Jasmine’s day out

I couldn’t let it pass without comment, could I. The big topic of the week. No, not that. School uniforms, of course. First there was the now annual revolt of boys adopting skirts because they were denied shorts as an alternative to long grey trousers in the hot weather. Then there was the discussion about school uniforms in general. Apparently some schools have imposed a supposedly non-gendered uniform policy on pupils i.e. they have to wear a stereotypical western male uniform of trousers and shirt, (and probably a blazer and tie). This is justified with some derogatory comments about skirts or dresses being “embarrassing”. The main reason for choosing trousers is supposed to be to prevent “upskirting”.

20180621_185132Having taught in boys’, girls’ and mixed schools, as well as being genderfluid with a predilection for wearing skirts and dresses, it won’t surprise you that I have an opinion on this. Only one school I taught at did not have a uniform. Dress code was smart so no jeans (at least I think that was it). While most students were sensible, a sizeable number, particularly girls but not exclusively, treated dress as a competitive sport. They were little rich kids so they could afford very expensive and trendy stuff. I recall one girl wearing a £500 (1980s prices) leather jacket to my practical chemistry class. Girls who arrived without an up-to-the-moment wardrobe were ridiculed.

It’s always been one of the arguments for uniform that it takes away this competitive element, stops the morning arguments about what Olivia (or Oliver) should wear and makes the school’s kids easy to pick out when outside school (that happens less often now there are fewer trips). But some schools have got tied up in knots about the actual dress rules and are struggling now that gender is an issue. Many schools are still stuck with a girls having a choice, skirts or trousers, while boys don’t policy. It is sexist as well as a restriction on those who want to express their gender questioning.

While there might still be a case for some uniform element, I think it is restrictive and displays a lack of acceptance of diversity on the part of the school management. There should be no distinction between male and female; boys should be allowed to wear skirts if they like and girls shouldn’t be forced into trousers. The upskirting argument is spurious – boys should be taught how to behave in modern society and that intruding on a person’s (girl or otherwise) privacy is not allowed. But I also feel that the western style of male dress is too narrow. In many cultures across the world, men wear forms of gowns or kilts. Young people should be able to adopt those styles if they wish.

So, let’s allow much more variety in our schools, even if there is an element of uniformity in colours or badges.

……………………..

In one week I will be at BLISS at the Prince of Wales Hotel in Southport, Lancs. where all my (paper) books will be on sale. I’m hoping for a good crowd of browsers (with some money to spend).

We’ve reached episode 4 of Negative, the Jasmine Frame sequel/prequel that fits between Painted Ladies and Bodies By Design. Things are warming up.

Negative: Part 4

‘When’s your day off?’ Jasmine asked, changing the subject.
‘Tomorrow. Hey, we could meet up and I could show you around.’
Jasmine felt her spirits lift. It would lovely to spend a day with this attractive and vivacious girl. ‘That’s lovely. Any ideas?’
‘Let’s jump on a bus and look over the castle. The old town’s got lots of lovely shops and cafes.’
‘Great. What time? Do you have a lie-in on your day off?’’
Ceri grinned. ‘Definitely. I don’t get up before six on my one day of freedom. Shall we meet at the bus station at nine-thirty?’
‘Suits me.’
They chatted for a bit longer before Ceri left to do some errands for her mother. Jasmine set off to walk around the headland. It was a good distance and she was pleased to feel her muscles working. The cliffs and the ever-changing view across the sea entertained her.
A bath followed by dinner completed her day. Ceri was cheerful when she served her. Myfanwy was again a jolly colleague. At the end of the meal Ceri said, ‘See you in the morning.’ Jasmine nodded and headed back to her room.

Tegan was back on duty at breakfast and spreading chill with her dark frowns. Jasmine did note that she was polite to the older woman filling in for Ceri. Was Tegan a bully who picked on more junior colleagues or was it because Ceri was trans that she persecuted her? Jasmine wasn’t certain but was happy that it was Myfanwy who served her with a smile and a chuckle.
As Jasmine got up to leave the dining room, Tegan approached her.
‘You’ve been meeting Ceri,’ Tegan said.
‘I have,’ Jasmine replied. She had considered saying it was none of Tegan’s business but decided to see where the glum woman was going with this conversation.
‘We have a rule that staff should treat all guests the same.’
‘That’s what I would expect of any hotel,’ Jasmine said.
‘So we don’t allow staff to meet up with guests socially,’ Tegan went on.
Jasmine felt a flush come to her cheeks. ‘I think you’ll find that what a member of staff does in their own time is their own business, and who a “guest” or anyone else meets outside of this building is none of yours or anyone else’s concern.’ Jasmine pushed past the woman and marched somewhat faster than she intended from the dining room.
She got herself ready for a day out and was at the bus station with plenty of time to spare. She was still angry at Tegan’s effrontery but decided that she wouldn’t mention it to Ceri. The bus drew up at the stop and Jasmine got on. She glanced at her watch. It was nine-thirty and there was no sign of Ceri but the bus was not due to leave for another ten minutes.
With a minute to go, she saw the girl running towards the bus with her golden hair blowing out behind her. As she leapt on, her short skirt rose revealing her smooth, tanned thighs and a flash of large knickers. She flopped down beside Jasmine.
‘Sorry I’m late. I knew I had time to catch the bus but I got stuck with my brother.’
‘Oh, what did Alun want?’
‘Nothing really. Just checking on me I suppose.’
The bus pulled away. Ceri fidgeted beside Jasmine but pointed out places that related to her lifetime in the town. Then they were on the road along the estuary and approaching the bridge into the old town with its castle a prominent landmark. Soon they were disembarking and Ceri lead Jasmine through the narrow streets. Jasmine enjoyed her guided tour but felt there was something behind Ceri’s never-ending chatter and constant impatience to show her something else.

They stopped their tour for a late lunch in an olde-worlde café which Jasmine cheerfully paid for. She felt she had to repay Ceri for her company.
‘I’ll have to catch the bus back soon,’ Ceri said putting down her fork.
‘Oh, that’s okay,’ Jasmine replied feeling a little surprised because she had thought she had Ceri for the day. ‘I mustn’t take up all your time.’
‘No, I’m sorry. I didn’t know. There are things. . .’
‘It’s really no problem. It’s been very good of you to show me round.’
Ceri started to get up. ‘You don’t have to come with me, now.’
‘Oh,’ Jasmine hadn’t considered what she would do. ‘Are there buses later.’
‘Oh yes. Every hour until late this evening. But you’ll want to be back at the hotel for dinner won’t you.’
‘Mmm, yes.’
Ceri stood up. ‘I’ll see you tomorrow then. Breakfast.’
‘Yes, ‘Bye Ceri. Thanks.’
The girl was gone in a flash of gold hair. Jasmine was left contemplating her sudden departure. Had she known all along that she would have to leave at this time? What was it that demanded her return? Had she read a text while Jasmine wasn’t looking that made her decide to leave? It was probably of no concern of hers. She should be grateful for the young woman giving up the time she had on her one free day of the week. Jasmine finished her drink and decided to resume her wandering around the town, at a slower pace than Ceri had set.

Despite Myfanwy’s smile, dinner was served in the gloom caused by Tegan’s scowls and curt responses to queries from guests. Jasmine ate quickly and returned to her room for a quiet evening of TV and reading. She realised that she had fallen into a comfortable routine of sightseeing, meals and relaxation, with her meetings with Ceri a highlight of stimulating conversation. Not that they discussed weighty matters. The closest they got to that was comparing notes about their transitions and their hopes for their future lives as women.
Jasmine was still getting tired at the end of the day despite her lack of stress. Would she ever be ready to go back to investigating? She hoped so.

