Coronavirus – Day #21

Wow, three weeks, doesn’t time fly?

I have been much more quiet on social media today as the insanity of yesterday has gone away. Juliet seems to have sold a good number of books, which is very welcome.

Instead today I have been doing interviews for next week’s radio show. The main focus of the show will be on mental health as I think we are all struggling a bit these days.

I also got the opportunity to watch some of HistFest: Lockdown, the online history festival that replaced the big event due to take place in London this weekend. My good friend Dan Vo was one of the presenters, and there were several other talks I found very interesting. The whole thing can be found online here.

By the way, if all goes according to plan then Dan and I will have some exciting news for you next week.

Tomorrow I get to attend my first ever virtual science fiction convention.

And finally, for those of you who have access to the BBC, this Mark Gatiss documentary about the great Aubrey Beardsley is well worth a watch.

The infection and death rates in the UK continue to accelerate. There were just short of 700 deaths reported today. For comparison, it appears that the number of people who die of the flu in the UK in an average winter is around 17,000. We only have 3,605 COVID-19 deaths in the UK at the moment, but the vast majority of those have occured in the last two weeks and things are getting worse.

Today on Ujima – Pandemic Special

Today on my radio show I interviewed a bunch of people from around the world about how they are coping with the cornavirus pandemic. These days my shows are all pre-recorded as I can’t go into the studio, but Miranda and the back office team at Ujima do a great job of getting me on air. Here’s the list of people that I interviewed:

  • Kevin Standlee (Nevada, USA)
  • Tansy Rayner Roberts (Hobart, Australia)
  • Celia Neri (Nice, France)
  • Sabrina Mittermeier (Munich, Germany)
  • Rhonda Garcia (Port of Spain, Trinidad)
  • Mihaela Perković (Zagreb Croatia)
  • Maria Turtschaninoff (Helsinki, Finland)
  • Juliet McKenna (Oxford, England)

Of those I think the government of Trinidad has probably come out of it best. Celia’s stories of teaching school kids on line, Sabrina’s need to flee the USA, and Mihaela’s story of the Zagreb earthquake stand out.

I tried to make the music choices fit as best I could with our current circumstances. Here are the songs I played.

  • Heroes – Janelle Monáe
  • Say a Little Prayer – Aretha Franklin
  • May the Force Be With You – Bootsy’s Rubber Band
  • 4 Leaf Clover – Erykah Badu
  • A Little Help from My Friends – Ike & Tina Turner
  • We Are Family – Sister Sledge
  • When You’re Lonely – Labi Siffre
  • Dancing in the Streets – Boney M

The show will be available via our Listen Again service for a few weeks. You can find it here.

As I have a bit of free time on my hands thee days I am planning to do more shows to help keep our listeners entertained over the period of lockdown. If anyone has anything Bristol-related that they want to feature, please let me know.

Coronavirus – Day #14

Two weeks in, and my life shows no sign of slowing down. Today has been mostly a Wizard’s Tower and Ujima Radio day. Huge thanks are due to all of the lovely people who agreed to be recorded for a slot on my show.

Today was also the final episode of Star Trek: Picard. I’ll have a lot more to say about this in Salon Futura next week, but basically I think that Michael Chabon has done a good job in what was a very difficult task.

The national news has been abuzz with the fact that both the Prime Minister and Health Secretary have tested positive for COVID-19. I’m not in the least bit surprised. When a junior health minister announced that she had tested positive a couple of weeks ago I expected the entire Cabinet to go down with it. This thing is incredibly infectious and also has a long incubation time, which is why it spreads so effectively. The UK had 2885 new cases and 181 new deaths today alone, and there’s no sign of it slowing down because most of the people testing positive now are people who have had it since before the lockdown began. As the only people getting tested in the UK are the very rich, no one has any idea how many actual cases there are.

That said, the vast majority of cases are in London. Most of the rest of the country is relatively quiet. Here’s hoping that it stays that way.

Colinthology Reminder


When Colin Harvey died, a group of Bristol area writers wanted to do something in his memory. Colin was a huge supporter of the NHS, and worked closely with a Bristol-based charity called Above & Beyond. They raise money for Bristol’s city-centre hospitals. So we decided that we would put together a charity anthology and donate all of the proceeds to Colin’s favourite charity.

Those hospitals currently need our help more than ever.

Colinthology is still on sale. These days I’m surprised if a copy sells. But it has stories by Gareth L Powell, Jo Hall, Roz Clarke, Stephanie Burgis, Jonathan L Howard and many others. As usual we get the most income if you buy direct from the Wizard’s Tower shop. And every penny we take in will go to Above & Beyond.

Coronavirus – Day #11

My cheese order arrived safely today, so I shall be eating well for the next few days.

I also had a bit of a cooking experiment. I have no mince, but I’d seen various people talking about using chickpeas instead. It wasn’t entirely a vegetarian meal because I had some pancetta I’d bought specifically for making bolognese, but it was mostly veg, and mostly storecupboard. Fresh onion and garlic, obviously. Anyway, I was pleased with the results.

