You know nothing beats walking through one of the roughest parts of Bristol city, fully clad in your favourite skirt and knee highs, after just your first time out. The star lit blanket, mostly subdued by the glow of amber street lighting, tamed by the bright head lamps of oncoming traffic. Female empowerment through the thud of three and a half inch boot heels on the Old Market pavement.
It was way back in two thousand and one that I met someone on an online chat room who told me about their little group of girls that from time to time hit the bars of Bristol to drink and celebrate their femininity. It was a world away from, what at the time, was the way of groups like the Beaumont Society that weren’t particularly out on show, drinking and dancing. These Bristol girls were different; they were out to be seen. At that time I was looking to take my first steps outside, to interact with people as me, to be seen. I’d heard of this glitzy specialist night club in London with supposed star studded stage acts, the web site plastered with t-girls in their best little blacks. One photo in particular I remember, which summons memories like a smell from childhood, of two girls leaving a typical historic hotel for the club with one pushing the other from behind as if to urge the shy one onwards for her first time out. Thankfully, for me, fate stepped in and self-cancelled my night out. I knew only one person that went to that club as a regular and I was naively hoping she would show me around and calm my nerves, but as that Saturday came promises were broken and I never traveled the one hundred and fifty mile slog.
That very night I went to the online chat room to talk to my Bristol friend, Sarah to bemoan about my cancelled trip.
“Come over to Bristol, we’re in the pub now.”, she said.
My first thought was caution, “You’re in the pub now?”
You have to remember this was the beginning of the millennium, The Noughties. Smart phones were still just being sketched and the idea of being on Internet Relay Chat in a pub were as likely as me going over to Bristol that night. It was midnight and still an hour away but, as it happened, they were in the pub and they were on chat right next to the pool table. It was probably the only pub in Bristol that had a computer in the bar complete with old school long-throw-switch keyboard and a boxy CRT monitor; I did say this was early two-thousands. I didn’t go that night, not just because of the distance and how late it was but my mind was still mulling it over both with caution and gut deep excitement.
Sarah was extravagant in her outward appearance. Even her website, yes she had a website, had various poses in her best velvet red dress or her military look complete with combat trousers and an air pistol from the cupboard. The site repeated a sample from the Chemical Brothers’ Hey Boy Hey Girl. That alone got the heart racing. The next week I decided to go over. Some kind of plan formulated, I would meet her at their usual starting pub to get a feel for the place, then head back to her house as a changing facility, complete with unsuspecting wife-on-business-trip hollow, and we would then head back to Old Market for my first proper genuine night out. Sure I’d been out before, a short evening walk in the shadows near home or a scary morning walk when it was quiet, but they were few and far between with no real-life interaction.
We went for a drink at this pub early on in the evening. It was a sort of corner pub just a few yards down a quiet narrow back street off the main road. Tall and narrow in a typical Bristol Georgian fashion. A gay or possibly ‘attitude free’ bar as are several bars in the area. Even in the early noughties it was the sort of place to go, to feel safe, especially on a first outing. In fact those sorts of places were quite daring at the time. We didn’t think about the outward dangers of that area which could hold the minority, tucked away and criminal low-life.
We didn’t stay for long and it was only a short drive to Sarah’s marital home to get ready. I put on some cover-up on my face, the only foundation that I’d bought and it was a little bit light-weight and thin for the type of cover I needed. I did the best I could looking in the large framed mirror that hung over the fireplace of Sarah’s living room.
She took a look at me, um’d and arr’d a bit and said “It’ll do.”
I put my black strappy sandles on, Sarah switched off the hifi and in no time we were heading back to Old Market.
Sarah slotted the car into a space a few hundred yards away from the pub, right down the other end of the L shaped back street. She was absolutely dressed to the nines and me less-so but in a purple blouse against a casual New Look hoodie and a silly short skirt, as do all newbies, barely covering things that should be covered. There was another pub on the other side of the road on the way. It was a typical old mans drinking den with a few bristled faces standing outside with an ale in hand and a fag protruding from the glass clenched manual-labour worn fingers. We walked by at a reasonable pace, Sarah walking proud with a glimmer of a smile as “Whey hey” came sailing across the night air. I, on the other hand, cowering in Sarah’s shadow.
“Do you think they know?”, I asked naively.
“I’m in a bright red velvet dress and four inch heels. What do you think?”
It was exciting but I’ll never forget the feeling as we turned the corner into the final few metres, the pub door now in sight. This was it. This was my first time. Going into the pub was more like stepping outside than being outside actually was. Outside other people would be at a long proximity. There were escape routes, places to hide, a car to run back to and another side of the road if I wanted to avoid coming into close contact with anyone. Inside were people waiting to serve, a social scene to try and disappear into without being stared at, questioned or outed. All these feelings were coming at once, excitement but a distinct feeling of never going back. The door felt like it was getting uncontrollably closer much like the start of a nightmare but without sheer dread but still unsure. This feeling was like that initial break through when you first learn to ride a bike and the bike continues without stopping or falling off, that elation that I would only feel that one time in that exact way. This was the moment my stabilisers would be off.
We approached the door. In those last couple of steps the question had to be answered now, right now, right this minute, do I really want to go through that door. Once through there will be no turning back. Whatever happens beyond that door cannot be undone it’ll be something that’ll never ever change. Do I really want to do this? Is now the right time? Should I be changing my mind and asking Sarah to take me back?
“You first.” I said like a big fat rusty hen of a chicken. She opened the door and I walked in.
Until next time. x