A Conversation with Eleanor of Aquitaine

(This piece is also posted at Drawn to the Page. The pictures are my own but were taken with the permission of the gallery at the De la Warr Pavilion)

“In a Dream you saw a way to survive and you were full of joy”, I hear her say; and I pause.

Recumbent; at rest; approachable yet regal, bronzen yet not bronze. 800 years ago officially dead. 2017 very much alive and not in effigy alone. This alluring person in sepulchral stillness shifts a knee and then a finger as she turns a page of her book.

Eleanor d’Aquitaine had lain reading into eternity, ceaseless words at her fingertips. No boundaries; save the single wire that surrounds her. Installed I guessed by concerned gallery management. Concerned for her dignity? Accorded by her birthright – probably not. But likely installed for her safety that she might prevail, physically unharmed, upon this exhibition as its patron, disseminator and gallery guide.

As she wryly observes, closely to my ear; “I have become a part of the gig economy. It’s art and it’s work”. Her gig lasting about 5 weeks at the De la Warr Pavilion.

“Good book you’re reading?” I ask. “A page turner?”, thinking that 800 years might be a long time to be reading the same story.
“One of the Bronte girls”, she replies. Her right thumb (she appears to be right handed) she inserts into the book saving her page; regards the cover and announces; “Charlotte. Charlotte Bronte. Jane Eyre”.

“The Brontes inhabited the mid 19th century”, I inform her.

“I was re-cast in the mid 19th century. Read the information”; she curtly responds flicking a neat digit towards a tiny label on the wall behind her.

“My eternity is installed in your thoughts and dreams. Remain respectful and don’t get ideas above your station”.

“Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre was a go-to literary work for intelligent women, such as me, during the 19th century.”

Still in recline, turning towards me, she places her chin upon her right hand and announces, “this show is laden with sexuality and sensuality. Do you understand the meaning of those two words and worlds? I am your witness to death but also to life, existing as I do in your dreams and my eternity.”

Eleanor rises fully from her bed, takes me by the hand and starts her brief tour, diagonally heading to a small photograph – Chris Killip’s tractor in a field. Eleanor’s brow furrows like the distant stripes on Killip’s field. “This is life. Ploughing is life”. Beware the precipitous cliff edge, she is reminding me as I am drawn to the distance. Her presence has now settled on me like a warm blanket.

 

Pirouetting, briefly on tip toe, and looking back across her shoulder, her mourning garments resplendent now in life and dream, she beckons me towards a swirling woman on film. The kaleidescopic synthesis of a technology emerging in the late 19th century. Art in moving images. Deceptive colours merge and ebb. The whole palette in a symmetry of exciting movement. The Lumiere brothers at work. “This is sensuality. The body, movement, intimacy”. Should I ask her to dance. Had she slipped me a philtre I wonder?

Her arm interlocking mine, she glides me away from this hypnotic dancer.  Suddenly she unlocks me and stops beside a colour photo. ‘Enfield Close 1977’; vigorous motion captured in absolute stillness.  Time in flying seconds, split into thousandths. We are inside the mind of a young girl, allegedly possessed of a poltergeist. The girl is in mid-air as her brother (I suppose) sleeps, soundly, on an adjacent bed. Male heroes, of hers or his, displayed on the wall. “If she is possessed” – Eleanor is emphatically arguing -“…then I suspect it could be by joy she is possessed. Spirited, defiant joy. Not poltergeist”.

Close to Eleanor’s temporary place of rest in this gallery is the overbearing exhibit. Wrestling men filmed by Fassbinder. A squalid homo-erotic struggle to the death played out below the dispassionate gaze of a woman who displays a clear understanding of fine millinery and only a passing interest in the mayhem of men in battle.

“Typical men. Find out they’re gay when it’s far too late”, is Eleanor’s laconic comment. “Must say though their final struggle for life is impressive. I have witnessed such struggles over hundreds of years. That watching woman knows that the only one who will overcome, is her. Commentary on my eternal life.

“Am I stylish in this death scene?“ she asks rhetorically; settling again into her position of exhibition.

“Yes you are stylish. May I add modish, too. Where would you prefer to rest; if not here?”, I say.
She answers pensively; “Perhaps as a figure carved in carrara marble. In the mind of Bridget Reilly. Or alongside a fallen man, condemned to sleep, rather than to rest. But most comfortably, if not here then in the chair of Charlotte Perriand. It’s her chair not Corbusier’s and I would be proud to open my book, enfolded by her work.”