Also I found a bottle of this stuff in the cupboard. It needed using up, and it worked fine with vanilla ice cream.

Because I needed to crack a bottle of red wine for the bolognese, I tried having a glass of it with the meal. As I rather expected, wine and a thick head do not go well together. On the other hand, the wine also triggered an intense coughing fit which was scary at the time, but brought up some of the muck in my wind pipe. I can breath a bit easier now. Who would have thought?

Today’s other excitement was the launch of Disney+. There is so much good stuff on there. And so much good stuff for kids as well, which I suspect will be a boon to many households. I am holding off watching the Mandolin Man thing because I figure there will be a lot of demand. Besides, there’s plenty of other things I want to watch. Is The Inhumans really as bad as everyone says?

Also, when are we getting Frozen II? It is on Sky.

Coronavirus – Day #9

It was a beautiful spring day here today again so I decided to venture outside. I’m getting worried that all of the dry air from central heating isn’t doing me any good. And I need some exercise.

There were a lot of people out. Mostly they were walking dogs or small children, but there were also the inevitable joggers. The majority seemed to have no great interest in social distancing.

There were shops open. That included the convenience store just around the corner, and the small Co-Op about 5-10 minutes walk away. The latter had food and was very quiet so I popped in and got a few things. There wasn’t much fresh, but I did get milk, bread, tomatoes and mushrooms. That should help me through another couple of weeks at home.

I’d spent the morning going through the food cupboards. Inevitably I found a few things well past their sell-by date. That included a lot of half-used bottles of various chili sauces. I suspect they will kill most things, except viruses.

For dinner tonight I tried a new toy. I found this top-end mini-blender going half-price on Amazon and ordered one. I got to try it out this evening. I put in some banana yoghurt, some frozen blackberries and raspberries, and some fruits of the forest juice. The end result was delicious. At some point I plan to try it with mango yoghurt, tinned peaches and orange juice, which I suspect will also work well.

Finally a bunch of British writers have been providing ebook stories, podcasts and so on for free to give folks stuck at home something to read or listen to. The BSFA has a page linking free SF&F stories. I’ll try to get something out from Wizard’s Tower this week. Alternatively, if you are into long reads, Galley Beggar now has an ebook store and you can get Ducks, Newburyport for only £2.50, which of course I have done.

Coronavirus – Day #7

Today I went out. In the car. My car has dodgy electrics and, if left to her own devices, will develop a flat battery in a week or two. So I have to run her regularly. As long as I stay in the car I am still self-isolating. It was good to get out.

Interestingly the roads around here did not look deserted. There were cars on the road, and people walking around town. My local Tesco looked quite busy, which suggests that they may have food.

I think I am finally beginning to understand this virus thing. This article by a GP was a big help.

As was a Twitter thread by a professor from Yale that, annoyingly, I can no longer find.

Here’s where I think we are:

1. The virus is massively contagious, at least in part because no one has any immunity, but also because most countries have been way too slow to respond.

2. The vast majority of people who contract it will survive. I now suspect over 99% because I think we are massively undercounting the number of people who have it.

3. Typical symptoms are an infection of the upper respiratory tract which leads to a dry cough.

4. It only gets bad if the infection migrates to the lungs and you get pneumonia and need to be on a ventilator.

5. The biggest danger is that large numbers of people need hospitalisation at the same time, because of the rapid rate of infection, and that health services are overwhelmed. This is why slowing the rate of infection is so important.

6. People with a mild case of the virus will take days, maybe even weeks, to recover. That’s partly because this is a new thing that our bodies are struggling to find antibodies for, and partly because we don’t have medication to help (or the capacity to provide it to so many people in such a short time).

7. But people are recovering. We don’t as yet know whether those people are immune, and if so how long that lasts, but as the stock of recovered people grows we should be able to start getting the global economy back on its feet.

8. Our ability to understand and cope with all this is critically dependent on testing so that we know who has the virus and who has recovered from it. The UK government is still reluctant to spend money on testing.

I certainly have the respiratory infection and cough, but nothing else. A lot of the problem with the cough is that a badly inflamed respiratory system is easily irritated, and that leads to coughing, which is a further irritant. Hydrating more seems to help. I have also found that sucking a Fisherman’s Friend is a good way to calm things down so that I can get back to sleep.

On the food front I am now out of most fresh fruit and veg, but I have canned and frozen so I’m not worried. I also have the ability to make yoghurt so I am going to experiment with smoothies. I ate the last of the curry tonight, so will be going onto fish and pasta for a while before the haggis. It is nice to have time to cook.

But I am also very bored of being sick. I should be exercising more, but any sort of physical exertion is a bad idea right now.

Coronavirus – Day #6

Hello again. How is everyone? Here it has been another day of feeling low-grade sick but perfectly well enough to do things. It has been a quiet time on the day job, and therefore I have devoted my time to Wizard’s Tower. I have at long last found the time to build a proper accounting system. (One that I hope Kevin could take over should anything terrible happen to me.) We’ve sold a shit load of books over the years.

