It was a few months after my first outing with the group of girls of Bristol back in the early Noughties. Only a few nights and I was already becoming more adventurous. On that second night out when we visited that old bank turned into a compact night club where the main floor was for dancing with a silhouette of a DJ high in the corner becoming visible between moving coloured light beams and the old vault transformed into a chill-out room with sofas and chairs complete with bank vault gates of thick iron poles. I’d already been pacing around the corridors of the nightclub exploring all the different rooms and ‘beer garden’ situated on a flat roof near the fire escape. All of which was probably more of an excuse to bed-in Sarah’s knee high boots. I took a seat near Sarah who was in the vault.
“You look like you need a drink.” she said as I took a breather, “I saw you, stomping down the corridor in my boots.” she smiled knowing how important those boots were, not just to me for that night but for her as well. They were one of her prize possessions.
“If I give you some money would you get some drinks?” I asked.“Go get them yourself.”, she said training me up and expecting me to be confident enough to buy my own by now.
“But I’ll have to talk to the barman.”
“You’ll be fine, it’s easy in a place like this. They won’t bat an eyelid.”
Looking back it seems just so silly but thinking back and feeling how I felt back then from the memory, the smells and the sounds of that night I can remember what a achievement it was and how much courage I would need to pluck up just to order a bottle of something or a wine at a bar, which was in a gay club of all places, where no one really would bat-an-eyelid except to flick off the smokey atmosphere from their eye lashes.
I did go to the bar. It was my first interaction with a stranger in the way I always wanted to be seen. It was nothing special for the barman. He took my order over the loud music, just about hearing my soft request which I had to repeat, and he returned with a drink and my change. For me, though, it was something that changed my view and my confidence forever. From then on, rather than hiding away and avoiding my turn, I would actively just get a drink when I wanted one. As time would tell there would be more difficult times ahead. I’d bought a drink in a dark disco-lit gay bar, locked away in, what Sarah would call, an extension closet. Buying some thick foundation from Superdrug on a bright summer day in the tourist packed historic Bath city centre would be a totally different experience. A story for another time perhaps.
Towards the end of the evening, when we were all too sozzeled and rosey cheeked to last until the concluding track from the DJ, Sarah invited us all back to her house; a short taxi ride from Old Market to her marrital home on the corner of a junction by a busy main road just a little out of the city centre.
We congregated in the kitchen with coffees all round to clear the heads of five friends through circumstance. Everyone leaning against the kitchen worktop still clad in short skirts and boots. Me warming myself with a hot drink ironically near the fridge covered in black words on white magnetic tiles spread randomly from a packet of fridge poetry.
“Sarah” I asked, “where’s your wife?”
“She’s away.” she said off-hand.
“Is she coming back tonight?”
“Dunno. Could do.”
“What? She could walk in any minute?”, I said in a panic as much for her as for me.
Sarah smirked and shrugged, the excitement of her wife coming through the door at any moment was quite obvious. Her wife knew about Sarah but she wasn’t keen on her going out let alone bringing back the whole group.
“Christ, what would she think if she came through the front door now?”, I was suddenly very aware of the front door in full view down the end of the hallway.
“Five trannies in the kitchen?”, she said, “Probably wouldn’t be very impressed.”
It’s hard to believe how much things have change in what was thirteen years ago and how different things were during the hour or so in Sarah’s kitchen while Sarah herself hasn’t changed much, still a bit of a thrill seeker if a little more conservative in some respects. Back then none of us in our group would even walk across Bristol centre in the evening let alone go shopping en-femme if you like. If there was a night out which rather than stay in the Old Market area all night, may be someone would suggest going to another ‘attitude free’ club or bar which would be over the other side of town, it would be a huge event. Some would complain saying lets just stay here because they just couldn’t even relish the thought of daring to walk through the streets and getting read. Some of the braver ones may have on occasion convinced the nervous to set out and they’d huddle together and make their way along some of the patchy populated street-lamp lit pavements. Drunks were unlikely to notice anything about the girls and would rarely be a problem providing there was little or no interaction.
The streets of Bristol, at the time of night the girls might trek, were rarely busy because most were already in bars or at the busy waterfront. The streets were lined with empty painted parking bays with toll meters that during the day would be emptying the lined pockets of desperate workers. The hum of the city was mostly only broken by the odd shout of the thoroughly pissed-up or the start of a siren from an ambulance making its way from the ambulance station on Victoria Street that during that year would disturb my working day in the office a few times an hour.
Some weeks later, when I next spoke to Sarah, she said, “Who rearranged those words on my fridge?”
“What do you mean?”
“That night you all came back to mine. Someone arranged some of those magnetic words into a message.”
“I dunno.” I said, I’d not seen anyone mess with the fridge even though we were amused by it’s use.
“Lets just say” said Sarah, “the wife didn’t notice what it said. So she still doesn’t know you were all here.”
Until next time.