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Granada

I love Moorish architecture, design and decorative elements. My first degree included three years of art history, and exploring art and architecture always features when I travel. Alhambra has been high on the list, so when Jim said he wanted to go to Spain, Granada was put on the itinerary.

Granada itself is lovely, and I could have spent a lot longer there.

One of the delightful aspects of Spanish culture is sitting in the plaza, having a drink and some tapas, meeting (or making) friends while the kids play all around. Granada has lots of small plazas, and it would be fun to explore their idiosyncrasies.

Like everything in Granada, our Airbnb was up a hill and on a cobbled street. The view was spectacular. There was a plaza about 300m up the hill, and we dined there on our last night, watching the blue moon rise.

Walking down the hill was much easier, and on the first full day we sauntered down to the tourist office to collect our Granada cards and various tickets. The card included 9 bus rides, which were handy for going back up the hill.

Our entry time at Alhambra was noon.

It was a glorious day to wander through the gardens and admire the immaculately sculpted hedges. The views across the city were spectacular as we waited to go in.

Wow, the palace did not disappoint. The proportions, archways, windows and courtyards were beautiful, and small details everywhere were exquisite.

There was a lot to look at. There were a few tour groups going through, yet few enough to have many of the spaces to ourselves for a few moments. I wondered how the builders and carvers accessed the high ceilings to do their crafts safely.

Jim keenly inspected the carved doors to see how it had been done.

The fountains were beautiful and the sound added to the tranquility.

The gardens had many citrus trees and the orange fruit in the green foliage drew my eyes every time. Note to self: plant more citrus.

We spent some time sitting in a lush courtyard, just being in the moment. Rushing from a to b is a huge feature of my daily life, and being mindful of enjoying the here and now is something I’m working on.

One aspect of what we saw was that the spaces, while beautiful, would not have been comfortable in cooler weather.

They had high ceilings, marble floors, and lots of windows—no floor coverings or furniture, which would not have been practical with the tourism, of course.

I saw what looked like the roof of a hamam, yet no glimpse of its inside, or smaller living spaces. We lasted about two hours before needing to go outside and explore gardens instead.

As it is holy week, there is a lot of preparation and excitement around the Easter parades. Many of the churches were housing elaborate and beautiful floats, with hundreds of sweet-smelling fresh flowers; orchids and roses on one I got close to. These floats were human powered, with teams of people underneath carrying them. They move along with a rocking gait, like a camel.

Viewing platforms had been set up along the procession route, and the bus tour of the city along the narrow roads had to squeeze past growing crowds. There were many costumes: long robes worn with metre-high pointy hoods, and eye-holes cut out. These were in white, black and green. Many women were dressed in black, with high headpieces and long, lacy mantillas hanging down the back, while children were in red choir smocks over lacy white robes. Some of the kids seemed reluctant to be there and were being herded along by older women. A feature of the Granada procession is the unlit version after midnight, that went past our accommodation accompanied by a drumbeat in the wee hours.

The alarm was set to five am for our journey to Seville.

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Crossbones

Crossbones cemetery is a post-medieval burial ground, on non- consecrated land, where ~15,000 women and children were buried over many centuries. This historical burial ground is a symbol of how the poor and disenfranchised are so often treated. It demonstrates how women, especially unmarried or single women, and sole mothers, have been—and still are— shamed and outcast. Many of these women would have been sex workers; some by choice and some not, and exploited, then rejected, by the church. When in 2014 this burial ground was to be dug up to make way for improved public transport, people fought for its preservation. The ritual on the 23rd of every month is a powerful demonstration of honour and respect for these outcast dead.

I’m in London for a sex therapy conference, with a focus on working with sex workers. Going to the ritual at the end of the first day of the conference was perfect. I was invited by another delegate, Seani Love.

