The fairly long and only slightly tortuous process which ended up with Andrea and I taking a trip to Yorkshire began nearly a year earlier when Andrea revealed to me that she has been writing a novel. I have been priveleged to read the first four chapters (although I understand she has written a lot more) and I think the best tribute I can pay to what I read is that I want to know what happens next. As for literary style, well if you have ever read any Jackie Collins then it’s nothing like that. I think she has been writing this novel for quite some time, but still hasn’t finished it. Tsk! I don’t know what’s keeping her, it’s not like she’s been doing anything else this last year is it?
For reasons best known to herself, Andrea has decided that a significant chunk of her novel would be set in Hull, or to give it its full title, Kingston-Upon-Hull. She did spend some time working in Hull many years ago, but felt that she needed to revisit in order to refresh her knowledge of the place, and just get a bit of a more up to date feel of the city. I think if I was her and I was writing a novel in a place I needed to visit for research purposes, I’d have set the novel in Cancun or Barbados, but Hull it was. It was when we were over in Eastbourne last year that Andrea had mentioned this need for a research trip to Hull, and suggested that we do it as another road trip, this time without the safety net of a trans* event (aka a big closet to hide in). Our blossoming friendship with Ruth then lead to this trip to Hull becoming a trip to Leeds with a visit to Hull thrown in, and here we were. In Leeds. On Sunday morning. About to go to Hull.
It was just over an hour’s drive to Hull, which passed rather uneventfully but pleasantly enough with me on the back seat of Ruth’s car. Our plan was to do another Treasure Trail, which Andrea and I have previously done in Hillsborough and in rural Co Down. This was Ruth’s first exposure to them, and we agreed it would be a good way to get round the town and would hopefully take in the key places that Andrea wanted to visit. In fact, that list appeared pretty short because on the way we asked where she would like to go and the response was “Queen’s Gardens”. Which we did visit.
We arrived in a cool but not unpleasant Hull just after 2pm and made our way round to the start of the trail outside the city hall. In fact, we then made our way inside the city hall because Kirsty needed to use the loo. So my companions decided to follow suit. “Not the most salubrious of conveniences” is the offical verdict of Kirsty’s Bog Reviews™. Finally we got on our way through the curiously deserted streets of Hull. Our thinking in deciding to do the Hull visit on the Sunday was that Hull is a reasonably large city, so should be pretty much open for business on a Sunday afternoon. We thought that a countryside tourist place like Harewood was more likely to be closed on Sunday, so went there on the Saturday instead. Well we certainly got that mixed up. Hull was dead, or at best on life support. In terms of population, Hull is a little bit smaller than Belfast but not dramatically so (250,000 vs 330,000) and with my image of my home city as being paralysed by fundamentalist religious nutjobs protesting about everything and anything happening on a Sunday, I imagined that Hull would be much more open and lively on a Sunday that Belfast ever could be. How wrong I was. Compared to a Sunday in Hull, a Belfast Sunday is like the Rio de Janeiro carnival and New Orleans Mardi Gras all rolled into one. That’s not to say Hull was an unpleasant or ugly place, quite the reverse in fact. I was very impressed with the look of the city. The old town was suitably quaint and authentic, the revitalised marina was modern and attractive, and the aforementioned Queen’s Gardens were very pretty. Just outside the University building there is an impressively large pillar topped with a statue of William Wilberforce, Hull native, local MP, and the man who did much to abolish slavery in Britain. Clearly someone of whom the locals are justifiably proud. But the city was just so quiet and the shops were all closed. And if you’ve read many of these posts, you’ll know I’m a girl who likes a shop.
We stopped off for a bite to eat in a café near the marina called “Tasty”, where I had a perfectly pleasant chilli chicken panini and a hot brown liquid making a rather unconvincing claim to be coffee. Ruth described it perfectly as a greasy spoon with delusions of grandeur, but it was pleasant enough and the staff were very friendly and welcoming. So that was fine. Unfortunately I don’t think Andrea was on top form as she hadn’t been sleeping the best, but she valiantly kept going. I’m sure if she was feeling tired, the sight of Ruth and I bounding around enthusiastically solving clues probably made her want to throttle us, but we got through it all still friends.
