Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Saying Hello to Innocence

Wow, it seems like the end of summer, a rather damp few months but fizzing with the most amazing experiences, moments like those you experienced as a child. You know, the ones you thought would go on forever.

In recent years I've revisited summers like those childhood and teenage ones; footloose free holidays, colorful festivals, dancing outdoors, raves, songwriting, guitar playing, bike riding, Daisy Duke & Bikini top wearing, beach days and living on way less money...it has been a blast and I've loved every single fun packed nano second. It's been unforgettable.

Yesterday, while an alt, metal, ska band rocked the community stage I saw a T shirt I've seen a good deal before but was drawn to reprocess: It has a silhouette of Tinkerbell and the tag line; 'Don't Grow Up, It's a Trap'. At one time I would have disagreed but I'm of the contrary opinion now. Ten years ago I got to press 'freeze' and 'rewind'. I had the privilege of starting life over & this time I got the chance to do it right. 'Growing Up' is for cynics, for the 'I thought that at your age' brigade....This time I won't bother to make the switch. It is indeed a trap; a trap that's hard to escape. If growing up means leaving love and innocence behind, saying goodbye to trusting and accepting life at face value, claiming that harsh realities put an end to dreams, count me out: I want none of it. Maturity and the caring, accepting values of childhood can coexist. I'll take that any day over conservative hatred and intolerance.

Next month I cease to be a 'Miss'. I put on a beautiful white dress, signifying my innocence, and marry the man to whom I give my heart, Mart Williams. There are some out there who say this is all wrong, that it is un-natural', an abomination against nature and that such a marriage is hateful . What gives you the right to say that?  Would you have said the same when you were a child? Somehow I doubt it. Growing up you left so much behind....mostly the good stuff.

I'm heading into work now, mud on my converse and the cleanest, workiest clothes I can find (leggings and a striped Bardot neck top). It's the easiest option without rushing home to get changed. I still have a festival cape in my shoulder bag. It's safe there just like my memories of a summer well spent. Here's raising a mug of filter coffee to the future, to marriage, to innocence and not growing up. 

Just bring it on!

Huggs, Jane xx

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Wedding Flowers and the delightful Northern Flower

Northern Flower on Tib St. 
This is a copy of a post on my blog 'Jane's Essential Addictions 'Wedding Flowers and the delightful Northern Flower'.  For those of you who want to follow my continuing story and path to bridal bliss, here is my latest offering :) xx

Choosing flowers for my big day! YAY!

It's a strange but much of the language related to weddings has the focus of 'HER' big day.  The groom doesn't get much of a look in in all of this does he? My dress, veil, tiara, shoes and jewellery come to 5 times the cost of the suit hire for him and all of his groomsmen combined! Now I have my dress, my attention has turned to what else I'll wear, what I'll be carrying with me on the day and you guessed it; the wedding flowers. Those of you who follow this blog's Pinterest feed will know I've already pinned 71 pins to my 'Wedding Flowers' board! Some pictures even made it onto a mood board (you can create yours too at http://www.hitched.co.uk )

Jane's Floral Mood Board on 'Hitched'

So white roses then? Err no! So why not? There is so much talk of themes in bridal magazines and online these days.  Everyone (female) wants to know what my theme is.  So many of my friends have had or want quite outrageous themes.  Is it acceptable to say 'I just want a beautiful classical wedding?' Is THAT a theme or, as some seem to think, just a boring choice? Well, let's call the theme of my wedding: 'Chic City Classic with a slightly Boho twist', will that do?  We chose the grand, deeply retro Britannia on Manchester's bustling Portland St. for it's grandiose proportions, vintage chandeliers and beautiful staircase.

The Crystal Suite, Britannia Hotel, Portland St. Manchester

As a girl I dreamed of marrying my Prince in a Fairytale Castle.  Well having found Prince Martin, The Britannia, Portland Street is the nearest a girl can get to a latter day city castle. It comes complete (quite literally) with turrets, immense kitchens, banqueting halls and a truly grand staircase. So where does the boho touch come in?

