“Real” Names

November 11, 2011 § 4 Comments

It comes up on a fairly regular basis – and maybe it’s time for a little explanation. As is the case for nearly everything in my life, it’s neither as scandalous nor as glamorous as a lot of people assume it to be. So – “what does CN stand for?” – or its unpleasant cousin – “what’s your real name?”


Well, it is my real name, thank you very much, unpleasant questioners. On all my legal documents and everything I’ve put out into the world.


In terms of what it stands for – it doesn’t stand for anything – it is just itself. It comes from somewhere, but that’s not the same thing.


Again, dull dull dull – my parents gave me two names, the first of which began with C and the second of which began with N. If you were bored (or creepy) enough you could look up the relevant pages of The Times and The Telegraph for the birth/death/marriage announcements. They never suited me, and they never felt like my name. But my initials did. So I started using them more and more until it seemed ludicrous to keep a legal name that wasn’t actually my name and never had been. So I got a deed poll and that’s that.


I do feel lucky – because I never had to worry about choosing a name to fit my gender. One of the reasons my birth name didn’t suit is, it’s true, because it was girly and pretty and sweet – but it was only one of the reasons. I knew it wasn’t my name long before I could articulate being trans (kind of a hint, I guess). It’s probably a good thing – I only would have ended up with something horrendously over-the-top, with some kind of obscure literary/musical heritage so that I could always start up with, “Actually, I think you’ll find, my name…”


It has a lilting sound, looks unusual and feels good in your mouth when you say it. Make of that what you will.

The funny thing about being a musician…

September 25, 2011 § 2 Comments

…is that people think you’re cool when you’re actually not. I’m a big fan of the News Quiz. And Radio 4 in general. I just thought you should know.

The only kind of agony I care to be in

September 17, 2011 § 1 Comment



I presume it’s only eased through ridiculous quantities of macaroons. Oh, and sodomy, of course.



A little bit of a summer holiday

August 5, 2011 § 1 Comment

Here, in fact. But, you know - the real one. Not the Turner painting.


My lord, a rest! I can’t wait. And, except for the most pressing of pressing business, I’ll be off grid for a week. So, I say to you all – may you find as much joy in the beauty of nature as Mr Sherlock Holmes does. I know that I certainly will. Here’s to stopping to smell the roses.


Our highest assurance of the goodness of Providence seems to me to rest in the flowers. All other things, our powers, our desires, our food, are all really necessary for our existence in the first instance. But this rose is an extra. Its smell and its colour are an embellishment of life, not a condition of it. It is only goodness which gives extras, and so I say again that we have much to hope from the flowers.

I’m just giving you what you want…

August 4, 2011 § Leave a comment

People have been searching for “Edwardian Lesbians”. Well, I don’t know what these two got up to between the sheets – but I hope it was something fun.

Hats off to you, dear ladies.

All about my wrist

August 1, 2011 § 1 Comment

My goodness, I do feel guilty for not blogging for a while. It’s been a busy couple of weeks. Not only Transpose, but rehearsing for the album, and playing other gigs, and getting to meet Del LaGrace Volcano (eek!), and baking more cakes than I’ve ever baked before. As a result, my wrist is killing me. Ow, and ow again.


Two things, that really struck me – and as usually, they join together. Firstly – the issue of disabilities – seen and unseen – how they’re perceived, and how we struggle on with them. And, secondly – the public/private distinction, and the situation I increasingly find myself in – that I’m meeting people who know so much about me from my work and, yet, miss so many vital pieces of who I actually am.


So, as I like to call it (cue dramatic music)…My Struggle (do read that in a gravelly, distinguished kind of a voice, won’t you?). You know, one of many. But one that I certainly consider one of the most painful twists of my life, though only a few fellow musicians and family members seem to understand that.