Oh, and I have see the cover for Unjust Cause, the new Tate Hallaway novel. No reveal just yet, but suffice it to say that Lyda and I are absolutely delighted.

Today has also been a day for organisations to email me and talk about their plans for coping with the crisis. It is encouraging to see everyone from stores to financial institutions to travel companies are at least thinking about the situation and trying to do their bit.

However, it is small companies that I’m most worried about. They are much more vulnerable to economic shocks, and they are the least likely to be helped by our mendacious government. Wizard’s Tower will be fine because we have no employees or premises, but there must be loads of organisations out there hurting badly. It is difficult to know who to help first. If you need books, and who doesn’t, then please try to buy them from a local, independent store. My good friends at Mr. B’s are one option. I had a package from them today and will be spending more money with them soon.

Coronavirus – Day #5

As a follow-up to yesterday’s post about symptoms, I recommend this post over at the Long Now Foundation. It backs up what I said yesterday about us not really understaing the virus very well yet. The fast-and-stealthy scenario that suggests the virus is a) much more infectious, and b) much less deadly than we think does fit a lot of the facts.

In the meantime there’s some potentially good news from Japan about a possible treatment that will help people survive if they do get a bad case.

Today has been a day for more stuff being cancelled. Both Åcon (May) and Cymera (June) will no longer take place this year. There’s no word of a decision as yet on Finncon (July) or Worldcon (August).

The spectacularly malevolent British government continues its efforts to have the world’s worst response to the crisis. One of the major drivers of social inequality in this country is the move into buy-to-let by the wealthy. What this means is that even moderately rich people have one or more extra properties that they own and rent out. You can get a lot more income in rent than you have to pay out in a mortgage, even after paying a rental management company to do most of the work. A side effect of this is that it has become extremely difficult for young people to get a start on the property ladder. People who own rental properties will mostly have voted solidly for the Tories, and Johnson is paying them back by giving them protection while forcing renters to get into debt. It is straight up class warfare, not an attempt to manage the crisis.

Fortunately, though my work for The Diversity Trust has totally dried up, I still have plenty of work from my energy economics consultancy. I won’t have a problem paying the rent, and could even buy food if that was possible. (I don’t know, I haven’t been to Tesco since Friday, but my Twitter stream is full of photos of empty supermarket shelves and people complaining that they can’t get deliveries.)

Tesco, incidently, have just emailed to explain the various measures that they are taking to deal with the crisis. Good to see them taking steps to prevent panic buying.

And talking of work, there’s Wizard’s Tower to be taken care of as well. Which means that these little babies have arrived. I have sent a set off to Juliet for approval, so it won’t be long before they are available for sale.

And then the hardcovers. Honestly people, just wait until you see the hardcovers.

Coronavirus – Day #4

Today I thought I would talk a bit about symptoms, because I’m confused. I have been sick for almost 2 weeks now. The last time I went out for work was the 5th. I did a brief shopping trip on the 7th. Aside from that I have been self-isolating. I have not had any flu-like symptoms, but I did gradually develop a cough which has stubbornly refused to go away. Are these virus symptoms? Who knows?

The problem is that this is a very new virus and we don’t know a lot about it. What we do know is that people are reporting very different symptoms. Some of the rich people reporting that they have tested positive say they have no symptoms at all. Other people have reported very servere flu-like symptoms that required hospitalisation. So is this something that many people will just be carriers for? Or is it something that can hang around in your body for days before things start to get serious? Is that why the self-isolation period has been extended to 14 days in the UK?

The really annoying thing for me is that during the day I generally feel fine save for the occasional cough. Today I logged a 7-hour day on the day job. But after a few hours sleep I wake up feeling dreadful. It takes me an hour or so in the morning to get going. It is all very weird.

Doubtless a whole lot of clever medical people are working on this, and they are certainly getting plenty of data. We will know a lot more soon. In the meantime I think all that we can do is assume that we know nothing. I’m sorry if that’s scary. Please remember that the vast majority of younger people will survive this, even if old folks like me don’t. But if you can keep to yourself then I think you should do so, until we know more about what is safe.

Other than that, isolation is trucking along as expected. I ate the last of the fresh tomatoes today and will miss them, but I have other fresh fruit left. I also used the last of the fresh meat making a curry that will last until the weekend. I have a haggis in the fridge. That’s good until early April. Other than that I shall be pescatarian for a while. I’ll be intersted to see how that turns out.

Today on Ujima: #LGBTHM, Feminist AI and Time to Talk Day

I was live on Ujima again today. It was a bit of a scramble getting the show together and huge thanks to those guests who came on board yesterday. Also huge thanks to my old pal Valentin who used to run the desk for Paulette back in the day when I was a trainee presenter. As Ben was on holiday this week, Valentin stepped in to help out. Ben messaged me to say he was listening to the show online, which is incredible devotion to duty, and probably means that we had a listener in Kenya this week.