Recumbent again; settling her head on the hard pillow and opening her book, Eleanor d’Aquitaine addresses me finally. “Miss Eyre, like me, will continue to speak to you and others. We are eternal. Great run I have had here. Great gig. Shame it’s ending soon”

To sleep, rest or die

60 years was a long wait

“Bobbing in the waves of bewilderment and lucidity”

These words are from The Argonauts by Maggie Nelson which I bought in the spring of this year (4th April 2016). They characterise the poet George Oppen and I have appropriated them to succinctly explain my state of mind as I go through a remarkable and challenging transition. Oppen was sadly in late mental decline. I am still swimming happily if occasionally buffeted.

Nelson’s book has played a vital, and personally reassuring, part in what a close male friend has described as my “trip”. That word trip has nuance.

Her book is not only an  elegantly written memoir, it is a profoundly intelligent academic work on her relationship with a fluidly gendered partner and deserves a place on the shelves of any individual that cares about love, sex and gender.

My blog, first put up in 2014  has now morphed from the introspective political thoughts of a male constantly on the edge of uncertainty into something unequivocal. It is now particularly dedicated to my small immediate family who might sense that one person’s liberation is another’s loss. In response to that possible fear I can only state that what is emerging in my life I will share through love and respect.

The sidebar logo gives you an indication of what is going on. Broadly this is the journal of an unfolding exceptional personal challenge.

2017 will see my first timid steps towards a dramatic transition which I could barely contemplate even 5 years ago but which I first contemplated more than 60 years ago. I hope it will help put to flight the notion, widely held, that gender transition is a modish, self regarding pre-occupation of millenials. It is not modish, not self regarding and it is important to society that this issue is out. Had I had the professional intervention now available I guess that I would have been looking at transition during my early 20s.

During the late 1950s I sought some snatched solace in the prurient pages of, say, the News of the World and The Sunday Pictorial. News of April Ashley’s sex change was an endless quest while I sped towards puberty, uncertainty and ultimately personal disgrace. I took time away from my family hidden in a large cupboard, doors closed providing optimum darkness and escape. Being in the wrong gender drove me, quite literally, into the arms of another boy at age 10 and in this relationship I fell in love, and assumed, most happily, what I knew was my natural role. That of a girl. He was Jim and I was Janet and from that point forward, truthfully, I have never seen myself, precisely as anything else other than female. The consolation that it might be a simple aberration gave way to the serious fear of fetishism and most worryingly a failure in mental stability and moral responsibility.

Jan Morris’ 1972 book Conundrum I read for the first time this year but she had been a beacon for me from the time of publication and I should have read it earlier. In February this year when I first pleaded my case for NHS intervention with my local GP at his small, country practice I found myself blurting out that I wanted to die a woman. Most interestingly in Morris’ book she had reached a point where she would either die a woman or die by her own hand as a man. She writes more eloquently than me and I have no intention of surrendering my life, but I fully understand that point of frustration. How many people have died of gender dysphoria I wonder. There will be no records.

Beneath a banner insisting “radical individual freedom”, I am on the march against the immured minds of the rabid right wing with their “take back control” certitude which has gripped us during 2016.

What of the “rusticant”; the author of this blog? This genderly indeterminate human being is indulging in a more intense, self imposed, rustication, imminently to move deeply, more authentically, into countryside. Albeit a little closer to the sea.

Anybody passing this way – please leave some footprints at my site.

Next year, hopefully before the spring, I will have embarked on the early stages of a professionally monitored programme at the Laurels Exeter, Devon .

 

about the sidebar

All posts prior to this one are at least 12 months old. The “about the rusticant” link has been slightly updated and gives insight into rustication; among other things! Hilary Mantel gave me the verb “to rusticate”. I lay claim to the new noun (not in the dictionary) “rusticant”.

My work

I have been working on a story which needs to be revised and delivered from a different gender perspective!! Christ knows when I will be able to get that sorted. But I will be moving tantalisingly close to the setting of the whole scenario. Seddon Faag lives.

am i out?

