As is the case for many of us, I have spent far too much of my life living in a place that I have not made enough attempt at exploring and getting to know… but all that started to change this time last year when my confidence started to mushroom and I did anything that I could to get out and about as my true female self. This continued on Saturday, with an excursion to Downpatrick planned with, and suggested by, my BFF Kirsty. After last weekend, and a recent credit card bill with quite a number of clothing purchases, my purse and I were looking forward to a low-spend weekend… but all that crumbled when Kirsty emailed me the night before with the news that Next had a flash sale on, and so that is where I met her just after midday, in Sprucefield-Next. I picked up a pair of shoes that I had ordered, then browsed the sale rails – Kirsty found me just as I picked up my second item of clothing and, after a bit of debate, she popped to Boots while I spent a few more minutes browsing. As I tried to look at a sweatshirt for my size next to a family with a large pram blocking the aisle the mum said to one of her sons “would you move out of the way for that lady?” (moi, of course). Once I had finished, and popped to the loo, Kirsty and I left for our destination, Downpatrick, to be local tourists.
Our first port of call was the cathedral where the grave stone of St Patrick is alleged to be, then down some steps we went to the St Patrick’s centre, the only ‘museum’ in the world dedicated to St Patrick. I bought the tickets, and the girl behind the counter led us into the self-guided exhibition. On the whole it was very interesting, and I think we both learned quite a bit, especially the English contingent of our party! For example, St Patrick was actually born in Britain, Scotland was named after the term Scotti which referred to tribes of Irish people (who settled in large numbers in Scotland in the 5th century), and there were perhaps as many as six St Patricks! Overall though, it seems that St Patrick had a cruel and sad life.
We exited the centre at around 2.45 quite hungry, and after a bit of strolling Kirsty noticed a place called Oakley Fayre; outside I pointed to a sign advertising afternoon tea, and we then eagerly went in. Eventually we were served by a waitress who said “What can I get you girls?” (Hmm, not just ladies, but girls!) Once I had ordered she addressed me as “love”, and when our afternoon tea arrived it looked truly wonderful… and tasted delicious! It was a really special lunch, and I am sure we will be back again.
Our next stop was Ballynoe Stone Circle just a few miles away, which we found after a bit of to-ing and fro-ing followed by a 5-10 minute walk; as with most stone circles, it would have been rather better to have been able to view it from an elevated position, but it was still fun to visit; there was also an abandoned railway station near where we parked, where the railway must have been many years ago. Finally we visited Inch Abbey… or In Shabby as Kirsty’s satnav insisted it was pronounced, a ruined former monastery of some size; it was a brief but enjoyable visit with much hilarity which largely revolved around a ‘piscina’ which seemed rather oddly to appear as though it was vertical! Then it was time to return to Sprucefield, where Kirsty and I parted after a best-friends hug.
My day was not done, as I ‘planned’ to do a few minutes of shopping. To Boots first for make-up… where I had a nice chat with a lady called Marie, who recognised me from many months ago when she had given me advice about foundation application; this time she said I looked good, and we had a lot of chat about the pleasures of visiting different parts of Ireland. Then time for the ladies again… and alas posters for an “up to 60% off” sale at M&S which I got sucked into… for a £154 shop, where I had an amusing and friendly exchange with the fitting room lady about my large handful of purchases and my poor credit card; included in those many sale purchases I bought my first necklace and earrings set which I look forward to wearing all of in due course.
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Sunday I was up early enough for a weekend, as I had a walk to look forward to… and it was not with my usual walking group, but a new group for me that I recently joined called Belfast Social Events – the events are very varied, including meals out, drinks, concerts, as well as a book group that Kirsty goes to, but they do walks too; this walk was to the east of Belfast in the Craigantlet Hills. Alas I was slightly late, because as per usual my female bladder can’t last a long time without release, so a Tesco petrol-station pit-stop was called for; thankfully the walking leader was also late, and it turned out that I was actually right behind him as we pulled into the car park. Apart from two girls, who are in my walking group, everyone else was new to me, including a nice woman called Joanne who runs Kirsty’s book group who I had a nice long chat with as we set off; alas her arm was in a sling after an accident at the end of another walk… in the dark! The walk lasted just over three and a half hours, including a packed lunch stop, and I was chatting to someone or other the whole time. I had loads of chat with a lovely lady called Rebecca, who later on recalled to one or two others some things I had told her and it was great to hear her say “Andrea was telling me… and she said this… and she said that…” and so on, all those lovely pronouns were great; I had plenty of fun girlie chat too, especially about clothes, buying or wearing for different occasions, and talking about the advantages and disadvantages of heels, etc. Our lunch stop was at Helen’s tower, built around 1850 with a style emulating some Scottish castles; today it is possible to stay at it, though I am sure the cost would be sky-high. I had not brought lunch (didn’t have time, or ingredients, to make something) so just took a banana, but Rebecca took pity on me and gave me half of her M&S wrap and a Mars bar. Some group photos were taken by Rosemary, and I enjoyed a little chat with her; she has cast aside her iPhone and gone Android – like me, she thinks Apple products are obscenely expensive. Back at the car park we said farewells, then I drove to a nearby Tesco where I changed into a day dress to do a small grocery shop. Then onto a nearby shopping estate, where after much trying on I eventually purchased an outfit at Decathlon for playing tennis in (including trainers), and finally to Boucher Road Retail Park to Next and Matalan for more clothes purchases… though it included a return, purchasing a dress one size larger than yesterday, and accessorising it with light tops… as one does.
As I tap away, I am watching Alex Cross on my television… and wondering whether as I have become more and more girlie that I have come to dislike, or shrink away from, brutal violence; a murder victim had all her fingers chopped off, and earlier the murderer was in a boxing ring pounding his opponent almost to death… and it all is so unnecessarily graphic for me.