Jasmine woke the following morning to find the light entering her room, dull. There were raindrops on the window and grey clouds in the sky. She stayed in bed until it was almost too late for breakfast. There was only one laid-up table, her own, when she entered the dining room. Just one other couple were finishing their meal. Other tables were still covered with the detritus of breakfast eaten. Neither waitress was in evidence.
Jasmine sat in her usual seat and waited. A few minutes passed before Ceri appeared from the kitchen. Some of her long golden hair had escaped from her bun and she looked harassed. She approached Jasmine.
‘Good morning, Ceri. How are you after your day off?’ Jasmine asked feeling that as Tegan wasn’t in sight she could be friendly.
Ceri took her notebook from her pocket. ‘Oh, er fine. What would like this morning.’ Jasmine gave her usual order which Ceri jotted down. Tegan had still not appeared to glower at them.
‘Isn’t Tegan on duty today?’ Jasmine asked.
‘No, she isn’t. I’ve had to do everything.’ There was an impatient tone to Ceri’s reply.
‘Oh. Is she ill?’
Ceri shrugged. ‘I’ve no idea. I don’t think she called to say she wasn’t coming in. I’ll get your breakfast.’ She hurried off. She returned with the coffee jug, and then with toast and Jasmine’s cooked breakfast. In between she dashed around clearing tables, doing the job of two waitresses.
Jasmine was alone now, taking her time over her bacon and egg. Ceri passed close to her with her arms loaded with crockery.
‘Does this happen often?’ Jasmine said.
Ceri paused. ‘First time. I’ve never known Tegan miss a shift.’ She departed for the kitchen.
Jasmine had finished her final piece of toast, washed down with black coffee when the door to the dining room opened. The proprietor of the hotel, a short man with thin strands of black hair plastered across his bald head, entered followed by a uniformed policeman.
They both glanced at Jasmine, the hotel owner perhaps surprised to see a guest still at breakfast. Ceri emerged from the kitchen and stopped dead. An ‘Oh,’ escaped from her lips.
‘Hello Ceri,’ the owner said, ‘the police officer would like a word with you.’
‘With me? Why?’ Ceri looked confused.
The policeman stepped forward. ‘You normally work with Miss Tegan Jones.’
‘Yes.’
‘When did you see her last?’
‘The day before yesterday,’ Ceri replied still bemused.
‘Not yesterday?’ the officer said, ‘Wasn’t she at work yesterday?’
The owner raised his hand. ‘Oh, I forgot. Yesterday was your day off wasn’t it Ceri. Myfanwy was on with Tegan yesterday.’
Ceri nodded in agreement. ‘Yes, why? What’s happened?’
‘The body of Tegan Jones was found earlier this morning. We’re trying to trace her movements.’
Ceri stared. ‘The body?’

………………………..to be continued.

 

 

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Jasmine has an opinion

WP_20180516_13_28_54_ProWhat makes a woman?”, the Channel 4 programme with Munroe Bergdorf continued the exposure of gender issues in the media and to which I referred last week. The first part dealt with Munroe’s facial feminisation surgery which covered the same ground as Transformation Street.  What was more interesting was Munroe’s meetings with various people to discuss the question of whether transwomen are women.  This brought out many well-worn opinions e.g. women have beauty (!), women are mothers, women have a vagina, what you are born with is defines who you are. There were also scenes outside and inside a meeting of radical feminists opposing changes to the Gender Recognition  Act which would allow some form of self-identification of gender. The speeches were frightening in their dismissal of transwomen and using fear of men to whip up anger at transpeople using the spurious argument that if men could self-identify as women they would invade women-s spaces in order to rape them. If men wanted to they could already dress up and lie in wait in those spaces. It doesn’t happen.  The bitterness of these feminists made me sad and worried.

The problem is that 99% of the population are not only satisfied with the gender they were assigned and brought up by family, friends and society to accept, but they have given little thought to what gender is. Most people accept the binary view of the world without noticing or acknowledging that everyone has their own identity, characteristics and individuality.  If you examine the behaviour of people it is easy to see that there is a spectrum of gender. The 99% see no reason fir changing their views. But modern society has changed. On the one hand western society has become somewhat more accepting allowing transpeople (and other minorities) to be more open and assertive. Hence all the media attention. But on the other social media has provided a platform and a shield for people to be more outspoken in their views. The Brexit business in the UK and the election of Trump in the USA showed that the population is split with a sizeable proportion holding entrenched bigoted views. People are less prepared to allow others to express views that they don’t hold.  It is dangerous.

Going back to the question Munroe posed, I don’t know what the answer is, except that gender or identity is not determined by the physical form of a baby at birth. I identify as gender-fluid, although I still use “trans” for convenience. I do not know how a “woman” or a “man” thinks, despite having lived my working life as a man and being married to a woman that I love for over 30 years. I don’t think any person can know what every other person feels and, to be specific, radical feminists cannot know how other women feel about themselves.  I do know that I am comfortable being feminine rather than overtly masculine and that I am attracted to styles of dress and appearance that are labelled female. For us 1% I think it would be wonderful if there was no such thing as gender and that everyone was treated as an individual, but I’m wishing for a fairytale.

………………………

To change the subject. I had a lovely day in Aberystwyth this week attending a meeting of the Society of Authors.  As always I find writers wonderfully accepting and I am increasingly seeing the SoA as my union, providing advice and support to me as a writer. I’m looking forward to the next meeting of the Welsh chapter.

And so to the next episode of Benefactors, my SF novella or fragment of a novel.

Benefactors: Part 6

Chapter 6

The sky was bright blue but the Sun was still below the peaks of the eastern hills when Ekuru Lengabilo started up the Toyota. The boy and the old woman sat in the seats behind Jock, the boy pointing the direction to take. It took just half an hour bumping over the rough ground till they came to the entrance to a gully.
Ekuru pulled up. ‘I think it’s too narrow for the car.’
Jock got out and helped the woman and boy step down from the vehicle. ‘Lead the way,’ he said to the lad. Ekuru translated and they set off with Ekuru and the boy helping the old woman to walk. The steep-sided valley weaved left and right but within a couple of hundred metres it opened up slightly. There, standing alone on the patch of sparse grass was the tree. It was less than a metre taller than Jock with twisted, gnarled branches which were thinly leafed.
Jock stopped to take in the view. He felt joy that at least one tree still existed.
The air fizzed just above his head. The tree exploded in flame and smoke and splinters.
Jock, froze, his breath halted. On the ridges on either side of the gully, figures in full camouflage kit rose, weapons trained on him and his companions.
‘Don’t move,’ one soldier commanded in English. Ekuru turned and ran back the way they had come. Jock turned to warn him but a gun fired and Ekuru fell.
‘No!’ Jock ran to him and knelt beside his body. Blood covered the flesh-torn back. Jock knew there was no hope. The boy and woman joined him muttering in their own language. The soldiers surrounded them.
‘You will accompany us,’ the commander said and signalled them to start moving. They retraced their steps to the Toyota. A helicopter stood a short distance from the smoking wreck of the vehicle. Two of the soldiers carrying Ekuru’s body placed it by the side of the burnt-out car.
‘Get into the ‘copter,’ the commander said. Jock did as he was told helping the boy and woman to clamber on board. There was nothing else to do.
‘What’s going to happen to us?’ Jock asked. He felt the loss of Ekuru, the trees and almost all the people more than fear for his own safety.
‘Not my business to know,’ the commander said. ‘Sit down and belt yourselves in.’

