Hello Again Toronto

I am safely arrived in Canada. It has been a fairly painless trip, thanks in no small part to great friends in London and the excellent staff on the Heathrow Express.

The movie selection on Air Canada was not great, but they did have some good documentaries. First up there was a biography of Mary Tyler Moore which I loved. Obviously back in the 70s I would have settled for just being a woman, any woman, but Mary’s TV show was still a shining beacon of possibility for me. I loved the fact that Oprah shot a version of the opening credits with herself as Mary. And yeah, I have been to Minneapolis and seen the statue.

I also managed to catch a food show about artisanal cheeses in British Columbia. It featured Little Qualicum, Moonstruck and Salt Spring Island. So when I get to Victoria I want to check out this place and see what I can buy.

Oh, and I set the high score on the entertainment system’s trivia game. I have no idea how often the scores are re-set, but it you happen to be flying Air Canada do take a look and see if you have the same aircraft as I had.

Looking for Lesbians

Le Rat Mort, Paris
Yesterday’s Annual General Meeting of OutStories Bristol went very well. Thanks to the fabulous Bea Hitchman we had a good crowd of interested outsiders to make us quorate; and thanks to expert training from Kevin I was able to speed through the formal part of the proceedings very quickly. That left us plenty of time to listen to Bea.

The subject of Bea’s talk was the historical research that she did into lesbian life in fin de siècle Paris when writing her novel, Petite Mort. Researching LGBT lives is never easy, because so much is erased or hidden behind obfuscating language. In the case of lesbians there is also much pseudo-history written by men who are more interested in the titillating power of girl-on-girl sex than they are in the reality of lesbian life.

So sadly the idea that in order to signal oneself as a lesbian in Paris what one did was purchase a poodle, have it splendidly coiffured, and tie a bow around its neck, proved to be untrue. French lesbians did appear to have a fondness for dogs, but eccentrically decorative poodles were not de rigueur.

There were, however, lesbian bars, including La Souris (the Mouse) and Le Rat Mort (the Dead Rat), which bespeak a possible fondness for things small and furry. Toulouse-Lautrec was a regular visitor, as he was rather fond of painting pictures of lesbians.

Still with animals, I learned that Sarah Bernhardt, who was bisexual, had an exotic menagerie whom she took everywhere with her. This included a cheetah, and a boa constrictor which sadly died because she fed it too much champagne.

All in all it was a very entertaining talk, for which thanks again to Bea. If you have an event that needs an excellent speaker on lesbian issues, or indeed anything to do with historical fiction, do consider her.

After the talk, all of the lesbians hit the alcohol. They did not object to me joining them, which pleased me on a number of levels. One of those is that the Golden Guinea has an excellent selection of beer. I got to try Jurassic Dark, a dark wheat beer from the Dorset Brewing Company. Highly recommended.

Jurassic Dark

Having A Word

I arrived in Brighton on Thursday afternoon. It was the first warm day I have experienced thus far this year (that is, the first day with sunshine and temperatures over 20C — the English call this a “heat wave”), and I had a very heavy rucksack so I was a bit sweaty after walking from the station to my hotel in Kemptown. I had just enough time to have a shower and change before having to go out for a dinner with Roz Kaveney and one of my fellow presenters from the Trans Studies Now conference, Emma Hutson. Roz was presenting as well, of course, but she was a Keynote Speaker, not a mere academic.

Kudos to Emma for finding a place to eat called The Troll’s Pantry. Actually it was just food being served in a pub called The Hobgoblin, but it was a cool name. I was somewhat disappointed that they didn’t serve spit-roasted dwarf, but I did get to eat a Minotaur. It is essentially an up-market burger joint, so the aforementioned bull-man was actually a beefburger-Cretan fusion thing. The important point is that the people running the place are serious foodies who are very particular about ingredients and it showed.

On the downside, there was no table service and getting served at the bar took a while. Also, it being a pub, there was a lot of background noise which made it hard for me to hear anything. I have old lady ears, and while I am by no means deaf I can’t hear nearly as well as I used to be able to. Yet another reason for avoiding pubs.