In a side street there is a railing wall which screens off the actual cemetery. Thousands of ribbons are tied to the rails. A sparkly velvet cloth is laid at the base of the rails for the ritual, with a candle, incense, tiny drum, and a book. An embroidered banner of the Virgin of Guadalupe, made by Jennifer, one of the keepers of the space and the ritual, was placed nearby. John Crow (his name for the ritual, actual name is John Constable) led the ceremony, ringing tingsha bells to draw us in. He starting with saying this:

The story of the site includes John’s vision of the Winchester Geese, six sex workers who were licensed to work by the Bishop of Winchester, and honouring them, their memory, and their legitimacy is a driver of his work in the ritual. He didn’t add this, but I speculate that these sex workers would have paid fees to the bishop, only to be flung out into a paupers’ grave later.

John recited dramatic poetry, complete with suitable theatrical gestures, impressing on us the significance of the graveyard. (It is now supported by the authorities to remain.)

A candle was given to a woman in the crowd to hold, while a poem acknowledging the importance of light and memory was spoken.

We were all encouraged to tie a ribbon on the railings, dedicate it to someone, and spend a few moments thinking about them. I tied a small red ribbon into a bow, and thought of a specific baby that didn’t make it, and the love and grief that accompanies the loss of offspring at all stages of life.

The equinox had been a few days before, and Moo the Druid was asked to say a few words. He had been one of the people who had enthusiastically welcomed me when I arrived, complete with a hug (after seeking permission). He was wearing a belted full-length white robe over jeans and trainers. Moo spoke about ‘The Balance’ in reference to the equinox, and the shift of seasons away from winter.

Anybody could speak, and women were especially encouraged. People spoke poems, and a woman from the conference sang a beautiful song about the moon, accompanied by a tiny, delicate dance.

After the presentations everyone was asked to hold onto the railings and we repeated a call-and-response mantra, led by John Crow. With everyone crowded together, a libation of gin was poured around the perimeter of the group. The ritual was over, donations sought, and appreciation offered that we all attended.

Sex work is a legitimate occupation. Sex workers do a lot of good in the world. With some notable cultural exceptions, sex workers have been stigmatised and persecuted, often by people who are secretly their clients. The current US SESTA legislation, ostensibly intended to stop trafficking, (trafficking is bad, yet the majority of sex workers are not trafficked), will make sex workers around the world less safe, and ultimately inhibit information exchange that prevents trafficking, so will likely lead to more, not less trafficking. It is already stopping people with legitimate, legal businesses from doing their work. By honouring the Winchester Geese, and all the women and children in Crossbones, I’m honouring contemporary sex workers too.

For more about Crossbones see here

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I’ve often described myself as a fringe dweller, being on the edge of a number of communities or social groups; included, yet being fringe enough to move freely from one to another, selecting the things from each that resonated with me and deflecting things that did not. That analogy—which I first used as a teenager—is one of taking, not giving, and building myself from the possibilities I encountered.

crab buckets

Two crab buckets full of crabs.

Researcher, writer, psychotherapist and social activist Meg John (MJ) Barker uses the analogy of a crab bucket to describe how people stay in one category—such as gender, sexuality, sexual expression—where they seem to belong, or want to belong. They actively stop other people from leaving and exploring other options, just as crabs do to stop other crabs leaving the bucket. MJ extends the analogy by adding that people might escape from one bucket, only to go to another, and remain trapped, just in a different situation. MJ acknowledges that the analogy is not their original one; this article gives some history.

Crab buckets image source

 

Today, in a workshop-planning conversation with Rog from www.curiouscreatures.biz he commented that I brought a mix of sex-positive, queer-and-kinky-positive, with academic credibility, wide knowledge, educational skills and experience. These things enable good sex education (and play situations such as workshops or parties) for adults which can lead to personal growth and transformative learning.

I immediately visualised myself on a beach which was dotted with crab buckets, gaily running from one to another, dipping a claw into one bucket, then skipping to another, making connections with different groups, belonging on the whole beach and not just in one confined part of it. “I’ve found my niche!” I exclaimed.

