I really am taking far too long to write this stuff. I’m now writing about things that happened three weeks ago today, which is much too long so I apologise for the tardiness of my updates. Mainly to myself as it happens, because the main purpose of these blogs is selfish. I want to remember and document my female life, at least to the point when there is nothing new to document any more.
As it was our final morning, and Andrea and I had a long day’s travel ahead of us, Ruth had promised us a cooked breakfast. Never one to look a gift sausage in the mouth, I arose around 8.30am in order to have myself presentable by the time breakfast was due to be served an hour later. I arrived in the kitchen to find Ruth slaving over a hot Aga, and breakfast still a work-in-progress. Not a problem, I was happy to sit and chat. Andrea joined us a few minutes later, discovered that breakfast wasn’t quite ready, and disappeared back up to her room to finish packing. Organised Kirsty had packed the previous evening before going to sleep. Well in due course a delicious full English breakfast was served, and it didn’t disappoint. It certainly set us up for the day. Unfortunately however, by the time we were all finished and car loaded up we were over an hour past our target departure time of 10.30am. It would mean missing out on something later on, but I’ll get to that next time.
The first stopping point on our itinerary, and where Andrea and I would eventually have to part company with Ruth, was the village of Haworth. Since Andrea and I were going to be spending the next couple of days together, she travelled with Ruth in her car, and I followed behind, using the opportunity to blast out some music at full volume. Haworth is a picture postcard pretty village in the Yorkshire Dales, and is probably most famous for being the location of the Bronte Parsonage. It is also very very hilly, and its cobbled main street with a frightening gradient must have been a real leg-burner when the Tour De France rolled through in July 2014. We walked through its wet streets with umbrellas intermittently up and down making our way up that very leg-sapping climb on foot towards the aforementioned Bronte Parsonage.
Just about everyone knows of the Bronte sisters. Emily, author of Wuthering Heights; Charlotte, author of Jane Eyre; Anne, author of The Tenant of Wildfell Hall. At this point I must confess that I have never read any of these books, but their influence pervades English literature and is felt by anyone who reads. And their story, along with their brother Branwell, an artist and an alcoholic, is tragic. They also had two older siblings, both of whom died in childhood, and none of the Bronte children made it to their forties. Their father Patrick, from Co Down in Northern Ireland (or just Ireland at the time) outlived all six of his children. Patrick was the parson of the church in Haworth, and his daughters wrote their books in the family home. The parsonage where they all lived is still preserved as it was during their lifetime, and indeed you can go into all the rooms.
We were greeted on arrival by a friendly lady who we handed us guide booklets to the house, and answered a few of our questions. I asked about the Irish connection. If you drive on the main Belfast-Dublin road near the village of Rathfriland, Co Down, there are signs proclaiming the area to be “Bronte Country”. So she called over one of the other women to pick her brains, and she was able to tell me that the father was Irish, and Charlotte’s husband Arthur Nicholls was also Irish. But she promised to find out more for me.
At this point I had a truly spine-tingling moment. We left the hallway and entered the first room on the tour. There in front of us was the very dining table around which the sisters had sat when writing. The room in which Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights were written, looking very much as it would have done at the time. The goose-bumps came up on my arms as I stood there, surrounded by the ghosts of these great women. It had an effect on me which I find it difficult to describe, but it was inspirational at the very least.
The rest of the house was interesting and educational, but nothing could match the feeling of realising that I was there, where these great works of art were created. Adjoining the house itself is a small museum dedicated to the story of the Brontes, and it was as I perused the displays, along with some original Branwell Bronte artworks, that I was approached by the woman with whom I had discussed the Bronte Irish connection earlier. She had been doing some research, and sought me out to tell me what she had found. Banagher is what she had found. Arthur Nicholls was from Banagher, but she didn’t know exactly where that was (it’s in Co Offaly, now in the Republic of Ireland) nor had she been able to uncover a connection with Co Down. Even if the information was a bit sketchy, I very much appreciated that she hadn’t just given me a pat answer and forgotten about me, but she had been as good as her word and came back to me with more information. My extensive subsequent research (Wikipedia) has revealed that Arthur Nicholls was not in fact from Banagher, but was from Killead, Co Antrim, no more than 15 miles from where I live. However, he and Charlotte honeymooned in Banagher, so there is a connection. But I’m getting off topic.
We left the Bronte Parsonage and decided that before parting ways, it would be a nice idea to go for a cuppa and a scone or some cake. We strolled down the picturesque main street, stopping for photos along the way. I took one of Ruth, then she took one of Andrea and me together, with Andrea slightly ahead of me on the hill so as to minimise the height difference. As we posed for our photo, smiling back up the hill towards Ruth, some middle aged geezer further up the hill broke off from his conversation with his friend to make faces and do what can only be described as a monkey dance in our direction. I assume he was trying to make us laugh for the photo but all I can say is; men are idiots.