The first hour of the show was devoted to LGBT History Month events in Bristol. First up I was joined by Claire from Aerospace Bristol. They, in conjunction with The Diversity Trust, OutStories Bristol, and South Gloucestershire Council are putting on an event specifically aimed at engineers, and the aerospace industry in particular. The headline speaker is the wonderful Caroline Paige, and I’m particularly looking forward to the panel with the young people from Alphabets who will be discussing what they want from employers in the future. That event is on Saturday. I will be there with both my DT and OSB hats on. Full details are available here.

Next I welcomed back Karen from M Shed, along with Zoltán from Freedom Youth. I’m not curating the M Shed event this year. We’ve turned the whole thing over to the young people, and they have done an amazing job of putting together a programme. You can find details of their event here. It is on Saturday 22nd, and sadly I will be in Salzburg that weekend, but I hope some of you will go along and let me know how it turned out.

We also mentioned two other great events coming up in Bristol this month. The leading civil rights lawyer, Johnathan Cooper, will be at Bristol University Law School on the evening of the 19th to talk about, “Policing Desire: LGBT+ Persecution in the UK, 1970 to 2000”. Tickets are available (for free) here. Also there is the Black Queerness event that we covered in last month’s show. That’s on at the RWA. It is officially sold out, but there’s a wait list that you can get onto here.

The second half of the show began with my being joined by Coral Manton from Bath Spa University. Coral describes herself as a “creative technologist”, which basically means that she gets to do fun things with computers all day and gets paid for it. One of her projects is Women Reclaiming AI, which looks to do something about the sexist bias in electronic personal assistants.

We all know that most of these things (Alexa, Siri, etc.) come with female-coded voices, and that’s because the companies who make them decided (probably after some market research) that customers wanted a subordinate and submissive identity for their personal assistant. (Interestingly SatNavs work the other way: male drivers won’t take instructions from a female-coded voice.) Because these software constructs are maninly created by men, the personalities that they have are not based on real women, but on what men want their female assistants to be like.

This leads us down all sorts of feminist rabbit holes. Most notably, before Coral and her colleagues could create a “real” female personality for an AI, they had to decide what it meant to be a “real” woman. Part of the process has been running workshops in which groups of women get to have input into the process of creating the AI personality.

It turns out that one of the things that they asked for was that the AI would have the right to decline to help every so often. Real women can’t drop everything and help their families whenever they are asked to do so, so artificial women shouldn’t either. That sounded good to me, though I did have visions of Hal 9000 saying, “I’m sorry Dave, I can’t do that”; and possibly of Portia from Madeline Ashby’s vN saying, “NO, you will obey ME!”

I could have happily have talked to Coral about this stuff for the whole two hours. Hopefully you find the discussion as interesting as I did.

My final guests were Ali & Loo from some local mental health charities, and Shani, a poet who works with them. Tomorrow is Time to Talk Day, on which people are encouraged to talk about their mental health issues. There’s a whole lot going on in Bristol tomorrow, and you can find links to it all here. I particularly love Loo’s event making pom poms to support the Sunflower Suicide Prevention Project.

The other event that I had to mention is the one coming up at Foyles in Cabot Circus on the evening of the 25th. That will be Emma Newman, Emma Geen, Liz Williams and myself in conversation with Kate Macdonald on the subject of women in science fiction. I understand that it is sold out, but there is probably a wait list. Details here.

You can listen to today’s show via the Ujima Listen Again service here.

The playlist for today’s show was:

  • Faint of Heart – Tegan & Sara
  • So Strong – Labi Siffre
  • Two Old Maids – The Vinyl Closet
  • Cream – Prince
  • Come Alive – Janelle Monáe
  • Are Friends Electric – Tubeway Army
  • Dock of the Bay – Otis Reading
  • I Need Somebody to Love Tonight – Sylvester

And in case any of you haven’t seen it, here is the wonderful video for the Tegan & Sara song. Watch carefully and you will spot Jen Richards and Angelica Ross in there as well.

Talking of Angelica, I see that there are rumours that she’ll feature in the Loki TV series. There have also been hints that Sera, one of Marvel’s current openly trans characters, will be in Thor: Love & Thunder. It is tempting to tie the two together, but what I really want to see happen is for Angelica to play Loki alongside Tom Hiddleston, because it won’t be proper Loki without some gender-flipping and it would be awful if they put Tom in drag for that.

Today on Ujima – HIV, Time Wars & Art

Today’s Women’s Outlook show was one of those where it seemed mostly calm on the surface, but it was all frantic paddling underneath. Yesterday I had one of my guests drop out, so I had a half hour to fill. Thankfully the pre-recorded interview I had would stretch to three segments, and I had enough to talk about to fill the final one I needed. Also Ben, my usual engineer, was unavailable, and the replacement we had arranged was unable to come in, so I ended up with an emergency holographic engineer. Huge thanks to Mikey who did a great job for me.

