In the week leading up to our trip, Andrea and I compared notes about our packing. One of the things that she had said to me in passing was that she was concerned she had gone rather over the top in the number of shoes she was bringing, and in fact she asked me if I thought 8 pairs was excessive.
I did a quick scan down my own packing list and replied that in fact she was only one ahead of my 7 pairs. When I arrived at her house on Thursday evening I informed her that I had miscounted and in fact I also had brought 8 pairs. The only thing was, she had also miscounted and in fact was bringing nine pairs. So two women, four nights, seventeen pairs of shoes. What are we like? When I had unpacked the previous evening I laid all my shoes out in my bedroom, and the following morning there they all were. I couldn’t resist a picture. Bob would have probably bought two pairs – trainers and proper shoes. A bit of a difference.
I arose on Saturday morning feeling reasonably refreshed and made the most of having the use of an ensuite to get my face on without any pressure of having to vacate the bathroom for anyone else. Downstairs I went for breakfast, to find Ruth and Kate already up. I breakfasted on some fruit followed by Kate’s home made jam on Kate’s home made bread. She is quite the domestic goddess. Andrea arrived a little after me, sadly considerably less refreshed than me having been woken at 4am by the local bird life and then being unable to get back to sleep. Today was Leeds day, so we weren’t going to be travelling too far. Thankfully the breakfast conversation was a lot less uncomfortable for me than the previous evening’s had been, and I even ended up subjecting Ruth and Kate to some of my own music – as in music that I have written and recorded myself. I’m not sharing it here, my singing voice is far too manly.
With Kate having her own agenda for the day, Andrea Ruth and I set off around 11.30 for the centre of Leeds and parked in Ruth’s usual spot where she parks for work. It was around a 10 minute walk to the centre, but it was a pleasant enough afternoon so I didn’t mind that at all. I was dressed casually but smartly in a pink 3/4 sleeve jumper, maroon velvet trousers with a slight flare and black Mary Janes with a 2.5″ heel. This provoked a bit of a discussion with Ruth about how she rarely wears heels as she feels it’s a bit of a giveaway with her height – she’s nearly as tall as me. I take the view that being overly self-conscious about one’s height is more of a giveaway so I just wear the footwear I like as I think it’s more feminine. I just try to dress in a feminine manner, because that’s who I am. And I like a little heel. Although I must say that just what constitutes “femininity” is something I have been thinking about quite a lot recently, and probably something that warrants a “musings” post all of its own.
On arrival in the centre of Leeds, Andrea had some personal business to attend to, so Ruth and I left her to get on with it while we headed for a shoe shop that a few trans* bloggers have recommended, but which doesn’t exist in Northern Ireland – Deichmann. It was quite an unusual set-up in that there were just boxes and boxes of shoes sitting out on shelves. There would be shoes sitting on top of each pile of boxes, so when I saw a pair that I liked the look of, I would then search the boxes to see if there was a pair in my size. Then I opened the box to find in the majority of cases a completely different shoe style. It all became so random I was half expecting Noel Edmonds to call the banker to get me an offer before opening each box. I found one pair that I half liked, a pair of nude suede T-bar heels, but I decided I have enough nude or beige shoes. If they had have been black I might have bought them as I am quite lacking in black dressy heels. But it wasn’t to be. Good pricing though, so I might try their website at some point.
Soon Andrea called to say she was finished with her business, so the three of us met up again and made for Debenhams, where Ruth was looking for a new jacket. I had bought a jacket in Belfast Debenhams fairly recently, so obviously it’s the place to go for your jacket needs. After much searching on multiple floors she did find what she was after, although not before a rather odd foundation mishap which she relates in her own blog. I had a pleasant enough time in there myself, and the were a few items on the sale rail which I was tempted by, but my purse remained shut. Andrea picked up a new top too.
We moved on to the cafe at the art gallery. An amazingly ornate room, we spent quite some time in there enjoying some wraps and salad, although possibly more time waiting for our wraps and salad. The place was busy and understaffed. Ruth was also able to show us the venue for her “Transliteration” trans* poetry event, which took place in one of the public rooms at the gallery. It was nice to be able to visualise this place of which Andrea and I had both read quite a bit on Ruth’s blog last year.
With time marching on we made our way back to the car and headed off into the outskirts of the city. We were going to visit Harewood House, a stately home and, although not an official residence, somewhere that the Royals would occasionally stop off in the north of England. Also, I was intrigued to hear from Ruth that the Tour de France stopped off their during the first stage last Summer. Stopped, as in completely ceased moving, in order to be greeted by (Prince) William & Kate (Middleton, not the Sainted variety). I remember watching this rather odd spectacle at the time and well remembered the rather grand building.
As we drove up to the huts at the entrance we noticed that there were no barriers. Ruth rolled down her window and quickly asked “Do we just drive on in?”. “No, come back!” can the reply. We had to pay. The attendant asked if it was just the house, just the gardens or both. As it was already gone 3pm, Ruth said that it was just the gardens. “That’ll be £10.50” came the reply. OK then. “Each”. What!!?! £31.50 for three of us to walk round some gardens. That seemed very steep but in the absence of an alternative we paid up and drove into the car park.
After a quick loo visit on arrival, we made our way round the gardens, quickly arriving at the Bird Garden. I wouldn’t really use the term “garden” for this, it was really a small zoo dedicated exclusively to birds from all corners of the world. The many varieties of bird were by turns unusual, beautiful, bizarre and also mundane. It was a very impressive place, although the caging of so many birds was in its own way quite hard to take. Outside the cages were a small flock of pink flamingos by the lakeside, and a red kite circling overhead, probably the most majestic sight of the afternoon. But it was all quite impressive, and although £10.50 was still rather steep, we could begin to see where the money went.
