Mates 14

I managed to steady the bike enough to get it onto its sidestand, pain ripping into my chest as I did so. Something felt broken there, and I found my vision greying out as I struggled to get off. There was a lorry stopped just to my left, another pulled slightly away to my right, angled into traffic. I found myself falling, another agonising stab from my chest as I sat down hard on the tarmac. I really didn’t want to look behind me, but it had to be done. I had to know.

Mates 12

That next morning will always be special to me. I woke to bright sunlight shining around the edges of the curtains and filtering through the material, Caro still burbling away in her sleep, the room ripe with the smell of our demonstration of parental intent the night before. I felt embarrassed as I imagined what the cleaners would make of the state of our bedding.

Mates 11

Routine could now be a thing in our lives, but that didn’t mean boring. Our weeks and months of domesticity were moored to fixed points, such as the folk and climbing clubs, and if Keith couldn’t make them due to his shifts, Pen was there to hold up their end of the deal. Whenever we could, Caro and I would pack our tent for a weekend of walking, or four of us would head off together for some climbing.

Mates 10

It was a hell of a do. While there were a lot of folkies along, the atmosphere was predominantly focussed on climbing. I was a little surprised at how many of said folkies were ready to engage in outdoor stuff, but Caro had nudged me early on with a very heavy hint about tradition, land, culture and, overall, being a folky. When the instruments came out, a couple of the waiters in the Royal Vic said something about music licences, until their duty manager appeared, said something more pointed about taste, and then, clearly deliberately, sat down for a listen.

Mates 9

The tent’s flysheet was soaking when I woke, but with dew rather than downpour. Our little spot was to the East of the rock pile that held the shelter, so the sun was already having an effect on the moisture. I wriggled into my breeks and shirt before slithering out, standing barefoot on a rock before stepping sockless into my boots. Nature was calling in an urgent way, and once I had disposed of that night’s wine I pulled the kettle out of my rucksack ready for Caro’s wake-up drink.

“You both up, love? I heard the clanking”

Pile on

Last year, and again this year, I was doxxed, including my photo, by some 'big names' in organised transphobia. One of the bigots took a video of a talk I gave to a charity, as well as the 'Look inside!" free preview on Amazon of my first book, and 'interpreted' all of it as sexual fetishism. Everything I do is done because I am a pervert: when I brush my teeth, it is because I [insert bizarre and unhinged explanation]

Western Ways 7

The next few months were as routine as anything could be when held as a prisoner. Jim had a degree of freedom he had never expected the day he had been marched away from a Flanders canalside. Two days in the camp would be followed by five in the castle, largely outdoors. A couple of the Fritzes spoke some English, and they served two purposes. The first was the obvious one, passing on Jim’s instructions to the small group of labourers that he led, while the second was something he should really have expected.

Mates 8

There were very few people from work at the reception, which Penny and Keith held in the Red Lion, in the same stables bar the folk club usually occupied. As many of the guests were fellow folk club members, it was familiar territory for them; the climbers, being climbers, simply needed to know what direction the bar was in.

The wedding itself was held in the Registry Office on George Street, and our plan was to wander back that way later in the evening to hit the India Garden on Wellington Street for a final refuelling stop. As the soon-to-be-married couple would be flying to Palma the next day, I pitied anyone sharing the plane’s cabin and their curry-related effusions.

Rainbows in the Rock 63

I was more than a little nervous as we waited for the arrival of Kitzy’s father. We were sitting on the sofa and armchairs in a way that felt profoundly artificial, and all I could imagine was that it was all too obvious. I couldn’t see anyone in possession of any working braincells missing how Alys and I moved in each other’s presence, even if Tref and his boy didn’t slip up.

Mates 7

That marked a new period in our lives, as that uncertainty I had picked up on steadily became more evident. Caro, it turned out, was a classic case of imposter syndrome, amazingly well concealed. While she was absolutely realistic about the allure of her rear view, she was far less confident about her worth as a person. She was never completely open about her history, but I worked out that she had stumbled out of a number of relationships, and assumed that each break-up had been down to her failings. She covered it up amazingly well, but in the end, she was always running to a timetable in her affairs of the heart: get what she could before the other person got fed up with her.

Mates 6

Carolyn was resting in Luton Vale, not that far from my old place. When I had first decided to move, I had spent hours trying to work out how I could take her with me, to let her follow me to a new home, away from the shithole we had shared, but as I had no idea as to where I would go, that idea had quickly fallen.