We began the show with Aled and Acomo from Brigstowe, a local charity that specialises in HIV/AIDS issues. They are one of two charities in England who are running pilots with PrEP, the drug which can protect you from HIV if you take it before having sex. PrEP is already widely available in Scotland and Wales, but as Aled explains the English authorities have fought tooth and nail to prevent it being made available. Now that the courts have forced the NHS to do some trials, Brigstowe needs help getting them done.

They are looking in particular for women from marginalized communities who are willing to get trained on the use of PrEP and can then go out into their communities to srpread the word. They’ll be working closely with my pals at One25 to make sure the drug gets to sex workers, who are some of the people who need it most. They are also very interested in recruiting trans women.

The pre-recorded interview with was Amal El-Mohtar and was made while we were at Åcon. We talked about a range of issues, but obviously there was particular focus on the forthcoming book, This is How You Lose the Time War. I loved this book. There will be a review coming soon.

As I had a bit of time to fill I played a couple of songs with Nordic connections. I have probably enthused about the Swedish electrojazz duo, Koop, before, but I should mention that the particular song I played had guest vocals from Ane Brun who is Norwegian and Sami. She has also worked with Peter Gabriel, taking Kate Bush’s part on “Don’t Give Up” when he was touring.

I also played the Miike Snow song that Amal mentions during the interview. The core of that band is Swedish too. If you are intersted in the very gay video for the song, you can find it here.

Finally on the show I was joined by Cai and Amie from Paper Arts who are a wonderful organisation that helps young people start a career in the arts.

You can listen to today’s show via the Listen Again function on the Ujima website.

The playlist for today’s show is:

  • Salt ‘n’ Pepa – Let’s Talk About Sex
  • Marvin Gaye – Sexual Healing
  • The Human League – The Lebanon
  • Fairuz – Li Beirut
  • Afro-Celt Sound System – Further In Time
  • Koop – Koop Islands
  • Miike Snow – Genghis Khan
  • Janelle Monáe – Crazy, Classic Life
  • Prince – Purple Rain

Today on Ujima – Cervical Screening, Interculture, Mental Health Awareness & San Francisco

It was a busy show on Women’s Outlook today, and I didn’t cope as well as I might have done. Apologies again to Ben the Engineer for the various screw-ups which, hopefully, we managed to cover up during the show.

Anyway, we had guests, starting with Lynne from the NHS talking about their ongoing cervical screening campaign. As she explained, testing is very effective and the majority of cervical cancer cases can be cured before they get serious. Screening can help with other issues too. Of course there are all sorts of reasons why people might be nervous about the screening, but hopefully Lynne will have set people’s minds at rest, including those of trans guys. If you still have concerns or questions, Jo’s Trust are the people to talk to.

Next up we had Lisa Whtehouse from Interculture along with a lovely lady from the Ivory Coast whose name I think is Anamita, but I’ve not seen it written down (Lisa, please correct me if I’m wrong). Interculture is doing great work bringing cultures together. They are helping an empowering immigrant women, and I’m delighted that they want to do an event in Pride Week.

My third guest was Amran from CASS, a local mental health charity. She wanted to promote their campaign for Mental Health Awareness Week. The My Body Can campaign encourages people to think of positive things that your body can do, even if it is ony giving your friends a hug. The idea is to get people thinking positively about themselves, and to share that positivity on social media.

Thinking of which, my body can grow breasts naturally, given sufficient estrogen. I’m amazed at the number of people who think that trans women all have breast implants.

And finally, I ran an an interview with the fabulous Ardel Haefele-Thomas from San Francisco who is the editor of Introduction to Trandgender Studies, in which I have an essay. We talked about Ardel’s work as a lecturer at a community college, about the gentrification of San Francisco, and about the Orange Monster.

During the show I also did some plugs for events:

The latter includes Gareth L Powell and Virginia Bergin as well as myself; and Dr Sam Rogers from UWE who is a lecturer in English – my how the world has changed.

I also talked about a fundraising campaign I am doing for the lovely people at One25. I’ll be writing separately that very shortly. And I had a bit of a rant about the nonsense meted out to poor Caster Semenya today.

You can listen to the show via the Listen Again system here.

The playlist for today’s show was:

  • Pynk – Janelle Monáe
  • Sugar Walls – Sheena Easton
  • Lei Lei – Maryam Mursal
  • No Borders – Jama
  • Body & Soul – Amy Winehouse & Tony Bennett
  • Everybody Dance – Chic
  • I Left My Heart in San Francisco – Julie London
  • Dance With Me – Destiny’s Child

Yesterday on Ujima – Maternity, Careers and Mental Health

Yesterday’s show was supposed to start with my interviewing fellow Ujima presenter, Sandra Gordon, about a maternity rights event taking place in Bristol soon. Unfortunately circumstances intervened and I had to spend half an hour talking about maternity all by myself. It isn’t a subject I know a huge amount about, having never been pregnant myself. Fortunately I was saved by my friend Laura Wood because I could talk about her amazing book on the mental health issues that can arise from childbirth.