I’ve spoken in interviews already about the ‘crystallising’ moment in my life, when I realised that I could be a musician and, simultaneously, that I HAD to be a musician. I was six years old, and had just moved to England. I had never seen an instrument played before, close up, except for basic guitar in kindergarten. But, at my new school, they gave piano lessons, and I walked past one in progress. I had had moments of what I would describe as ‘jouissance’ before when listening to music, and singing it – but I had never realised that I could be allowed to work one of the instruments that made it. I feel odd, even to describe this moment in such a general way – because it’s one of the sweetest and most perfect moments of my life. I knew that the piano was the most wonderful thing I had ever encountered, and that I absolutely had to get my hands on one. Luckily, my family was supportive, and I started working on my dream to become a professional pianist. Lucky, also, that I was very talented (no, I don’t feel the need to feign modesty) – and that I adored playing: improvisation, sight-reading, finger exercises, pieces of all kinds.


Anyway, I seem to have rambled on – but I do want you to understand. So, I fell off a horse when I was eleven, and broke my right wrist really badly. REALLY badly. I had an operation on it at the time. But the pain never went away. Six years later they operated again, to remove bone fragments lodged in the scar tissue. Still not right. More pain. More treatment. Not right. Ligaments and cartilage ripped and torn out of place. Another operation to pin everything back together. I was told I’d never play again. Another year of intensive treatment: physiotherapy, ultrasound, massage, painkillers, acupuncture, hot and cold treatments. And, finally, my surgeon told me that I COULD play the piano – so long as I was willing to live with constant pain. By which time the muscles of my forearm had wasted away, and I’d lost years of training and experience I could never regain. I began training again, but so, so slowly – and focused, instead, on alternative music. I’m not trying to exaggerate when I say that I experienced a profound bereavement.


Which is a long-winded way of saying that (in addition to my various different mental conditions) I do consider myself to be living with a disability. That my ambitions and goals have been turned upside down by a physical condition. That I have to measure what I can and cannot do by the parameters of a physical ailment: if I want to play the piano, at all, I have to stop using my right hand/arm in all other ways. That I’m always on painkillers. That I have a recovery programme.  That I can’t rule out further surgery. And, yet, the way in which the world treats me is not the way it treats my friends with more “obvious” disabilities. I believe that part of that difference is intimately linked to this idea of a limited public persona, particularly the public persona of a musician.


You see, my disability is somehow romantic. It fits into both the trope of the tortured artist and that of the noble, stoic “cripple”. There’s nothing embarrassing about it. It doesn’t threaten a listener’s own sense of health and wellbeing (fellow musicians are different here – they’re the ones who wince.) It isn’t messy, and it doesn’t make life awkward for other people. I don’t get asked if it’s all in my head. I don’t get asked how I have sex – even though, to be totally honest, it really does have an impact on my intimate life. I don’t get treated like a child. And all of this makes me fucking furious.


I’m in a lot of pain right now. My hand is swollen and throbbing – I know that I’m not going to sleep tonight. I was playing classical duets last night – and the difference between the skill I had and what I now possess was an aching and terrible thing. But I’m not discriminated against because of it. I don’t have to wage a constant battle for basic levels of respect and decent treatment. And, because of this, I think it’s too easy for people like myself, with fairly invisible disabilities, to discount the disability rights movement as something for other people – somebody else’s fight. The world ‘disabled’ is for other people – we might have “problems”, or “issues” that need treatment. We play into the idea that there stands a majority of non-disabled people, and a small number of disabled people – cut off from each other, and never a member of one group moving to the other, and/or back again. To isolate the visibly disabled, to cut them off – to work from some of the most basic taboos of purity and infection.


One of the most important things I think we can do at this point in time, when health services are being attacked, when social care is being slashed, is to remind people that the idea of the invulnerable body/mind is a myth. That there is no scapegoat class of lepers to contain the pains that can strike our physical selves. If we are lucky enough to enjoy good health then we have to remember that, in all likelihood, it will only be for a time. And to do this I think it’s important that those of us who “pass” as non-disabled open up about our lives. Which is not to try to co-opt other people’s experiences, or struggles. But to show that we exist on a spectrum – and that not one of us is more worthy of respect and civilised treatment than another, regardless of our corporeal state.


I apologise if this isn’t the most cogent of pieces – codeine’s a fun one. But I felt that it needed to be said.



Lesbians at Home

July 16, 2011 § 1 Comment

Thank you, New York Times


All I could hear when I saw this was an conversation between myself and my imaginary Edwardian spouse – let’s call him “Montgomery”. It went a little like this:

‘Darling, did you see that the Lesbians are having an “at home”?’

