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.

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.

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.

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.

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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.

 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.

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.