A couple of years back I went on a day trip with one of my friends to Dumbarton, on the grounds that I hadn’t been there before and I also wanted to get some photos from around the west of Scotland for a change.
I wear my history nerdishness lightly, but I’ve long been interested in Dumbarton Rock, which was the last northern stronghold of the ancient Britons to fall to the Vikings in the eighth century (welcome to my blog; come for the crossdressing, stay for the history!).
It was a good day for it, and we could see for miles all around from Glasgow to Holy Loch and Benmore. It’s easy to see why there’s always been one castle or another here over the centuries (the name comes from Gaelic ‘Dùn Breatann‘, or ‘Fort of the Britons’). It had a garrison of soldiers until World War 2, but now most of it’s a mishmash of fortifications, old storage buildings, and ruins.
Aside from cannons serving purely decorative purposes, there are still mysterious remnants, like large metal rings embedded in the rockface. were they used for ropes to haul ammo and food around? Or flags? Or to anchor things in place? (I found my own uses.)
The top of the rock was exposed to high winds blowing off the Atlantic, so I’m glad I had a hair band clasping my wig to my head. Fortunately my friend was a photographer and worked out how to get the best shots…
We had a short picnic in the sun on one of the battlements and pottered about the surviving buildings. The place works well for a short blast of fresh air and exercise!
At this pandemic-y moment in 2022 (in Scotland at least), most of my friends are still wary about travelling and mingling too much, but when things improve, you’d better believe I’ll be posting more travels around the country! (Edited to add: HOLY SHIT THIS IS MY BLOG’S TENTH ANNIVERSARY POST!)
Usually my photoshoot trips go without a hitch and I don’t have much to say about them other than where I went and what the scenery was like. The fun ones are when things go wrong somehow, just to add a bit of adventure to the proceedings. Bonus fun comes from being dressed up in a way that can’t be ignored.
I went back to the engineering marvel that is the Falkirk Wheel and the towering sculptures of The Kelpies for some night photos – when they’re lit up, they look like something that’s landed from the planet Zog, so I figured they’d be ideal for another outing in my retro spacesuit.
It’s been a very long time since the Falkirk Wheel opened, and the whole thing about lighting it up at night doesn’t happen much these days. We didn’t have a tripod with us, so long-exposure photos where I tried to freeze my pose weren’t an option – and using the flash is a great way to bugger up the lighting conditions. I figured if I was going to Photoshop in a space helmet, I may as well go batshit with special effects to hide the washed-out face and crisp shadows.
It took a fair bit of trial and error, and we went exploring on the other side of the upper canal (my torch lit up a fence that I was all set to climb over until I saw a gigantic NOPE of large spiders scuttling about. Instead, we went to the canal tunnel and took some shots avoiding the graffiti on the walls. Anything for a location that looked faintly science-fictiony!
On the way in, the road to the car park was open and accessible. What I hadn’t foreseen was a large, long gate that was now padlocked shut, preventing anyone else from walking about after dark. It now prevented us from leaving. As Admiral Ackbar once put it, “IT’S A TRAP!”
Fortunately there was a number to call the canal control room in case something had gone wrong. I figured that a transvestite in a silver space suit unable to escape the canal car park counted as something going wrong, and eventually got to speak to a harassed guy with a ton of alarms blaring in the background.
I explained I hadn’t seen the gate and didn’t know it would be locked at 8pm – could someone possibly help, maybe, if it isn’t too much trouble, sorry to interrupt your evening (etc).
“Aye, I can send a manny tae let ye oot, but we’re huvin’ a wee spot ae bother,” said the guy at the other end, “Can ye gie us half an hour?”
“I’m not going anywhere.”
“Aye, right enough.”
The thing about cross-dressing in public is that you have to make yourself immune to feelings of embarrassment. A canal engineer in a high-vis jacket taking time out from his siren-filled office emergency to free the numpties who didn’t drive off when they were supposed to would make most people feel foolish.
Not at all.