I have been “out” and it was wholly encouraging and joyful.

thanks

At this stage I will not name too many people. But I make  an exception for four men, because exposing myself  (forgive the choice of words!!) to people of the same gender was the biggest challenge. So Nick, it was a personal joy to have you on my side at Spitalfields Market in February talking about Thomas Hardy and offering a hand and affirming friendship. Most recently Al from Australia, who in between chats about the upcoming Rugby test against the Wallabies, managed to grasp and converse about gender fluidity. Dave the oldest friend of these three – a man who literally sprung me from custody in the old Yugoslavia – this year entertained me at a couple of posh restaurants in London with his inimitable precise conversation peppered with expletives while lauding my freedom in the modern world.

Finally the fourth man is my son who is a tower of strength. I could not be more proud – dignity, understanding, and unwavering support for his dad who is on a formidable journey which started 60 years ago and now has an end in sight.

Thanks, Jacquie for your concern and love . Probably you are equally bobbing and bewildered; I offer my deepest respect. Two other remarkable women who have invited me in from being out  – I don’t know what to say. Tears for the Danish Girl and scarves flying in the wind.

Love to all. This is simply the beginning and will be shared widely.

…for John. Respect for your counsel, wisdom, friendship. Without you I would not have made it this far. Hope you are amazed.

 

 

 

 

The Women’s Equality Party

After reading a piece by Nick Cohen in Sunday’s Observer (27.09.2015),today I joined the Women’s Equality Party…

…the first time I have joined a political party since 1963. I see the £4.00 monthly subscription as a small, but essential contribution to the maintenance of a progressive and completely inclusive society.

Prompted by a ludicrous piece I read in a left wing paper which looked forward to the “enthronement” of Jeremy Corbyn as a Platonic king – probably the writer was confused between the princely Machiavelli and the regal Plato – on the 15 September I declared, on Twitter, that I had ceased to be a socialist. The resounding response of one person was enough to satisfy my grand public statement!

Yesterday John McDonnell, The Labour Party’s Shadow Chancellor, – grey, traditional, pious charmer – laid out his ongoing commitment to ideological socialism and with that I am vindicated in my decision to have resigned socialism. I subscribe to the view that genuinely intelligent people do not think ideologically. And ideology will in time impinge upon someone’s freedom irrespective of their goodness. I believe in Socialist ideology was, yesterday at the Labour Party Conference, a virile statement by McDonnell.

The complete emancipation of women takes us to total democracy, not socialism or any other ideology. For instance it will marginalise the tyranny of religion being dominated by men and in turn will destroy the least attractive aspects of religion such as the violent and vicious imposition of dogma, spuriously and deceitfully ascribed to a godhead who is inevitably, almost universally, male.

The modus operandi of religious zealots is repeated throughout our global community, in business, government, politics, academia.

Nick Cohen initially articulated my views but, over the years, many  women have impacted directly or indirectly on my decision to sign up to the Women’s Equality party. Among them Ali Smith, Angie Hobbs, Chrissie Hynde, Julie Burchill, Maryam Namazie, Jeanette Winterson, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Elif Safak, Annie Lennox, and of course Sandy Toskvig plus several journalists from across the political spectrum. The one who stands out as a personal point of navigation remains Jill Tweedie who instructed me wittily and intelligently through her column at The Guardian during the 1970s. It’s been a long and slow journey to this final enlightenment and I apologise for my tardy arrival. The journey being longer and ultimately more revealing and arduous than St Paul’s damascene escapade.

Here is Nick Cohen’s final two paragraphs from the Observer which all men MUST read:-

“And in any case those bright high-earning graduates will soon see their male contemporaries overtake them. At the current rate it will take 70 years before the gender gap closes.

One of the party organisers said I should ask every woman I met if they thought their careers had suffered because they were women. Male readers should try the same. If they hear the answers I did, they will understand why the notion of a Women’s Equality party is not trite as it appears”.

Trite it most certainly isn’t and young modern men will benefit greatly from the complete emancipation of societies – worldwide. And I want to be a small part of that at a rather late time in life.

Join the Women’s Equality Party

“The death of freedom, the triumph of violence, and the enslavement of the mind”

………… will occur if we do not whole-heartedly embrace the hard won traditions of freedom, democracy and the enlightenment.