Jock still didn’t have an answer to his question. They had flown at low altitude over the sparsely populated country until they reached the coast and then on out to sea. Far out in the ocean they approached a small flotilla of ships. One was an aircraft carrier that Jock recalled seeing in the news at various times in the last ten years. They landed on the deck and sank into the hanger beneath. Jock, the boy and the woman were escorted off the helicopter and then separated. Jock found himself in a small cabin with a hard bed, a toilet, a light that was permanently on and no windows. He’d taken the opportunity to rest and had dozed. The door had opened briefly at intervals of some hours and he had been given a bowl of typical naval fare but the sailor had not spoken a word.
One, two or it may have been three days later, Jock was marched from his cell to a larger cabin where he was surrounded by armed marines. He was brought to a halt in front of a desk. A senior officer, the ship’s commander sat behind the desk. He examined Jock.
‘Dr Fraser, I am instructed to inform you that you will be taken from this vessel and transported to an unnamed location.’
Jock cleared his throat trying to find his voice. ‘What about the boy and the woman?’
‘I cannot tell you.’
‘Is Ekuru Lengabilo’s killer under arrest.’ Jock felt renewed anger.
‘Mr Lengabilo was a terrorist,’ The officer said without hint of emotion.
‘Like heck he was.’ Jock clenched his fists. The commander nodded to one of the marines. Jock heard the sound of a cork being released from a bottle, a sting on his neck and his legs became like jelly.
Chapter 7

The bed was comfortable, there was an efficient shower in the en-suite, and there was an easy chair and desk. It could have been a reasonably priced hotel room. It was a cell and Helen knew it. The door was locked, there was no window and she had no access to the Net. All there was to do was read one of the paper books that had obviously been selected according to her reading tastes. She’d read them all before.
Meals were brought to her and she considered trying to make an escape but there were always guards in the corridor outside the door. Helen wondered how long she could stand this pampered but restricted existence – two days, three?
She thought it was four before he came to her. Of course her sleep pattern may have been distorted but it felt like four days.
‘Professor. I do hope you are comfortable,’ he said. He was younger than her and obviously kept himself fit but he acted as if he was at least her equal. He obviously wasn’t just an interrogator. They stood facing each other.
‘What a pointless question,’ She said, ‘I’m a prisoner. This is intolerable. You must release me.’
He smiled. ‘I’m afraid we must not. You see Professor you are a danger to the security of this nation.’
‘What on earth do you mean?’
‘You intended to distribute restricted material. That is what I mean.’
Helen glared at him. ‘I was about to share scientific data in order that we might learn its meaning and importance.’
‘Data whose owner had not released it for public consumption. Data that had been classified by the government as of national importance.’
‘Why?’
‘I do not have the authority to tell you that.’
Helen turned her back on him, walked to the easy chair and sat down. She crossed her legs and looked up at him.
‘Who are you?’
The man stared at her impassively. ‘You can refer to me as Orange. That is my designation.’
‘Are you and your colleagues all named after fruits?’
He gave her a thin smile. ‘My boss is Apple but that is not proof of the pattern you have postulated. We use the Naval Phonetic Alphabet from the First World War for our designations. Letters and numbers are somewhat clichéd. As you can tell I am quite low in the department.’ Helen wondered what government organisation he was referring to but the trouble they had gone to to keep her captive suggested something.
‘You’re scared. Or your bosses are. You think there is something in that plant genome that could threaten your position of power.’
‘That is pure supposition. It is unusual for you, Professor, to follow such a fanciful line of thought.’
Helen bit her lip. He was right of course. What was it in the plant’s genome that had caused her to ignore her normal caution? Was it Jock Fraser’s incomprehension, Darmaan’s excitement at solving the puzzle, or simply her hunch that it was special?
‘But Darmaan found a pattern, figures, mathematical formulae, physics, chemistry, biology beyond our understanding, stored in the genome of the tree.’
‘I’m afraid, Professor, you were misled. There is nothing remarkable about that tree.’
Anger welled up in Helen’s throat. ‘Misled? By whom? Not Dr Fraser. He may be an excellent botanist but he doesn’t understand genomes or binary code.’
‘How well do you know Jock Fraser?’
Helen paused. ‘We met once.’
‘And you spoke to him in Kenya.’
So they had been hacking her netlink. ‘Yes.’
‘That was all?’
Helen snorted. ‘You know it was.’
‘Well then, you didn’t know him at all.’
Helen leaned forward. ‘Are you saying that this is all a put-up. I’ve been conned by some scam or other into throwing away my scientific reputation.’
Orange shrugged. ‘There. You’ve said it.’
Helen flung herself back in the chair and looked away from him. ‘I don’t believe it.’
‘And that Professor is why you are here. The government considers your attitude and behaviour dangerous to the general well-being of the nation. That is why you have been served with a Neurological Adjustment Order.’

………………………to be continued

Jasmine is worrying

WP_20180223_21_21_16_Pro (2)

This is what a transgender/gender-fluid person may look like.

It is disappointing (probably an understatement) when a group of people trying to end discrimination break into factions which fight each other. It’s happened in the fight for female equality where certain radical feminists now seem to devote their time to accusing transwomen of not being women and of retaining their “male privileges”.  That dispute has become very bitter with trans activists attempting to prevent well known feminists have a stage to speak their anti-trans thoughts.

Now there is a split in the transgender/non-binary world caused by possible changes to the Gender Recognition Act. A group of transwomen (it looks like all women, I can’t see any men named) wrote to the Guardian last week, and perhaps other papers, and at  least one of the named has spoken out in public.  They are protesting at proposals to make it easier to obtain a Gender Recognition Certificate, mainly by demedicalising transition, if someone declares that they will live for the rest of their lives in the gender they identify with. This is already being done in a number of countries.  It will of course mean that there will be transmen and women who have not undergone any surgery and possibly not even taking hormones. The protesters say that this change will “blur the distinction” between themselves i.e. those who have gone through gender confirmation surgery (they have vaginas), and others who have not.  Actually at the moment there is no distinction because the current act only asks for an intention to go through with surgery when the time is right. For many transpeople the time is never right for health or other reasons.

These transwomen are setting themselves apart from other transgender and non-binary people. They want to be considered as “real” women and so wish to cut themselves off from other trans/non-binary people who they see as “damaging our credibility”. They are asking the politicians who will have to vote on changes to the act to “show courage”, presumably to resist the overwhelming numbers of transgender/non-binary people who are lobbying for the right to be women (or men). No, we’re not.

Since the GRA become law in 2004 under 10,000 people have obtained certificates while the total number of transgender people in the UK is a half to three-quarters of a million.  The GRA is obviously not working.  Also the Equality Act of 2010 only recognises those with a GRC (or applying for one) as a protected minority with all sorts of safeguards against hate-crime etc. Not all of us want to transition; there are many non-binary/gender-fluid people who just want the freedom (and protection) to be themselves. Unfortunately this group of transwomen want to retain stereotypical gender roles so that they can blend in as women. But they will never be accepted by the “women have babies” faction.

It is all very disappointing and worrying.  The more infighting there is, the more prejudice is allowed to bubble to the surface so that even comedians like Peter Kay (Carshare Unscripted) can use the beating up of a trans person as grist for a joke.

…………………………..

Now for something completely different, as they used to say. Here’s the next episode of Benefactors. Here you will easily detect two influences on the story (if you know your 1960s SF) which made me ultimately decide that it wasn’t original enough. What do you think?

