Regarding Melissa #80

…..Previously

                        ‘Okay, Mel,’ he said, ‘You’ve obviously done a lot of thinking already. As far as I’m concerned, I’ve no problems about you taking your leave November – Decemberish. I quite understand why. I’m sure that Lucy can arrange baby-minding cover with either my mum or hers to look after Elaine so that she can give Marcus a hand at the shop if needs be.’

‘That’s a relief,’ she said, ‘I can start booking then.’

‘Yes,’ he said, ‘but listen. Just take two weeks of your leave. We can donate two week’s pay to thank you for all the extra business you’ve been bringing into the shop.’

She threw her arms around him.

‘’Thank you so much, Tony. You’re a real love,’ she said.

Continued…..

May – another proposal and an ultimatum

Jamie had booked a cottage in Skipton that they’d used before. It was to be a Friday to Sunday weekend again. An Indian Summer welcomed them into its garden, though the thick stone walls kept the interior cool. They’d dropped their weekend bags in the living room, showered and changed, then drove to a nearby restaurant for a meal.

Mel was wearing a floaty, pastel-blue dress with white sandals and carried a white woollen cardigan in case there was an evening chill by the time they were ready to return after the meal. Jamie wore a navy-blue, single-breasted blazer over his white open-necked shirt and mid-grey trousers and black loafers. They walked into the place holding hands. As usual, Mel’s beauty turned heads – many of the male customers looking in frank appreciation, and the faces of their wives or girlfriends revealing a mixture of annoyance, impatience or both, at the direction of their companion’s’ gaze.

The menu hadn’t changed since a previous visit. They agreed to forgo a starter, instead selecting the roast beef with the vegetables of the day. They agreed on a bottle of Malbec to go with the food. Over the meal they talked about Mel’s planned itinerary for her forthcoming holiday. Mel described the locations that she most wanted to photograph and showed Jamie some stock images of the on her smartphone.

Everything was going fine at that point in the evening – the main course was excellent – as was the choice of desserts; the conversation had flowed nicely, and Mel was thinking how handsome Jamie looked. She looked forward to the remainder of their evening being in bed together.

Jon Lennon once famously said, ‘Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.’

They hadn’t been back at the cottage for long and had just finished unpacking their bags in the bedroom when Jamie walked across to Mel and knelt facing her.

‘Ooh!’ she said, laughing ‘What do you have in mind, Jamie? Shouldn’t we get undressed first?’

It was then that she noticed the small, black box that he was opening. Her hand went to her mouth as he spoke.

‘Mel, I don’t want to wait until you return from New Zealand, he said, looking up at her astonished face, ‘I know we’ve discussed this some time back, but before you leave, will you make me the happiest man on earth and marry me?’

She sat down, cross-legged on the floor, her hands across her knees, facing him as he knelt.

‘I’m sorry to disappoint you, Jamie,’ she said, ‘but no, I can’t accept your proposal – not yet at least. Thank you for asking though.’

She took his hand. ‘Let’s go downstairs, have a cup of tea and talk about this. I don’t want to hurt you – I love you too much for that.’

She couldn’t help but notice the disappointment written all over his face and his posture.

‘Jamie, I do love you,’ she said, ‘but, if you remember what I said the last time you asked, you must have known before you asked again that I still might not agree – as I said, not yet anyway. Come on, let’s talk downstairs. You deserve to hear my reasons.’

He switched on some lights while Mel was in the kitchen-diner pouring them some tea. She carried the cups through to the living room, where they sat side-by-side on the sofa, leaning forward, their drinks on the small table in front of them.

‘I said that I’ll explain – and I will, she said, ‘but please let me have my say without arguing or interrupting. Is that okay.’

He nodded his agreement, but his shoulders were slumped, and his expression was glum.

‘Jamie,’ she began, ‘I’ve been half expecting this. Perhaps, you may think that I was presumptuous, but anyway I did think that a proposal was on the cards, and I’ve been thinking about what to say. Most of it you’ve heard before.’

I told you my feelings about marriage four years ago,’ she said, ‘We agreed to wait a while at that time – and fair enough, you have waited ever since. But the essentials are still the same. Putting a ring on my finger won’t make me love you any more than I do already – and I do love you – more than you can imagine.’

She smiled at him to reassure him.

‘A wedding ring won’t make me better-tempered, more patient, or more pliable. With me, what you see is what you get.’

She looked at him for a reaction, but saw none, so she continued.

‘This is 2019, Jamie, not 1919, ‘she said, ‘With me, you’d have to be content with a partnership of equals – ring or no ring.’

‘I’m not just talking about money – though we do need to consider the financial implications. Let’s get that out of the way. Because I’ve been able to generate a private income, we’ve been able to save more towards a home together. We’re well on the way to our target – but, in the first place, that doesn’t necessarily imply marriage. Secondly, I can’t guarantee that my private work will always be there. I’ll come back to that in a minute.’

‘Moving on,’ she said, ‘When you look at me’ she asked, ‘is it infatuation that you feel or is it the kind of love that will survive ups and downs?’

‘Maybe you just want me because you think that I’m beautiful. That’s not arrogance – loads of boys and men have complimented me on my looks. But I won’t always be beautiful – my assets will droop South, my hair will become grey, and my face lined. I may get fat. Will you still want me then?’

‘Everything might seem amazing now, but as time passes, the more we’ll need to work on our relationship – to make time to talk to each other, to find time to rise above sweet-nothings and have meaningful conversations about things that really matter. We’ll need to build trust and to consult each other on major decisions about things such as children – will we want any? How will we raise them?  A lasting relationship for us can’t be built on nothing but looks and sex. We both deserve more than that.’

‘How long do you think that it will be before you’d want children? I know that they say that marriage is for the raising of a family. Hell, everyone knows that babies can come with or without marriage. But suppose you did; If I agreed that a child of our own would be good for us, I’d have to give up work for a while – both in the shop and my private stuff. How long should that “while” be for? Would we still be able to pay the mortgage and so on – “while”? And we’ve talked about this before – who’d look after a child while we were at work – him, her – them? You’d have to do your fair share.’

‘We’d argue about how any children should be brought-up,’ she continued, ‘All parents do. I’d inevitably lose my figure and we’d both lose sleep and argue.’

She paused, squeezing his hand.

And here’s a biggie – we’ll need to work out how we resolve any conflicts – and you can guarantee that there will be differences of opinion. That doesn’t mean that one of us is always correct and always has to be deferred to. It definitely doesn’t mean that the loser shouts, sulks or gets violent. There has to be a better way.’

She stared at him, defying him to try to placate her with a glib assurance.

‘Jamie, I’ll quite understand if you don’t want anything to do with me after tonight. I’ll totally understand if you choose to try to find someone who’s more amenable. But, if we ever did get married and I were to suspect that you were looking elsewhere for beauty or sex or a quiet life, you’d be receiving a petition for divorce so quickly it would knock you for six. Do you understand?’

‘Well, I’m certainly getting the picture,’ he said.

‘Good, because we need to be honest with each other from the start. You speak of love, but unless you feel that you can be completely open with me – about everything – you’ll start trying to hide your feelings – like you did about Marcus – and I’ll be left trying to build a house on sand. If you start to have any doubts, I’ll need to know. I don’t have time to play guessing games.’

‘So, finally, could you really take me on knowing what I’m like and what I’d expect – because I will not be treated like something you want to shape to your fantasy – I refuse to be a wife like that. I am me – a woman. I don’t exist just to make you happy.’

‘Wow!’ he said, ‘I didn’t expect a tirade like that when you told me that we needed to talk.’

