Thursday 29 May 2014

Early summer holiday

Early summer holiday… Well, more like a long weekend in the sun. But I managed it despite the state of my face. And I was glad I did as I haven’t actually had time away for eight months.

Last Thursday I was pleased to be able to meet up at long last with Amanda Parnell, the doyenne of musical TGirl videos, elegant photography and comedy double acts (like this: I’ve linked my blog to her Flickr pages before (

Amanda was doing one of her mystery city video tours so I met her in the mystery city – which I cannot disclose or it would cease to be mysterious – and we had lunch in the sunshine by the cathedral. I think it’s the first time I’ve eaten outside this year. We looked around the cathedral and even went up the long flights of stairs to the gallery, and then to the roof, and then by a narrow open metal stair right to the top. Do not attempt to negotiate openwork staircases if you are wearing high heels, are overweight, slightly vertiginous and have bad eyesight. It’s too late for me now, but save yourselves! Anyway the view from the top was glorious. In the churchyard I filmed Amanda’s mysterious mystery city talk and it’s already on Flickr. Can you guess where we were?

I think passers-by were curious as to why this lady in a pretty dress was feeding a wire up her frock, but it’s all part of the tourist experience!

We strolled gently through the town and I met Jolene for the first time and we all enjoyed a nice Italian dinner together.

On my way home a guy stared at me a few times which disconcerted me at first. But then he said, "I think it's great that you can be who you want to be," before disappearing into the crowd. That made me smile. A kind word to a stranger goes a long way.

The next day I went to Brighton to stay with my friend Stella and her wife, Helen. A number of girls had decided to visit Brighton that weekend so we met up with them in the evening at their hotel, Legends on the sea front. This is a gay hotel – very gay in fact! – and the reception desk seems to be the bar, or the bar is the reception desk … well, who cares. Cheers! In fact, the set-up reminds me of this Mitchell and Webb sketch:

There’s a sequel to this sketch for aficionados.

Back to the action in Brighton. We had dinner in the pretty good Italian restaurant, La Capannina. Not cheap, but I have no complaints about the food or wine.

At La Capannina in Brighton with (l-r) Lucy, Susie, Rachel, Linda, Stella, me, Helen and Stevie

Back at the Leg Ends hotel we enjoyed a drink and the music before heading off home.

Now, I had been worried about the state of my face but on the Saturday I did manage to get fully ready before breakfast without too much pain and strife. Stella is a photographer and wants to do a series of photos of her visitors in this style of Princess Diana

Well, as she was something of a world fashion icon in my younger years, how could I resist? Despite my scarred face, the only photoshopping here was creating uniformity in the background. I like this image and I think it captures a twinkle that I do have in my eye and the smile that breaks out when I am fully femme. I like my hair like this, too. Thanks, Stella. And I look forward to taking my place in your rogue’s gallery in due course.

It was such beautiful weather and it was wonderful to be able to drive into Brighton to do some shopping with the hood of the car down. The Lanes with their jewellery shops, boutiques and makeup stores are always a delight. It was back to Leg Ends in the evening to meet the girls and head off to Il Bistro for dinner, a general Mediterranean restaurant. The food was OK on the whole, and another fun evening was spent by the group.

Don't blame me. These days it's the fashion to photograph your dinner and share it online.

The yellow haze on the sea’s horizon was extraordinary, and even more amazing was the huge copper-red moon that night. We tried photographing them but both phenomena are something you have to experience for real.

And Sunday? I had to give my face a rest for a bit. After three days of T-grade shaving, steroid creams, thick makeup applications and general overindulgence, I needed a few hours rest after waking. My hosts did do a double take at this stubbly character who turned up for breakfast. But I was determined to do the whole holiday as attractively as possible and by lunchtime I was ready to go. Lovely Linda joined us and we drove over the downs, passing a rally of hundreds of minis old and new on their way to Brighton (that’s mini cars, not mini skirts – though the latter would have been a delight, too!) We had lunch in a hidden-away pub on the edge of Lewes, the Snowdrop, a classic old English tavern which does fantastic Sunday lunches and has a wide variety of English and continental beers. My roast lamb was tasty and accompanied by a Yorkshire pudding and just about every vegetable you could think of! A delight.

Ignore the fat lump in the foreground. This pic is to show you the pretty decoration of the Snowdrop at Lewes.

The afternoon was beautiful and so, on our return, we just sunned ourselves in the garden before I caught the train back home.

What a great weekend, my first little holiday of the year – and a much needed one – and I managed to survive the depredations of the skin lurgy. Many thanks to Amanda and Jolene on Thursday, to Rachel, Helen, Linda, Lucy, Stevie and Susie at the weekend, and above all to Stella and Helen for their perfect hospitality, and for the professional photos.

