Now where was I? Oh yes, last time I finished up with Andrea and I walking out of Tresses Hairpiece Boutique with a lovely new hairdo atop my head. As we strolled back to the car, we passed two young men who can’t have been any older than their early 20s. As they passed us one said “Hi girls”, fairly quietly, but clearly meant to be heard. Andrea and I looked quizzically at each other for some time, unable to decide if he was being flirty, friendly or transphobic. In the end we plumped for one of the first two. After all, we were having a lovely afternoon and we weren’t about to get upset over something that could well have been quite positive.
Back when I had stayed at Andrea’s house in July last year, she had cooked me dinner, and so I had expressed some regret to her that due to my family circumstances I would be unable to return the favour, unless she wanted dinner with Bob. Andrea had then suggested that, if I liked, I could have the use of her kitchen to cook for both of us the next time I came to stay. Well that day had come. We made our way back to the car and then instead of driving back to Andrea’s house right away we relocated to the car park of the nearby Tesco supermarket to stock up on ingredients for the meal I was to prepare. Incredible as it seems on reflection, although I have been in many shops many times, this was the first time I had ever pushed a shopping trolley round a supermarket as Kirsty. It wasn’t something I had been consciously avoiding, but the situation just hadn’t arisen. Anyway, the ingredients were bought with a minimum of fuss, and in fact I spent less time gathering the ingredients than I did searching for Andrea, who kept wandering off in search of her own unwritten shopping list.
We made it back to Andrea Mansions shortly after 6pm and decided that before worrying about dinner we would sit back and enjoy a cuppa. At this point I was able to reveal the dessert that I had pre-prepared: some lovely gooey chocolate brownies that I had baked the previous night at home. There were plenty spare for after dinner, so we had one each there and then and they were seriously good. If you fancy having a go they’re quite easy to make and the recipe is on the BBC good food website here. Be warned – the recipe says bake for 25 minutes. Mine needed more like 50 minutes, and that seems to be the experience of many of the people who have left reviews on that page. Incidentally, that’s the British Broadcasting Corporation’s Good Food site, not the Belfast Butterfly Club’s.
After a while I removed myself to the kitchen to start preparing dinner, while Andrea did a bit of housework and made up my bed in the spare room. Well, first of all she had to deal with a few not-at-all annoying requests from Fanny Craddock here;
“Andrea, do you have a big knife?”
“Andrea, do you have a small sharp knife?”
“Andrea, where can I put the potato peelings?”
“Andrea, where are your frying pans?”
“Andrea, so you have a spatula?”
“Andrea, do you have a hand blender?”
“Andrea, how do you work this hand blender?”
“Andrea, do you have a measuring jug?”
“Andrea, do you have a microwave-safe measuring jug?”
“Andrea, where’s the lid for this saucepan?”
“Andrea, do you have any scissors I can use to cut bacon?”
See, not at all annoying in any way.
Eventually dinner was prepared and we sat down to a meal of medallions of pork fillet served on a bed of cabbage, onion, bacon and apple cooked in balsamic vinegar with creamed potatoes on the side. At least they were supposed to be creamed potatoes. Unfortunately the potatoes we had bought must have had a very high water content because they had degenerated into what can only be described as potato-flavoured wallpaper paste. Oh well, at least the rest of the meal was up to an acceptable standard. And the dessert – wow! Another one of those amazing brownies served warm with a scoop of Tesco Finest vanilla ice-cream. Heavenly.
We relaxed with a few glasses of red wine and shared a few family pictures – mainly of our kids but Andrea also saw for the first time a picture of Mrs Kirsty, and she seemed rather surprised. She said “I’m not sure what I expected her to look like, but not like that”. It’s ok she hasn’t got two heads or anything, but obviously Andrea was expecting something different.
We had a lovely relaxing evening finishing off the wine, plenty of nice chat and a movie – “Green Zone” starring Matt Damon, which I think was the only Paul Greengrass film I had never seen. Very enjoyable and thought-provoking, as is generally the case with Greengrass films. Finally we retired for the evening shortly before 1am.
In Andrea’s account of our weekend in her own blog, she claims that she was awoken by an elephant stampeding nervously to her bathroom at around 8.30am. Well I can only assume she was still dreaming because by sheer coincidence I was also at the bathroom at 8.30am and I can assure you I saw no elephant. Silly girl.
