Friday, 28 July 2017

LIKE BREATHING OUT AND BREATHING IN


UPDATE (26/10/2017): I have now received my Gender Recognition Certificate in the post, and the world has, for once, become demonstrably better. The soundtrack to the celebration was “Land of Hoe and Glory,” followed by “Look Back In Anger” by David Bowie, and the live version of his “Station to Station” title track, from the “Stage” album.

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There has been a lot in the news about transgender rights recently, especially in the last week – to those in the United States, still enraged by the President planning to remove thousands of trans people from the military, your President is Donald Trump, so what did you expect?

The one group you don’t hear, apart from left-wing pressure groups, right-wing pressure groups, and media commentators, and media commentators, are ACTUAL TRANSGENDER PEOPLE. I then remembered that I see a trans woman in the mirror every day, so here I am.
[You take five pictures, and the first one was the best.]

On Sunday 23rd July, the UK Government announced two consultations. The first, ahead of the fiftieth anniversary of the partial decriminalisation of homosexuality – the age of consent wasn’t the same for everyone until January 2001 - is to ask the LGBT community’s experiences of discrimination, and on accessing and using public services. I completed this survey online - you get the feeling that these questions are being asked for the first time, especially those on discrimination.

The other survey would have been important to me, but I already decided not to wait for the answer. In the autumn, the Government will canvass opinions on whether applying for a Gender Recognition Certificate, to change your gender in law from female to male, or vice versa, should be streamlined, allowing people simply to identify how they wish, instead of needing evidence about why you needed to do it.

Many people have not waited to be asked. We already know that Germaine Greer, “Woman’s Hour” presenter Dame Jenni Murray, and the novelists Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and Fay Weldon are all on record as saying that transgender women are not real women, while on Twitter, Piers Morgan has a profound dislike for the idea of people not identifying as male or female, although “third gender” or “two-spirit” people, among other names, are found in cultures for centuries.


The reason I am not waiting for the Government here is simple – I am applying for a Gender Recognition Certificate, under the existing system. There had been a bill in Parliament to change the process, but after the first reading, months of delays, and a General Election, nothing more happened.  Therefore, I am pressing on with what the existing process, which costs £140, requires me to do.

It relies heavily on evidence that you are on your final-destination path, including medical reports, passport, utility bills, official letters, and a statutory declaration I have signed in the presence of a solicitor – there may have also been something about collecting all the gold rings, jumping over a ravine, and rescuing a princess, but I haven’t seen anything more about that. A panel then decides if I should be given the certificate that has “female” written on it, but with what it has taken to get there, both in years of personal experience as well as paperwork, it may as well also say “sane.” Either way, it unequivocally leaves no room for doubt.

Even if I am choosing to do this the hard way, it doesn’t mean it will be a harder-won victory than those that may only have to fill in a simple form later. For the record, I think having a statutory declaration will weed out those who don’t realise how serious changing your gender, in the eyes of the law, really is. Only 112 people submitted applications under the existing process in the first three months of 2017, so making that process easier won’t open the floodgates for women’s toilets and changing rooms to be invaded by men, which is an understandable fear, but unlikely. The Republic of Ireland already have a simpler process, introduced in September 2015, and only 240 people have used it, out of a population of five million.

Friday, 21 July 2017

S-H-O-PP-I-N-G, WE’RE SHOPPING


There are those people who may miss the personal touch of a friendly face at the end of their supermarket shopping trip, but for me, the self-service checkout is a joy. I can scan what I bought quickly, pay quickly, and get back into the open air. Granted, there are those times when an item is too light to have been weighed by the machine, the occasional instance of, “unknown item in the bagging area,” and the rare treat of having the machine being opened up because it jammed itself when trying to deliver the change from the note you entered, but other than that, it is fine.

