Is that Robin or Robyn ?

Robin or Robyn - That the girl’s spelling - yes?

How would Robin cope with losing absolutely everything in the fire. It is amazing how people will help a hero-ine in a pretty nightdress. But the noise the people made - shouting at her to keep calm. Terrible.

Mention of the SisterDom / SisterDy as a support group.

What are the most stressful events in a person’s life - birth, death, marriage - well, obviously; moving house, changing job, new relationships, … yes, there’s all sorts of lists. But these are all events. They have a beginning and a duration and a likely end. But there are other situations that cause even more stress than any of these.

‘What can you be talking about’ – I can hear you thinking. I am talking about the deep stresses. The stresses that never go away. The stresses that make you into the person that you are. What do you do if you’re a girl ……… and your body is male? What if you’re a werewolf – but hiding? What if you’re an accountant ….. but want to be an artist? What if you are not what your parents expect and want?

Tangent – I do accept that you are also, in a way, the product of your genes and of your nurture and of all the experiences you have had and of all the groups to which you belong – but the real you is deeper than that.

I know what I do. I know what I used to do …… and I know what I am learning to do …… and I believe that I know what I am going to do. But I’m not brave. I’m scared. Sometimes being different is so hard. And I hate it. I want so much to be normal – to be like everyone else. I don’t know anybody like me – I have heard and read that there are people like me – but do I believe the stories or the media.

Philosophically, I know that the only truth is what I personally have experienced and can truly accept. But on the other hand, I’ve seen magic shows and hypnotists and they ‘prove’ that what your senses tell you is too easily distorted. And as for what the web can do with mis-information and dis-information – well – how much truth is available there.

To add to my earlier statement - I have a male body which is 5’ 9” tall (about average); it is just over 12 stone (a bit fat), it has hair down below the neck, quite small feet, average sized hands, not much beard. To those who are observant (fortunately not that many), the nails are wll looked after, the ears are pierced, the hair is vaguely asexual, the clothing a little more colourful than ordinary. To the really observant, the person is vaguely not-completely male /definitely not-quite female – and it is trying to hide.

Some of you know what that is all about. And to my fellows I say welcome and please, when I am ready, welcome me in return. But all of yiou are not real. I have never met you. I have met perhaps a thousand people in my life – so statistically, some of you were like me; some of you were also ‘different’ but in ways that might accept me.

I know the letters LBG as well as TIQ – but I’ve never met any of you as far as I am aware. I am alone. I am lonely. I am me only. I am only me.

I get back to my flat– it’s not really a home yet because that man lives here with me. I have only been here a week and I have barely met the neighbours.

I change out of my usual (carefully I do not say ‘normal’) clothes and put on whatever I prefer. Generally, the action of putting on soft underwear and a pretty dress is sufficient. I do have blouses and skirts, and a reasonable variety of lovelies – but ……… So I have overs and of course I have undies – sadly for my inner me, there are and never will be ovaries.

At night, I remove any make-up I have put on, moisturize, slither into my pyjamas or a nightdress with panties, spray the pillow with a very light perfume and drift to sleep. I am comfortable. On this occasion, I put on one of my prettiest bras with the C-cup silicon fillers and as I do at weekends, I change the bra for a sleep-bra for the night. I am relaxed. I am as content as I can be. I am I am not really happy because I have growth between my legs – in its way it is to me as ugly, vile, unwanted and to-be-removed as a 6 inch long cancer.. But, for the moment, I am as satisfied as possible.

……………………………………

CHOKE COUGH ……. SPLUTTER HELP CAN’T BREATHE

Outside SCREAMS SHOUTS HELP ‘WHERE ARE YOU’ ‘

I am awake. I am choking. There is smoke.

My brain reboots.

Ah – there is a fire – but not here. I can stop screaming with my not-quite fear and look to deal with someone else’s nearby real fear.

It must be in the next door flat – or at least very close.

I pull the sheet across my face and look out of the open window. I can’t see clearly but there is much smoke and the flicker of flame from the flat across and down one. I see children screaming out of the next flat’s window.

I am not brave. I am a coward. I am useless in emergencies.

I lean out of the window and shout – grab the ladder ( I have a rope ladder for emergencies, I never bought it – it was in the flat by the window already) I have thrown the ladder towards the other window. It does not reach. The far end falls away and dangles. I am climbing out of the window – half in and half out – I am pulling the ladder back. One child is seeing what I do and is getting ready at the window. It is a girl. It is climbing out like me – half in and half out – I am screaming ‘be careful – don’t fall’ I am throwing the ladder again and she is being held by another child.

I am helping one child climb across my body while I hold the ladder taut. Then another, then a third. We are crying with fear and released stress – but we still have to get out of my flat. The smoke is vile. It seems to stick to skin, to cloth, to eyes, to soul.

Like some stories ……. I don’t quite know how it happens but we are outside and they are clinging so tight to each other and to me. All I am wearing is my nightie and a dressing-gown. I had grabbed a few coats as we left to keep the children warm. I am amazed at myself.

Their mother is screaming across to us – grabbing them – and me too – in a ferocious almost hurting hug.

She was crying, wailing, ‘You are so brave, you are so clever, you are so wonderful. I love you, I love you so much.”

I could not tell if some of this was to them – or all of it - or if some of it was to me – it was a very panicky yet inclusive moment.

I was beginning to dither with the shock. Bright lights were flashing, police, fire, ambulance, spectators. I could feel the children clustered round me and still holding tight. They were beginning to shiver too.

Bright lights on helmets, loud voices – why do they seem to shout so. ‘Are you alright. Come with us. Go with him. Are you hurt. Have you inhaled any smoke. What’s your name. Who are these children. Stop crying and talk to me. You’re alright. It’s all under control.”

How can it be that these shouty people have no idea what it is like to BE in an emergency. It seems they haven’t a clue about, well, for a doctor it would be bedside-manner. Doesn’t anybody have ‘emergency-manner’. But who would teach it.

Hey, that’s an idea – make every emergency person be part of a real emergency. If doctirs come out of being in hospital saying ‘I din’t realize what it was like on that side of the fence’ – then they would have to learn something wouldn’t they.

But you could take it further – you could make every banker spend a month with no money. You could make every call-centre person receive 200 phone calls a night for a week. You could make every politician go on the dole for a month. You could make every candidate go on the dole for a month as a condition for being a candidate. You could make every estate agent live in the ‘woinderful house requiring modernisation’. You could send travel agents to the holidays they mis-sold.

Oh, the opportunities were ….. wonderful. And, for the first time in my life, I wondered if I could turn a wild idea into a money-making opportunity.

Like – if these people really had no idea how to deal with victims – then didn’t they actually need guidance – and if I guided them – then wouldn’t they have to pay me MONEY. Oooooh – maybe, perhaps, possibly. My brain hiccupped.

“Lady, are these your children?” One question penetrated my skull.

“No, no, not mine – their mum is just here ….. well, she was. Children, where did your mum go?”

A chorus of wails, whimpers and sobs eventually resolved into ‘She went to look after Mimi. She said she’d be back soon but for us to stay with you.”