Having eaten, the three of us trotted down to the Jubilee Library for a Trans Special evening of Have A Word — Brighton’s LGBT spoken word event. This is run by Ellis Collins. Normally the event is held at his shop, but thanks to a contact at the Library he has been able to schedule two Pride-related events, of which this was the first.

The line-up for the evening was Alice Denny, Maeve Devine and Fox Fisher. I knew that Alice and Fox would be awesome, but I’d not heard Maeve read before. She was absolutely hilarious. Roz and I were in stitches.

Roz was, of course, added to the bill, and treated us to a few of her fine poems, including the one that she wrote to annoy people at the New Statesman when Neil and Amanda were guest-editing it.

And then there was me. Given the choice I would not have had my first ever public poetry reading be in front of Roz and Alice, both of whose work is so much better than mine. However, I did want to try out the 50 Voices piece in front of a friendly audience. While I hadn’t managed to memorise it, I did get through it OK, and people were very kind afterwards.

After the event we headed off to the Marlborough, where a lovely person with a mountain of electric blue hair was running a pub quiz. As I had been up since 6:00am I retired early after just one drink.

The hotel was had chosen is Legends, which is on Marine Parade just up the hill into Kemptown from the Sealife Centre. It is the place with the rainbow flags out front. The staff there were lovely. I couldn’t manage to get my email, either on the hotel wifi or tethered, which is potentially an issue. On the other hand, the croissants and pain-au-chocolat fresh out of the oven at breakfast were so good I’m going back there for Trans Pride.

Today’s Women’s Outlook Show Links

Well I don’t know about you folks, but I thought that went pretty well.

Kevlin Henney can always be relied upon to do great things with flash fiction, and I was delighted to hear that this year Bristol will be the focus for National Flash Fiction Day. I’m really sorry I can’t go to all of the good stuff that Kevlin has planned, but I will be in Finland so I mustn’t complain. If you want to attend the flash workshop on the 22nd, details of BristolCon Fringe meetings are here. Details of all of the events in Bristol on the 27th are here.

Lucienne Boyce is excellent value on the history, and I was really please that her husband, Gerard, came along and read a bit of the John Clare poem. It sounds so modern in places, and the similarities between the 18th Century landlords fencing in common land, and our present-day politicians selling off the NHS, are quite alarming. You can learn more about Lucienne and her books at her website.

I also managed to get in a brief discussion of the work Nicola Griffith has done recently on women and literary awards.

And you can listen to the first hour of the show here.

Hour two begins with a little discussion of the Caitlyn Jenner story and then dives into the interview with Sarah Savage. Before the ads, Sarah talks about her time on My Transsexual Summer. After the break we move on to discuss Trans Pride and her new book, Are You a Boy or Are You a Girl? I really like the fact that Sarah & Fox have chosen to avoid writing about a trans kid and have instead tackled the issue of gender stereotyping of children. if we can stop people obsessing about gender stereotypes the lives of trans people will become immeasurably easier.

Details of tomorrow night’s event in London with Paris Lees, Peter Tatchell and Owen Jones (amongst others) can be found here.

The final segment was with Kalpna Woolf of 91 Ways, a wonderful project that uses food to promote links between Bristol’s many diverse cultures. I’m always happy to discuss food, especially when that involves looking at cuisines all around the world. I expect to be donating a food memory to the 91 Ways website at some point. It may well be something else from Melbourne.

The Mexican restaurant I talk about is Fuego.

You can listen to the second hour of the show here.

The music on today’s show was as follows:

  • The Story of Beauty – Destiny’s Child
  • Me and Mrs. Jones – Billy Paul
  • Kung Fu Fighting – Carl Douglas
  • The Boxer – Simon & Garfunkel
  • True Trans Soul Rebel – Against Me
  • Get Up, Stand Up – Bob Marley & The Wailers
  • Food for Thought – UB40
  • Living for the City – Stevie Wonder

I know that Against Me isn’t the sort of music that we normally play on Ujima, and to be honest (sorry Laura), they are not really my cup of tea. However, True Trans Soul Rebel is a brilliant pop song. Were it not for the fact that I am completely useless with guitar and cannot sing to save my life, I would love to perform that song. I have been humming it to myself all day.

Oh, and if you listen along you’ll hear mention of something called 50 Voices. I’m appearing in it. So is Kalpna. I’ll have more to say about that in due course.

