Almost as if the organisers had decided to exacerbate the previous late night, breakfast on Monday morning was moved forward from 9.30 to 9am. Great. Fortunately, as this was my fourth consecutive morning waking up as my real female self, my girly morning routine was becoming more predictable and less of an adventure. More routine, in fact. So I felt confident that I could rise at 8 and still be presentable for breakfast at 9, and my confidence was not misplaced.
I arrived in the dining room to find that Ruth had decided to give the rest of us a fresh perspective on things by sitting on the opposite side of the table. Very daring! Upon looking around me it was interesting to see how many more male faces there were this morning than at previous meals. Clearly it was time to go home and there was a certain proportion of the attendees who were, for various reasons, going home in male form. Perhaps it was a lack of confidence, perhaps personal circumstances, perhaps even comfort in both roles and being happy to revert to male form. In her own very enjoyable account of today’s events, Andrea remarked upon this phenomenon and how she couldn’t bring herself to look at their manly faces. I had a different reaction, in that I stared a little too much, trying to match the blokey faces to the made up and be-wigged ones I had seen over the previous three days. It was equally interesting to see who had remained in female form, as Ruth, Andrea and myself had done. Interesting, and surprising. I’m making myself sound very bitchy but for a few members of the “Staying Girly Sisterhood” I couldn’t help but think “Really? You’re going out like that?”. Like I said, very bitchy. And if you are a member of the Staying Girly Sisterhood, are reading this, and think I mean you, I don’t. It’s not you. It’s the other one. Yes, her. I know.
Breakfast arrived and as usual it was a mushroomless Full English. However, this time Andrea was prepared. I didn’t mention it in yesterday’s blog, but having been frustrated by the lack of breakfast mushrooms the previous two days, on the way back from Battle yesterday Andrea had got me to stop the car at a little Co-op store on the outskirts of Eastbourne. In she went, and emerged five minutes later with a bag containing three decent sized closed cup mushrooms. And this morning at breakfast, once we had gone through the usual charade of mushroom denial, Andrea produced that very bag of mushrooms from her bag and asked the waiter if there was any chance chef could cook these mushrooms for her, assuming he knows how. Well the waiter said chef wouldn’t be happy, but he took the bag of mushrooms off to the kitchen, and 5 minutes later he emerged with a mushroomful breakfast for a pleased Andrea. Chef was not happy at all, as it turned out, but he was obviously persuaded by the charms of our charming waiter. Once breakfast was finished we all chipped in (Andrea disproportionately so) to give him a tip for his trouble. It was after ten o’clock by the time we left the dining room, the last to do so as usual. Why break the habit of the weekend?
We all returned back to our rooms to finish packing. I had managed to get most of my packing done the previous evening before dinner, but the essentials like toiletries and makeup were still strewn across the bathroom and dressing table respectively. I had just gathered together the last of my bits and pieces and was making my way to the lift with my bags when my phone beeped. A text from Ruth. Short version – get a move on girls, I have a train to catch! I was nearly there anyway, so I emerged at the bottom to find Ruth, and was shortly followed by Andrea. This was it, the beginning of the end. Or, as both I and Winston Churchill have said before, possibly just the end of the beginning. The three of us had had such a wonderful time, such an unimaginably good time together, that splitting us apart was painful. Andrea’s tear ducts are on a hair trigger at the best of times (and very endearing it is too!) and as I hugged Ruth goodbye I could feel her sobs too. I knew mine were coming. In retrospect, I wish I had just let them go. It would have been a fitting way to end the weekend together. But no, as is my way I tried to defuse the situation with a lame attempt at humour. “Would you two give over”, I said, “you’re getting on like a couple of girls”. Maybe it’s better that I get on like that, otherwise we’d just have ended up three soppy cows sobbing and sniffing our way round the South East. I don’t know, but sometimes I just wish I could let the tears flow more easily. I did cry when Hayley died in Corrie though, so I don’t have a heart of stone.
As Ruth disappeared off into the bright Eastbourne morning, I began to load up the car with my bags, then returned to assist Andrea with hers. As I ferried bags and cases from the hotel to the car, I felt rather proud of myself that I was still in Kirsty mode, and that so far it had all been, not to put too fine a point on it, easy. Easier than being Bob in fact. Seeing so many Bobs leaving the hotel while I and others remained resolutely female also made me feel a little smug, which is not something I’m proud of. Everyone has their own path to follow, and if I had actually been going straight home to somewhere a bit closer than Belfast, or if I had been catching a plane, I would most likely have been one of the brotherhood of Bob too. So shame on me for my smugness.