‘Right,’ she said, ‘Lecture over. I’m going soon to New Zealand for four weeks – think about what you really want, what you’re prepared to compromise on, and what you can tolerate by way of the things I’ve said. When I get back, if you still want me – if you’ve not found someone else – we can talk again, but when we do – if we do – I’ll expect you to do the talking. Do you still feel like sleeping with me tonight’?

Featured Photo

Today, I continue my series of photos taken in and around the Yorkshire town of Hebden Bridge, where I spent a Saturday earlier in June.

This next shot is another scene from the canal that runs through the town. A narrowboat cruise glides at little more than walking pace, taking its passengers towards a bridge

For all these shots, I used my Pentax KP 24 MP cropped sensor camera twinned with a Pentax 16-85 mm f/3.5-5.6 mm lens. The EXIF data for this photo were 1/160 secs @ f/8, focal length 18 mm, and ISO 250.

Regarding Melissa #79

…..Previously

Mel had worked with a publisher to produce a coffee-table book of her images of Snowdonia. Copies of the book, signed on the spot by Mel, were available for sale at the exhibition. The contents were mainly photographs with a limited amount of accompanying text to describe the scene and state the settings she’d used. Jamie made sure to buy a copy for himself and Tony bought one for display in the shop.

The publisher had worked with her and one of his staff to produce the cover and the front and back pages. Otherwise, the main task had been to decide which images to include and in what sequence in the book.

Her dad had taken time out from his architecture practice to provide support, such as handing out leaflets about the exhibits and selling copies of the book, while Mel spoke to visitors about the specific images displayed on the stands around the exhibition hall.

In the relatively closed world of photography, Mel was now a celebrity.

Continued…..

CHAPTER FIFTEEN

2019

March – A major achievement

It had been around the time of the exhibition that she’d entered the competition that would make one of her dreams come true. The theme had been “Travel”. It wasn’t the first time that she’d entered competitions with a travel theme – such as ones organised by regional tourist boards.

The prize for this international competition had been a high four-figure sum. There had been an entrance fee and there were strings about copyright and future use of the images, but Mel, hoping at best for a second or third prize had agreed without hesitation.

In mid-March, she heard that she had won. In addition to the cash prize, there had been vouchers for use with an international airline to be used within the following twelve months.

When she told Jamie, he immediately passed on the news to his mum and dad. Tony asked her permission to tell the local paper about her success. The week after publication she was approached by the regional newspaper and television companies for interviews. Everyone, it seemed, wanted to know what she would spend her winnings on.

Tony had framed a copy of the regional newspaper article and placed it in the shop window – as he’d expected, it brought in more visitors. The more that the shop became associated with top rank photography, the more likely it was to attract high-spending customers.

It took a while for Mel to finally settle on a decision regarding the prize. She talked it over with her mum and dad and also with the Hannays. Jamie had been upset when they’d discussed it but had known what Mel had in the front of her mind. In a way, Tony held the key. Eventually, after a few weeks of research and consideration, she approached him one mid-week morning in early April.

He was standing in the Gallery, looking out of the window at the rain.

‘Tony?’ she asked, ‘I know that it’s going to be the really busy time leading up to Christmas, but would you mind me taking all of my annual leave in late November running into December this year – and possibly a few days extra unpaid leave?’

‘Hmm!’ he said, ‘I bet that I can guess what this is about, Mel. Of course you can defer your leave. Tell me, what is it you’re planning to do?’

‘What I’d like to do is to book a flight to Auckland, New Zealand,’ she said, ‘spend two nights in Singapore to break the trip, spend two nights in Auckland then fly down to Queenstown in the South Island.’

‘Wow!’ Tony said. ‘I assume Jamie knows about this. Is it the first time you’ve been to New Zealand?’

‘No, you may remember that, at my interview, I told you about the first time, when I went backpacking, after university, with a friend for a year around both islands, before we moved on to Australia. Jamie knows what I want to do. I have discussed it with him. He’s sad, but he says that he understands why I want this so much. He also realises that it’s something that we couldn’t do together. Imagine him having to traipse after me, following me round like a lap dog while all my attention was on a shooting schedule.’

‘I’ve not been on any long-distance flights since,’ she said. ‘but I’ve been to a couple of places like Venice, Rome and Paris with my mum and dad. They were nothing like this trip will be. I’m factoring in a stay-over this time – to minimise jetlag and to do some photography there.’

‘So,’ he said, ‘What are your plans for when you arrive in Queenstown?’

‘Well, I expect to have taken quite a lot of photos in Singapore before then, plus some night-time shots across Auckland Harbour,’ she explained, ‘but, as I said, I want to fly to Queenstown from there and use it as a base for the rest of my stay. I’ve done loads of research and most of the shots I want will be in the south of South Island.’

‘Yes, I can see that doing it that way makes sense,’ he said. ‘How do you plan to get around though from Queenstown?’

I intend, other things being equal,’ she said, ‘to book and collect a campervan. That will provide both transport and overnight accommodation. At least, that’s what I’m planning for at the moment, subject to a bit more research – hire cost, fuel estimate, facilities included, refuelling costs and so forth.’

‘Not hostelling then, this time?’ he asked.

‘No, The campervan is just in case though – I’d prefer to use powered campsites, but there again, I need to check probable costs against my budget. At least a substantial part of my flight costs will be covered by the airline vouchers from the competition.’

He nodded. ‘Anything in particular you’re hoping to see?’

‘A lot will depend on weather,’ she said, ‘but I’m hoping to see the lakes south of Mount Cook and Lake Wanaka. Then there’s Queenstown itself and its lake, but I’m budgeting lots of time for being around Milford Sound and Fjordland.’

‘Is that to insure against weather conditions?’ he asked.

‘Yes,’ she said, ‘I’ve heard that you can get four seasons of weather in a single day down there. Poor visibility can either make or break a shot. Low morning mist over the Sound is one thing – thick fog, snow or dense cloud are something else.’

                        ‘Okay, Mel,’ he said, ‘You’ve obviously done a lot of thinking already. As far as I’m concerned, I’ve no problems about you taking your leave November – Decemberish. I quite understand why. I’m sure that Lucy can arrange baby-minding cover with either my mum or hers to look after Elaine so that she can give Marcus a hand at the shop if needs be.’

‘That’s a relief,’ she said, ‘I can start booking then.’

‘Yes,’ he said, ‘but listen. Just take two weeks of your leave. We can donate two week’s pay to thank you for all the extra business you’ve been bringing into the shop.’

She threw her arms around him.

‘’Thank you so much, Tony. You’re a real love,’ she said.

Featured Photo

Today, I continue my series of photos taken in and around the Yorkshire town of Hebden Bridge, where I spent a Saturday earlier in June.

This next shot is another scene from the canal that runs through the town. A young workman relaxes in the sunshine in his lunchbreak by the canal.

For all these shots, I used my Pentax KP 24 MP cropped sensor camera twinned with a Pentax 16-85 mm f/3.5-5.6 mm lens. The EXIF data for this photo were 1/400 secs @ f/10, focal length 16 mm, and ISO 400.

Regarding Melissa #78

…..Previously

The other fly in the ointment was that Mel was now the higher earner of the two solely because of her private work. She couldn’t see how that could be maintained without her spending regular holidays from the shop, travelling on assignments. She’d also been approached, more than once, to work for international companies as a photographer on a substantial salary, but there again, that would have meant long periods away from home. Mel was ambitious, but she knew that, eventually, such a life could lead to a split from Jamie, and she was not prepared to risk losing the love that she’d now found with him.

