The Iron-On Line
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Below are the 20 most recent journal entries recorded in the "Nick Kiddle" journal:
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Character sketch: Aron|
[Another character sketch from the novel I really should try to write. As before, please please comment, especially if something sounds wrong.]
Aron never really thought about gender either, but in his case it was more because he always had much more pressing things on his mind. The people around him were incomprehensible on so many levels that the way they managed to effortlessly sort themselves into boys and girls was just another thing that didn't make sense to him.
He didn't have many friends at school. It wasn't that nobody liked him - they just weren't interested in the things he was interested in. While everyone else played at hospitals, he would examine the way the stones of the boundary wall fitted together, or act out in elaborate detail a battle from the Illiad. A few generous souls tried to include him, but quickly decided he was too weird to be worth bothering with.
There were bullies, sometimes. Some kids were endlessly amused by the way they could reduce him to incoherent rage by singing the same note over and over again, or going through his collection of interesting twigs. His fury usually landed him in the head's office, while his tormentors got away with it because the teachers never saw how deeply they were hurting him. In any case, the teachers were already frustrated with him for the way he behaved in class. He knew how to do the work, but all sorts of things would distract him, and the work was never finished by the end of the lesson.
Detentions had no effect on him - he could find just as many distractions inside a classroom as out on the playground, and he was away from the people who liked to tease him. Letters home, and the obvious frustration of his parents and the teachers, made him feel like he ought to be doing better, but he couldn't work out how to manage it. The teachers' instructions always left something out, and trying to figure out what they meant was one of the easiest ways to get sidetracked.
The summer he moved up to secondary school, his dad sat him down and gave him a long lecture about making a fresh start. Nobody would know him there, and it was a chance to put "all that" behind him. He gave it some serious thought, and decided that his biggest problem was that he couldn't control the things that made everyone consider him weird. If he deliberately cultivated a few extra weird qualities, everyone would assume he was doing it all deliberately, and pay less attention to the things that were out of his hands.
So he reinvented himself as Zan - or Zane, depending on his mood - the class clown. A hundred and one ridiculous-sounding questions to the teacher at the beginning of each assignment kept his classmates laughing, but they also helped him get unambiguous explanations of what they were meant to be doing. A couple of teachers went out of their way to make assignment descriptions "Zan-proof", thinking it would frustrate him: actually, it was exactly what he wanted.
At some point, he fell in with the music and drama crowd. He learned to play the piano and the cornet, and spent a term playing in a percussion band one of the fifth years set up. He auditioned for a couple of the school's drama productions, but although he could keep the audience amused as himself, he couldn't manage to step into a role. Instead, he helped with painting sets and dressing the stage, and stayed well back for the final performances for fear he would ruin them by getting distracted at the wrong moment.
After that, school worked out pretty well. There were still a few people who tried to mock him, but he had friends - or maybe fans - who could stand up to them, and if that didn't work he just turned the weirdness up even higher until they gave up. GCSE coursework was a struggle, but teachers who were well used to his problems dragged him through it somehow, and he ended up with decent, if not spectacular, grades. He went to college, where he decided to study English, Drama, and Music.
There was a pleasant core of people who were - at least outwardly - just as weird as him. He dated one of them: an incredibly flamboyant drama geek who turned out to be gay. Aron received the news as an interesting but not life-altering piece of information, and was most puzzled by the fact that it apparently spelled an automatic end to the relationship. "I want to date boys, Zan," Jonny explained, in much the same tones as his Zan-proofing teachers had used. "But I could be a boy for you," Aron replied.
Jonny was having none of it, but something clicked into place for Aron. He'd never really felt right being a girl. It hadn't bothered him, as such, but there had always been something that didn't quite fit. The more he considered himself as a boy, the more it made sense. Obviously he was the kind of boy who didn't mind dressing up in girly outfits - but then, Jonny was also that kind of boy. Thanks to the internet, he quickly discovered that there were plenty of others like him.
It was a thrilling discovery, but it was also the biggest distraction yet. When he wasn't trying out new names, he was hanging out in online groups, swapping tips for looking like a prettyboy instead of a girl with guys all over the world. Coursework deadlines came and went. Tutors called increasingly urgent conferences. He promised to sort himself out, and sincerely meant it, but the possibilities that had opened up for him were just too fascinating. In the end, he bowed to the inevitable, dropped out, and found a job.
His dad was furious. He raged at Aron for wasting his potential, until Aron's mum suggested that his potential might be better realised in a job. A truce was declared, which lasted until the shop where Aron worked hit a rough patch. Aron - the last staff member hired, and the most easily distracted - was the obvious first choice to be laid off, and the arguments began again. And so the pattern was set. If Aron was in work, his dad would grumble fairly quietly, but the moment he was out of work, there would be another eruption.
The final blow fell a week after Aron's 18th birthday. He had printed out the form that would make him legally Aron Zane Black, but before he could take it to a solicitor's, he got laid off again, and he decided to save his money until he knew when he'd have more. His dad was in a fine old temper at the dinner table. "I didn't raise my daughter to mess about in shops and bars all her life," he said. Aron was dimly aware that this wasn't a good time to bring it up, but he couldn't bear to keep it to himself. "I'm not your daughter, dad," he said. "I'm your son. I'm a bloke."
Both his parents acted as if he was only saying that to make his dad even more angry. His dad ranted, swore, demanded to know what the hell he was thinking, while his mum quietly pleaded with him to stop upsetting his dad, "things have been difficult for him lately." The shouting started to physically hurt Aron, and he couldn't take any more. He went up to his bedroom, packed a couple of bags, and walked out.
He stayed with an ex-workmate for a couple of weeks, then spent a couple of weeks on the settee of someone he'd been at college with. He didn't know anyone well enough to move in with them, but he didn't mind asking people he hardly knew if he could crash at theirs for a few days. Even Jonny, when he called and explained what was going on, let him stay for a while. Whenever he was working, he scoured the newspapers for flats, but before he could get a first month's rent together, he was laid off again. So he just kept bouncing round, staying with friends of friends, or moving in with blokes who liked to think of him as their girlfriend.
He knew he couldn't go on like that forever - especially not the girlfriend part - but he couldn't think of another plan apart from crawling home to his dad. He went to the Jobcentre with some vague ideas about getting his name down on the council list, and spotted someone he thought he recognised. Kris had been a couple of years above him at school, but everyone had known the "dyke weirdo". But now, looking at him, Aron realised he'd never been a dyke. He was another guy like Aron - a potential kindred spirit. And that, especially in the mess he was currently in, was enough to send him strolling over to introduce himself.
Character sketch: Kristian|
[This is a character sketch from a novel I keep telling myself I'm going to write. I'd be interested in comments, especially anything you think doesn't ring true.]
Kristian never really thought about gender for the first ten years of his life. He had two older brothers, which meant a lot of hand-me-downs; having the same haircut as his brothers and being called Kris was too convenient for his parents to mind. At school, everyone thought he was a boy until they heard his full name, and he liked it that way just fine.
It probably helped that he was a bright kid. Way ahead of his age group in reading, writing, and maths, he sailed through his schoolwork and read biographies of famous scientists in his free time. He could hold his own in the playground football games, but the books were always a stronger draw.
His reading taught him roughly what puberty was about, but he only related to it in an abstract way. Learning, not long before his eleventh birthday, that this was something his own body had in store for him in the next few years, knocked him sideways. He had nightmares, which he tried to cope with by staying awake as long as possible. He tried to talk to his parents, and to the school nurse, but he could never manage to put into words what was so horrifying about starting periods. His mother told him over and over that it was a perfectly normal thing that happened to all girls, and his only response was, "Well then I don't want to be a girl."
