Sunday morning was the morning after the night before, in as much as those of us who were snow queens had reverted back to being mere subjects, apart of course from Queen Andrea who kept Claire, Ruth and me waiting for her to make her big entrance into the restaurant. Obviously the previous day’s exertions had been too much for her. Breakfast had been due to start by 9.30am, but it was nearly 9.45 by the time her royal highness appeared. The waiter came round to take breakfast orders, and again Andrea asked for mushrooms and again she was refused. At least my breakfast didn’t end up on the floor this time.
There was another event taking place during breakfast, one which none of us were taking part in. The onesie breakfast. So not me. I know they’re very popular these days, but to me onesies on adults look a bit pervy, almost like adult babies, and when you add in bunny rabbit and wonder woman onesies, it’s not for me at all. So much so, I tried to look away. Some things are best left unseen. Still, the chat at our table was as good as ever and, as was becoming a habit, the four of us were just about the last to leave the restaurant as the staff were readying the place for dinner around us.
After a quick trip upstairs to freshen up, we had agreed to meet at the hotel entrance for today’s excursion. We had decided to go to all 1066 today, so a visit to Hastings Castle followed by a trip to Battle to see the battlefield was on the agenda. Ruth and I were standing on the steps talking when I was approached by a slightly hassled looking trans* person asking in an Irish accent
“Are you Kirsty?”
“You’re Andrea’s friend?”
“Stacy’s looking for her. She’s arranged this thing specially for her and she’s all set and can’t find Andrea”
Stacy Novak (along with Shane Marcus) runs TransLiving. She also has a little sideline selling cosmetic products specifically made for the trans* market and our, ahem, unique requirements. Soon I was approached by Siobhan, whom I had met upon our arrival on Friday night;
“Kirsty have you seen Andrea? Stacy’s looking for her”
Well this must be serious. I texted Andrea to let her know she was in demand, while fielding more requests for her whereabouts from Stacy’s errand girls. Eventually (it was only a couple of minutes) she made it downstairs to find herself in great demand. Basically Stacy was looking to give Andrea a demonstration of some product in which she had expressed a passing interest, before the trade stalls opened and it got busy. Andrea had to go and make her excuses as the tourist travels of the Super Glue 3 had to take precedence, so after a short delay, we got on the road to Hastings.
(Quick aside: Andrea did eventually get to try out Stacy’s product, bought some, and as far as I am aware is happy with her purchase)
Hastings was a slightly longer drive than Beachy Head had been the previous day, but when we did arrive there, we found that just like Beachy Head it was very windy. We parked up in a “pay and dismay” car park at the sea front and tried to work out just where the castle was. It was less straightforward than you might think. Incredibly, we were assisted by Ruth’s memories of coming to Hastings on holiday with her family as a three-year-old. It really had changed so little that she still had a vague idea where to go.
The castle is on top of the cliffs overlooking the town, and needs to be accessed via a funicular railway. We found the station, paid for our tickets, and waited for the next train to arrive. It was only about five minutes later that we found ourselves sharing that little train with about ten other people, and as usual we didn’t seem to be attracting any more attention than anyone else. We reached the top very quickly and emerged to the realisation that we couldn’t see the castle, and we didn’t have a clue where it was. There was a crowd of teenage tourists milling around, so when we saw them heading off decisively in one direction, we followed, using the logic like they looked like they knew where they were going. They may well have done, but where they were going was not the castle.
There were muddy dead ends and scenic routes aplenty, but finally we did find ourselves at the entrance to the castle. The entrance fee was £4.50, which seemed a little pricey for what was little more than a few crumbling walls. There was also a film theatre in the middle of the castle (built a bit more recently!) showing a 20-minute film about the history of the castle. We spent about an hour up there, including watching the film, exploring the ruins and visiting the dungeons. The views from up on high were rather spectacular, and I suppose I’m glad we went, but for some reason I had been expecting something a bit more like Carrickfergus Castle back home, so I was a little bit disappointed in the castle itself. Still, I had a very enjoyable time in the company of Ruth and Andrea, so it was far from a wasted few hours.