Benefactors: Part 5

Chapter 5

Helen met Darmaan by the lake that formed the centrepiece of the campus. It was a hot summer day and Helen was sweating. She wondered how her father’s family survived the heat of summer on the Indian sub-continent.
‘They’ve deleted the lot,’ Helen said, ‘and threatened me with a memory wipe if I make a fuss. I’m not risking that. Who knows what else I might lose if they start zapping my brain.’
Darmaan held her shoulders trying to calm her. ‘It won’t come to that.’
‘Won’t it? You’ve seen what was in that genome. They know how excited people will get if people learn what’s in the code.’
‘And we’ve got to make sure that that is just what happens,’ Darmaan said staring into her face.
‘I’m scared Darmaan. We’ve got lawyers threatening us and the government hacking our comslink.’
‘Which only shows how important that data is. Think about it Helen. You said that the genome is about two-hundred-thousand years old and only found in one spot in the Rift Valley where it’s been tended for generations by a local tribe. Yet it contains ideas and data beyond my knowledge and I suspect beyond any scientist on Earth today.’
‘You’ve found out more?’
‘Yes. I did a comparison search with the equations in the genome and what’s on the Net. I got some very strange matches with theories on the edge of quantum and cosmological physics. I saw hints of ideas that I can only describe as science fiction. And there’s that whole section of DNA that isn’t but is something similar. I think it is an organism but one like nothing that exists on Earth now or ever.’
‘But how. . .?’ Helen was scared of the answer as she knew it would tear her sense of being a rational scientist apart.
‘Aliens,’ Darmaan said in a whisper, ‘It’s got to be. They came here millennia ago and left a gift for us.’
‘But modern humans were just evolving then.’
‘Yes, right where those trees got planted. My parents came from Somalia when they were children. They thought of themselves as coming from an ancient people but the Rift Valley is where humans became human. You know what Fraser told you about those leaves. They make people more cooperative. Wouldn’t that have been a useful trick for those primitive people.’
Helen considered, ‘It’s too incredible.’
‘Is it?’
‘Whatever. It’s too important to let this Company whoever they are and the government turn it into a secret. We’ve got to do something.’ Then Helen remembered, ‘But it’s all gone, your copy too.’
Darmaan smiled and leaned to whisper into her ear. ‘Not quite. They wiped my Net files. They thought people like you and me would only keep data uploaded via our net storage.’
‘I do.’
‘Well, it’s not only old guys like Fraser who keep personal memory backups.’
Helen’s eyes widened. ‘You’ve got a button?’
Darmaan grinned and tapped his pocket, ‘A few here and there. It’s not all lost.’
Helen grabbed his arm and started to walk around the lake. ‘They could be watching us now. What are we going to do, Darmaan?’
‘We’ve got to get this out to some physicists, chemists and synthetic biologists who would know what it means. You move in the upper reaches of science, Helen. Surely you know a few Nobel Prize winners.’
‘Hmm. I’m not sure they’re the best – but their postdocs may be. The more we can spread it the more protection we’ll get.’
‘You get me the list. I’ll get copying.’
‘How? As soon as you logon the hackers will be on to you.’
Darmaan grinned again. ‘I’ve been waiting for something like this to happen for ages. I’ve got a scroll which I disconnected from the net and a few more buttons. I can make copies and get them couriered to the people you name.’
‘Hmm, well, let’s split and meet first thing in the morning.’

Helen tried to act naturally on her journey home but in actual fact she was anxiously looking for people watching and tailing her. It was a long time since she had felt that she stood out as a woman with an Asian appearance but now she was worried that everyone was looking at her. She didn’t pick out anyone though. She got home, made some supper, tried to read a book. Finally, she unrolled her scroll and put in a call to Jock Fraser. The screen announced that it was “searching” for some time until a fuzzy picture appeared with Jock’s weather beaten face in the centre. There was darkness behind him and he appeared to be out in the open.
‘Hello, Professor,’ Jock’s voice was somewhat distorted.
‘Where are you, Jock? It’s a very poor signal.’
‘I’m in the Rift Valley. The nearest Stratonet balloon is probably a long way from here. But I can hear and see you.’
‘You went back.’
‘Yes. I wanted to see the trees again. I hoped the People would let me take more samples. But . . .’ His voice broke up and Helen felt that it wasn’t due to interference or a weak signal.
‘What’s happened, Jock.’
‘The People have been killed and the trees destroyed.’
Helen sucked in her breath, ‘All of them?’
‘Nearly. There may be one tree left.’
‘What happened?’
‘The government did a deal with the Chinese mining companies. There are rare earth metals in these hills. They didn’t realise the value of the Trees.’
‘Are you sure. I think your Company and our government have. They’ve confiscated your data and wiped my files.’
‘What? Did you find anything in the genome?’
‘Yes, Jock. It’s remarkable, there’s . . .’
‘Don’t tell me. We mustn’t talk like this. They’ll be listening.’ The connection broke.

The following morning, well before her usual time for starting work, Helen was strolling through the park next to the university campus. It was definitely not her normal routine and she felt exhausted. Sleep had not come for thinking about what Jock had said and the warnings from the company lawyer and anti-terrorism officer.
A figure jogged towards her. It was Darmaan. He stopped when he reached her barely showing a sweat.
‘This isn’t where I usually train,’ he said, ‘Running is in my genes.’ He grinned.
‘I’ve got the addresses of some people who may help us,’ Helen said, ‘Have you made the copies of the decoded genome.’
‘I left them hidden away in my flat,’ Darmaan said, ‘I didn’t want to carry them.’
Helen held out a folded sheet of paper. ‘Here you are, then.’
‘I’ll take that thank you.’
Helen turned to see the tall anti-terrorist operative. There were two other men beside him wearing helmets that covered their faces. They carried weapons. Darmaan grabbed the paper from Helen’s hand, turned and ran. One of the helmeted men raised his arm and aimed the gun. It fired with a soft “pfft” and Darmaan fell, convulsing.
Helen gasped. ‘You haven’t . . .’
‘Just a knockout pellet,’ the man said, ‘You’ll get the same if you resist arrest.’
‘Arrest?’
‘For conspiracy to assist a person with terrorist associations.’
Helen felt an unusual anger, ‘If you are referring to Jock Fraser again, he’s not a terrorist. He’s told me what’s happened to the people who tended the trees. They were just defending their homes. They didn’t hurt anyone.’
‘I do not know what you are referring to, Professor. I am commanded to arrest you and Dr Adams. Please come with me.’ He took Helen’s arm and marched her towards the park exit. His two subordinates pocketed their weapons, picked up Darmaan and followed. A van with dark windows waited at the gates.

………………………….to be continued.

 

Jasmine off-duty

WP_20170826_14_01_13_ProIf you are reading this on the day that it is published I am at the Author-signing event in Telford hoping to sell some of my books. I hope that this event attracts readers with a bit of cash in their pockets and is not just a day spent in a room full of writers flogging their wares to each other. I am amazed by how much effort some of the writers put in to providing trinkets to accompany their written work.  I could be disparaging and call it tat but actually some authors really seem to spend a lot of time crafting the bits and pieces that support their written efforts. Is this really want book buyers want? I’ve got bookmarks and postcards but that’s it.  All my effort goes into producing the books.

…………………….

This week I watched a programme on autism by autistic people.  It suggested that over 1% of the population are somewhere on the spectrum.  Of course most of those are functioning pretty successfully in society but have questions about themselves and how they fit into the community. About the same number of people are thought to be gender-variant in some way or other and there must be endless minorities claiming similar numbers. I wonder who is “normal” or indeed what that term even means. The autistic presenters seemed to lump all “normal” people together as if they never had any self-doubts or worries about their place or role in the world. I believe that the marvellous thing about humanity is that we are all different. We have a wide range of physical characteristics, personalities, aptitudes and abilities that make each one of us unique, and we each have our problems and questions. I also wonder if this search for a medical term to attach to ourselves is just a means to find people who are like us; a label to tell us which group we can belong to. I am not denying that there are many severely autistic people who need a great deal of support and understanding in the same way that those with severe gender dysphoria need swift assessment and treatment to put them in the gender that matches their personality. What I do want to see is acceptance by society that there is no norm which everyone should aspire to.

……………………………..

I am still giving Jasmine a rest although I must get down to editing Molly’s Boudoir soon. It’s had a month or two resting in my computer files. I have been thinking and planning to start a couple of SF/Fantasy novels but as usual cannot quite decide which to begin with. Can I write two novels at the same time?