Before, he had fitted in fairly well at school as a tomboy, but now he stood out as one of the weird ones. Kids soon noticed how his full name on the register made him flinch, and several of them took to calling him by it, very deliberately, to watch his reaction. When he tried to turn an old felt-tip into a crude STP device, someone found out, and jokes about his "homemade dick" followed him from primary school to secondary.
He'd hoped things would be easier in a bigger school. They were harder. A gendered school uniform marked him out from day one, and every class had a register with his full name on. Surrounded by girls who were thrilled at having anything to put in a crop-top, his insistence that his developing chest was still flat stood out even further. As kids started to form relationships, everyone took it for granted that he was a lesbian, and "dyke" was added to the growing collection of insults aimed at him.
Sometimes school work offered an escape - especially maths and science. But other times, the constant background of whispered taunts ruined his concentration and his work suffered. Teachers worried about him, but the only answer they had to the abuse was, "Just ignore them." Good memory and some brilliant exam performances compensated for the weaknesses in his coursework, and he came out with a slate of GCSE results not far behind the teachers' predictions from better days.
Fortunately, his school didn't offer A-levels. He went to college for them, among a different and less vindictive crowd. He tried to change his name to Kristian then, hoping he could claim the missing letter was a clerical error, but it proved not to be quite so simple. Still, everyone was happy to call him Kris, and he managed to make friends. He dated a couple of lads - he thought he was probably bisexual, but the only girls interested in him were lesbians, and he couldn't face that. He sailed through his A-levels and headed to the University of Liverpool to study physics.
University suited him even better than college. He met a few trans people, and slowly came to understand what had bothered him so much about puberty. A trans woman doing postgraduate studies helped him legally change his name to Kristian, and he came out to his family. His parents were cautious but mostly supportive; his brothers fully supportive. He looked into medical transition, but decided he couldn't drag himself through that much gatekeeping and still keep on top of his course load. Graduate first, was his plan, and then start the process as soon as possible.
He graduated with a solid 2:1. Three days later, he went out to celebrate the end of uni with a few friends. On the way home, their car ran off the road and into a wall.
Kristian was the only one seriously injured. He was in hospital for two weeks, and in physiotherapy for a lot longer. His injuries weren't lifethreatening, and physically he seemed to be mending well. But he started having nightmares, as terrifying as the ones he'd had as a child. Every time he went to his outpatient appointment, his stomach cramped and he struggled for breath. Tiny, irrelevant-seeming things sent waves of horror through him. He went to his GP, hoping he'd feel better if he got on the track to getting hormones, but he felt so ill when he stepped into the waiting room that he cancelled the appointment and went home.
His family, who had been so supportive of his transition, couldn't understand what was happening. As far as they were concerned, the accident had been a terrible shock, but it was over and done with now. He'd been lucky enough to make a full recovery, so why was he spending his days moping?
The first of the horror passed. He still couldn't bring himself to go back to the doctor's, which left his transition in a kind of limbo. But once the nightmares receded to every other night, he thought he might manage to look for work. As long as he stayed away from anywhere that reminded him of doctors or hospitals, he ought to be OK. He took a string of temp jobs - mostly warehouse work, with a bit of food service - and tried to take life one day at a time.
His biggest obstacle was his parents. They didn't mind him living at home while he got himself sorted out, but they kept asking when he was going to manage that. When his dad commented that it was a waste of his degree to work in a warehouse, he knew he'd need to move out. He found a bedsit he could just about afford, as long as he was working fairly regularly, and moved. His mum was a bit hurt; his dad took it as a welcome sign that he was starting to sort himself out.
But he couldn't pay his rent when there was no work, so eventually he had to sign on. As he waited for his appointment at the Jobcentre, he noticed another "client" watching him. They looked to be about his age, or possibly younger, and their hair appeared to have been cut with hedge clippers in pitch darkness and then dyed bright purple. He stared back, and they walked over to him, a hand extended. "Hi, I think I went to school with you. My name's Aron, but when you knew me I would have been called Suzanne."
Hair and earrings|
Have a smartphone selfie.
The two things to notice are the extreme shortness of my hair and the three metal objects in my ear. Lately, I've started experimenting, for want of a better word, with my presentation and body mods. I've dyed my hair red, bleached it, dyed it blue, shaved it right down to skin, let it grow back. Every four months, or whenever I have the money, I visit the tattoo-and-piercing studio and get something else done to my body: the tally so far stands at one tattoo and two new piercings, but I have great plans for more.
I'm partly doing it as a favour to my inner teenager. My chronological teens were a horrible mess of being bullied, pretending I wasn't going through estrogen puberty, experiencing horribly intense emotions, being told I was stupid and broken for experiencing those emotions, never understanding what my mind was doing to me, being punished because I couldn't shake this crap off well enough to concentrate on schoolwork, and generally feeling that life was more trouble than it was worth. In the last couple of years, I've been facing up to the fact that this was a bad thing that happened to me, and trying to heal myself. One tactic to that end is to let myself act like a teenager in minor ways. As if I was living my teenage years again, but with at least a bit of knowledge about myself and awareness that I'm an acceptable human being.
Part of it is also a way of asserting my control of my body. The very first piercing I got, back when I was 18, was a kind of dry run for transition - even though I didn't really understand what transition was or think it could apply to me. I was nervous about the idea of doing something to my body that, if I decided I didn't want it, wouldn't go back to exactly the way it had been. That's why I only got my right ear pierced - I wanted to keep my left ear unmarked, just in case.
I'm still nervous about making big changes, but these days I'm thinking of piercings as ways to make my body more ... interesting? Expressive? Eventually, I want five piercings in my right ear, so that I can make a five-ring ornament to wear on special occasions. And I want more tattoos, so I can write the story of my life on my body. I know plenty of people, with and without tattoos, who would laugh at that, but that only makes me more determined. Nobody else has to like what I do to my body. That's what it means to have autonomy.
Scunthorpe 3 Swindon 1|
We had a chance - slim, but undeniably a chance - of avoiding the drop. We had to win, and hope Colchester lost in such a way that the combined goal difference was three goals or more. I declared loudly that I had come to witness our relegation, that we were about to become a League 2 team, that the drop was inevitable; the truth was that as long as a possibility of escape existed, I couldn't help but hope.
The club had slashed prices to just five pounds in the hopes of drawing a crowd. It worked so well that my dad and samholloway had to join Fluffy and me on the terrace, the only remaining seats being restricted view. We were surrounded by a fairly cheerful crowd, the usual Glanford Park nay-sayers drowned out by fans determined to roar the team on to survival if it was remotely possible. And the team responded with a performance that was bursting with energy, if not always particularly sharp in front of the Swindon goal.
Fluffy was one of the many fans trying to keep track by smartphone of how Colchester were getting on at Brunton Park. No matter how diligently she refreshed, the BBC website always said 0-0, which would relegate us whatever we did. As many people were urging Carlisle to take the lead in that game as were urging the Iron on. And still both games remained scoreless. Sam Slocombe gave another brilliant performance in goal - eventually earning him the MotM award. Swindon had the ball in the net, but to my immense relief, the referee's assistant had his flag up for offside.
The second half continued along the same lines as the first. We were playing much better than we had for most of the season, we weren't scoring, and the news from Brunton Park wasn't encouraging. The referee ignored an obvious penalty claim, and we howled with outrage. Then the bad news began to filter through the crowd. The BBC website was slow to update, but others had more reliable ways of getting the information. Their faces, their grim mutterings, made it all too clear: Colchester had taken the lead. Whatever we did, we were going down.
