Regarding Melissa #9

…..Previously

The walk around the lake and through woodland offered a variety of viewpoints for photography and Mr Waring coached them in the skills of framing focusing and exposing their shots. He related focusing to ideas he’d explained in class about lenses and optics. The outing was a revelation to Mel. She made her mind up during that outing – she wanted to become a photographer when she left school. On the journey home she plied her teacher with a barrage of questions about careers in photography and qualifications required.

Continued…….

From her time in secondary education and through university Mel had always had male admirers and, occasionally boyfriends. Until Craig, none of these relationships had lasted more than a week or two.

It was after her graduation, that she’d started going out with Craig, who’d read for a modern languages degree.  He wanted to work in the travel industry but, after university, his job applications kept getting turned down and he grew increasingly frustrated. Mel was having no better luck than Craig in finding employment, but she always took her camera with her on their walks and remained resolute in her determination to find a way to pursue her dream career,

The word love was never really mentioned but they enjoyed sex together when opportunity permitted – but because of opposition to their relationship from their parents, opportunities seldom permitted.

Mel’s mum and dad disliked Craig’s general attitude, his appearance, but above all they were concerned by how he spoke to and about Mel even in their presence. They knew not to say too much for fear of driving her further into his  control.

On the other hand, Craig’s dad wasn’t too impressed by Mel. Ken Whittaker, Craig’s dad saw Mel as an ‘airhead’ – pleasant enough, but impractical, having her head in the clouds. He wanted Craig to find a girl who was more ‘down-to-earth’.

 Marriage had not been something either had in mind, though they had talked a few times, in very general terms, about moving in somewhere together when they could afford to pay rent. Mel was becoming increasingly irritated by his attitude lately though and was becoming less and less committed to the idea. Meanwhile, because neither her parents nor his approved of their relationship, there was, in any event, zero chance of them being able to live together in either of the parental homes.

Craig

‘You jammy bitch,’ Craig said, ‘How did you manage that?’

Mel had phoned him with her news as soon as she arrived home.

‘I simply dazzled them with my charm, loser,’ she said

‘What? You just walked into the shop, told them you wanted a job and they said ‘Okay’?’

‘You’re just jealous because I showed some initiative. Admit it. Some of us have what it takes – don’t I?’

‘Well, it’s easier for a girl to succeed at interview. I bet they saw things your way just looking at your tits and your legs.’

‘Sexist pig,’ she said. She waited because she could hear Craig’s dad talking to him, asking him what job she’d got. He was shouting at Craig telling him that if ‘Dolly Daydream’ could get a job it just showed how useless Craig must be.

Featured Photo

Just two more photos from the sunset session at Crosby beach. This first one is a simple landscape shot view of the Sun setting over the Irish Sea wind farm.

Once again, I used my Pentax K-1 camera tripod-mounted and paired with my 24-70 mm f/2.8 lens. The EXIF data are as follows: Shutter speed 3/10 secs @ f/13 and 24 mm. The ISO was 100.

Regarding Melissa #8

………Previously

She couldn’t wait to get home to tell her mum and dad that she had proper job at last. She’d be able to contribute to her keep and she could start reducing her credit card bill. The news would also delight her dad, who never failed, each day, to ask what progress she was making with job-hunting. It wasn’t that he was tight-fisted, but he was concerned that, at her age, she had nothing to show prospective employers that she was worth giving a chance.

Continued……

CHAPTER TWO

Melissa

Mel Harrington had been one of the most popular pupils in her class at the comprehensive academy school. She was outgoing, friendly and usually a happy girl. She was also clever and an able student. Her interest in photography arose from her eagerness to learn.

One February afternoon, in 2005, fifteen years old Mel was sitting in Mr Waring’s physics class when he made an announcement that was to change her life. Towards the close of the lesson he asked the class to read the notice that he was pinning to the room’s noticeboard before they left for the mid-afternoon break between lessons..

Most of her classmates stampeded out into the corridor, but Mel and a couple of others, gathered around to see what the notice was about. There was to be an after-school meeting of the Science Club on the Thursday afternoon – two days away. Mr Waring would be doing an illustrated talk about Light and Photography. Mel had a bit of a crush on Mr Waring, so she decided to attend.

At the meeting, he began by talking about the movement of the Sun and how the angle at which it’s light passes through the Earth’s atmosphere leads to refraction. He went on to explain how morning light is usually bluer in tone than evening light. He spoke of golden hours and blue hours and the relative softness of light at those hours compared with harsh mid-day light and its hard shadows. He explained how photographers used these changes in light to create moods. The photographs he showed to illustrate his talk fascinated Mel. She asked a lot of questions afterwards.