The highlight of our visit to Harewood House however was the Himalayan Garden. It was truly beautiful, as you can see in the photo below. In fact, the photo was taken looking upstream from some stepping stones where an interesting little vignette played out. The stream looked reasonably deep, and the stepping stones were a couple of feet out of the water, with probably a couple of feet between each. Before I had even realised she had done it, Ruth was right across them. OK then, I thought, I’ll have a go at that. The first was easy. The second not too bad at all. By the time I got to around the fourth stepping stone I was half way across the stream, but then suddenly disaster struck. The next stone was further away, smaller, sloping to the side and at a slightly different elevation. I lifted my foot and put it down again. And then I did the same thing again.
I just couldn’t find the courage in myself to lean forward and take the next step, and I couldn’t risk falling into the stream, so reluctantly I turned back toward the bank from whence I had come. I made my way to the nearby humpback bridge to make my crossing there, just as Andrea was picking her way gingerly across the stones in time to meet me at the other side of the bridge. So my two friends, both of whom have taken the brave step of referring themselves to the gender clinic while I have not, carefully but confidently pick their way across to the other side of the stream, negotiating the changing terrain all the way across, while I wade out half way, lose my confidence, am overcome with fear of failure and head back to the start. Allegory much?
We had intended to stop in one of the coffee shops at Harewood House, but suddenly it was approaching 5pm and we had to get back to Kate’s house in order to get ready for dinner, so we agreed to just have a quick cuppa once we arrive there. Ruth had booked us a table at Loch Fyne, a seafood restaurant in the centre of Leeds. Andrea is a big fan of seafood, and I like it well enough, and having had a quick look at the menu I was very much looking forward to this meal. And more than that, I was looking forward to a night out at a nice restaurant with Ruth, Kate and Andrea. I had decided to wear the black dress with pink and orange side panels along with a black jacket, both of which I had bought in Debenhams in Belfast a couple of months earlier.
With this I wore some nude tights and beige heels with a tie bow. Even though I do say so myself, I though I looked pretty good (for me!). Ruth was wearing her newly purchased linen jacket along with some deep pink trousers, and Andrea the navy lace-topped dress that always looks good on her. And rather ironically, the only cis woman among us, Kate, was also the only one of us without make-up. Well she has less to cover up! I regret now that I never managed to get a picture of us together, and it was only later as I was going to bed that I remembered photos at all and took a quick snap of myself in the mirror, although by that stage the shoes and jacket were long since dispensed with.
Kate drove into Leeds, and we parked around a 5-minute walk from the restaurant. Kate had expressed a little concern about how Andrea and I would cope with the walk given we were both wearing heels of a reasonable height, but it really wasn’t a problem for me at least. We arrived at our restaurant and were shown to our table upstairs. It was nice to be able to share a bottle of wine with Andrea and Ruth along with our food. Although I dine with Andrea regularly, we are always driving, so fizzy water and diet coke is about as hedonistic as the libations get. Well tonight we managed a bottle of Pinot Grigio between the three of us. It was the best thing we had.
For starter I chose a fish pie. It was very well presented, being served in a clam shell, but it was rather lacking in taste. Just mashed potato on top of some vaguely fishy goo. But it did look good, and it was edible if unexciting. Unfortunately things took a downwards turn when our waitress was collecting the dishes from our starters. As the waitress lifted my plate, my knife, caked as it was in white sauce and glue-like mashed potato, fell from my plate and landed on my black dress. All four of us took a collective sigh. The waitress just said “Oh sorry” picked up the knife and walked off as if nothing had happened. She didn’t offer to get a napkin, a towel, a wipe, anything. Ruth, on the other hand, produced a damp napkin, although by the time I stood up to apply it to the stain, I couldn’t actually find the stain. So no real harm done.
After a between-course loo visit, which I only mention as (a) it was down two flights of stairs in heels and a reasonably short dress and I managed to preserve my dignity, and (b) to mention a very welcome mutual nod and smile with a couple of other women in there, the main course arrived. Andrea and I had both ordered seafood linguini. Andrea was very disappointed in hers. Mine was ok. I think this is more a reflection of our tastes. It was, to say the least, a tad peppery. Andrea felt that it was in fact over-seasoned and in fact drowned out the delicate taste of the seafood. I just like peppery things, so it was creamy peppery pasta which tasted perfectly ok to me. It didn’t taste particularly fishy though, in fact I might as well have just had some pasta with a creamy pepper sauce and nothing else for all I could taste the fish.
The low point, however, was dessert. I ordered salted caramel cheesecake, expecting a nice cheesecake suffused with the taste of salted caramel. No. What I got was a plain cheesecake, that would have been ok in itself, topped with about 5 millimetres of what can only be described as toffee flavoured jelly. And very heavy on the gelatine, so much so that in order for my spoon to cut through the jelly it caused the cheesecake underneath to splurge out all round. Not a great experience, although better than Andrea who managed not to get any dessert at all due to them only having two of the three items for the chocolate trio that she wanted, and refusing to make up the difference with a third item of her choice, as everything had been pre-divvied up. Meal-wise, it wasn’t great at all. At least the company was good.
Still, if the restaurant hadn’t quite been a hellish experience, the following day would bring us to the very gates of Hull. And on that appalling pun, I’ll see you next time.