 

Albert Camus worked as a journalist during the Nazi occupation of Paris. His words are inspirational at this time. In writing a tribute to the murdered American journalist, James Foley, in August 2014 I took a long quote from Camus’ book The Rebel and here is a link to that earlier post.

Turner Prize 2014

First posted 2014/10/05

The ultimate comment on the ultimate vanity in art

“Boring! Not even depressing”.  On a message board adjacent to the Turner Prize exhibition room at Tate Britain I found this quite brilliant, succinct statement on this year’s 30th anniversary show, probably left by somebody, in a hurry, yet in total control of the Twitter style communication process.

Congratulations to the author.

James Foley – my tribute……

….by way of Albert Camus

When deaths come in large numbers the victims tend to lose their unique identity and with it we often lose our ability to fully empathise until lengthy contemplation helps us understand the tragedy. Gaza and the concentration camps of Nazi Germany are hideous examples and events weirdly linked.

It takes, therefore, individual tragedies often to polarise and concentrate our minds and formulate opinions and direct policy and ideas

On the 15th March 1990 British based Iranian journalist Farzad Bazoft was executed in Baghdad for no other reason than he was doing his job of investigation and reporting. This event memorably had a terrible impact on me and to my mind awoke the awareness world wide of the evil embedded in ideologically driven Baathist minds in Iraq.

The recent mindless execution of James Foley at a place and time so far unknown should be an event which will focus our minds into the future and may even bring us closer to the freedom and democracy in the Middle East which seemed at hand when The Arab Spring took hold following the self immolation of Mohamed Bouazizi in Tunisia in 2010.

Unlike the time when Ken Bigley and Margaret Hassan were executed in Iraq  following the 2003 Iraq invasion there would appear to be a greater, more  widely held resolve across the globe to achieve what Bouazizi had inadvertently yet poignantly set in train. We must at least have hope.

Foley was not simply killed for he was firstly shorn of his dignity, humiliated and subjected, by his executioner, to a tirade of idiotic ideology. The man clearly divested of any kind of human rationality  is in the clutches of a new manifestation of Nazism.

Foley appeared to endure this cruelest of deaths with dignity and stoicism and as a personal tribute to him and his family and to all those who have been and will continue to be murdered by the neo- Nazi Islamic State, so long as they are allowed to do their evil business.

The following tribute I draw from the work of a man, the like of which we urgently need on the world stage – Albert Camus.

Camus reminded us that no revolution is worth dying for if it does not include a demand for the immediate cessation of capital punishment. Camus who lived through the Occupation of France in World War 2 wrote the following in The Rebel. First published in 1951 the world had just barely survived Hitler and the Soviet bloc was in the clutches of Stalin. He was writing at a time when the unspecified third person was always male although he did evidently occasionally alter this.

“Collectively passions, must, in fact, be lived through and experienced, at least relatively. At the same time that he experiences them, the artist is devoured by them. The result is that our period is rather a period of reportage than the period of the work of art. The exercise of these passions, finally, entails far greater chances of death than in time of love and ambition, in that the only way of living collective passions is to be willing to die for them or by their hand………”

He continues –

“Meanwhile, the triumphant revolution, in the aberration of its nihilism, menaces, those who, in defiance of it, claim to maintain the existence of unity in totality. One of the implications of history today, and still more of tomorrow, is the struggle between the artists and the new conquerors, between the witnesses to the creative revolution and the founders of the nihilist revolution. As for the outcome of the struggle, it is only possible to make inspired guesses. At least we know that it must, hereafter, be carried on to the bitter end. Modern conquerors can kill, but do not seem to be able to create. Artists know how to create but cannot really kill. Murderers are only very exceptionally found among artists. In the long run, therefore, art in our revolutionary societies must die. But then the revolution will have lived its allotted span. Each time that revolution kills in a man the artists that he might have been, it attenuates itself a little more. If finally, the conquerors succeed in moulding the world according to their laws, it will not prove that quality is king but that this world is hell. In this hell the place of art will coincide with that of vanquished rebellion, a blind and empty hope in in a pit of despair. Ernst Dwinger in his Siberian Diary mentions a German Lieutenant (post WW2 in Russia) – for years a prisoner in a camp where cold and hunger were almost unbearable – who constructed himself a piano with wooden keys. In the most abject misery, perpetually surrounded by a ragged mob, he composed a strange music which was audible to him alone. And for us who have been thrown into hell, mysterious melodies and torturing images of a vanquished beauty will always bring us, in the midst of crime and folly, the echo of that harmonious insurrection which bears witness, throughout the centuries, to the greatness of humanity.