The teacher, recognising the genuine interest of Mel and a couple of other pupils, prompted him to invite up to three of them to join him on a trip to the Lake District during the mid-term holiday. He had to visit the place that would be providing accommodation for the school’s Easter adventure trip. He told them to bring a camera – if they had one – to learn about using both light and composition to get better photos. Mel was the first to volunteer. Mel’s dad lent her one of his cameras after spending an entire Saturday afternoon showing her how to use it. He made her promise to look after it because it was one that he used for his job.

There were just two of the pupils with Mr Waring on the outing, Mel and her friend Stacy. They arrived at their destination mid-morning on that bright but cold February Saturday. The girls went with him to the Centre, but once the teacher had confirmed the arrangements and checked the accommodation, he drove them to the Tarn Hows National Trust car park.

The walk around the lake and through woodland offered a variety of viewpoints for photography and Mr Waring coached them in the skills of framing focusing and exposing their shots. He related focusing to ideas he’d explained in class about lenses and optics. The outing was a revelation to Mel. She made her mind up during that outing – she wanted to become a photographer when she left school. On the journey home she plied her teacher with a barrage of questions about careers in photography and qualifications required.

Featured Photo

I’ll stick with the Crosby beach set of photos for a couple more days. In this third of Anthony Gormley’s Iron Men statue series, the shot is more of a close-up – I used a longer focal length – and the Sun has almost completely set. The damage of time and the sea can be seen in terms of the roughness of the statue’s surface. Close to where the Sun is shown, you may see a second Iron Man in the distance.

For this photo, I used my 36 MP full-frame Pentax K-1 again with a Pentax 24-70 mm f/2.8 full-frame lens at 70 mm and f/8. The shutter speed was 1/8 secs and the ISO was 100. The camera was tripod mounted.

Regarding Melissa #7

…………Previously

Tony asked what she’d been doing during the three years since leaving university.

‘I haven’t actually had a full-time job since then,’ she admitted. ‘I spent nine months or so job-hunting without success then I decided to travel  – backpacking with a friend.’

‘Right,’ said Jamie, ‘Tell us about that.’

Continued……….

Mel told how, after a week in Singapore, they’d moved on to New Zealand for more than a year and then to Australia. She described how they’d lived in hostels and paid for their stay by helping out at the hostels and working in bars. She said how she’d have loved to get a permanent place there, but she didn’t fulfil the immigration requirements. Tony asked whether she’d been able to take many photographs while she’d been away, and she said she’d taken several media cards full that he’d be welcome to look at.

She concluded by saying how working in a camera shop was the closest fit to what she wanted that she’d encountered.

‘I’m sorry, but I can’t honestly say that it would have been my first choice,’ she admitted.

Jamie and Tony looked at each other and laughed.

Mel pushed her chin forward and her lips moved up to cover her teeth. Her brow furrowed as she looked from one of them to the other, expecting them to tell her that she was not what they were looking for.

‘Listen, Melissa,’ Tony said, ‘if working here would be the first career choice for someone with your qualifications and experience, I’d be amazed. Look, I’d love to offer you the job – I’m sure that Jamie will agree with me.’ He looked at his son for confirmation. Jamie nodded, laughing.

‘Before we start talking about things like pay and conditions, let me say that, if you do take the job, we won’t be upset if you later find a job-opportunity that better meets your hopes. We will, however, try to give you every chance to learn what we do and to enjoy working with us as a member of our little family business.

Tony then explained that the vacancy had come about because Lucy, his wife, had agreed to help look after her Elaine, her infant granddaughter – the child of Jamie’s younger sister, Tracy, who would shortly be returning to work full-time after her maternity leave. Much of the time, Lucy’s mum and dad would be sharing the baby-sitting. Tony’s parents had also offered. Lucy didn’t want to put either set of grandparents to a lot of trouble though. They were all of them in their seventies and needed to have time to enjoy their retirement.

Tony went on to say that the starting pay would be a bit higher than the statutory minimum wage level because they’d want her to arrive half-an-hour before the shop’s opening time each morning to help process any overnight stock deliveries.

The ‘I’s were dotted and the ‘T’s crossed and Mel, having accepted the job offer, had agreed to start in her new post the following Monday. Before she left, Jamie asked her if she’d like to have a look round to see what they did. She immediately agreed that she’d like to do that.

He started by introducing Mel properly, and as their new employee, to his mum, Lucy. Mel was surprised to see that, in addition to conventional cameras, they sold some high-end unlocked smartphones and offered some interesting photo-tours – often to promote key camera brands. Jamie told her not to worry over the weekend about starting her new job, because her first few weeks would be regarded as training.