I am not anti-social – at least, I don’t think so – but I want shopping to go by quickly, without having to enter into a conversation with store staff about what I wanted, or what they think I should do – I go in, I get what I wanted, and get out. You do not want any experience that involves your unloading your choices onto a conveyor belt, so a cashier can see the results of your decision-making skills. I also prefer have the cashier being redeployed into a better job elsewhere in the shop, instead of watching them scan a particularly tricky barcode on a bag of bananas, a frustration that did not need to happen.


Superficially, self-service checkouts look like a cost-saving measure, putting one member of staff in charge of a number of machines. However, what starts as a test, or trial, only continues because the rest of us find it too useful. Shops in the UK were generally run as a personal service to all, picking the items for their customers before charging for them, until Sainsbury’s converted their Croydon branch to a self-service supermarket model in 1950, pioneered by the US store Piggly Wiggly in 1916. From then on, you take your basket, and you take what you need from the shelves yourself. It reduced queuing, and freed up staff to help with merchandising, changing the shopping experience.

From then, the more the customer can be persuaded to do themselves, the more that shopping has changed. Argos, started in 1972 as an online store without the website, have stores that are mainly storage space, where customers give staff the catalogue numbers for the items they want. Argos were primed and ready for the growth of “click and collect” shopping online, because they could now get their customers to make their usual transactions with them at home, a system that other shops have had to introduce, or build warehouses that are able to handle home delivery – Argos, on the other hand, have vans waiting out the back of their larger stores, sending out stock the same way they went in.

Will this mean the end of the shop as we know it? Will we only shop online after a certain point? There once was a time when people had to queue at their bank, within its opening hours, to take cash out of their current accounts. Now, you use an ATM to take out your cash, and make deposits in some cases – ATM makers like NCR and Wincor Nixdorf also produce self-serve checkout machines –while the majority of banking is done online or over the phone. I last walked into the local branch of my bank two years ago, and I’m not sure it will be there for the next time.

Friday, 14 July 2017

GET YOURSELF AN EGG AND BEAT IT


Idle questions are those you should watch out for the most, because you can never be sure you will find the answer you need to put your mind at ease.

We all know people count calories for health and diet reasons, but I wanted to know when that practice began – why I wanted to know was beside the point. I knew the idea of calories is based in the 19th century, but the counting of them appeared to be a more recent phenomenon, my thinking most likely guided by the increasing number of diet plans available in the last forty to fifty years.

In the United States, their Food and Drug Administration started mandating nutritional information on packaging in 1973 to include calories which, along with figures on recommended daily intake, developed into the standard white “Nutrition Facts” label found everywhere. The reason for this was simple – consumers wanted to know what made up their food.

In the UK, however, things were less clear for me to find, unless I wish to spend the rest of my life straining to understand the numerous clauses, sub-clauses and definitions of terms that make up UK laws and regulations. What I did find was that, until fairly recently, the focus on UK food packaging was on telling the consumer what was in the product, rather than applying specific numbers to it.


In 1946, descriptions of ingredients had to confirm common names of foods, listed in descending order of weight. Therefore, describing a Mars bar as “milk chocolate with soft nougat and caramel centre” could be all the nutritional information that was required, but brand names and trademarks didn’t have to say anything other than their own name on their packaging until 1980 – we all know what it is, but what’s in it? More controls on descriptions, and the claims that could be made, came in from 1970, and were refined in 1980, 1984, and 1994, but a full table of calories and nutritional information were only mandated from 1996.

So, the shift in the information people wanted for food appeared in the 1970s, with calories becoming part of the decision making. This correlates with the growth in instant and microwave meals, and in processed foods and ingredients like high fructose corn syrup, first identified in 1965, which is metabolised more quickly by the body than the cane sugar it often replaces.