It had been lust at first sight, at least as far as I was concerned, for the idea of anyone lusting after myself had always been, in my view, profoundly risible. I had been shopping in my usual supermarket when I had been ambushed with a crushing hug from Audrey, the girlfriend of Alan, one of my occasional climbing partners. Auds had been as cheeky as ever.

Mates 5

We were back down the Cow that evening, as I vetoed a trip to Bangor to avoid dumping ‘designated driver’ on someone’s shoulders. It obviously wasn’t a club night, so I had much more opportunity to speak to the locals. We were joined at our table around nine o’clock by a couple that looked to be around the same age as myself, who were introduced as Vic and Nancy Edwards, although I found out later that the spelling was not what I assumed. Keith said Foreign-Not-really Things to them, before turning to the rest of us with a smile.

“Mike, one of our older friends, his mate Kul, and his son Dal. They are the ones who brought the rest of our stuff up from That Place We Don’t Name”

Nansi (I was learning) snorted out a laugh.

“Mike, does Keith always talk in Capital Letters?”

Rainbows in the Rock 62

We had the next week before the new term started, and as the other four had cleared off back to the shared house that meant a week shared with a friend I hadn’t seen in what felt like a lifetime. Mike had always been there, and after Mam’s rather fuller explanation of the role he had played in my family’s move, I realised that it was indeed that, my own lifetime. That week was filled with familiarity, as Mike revisited places we both knew so, so well, and I got to watch Ish as he found new joys in wild places. He really seemed to click with Alys, and to no surprise on my part, it was all about birds.

Rainbows in the Rock 61

The morning dawned in a lighter grey than the previous one had offered, and I assumed that meant rain. To my surprise, after I had dealt with my morning necessities, it turned out to be a dry one, the clouds having retreated well above the three thousand foot level. I started a couple of kettles heating, and that, along with the sound of the toilet flush, seemed to stir people up.

Mates 3

I managed to spin out my own house sale for two months, which rather pissed off the estate agents I had entrusted with my former home. They did know that I was covered by a bridging loan that was being paid by someone else, but they still wanted their percentage as soon as they could get it into the bank. In the end, I was up in Sheffield, Keith and Penny’s furniture in my old place, and a warm spot in my heart from what I had heard about my friend’s leave-taking.

Mates 2

I felt my world wobble for a moment, before Keith simply tugged at my sleeve.

“Come in and sit down, Mike. I’ll talk you through it. Not what it sounds like”

I was lost. How could it not… Penny? Gone? They were joined at the bloody hip, for god’s sake. He towed me into the living room, pushing me down into one of the armchairs, then disappearing into the kitchen for a few seconds before returning with a couple of bottles of Shefford Old Strong and a pair of glasses. I found myself on autopilot as I used the bottle opener that lived on my key ring, poured and sipped.

Rainbows in the Rock 60

My feet knew their own way down to the Cow, as did my family’s, so the others simply followed. I had settled into a linked-arms walk with my lover, because after Mike’s revelations I simply didn’t feel like letting her go.

My stomach was still churning. I was so, so lucky in my family, as was Alys, and once again my mind was racing ahead, seeing us all simply as one family. Sod formality: Tref’s comment had set a very deep hook into my soul.

Rainbows in the Rock 58

The paramedic met us at the centre, seeming oddly satisfied with the state of my nose.

“It’s not broken, Enfys. That’s the good news. What it looks like is that the septum, the bit of gristle between your nostrils, has been bent”

“Hurts like it’s broken!”

She laughed.

“Aye, but it has to be there to hurt! What I am going to do is place a little bit of plastic over the top… Hold still… Got it. Try not to bang it again, and see your own GP when you get home. I know Cubby’s lot keep some basic painkillers here, but try not to overdo them, or those he’s about to give you in Aviemore”


“At the pub. Don’t get plastered tonight just because I didn’t plaster you right now”

Rainbows in the Rock 57

The place we were based at was indeed a clone of the Brenin, with extras in some ways, and surprising omissions in others. The dorms were larger, and we ended up all in one ’gender-neutral’ bunkhouse affair, which demanded a certain finesse in dressing and undressing. Looking at the rows of bunks, I remembered all those jokes about ‘The Promise’ and blessed my Dad’s insistence that I travelled with a little box of reusable foam earplugs.

