Paula's Place

Paula's Place

Monday, 14 March 2022

My Office Today

 Just like buses, you  don't see one for months then two come along together!

Yesterday I played with the Kensington Philharmonic Orchestra, I was drafted in at the last moment as their regular tuba player had been struck down with the lurgy. They turned out to be friendly bunch, and there were a couple of familiar faces there which is always nice.

It was a great program starting with Sibelius's Finlandia ~ I certainly couldn't let them try to play this without a tuba. As I had an Allegra rehearsal in the morning I was unable to rehearse this with the orchestra but I think I have played it often enough to have "got away with it" in the concert!

I wasn't involved in the second piece, the rather sublime Strauss Oboe Concerto with Layla Baratto as the soloist. It always amazes me how anyone gets good at the oboe, it takes so long and so much effort before you can even make a nice sound, I am so glad that some persist, I enjoyed listening to this enormously.

After the interval we concluded with Sibelius' Second Symphony. I always find this a very difficult symphony to keep track of. In many ways it is a case of it not being the notes that are difficult, but the rests! Always a challenge, but to come in with less than a single full rehearsal, with an orchestra and conductor I've never worked with before this was certainly a test of my skills as a performer. I think we rose to the occasion and managed a good performance, the audience certainly enjoyed it!

The hall? another first for me, although I used to be a regular at the gym in the same building, have been a member of the library there, and attended a wedding at the adjoining Registry Office this was the first time I have actually been in the main hall, never mind performing there.

Welcome to the fabulous Chelsea Old Town Hall.

Friday, 11 March 2022

My Office Today

 It's a while since I've done one of these, maybe that's just down to the weather, and the simple fact that I haven't been doing much work recently.

Yesterday I managed a full day ~ Yipee ~ visiting two of my favourite gardens, these were all taken in one of them.

Friday, 4 March 2022

Camera Whore

 Maybe not the title I am most proud of but one I acquired a few years back when my Orchestra took part in the BBC series the Great British Amateur Orchestra. It seemed as though every time a camera appeared it would be pointing at me! and this did not go unnoticed. More recently in my role as a trustee of Croydon Pride I have often been called upon to be a representative of "my community" and on occasion that has involved some photos. I think I have now been the model in at least four photo sessions.

Photo Credit Justin David 2013
I was recently reminded of the first ~ this was way back in the dim and distant past, before I was out, but after I had started playing with the LGSO I wrote a little about it both here and here; but I did not tell the whole tale, perhaps to protect my dignity and maintain some of the mystery.

We were asked to wear our idea of glamourous, this black evening dress fits the bill perfectly. What this photo doesn't show is one of the great features of the dress, it has a scooped backless design that runs into a very small train. Given that this was before I had even started my social transition, never mind anything else it presented certain, erm "structural" issues. Being backless I could not wear a conventional bra, not actually having any boobs I couldn't wear any other form of support. What I could do was attach my breast forms directly to my chest using a medical glue.

All went well until under the warmth of the lights I started to "glow" (Ladies glow, gentlemen perspire, horses sweat!) no problem nothing showed on my face, my makeup stayed just fine. Unfortunately the same couldn't be said for the so called "medical glue"! My left boob became detached and started to slowly descend down the inside of my dress. Poor Justin, the photographer, couldn't understand why I was so wooden, and at that time I was just too shy to tell him.

Later sessions didn't have the same issues I'm glad to say!

The next session was at home with my friend Vanessa Lees, I was part of a photo project she was running showing trans people just getting on with their real lives, rather than as subjects of glamour, desire or abuse.

Photo Credit Vanessa Lees Photography 2015

The Croydonist 2018
A few years after that I had a session for International Women's Day, we had a little outdoor exhibition of photos of women changing the face of Croydon, and this was my face. I rather like this photo, I definitely like the outfit, but I do remember that the photographer (sorry I can't remember their name to credit them) had terrible trouble with reflections from my glasses, so that's why they're on the end of my nose.

It was a very enjoyable experience and I was already so much more relaxed about the whole session than I had been just a few years earlier.