Here's the shock; I don't want a bouquet of white roses.  White roses have become a wedding cliche. I do like them.  My mother had red roses but I wanted something alternative with a little seasonal October flair; I wanted snowberries.

Snowberries? Snowberries are a delightful wintery, magical and incredibly pretty alternative for white winter wedding bouquets.  My wedding is on October 28th this year, not in the very heart of the season but on the threshold.  I wanted to add a unique and quirky boho touch to my bouquet for the boutonnieres and my bridesmaid's posies.  Here's the sort of things I have in mind:

Snowberries combine well with so many other white flowers; lilies, spray roses and a little greenery to give a beautiful textured wintery romance to an October wedding bouquet.  It's such a lovely idea.

So how did I go about achieving all of this.  I didn't want any ordinary florists's shop. Cue Northern Flower in Manchester's Northern Quarter. Imagine a cute, quirky little boutique florist's, a potting shed style shop on Tib Street. It stands next to Sugar Junction; one of my fave tea shops and is staffed by Rowan and Lyndzey.  Nothing was too much trouble and I got the friendliest service when I went there to discuss floral arrangements.  My previous forays into flower shops have left me underwhelmed, frustrated that we weren't on the same wavelength. My experience has been shops that are sterile, over clever and immaculately arranged, who try to impose their own preconceived ideas on you.  My experience at Northern Flower was the opposite, completely different, helpful and incredibly easy.  I left feeling happy and even closer to the wedding of my dreams.

Lyndzey and Rowan

So what next? I'm sure you can imagine; centrepieces, menus, groomsmen, favours, honeymoon arrangements, hairstyles....so much to blog about!


Jane (the soon to be Mrs Williams ;) xx

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Maids in Waiting

This is a defining moment for me; my 100th post. I'm now a very different person to the shy, diffident girl who penned her first blogging effort back in 2011. My eighth post was entitled 'Wedding Belle Blues'.  In that piece I mused about relationships and what the future might hold. Now I'm planning my wedding! Being Trans that is one very special journey for me but how different is it to anyone else?

Since transition I've found myself increasingly aware that most of us Brides have so much in common.  I look around me and find that suddenly, everyone seems to be newly married or a Bride to be.  From being Gender Dysphoric, I'm now Euphoric.  I love being me, I'm happy, I have friends, a job, a social life, a family, a 'husband to be' and now.....

I have bridesmaids....

Such an iconic photo! I totally love that film.  The photo: totes amazeballs,  I must get one taken of me and my maids like that.  Here, hold the camera, stand over there, hang on a minute, we won't be a sec....just a few little probs to smooth out....

Choosing an MoH and Maids is:

PROBLEM No. 1.  There are all manner of articles about this onlin, including algorithms and decision trees (for the project management minded) and good old fashioned Mumsy advice for more spontaneous Bride.

I started off with two maids.  Talking to other brides and friends at work, it seems that's how it usually begins. Having two bridesmaids keeps things nice and simple: There are only two dresses to buy, two posies to arrange for, two sets of accessories and presents. Apparently it hardly ever stays that way.

It hasn't.  First there is J a colleague at work; confidential, wonderfully supportive, recently married and full of good advice and good ideas.  She wouldn't be my MoH on the day but was happy to do everything else. This lead to me asking: G: a best friend from school, I sang with her, she's very organised, a Girl Guide leader and now my MoH.  Only one maid in a dress on the day? That won't do, which lead me to ask: K a co-worker and total girl like me.  She is LGBT savvy, very petite and a great friend.

Still, on reflection, 2 barely seemed enough which lead to me asking S. She is a fab, fun loving friend with a smile that can light up a whole room, she lives 2 hours away in the Midlands, she's always wanted to be a bridesmaid. Now I'm begining to wonder whether 3 maids on the day isn't a little lop sided...wouldn't it be better to ask another,( J, my longtime hair stylist and friend) to join us and make it an even 4? OMG what am I getting myself into!