So, in the meantime, the two worked together, often sat at the same table for meals, had occasional dates and, when they could, booked a weekend together. That was as far as it went in April 2018.

Continued…..

October – a working holiday.

When it came time for her annual leave that year, following a discussion with Jamie and Tony, Mel chose to use the time to travel to Snowdonia, in North Wales, to take photographs – some for an exhibition she was planning and others for an international competition with a first prize of several thousand dollars. She’d chosen late October for its later dawns and earlier sunsets; for the softer light and changing foliage colours; for a chance of an ‘Indian summer’; and because it would be a quiet time in the shop.

She began with a couple of days on the Lleyn Peninsula for some of the stunning coastal seascapes along its northern edge in places such as Trefor – with its sea stacks and PorthYsgadn. From there she moved on to Anglesey and Holy Island – particularly to photograph on Ynys Llanddwyn with its Celtic crosses and disused lighthouse – but also to record her own take other photographers’ favourites such as the lighthouse on South Stacks.

She spent most of her time however in the mountains of Snowdonia with the beautiful lakes, forests and waterfalls.

Wherever she could she captured images of the local wildlife – the goats of Tryfan, the wild horses of the Carneddau or the sheep that made their unpenned way along the middle of village roads.

Above all, it was the majesty of the peaks of the hills that enraptured her – the highest peaks in the whole of England and Wales – the rugged ridges and dizzying descents; the mountain lakes and the views across to neighbouring ranges.

There were enough variations in environment to challenge all of her acquired skills – and to fill several media cards for culling and processing each night before sleep. She returned home exhausted but with a shortlist of images to hone ready for submission.

Late November – showing her work.

Her week-long exhibition in Leeds, her nearest major city, was an outstanding success. Staff of several photographic magazines and even people from national newspapers came to interview her and to take photographs of her work. Tony had been delighted to grant her paid leave to be there. Advertising for Hannays’ would be displayed prominently. Marcus was now trusted enough and well-competent to manage – and, if necessary, Jamie would come down to help him.

Mel had worked hard to present a professional image – a successful image – to visitors. She’d had her hair extensively but expensively shortened into a razored and layered chin-length straight bob. She wondered what Jamie would have to say about it. In her crisply ironed, white, shirt-style blouse, straight black trousers and gleaming leather heeled shoes, she stood out as the celebrity in charge.

Tony and Jamie took turns to visit during the week to provide further moral support, and Jamie was stunned by her appearance, her poise and her confidence. He told her that her new hairstyle really suited her. He couldn’t get over the new Mel look – he was awestruck.

Mel had worked with a publisher to produce a coffee-table book of her images of Snowdonia. Copies of the book, signed on the spot by Mel, were available for sale at the exhibition. The contents were mainly photographs with a limited amount of accompanying text to describe the scene and state the settings she’d used. Jamie made sure to buy a copy for himself and Tony bought one for display in the shop.

The publisher had worked with her and one of his staff to produce the cover and the front and back pages. Otherwise, the main task had been to decide which images to include and in what sequence in the book.

Her dad had taken time out from his architecture practice to provide support, such as handing out leaflets about the exhibits and selling copies of the book, while Mel spoke to visitors about the specific images displayed on the stands around the exhibition hall.

In the relatively closed world of photography, Mel was now a celebrity.

Featured Photo

Today, I continue my series of photos taken in and around the Yorkshire town of Hebden Bridge, where I spent a Saturday earlier in June.

This next shot is another scene from the canal that runs through the town.

For all these shots, I used my Pentax KP 24 MP cropped sensor camera twinned with a Pentax 16-85 mm f/3.5-5.6 mm lens. The EXIF data for this photo were 1/400 secs @ f/10, focal length 53 mm, and ISO 400.

Regarding Melissa #77

…..Previously

As the month ended, Mel reflected on the six months past – a marriage, a birth, a growing child, and a death. She pondered how her own life would relate to those seasons and how she should weigh the decisions that she knew that she should not, could not postpone forever.

Continued…..

CHAPTER FOURTEEN

2018

April – An update

It was three years now since Mel had begun her employment with Hannay’s. Her role as photographer was now firmly established. Mel was often to be found using the studio and lighting equipment for portraits of customers and their families, thereby contributing handsomely to the shop’s profits. Mel now chose the images which hung in the shop’s gallery and in the shop, and her shots always sold well. When it became known that Mel would be presenting a Group tour, it was always a sell-out success. She’d helped, in her own time, to work with Jamie to develop the shop’s website which now included online courses that she had produced about equipment and photographic techniques. The presence of Marcus as her assistant in the shop had been a boon. He was now fully conversant with the products, procedures and with how to assist customers. He even helped with the occasional evening presentation.

Mel now owned – initially using an interest free loan from her parents – a small second-hand Suzuki hatchback car that she loved to drive. She liked it, especially for the independence it had given her. She now also owned her own professional digital camera and a couple of professional class lenses, funded from her private photographic activities. She still prized her old Mamiya for the extra “something” that photos she took with it conveyed. She’d also made some stunning shots with the Leica that Duncan had left her.

During the past two years or so since the magazine article, Mel had entered several national and international photographic competitions and had firmly established her reputation amongst the community of professional photographers. She used much of her spare time writing articles for magazines, often by invitation, and she had exhibited some of her best work in local and regional art centres.

Through fees and prizes – and because of her hard work and dedication – Mel now had a substantial private income and, despite paying-off the loan to her mum and dad, she had considerable savings. All-in-all, she was aware that she could resign from her employment at Hannays, and use the time and independence thus released to travel, and to build her career as a professional – as she had first imagined.

Tony, recognising this possibility, had in fact asked her whether she intended to continue working in the shop. He and Lucy had become concerned that she worked too hard – she seemed to have no life outside her photography. At the same time, it was this work ethic and outstanding ability that lay behind the shop’s ability to remain open when so many other small shops were closing each month. They had no idea how they’d replace her if she were to resign.

Of the occasional times she chose to relax, she spent almost as much time with the Hannays as with her parents. Lucy too, had recently asked her whether she’d ever thought about becoming a freelance professional. Mel had been at their house for a meal and Lucy had posed the question afterwards as Mel relaxed with the family in their living room.

Her answer had been immediate.

‘My private work is something that I do because I can,’ she said, ‘I love being out with my camera, and I get a buzz from seeing my work being published or displayed – whether it’s in the gallery upstairs or in a museum somewhere.’

She looked at Lucy and placed her hand on Lucy’s arm.

‘But I get a different kind of buzz from what I do in the shop. On top of that, my shop wages are regular – freelancing is risky. Above all, I can no longer imagine what my life would be without the shop and without Jamie, you and Tony.’

Lucy reached across, placed her hand on top of Mel’s and squeezed it.

‘Listen Mel, I can’t imagine the shop now without you.’

Her self-imposed restriction of her personal social life had meant that she had no boyfriends other than Jamie. They had become an established couple and the fact that Jamie now worked upstairs at the shop meant that they had some time to look forward to together after work. Her circle of friends outside the Hannays now included almost no one except Stacy, Connor and their eighteen-month’s old toddler, Amber.

She still had no plans to be a bride. She had long since got over her initial doubts about Jamie whom she loved, but Craig, Sean and Geoff had been her tutors in a hard school of life, and the behaviour of men in general, in the way that they looked at her or spoke to her, continued to aggravate her misandry.

The relationship between Mel and Jamie was complex. Jamie was keen for them to become engaged. She, however, was still suspicious of engagement with its traditional associations of church weddings. She was content for them to plan for a life together, living together, but it would be more difficult for them than for Stacy and Connor, both of whom earned high incomes. Mel didn’t want them to have to rent somewhere together, and, because of that, they’d been saving for a deposit towards buying a place of their own when they could afford a mortgage.