Consequently we got to the Kelpies car park with not much more than half an hour left until it shut too. There was another car park but I didn’t fancy the long walk; so we had to do a rapid run around the sculptures taking photos, and I had to make quick decisions about what angles might work, and the kind of shots I was after. (Sometimes I can plan it out in advance, sometimes I have to adapt.)
Things were made a lot easier by the epic lighting and the slow phasing of the lights through the spectrum. The only downside was the couple of dozen people still wandering about.
The whole deal about ignoring what other people think of you comes in quite handy when they’re all wrapped up in their warm winter coats and boots, and I’m prancing around in lycra and go-go boots. Maybe they feared my beauty; maybe I scared them off; or maybe they just wanted to get back to their cars and leave before the gate was shut and locked. Who knows?
So it was a slightly more eventful evening than I’d planned, but I got the shots I wanted. I just needed to find a spot with some epic lighting and an interesting background and strike a pose for a bit.
Any fool could do that. Surprisingly few fools do!
First thing in the morning is a great time for photography for all sorts of reasons. For one thing, there’s the ‘golden hour’ after sunrise when the light is just perfect. For another, there are fewer people around to stare at you prancing about in a silver catsuit.
I’ve written previously about cosplaying as a retro astronaut, and there are a whole bunch of places where I could – with minimal photoshopping – make places in Scotland look like they were on another planet. I’m pretty sure the people who witnessed me wondered what planet I was on, too…
Sometimes the weird shit requires quite a tightly-focused angle. I ventured to Edinburgh’s Sheraton Hotel early on a Saturday morning to twitch my bumcheeks at guests having breakfast, posing beside artistic stone spheres and a hemisphere covered in shiny tiles. (These had seen better days; the trick was to find an angle where the gaps wouldn’t be seen, and to hide the abandoned fencing where posters had been hung to advertise shows during the recently-completed summer Festivals.)
The location in the city centre meant parking the car where I probably shouldn’t (just as well the traffic was light at sunrise on a Saturday morning!) And being in the city centre, it meant pulling on my go-go boots whilst weekend workers ambled past on their way to their workplaces. You can see why I don’t do this sort of thing at rush hour…
Another thing I sometimes have to pay attention to is the tide. (I’ve done this for various swimsuit shoots at Dunbar, for a Baywatch-themed shoot, and at a ruined lido in Fife.) If there’s one thing this has taught me – balancing tides with weather conditions – it’s patience and making the most of whatever you’re presented with.
For the spacey shots, the causeway to Cramond Island in the Firth of Forth resembled – to my feverish, teenage-geek-brain – the ruins of a long lost civilisation. (In reality, anti-submarine defences from the last century.) On this morning, there were a few more people walking about but the tide had only just receded far enough to make the causeway passable, so I had it to myself.
Some mornings you just have to take a chance. When it’s misty or foggy, you might get ‘moody’ or ‘atmospheric’ shots. And by happy chance you might get some epic, backlit clouds. At Arthur’s Seat (also in Edinburgh’s city centre), I got a few mountainous-looking photos in fog lit by the dawn sun. There was one old guy out walking his dog who asked if I was taking these photos for a Festival Fringe show.
Before the pandemic lockdowns got in the way, I’d started going swimming again for the first time in… bloody hell, a couple of decades. Part of this was to get in better tone/condition and improve my breathing, but a lot of it was to do with losing flab and firming up my fortysomething body (it’s not the years; it’s the mileage…)
Eventually I got to the point where I thought what the hell; maybe I could revisit one of my old photoshoots and re-do some sunrise beach swimsuit photos? The trouble is, it depends on getting the right conditions. If the tide’s too high, then it’s trickier to get a good angle with both me and the sun in shot. Too misty or hazy, and I’ll be lost in the glare of the light. Too cloudy and it’ll look like a grey day on the North Sea, and not ‘it looks kind of tropical’.
My beach of choice is at Dunbar, because it’s not too far from home, it’s nice and big (so easy to keep your distance from any others who might be foolish enough to be there at that time), and you can get the sunrise without any obvious markers of where you are (such as Fife, or Bass Rock). With nothing but sand, sea, and sun it could be anywhere.