Finally, by around 11.30 Andrea and I were on our way out of Eastbourne. Unlike the journey there, this time the roads were mercifully clear and we made excellent time. Our plan had always been to stop off somewhere along the way and resume tourist mode for a few hours before continuing our onwards journey to Wales. We were making such good time that we stopped for a light lunch of coffee and bagel in Starbucks at a service station on the M40 – I think it was Oxford but don’t quote me on that. As more of a Costa girl, I don’t go into Starbucks much, so I had forgotten that one of the peculiarities of that particular chain is that your barista will ask for your name when you order. So I took great pleasure in replying that my name was Kirsty. Andrea and I moved to the end of the counter where drinks and food were collected. The young man handing out the finished orders looked at his order slip and announced;
“err.. Chris-, no, Cras-, no, Cars-, no, …sorry what’s your name?”
“Kirsty”, I replied
“Oh right, well this is the special Starbucks method of spelling Kirsty, enjoy your meal”
And he handed over a tray containing our orders and a receipt for “Crasty”.
My male name has two variant spellings, my way and the incorrect way. All my life people have invariably picked the wrong one until told, and frequently after they have been told. Is my female name going to be as bad? (Answer: Yes, Kirstie, it is). It should also be noted that later in the day we stopped off for a takeaway coffee at another Starbucks at Telford services. This time Andrea was given a mocha for “Andera”, so misspelling is clearly company policy.
The bagel wasn’t the nicest I have ever eaten, and didn’t quite sate my hunger, so as we resumed our journey I asked Andrea to retrieve the multipack of crisps that I had brought with us for just such an eventuality. Real McCoys, flame grilled steak flavour. Andrea pulled a bag out of the multipack and immediately and somewhat inexplicably fixed me with her best Paddington Bear-style hard stare. To what did I owe this? It turns out my crisps had offended her. They were offensive because, well, just look at the picture. I still ate them.
It had always been our plan to break up our journey with a bit of a touristy stop off. Andrea had done quite a bit of research with her National Trust members’ handbook, and discovered a place near to Warwick called Charlecote Park. I had had a brief look online and it looked pleasant enough, and the gardens were particularly impressive. Unfortunately, by the time we arrived at around 3pm the gardens were very much not for the faint hearted as it was beginning to rain quite a bit. Still, we had a couple of hours spare and a large old house to explore, so Andrea flashed her membership card, I paid my fee and deflected the requests to join the National Trust, and we made our way down the very impressive pathway towards the house, where we handed in our wet umbrellas and entered.
When we visit historical buildings, museums, stately homes and the like, Mrs Kirsty always ends up getting annoyed at me for taking too long. I read everything that’s on display. If there’s a guide book, I’ll make sure I match everything in the book up with the real things so I know what I’m looking at. I’m an inquisitive sort, and I really do just love learning things. I may have found the perfect exploration partner in Andrea. In the main entrance hall of the house, I stood admiring all the portraiture, reading up on who everyone was and who was married to whom, and getting a potted visual genealogy of the Lucy family whose home this had been for centuries. Meanwhile, Andrea had commandeered one of the guides and was chatting away to him. I was impressed with how comfortable she seemed to be in conversation with this man. I mean I felt entirely at ease there, and I wasn’t attracting any undue attention, but actually proactively striking up a conversation, well even Bob would never do that.
In the second room I joined in the conversation. In the third, even more so. By the time we got to about the sixth room I was starting things off, asking my own questions, fully participating. I can honestly say I had never before spoken as much to strangers as Kirsty or Bob, as I did that afternoon. And the thing is, it was only when it was over that I realised just how much talking I had done and how comfortable I was in doing it. I think there are a few reasons for that: Firstly, I was comfortable because I was being myself, without any pretence. I was also genuinely interested in the house and its history, particularly the library which I found fascinating with its stained glass windows and rare and ancient books. But most of all, the guides who work there are just so enthusiastic and engaging about the place that it rubs off on you and you can’t help but become infected with their enthusiasm. Throughout the whole time we were there, around an hour and a half, I have no idea if we were read or not, and even if we were, nobody seemed to care. I just felt like I was treated in a friendly and respectful manner the whole time.
The gift shop was nothing to write home about, so after a bit of a detour round some other minor attractions (a small domestic brewery and a collection of carriages) we headed back towards the car as the time approached 5pm. The light was beginning to fade ever so slightly, but there in the trees at the side of the pathway appeared a stag in all its glory. I quickly pulled out my phone to take a few pictures, simultaneously fighting the urge to get closer for a better photo with the urge to run away from these fearsome antlers. Unfortunately the picture wasn’t brilliant, but I’ll still include in here for posterity. And since the cameras were out and we were standing in front of a beautiful old stately home, Andrea and I took a few snaps of each other while were were at it.
