The Iron-On Line Below are the 20 most recent journal entries recorded in the "Nick Kiddle" journal:

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February 16th, 2014
10:33 pm

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Assorted notes about marmalade
January and February are the season for Seville oranges. Seville oranges are used for marmalade, and they're much more bitter than other oranges - which is why regular oranges are usually called "sweet oranges" when you need to disambiguate them from Sevilles. If you try to make marmalade with sweet oranges, it apparently comes out disgustingly sweet; however, you can get round this by combining sweet oranges with something bitter or sour like lemons or grapefruit. One of my steadiest-selling preserves is a marmalade made from oranges and lemons.

The basic method for marmalade making is to squeeze the juice out of the fruit, slice the peel, and boil both along with plenty of water to get the peel good and soft. Then you add the sugar and boil the hell out of it (this is a technical term) until it takes on the correct jammy texture. Raw orange peel is tough enough to make slicing it a bit of a chore, so one popular variation is to boil the fruit whole for a couple of hours, let it cool, and then scoop out the insides and slice the peel.

After you add the sugar, things get interesting fast. You need to keep the temperature fairly low while the sugar dissolves, and make sure every single crystal has dissolved before you turn it up. If there's the slightest bit of grittiness on the bottom of the pan, keep stirring over a low light until it's gone. When you do turn it up, do not take your eye off it for a moment. A pan of marmalade can boil over with very little warning, and burnt sugar is a pain to get out of a cooker top. Also, I once ruined a batch of marmalade by trying to divide my attention between it and an episode of Air Crash Investigation; the experience still rankles, so learn from my mistake.

Once it's boiled for 10-15 minutes, spoon a bit of the mixture onto a chilled plate and leave it for 60 seconds. Then test for a set by pushing it with your finger. If it wrinkles, it's turned into fully-fledged marmalade. If it doesn't, or if you're not sure the wrinkling is enough to count, boil it for another five minutes and test it again. When you're convinced it's ready, take the pan off the heat and leave it to stand for ten minutes or so before putting it in pots. This lets it set slightly so the peel will stay evenly distributed in the jars rather than all floating to the top.

The usual way a batch of marmalade goes wrong is if you let it burn on the bottom of the pan. I've heard about batches that absolutely refuse to set, but as long as you get the sugar quantity right you just have to boil it for a bit longer. Rather than throw away a whole batch when some of it catches on the bottom, I tip it out into a handy container, wasting only what's actually burned, and then find ways to use it up. My two favourite ways to use up marmalade are this luxury ham recipe and Marmalade Spice Cake.

Marmalade Spice Cake
Originally from the Dairy Book of Family Cookery, adapted by me to be a loaf cake.
Cream together 3 oz butter or margarine and 3 tablespoons golden syrup. When they're well mixed, add one egg and 2.5 tablespoons leftover marmalade. Beat thoroughly, then add 6 oz SR flour, sifted together with 0.5 teaspoons cinnamon, 0.25 teaspoons nutmeg, and a pinch of ground cloves. Mix well, then turn into a greased and lined 1lb loaf tin. Bake at 180 Celsius/350 Fahrenheit/Gas 4 for at least 45 minutes. It's cooked when a skewer inserted in the middle comes out clean.

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January 13th, 2014
11:00 pm

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Why I hate "Sk8ter Boi"
I promised the tweeter website a post about why "Sk8ter Boi" sucks rocks through a straw, so here it is. It bugged the piss out of me the first time I heard it, and further acquaintence has only deepened my distaste.

He was a boy, she was a girl
Can I make it anymore obvious?

I failed to pick up on this one on first hearing, because I was living in heteronormative land and in fact believed myself to be straight. But let's give Avril the benefit of the doubt and assume that she's being ironic and aware and all of those things. It is, after all, a pretty well-known trope that if you have a boy and a girl, there's going to be some kind of romantic subplot.

He was a punk, she did ballet
What more can I say?

But "punk/ballet" imply something as heavily as "boy/girl" implies a romantic subplot. What could that be? The charitable interpretation is that they're self-evidently a mismatch - that you should stick to dating your own kind - which is somewhat at odds with the "see the soul that is inside" implied moral. Don't judge based on appearances ... but if he's a punk and she does ballet it's never going to work out.

But wait. Let's look at a couple of other lines.
She had a pretty face but her head was up in space
Does your pretty face see what he's worth?

The implication here is that "she" is conventionally attractive but lacks other admirable qualities. Maybe "what more can I say" is meant to suggest that's what you'd expect from someone who does ballet - which is a pretty heavily female-coded activity. Later in the song, the narrator - who I'm calling Avril for convenience - positions herself very firmly as superior to this girl who does ballet and is so shallow as to judge a boy based on the clothes he wears, as well as a better fit for his male-coded preferences.