Rainbows in the Rock 56

Jordan didn’t actually move in to our shared house directly, but he became a very regular visitor. Our beds were all doubles, so there was presumably enough room, although lee did try being smug about it. We were sitting down to breakfast one November morning, the hints about milk purchases and porridge consumption having finally worked their way into the usual suspect’s understanding, when he stretched theatrically and grinned at the rest of us.

Rainbows in the Rock 54

Lee was the first to spot the bruising.

“What the hell, mate? Who did that, and don’t give me any shite about walking into a cupboard door!”

The bruise was clearly fading, yellowish around the edges, but still very evident. Tref was looking down at the top of our dining table, the wood grain clearly fascinating.

“Went to the wrong pub, didn’t I?”

Rainbows in the Rock 53

I spent a long while taking all of that apart, for while I had no doubts at all, Elen’s revelations had rippled that millpond of certainty.

In some ways, I suppose, our time living as a couple had raised a few issues. For starters, we didn’t always agree, whether it be on meal plans or which film we might choose for an evening out. My dreams as a girl had been pretty conventional, where a person of unspecified gender would arrive, white horses, happily ever after, et cetera, that gender clarifying in my mind as I moved from fairy stories to puberty.

Rainbows in the Rock 52

It was Dad who started the healing process, pulling out a whole collection of anecdotes and references.

“People do silly things, love. They do them everywhere; it’s just that when it’s in the hills, it can get serious. That’s the thing about it: something happens, no warning, and, well. I… Before your Mam and me got together, I used to spend a lot of time in Scotland, with your uncle Mike. We were called out…”

He shook his head.

Rainbows in the Rock 51

It was still light, so close to the solstice, as I bundled everything into the Sea King, including the pre-prepared rucksacks. Word was coming back by way of a complicated mobile phone and radio daisy chain, and it did not sound promising. Clive was straight to the point when he gave us the briefing before boarding the helicopter.

“It’s one of those stupid ones. Someone decides to jump Adam and Eve, and their partner stands on the east side to watch. Casualty one misses his step, and we have a probable broken leg. Unfortunately, when he fell, he struck his other half, and she went over the East Face of Central. Looks like she went some way down First Pinnacle. Enfys?”

Rainbows in the Rock 50

I didn’t know what to do. Steph’n’Geoff were such a part of my life, and Steph so utterly right in herself, in her femininity, that I found it hard to imagine, to recognise, that she had ever been any other way. I could remember Alys, of course, before she was ever visible; when my mind whispered “Before there was an Alys”, it immediately gave itself the answer “There always was an Alys, just hidden”, and I wondered what Steph had shown the world before she shook herself free of it.

Rainbows in the Rock 49

It was indeed a learning process, which sounds redundant when talking about being a student, but there are far more things involved in learning than tick-box exams for tightly-defined subjects. It wasn’t just Tref’s porridge milk; both he and Lee needed a little housebreaking, initially in the concept of washing up and then the revelation that homes didn’t come with such things as a Magic Toilet Roll Replenishment Fairy. I will not mention toilet seats.

Rainbows in the Rock 46

University life was so very different from school. It looked, on the surface, as if we had much less work to do, lessons being fewer, free time seeming to be endless, but it wasn’t at all that way. There was so much background reading to do, for starters, and then we weren’t being handed the answers for later parroting. Our lecturers actually expected us to go out and bloody RESEARCH things, the sods.

Rainbows in the Rock 45

He was shaking as he spoke, and Drew picked up on that immediately, impressing me with his depth of character. I wondered what his own history had been like, before pulling myself back to the there and then, and Jordan.

Drew’s eyes flicked between the young man and my girl, before he smiled, reaching across to shake the boy’s hand.

“Coming out, love? Not the first, won’t be the last, but just remember who we are. Big safety net, aren’t we? Right. A few basics…”

Rainbows in the Rock 44

The rest of the week found its pattern, each day book-ended by a ride with Mam, and punctuated with a shared lunch. I am sure I was just as vocal as Alys was, about the way my course was going, but so much of what she described sailed right past me. At least with my stuff, it was rooted in daily life, at least the sort of daily life lived by someone who lived in the middle of mountains sprinkled with lakes.

Rainbows in the Rock 43

Mam drove us both in for the first morning, Alys having turned up at stupid o’clock in the morning, as Dad called it. Each of us had a day pack holding our first set books, pads of paper, a whole pack of pens, as well as our laptop bags. I was extremely nervous and as we settled in the back of our car, and Alys took my hand, I found her palm sweaty.