Sandra did arrive in time to get on the show briefly, but I had to hurry her up as it was time to talk to Ben Shorrock of TechSpark who is trying to get a grant to help diversify the tech start-ups being created in Bristol. The article we discussed can be found here, and if you want to vote for Ben’s project you can do so here (but you only have until Noon tomorrow, UK time). Inevitably Ben and I ended up talking about women in tech, and why women make better programmers than men.

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

Next up I welcomed Jenny Stringer, a local journalist who has been doing a project to highlight opportunities for women in the construction trade. That doesn’t just men being a brickie. Women can also be electricians, or plumbers (like mine, hi Penney!). Anything men can do, women can do too. And more importantly you can earn twice as much as an electrician than as a beautician. Get to it, girls!

Finally I ran a pre-recorded interview with La JohnJoseph who was coming to Bristol to run a workshop on queer mental health. I went along to the event in the evening and it was a lot of fun. Huge thanks to JJ for doing this, and to the Wellcome Foundation for funding the project.

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

The playlist for the show was as follows:

  • The Intruders – I’ll Always Love My Mama
  • The Supremes – Baby Love
  • Janelle Monae – Dirty Computer
  • Michael Jackson – Wanna Be Starting Something
  • The Housemartins – Build
  • Angelique Kidjo – Houses in Motion
  • Patti Labelle – Messin’ with my Mind
  • Jamiroquai – Music of the Mind

Talking Trans to Healthwatch

Yesterday, after having to deal with a plumbing disaster in the kitchen (which for me mainly involved phoning the plumber and panicking while she did the work) I headed off to Weston-super-Mare where the Diversity Trust trans health report was due to get its public launch.

This is something that we have been working on for some time now. The core of the research was an online survey that drew responses from 225 trans and/or non-binary identified people from around the South West. The results are unsurprising to anyone who has any knowledge of the day-to-day realities of being trans. You can read the report and/or executive summary here.

The good thing about this is that Healthwatch have a key role in the health service in the UK. In a world of increasingly commerical GP practices, it is the job of Healthwatch to remind them that they are providing a public service, not just making money for the senior management. If the various local Healthwatch bodies that commissioned the report take our recommendations on board, they may be able to drive through some changes that will improve the way GPs treat trans patients.

Of course some of these changes need to be made at a national level. We’ve talked to most of the local Healthwatch bodies in our region, but it would be good to coordinate. If anyone out there working in trans health has also talked to their local Healthwatch I would love to swap notes.

Yesterday on Ujima – Punching Nazis, Ending Violence, Mental Health

Yesterday’s radio show began with an interview with Jonathan L. Howard whose latest Carter & Lovecraft book, After the End of the World, sees our heroes transported into a world in which the Nazis won WWII. We discussed how miraculously on point such a book appears these days, and the fabulous Crisis in Earth-X crossover event which sees Supergirl, Flash, Green Arrow and friends doing their own Nazi-punching. Of course we also discussed HPL’s racism and Jonathan’s other projects, including a zombie computer game which might destroy parts of Bristol.

Next up I was joined in the studio by Charlotte Gage of Bristol Zero Tolerance. This is a great project run by Bristol Women’s Voice that aims to make the entire city free of violence against women and girls. Of course this is a bit of an uphill struggle, but at least progress is being made.

Unfortunately, thanks to the continuing squeeze on local council funding, the project (including Charlotte’s job) is currently under threat. There’s a crowdfunding campaign going on, which you can find here, but what Charlotte really needs is for some big company to step up and sponsor the project.

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

Charlotte and I continued our discussion in the second hour. We talked about how hard it is these days for any charity to get the day-to-day funding it needs to keep operating. Funding bodies are always happy to sponsor one-off projects, but these typically exclude what is called “core funding”, the stuff that keeps your organization running, and often excludes any funding for staff salaries. Up until now charities have often been able to get core funding from local councils who need their expert skills, but this is all being cut. There’s a major crisis brewing here.

We also had a brief chat about trans-inclusive feminism and the difficulty of getting any sort of dialog going. There is so much going on in feminism right now with attacks on reproductive rights, the #MeToo campaign and so on. It is a huge shame that so much time and energy is being wasted on attempts to keep trans women out of feminism.

Finally on the show I talked to Levi, a young man from Bath who has been working on a project about men’s mental health. Suicide is apparently the number one killer of young men in the UK, and the theory is that much of this happens because men are socialized not to talk about their feelings, and so have no one to turn to when things get bad. I also think that one of the main cause of violence against women is that men are socialized to believe that violence is the only properly masculine way to solve any disagreement. So this is really valuable work that Levi is doing. What’s more it has resulted in a handbook being distributed to children’s mental health services all over the country. Here’s hoping the make good use of it.