The other fly in the ointment was that Mel was now the higher earner of the two, solely because of her private work. She couldn’t see how that could be maintained, however, without her spending regular holidays from the shop, travelling on assignments. She’d also been approached, more than once, to work for international companies, as a photographer on a substantial salary, but there again, that would have meant long periods away from home. Mel was ambitious, but she knew that, eventually, such a life could only be at the cost of a split from Jamie, and she was not prepared to risk losing the love that she’d now found with him.

So, in the meantime, the two worked together, often sat at the same table for meals, had occasional dates and, when they could, booked a weekend together. That was as far as it went in April 2018.

Featured Photo

Today, I continue my series of photos taken in and around the Yorkshire town of Hebden Bridge, where I spent a Saturday earlier in June.

This next shot is a scene from the canal that runs through the town.

For all these shots, I used my Pentax KP 24 MP cropped sensor camera twinned with a Pentax 16-85 mm f/3.5-5.6 mm lens. The EXIF data for this photo were 1/160 secs @ f/11, focal length 16 mm, and ISO 400.

Regarding Melissa #76

…..Previously

As the music for the dance ended, they moved apart, Mel smiled at him, squeezed his hand and let him lead her to their seats with her family. She knew that Brian and Jean – who thought the world of Jamie – would make him feel more comfortable. He used a handkerchief to wipe-off his perspiration.

‘Never mind, Jamie,’ Tony said, ‘just think of it as a practice run for if you and Mel ever tie the knot’

Both Mel and Jamie, looked at each other, open mouthed – Mel with shock and Jamie with hope.

‘In his dreams,’ Mel said.

Jamie’s heart sank.

Continued…..

October 2016 was a month to remember for several reasons.

To Stacy – a child

Stacy had told Mel, even before the wedding, that she was pregnant but, at three months, it hadn’t caused any problems with the fitting of her dress. She’d continued to work for as long as she could before she took maternity leave, and no problems were anticipated with the birth.

Mel had visited Stacy throughout the pregnancy to provide both moral and any other form of support that she could – especially when Connor was working on a major case, when he was unable to be with his wife.

Amber was born in the early hours of Saturday the second of October, weighing six pounds-three-ounces or two-point-eight kilograms. Both mother and daughter came through with flying colours and Connor cried tears of joy as he watched his little girl arrive.

Mel was at work, but Stacy’s mum messaged her to pass on the good news. That evening, she and Jamie turned up at the hospital with flowers, a card, and kisses. They both commented on inherited features, such as Stacy’s nose, eyes and mouth but Connor’s hair colour and hands.

A birthday

Only a few days later, on the fifth, there was another celebration: it was Elaine’s second birthday. Once more, Jamie and Mel were together, but this time at Tracy’s house. It was Mel’s first visit there.

Jake showed her around the rooms and garden, while Tracy combined roles of keeping a watchful eye on Elaine, with entertaining her guests. Elaine toddled around with increasing confidence, trying out her limited vocabulary on anyone she could find to listen.

Birthday cards seemed to be everywhere, and the house was decorated with banners. Tracy and Lucy had obviously been busy – the dining table was laden with a mountainous buffet and a side-table bore various bottles of wine. Cans of beer and lager were available in supermarket boxes on the floor beneath the table.

The house had four bedrooms – two doubles and two singles – and was tastefully decorated in a modern style. Mel was impressed and said so to Jake. She also liked the way that the rear garden had been planted.

When she had a chance to speak to Tracy, she was encouraged to hold Elaine on her knee. She asked Tracy how she was managing sleep, because she’d heard that Elaine’s teething had led to Tracy – and often Connor – not getting much rest through the night. Some three-quarters of Elaine’s baby teeth were through now, but there looked to be a couple of years to wait yet.

Tracy asked whether Mel was getting broody, celebrating a birth and a baby’s birthday within such a short time.

‘No way, Jose!’ was Mel’s instant reply.

Later that evening, back at home, describing the events of the past week to Stacy, she was asked the same question. As she answered, Mel wondered whether she really believed in her denial or if she were merely fooling herself. At twenty-six years of age, her biological clock wouldn’t tick forever in that respect. And it had been nice when Elaine had rested her head, sleepy from all the excitement, against her shoulder.

The death and funeral of Duncan

The second week in October brought sad news to dim Mel’s rejoicing. Jamie’s great grandad, Duncan Hannay, passed away peacefully in hospital aged ninety-seven. He’d been admitted earlier that week with pneumonia.

At his age, it had not come as a great surprise. He’d fallen, tripping over a footstool at home. A neighbour had summoned an ambulance, and a paramedic had checked him over. He’d been taken to the Accident and Emergency unit of the city hospital, and the staff there had informed Alec, as Duncan’s son and next of kin.

Alec was no youngster himself at seventy-seven, and Tony had been enrolled to help with the formalities associated with registering the death and dealing with the funeral arrangements on the one hand and probate on the other.

The funeral took place at the small parish church at Upperton on the afternoon of Thursday in the third week in October. The traditional Anglican service was attended by a large congregation of those who’d come to say farewell – many of whom had to stand throughout the ceremony because the pews had been filled.

Tony had closed the shop for the day as a mark of respect. Mel was as tearful as any of Jamie’s family – she had sat with Jamie in the church – he wore a black necktie with his white shirt and grey suit, and she had on a black dress beneath a dark grey topcoat. Her own mum and dad were in church also. Brian had known Duncan well.

Mel had come to love and respect the old man and she’d visited him at home with Jamie several times since she’d met him. She and Duncan had grown very close, discussing and having friendly arguments about changes in cameras, lenses and photographic technique. After he passed on, Mel discovered that he had left her his prized 1938 Leica model IIIF camera.

Duncan had been well-known – and well-liked – in the town – especially by those who, themselves were in their seventies and older.

He was buried in the church graveyard, and his life was later celebrated by family and friends at a local hotel.

A baptism

October 2016 was rounded off by the baptism – or christening – of Stacy and Connor’s baby, Amber, in Codmanton’s Methodist chapel on Sunday the thirtieth. Here again, there was a full congregation to hear the vows of parents and godparents and the congregation, to “turn away from evil and all that denies God, and to turn to God, trusting in Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour, and in the Holy Spirit as Helper and Guide”. Traditional baptismal hymns, including ‘To be a pilgrim’ and ‘Guide me O Thou Great Redeemer’, raised the roof – assisted by the deep voices of the local police contingent.

Following the service, many of those who had been at the service piled into Stacy and Connor’s home to ‘wet the baby’s head’ in the local fashion and to deliver an assortment of gifts.

As the month ended, Mel reflected on the six months past – a marriage, a birth, a growing child, and a death. She pondered how her own life would relate to those seasons and how she should weigh the decisions that she knew that she should not, could not postpone forever.

Featured Photo

Today, I begin a new series of location based photos. All of the photos will be taken in and around the Yorkshire town of Hebden Bridge, where I spent a Saturday earlier in June.

This first shot sets the scene. It shows the town from above. I took it from Valley View Road, Heptonstall, a small village above Hebden Bridge. I’ll be including some photos of that village later in the series.

For all these shots, I used my Pentax KP 24 MP cropped sensor camera twinned with a Pentax 16-85 mm f/3.5-5.6 mm lens at an ISO of 100. The EXIF data for this photo were 1/125 secs @ f/3.5 and 20 mm.