“Well, Mr Loud Voice, they’re not mine but I’m in charge of them for now. What do you want to say next?”

I didn’t recognize thie person speaking. I was normally a let-things-happen guy; a keep-out-of-the-way guy. I didn’t make waves. I didn’t stand up for myself. I didn’t tell people what to do. I didn’t take responsibility unless I had to. I didn’t ….. This wasn’t me.

But I was liking this. I was liking making things happen.

I was standing in public in a nightie and dressing-gown with breasts (fake) and children (borrowed) and I WAS LOVING IT.

“Come on, Mr Big Voice – what d’you want to be happening.”

Interestingly, he spoke in a much more ordinary level, more friendly, less pushy, ….. “Well, folks, you’ve all taken on smoke so you need to be checked over in the hospital.

In the morning Mrs Pembroke joined me while Mr Reasonable-Voice came and spoke to us. “I’m sorry you had to call me Mr Loud Voice and Mr Big Voice last night – there is a reason for it in that we have to cut through all the other noise and get you to listen to us while you are considerably upset and jangled by all the unusual things that are going on.”

I cut in “I am now an expert in ‘unusual things going on’ and I can tell you that your technique could be considerably improved. But for now, you’re obviously here to update us on our homes and what state they are in.”

“Well, yes, and thank you for being so reasonable. I do hear what you say and I’ll try to get someone more senior to come and speak to you about those comments. I’ve been doing this job for quite a few years and I can tell that some people don’t cope with the on-site trauma – and perhaps we could communicate better at times. But, for now, as you’ve guessed, I’m here about the houses.”

“Your homes will be significantly smoke-damaged and you’ll have to find somewhere temporary for quite a few days. You can take it from me that cleaning up will take quite a long time and you’ll have to trash quite a lot of it. We managed to get the windows closed on the flats which weren’t on fire but there’s still a lot of smoke.

“I know this sounds dreadful – but the evidence is that this was a defect in the empty flat below you. This makes it the landlord’s responsibility and since the flats are part-owned by the council and part by a consortium led by the ex-mayor – they are going to have to be very thorough in their support for you. You may not know it but Mrs Pembroke is well-known round here and your efforts to save her children – on the fourth floor – have been noted by some useful people. You’re very popular.”

My mind was in turmoil. I was still wearing just my nightie and dressing-gown – I was about as completely outed as it is possible for a boy-girl to be.”

“We’ve got you down on our schedules as Robin Jenner. Is that right, I assume it’s a spelling mistake with the ‘i’ rather than the ‘y’?”

Urrrr, durrrr, whirrrr, click, clunk … What was I supposed to say. “Well, on my papers it’s sometimes with an ‘i’ and sometimes not. As you can guess, looking at me, I do rather prefer the spelling as R-o-b-y-n.” I grinned at him.

“I’m not going to argue with a lass like you! You can spell it any way you like, and I’ll still think of you as ….” He went very bright red and came to a stop.

“Hey you, Mr Fireman. You keep a polite tongue on you. This is my new best friend Robyn and on her behalf I’m having no sweet-tongued pushy-boy coming on to her. You talk business with us, you hear me. And that’s all I want to be coming out of your beetroot face.” We all smiled as while she was being tough she was also making us laugh. I had not spoken even a word with her before – but she was right – we were tied tight together.

I had saved her children last night. And in some foreign lands and non-Christian beliefs that created an unbreakable tie between the saved and the savee. It made both parties responsible for the other for the rest of their lives. Truly, one for all and all for one.

But – for now – new truths. I had nowhere to live (for the moment). I was out in public as a woman. I was being treated as a woman. In what direction was I going to take my life. I won’t call it an epiphany or a glorious moment of realization – but I could feel deep in my heart, in my bones, in my whatever-it-was – this is a tipping-point.

And so the internal question ‘Are you going to TIP or go back to hiding?” Part of me so wanted to go back to being the invisi-man that drifted through life making as few ripples as possible. But the outside world seemed to be pushing so hard for me to take a big leap, THE big choice, the BIG chance. go Go GO was balanced with NO, No,, no - and was soul was aching.

“Let’s get down to a few facts here ….. you’re saying that Mrs Pembroke’s flat is in a complete mess and so is mine. Yes?”

Our fireman nodded.

“And that we have to find somewhere to live?” Nod

“And that we only have the clothes we are wearing?” Nod

Interruption – “But there’s a lot of people who are willing to help. We’ve had offers of donations for you – and one of those may actually include somewhere to live for a month or so. It seems the Mayor has a friend who runs a house-sitting agency and they are short of suitable people. Your demonstrated willingness to rescue these three girls has given you a perfect CV – well, good enough anyway.”

It’s his sister’s house on the edge of town. It’s actually just a couple of minutes from the fire station so “

This time Mrs Pembroke interrupted ….”no no no – keep yourself under control, Mr Fireman Jones, as that’s what it says on your badge. None of this flirty dirty talk to my friend Robyn. I won’t have it. It’s not proper – and you probably know that already.”

I hadn’t noticed his badge, still being exhausted, battered and stressed by all the happenings. “What’s the R for?” I don’t know what made me ask that.

“Erm, Robin, but not the same as yours of course!”

Oh what tangled webs we weave when first we practise to deceive – brain glpm

“Yeah,right.”

“Anyway. My boss will be along in a while to give you the actual details and contacts for the stuff I’ve told you rather informally. He’ll tell you who to speak to, where to go and perhaps what might be happening next. For the moment, you’re to stay here until you’ve been signed off as regards smoke and whatever bumps and bashes you suffered in the process. Okay.”

“And, now that their neighbouring angel is safe, is it the same for the kid?”

“I thought I’d been clear earlier …. As they are kids they get checked first. They’re a Bond-cocktail – shaken and stirred – but they are all smoke-free, washed, clean and they’ve got whatever clothes we could put together and they seem to be pretty solid despite the shake-up. We can go and see them if you want?”

He beckoned to Mrs P for her to come, but she took my arm and insisted that I come along too. “They wouldn’t be in such good shape without you getting involved. You need to meet them so they can say thank you properly.”

We wended our way along the corridors then suddenly were in the childrens’ ward being acclaimed and applauded. One nurse ran up with the local newspaper with a photograph of me helping the kids across between the windows. I had no memory of climbing out of my window along the ladder – what on earth had I been thinking of – how did I know it was strong enough – aaaarrggh.

“Is that you, miss?” called one girl.

Please tell me what I should have said! What did I say …… “Where’s those children?”

And the crowd – well actually about 5 children and two nurses – pulled us over to the three beds by the window.

I had never met these children – again – I had not a clue what to say. “Hello, girls. I’m so happy to see you safe and well.” Even by hindsight, that seems to be a bit flat, a bit factual, a bit bloky.

Mrs Pembroke showed me what to do. She lapt to the beds – pulled all the children into a heap and then somehow made me join in with an enormous five-person hughughug. It felt wonderful.

