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Motorways.  Don’tcha just love ’em?  No.  At least, not any more.  Based on my experiences in trying to drive to Eastbourne, in the dictionary under “Motorway” it should simply say “See ‘Car Park'”.  But I’m getting ahead of myself…

Andrea and I spent a pleasant and relaxing 3 hours in the lounge of the ferry to Holyhead, availing ourselves of the free tea, coffee and nibbles available, chatting aimlessly, reading and (in Andrea’s case) blogging.  Almost before we knew it the coast of Anglesey came into view and we were getting ready to dock. We made our way down to the car deck and at shortly before 11.40am I started the engine and we rolled down the ramp onto Welsh soil.  Twenty minutes later we still hadn’t managed to leave the ferry terminal complex. There must have been a party of bikers on the boat and at one point our car was completely surrounded by them, so much so that I felt like I had strayed on to the starting grid at the Isle of Man TT.

Eventually we got on to the dual carriageway, cruise control was engaged and we made good time all along the North Wales coast.  While we were driving along we received a text from Ruth saying that she was already on board the train for Eastbourne.  Surely that must just be the train from her home in Yorkshire, I thought, she can’t be in London yet, it’s not even lunchtime.  Still, we were moving swiftly along (within the speed limit m’lud) so the car seemed a perfectly good option to us.  Then we reached the M6 and everything ground to a halt.  Literally, a complete standstill.

Andrea gets the coffees in

Andrea gets the coffees in

After about half an hour of shuffling along we thought “time for a break” and stopped off for a toilet break and coffee at Knutsford Services.  Even though I had been in Kirsty-mode since the previous evening, for some reason this really felt like a taste of Real Life Experience.  And even though I do say so myself, we both sailed through it.  We went into a busy service station, straight into the ladies loo and there were no problems whatsoever.  The thing is, I didn’t even feel remotely conspicuous.  Of course I was going to the ladies, why would I be in the gents, I’m a woman!  I emerged first and waited in the main concourse for Andrea.  There were a lot of people about, but I genuinely felt no more visible than had I been there as Bob.  And I felt a hell of a lot better about myself because I was really being myself, rather than some fake man.

I had a realisation as I stood there.  Anything is possible.  I am a woman here, in a very public place, surrounded by all sorts of people, and I’m just another one of them.  I fit in.  I’m not a weirdo.  I’m a human being who just happens to be a woman with a male history.  The only restriction is myself and how far I am prepared to take things.  So after that epiphany, we grabbed a couple of coffees from a Starbucks kiosk outside, got back into the car and rejoined the M6 car park.

Eventually the traffic chaos did abate somewhat, but for most of the way down to Birmingham things were pretty busy.  All the way along I could see the satnav giving an estimated arrival time further and further away from the 7pm dinner that we had been hoping to make.  It was around this time that Ruth texted again to tell us she had arrived at the hotel!  It turns out she really had been in London when she texted earlier, and she had made great time.  We were still well over 200 miles away.  But it was great to hear from Ruth and know that she was already in the hotel waiting to meet us.  At this stage the satnav was telling us we were going to be around half an hour late for dinner, but 5 hours for 200 miles seemed excessive at normal motorway speeds.  Finally we hit the M25 and everything ground to a complete halt.  Even worse than the M6.  Up until this point we had held out some hope that we might make up the time and get there for dinner, even if we had to eat in our jeans rather than our posh frocks.  Once we hit the M25, that hope evaporated in an instant.

Andrea called Ruth.  The first time that either of us had spoken to this person with whom we have both corresponded for many months, and developed a strong friendship without ever meeting.  Here she was, on the end of the phone.  “Hi Ruth!” I shouted.  Ruth got on with taking our orders for the so-called cold platters that were available as an alternative for latecomers.  What that actually meant was a plate of sandwiches for me, and a salad for Andrea, but it was good to get that ordered.  Andrea came off the call with Ruth and announced with a big enthusiastic grin on her face “She sounds lovely”.  From that point on dinner was never an issue, and we just relaxed, knowing that we would arrive at some point.  To be honest, the miles just rolled past.  Andrea is such easy company that the chat just flowed with no awkward silences.  A few comfortable silences, but to me that is a true test of friendship, being able to not say anything without feeling awkward.  I still need to convert her to my musical taste though, how can she not like this?

There were a couple more service station breaks, each as uneventful as the last, until finally at around 8.30pm, approaching nine hours after we set off from Holyhead, we parked the car and rolled our suitcases towards the Haddon Hall Hotel, our base for the weekend.  On the steps of the hotel, a trans* person approached us with effusive greetings, giving Andrea a hug and then me too.  Well thank goodness for forum profile pictures, and I recognised her as Siobhan from the TLI forums.  Andrea had stayed with her a month or so beforehand, so there was some history, it’s not like everyone is just randomly hugging unfamiliar trans* people.  And I like to think that as Siobhan is an Irish ex-pat, she was happy to see another (Northern) Irish person arrive.  That, and she’s just really nice and friendly too.

