Sunday, 5 April 2020

Today's ability to keep in touch

In 1909 E.M. Forster published his only science fiction story, The Machine Stops, in which the future consists of people living essentially isolated in underground cells where everything from food to medicine to entertainment is provided by the Machine. People are discouraged from emerging onto the surface. And why would they want to as they can easily keep in touch with each other via their two-way screens?

The world of April 2020 does seem a bit like that as we all stay indoors to avoid catching and spreading this coronavirus. And, as Forster remarkably (or luckily) prefigured, we have the internet that enables us to keep in touch with anyone else who has it.

Last night my friend Kate Collins arranged a video conference using Zoom and it was great to be able to chat to other girls back in England. I haven't actually seen Kate and her wife Suki in the flesh for nearly 3 years, nor Anna Faith, so it was really wonderful to be able to catch up in that way. I met a couple of other people at the 'conference', too. The true marvels of modern technology!

Kate and I in the days when social distancing was unknown
There is now some talk of the endgame here in Italy as the rate of infection starts to level out. Although the situation will continue as it is till after easter there is likely to be a phased return to something resembling normality. Fingers crossed. I'm sorry that other countries couldn't take a leaf out of Italy's book where initial dithering and uncertainty made the whole situation worse. As for countries like Hungary that have now voted sweeping powers to their already near-dictatorial leader, this is what I as a member of a persecuted minority lose sleep over. I hope the world will get back to normal - true normal - very fast.

My posts in March describe life in Italy during coronavirus, and some tips on how to survive working or remaining at home.

Stay well and safe.

Sue x

Tuesday, 31 March 2020

Transgender Day of Unvisibility?

I'm sure I won't be the first to point out the irony of celebrating Transgender Day of Visibility in a period when most of the world is trying to combat a pandemic by locking themselves indoors.

But, as I've said before here, visibility - that hard evidence of our existence and right to exist - may take so many forms these days. You don't actually have to be physically present out on the street to be visible. Thank you, internet.

So do make some e-noise today, whether you use Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, Instagram, blogs, vlogs, forums, or other forms of communication, social media or whatever.

Here's me on Flickr:
I don't use it much but it's a record of the good old days of being out and about. More importantly, it's further proof to the world that we exist and are part of society.

Stay safe and well at this tricky time. NB My two previous posts may be of help in combating coronavirus and lockdown, from a country that got hit early.

Sue x

Thursday, 26 March 2020

How to survive isolation at home

For years I have worked alone at home and have honed various strategies to reduce the sense of isolation. I thought they might help during these days when people who are not used to being stuck at home find themselves housebound because of the coronavirus scare.

I'm pretty gregarious, as you can tell from this blog, but I feel comfortable on my own, too. The two tricks to surviving isolation are to keep busy and be disciplined. And impose that regime on your family. Busy-ness keeps the blues away as you mind has to concentrate on something other than your own thoughts, and discipline will help you fit so much into your day that you will be very impressed with yourself by the end of it. Slobbing out on the sofa in front of the telly all day is the road to hell. It's allowed as a wind-down mechanism when you normally go out to work or school, but don't do it during the daytime now when you have nowhere to go.

Here, then, are my suggestions for those who work and for those who don't.

Workers and students

So if in this period you are working, or doing school lessons or college study, divide the day into three kinds of activity. One kind is bedtime, one kind is leisure, and the last kind is work. Work is slotted into your leisure time. So the focus of your day is leisure and rest, not work, yet you can do 30-50 hours of solid, uninterrupted work a week. Don't believe me? Read on.

If you're normally in a job from, say, nine to six with, say, an hour's travel each way, plus time spent dressing and undressing your work clothes, you dedicate half your existence during the working week to work. That's typically 60 hours. Yet endless workplace studies show that most workers do about five productive hours a day, what with all the distractions, interruptions, breaks, commuting and so on. Often people try to snatch more leisure time in the evenings by reducing their sleep time, which is not good for you.