But hell can endure for only a limited period, and life will begin again one day. History may perhaps have an end; but our task is not to terminate it but to create it, in the image of what we henceforth know to be true. Art, at least, teaches us that man cannot be explained by history alone and that he also finds a reason for existence in the order of nature. For him, the great god Pan is not dead. His most instinctive act of rebellion, while it affirms the value and the dignity common to all men, obstinately claims, so as to satisfy its hunger for unity, an integral part of the reality whose name is beauty. One can reject all history and yet accept the world of the sea and the stars. The rebels who wish to ignore nature and beauty are condemned to banish from history everything with which they want to construct the dignity of existence and of labour. Every great reformer tries to create in history what Shakespeare, Cervantes, Molière, and Tolstoy knew how to create: a world always ready to satisfy the hunger for freedom and dignity which every man carries in his heart. Beauty, no doubt, does not make revolution. But a day will come when revolutions will have need of beauty. The procedure of beauty, which is to resist the real while conferring unity upon it, is also the procedure of rebellion. Is it possible eternally to reject injustice without ceasing to acclaim the nature of man and the beauty of the world? Our answer is yes. This ethic, at once unsubmissive and loyal, is in any event the only one that lights the way to a truly realistic revolution. In upholding beauty, we prepare the way for the day of regeneration when civilization will give first place—far ahead of the formal principles and degraded values of history—to this living virtue on which is founded the common dignity of man and the world he lives in, and which we now have to define in the face of a world which insults us”.

This extract comes from Albert Camus, The Rebel (L’ Homme Révolté). Translation by Anthony Bower. Penguin Classics; pp 218-219.

My postscript: “The death of freedom, the triumph of violence, and the enslavement of the mind” will occur if we do not whole-heartedly embrace hard won traditions of freedom, democracy and the enlightenment.

“Putin aid” ……

……….does he have a Rasputin type adviser?

Vladamir Putin doesn’t miss a trick when backed up against a diplomatic wall and the sanctions must be hurting his inflated yet feeble ego. Before the departure for Ukraine of the 280 white mercy trucks – virtually one for every slaughtered passenger on MH17 – he had the trucks blessed by a clergyman of The Orthodox Church.

Like all despots Putin seizes any opportunity to engage religion in his ventures, presumably to infer his direct contact with God on earth. Pathetic! Come out Rasputin, we know you are there.

EU Sanctions

The EU makes a major statement. Have the non-EU Europeans signed up?

Last week Marietje Schaake, a Netherlands MEP, delivered on Newsnight (see it here), an emotional, impassioned yet controlled appeal for a strong response from the EU to the mealy mouthed, paranoid Vladamir Putin who had clearly briefed his media minions to get him off the hook for the downing of MH17.

Ms Schaake represented and gave substance to the values of a formally united Europe. The Netherlands is a small country (16 million people) with much less international influence than Britain, France, Germany. Like all countries of the EU, The Netherlands has survived a troubled history of border disputes and religious and political upheaval but has made major contributions to what underpins our nations collectively and individually – freedom, democracy and The Enlightenment. Today, 30th July, the EU finally positioned itself, united, behind sanctions against Russia, which Ms Schaake sought.

These sanctions are not directed against the people of Russia but against a man and his regime which has been seizing land in pursuit of the re-establishment of a failed empire.

The Ukraine, and other nations which emerged from the old Soviet Union or from its influence, deserve the same opportunities as all its neighbours in the EU. Putin’s Russia is a dangerous anachronism.

Border disputes in Europe post WWII have been tetchy at the very least and involved protracted discussions but have achieved incredibly successful outcomes particularly since the evolution of the EU to its most recent manifestation.

The 30 July 2014 should be an important moment in our collective histories when all people in the EU and the rest of Europe start to understand the broadest possible picture of the good that can be achieved in a strong formal union of free, enlightened, democratic countries.

Switzerland for instance, should re-examine its sanctimonious, convenient commitment to neutrality and ask itself in a referendum whether it can any longer be so selfish as to expect the rest of Europe to protect its frontiers whether those frontiers are geographic or economic. I doubt they have signed up to the sanctions and I wonder what would have happened had the ill-fated MH17 been a Swissair flight.