Those of you who've been involved in weddings before will know that bridesmaids come in ALL shapes and sizes from petite and pint sized to curvy and womanly.  So...

PROBLEM No. 2 is finding a dress to suit everyone.  That's where I am now.  I had visions of everyone in floor length strapless chiffon gowns but there's no way THAT's going to happen!  My choice of navy blue has gone down very well. It's flattering for most people and not so bridesmaidy that you can't wear it again afterwards. We've settled on Tea length for now....I think (hence the picture above). There is some uneasiness amongst some about bare arms....but I'm hoping for the best.  The last thing I want is anyone feeling uncomfortable or wearing a dress they hate. So now to get the dresses bought.  That brings me to....

PROBLEM No. 3: My maids are scattered all over the UK...Yorkshire, Worcestershire, Anglesey, Denbighshire, Conwy...Convinced it would be impossible to get everyone together to go shopping ANY time soon, I've gone down the road of ordering 'prêt-à-porter' from a major supplier and having them delivered to try on.  Problems abound: We all, (myself included) consider ourselves a size smaller than we really are, especially when it comes to weddings.  Sending items back and re-odering new sizes becomes hideously complicated when one person pays but another takes delivery (wedding suppliers...GET YOUR ACT TOGETHER!) We're in the process of doing all of this now. I'll let you know when we're done!

You're okay standing there holding that camera aren't you? You might be waiting a little while!


Jane xx

(the soon to be Mrs Jane Williams)

Monday, June 1, 2015

Dreamboats, Petticoats and Gumtree

One of the downsides of being Cinderella is that until your life takes off, it can be REALLY depressing. All those years dating guys who turn out to be total jerks can make you a trifle cynical and despondent. In the end you never imagine falling in love, maybe 'Friends with Benefits is a better option.....and then KABAM! 
Cue the Dreamboat...
Those of you who know Martin, my fiancé, will understand what I'm getting excited about. For those who don't, suffice it to say that Mum never told me men like him existed...he's a total guy but incredibly caring and loving too: A guy who is so practical and yet romantic as well. Before he came into my life, I missed him so so much. Now he's with me I'm NEVER ever letting go.
So, these days at work there are SO many question. 'Jane: Have you named the day? Arranged the venue? Got the dress? Chosen your bridesmaids? Decided on your theme?
Yes to all of the above and yet the excitement still mounts...the date is 28th October this year, the venue is The Britannia Hotel Manchester, the dress is err...shhhhh (don't tell the groom), the theme; stylish city nuptials; white, gold, the bridesmaids will have navy blue dresses. It's only now I've sorted out these things that I've begun to see how much there is still to do. There are things to buy, collect, borrow and beg, so much to arrange!
Some of these things are WAY more important than others. 