During the morning, various people came and talked to me, bothered me, harassed me, told me wonderful things, told me complicated things until I was even more exhausted than from being an ordinary heroine rescuing children from a blazing building. AAAAaaaaaaaaaaarrrggghhh.

I demanded that everybody GO AWAY and let me sleep for a while. Fortunately, the nurse backed me up rather than saying ‘we need the bed and you have to leave at once’ as might have been the case.

I slept for a long time until my bed was invaded by the only people I was willing to see – the three children and their mum.

I woke a long time later – and not surprisingly, my bodyclock was completely a-twizzle. It was only 9 o’clock at night yet, for me, I was now wide awake and raring to go. The nurse came over and said ‘What I recommend is that you go down to the café and get some offd that you want because you’ve missed dinnertime and we’ve only got really ghastly sugary snacks and other rubbish. Try to find someone to talk to just to get yourself busy until about 11.00 or a bit later. When you come back, you can have some hot chocolate and I’ll tell you it’s got a sleeping pill in it – that combination will send you right off until morning rounds. I guess that you’ll be sent on your way tomorrow – and you can get on with your life in whichever direction that goes. I do understand that you are feeling a bit adrift but there’s lots of people eager and willing to give you a helping hand. For the next few hours, that includes me too.” She giggled.

“Thanks, I think.I’ll do what you say – but I’m really not what people are making me out to be. I’m pretty ordinary really.”

“Well, honeypie, you may feel ordinary, you may look pretty typical of a twenty-or-so business lady when you’re not in a nightie – but what you did for those kids – that ain’t no sort of ordinary. And if people want to be kind to you, or generous or even waaayyy over the top with you – then my advice is to get it while the getting is good. You saw the film Accidental Hero with Dustin Hoffman – well nobody saw his good dead on the television – but you – they got you in full night-time black and white. You’se a heeero or, well a heroine. Go for it.”

And each time someone spoke to me like this – I was pushing myself with that extra impetus towards being the real me.

I did what Janie, the nurse, suggested. To the café, some food, some quiet time as there was no one to talk with, slow stroll back until I found a corridor full of a local art exhibition which delayed me for quite a few minutes, back to the ward, hot chocolate and quite soon sleep.

Morning came with the ghastly timing that every hospital has – why on earth can’t they tell the patients (who are a reason for why there is a hospital) that the shift policy of the hospital dictates that every patient must be up and ready for the shift-transfer that actually takes almost no notice of them. The temperature-taking, bloods, tests and pills may need to be taken but surely the majority of patients don’t need to be crash-woken. And my new brain thought – here is another area where communication has been obliterated by habit.

If I was now a woman then it might be difficult to go back to my old job. Not impossible – but I was now thinking – if I am changing my life so much AND I can see a new job or pathway that would excite me WHY do I NEED that old job. Do I have confidence? Do I have CONFIDENCE??

I could feel that I was shouting this question at New-me – and I liked the certainty that I was indeed a new keener-edged spicier more determined version of the old me. I liked it.

Yes – I want this. Perforce, I have a new place to live; I have a real pressure to be my preferred gender; I can see a new job; I have new people who apparently want to be kind to this New-me. What is going to stop me?

I knew what I had to focus on – confidence.

Everything I had lived through in the last few hours told me – if I am confident that this and that will happen – then there was a strong chance that they would.

So – HMS Confident would take to the waters. I was undoubtedly launched by public exposure and multiple camera-phones. It was up to me to complete fitting-out, ready myself for sea-trials and, my sea-going metaphors began to fail – and be ready for action.

Number one – get out of hospital – ooops – number zero – get clothing.

A few moments later, there was a small invasion of my cubicle. “I need to speak with / “Are you the lady who / “Can I have a picture / “Can you turn this way / I would like to offer …..”

A new nurse charged in. “What on earth is going on here. My patient needs calm and quiet. I did not give permission for this scrum. What is all this noise for? Get out – go into the corridor and I will let one, repeat ONE, person visit for 5 minutes at a time until I, and I repeat I, judge that my patient has had enough. Do you understand?” And the crowd, actually only 4 people departed under the gaze of my tiny rescuer.

The new nurse’s badge called her, Freya Agnesdottir, which clearly meant she was from Iceland – but she was more like a pixie. Barely five foot tall with short palest blonde hair and eyes that flashed with glacier-blue fire. I liked her a lot.

“Huh, that’s them fixed for a while.” She turned to me “Now, Miss, are you ready to be hassled and harassed by the ‘gentlemen of the press’” We could both hear her opinion of journalists.

“Thanks for the rescue – but, one by one, I think I can cope.”

Freya left and the first gentleman was allowed in.

“I have to apologise, I was coming in to talk to you about what we can offer when all those press-men pushed in. My name is Jacob Morley and don’t make the Jacob Marley joke puhlease because almost everybody says it – and it’s boring.”

“So …. You’re not one of the press, not one of ‘them’” I grinned as I sort-of spat the word.

“No, no, definitely not. I’m from the mayor’s office and I’m trying to keep things calm while we sort out this, er, mess.”

“What exactly do you mean by that. Are you trying to sweep us out of sight? Pressurising Mrs Pembroke and me to keep quiet about something?”

“No, no. Gosh, I have to stop repeating myself like that. No. We spent much of yesterday being told by our lawyers exactly what we were responsible for and then being told by our, well, publicity advisors what we could, should and would be doing to provide restitution. The legalities are a little complex but there is no doubt that the fire is legally our responsibility and that the deaths or injury of the Pembrokes or yourself would have been a complete disaster. Since it was your efforts that prevented such an outcome – then we owe you a moral debt of some significance. It may seem unusual in these days of alleged abuse and corruption in so much of local government – but we try to be different in Amcaster. We want to be seen as the good guys – and good guys pay their debts.

You may have heard that there is an offer of house-sitting locally – well there is. And this is a picture of the house as it was advertised on the web to genuinely interested sitters. “ He showed me a couple of pictures of a medium-sized Edwardian house. It looked pretty nice.

“While you are in place, and that will be for a couple of months, your flat can be cleaned up, de-smoked and redecorated for you to come back to. We have made arrangements with a couple of local shops who can supply you with clothes. And rather than go on and on about what we can do for you, I’ll just leave this list of shops, which do also give you an idea of what they’re offering and get out of your way for a while. My number is on the top of the list and there’s a phone with £50 in the packet. That’s there because in the middle of the night I suspect – wow I caught a glimmer of humour – you might not have had the first thought to rescue your phone.

Oh no, all my numbers – wait a moment – how many of those did New-me actually need. I had no significant friends, certainly none who had a clue about the inner-me. I had a few rather distant cousins. Parents – dead some years back of cancer and loneliness – siblings none – aunts, uncles – never therefore no cousins. And my memory was good enough to remember the half dozen or so I would want to remember.

So – new me, new phone too.

That’s all very kind. I’m sure I’ll work out exactly why I’m getting such remarkable treatment when, as you say, this is well beyond what you legally are required to do.”

“As I said, the local reputation for politicians and council staff is not high – and we have to change that. This seems like a good opportunity. So the mayor has said ‘do and verily I doest’.”