Here’s the film he and his friends made:

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

The play list for the show was as follows:

  • Bat for Lashes – Two Planets
  • Jimi Hendrix – All Along the Watchtower
  • Tracy Chapman – Behind the Wall
  • Linda Ronstadt – You’re No Good
  • Renaissance – The Winter Tree
  • Isaac Hayes – Winter Snow
  • Labi Siffre – Sparrow in the Storm
  • Stevie Wonder – Don’t You Worry ‘Bout a Thing

The Labi Siffre song dates from 2006 but is even more on point now. It contains this verse:

The message written on our walls
For the strong to climb : the weak must fall.
This is heresy I guess, but could the strong
perhaps learn to live with less.

Ben, my engineer, joked that I’d be mobbed on social media for playing such heretical views. It has all been quiet thus far, so maybe the world isn’t as far gone as we think.

My next show will be on January 3rd. As I doubt that I will get any guests then, it will probably just be me playing music and highlights from 2017. If anyone wants to do a pre-record interview let me know.

Bristol’s Great Menopause Event

I spent yesterday at City Hall in Bristol for the Great Menopause Event which I reported on for Ujima a couple of weeks ago. Of course menopause isn’t something that is going to sneak up on me at any time soon, but a lot of my friends are going through it and as I am on HRT (due to having no gonads) I’m interested to know whether I should be considering lowering the dose as I get older. No one does research on trans people’s long term health issues, of course.

The event had a variety of speakers covering lots of different aspects: the social, the medical, employment rights and so on. My biggest take away is that every woman is different, and therefore every woman experiences menopause in a different way. Some people hardly notice it, others have an awful time. Some women, and this surprised me, go through menopause at 30, which can be a major medical problem. If you have mild symptoms there are all sorts of natural sources of estrogen that you can take, though none of them are as powerful and effective as actual HRT. Lack of GP knowledge about menopause, and unwillingness of some male GPs to even discuss women’s health issues, were highlighted as major issues. It was all very interesting, and all very taboo busting.

I understand that the slides from the various talks will be made available in due course. They will probably be on the City Council’s Women’s Health Task Group web page.

I now have a pile of follow-up to do, much of which involves public policy issues. All of this will doubtless feed in some way into the development of the Women’s Equality Party health policy.

Oh, and no one seemed to object to my being there, which was a great relief considering the torrent of anti-trans propaganda being pumped out by the English media these days.

Today on Ujima – Black History, Egyptians, Menopause & Underworld Goddesses

October is a ridiculously busy month in Bristol, being both Black History Month and the time when all of the literary festivals happen. As I had devoted all of my October show to books, I decided to do something for Black History Month at the start of November. I’d only be a few hours late, after all.

So I began the show talking to my good friend, Dr. Olivette Otele of Bath Spa University, who is probably the best known black historian working in the UK. We had a great chat about a whole range of issues to do with black history, including The John Blanke Project.

That was followed up with more black history, albeit with a fantasy twist, as I welcomed local author, Justin Newland, to talk about his novel, The Genes of Isis. Justin and I managed to wander onto all sorts of topics, including the Theosophists.

Normally at this point I would direct you to the Listen Again service, but for some reason the file for the first hour of the show is only 7 minutes long. I will check with the station tomorrow, but I have an awful feeling there has been a software glitch.

The second hour began with Dr. Isabel de Salis of Bristol University talking about the Great Menopause Event. Yes, this was more taboo-busting. I have a ticket for it, and will report back in due course.

Finally on the show I welcomed Deborah Ward who is running a course on Storytelling the Underworld. Deborah and I discovered a common passion for ancient goddesses, in particular Inanna. We may have geeked out somewhat.

Thankfully hour 2 of the show recorded correctly.

The playlist for the show was as follows:

  • Eddy Grant – African Kings
  • Cedric Watson & Bijou Créole – Le Sud de la Louisiane
  • The Bangles – Walk like an Egyptian
  • Peter Gabriel – Here comes the Flood
  • Lianne la Havas – Midnight
  • Little Feat – Old Folks Boogie
  • The Herd – From the Underworld
  • The Pretenders – Hymn to Her

Because November has five Wednesdays in it, I will be doing an extra show on the 15th. In the meantime, if you are local, check out Miranda’s 2:00pm Friday show when she will be interviewing the Mayor of Bristol, Marvin Rees.

Monthly Hugs Launch Party

There are plenty of things I could be doing in Bristol this evening, and an Amanda Palmer concert in London, but instead I will be packing to go to Eurocon. One of the things I am not attending is the Monthly Hugs Launch Party being run by the lovely people at No More Taboo. Monthly Hugs is a new, fun and innovative way to tackle period poverty by making that time of the month something people will look forward to on account of the box of goodies that will be arriving. It is a fabulous initiative and if you’d like to know more, or help the project, there is a crowdfunding thing here.

Gendered Voices – Day 1

With apologies for the delay, here’s a look back on some of the things that I heard about during the Gendered Voices conference last week. This post is about the first day’s papers. I’ll do one for the second day later.

The first session was all about stereotypes, and began with Sauleha talking about Muslim women in Frankenstein. I had entirely forgotten about this. There is a character in Mary Shelly’s book called Safie who is initially presented as a veiled, cowed Eastern woman, but who throws off her patriarchal shackles and becomes a character with a fair amount of agency and something of a happy ending. It is revealed that her mother was a Good Christian woman who was kidnapped by a Vile Oriental, and intimated that her ability to escape her situation is only because of her Christian blood.