All Brides, myself included tend to focus on THE DRESS. But the BIG problem is we don't always think about what goes underneath. It was Coco Chanel I think who said 'Fashion is architecture, it is a matter of proportions.' Proportions and shape are so important. My dress is A-line. It has a gorgeous outward sweep and fullness that makes you feel like a Princess....except it won't if it doesn't have something underneath to hold it out.
Cue the hoop petticoat....
Hoop petticoats consist of layers of tulle over a lining material. Sewn into the lining are casings for circular boning to form a hoop shape. A petticoat can have one or more hoops of varying sizes. They are usually adjustable to suit the dress. However, hoop petticoats are ridiculously expensive costing upwards of £70-85, I have blown my budget buying a £1,400 dress, can I make savings elsewhere so that I can afford one? 
Cue Gumtree....
Gumtree is an online classified ads site. Friends had suggested it, other Brides had heaped praise on it, I wasn't sure. Memories of wading through lists of closely printed local newspaper ads came to mind. It's so tedious. Would there really be anything out there? I had a very clear idea of what I wanted, I could even see it in my mind's eye. 
So what should I do? try Ebay? I can't do with that whole online auction thing. I wanted to find someone LOCAL, see what I'm getting before I buy and talk to the seller at first hand. Wouldn't it just be easier to fork out for something full price, even if it means doing without something else? 
Then it occurred to me: All over my area, girls like me are getting married, THOUSANDS of them, all enjoying their special day and wearing everything, once? Somewhere out there, not far away, there must be dozens of nearly new wedding items and Brides who want to pass them on. I decided to give Gumtree a go, so glad I did as it happens.
Creating a Gumtree account was easy, I did that online in my coffee break at work. Unlike some annoying sites, Gumtree works really well on my iPad and iPhone meaning that I could keep looking and searching in odd moments at work. There WAS no laborious sifting. I found that I could search on particular items, 'Hoop slip' revealed any number of results, many with photos. Though some of these were in places like Nottingham and Middlesborough with 'collection only' in the description, I found I could narrow my search down to a 50 mile radius. I travel regularly to and from Manchester. Was there anywhere en route? Chester, Runcorn, Warrington?......Bingo
A lady near Warrington had something that sounded promising...a Jupon hoop petticoat, the sort I'd looked at before but dismissed as too pricey. The photo she provided however didn't give much away. In the picture the skirt was rolled up in a bag. Seeing a link to email the seller Claire, I dashed off a quick line asking for more information. By the time I was on my afternoon tea break she had replied, promising to post more photos that evening. By the following morning I was making arrangements to call in that Saturday and look at the skirt. She even sent me her postcode, I put it in my Maps app: Brilliant only a few miles out of my way. By then, I was also hooked on Gumtree searches. veils, fascinators, tiaras....there was so much out there and at a fraction of the price I had been expecting to pay. Fast forward to Saturday.
Cue the Dreamboat again...
Yes, he drove me to Warrington on our way to a weekend away. Leaving him in the car outside Claire's home, I was invited in to see the petticoat (pictured above). 'Oops, I must have worn it with the tag still attached', she laughed. She only wanted £20; an incredible bargain. Claire had other things for sale too; children's toys. I had therefore expected someone young, not a similar age to myself. It turned out we were both 'Encore Brides', both having married very young with grown up kids. She had remarried, to the guy of her dreams and started a brand new family. She too had worn a lovely A-line dress. 
'Second Time Around' is always the best, she said with a smile, and, talking about her second family: 'You never know, maybe you next?'. It made me smile so much. Not only had I found EXACTLY what I needed and wanted, I felt I had made a friend, not the sort of experience I'd have enjoyed if I'd have gone to a Bridal shop!
'Don't look Darling', I said to my fiancé as I hid 'the item' under a rug on the backseat of the car. It wouldn't have done to have him see it and guess the sort of dress I would be wearing, (fortunately he knows little about such things). 'It looks like a dead dog' he observed laughing...and indeed for several days, until it got hidden away safely, 'The Dead Dog', became it's name. Yesterday I persuaded one of my bridesmaids to photo me wearing it (as above). The press stud on the waist needs moving a little bit but that is all. I'm so pleased with the dog....err I mean petticoat! 
Will I use Gumtree again? Most definitely! I have so many other bits and pieces that I want to buy and Gumtree's classified ads are certainly the best place to find them, at the right price and local to me. Moreover, once I'm happily married it looks like the best and most convenient market place to sell some of my Bridal stuff.....and toddler toys? We'll have to wait and see about that one lol,
Jane xx
(the soon to be Jane Williams)

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

My Dream Wedding Dress

Brides will all tell you (and now me (OMG I'm one too now)) there is SO much planning involved in a wedding. Having managed £12,000 and £30,000 projects for previous employers I thought that this one would be a doozy; not so. Bringing in a 100 guest Wedding for at a prestige city centre location for under £10k is a hard one to pull off, in particular when it's just you and a few select others doing the planning. For me as a Bride, the saving grace of all this is 'the exciting bit' otherwise known as buying THE DRESS (and the accessories!)