So eventually we found what appeared to be a suitable venue for a farewell coffee. Unfortunately I can’t remember the name of the venue (Ruth or Andrea can you help?). I have it narrowed down to two possibilities, but not wanting to bad-mouth an innocent restaurant, I’ll keep them to myself for now. Suffice to say it’s on the right hand side as you walk down the hill on the main street. Anyway, Ruth seemed particularly taken with the possibility of some cider-infused fruit cake, so that clinched the deal and the three of us walked in. A waitress came across to take our order, and when Ruth enquired about the fruit cake we discovered that our waitress was in fact a bit more than just a waitress – she was able to recommend the fruit cake because she had made it herself! Ruth ordered this with some Wensleydale cheese (de rigeur with fruit cake in Yorkshire apparently) whereas Andrea and I contented ourselves with ordering cream scones. The waitress disappeared and all three of us were looking forward to our food arriving.
At this point a moustachioed man wearing a chef’s whites came into the dining area. He muttered something which I think was “Hello people” and I thought nothing of it. The next thing I knew I felt a hand appear on my right shoulder. I looked left to see if it belonged to Ruth, who was sitting next to me, only to discover that same moustachioed face in between Ruth and me. He announced “I’d normally say guys, but I don’t like to say guys to you people in case you find it upsetting”, then got up and walked away. You remember in my last post I said that you never really know if you’ve been read unless someone tells you they have read you, and what sort of thoughtless idiot would do that? This guy. This sort of thoughtless idiot. If I was somewhat crestfallen, Andrea appeared devastated. She looked so sad and just said “That’s just put me right off my food, I don’t want anything now”. Ruth valiantly tried to improve the mood by reminding us how nice the woman had been, but it was to no avail. Twenty seconds later, Andrea got up and walked out. Ruth and I looked at each other in shock, but also in understanding. It affected us all, but I think Andrea is more sensitive to these things than Ruth or me, possibly because that’s just the type of woman that she is, and partly because as someone who is full time, who has a passport that says “Sex: Female” on it, it must be a real kick in the teeth to have someone question your gender.
A short while later, thoughtless-moustache-man reappeared, sitting in the seat Andrea had recently vacated facing Ruth and me. He was so sorry, he said, that he would ever upset anyone in this way. Devastated, in fact. He told us that as a homosexual (his words) he would never ever want anyone to feel unwelcome or ostracised because of something he had said or done, and all he was trying to do was avoid upsetting us by using a kind-of-masculine term. I explained what had happened, and why he had upset all of us, but particularly Andrea, so much. That when you use the term “guys”, you are talking as people talk about groups of people all the time. It’s normal speech and there’s nothing wrong with that. When you use a different term, and then explain how you’re making the effort to accommodate us, no matter how good a place that comes from what you’re really saying is “I’ve read you”. And no trans woman wants to hear that. Not that I think I pass all the time, far from it in fact. But if people treat me like any other woman that’s all I can ask. He didn’t treat us like any other women. He left, hopefully with a valuable lesson learned. And Andrea was still gone, but following Mr Moustache’s apparently sincere apology, we sort of felt that we couldn’t really follow her now. Wanted: One BFF, missing, presumed in search of chocolate (we were right about that part).
I soon received a text from Andrea: “Have got my chocolates, will B just a but further down the road I guess…” Well if she’s got her chocolates things can’t be all bad. So Ruth and I sat and drank our tea (Ruth) and cappucino (me) and ate our fruit cake and cheese (Ruth, with one bite for me, tasty but a little bit dry I thought) and cream scone (me), and we enjoyed them well enough. As we sat there, I saw Andrea walk past the window on her way down the hill from shop A to shop B, looking perfectly fine. So at least we knew to walk down to find her. We got up from our seats and went to pay at the counter. Ruth was rather disappointed to find that they asked for payment. She had thought that given the upset caused by the person she subsequently discovered was the co-owner, they might have offered to give us our order on the house. But no, a full bill with a complementary side order of thoughtlessness. We didn’t leave a tip.
We weren’t very far from the café when we came across Andrea sitting on a bench at the side of the road near the bottom of the hill, looking altogether happier than when we had last seen her. She had been into a specialist chocolatier, and had a lovely conversation with the sales assistant there prior to making her purchase, and this seemed to have helped put her back on an even keel. Good. I hate to see my BFF upset. We walked slowly back to the cars, where Andrea and I finally had to bid a fond and rather upsetting farewell to Ruth. We really had picked up just where we left off, and it had been such a joy to spend time in her company. Ruth is also such an insightful person, she makes me think about where I am at, and where I should be. Not necessarily about transition, just balance. But that’s for another time. It was hard to say goodbye, but we had to depart because I had a date with my past. More of that next time.
As I went to pull off my favourite Evans ankle boots to put on my ballerinas for driving, I noticed to my dismay that the plastic tip of one of my heels was missing. Presumably it had got wedged between a couple of cobbles on that main street and was left behind as I strode onwards, never to be seen again. There is some corner of a foreign field that is forever Kirsty.