This is where the discipline comes in. The discipline to focus on rest and relaxation but dedicate downtime to work. Sounds mad? Here's my working day schedule:

Get up late. I usually like 8 - 8:30 am. I tend to feel ready to be up by then. And every day then feels like you've had a delicious lie-in.
Wash and have tea or coffee, breakfast (if you're hungry now).
9:00 sharp: start work.
10:00ish: 5-10 minute break for stretching exercises, bathroom, staring into space, quick breakfast maybe.
Then back to work.
11:00 Coffee break (half hour), light breakfast if not already taken (or second breakfast, if you're a hobbit), read something fun, do light housework, whatever.
11:30 Work.
12:30 5 minute break to stretch.
1:00 Lunch break (1.5 hours). So long that you can actually cook a good lunch and have time for rest and leisure, family chats, etc.
2:30 Work.
3:30 5-10 minute stretch break.
4:30 Tea break (half hour).
5:00 Work.
6:00 5 minute stretch break.
6:30 Evening leisure break including meal, TV, family time, long scented bath, whatever.

Let's stop there. You've done over 6 hours of full-on work, more than you would have done in the office, yet you got up late, had loads of breaks, and mealtimes were long leisurely affairs with time to prepare them properly. And you didn't have to dress smartly or commute. If you want to make it eight hours work then do 1.5 hours some time between 8:00 and midnight, which is bedtime, the start of a full eight hours snuggled up in bed with teddy (if you're young at heart) or with that cuddly human you found all those years ago but your work usually gets in the way of your snuggling properly with.

This works for me. (Admittedly, I used to go out for my coffee break to get some fresh air and some human contact, which doesn't apply now.) If you have kids of school age then they should be focused on school work when you are focused on work work. Let college students get up later and work late - they have different circadian rhythms. I am an owl not a lark so if you prefer an early start and earlier to bed then adapt your schedule accordingly. Just be disciplined about it.

You'll find you probably need less sleep since you are less tired. I say eight hours bedtime, but you don't actually have to sleep in bed. A good read before lights out? Or morning sex in the leisurely period between when you would normally get up and when I suggest you get up. Which is better than the occasional quickie you manage to snatch before the alarm goes off.

Since you're less hungry and tied than usual you will probably reduce your food intake, which is good for the health and the purse. Do reduce coffee, too, and alcohol. They are fine in moderation during and after a stressful work day, but impair a relaxed day like this.

This coronavirus isolation is a unique and amazing opportunity to find better ways of working and living. It could mark a real revolution in homeworking, thus improving the work-life balance of millions and reducing traffic and emissions from commuting. Obviously, your work may not lend itself to neat slots like this, although most work does. Remember, leisure time interrupted by work calls does allow you to take that call time off your next work slot.

Long leisure

If you don't work or can't do your work at home and are faced with doing nothing then I recommend taking up something wholly new, not the pastimes you normally do in snatched moments of rare leisure at weekends or evenings since you'll get bored with them. Here are some suggestions for big projects.

Write that book we all have in us. Self-publishing your work is not hard these days if you feel the world would benefit from seeing your words of wisdom. My masterpiece Wooffo the Space Hound and the Astral Sausage Invasion should be on the shelves this autumn!

Do something creative like invent a board game, build some furniture or plan an amazing holiday for next year when this is all over.

Practice music or take up a new hobby, instrument, garden sport...

Of course, those tasks like clearing the loft or garage or cellar or shed that you promised you would get round to one day, now's the time for those. The first five minutes are the worst, then you'll be proud of what you've done. Beware of fullscale life laundry, though, as I doubt taking stuff to the dump is considered essential travel at present.

If you are out as a trans person at home, what better time to practise and improve your makeup or epilation techniques!

Hope this helps. Don't be fearful of the current bug, just be cautious and follow the hygiene routines. You've got time for them. Be smart and revolutionise your time. Hope my tips are of some help. See, I've even improved your sex life! You're welcome.

PS In case you're wondering, I'm not really writing a book about Wooffo the Space Hound. It'd be good, though!

Sue x

Thursday, 19 March 2020

Life in Italy in the Age of the Virus

I've been very touched by the number of friends who've messaged or phoned or emailed to see how I'm doing here in Italy in the Age of the Virus, and I would have posted here earlier but I was replying to them.