I've scarcely ever set foot inside a wedding boutique. I did once as a little girl when a friend of Mum's was getting married. Being small it all seemed very grown up and sophisticated, princessy and glamorous. Sadly I was just simply tagging along with Mummy not being asked to be a flower girl. Hopes of being asked to be a bridesmaid throughout my later childhood and teens were wishful thinking but at least I could draw pretty pictures of fantasy wedding dresses. It was nice to imagine the gown I would choose if I ever did get married and to dream of being a bride.

Inevitably, given the generation I grew up in, glamour and society weddings fed a lot of my dreams. That includes my ideas about a wedding dress. I wish I had kept some of my drawings in a keepsake box: They would be interesting to see now. My dress designs included lots of lace. They started off as ball gowns like Cinderella's: Princessy creations that would have meant a double door entrance just so I could fit through! In time, the sort of retro movies my mother made me watch left me fascinated with clinging, lacy, beaded dresses, beautiful couture and expensive jewellery.

As a grown woman thinking about my dream wedding dress, I realised that most of those ideas were still there. On Pinterest, my 'Wedding Dress Inspiration' board is full of exclusive, high end designer dresses following that 'Hollywood Glamour' trend. Sheath dresses feature very highly, lace and beading, low backs, wide shoulder straps and V necklines. There are very few strapless gowns, little satin and taffeta, no A-line silhouettes and certainly NO ruching.

Total Miss ControlFreak that I am, I did my homework, created a mood board, set a budget, talked to other Brides and took advice. I researched shops and designers, I booked appointments. I was clear in my mind what I didn't want....(as above)...., no train (or maybe just a sweep train), no strapless gowns, no A-line silhouettes and definitely NO ruching....it was a mantra to be recited to make sure I got what I wanted.

So, a recent Saturday saw myself and a very good friend from work, heading to the City of Chester to fulfil this mission.

Chester is across the border in England, almost exactly an hour by train: The county town of Cheshire, pretty much the 'Surrey of the North', Chester's streets are host to a wide selection of wedding boutiques, most of them rather expensive looking! Well the day started well, coffee more coffee and yet more coffee (was that wise? - what about peeing?) then we started on the shops. 'This is going to be easy' I thought' as we started to place coloured bobbins on hangers of dresses I wanted to try. I rejected any dress that was either too expensive or had any of the attributes listed above. In the first shop there were still seven I really liked to try on. The day was stop start bridal shopping punctuated by lunch with wine and then more shopping. I was in seventh heaven. I'd been looking forward to this day for so, so long!

But how was it? Well, forget your existing changing room experiences in New Look or Debenhams. You WILL need help. Nobody gets into a wedding gown unaided. This is the moment when, with an assistant helping you, you are either glad you picked out a nice bra and knicker set to put on that morning....or you feel embarrassed. I was so glad I had bought mine previously, another thing my groom hasn't seen (yet). Choose something you would wear on your wedding day even if you later find something better.

Wedding Dresses either have to be stepped into or go over your head with your arms above your head. Depending on the dress, it will fasten with a variety of lacings, fabric covered buttons or zips. You may need to wear a dress hoop or hoops to hold the dress in shape. You won't be able to do any of this on your own! Putting on a bridal gown is a process that either transports you back to childhood memories of Mummy putting you into pretty party dresses or maybe even the 18th century. Be prepared to feel laced in place, stand patiently while being attended to and become a Princess!
I've looked at many pictures of wedding dresses so why was seeing myself in a beautiful white designer gown for the first time such an emotional experience? There was a wild rush of feelings I had NOT anticipated. Somehow seeing a dress on yourself is when you perceive yourself as a Bride for the first time. You think, OMG this is actually going to happen. It is a wonderful and defining moment.