Bad became worse a few minutes later when Swindon took the lead. A bunch of people who had been hanging around at the front of the terrace all match spilled onto the pitch, with who knows what intention. It was such a pointless act, achieving nothing except bringing the club into disrepute and probably earning us a fine, that we cheered heartily for the police officers who chased them down, tackled them, and dragged them off the pitch in handcuffs.
The match finally restarted, and news came through that Colchester were now winning 2-0. There wasn't even enough time left to hope for a double miracle, although we did quickly equalise. I wondered whether I should drown my disappointment in whiskey or allow myself, for once, to cry.
We cheered the six minutes of stoppage time - mostly down to the pitch invasion - even though our fate was being decided for us in Carlisle. We were still pressing; the players couldn't know, as we knew, that all their efforts were useless. James Alabi made a run into the penalty area, and a Swindon defender tackled him. The referee walked over as Alabi lay on the ground. "He's going to book him for diving," my dad muttered. The referee observed the scene for a long moment, then pointed to the penalty spot.
Mark Duffy stepped up and calmly slotted the ball into the bottom right-hand corner. We cheered just as if the goal meant something. As Tom Hark played, Fluffy and I sang a song from another time when we went down with our heads held high: "We're going down, we're coming back." Nobody else joined in.
Someone made another run down the right, brushing off defenders in a way I half expected the referee to object to. The whistle remained unblown, he crossed, and Karl Hawley stuck the ball in the net. Once again, we celebrated, although my eyes were distinctly prickling. How typical of Scunthorpe United was this - to put in one of the performances of the season when it was too late to save us.
The final whistle blew. People with smartphones confirmed that Colchester had won 2-0 and we were going down anyway. We applauded the performance and tried, for a few minutes at least, not to think about the string of distinctly lesser efforts that made it all so futile.
Fun with borders|
This time, I made it to America.
There were some unpleasant parts. Canadian border control decided I was too poor or too nervous or in some other way a bad risk, but eventually relented, stapling to my passport a form with the strict stipulation that I leave the day my return flight is booked for. Then we headed down from Vancouver to Seattle and had another run-in with US border control. Apparently, the US is such a wonderful country that any visitors must be treated as potential immigrants. I'm sure the US is a great place, but it is not my home, and I very much do not want to immigrate.
The fact that I have no paid job counted against me in the interview; paid work counting as a sufficiently strong incentive to return home. I mentioned xCLP, who I will not lightly abandon, but this wasn't convincing. I mentioned the franchise game on the 20th, to which the border agent said, "But you could just watch it on television." No, border agent, I'm pretty certain no North American television channels show League 1 football.
I then explained that I have a home, with all my property in, and an allotment. Once I'd explained the apparently too British concept of an allotment, he seemed slightly more convinced, and asked me what I'd planted. Then I mentioned the market, and since that is a kind of exchange of labour for money, it tipped the scales in favour of letting me in.
We still have to return to Canada so that I can turn in my visitor record and catch my return flight. I'm hoping, "If you don't let me pass through your country, the US will be quite annoyed with you," will work as a persuasive argument here. Mostly I'm trying not to think about it. I like national identities just fine - the World Cup wouldn't really work without them - but dear lord, I hate border crossings.
Scunthorpe 2 Crawley 1|
The programme for the Crawley game was almost perfect. It had two pictures of Matt Sparrow, now playing for Crawley and looking as good as ever, and one of Gary Hooper. Just as Fluffy was betting I would take it to bed with me, I turned the page and was confronted with a picture of a certain ex manager I'd rather forget. "I bet you don't sleep with it," Fluffy hastily amended.
I was hoping for a draw, which by my calculations ought to keep us out of the relegation places. A win against the team that had thrashed us on the opening day seemed too much to ask for, but Fluffy confidently opened a betting site on her smartphone and placed a bet on a 2-1 Iron victory. As the first half drew to a close, my prediction looked pretty good. Neither team had done much to threaten the goal; Crawley seemed content to keep us at bay with a packed defence and wait for us to make a mistake. When playing Scunthorpe, that frequently proves a good tactic.
My calculations had depended on the franchise doing us a favour - the only time I cheer for them. Unfortunately, they were letting me down and allowing Oldham to beat them, which meant a draw wouldn't be enough for us. But I was quietly confident that the franchise could come back and the afternoon would be a successful one.
That confidence rang very hollow when Crawley took the lead early in the second half. Somehow the ball was played in across a completely undefended penalty area, leaving who else but Matt Sparrow with the easiest opportunity to obey the Immutable Law of the Ex. I tried to take consolation in the fact that I'd predicted he would score, but there was little satisfaction to be had. Instead, I spent the next few minutes complaining of cold and existential ennui, and trying to persuade Fluffy to let me drink neat Scotch in the Iron Bar until I stopped caring about football.
The second half did bring the mild pleasure of Sparrow in close-up, defending corners right in front of us. I suggested Fluffy should distract him by telling him that her brother wanted a threesome with him and Gary Hooper, but although she found the prospect amusing, she didn't put it into action. A consummate professional like Sparrow probably wouldn't have been put off so easily anyway.
A "goal train" plodded along the railway line behind the away end as we rebuffed a Crawley attack and started up the field ourselves. No lightning-quick attack, but the goal train was slower than usual too, and it was still in sight when we managed to cross. Just as its last truck disappeared, someone was finally ready to shoot - straight at the Crawley keeper. Disappointment was short-lived: the keeper parried, and Jimmy Ryan dashed in to put the ball in the net. Not only a very welcome equaliser, but the first Scunthorpe goal I've seen at Glanford Park this season.
Fluffy pulled up scores from elsewhere on her phone. To my horror, Oldham were still being the franchise; worse, the BBC claimed Crawley were still beating us. Fluffy assured me that the website was just slow to update, but I became convinced that the goal had been disallowed and everyone in the ground had somehow missed this. I didn't calm down until she showed me that the live text commentary on the match itself had recognised Ryan's strike.
I would have been happy, in spite of the franchise's failure, with a point rescued. The Iron wanted more. We pressed again, and Niall Canavan rose to get his head on the ball before the Crawley defenders. It skimmed off his head and could have gone just about anywhere; luck was on our side for once as it went into the net. That, as I told Fluffy loudly, was the second Scunthorpe goal I've seen at Glanford Park this season - it also represented an unheard-of transition from losing to winning.
Fluffy went to her betting site and tried to decide whether to lay off the bed or gamble that the score would remain 2-1. As the site loaded, Karl Hawley bore down on the Crawley goal. His eventual shot cleared the crossbar, but I teased Fluffy about the possibility of losing her bet in that way. She declared herself perfectly willing to take the chance in pursuit of a bigger win, and put her phone away.
We slackened off a bit as the minutes ebbed away, and Crawley began to press. Sam Slocombe was solid in goal, but my heart was in my mouth all the same. If Fluffy lost her bet because we won 3-1, that would be mildly amusing; if Crawley scored the spoiling goal, I would be too miserable to laugh. But we kept out whatever they threw at us, and were looking after the ball in our own half when the final whistle blew. I went down to the front wall to applaud, hoping Sparrow would look our way. He applauded us briefly, looking rather downcast, and got a hug from his former teammate Vladimir Mirfin. Then he was gone, leaving us to celebrate another three valuable points.
Colchester 1 Scunthorpe 2|
Since Colchester is our closest approach to Ely this season, I arranged to stay the weekend with Fluffy and go to the game together. The night before we set off, I dreamed that I was flipping through slow-loading web pages in a desperate quest for our score. Fluffy told me she already knew the score: it was "Jesus Christ." By dream logic, this apparently meant we'd drawn yet another game we should have won, so I duly headed for betfred and backed the draw.
