Time for a little honesty; I was this close (and yes, I know you can’t see me holding my fingers together very closely but you get the picture, kinda) to stepping back from Sarah for a bit. Last couple of months have been up and down, physical issues and general mental bleh combined with the world state, rising prices, yet-another-midlife-crisis (when do they stop?) and a feeling of reaching the end of what I wanted to achieve from her, combined, ironically, with the cessation of sexual urges due to, cough, messing about with my internal hormone levels and I was just feeling meh about everything.
The thought of not having to go through the hassles of dressing was feeling very appealing; I am not a fan of driving, never have been because I always think I’m going to crash/the car will break down/I won’t be able to park (pick one or two and obsessively think about it until it’s the only thing you are thinking about), I always over-plan and over-engineer sessions to the point that I’m lugging a huge bag of stuff, 75% of which I don’t use at a session. And I was starting to feel, well, a little old.
So I thought I’d mix it up, one last time before I started to wind down and gently put Sarah back in her pink flat. To try something different from my usual approach, just the once, and see what happened.
Well, the idea of even pausing this whole wonderful game is out of the window because, oh my Lord, did I have fun. Instead of the epic four hour drive into London I decided to try another dressing service, one I’ve always admired but never tried because I get very set in my ways. This service was in Manchester, a city I (and I expect some gasps) have never actually been to.
Turns out getting to Manchester from my neck of the woods, i.e. Hereford, is a doddle. In theory, but we’ll get to that in a second. It’s literally 2.25 hours direct on the train. In addition I’m a huge fan of BrewDog (alcoholism has its perks) and BrewDog have just opened a Hotel in Manchester, so I thought a nice way to ‘go out with a bang’ would be to just throw the minimum of stuff I needed for a session in a small bag, hop a train, stay at the BrewDog hotel, try the dressing service and, well, just relax for the first time in literally years.
But a quick step back; I’ve talked to a number of friends about the possibility of being a little less obsessed and over the top with my Sarah time. I have a compulsive personality, highlighted in the worst way by the interaction I had not so long ago with illicit substances. I can’t just do something lightly; my brain is an all or nothing beast and hence the massive number of sessions, photos and the like around my Sarah time. I’ve been feeling lately that I need to wind it back a bit; I’ve not been enjoying the process which has left me a bit jaded.
It’s nothing to do with the biological compulsion to dress. This is more to do with just seeking little bits of pleasure in a rough and dark period. Covid was a kick in the balls, if you’ll pardon the expression, and I was expecting life to bounce back after and it hasn’t; the world is a darker and less trusting place, people are noticeably scarred and more shell-like in their attitudes. I used Sarah as the light of something to look forward to in the dark months when I was stuck at home and unable to indulge my yearning for frocks and lipstick.
I had genuinely talked myself into one of the ‘almost purge’ moments. I wasn’t going to throw away the frocks, close down the Social Media sites, but I was planning to not have any sessions in my diary and for the first time in five years not being able to dress or having anything in the calendar didn’t fill me with dread and an urge to stick something in there. I was kinda at peace with accepting the fact I was getting, dare I say it, too old for this.
I was wrong in the most wonderful way.
I’d got myself into a cycle where it was a case of diminishing returns; when you do the same thing over and over again it becomes normal, and one of the lovely things about this little ‘hobby’ is that it should never feel drab; going to Manchester was the best thing I’ve done in a while for my mental health.
And Wow, if you’ll pardon the pun (the dressing service is the brilliant WowGals; without knowing that the pun made no sense, apologies), it was like Sarah was reborn again.
So, in usual fashion, it wasn’t plain sailing. For a start the train was unfortunately a ‘Transport for Wales’ one, which means that they put on two carriage trains and they are always massively oversubscribed. So 2.25 hours was standing room only, and room is an exaggeration. I literally had to stand in the same 1 foot square of space, my feet at a painful angle for my back and Morton’s Neuromas, staring at the same piece of dirty plastic, crammed into the vestibule with eight other people including a wheelchair, for the entire trip. It was uncomfortable, which is like saying the sea is a little deep, or the Government is slightly corrupt. When I finally staggered off the train at Manchester Piccadilly I was grumpy, to say the least.
Manchester immediately fixed that. What a lovely city. And when I got the hotel the trip was forgotten; my room had a tuned guitar, beer, comfy bed, beer, shower, beer fridge IN THE SHOWER. And the hotel was on top of a BrewDog outpost; I immediately dumped my bags (I had a little carry bag full of essential Sarah items and my laptop backpack) and ensconced myself downstairs at a table. When I checked in the delightful woman behind the bar had asked me what kind of day I was having and I blurted out the ‘fun’ with the train. She promptly gave me two free tokens for beer which almost made me cry in a good way.
After a beer or two I walked out of the hotel and, using Google Maps, directed myself to Canal St., just to see it. What an……interesting place. It was all a little too much for me, after the grumpy train trip and a couple of beers; it was wonderful to see somewhere like that but I needed to be more relaxed.
I’d booked a session with WowGals via the website; during Covid I’d contacted Patti who runs the service after seeing her saying that she was taking new clients and I really liked what I’d seen of her work. I specifically asked for a retro-styled shoot and, unlike the other sessions I do, I decided to just put myself in her completely capable hands.
The result was delightful. We did three outfits, all frocks I have in my cupboard that mean something special to me. The 1940’s emerald green Hostess dress from Pretty Retro, the Mabel red patterned 1940’s asynchronous dress from the Seamstress of Bloomsbury which was a lovely gift from a dear friend, and my ‘worn it once’ Heart patterned 1950’s halter-neck dress.
The makeup was beautiful and all my worries about getting old just disappeared when I saw myself. I made an effort not to look at myself while she did her magic and the instant I looked in the mirror after she had finished my heart almost stopped. It was perfection; it was how I imagined Sarah would look in the 1940’s.
I literally couldn’t stop smiling. In addition Patti was a delightful hostess; she made me feel very welcome and it was like chatting to someone I’d known for years. I did my usual defensive approach of immediately telling the worst of my stories and she wasn’t phased. I felt at home and it shows in the looks we got out of it.
After the session was done I took off the makeup, hugged Patti with a promise I’d be back and walked the half-mile back to the hotel room as if I was floating on a fluffy, pink cloud that suffused my very being. I was that happy, and hadn’t been that happy for so long that it was like a drug.
Got back to the hotel, had a shower and drank some beers from the shower fridge (every hotel needs that), got myself some food down in the bar and as I sat there, still warm and still 90% Sarah, I realised that even contemplating putting Sarah away was a false goal. I just needed to shake it up a bit, step way outside of my comfort zone that I had carefully built, and try something new.
Looking back less than a week after the session and I’m literally still buzzing. The pictures blew me away; all my concerns of being past it faded. That in itself was and is a glorious feeling; I don’t have any of the usual post-session guilt but a lot of the clean yearning to do some more looks.
So, I’ve planned myself another jaunt up to Manchester mid-July to do it all again, same hotel. And having that in the diary, as opposed to nothing and a ‘I don’t think I’ll be doing this again for a while’ attitude, makes me feel happy and content.
A subtle and deserved plug for WowGals as well; totally loved everything about the session and would highly recommend anyone wanting to look fabulous and beautiful to give it a go – https://www.wowgals.co.uk/
Stay beautiful and remember to shake your self out of your fugue once in a while. You’ll be surprised how wonderful a change can be.