The latest one was just a few months later for Croydon Bid, the local traders association, an outdoor exhibition of local Croydon "Characters", I was alongside dancers, rock guitarists, actors etc. This time I was draping myself in the Pride flag rather than engaging with one of my instruments. I though this photo was just going to be a little thing up for maybe a month or two, it turned out to be larger than life size, and last time I checked it had been up for over two years.

Croydon Bid 2019

Thursday, 3 March 2022

Feeling a little horse

 I saw this and was immediately reminded of my post from a few days ago To be honest I'm never sure how many people "get" some of my references

Actually I do have a soar throat, not too debilitating though as I seem to be spending the day waiting for a parcel to be delivered. Very annoying as the TNT driver came this morning, didn't ring the bell but just put a card through the door.

Tuesday, 1 March 2022


This video is now a few months old, it's of a concert we played towards the end of lock down two in the summer of last year because of the restrictions of the time we used a reduced orchestra which in turn dictates the repertoire. In the LGSO we are very lucky to be able to put on big works. Not many amateur orchestras can put on some the big works we have played recently like the Rite of Spring or the Leningrad Symphony. I was not playing in this concert, because, well Mozart and Beethoven! I did very much enjoy being in the audience, I think it was one of our finest! Sometimes I wonder if we play the "big" works simply because we can and neglect so much great music because we are reluctant to exclude some players. Personally I really don't mind if the result is this good!

As a musician I am one of those animals known as a "Band Tart" ~ basically a reference to the fact that I'll play with anyone! At the moment I'm playing with an Orchestra and one band, regular conductor of two and guesting with another two. As well as keeping me busy this gives me a chance to keep up with different styles and trends within music. One of the joys of being a musician is that even though I have been playing for over 50 years now, there is still so much I haven't yet played. At our last orchestra concert I was actually playing in every movement of every piece ~ that's almost unheard of, indeed I can't remember the last time that happened to me! Not only was I busy but there was not one piece I had played before. On of these pieces was the Florence Price first Symphony. It is a fine piece of music and the writer was a remarkable character over coming so much simply to get her music played. This week I have come across at least two other orchestras that are working on this same piece. The same happened a few years ago with Shostakovich 7 "The Leningrad", not played for years then several performances close together.

The same thing happens with concert bands, for some reason a particular piece or composer will suddenly hit popularity and do the rounds. At the moment Goff Richard's march "Barnard Castle" is particularly popular. In Brass Bands it is often the selection of contest test pieces that will trigger a trend but I suspect that in all cases is it us "Band Tarts" who will say I played so and so with such and such a band that will put the piece in peoples minds.

It seems to be the same in blogs ~ I have just looked at a few of the Trans Blogs I follow and have noticed a number of them are talking about motivations and experience of transition, not the process, but the motivations. I suspect that we all read each others blogs and get inspired by each other. Well I think for now I will resist the temptation to write about my transition yet again ~ as my wife once observed with great enthusiasm "Not every thing is about gender!"

At the moment I choose to look to the future rather than reflect on the past ~ think about the music I want to play next, and the next great adventure in my life.

Friday, 25 February 2022

A Post With No Name

It's been a few days (well ten actually) since my last post, it's not that I've been idly sitting on my hands not writing or doing anything, unsurprisingly I have found myself rather busy! Not too much gardening, but I have a lot going on on the music front at the moment ~ and that's the way I like it. In some ways it almost feels that as though  as I am starting to wind down my gardening business in anticipation of at least semi-retirement later this year a whole new career conducting may be opening up.

For the next few weeks as well as playing with the Horsham Borough Band in a couple of brass band competitions, a concert with the Croydon Symphonic Band, rehearsals conducting Croydon Brass and Allegra Concert Bands, building up to a concert with LGSO and trying to fit in some time with my Jazz/Blues band I will also be conducting the Phoenix Concert Band. I have no wish to benefit from others misfortunes, but I have been asked to step in on a temporary basis while their regular MD is unavailable.