I took my shiny new digital camera along to the match, and amused myself before kick-off by snapping a few shots of the players warming up. The players who had annoying stubble the last time I saw them now have even more annoying beards, most notably Mike Grella. I suggested he was unable to shave because his poor coordination prevents him using sharp objects, but Dan said that he's doing some sort of challenge to not shave until he's scored a goal. At current rate of progress, he'll have a beard down to his ankles before he finds the net.
Colchester were just above us - we were all keenly aware that a win would lift us above them - and sure enough, they were about as bad as us. I cracked wise with Fluffy and Karen, complained about the cold, and predicted a Colchester goal from each attack, but never really feared another humiliating defeat. My bet seemed quite a safe one.
Mike Grella found a burst of form, and ran the ball from our half, past virtually the whole Colchester team, to their penalty area. We all expected that the final shot wouldn't live up to that promise, but we were wrong: there was no final shot at all. In the penalty area he stopped dead - shocked and surprised by the strange white rectangular thing in front of him, I suggested - and fumbled the ball this way and that until the Colchester defence managed to clear. Perhaps I should have been disappointed, but I was too busy laughing at the absurdity of failing to even get a shot off.
Just before half time, Jimmy Ryan did what could be described as the opposite of Grella's effort. From an unpromising position, he shot - straight into the Colchester net. As his teammates surrounded him, I joked that Grella was whispering in his ear, "How did you do that kicking the ball in the goal thing? Could you teach me?"
As the half-time whistle blew, I was very cheerful: I thought I could look forward to either three points or three pounds with some confidence. This mood lasted until news reached us that a certain South Coast team were winning, and I spent the rest of half time kicking seats and cursing the name of Aston Villa.
Scunthorpe kicked off the second half, and I silently hoped that would be the only kick-off we were required to take. Almost immediately, we went down to the other end of the field, and Karl Hawley doubled our lead. Instead of cheering, I looked in disbelief from the goal to the scoreboard and back, and when Colchester assembled for the restart, I pretended to wonder why they were kicking off the second half when I clearly remembered them kicking off the first.
This made the prospect of three points look even better, but someone suggested that my bet was hopeless unless Colchester managed a truly heroic fightback. I scoffed at such fate-tempting, especially since we've already let slip a 2-0 lead once in 2013. Colchester had brought on ex-Iron Freddie Sears at half time, and he quickly started putting us under pressure. And then the normally superb Andy Barcham gave the ball away in midfield, Colchester broke, and all my cries of "Shit shit shit, they're going to score" couldn't prevent Sears from obeying the Law of the Ex.
You might have thought that I, with a financial interest in the draw, would have been the calmest person in the Scunthorpe end. I was not. I'd set my heart on three points, and winning my bet wouldn't even provide me the cash necessary to drown my sorrows. I fell into an anxious funk, rousing occasionally to cheer on an Iron attack or whimper at a close defensive call. Several times, we looked horrendously vulnerable at the back, but Colchester didn't have what they needed to take advantage.
The minutes ebbed away, and I began to entertain fate-tempting hopes that we would hold on. We kept possession a fair amount, helped the the officials' belated decision to clamp down on Colchester's attempts to sneak a few yards at each throw-in. The fourth official signalled three minutes of stoppage time, which the scoreboard reported as four, five, and six, before finally settling on five. We brought Vladimir Mirfin on, probably just to waste a few more seconds. Dan counted down the remaining minutes, and Karen reminded him that the substitution added still more additional time.
Finally, the referee blew the sweet, sweet double blast. By this point, I felt more like heaving an enormous sigh of relief than celebrating, but I got to my feet to applaud the players. We had, after all, lifted ourselves out of the relegation places.
On Monday, I explained a few bits of my past to a psychologist. I described my relationship with Luis as a terrible mistake, "throwing good money after bad" because I couldn't bear to admit that I'd sacrificed so much for a relationship that never stood a chance of working out. That was, in many ways, a completely accurate description of our relationship.
Yesterday, on the bus home, I was thinking about Roupa Velha, the Portuguese answer to Bubble and Squeak. That made me think of the traditional Portuguese Christmas meal, which I ate at least once at Luis's parents' home: salt cod, which I never much liked, boiled potatoes and chick peas, and a sauce I very much did like. Dr Google's best efforts on the English-language internets have failed so far to turn up a recipe for this sauce, so perhaps it's a secret known only to Portuguese speakers. Perhaps it's a secret known only to one specific Portuguese speaker: Luis's mum.
I wish I was still in touch with her. I wish we could trade recipes and talk, and although there are plenty of good reasons why we can't, there's still an ache somewhere in my heart. I wish I could hang out with Luis's cousins and have them gently tease me for being too shy to speak German even though I can come out with perfectly fluent sentences when I put my mind to it. I wish I could listen to his brother hold forth on his areas of expertise, or even have his dad speak a language I can barely understand at me.
That's the other side of my relationship with Luis, and no less accurate than what I told the psychologist. I was part of a family - both his parents called me "Tochter" - and now I'm not part of it any more. And sometimes I want to grieve for that.
For my own sanity, I usually concentrate on the mistakes I made. The bad things I closed my eyes to, and the good things that turned out to be just figments of my imagination. It's a story that hangs together, that makes sense, that explains a lot of the crap that came afterwards. But it's not the only story. And I don't know how to tell the other one.
Review of the year|
I think New Year's Resolutions are supposed to be like goals. I left the market shaking. If you are on Twitter, maybe you want to follow me. I'm a pretty good cook in my way. The end of the football season is one of my traditional times for taking stock. There's a good chance I'm going to have sex this weekend, which is awesome in both sense of the word. The first competitive match of the season is usually on a Saturday, but this year the league cup got underway before the league. The beginning of the school year counts as a new year, doesn't it? I'm not in America. I've been cruelly neglecting my blog lately.
(There are usually 12 sentences: one for each month. This year, there are only ten, because two months went by without a single blog post. I have no excuse.)
( You know the drill by nowCollapse )
Leyton Orient 1 Scunthorpe 3|
It was the chance to do a spot of Christmas shopping at Westfield Stratford, more than the chance to watch the Mighty Iron in action, that sent me London-wards. Lindsay, struck down at the last minute with some lurgy, said his presence in E10 was "as likely as three points", and Fluffy was too exhausted to even contemplate the trip. But Lego and Disney stores were a powerful motivator, and I decided late on Friday evening that it was worth making the trip.
Londoners would probably laugh at the way I treat the capital: with a fully-loaded Oyster card in my pocket, I consider anywhere with a station to be equally accessible. This earned me a raised eyebrow from a Wimbledon fan when I declared that I was going to Orient while sitting on a train bound for exactly the opposite corner of London. Heading out to Kingston ate up more time than I'd bargained for (although I did get some pretty fabric) and I arrived at Stratford around two o'clock. Buying the presents I'd set out to buy took only a few minutes, but locating the shops I wanted, and lining up in Christmas queues, took much longer, and it was ten to three before I returned to the station. A Leyton-bound train pulled out just as I got to the platform, and I realised without too much dismay that I would be missing the kick-off.
Walking up Leyton High Street along with a few other stragglers, I strained my ears for crowd noises that would tell me what I was missing. I quickly decided that the ground kept the sound in efficiently, and the only cheers I would be able to hear would be greeting an Orient goal. No such sound reached me, and once I was inside, Karen confirmed that the score was still 0-0. The only incident of note I'd missed was the assistant referee apparently missing a blatant offside; as I took my seat, a stray clearance knocked his flag out of his hand, which Karen and Dan hailed as justice.
Sitting just in front of us was Lindsay, who had rallied overnight enough to travel. I confronted him with his words about the likelihood of making the trip, and asked whether his presence was a sign that three points were likely. Trying to be clever, he pointed out that he hadn't said who would claim the points. Karen told me that Man City had won the lunch-time game; maybe those were the points he was thinking about.