Tomorrow on Ujima: Flash, Crime, Trans & Food

I have a very busy show lined up for Women’s Outlook tomorrow.

First up from Noon I will be joined by Kevlin Henney who will, of course, be talking about flash fiction. It is that time of year again. In particular Kevlin and I will be discussing a workshop that he’ll be running at the next BristolCon Fringe (which sadly I shall miss because I’ll be on my way to Finland for Archipelacon). And of course Kevlin will have a story or two to read.

Next up is Lucienne Boyce. We’ll be talking about her new historical novel, Bloodie Bones, the launch of which I reported on last month. The book is an historical crime novel set in Somerset during the time of the 18th Century Enclosures. There will be poaching, and bare knuckle boxing, and talk of agricultural workers’ rights.

Also on the show will be an interview that I recorded with Sarah Savage when she was in Bristol on Friday. We talked about her time on My Transsexual Summer, about the founding of Trans Pride, and about her new children’s book, Are You A Boy Or Are You A Girl?, which challenges gender stereotyping.

And finally I will be talking to former BBC executive, Kalpna Woolf about her latest project, 91 Ways. This is part of the Bristol Green Capital initiative. It is based around the idea that there are 91 different languages spoken in Bristol. That’s one heck of a lot of different cuisines. The project aims to:

  • Inspire people to lead more sustainable lives using the power of food to encourage dialogue, shared learning, education and action
  • Help people make better decisions about their food and well-being to improve the health and sustainability of our city
  • Create a modern social history of Bristol through food and be instrumental in encouraging a sustainable way of living across the whole city
  • Help us all to have a better understanding of how Bristol’s communities live and their behaviour, food journeys and how they engage with our city

Yes, of course this is an excuse for me to talk about food. But it is a great project too.

As usual you can stream the show live from the Ujima website, and it will be available via the Listen Again system for several weeks after broadcast.

That’s How To Do A Book Launch

Donut Tree
Yeah, that’s a donut tree, fruiting with strawberries. Sarah Hilary does book launches in style.

Congratulations to all involved, especially Lydia who made the donuts and the tree. A good time was had by all. And now I am off to read more of Sarah’s new novel, because it is gripping.

No Other Darkness, y’all. It is good stuff. I’ll be talking to Sarah about it on the radio on May 6th.

Bacon Beer

After the talk I went out for a few drinks with Leah Moore and John Reppion. Leah took me to a Mexican restaurant that had quite nice food but rather over the top decoration – masked wrestlers, movie posters showing people displaying Too Much Emotion, and so on. Leah decided that the correct term for such a place was Moxican. I suspect I shall make a lot of use of that word.

After that we ended up in the new Liverpool branch of Brew Dog. I noticed that they had some German smoked beer. This stuff. It smells just like smokey bacon crisps (that’s one of the weird British potato chip flavors, American friends), and it tastes of smoked meat too. It is perhaps not the best thing to drink on its own, but I got some because it was weird and I figured people would be interested. Doubtless the Germans drink it with smoked sausages. I find that it goes very well with pepperoni pizza.

Thanks to Leah & John for a lovely night out, and for impressing the University folks with the quality of my contacts.

Holiday Cheese Report

Most of the cheeses I had this year are old favorites so there’s not much point in my going into detail on them. I do want to note, however, that I’m delighted that the good folks at Trethowan’s Dairy are now settled into their new home in Somerset and therefore that supplies of Gorwydd Caerphilly are easily obtainable again.

The one new cheese I tried was Red Wine Farmer. As is my wont, I had asked the server at The Fine Cheese Co. to recommend something. This is what they came up with. It is a Swiss cheese, washed in a local red wine. I’m not a huge fan of the taste of Swiss cheese, but this one does have a good, strong taste. Definitely worth the experiment.

Beer Review – X-Ale

My pals at Independent Spirit Bath tell me that this is technically a red ale, but it is quite dark in color and the tasting notes say is has notes of dark chocolate and spices. I can see exactly what they mean. It is a little too bitter to get on my favorites list, but it is definitely drinkable. Also it has dinosaurs on the label, which is really all that you need to know. It is X-Ale, and it is available from Partizan Brewing of Bermondsey.

