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I have called this post “An Extended Christmas” because it feels like I have been doing various Christmas-related activities for the last two or three weeks.  It all began with the Belfast Butterfly Club Christmas party a few weeks ago, where I ended up being something of a party pooper.  Around 6 months ago I treated myself to a rather nice Bluetooth speaker, really to bring on holiday so we could have some decent sounding music in the apartment, but it has got a lot of use since.  So since it was a Christmas party, I thought I’d bring it along to the BBC so we could have some music.  As I sat in the living room painting my nails, I stuck on a Christmas playlist and the 4 or 5 other people in the room all agreed it felt like Christmas had arrived.  Then my nails dried, I stood up and announced that I was leaving, and went off to meet Michelle taking my iPhone and all the music with me.  Oops.  There’s not much to report about being out and about that night, just the usual coffee and sandwich.  However, I had a big weekend coming up…

A few weeks earlier Andrea had been saying that she wasn’t really looking forward to Christmas, and she might not even bother with a tree or decorations.  I had suggested that I would go down to visit her at her home over the Christmas period so she had a bit of friendly company, and this conversation somehow mutated into an invitation to go down and stay with there the weekend before Christmas.  So after the appropriate negotiations with Mrs K, off I went.

Andrea had a prior engagement earlier on the Saturday, which she refused to tell me about (!) so we agreed to meet up later on in the afternoon at the Outlet shopping centre near Bainbridge.  I arrived there around 2.40pm, thinking I would have a while to browse round by myself before meeting Andrea at 3.30.  Except 3.30 became 4, which became 4.30.  Actually, it was fine.  I had a very pleasant couple of hours walking round the shops browsing here and there.  There were a few items in Next that I nearly bought but just had to exercise some self-restraint.  And there were a couple of nice moments, like having doors held open for me by men and the like.  But regardless of all that, Andrea texted me shortly before 4.30 to advise she was close, so I replied that I would see her in Costa, and I went straight there, got myself a coffee and a lemon muffin, and sat down to read a chapter of my book.  Then she walked in.

Andrea saw me sitting by myself and came up to check that she had time to grab a coffee for herself.  I replied that she did, but at the same time I noticed that her hair was different.  Nicer.  Better sculpted to her neck with a slight swoop outwards at the bottom.  I wondered if she had had her wig restyled, if she had done it herself, or indeed if it was a new wig.  I made a mental note to ask her when she sat down.

When she did sit down with me she asked straight away;

A:  So, do you want to know where I was earlier today?

K:  (Completely thrown off the hair scent by this question) Yeessss

A:  Well, can’t you tell?

K:  No idea.  Was it a meetup group?

A:  (Despairing at my lack of awareness) No!

She then made reference to an earlier incident when I had been a bit slow on the uptake, probably with some justification, and started making patting actions around her head with the palms of her hands

K:  Oh yes, the hair.  I did notice it was different.  Is that the same one restyled or is it a new one

A:  (Pause for dramatic effect with growing smirk) It’s mine!

Andrea and her amazing hair

Andrea and her amazing hair

At which point you could have swept me off the floor with a dustpan and brush.  Her own hair.  Her.  Own.  Hair.  It looked amazing.  And as I think I said to her at the time, not only did it look amazing, it was one less layer of artifice.  I’m not actually sure what I said to her, I was in shock.  I’m sure there were lots of “Oh My God!”s and hands over mouths in surprise.  I was also relieved.  I knew that she was growing her hair out (and why wouldn’t she?) although I hadn’t expected her to cast aside the wig for a few more months, but I had been a little apprehensive about what she would look like.  I dreaded that I might think it looked awful, or even worse, unfeminine, and then what would I say?  I feared that she might be impatient and cast aside the wig before her own hair was really long enough to be let loose.  But thankfully my fears were unfounded.  She looks amazing.  I’m so jealous.

So we went back to Andrea’s house where she had a brand new Christmas tree, a set of lights and a box of decorations waiting for me.  After bringing my things in from the car we set about putting it up.  And I hope that doing that together, I helped bring a little bit of Christmas cheer to chez Andrea.  It was a very nice artificial tree covered in fake snow, and as I straightened out the branches some of the “snow” fell on to the carpet, making it look like it had been snowing in that corner of the room.  Very nice.

