(This is what should have appeared earlier)
My Cornwall holiday is going well.
On Monday (1 November) I had a little personal celebration: the first anniversary of legally changing my name by Deed Poll to Lucy Melford. Hurrah! To mark this event, I had lunch at Rick Stein's famous Seafood Restaurant in Padstow. I just turned up without prior booking and got a table. Thank goodness it was a Monday late in the year, otherwise it would have been hopelessly booked up. As it was, I was momentarily at a loss when told yes, I could come in for lunch or dinner. As I liked the look of the lunchtime menu, I leapt at that. It felt like being suddenly hoicked in off the street and ushered in a friendly fashion to a table in one of the best-known restaurants in London. I felt excited, and clearly I wasn't the only one. It's demeaning the place to call it a classy tourist experience; but the female half of the sophisticated-looking couple next to me admitted that she was here for the first time too. And the restaurant filled up with others who were obviously visitors and not locals. Clearly, even on a weekday in November, there were plenty of affluent people around in Cornwall ready to blow £45 a head!
I began with complimentary bread and olives, then had gurnard quenelles. My main course was a fillet of hake topped with mussells and cockles, plus vegetables. Dessert was good old rice pudding with raspberry conserve, followed by black coffee. (I'll add photos of all this once home again) Throughout I had still water and a large glass of Macon to drink.
This was an impressive meal. The bill was awesome to match, but I did not flinch.
It was doubly, triply, enjoyable by being treated without question as a discerning woman. Not a sign of doubt, hesitation, or disbelief. It was all smiles and 'madams' and warm, sustained eye contact. And not just from the staff. The couple next to me, mentioned above, who from what I overheard were seriously knowledgable about food, happily discussed with me the courses and wine they had chosen. And I went to the ladies' loo with a girl in heels who had just slipped on the floor. She was all right, but appreciated my concern, and after we'd done our business we had quite a conversation. Sustained eye contact again. She certainly didn't run away screaming, complaining that there was a strange person in the toilet! And then afterwards, in the shops (Padstow nowadays seems to be nothing but expensive - though very nice - fashion shops and restaurants) I was able to chat away with women young and old about the merchandise and all sorts of other things, such as the arrival of Flower Power in Padstow in the summer of 1967 - I was actually there, but was dragged away from the 'weird people' by Mum and Dad. This ability to chat and reminisce was all so liberating. I found it easy to draw on my past life, which was, I now see, very unisex and non male-specific, and therefore safe to discuss. As if in some way I'd been rehearsing my eventual role as Lucy - albeit unconsciously, of course.
Of course it helped, when wandering around Padstow, that my clothes and makeup were right; but I think the voice and demeanour were the killer factors. Honestly, if I had one key piece of advice to give, it would be to spend money on female voice tuition and practice, practice, practice, practice, practice. And at the same time watch what women do, and learn to walk easily and naturally like a woman does, and school yourself to make light, quick, deft, flowing movements. Even large women walk as if floating on air. I have long paid attention to all this.
So I trotted around Padstow feeling immune from enquiry, passing all kinds of people quite unremarked, and apparently unnoticed. I felt invisible. And it was glorious and intoxicating to think that if someone DID challenge me, I could reply in a voice that would have them apologising.
But in case anyone thinks I was flying too high, and due for a fall, I will mention an incident from the previous day. I was in Fowey. And I found myself approaching three girls. They were looking in my direction. I heard one say, 'Go on, ask him!' Did she mean me? Oh well. I had to face up to a public challenge sometime, and I'd rather it be three girls in an empty Cornish street late on a Sunday afternoon, rather than a group of cocky lads outside a city pub on a busy weekday with a throng of passers-by to relish my exposure. So I walked towards them without pausing. Then I walked past. And then with huge relief walked on, still with nothing said to me. I stopped within earshot to take a photo of something. There was no mistake. I'd been wrong. They must have been talking about a potential boyfriend, not me. I had underestimated my ability to stand up to close scrutiny. Later on I felt massively encouraged about this. But my first dismayed reactions were proof that my self-confidence was really quite fragile. Hence my elation at Padstow next day.
I wonder if you ever get off this tightrope of antiicipated challenge, or does it go on 24/7 for the rest of your life?