In the meantime here is another SF story I wrote a year or so ago from an idea that arose from an article in New Scientist magazine (New Scientist no. 3056 16th Jan 2016 p.27  I plant memories in seeds, Karin Ljubic Fister). I was considering developing it further and I may, but decided that actually my idea wasn’t particularly original (the scientific research moved faster than I imagined) and the story contained elements of older novels by more skilled writers.  Ideas and plots can’t be copyrighted and I wasn’t guilty of plagiarism but the plot was a bit too familiar.  Nevertheless I enjoyed writing it and doing the research into the east Africa scenes.  I haven’t been there but I hope I captured something of the atmosphere of the Rift Valley.

North Kenya 2

North Kenya (the fold is in the map not the landscape!)

Anyway, let’s see what you think of Benefactors.  There will be  a number of episodes over the next few weeks.

 

 

Benefactors: Part 1

1

Two men wearing red and orange cloaks over their traditional woven skirts, approached the grove of trees arguing with each other. Jock Fraser listened then raised a finger to his earpiece. All he was getting was whistles and clicks fed from the smartphone in the breast pocket of his gillet. He turned to the man sitting next to him on the dusty ground. He resembled the arguing men in looks but was wearing western style dress.
‘I’m not getting a translation of what those guys are arguing about,’ Jock said. ‘Aren’t they speaking Samburu, Ekuru?’
The dark skinned Ekuru Lengabilo shook his head. ‘There is some similarity but they are using their own speech.’
Jock frowned. He was not used to being out of communication with the people around him. ‘Can you translate for me?’
‘I have some words but this language is only spoken by these people. They are few and do not travel far from the trees that they tend. It is an old tongue without the words for modern ideas like phone and truck.’
Jock sighed. ‘Well, see what you can manage. What are those two arguing about?’
‘How much the one with the necklace is willing to pay the other for a goat.’
‘Ah, I see.’ Jock saw two other people arriving, a man and woman. They were not speaking to each other, in fact they were looking in different directions as if they did not even want their view sullied by the image of the other.
The arriving pairs looked at Jock and his companion with sour expressions then sat with him amongst the scruffy, low trees. Others arrived until there were about a dozen sitting in a circle. The murmur of chatter slowly faded.
A child of about seven years approached the group carrying a wooden bowl. She, Jock surmised she was a girl, moved around the circle and each person took a leaf and put it in their mouths. The girl came to Jock and he too took a leaf. It was taken from the trees under which they sat. He chewed. The taste was bitter and the flavour not particularly pleasant but he persisted as did the other people. Talk resumed. Jock noticed the couple, man and wife perhaps, begin to converse. They seemed happy to acknowledge each other’s presence now. The two men who had been arguing now spoke to each other more conversationally, nodded and smiled at each other. Others chatted amiably and Jock too felt content and happy to be amongst these people who he had not met before. He felt a connection with them that seemed more than just sharing the shade of the trees.
An elderly man used his stick to haul himself to his feet. He addressed the small crowd but looked towards Jock and Ekuru. Lengabilo interpreted haltingly.
‘He welcomes you on behalf of the people of the God Tree. He thanks you for your gifts and your offer to speak on their behalf to those that rule over us.’ Jock felt a bit guilty at hearing that – he was a botanist not a negotiator and he carried little influence with the government officials despite having drug company money behind his expedition. All he knew was that like most small indigenous tribes these people were under threat from the exploiters from the capital and beyond. He nodded in acknowledgement to the tribe’s elder and felt an unusual bond with him and determination to help.
Another child walked towards him carrying something on a bark tray. The elder explained that it was a gift from his people. The young boy who had such similar looks that Jock guessed he was related to the girl, a slightly older brother perhaps, smiled at Jock and handed over the bark. On it lay a small twig with a few leaves and a seed pod. The leaves and pod were dry and appeared brittle. They had obviously been plucked from one of the trees some time ago. Jock found this gift much more interesting than the words.
The elder was still speaking and Jock’s interpreter made it clear how much an honour this gift was: one of the last remaining seeds of the tree from the most recent flowering a decade ago. Jock knew how lucky he was. In their earlier conversations he had learnt that the next flowering, if indeed the trees survived that long, would not be for another thirty years or more and few of the seeds collected from the previous crop had germinated and taken root. There were probably no more than a dozen living examples of the tree. Most of them in this small grove.
Why was the tree special, Jock asked himself? It was small, spindly and slow-growing. Its wood was of little practical use, the leaves were edible but provided little sustenance and the seeds too rare to be of any value except ceremonially. All Jock knew was that the leaves appeared to contain a mild narcotic, hence the feeling of conviviality that he and the congregation felt. Why therefore did the people invest so much of their time in tending and protecting the trees? Was it simply tradition?

2

A tap on Professor Helen Patel’s door caused her to look up from the paper she was reading on her scroll. She felt a brief feeling of annoyance.
‘Yes?’ she called. The door opened and Sarah, her secretary looked in.
‘Doctor Fraser is here. You remember he asked for an appointment.’
Helen sighed. Why couldn’t the man have just sent an vemail or simply a text. ‘Oh, yes. I suppose you’d better send him in.’
Hardly had she spoken than a man brushed passed Sarah and hurried in to the office. His pale freckled face was peeling and his ginger hair windblown. He wore khaki shorts and a multi-pocketed gillet over a check shirt. His message had said that he was a field botanist. Helen wondered if he had come to her straight from an expedition. She half rose from her chair as Fraser advanced towards her with his arm outstretched. She took his hand and he gripped hers in a firm handshake.
‘Please sit down Doctor Fraser.’ Helen said sinking back into her own seat. Fraser pulled a chair up and sat as close as possible. He placed a canvas satchel that had been over his shoulder on the desk.
‘Oh, please call me Jock,’ Fraser said revealing his Scottish origins in his accent as well as his appearance.
‘It’s your name?’ Helen asked not quite believing that there were actually Scotsmen called Jock.
‘No, it’s Johann. My mother was Austrian but most people ignore that.’
Helen decided not to go into Jock Fraser’s ancestry. ‘I don’t understand why you wanted to see me in person, especially as you’re a botanist and I am not.’
Fraser leaned forward, his eyes shining. ‘But you’re a genomist, a highly respected one.’
‘That’s true. I worked on the Human Genome Project as a postdoc and I’ve been in the field for more than three decades now.’
‘And you have worked on sequencing and gene expression in plants,’ Jock added.
‘Yes, mainly plants. What is it you want to tell me Dr Fraser, uh, Jock?’
Jock took a deep breath and began to open the straps of his bag. ‘I’ve just come back from a survey in the Rift Valley in Kenya.’
Helen had an image of wide open savannah with elephants and lions, and insects and snakes and hot sun. She remembered why she preferred the lab.
‘Sounds lovely,’ she said.
‘Very exciting,’ Jock agreed. ‘The expedition was paid for by a drug company which I won’t name for now. We were looking for plants that may have medicinal properties that could provide the precursors for drugs.’
‘Ah, yes,’ Helen nodded, ‘a valuable job. We need sources of new medicines. Did you find any?’
Jock shrugged, ‘One or two that may be useful, but we also found this.’ He took what looked like a plastic sandwich box out of the bag, placed it on the desk in front of Helen and lifted the lid off. Inside were couple of small oval leaves and a shrivelled brown seed case. Helen didn’t recognise the plant.
‘A tree or bush?’
‘A small tree. No scientific name yet. Never recorded before, except by the indigenous population. In fact, we think there may only be a few of the trees, restricted to one small area.’
‘Almost extinct then?’
‘I hope not,’ Jock said. ‘The trees live for many hundreds if not thousands of years and only produce seeds once in a lifetime. A lifetime of the locals that is: about every forty years. They tend them and celebrate when they flower.’
‘Is it a potential drug source?’ Helen asked, wondering why Jock was showing her the specimen.
He shrugged, ‘Perhaps. The leaves contain a mild narcotic. The locals chew them during tribal gatherings. It makes them feel gregarious and cooperative. There could be a use for that, but the taste is pretty disgusting.’
‘Oh,’ Helen said wondering where this conversation was going.
Jock sat up straight as if about to start on a story. ‘That was the reason the Company decided to sequence the tree’s DNA, but I wanted to know more because the locals call it the God Tree – in their language of course.’

