That all-important occasion in the transcalendar was last weekend. Sparkle, the UK’s national transgender celebration, is held in and around Manchester’s Gay Village. Nobody’s quite sure of the number of people who attend it in one way or another but I saw the figure of 4,000 quoted for Saturday, though I’ve no idea how they can be counted. For me it was quieter than in the past because many of my close friends weren’t there. No matter, there were plenty of other good friends there and the chance to make some new ones.
In the past two years Emma Walkey has joined me for a few days in London before heading down to Manchester but she couldn’t manage it this year so I went for four days of fun and friendship on my own. As usual I stayed at the Ibis Hotel in Charles Street which used to be referred to as Tranny Towers because it was always flooded with TGirls.
|In my room at the Ibis just before heading out to see who was around on Thursday. Though not posh, I find the rooms big and comfortable and convenient for the event.|
Thursday was much quieter than in the past. I met Debbie Roberts, one of Sparkle’s leading lights, who invited me to join her and Angelina for a meal at Eden. The drinks there are cheap and the food is good. We were too late for the ‘official’ quiz at Icon so ended up at the Molly House opposite, possibly the best bar in the Gay Village simply by virtue of its outstanding drinks collection and calm atmosphere. Nice to see Joan Tabb and Stefania de Villora again.
On Friday I met up with my lovely pal Joanne from Devon. Being so far apart it’s one of the few chances we get to meet. We went shopping for which, in my normal bid to blend in, I wore jeans but I realised too late that that was a crazy choice in the heat. Bumping into Stefania in her short dress I realised that on this occasion overdressed elegance would have been superior to inconspicuousness. I bought bits and pieces in the Arndale Centre but we particularly enjoyed the alternative styles in Afflecks.
We came back to the Gay Village for a cool drink (I guzzle strawberry cider like crazy there) and bumped into Kate Collins and her lovely wife and enjoyed a natter in the shade and watched the narrowboats and other craft float along the canal.
|With Kate Collins, a Canal Street legend, on the barge at Eden.|
I had booked a table at Eden for dinner and cabaret that evening. Although initially for four, my table swelled to ten at one point! The cabaret, “Girls on Top”, was very mixed but the burlesque acts were good and Debbie Roberts sings well.
|Sitting down to dinner and cabaret at Eden. l-r Gina, Emma H, Mrs H, Maddy, Jemma, Joanne S, Joanne T.|
It was incredibly hot (the temperature, I mean, not the burlesque) so many people wandered onto the pontoon outside. I had chosen my black velvet dress with its red velvet rose and black tights with a red seam, kind of prom/burlesque wear rolled into one. But I stupidly wore my patent courts which are the worst shoes ever to wear, being rigid and slippy, so I changed them before heading out to the bars and clubs of Canal Street. After Churchill's, we eventually ended up in the Molly House again.
|Dressy. Gina's photo.|
Saturday is the Big Day. I have always booked lunch at Villaggio, the Italian restaurant on Canal Street. In the past this was for the members of the Angels forum who happened to be at Sparkle. But this time I arranged it just for myself and, initially, with my lovely pal Tiff who, in the end, couldn’t make it. There were 17 of us. Joining me were Bobby and Mrs Bobby, Emma and Mrs Emma, Maria, KD, Holly, Priya, Amanda, Kay, Joanne S, Maddy, Jemma, Wilhelmina, Joanne T and Gina. Many thanks to the staff at Villaggio who are always so accommodating (and serve tasty food, too, at reasonable prices).
|Lunch at Villaggio's, Sparkle Saturday.|
|Hostess with the mostest? I actually bought the dress for Sparkle 2 years ago but it didn't get worn then. No excuses this year.|
And so to Sparkle in the Park with its entertainment stand and varied stalls and the chance to bump into old friends like Maria, Elen and Mandy. This year we were gatecrashed by a bunch of “Furries”, people who dress in animal costumes. Apparently, Furry culture can be as complex as trans culture. My only concern was that they must have been boiling in their wolf and fox outfits. Try a floaty dress in this weather, guys. Much better! Though I'll admit that it's a close call when assessing relative cuteness!
Needed a cool drink in Via before getting ready for the evening with Joanne and my friend Zazoo from Glasgow, another girl I only ever get to see here. We left the Village and went to Chinatown for a light dinner and found a decent Thai restaurant, Phetpailin in George St. We were later joined by KD and her friend Maria and from there we went on to Taurus where it was relatively cool. And from there to Napoleon’s which, although frankly a bit of a grim club in my view, with its scruffy Admirers, is compulsory on any visit to the Village.
|It doesn't matter what look you choose as long as you are stylish. Four far-flung friends in Canal St at chucking out time: Zazoo, KD, Joanne and me. KD's photo.|
Sunday is, however, my favourite day at Sparkle. I usually spend all afternoon sitting out on Canal Street and saying hello to any friends that are passing. This year I caught a lot of sun. The Gay Gordons Scottish dance team entertained us as they did last year.
|Entertainment outside Taurus on Sparkle Sunday. (Note the Canal Street sign is neat and complete. So often some wag paints the C out.)|
And it was lovely to see Mrs KD again who stayed with me in London back in March. We went round the back to the Richmond Tea Rooms which I had never visited before but which have an underlying Alice-in-Wonderland theme for posh teas. My slice of chocolate cake was too massive for even my guzzling chops. Defeated by chocolate for the first time in my life! I am embarrassed! And then next door to the Molly House for proper drinks. We were back there later having first met Jemma at Eden. Well, I do like those two venues!
|Three girls at the Molly House.|
There are too many people about sometimes to have more than just a brief chat but it was good to bump into Sarah Cat and her friend Bobby, Erin from Norway, Franziska from Vienna and, of course, Wilhelmina from Budapest whom I've known since Day 1. Stefania, too, who makes the most of the event and is everywhere! Nice to make new friends of Chris, Kerry and Katrina from the hotel, too. But I’m sorry that I missed others who were there like Jackie Blake, Jayde Grahams, Jenny-Ann Bishop, Jayne Whittaker and Chrissy O'Brien. Were you there too, Becca?
Sparkle has become the highlight of my year as it’s about the best way to get to catch up with people. Naturally, one has to look good too! I was still overweight but managed to shed half a stone in the week before.
There’s a lot to do at Sparkle and a lot of entertainment laid on, although I didn’t particularly follow the official events that much on this occasion and, although never a one for cliques, I did hang out more with the same people and visited fewer venues this time (no G-A-Y, no New York New York, no Tribeca, no New Union, though they are worth visiting).
Here are links to my favourite venues:
Next year Sparkle will be 10 and that should be an occasion not to be missed. Hoping to see all my T girlfriends there. And anyone else. A German couple at our hotel asked what was going on and when we told them were enthusiastic to join in. Please do, folks – you only have to be supportive and have a nice time there. Canal Street is less and less a gay/trans ghetto but is more and more frequented by office workers and families who come to enjoy the good bars and the pleasant outside location. It’s the place to go for your hen party, too, and for young men to come and gawp!