We went up the steps into the hotel to find the lobby mostly deserted.  Everyone was still in the dining room, so we thought we would just get checked in, get up to our rooms, make ourselves a bit more glamorous and then come down and make a proper entrance. The lift was so tiny it held a maximum of three people, or one person and her two suitcases. Andrea went up to her room first, followed by me. The room was tiny. The smallest hotel room I had ever been in. But there was a bed, a wardrobe (thank god I brought my own coat hangers), a few drawers, a sink, a shower, and a floor length mirror on the back of the door. And importantly, a very well lit mirror in the ensuite for make up usage. They had even thoughtfully included some make up wipes in the bathroom, although as they were Tesco Value wipes they remained unopened in favour of my Nivea ones all weekend. I very quickly pulled my case open and located my red dress, the one Michelle had given me on my birthday, some black sheer tights, a nice pair of nude heels and a change of jewellery to something a bit more dressy. Then a quick touch-up of makeup, including for the first time ever some lipstick and lip gloss in what my friend Lauren calls “Slut Red” and I was ready for anything. In fact, more than that, I felt wonderful. So wonderful. I was here at last, and this was really happening.

I had been so looking forward to meeting Ruth, but I hope she won’t mind me saying there was a little bit of trepidation too.  I was never one for pen pals in my youth, but Ruth had become something akin to a pen pal, perhaps a keyboard pal, and someone with whom I seemed to share a lot in common, particularly with regard to where we both are on our trans* journey.  I have really enjoyed our email correspondence, and I loved her blog from day 1, but when it’s someone you have never met in person there’s a little nagging doubt that they might just be really annoying in real life, or have a bit of a personal hygiene problem.  I needn’t have worried.

Andrea and I met at the lift entrance and went down to the lobby/bar area together. As we emerged, we looked round at everyone else. Just as Andrea asked me “Can you see Ruth anywhere?” I heard a loud shout of “KIRSTY!!!” It seems that Ruth had found us. She was sitting right in front of us. We all exchanged huge, massive, enormous hugs and started talking. We barely stopped for the rest of the weekend. It was such a joy to finally meet up with her, she was so much on our wavelength and so much coming from the same place as both of us (emotionally, not Leeds😎) that we were like Loctite SuperGlue 3 – we bonded in seconds.

The Super Glue 3 - (l-r) Andrea, Ruth & Kirsty

The SuperGlue 3 – (l-r) Andrea, Ruth & Kirsty

Ruth introduced Andrea and me to another girl, Claire, who was another first-timer and had come alone, so she and Ruth had hooked up with each other while Andrea and I were still somewhere on the M40.  She was a very welcome addition to our little group, and the four of us dined and breakfasted together for the rest of the weekend.

Each evening at the Haddon Hall had an optional theme.  The first night’s theme was “Bond Girls”.  Not wishing to dress like former BBC royal correspondent Jennie Bond, we had all decided to opt out of this one.  However, neither did we wish to be party poopers, so we walked down the steps into the basement disco in order to check out what was happening.  On reflection this was quite a significant moment in my trans* history.  Not so much that it made me realise what I am, but rather it really brought it home to me what I am not.  Now I am trying desperately hard not to come across as some sort of trans snob, after all as a part timer I am hardly in a position to do any such thing, but despite the tight dresses, PVC bodysuits and killer heels on display, the whole thing felt a bit, well, mannish.  I really hate that I’m saying that, but there was a definite air of loud and lairy male behaviour and I didn’t like it.  It’s tempting to just put it down as a simple TV v TS thing, but there were plenty of trans women there, including fully transitioned, post-op women  I can’t even pin it down to who was behind it, maybe it was some sort of herd thing, but it definitely didn’t feel like it was something I wanted to be part of.  Perhaps it was the showing-off aspect of it that I was most uncomfortable with.  Despite the verbosity of my blog posts, I am actually quite quiet in real life and there was a real “look at me!” vibe that I was uncomfortable with.  As it happens, Andrea and I both ended up being part of it the following night, but that’s for the next instalment.  And I don’t want to dwell on this aspect too much right now, possibly I will save that for my summing-up post once I have got through the “what we did on our holidays” aspect of this wonderful 5-day weekend.

Slut Red lipstick indeed!

Slut Red lipstick indeed!

Despite having been up since shortly after 5am, we were still going strong until well after midnight fuelled by red wine (me), Stella Artois (Ruth) and mineral water (miss goody two shoes Andrea) but eventually just before 1am we decided to call it a day.  Up I went to my room, feeling completely delighted with how the day had gone, and super excited for what was to come.  The only problem was, I had to spend an hour unpacking before I could go to sleep.  Well, maybe time for one more selfie, so pleased was I with my look for this evening.  So pleased in fact, that it’s now my WordPress profile pic.  Not bad for someone who’s been awake for 20 hours.

Next time – the SuperGlue 3 hit the South Downs!

Kirsty x