This Week’s Radio – Food, Feminism, Lady Mayoress

First up on Wednesday’s show I interviewed Daphne Lambert who is crowdfunding a book called Living Food: A Feast For Soil & Soul on Unbound. There was some general chat about seasonal food, healthy food, environmental awareness and so on. Possibly the most interesting thing that came up, however, was the enormous amount of pumpkin flesh that gets wasted every year in the UK at Halloween. 18,000 tons of the stuff, according to The Independent. I shudder to think how much goes wasted in the USA.

Daphne was accompanied by her friend, Elizabeth Winkler, who provided that little titbit. For the second half hour Paulette took over and we had a bit of a feminist rant, in particular about how the UK has fallen down the international league table, as explained here by The Guardian. The fact that we rate 26th is bad enough, but to drop from 18th to 26th in just the past year is very worrying.

You can listen to the first hour here.

Next up, Judeline took over the microphone to interview our friend Sabitha (sorry love, don’t have your last name written down and don’t want to mangle it). This turned out to be mainly about the growth of racism in the UK in recent years.

And finally, we were delighted to welcome Shilpi Choudhury, the wife of Bristol’s last Lord Mayor, Faruk Choudhury. Her story of how a young couple of Bangladesh came to the UK to study and ended up as Bristol’s first citizens was tremendously encouraging after the somewhat negative tone of the past two segments. Also the deli that Shilpi has opened, Chai Shai, sounds very interesting. (And I note that the finding for the deli came via Outset, the organization that I talked to Amy Morse about a few weeks back. Paulette ran this one.

You can listen to the second hour here.

Beer + Coffee = Strange Love

Some of you will know that I am very fond of Wildebeest, the Imperial espresso chocolate vanilla stout from Wild Beer Company. Generally I prefer stouts and porters, but the idea of adding coffee to beer is gathering momentum and I see via my colleagues at Bristol 24/7 that a local brewery (Wiper and True) has joined forces with a local coffee company (Extract Coffee Roasters) to produce a coffee-flavored ale. I have to admit that IPAs are not one of my favorite things, but how can I resist a beer called Dr. Strangelove? You can learn more about it here.

Today on Ujima: WWI, Music Courses & Fair Trade

I’m online at the Ujima studios because I have a meeting this evening and won’t be home until late. Getting some blogging done is a much better use of my time than going shopping.

Today’s show began with my friend Eugene Byrne talking about his new book about Bristol during World War I. Eugene has collected a lot of great stories. The book, Bravo Bristol!, is available on Amazon around the world, but if you want to get a preview of the material there is a website and a free app (which includes suggested walking tours).

The next half hour featured some people from the Trinity Centre who are running music courses for young people. As luck would have it, I had a studio full of teenagers on a National Citizenship Scheme course. They didn’t have a lot of interest in WWI, but once we mentioned music they all lit up and basically took over the show. One of them was even texting his mates getting questions to ask.

You can listen to the first hour here.

The second hour of the show was all about the Fair Trade movement, featuring our good friend Jenny Foster whom I have had on the show before. With her was Lucy Gatward from the Better Food Company. It was an interesting and wide-ranging conversation. Also I got to explain who Thor really is. Because it is radio you did not see me playing air guitar in the studio.

You can listen to the second hour here.

The playlist for today’s show was:

  • My Heart Belongs to Daddy – Ella Fitzgerald
  • It’s Too Darn Hot – Billie Holiday
  • Hot Stuff – Donna Summer
  • Boogie Nights – Heatwave
  • It’s Raining Men – The Weather Girls
  • Purple Rain – Prince
  • Higher Love – Denise Pearson
  • Dr. Meaker – Dr. Meaker

The final two tracks were recorded live on the main stage at Bristol Pride and appear courtesy of Shout Out Radio.


Today we traveled back to Helsinki from Jyväskylä. As usual, my Finnish friends insisted on showing me some of the best parts of their beautiful country.

The day began with breakfast with Irma at a cafe on a place called Women’s Island. I have no idea where the name came from, but the island is in part of the network of lakes and waterways that surrounds Jyväskylä. There are a couple of hydro-power stations on the island: an old one which is now a bat sanctuary, and a new one that actually provides power. There is also a large lock that we got to see in operation as a Finnish family on a boating holiday came through while we were looking around.