I smiled. “Well, that does sound as if I’m getting a good deal. I’ll let you go – and I’ll try to be in touch this afternoon or tomorrow morning.”

“You’ll have to get in touch quite soon – I’m the one who has to take you to The Beeches and show you round.”

“The Beeches?”

“The house you’ll be taking over – as the house-sitter.”

“Sorry, still haven’t grasped that this is real.”

“That’s all right. Just because it’s a sort of nice shock doesn’t mean that it isn’t a shock anyway.” He left with a wave.

The next inquisitor arrived – a journalist wanting the ‘real story’. As if I was going to give him that.

He was polite enough to ask if he could bring in the cameraman.

“What, you can’t do it with your own phone?”

“Well, of course, I can – but he is better at it and he’s learning about the rest of the job too.”

“He can take half a dozen pictures – and I want to see them – and he’s got to keep quiet.”

“Er, yeah, alright. Jeff, you can come in for a minute or so.”

Freya was there almost as he finished calling out.

I held up my hand, “It’s alright Freya. For the moment, I’ve got control and he’s going to be a very silent background figure.”

Freya pretend-glowered at me then shook her finger at the journalist and at the incoming Jeff. “You be nice. You be good or you’re out. Right/”

The two men agreed very quickly.

“I’ve got most of the story and the clips that are going round – but I need to ask, is it true that you’ve never met these Pembroke children until you rescued them. That you’ve only just moved in? It seems nobody knows anything about you. And yet, there you are, risking life and limbs, well, lots of limbs really, rescuing kids in the middle of the night, covered in smoke and fumes – it’s one heck of a story. I do want to keep it straight before the internet magnifies it into a silly story about … well, you know what the internet can do.”

“Oh yes – information mingled with misinformation mixed with disinformation until you have to be really careful which strand is the truth. Yukk.”

“That’s a nice line – can’t use it in this story – but I know I’ll use it somewhere soon.”

He smiled and I felt that (even for a journalist) this one seemed pretty fair and possibly even reasonable, maybe even friendly. Naaa.

We talked about what he knew – and which bits were wrong, which were guesswork and which were sufficiently true. I gave the council the benefit of the doubt and said what they were doing to sort me out and how they were obviously better than the typical shower and much better than what the town had suffer4ed under recently.

He updated me on the Pembrokes. At last I learnt the names of the girls I had rescued. Jane, Kirsty and Leonie - nice and alphabetically tidy – because the next daughter was Mimi (Miriam) and they were aged 11 and 9 and 8 – and 4. I was getting more opportunities to meet them and I liked them more every time.

Sadly, I learnt that they would be moving away. They had relatives about eighty miles away – the other side of Birmingham. It seemed that we wouldn’t be keeping in touch unless one or both of us made a special effort. I was a bit sad, it was exciting to feel so special to a group fo excited children. The hugs you get from a child offer a soul-filling pleasure and heart-deep satisfaction. I got a wonderful lesson in spontaneous love over the next days.

I don’t need to give all the details of the day – people came, people went. People made promises and actually quite a lot of them came through and delivered over the next few days. I had a rest around lunchtime (which was hospital-bland and not very filling). Then later, I rang Jacob Morley to confirm the details about the shops and the house.

He told me that if I wanted, he could bring a car round to take me to the two or three main shops so that I could at least begin to collect some clothing. After not much shilly-shallying, I agreed that the car would come at about 3.30 and that would mean 2 hours or perhaps more in the main shops. Needless to say, the shops were keen to take advantage of the free publicity that they would get for helping the Heroine of the Fire. But who was I to deny them the opportunity.

The first shop was Marks and Spencer. Yeas, I know that sounds a bit boring but I had found that their undies fit me better than most and were prettier too. Supermarkets don’t have the same quantity or quality – and as for the Janet Reger and the serious underwear shops – their quality was rather offset by the additional price. I wasn’t going to be as cheap heroine but nor was I going to be extravagant – well not all the time. Like so many other activities, I was going to aim at Balance.

I had a chat with the manageress, a tough-looking late thirties-ish named Angela. She told me that she could give me all sorts of offers from the sales racks, that there were staff discounts she could allow and that there was a budget of some £200 allowed as a charity donation. This meant, she told me with a glint of a smile, that I could probably spend up to £500 with no real effort. What she recommended was that I did not do so straight away. She said that it would be sensible to spend about half of it now and the rest in a few days time. Then she smiled again, “and as a small extra, I strongly suggest that you have a bra-fitting to ensure that at the least your bras are properly comfortable.”

I managed to treat this as absolutely normal – when inside I was quivering with the fear of being outed. Let a real girl that close to my non-existent breasts – nnnnnnno. I shuddered ever so slightly. “Let’s get started then.” The suddenly confident New-me spoke out of turn.

Some minutes later, I was in the changing-room, with professional hands arranging what was little more than a training bra around my barely visible chest.

Angie smiled a little more than before. “You’re not comfortable about this, are you, dear.”

“Is it that obvious.” I dared to reply.

“This is my job, dear. I’ve spent a lot of my time fitting bras and making sure that they’re a comfortable fit. You won’t believe how many women don’t bother to recognize that their breasts change size during their periods and even those who do rarely make the effort to get a second set for that time. And then there’s the lovely little girls getting their first bra while their mums and often sisters watch that magical first step. And then there’s the men who want to buy bras too.”

At that moment, her hands were just checking the fitting and she must have felt the jolt that went through me.

“Did that surprise you, dear? It surprised me too, the first few times. Actually, I admire them for having the confidence to ask for help. There’s apparently as much as 1% of the male population who regularly like wearing women’s clothes – that’s actually an incredibly large number when you calculate it. And you can easily double that number for those who sometimes like wearing women’s clothes. In a city like Adcaster, we’ve a population of some 100,000 within this branch’s area. 50,000 men, 1% is 500. Since we are known within our network for providing this special service, I would say that we have a man in this room as much as three times a week, usually less but at least one a week. They know that they need to ask for me or Leonie.” She giggled “And they actually spend so much money once they have relaxed a little and got their confidence that they present well enough as a woman.”

“But very few do it as well as you” she whispered.

I (almost) screamed. I shook. I shivered. I wanted to run. She knew. New-me was really really frightened.

One hand held my shoulder tight while the other held my hand. “It’s all okay, dear. I’m nothing to be frightened of. You are safe. Safe. Safe with me. I’ve just complimented you on the fact that you are a woman – a woman on the inside and a woman, as far as everyone is concerned on the outside. I’m proud of you. I know so many people like you – and you are good. That confidence that you showed when you arrived – that made me accept you totally. It was only your reaction to the suggestion of a bra-fitting and when I started talking about the men ….. well, the first caught my attention and the second rather confirmed it. An almost complete absence of mammary tissue is a bit of a give-away – and what moobs you have don’t make enough of a difference. The skill with which you concealed your breast-forms was the final confirmation. Like I said I am proud of you. Even if you weren’t before you’re one of my girls.”