By around 2.30pm we were back in the car on the short drive to Battle. Our intention was to visit Battle Abbey, and the site of the Battle of Hastings. However, as we all know, the best-laid schemes o’ mice an’ men (and transwomen) gang aft agley, so we had a slightly different afternoon than we had originally intended. It took quite some time to find a parking spot, and in the end we parked in the Battle Abbey car park. It seemed very expensive, but there was a part refund on your entry ticket for the Abbey itself, where we did intend to go.
However, once we came out of the car park we realised that as it was approaching 3pm it was about time we took a break for a small bite to eat. Right facing the Abbey was a bar and tearoom called the “Pilgrim’s Rest”. It was a beautiful old timber-framed building, and on the inside it was chock full of character. Everything looked authentically old, from the floorboards to the rafters, and the smell of peat burning added to the authenticity. We took our table and ordered teas and coffees, teacakes for Ruth and Andrea, and a proper English scone with jam and cream for me. Well they didn’t disappoint, I had one of the most delicious and best presented scones I have ever had, and the surroundings just added to the experience.
As our waitress was delivering our teacakes and scone, we asked her if she knew anything about the history of the place. Well obviously this must be a question that gets asked quite often because she disappeared and returned with three A4 sheets, one for each of us, bearing a history of the Pilgrim’s Rest. It turns out that an inn was set up in this spot in the mid-14th century, and had been there in its present form since 1420. We were eating afternoon tea in a tearoom that was approaching 600 years old! That would explain the feeling of genuine antiquity in the place. I loved it all the more after finding this out, it was such a special place.
I had a bit of a faux pas in the Pilgrim’s Rest. I felt the call of nature, and so I went in the door labelled “Toilets” to find two apparently identical cubicles with their doors open. I went into the first cubicle and did what was required. While I was in there, I heard someone else go into the other cubicle, use it, and leave. When it came time for me to leave, I opened the door of my cubicle and for the first time saw that there was a sign on the other side of it: “Gentlemen”! Nightmare! I checked the door of the other cubicle: “Ladies”. My heart sank. Not with the trauma of having inadvertently used the wrong loo, which was bad enough, but someone had been in while I was in. If that person could saw me emerge, they would know that I had been in the men’s toilet and might think that I was, ugh, a man. I sheepishly emerged, and returned to our table where my dear companions showed their sympathetic sides by laughing at my stupidity. Thanks girls.
For all that, it was a wonderful little while in a wonderful place. While we were sitting there I posed a question to the other two that I think had been growing in all our minds for the previous few days; “Would this holiday have been any worse or better if the three of us had have just booked ourselves into any hotel for three days without TLI?” The response to the question was, apart from the Snow Queen ball which was very much a one-off, that we would have enjoyed ourselves at least as much and possibly more, if it were just the three of us. That’s not a reflection on anyone else who was at Eastbourne, but I think that Ruth, Andrea and I are all at a stage of being comfortable enough with going out and being our real selves in public that there’s no requirement for a “special” event to allow us to be ourselves. All it does is put us back in the closet. And a little less blokey banter would be nice too.
We emerged from the Pilgrim’s Rest to the realisation that it was much too late to go into Battle Abbey, so we spent a short while walking up and down the main street of the town. I even managed to post Vin’s postcard which had been sitting in my handbag since the previous morning. The stroll didn’t last too long since it was Sunday afternoon and everything was shut. We returned to the car and got ready to leave. All we had to do was negotiate the car park payment machine. Sounds simple? No. You had to pay on exit, through your car window, it was coins only, there was no attendant, and it was determined to reject every coin that we put in it. I think the three of us were genuinely beginning to panic that we would be trapped there forever, it must have taken us well over 5 minutes to pool our coin resources enough to find £4.50 worth of acceptable coins. We departed with relieved laughter.
Upon arrival at Eastbourne, we decided to go for a stroll along the sea front and take a look at the pier. Eastbourne Pier had been badly damaged in a fire several months earlier, so I had been pleased to read that it had been partially reopened a few weeks before we went there. We took a leisurely walk along the promenade, and on to the pier, where the heels of my boots made a very satisfying “clunk” on the boards. The part nearest the land was still badly damaged, and was mostly covered up apart from a walkway around the outside. However the outer half appeared to be in reasonable repair. About half way along we came across a gift shop, and decided to go in. It was here that we had the first genuinely bad experience, although the person in question was just trying to be friendly.
