October Book Worm

The Book Worm has new spectacles!

Now the nights are drawing in it’s an even better time to put your feet up and start reading.  Do make sure that you have adequate lighting though.  I’ve just got new spectacles which are helping.  There is Macular Degeneration in my family so I am keen to have my eyes checked out at regular intervals.

The Book Worm has as always been busy through the summer. At the Library’s recommendation I read The Salt Path by Raynor Winn. It is her autobiographical story of walking the South West Coast Path after she has some catastrophic life changes. (Her husband has been diagnosed with a degenerative disease and they have lost their home of 30 years.)  Raynor and husband Moth  have only the barest funds to live on so where possible they `wild camp’ and walk almost the whole distance. Those who know the area will the story particularly interesting as well as admiring the grit of human endurance.

I also read Believe Me, Eddie Izzard’s autobiography. He is an amazing talented person but like many comedians likes using a lot of words. I felt a little let down: “All sound and fury signifying nothing” as the Bard once wrote (I think!). Sorry Eddie.

I’ve discovered Lisa Jewel, her book The House We Grew Up In had many a twist and turn. Family life but, thank goodness, not as I knew it! Suicide, hoarding and dark secrets fortunately almost all resolved . I’ll be borrowing Lisa again.

The Stationary Shop by Marjan Kamali was a fascinating  read spanning the life of a young women born in Iran (formally Persia of course) before the Shah was deposed, through  the advent of Ayatollah Homeni,  lost love, her flight to university in the USA and subsequent  life. A tale of a different culture, misunderstandings, food and love in many forms!

I’ve just finished a book called The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek  by Kim Michele Richardson. Did you know there is a recessive gene which makes people blue? Yes really, it’s called Methemoglobinemia.  Although the book is fiction isolated Troublesome Creek is a real place in Kentucky. Think Coal Miners Daughter! Cussy (nickname Bluet)  and her family have the blue gene which as far as the locals think, makes her `coloured’ and this in the 1930s before discrimination laws came into force. There is a drug that `cures’ the blue but it has many adverse affects.

Bluet has managed to secure the job of Book Woman taking  books (all donated by more affluent areas) and old magazines by mule to dirt poor  folk living up in the mountains (I suppose we would call them Hillbillies but they were/are extremely proud).  Her father knows he is dying and forces her to (disastrously) marry as he thinks she will be protected when he passes but it’s simply awful. Husband dies during giving her an awful beating.

Slowly Bluet builds a new life and we meet more of the mountain folk, learn of their love of and delight in the written word.

The real Book Women were astonishingly brave trekking solo in all weather to take reading matter to their `patrons’ and small schools. How folks loved those books tattered and second hand though they were.

The book worm family never went into Kentucky but did visit the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia and parts of Georgia so the description of the trails really resonated with me.

A most amazing read!


Escape to the Past

Lilly continues with her Escape series…

I’ve always loved history and the history of science. I like the motto; ‘how do you know where you are going, when you don’t know where you’ve been?’.

These days, I have another important history question; how do I get my hands on the keys to Lucy Worsley’s dressing up box?

Gosh which history though, the brief history of humanity or the history of the universe, all 14 odd billion years? Humans, a rather annoying pin prick in time; just ask the planet right now.

These days we are well served with history on the TV, and it’s not all about Queens and Kings. There are plenty of stories of normal folk. I recommend the work of Ruth Goodman, who through her programmes such as ‘Tudor Farm’. In a very ‘hands on’ way, these shows really illustrate how common people (like me) lived. Ruth likes a bit of dressing up too; in fact I rather think that modern clothes don’t quite suit Ruth.

Another great source of knowledge is the wonderful BBC Radio 4’s ‘In Our Time’, which covers a bewildering spectrum of history, philosophical and science subjects. The programme is always interesting, and well worth investing a hour to listen each week. I’ve even grown to love Melvin Bragg!

‘In Our Time’ features many women and uses many female experts in the discussions.

Here are a few of the women who’s stories have captured my imagination.

Ada Lovelace, was an English mathematician and the daughter of the mad, bad and dangerous (no, not me silly!) Lord Byron. Unusually for a woman, Ada was encouraged to study the sciences by her mum. Possibly in an effort to ensure she kept her distance from her dear papa! Through Ada’s friendship with Charles Babbage and knowledge of his amazing mechanical calculating machines, Ada is credited with writing the first ever computer program or algorithm. When I studied engineering, there wasn’t a girl in sight (I certainly wasn’t in sight). I hope the world is changing and we can all be who, and what we want to be. Ada is an inspiration to young women engineers and programmers; she had such amazing insight.