“Er, one of ‘your girls’.”

“Yes, dear. One of the girls who I and my friends advise and assist - well even encourage. We’re part of what we used to call the SisterDom. That’s what we called ourselves because one of our early leaders was called King – so Kingdom – then Sisters and SisterDom. But of cours someone pointed out that the Dom couldimply ‘domination’ and that was something we were not endorsing. Our aim was to help the over-macho males into recognizing that a touch of the feminine could break down the ugly aspects of macho and make the person more whole. And we found that a significant amount of men, and boys too, had a feminine side that they wanted to express but didn’t dare to. The barriers between the two genders are really stupid – but also stupidly real. Our aim was to introduce our girls to the pleasures of silk and satin while helping them realise that there was nothing wrong in wearing a wider variety of clothes and learning a bit more about the other side of the fence. It has been a lot of work and given me and my friends an enormous amount of satisfaction.”

I had heard vague mentions of this SisterDom over the years but old-me had never had the confidence to ask for help nor the good fortune to met anyone who had offered such help.

“And now. What’s going to happen now?” New-me was back and this was said with the confidence I had gained since having to suddenly become female for public display.

“Well. As you are a local figure for being the Heroine of the Fire, you have a wonderful opportunity. Nobody is going to question you; every mistake for the next few days can be explained as trauma from the event. I am in awe at the confidence you are displaying – because something tells me that until you were out in public in a nightie that you had never been out before. I almost envy you. And I can help you with so many things.”

“You said you used to be called the SisterDom …. and now?”

“Oh, the discussions we’ve had. SisterHood. SisterSide, ASisterant, Sisters-under-theSkin, ConSisterent, SisterD, MisterEss, Misstery, ooh, so many. I think that some groups made other choices for a while – but we all recognize ourselves now as SisterDy. As they say ‘Here’s my card’.” And she handed over a standard size card in pink and blue.

I giggled. I had taught myself to giggle rather than chuckle when I was en-femme. I had learnt some of the other feminine gestures and habits too – until they were nearly automatic. My main teaching tool had been the sight of my breasts just at the bottom of my eyeline. I don’t think real girls realize how potent an indicator this or they are. I knew my shape as a male – even if I didn’t like it – and I used the extra double curve as the key marker for using feminine style.

New-me had only ever had a feminine shape – she liked it- and, schizophrenically, so did I.

“So ‘your girls’ means that they are men, oh and boys too you said, that have been trained by you and your friends?”

“Yes, but I advise the Big Sisters too on how to encourage and guide their Little Sisters as they become new-girls.” She saw me catch the special emphasis.

“That’s very …. interesting. Surprising that I never found out about you or met any of you. Perhaps New-me is getting a bit of a break.”

“You call yourself New-me at the moment do you? That’s clever of you. You’ve separated off the person who was before the fire. No wonder that I thought you were being so confident and so straightforward. I admire that. It’s the final spark which not all of my girls get. The trigger that gives them the confidence to go out dressed as a woman and being a woman. It’s not any flourish of macho that gets the majority of cross-dressers outed, it’s the lack of confidence.”

“But it’s so hard some of the time. I’ve had to learn it all while still being a man in public. But I suppose you do know about that already?”

“You can be sure of that. I or any of my friends will be available whenever you call if you need help. And some of the times, we can help you before you ask for help. We have been there before – and we have experience of situations that you can look forward to as well as the ones you want to avoid.”

“For a start,” she continued, “I’m going to give you some names at some of the shops. I’m not going to tell them in advance because I want you to carry oin with this wonderful confidence you are showing. Be proud of yourself. I’ve told you already that I’m proud of you. Take hold of that certainty. Be the woman you are inside and use this evident confidence to be a woman outside.”

“You do know you’ve frightened me horribly as well as making me feel wonderful too.” I did manage a smile.

“That’s the spirit – You go, girl Off you go to these three shops, Pretties then Jane’s Brand and then Anita’s Salon. The first two will set you up with a selection of dresses and the last will set up yourself.”

“I think you’re telling me to relax even more and just be myself. Yes, no?”

“I love you. Absolutely, I want you be yourself. Just be the attractive woman that I see standing before me in her undies.”

I squeaked. How had this happened. I was having an earnest conversation about the rest of my life – in my scanties. “Eeeeek.”

Angela smiled. “That is such a demonstration that you are a girl. Oh, I so want to know how you get on. Please ring me later.”

I promised to do so and slid into the dress that Angela had taken from the rack for me. It was a dusky pink with dark red and white piping, lovely large brass buttons. It had a lining that slid gorgeously and brushed the weighted hem over my hairless legs. I loved it.

“So. New-me is off to do SHOPPING. What more can a girl do.”

I had spent quite some time in M&S so I rang ahead to ask what time each of the shops closed. Amazingly, all three promised they would stay open for me as I was so special and they wanted to help. Anita said she lived just yards from her salon who was willing to stay until 7 o’clock or so.

I tried to be quicker in both of the shops – but it was so hard. There were so many lovely clothes. Even as a not-girl I had spent lots of time on the edges of ladies departments in local shops and I had spent even more time watching women. I had watched girls when I was younger – but I wasn’t aiming for twenties-dressed-as-teen. I was a woman. New-me was definitely a woman. We were woman – hear us roar. I sniggered to myself. If Angela had made me face up to anything it was that roaring was confident and anything else, especially whimpering, whinging, whining, sobbing or snivelling were not what any self-respecting woman would ever do. It may have been extraordinarily sudden – but after being pretty much a failure as a young man, I was now a instantly grown-up woman. Well, perhaps, I said to myself, perhaps a rather ordinary middle-of-the-road guy was where I had been. But I did like the new version of me. I really did like it, her, me, us.

After a few minutes, the manageress at Pretties, actually the owner I found out later, was suitably firm with me. “I know this is both sudden and awkward – but don’t go over the top. For today’s wardrobe Modom recommends a maximum of one or two dresses, one or two skirts and three blouses. If anything says ‘You NEED me’ then you can add it but you know the woman’s rules about clothing.”

“Oh yes, been there before. Buy, fashion-show to best friend, wait 24 hours, check again, THEN cut the tags off.” We smiled at each other.

“But she sighed, “I’ve spent too long doing the fashion show in a mirror – you’ve reminded me that the friend is a better guide. I needed that wake-up. I like your attitude.”

Not very long after – I had one dress, one skirt and one business suit – skirt, jacket and optional waistcoat. I had five blouses – three of which were the same but in different colours. Sandy had approved my choices and made some suggestions for mu next visit. None of them had cried out ‘buy me’ but I well knew that different days and different requirements could alter the siren song of a particular item.

I did almost exactly the same at Jane’s Brand where I discovered that the owner was a Jane Brand. I enjoyed wordplay and puns and the like. I left there with a few more bags and a promise that the second business suit would be altered by the next evening. I now had three, even of only one had the neat little waistcoat. That one was forest green, the others were deep plum and pinstripe. I asked Jane about the waistcoat as an option and she grinned and said, for that I use the same material as the men’s hop opposite. I can get a waistcoat and cut it to fit pretty quickly, maybe even by tomorrow night too.

