As I have to work for the majority of next weekend (which I won’t even be paid for… sob) I was determined to make the best of the weekend just gone.
After a long week at work I used to typically have a lie in on a Saturday morning… but life is different in so many ways these days, and I was up at just after 7.30am to get ready for my next walking group event, a six mile trek in the mountains above Belfast. As usual, I couldn’t make it to the start of the walk without a stop at the ladies (this time in McDonalds), but for once I amazed myself by getting to the walk early for the first time ever – to-date I have always been un-early, either arriving on-time or a minute or two late. At the car park I donned my woolly hat-avec-pompoms and joined the group; after a little chat with a couple of the members, we all set off for Divis mountain. Alas it was rather cloudy, but thankfully dry compared to my walk in early December (described in a previous post), and I was soon chatting to a lady who was new to the group called Eleanor; several of us women soon stopped at a National Trust building for the toilet, which itself provided the opportunity to chat to new group members, all lovely women, and as we set off on one of the mountain trails I chatted at length to one of the new girls called Jennifer who is taking ‘lessons’ in becoming a tourist guide. As we headed uphill I met a couple of Anns – one was the girl who had held onto me for dear life on the previous walk, the other Ann a semi-retired nurse who I had not seen since July but remembered me (for some reason), and we all had some lovely chat as we carried on, up a path I have never done before. As we reached the highest point of the walk, and headed downwards with fabulous views over Belfast city I was talking to Jennifer again… and it turned out that she was joining a German-speaking Meetup group that my BFF’s wife was also joining! We paused at a viewpoint over the city and I was soon chatting to a girl I had never met before with a very boisterous dog who, as we headed off, was soon telling me some quite personal detail all about parents she didn’t get on at all well with, her lovely children, her drunken ex-, and so on; I don’t remember anyone ever opening up so quickly to me before. About a mile from the end of the walk we came across a stile – I waited behind the group leader and another girl and, as it became my turn to go over the stile an old guy pushed past me and climbed over; after I, and a few others, had climbed over I saw a lady who I had met once before who said to me “That guy was really rude who pushed in front of you – any guy should know that he should wait for a lady” (i.e. me)! At the end of the walk we stopped at a café for tea, coffee, and scones, and further opportunity to chat… where I sat with Kathleen, who asked me about my car as she was thinking of buying one and, once at the car park, I let her have a look at mine. Eventually we all parted, another walk successfully under my belt.
I went back into McDonalds to change out of my walking gear. I initially wished I hadn’t, as there were a throng of young girls milling in and around the toilets, but as far as I could tell they didn’t have an issue with me; some of the tedious chat I heard does not bode well for my daughter though… sigh. I drove to Lisburn, hoping to post off my passport application for me to have one as Andrea, but alas although the Post Office was open the main section that dealt with passport applications was not. So, to cheer myself up, retail therapy beckoned, and after an hour I had bought a lovely pair of shoes, a handbag (which once home turned out to be even heavier than my current one), and chocolates. I finally did a grocery shop at Tesco, and had a lovely long chat with a really pleasant woman at the checkout that I have met before.
Sunday I treated myself to a lie-in…. relatively speaking. I was up at about 10.00, put my face on and dressed, and then made my second phone call post-revelation to my parents – I have to admit that I was a bit nervous as the connection was made, but in a few minutes of talking to them I was settled, and as the call went on all was well; my mum alas used my old name again, and I corrected her, though she said that she looks at my new photo every day which is nice. At the end of the call my Dad was repeating something to my mum, and referred to me both by my new name and also as ‘her’ which was good. At around 1.30 I left home to meet up with my BFF Kirsty, but stopped en-route at Sprucefield to pop into Boots for emergency makeup accessories… and I am so glad I did, for a No.7 assistant called Mandy was present, who was the kind lady who helped me with my foundation when I went in late-2013 in male-guise. I picked up make-up sponges and went to her to pay… and, recognising me, she exclaimed “Hi!” and we had a nice little chat, and I said that I just wanted to tell her that I was full-time-me now and to thank her for all her help; she said “no fizz!” (which I have to presume is a local expression for no-problem) and then bid me farewell, using my name which she had remembered.
I phoned Kirsty to let her know I was on my way, and then drove to support group HQ where I met her outside and got in her car. A few days earlier we had agreed to go to the Crumlin Road Gaol (which I presume is the same as ‘jail’), and two days beforehand I booked tickets online; Kirsty parked nearby and we went straight to the waiting room, reading up on a few facts about the jail… including women being jailed for protesting about unequal rights only 100 years ago, and the gaol being operational until 1996. Presently our guide arrived and took quite a large crowd of us out into the open for an introductory chat before leading us into the prisoner waiting room, a very ordinary room with numerous cubicles where detainees were placed to strip them of their clothes and belongings before being bathed… and more recently, sprayed with DDT when baths were considered too slow… before it became apparent that DDT weed killer was not ideal for cleaning persons and showers were installed! We were led onto other rooms where to-be-prisoners would have been processed, including holding cells with low doors (where Kirsty had to duck)… and I asked the guide why that was and was told that in those days (i.e. within the last 100 years) people were smaller. We then went down to a musty tunnel only 1.5 metres under a busy main road, and then into the main gaol wings themselves, which were really quite cold, but architecturally quite interesting with wrought iron railings and spiral stairwells. We walked past an assortment of rooms and cells, reading about women and also children as young as eight kept in cells for short stints of time (‘short sharp shock’ treatment)… and ended up at a dead-man-waiting cell which, owing to the large party, I was not able to get into and see what lay beyond, until the crowd moved… and there, in a tall, icy room was a noose… with a Perspex-covered trap-door opening below. Uh, gulp!! I wasn’t expecting that! Or the room beyond, where bodies were put into coffins and a flogging frame also stood. I won’t repeat all the detail, for it is rather gruesome, although the tour was indeed very interesting. Once a walk around the exterior, past where bodies were buried, was complete we decided to head into Belfast city… where much of the time I spent shoe-shopping while Kirsty patiently offered opinions, and tried on one or two things herself. I left the shops with a lovely pair of navy, Next suede boots and some nice heels from M&S.
Back at Kirsty’s car I changed into my lovely New Look slingbacks acquired the day before, and Kirsty drove us to Il Pirata, where we had dined some months ago. We passed the restaurant without Kirsty realising, and so she turned off at the next right to turn around, and we seem to be followed – Kirsty paused a couple of times, hoping the following car would turn off into a driveway, but it annoyingly did not. Kirsty said something like “it’d be funny if it was Michelle behind us”… AND IT WAS!! Once we had turned around we saw her, and gave us a wave, then we returned to the turn off near the restaurant and parked some way down… in the pouring rain! NOT good weather for slingbacks, I found out, as we made our way to the restaurant. In summary, as before, the food was excellent – I had mussels in white wine, seafood risotto with melt-in-the-mouth scallops, and a chocolate and hazelnut tart… as well as helping Michelle to finish her ice cream – but the music was too loud, as is often the case, and for much of the meal Michelle’s attention was divided between her guests with the one not being conversed to not able to hear the words of the other two; one of these days I am going to complain about this. I returned to Lisburn in Michelle’s big, comfortable Citroen estate and, after a brief hug, we said our goodbyes for another night.
All-in-all, I pretty good weekend!