We wish you a merry Christmas...

We wish you a merry Christmas…

I was cooking for Andrea that evening too.  In fact, the Butterfly Club is running a “Come Dine With Me” competition, so Andrea was the guinea pig trying out what I’m going to do for starter and main when my turn comes some time in late January.  I think it went down rather well, well enough that she asked for the recipes.  Sad to say that her attempt at chocolate fondants for dessert wasn’t quite so successful, but the frozen yoghurt and strawberries replacement was most acceptable.  Then it was a few glasses of wine in front of the telly as we watched “Frozen” – Andrea had always felt she had missed out on a cultural reference point by never seeing it, so I liberated daughter no2’s DVD for the day.  And I know it’s played to death, but I do think “Let It Go” has such a positive message for those of us who feel constrained by society’s expectation of who or what we should be in spite of the storm inside.  The cold never bothered me anyway!

Sadly I couldn’t stay too long the next day as I had to get home early to relieve Mrs K who had her own event to attend on the Sunday afternoon, rather weirdly with Linda from the Butterfly Club, although Linda isn’t called Linda in the circle in which Mrs K knows her (or him, in that particular group, god it’s all so complicated!)

I had been out to Blu with Andrea and Michelle on the last Saturday in November for what was supposed to be our Christmas dinner, but being November the Christmas menu wasn’t even on yet, so we just had a nice meal.  So one of us, not sure which one, had the bright idea of going out on the Wednesday before Christmas, 23rd December, for a proper Christmas dinner at one of our favourites, the Plough.  It was booked for 7.30 and so the official LLFDC Christmas dinner was in place.

I had been off work that day with the kids, and so I was able to leave quite early as Mrs K was on a 1/2 day from work.  So early, that it was still daylight and I was able to complete a roadside transformation.  Then I realised that I had forgotten Michelle’s Christmas card and so I decided to go to Tesco to get another one.  It was busy.  Really busy.  Once I managed to get into the store, there was an almighty scrum round the Christmas cards.  I was standing behind this scrum, waiting for my opportunity to pick a card.  The man immediately in front of me looked round and saw me, he looked at me and moved out of the way, saying “Do you want to go on in there, love?”  Immediately I got a lovely whooshing feeling at being addressed in this way, immediately followed by feminist guilt.  Then he continued to chat away to me.  The problem is, I have no idea what he was saying.  I nodded and smiled, which he seemed to accept as an appropriate response.  I fairly quickly found an appropriate card for Michelle and left the store.  The traffic in the car park was still extremely busy, so much so that one of the store staff was out directing traffic and pedestrians and the pedestrian crossing.  He was letting some cars through as I approached, and when he saw me arrive he looked across and called out “Just wait there a moment please madam”.  Oh wow, two incidents of overtly correctly gendered in the space of five minutes, and no feminist guilt second time.  I’m sure if I had been male he would have called me “sir”, so that’s ok.

By this time it was around 5.45pm and the meal wasn’t until 7.30.  I texted Michelle that I’d be with her in 15 minutes, and I intended to nip to Lisburn Costa, get a quick takeaway cappuccino and go join Michelle for a chat for an hour before heading out.  As it happened, Michelle texted back that she wasn’t ready yet, so I just got my coffee to sit in, and I took a table for one and read my book for half an hour.  Just another woman.  It felt so great and so normal at the same time.

Waiting for Christmas dinner at The Plough

Waiting for Christmas dinner at The Plough

Finally I did get to meet up with Michelle, and before too long we were on our way to meet Andrea at the Plough.  It wasn’t a very nice night, but amazingly I managed to park right at the front door of the restaurant for the first time ever.  Michelle had a similar reaction to me with Andrea’s hair, at first noticing it was different but having to be told it was actually her own hair.  And similar to me, Michelle seemed to be overwhelmed with this revelation.

The food was very good, as usual.  A seafood trio to begin, a traditional Christmas dinner of turkey and ham as the main course, and Baileys cheesecake to finish.  I just ate too much, and after the meal was in some discomfort for about 15 minutes.  I’m ok now thankfully!

