My “getting ready” times are clearly improving. I awoke at 8.10am on Saturday in preparation for a 10am start, and was ready at 9.30. Going to bed on Saturday night, I had set my alarm for 8.20, thinking that given the lateness of my going to sleep I might be in need of a couple of presses of the snooze button. Indeed, I did have a couple of presses of said snooze button but after rising at 8.40, I found that I was showered, smooth of face, make up applied and fully dressed in an hour flat. I think it definitely helps that I didn’t have to do my nails. However my slight smugness at getting ready so quickly was soon deflated when I texted Nour to see if she might be available for breakfast slightly earlier than originally planned. She replied that she had only awakened 10 minutes earlier, and would be ready in 5 minutes. Fifteen flipping minutes! That put me in my place. And of course when we met in the lobby she was as impeccably turned out as ever.Breakfast was fine, although the fact that all meat products at the breakfast buffet were pork-based meant that Nour was forced to have a vegetarian breakfast. On the plus side, she did get to sample another Northern Irish traditional food – a soda farl, which went down a lot better than the previous day’s toasted wheated. To be precise, it was what we call “dipped soda”, which actually just means it was fried in a pan.
After a while Michelle joined us, due to a memory lapse on the part of one of us – either I had forgotten to tell her about meeting at 10 for breakfast, or I did tell her and she forgot. I blame the Rioja! So she came and joined us with a bowl of fruit just as Nour and I were finishing off our fry-ups and embarking upon some of the rather weak and insipid so-called coffee that was being offered by the waiting staff. While we were sitting there we saw Linda and Mandy come into the dining room, both in male form, although they didn’t join us at the table. I subsequently heard from Linda that a group of the Bobs had taken a table together. Happy to be out of that one!
As Nour was staying another night in the hotel, Michelle and I left our cases in her room, and went to check out. I must say the hotel staff were great the whole time we were there, be it reception, bar staff, waiting staff or those staff helping with organising the room for the dinner. We had some time to kill so the three of us retired back to the bar for a soft drink, and took a seat right at the window to watch the world go by for a while. It should have been relaxing, but the £3.30 bill for a 330ml bottle of diet coke didn’t do wonders for my blood pressure! In due course Michelle and I retrieved our cases from Nour’s room and dragged them round to the nearby multi-storey car park to load them into Michelle’s car. Michelle then drove the three of us round to the starting point for the boat tour we had booked the previous day.
When Nour and I had been at the Big Fish on Saturday it was warm and sunny, and the thought of a boat trip on the river was a very pleasant one. On Sunday, however, it was cold, wet and pretty miserable. We were also cutting it very fine for making the boat, arriving with a mere minute to spare. Thankfully there was a large indoor area on the boat, and even more thankfully there was a “head” (that’s naval speak for a toilet, I know all the jargon, me) as the horrendously expensive diet coke, two weak coffees and two glasses of orange juice were catching up with me. The cabin was quite full, with around 6 or 7 women all together on what seemed like a birthday party – at least they were all drinking some sort of alcopop straight from the bottle with a straw. As well as the three of us, there were two couples on the boat just doing the tourist thing. The captain waited a while as two other people had booked, but they never showed up. I blame the rain.
In fact the boat trip was much more pleasant than I had expected given the conditions. Although it was cold and wet, it wasn’t windy, so the water was very calm. We got a rather different view of Belfast sailing round the docks and the old shipyards of Harland and Wolff, including sailing past the end of the Thompson Dry Dock in which Andrea, Nour and I had stood the previous day. We also sailed past the former Harland & Wolff paint hall, now better known as Titanic Studios, the place where most of the interior scenes for “Game of Thrones” are filmed. They are between seasons right now, but I walked past the studios last summer and the backlot was filled with all sorts of fake masonry and various props for use in season 6, which was filming at the time.
In a way the most surprising thing that we saw on the boat tour was a large number of seals. Belfast Lough, the sea inlet into which the River Lagan flows, has been subjected to a huge clean-up operation in recent decades, with the result that wildlife has returned in large numbers. We saw around 20 or 30 seals sitting out on the shore as we sailed past, although our captain did say that they don’t really like the rain and on a warm day there could be over 100 basking in the sun. I tried a few photos although it was difficult with the rain on the windows of the boat.
The boat ride took a little over an hour, and when it ended we agreed that we needed to go somewhere indoors. So having done the Thompson Dry Dock yesterday, and the boat tour round the shipyards today, I suggested that the perfect thing would be to visit the Titanic Experience again. I was there with Andrea around 18 months ago, and with my family a few months before that, but I loved it so much that I was more than happy to go back again. Obviously Nour had never been there before, but it was Michelle’s first visit too. As a bonus, the car park is underground, directly underneath the exhibition itself, meaning that I could leave my coat in the car and swap my heeled ankle boots for the rather more delicate and much less suited to the rain lacy ballerinas.
I’m not going to write a whole section about the Titanic Experience, as I already did that when I visited with Andrea. My thoughts haven’t changed. If you want to read them, that blog post is here, or else you can read Michelle’s thoughts on this visit here. Suffice to say that it’s the third time I have visited the exhibition, and the third time that the section dealing with the sinking and its aftermath has left me in tears. Nour actually said to me during our walk round that the whole thing was remarkably well put together. I agree.
