So: 2013 lies ahead, and my holiday plans are beginning to firm up. I now think my Northern and Anglian Tour in June - which will definitely include south-east Scotland, including Edinburgh - must have absolute priority. Which means that my favourite West Country places will probably not get visited again before July or August, to ensure that I will have enough money saved up for that one big three-week trip in the north and east.
The Welsh Tour has been cut back to a week at Newport in late March, to visit family and nearby friends. I will just have to leave west, central and north Wales for another year.
I'm really looking forward to seeing the north of England and Scotland again. It's been nearly two years. The last visit in April 2010 was in unhappy circumstances. I went with M---, and our relationship was in a dire state. But we had unfinished business in Scotland.
We'd previously journeyed to Scotland in 2002, our first year of caravanning together, but had concentrated on the Border country around Berwick on Tweed, Fife, the Nairn area, the Oban area, and a bit of Galloway. I didn't want to deny M--- the chance of seeing some of the places we had skipped the first time. M--- also now had three compelling personal reasons for going with me. She wanted to make some genealogical enquiries in Aberdeenshire, in the Huntly district, and find her great-grandfather's farmhouse. She also had material to donate to the Gordon Highlanders' Regimental Museum in Aberdeen. Finally, she had got me to book two tickets for a lecture at Edinburgh University. It was an event in the Edinburgh International Science Festival, and was called Gender: More than X versus Y. She thought it would be illuminating. It was.
For myself, I only wanted to see the sights and scenery of Scotland again: a photographic adventure pure and simple. It would be the final pre-Fiona journey. I was pre-op, but over a year into full-on transition, and I was somewhat feminised already. But I toned myself down, so that a three-week trip with me in a little caravan wouldn't be too difficult for M---. There was still however plenty of tension. At the beginning, I didn't believe we'd get beyond Edinburgh. But in fact the holiday went remarkably well, everything considered, and we did go to Aberdeenshire, then on to the far north, then west to Skye, then back via Glasgow and Yorkshire. But I had to endure all the unwelcome drawbacks of a deliberately androgynous presentation.
What saddened me most was the way our relationship had withered. The long silences, the lack of warmth, the taboo subjects. And the way M--- always walked ahead of me in public areas, quite a few yards ahead, to give the impression that she wasn't with me. She even did it when people were not around, although meals together indoors were fine, so long as I behaved as a man would. I did my best not to.
I do see how my compromised appearance could have made her feel embarrassed, but she was insisting on it - it wasn't my own choice. By then I would have looked much more natural in what I usually wore, but that was a no-no as far as she was concerned, even if the androgyny looked odd. I got misgendered aplenty by the end of the holiday, which made neither of us happy. And her walking ahead of me, as if I didn't exist, made me feel like an outcast.
For example, here we are at North Berwick and Gullane, at the start of our 2010 holiday. M--- was prepared to pose for a picture, even to wave, but I couldn't bring the camera closer:
Similarly in Edinburgh and Glasgow, where she was but a distant figure at the top of the stairs, beyond an archway, or walking across the street:
This feeling of not being seen together in public spaces got me down. It coloured my feelings about where we went, and actually made processing the photos quite difficult, because I'd remember all the emotional tension. I so much wanted to go back, and do it differently. I promised myself that I would.
So on this trip in June I will return and overlay the previous memories with new ones. I need to, to release these places from the past, and enjoy them again.
So if you happen to see me on my holiday, don't be surprised to notice, at times, a strange look in my face. Sadness laid to rest.