For a long time before setting off on this holiday, Andrea and I had both agreed that what we were looking forward to most wasn’t actually being in the hotel and attending the events. In fact, what we were looking forward to was being tourists and getting out and about doing touristy things. Later, when Ruth was expressing some doubts about how she felt about spending the entire weekend in a hotel exclusively in the company of other trans* people, Andrea and I both assured her that we planned to get out of the hotel and see the sights, and that she was most welcome to come with us. When the TLI forum began to fill with talk of cheerleader outfits, formation dancing and onesie breakfasts, the feeling just intensified that staying in the hotel was not for us. So before we even arrived in Eastbourne, all three of us planned to be out in the real world a fair amount. However, I was surprised just how much time we spent away from the hotel.
I rose around 8.15am, in time to shower and put my face on in time for breakfast at 9.30. Breakfast was fine if unexceptional, a bowl of cornflakes and something claiming to be a “full English” although with just one sausage and one bacon rasher you would be hard pressed to call it a full anything. In fact, the first attempt at serving me breakfast ended when our waiter, clearly distracted by my ravishing beauty, dropped the plate on the floor, thoughtfully splashing Andrea and me with some grease and baked beans. And it was missing mushrooms, surely a key feature of any cooked breakfast. Andrea asked for some, but was politely refused. Half way through breakfast Andrea remarked that the spilled breakfast was still lying on the floor beside her chair. We asked another waiter if it could be tidied up, and he obliged. I think the first waiter may have been getting the rounds of the kitchen! Anyway, the other waiter was lovely, light hearted and chatty. I wish I had got his name. However, nice as he was, he still couldn’t get Andrea any mushrooms.
Ruth, Andrea and I had decided the previous evening that our first port of call today would be Beachy Head, famous as a beauty spot and infamous as a suicide blackspot. We got into the car, having first squirted Andrea in the face with my screen washer while trying to remove the nighttime deposits of some seagulls who had clearly acquired a taste for oatcakes and Kellogg’s All Bran. It was a short drive to the coast and we parked up in the car park next to a restaurant and gift shop. Even here, a few hundred metres back from the coast, the scenery was stunning, with gentle green hills rolling down to white cliffs and the odd lighthouse. The three of us set off across the field on the uphill walk to the clifftops.
The nearer we came to the cliff edge, the windier it got, until eventually my hair was going every direction imaginable, as well as a few unimaginable ones. But it held firm and never once felt like it was going to achieve lift-off on its own. We stood at the edge of the white cliffs, admiring the stunning scenery and revelling in the fact that we were really doing this. If you had told me a year ago that I would be here on the south coast of England with two new and dear friends and all three of us fully presenting as the women we really are, I would have thought you were bonkers. In fact, it would have just seemed downright impossible. Yet here I was, feeling totally at ease and incredibly positive.
We walked along the cliff edge for a while, then strolled back to the car. Rather than get straight back in and drive to our next destination, I pointed out that there was a little gift shop so we could go for a quick browse. In we went, and not only was there a gift shop, but also a visitors’ centre with an exhibition of the history of the area. It was small, but rather charming and included a lovely display of birds with buttons to press to hear the appropriate birdsong. Unfortunately, it also included “Walter The Shepherd”, a figure of a Sussex farmer which struck me as downright creepy. It was clothed very authentically, but the figure itself appeared to be made of some kind of semi-transparent deep blue material that glowed in a rather unnatural way. As if that wasn’t bad enough, I was startled to hear a voice coming from it and see what must have been an actor’s face projected on to the inside of the head. It might have been a technological marvel, but it was the stuff of nightmares. Have a look…
We moved back into the main visitor centre where I bought a postcard to send to my friend Vin back in Northern Ireland. Vin was one of the two friends to whom I had come out as TS the previous weekend, so he was about to receive his first piece of written correspondence from female-me. I took it up to the very friendly women on the till, and had a little bit of a chat with them while I paid for my postcard and stamp. Was this really me? I’m chatting away, relaxed and unselfconscious, having a lovely day out.
(Quick aside: I didn’t mention in the post about yesterday, two things had been said to me which gave me a little bit of confidence in my voice. Andrea mentioned in the car that she doesn’t really think about my voice, I just sound like Kirsty, and then when we met Ruth, quite early on she commented that Andrea and I both have our voices sounding really good. Personally, I think Andrea’s voice is way ahead of mine, but I’m trying. And a compliment certainly helps. I’m so shallow!)