Regarding Melissa #75

…..Previously

Jamie loved his Arran sweater and he’d bought Mel a silver charm bracelet.

She couldn’t resist teasing him about it.

‘Did you get this from a chain store?’ she asked.

‘No,’ he said, ‘Well from a franchise I suppose. Why.’

‘Am I supposed to wear it round my ankle as a sign that I’m your slave?’

He took a while to see that she was pulling his leg.

For the first time in years, the shop remained closed on New Year’s Day – a Friday – so the couple had three free days together. They used the time to have a City Break in London – sightseeing, shopping and, in Mel’s case, taking photos as they rubbernecked.

Continued…..

CHAPTER THIRTEEN

2016

May – A wedding

Even before the Christmas decorations had been put back in attics, it had been back-to-work at Hannays’ for the New Year sales.

Outside of work, Mel spent much of her spare time with Stacy, preparing for her wedding. Jamie hardly saw her. Connor was being given all the help that he needed by fellow officers. The upside was that Jamie had more time to devote to thinking about how to optimise the shop’s online presence – to drive shoppers internet searches to Hannays’ rather than to their competitors.

Even Easter was a washout, with Storm Katie ripping across the country and causing widespread power outages.

April saw Mel’s first anniversary of working with Jamie. It was a date she later remembered well because Tony called her aside to talk to her about her performance over the year. He reminded her of his promise to review the bonus that he’d granted her six months previously. He praised her continued efforts and informed her that a slightly increased amount, pro rata would be built into her monthly salary for the coming year. She and Jamie celebrated with a meal at a restaurant together that night.

Eventually May arrived.

By that time, Mel had tried on and acquired all of her bridesmaid’s finery and was looking forward to the forthcoming event. Jamie was puzzled by how excited she seemed about her friend’s nuptials, in contrast to her opposition to a church marriage for herself. Not for the first time he wondered whether it was himself she didn’t want to marry – would she have accepted a proposal from someone else?

The service took place on the Saturday after the May Day bank Holiday, in the old parish church close to Stacy’s home. It was an eighteenth-century building whose stonework had been long-since darkened by age and industry. It had a tall spire with a weathercock and an attractive lychgate. Lilies and Cosmos blazed in that part of the churchyard that remained in the sunshine out of the shadow of the building. Elsewhere, there were old spreading yew trees, and ancient leaning gravestones that predated the current church building, and whose epitaphs had been rendered almost illegible by time.

In the road outside the front of the church, cars were still arriving, ferrying relatives, friends and colleagues of the couple. People stood on the paths in front of the church, hugging, shaking hands or merely chatting to others whom they had not seen for ages.

‘What do you think about……?’

‘Did you hear about……….?’

‘Have you seen…………?’

Suits with white buttonhole roses, white shirts, multicoloured ties and polished shoes – none of which had seen the light of day since the last funeral or wedding invitation – mingled with pastel shaded outfits and wide-brimmed hats bought especially for the occasion. Babes-in-arms and in prams were displayed to anyone who cared to look, and young children met and played with friends despite injunctions to stay clean from parents frazzled by their attempts to get their offspring washed and dressed in time.

Jamie had arrived early, but without Mel who was busy with her bridesmaid duties. He mentally admired the florist’s work in decking the aisle with flowers and silently read the order of service. He couldn’t wait to see Mel in her dress.

As the time for the actual ceremony drew near, guest by guest, couple by couple, and family by family made their way into the impressive dark interior with its high, wooden vaulted ceiling and sunlit stained glass. Ushers issued service booklets and directed newcomers to the appropriate sides of the aisles according to whether they were there for the bride or for the groom.

As people settled themselves into the pews, many looked around to see anyone whom they recognised and felt obliged to acknowledge. The organist’s rendition of a variety of organ concertos and toccatas struggled to make itself heard above the growing volume of conversation and wailing children.

Connor and his best man stood nervously at the front, looking to see Stacy’s arrival. They’d been briefed by the vicar as to their respective roles, and Connor’s best man had removed from his pocket the wedding rings, to show that he had remembered to bring them. Jamie made his own frequent looks back to the door, watching for Mel.

The roar diminished in volume as the Vicar, alerted to the arrival of Stacy’s wedding car, made her way up the aisle to the back of the church to greet the bride.

As the organist played her in, Stacy, with Mel by her side, followed the vicar down towards the front of the church and a very relieved Connor, who looked at her and realised how lucky he was.

Jamie sat in one of the front rows watching Mel in her bridesmaid’s finery and feeling almost sick with love. To him, she was the most beautiful woman he’d ever seen. He listened to the vows that Stacy and her groom had made to each other and wished that he could soon exchange promises words with Mel.

The newly married couple left the church door along a line of police officers who had formed an honour guard.

Jamie stood by Mel’s side for photographs – she was making mental notes of how the photographer managed to organise his subjects. Stacy and Connor were driven away together to the Reception venue, while Mel and Jamie followed in his car. They sat at the top table together for the wedding breakfast.

Afterwards, when the newlyweds were on the dance floor to lead the way for their guests, Mel took his hand and encouraged him to join her in the dancing. He’d never felt so clumsy in his life. He had no previous experience in dancing and was afraid to tread on her toes or to crease her dress. He was so overwhelmed by her closeness as they danced, intoxicated by her perfume and by the feel of her body so close to his, that he couldn’t turn his mind to moving his feet and body as fluently as the music required. He was conscious that he was blushing with embarrassment and that his hands and face were sweating in self-consciousness.

Mel felt sorry for him, recognising and understanding his embarrassment, and held him closer to reassure him, whispering that he was doing fine and that he should just relax.

As the music for the dance ended, they moved apart, Mel smiled at him, squeezed his hand and let him lead her to their seats with her family. She knew that Brian and Jean – who thought the world of Jamie – would make him feel more comfortable. He used a handkerchief to wipe-off his perspiration.

‘Never mind, Jamie,’ Tony said, ‘just think of it as a practice run for if you and Mel ever tie the knot’

Both Mel and Jamie, looked at each other, open mouthed – Mel with shock and Jamie with hope.

‘In his dreams,’ Mel said.

Jamie’s heart sank.

Featured Photo

I conclude this series of architecture shots that I took on an afternoon in Liverpool a few weeks ago with a view of a recently constructed 14 storey building in the Knowledge Quarter of Liverpool, otherwise known as Paddington Village. Standing almost within shouting distance of the Liverpool Royal hospital, the building’s upper four floors and lower floors are occupied by the Royal College of Physicians. The remainder of the building is available to pre-let to other health, science and education-focused occupiers. The building is known as The Spine, named after a striking staircase that runs up the north elevation of the building. The ceramic façade, complete with 23 million unique polygons that mimic human skin, wraps the building and reacts to the local environment, reducing glare and noise.

In tomorrow’s Blog I’ll be moving the location of my photos to the Yorkshire town of Hebden Bridge, where I spent a Saturday earlier in June.

For all the street shots, I used my Pentax KP 24 MP cropped sensor camera twinned with a Pentax 16-85 mm f/3.5-5.6 mm lens at an ISO of 100. The EXIF data for this photo were 1/125 secs @ f/8 and 21 mm.

Regarding Melissa #74

…..Previously

In Codmanton, Black Friday had been heralded the previous evening by the annual switch-on ceremony for the Christmas lights that hung from streetlamps and featured in almost every shop window. Decades after the pits had closed, the colliery band, clinging on to its existence by its fingernails, had played carols in the Town Square.

On the day itself, the large department stores had queues forming outside before Mel reached Hannays’. There were no queues there at that time, but during the day, several people looking to buy Christmas gifts in advance did arrive to take advantage of the cut-price offers on cameras and associated equipment.