Rog’s comment and this image demonstrated for me that I belong widely, and can contribute with experience and expertise in a number of ways and places. One box (or bucket) will never be enough. What this mature image adds to the fringe-dweller description is of someone who contributes to the communities, not just borrows from them. I do not fit in only one crab bucket, I own the beach and can contribute and share across its many elements. Also, I have an interesting brain.

Bass Coast beach photo by Linda Kirkman

Bass Coast, Victoria, Australia. Image by Linda Kirkman

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I have offered to do sex toy reviews. This seemed like a fun idea and a good way to get some practical knowledge of the tools that are out there. I selected from the things on offer, then started to worry. How might this affect my online safety? I’ve never had a problem with online trolls or negative feedback despite the work I do, and gave credit to how I curate my online presence. I tend to take a cerebral angle rather than discussing my own experiences.

what have I done

What have I done?

In discussing this with friends I introduced the topic by saying I’d been asked to write sex toy reviews. This distortion removed responsibility from me; I had been asked, not had offered. Did this make it more respectable, somehow? Note the first sentence of this post, as I am now taking responsibility for my interest. People responded by speaking of the value of authenticity, of being away from the ivory tower of academe and seeming more connected and believable. In synchronous ways my social media reading and podcast listening included discussions about personal revelations, the vulnerability that people felt and the ultimately positive outcomes. It helped me to hear Alex Iantaffi who I admire greatly, discuss this on a Meg-John and Justin podcast about gender (specifically on Meg John Barker and Alex’s book How to Understand Your Gender) and decide that limited and thoughtful, purposeful disclosures were helpful and professionally suitable.

What am I planning to do? Write some reviews of what could be considered tools of the trade. It acknowledges I’m an embodied sexual being as well as a cerebral one. I’m writing short, considered reviews from an older woman’s perspective. It is a small thing to add to what I do, and not a new career. It supports the advocacy of awareness about older people still being sexual.

The request from Nikki Darling was that I put the reviews on my blog. Here they are!

Tantus Duchess dual-density vibrating dildo

I was excited to get my first package of tester toys from Nikki Darling, and dived in to see what was inside. Being a toy tester from an older woman’s perspective seemed to be a good way to promote a positive approach to sexuality across the life span, while potentially having fun.

My first impression on opening the Tantus Duchess package was that it was somewhat difficult to wrestle it out of its rigid plastic packaging. Once it was out, it was the size that dominated. It seemed HUGE. I felt daunted. From this older woman’s perspective, and generalising a bit, bigger is not better. Post menopause the vaginal rugae (the crossways folds in the vaginal walls) thin out, and elasticity is reduced. While I have given birth, and the Tantus Duchess is smaller than a baby, it looked impossible for my anatomy. Still, a responsible tester does not give up without trying. I tried, a few times. Even with lots of lube and being aroused, penetration of any kind was not going to be successful. The bullet vibe option that came with this dildo was one of the things that attracted me to try it, so I hoped it would give some vibe benefits. Getting the supplied bullet vibe into the housing was a challenge, and I probably should have used some lube to make the task easier. Getting it out again was fiddly too. The effort was not really worth it for me, as the power of the vibe was too mild for what I enjoy, although I’m sure some people would find the gentle buzz an addition to their pleasure. At this point I read some other Tantus Duchess reviews. Other reviewers loved it, while acknowledging the size challenge. It seems the issue with my experience is the limitations of my anatomy, not the toy.

