spend the night before the wedding with another woman; but then it was an obvious place for V to stay. ...

Yes, I spent the night before getting married with another woman.  And two weeks later I went to stay with her for a few days in Manchester.  Curiously, the closest bus stop to her home at the time is also the closest bus stop to the home of the good friend I've been staying with recently when visiting Manchester.  Twenty years on and at least some things haven't changed - I still go to Manchester and stay with another woman.

... In the church car park we greeted the M relations and M and D; we were introduced to some more of B's family, and then we all went in the church.  Another difference about this wedding was that there was no "giving away."  At 3 o'clock Rev. Bell came out from the vestry, met Clare and they both walked up the aisle to the church door to greet B.  Then Clare and B walked back down the aisle together.  Our M preached a sermon and little C (the one from Dorking, who we all love) did one of the readings. ...

Yes, no giving away, on the grounds that my wife is her own woman.  She hadn't been owned by her dad.  She wasn't then owned by me afterwards.  So she couldn't be given by him to me.  People didn't allow me to do what I wanted.  I wanted, when the time came, to stand up, look as panicked to the world as I could and then leg it out of the church via the vestry and make it look like I'd done a runner, and then calmly wander round to the church door to walk in with B.  I thought that would be funny.  But I didn't get to do it.

Thanks to C for reading.  She wasn't named in the programme but filled in at the last minute.  One of our readers couldn't come due to burning herself badly that morning.  Another reader still came even though he ran someone over on the way to the service.  No serious injuries thankfully.  My mother was amused at while C read because I was at the front of the church with B, C, and V.  She almost thought of them as my three women.  And I can say in all innocence that I have shared a bed with all three of them.  The fact that C was reading Psalm 51 - King David repenting of adultery - is not relevant to this story.


... The music was, of course, unconventional.  One song was sung to the music of La Bamba.  That, at least was a tune we were familiar with.  The others we sang heartily, taking our lead from the musicians in front of us and M and S standing behind us.  The musicians were great.  There were guitars and keyboards, a violin, a saxophone and some singers.  One unhappy little soul was Grandad, who put his book down at the beginning of the first hymn, knowing he couldn't cope. 

I'm normally a bit tearful and emotional at weddings, but was fine until we went into the vestry for the signing of the register.  It was at the moment when I get B a hug and kiss to greet the new Mrs. M that I shed a few tears ...

... The weather was very dull, but at least when the service was over it was not raining.  B ... (my dad) ... took the photos of the formal groups that ought to be taken at weddings, although I'm not sure if Clare and B thought it was all that important - perhaps it was just me.  Certainly, I found it was me that was organising people into these groups.  But then it was a very woman dominated event ...

... The reception was in a church hall about 5 minutes walk from the church, so most people walked.  I did not.  The friends had laid out a spread of, well the normal sort of things you would have at a buffet.  It must have been hard work, because there were 70 people at least.  We had wine to drink.  There were to be no formal speeches, but B's mother did just do the "thank you all for coming" bit and proposed a toast to the bride and groom ... see, I told you it was a woman dominated event.  I needn't have worried about people not being happy.  They all seemed to have enjoyed being involved in such a special wedding, that had been planned by the happy couple to be what was important to them ...

A cutting the cake photo.  The little girl is B's cousin.  It was her birthday.
Yes, we planned our wedding well, although to be honest I might still have stayed away had it not been my own wedding.  Big social gathering, having to smile lots, having far too many cameras pointed at me, having to put on the acceptable social show and be the centre of attention while doing it.  That's just not my thing but really the bride and groom are essential parts of a wedding!

We didn't want normality.  We wanted it to be as close to what we wanted as it could be, within the contexts of an Anglican church service.  So we borrowed the youth band from the local Methodist church - which included people we were at college with - and they played eleven happy songs for us that day, cut down from a list of seventeen.  My poor Grandad gave up early - the first song was one of our two traditional hymns.  Much of the rest of the service was a praise party!

Our preacher was my half uncle who was just starting out in full time church ministry then.  He's now a baptist minister in a growing church in Gloucestershire.  I don't know if he still tells as many jokes in sermons as he did then or whether he would still use the word "testicles" in a wedding sermon.  People still remember that.

We had a cheap wedding too.  We got married in Lent - so couldn't have filled the church with flowers even if we had wanted to.  One of B's friends made the cake and our limo to the reception and train station was her boyfriend's car.  My dad was the wedding photographer.  Our band played for free, just for the experience of playing at a wedding.  And friends from college did indeed work really hard and clubbed together with their cash and their time to give us a relaxed wedding reception to be proud of.

B's clothes came from a charity shop.  Mine didn't - I was the expensive one.  That suit lasted me until I came out as transgender in 2013 and acted as weddings, funerals and preaching suit.  When the time came I was massively grateful to get rid of it.  I gave the contents of my wardrobe to the West End Refugee Service in Newcastle and I'm sure it all got put to good use.  As my mother said, B and I walked into the church together for the service.  Equal partners from the start.

One regret is that I didn't take B's surname in 1996.  We had discussed the possibility and I don't really know why it didn't happen.  Obviously it can't have been that important at the time to us or we would have made it happen.  Of course, in 2013 it happened.  It seemed the right thing to do when I embraced myself as Clare and she embraced me too.  Quite inconvenient though.  I got B to change her surname.  And then got her to change it back again.  Talk about indecisiveness!  As regrets go, that's a nice small thing.

And here's my mother's description of how our married life began.  It kind of set the pattern for the next twenty years of things not going quite as planned and us muddling through it all:

... At just gone 7 o'clock we had to chivvy Clare and B to be going to station to catch their train.  Strangely, it was only Clare's relations who went to the station too, to send them off in style.  Mind you the journey wasn't all that they planned.  V also had to travel on that train (she had to get back to Manchester), but promised that she's sit in another carriage.  Unfortunately there were only 2 carriages and one had a large crowd of drunken yobbos in, and there was no way any of them would travel with that sort.  Then apparently the train was help up for over half an hour at Dovey Junction, and then when there train did get going there was no electricity and they were travelling without lights. ...

And then our hotel room at the Shrewsbury Hotel that night was dreadful.  The bathroom was so small that you had to sit sideways on the toilet.  The bedside table, instead of a Gideon's Bible, contained half a packet of condoms.  Yes, half a packet!  And the window looked out on a back alley the other side of which was a take away which didn't shut until 2 am and kept it's back kitchen door open.  People seemed to be vomiting in the alley for most of the night.  The breakfast the following morning was dire.  The "Full English Breakfast" when it eventually happened consisted of one sausage and a fried egg.  Thankfully they did move us for our second night there into their best room and that was much more comfortable.

It wasn't the most promising start and the first year of our marriage contained quite a few tough things.  But we survived that year.  And we've got through nineteen more years of marriage and a lot more hard things have happened and there have been big surprises that just keep coming.  We made it.  Twenty years.  Traditionally you should all give us some china today.  We have more than enough china so feel free to give us the modern suggested gift of platinum - but be assured that we don't need platinum either so would be selling your gift.  Because we're like that!