The shop wasn’t so busy that the staff didn’t have time to talk to each other and Jamie reported that online business was even greater than that on the shopfloor.

Continued…..

Christmas 2015

December was the wettest month ever recorded in the UK, with almost double the rain falling compared with average years. The rising river levels, swollen by the downpour and by run-off from the hills, caused widespread floods. At the same time, it was the warmest December since records began.

When customers entered the shop, the weather was the opening comment on their lips. Marcus was kept busy mopping up rainwater that had dripped from umbrellas or rainwear onto the floor. No one wanted any injuries to customers or to staff caused by slipping. There were no bands playing in the rain that day, though traditional Christmas music was being piped through into every store that had tuned into local radio.

Despite the weather, December was still a good month for sales turnover. Although not everybody had taken advantage of Black Friday, Tony was more cheerful than ever, because customers kept buying for Christmas anyway.

Mel had used one lunchbreak to do some Christmas shopping of her own. She bought presents for her family – and some for Lucy, Tony, Tracy, Jake and Elaine in case she was invited there. For Jamie, she selected a pure wool Arran sweater.

Even on her way to the shops, the photographer in her saw the colourful reflections of the overhead decorations and shop windows in the pavement puddles. She noticed the pedestrians struggling to prevent umbrellas from blowing inside out. There were some great photo opportunities, but she didn’t have time that day.

Christmas Eve fell on a Thursday – half-closing day. Hannays’ was not the type of shop that would have had last-minute clients, so when the door closed and the Open sign was swung around to Closed, everyone breathed a sigh of relief. The place would be closed until the following Monday for the Boxing Day sales.

It wasn’t as long a break as many workers would get, but that was retail for you. It was, nevertheless, essential to make the most of it.

Tony had bought small gifts for Mel and Marcus to thank them for their contribution to the year that was now nearly over. He didn’t expect much net profit from the next few days – any sales benefit could be countered by returns of unwanted gifts. That was always a time-consuming dead-weight activity, and in most cases the returns would have to be sold at a reduced price.

Mel and Jamie were invited to each other’s homes for meals over Christmas. By now, their relationship was no longer the centre of interest. For their parents, the news on television was the main topic of conversation – though the two households prioritised different aspects of the broadcasts.

At the Harringtons, conversation was very much about the floodwaters in the Calderdale Valley areas where communities in Hebden Bridge, Mytholmroyd, Todmorden and other areas had been badly hit by the floodwaters, which had wrecked thousands of properties and caused an estimated £150m in damage.

The Hannays focused on the bleak reports about the future of the retail trade. It was being said that almost ninety percent of British customers preferred shopping online – and had done at least some of their Christmas shopping that way rather than going to a high street shop.

‘Well, Jamie,’ his dad said, ‘maybe you’ll be the only Hannay trading in five years. We’ll probably have to invest more in your side of marketing.’

The family digested these results along with the compensating news that Black Friday online sales were up thirty-six percent on the previous year.

There didn’t seem much Christmas joy in either household, so Mel and Jamie spent a lot of time with friends such as Stacy and Connor.

Jamie loved his Arran sweater and he’d bought Mel a silver charm bracelet.

She couldn’t resist teasing him about it.

‘Did you get this from a chain store?’ she asked.

‘No,’ he said, ‘Well from a franchise I suppose. Why.’

‘Am I supposed to wear it round my ankle as a sign that I’m your slave?’

He took a while to see that she was pulling his leg.

For the first time in years, the shop remained closed on New Year’s Day – a Friday – so the couple had three free days together. They used the time to have a City Break in London – sightseeing, shopping and, in Mel’s case, taking photos as they rubbernecked.

Featured Photo

I continue with another of the architecture shots that I took on my afternoon in Liverpool a few weeks ago. Today’s shot is another that I took looking skywards. This time, it was a view of a spiral staircase – I assume a fire escape – seen from below.

For all the street shots, I used my Pentax KP 24 MP cropped sensor camera twinned with a Pentax 16-85 mm f/3.5-5.6 mm lens at an ISO of 100. The EXIF data for this photo were 1/100 secs @ f/5.6 and 21 mm.

Regarding Melissa #73

…..Previously

After Lucy’s re-entry, the conversation became less teasing and moved on to safer ground. Lucy insisted that Mel should sit between herself and Tracy – that Mel must have had enough of Jamie and that she’d be ready for some female-to-female bonding.

Lucy made Mel feel very much at home and that she was welcome any time she was in the area to pop-in – not to wait for an invitation. Tracy also showed pleasure in Mel’s company and invited her to visit her house soon.

At least, when Jamie took her home later, and dropped her off, he wasn’t present to hear the embarrassing family banter there.

From then onwards, Mel was an honorary family member.

Continued…..

Feedback to Stacy

‘So, how was your weekend with the boss?’ Stacy asked, ‘Did he crack the whip?’

They were at Stacy’s house.

‘Who? Jamie?’ Mel said.

‘Who else did you go with then? Surely you didn’t take Tony – your boss’s boss?’

‘Don’t be daft. And Jamie isn’t the whip-cracking type.’

‘Ooh! Did you ask him?’

‘You’re getting dafter,’

‘All right, but you haven’t answered my question. How was your weekend?’

Mel told Stacy the same as she’d told Tracy,

‘The weather was great; the lodge was as described, and the scenery was stunning as you’d expect at this time of year.’

Stacy raised her eyebrows and twisted her mouth.

‘You’re not the only one who’s been proposed to,’ Mel added.

Stacy screeched.

‘He didn’t?’ She paused to check Mel’s expression. ‘He did? He actually proposed while you were away?’

‘Yup!’ He did, but I told him that I’m not that sort of gal.’

Stacy stared at her friend.

‘You didn’t?’

‘I did.’

‘How did he take it?’

‘He didn’t die of heartbreak, and we continued having a great weekend together.’

‘Is that your final word on the subject of marriage?’

‘For now.’ Mel replied, ‘I’ll jump off that bridge when I come to it. We’re not ready yet. I might reconsider in a couple of years, and, in the meantime, we can still have a great time getting to know each other better.’

‘That doesn’t sound good to me, Mel. He could get impatient and look for someone else. If you love him – and become even more in love – you could get hurt.’

‘If I marry him now, he could still get fed up with me after a couple of years and start looking for someone else. It happens all the time. If he’s the kind of man who has a wandering eye, I’ll find out soon enough. Otherwise, we can start building a future together for the time when we are ready.’

‘It’s your life, your future, love,’ Stacy said, ‘Take no notice of me. When I asked about your weekend, I didn’t mean to end up lecturing you. Friends?’

Mel nodded and embraced Stacy.

‘Of course we’re still friends,’ she said, ‘I hope we always will be. Anyway, change of subject, how are the plans for the wedding going?’

November 2015 – Black Friday

All too soon the twenty-seventh came around. The staff in the shop had been preparing for months. Black Friday advance banners had been displayed during the previous two weeks. Manufacturers’ discounts for the event had been factored into the price cuts that would be in place for the weekend. It was the beginning of the build-up to Christmas.

In Codmanton, Black Friday had been heralded the previous evening by the annual switch-on ceremony for the Christmas lights that hung from streetlamps and featured in almost every shop window. Decades after the pits had closed, the colliery band, clinging on to its existence by its fingernails, had played carols in the Town Square.

On the day itself, the large department stores had queues forming outside before Mel reached Hannays’. There were no queues there at that time, but during the day, several people looking to buy Christmas gifts in advance did arrive to take advantage of the cut-price offers on cameras and associated equipment.