Jasmine fears discovery

The Labour Party has got itself into a pickle and may have harmed the prospects of trans people. It is all about the question of when is a woman a woman. Under current law, a holder of a gender recognition certificate (GRC) is legally the gender they identify with and not the gender they were registered with at birth, regardless of whether the person has completed gender confirmation surgery. This means that there are quite a number of legal women who have penises. Well under 10,000 GRCs have been issued since the Act was passed in 2004 although it is reckoned that there are half a million transgender people in the UK. There are an unknown number people living as women who have male birth certificates and vice versa.  The problem is that to get a GRC requires an examination and report from two medical personnel to diagnose that the subject has gender dysphoria.  The subject has to live for at least two years in the gender they identify with before the GRC is issued and must confirm that they will remain in their chosen gender for the rest of their lives. It can take months if not years to get appointments with the gender clinics on the NHS and many years to get treatment even if the subject is deemed healthy enough.

Many transpeople say that the difficulty in obtaining a GRC and the medicalisation of gender is wrong. The government has said it will look into legalising the self-declaration of gender.  The Labour Party has jumped the gun and said that its members can self-declare.  This makes some trans-women who do not have a GRC eligible for the women-only shortlists that the party has for a number of parliamentary candidates.  The result has been to stir up opposition to transpeople within the party with various women who call themselves feminists and organisations including Mumsnet saying that transwomen should not be considered as women for the purposes of candidate selection (for a start).

This dispute has brought out all the transphobes raising the usual bogus arguments such as women being attacked in lady’s toilets by men self-declaring as women. It is nonsense. There is nothing to prevent a man hiding out in a women’s washroom, perhaps disguised as a woman, now, and has nothing to do with whether they hold a GRC, self-declared or not. There is no case of it having happened anywhere and it is ridiculous to base arguments against self-declaration on the unlikely probability of it ever happening.

WP_20180223_21_21_16_Pro (2)Personally, I think that gender should cease to be a legally declared attribute. Employers should not need to know whether an employee is male or female or neither for purposes of salary, pensions, maternity/paternity leave or anything else.  Government doesn’t need to identify a person by their gender, not now that we have other biometric data available such as fingerprints, iris patterns or even facial recognition. But there is a long way to go to get any sort of consensus on this and related issues.

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Trained By Murder is now available on Kindle – get your copy. Go to my Jasmine Frame page to find out about all the Jasmine Frame publications.  Meanwhile, we have reached the final episode of Pose, one of the many prequels to the first novel, Painted Ladies. I’d love to hear your opinion on this and other stories and will answer questions about Jasmine.

Pose: Part 10

Baz was waiting for him outside the IT office.
‘You’re late,’ she said looking at her wristwatch.
‘I thought I was on time,’ James said. Whatever time it was it was early and he felt exhausted after the events of the previous evening.
‘Yeah, but we needed to get started a while ago. You heard the news?’
‘News?’
‘Don’t you listen in to police radio?’
‘Er, no.’
‘Well, you should then you’d get advance notice of what to expect.’
James wasn’t sure how Baz managed to intercept the police communication system, but she was far more adept at the technical aspects of their job than he was.
‘So, what’s up?’ He tried to be interested but nonchalant but could guess what was coming. Baz opened the office door and they stepped into their cramped domain.
‘They’ve found the suspect for Avril’s murder, but he was dead and there’s another guy who seems involved.’
James tried to look confused. ‘What? I don’t get it.’
Baz flopped down into a chair. ‘I’ll explain,’ she said in an exasperated voice. ‘Crowley was looking for a guy called Terrence North.’
‘Yes, I know that.’
‘Well, they found his body out at the lakes, along with this other guy.’
‘He was dead too?’
Bas looked at him quizzically. ‘Eh? No. Seems he was about to dump North’s body in the water.’
‘Who is he?’ James was relieved that he hadn’t killed Jed but wondered what he’d told DI Crowley so far.
‘Jed Pike. Runs a car repair lock-up off the Basingstoke Road.’
The phone rang. Baz picked it up and listened for a few moments before putting the receiver down. James looked at her expectantly.
‘There’s some stuff on its way that they’ve found in Pike’s garage,’ she said
‘Stuff?’
‘Mobiles and a laptop.’

Before their computers had finished booting up, there was a knock on the door and a young police officer squeezed into the room. He handed over a couple of evidence bags.
‘DI Crowley said you needed to get into these,’ he said.
Baz took the packages with a look of eager glee on her face. The officer withdrew. Baz opened the bags and emptied the contents. There was a battered Dell laptop and three old model Nokia phones. Baz passed James the laptop.
‘You get into this. I’ll see where the mobiles take us.’
James felt that he should ask for more guidance. ‘What are we looking for? I thought Crowley thought that North was the paedophile.’
‘Perhaps he was, but what was Pike doing with his body? If Pike killed North why did he do it? What’s the connection between them?’
James knew the answers to that last question, but he wasn’t going to let on. The first two questions were a mystery he’d like to solve but he was scared stiff that he might give away his involvement in the story.
Baz went on speaking, ‘So, while Crowley is questioning Pike let’s see what we can find out about him shall we?’
‘Hmm, yes.’ James got busy firing up the laptop and using the techniques he’d learned from Baz and Colin on how to get passed the rudimentary security that people like Jed Pike used. It took him a considerable time. Meanwhile Baz busied herself with the handsets, occasionally letting out little chirps of glee when she had some success.
A couple of hours passed before James made a breakthrough. He stared with satisfaction as the screen of the laptop filled with all the files stored in its hard drive. Then he felt the blood drain from his face as he saw the album after album of pictures appear. He opened one and groaned.
‘What’s up, Jim,’ Baz said, looking up from the phone she was working on.
‘Pike was the paedophile,’ James said, ‘Look at this stuff.’
Baz rolled her chair closer to his and looked down at the screen. James flicked through the images hardly able to look at what was pictured.
‘Ooh. They’re hard,’ Baz said. ‘This will be enough to put him away for a long time. Did he know these kids?’
‘He’s got MySpace and Facebook accounts,’ James replied.
‘Well that’s suspicious for a start. Who, other than kids, uses those sites? See if you can get into them.’
James connected the laptop to his own computer and was soon delving into the messaging services.
‘It is him,’ he said, ‘it was him who groomed Avril Robinson.’
‘I know,’ Baz said with a victorious tone, ‘I’ve found his texts to her arranging for them to meet.’
The emotions of disgust and relief surged through James. Disgust at what they were discovering about Jed Pike and relief that Tina’s reputation was likely to be restored. He and Baz, copied and saved the materials they had discovered. Baz sent a message to Crowley’s team summarising their findings.
‘I think we deserve a coffee, Jim.’
‘Won’t DI Crowley want to speak to us?’
‘He’s got access to the stuff now. He can put it to Pike. There’s more for us to do but we can take a break. I’m gasping and I need a pee.’
They left the room, locked it and went down to the canteen to get a drink. Baz left James alone, so he got out his own mobile. He found that having been switched off he’d missed a number of messages from Samantha. He went to find a secluded spot and rang her.
‘Jasmine! Thanks for calling back. I heard it on the news.’
‘What news?’
‘Tina’s dead. They found her body.’
‘That’s right.’
‘They said another bloke, Jed Pike, had been arrested. Is that the Jed that had a go at Tina in the Duchess?’
‘I think so.’
‘He murdered Tina?’
‘Loos like it, Samantha. Look I can’t say much.. It’s all kicking off here. Have the police been in touch with you yet?’
‘Me? No.’
‘Good.’ James hoped the interest had shifted to Jed now and that Terry/Tina would be seen as the unfortunate tranny who had somehow got in his way. ‘Look, if they do come asking questions about knowing Tina, please try and leave me out of it.’
‘Yeah, I get it Jasmine. But I want to know the whole story when we can get together again.’
‘Perhaps the next Butterflies meet,’ Jasmine agreed, hoping that Samantha could keep her promise.
They ended the call and James hurried back to the office. Baz was waiting again.
‘Crowley rang me on my mobile,’ she said.
‘Oh?’ James said, nervous of what the DI might be thinking, ‘What does he want us to do now?’
‘He was thanking us actually. They’ve got enough to charge Pike with the murders of Avril Robinson and Terrence North and a whole host of other paedophile charges, thanks to what we found and what they got at the garage.’
‘Oh. What did they find there?’
Baz chuckled. ‘Either Pike’s a total numpty or just super-arrogant. They found Avril’s clothes and a wrench with blood on it; either North’s or Avril’s or possibly both. They’ve also found that Pike and North knew each other; their partners are friends. So that’s the link sorted. There’s a thought that Pike used North’s van to dispose of Avril’s body perhaps to implicate him in her murder.’
James wasn’t sure whether to be relieved at Baz’s news or worried that his visits to Emma and Sharon might come up when the two women were interviewed. Jasmine wasn’t in the clear yet but perhaps there was nothing to connect Jasmine with James. He risked a question.
‘Is there any explanation of why Pike killed North?’
Baz shrugged. ‘That’s what Crowley wants us to do next. Go through both of their phone calls and texts and emails to see if they were in touch with each other. Come on, there’s still work to do.’ She pushed the door open to the IT room. James followed and sat in front of his computer. The crimes were solved. Now all he had to do was keep himself out of the records of the cases. He began to tap keys.