It’s given me a lot of confidence to enjoy my proper summer holiday in June when I go to the Lake District and then Manchester, followed, I hope, by a return trip to the Nottingham Invasion: a whole week of summer touring and fresh air and girly nights out. And then Sparkle followed, I hope, by another trip to a different part of the South Coast in August. I am even hoping to go to Berlin en femme in the autumn, my first foreign trip as a woman. But let’s not get too carried away! There’s work to do and health to sort first!

Many thanks for your good wishes regarding my health. I think they have been working.


Saturday 24 May 2014

Health and happiness

I am sick of being fat. I know why it is – a sedentary job and too much good food and drink away from home. So I rejoined Slimming World a month ago and I hope that the encouragement of the group will help me shed some pounds. I have a couple of very smart skirts that I would like to be able to get back into and I’m pleased to say that I’m heading in the right direction already.

I have also been sticking religiously to my doctor’s suggested skin treatment regime for nearly two weeks. And in the last 48 hours, finally, I have noticed and improvement to my face. Fingers crossed I can get it to a manageable state. I do know that I am stuck with it for a while, though. Past experience suggests 2-3 years. However, as long as I can continue my life as a girl about town I guess I will just put up with it.

And to prove that I wasn’t going to let this stop me, I spent four days on holiday last week, meeting up with Amanda Parnell on one of her mystery city tours and then with many girls who had descended on Brighton for the weekend. More details in a later post. It wasn’t easy and my face was very sore and troublesome but I am glad I didn’t opt out. It means that a trip to Lancashire and the Lake District next month and Sparkle in July should be doable after all.

Sue x

Tuesday 13 May 2014

Keep Fem and Carry On

My face is in a right state so I finally went to the doctor today. I had been reluctant to do so as in the past no amount of doctoring has ever done me any good in respect of eczema. Mild herbal remedies available from health food shops usually prove to be best. I imagined that 25 and more years after I last went to see a skin specialist there would have been amazing breakthroughs in medical science and some wondrous new cure. Instead, my prescription is exactly the same as the one I was given in my late teens … only the packaging is prettier.

Ideally, I ought to let this thing sort itself out by leaving my face strictly alone. But I cannot bear the idea of locking myself away or becoming a Conchita Wurst clone. So I have decided to carry on with a stiff upper lip (however blotchy). This week I’ve planned to meet up with Amanda Parnell who is coming to London at last, and then spend the weekend in Brighton. I need a little holiday as I have had no time away for 8 months (one night at Pink Punters doesn’t count). And in June I've booked to go to the Lake District and a night out in Manchester.

I will simply be taking great care with my face, using the mild steroid and face wash prescribed, and also using Neways 2nd chance shampoo (amazing cleansing power but no harsh chemicals) and taking an antihistamine to reduce inflammation (Sue’s top tip: I always take one of these when going out fully en femme anyway as it greatly reduces the risk of a runny nose or itches ruining my make-up). Let’s see how I go, and hoping it will be tolerable.

Here are some favourite photos from last week’s night out in Brick Lane. I hope to have plenty more from St Paul’s and Brighton. Wish me luck.

Sue x
The visitor in the blue dress wanted to be snapped with the lovely London ladies what we is. So she got to pose with Helen, Rachel B, Rachel C, Kay, Pippa, Irene, Rebecca and me (distracted by the traffic). Pippa's photo.
Kinkao Thai restaurant with Rachel B, Steph, Pippa, Rachel C, Helen, Denise, Kay, me, Susan, Rebecca, Irene. Susan's photo

Floral is in. Mick and Bob look on admiringly. Susan's photo.

Saturday 10 May 2014

Bad face

Sometimes it seems that life kicks you in the face. Pretty literally almost. I have the most appalling bout of eczema on my face.

I’ve suffered from eczema all my life, not as badly as some poor people, but it’s been rare for me to have no patches of this unsightly, painful and itchy skin condition. It will usually flare up somewhere over a period of 48 hours and then stay settled in that spot for a couple of years before vanishing as fast as it came. I then get a few days relief before it reappears elsewhere. It’s usually just a small patch, maybe an inch big, or several smaller blotches. The worst bout I ever had was in my very early 20s when it attacked my face and hands and was incredibly painful. Deep fissures appeared in the flesh of my fingers and shaving was destructive as it took my skin off. That was anguishing and no amount of time spent with skin specialists at the London Skin Hospital and St Thomas’s Hospital, trying every remedy known to medical science, had any real effect. In the end, after three years and much treatment, the specialist suggested that maybe I should stop shaving. So I grew a beard and that provided relief until the problem went away of its own accord. I was at that time trying to rid myself of this crazy trans thing anyway so I thought being a beardy bloke would help. It didn’t, of course, and beards weren’t much in fashion either, so I was glad when I could get rid of it. Since then I’ve tried just about every alternative kind of remedy too, vitamins, herbs, homeopathy, Chinese. Not much better, but a few things do help, notably chickweed.