The shop wasn’t so busy that the staff didn’t have time to talk to each other and Jamie reported that online business was even greater than that on the shopfloor.

Featured Photo

I continue with another of the architecture shots that I took on my afternoon in Liverpool a few weeks ago. Today’s shot is another that I took looking skywards. As with yesterday’s shot, I can’t remember exactly where I was when I took the photo, but it was in the university area. I just liked the patterns made by the intersection of the rooftops and the reflections in the buildings.

For all the street shots, I used my Pentax KP 24 MP cropped sensor camera twinned with a Pentax 16-85 mm f/3.5-5.6 mm lens at an ISO of 100. The EXIF data for this photo were 1/320 secs @ f/8and 16 mm.

Regarding Melissa #72

…..Previously

‘I’ll race you back to the lodge,’ she said, ‘Winner gets into the hot tub first.’

After a second night of energetic lovemaking, the following morning they reluctantly faced up to the knowledge that they didn’t have much time before they’d have to check-out of the holiday park.

They sighed, showered, dressed and packed before they went for another cooked breakfast to prepare for the long drive home.

Her final words before they left the lodge were,

‘I should have brought my camera, if only to photograph that stiffy, so I could remind you of this weekend when you’re old and bent.’

Continued…..

Home again

Jamie had received a text message from his mum while they’d been away, suggesting that he and Mel join them for dinner on their return. Mel wasn’t sure. She felt under-dressed.

On the way home, she expressed her concerns.

‘It’s not at a posh hotel,’ he reassured her, ‘just an ordinary meal at our house; you, me, Mum and Dad, Tracy, Jake and Elaine.’

‘God!’ she said, ‘intimidate me why don’t you? You know what this will be like don’t you? They’ll all be looking for signs of us being shagged-out – all except Elaine anyway. We’re going to be interrogated. I hope that nobody starts asking us whether we’re getting engaged.’

‘I’m sure that you’re up to telling them that it’s not going to happen.’

‘Isn’t it?’ she teased, ‘You’ve bedded me and now I’m disposable?’

‘Marry me then,’ he said.

She dug her elbow into his side.

‘Ouch!’ he said, ‘Be careful. I’m driving.’

‘Anyway,’ he said, slowing to allow an overtaking vehicle to push in ahead of him, ‘I bet if I’d dropped you off first, your mum and dad would have wanted me to stay for tea.’

‘True,’ she agreed, ‘Perhaps we should hire the Village Hall and invite all and sundry to put their questions.’

‘If I know Codmanton,’ he said, ‘news of our weekend will be all round the town anyway by the time we open on Monday.’

The traffic wasn’t too bad for a Sunday and Lucy was waiting on the doorstep before Jamie’s car had stopped.

‘The curtains are still swishing,’ Mel said out of the side of her mouth as Jamie opened the car door on her side for her. ‘I feel like the Christians must have felt being fed to the lions.’

The Harringtons

Lucy welcomed Mel with a hug, and a peck on her cheek, commenting how cold Mel’s arms felt, and rebuking Jamie for not putting the car heater on higher. She ushered them in, leading them to the living room where the assembled family were sat waiting with their heads turned towards the door as the couple entered.

‘Can I get you a cup of tea or coffee, love?’ Lucy asked Mel, ‘It would warm you up.’

Mel told her that tea would be fine.

Lucy turned to Tony,

‘Fancy, Tony,’ she said, ‘the poor girl’s freezing. Wouldn’t you have thought that Jamie would have noticed and turned the car heater up? I don’t know – what’s he like at all?

She turned back to Mel,

‘Sit down, Mel love, get near the gas fire over there,’ she pointed, ‘Cup of tea coming up in a second.’

Finally, she turned to her son.

Go on,’ she instructed him, ‘You go and sit in that chair next to Mel. Jake will make room for you won’t you love? Tea or coffee, Jamie?’ she asked.

Mel sat after smiling and saying hallo to the family. Jake rose and sat elsewhere, and Jamie sat down too.

Baby Elaine crawled across to Mel to see who the stranger was. Tracy followed Elaine and knelt on the carpet next to Mel and the baby.

‘Hiya!’ Tracy said, ‘Lovely to see you again. You look great.’

‘Nice to see you too, Tracy, and hasn’t Elaine grown?

‘Don’t try and pick her up, Mel, she’s just been sick. How was your weekend?’

Mel answered without saying anything that would embarrass a vicar, and trying to make her reply encompass as many of the assembly as possible.

‘The weather was great; the lodge was as described, and the scenery was stunning as you’d expect at this time of year.’

‘As bad as that was it,’ Tony said, ‘Have you two had a row?’

‘Ignore him, Mel’ Jamie said to her, ‘He’s trying to goad you.’

He turned to Tony.

‘What I think you wanted to know, Dad,’ he said, ‘was whether we had sex, and was I a let-down?’

Mel’s face was in her hands and burning by now.

‘I was merely assuming that you took the laptop with you, to process all these online orders, and that Mel got fed up. Is that right, Son?’

Tony and Jake were laughing at him. Tracy was stifling a giggle.

‘Leave them alone,’ she ordered the menfolk, ‘Don’t be so nosey.’

She whispered loudly in Mel’s ear.

‘Was he though? Was he a let-down?’

Mel peeped at her from between her hands, her front teeth were clamped over her lower lip, she was shaking her head in disbelief, but her eyes were dancing with shared mischief.

‘Oooh! Jamie,’ Tracy said, ‘You old devil, you.’

Jamie was blushing now.

‘Mel warned me what to expect when I told her about Mum’s invite to tea,’ he said, ‘She was right – You take no notice of them Mel. At least your family will be more restrained.’

Tony joined in again, chortling, ‘Not if I know Jean and Brian they won’t – and if Jack’s there, he won’t give Mel a moment’s peace.’

Lucy came back in, to the rescue, bearing a tray with cups.

‘Shape yourself, Tony, move that coffee table near Mel, but mind the baby.’

She placed the drinks on the table once it was in place.

After Lucy’s re-entry, the conversation became less teasing and moved on to safer ground. Lucy insisted that Mel should sit between herself and Tracy – that Mel must have had enough of Jamie and that she’d be ready for some female-to-female bonding.

Lucy made Mel feel very much at home and that she was welcome any time she was in the area to pop-in – not to wait for an invitation. Tracy also showed pleasure in Mel’s company and invited her to visit her house soon.

At least, when Jamie took her home later, and dropped her off, he wasn’t present to hear the embarrassing family banter at that house.

From then onwards, Mel was an honorary family member.

Featured Photo

I continue with another of the architecture shots that I took on my afternoon in Liverpool a few weeks ago. I don’t know the name of this building, and I can’t remember exactly where I was when I took the photo, but it was in the university area. I just liked the patterns made by the windows, the slabs of cladding, and the reflections of the sky in the surfaces.

For all the street shots, I used my Pentax KP 24 MP cropped sensor camera twinned with a Pentax 16-85 mm f/3.5-5.6 mm lens at an ISO of 100. The EXIF data for this photo were 1/160 secs @ f/8and 21 mm.

Regarding Melissa #71

…..Previously

She paused, and turned to sit astride him, cupping his disappointed face with her hands. She bent and kissed his forehead.

‘Okay, I’ve just said that I’ll want to change you,’ she said, ‘but I won’t let you change me. That sounds unfair, but most men come with almost innate cultural expectations of superiority. You must have heard the expression “glass ceiling”. It’s a fact. Women have fewer chances of succeeding at interviews, getting promoted or being paid equally. Lots of men seem to feel that it’s okay to grope women, to mentally undress them or to leer at other women than the woman they’re supposed to love.’