Tantus products have a great reputation and I trust their commitment to body-safe products. This one is made from dual density silicone, which means the outside is soft, and there is stiffness inside to keep it rigid. The dual-density aspect wasn’t obvious when handling it, although that is an advantage, as it made it possible to appreciate the soft outer layer and have the dildo maintain some rigidity without being aware of an inflexible aspect. There was no discernible smell, and the ice colour which is a blue that fades to white at the head, is easy to look at and inoffensive. Official details re size are: 4.5 cm diameter, 17.78 cm insertable length, 254 gm weight. It has a flared base that makes it safe for anal play, and can be used as a suction cup onto a firm surface to add to user options. It can go into a harness (not supplied) and is waterproof.

tantus_dildo-O2_the-duchess_candy-and-ice_400x

In summary, the Tantus Duchess is a quality product made from body safe materials with thoughtful design that means it has versatile uses. However, from the perspective of an older woman, I did not find it to be a toy that met my needs or limitations. My rating of 2/5 stars is based on its usefulness for me, not its overall design or safety qualities. Thank you, Nikki Darling, for the opportunity to review this toy.

YES Organic water based lubricant

Lube is your friend. Lube makes sexual activity better by reducing friction and potential damage to the skin, and can be the difference between an enjoyable, successful sexual experience and painful misery. Not all lubes are equal, and given that they are being liberally applied to mucus membranes with the potential to be absorbed, then they not only have to do the job they are intended for, they have to be body safe too. Nikki Darling has a range of lubes that are reputable products; what is YES Organic WB like to use? The YES Organic WB notes say that it is “Hypoallergenic, vegan, alcohol free, paraben free, glycerin free, palm oil free, non-staining formula. Certified organic. Vegetarian Society approved. Soil Association approved” which indicates an ethical approach to its products. People who do not use alcohol for cultural reasons will be pleased to see it is alcohol free, and vegans appreciate having labelling that reassures them they are not using animal-derived products. It is not only the effect on the body that ingredients matter for; cultural considerations can be important too. Parabens and glycerine can lead to unpleasant side-effects so it is good that they are not included. Phenoxyethanol, which IS included, is a preservative used as an alternative to parabens. Some cosmetic safety sites question the safety of phenoxyethanol and others treat it as safe. Citric acid is used to balance the ph. I tried to find out its osmolality and while YES defines what osmolality is, I couldn’t see the osmolality of YES Organic. EDIT: I found the information about YES osmolality and other aspects, comparing it to different lubes–you can read it here. The YES website goes to a lot of trouble to emphasise that its products are as safe as they can make it. YES Organic WB is described as not being suitable lube to use if you are trying to conceive a baby, which is good to see acknowledged. (They make YES Baby that is recommended if fertility is important.) From my post-menopausal, older woman’s perspective fertility is not an aspect I’m interested in!

The first time I used the YES Organic WB it was in conjunction with the Tantus Duchess, which I also reviewed. The Duchess was too big for me, and may have led to some grazing, and the lube stung a bit. I wondered if the citric acid was to blame there, but don’t know. Subsequent testing sessions were better experiences and I’m pleased to report there was no repeat of the sting. The YES Organic WB does not smell, the consistency is good, and it provided unobtrusive, effective lubrication that lasted well. Clean up was easy, and it did not stain the sheet.

There is absolutely no shame in using a lubricant for sexual activity. Some people feel differently, though. After my testing I read the reviews on the YES website, and gleaned from them that some women feel the need to conceal from their partner the need for a lube. The odourless, natural feel and absence of residue makes the YES Organic WB ideal for these women, as their partners were unaware. It can be bought in an applicator form that deposits it inside the vagina (not part of my review kit) which the YES reviewers appreciated, especially the ones who were being discreet about their use of lube. Many of the online YES reviews were from older people, or women post breast cancer chemo, or who had experienced early menopause. It was interesting to see this demographic featuring so strongly, as to me the marketing did not seem specifically targeted to an ageing population. The reviews were enthusiastic and glowing; although I wonder if a negative review would be made visible. The plant-based organic and body-safe nature of YES Organic WB was a key part of its popularity, as well as its effectiveness as a lubricant.WBNB100C_TUBE_1024x1024

In summary, the YES Organics WB lubricant is a body-safe product that provides effective lubrication, is odourless and does not mark the sheets. Some stinging is possible if there is broken skin. The product has excellent ethical principles behind it. My rating of 4/5 stars is based on its usefulness for me, not its overall design or safety qualities. Thank you, Nikki Darling, for the opportunity to review this toy.