Well, now that it’s been back on my face, red and painful and flaky and itchy, for two weeks I am beginning to despair. I know more now about possible causes and remedies and am doing everything I can to reduce and soothe it, but I am losing hope as I know how this thing operates and being settled for a fortnight already is not a good sign. You can imagine, after successfully getting out in public as a woman at long last, how I feel now about the possibility of growing a beard again for two years. I feel sick, actually.

I managed to go out as planned last week to go shopping with a friend and went out the other night with the Brick Lane gang. These were one off events and my condition was covered by thick makeup. But I daren’t shave my face every day at the moment so I am either confined indoors or have to do everything in stubbly male mode and whilst I’m now less bothered by male mode than I was a couple of years ago, it’s definitely not what I want. I was planning to spend a long weekend in Brighton next week but I’m not sure that’s viable. As for the four nights I have booked at Sparkle 2014, it looks like that’s all in jeopardy.

I don’t know what the cause is. Nobody quite does and there are many suspected, different causes. Stress, contact with certain things, an outward manifestation of inner illness (heart, bowel) … I am becoming more certain that my own eczema is largely linked to dust and things like mould or certain chemicals. I don’t use perfumed soaps, oils or chemical-filled products for cleaning myself or my laundry. I know that contact with mould can set it off as well as harsh chemicals such as white spirit, turpentine, motor oils, etc. The worst bouts I have had were when at school, college and in office jobs. In fact, when I stopped working in an office it largely cleared up after 40 years in that kind of dusty, enclosed educational/employment environment. I am keeping my face and head as clean as I can with pure shampoos and soaps and the one thing that seems to provide relief is chickweed salve. The one I got from my health food shop three days ago is already improving the itching and blotchiness. If you want to know what it feels like, try burning yourself and add itching powder to the burn. But don’t scratch. The relief from scratching is only immediate and damages your skin so you are worse off when you have finished, and you’ll still feel itchy. It can keep you awake at night. Because it looks unsightly, friends who usually kiss me goodbye have declined to do so this week. They won’t catch anything, but it’s offputting. I don’t blame them but I can’t help feeling sad at losing this sign of affection.

I cannot describe the distress I feel at the moment. After all this effort to get out, come out to friends, and generally make way in the world as a TGirl, to be thwarted like this is agonising. I’m grateful to so very many friends who have been supportive but I’m going to have to decide soon what course I’m going to have to take. I wouldn’t put this post up if I wasn’t now genuinely worried.

Please hope for the best for me.

Sue x

UPDATE 11 May 2014: Well, now that Conchita Wurst has won last night's Eurovision song contest there might very well be a surge in acceptance of bearded crossdressers, so I could be all right! (And what an incredible coincidence that she popped up on the day I wrote this page.)

When I am in need of hope I buy a little plant and nurture it. A tiny money plant that I bought when I first moved to my current home was to hope that it would be a good home for me. Well, I have lived here for 18 years now and my plant's offshoots are now propagated in pots all over the house. When I was made redundant and thought of going self-employed I got a tiny spider plant and it seems happy and my work is going very well. So yesterday I got a weird-looking thing that the stallholder said was related to lilies but I've never seen before and I intend to nurture it in the hope that my nasty face thing will go away. I'm not superstitious but I think that seeing these little planties helps focus my mind on what it is I'm needing to happen. So meet Bethany, the Weird Lily Kind of Planty Thing:

Help me get better, darling. There can't be room for more than one odd-looking thing here, and that's you.

Sue x

Sunday 4 May 2014

Easter holidays

My good friend Joanne came to stay over easter and we had a great break. I’ve been really busy with work and her own work has not stopped ever since we last met, which was for the TGirl bar last autumn. It was nice to have her back to stay.

She came on Good Friday and we met an old male friend of mine for dinner at the excellent Chimes English restaurant in Pimlico and then went to the West End for coffee. The bustle of London on a Friday night is always fun just in itself. 

The next day we met up with Rachel and Irene for lunch at Bistro 1 in Frith St, a venue we haven’t been to for quite a while. Excellent value, as ever.

Covent Garden was heaving with people, even busier than ever and this time I thought we would probably do better getting out of the crowds. We jumped on an old Routemaster bus to the Tower of London just for fun but I was disappointed that they’ve changed some of the details from when I used to catch one every day to go to school – yellow has given way to cream on the interior ceilings and there’s now fluorescent lighting rather than the old bulbs, and you can’t wind the windows down using those exciting twiddly knobs. We then got on a new Routemaster just to see what they are like – quite spacious in fact. But it did break down in the Strand!

The fountains are on in Somerset House courtyard so it will be nice to go there in the summer.

Joanne and I then had a cocktail in Christopher’s American bar and dinner at Boulevard French restaurant, both in Wellington Street. These are enjoyable and popular venues.

Sadly, Joanne had to go home on Easter Sunday and I had to get on with more work and stuff but I hope to see her again soon and hope she makes it to Sparkle. It was good to have a proper weekend break, though.

Sue x