She couldn’t wait to get home to tell her mum and dad that she had proper job at last. She’d be able to contribute to her keep and she could start reducing her credit card bill. The news would also delight her dad, who never failed, each day to ask what progress she was making with job-hunting. It wasn’t that he was tight-fisted, but he was concerned that, at her age, she had nothing to show prospective employers that she was worth giving a chance.

Featured Photo

I’m on a roll now with those photos from Crosby Beach, so here’s number three. I hope you like it. Like the first two, I took it using my 36 MP Pentax K-1 full-frame camera paired with a 24-70 mm f/2.8 lens. I liked the ripples in the beach where the tide had only recently retreated and the evening Sun retreating behind the Irish Sea wind farm.

The EXIF data are as follows: Shutter speed 1/10 secs @ f/10 and 24 mm. The ISO was 100. The shot was tripod mounted.

Regarding Melissa #6

………Previously

‘My name’s Jamie – as you must have gathered,’ he said, ‘This is my dad’s shop and that’s Lucy, my mum.’ He pointed to the woman behind the counter who was now serving someone else. Lucy seemed to Mel to be about the same age as her own mum – perhaps a little older ‘Come with me and meet my dad, Tony, and we’ll have a chat about the job and why you’re interested.’

Continued

He led her using the doorway that he’d disappeared through shortly before, and then up some stairs via a small landing halfway. The landing at the top was long and narrow – made narrower by boxes stacked one side. Part-way along, he held open a door and beckoned to Mel to enter.  The room’s use, she saw, was primarily a gallery displaying A3 size framed photographs of different types of subject – landscapes, street scenes, portraits, sports events and wildlife. An older man – tall, but slightly shorter than his son, white-haired and casually dressed – was standing by two comfortable chairs – side-by-side along the back wall. Another chair was placed nearer to her, about two metres away from and facing the other chairs.

Jamie walked past Mel to stand beside his dad.

‘Hello,’ the older man said, ‘Please sit down and make yourself as comfy as that chair allows.’ He pointed to the chair closest to her. ‘My name’s Tony Hannay. Did Jamie here ask you what your name is?’

Tony and Jamie sat looking at her and smiling. Tony had one cargo-pants leg crossed over the other at the knee. He rummaged in a pocket of the mid-grey fleece he was wearing, withdrew his spectacles and put them on. He tilted his head to one side while he waited for her to reply.

‘Er, Good morning, I’m Melissa Harrington,’ she said, ‘I’m sorry. I’m a bit nervous. I just came in on an impulse when I saw your card in the window. Is that alright?’

‘That’s what the sign’s there for, Melissa,’ he assured her. ‘Thank you for coming in and asking about the job. Obviously, if you’re interested, we’ll need to ask each other a few questions, but we won’t be trying to trip you up. Just relax and let’s see where that leads us.’

Jamie began by asking her age and where she lived, and then he moved on to her experience and qualifications. She explained that she’d studied at the nearby city University on a three-year BA Honours course in Photography and Moving Image. She’d left with an upper-second class degree. She’d hoped to find work in journalism or film production, but all the organisations where she’d applied had wanted a lot more experience than she could offer.  She told Jamie that photography was also her hobby – and had been since she was at secondary school. The genres she was most proud of were her landscapes, waterscapes and cityscapes, but she also enjoyed doing portraits and wildlife photography. She said that she could email them copies or bring in her portfolio so that they could judge her work.

Tony said that he wouldn’t need to see her portfolio to help him decide her suitability, but that he would be very interested to look at them anyway. He then asked her what type of camera she used. Both he and Jamie were suitably impressed by her choice – some still living famous professional photographers had taken some of their best work on such a camera.

Tony asked what she’d been doing during the three years since leaving university.

‘I haven’t actually had a full-time job since then,’ she admitted. ‘I spent nine months or so job-hunting without success, then I decided to travel  – backpacking with a friend.’

‘Right,’ said Jamie, ‘Tell us about that.’

Featured Photo

I still don’t have any photos that would reflect today’s post about job-seeking so I’ve just included another photo that I took last Wednesday at Crosby Beach, Liverpool at sunset. The beach is home to a permanent installation of Iron Men statues by the sculptor Anthony Gormley. I used my Pentax K-1 36 MP full-frame camera paired with a Pentax 28-70 mm f/2.8 lens.

The EXIF data were as follows: Shutter speed 1/80 secs @ f/4 and 24 mm. The ISO was 100.

