I must tell you about an incident in a harbourside pub a couple of days ago.
It just shows that, despite surgery, passing is as important as ever. You don't enter a different world post-op: you still have the same trepidation as before when out in public. And this was an occasion that for many could have turned into an embarrassing nightmare. Not because of any physical danger, given the civilised place where it happened, but because events conspired to make me the focus of all attention at a bar for ten long minutes. My asking for a cup of coffee, and then paying for it, held everything up, and everyone else wanting to be served had to mark time. They all had ample reason to have a jolly good look at me, and speculate who and what I was. And of course it involved a lot of speaking. If it had been you, and your voice wasn't good, you'd have been in a sweat of terror.
I'd driven an hour westwards to Chichester Harbour, partly for some fresh air (now that my awful cold was getting a bit better), and partly to see whether I could drive that kind of distance comfortably - because my hour-long dashes up the motorway for hair-removal were due to recommence very shortly, and I wanted some practice!
I went first to an out-of-the-way place called Apuldram, parked Fiona there, and then walked through to Dell Quay, first through fields and then along the shore. Dell Quay is an ancient little port that for centuries served Chichester, but it hasn't been commercially active since the 1930s. It's now just an historic quay, and a place to moor yachts, with a boatyard hard by. But it has a pub, the Crown and Anchor, and having got rather chilled in the stiff breeze, I decided to go in and have a coffee.
In I went, and I got served pretty quickly. Just an Americano, please. I opened my purse and got out a couple of pound coins. At this point nobody had paid me the slightest attention, apart from a late-twenties German girl next to me who wanted to order some food. She was very pleasant, and we'd exchanged smiles.
The coffee was put on a tray for me, with a biscuit and napkin, and the girl serving me fiddled with the till. It was the usual modern pub till where you simply press the 'Americano' button and up comes the cost without any thinking required. 'That'll be £7.30 please.'
'£7.30!' I exclaimed, expecting £2.50 at the most, and I exchanged a look with the German girl. 'Yes, that's what the till says.' Rather doubtfully, but not wanting to make a fuss - because the bar was suddenly busy with people wanting to be served - I handed over a £10.00 note.
The German girl was all concern. 'You know, £7.30 can't be right. I think you ought to ask her to check it.' This from someone who was clearly anxious to place her own order. Clearly she was putting my rights first. All right then: I promptly asked the girl who served me to make sure about the price before she finished at the till. She faffed around - obviously a part-timer, and not a regular member of staff - and eventually ran off a printout, which did indeed show a figure of £7.30, but also revealed that this was a summary of someone else's bill, someone who had been running up a tab.
Now there was a real l mess to sort out! And the bar crowd was getting thicker, and more curious as to what was causing the hold-up.
The unfortunate serving girl appealed to a regular staff member, another girl, who had an air of authority. She wasn't pleased. She subjected the temp girl to a barrage of questions as to what she'd done. The minutes went by. I said to the German girl how sorry I was that this mistake was holding things up for her. She wasn't annoyed at all, but really sweet and supportive. Then I turned to the guys attempting to buy drinks and apologised. They simply said it was fine, it didn't matter a bit, and continued to look cheerful. I was amazed.
It turned out that the real cost of my coffee was £1.65 - a pretty good price in fact - and change of £8.35 was authorised. Back to the till. More fiddling. And there was my money. Except that the temp girl, now totally flustered, had given me only a £5.00 note and 35p in coins. I was £3.00 short. The old me would have let this pass. But the new me wasn't going to. Despite the heaving crowd, I pointed out the mistake, and once more all eyes were on me. But I got all the change I was entitled to.
The German girl took my arm, and pressed it, and said 'Well done!' I smiled back, and thanked her for her patience.
Seated at a nearby table, I felt a lot of deep satisfaction. All the time that the temp girl was explaining to the other girl behind the bar, she had been referring to me as 'the lady' or 'she' or 'her', and must have repeated these words eleven times or more. Although standing there with all eyes upon me had been rather an ordeal, nevertheless these affirmatory words of hers buoyed me up and made me thrill. I mean, I was looking far from well-groomed - I was fresh in out of the harbour wind, with my hair all over the place, minimum makeup, and my voice still husky from all that recent coughing. And yet twenty-odd pairs of eyes and ears - mostly male - saw and heard nothing amiss. And this foreign girl right next to me, and I mean standing very close - an on-the-ball young woman with a quick mind (she'd done some rapid mental arithmetic on my behalf) - had accepted me as a genuine older woman. And moreover one she felt inclined to give a warm squeeze-of-the-arm to after my (I should say 'our') perseverence had paid off. A moment of triumph shared. I glowed.
And I was still glowing when I went to the toilet in the pub, and, for the benefit of the cubicle next to me, nonchalantly and loudly churned up the water in female fashion. And when, on the way out, a young man who was struggling with four pints of beer - really only just carrying them - stopped, and made way for me as I passed. And when, as I got back to Fiona, a woman with a dog, an absolute complete stranger, gave me a smile and a wave. I'm sure the dog winked.
The wonderful world of womanhood!