While we were eating a red squirrel wandered into the cafe gardens. Wisely it wasn’t going to let the very large cat get too close, but Paula managed to sneak up and get a good picture.

Red squirrel

In the afternoon we took the scenic route back to Helsinki. The road Otto took ran along a narrow ridge between two lakes and had some magnificent views.

Back in Helsinki we checked out some of the new construction by the railway station. It is mainly offices, but several of the buildings have restaurants on the ground floor. A place called Eatos doesn’t sound very promising, but Otto had seen it recommended in the Helsinki Sanomat so we checked it out. The food was seriously good. So if you want Mexican food in Helsinki you now know where to go.

I’m flying back to London tomorrow and will be offline most of the day. Then it is back into the Ujima studio on Wednesday, for which I have an interview with Tobias Buckell.

Finncon – Day 3

First up today was my LGBT superheroes talk. I didn’t count the audience, but it looked like at least 50 people. They laughed in all of the right places, which is good.

Then I had a panel on “likeable” characters with Rjurik Davidson, Hannu Rajaniemi & Jukka Halme. I had a bit of a rant about people who pan a book because it doesn’t have any characters that they like. We all agreed that being interesting was much more important than being liked. It was noted that M. John Harrison hasn’t written a likeable character in his life, but that doesn’t stop him being a brilliant writer. And of course one group of characters that everyone loves is the Daleks.

I got taken to lunch at the home of the best cook in Jyväskylä. I never thought that I would have got so excited over spinach soup.

In the afternoon we had the masquerade. That went well in the end, but had a major organizational problem. Against all usual practice the convention asked us to present the contest, judge and give out prizes all in the space of an hour and a half. They told me they had a half time show organized for while the judging was taking place. I pointed out that I could not host the half time show and chair the judging. Jukka Särkijärvi kindly volunteered to hold the fort for me, and I stupidly assumed that the planned entertainment would give us time to deliberate. You know what happens when you assume something, don’t you.

Poor Jukka was left hung out to dry for about 20 minutes. Thankfully something got done to help out (I have no idea what). The first thing I did when I got back was to give a prize to the guy in Cylon armor so he could go and take it off. Otherwise we would have waited until we got to the people in contention for Best in Show.

We had 15 entries this year, including one large group. I actually got to be part of one act. Marianna Leikomaa and a friend had planned to do Emma Frost and Jean Grey arguing over Cyclops. The friend could not turn up, so Kisu made use of a convenient redhead. The jury (without my knowledge) decided to award her the price of Best Use of a Prop.

Some of the entries this year were of very high quality. Petri Hiltunen and Hannele Parviala both had beautiful make-up jobs. There was the aforementioned Cylon. There was a lovely elf costume. Alex Rowland, a young fan of Scott Lynch, had an amazing dress that had around 200 hours of hand-stitching and texturing in its manufacture. However, once again it was Simo Nousiainen who blew everyone away. This year he did Geralt the Witcher from the works of Andrzej Sapkowski.

Hopefully I’ll be able to source some good photos for you over the next few days. I was far too busy to take any.

My thanks to my fabulous jury – Hannu Rajaniemi, Jukka Halme, Tanya Tynjälä and Jenny Teerikangas – to all of the wonderful contestants, and especially to Jukka Särkijärvi for keeping the audience entertained while we did the judging.

After the show we went to Harald for dinner. Hannu and I had one of the set meals that came on a large, sword-shaped skewer. It was fabulous. Bear and Scott were blown away by the wonder of tar ice cream.

In the evening we had the Guest of Honor filks. Those for Jukka and Hannu were written in Finnish, so I have no idea what they were about, but judging by the laughter they were very funny. Bear’s was good too. She will probably blog the lyrics at some point. We also celebrated Toni Jerrman’s birthday. It was a significant one of some sort. I think he might be 25. In duo-years.

That’s it for the day. Tomorrow I have two more panels, and judging for the hall costumes, followed by the dead dog. Given how tired I am, there may be a dead cat too.

24 Hours, 3 Book Launches

It has been a bit busy in Bristol.