The first half was goalless but moderately entertaining. We defended competently, although Orient made that task simpler by not attacking with any strong conviction. By half time, I'd concluded that they were about as rubbish as we were, making a 0-0 draw a perfectly achievable goal. This was a better prospect than I'd seen in some time, and as the second half got underway I remarked that I hadn't seen us go so long without conceding a goal all season.
Karen complained that we weren't seeing any Scunthorpe attacks on the goal nearest us. I said that there wouldn't be any: we had exhausted our meagre attacking chances in the first half. A minute later, we managed an attack that came to nothing. "There," I said. "That was our chance for this half." But the attacks kept coming, and eventually one of a crowd of players over on the other side somewhere stuck the ball in the net. Even as I stood to applaud, I was shaking my head, hardly able to believe it.
"I hate it when we score," I grumbled a couple of minutes later. Karen looked at me as if I'd grown an extra head, but taking the lead does do unfortunate things to me. I start dreaming of points, basking in the warmth of being ahead - and that only makes the inevitable equaliser hurt more. I checked my watch and wondered whether the Iron players could pass the ball back and forth for the remainder of the match. They quickly demonstrated that they could not, but Orient still weren't giving our defence anything they couldn't handle.
We were flying forward on one of our best attacks of the match when one of our players was fouled. He'd already released the ball, and the attack was still unfolding, but the referee, apparently suspecting a head injury, stopped play and gave us a free kick. I cursed him, knowing we'd lost the advantage, and said aloud that we were certain to waste the free kick. Karl Hawley proceeded to prove me laughably wrong by sticking it past the keeper. "Fucking well wasted," Lindsay mocked.
I relaxed enough to join in, not the song about our chances of avoiding relegation, but at least a chorus of "Oh what fun it is to see the Scunthorpe win away." But from one of Orient's increasingly rare attacks, the ball struck an errant Scunthorpe hand, and the referee pointed to the spot. Shouts of encouragement to Steve Mildenhall and of derision to Kevin Lisbie failed to prevent the latter from putting the ball past the former, and we were back to 2-1. I knew how it would go from here. We would let another goal in, and spend the rest of the match trying to prevent a third that would condemn us to utterly humiliating defeat.
But no. Before I could make too many complaints, we'd scored another. This time it was Damien Mozika - Firefox, as I've decided he should be nicknamed - who gave the ball a flick that left the Orient keeper staring stupidly as it sneaked past him and into the net. Firefox celebrated with great gusto - as well he deserved to, having put his heart and soul into his performance. "Can we play you every week?" asked the fans behind me. "Ooh, then I'd be able to shop at Westfield every week," I said.
Now there was no doubt in my mind. We were getting three points. Orient were sufficiently poor to make us look pretty good, and they definitely didn't have it in them to produce a fightback. I relaxed, joined in with Jingle Bells, and stuck my fingers in my ears every time the subject of relegation-avoidance came up. The Iron players passed the ball to each other as if they'd been doing it all their lives. I counted the remaining minutes nervously, because old habits die hard, but the final whistle came without testing my nerves.
Lindsay and I walked back to the tube station together. "Be honest, Lindsay," I said. "Did Orient score three goals before I arrived?" He told me the first half had been goalless. "So we scored three goals and only let in one?" He confirmed that this was the case. "So we got three points?" An Orient fan in front of us glared at me over his shoulder. I probably sounded annoying, but victories have been rare enough lately that I wanted to make sure.
I've been cruelly neglecting my blog lately. So, instead of waiting until I have the energy for a Post To Make Up For The Silence, I'm just going to share a Thing that is Quite Cool. I bring you a recipe for Scratch Pizza.
Take one cup of SR flour. I have a set of measuring cups, but just use a mug or whatever you have to hand. Add half a cup of natural yoghurt and mix well. Sprinkle with salt, dried herbs, and a slug of olive oil (other vegetable oils are available). Turn out onto a flour-sprinkled surface and knead until smooth.
Press the dough into a round cake tin, pie dish, or similar shaped container. Spread the top with tomato puree, red pesto, ketchup, or whatever tomato-y thing you have in. Scatter with your favourite pizza toppings to taste. Sprinkle with grated cheese. I imagine mozzarella or edam would be lovely, but I used mature cheddar and it worked just fine.
Bake at 180 degrees celsius/Gas Mark 5 for approximately 15 minutes or until the cheese is browned. Cut into pieces and serve.
After I tweeted that I'd made a lentil casserole, three people expressed an interest in the recipe. Posting it here seemed like the best option for sharing it. Please note that quantities are approximate as my usual method for measuring ingredients is "throw some in until it looks right".
Peel and dice one medium onion. Heat a splash of olive oil in a stove-to-oven casserole dish (I love my Le Creuset knock-off, but if you don't have one, just do the first bit in a pan and then transfer it to a glass or crockery casserole) and soften the onion along with a peeled and crushed clove of garlic. When the onion is soft, add about half a cup each of green and red lentils. Give it a good stir, then add enough hot water to cover it all.
Add a pinch of oregano, a teaspoonful of yeast extract, a generous glass of red wine, a few chopped mushrooms, a deseeded and chopped green pepper, and a tablespoonful of tomato puree. Mix everything well and check the liquid level. It needs to be very sloppy, because the lentils will absorb loads of water.
Put the lid on the casserole and pop it in the oven at about 150 degrees Celsius (Doctor Google tells me that's 300 degrees Fahrenheit or Gas Mark 2). Check it after about 45 minutes: if the liquid has disappeared but the lentils are still tough, add extra water and give it a bit longer. When the liquid has gone and the lentils are soft, it's ready to eat. Serve with pasta or just some crusty bread.
Nightmare at Heathrow|
I'm not in America.
The immediate cause of this is that my passport was in my pocket when I got caught in a rainstorm, and the water faded the photograph so that it's no longer recognisably me. In normal circumstances, I might have a few things to say about the practice of issuing passports that can be rendered completely unfit for purpose by a predictable piece of British weather, but I have bigger things on my mind just now.
Following advice from the internet (in hindsight, not the best of moves) I presented my passport, plus my photocard driving licence, to the Delta folk at Heathrow. They flagged it up as a problem straight away and began consulting with various supervisors, while the clock ticked down to the scheduled departure time. At this point, my worst fear was that I wouldn't be allowed to fly, but they weren't going to turn me away until the US immigration people had pronounced on me.
At one point, the check-in guy said he wouldn't be able to accept my suitcase and I would need to take it as cabin baggage. This would mean throwing out all my toiletries because of the liquid restrictions, which was another source of great stress for a while. My lube, in a 50ml container, would have survived the restrictions, but I'd have needed to take it through security in a clear plastic bag. On the other hand, carrying Pina Colada flavoured lube through security would have been a walk in the park compared to what followed.
They finally decided they should accept my suitcase provisionally and have Homeland Security meet me at the gate. All the Delta and Heathrow officials I'd spoken to treated me like a passenger who, through no fault of my own, was causing a problem and would probably not be able to fly. All I got from them was courtesy and respect. The Homeland Security people, in contrast, treated me like a criminal. Their attitude seemed to be that I was definitely guilty of something, and they would harangue me until I told them what it was.
I explained once again that my passport had got wet in a rainstorm. The guy asked me a few standard immigration-type questions, like what was the purpose of my trip and where would I be staying, which I answered as best I could. He jumped from one subject to another rapidly, and seemed impatient with complicated answers, both of which made me even more nervous than I already had been.