Julian of Norwich (b1343) was a nun in the Middle Ages, who wrote the earliest surviving book in the English language written by a woman, ‘Revelations of Divine Love’. A ‘local girl’, she lived most of her life Norwich, then the second city in England. During her lifetime, the city suffered the devastating effects of the Black Death (pandemics are not new!) and the Peasants’ Revolt. When aged thirty and so seriously ill she thought she was on her deathbed, Julian received a series of visions of the Passion of Christ. Julian’s statue can be seen on the western front of Norwich Cathedral; why not pop round and say hello?

Vera Brittain (b1893), author, socialist and pacifist. I read Vera’s famous, sad and wonderful book ‘Testament of Youth’ in my teens and along with ‘All Quiet on the West Front’ and ‘Catch 22’, heavily influenced my own political views on war.

Vera served in France as a nurse in the First World War and lost both of her brothers in the fighting. These experiences directed her future career as a writer and political activist. She might not have written, ‘War what is good for, absolutely nothing!’ but I think Vera would agree and so do I.

Dorothy Hodgkin (b1910) was the first and only British woman to be awarded a Nobel Prize in any of the three sciences. Whilst born in Egypt, Dorothy spend much of her early life in Beccles.

At Dorothy’s school, girls were not allowed to take science subjects but Dorothy fought this decision and won, later going on the study Chemistry at Oxford. During her research career Dorothy advanced the technique of X-ray crystallography.

Dorothy’s influential discoveries include the confirmation of the structure of penicillin, insulin and vitamin B12, for which she was awarded her Nobel Prize in Chemistry.

On Dorothy’s award, one of the newspaper headlines was ‘Grandmother and housewife, wins Nobel Prize’. What rot, like so many women Dorothy simply raised a family and built a brilliant career!

Caroline Herschel (b1750) was the younger sister of the far better known astronomer William Herschel. Caroline’s contribution like so many other women, has been forgotten but are just as important as those of her older brother.

Born in Hanover Caroline and William eventually settled in Berkshire in 1782 after William was appointed ‘The King’s Astronomer’

Caroline discovered eight comets, and catalogued 560 previously unrecorded stars, and was the first women to be paid for her scientific work. King George III gave her an annual salary of £50. She was the first woman to be awarded the Gold Medal of the UK’s Royal Astronomical Society in 1838. Not bad for a girl!

History continues to be written and I wonder in years time, how will we view 2020? Covid, #BlackLivesMatter, the politics of statues and (our) Trans rights, all momentous events. Generally history is written by the winners, so we shall see who gets to hold the pen.

If you like recent history, why not try the new show on BBC called ‘Mrs America’, a drama based on the feminist struggle in the USA, in the early 70’s. It is great fun and really interesting piece of social history.

See you all soon. Now where did I put my mask?

Love Lilly x


Escape to the World of Sport

Lilly’s World of Sport

I find another of my happy places by escaping into the World of Sport; no not Dickie Davis (one for you teenagers there), into Lilly’s World of Sport.

Now I love sport, not everybody does. Please forgive me if I’m wrong, but I do perceive that it’s a subject that many Trans Women are reluctant to talk about. Perhaps feeling sport is part of their past lives. Or is sport still considered un-feminine? Sadly it is true most young women stop playing sport when they leave school.

Well in this article I’m going to try to prove that women and sport really do mix, by telling the story of a few of my sporting heroes. Five women who are also both incredible competitors and beautifully feminine. These girls certainly can!