Regarding Melissa #5

………..Previously

‘I know,’ he said, ‘you’re just trying to spare my feelings – but it is hurtful.’

He turned his head to her and pulled her close to him.

She decided not to argue. It would just make things worse. It was the wrong time and the wrong place. She’d pick her moment in her own time. He kissed her forehead and they cuddled, as if comforting each other, but Mel didn’t feel comforted.

Continued………

A Chance Opportunity

Jamie asked, ‘Do you have a job at the moment – either full or part-time?’ He sat with his legs extended in front of him, crossed at the ankles. She liked his highly-polished tan leather ankle boots – they looked expensive. His fingers were loosely interlaced on the knees of his chinos. His smile couldn’t conceal his steady gaze and the fact that he was listening intently to her responses to their questions.

She’d already given him her CV, but Mel smiled and told him that she had only a few hours a week of bar work. She was partly covering her mouth with her right hand to disguise her slight overbite. The two men who were asking her questions seemed friendly enough, but she was wondering if she’d made a mistake in coming.

She had no need to worry. Both men had already decided independently in their minds that she would be an asset to their business – if for different reasons. Her initiative in asking for work, and having a good degree and an interest in photography were a good start. Twenty-five years old, she was worried that she was under-dressed and under-prepared for the interview and really needed to get the job.

Her concerns about her looks were misplaced. Her clothes were fine for the position she had come in about. Her long, shiny, softly waving hair cascaded gently to her below her shoulders and framed her clear-skinned oval face. She had a wide mouth and a small, even nose – her hand masked her mouth and her even, white teeth.

Complementing her figure, she was wearing a black vee-neck pullover with overlong sleeves, paired with black yoga pants and gleaming white trainers. She’d removed her duffel coat before she sat down.

Less than half-an-hour previously she’d been walking past the camera shop when she stopped to look at the window display. It was then that she’d seen the notice advertising for a full-time assistant with retail experience and an interest in photography. “Apply Within” it had said, so she had.

She’d waited until the middle-aged woman behind the counter had finished serving a customer before approaching her and mentioning the advert. The woman had smiled at her and asked her to wait a moment. The woman called across to a man who looked to be in his mid-twenties.

‘Jamie!’ she said, ‘Would you tell your Dad that there’s someone in the shop interested in the job please?’

Jamie – she assumed he was the person referred to – turned from a carousel display of camera accessories and looked at her. He smiled and waved to Mel.

‘Hi,’ he said, ‘I won’t be a minute.’

Mel noted that he was probably about the same age as her, also tall, slim and with wavy fair hair. She liked the idea that this seemed to be a family business, and Jamie had certainly seemed friendly – and quite dishy. This was a good start.

She wandered round the shop while she waited, looking at the range of stock. It was clear that the technology had moved on since she’d left university. She noticed the range of high-end smartphones  on sale – no doubt reflecting the way that such phones were now being promoted on the basis of the quality of their built-in cameras.

The man – Jamie – had left the shopfloor through a door to the back, but he returned within a couple of minutes and approached Mel.

‘My name’s Jamie – as you must have gathered,’ he said, ‘This is my dad’s shop and that’s Lucy, my mum.’ He pointed to the woman behind the counter who was now serving someone else. Lucy seemed to Mel to be about the same age as her own mum – perhaps a little older ‘Come with me and meet my dad, Tony, and we’ll have a chat about the job and why you’re interested.’

Featured Photo

I don’t have any photos that would reflect today’s post about job-seeking so I’ve just included a photo that I took last Wednesday at Crosby Beach, Liverpool at sunset. The beach is home to a permanent installation of Iron Men statues by the sculptor Anthony Gormley. I used my Pentax K-1 36 MP full-frame camera paired with a Pentax 28-70 mm f/2.8 lens.

The EXIF data are as follows: Shutter speed 1/60 secs @ f/14 and 24 mm. The ISO was 100.

Regarding Melissa #4

……..Previously

She’d only asked her Mum to lend her some money for some new summer clothes.

‘Get your arse into gear girl, her dad had ordered her, ‘I  need to see you trying harder to get a proper job. Four afternoons a week behind a bar just isn’t the key to self-sufficiency.’

He went on to inform her that she was not to treat her parents like a money tree and gave her an ultimatum in what sounded to be military terms – “shape up or ship out”.

Craig was regularly getting the same type of earache from his mum and dad. He was in a similarly dependent relationship with them.

Continued…….

‘I’m going to go into town tomorrow to have yet another try at handing out CVs in the shops,’ she said, ‘It’s never worked in the past but I have to try something.’

‘We’re doing fine as we are though, aren’t we?’ he asked.