We spent around ten minutes browsing the gift shop, and Andrea found a little gift for her daughter. As we all approached the till, the woman behind the counter asked in a friendly voice “Are you all here for that thing at the Haddon Hall?” My heart sank. I looked from Andrea to Ruth, and I could sense that they were experiencing the same emotions. One of us reluctantly answered that yes, we were, but with no enthusiasm. We paid for our items and left, completely crestfallen. I’m sure the woman thought she was being friendly and taking an interest, but what she was really saying was that we’re not passing, she has us clocked. And that’s not a nice feeling. It’s easy to be wise after the event, but the correct answer to the question “Are you all here for that thing at the Haddon Hall?” would have been “No. What’s going on at the Haddon Hall, and why would we be at it?”.
We returned to the hotel to get ready for dinner. It was a fairly quick change into one of my old favourites, my black dress with gold foil, and my cream wooden heeled court shoes. Down to dinner I went and joined my friends at our table. Some of you may recall that Andrea had asked for mushrooms at breakfast the last two days, only to be refused as they didn’t have any. So what was one of tonight’s starters? Garlic mushrooms. What was one of the main courses? Chicken and mushroom pie. At least now we know what happened to the mushrooms.
The theme for this evening was “military”. Right after I booked I toyed briefly with the idea of getting some sort of fancy dress wren’s outfit, but in the end I decided that enough was enough. I would rather wear a pretty dress than an ugly uniform, who wouldn’t? Well, it turns out that several people wouldn’t, and had chosen to wear some military uniforms that I am pretty certain would never make it to a combat zone. Likewise, I am fairly confident that there isn’t really an officer in the British Army called “Major Tease”. All that being the case, Andrea Ruth and I agreed that we would relocate ourselves elsewhere before the fancy dress party got into full swing. Google Maps was consulted and we found a real ale pub in the middle of town called The Dolphin. Reviews were good and it looked like just the spot for a quiet drink and a chat.
In an earlier blog I noted that I had pretty much got the hang of this walking in heels lark. Well it was well over half a mile from our hotel to The Dolphin, and I did it in not inconsiderable heels. And you know what, it was fine. In fact, I like walking in heels, it changes my stride into something altogether more feminine. So after about a ten minute walk through a fairly quiet Eastbourne Sunday evening, we arrived at our pub of choice and walked in. It was quiet. There were two young barmaids on duty, and there can’t have been more than ten customers in the pub, none of whom paid us any heed, from the man by himself tapping away on a laptop, the young women in the corner or the two slightly rough-looking men sinking a few pints beside the bar. From the entrance, we approached the bar from the side and found ourselves facing pumps of the usual mass-produced lagers, so I ordered a pint of Kronenbourg. It was fine, but when we took our table I looked up to see five proper cask ales that I could have ordered. I should know better, I lived in Lancashire for three years! For the second pint (of two!) I tried something a bit more traditional, Hophead, and it was gorgeous. I mean really beautiful. You can’t get beer like that in Ireland and it’s a shame.
And now, another one of “Kirsty’s Toilet Tales” ™. I got up from my seat to go to the ladies (!) but one of the barmaids had begun cleaning up. I stood at the entrance waiting for her to finish wiping the sink so I could get past, but instead she looked into the mirror over the sink to see a six-foot-plus trans woman staring silently at her. I think I nearly gave the poor girl a heart attack! She apologised for blocking me and let me past, but when I emerged again and saw her, the two of us had such a laugh together about this little incident. It was really lovely and best of all it was all so relaxed and natural, more wonderful acceptance for me.
We walked back to the hotel, still in those heels, but the night was still young, so we took a walk along the seafront for a little while. The idea was to go down to the pier and see it lit up, but it was closed and dark, so instead Andrea and I took Ruth to see where we had had the Snow Queen pictures taken the previous night. It would also let her understand why it took us an hour to emerge from the fire escape on Saturday night! While strolling along the front, we saw a sign indicating something rather appropriate considering the support group of which Andrea and I are both members: the Butterfly House. Very apt. We finally returned to the hotel, where we saw enough of the military outfits to make us happy that we had gone to the pub instead.
Being the last night, I don’t think any of us wanted it to end, and so we sat up till gone 2am, when it really was time for bed. I had over 300 miles to drive the next day, and some sleep would be required. It had been a wonderful weekend, and the organised part of it was nearly over, but there was still so much more to come.