Back on the road again, and off in a Walesward direction we went. The traffic continued to be reasonable, but the weather deteriorated the further we went. As we got into rural North Wales, the bad weather, the windy roads, and the fact that it was completely dark now did slow us up. Andrea texted ahead to the landlord of our B&B to let him know that we would arrive around 8.30, and she got a quick acknowledgement. I hadn’t really given too much thought to the B&B itself but suddenly I was taken with thoughts of what it might actually be like. Would we be accepted? Predictably, I didn’t need to worry. We arrived at the Dolweunydd B&B in Betws-y-Coed shortly before our predicted time, unloaded the bags and walked up to the front door. Andrea rang the bell and our host Paul opened up. “Kirsty?” he asked quizzically. “That’s me” I replied. “…and you must be Andrea” he added to my friend. Just that little exchange before I had even walked through the door let me know all would be well. To just be accepted at face value as who we are was a pure joy, even just hearing someone call me by my chosen female name was wonderful.
We walked through to the sitting room, where we both chatted with Paul for a while, about our journey and where we were going tomorrow, and he told us a little bit about himself and how a Liverpudlian came to be running a B&B in Snowdonia. He took our orders for the next morning’s breakfast, with Andrea making a particular point of checking that mushrooms were on the menu. Not only were they on the menu, Paul was very enthusiastic about how they cooked their mushrooms, in butter and black pepper. Mmmmm indeed. Where do I sign? With the formalities and informalities out of the way, we enquired if there was anywhere in the village where we could get a meal. We were directed towards a pub, the Stables, attached to the Royal Oak Hotel. As it was already nearly 9pm we just put our cases in our rooms, had a quick freshen up, and then walked for about 15 minutes in the drizzly rain to get to this pub, still wearing our travelling clothes. To be honest,the pub was a bit nondescript, lacking in character, and it was showing football which somehow detracted from the atmosphere we had been hoping for. We ordered our food at the bar and took a table far away from the TV screens. The table was ever so slightly too low to cross my legs under, but since they were all like that I just sat sideways on to the table, at least until our food would arrive.
We hadn’t been sitting there long when Andrea looked over my shoulder and said “There’s a guy over there keeps looking at us. It’s making me uncomfortable”. I couldn’t see as he was directly behind me, and I didn’t want to make it obvious by turning round and staring at him, but Andrea assured me that he was repeatedly looking in our direction. After a bit of questioning she told me that he was at a table with two women and one other man, so presumably two couples, and none of the other three people were showing any interest in us whatsoever. This struck me as odd. I would have thought that if our “observer” had read us as trans, he would have nudged his companions, and Andrea would at least have seen a few surreptitious glances from the other three. Anyway, dinner finally arrived so I sat up straight, uncrossed my legs and tucked them underneath the table in order to eat my meal of fish, chips and mushy peas. The meal was big, but truth be told it wasn’t great.
After we had been eating for a while, Andrea commented that our “observer” hadn’t been paying us any attention for a while. Suddenly the penny dropped with me. I finished up my meal and announced to Andrea that I was going to try an experiment. I took my legs back out from under the table and extravagantly crossed them to the side again. It only took a moment for my suspicions to be confirmed – “He’s looking over again” Andrea said. I was being ogled! Who would have thought a man’s eyes would stray to the legs of a woman in denim mini skirt, black opaque tights and ankle boots. What is the world coming to, I ask you! I’m still not sure how I feel about this. I mean, I saw the guy eventually and he had been beaten quite badly with the ugly stick, but at the same time, I must look pretty good to be getting eyed up by a man, particularly one who is in the company of his wife at the time. So I enjoyed the affirmation, but really he was a bit of a lech. Although I suppose with my “experiment” I did play up to it a little bit. Oh God, it’s so difficult to be ideologically sound!
Anyway, as if that wasn’t bad enough, on the walk back up to the B&B we got beeped by a man in a white van as he drove past us from behind. My legs are claiming the credit for that one too.
Back at the B&B, we raided the goodies in our large and well equipped bedrooms and came downstairs to the sitting room to enjoy some hot chocolate and biscuits, and to peruse Andrea’s National Trust members’ handbook in order to find a tourist destination for the next day. We didn’t have to check in for our ferry at Holyhead until 1.30pm, so we were planning a last bit of tourism prior to departing for Ireland once again. We settled upon Penrhyn Castle, just outside Bangor, as well as a trip to Swallow Falls, just a couple of miles up the road outside Betws-y-Coed. As we were sitting there, our landlord Paul walked through the room, and stopped for a short chat about our evening. He really seems a genuinely nice bloke and again, it was so good to feel I was being treated the same way he would treat any other guest. So shortly before midnight Andrea and I hugged each other goodnight and went into our respective bedrooms and (at least in my case) an incredibly comfortable bed for that rarest of luxuries on this holiday: Eight hours sleep.
P.S. If the title of this post is poor Welsh, blame Google Translate