Well, everyone in Italy is staying at home as advised, which must be hell for the kids (and their parents), although a lot have been doing homeschooling and people are working at home. You can go food shopping and go to the chemists, and go to work if you are in food, manufacturing or distribution. You can walk the dog. Large banks and main post offices are open but everything else is shut. So no caf├ęs, bars, cinemas, clothes shops, hairdressers, libraries, cemeteries, offices, leisure centres and so forth.

Fortunately I don't get easily bored and have plenty to keep me amused at home. There seems to be very little incidence of the virus here in the Province of Imperia and let's hope it stays that way.
However, with no new clothes and no haircuts, we're all going to end up looking like dishevelled Flintstones before long! I also suspect, with so little to amuse people at home, that there'll be a lot of December babies this year!

I don't like this word "lockdown" bandied about by the English-speaking press. Here in Italy, self-isolation and business closure is mainly voluntary. And people are doing it through a sense of community and to protect the most vulnerable. It's always the way: legislate all you like and people will do what they can to avoid paying their taxes or complying with the law; suggest a community approach and people jump to it.

I am delighted that people here are checking up on their elderly, disabled or sick neighbours by phone or entryphone without needing to be asked, doing shopping for them or walking their dogs, to minimise the risk they are exposed to. If this situation arises in your country too, please don't hesitate to make sure that people around you who would otherwise be very isolated get what they need: practical help and daily contact.

I'm also delighted that a company here on the coast that makes sails, for which there's no demand right now, has voluntarily turned its machines to making surgical masks instead.

But there are negatives. Many years ago I used to work in the British ministries, mainly on sickness policy as it happens. Making public policy involves taking as many factors as you can into account and weighing them carefully. There's usually no perfect balance or answer, and the overarching policies of the government you have will sway the approach. The long-term effects of this isolation policy on economic life, and on public health and social coherence could potentially be worse than the problem being dealt with. Staying at home is all very well in order to avoid infection, but getting less exercise increases obesity, already a major problem; social isolation greatly increases mental health problems and there has already been a rise in incidents of domestic violence here. Economic failure increases diseases associated with lower income, and suicide. So let's hope this drastic policy to protect the most vulnerable does work. This is the humane approach, the moral one, even though it is at the expense of the economy. However, the package of financial measures to help busineses and working people who are not operating is quite impressive. The next few days are critical and will show if the virus is being beaten or if failure means the government changes tack and we have to learn to live with the bug.

If I were to give one piece of important advice to individuals it's to take heed only of what reputable medical organisations are suggesting you do. Do NOT take advice from amateurs on social media, stuff in the papers (especially tabloids and magazines), or suggestions from leaders of dictatorial or dubious regimes (and that includes Britain and the USA). The World Health Organisation, the relevant health ministry or reputable medical and scientific journals should be your only source of advice.

Another piece of advice is to watch out for scams such as people offering to disinfect your home, people selling you face masks (most are of little use against viruses) or quacks offering remedies. I suspect people will soon be offering to do your shopping, take your cash ... and vanish. Never underestimate the dishonesty of some people who profit from situations like this. If you don't know them, don't trust them.

Also, learn to interpret statistics. An 8% death rate among diagnosed cases in hospital does not mean that that's the overall death rate, because you haven't taken all the other cases, including undiagnosed ones, into account. The fatality rate is much lower - still not a good rate, but don't spook yourself by misunderstanding figures that show only part of a picture.

It's weird times we're living in but human kindness and consideration are all it takes. You might even enjoy living at home for a bit. Here I can see families clearing years of accumulated junk in their garages, painting the house, spring cleaning, practising music and doing online courses. I've always loved working from home myself. Of course, if you don't live full time in your preferred gender then now could be a wonderful opportunity. I can tell you that my nails have never looked prettier! Enjoy the weirdness, friends, keep yourselves well by following good advice, and look out for one another and the more needy.

Sue x

Saturday, 29 February 2020

Women's clothes are so much nicer

It's that rarest of days, February 29th.

Having pretty much recovered from my various seasonal illnesses, and not yet apparently having caught coronavirus, it's time to celebrate healthy womanhood!