They quickly decided I would not be allowed to fly, but the nightmare wasn't finished. The Homeland Security guy was in full flow, and there was no stopping him. He told me that he didn't believe what I'd said. I protested that it was the truth. He insisted that he didn't believe me, and told me he was going to write a report that would stop me from ever entering the US. He told me to sit and think about what I was going to say next. I have no idea whether this technique works on people who are actually telling lies, but since I was telling the truth all it did was rack up my fear another few notches.
I don't know whether I was suspected of anything in particular or whether they were just throwing accusations randomly in an attempt to work out what specifically I was guilty of - my guilt in general terms being assumed from the start. He implied a couple of times that I planned to run away to the US forever, despite my protests that I have family here. His colleague made a reference to my friends not telling me what to do in this situation, as if to imply I was part of some larger conspiracy. They repeatedly asked me why, if I had nothing to hide, I was so nervous. I was too terrified to point out that their interrogation techniques were by now the biggest factor in my nerves.
At one point, he sat down beside me and asked me if I was trans. I acknowledged that I was, and he said that he found this "story" more believable. I hadn't considered "I'm trans" and "my passport got wet in a rainstorm" to be two different "stories"; I'd forgotten that for some people, failing to mention in your very first sentence that you're trans is classed as deception. He then asked whether I had deliberately damaged my passport to conceal some kind of alteration. Resisting the urge to scream and bolt for the toilets took most of my mental energy, but I told him that I certainly had not.
Later, he asked me whether I had transitioned completely. Explaining to cis people that transition does not work like that is a shitty task at the best of times, and that goes double when it's someone who has so much power. How could I explain the difference between social and medical transition, or between de jure and de facto requirements for a GRC, to someone who had already demonstrated that he would treat any answer more complicated than yes or no as proof of dishonesty? I asked him what he meant, and in classic bullying fashion he just repeated the question with extra emphasis. I told him that I would probably not be able to change my birth certificate as things stood, but that I was legitimately entitled to a male passport.
His attack was now focussed on that little letter M. He appeared to believe that I was not entitled to it based on my surgical status, and that he was a better judge of that than the UK Passport Agency. I told him that I had submitted all the necessary documents, including a letter from my psychiatrist, and been legitimately issued with the passport. He told me that I needed to get another letter and apply again - I have no idea why.
Finally, they asked some more questions about where I'd been planning to stay. I wrote down Lucy's home address in West Virginia, apologising for not being able to remember the zip code. I wrote Lucy's name and her mother's as the people I would be staying with. He misunderstood "that's my friend, and that's her mother" as "that's my mother"; I don't know whether that was another attempt to trip me up or whether he'd just tied up all his brain circuits with cissexism and assumptions of criminality, leaving nothing over for reasoning that two people with the same surname and address are likely related. After that, I can only assume they'd run out of questions to ask. They let me collect my suitcase, safely offloaded from the plane before it left, from the baggage reclaim, returned my passport and driving licence, and let me go on my way.
In this whole nightmare, I have a lot to be grateful to Fluffy for. She talked to me on the phone, calmed me down as much as possible, broke the devastating news to Lucy, suggested I change my dollars back into sterling to afford the train fare home, and arranged for my dad to pick me up at Grantham and take care of me. Without her support, the effect on my emotions would have been far, far worse. Unfortunately there was nothing she could do about the almost stereotypical American arrogance of Homeland Security. Cynically, I wonder if there's anything anyone can do about that.
It's a long time since I've done a scribble. This is a bit of worldbuilding that's been bouncing around my head for a little while. I'd love to know what you think.
Kit inspections were never predictable. Sometimes we went a fortnight without one, and sometimes we had one on Monday and another on Wednesday, depending how worried the Head was. We lined up by forms on the tennis courts, emptied our pockets and bags, and laid our kit out at our feet.
Untidy kit meant we lost a house point. Untidy kit a second time meant we had to write a 500 word essay about why tidiness was essential. Anything missing from the kit was five house points, and an hour in the Head's study listening to ever more gruesome stories of how a person could die from incomplete kit.
The usual thing missing from a kit was rations. Sometimes we would take clothes or blankets out to wash them and forget to put them back, or leave something on the table when we did a half-hearted sort through, but mostly it was food. Kids who had skipped breakfast or didn't like the school lunch would nibble on a packet of salty crackers or a few dried apricots, gambling that there wouldn't be a kit inspection that day. Others ate the lot during the afternoon, partly because they were peckish but partly to show they weren't afraid. The boldest of all would declare, through a mouthful of mint cake, that it was all a waste of time and the Head's fuss. Did anyone really think we would actually need our kit?
I pretended that I did. I kept saying that it was better to be safe than sorry, that the Head and our parents thought it was necessary so it had to be. But I didn't believe it. I kept my kit in order, but only because I didn't want to lose house points or listen to far-fetched stories that would probably give me nightmares. Once we were out of the school gates on the way home, I snacked on my rations like everyone else.
The beginning of the school year counts as a new year, doesn't it? I want to make some ... well, I hestitate to call them resolutions, but the intent is basically the same. Every day, I want to try to do one thing that will please social services and the council, one thing that will please the jobcentre advisors, and one thing that will please me.
Social services and the council, at least up until they closed my file and moved on to other things, were "concerned" about the state of my flat. It is, by just about any measure, a horrendous mess. So I'm going to try to clean it up, slowly but surely. Wash a few dishes, tidy the settee, clear enough floor to break out the mop. I don't expect to have an Ideal Home, or even a council-approved home, any time soon, but I can use the imaginary council in my head to spur me on.
The jobcentre advisors, as you may be able to guess, want me to work towards getting a job, unless I decide that I am so completely non-functional I should apply for disability benefits. A couple of months ago, I was cheerfully entertaining the prospect of looking for part-time work while trying to move the business plan forward. Now ... from what I hear, drinking a bottle of wine in a night and contemplating suicide at random sober intervals doesn't render a person unfit for work in the current government's understanding, but I have a feeling it would count against me in any employer's eyes. Assuming I got that far.
But given a choice between trying to convince the assessors that I'm not up to working and jumping through the jobseeking hoops, I'm betting that jobseeking may prove less upsetting. So I'm going to do what I can to look for work, prepare myself for work, or whip my vague business idea into shape1. Some days, the effort might well be purely token, but this could be good practice for filling in a jobseeker's diary.
Pleasing myself might be the hardest part of all. Things that were once a pleasure no longer seem to provide any return for the effort I have to put in, and I don't even seem to be getting a sense of achievement from doing stuff these days. Buying books or tools makes me happy, but I rarely have the spare money. Haircuts feel wonderful, but I don't think they would if I didn't allow a decent growth interval. But perhaps if I lower my standards and count finding a new video or rereading a favourite book as a pleasure, I'll start to feel better.
Depression is not a good state to be making resolutions in. But I'm making them anyway. I'm sure that says something about me.
1I rarely elaborate on my business idea, not because I think someone else will steal it, but because it's so vague that I'm afraid people will laugh at me or explain in excruciating detail why it couldn't possibly work. I know that's a barrier I have to overcome eventually, but I'm not ready for it yet.
Derby 5 Scunthorpe 5 (After extra-time, Scunthorpe win 7-6 on penalties)|
The first competitive match of the season is usually on a Saturday, but this year the league cup got underway before the league. That meant our first competitive action was on a Tuesday night in Derby, and it's a point of honour with me never to miss the start. So I booked myself into a basic but extremely reasonably-priced guesthouse and laid my plans accordingly.