“That would be good. By the day after tomorrow I want to be marketing my new project – so I’ll need to be looking professional and business-like from the start.”

“New business – a new wardrobe is not enough?”

“Y’know this has all been a bit of a blast to my normal quiet life. I’m homeless, clothesless and if this isn’t an opportunity to notice that Life has kicked me up the bum and said ‘Go with this, be bold, be brave, be exciting ….. then I’ll drift back into being a nothing again. I’ve called this new and different personality ‘New-ne’ and I like her. She tells me that I deserve a better shinier, more exciting job – so I’ve decided that I will get one. And actually rather than getting one – I’ve decided to MAKE one. I’ll tell you, being pulled out of a smoke-filled building, rescuing three girls and then being shouted at is a wake-up call. The one bit I’m willing to do something about is the ‘being shouted at’. It felt wrong to be on the receiving end. And if that is how I feel – then others will feel it too – and I want that to change. So, I’m going to change it.”

“That’s unusual and interesting too. In fact, there may be an overlap with another project one of my friends is doing. I’ll keep your idea completely confidential – but I’ll sound her out a bit on where her plans are going.” She gave me a half-smile to ensure I realized that she was on the level.

She promised to ring when my alterations were ready and I got back in the car and was driven to the salon. I was really grateful to Jacob who was ferrying me around. He was quite happy to be working on his computer while he waited. He had come into each of the shops and sat nearby so that he could take a picture now and then. This was implicit in the arrangements for publicity that had been agreed.

Then I went through the salon process at Anita’s Salon. You know the process. Glass of wine, relax, look at a quantity of style-guides – then into a lovely thick dressing-gown with just undies underneath and into the processing. Hands, nails, toes, or perhaps a massage to make the bones ooze into a puddle. I had never had a facial and I had heard they were wonderful. Then the hair-washing, the trimming, perhaps colouring or some more chemical process. Not too surprisingly, much of this was new to me.

In the past, I had been to a salon and quaveringly asked for an asexual cut so that it could be worn manny one day and femmy for evenings and weekends. I had never quite felt confident with the results. I knew that my colleagues at work were , let’s say, aware of my vagueness as regards sex, sexuality and perhaps even gender. Nobody pressed me about joining in. Nobody harassed me, which was wonderful. In fact, nobody took much notice of me – and that was going to change. In fact, I told myself, that had already changed. New-me was going to be noticeable.

I could feel it each time the confidence drained from me at some perceived slight or hint of outness. I could feel even more strongly now that New-me wasn’t going to let that happen.

I slipped into a semi-doze while my body was pampered. It was just what I needed.

Some while later, I realized that Anita was speaking to me “I’ve called the hospital and they’ve agreed that it would be silly to waste my efforts in fluorescent glare of a hospital ward as you’re being allowed out tomorrow. There’s no smoke problem any more and, as always, they need the bed. You need a bed too – and I’m lending you my spare room which is just round the corner. Jacob knows what is happening and he’ll see you in the morning. So, lean on me and I’ll slide you into your sleep-pod.”

I smiled as she helped my body and what the pampering had left of my mind, out of the ahop and round the corner and up the stairs and into a soft bed with crisp sheets and just-right pillows. I don’t have a clue whether I was asleep in five, ten or twenty seconds.

I woke feeling wonderful.

I put on the silk dressing-gown that was on the end of the bed. It was barely rumpled so there had been no fretsome tossing and turning in the night. Evidently, I was blissed out. And I still felt good.

I felt the coffee sucking at me and followed the delicious aroma.

Anita turned as I came in “Coffee and toast is for me but there’s tea, juice, cereal and eggs available as you need.”

“Almost anything suits me – after all I’ve just been limited to hospital food for the last two days – and I remember now that I didn’t get anything to eat last night.” I put on a pretend wail and a muted sob.

Anita giggled. “Oh, you big girl, you. You missed one whole meal – I sob on your behalf. Get on with you, sit down and tell me what you want.”

“Tea and toast will do provided you have marmalade. As far as I’m concerned breakfast toast without marmalade is very very wrong. It might even be illegal under my government.”

“I’m feeling so great today. Last night was wonderful – but now I need to get my act together. I need a computer. I need to get in contact with a professional-looking package about my project. I’ve had a couple of ideas for names – can I run them past you?”

“Course you can – but don’t get me too excited or I might burn the toast.”

I thought of Well-Spoken, then I tried Speak To Me, Good Grief and some others – the first message I want to get across is that Shouting is not necessarily the best method of communication. The second is that people who deliver a service need to have experience as a user. So the names that came from that were You-User, It’s4You, Did You Ever and On The Right Side. Taking it a bit sideways, I want to break through the lies of the average government official – oh alright, not the average but too frequent. The essence of salesmanship and repeat sales is to tell the truth. And we know that truth is too rare a commodity. But, like I said, that’s a tangent from where I’m starting.

“Errm, none of those names quite hit the button, well, not for me. But I’m sure that some phrase or comment will give you the name you need. I like the way you’re thinking.”

The tea and toast got my brain moving and I rang Jacob to see what transport was available and what else I could be getting while I was the heroine of the moment.

Jacob turned up about fifteen minutes later. He came in for a coffee as Anita stayed on to hand me over. Anita asked him what was available to help me. She said, “Robyn’s going to need a computer – can you help with that.”

“If this had happened a couple of weeks ago, well, really, there wouldn’t have been a lot I could do. But the council has approved new laptop computers for the 50 councillors so that they can be tied into the council intranet. That means that 50 computers which are barely a year old will be available. It won’t be difficult to get one of those for you. And as it happens, I’ve just upgraded my own computer so for the next couple of weeks you can have the old one. It’s got Word, Excel, Powerpoint and most of the regular office-type stuff. I can ensure that your next one is a couple of steps better – but would that do for now. I can drop it off this afternoon. Okay?”

“That’s more than I would have expected. But that’s generous, very generous. Thanks, Jacob.”

“Y’mean, getting a computer up and running is more important than clothes? What kind of a woman are you? Whatever, I like you so I’ll keep an eye out on your behalf as long as I can.” He smiled. I liked his smile.

I spent the morning at a desk at the back-room in Anita’s Salon with her office computer and the busy tangles of the internet. Large sheets of paper grew diagrams, thought-bubbles, catchphrases, slogans, timetables, addresses, pictures and in lots of colours too.

Eventually, I rang the local fire station. I wanted an unbiased assessment of why they had to SHOUT. It may be they had a good reason – but as an end-user I did not like it. I really hated it – and I believed that there was an alternative. Even if it was as simple as ‘I’m going to shout to get past the shock and get you to listen to important new information’. I could accept a minimum amount of shouting for a purpose – but the need to shout everything was too much. I planned to change this unless it could be proven that I was wrong.

If I was wrong on the Shouting issue then I was still determined on the Feel-what-you-Deliver part of the project. I wondered if that would be a better name. It did say what I was trying to do.