First, here's one thing I hate: I hate having to shop for men's clothes. There was an era when I spent so much time living as female and buying only women's clothes that in the end I forgot my sizes in menswear. I'm having to live officially as male at present as I go through the huge number of formalities needed to live abroad. (Incidentally, those who say that moving about within Europe is easy - or rather too easy - have no idea what they are talking about.)

So I needed some new trousers (shudder!) and when I got to a suitable shop I was delighted to find that some women's trousers had been mixed in with the men's. And in my size. So I did buy a pair of horrid boy trousers, but also a pair of black skinny jeans. I wish I knew why men's trousers are so horrible, always rough, stiff and misshapen. These women's jeans have lycra and fit perfectly as a result. And, they make me happy, as clothes do only if they reflect my reality, not the demands of the world.

Anyway, I returned a few days later and bought some blue jeans, some leggings, some sneakers and a hoodie from the jumble of clothing. Styles are often unisex these days anyway and all these items, even the leggings, could be worn by men or women pretty indifferently. Which suits me perfectly right now.

I did go more feminine than this recently, including proper care over my makeup and hair, and remembered to take some photos out on the terrace. I'm on the top floor part way up a steep mountainside so the views are pretty impressive and I've tried to capture some of that in the photo above.

As in my previous post, I have also, and not before time, updated my blogroll. Must try to get a suitable index or system of links to help navigate.

Sue x

Tuesday, 25 February 2020

The blogroll revolution!

It always used to be an awkward chore changing items in one's blogroll but Blogger now seems to have made its system more user-friendly. As I recover from flu I am spending time indoors and so have been able to do some much needed weeding and planting in my blogroll (which is low down on the right), and do it swiftly for once!

My friends Ann Drogyny, Roz White and Helen Turner stopped blogging at least a year ago and so I have now removed their blogs. The same for the "Rhiannon Rambling" blog. I did enjoy all these very much, but obviously people have their priorities. Helen essentially uses Flickr as though it were a blog and her trans life is very positive, her wife, daughter and parents being very accepting and she having a very active time as a woman ( She's also very pretty!

Mandy Sherman and KD have started new blogs ("Mandy's Miscellany" and "K.D.'s Life and Ramblings") so I've now added these but am still keeping links to their earlier blogs for the time being since they are still interesting.

I've added a couple of new blogs: the excellent "Femulate" (that, frankly, should have been up here years ago) and "Shadows of a Dream (on my Travels)", which is the blog my friend Karen Cameron writes about her adventures with other girls in places like Manchester and Leeds.

Of course, the blogs for those super bloggers Lynn Jones ("YATGB"), Bobby Sox, Lucie ("The Girl Who Should Know Better"), Jonathan ("Male Femme") and the tour-de-force who is Hannah McKnight are still there, as they have been for years, and make fascinating and useful reading. T Central remains the main umbrella blog here for the trans community.

Enjoy these. I certainly do.

Sue x

Sunday, 23 February 2020

A run-in with viruses

In ancient Rome, the seventh of February was traditionally the first day of spring, when the favonius, a gentle westerly breeze began to blow, bringing warmer air to the Mediterranean. On the eighth day after that, February 14th, that same tradition said that birds began to choose a mate for the year, and hence the origins of Valentine's Day.

It's certainly pleasant here in Italy with warm sunshine and light breezes and, by and large, it's doing me good. Three weeks ago I went to Milan to conclude some administrative business and probably because of suddenly being thrust into the bustle of a big city in winter at the height of the flu season, squashed onto public transport with bug-ridden commuters and having to spend time in health authority facilities, I picked up a vile winter vomiting bug that left me unable to move for days and took over a week to recover from and start eating again. I escaped from the city as soon as I felt able, but not before picking up flu which left me pretty feeble for another week and I've been coughing ever since.

So the moral is, stay isolated and don't mix with people! Not really, but it just goes to show how the crush of the big city is perfect for spreading germs. The coronavirus threat from China has become a source of hysteria - Chinatown in Milan, which is Europe's biggest, was deserted because in the public mind any oriental person is a vector of death (and white folk cannot distinguish between Chinese, Filipinos, Japanese and so on). Human stupidity and prejudice know no bounds.

How do we kill the viruses of racism, discrimination and stupidity? They seem to be very prevalent at the moment.

Sue x