The End

Jasmine takes sides

Last Sunday’s Observer newspaper was quite a bumper edition for transgender articles (hardly a week passes without something on the topic).  There was a full page profile of Grayson Perry and a full page article about the work of the Tavistock and Portman clinic which advises young people with gender issues and has seen a huge rise in demand for its services in recent years, particularly from girls transitioning to boys.

There was also an article by Catherine Bennett on bullying and the terms of abuse used by bullies.  It began with comments on the Daily Telegraph attack on the “Brexit Mutineers” with its front page pictures of all the Conservative MPs who rebelled against the government over Brexit.  Strangely though, the article segued into a discussion  of the bullying tactics used by transgender activists against women who do not see transwomen as women.  Bennett’s language in the article was very convoluted but I got the impression that she actually sides with the people who think that those who have transitioned according to the rules of the 2004 Gender Recognition Act (GRA) should not enjoy the rights of the gender they identify with.  She seems to think that the transgender lobby is the stronger and more successful at getting its way. The amount of publicity about transgender people these days may suggest that but I think she is wrong.

WP_20170824_11_55_17_ProI have to say that I disagree with the belligerence shown by some trans-activists.  I don’t agree with preventing someone speak on any subject, provided there is provision for the other side’s views to be given at the same event.  I also don’t agree with calling people names.  Bennett refers to the acronym TERF being used as a term of abuse.  It actually stands for Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminist  i.e. those vocal feminists who do not embrace transwomen into their movement, such as Germaine Greer.  Is calling someone a “terf” or a “yuppie” a statement of fact or abuse?  Bennett seems to include trans anger at the views espoused by such women as being an example of the misogyny women experience in other areas of their lives. The suggestion that “transphobe” be used as a more readily understood term of abuse for these people is treated ironically.  Bennett makes a lot of the attacks by the trans-activists on those that speak against transgender and non-binary reforms but seems to ignore the reverse – the attacks on trans-people and the lack of rights for those that are gender-fluid or agender.

It is clear that the interaction between some trans-activists and some feminists has become violent and out of control. I think, however, that both sides have lost sight of the issue – that gender equality is still a long way off and that society has yet to understand that gender identity is not simply male or female with medical intervention for those who don’t fit.  In my imagined genderless utopia, all people have equal rights and opportunities and can adopt whatever personal style and appearance they wish. Those people who want to have babies and bring up children can do so with assistance from society (with the caveat that populations growth is discouraged). Nobody should impose their sexual desires on another without their consent and no person should be singled out for abusive “banter”.

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That’s all for now on that.  Let’s get on with the fiction.  Here’s part 5 of the Jasmine Frame novella, Reflex. Just a reminder that the events described in this story take place in 2006, not long after the passing of the GRA when police forces were still coming to terms with diversity in all its forms. It is a prequel to Painted Ladies (set six years later).