One the one hand, headdesk, Mary, what were you thinking? On the other there are apparently signs of progressive thinking. One of the dafter things that 18th Century Britons believed is the idea that in Islamic theology women have no souls. Goodness only knows where they got this idea from. Apparently Mum (Mary Wollstonecraft) had swallowed this one whole, but Mary Jr. wasn’t so sure. She was, after all, writing about an artificial being, the Monster, whose claim to having a soul was far more dodgy than Safie’s.

Gender and theology and science fiction: I could not have asked for a more interesting start to the day.

Paper two from Leonie was about Vita Sackville-West and the book review program that she had on BBC radio, complete with actual audio from one of the shows. My goodness, that woman had a cut-glass accent. I can quite see where the idea of the Sackville-Bagginses came from. On the other hand, I ended up quite liking her. Vita shared her reviewing duties with a male colleague (whose name I have shamefully forgotten), each doing a show every other week. She listed the books she was going to cover in the Radio Times in advance, and encouraged readers to write in with their own views. She also managed close to a 50:50 gender split on authors. He just turned up for his shows and talked at his audience.

Finally in that session, Sam told us all about her research into gendered attitudes towards pain relief. I am going to be one of her test subjects in early June. Work like this is badly needed because there is very little understanding of how the various aspects of health care are different for women.

On then to session two which was all about religion, kicking off with our first male presenter, Alun, who was talking about the Song of Songs. This is a particularly intriguing part of the Old Testament, because it is basically about sex. Alun is interested in it because of the possibilities for sex-positive theology, which some parts of Christianity could badly do with. I’m interested in the possible origin of these verses.

Other parts of the Old Testament, specifically the tale of Jezebel, suggest that some people in ancient Israel worshiped other gods, including Baal and Asherah, who are of Mesopotamian origin. In Mesopotamia kings have a tendency to legitimize themselves by describing themselves as the Beloved of Ishtar (or some other version of the goddess). It is possible that the Song of Songs was originally a religious rite in which the goddess, in the form of the High Priestess, confirms the king’s right to rule because of his sexual appeal to her and the Daughters of Israel.

Next up was Jade who was talking about female divinity in Catholicism. Specifically she was discussing the figure of Lady Poverty, who features in stories about Saint Francis. She is depicted as someone at least as old as Adam and Eve, and therefore a semi-divine figure of sorts. Of course this being Catholicism her femaleness has to be controlled by marrying her to Francis. Personally I am deeply suspicious of the idea of a man marrying a personification of poverty; it has way too many sexist jokes about it. Interesting paper nonetheless.

Our final religious paper was Chiara who is studying the works of the experimental novelist, Kathy Acker. Acker has a complicated relationship with just about everything, and religion is no exception. Chiara was looking specifically at Childlike Life of the Black Tarantula and My Mother: Demonology, both of which have strong religious elements. Personally I want to read Pussy, King of the Pirates because, well I think that should be obvious.

After lunch we began with a session on fertility. One speaker had to cancel so we were down to two papers, starting with Claire on the subject of pregnancy and childbirth in mediaeval letter. She focused on the famous Paston letters from Norfolk, and in particular the matriarch, Margaret Paston. It is lovely to see sane discussion of pregnancy between a mediaeval husband and wife, though I suspect that the idea that all men through history have been uninterested in “women’s issues” is yet another of those 19th Century lies. If anyone knows why the Paston women were obsessed with eating (presumably very expensive) dates while pregnant, Claire would probably love to talk.

Maria told us all about a fascinating French novel, Constance et la Cinquantaine (Constance in Her Fifties), which is all about a group of feminist friends who panic when going through menopause because their men are deserting them for younger women. Apparently the only thing that results in a happy ending is becoming a lesbian.

The final session was on various expressions of gender. It began with Di explaining the complex history of the image of Medusa from a scary, quite masculine version in Bronze Age Greece to a much more feminine version in later times. The Romans, bless them, used both. I’m particularly fascinated by the image on the pediment of the temple in Bath, which shows the snake hair on the head of a male Celt.

James entertained us with images of gendered behavior from Sparta, which is a fascinating place (and which got very bad press from the Athenians). He didn’t specifically mention non-binary gendered presentation, but we chatted a bit and I do have a few clues to follow up. He did mention the possibility that songs written to be sung by a girl’s chorus celebrated same-sex attraction between women.

The last paper of the day was from Lucy, a fellow fan of Romosexuality, who introduced us to an amazing mosaic from a villa in Spain. On the one hand it is a stunningly beautiful piece of art. On the other it is obvious that it depicts only people (female and male) whom Zeus is said to have raped, and is intended to imply that the man of the house is just as powerful and rapey as old Thunderbolts himself.

That’s it for day one. More later. And if you think the owner of that Roman villa reminds you of Trump, just wait for the next Roman paper.