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What is it when a particular place draws you? Some landscapes or places engender a particular feeling, yet without any reason for it. When I drive from Bendigo to Ballarat, there is a seemingly unremarkable location with potato farms and a volcano where I feel as though I am home. Why? I wonder if in a previous lifetime this was my country. I have not stopped to check the exact location and if anything is recorded there—I’ll do that next time I head that way.

I travel between Bendigo and Melbourne on the train, and love to look at the spillway from the Malmsbury reservoir. Check out 10 excellent images of the Malmsbury Railway Viaduct here. One wet year I noticed that both spillways were overflowing, and I loved the symmetry, the colours and the energy of the vista from the train. It reminded me of a 19th century landscape painting, such as by John Constable.

Every time I go past on the train I have to check the water level and if it is flowing. If I forget to look, or it is too dark, I get annoyed with myself. At the moment only one spillway is overflowing, which is less symmetrical, although still good to see. While on the train going past it last week I resolved to go there in person to look, and connect with the space. Jim and I did a road trip, which was fun in itself—it has been a while since I travelled the Old Calder—and we took a picnic. A train went over the viaduct while I was there and it was odd to be on the other side of the view.

There are some beautiful old bluestone constructions that relate to the original reservoir work. They are growing some impressive lichens.

Being there seemed to satisfy the longing, and it was good to explore the dam wall and the spillways. It will be interesting to see how I feel about the space next time I go past on the train, and if my perspective and passion are different.

1 dry2 Jim walking3 spillway4 lichen5 train on viaduct

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My daughter is pregnant. This is a much wanted and hard-fought-for baby, and the prospective parents are very happy. I wish then all the joy in the world, and the best outcomes for their baby. This post is about me, not them.

I’m not sure how I feel. There is an assumption that I will be delighted and excited and happy. When I say that I’m unsure about how I feel, the response is one of surprised confusion, as though I’m not conforming to the script. The expected social script is that I’m delighted, look forward to being a grandmother, and think it is the best thing ever. I did not want to be one of those women who put pressure on their kids to have kids so they could reach grandmother status. I think that is selfish and controlling. As a person concerned about the environment who knows that overpopulation by humans is one of the biggest problems, I don’t want to encourage more babies. I worry about the future of humans living with a warming planet, exacerbated by the political will of many countries, especially Australia and the USA, which focuses on greed and short-term profit for the favoured few, and not long-term health for all. I am a product of the political and environmental climate of the 1970s when global warming was known about, the trends and science were clear, and we had time to make constructive changes. I do my best to minimise my impact on the planet as a consumer.

“But you had your children, isn’t it selfish to not want others to have theirs?” Yes, my husband and I replaced ourselves by having two children; when I wanted to go for number two Jim famously said “You’ve got one perfectly good baby, what do you want another one for?” This is a line that I am reminded of when number two has done something particularly irritating. (He has turned out rather well, as it happens.) But I digress. The world those children were born into seemed more hopeful, and I knew even then I was taking a risk.

The population is growing beyond what we expected, too. In 1955 when I was born the population of the planet was about 2.7 billion, and in 1985 after I’d had my two (in 1982 & 1984) it was 4.8 billion. Now it is 7.5 billion and the clock keeping score is alarming to watch.

A few years ago, in an effort to make it clear I was not one of those have-babies-to-make-me-a-grandmother type people, and to communicate my concern about the potential future for a child born into the 21st century, I said to my kids “the planet is fucked, don’t breed”. I see now this could be interpreted to be as didactic and controlling as a demand that they do. This meant that when they did decide to start to try for a baby they were somewhat diffident about telling me. I hope I made it clear then that I wished them all the best and have complete respect for their autonomy as adults making choices for their lives.