Reflex: Part 5

James followed DS Sharma into the staff rest room. The DS filled a kettle, switched it on then turned to glare at James.
‘Don’t ever correct me in an interview again, PC Frame.’
Again, James thought, there will be an again? He wanted that opportunity, although not necessarily with the detective. Nevertheless, he needed to mollify Sharma.
‘I’m sorry. It just came out. I think of Melissa as a girl.’
‘Do you think he looks like a girl?’
James thought of the young person slouched in the chair in the interview room, wearing jeans, sweat shirt and trainers. Although small and slight for a fourteen-year-old, with a long and thick head of hair, the lack of any hint of breasts presented a boyish figure.
‘Not particularly,’ he answered after a pause, ‘but it’s what’s in her head that matters. Melissa thinks she’s a girl.’
Sharma scowled, ‘But legally he’s a boy and that’s how he’ll be when he goes to court, so that is how we will address him. Got it?’
‘Yes, Sir.’ James wondered when or if he would have an opportunity to speak to Matthew/Melissa again. The DS dropped a teabag into a mug.
‘You seem to have been quite affected by this trans person you knew. Tamsin was it?’
‘Er, yes, Sir.’
‘The urge that these people have, it’s strong.’
‘Yes, Sir.’ James nodded.
‘Strong enough that it persisted even through the beatings his father meted out?’
‘Yes, Sir. Nothing makes the feeling that you’re in the wrong body go away.’ James felt that himself and empathised with Melissa’s wish to be female, but he had never experienced the abuse she had, nor had he felt so much pressure to transition. ‘Perhaps being isolated so that only her, sorry his, mother knew and supported him made the desire even stronger.’
‘Hmm.’ The kettle clicked off and Sharma turned to pour water over the teabag. ‘Strong enough to murder your father?’
James was shocked. When a police officer used the word “murder” it had a particular meaning.
‘I don’t think Matthew planned or intended to kill his father, Sir.’
‘Don’t you? You’ve told me how strong this need to be female is. He’s been denied it by his father for ten years. He’s growing up, going through puberty, as you said. We know what effect those hormones can have; all that testosterone churning around his body. Young bull, old bull. He decides to fight back. Keeps the knife handy for when his father returns.’
‘But he wasn’t expecting his father to come back when he did. Matthew said so.’
The DS shrugged. ‘So, what do you think happened, Frame?’ He hooked the teabag out of his mug and dropped in the sink.
‘I think it was an accident or self-defence, Sir. In the surprise of being attacked by his father Matthew just picked up whatever was to hand to defend himself. Unfortunately, it happened to be a knife which ended up in Mr Chapman’s chest.’
‘Through his heart, Frame. He was dead in moments.’
‘Yes, Sir, and we know that Matthew was very upset by that.’
Sharma took a sip of his tea. ‘So, it’s murder versus appropriate use of force in self-defence.’
‘His father was a lot bigger than him, Sir.’
Sharma ignored James’ comment. ‘To decide which it was we need evidence or a confession.’
James was confused. ‘What evidence, Sir? It happened in the heat of the moment.’
‘The knife, Frame. Why was it there just where the boy could grab it?’
‘It was the kitchen, Sir. Things get left lying around in kitchens, even knives.’
‘Did you look at that kitchen, Constable?’
James stared. Had he looked around the kitchen? He couldn’t recall anything of it at all except for the bloody body of the man on the floor and the sobbing mother.
‘Er, no, Sir.’
‘Spotless, it was, except for the blood of course. Nothing out of place. Apart from the brush, comb and hairdressing bits and pieces that Mrs Chapman had been using on the boy, the only thing not in a drawer or cupboard was that knife. Just that knife out of all the kitchen utensils happened to be on the worktop when the boy needed it. Don’t you think that is suspicious?’
James thought that Sharma was being a bit pernickety about the tidiness of the Chapman household.
‘Perhaps Mrs Chapman had been going to use it or put it away when Matthew interrupted her to have his hair styled.’
Sharma nodded. ‘A valid point, Frame. We’ll have to put it to Mrs Chapman when we question her.’
‘We, sir?’
‘Yes, you and me. You seem to have some empathy with her son, so she might open up to you. She’s waiting for us in the other interview room.’ He put the empty mug down. ‘Come on.’
Once again, James followed the DS along the corridor to another small, sparsely furnished room. Mrs Chapman sat alone at the table.
‘Good afternoon, Mrs Chapman. Thanks for coming in to see us. No, don’t get up.’
The woman sank back into the plastic chair. James looked at her, seeing her properly for the first time. With the dark eyes revealing loss of sleep she bore a close likeness to her son or daughter. Matthew/Melissa shared her build and facial characteristics.
‘When can I see. . .?’ she asked. Sharma and James sat down facing her.
‘Your son? Very soon, Mrs Chapman. I can understand your wish to see him. He is in the care of Children’s Services. I’m afraid you won’t be able to be alone with him as he is suspected of a serious offence.’
The woman opened her mouth in horror. ‘Serious offence? What do you mean?’
‘Your son killed your husband, Mrs Chapman.’ Sharma’s tone suggested that it was an everyday occurrence.
‘But that was an accident,’ the mother cried.
Sharma leaned forward. ‘He thrust the point of knife though his father’s chest and pierced his heart. Was that an accident?’
The woman sat with her mouth open. She closed it, shook her head. ‘But, it wasn’t meant. Eric was swinging his fists.’
‘Did you see what your husband was doing, Mrs Chapman? I understood that he had hit you to the floor.’
‘Yes, yes, that’s right, but I saw him hitting Melissa around the head, before she grabbed the knife.’
The DS sat back in his chair and stretched. ‘Ah, you said Melissa. So, you believe your child is a girl.’
Mrs Chapman was startled, surprised by the Detective Sergeant’s change of tone and topic. She mumbled.
Sharma cocked his head, ‘Sorry, Mrs Chapman. I missed what you said.’
The woman looked directly at him. ‘I’ve known she was really a girl since she was a toddler. As soon as she started to talk she insisted that she was a girl not a boy. I don’t know where she heard the name Melissa, but she couldn’t have been much older than four when she told me that was her name not Matthew.’
‘But your husband didn’t accept that did he?’
‘No, he couldn’t bear the idea that he had a daughter not a son.’
‘He used violence on you and your child?’
Mrs Chapman nodded, and James noticed tears form in her eyes and sobs vibrate her chest.
DS Sharma pointed to James. ‘PC Frame, here, apparently has experience with people like your son. Transsexuals. He has some questions for you.’
Do I, James asked himself. What questions? The woman looked at him with an appeal in her eyes.
‘Um, yes,’ he began, ‘As DS Sharma says, I knew a transgirl. She had transitioned when she left home after finishing school. Do you know that that is what Melissa wanted?’
The mother nodded. ‘Yes, we were just waiting for her to reach sixteen.’
James felt sympathy for the mother, but he knew he should ask some other questions. ‘The two or three years when a boy is going through puberty feels like a long time to them, an eternity in which they can see their bodies changing, making it more difficult to pass as a woman. How did it affect her?’
‘Melissa hated what was happening to her.’
‘Couldn’t you have got her help, despite her father?’
The woman froze. ‘I couldn’t do anything that Eric disapproved of. He wouldn’t let me take Melissa to the doctor.’
Sharma butted in. ‘You say you wouldn’t disobey your husband but time after time you helped your son make himself look like a girl – doing his hair and make-up. That was against Mr Chapman’s express wishes wasn’t it.’
The woman broke down into a sob. ‘I know, but Melissa so much wanted to look like a girl. I couldn’t refuse her.’
‘You encouraged him in his wish to be a girl,’ the DS accused.
Mrs Chapman looked confused. ‘Yes, but I had too.’
‘You encouraged him,’ Sharma continued, ‘until he so hated his father that he decided to kill him when the opportunity arose.’ Melissa’s mother shook her head violently. ‘He got the knife out of the kitchen drawer and kept it with him for when his father returned and predictably lost his temper because you were pandering to his girly urges. Your son planned to kill his father because he thought that was the only way he could become the girl her thought he was.’
’No, no,’ The woman cried, ‘She didn’t mean to kill him.’

…..to be continued.

Jasmine and September

WP_20170826_14_01_13_ProAnother weekend, another Bookfair (or author-signing-event as they are sometimes called).  Today it is Wellington in Shropshire – almost local.  Let’s hope this event actually attracts keen readers who want to browse the books on offer and even buy some.  It will be my first opportunity to offer Cold Fire for sale, in advance of my official launch next week (Leominster Library 2.00 – 6.30 p.m. Thursday 19th Oct.).

Last Saturday I was in the position of reader at Crickhowell Literary Festival. A very pleasant event in venues scattered across the town. One talk, or rather discussion, featured two ex-policemen who had (or are) retiring having fallen to PTSD. They had turned to writing to express their feelings and ended up publishing books, one fiction (supposedly, although it reads more like an autobiography with added action) and the other an non-fiction account of his career and illness.  I don’t know how good the books are (I’m reading one and am not impressed) but both picked up publishing contracts with apparent ease. Why – because of their jobs (senior Met officers); because of their undoubtedly exciting life-stories; or, because they are good writers? I wonder.

I finally got round to watching the Horizon programme on transitioning by transsexual men and women. It followed half a dozen, mainly trans-women, as they embarked on the medical aspects of transitioning, not just gender-confirmation-surgery, but also vocal chord surgery, testosterone injections for transmen, et al. All the subjects made the point that social transitioning i.e. coming out to family, friends and colleagues, was the most difficult part however painful and difficult the surgery.  It was a good, straightforward account of what transsexuals have to go through to achieve the bodies they want (need?), with enough bloody detail to make you want to look away from time to time.  All the subjects seemed well-balanced and cheerful even if they had had difficult times earlier in their transition, but the programme did not attempt to make judgements or bang a drum for more gender clinics or increased availability of surgery.

20170930_130307I was interested, but not for myself.  It is Jasmine that is a transwoman seeking to achieve the body of a woman and prepared to accept the pain and discomfort that involves.  The fourth Jasmine Frame novel, Molly’s Boudoir, which I am writing in fits and starts at the moment, takes place as, and just after, Jasmine has her GCS, but even that won’t be the end of her transition.  Although in law a woman and now with a vagina she still seeks that alteration that makes her appear more feminine and thereby matches her self-image.  I am not the same.  For many years I have been uncertain of where I stood.  While I feel a degree of femininity, I have never wanted to go through everything that Jasmine wants. Now, I think I have found my place in the spectrum.  I’m gender-fluid; I am comfortable wearing feminine clothes, jewellery, make-up, but I oppose any sort of gender stereotyping, detest exceptional macho-male behaviour but do not see in  myself a girly or motherly woman.

As I mentioned, the 4th Jasmine novel is taking some time to write partly because of other things happening round here, and the time taken to promote Cold Fire along with my other novels. There is also a hint of a demand for another September Weekes novel (the fifth!) while I have ideas for other novels in different settings with different lead characters. Perhaps soon I’ll have more time to think and write. . . How many times has that been said.  Watch this space.

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