Rainbows in the Rock 42

We moved on the next day, and had three days of progressing from castle to castle. Vic too his snaps, Nansi dispensed nuggets of history, and we ate all sorts of interesting meals. It should have been boring and repetitive, but it was far from that, and not just because of the company I was in.

Some of the historical stuff was amusing, much of it surprising, and every now and again, Nansi came out with something that deeply shocked me. There is a world of difference between hearing of Carcassonne’s flying pig and being told of how ‘Crusaders’, full of Christian charity, had herded 200 people out of Montségur castle and burned them all alive.

Rainbows in the Rock 41

Our route wriggled and danced across the map, from Toulouse to Lastours, Carcassonne to Peyrepertuse, and then Beziers. Each held one or more castles, each held a story, and it was some time before I realised how much each place held for Alys. I had a hint of what was going on when we had passed Lastours, a spectacular chain of towers along a ridge, and continued uphill to a small hut with a tourist info place inside, where Alys had raved over some butterfly or other, as well as any number of short-toed eagles, lizards, plants, slime moulds, whatever.

Rainbows in the Rock 40

We finally arrived in what was clearly the Deep South, at least of France, and I must have muttered something along those lines as Nansi Edwards immediately corrected me. She did it nicely, she did it with a smile, but it was clearly a very polite slap down.

“Politics, Enfys, and religion. You don’t need to know the details, but this was a different country back then. Paris-based France it wasn’t; different language, different culture. Once they had an excuse to come down from the North, well, lots of castle building, lots of land and property to be redistributed. Local language made illegal. Sound familiar?”

Rainbows in the Rock 39

It was a musical non-music night, if that makes any sense. In short, the actual folk club wasn’t on, but several of the regular musicians were up for a play, and as the ‘club’ was in reality just an extension of the pub’s normal commercial activities, it ended up much as would be expected. The clientele were mostly locals that night, apart from that woman with ‘Pat’ again, and a larger group of girls. Sali whispered to me as we carried a couple of trays of drinks back to our tables.

“Those girls over there, the Hwntw lot? I think they’re all…”

Rainbows in the Rock 38

I sat for a while, mulling over her revelation, and in the end decided to leave it for a private moment; there was clearly so much hiding behind her words that it would have been unfair to put her on the spot in public. We ate our rice and stuff, piling up prawn shells (is that the word?), and drank far too much, as was traditional for Brits in Tenerife.

It was more than that, I realised, as I looked around the group and saw how many were staring at their plates or glasses, or simply into space, and after a while, I recognised the mood.


Rainbows in the Rock 37

I fought down the urge to panic, looking round at our surroundings. The path led in two directions, one being straight up to what was clearly the summit caldera, zigzagging as it went, while the other stretched out to each side, looking as if there was a circular walk around the peak. I remembered reading that the final cone was some sort of special reserve, and it still looked a sizeable chunk of height left to gain..

Stop that, Enfys. Not important.

“Elen! Got any water left?”

Rainbows in the Rock 36

A tern creak-calling above us, we made our way slowly back to shore, a little warmer in the shallower water, and while Warren walked straight out of the waves, Alys and I had to do the wriggling dance to get our fins off before we could follow. Sali called over to us as we approached the group.

“Saw you coming! Got cold ones for you—no, don’t look like that! Not beers, cokes. See anything?”

Rainbows in the Rock 35

I watched his gaze, and it followed Elen’s in its intense focus on how tightly the material of the waiters’ trousers stretched across the bums beneath. Oh, indeed. I felt more than a little out of place just then, as I was only just learning how to ‘lesbian’ properly, and that left very little room for adapting to having a gay male around.

Rainbows in the Rock 34

It was the first time I had ever flown, and all too obviously the first time I had experienced the other joys of an airport, especially the other passengers. I know that my home is in a prime tourist area, but this was something completely different. Our flight left mid morning, so Mrs Edwards drove us across country well before dawn, leaving us with a hug after ensuring we were properly checked-in and queuing for the security controls, and also leaving us with a collection of people who seemed to have abandoned all taste, if they had ever owned any in the first place.

Rainbows in the Rock 33

My last exam was on a Thursday afternoon, and it left me drained. Alys was still due for another session, on the Friday morning, so there could be no mad celebration, or even easing of mental aches and pains, until she was finally released. I found my way to the familiar spot on the school wall, Sali joining me a few minutes later.

“You done, Enfys?”

I nodded.

“Just waiting for Alys. You?”


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