Once you have tried on at least seven dresses it becomes serious. Fortunately, my friend was on hand to take lots of photos, front AND back (you do want to know how you'll look from behind don't you?). She was amazing. Telling me what she thought, asking me what I thought, making suggestions....I couldn't have done it without her. At the end of the day however, roughly 20 dresses later it was difficult to remember the first ones and the best ones. There tended to be two I had really liked in each shop and one total favourites not each place. I visited 2 shops and was still undecided when I reached the third and last one.

In the last store, Berkertex Bride, we had the benefit of Chris, a knowledgeable assistant who worked really hard to help. Here was where I left my comfort zone and began to think more clearly. Based on my selections, Chris suggested other dresses and more importantly encouraged me to try things I had ruled out. She persuaded me to try on a tea length dress, ruched ones, ones with court trains and yes, even strapless gowns! I confronted many of the things I thought I didn't like. I tried on veils and tiaras, princess gowns and A line ones and was amazed at what I saw.

We often say 'save the best till last' without really thinking much about it. Brides sometimes say, you will KNOW when you find that special gown, the one you HAVE to have. I was a little sceptical about this: I often have trouble deciding on a restaurant or dinner, let alone dresses! Even so, one of the last dresses I tried really captivated me. I asked to try it again after all the others. This was the gown that changed me. It turned on my head almost every idea I had about what I wanted. This was the one I put on and thought, 'this could be IT!'. In all the dresses I tried, this was the design that made me feel right; a dress to say 'I do' in; the one I could imagine myself wearing on my special day and that 'future Mrs Williams' dress!

Pause for thought, something practical and sensible inside made me want to review ALL the possibilities. We retired to a local pub where we'd enjoyed lunch and began to work our way through a bottle of Freixenet. There is nothing quite like cool intoxicating Cava (unless it's Prosecco) for freeing your up mind and helping you make a decision. I came to realise in that moment that although buying a wedding dress is a major purchase it is unique. Wedding gowns are totally special, unlike any other garment you've ever had and meant for a truly memorable day marking the beginning of a new life. This is not the time for 'this one is a little cheaper than the other' or 'this would go better with shoes I already have'....

With that sudden realisation came the admission that I REALLY wanted this dress! Then there was the mad scramble to return to the shop. The door was locked but they opened up especially for us. Was it a sign? I like to think it was.

Returning home on the train I don't think I have ever felt quite such a sense of achievement (and yes I do have a PhD). It felt so good to have found what I was looking for (even though I was looking for something else!)

To those of you who want photos you will simply have to wait until after the wedding. No way am I risking my H2B getting a sneak peak at my dress. Like you, he'll just have to bide his time and be surprised. I'm so looking forward to seeing the look on his face.


Jane xx

(Miss Jane Ward for now - well until 28 October)

Friday, February 27, 2015

B2B, WTB, loving a H2B and searching for an MoH

The moment every girl longs for...

Life is full of abbreviations these days. I seem to live in an LGBTQi community addicted to them. Even my students say BTW, WTF and LOL instead of their spoken equivalents. We all live at a super fast pace with no time or space to do things the way we used to. As a girl whose life had stalled for years I'm as prone to this as the rest of us. Waiting for my life to start for so many years has made me impatient to enjoy it to the full now. I want to taste everything, experience everything, do the things I longed for as a teenage girl, reach for the stars and live life to the full. In the past ten years I seem to have hurtled through adolescence, first periods, first dates, first boyfriend and first steps as an adult woman. I've evolved my style and dress sense. I've had a crash course in how to negotiate working life, relationships, romance and err....yes....sex. It continues to be a roller coaster ride....sometimes it's nice to pause, take stock and have a rest; cue for a break.

Last week was one of those times. It began with Valentine's Day; red roses, a card, wine and chocolates. Come midweek I was whisked off by my boyfriend to one of the most romantic locations of all; Bruges. We had dinner and wine on board ship, walked by dreamy canals, bathed in sparkling Winter sunshine, engaged in sightseeing and shopping and relaxed. The afternoon saw us installed in a cosy bar by an open fire, drinking glasses of Leffe. We sat opposite each other, beautifully warm, toasting our love for each other. Think that it couldn't get much better? It did!