He wanted her, she'd never tell
Secretly she wanted him as well

Here's where it gets creepy. At this point, Avril could be an omniscient narrator with access to the thoughts of every character. But at the end of the song, she reveals that this is a song she and the Sk8ter Boi wrote together about the girl. So if she'd never tell, and Avril only has access to the boy's thoughts, how exactly can she know that the girl secretly wanted him? Maybe he just wasn't her type. For all we know different, she wasn't even into boys at all. We have the word of a boy who fancied her and whom she turned down that she totally wanted him, and how much is that worth, exactly?

Five years from now, she sits at home
Feeding the baby, she's all alone

I used to just skim past this line, assuming she was "all alone" in the sense that her partner was out at work and she was sitting around bored during her maternity leave. But in fact, this whole verse is showing what a dismal life the girl has now, so I'm guessing it's actually meant to mean she's a single mother. Because as we all know, single motherhood is one of the worst humiliations that can be inflicted on a woman.

She calls up her friends, they already know
And they've all got tickets to see his show

Her friends sound pretty crap, really. If someone I went to school with hit the big time on MTV, I'm sure one of my friends would at least send me a facebook message about them. But her friends apparently don't know that she used to know this boy, and furthermore they've all got tickets to a show without asking her if she wants to come along. Wow, she's really not having any luck in life, is she? And wait, remind me again how Avril and the boy know what's happening in her life?

She tags along and stands in the crowd
Looks up at the man that she turned down

Nope. The very first phrase of the song said that he was a boy when she turned him down. Five years down the line, he isn't the same person. For all we know, back in those days he was a dickhead of the first order and needed all those years of growing up before he was fit to be seen in public. Although, since he co-wrote this song with Avril and hasn't reined in any of her spite, he might still be a dickhead of the first order.

Sorry girl, but you missed out
Well, tough luck that boy's mine now
We are more than just good friends
This is how the story ends

She's basically gloating that the boy is now dating her and not the girl. With, and I cannot state this too many times, no evidence at all that the girl even wants to date him. I wonder whether she's protesting a little too much? He remembers his old crush vividly enough to co-write this song about her, after all, and maybe Avril's picking up on that.

About ten years ago, I wrote a comic that was supposed to be from the boy's point of view. The girl turned him down because she was a lesbian, and actually had a full and happy life when he spotted her in the audience at one of his shows. He waxed nostalgic in Avril's hearing about how different they both were back in those days, and Avril turned it into a song about how the girl was such a terrible shallow person despite his protests that it wasn't like that at all. And eventually the whole thing spiralled out of control and broke them up. That is how strong a hold this flaming song had on me.

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January 2nd, 2014
04:21 pm

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Scunthorpe 3 Rochdale 0
Foul weather forced the postponement of several games. Most significantly for us, Chesterfield, the only team between us and the top of the table, weren't in action, giving us a golden opportunity to overtake them. Our obstacle - not counting the ever-threatening elements - was Rochdale, a team we thrashed at their place less than two months ago. But that result owed a lot to the fact that Dale were reduced to nine men, and surely they would be itching for revenge.

The Iron Bar was packed, awaiting a final inspection on a pitch already rated probably fit. The Scunthorpe weather wasn't bad enough to take our opportunity away, although it did suck most of the pleasure out of the first half. A ferocious wind whipped a spray of rain right into the faces of the fans in the Donny Road end, and Sam Slocombe struggled to kick a wet ball any distance into it. Rochdale, with the wind behind them, pressed hard, and most of the goalmouth action was in front of us. Slocombe produced one breathtaking save and plenty of lesser ones, and twice Rochdale strikers let us off the hook with finishing that might charitably be blamed on the conditions.

With Chesterfield having the afternoon off and the teams below us making as little headway in their matches as us, a draw would be enough to send us top. A group of fans at the back of the terrace greeted kick-off with a chorus of "We are top of the league", reflecting the fact that we went top of the as-it-stands table as soon as the match was underway, but there wasn't much other celebration of that fact. Possibly the rain had dampened everyone's enthusiasm, or perhaps the game itself was too dispiriting.

Half-time was a welcome suspension of the struggle, as well as a brief hope of solving my financial worries with a 50-50 win and "Pole to Goal" with added entertainment thanks to the slippery pitch. But it couldn't bring any relief from the elements. I huddled against a pillar and hoped that having the wind behind us in the second half would help.

It didn't at first. There was one ridiculous moment when a ball from Sam Slocombe went straight through to Josh Lillis in the Rochdale goal, Lillis's kick out went straight to Slocombe, and Slocombe's second attempt found Lillis once more. Then the perfidious wind dropped, denying us the advantage it had given Rochdale, but allowing the quality of the football to improve. I realised that I was calmer than I've been at a Scunthorpe game for months, or even years. Perhaps we would only draw, or even lose, and other teams would overtake us. But it was such a relief to be worried about dropping out of the automatic promotion places rather than into the relegation zone.