Last night I was at Foyles for the launch of tqwo books by Rebecca Lloyd: Mercy, and The View from Endless Street. I’ve talked a bit about these already, as I had Becca on the radio show, so all I’ll add is to say that Becca read a lovely story from Mercy in which no one tried to kill anyone. Well, some of the bears might have tried to kill some one of the humans, but it is so hard to tell with bears. They might just have been being friendly.

At lunch time today Joe Abercrombie was in Waterstones with his first YA novel, Half a King. It wasn’t much of an event: just Joe sat at a table signing books for a long queue of people. Then again, he’s on tour. Two stores a day is not unusual these days. Touring is no fun. Still, Joe did pose for me to take this picture of him with Pat Hawkes-Reed who, as is her wont, had brought him cake. Somehow this is all Sarah Pinborough’s fault.

Joe Abercrombie and Pat Hawkes-Reed

Finally Gareth L. Powell’s younger brother, Huw, had a launch event back at Foyles. This was for Spacejackers, which is a middle grade novel about space pirates. From the bits that he read, it is a bit breathless, but that’s what kids of that age like. Huw has been busy working with schools and reading promotion charities. I’ll try to get him on the show in August to tell us more.

One of the women in the audience challenged Huw over whether his book was only marketed at boys. He noted two prominent female characters — one a sidekick of the hero and one a starship captain. That’s good to know given that Waterstones’ science fiction promotion table currently doesn’t have a single book by a woman on it, out of 35 different books. Gareth’s daughters seemed to be keen to read the book.

I note that Huw had some of the best looking cake I have seen at a book launch in a long time. Apparently his wife, Beata, made this. I am seriously impressed.

Spacejackers cake

Yesterday’s Radio

Well that was a learning experience.

When I arrived at the studio I discovered that Seth, my usual engineer, could not make it in because of a plumbing issue. As it turned out, all of the potential backups that Paulette phoned were also unavailable. Enormous thanks to Miss Delicious for getting us up and running. Guess who ended up running the desk for most of the show?

Actually operating the desk isn’t that hard, if you know where to find the material. The big issues are a) if anything goes wrong, and b) multi-tasking. Thankfully everything went smoothly yesterday. However, looking back on the show, I’m pretty sure that having to think about the desk as well made me a lot less sharp as a presenter. Doubtless the more you do it the easier it gets. Also if you are expecting to run the desk then you can check out all of your jungles and ads in advance. But I think if I have to do it again I’ll script the show in a lot more detail so that I don’t forget anything.

Anyway, Nick Harkaway and Philippe Bonneau were great guests, and are well worth listening to. My apologies to them for my having been somewhat distracted. You can find the first hour of the show here.

The second hour was much easier as I handed the microphone over the Judeline who ran a fine discussion about being a school governor. Thanks to Christine Townsend for being a great resident expert, and to Jackie from the Outlook team for taking the part of the concerned mother. You can listen to part 2 here.

Most of the music for yesterday was on a summery theme. The songs were:

  • Summertime – Sam & Dave
  • Long Hot Summer – Dizzy Gillespie
  • Heartman Blues – Dan Britton
  • Summertime Blues – Eddie Cochran
  • In the Summertime – Mungo Jerry
  • Boys of Summer – Don Henley
  • Girls in their Summer Clothes – Bruce Springsteen
  • Summer in the City – The Lovin’ Spoonful

Today in Bristol – Harkaway, Chartreuse & Frogs

Today on Women’s Outlook I’ll be running the interview with Nick Harkaway that I made last week at Mr. B’s. You can listen online via the Ujima Radio website. I’ll post the Listen Again links tomorrow.

Also on the show is Philippe Bonneau. I so enjoyed the talk about Chartreuse that he gave at Independent Spirit that I wanted to share it with everyone.

In the evening I’ll be off to the theatre. I’ll be seeing a performance of Frogs by Aristophanes, put on my by pals the Hecate Theatre Company.

Mad Beer Update

This stuff. Yeah, yum!

It is quite bitter, but there’s a whole lot of complex other stuff going on too which makes it very tasty. The label says there’s a hint of tamarind coming from the cocao nibs. I can see that. Well, taste it anyway. Also it is a beautifully rich, dark color, with a golden head rather than a cream one. I’m not sure that it will replace Wildebeest in my affections, but it is much less deadly.