Anyway, the meet was in Milton Keynes, a place I'd only heard about in rumour and legend (and in a previous life, while learning to fly, flew over on a navigation exercise once), but had never been too. All I knew about Milton Keynes was that it was a city constructed from scratch on a US-style grid pattern (but with roundabouts at the nodes), and that there are apparently concrete cows.
My new magic satnav phone got us to the venue with no problems, and I dropped Sylvia off and waited in the carpark for her to phone me to let me know that she'd found the rest of the group. She duly did, so I said I'd wander off to find a shopping centre (I understand Milton Keynes was something of a pioneer in terms of having one of the first major shopping malls in Europe, or something), and she should call me when she wanted me to come and get her. She bade me farewell, with instructions to get a photograph of any concrete cows I happened to come across.
So I found my way into the town centre (right a bit, bit more, then up, then left a bit, diagonals are for the weak), and to my surprise found that parking seemed to be more scarce and more expensive than the rather grim situation we have in the medieval city of Cambridge. Perhaps the proximity to Christmas was to blame - at least I didn't have to sit in a traffic jam on my way to the mall, which I would have done in Cambridge.
I parked up and proceeded to attend to what was most important - I found a Costa and got a cup of chamomile tea. While I was drinking it I heard a passing couple mention Debenhams, and decided it would be a good idea to check to see if they had the final bridesmaid dress I'm missing to complete the set of four. Despite Debenhams claiming they were scouring the country for me, I managed to wander into the Cambridge branch on spec and find the third a few days previously, and I was just missing a size 16. I figured it was worth a try.
On the way over to Debenhams, in a part of the mall which couldn't decide whether it was indoors or outdoors (and hence seemed just right for accumulating cigarette smoke - the absence of which from public places I've started to take for granted since the ban this summer), I came across the following scene:
Super-duper new phone to the rescue again! Compared to the nasty little webcam in the old phone, the 2 megapixel camera in the new Nokia is more than good enough for web work when the subject is well lit. I sent the above image to Sylvia as a picture message, to brighten up her afternoon.
Apparently I was lucky to see them - the cows normally live in a park somewhere (despite the stereotype, it seems that Milton Keynes is about 20% parkland and the residents somewhat resent the widespread belief that their city is a concrete desert), but were on loan to the mall for a while.
Anyway, I made my way to Debenhams and waqs delighted to discover that they not only had the dress, but also 3 of the matching 4 bolero jackets we need. Mission almost accomplished! Furthermore, on my way back I popped into a branch of Clarks to see if they had the leather boots I'd had my eye on, and searched every branch in Cambridge and the West End for, in a size 8. They didn't, not in black anyway, but on the offchance I asked if they had them in brown, and to my astonishment they did!
I would post a link, but Clarks' website is extremely annoying, but suffice to say they're the most gorgeous victorian style boots with a lace up front (there's a zip - the lacing is merely decorative), and which are fine for smart casual wear (the heels aren't too mad), but also sufficiently kinky to wear to places which are a little more fun. It was a lot of effort to get the zip up on the left boot, my left foot being slightly broader than my right, but I was determined that if I managed it, I'd buy them.
And I did, and they're now mine! And they're actually not too painful to walk in! Hurrah!
After that, I called Sylvia (my parking ticket was running out of time), and she said she expected to be finished in half an hour or so, so I drove back over to the restaurant where I'd left her and waited in the car park. Turns out the support group's gossip took longer than expected, so I just folded the driver's seat all the way back, turned Radio 2 on, and had a snug lie down and a listen to the radio for a bit.
Eventually, Syvia called and asked if I'd mind coming in - apparently someone wanted to see what I looked like (and I think she wanted to show me off a bit). It turns out that most of the group's partners were much older transitioners than me, and this seemed to colour the conversation lots, and I got the impression that Sylvia felt a little isolated. From what she said, their experience of their partners' transitions wasn't a lot like our shared experience, and the other partners seemed to find a rallying point in a shared hatred of Russell Reid. I found myself feeling sad that they felt that way, and am glad I wasn't in there for more than a few seconds, because I may have found biting my tongue difficult. They're entitled to their opinions though.
And so it was that we left Milton Keynes, much maligned for not being a proper place, but with shops that had what I wanted to buy (I spent far too much money that day), and with concrete cows that I had to admit, were actually kinda cool.
The day wasn't over though - I'd previously arranged to give scattykat a hand moving some stuff from storage where she used to live to her and christinaalley's flat in Wimbledon. A quick reprogramming of the Satnav and we turned south, towards London.
It's about here that I need to write out, 1000 times, "It's not far round the south circular, and it's not a weekday, I'll not bother with the M25" is never a sensible thing to think.
So eventually I got there - for the world's first megacity, the road system in London in general is an embarrassment, but south London is far, far worse. We got there eventually, where christinaalley and rozk were waiting for us, I dropped Sylvia off, dropped the rear seats and set off to meet scattykat where she was waiting. The traffic was still awful (Wimbledon high street seems to have had its traffic light system designed by the same people who presided over the horror that is Newmarket Road in Cambridge - the traffic lights seem deliberately timed to evoke congestion from nothing), so I found the satnav incredibly useful in plotting routes via the back streets. Three round-trips later and the stuff was all moved. On the way back I'd learned my lesson and just found the biggest, fastest route away that I could (the A3), hit the M25 and then made my way back round to the A1(M).
The trusty Nokia 6110 Navigator was to save our bacon yet again though - the motorway was closed at Hatfield, and although I cunningly avoided the queue to get onto the diversion route (don't need a satnav to do that - it's a part of the world I travel through a lot when going to electrolysis sessions by car, so I've learned all the back routes south of there), when we met up with the diverted traffic it was stationary. That I didn't know how to get round, but the phone did, and we were home about 45 minutes later, at the end of a very long day in which I'd discovered a new, exciting and slightly weird city, explored the murky depths known only as "Sarf of the Rivah", and lived to tell the tale, all thanks to modern technology and a freebie from Vodafone.
However did we cope without modern technology?