Phoenix are a local band made up largely of "Adult Learners", there are plenty of opportunities for young players through schools bands and youth music groups, there are plenty of opportunities for more accomplished adult players with community bands and and established groups, but for those who are taking up a new instrument or learning to play music for the first time there are less opportunities. Phoenix is a groups set up specifically to allow these people space to improve their playing. This will be a slightly different sort of band for me, but I'm really looking forward to joining them all for the first time this evening as we work towards a concert in just two weeks time!

The big news all around the World at the moment is of course the Russian invasion of Ukraine, I do not plan to comment much, there are plenty of wiser, more informed commentators around to do that, until one of them would have been my friend Sophie. Only recently did I add a link to her blog here, her foul mouthed comments and rants were always underlaid with wisdom, knowledge and experience belying some of her rather punk vocabulary. Over the last couple of years we grew to know each other better as I was pleased to be able to help her as her mobility became more limited. I knew she was not well ~ as did all her friends, but it still came as a great shock to us all to hear that she had died quite suddenly last week. All of us who knew her will miss her rambling random phone calls, her iconoclastic rants and her very good company.

I will leave the link here for a while yet, I just don't want to "delete her"

Tuesday, 15 February 2022


Still Going
I've been surprised to find that I have now owned my current car for over 6 years! For me that must be close to a record. I usually manage to get bored with a car after a year or two, sometimes less than that. To be honest I have tried to replace it a couple of times, but I simply couldn't find anything better for the small amount I'm prepared to pay. Over the last couple of years the cost of second hand cars has gone up much more than other inflation, indeed my car is now worth more than I paid for it 6 years ago, even with substantially more miles on the "clock" It has now developed a few minor faults that are beginning to annoy me so maybe later this year I will actually make the change. I even feel quite tempted to go back and have another "Classic Car", but now that I don't have a garage anymore I'm not sure that's sensible.

The other day I wrote that I had a "new" instrument and would be trying to sell one of my others, well I did put "Big Shinny" up for sale on a well known auction site, despite quite a few watchers I had no bids so I am now trying to work out how I can manage to keep all my instruments. The "new" B & S has been serviced and is even better than I first thought, somehow the extreme bottom register is not quite as good as y Conn, but everything else is substantially better. I spent quite a bit of the weekend playing it, on Saturday I attended a "Play Day" organised by the Central Band of the British Legion, a very good band based quite close to me, but unfortunately rehearsing the same evening as my beloved Croydon Symphonic Band. Sunday ended up frantic as I was conducting teh Allegra Concert Band in the morning, then back for an afternoon with the Central Band, before dashing up to central London for the final rehearsal before next Sunday's concert with the LGSO  

After all that I felt the need to take today off, I had planned to relax and catch up on the weekend's rugby, instead I somehow seemed to spend most of the day preparing the scores of some of my arrangements and an original work that I am submitting for publication. I don't have any expectations, but I will be highly "chuffed" if they are accepted.

Monday, 14 February 2022

St Valentine's Mascara


If you are celebrating today I hope it gives you all you wish for

Tuesday, 8 February 2022

Shows what I know!

Stuart Hogg doing what he does best
"Well that shows what I know" was my first thought after watching Saturday's rugby, I called both games wrong, I thought Wales would be closer to Ireland, and I thought England would be too strong for Scotland. Instead Ireland were imperious, and Scotland were simply smarter than England. England were a little disjointed and failed to capitalise on their domination of territory and possession. But, as senior players return I think they will improve throughout the tournament. I think I will stick with my overall predictions for now, possibly just reversing Wales and Scotland ~ I really want this to be Scotland's year they are just so much fun to watch. 

I know that to many some aspects of my life can be a little, erm, "odd"? I find myself in a number of minorities, as a musician, within the world of music as a orchestral instrumentalist, being self employed, and a gardener and a musician at that. but of course the major one is as a Transgender Woman. That is the minority that is most noticeable, although frankly the vast majority of people either don't notice or don't care. I have recently been revisiting an area of my life that I thought I had left behind, and I am surprised just how much it has impacted me.