We spend a good solid two and a half hours going round the exhibition, after which we realised that it was quite a while since breakfast so we decided to go into the café for a quick bite to eat. Nour headed straight for the main courses and got some salmon and noodles, which looked really nice. However I decided not to have a full main course and just ordered a slice of quiche. Except the slice was huge. And was accompanied by two salads, one of which was a huge portion of a potato salad that was so dense it was in danger of undergoing spontaneous gravitational collapse and becoming a black hole. I couldn’t finish it.
Coming up next was what was going to be the highlight of Nour’s trip to Northern Ireland. She was finally going to get to visit the Belfast Butterfly Club premises. Except I wouldn’t get to see her reaction. We retrieved Michelle’s car from the car park and they then dropped me off at the shopping mall where I had left my own car the previous day. Michelle then drove Nour out to the BBC premises while I retrieved my car, filled the tank with diesel and then did a bit of grocery shopping (Mrs K had texted me a few essentials that she needed). It turns out that Michelle and Nour had waited outside the club for me to arrive for quite a while, but in the end they gave up on me and went in. Nour’s reaction? “Humble”. Yes. Very diplomatic. Humble, but better than nothing.
By this time I could really feel the imminent re-Bob-ification hanging over me like a dark cloud. A sick, heavy feeling in my stomach. Or maybe that was the potato salad. But Bob was coming back and I knew he was on his way. Michelle went into the changing room to freshen up a little before going out to dinner and I was left with Nour, just as the imminent Bobness was really beginning to kick in. We talked of my fears and doubts about transition, not doubts about going ahead with it, but about if I’m going about things the right way, about what will happen when the time comes. At the same time about how spending a prolonged period of time in exclusively female mode brings a different feeling, a loss of any self-consciousness and a deep sureness that I do need to do this. But most of all she gave me a lovely pep talk about my upcoming transition. She really is a lovely person and I am so pleased that she could come over.
With Michelle returned to the room, I did a bit of a refresh myself, and then we set off for our final engagement of the weekend, a Sunday evening meal at one of our most frequently visited establishments, The Plough in Hillsborough. I may have built it up a little bit with Nour by telling her that the Good Food Guide (I think) had recently produced a list of the best 100 pubs for food in the UK. 7 of the 100 were in Northern Ireland, and 3 of the 7 are in Hillsborough! And of course, one of them is the Plough. Incidentally, the other two are The Pheasant and The Parson’s Nose, both of which I have also dined in. But the Plough it was, and although we only had a main course rather than the usual three that Michelle and I manage with Andrea, it was a very good one. I just had a burger and chips, but it was a very generous portion. I think Nour was impressed with her steak, and the accompanying sauce was so good that she ended up eating it with a fork (!) after the actual solid food was gone.
All too soon, the hour was approaching 9.30pm and it was time to part. Nour was staying another night in the Europa Hotel, so Michelle was going to drop me off at the club, then run Nour back to the hotel while I got changed. As we pulled up outside the club Nour and I both got out of the car and hugged each other farewell. I had such a fantastic weekend in her company, it was genuinely a joy to spend time with her. There was a tear in my eye and a lump in my throat as she and Michelle drove off.
I’m not going to bother writing a blow by blow account of getting changed back and going home again, although I will add this one thing. After I walked back into chez Kirsty, I was unpacking my case while chatting with Mrs K about what I had been up to over the weekend. After two or three minutes I was falling over my words and generally getting tongue tied in a way that doesn’t normally happen. The reason was obvious to me, so I told Mrs K;
“I’m sorry, I’m finding it really hard to speak at the minute. I’ve been using a different voice for the last three days.”
“Yes, it’s really obvious. You sound all squeaky.”
So squeaky-voiced Kirsty was back.
Around the time I arrived home I received a text from Michelle saying how hard she was finding it reverting back to Bob mode. I actually didn’t experience this at the time. Everything on the Sunday evening was more of a series of tasks that I had to do within a set timescale, ending with me going to bed. I didn’t really have time to think. Monday however was a completely different matter. It was one of the hardest days of culture shock that I have endured. All day long I was achingly conscious of how I appeared. The suit and tie, ugly man-shoes, short(ish) hair, the flat chest, the wrong voice and the wrong mannerisms. Everything was wrong, and it seems like an eternity until it will be right. Ten months. Next Easter, April 2017, my target date for going full-time. It feels so far away.
I think that the reversion back to maleness was thrown into extremely sharp relief after having three wonderful days as my real self. On the two occasions in the past when I have had multi-day stretches of time as Kirsty, I have had general feelings of discomfort and indeed dysphoria upon returning, however on those occasions I was not planning to transition. This time is different. Not only am I planning to transition, I am actually on the waiting list for GIC and have an actual date for going full time. So having three days of me and then having it all snatched away feels so much worse. I know it’s coming, but it’s so agonisingly still out of reach. I will get there eventually though. And after this weekend, I’m more sure than ever that it’s the right thing for me. And after my emotions going back into male mode, I’m more sure than ever that I couldn’t cope with not transitioning. I need it, and soon.