• Stephanie Ashton

Back in The Saddle Again

Aerosmith, Rocks, 1976

Dear Friends! It is wonderful to reach out to you all once again. Some careful observers may note I have not written a blog for some time and this was not by accident. In the past months, I simply lost the desire to sit down and talk about my existence when we all live the shadow of Covid-19 and the dullness it has introduced to everyday life. However, I finally decided that I must get back on the horse, as our American sisters might say. So, here are pictures, thoughts, and stories for your delight.

Now I must start with a confession. Attempt one at writing a new blog was an angry Covid induced rant. Attempt two started life as a series of happy pictures…that were then fleshed out with an angry Covid induced rant. The script that you now read is attempt number three. Hopefully, the pictures and some amusing Steffie nonsense will help you struggle through to the end without being unduly molested by my disagreement with just about everything going on in the ‘United’ Kingdom right now.

So, starting on the major positive each of us should always be grateful for: I am still alive. Stephanie continues to be presented to the world and I have finally managed to get some transition activities moving again. Admittedly, it has been a stop-start affair with appointments booked, cancelled, booked again, delayed and so on and so forth. And this has been the story of the last three months. However, my mood was much lifted last week when I had the opportunity to be tortured at my laser appointment. Isn’t life strange when we are happy to have pain inflicted upon us?! Well my friends, it is what the treatment represents for girl-me…it is progress towards the end objective.

In another important sense I have become truly feminine during the past months of working from home. I recently read an article in the press suggesting that many professional women, now forced to work from home, are delighted to be free of having to wear make-up and the perceived need to create image perfection daily. Fantastic I thought! What an easy win on my journey to becoming feminine…by simply wearing hardly any make-up. It also gives me the perfect excuse to make less effort, especially when most of it ends up on the mask that we are obliged to wear in numerous situations. The focus is all on the eyes now, allegedly.

Like so many of us, I have been unable to get away on holiday or get out much at all. This will end up being a year of my life I am happy to forget, as it will for many people. However, I did have the opportunity to sneak out of Herr Sturgeons Tartan shrouded highlands and make it all way down to the south of England last month. Fantastic I thought, an opportunity for some fun at last. It was a normal set-up of a trip to see Cindy at Boys Will Be Girls, meet up with dear friends in London and then pop up the road to Liverpool for a night out. Needless to say, my sessions at BWBG were fab and I really enjoyed myself, as you can see from the pictures in the Gallery 'Retro' section. Equally, it was genuinely uplifting to see close friends again and we had great times together. But you know, regardless of these big positives, the trip just felt flat overall. So why was that?

During the 12 weeks of lockdown, I had turned my next trip away into some sort of holy grail type adventure. It was going to be epic. It would be a trip I would tell other people’s grandchildren about, maybe, if it was not XXX rated. With complete disregard for the obvious big changes in our world, I merrily built an expectation that my next trip to the big smoke would be exactly as it has been for years; eating out, partying, shopping and generally having a fun girlie time.

I always bang on too much about how brilliant Cindy is...oh drat I have done it again hehe

In hindsight, I can see that the illusion of the trip I created in my mind was quite natural... I needed there to be a light at the end of the tunnel after three truly forgettable months of isolation. I mean, clapping the NHS from the end of the drive had become a big social night out for god’s sake. However, it was a bit silly failing to acknowledge that boring mundane life would not suddenly shift by seismic proportion just because I had decided to out and about. I had simply not accepted that my social life was going to be different in the Covid restricted world.

Being a glass half full sort of person, I had set out with high hopes and the clear intention of enjoying myself no matter what was going on in the world. But the truth of the matter is that many of the social activities we took enjoyment from are simply not that enjoyable right now. Throughout the trip I was never angry or annoyed but just felt disappointed. Sitting 2m apart from other people in a normally ‘bouncing’ club. Banned from approaching the bar or even leaving my table. What is all that about? I could forget about doing my usual routine of going ‘friend trawling’ to get in with the most happening group of people around. Had Paul Wellers famous song “That’s Entertainment” instead been named “That was entertainment” it would have summed up the situation perfectly.

And then comes the destruction of my favourite past time… shopping. The whole purpose of a girlie day out shopping is trying on lots of clothes and shoes, having a nice lunch, chat with friends, and be seen around town. Of course, being seen out is part of it! However, I do fear for the future of retail as it is simply not worth taking the risk of going shopping at present because it is not much fun. A nice day out in town has been reduced to an unpleasant mask wearing nonsense in which everyone flees in terror if anyone within 50 paces so much as sneezes.