But New-me has a strength and drive that old-me would never have managed. New-me had a willingness to take risks that I could never have tried.

I spent the morning on the project. Lunchtime was with Anita and Jacob and I sounded them out about the project. I had pretty much focussed on Feel what you Deliver as the key message but was still willing to have a better, snappier name.

I also had my meeting with the fire chief set for the morning. Clearly, he wasn’t quite clear what I was after but the flag of ‘The Heroine of the Fire’ was enough to get a meeting.

For the afternoon, I went shopping. I wanted to get some shoes. Somehow, I’d picked up a couple of simple flats and sandals at M&S the previous night – and a pair of gorgeously pink trainers. But I needed some shoes to go with my professional look. I had sat down with Anita and a number of websites. I had started at the soles of my feet and worked through to the tip of my head. Then to check, I did it all again from the top to the bottom. The two lists were sufficiently close and I was happy that I had got, so to speak, complete coverage of the essential elements.

Shoes – various; socks, stockings, tights; shorts, skirts; panties (various); the list was quite long. And therefore it was going to be expensive. I couldn’t expect my donors to give me a whole wardrobe covering summer, autumn, winter and spring – but with careful planning and the help of my new friends, I could aim pretty close. I was excited about the future.

I spent the evening at a club that Angela at M&S had given me details about. It was about 80% women there; some of the men were a bit girly, even sissy in a few cases. Then I realized that this was part of the SisterDy group that Angela had been talking about. That meant that a lot of the girls there were actually like me. Wow. My brain sizzled gently.

“Excuse me, Can I ask you, aren’t you that woman from the fire. It’s so great to see you here. This is one of the best kept secret’s in town – we have a great bar, great food and yet most people go to other places.” She paused.

“Yes, I am the Fire Woman – but it was a lady called Angie who told me about this place. Apart from being rather unbalanced genderwise – I can’t see anything unusual about this place.”

She smiled, “you really don’t know what’s going on here, do you? This is a club run by a group called SisterDy. I ‘just happen’ to have a leaflet in my bag. It’s a group of women who have made the choice to teach feminine skills to boys and men. We’ve all grown up with the certainty that males are physically stronger than most women. In much the same way, it may be that their testosterone gives them a willingness to be physically and mentally abusive to women. We know that there are men with a feminine edge just as much as there are women who have masculine characteristics. And we are absolutely not talking gays or lesbians and not even bisexuals. We’re talking about gender and the difference between masculine and feminine attributes, behaviours and comportment.

We spent a lot of the evening talking. She introduced me to both girls or rather women as well as almost as many new-women. I couldn’t say that they were new-women because they had been in-role for quite a few years. It seemed that the local SisterDy group had been running for nearly fifteen years. Their early trainees were in their thirties now – and very comfortable with their lives. Some of them lived as women. Some of them lived a women with their wives. Some of them cross-dressed when they felt like it. Some of them told me they wore undies rather than boxer shorts – but that helped them feel comfortable. Some said they had friends who had given up the whole clothing issue – but almost everybody agreed that the system did help them keep their macho attitudes to a much lower level than was seen to be the norm.

One of them showed me the club’s data on local abuse, and the reduction in a range of male-triggered ‘poor’ behaviours. Interestingly, there were fewer asbos [anti-social behaviour orders; a not very successful government policy aimed at reducing bad behaviour] in the local female population as well. I could tell that I was being given the glossy view of their success – but how interested was I in getting to the dirt, errors, mistakes and blunders that were always hidden from the casual view.

I enjoyed myself a lot. As I had been told, the drinks were well-priced, the food was good, the company was really interesting and the whole ambience was relaxing.

While my active mind was busy chatting and listening – and watching, my subconscious was whirring away on the business plan. I liked the idea of working to rebalance the gender divide. I liked the idea that the testosterone overload so common to the male could be reduced and re-directed. I wondered about shouting – I knew all too well that women could shout and scream and over-emote big-time. And I knew that men could do it too – I guessed from my own knowledge that men did it more and bigger than women.

I suspected that the truth was as anecdotal as domestic abuse. Everybody knows (necuase the media keeps telling us) that men abuse their female partners physically, mentally, sexually, financially and in every other possible way. Somehow, it seems to slide away that about 1/3 the number of men get abused too by their female partners. And in both situations – abuse is WRONG. But it’s also wrong to endorse the all-too-prevalent lie that it only happens to women. And another truth of which I am certain and for which I have no viable proof - is that the actual amount of abuse by men to women and by women to men is enormously more than is ever reported.

New-me wanted WhatYouDoIsWhatYouGet ‘Wydiwyg’ to make as big a difference as SisterDy was making to its trainees. And New-me was going to make it happen.

I got back to Anita’s house. I had been told by Jacob that it would probably be my last night there – which was both a good thing and a bad thing. I liked being with Anita and talking with her. But I was looking forward to my own space.

I got dressed in what I felt were good clothes. I didn’t need to wear one of my business suits yet. Then Jacob took me to the fire-station.

The meeting was set for about half an hour – but we overran a long way.

Mr Pierce was concerned at what I said about the effect of being shouted at. He said almost exactly what I expected about why they shouted – to penetrate the fog and confusion of a traumatic event. But he did catch on to my ideas about the need for training to reduce the amount of shouting. If there was too much shouting then this could be adding to the trauma rather than cutting through.

We discussed ideas on how such training could be arranged, and Bob called in a couple of the older more experienced guys to get their input.

Miss Robyn here, our Heroine of the Fire, has made a couple of comments. I have heard them before but not presented so neatly with the beginning of a solution. We’ve all had the victims saying ‘stop shouting at me’ – but how many of you have actually eased off a tiny bit when that happens?”

The three older guys looked at each other and shook their heads. One said, “we do hear and we do try a bit, but we’re in the middle of a heat and this takes us over and it can be harder to ease off.”

“Miss Robyn wants to come with you on a couple of call-outs. She has some ideas to how to add a twist to your training so that you shout less and the victims hear better and everybody has a happy Christmas. No, maybe that last bit was over the top. She thinks that there is a win-win improvement available with only a little effort by you boys. Are you up for this?”

Lead Man nodded, “Yep, we can cope with a little thinking in public. And I don’t like shouting unless I have to. Do I have to do any of this ‘listen and think’ stuff?” We could all feel the smirk as he deliberately demonstrated his wrongfulness.

“That’s very naughty, Mr Senior Fireman.” (they hadn’t been clearly introduced to me.)

He grinned “Just minimising the available prejudices, ma’am.”

I liked this man. Old enough to be my father and seventeen times nicer – but the same sense of humour.

We left the room together and he introduced himself as ‘Jim Neckle is the name. That’s Jerry Howard and Patrick Bowler. They’re good lads. Let’s have a sit down and talk this through.”

Another session followed until there was a call-out. They told me to stay because they hadn’t organised any kit for me – and without kit I couldn’t be with them. They said that it was 40% likely to be a no-call or even a hoax.

As it turned out they were nearly right. It was an out of control bonfire – or rather a bonfire that someone thought was out of control. They were back in just under an hour.