I had a couple of false starts: one morning when there were no clouds over Edinburgh, but plenty nestled on the horizon blocking the golden glow I was after; and one when a rapidly-moving cloud front took over the sky as we drove out. This was the middle of summer, when sunrise is before 5am, so it wasn’t something I wanted to waste time on too much (those mornings, we returned to the city and I changed costume to do other shoots instead). It’s not great wasting a long, early-morning journey like that, let alone twice!
Third time was perfect: not too hazy, just enough cloud to give the sky some texture, and a sea that was just about lively enough to be interesting, but not dangerous. I’d already picked my theme: I got a red swimsuit and an inflatable Baywatch-style float, and a couple of party balloons for tits (I didn’t want to accidentally dip my usual falsies in the sea; I’d already done that in a freshwater loch…)
(I gave Baywatch a go on Amazon Prime for nostalgia. I was astounded that the first season was a proper action-drama which I remembered nothing about; the second more of the same but with more slow-mo music sequences of pert Californians; and then the balance shifted further and further.)
The dumb thing I did was to stick the inflated balloons under my swimsuit while I was driving out to the beach. The seatbelt had forced the air out of one of them, making me seriously lopsided, and I’d forgotten to bring any spares (having wasted a few on the earlier, aborted attempts).
But dammit, the weather and sea conditions were too good to waste, so I’d just have to work around it (lucky I had that float to hide with!). I suppose I should be glad they didn’t whistle as they deflated…
Another major change from the first set of beach photos was that this time I had a much better camera to work with. I could run up and down through the waves for action shots, and each droplet of water would be captured, crisp and perfect. Because that’s what I want people to look at, obviously…
I ventured a bit deeper into the water this time, but there’s a balance I wanted to get between striking a pose for the camera, and actually looking like I was swimming about. In the end, processing my way through the hundreds of photos we got, I found the best results came from running in the water, no deeper than mid-upper thighs (I was also wary of getting knocked down by the waves)…
I should also point out that I can see the appeal of cold-water swimming that people might indulge in. Once you get used to it, it’s “not too bad“, but it’s the situation that makes a difference: having a whole beach to ourselves; watching a sunrise; getting a sorta-kinda workout; and getting a record of your batshit start to the day. Bring a flask of tea – you’ll need it!
If that doesn’t convince you, I’ll point out that seawater’s a great exfoliator. The battlefield of ingrown hairs all over my legs cleared up no end (shame the effect didn’t last)!
Not sure it did the balloons any good, mind you – by the time I emerged from the water, one boob had completely deflated, and the other was shrivelling up as well. At least I could stop worrying about them…
Of course I haven’t had a chance to return to the pool during lockdown, and I’ve got a few kilos of belly flab I want to shift. I mean, I could go to the beach for a proper swim, but I’d want to feel good about myself before I put on that swimsuit again!
Cosplaying as a character you created yourself sounds like it should be easy, but there’s always going to be some major detail that buggers everything up.
A couple of years back I spent an inordinate amount of time doing sketches of a 60’s-style space adventure with cigar-shaped rocket ships and, yes, a space babe and her crew, all in shiny silver space suits. It got to the point where I got heartily sick of drawing buttocks, but damn it, I thought they looked kinda cool (the characters I mean; although the botties weren’t half bad either). Fuck it, I thought, I want to do a photoshoot like this!
Fortunately, most of the outfit can be bought dirt cheap from Ebay or Amazon with relatively few adjustments. As long as you expect a shiny silver catsuit from China to be completely the wrong size, most of it’s pretty easy to acquire (sometimes from the weirdest places – like a pub in England with a surplus of novelty ketchup bottles…).
The only part which eluded me was the goldfish-bowl space helmet. Actual goldfish bowls were either too small or too heavy, and in either case I didn’t fancy balancing one on my head. Other options were too expensive, and making a custom-fit, lightweight version myself was beyond my skills. So I decided to Photoshop it in, instead (and hope I didn’t take photos on windy days…)
The next issue was finding locations to take all these damn photos. I had ideas – oh, you’d better believe I had ideas! – and ended up with more locations than I could possibly talk about in this blog entry alone (more in future months, I promise). Having already travelled the length of Scotland from the border to John O’Groats, anything was possible. I figured out road routes that would give me as many locations in as few journeys as possible. I scoured Google Earth for places that mixed the familiar with the obscure, and sketched out rough ideas for different shots.