One big advantage of going to Derby was that I could break my journey in Nottingham and stock up on various bits I wouldn't be able to find in Grantham. Exciting jewellery-making supplies were easily found, but the quest for an alternative clothing shop I found on the internet turned into an exhausting and frustrating trek along several wrong roads. Finally, sore-footed and irritable, I boarded a train to Derby, only to spend another hour roaming the streets in search of the guesthouse. At least that search proved successful, but I only had time for a brief rest before I had to set out once more for Pride Park.
My first sight of the Iron looked promising. Derby, as befitted a Championship side, pressed hard, but our defence looked organised and competent, and Sam Slocombe managed several magnificent saves. True, we did virtually nothing in front of the Rams' goal, but there would be time enough for that. But then Derby had an effort that Slocombe couldn't keep out, and things looked very different. We tried to rise to the occasion, and produced something that, viewed charitably, might have been considered a shot on target. Then Derby came back at us, Slocombe fumbled somehow, and the ball was in our net once more.
Tired of slumping in my seat and contemplating the way the game was slipping away from us, I limped down to the concourse to beat the half-time drinks rush. As I queued, the home fans erupted once more in celebration; any chance I could convince myself that noise had come from the Scunthorpe contingent evaporated as the tannoy announce "the Rams' third goal". When I returned to my seat, Karen informed me, "You missed one," to which I bitterly recalled the time when turning away from the action guaranteed a Scunthorpe goal.
At half time, the only consolation I could see was that Saturday's opponents, Crawley, were drawing. Perhaps if they had to endure extra time, they would be easier to beat. "Just as long as we don't score lots of goals in the second half," said Suz's fella. A more ridiculous prospect was hard to imagine.
But we began the second half looking better. Andy Barcham skipped through the Derby defence and slotted the ball confidently into the net to make the score a slightly more respectable 3-1; at first I just cheered a very welcome piece of attacking skill, but a moment later I was dreaming of an unlikely fightback. Those hopes were almost immediately crushed, as Derby virtually went up to the other end and made it 4-1. But once we'd proved we could put the ball in the net, we did it again, as summer arrival Mike Grella, ably assisted by the goal post, made it 4-2.
I loudly predicted that Derby would regain their cushion just as they had after our first goal, but the minutes ticket past and it didn't happen. Then someone went down in the distant penalty area: as far as I could see, the culprit was a patch of damp turf, but the referee pointed to the spot. Instead of screaming at the striker to miss - my usual habit in these cases - I fixed my attention on Slocombe, hoping he still had some of the magic we'd seen in the first half. He dived the right way and punched the penalty away, and I cheered as loudly as if we'd scored. Then, surely no more than ninety seconds later, the ball was down in front of us and I was cheering once more as Bobby Grant made it 4-3.
Half time now seemed a long time ago. However this match ended, it wouldn't be the routine humiliation it had looked like becoming. So charged was the atmosphere that I made my usual prediction of doom - that Derby would make it 5-3 and destroy all hope - in a spirit of philosophical resignation. Our struggle would be over, but we could look back on our second-half performance with pride. And when the fifth Derby goal indeed went in a few minutes later, I remained fairly cheerful. Crawley's game still looked destined for extra time, and things could have been a lot worse.
At the end of the ninety minutes, we were heading out, but there were still five minutes of stoppage time. With two or three left, we pulled back another goal to make it 5-4. Pride. The chance to have the last word. We deserved it after the way we'd fought back. I didn't hope for an equaliser, but I did note that we were still pressing. Someone went down in the penalty area with a defender's hand on his shoulder blade. The referee ignored it. Mark Duffy sprawled on the ground in what looked to me like a blatant dive. The referee pointed to the penalty spot.
Bobby Grant stepped up and struck the penalty calmly into the net. That was the last kick of regular time, which meant that we too were playing the extra thirty minutes. Suz's fella asked me when my train home left - just as well that I'd planned all along for an overnight stay. The home fans were decidedly unhappy at the turn the game had taken, and the Scunthorpe fans gleefully serenaded them: "3-0, and you fucked it up ... 4-1, and you fucked it up."
I don't know how much of extra time I really took in. I had my head in my hands for a lot of it - out of nerves rather than despair. I bit my knuckles hard enough to leave teeth marks, and regretted having trimmed my fingernails and left myself nothing to gnaw. I wanted a goal - wanted the match to be over - so badly that I hardly cared who scored it. But naturally, no goals were forthcoming. This game had always been destined to end in penalties.
The penalties were taken at the far end, which left us straining to see what happened against a backdrop of nausea-inducing scrolling adverts. Slocombe made two more saves, but the Derby keeper saved one and another Iron penalty hit the post. "I'm thinking of a place name," I said as the shoot-out went to sudden death. "It's got two words: the first starts with M and the second starts with K." For each Scunthorpe penalty, I announced, "He's going to miss this." For each Derby penalty, I whispered, "Come on Sam."
Karen suggested that we would run through the whole team, that Sam Slocombe would be called upon to take a penalty and then pick himself up to make the winning save. The woman in front of me didn't relish this prospect, and suggested she would enjoy seeing the next Derby player send his penalty over the bar. "Nah," I said. "He'll score this easily." She hoped - as indeed I did - that my prediction would prove as false as all the others. The penalty, much like Tore Andre Flo's in Milton Keynes, hit the bar and bounced down. The Scunthorpe outfield players swarmed Slocombe in celebration. Fans around me cheered. From 3-0 down at half time, we had emerged victorious.
There's a good chance I'm going to have sex this weekend, which is awesome in both sense of the word. In the colloquial sense, it's awesome because I like the idea of having sex and if things go well it should be enjoyable. In the other sense, it's awesome because it's a huge scary big deal that leaves me rather nervous. My potential partner is someone I care lots about and very much don't want to disappoint or hurt, which cranks up the nerves still further.
Left to my own devices, I'd probably ignore all possibility of sex, drink a couple of cans of cider, and "get carried away", which is a great way to suppress nerves beforehand at the price of hugely increasing the probability of horrendous fall-out. But in a poly relationship, I'm not exactly left to my own devices: I owe it to Lucy to, at the very least, practice safe sex, which means at least some advance planning.
I'm new to the whole "having sex with women" thing, and school sex ed never so much as touched on it. I know there are things called dental dams, which are associated with queerness even though oral sex is highly encouraged in straight encounters as well. That and the fact that strap-ons are like penises that you can sterilise in boiling water is about the limit of my knowledge. At this point, I came up with the bright idea of going to the sexual health clinic for information and possibly also dams, which I'm not sure I could find in shops. And since I felt awkward about saying, "Hello, can I have some dental dams, thanks, bye," I decided to kill several birds with one stone and get a full STI screening.
So I made an appointment at the clinic and went along, worrying about the extreme likelihood of being misgendered as a distraction from the vaguer fears that my attempts to act grown-up were a transparent fraud. The nurse introduced herself and asked what I'd come for, and I explained that I was starting a new relationship and wanted to start out fresh with an STI screening. She asked some questions about my health both general and sexual: I was pleased to declare myself seven years smoke-free, disappointed to admit that my planned tattoo has yet to grace my skin, and too ashamed to say that my last sexual encounter took place on an East Midlands train.
Another question was whether I'd ever been pregnant. The answer is yes, once; to the follow-up, I described xCLP in shamefaced clinical terms as a "live birth". And where was I in my menstrual cycle? Absolutely no idea, but I have an unpleasant feeling I'm due some time soon. These formalities having been done, we went through to the "Female Examination Room". Now, I understand that genital configurations have a bearing on what STIs a person is vulnerable to and on the mechanics of the sample collection process. But that doesn't mean I have to like having my body described as female.
The first task in the examination room was a swabbing of my cervix. Since I gave birth, that's been downgraded from "screaming agony" to "teeth-gritting discomfort", which is something. Then I had my throat swabbed, based on my last sex being unprotected oral. Finally, in a different room, the nurse drew some blood to test for infections I almost certainly don't have - the Blood and Transplant Service would have let me know - but it's nice to be sure.