A couple of people have said, perhaps intended as reassurance, that at least the ‘right’ kind of people are having a baby. I suppose by ‘right’ they mean middle-class, employed, non-illicit-drug-using, intelligent people. I am horrified and outraged by this statement and that someone can think it is ok to say that. I have countered it by saying I’m not in favour of eugenics; a response which seems to provoke some discomfort. If people having babies are in poor social circumstances it is not because the individuals are somehow deficit but because of health influences determined by governments and social structures. If opportunities for income, employment, education, health services, transport, sustainable agriculture, self-determination etcetera are limited by government policies—as they are—then that is not the fault of the individual but the result of wider societal structures if their lives are less than optimal. Let’s not judge people by class either.

So how do I feel? I feel a confused mixture of existential dread and cautious hope, with a growing pleasurable anticipation of playing the role of the quirky, cool grandmother, sharing love, happiness and books with a new human who is continuing my lineage. I have confidence that they will be excellent parents, and that the three sibling doggos will be a source of love and delight. For everybody’s wellbeing I’ll focus on the hope, not the dread.

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The answer to the ultimate question of life, the universe and everything might be 42, yet is not helpful. I’m often tempted to distill everything to a simple conclusion or outcome and have to remind myself that it is not always the go-to approach.

The green horse joke is a great way to explain it.

This story is set in times when people had either to walk or go about on horseback.

green horse in fieldA man was really struck on a woman*.  He had it bad.  Trouble was, he hadn’t been introduced, and wanted a way to strike up a conversation, leading to a relationship.  He asked his mate for guidance on how to get the favourable attention of his desired woman.  ‘Tell you what’, says his mate, ‘why not paint your horse green.  Walk past her, leading your unusual green horse, and she’s bound to comment on it.  From there you can get talking, ask her out, give her flowers, and get what you want.’  ‘Right’, says our hero, ‘paint my horse green. I can do that.’

Before long the rather bewildered horse is a lovely grass green, and our hero is leading it proudly past his lust object.  ‘My goodness’, she says, and stopped and stared at the horse.  ‘Your horse is green!’  ‘Yep’, he replied.  ‘Wanna fuck?’

This story is not a description of how I conduct my relationships, but my approach to information.  I want the answer, now. That is not always the best or easiest way, though.

*Insert genders or non-binary options to suit your preferences

I’ve been asked to deliver a workshop on developing communication skills. Perfectionist me has been worrying about how to write the perfect workshop that will give people fabulous strategies to solve problems with communication. That is not possible. Yet communication in relationships is an essential aspect of my business. I decided to explore options by facilitating a meeting with friends attending where it was safe to play with ideas and make mistakes.

Yesterday I facilitated a sex geekdom meetup on the theme of communication, wanting to learn from the participants and test out some ideas. There were about eight people present, we mingled, ate and talked first, then people consented to let me try out the activities. First we did the handshake activity in a pared-down version as described in Meg-John Barker and Justin Hancock’s book Enjoy Sex (How, when and IF you want to)  and that led to lots of useful conversations and insights, including for some people that they did not like shaking hands and strategies for avoiding it. Then we used the 1, 2, 4, all strategy to explore a time when we were proud of communication done well, and share the concepts that made it successful. The outcomes included honesty (and knowing when to lie), trust, story-telling that is engaging and has an unexpected ending (a teaching strategy) and discussing each other’s needs in intimate relationships (and hopefully finding ways to mutually meet them). I had planned to do a version of TRIZ which looks at how to do things badly, but ran out of time.

What I got from this was a reminder that things don’t have to be perfect, baby steps are a good way to begin, that I already have the skills and tools to plan and deliver this workshop. People had a good time, and were happy to have me run the meetup as a facilitated event. I’ll have to be strict with timing in a more formal, paid education situation.

I’ve been reminded in a powerful, embodied way that 42 is not what I need or what others want. No doubt I’ll have to keep being reminded, though!

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