‘The Lesbians?’

‘Yes, Montie, darling, the Lesbians. Charming couple. You remember – we met them at the Featherstonehaugh’s?’

‘Oh yes, yes – good sorts. Political types, weren’t they?’

‘No, dearheart, you’re thinking of the Feminists. Oh, now that’s a shame.’


‘It’s in China. We shall just miss them. What rotten luck.’

‘Next time, my love. Next time.’

Terribly butch chocolate cake

July 15, 2011 § 5 Comments


Oh, readers – I have a dark secret. Really, I do. It’s hard to admit to, but I hope I can count on your love and support.


The thing is – even though, most of the time, I’m an enormous sissy – what with the reading, and the writing, and the flowers, and the lacy scarves (so many scarves) – well, um – I have my butch moments as well.


I know! But I can’t help it. I like beer. And hammers. And making loud noises. Sometimes all you want out of a meal is more bacon than the body can handle. Sometimes it’s nice to (respectfully) ogle the hot, hot people of this world. Sometimes, when I’m having a bad day, I like to pretend to be Lisbeth Salander. Or Han Solo. Either is good.


But how does this fit into the wonderful world of baking? What do you make for those days when a rosewater macaroon just doesn’t cut it? Rather than descend into utter farce, like the Butch Bakery of New York, I thought it’d be more fun to take some classic elements of butchness and whip them up into a cake. So – we need:

  • Toughness
  • In-your-face sexiness
  • Solidity
  • Hidden depths
  • Unexpected sweetness
  • Beer


I asked my Ashes producer Jon Lett to road test the results. Sex, drugs and rock and roll – that just about sums him up. His opinion? So butch it emasculated him. That sounds like a seal of approval to me.


Before we begin – credit where its due – this recipe is based on ideas found in the Green & Black’s recipe book. I’m not kidding – buy it now. You’ll gain weight and it’ll be a good thing.



  • 225 salted butter, room temperature
  • 350g soft dark brown sugar
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 225g plain flour
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 2tsp baking soda
  • 1 pint of Guinness
  • 100g cocoa powder
  • 150g grated dark chocolate (at LEAST 70% cocoa solids)


  1. Preheat the over to 180ºC, and grease and line a deep springform cake tin.
  2. Cream the butter and sugar.
  3. Beat in the eggs, one by one, with the vanilla.
  4. Take a long gulp of the Guinness. God, that’s good. Then mix the rest with the cocoa powder in a separate jug- slowly, otherwise you’ll end up with a frothy mess all over the kitchen.
  5. Alternating, slowly fold the flour/baking powder/soda mixture and the Guinness/cocoa mixture into the cake batter. Handle the mixture gently – remember, real butches know that being gentle takes guts. Fold in the grated chocolate.
  6. Bake for about an hour.



And then…



As for the frosting – remember how important beer is as an ingredient? So we’re going to make it look like a pint of the black stuff. Double butch points.

  • 200g white chocolate
  • 200ml creme fraiche
  • 100g icing sugar


  1. Melt the chocolate on a low heat – microwave is easiest. Leave to cool.
  2. Mix in the creme fraiche. It will look lumpy and disgusting. Here’s how the magic happens..
  3. …Beat in the icing sugar with an electric mixer until smooth.
  4. Leave to cool in the fridge for about fifteen minutes. Then ice that son of a bitch cake, and enjoy.


I asked Jon if he thought edible glitter was a suitable decoration for the cake. After all – isn’t it a bit too…sparkly? He decided that, so long as the glitter was the dark red of a bleeding heart, we could just about get away with it. So there you have it – edible glitter for all. Grrrrrr.

The picture may be low quality, but the cake is the very best. Voila!


…and all the devils are here

July 6, 2011 § Leave a comment

I meant to put this up a while back, but just...couldn't. I kept on hoping it wasn't real.

Best talk plan

July 6, 2011 § 2 Comments

I'm pretty sure most people would say they talk 'to' God, rather than chat 'with'. Obviously they've been doing it wrong.

Where Am I?

You are currently browsing the oddments category at a gentleman and a scholar.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 533 other followers