Nigel Farrage, leader of UKIP and pom pom waver for Putin has unsurprisingly been a little muted of late. But in fairness he might have been dealing with the induction of Charlie Brooks into the party.

People in non-EU countries should listen to  Marietje Schaake’s words because what will be achieved from today’s statement could not happen in a divided Europe.

 

Putin’s Russia

The Putin regime’s total disdain for the victims of the MH17 crash is encapsulated in this laughable graphic which currently appears on the Russia Today web site.

suuuu.si
Fancy us imagining it was brought down by a ground to air missile. Those dastardy democrats from Kiev did it.

In the tradition of the old Soviet Politburo the regime endeavours to shift the blame onto the Ukrainian air force. One would laugh at the Russia Defense Ministry’s artwork  if the matter wasn’t so serious.

This blog being interested in writers and their work, it is a good moment to remember the heroic resistance to Putin by Russian journalist,  Anna Politkovskaya who was shot dead outside her apartment in Moscow on 7 October 2006. To be sure of the hit,  it took 5 armed men to kill one woman. They were caught and imprisoned – another very long story – but the contractors have not been found or should I say revealed.

In sharp contrast to Politkovskaya, today On BBC News 24, I heard an odious Putin apparatchick representing Russia Today deliver a daft appraisal of the situation at the crash site in East Ukraine where in his words the ground and the evidence is being compromised by Ukrainian military.

The Russian people deserve better than the dimunitive dangerous buffoon who struts his stuff in the manner of Mussolini.

I take this opportunity to direct you to Anna Politkovskya’s book Putin’s Russia – I am not in the pay of Amazon and I am sure it is available from all good bookshops! However I have cut and pasted this quote from Amazon by the recently deceased author, Nadine Gordimer.

“Anna Politkovskaya refused to lie, in her work; her murder is a ghastly act, and an attack on world literature”.

The killers of 289 people in eastern Ukraine are being protected by liars.

May Russia return to democracy soon.

 

The Rusticant….another bloody writer

My first words at this site

Last summer (2013) during a distinguished period of energetic indolence much of which was spent on the beach at Winchelsea, LinkedinEast Sussex, I read Hilary Mantel’s widely and rightly lauded novels, Wolf Hall and Bring up the Bodies.

Mantel introduced me to a word which had                previously passed me by – “rustication”. Fall out of favour with a retributive monarch like Henry VIII and you could feel a heavy cold blade across the back of the neck. But if you were lucky you might simply be put out of sight – sent to the country; rusticated.

My rustication had recently happened towards the end of 2012. Without the slightest planning I had ended up in a small village in the beautiful Weald of Kent – population about 1500 – in an environment so completely different to Piccadilly, Leicester Square which I had quite recently said goodbye and farewell to.

A person rusticated, I deduce, is a rusticant – a noun, as migrant is a noun. Rusticant does not exist in my dictionaries. Thus I have invented a new word to which I lay claim with the title of this blog!

This blog is dedicated to what drives me: thought, politics, the arts, writing and the people that perform those vital duties in our daily lives.

The controversial H L Mencken gives me a succinct sub text to this blog:

“A writer’s job is to remember what the fundamentalists try to erase”

Part of this piece is repeated under the “About the rusticant” tab with some more insight into who and what thrills and inspires me. Authors, journalists, artists.

The weekend I chose to launch this work saw the knuckled headed Nazis of ISIS arrive in Mosul demanding the conversion of Christians to Islam under threat of decapitation. How charmingly medieval . The equally knuckled headed and fascistic Putin downed an airliner (yes he did down the airliner) in Ukraine taking the lives of 298 people about 80 of which were children; pitilessly scattering feeble final possessions across the sunflower fields of Ukraine. In my newspaper I saw a picture of Putin engaging with the hierarchy of The Orthodox Church. Those laughably garbed iniquitous, politically malleable, good men of the church put me right back inside Hilary Mantel’s books.

In my tranquil self -engaged corner of the world people have recently widely voted for isolation from a united Europe. Not since 1945 has a solid, united democratic European consensus and resolve been more required.

Freedom, democracy and The Enlightenment underwrite my life and the ethos of this work.

Welcome inside my world of words