This time, a guest post from Val about her trip to Chams last week.
A woman’s handbag is a repository of many things, as well as an accessory that must suit any outfit. The last time I was out shopping, I selected a brown ‘patchwork’ shoulder bag. It is easy to keep it under your arm, maybe with a light jacket folded over the top, warding off unwanted attention from any thieves and leaving both hands free for the tasks of selecting and analysing your prospective purchases. But when it comes to Notchams on a Thursday night, I fall back to a favourite black handbag.
This weeks outing was touch and go, we had friends coming back to our house after a meeting – there would be tea, cakes and talk, but we needed to herd them discreetly out the door at 5.30 if we were to eat and I get into Val-mode. I warned Lynn by text that I might be late and to get some milk in.
5.30 went to 5.45, then 6pm, and finally they were away at quarter past. My wife rustled up dinner while I showered, did the food justice, then back upstairs to finish converting him to her.
As you get older, the makeup routine I find gets a little quicker. It’s not that I am getting better skilled, or more dexterous, rather than as my eyesight fades, I don’t see the imperfections, as well as I, used to. It was a hot evening by UK standards, and a long soft stretchy dress in cobalt blue, combined with a contrasting belt in the hope of suggesting a narrower waist, blue necklace and earrings, and with the hair on and a pair of blue-strap wedges I’m ready to go.
Apart from the bag. I get the two together and start swapping things over – spare glasses, makeup bag, tissues – then add the envelope with last time’s takings in for Lynn to pay in, and the float (a few £ coins as those without change always arrive first) then Val’s purse is opened up, his jeans raided for coins and paper money, and I wonder how many times spouses and girlfriends have raided their man’s trousers for a bit of extra cash like Val is now. Still not finished. I need the mobile, my Bluetooth earpiece for driving, car keys and my camera for those vital ‘how well did the outfit work?’ photos at the end of the evening.
Then the phone rings, and I am stuck explaining what went on in the meeting for the 55th time, the clock is ticking and it now after 7.20. Finally, it’s out the door into the car and away and a dash down the M1. It’s a nice relaxed evening. Lynn has let the side down by staying in him-mode, but in a sense, she’s here with the same distinctive laugh, just less hair, curves and fashion-sense.
When it’s time to head home there’s no desire to go haring back up the motorway. It’s about midnight, the roads are quiet and I’m at that stage when I know it’s nearly over but I want time to stand still. I pick the B roads back, up into the hills of Derbyshire. Not a straight line home but a wandering route through sleeping villages and a stop in a lay-by where I can look up at the stars and feel the cool night air blowing the cobalt blue material around my bare legs. Oh, that this sensation of comfort and calm could continue forever.
But it can’t and I’ve a couple of miles to go on a very minor road, some nights where you’ll see the occasional badger or fox going about their business in the headlights. As I drop down the hill into the valley, I reach into my handbag with my left hand to dig out the house keys, for my wife will have been in bed for over an hour and the lights will be off so as not to illuminate the strange woman at the door.
My hand continues to rummage. My keys live together attached to a sheep mascot, presented to me by a good trans friend knowing my penchant for Shaun the Sheep. It is hard not to find it in my handbag, but tonight my fingers scavenge in vain. The zip pocket is also empty – I usually raid his card holder to put in there – not just for the VISA but the AA card in case the car breaks down and I must do my damsel-in-distress act, after all, I am not turning the cobalt blue into greasy black when a man can come and fix it for me. But tonight, I realise, for the first time after 17 years of Val being out and about, I have left Sian and the house-keys in the other bag. Nothing for it, ring the phone and get her out of bed to open the front door. Keep calm, apologise profusely: no point in turning the cobalt blue into a nightie and waiting for morning.
The man in me ponders a handbag checklist, pasted to the inside of the cupboard door, consulted at every outing to ensure that it is never forgotten again. But right now I’m Val, and here’s to the next 17 years.