‘I’m not like that, Mel,’ he insisted.

‘I agree, from what I’ve seen of you so far, ‘she said, ‘but what would you be like once your ring is on my finger?’

Continued…..

Jamie sat up straight, propping himself up on his hands and facing her as she still sat astride him. He pouted, looking offended.

‘Okay, Jamie, what would you expect from marriage? Babies, a housemaid, a sex partner, arm-candy? Suppose we did get married and that I had a baby – I would probably hope for a child sooner rather than later. Who would stay at home to look after it? It wouldn’t be fair to expect your Mum to step-in. She’s not getting any younger and she’s already doing her stint with Elaine for Tracy. Children create demands for care until they’re in their mid-teens.’

Jamie looked stunned both by the question and by the implications of what she was suggesting their future could be like.

‘Oh!’ she said, ‘You think that it would be my job to do all that? I should just give up my career, should I? That you’d carry on as if nothing had happened? Think again, mister.’

Now there was fire in her eyes.

‘Okay. I hear what you’re saying.’ He said, ‘Obviously, you’ve thought harder about this than I have. We don’t need to get married if you don’t want to. I’d just been thinking about what you asked about where we go from here. If snatched weekends with you are all that you’re offering for now, I’d rather have that than having no relationship with you at all.’ He looked at her, his eyes beseeching hers.

‘I don’t know,’ she said, ‘I honestly don’t know, but if we are going to have any sort of future together, I still need to know a lot more about you. I couldn’t stay with you if you were to let me down in a key area. If I’d married Craig, for example – God forbid – and I only found out afterwards what a control freak he is, I’d have left him like a shot.’

Neither of them spoke for a minute or two – both were lost in their quite different thoughts. They got off the bed and sat side by side on the sofa.

Mel changed the direction of the conversation, seeking a clue to their conundrum elsewhere.

‘Why are you still single anyway Jamie?’ she asked, ‘After last night I find it hard to believe that you’re gay. You’re twenty-seven aren’t you?’

‘Being single doesn’t necessarily mean that someone’s gay, you know. For the record, I’m not gay,’ he insisted, ‘and I know that it sounds like a cliché, but it’s true,’ he said, ‘Until you, I’d simply never met anyone that I wanted to spend the rest of my life with.’

‘There you are again,’ she said, ‘the rest of your life! Jamie, will you still love me when I become old, fat, grey, wrinkled and my main assets have moved south?’

‘“In sickness and in health,”’ he said, ‘Mel, you have a beauty that, as they say, is more than skin deep. You’re a lovely person at every level – your honesty and the way you treat everyone the same. You don’t hide your feelings – you tell it like it is – there’s no bullshitting or pretence. I love that about you – even when it hurts to hear you tell me how I wrong I am in my thinking.’

‘I don’t think that you have any idea, even yet, Jamie, what an out-and-out bitch I can be.’

‘Let me ask you then,’ he said, ‘Why are you still single? You’re the most desirable woman that I’ve ever met. I’d walk across broken glass, across coals of fire, if that’s what it took to get you to marry me.’

‘You still don’t get it, Jamie,’ she said, ‘I have a real problem with the whole idea of unbreakable commitment. It frightens me.’

‘Then I don’t see a solution to your “what next?” question.’

‘We’re still young,’ she said, ‘this is our first chance to get to know each other properly. I don’t regret a second of it. I hope that we’ll have lots more times like this when we can explore our options in our changing mutual understanding. When we know each other better – perhaps in a couple of years – if, we’re still together and if we still love each other – I’ll think differently. Perhaps we’ll both think differently. You say that you’d walk across broken glass – I’m not asking you to do that, but can you just give us more time?’

‘Okay, Mel,’ he said, ‘I’ve listened to everything you’ve said, and what you’ve said makes good logical sense. Please don’t hate me, but there’s something that I have to ask.’

‘Oh, God!’ she said, ‘That sounds ominous. Go on.’

He sighed, his head in his hands for a moment while he plucked up the courage to proceed.

‘I’ll just say it straight out – is your unwillingness to marry – your excellent logical objections – they’re nothing to do with how close you and Marcus are getting are they?’

Mel gasped, her mouth and eyes wide open as she stared at him.

‘I don’t know whether I should laugh that off or slap you,’ she said. ‘Are you serious?’

‘I dreaded asking,’ he said, ‘but I see you two so often with your heads together, laughing. You seem to get on with him so well. I admit it – I’m jealous.’

Mel shrugged her shoulders.

‘Jamie, you’ve just proved my point perfectly. You are too easily hurt. You simply don’t understand banter. Me and Marcus are merely good workmates and we’re probably better at what we do because we can banter and enjoy a laugh with each other.’

It was Mel’s turn to put her head in her hands.

‘Listen, I don’t find jealousy attractive. Perhaps some women find it reassuring – I don’t. To me it’s a sign of possessiveness. If you’re going to get jealous every time I smile at a man or joke with him, Jamie, marriage isn’t going to be on the cards at all.’

‘I’m sorry,’ he said, ‘It’s just that I love you so much, and I’m scared that you’ll find someone that you feel that you can relate to better. I realise that jealousy isn’t nice, but I was worried, and I felt that I had to ask.’

She thought about what he’d said for quite a few minutes. He didn’t dare break the silence.

Eventually, she looked up.

‘Okay,’ she sighed, ‘You’re a dope, but you’re my dope. You were right to ask – but you should have asked sooner. I don’t want you to have worries festering in you. However…,’ she paused, ‘Did you really not know?’

‘Know what?’ he asked.

‘Marcus is gay. He has a husband who works for the Council.’

She laughed at the horrified expression on Jamie’s face.

‘Come on,’ she said, ‘It’s not illegal – and you can’t sack him for it.’

‘How could I not know?’ he asked.

Mel moved closer to him and put her arm around him.

‘Oaf!’ she said.

He nodded his head.

‘Am I forgiven?’ he asked

She pulled his head to hers.

They kissed with a deep longing for each other, gasping for breath when their faces parted, and laughing happily’.

Later, they strolled to a restaurant in the town and walked back to the lakeside after donning some warm outerwear.

They sat on a bench, their arms around each other and watched the Sun set over the lake, the trees in their rich autumn colours and the facing mountains. She shivered and cuddled into him as they exchanged words of love. As if by telepathy, their heads parted, they looked at each other and laughed.

‘I’ll race you back to the lodge,’ she said, ‘Winner gets into the hot tub first.’

After a second night of energetic lovemaking, the following morning they reluctantly faced up to the knowledge that they didn’t have much time before they’d have to check-out of the holiday park.

They sighed, showered, dressed and packed before they went for another cooked breakfast to prepare for the long drive home.

Her final words before they left the lodge were,

‘I should have brought my camera, if only to photograph that stiffy, so I could remind you of this weekend when you’re old and bent.’

Featured Photo

I continue with another of the architecture shots that I took on my afternoon in Liverpool a few weeks ago. For today’s photo, I’m using an image of India Buildings in Water Street Liverpool. I remember when I first started work in a bank, after leaving school in 1960, this building was directly opposite the bank and we used to pop into the basement Mecca café at morning break time for a coffee. The building is now being refurbished for future occupation by HMRC staff – Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs – as a regional office.

For all the street shots, I used my Pentax KP 24 MP cropped sensor camera twinned with a Pentax 16-85 mm f/3.5-5.6 mm lens at an ISO of 100. The EXIF data for this photo were 1/200 secs @ f/5.6 and 16 mm.