My boyfriend loves photography. Since we met over two years ago I've gotten used to posing and having the most amazing photographs taken of me. His camera lens captures images the way HE sees me. Most of us find it hard to understand the things people genuinely appreciate about us. Seeing myself as others do and through my boyfriend's eyes was a revelation and a surprising one. I've always considered myself unattractive and destined to be unloved. His photography changed all that. So, the beautiful backdrop of Bruges and soft Winter sunshine was a good reason to take more posed shots of me.....Silly girl that I am, I still didn't catch on when he packed a tripod and set it up by the Minnewater to photograph me. Only when he went down on one knee and produced that teeny tiny box did I realise what was happening. It was such a precious romantic moment. It was the perfect place and time to pop THE question and of course, I said yes. I am so totally in love with him.

As a result, I'm on Cloud Nine right now. I left the UK with my boyfriend and returned from Belgium with my fiancé and a ring on my wedding finger. Growing up, I felt sure that I would never find romance, be loved by a man for the girl I truly am and would never become engaged. It wasn't even 'feeling sure'; I absolutely KNEW it would never happen to me......except it has. It is a continuing source of wonder and happiness to me. I'm now planning my wedding with the most wonderful guy in the world and looking forward to being his wife. I'm experiencing the world as I never expected. When we attended a wedding fair last week I was surpised to be asked if I was the Bride and to find myself saying 'yes'. Fiancée, Bride to be, future wife, future Mrs Williams and no longer just the girlfriend is quite a lot to take in all at once. Gazing down at my ring finger I keep smiling and smiling and smiling....how on earth did this all happen? The answer of course is that 'it started with a kiss'. I should blog about that some time.

So what now? Set a date? Check (28/10/15) Book a venue? Check; book a Registrar? Check; plan out a Wedding Budget? Check. There is so much to do, so many decisions to make; that all important dress to find, items to shop for, bookings to be made, an MoH and Bridesmaids to choose. There are only 8 months to do them.....even so, for a few days they can wait: This cloud is such a comfortable place to be...especially with a glass of Prosecco!


Jane <3 xx

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Angst, Bright Lights and Excess Moisture: Manchester - City of my Dreams


Mhairi McFarlane tries to evoke a city and it's micro-climate in her book 'You Had Me at Hello': "that special Manchester rain that manages to be both vertical and horizontal at the same time". When I moved there aged 18, the first thing I did was to go out and buy an umbrella: Wielding one in a Manchester downpour requires skill and dexterity; generally......you still get wet.

In spite of its climate which is famously to be thanked for the cotton industry, I have loved this city my whole life yet only lived there sporadically. As a little girl, my memories are of the days before Christmas, travelling to Picadilly station from Penistone and visiting Kendal Milne's department store. Even for a child who lived not far outside Leeds, the lights of Deansgate seemed spectacular beyond measure and that huge Art Deco store like the biggest shop on earth. Manchester and its bright lights was a treat, a longed for reward if I was good: An amazing day out. Small wonder then that when I chose College, I applied to the University of Manchester. Believe it or not, I turned down a place at University College London to go there, a decision which might seem strange to some.

This year, for the first time, I had the privilege of spending the whole of Christmas here. Here's hoping that it will be the same for many Christmases to come. This year for the first time, I shopped in the Arndale Shopping Mall on Christmas Eve, I attended the Christmas Eucharist in Manchester Cathedral and on Christmas Day I enjoyed the quiet of an almost deserted Piccadilly, wandering warm and happy with my boyfriend. So much has happened since I last lived in Manchester as a teenager.

Aged 18, I arrived in Manchester to live in Fallowfield, the student suburb. I was young and impressionable, in emotional turmoil and doubtIng my gender identity and sexuality. In my dreams, Manchester was the big City where I could finally confront my problems and just be me. I had spent my childhood and teen years as a girl inside yet accepted as the opposite by those around me. I asked my Mum to teach me how to knit and sew. In summer when I walked into town (Wakefield) via Thornes Park, it was in cut off jean shorts embroidered with flowers and homemade tops. I stitched my check blouses up to bare my midriff and tied my long dark wavy hair up with a ribbon. When I was in that place, life seemed simple and I was happy.