Around an hour after the elephant didn’t visit I surfaced properly, and it was a little over an hour after that I was ready for the day. It is always a joy when I get an overnight stay as Kirsty to wake and find my nails already painted. One less thing to have to re-do. It was also particularly pleasant to be putting my new hair in place once more, and brushing it into shape with my new special brush for just such a task. After a breakfast of bacon sandwiches (me) and porridge and berries (a healthy Andrea) we got down to the serious business of working out what we were going to do this afternoon. A few weeks previously Andrea had visited the main Northern Ireland Tourist Information Centre in Belfast and had taken a large amount of flyers for various tourist traps in and around Belfast. Unfortunately none of them were catching our eye when I happened to mention that I had previously used a website called Treasure Trails, from which you can purchase Treasure Hunts for towns and villages throughout the UK, including Northern Ireland. This caught Andrea’s fancy and she set about perusing the various locales available.
By around 1pm my case was loaded up in the car and we were both on our way to Hillsborough, Co Down, with the intention of doing the treasure hunt there. Hillsborough is a picturesque and rather quaint village in the northern part of Co Down, close to Lisburn, which is in fact mostly in the southern part of Co Antrim. Hillsborough Castle is also the Queen’s official residence in Northern Ireland. Andrea produced the printouts containing the treasure hunt clues, and upon arrival we were told to proceed to the Tourist Information Centre at the top of the rather hilly village. This was not a good start. The answers to the first three clues were contained in exhibits inside the Tourist Information Centre, which being a Sunday in February, was closed. Oh well, let’s start with clue number 4.
Once we did get started we had a very enjoyable 90 or so minutes walking round the village following the clues and searching for answers. On the downside, I was wearing my heeled ankle boots which really weren’t the best footwear choice for an hour and a half of solid walking, and my feet were starting to get sore after an hour. However, at least I had remembered to bring my gloves unlike poor Andrea whose hands were on the verge of freezing solid by the time we finished. We did answer all the clues that were open to us, and on the way we took in some beautiful and interesting sights, including the rather attractive Parish Church of St Malachy (Church of Ireland) and Hillsborough Fort, the existence of which I had been unaware of a mere two hours earlier. We also ended up walking round a small part of the shore of Hillsborough Lake, retracing some of the steps that we took the last time I stayed over with Andrea in July last year.
Eventually we finished our excursion after a fun 90 minutes and we both agreed the appropriate response was to go for a coffee somewhere, both because I wanted a coffee and also so Andrea would have something warm that she could hold in order to thaw out her frozen hands. Although we were close to Lisburn and our usual haunts of Costa Coffee and the M&S Cafe, we decided to give our custom to a local independent, and so we went into “Humble Pie” coffee shop on the Main Street, where Andrea had a pot of tea and I had a cappuccino, and we both partook of a slice of warm apple tart with vanilla ice cream. We were warmly welcomed by the friendly staff, and it was a lovely way to unwind and warm up again after our treasure hunt.
After a very short detour to a ladieswear boutique called “Candy Plum” (very odd, like someone had left out a load of unsorted designer clothes on rails in their over-ornately decorated living room) Andrea and I parted company with a hug and got into our separate cars, but I wasn’t heading straight home. Emboldened by my shopping experience the previous evening, I headed to Lisburn Tesco to pick up a few essentials for home. My first solo shopping with trolley excursion, after so long. I really don’t know why I haven’t done it before and having done it now (and again on Wednesday), it may become something else that is just “normally” done as Kirsty rather than something I have to do as Bob.
I had another wonderful weekend with Andrea. She is such a lovely girl and such easy company, I always feel completely comfortable with her and enjoy every minute we spend together. And after a fabulous weekend with my best friend, it’s hard to have to turn myself into something resembling a man again. Harder than it normally is after only a few hours of being my real self. But if there’s something that will stick with me long after, it is the increased level of confidence that my new hair has given me. Obviously confidence wasn’t a huge problem before, with all the various places I have gone and things I have done, but my confidence in my appearance really has taken a notch up. It’s like before my visit to Tresses I was always expecting to be read but just carrying on regardless. Now I don’t feel like I expect to be read. Maybe that’s setting myself up for a fall, but I can’t help the way I feel. And I just feel completely natural, completely myself, completely at ease. And that’s how it should be.
Little addendum here. Just today, while I have been composing this post, I see that my hit counter for the blog has reached the monumental total of 20,000 hits. My first post was published on 16th February 2014. Four days shy of a year later, this is my 74th. To have so many views in less than a year is nothing short of astonishing, and whether you’re a regular or first-time reader, whether you enjoy what I write or think it’s a load of tosh, from the bottom of my heart thank you one and all for clicking on here in the first place. You have no idea how much it means to me that I’m not just talking into an empty space.