However, using calories in nutrition and food science is what started the practice altogether, following the results of more than five hundred experiments, begun in 1896, by the American physicist Wilbur Olin Atwater, who used a bomb calorimeter to burn foodstuffs, and measure the heat generated by it. Atwater’s results popularised the use of “food calories” as a measurement in nutrition, and confirmed that different types of foods created different amounts of energy – from there, fat and alcohol were determined to have about nine calories per gram, versus about four for protein and carbohydrates, making future calorie counts a simple case of calculation, instead of setting things on fire.

It is Atwater that concluded that Americans ate too much fat and sweets, and moved around too little, advocating a bean-and protein-based diet instead. However, because Atwater discovered that the body metabolised alcohol in the same way it did carbohydrates, and reported the conclusions, it gave drinks companies something good to use in their advertising, not an ideal situation for someone who was also involved in the anti-alcohol temperance movement.

Friday, 7 July 2017

TWIDDLY-DIDDLY-DEE, TWIDDLY-DIDDLY-DEE


The trouble with Twitter, the instantness of it - too many twits might make a twat," said David Cameron, a year before becoming Prime Minister, while being interviewed by Christian O’Connell on Absolute Radio – he has since tweeted over 2,500 times.

Five months earlier, on 3rd February 2009, Twitter entered the consciousness of most British people when Stephen Fry posted a message from a building at the end of London’s Oxford Street: “Ok. This is now mad. I am stuck in a lift on the 26th floor of Centre Point. Hell’s teeth. We could be here for hours. Arse, poo and widdle.” Fry has since quit and rejoined Twitter a few times, including on one occasion, again in 2009, when he said there was “too much aggression and unkindness around.”

In 2017, Twitter is known as the social media website where there is not enough space to express yourself. Facebook has built its reputation as the greater data aggregator, providing acres of space through its main site, then Messenger, Instagram and so on, to give two billion people all the space they need to display their lives, make connections with others, and pour their souls straight into Facebook’s servers.


Meanwhile, Twitter may let you add a picture or a video, but the site’s origin as a way of sending SMS-like messages to small groups, and co-founder Jack Dorsey’s definition of the word “twitter” as “a short burst of inconsequential information,” show that public perception, and use, of the site has outstripped the site’s intentions. The ability to broadcast your thoughts is too compulsive for some, and the free, easy cyberspace setting makes real-life consequences feel, well, inconsequential.

How do I fit in to all this? I mainly use Twitter, and Facebook – I really cannot be bothered with any of the other sites right now – to signal I have written something new, or to highlight something interesting. However, I have felt the need to repudiate things a few people have said, once I realised I had the same means they did. I have only done this with the tweets of three people, but they are people that give the impression they could not be bothered by anything anyone said.


The people are Donald Trump, with his self-styled “modern-day presidential” attitude on social media that would get any other person fired from their job, requiring both defense and explanation  from White House Staff; Piers Morgan, a former newspaper editor who writes a column for the Daily Mail Online when not pontificating and raising his voice at people on breakfast television; and Katie  Hopkins, a contestant  on the reality TV show “The Apprentice,”  noted for her hardline views there, which has also been turned into a career as a hardline newspaper columnist, insisting it is the Left that made her, like a Frankenstein’s monster. These are all very forthright people, where I wouldn’t want to agree with them, even if I did, because of the way they force their opinion on people.


The responses I have made on Twitter have been when I could see someone was only talking from their own point of view. Humour had to be central – I am not trying to incite conflict of any sort – and if I made a point at the same time, that is fine. I like that one person described my tweets as “sassy,” because, at last, I now have proof. Basically, all you need to do is remember that, just because someone feels they can say what they like, they will become answerable in one way or another, as Katie Hopkins would know, having lost a court case over libelling the cook and blogger Jack Monroe – just because it is social media doesn’t mean it doesn’t count.

I’m not yet saying we should “drain the swamp” of annoying people from Twitter, but they shouldn’t have to be completely comfortable in saying whatever they like – there have to be consequences. We should have a backup plan - we could all migrate back to MySpace instead. No, I didn’t know it was still going either.