By the time I attended College, life had gone sour, I began to lose a grip on who I was and what might become of me. Much of how my life unravelled is already covered elsewhere in this blog. It was probably too much to expect Manchester to sort out my problems. Leaving home only created more of them. I was in a relationship with my best (girl)friend. With hindsight it was a same sex relationship. To onlookers it looked like a straight one. It was an entanglement that didn't help. In my room I was myself; a girl working hard to get her degree; to my College friends I was gay, to my parents and girlfriend I was the exact opposite. A mirror image in terms of gender and sexual orientation. Something had to give, maybe it had to be me. Messing up an overdose before Christmas lead me to believe I was a failure and a disappointment, especially to myself. I ran home and retreated into what others around me expected: someone who seemed like a boy and was supposed to act like one....

So much for the angst. It removed much of the shine from Manchester's bright lights. It was long enough ago for Canal Street to seem like a sordid and unrespectable place. It wasn't the Gay Village. The Village had not yet come to being. It was a place for cruising and meeting, bordered by dank dark canal and a convenient distance from Piccadilly station. I preferred just being out in the city with friends; in Albert Sq, Piccadilly, Princess Street and the Student Quarter around Oxford Rd. The memories were good ones even though the personal experiences were bad. I salvaged that much from my past.

Periodically I've returned to the City. For so many years I've lived within 2 hours by train. As I've grown and changed so has the city. Once austere and northern, Manchester is now more like a modern European city. Trams thread the streets. It has a wonderful juxtaposition of high rise and neo gothic. Piccadilly is a busy thriving commercial hub full of great bars and hotels. Chinatown has the most amazing shops and restaurants, the Northern Quarter is bohemian and quirky, the Village just plain fabulous. Everyone has there favourite district, I just love it all. As I came out and became myself Manchester has redefined its place in the world and grown more stylish.

This year, just before Christmas, I took my boyfriend to visit the John Rylands Library. The last time I visited that amazing building, I was 19, perceived to be the opposite gender to what I really am. At High School and in College I had so many crushes on those dreamy guys around me. It was an truly upsetting and frustrating time. Knowing that I could never be who I needed to be publicly led to distress, anxiety and frustration. With no outlet I turned it all on myself both mentally and physically; self-harming my body and my mind. Hurting 'helped'. It became a punishment for having a body that had let me down and a mind that would not do what I wanted. Forcing myself to be what others expected was only what I deserved. Seeking sex in ways that got me hurt felt appropriate too. Denied the dreamy romantic love from guys which I secretly wanted I felt I deserved no better than the abuse I actually received.


Now, the John Ryland's has changed and yet it hasn't. It's beautiful interior is enhanced by a new plate glass foyer; a tastefully designed modern addition. The two complement each other perfectly. Through modern changes you can see that inside, the library is as it always has been. The new enhances and showcases what truly is a gem of architecture and a visionary inspiration to those seeking knowledge. I too have changed without changing. People around me can see who I properly am now. My clothes and how I present myself are how I've always truly been. They just enable others to see clearly what I've known all along.

Returning to the John Rylands with my boyfriend's caring arm around my waist and his loving kisses when no one was looking, was the most improbable and impossible reversal of fortunes. We were treading in my 19 year old footsteps, following a despairing teen. A teen who tried to deny what she would finally become. I'm glad it turned out that way. Thank Manchester that it did.

POSTSCRIPT: if you ever have the privelege to visit the John Rylands in Manchester, be sure you visit the loos. The Victorian lavatories are a work of art and well worth a visit. As a 19 year old I used the wrong toilets because I was expected to. This Christmas, I could finally use the right ones :)


Jane xx