“We had a chat in the van. (more slang). The boys all said the same thing – we don’t like to shout but sometimes we have to.”

“I’ve never said any different. What I am looking for is a moment, earlier in the shouting, where you can detect that the victim is sufficiently alert and capable that you can turn off the shout-mode. I’ve been thinking about gestures and reactions that won’t take long but will show that you’re getting through. Sort of ‘If you’re listening and alert, wiggle your fingers’. It needs to be something moderately complicated so better than ‘lift your hand’ or ‘look at me’. You’re the people who actually do the shouting, what do you think?”

“I’M VERY INTERESTED IN SHOUTING.”

“No, please, not the Monty Python sketch – too much, please.”

“I LIKE SHOUTING TOO”

There was a snort as Jim splurfed coffee out of his nose. Eventually he managed, “Come on, folks, give Robyn a break.”

They had had their bit fun so we got back to talking again. I mentioned the idea of WydiWyg. They began listening a bit harder. Training is really dull so anything that makes the learning easier, smoother, better or longer-lasting has to be evaluated.

“How would it be in a training session where you were glazing over if the trainer started shouting? How would you cope if he went quieter? How would you react if he said ‘If you’re listening put your left hand on your ear’. Comments please.”

Patrick answered, “Shouting – not good; Whispering – probably would work in training; gesture – neat trick, could be useful.”

“So, we do have a plan. How do we make it happen that real firemen on real calls learn this watch-the-trigger technique?”

“I think we employ some local actors for our next test-rig call-out. We’ve got an exercise next week. I think they’ll all be members of a deaf-and-dumb school.”

“The time after that, in the second set-up, we’ll have the whole of that first exercise team act the part of victims and we will give them the biggest shouting experience of their lives.

I butted in, “This is my game, I make some of the rules. I like the first scenario. The second – we’ll have it with just a little more shouting than usual. Going over-the-top wouldn’t help at all. But we need some extra chaos, some extra reality and disorientation, full-on pressure.”

Jim smiled. “This is looking good, folks. We need all the head-cameras working and quality visuals so that we can replay as and when. Let me call the local acting school, I’ve got friends there. I’m looking forward to this.”

We separated, each of us with an eager step and looking forward to our test run. The training session was in three day’s time. Jim felt he could get everything set by then.

My ideas were gradually coming together. I was now house-sitting at The Beeches, it was a nice four-bedroom modernised Edwardian place on the edge of town. It had a great view, not as good as the house next door but I could see all the way down the hill to the Abbey in the middle of town. It was far beyond anywhere I had ever lived. It was far beyond anywhere I had ever stayed. There was a local woman who came in for two hours twice a week to clean, dust, polish, vacuum, change the beds, towels and so on. What sort of a person could afford this, I wondered.

I found that, gradually, I got used to this pampered life. I got used to being able to call on Jacob if I had a problem. Anita and Angela and some of the other Sisters were close at hand with support and advice.

The fire brigade experiment was a total wonderment. The team didn’t have a clue about the actors who did a great job of ignoring the shouting (top-grade earplugs helped especially while blasting out Meatloaf). The shouters got louder and louder until someone realized part of what was happening.

“Give me a pad and pen,” he shouted. He then started writing as fast and illegibly as possible. It was almost funny. Then it was the afternoon – and I was preparing my end-of-session presentation. I had to be crisp and precise in order to get the message across.

The second session was almost funnier. The trainees just fell apart under the barrage of smoke, noise, shouting, and the wind machine that Jim loaded with leaves and some sort of organic shrapnel. They had been told that they would be given a task to demonstrate that they were able to receive instruction while under pressure. A very few managed the task – walk away from the scene and put your hands on your head.

They all agreed that shouting was not a good technique. And some of them began to make suggestions about how the critical task of communicating with trauma victims needed to be done. Then it was my turn.

There was some good-natured grumbling that they had been used as part of an experiment – but they all agreed they were on the way to learning something valuable.

And the wider project was beginning to take form. I had met with some of the sisters who were keen to link what they saw as their testosterone-redirection technique with my WydiWyg scheme.

It seemed, we were all looking at ways to improve communication by reducing noise. I was reminded of the old science fiction story Noise Level – an old favourite by Raymond F Jones from 1952.

The sister’s view was that the male-female balance was distorted by the noise of testosterone and male self-training. My view was that there should be easily teachable techniques to cut through or to ignore the noise. And the Sisters were aware of groups at the University who had an overlap with what we were doing. It felt to me like something my dada used to say. “Things come and go but sometimes it is a matter of timing. Some ideas come at the right time and are taken up and used as building blocks. But the genius who was 20 years earlier – he loses out because nobody was able to cope with what he said.”

I’ve talked with some older guys who had the same idea – 20 years ago. It didn’t take off back then – I do hope it will take off this time. The vibe feels good. Everyone I talk to gets what I am talking about. Even the people who are doing it wrong know that there is a better solution – and I am offering a glimpse of that future.

We have spoken with candidates for the next council election – asking how they would go about proving that they actually had experience which was meaningful to their voters. What it was like being on the dole, getting the rough end of the system, being bullied, belittled and driven to the very edge of despair.

We had put doctors and nurses and senior staff and social workers into care homes diagnosed as brain damaged (we gave them some pretty heavy-duty pills for the week. The results blistered the national papers and began a whole series of small but extremely satisfactory changes. The cost had been almost zero apart from covering their vacation with locums but there was now a massively keen group spread across every aspect of the care home arena and eager to make things better. Key indicators were showing improvement – there was a major decline in old people blocking beds in the local hospitals; there was a major increase in old people visiting schools to act as readers and sitters while children did homework in warm premises rather than wandering the streets every day. Sure, some kids wandered – but not every day. And there were other improvements in the overall community feeling.

We had run a couple of court ‘trials’ with the lawyers taking the part of the defendants too. They had been given a script which suited their lives. Some had been set up as liars and fraudsters, embezzlers and other hard-to-prove white-collar crimes. This had been well reported in the legal magazines.

A local school had asked for the whole school of actors to start the beginning of the September term in order to test the teachers’ stamina and willingness to avoid both favouritism and bullying. A selected group of children were given a week at home while they studied and did specific projects. It wasn’t just bright kids who were given this little extra – but the results seemed to be as worthwhile as any of our other experiments.

We were well aware of the contamination we were bringing to each test by having a covert plan to demonstrate some noise factor. But, we could see no other way to prove our ideas to the decision-makers. And we seemed to be getting better at it.

And in all the months since the fire, I’ve barely found any problems with being a woman. I recollect nobody querying my lifestyle. I was treated as a woman and I believe that it was because I behaved as a woman and comported myself with complete confidence. I spoke to the Sisters at one or two meetings about my certainty that confidence was the trait that new sisters should most strongly aim for. I gave much the same presentation at the local girls’ schools. I began to speak at other events too – boys schools were remarkably willing to accept that there was a point of view other than that of the secluded male.

Being a woman was great. I was so thankful for the fire. It had changed my life.



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