And masks…they are the nemesis of any woman with more than a passing interest in make-up. It goes without saying that a dressers face should never be touched, it is like a pristine sheet of polished glass when made up perfectly. And yet, on returning to my car at Bicester shopping village I discovered that the confounded mask I was forced to wear (even when outside) had transferred lipstick onto the tip of my nose! Lord knows how this happened, but it resulted in a loud “oh for f:@£s sake.” Now, if this level of public embarrassment happens to a woman it is bad, but if you are a dresser then you must go home and kill yourself. Or so it felt at the time. Fortunately, I had been wearing the dreaded mask most of the time so had not presented myself to the world looking like a complete clown.

Meanwhile, back at home all is well and life continues much as normal. I had concluded some time ago that there was a real risk of losing my sense of a healthy work-life balance when spending so much time at home, as many of us do these days. After all there is not much to do or differentiate a workday from the weekend. As a good friend recently commented, “why not get drunk on a Monday night as opposed to Friday…first meeting on Tuesday is not until 9am and all the days feel the same anyway?”

So, to combat the feeling of sleeping at the office I started to get disciplined about exercising, putting on actual work clothes for work, and making a point of tidying all work things away out of sight on Friday evenings and get out all my fun pursuits. In other words, I have established new routines to cope with temporary abnormality and this approach has worked for the most part in keeping a sense of work/life balance. And what is this Temporary Abnormality I hear you say? Well, I loathe the term new normal and have rejected it as a concept. As far as I am concerned nothing about life is normal at present and we need to be careful not to give in to a mindset of just accepting a massive drop in a living standards and quality of life. Here endeth the sermon lol

And what have I been up to in my spare time? Well, in response to having watched everything of interest on Netflix in the early part of lockdown I have turned off the TV and gone in search of other pursuits. In addition to getting fit again, I have been merrily learning all sorts of new craft skills to keep myself entertained. This has been mainly focused on building cosplay ‘stuff’ for my Fallout 4 themed photoshoot, planned for late 2020/early 2021. Interestingly, my good friend Maya recently informed me that my type of cosplay is really crossplay and I must admit, I quite like that term. It makes my activities sound sportier and less nerdy than they really are. She is so down with the kids you know :D

So, what have I been making? Absolutely everything! I have made weapons, armour, props, and all sorts of nonsense from the Fallout console game. I even bought a sewing machine and taught myself to sew. I have watched countless YouTube videos on “distressing” clothing and scanned through endless Diesel punk and Gothic sites looking for post apocalyptic inspiration. Just last weekend I destroyed a perfectly good pair of female skinny jeans with black fabric paint, mud, talc and a Dremel. The result? A perfectly destroyed pair of post apocalyptic jeans. It was madness but also incredibly enjoyable. In this manner I have spent many of my days creating all sorts of nonsense and as there seems to be a market for it, I may even sell it off on Etsy after my shoot.

Now confession time. As much as I am enjoying my cosplay themed projects, I must acknowledge that the Fallout project is now officially out of control. For the Vampirette shoot last year I did three different styles and afterwards I vowed never to do anything so ambitious again. And yet here I am with four styles planned for the Fallout shoot and so many props it is not sensible. I largely blame lock-down for this outcome as I had little else better to do with my free time other than perfect the styles. However, my house is now awash with cosplay stuff and it has been far from plain sailing.

After weeks of hard work and costume design I finally finished all my Fallout crossplay armour for the Assault style. And it was staggering. Staggeringly woeful. Indeed, when trying on the fourth style one evening I started attaching the armour and was immediately struck by how naff it all looked together. I knew immediately what was wrong; the individual pieces looked great but it lacked grit. It needed to be more Furiosa from Mad Max and less Barbarella. So, it was back to the drawing board to create a more practical outfit for the apocalyptic wasteland. One that would be based on form then function rather than the other way around. The second attempt at the assault armour is now about 75% complete and hopefully it will come to a successful conclusion. If not, I may just smother myself with EVA foam and end it all!

So, what remains to be done for the Fallout shoot? Well, I need to lose the remainder of my lockdown weight and then scout out a good location for the shoot. It is complete madness on a grand scale but one that I really enjoy.

And so that is the story of my last few months. Let us all hope that the world that we loved before Covid returns soon but in the meantime, try to find ways to keep yourself upbeat and motivated. Stay safe and stay strong,