We returned to the first consulting room to discuss how I wanted to receive my results, and I finally asked for advice about dental dams. The clinic leaflet had only mentioned the option of free condoms, but it turns out free dental dams are available too, which was neat. The nurse explained how to use one, assured me that there was an instruction leaflet in each packet, and added a few tips on care of sex toys for good measure. Throughout the process she was friendly, and didn't pass any judgments on either my chaotic sexual history or my nervous babbling.
It's good that the clinic offers dental dams and advice on safer sex beyond PIV, but I do wish they made it more obvious they could do that. One of the many contraception posters explained earnestly that every time you have sex without using contraception there's a possibility you'll get pregnant, not mentioning that some sexual partners don't produce sperm and some forms of sex don't lead to pregnancy. A little thing, but it bugs me. Likewise the cissexist language, although I pretty much knew I should expect that. All in all, a lot better than it could have been in the heart of conservative country, and I felt a lot better for having been a little bit responsible.
I've always been a big believer in giving blood. Just for lying on a couch and sticking your arm out, you can get the warm altruistic glow of knowing you're helping someone in a medical emergency and as much tea and biscuits as you feel like. I was a regular blood donor back in the day, but then I got pregnant, and when the waiting period after giving birth had expired I was on antidepressants (which don't necessarily rule you out, but I didn't know that at the time), and somewhere along the line I realised that since I'd socially transitioned I had to consider the ban on men who have ever had sex with men to apply to me, and there things stood.
However, the Blood and Transplant Service have reviewed their guidelines and decided that men who haven't had sex with men in the last 12 months are no more risky as blood donors than anyone else. And since I've been essentially celibate since last April, that potentially puts me right back into the donor pool. A quick call to their helpline confirmed that the only issue with taking citalopram was whether it made me too ill to safely lose an armful of blood, and I was good to go.
I showed up at the Guildhall Arts Centre, which has hardly changed since I used to donate. There was some confusion because my ancient donor card didn't bring anything up on the system - and I'd re-registered through the internet with a brand-new name. Making a note on my donor form telling the data people to merge the two records was easily done, but since I couldn't even remember the year of my last donation with any accuracy I had to go through all the basics from scratch.
As I waited for the health screening, I started to worry that my blood would be considered unacceptable. I'm used to being persona non grata, disabled-but-not-really, a problem everyone has to handle with tongs at arm's length. But apart from a gentle grilling about the citalopram - including a rather touching enquiry about whether the donor form had overwhelmed me - there were no problems. My iron levels were, as always, fine - apparently my body understands perfectly which element I owe my allegiance to.
And so to the couch, the swabbing with something that smelled like cheap vodka, the momentary discomfort of the needle: familiar memories that needed only awakening from their dormancy. My blood, just like it always used to, poured out with no need for encouragement, and the donor carer was pleasantly surprised at how quickly the donation bag filled up. Then a drink and a bag of crisps - it seems returning donors are subject to the same drink restrictions as first-timers, so no tea for me - a few minutes of quietly sitting, and I was off back into the world.
The end of the football season is one of my traditional times for taking stock. This year hasn't been as bad as, say, 2008, but that's not really saying much.
In fact, all the achievements this year were negative ones. Scunthorpe didn't get relegated. I didn't get evicted. Cis children's services didn't take xCLP away. And among the many problems with negative achievements is the possibility that the bad things will happen somewhere along the line. I'm no longer under suspicion of emotionally abusing xCLP, but they've still got me under a microscope in case I do anything they might be "concerned" about. (Since their last causes for concern were having friends from the internet and sharing a bed with Lindsay, it's hard to see how I can ever win this one.) The eviction threat also remains, looming in the background, as a stick to beat me with if I "give in" to my fatigue too much. And given the length of our released list, I'm not looking forward to next season.
As far as positive achievements go, everything is in limbo. It's over a year now since Lucy and I got engaged, and we haven't even been in the same time zone since. Never mind choosing a wedding venue and setting a date - I haven't even been able to put a ring on her finger yet. The thought of a whole year without seeing her depressed me beyond measure when we got engaged, but somewhere along the line it's become the miserable status quo.
In that same year, I've written virtually nothing. Last year's Summer Spell stuttered and died, despite my best efforts to reboot it, and I declared myself "too crazy for NaNo". I even stopped writing for the matchday magazine after my mind refused point-blank to come up with any words at all on a deadline. Every so often, I look at a rough draft and think I should edit it, or tweet that I have Thoughts in need of blogging, but somewhere between the thought and the action my will evaporates altogether. I don't know how much is disorganised brain and how much lack of confidence in my ability to say anything worth hearing.
The allotment ought to be a positive, but that's in another kind of limbo. So far, I've succeeded in digging several small beds and planting some seeds at home. If I can get everything sown and planted at an appropriate time, and if I can keep things weeded and watered through the growing season, I'll get a confidence-boosting harvest. But the state of my day-to-day life at the moment suggests that those "if"s could easily trip me up.
Part of me wants to try to stay positive: I'm still alive (even if I have days of wishing I wasn't), I have people who love me (who are either small children or an ocean away), I have a roof over my head and enough money to (just about) meet my needs. Another part thinks that positivity is just another facet of the denial I've been wearing myself out with for goodness knows how long now. I just don't know what to think.
Tracts of land: A new season|
My first year as an allotment holder didn't go quite as planned. Most of that was down to medication side-effects and other problems that kept me from taking as much care of it as I should have, but I wasn't helped by the ground. According to allotment gossip, the previous owner had used the plot for "everything except growing things"; all visible traces of his activities were gone when I took over, but the lack of working was still obvious. When I made a start on this year's digging, I found a disposable nappy and some large piece of rusty iron half-buried beneath the surface, and threw down my spade in disgust.
Just as I was deciding my only way forward was to hire a rotivator and plough up the whole thing, the bloke in charge phoned me. Another upheaval meant that the plot immediately next to mine was vacant, and he wondered whether I would find it easier to handle than my original plot. The previous owner had dug most of it thoroughly, planted useful things, and kept it weed-free, and there were several well-established fruit trees. I asked for some time to consider, mostly because I had a bit of sentimental attachment to my old plot, but my dad quickly convinced me I could much more easily fall in love with a patch of ground where I didn't risk digging up biohazard with every stroke of the spade, so I've made the switch.
We took a day to remove everything I needed from the old plot: "everything" mostly consisting of bricks, carpets (highly useful for weed-suppression) and scrap metal, but also including the last of the potatoes, some leeks the size of spring onions (but tasty) and some rhubarb that had grown up quite happily with no input whatsoever from me. The new plot appears to be much larger, and it's already divided into beds which, for this season at least, I meant to stick with.
If I'd got anything into the ground before the rain began, I'm sure they'd be thriving; unfortunately the combination of cold rain and heavy soil has rather put me off doing any digging. One advantage is that xCLP now goes to Beavers just across the road from the allotments, which gives me a golden opportunity in decent weather to put an hour or so of work in. I already managed to dig one bed that way, and mean to put broad beans in it as soon as the weather settles down.
At home, I have two different varieties of tomato plant (Golden Sunrise and Principe Borghese) growing on the windowsill and waiting to be planted out, as well as a couple of artichokes and a pumpkin which are struggling with my haphazard watering schedule. There are also cauliflower seedlings - xCLP's choice - in urgent need of singling and growing on in little plugs, and any number of seeds both bought and saved. Given how little I got done last year, I suspect it will be another learning year, but I hope it will also be a fruitful one.
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