Just as we were about to leave the gift shop, I noticed that Ruth had also been over making a purchase or two. She came over to me afterwards, and gave me a little gift, a bookmark with my name on it. How sweet. Back into the car we went, and on to the next stop.
Not very far up the road, we came to the lighthouse that we had seen from Beachy Head. We parked up and the three of us walked together up the pathway to the lighthouse, passing many people on the way who paid us no more heed than they would to any three other people. We reached the lighthouse, and we were enjoying our stroll and chat so much we just kept on walking, until eventually I had to cut short our walk as we had only paid for an hour’s car parking and we needed to turn back again.
The next stop was Birling Gap. The visitor centre here was run by the National Trust, so at least we could park for free thanks to Andrea’s membership. We took more photos, and then went for another stroll along the cliff tops. Eventually, the terrain began to look very familiar and we realised that we had in fact reached the point where we had turned back toward the lighthouse half an hour earlier. So back we went again to the visitor centre for another browse round the gift shop and a quick visit to the ladies.
By this time it was past 1pm, so we decided to go into the cafe at Birling Gap for a quick bite to eat. We walked in to find just about every table taken, and enough people queuing for food that any remaining seats were surely on borrowed time. So we turned round, and went back to the car. As it turned out, this was rather a serendipitous event.
We weren’t quite sure where to go next. One thing was for sure, we didn’t want to go back and spend the rest of the afternoon at the hotel, so Andrea got out her road atlas and her National Trust handbook, and searched for somewhere appropriate for three genteel(!) ladies like ourselves to visit. She found somewhere – the Alfriston Clergy House. To be honest, we didn’t really know what it was but it was within reach so with the satnav duly programmed, off we went. Before too long, I heard Ruth and Andrea both calling out “there it is!” just as I drove right past the entrance. Well I was too busy watching the road ahead to look out for signage. Right?
In another moment of serendipity, we drove straight up the main street of this completely charming, quintessentially English little village. We parked at the far end of the town and walked back up towards the centre. It was a charming little place, and just about the only people in town apart from us appeared to be there for a wedding, which just added to the fairytale atmosphere about the place. We passed a man with two young children on the narrow footpath and he called out to them “Let those ladies past”. He was talking about us. This was just heavenly.
After walking up and down the main street, in fact just about the only street, and admiring the church and the lovely wooden framed buildings, we made our way into a little tea room. We saw that there was a terrace out the back, so we walked through the crowded dining area and out into the equally crowded garden. We found a table and ordered some light snacks – bacon and brie toasties for Andrea and me, and a traditional cream tea for Ruth, who was very impressed when the tea and hot water arrived in separate pots. We did have to wait quite some time for our food, but it was excellent when it arrived, and all in all a more civilised and idyllic afternoon could barely be imagined. I even found the time to write Vin’s postcard.
Finally we drove back into the Eastbourne and parked the car close to the hotel. But it was still only 4pm so rather than go straight back in, we went for a walk into the centre of the town on a little shopping spree. Ruth had discovered an Arndale Centre the previous day, so she lead us back there for a bit of a browse. We nipped in and out of several shops, until in River Island I spied a lovely plummy purple jumper on the sale rack. At half price and in my size it would be rude not to at least try it on! I also realised that I would need a vest top to wear underneath it as it was slightly see-through, but Ruth had that covered and directed me to a 2-for-£10 offer. I joined the queue for the changing rooms, where there was a young female attendant letting people in and out, and directing them to unoccupied cubicles. As I reached the front of the queue and handed over my three items to her, she looked at my hand and remarked “Oh, I love your nails”. “Thank you” I replied. But inside I was shouting “yessss!”, my first ever girly compliment, and it meant so much because there was no need for her to say it at all. Of course, I got into the cubicle and loved the jumper. Even Mrs Kirsty likes it, and she’s usually quite withering about my female fashion choices.
On we went round a few more shops. I picked up a glittery bracelet in BHS as one last accessory for my outfit for that night (more on that later!) and then back to the hotel. Two hours to get changed for dinner. And what a night was coming up. Tears and tiaras, literally. But I’ll save that for next time. It might just have been one night, but what a night. Not just enjoyable, but truly educational. I learned so much about myself and my place on the trans* spectrum, as well as having a damn good night.
So what did I learn from my day out? That I really enjoyed the company of these two women. That I don’t need to be nervous about going out. That I can chat away to other people with no need to feel self-conscious about my voice. That an unsolicited compliment from another woman is manna from heaven. And that yet again, anything is possible.
Oh, and that life-size talking plastic figures are really creepy.