Sorry to disappoint any fans of series 3 of the X Factor, but this blog is nothing to do with the Middlesbrough brothers from that show. Instead, it’s the next stage of my long weekend away at the TLI Eastbourne weekend. I know it’s disappointing, but stick with it.
The original plan that Andrea and I had made was to rise very early on the morning of 17th October and drive down to Dublin to catch the ferry for Holyhead, then drive all the way down to Eastbourne. However, around a month before all this was due to happen I was chatting to Michelle at the Butterfly Club when I happened to mention that I was going to have to rise at around 2.30am in order to give me time to do my make-up, get dressed and stop off to collect Andrea on the way to Dublin. Michelle then suggested something I should have thought of for myself – why not just go down to Dublin the night before and stay in a budget hotel or a B&B so we could get a decent night’s sleep? It was pretty obvious really, the idea of driving over 450 miles in a day on about 3 hours sleep was not an appealing one. So after a bit of searching on Trivago I found the Bram Stoker hotel, really little more than a pub with some rooms attached, in Clontarf, Dublin, less than 15 minutes’ drive from the ferry terminal.
For several (like about 5!) weeks beforehand I had been planning my packing list, and things that I needed to do before I set off. There was just so much of it, and I suppose in many ways spending time thinking about what I would bring and what we would do made it feel closer than it was. It had been my plan to just pack the night before but I realised that (a) there was so much to do and (b) it would be hard to lay everything out and pack it neatly into the cases without one or both of my kids walking in on me. So I booked that Thursday off work in order to be able to pack at my leisure. In fact, it took me all day to get ready. Packing itself took over two hours, it’s so much more involved packing as a woman. For the first time I had to think about daytime and evening outfits, co-ordinating accessories and matching shoes, making sure the right things were in my overnight bag for the Dublin Hotel, and keeping my travelling clothes to hand for getting changed in Lisburn. So much to keep track of! When travelling in male form it would just be 5 days, 5 shirts, 5 pairs of pants, 5 pairs of socks, done! I know some men take great pride in their clothing and appearance, but it would be hard to find anyone less interested in men’s clothing than me.
So not only was there a lot of packing, I had to complete a full body shave and lotion, a super close chin shave, clear out all the junk from the car, load up the car with the all the luggage, paint my toe nails and do a big shop at Tesco so Mrs Kirsty and the little Kirstys didn’t starve while I was away. I also picked up a few spare pairs of tights for myself while I was at it, as well as some bottles of water and crisps for in-car snacking on the road. Plus time for breakfast and lunch, and then going to collect Mrs K from work so I could get away quickly. Very action packed indeed. While I was in Tesco I came very close to buying myself a new jumper, a really nice beige fluffy jumper with a lilac heart in the middle. I hmmm-ed and hah-ed for several minutes but in the end I thought “No, I have all my outfits planned, let’s not confuse matters”.
Finally, at around 6.20pm everything was in place and I was ready to set off, still as Bob. I hugged my wife and daughters goodbye and hit the road. Unfortunately I was setting off in torrential rain, which as well as being unpleasant in itself, was mingling with rush hour traffic to make something close to gridlock in Belfast. It took me well over an hour to make my way to the Belfast Butterfly Club in Lisburn, a journey that normally takes about 25 minutes. Just as I arrived, at around 7.30pm, I received a text from Michelle saying “All Kirstified for 6 days no doubt”. No, nothing could be further from the truth. I was already an hour behind schedule. But finally I did get fully transformed into my real self, and then I left Bob’s holdall and coat, containing all male items, in the changing room at the BBC. At around 9pm I set off for Andrea’s house in a car containing no male items whatsoever. I was doing this holiday as a woman, and there was to be no possibility of slipping into maleness. Not that there was ever any desire to do so anyway of course…
Finally I arrived at Andrea’s house to find my best friend wearing a rather lovely beige fluffy jumper with a lilac heart in the middle. “Did you get that in Tesco?” I asked. Of course she did. Thank goodness I didn’t buy one too, that would have looked a bit mad, the pair of us turning up at the hotel in matching jumpers. Anyway, we had a very quick turnaround and soon we were on the road to Dublin. We went straight to the hotel with only a very short stop off to fill the car with diesel at lower Irish prices.