As we approached the end of the trail back where we started, we passed Hull’s main shopping mall Princes Quay at around 4.45pm. I had a notion that it’d be quite nice to go in there, but like the rest of Hull it appeared to be closed. Certainly there wasn’t a soul to be seen walking along its glass corridors. (I did check their website afterwards, it closes at 4.30pm on Sundays.) We arrived back in the centre of Hull shortly before 5pm, then took a quick detour to mop up one clue we had missed earlier. We had a farewell visit to the loos in the city hall (they hadn’t improved in the previous three hours) and then got on the road for Leeds once more.
In her account of this same visit, Ruth said that she felt our presence hadn’t gone unnoticed. I don’t share that feeling. At no point did I feel any more conspicuous than I would have done as Bob, and I certainly felt a great deal more comfortable and happy about myself. People may well have read me or us, but really that’s not important. Nobody treated me in any way differently to how they would treat any other woman, or indeed any other person, and unless someone actually comes up to me and says they have read me (Who would do such a thing? See the next post for details), then I can’t possibly know for sure if I have been read. I don’t feel the need to scrutinise people to see if they are reading me or not because I don’t really think I will learn anything to my advantage. I think that if you look for the signs of being read, you will always see them. Not necessarily because you are in fact being read, but because the act of looking for something will make you expect to be read, which will in turn cause you to see something which you will interpret as you being read. But as my counsellor Colleen said to me nearly a year ago “Never assume you know what someone else is thinking”. If I’m on the lookout for a sideways glance to indicate that I have been read, I will interpret every sideways glance as me being read, regardless of what the intentions of the sideways glancer might be. So I don’t look. And I try not to care. Digression over.
We were in a particular rush to get back to Leeds because Ruth’s neighbour Charlotte was joining us for dinner in Kate’s house at 7pm. Charlotte was one of the first people to whom Ruth came out as trans*, and Ruth has spoken in the highest terms about Charlotte many times. My original plan was to dress for dinner, but on the way across Ruth assured us that neither Charlotte nor Kate would be getting dressed up, so that being the case it would probably have looked a bit odd had I turned up in a pink floral silk top and slinky figure hugging knee-length skirt. And since heels were a no-no on Kate’s lovely wooden floors, it would have all looked a bit odd if that clothing combination were rounded off with just my feet in sheer tights. So the same casual wear that I wore round Hull remained in place, and the sum total of getting ready consisted of touching up my lippy and foundation, and a quick spray of perfume. No more than 5 minutes – who says women take ages to get ready?
We had a thoroughly enjoyable evening together, just five women talking about our lives and setting the world to rights. The food was excellent too. Kate’s tartiflette was delicious, and I have since obtained the recipe. Mrs K and the little ‘uns will be having tartiflette for tea this weekend. And the dessert of Ruth’s home made chocolate cake accompanied by Kate’s home made ice cream was heavenly. Charlotte is a very interesting person, perhaps a little older than the rest of us but with a vitality that shines through and would put a 20-year-old to shame, as well as a healthy disdain for convention. And by amazing coincidence, she was even able to tell us about her estranged brother who contacted her after decades to advise that he was transitioning to become her sister at the age of 76. We get everywhere, we trans girls! And then Charlotte said something which really struck a chord with me, definitely brought a lump to my throat and nearly a tear to my eye too. As we were sitting round, having discussed our life stories, how we reached the point we are all at (and I include Kate and Charlotte in this too), Charlotte announced “Well isn’t it great. We are all being the women we want to be”. Only sometimes, Charlotte, only sometimes.
The other great treat of the night was that for the first time Andrea and I got to hear some of Ruth’s poetry read aloud by the poet herself. Very entertaining and amusing, an image of birds as pilots and air traffic controllers remains in my head over a fortnight later. The night wore on, wine was consumed and the conversation flowed ever more freely. By shortly after 10pm, Charlotte announced that if she had another glass of wine she would be likely to be there for another three hours chatting with us, so she took a hold of herself and bade us farewell. It really was great to have met her, and I can see why she has been such a valuable friend for Ruth. For three hours, I think I may have just visited the Bohemian wonderland that Mrs K believes Ruth’s life to be.
Kate had to be up at stupid o’clock on Monday morning for work, so she retired not long after Charlotte had left, after saying goodbye to Andrea and me. Incredibly, this was our final night in Leeds and we wouldn’t be seeing Kate again. Well, not on this trip anyway. Sainted indeed. Of course, the remaining three of us still sat up till gone midnight finishing the bottle of wine – it would have been rude not to! Then off to bed in my loft bedroom for the last time. I was sorry this was coming to an end, but we did have a few things planned for the next day, when Andrea and I would have to take our leave of Ruth. I wasn’t looking forward to that.
More of that next time