I had a lovely family Christmas, even if I was Bob, but I was certainly looking forward to my next opportunity to be Kirsty again, which came yesterday, Monday 28th.  Andrea and I had arranged to meet to go round the sales, which is what we did.  I got away from home mid-morning, and after getting a few essentials in Lisburn, I headed into Belfast.  Unfortunately I had to queue for over half an hour to get into the car park.  When I did, I had around an hour to myself before we were due to meet, and I had a good browse round.  I went to Evans (to look at shoes mainly, I’m not a fan of their clothes which are a bit tent-y even if at a size 14 I do fall into the lower extreme of their size range), then Debenhams (I saw a black glittery polo neck which I really liked, but at £22 I thought I’d see if there was something similar elsewhere), Boots (to buy my usual No7 foundation, which they didn’t have in my shade of Warm Ivory so sailing quite close to the wind now) and New Look, which I didn’t get much time in as it was getting close to time to meet Andrea.  Oh, and I also called into a shop which has just opened called Bon Marche.  Never again.  I am 45 years old.  I felt like I was at least 50 years too young for the styles on display.  I wonder if you get a discount on production of your ration card.

We eventually met up in Caffe Nero for a quick cuppa before braving the shops once more.  The first stop was Next where I almost immediately found a top very similar to the one I had liked in Debenhams, but for £10 in the sale.  Yay for waiting!  Then to go with it I got a rather classy looking herringbone tweed skirt.  I considered a few other items, a tartan mini skirt which I decided against in the end and a pair of lace-up ankle boots which were just a bit too pointy when I tried them on.  Veering close to winkle pickers with a heel.  Actually, as I was sat removing my own boots to try these ones on, some other woman sat on the other side of the bench with her back to me, and backed into me.  She turned round to apologise for bumping in to me as as I looked round we came face to face – it was Andrea!  It’s something I like about shopping with her, we don’t necessarily follow each other round, we go into a shop and do our own thing unless we want each other’s opinion (she put me off the tartan skirt for example), so it’s nice to literally bump into each other in this way.  We went into a few other shops – M&S, New Look (again!) and Zara, although I didn’t buy anything else.  I did try on a jumper dress in Zara, but it was just too short even for me who likes showing off my legs.  Would have been fine for a normal sized woman, but I need extra length because of my height.  Unfortunately, while trying this on I lost one of my magnetic diamante stud earrings and couldn’t find it again.  Thankfully, I had a spare.

Feeling at home at Home

Feeling at home at Home

We moved on to dinner, and what a spectacular dinner it was.  The LLFDC have been to many restaurants, but one that we hadn’t tried was Home.  It was actually listed in an Observer article earlier in the year of the 40 best restaurants in the UK as selected by other chefs.  It didn’t disappoint.  A nice unpretentious ambience, background music not too loud, although the dining room is quite large with a high ceiling which does tend to amplify the volume of the background chatter, exacerbated by two very loud little boys behind us.  But my food was exceptional.  We decided to forego a full starter, and instead shared some bread with dipping oil and olive tapenade which was as tasty as that type of thing can be.  But my main course, wow.  Herb chicken with gnocchi and spinach in a wild mushroom ragout.  It was stunning.  And the more I ate, the nicer it got.  A beautiful, creamy, deep and flavourful mushroom sauce and lovely moist chicken.  So good.  Andrea’s salmon seemed to go down well too.  For dessert we both plumped for Chocolate Fondant with ice cream, which was I must say better than Andrea’s attempt.  She did tell our very friendly waiter (who was “ladies”-ing us all night) that she had attempted one recently, and he empathised having had similar experiences himself.  We agreed that such things are best left to the professionals.  And MasterChef contestants.

Rather than having coffee straight after our meal, we relocated to an independent coffee house called “Arizona Express” which we frequent from time to time, and extended our evening by a further hour.  And had a very useful heart to heart.  I feel the time is coming for a decision that I have deliberately delayed until the Christmas period is out of the way.  But more of that next time.  For now, let’s just say that I had a very enjoyable Christmas period, and I hope I didn’t bore you too much in writing about it at such length.