I am thinking about my male past, my rugby playing dirty joke telling past, where maybe I tried just a little too hard at times to display my masculinity. I know I want to be a complete person, and I know that means coming to terms with who I was ~ not least because that person is part of what has made me who I am now. I suspect that I've said all this before, but my recent musings have lead to a bit of a crises. Not so much of dysphoria (although it too has raised it's ugly head), but almost an existential crises of who am I? and why am I?

Some of this was following my recent visits to my old rugby club, maybe a bit of it to the posting of an old photo of "Him" ~ that certainly took more out of me than I expected!

A while back I wrote about the need for role models, pioneers, people who by showing what they could be, showed us what we could be. But this doesn't need to be in the past tense, I still need my role models to understand how I will age as a trans woman, how I will cope as the little bit of glamour I retain fades. I can't survive simply on fabulousness! When I was recuperating from my surgery I purge watched, and then read "Tales of the City" and I think in Mrs Madrigal I may have found one, a woman who had no family of her own, but created one for herself around her. A woman of a certain age who although enjoying company was emotionally self sufficient. A woman who was not closed to the idea of romantic connection, but did not require it. A woman who kept a small photo of a mystery man from her past in her rooms. In case you haven't read these books or seen the excellent TV series I won't go into too much detail, but will suggest you do!

Mrs Madrigal is the inspiration behind the couple of photos I keep on display in my flat of "him" ~ not the one I shared the other day, but ones displaying slightly less testosterone! I probably won't share many others of "him" here, but as there was some speculation about just exactly which of those fine looking gentleman, is no longer a gentleman I will put you out of your misery with this one. 

Taken nearly forty years ago by a photographer from the local paper on my first team debut.

Tuesday, 1 February 2022

Being Authentic

 So, after yesterday's rant we shall resume normal service.

I like Blogs, not just my own but those of my friends as well. Some are real friends, friends I meet up with and share a coffee or a pint with, some I've only met once or twice, and some (like Stana and JJ) friends I've never met, but would like to. One of my friends who falls into the first category has just started a fascinating blog, I strongly recommend a visit to "I am Kim" there is some serious stuff there, well written and poignant.  

Another Blog I follow, Cyrsti's Condo sparked a train of thought this morning, a train of thought that has ended up with this post. Like me Cyrsti is a fan of a rather masculine contact sport, in her case American Football, in my case Rugby Union. I have recently renewed contact with my old club here in Croydon, I am enjoying the rugby I've seen  even though it's very different from my playing days. 

He's still part of me somewhere
I played for my club over about 25 years ~ sure I had a few years out for injury (that's another story) but it's still a long time. I played for every team including the under 16s and the veterans at one time or another and captained all of them except the first team. It is undeniably my club, and rugby is undeniably one of my passions. So why, I ask myself did it take me so long just to go there and watch a game? 

Certainly part of it was fear, not of physical abuse, but of what sort of reaction I might get from my old team mates, or indeed the current active club members. Part of it was also down to being so busy all the time. Rugby tends to be played on Saturdays, so do concerts and since I stopped playing rugby I have been a lot more active in playing music. Some of it may also be competition with higher level matches being shown on TV, as I wrote here the Six Nations in coming up ~ that means a LOT of rugby to watch.

Just as authentic
While all of this is true, I wonder if what I was really frightened of was betraying my hidden masculinity. I spent the first 50 years of my life hiding my femininity, being very "Macho" and positively butch. Playing prop forward was possibly the ultimate expression of my masculinity. To go back and watch the very club I played for must force me to remember, to display my still present masculinity. In trying to blend so much as a woman, was I hiding who I used to be.

As transgender people we talk a lot about being our authentic selves, well, I now have to come to terms with there still being a rugby fan in that authentic self, and that everything I am now, is the sum of all of my experiences. I can't just throw away and deny those first fifty years, they are part of who I am now. So instead I am now choosing to celebrate them, rejoice that I had chances that most women my age never had, and rejoice that some of those chances are now open to young women when they weren't then.

To be my authentic self I have to embrace my old self as well as the new, it's all part of who I am today!

Putting that old photo up (the first time I've shared a photo of him)is part of my rehabilitation process, I no longer choose to hide who I was, just as I had to choose to show who I have become.