Why does sport matter to me so much. Well I am a competitive animal, it’s in my genes (size 12 from Primark); both competing and spectating satisfy that urge. I believe that, particularly for young people, learning to deal with the ups and downs of competitive sport, is a powerful way of learning how to cope with the vagaries life. A cliche I know, but learning to lose with grace is such a valuable life skill. It can hurt like anything inside but smile on the outside. Anyway sermon over, you can come out now, here are some my heroes…

Getty Images

Jessica Ennis-Hill – oh my goodness, Super Saturday 2012 in the Olympic Stadium. I was there. Why? To see Jess, no not Mo, but Jess. Three years before when I made my ticket selection for the ballot, I’d choosen this night as it contained the final event of the Heptathlon, the 800m. At this point Mo was an also ran, Jess was a World Champion and favourite for Gold. Jess didn’t let us down, withstanding the extreme pressure of being ‘The Face of Games’, she delivered. Blessed with amazing determination, strength and resilience, Jess produced personal best after personal best, to lead the competition into that last event. On that magical evening, in front of 80,000 people, Jess took the lead rounding the last bend and crossed the line to win a glorious gold. In the stadium, we all got a little over excited, hugs (remember them?) all round. I give you Jess, a beautiful, petite woman; now a Mum, who made herself the best all round athlete in the world. What a role model for girls and boys.

Kelly Smith – the greatest England footballer you have never heard of! “Lethally quick, bountifully gifted”, Kelly a forward, scored 46 goals in 117 appearances for England, and enjoyed a highly successful club career at home and in the States.

Over the last 10 years women’s football has at long last come to the fore. But why is the women’s game always in the shadow of men’s football? Well for a start men banded it! Yes in 1921, despite being more popular than some men’s games, women’s football in England was halted when The FA outlawed the playing of the women’s game on Association members’ pitches. The FA said that “the game of football is quite unsuitable for females and ought not to be encouraged.” This ban was in force until 1971. It has taken 50 years for the female game to begin to catch up.

Kelly faced discrimination too, aged seven, with no girl’s teams in her local area, she played in a boys team, until other boy’s teams refused to play Kelly’s team; Kelly was just too good! Kelly’s magnificent career was ended by injury, just before the game came to real prominence (now shown regularly on the BBC), which is why Kelly is not a household name. The best England striker of the modern era? Shearer, Lineker, Kane, Smith….

Annemiek van Vleuten. Picture this, the women’s Olympic Cycling Road Race, Rio 2016. The course included a fast, fearsome, twisting down hill section that left no room for error. Riding flat out was not for the faint hearted, only the very brave. Leading the race was Annemiek, she had broken away from the peloton and in trying to maintain her lead and she was going for it. Oh no! Annemiek made a tiny mistake and the next second she was bouncing down the road like a rag doll, bike flying through the air! The world held it’s breath, Annemiek didn’t move for a long time, it took an age for medical help to arrive. The TV cameras held back just in case…..horrible.

Fast forward to 2019, Annemiek won the World Road Race Championship, her third World Title. Amazing, weaker sex? I don’t think so! Annemiek brave, determined, a winner!

Claire Williams. Motor racing is my sport, I grew up with tales of Nuvolari, Fangio, Moss and Clark, I raced karts for five or so years in my late teens. Motor sport is really a world of men! The women’s role was purely to look pretty or make the tea. Sure there were a few women drivers, even some who raced Grand Prix cars like Lella Lombardi and Divina Galica, Michele Mouton was almost world rally champion in the 80’s, or before the war, Kate Petra was one of a number of women who raced around the awesome outer circuit at Brooklands. Women are now starting to have some impact on the sport, particularly on the engineering side of the teams. Claire Williams is team principal of one the most famous GP teams, a role that comes with huge amounts of responsibility and pressure, not least keeping the company founded by her father, alive in an ultra competitive world. Hopefully Claire can steer the team back to the podium very soon, perhaps with a female driver called Jamie Chadwick!

When I was growing up, I never imagined the women could participate in contact sports such as rugby and boxing. At school, girls played hockey and netball, boy’s didn’t.

Margaret Alphonsi MBE is an English former rugby union player who played as a flanker for Saracens and England before retiring in 2014. She has one World Cup winners medal and seven from the Six Nations, and was inducted into the World Rugby Hall of Fame in November 2016.

Maggie can now be seen and heard regularly as a pundit and newspaper columnist, even commentating on the mens game! Inevitably, she has faced sexist and racest comments but Maggie’s calm authoritative manner makes her one the most respected voices on the game; a game that is now open to all!

So what’s next? Trans sports women? An openly gay premier league football? Well the former is a hugely nuanced discussion for another day, the latter, any male professional football who came out as gay would be a hero!

It not the wining, it’s the taking part and above all, having fun

On a final note here is Lilly racing karts in her late teens.

Lots of love

Lilly x