I parked the car at the back of the hotel quite a tight squeeze, we entered at the door signposted for reception. To be honest, it looked more like a fire escape than the reception entrance of a hotel, but in we went anyway to find a small and abandoned reception desk. There was a note on the desk “If reception is unattended, please enquire at the bar”. Well it was me who had made the booking, so I was the one who had to go into the bar. I had never been in a bar or pub as Kirsty before, so I can’t deny there were some nerves as I headed down the narrow corridor towards the bar. This wasn’t helped by the two young women standing talking to each other in the middle of the corridor, but I brushed past them and they paid me no notice. I walked into the bar and approached the barman. “Hi”, I said in my best girly voice, “My name is Kirsty Roberts, I have two single rooms booked for tonight”.
The barman looked through a big book of reservations – no online system for the Bram Stoker – and there was my name, beside one room and one room only. He looked at a list of bookings rather than a list of rooms and there was my name again, with one room beside it, albeit with the price I had been quoted for both rooms!
The barman called out behind the bar for someone else, and a man in a shirt (as opposed to a polo shirt, he must have been the manager) emerged from a small office behind the bar to ask if I was sure it was 2 rooms. Yes, I was sure, and I had the printed booking confirmation in my handbag if they wanted to see it. There was no need apparently, and luckily there was another room unoccupied, so that was rapidly allocated to Andrea, and the barman accompanied me back to the reception desk where she was still waiting in order to give us our keys. We got into our rooms by around 11.30 and went straight to bed.
Our ferry was due to depart at 8.05am, and we had to check in half an hour beforehand, so in order to allow for how long it takes to put my face on and make myself as beautiful as possible, I set my alarm for 5.15am knowing we would need to be on the road by 7am. Up I got, feeling surprisingly refreshed for a little over 5 hours’ sleep, and had the wonderful feeling of knowing that the day ahead would be the first full day of my life that I would be a woman all the time. How could I feel anything other than wonderful with that knowledge?
The ferry was the one part of the holiday that had been concerning me. And not because I was worried about how other passengers would treat us, I have been in public often enough to know that’s not really an issue. No, the worry for me was that the booking was in the name of Andrea and Kirsty, not Bob & Bob, and we would be asked for identification. Both our driving licences and passports are still in Bobs’ names, but we had our letters from our counsellors explaining the situation if questioned. Still, it was a worry. So much so, I swapped seats with Andrea so she could drive to the ferry and answer any questions at security. Plus, she is the lead booking, so it was probably better that she was presenting our tickets. Of course I needn’t have worried, we got through the security checkpoint quickly and easily, got handed our passes for the club class lounge (no mixing with the hoi polloi for us!) and after a bit of confusion (effing women drivers!) Andrea drove us up the ramp and on to the ferry. We parked up, noted our staircase, and made our way up to the lounge.
For a couple of vain girls like us, there was a nice addition on our way up the stairs. Full-length mirrors! Obviously we had no choice but to stop for selfies on the way up the stairs. Honestly, the joy of getting on to the boat had temporarily turned us into a pair of giddy schoolgirls. Fortysomething schoolgirls granted, but schoolgirls. It took a bit of searching as we were at the wrong end of the boat, and we had to walk through the “steerage” lounge with all the commoners (I’m joking!), but eventually we made our way to the club class lounge where we were greeted with a “Good morning, ladies” at the door. We found ourselves the best seat in the house, right at the window at the front of the ship facing the rising sun as it glinted off the waves. As I sat there tucking into a beautiful breakfast of smoked salmon and scrambled egg, I just thought “It doesn’t get any better than this, does it?” But of course it did get better. Unbelievably so. But I’ll save that for the next instalment.