Then the breakthrough came. Sam Winnall made a run and for once caught up with the ball without an irritating flag from the assistant referee. A couple of passes later, David Syers had a shooting chance in the middle. He struck it sweet and true, straight into the net, and the crowd finally found some energy. "We are top of the league." The drizzle sparkled like gemstones in the glow of the floodlights, and wet polyester become the most intoxicating perfume my senses could dream of. "We're top of the league, we're top of the le-ee-eague, we're Scun United, we're top of the league."

For a few minutes, we looked as if we belonged at the top of a much higher league, with crisp, confident passing that defied the weather. That didn't last, and Slocombe needed to produce another magnificent save to prevent what looked, from our vantage point at the far end, like a certain equaliser. Then Rochdale switched to their plan B: kick lumps out of us.

The referee had managed a performance typical for League 2, that is to say infuriating and inconsistent without doing anything to enrage anyone. But a messy fracas in the middle of the pitch showed how poor his grip on the game really was. Punches flew, marginally calmer players tried to haul teammates out of the scrum, and the Donny Road end bayed for red cards. The referee wandered around listening to various players, consulted with both his assistants, deliberated for far longer than necessary, and finally handed out a couple of yellows. A couple of minutes later, another scything tackle earned only a yellow. Then, the final straw: Deon Burton slipped in the penalty area under the attentions of two defenders and found himself in the book, apparently for diving.

Having someone we could violently boo enlivened the crowd, but my nerves were returning to their familiar stretched state. With Scunthorpe United, to be a goal up is to be at risk of disappointment, and I've seen too many dropped points lately from comfortable positions. We brought on Hakeeb Adelekun, already a crowd favourite, but he didn't manage to make an impact immediately. But it was one of his runs that a Rochdale player cut short by clipping his foot: because of his speed, it looked like a spectacular foul, and the referee reached for his notebook. He gave another yellow, but it was the second time he'd shown the yellow card to that particular Dale player, and our lust for red was finally satisfied. The player took his sweet time leaving the field, and there was a long delay while Christian Ribeiro received treatment and then limped off, before the match could get underway once more.

I just had time to hope we wouldn't let the ten men back into the game the way we did at Wycombe before Winnall made another run, this time ending with a shot of his own. The sort of powerful, confident strike you'd expect from the division's leading scorer, and evidence that his recent suspension hasn't harmed his form. All the same, I was pleased to see him celebrate the goal with his teammates rather than risking joining the fans again.

A minute or so later the MotM awards were announced. The sponsor had chosen Slocombe - a thoroughly deserved award for a couple of stunning saves that did as much as the strikers to get us the points. The fans voted for Syers - probably because voting closed before Winnall's strike. And Winnall gave further proof of the folly of closing voting early by scoring his second and our third a few moments later.

The fracas, and a couple of other incidents, resulted in five minutes of added time. With the extra man, and with Rochdale thoroughly demoralised, we looked the likelier team to score any late goals. I was hoping to see Burton score, having expressed the hope that a Jamaican, rather than the much talked-about Bulgarians and Romanians, could make headlines for us, but he was largely anonymous after his booking. A late hat-trick for Winnall would also have been enjoyable, but the players were happy to see out the game calmly.

A man in front of me was using the same smartphone app I sometimes use to time stoppage time, and the referee blew after five minutes and some ten seconds. I was heading for the Iron Bar before the whistle had died away, ready to stake out the best possible view of the league table. Sure enough, we were sitting at the very top. My dad took the almost unheard-of step of getting a round of drinks in, and started making plans to go to the next game. We must be doing well.

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December 31st, 2013
11:52 pm

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Review of the year
I'm not going to do the monthly meme, because I missed so many months it's hardly worth bothering. Also that last sentence would have been the first sentence of December, and I'm afraid of recursion.

You know how this works, don't you?Collapse )

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June 30th, 2013
11:42 pm

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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.

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June 27th, 2013
01:26 pm

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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."

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June 18th, 2013
02:35 am

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Hair and earrings
Have a smartphone selfie.

 photo BLJQAQUCcAAZSg0_zps9dc779d4.jpg

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.

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April 29th, 2013
01:50 am

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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.

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April 13th, 2013
08:23 pm

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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.

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February 10th, 2013
04:30 pm

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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.

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January 14th, 2013
04:03 pm

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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.

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January 10th, 2013
10:35 pm

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It's complicated
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.

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December 31st, 2012
10:04 pm

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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 )

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December 15th, 2012
10:13 pm

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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.

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December 14th, 2012
09:00 pm

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Scratch Pizza
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.

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October 14th, 2012
11:00 pm

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Lentil casserole
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.

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October 10th, 2012
12:03 pm

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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.

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September 10th, 2012
10:58 am

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A scribble
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.

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September 8th, 2012
11:49 pm

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Resolved
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.

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August 15th, 2012
11:56 pm

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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.

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