I had a route planned that would start at silly o’clock in the morning, and get me to Aberdeen at sunrise. All I needed to do was keep an eye on the weather and hope the skies wouldn’t sabotage the journey. Weather forecasts are only reliable up to a point, and then you just have to rely on luck, and accept whatever shots you can get.
We went to bed not long after dinner, and woke not long after midnight. Batshit crazy? It meant I could slap on my makeup and the spray-on silver catsuit, and drive to Dundee by 3am. Yes; utterly batshit crazy.
My main interest in Dundee was the recently-opened V&A art gallery on the edge of the river Tay. Happily, being there at 3am meant there was nobody around to ask drunken questions, or dive into the shots, or just spoil things. At that time, the only interest was from the night guard (I swear, I must’ve given a handful of night guards some weird shit to contend with on their CCTV screens over the years…). We wandered around the funky modern architecture as long as our schedule allowed before moving on again…
The next stop was Balmedie beach. I’d been here a few times when I was a kid, so I knew it had vast expanses of sand that could double as a desert planet, grassy dunes, freshwater streams choked with greenery making their way to the beach, and best of all, an epic windfarm which annoys the shit out of Donald Trump.
As we approached Aberdeen I saw a massive bank of cloud hanging over the northern skies, and I had a nasty feeling they’d block out the sunrise. To my immense relief, we got about ten minutes’ sunshine as the sun broke the horizon, and made as much use of it as we could. Sunrise was the only limitation on the schedule; after that we could take our time at the remainder of the locations.
The next stop was a stone circle at Daviot, in the middle of… well, nowhere. Grampian region is pretty sparse, and the country roads are choked with roadkill rabbits, like a Beatrix Potter version of Schindler’s List. God, it’s grim.
For the purposes of the photoshoot, I figured the stone circle, surrounded by trees, might give a Stargate-y vibe (in that series, they gave themselves an excuse for why every planet they visited resembled a Canadian forest…). I had a bash at recreating one of my sketches which was easier said than done. First I had to scamper over sharp, loose rocks in high-heeled go go boots, and then try holding that ridiculous pose for ages (taking breaks to see how they looked on the camera, and then going back to readjust).
So yeah, seemingly minor locations can take a while to complete…
The final stop was an abandoned 1930s lido at Tarlair on Grampian’s northern coast. It’s still intact, but clearly it’s been decades since its hey-day. It’s set among cliffs and rock arches that make for an otherworldly appearance.
When we arrived there was a single guy running laps around the area, and doing chin-ups and exercises (I guess there isn’t much else to do first thing on a Sunday morning here). We found it easy to keep him out of the shots, but he was clearly interested in what we were doing and dying to speak to us… but keeping a respectful distance.
There were tons of different shots we could take there (it’s been difficult whittling it down to only the best of the best; the location looks good at any angle), but eventually we realised that it was time to head back south. I changed back into a more ordinary dress and shoes, and when we were about to head off the exercise guy walked by.
“Don’t get many space girls landing in Banff!” he said. He’d been dying to say that for ages, poor sod. I gave him a cheesy grin and pretended to laugh silently because I knew if I said anything my voice would just wreck his whole morning.
We stopped off to tank up the car, and a bunch of retired and well-fed old men were gathered in the petrol station shop to buy their morning papers and catch up on everything that wasn’t happening in the area. Obviously, me walking in with my makeup and retro hair was a sight they don’t get that often, so they all clammed up and stared silently as I paid and left in less than sixty seconds. Was it creepy? Or did they realise I was a guy in a dress? Honestly, I didn’t give a shit what they thought – which is pretty much the only superpower you need to crossdress.
And with that, I had a batch of photos I could photoshop with my space helmet… and maybe add a few details to, like planets and frickin’ laser beams.