‘It’s just that I seem to have less options as time goes on,’ she said.

‘Fewer,’ he said, ‘Fewer options not less.’

‘Jesus, Craig,’ she said, ‘You sound like my old English Language teacher.’

‘Your occasional grammar lapses could cost you an interview, Mel,’

‘Your perfect grammar hasn’t got you a job, has it though,’ she countered, ‘if I was you I’d be looking for work outside this area.’

‘Were – not was,’ he said, ‘you should have said, “if I were you”.  If suggests a hypothetical situation that requires you to use the subjunctive mood of the verb.’

‘There you go again,’ she said, ‘Nobody but you would be so picky. Everyone I know would have understood immediately what I said. If you don’t like how I speak, fuck off and find someone who speaks proper English.’

‘Okay, okay,’ he said, ‘I was only trying to help.’

Craig tried a way out of the hole that he’d dug for himself.

‘Listen, Mel,’ he said, ‘if I seem a little edgy it’s because I keep thinking about that bloke you kept eyeing up at the bus-stop earlier.’

‘What bloke?’ she asked. She was angry now. It wasn’t the first time that he’d accused of something like that.

‘Oh, come on, Mel,’ he said. ‘You know very well which bloke. There were only two of them and you kept staring at the taller of the two. A dark- haired guy in a leather jacket.’

Mel was flummoxed. ‘I don’t even remember seeing anybody else at the bus stop, Craig,’ she said, ‘let alone staring at them.’

She turned her head and looked at him, puffing her cheeks out in exasperation.

‘I know,’ he said, ‘you’re just trying to spare my feelings – but it is hurtful.’

He turned his head to her and pulled her close to him.

She decided not to argue. It would just make things worse. It was the wrong time and the wrong place. She’d pick her moment in her own time. He kissed her forehead and they cuddled, as if comforting each other, but Mel didn’t feel comforted.

Featured Photo

I took this photo a couple of days ago while walking around Bold Country Park – another shot featuring water, reeds and reflection in an industrial setting of reclaimed colliery land. I used my Pentax 24 MP cropped sensor camera with a Pentax 28-105 mm f/3.5-5.6 telephoto lens.

The EXIF data were 1/60 secs @ f/11 and 31 mm. The ISO was 100.

Regarding Melissa #3

……………Previously

They’d started going out together a couple of years before, after a party, and still saw each other regularly, but the relationship had never moved on to anything particularly romantic or permanent. The way things were playing out, they were never likely to do so.

Continued…………

Mel looked around at her surroundings. On their bank of the canal there were signs of Spring. She could see pussy willows and the yellow flowers of gorse. Blossom was emerging on short hawthorn trees and the first green shoots were emerging on the taller deciduous trees – though not enough yet to disguise the bare branches of the recent Winter. Across the canal, beyond the trees, she could see the cooling towers above the skyline of their home town, Codmanton – a post industrial town in the Dales of Northern England.

Their conversation progressed that afternoon as slowly as the water in the canal, which sluggishly sought a surly path through tall reeds that begrudged it passage to the navigable stretch beyond. The “reeds” that would have impeded any hopes of a future together – other than Mel’s growing disenchantment with Craig – were their employment and earnings prospects. The “open stretch” beyond could have promised them a home of their own and a secure life together – if Craig were ever to propose, or she to accept.

Mel’s dad, Brian Harrington, had been explaining economic reality to her only an hour ago.

‘You’re twenty-five, jobless and seem to expect to think that you can go living here without contributing a penny towards your keep,’ he’d said, ‘It’s three years now since you graduated.’

Brian was an architect, a partner in a small local practice. The family wasn’t short of money. With his earnings and the salary of his wife, Jean – a headteacher at a local primary school – they were quite well-off. Brian, however, didn’t want his daughter to remain in the ranks of the local army of young people who were living without hope of a secure career.

She’d only asked her Mum to lend her some money for some new summer clothes.

‘Get your arse into gear girl, he ordered her, ‘I  need to see you trying harder to get a proper job. A few afternoons a week behind a bar, when they want you, just isn’t the key to self-sufficiency.’

He went on to inform her that she was not to treat her parents like a money tree and gave her an ultimatum in what sounded to be military terms – “shape up or ship out”.

Craig was regularly getting the same type of earache from his mum and dad. He was in a similarly dependent relationship with them.

Featured Photo

Well, two for the price of one today! The featured photo shows the cooling towers – not at imaginary Codmanton – at Fidlers Ferry, near Widnes UK. I took the shot in 2019 across a small lake at the Clock Face Country Park, St Helens. For this image, I used a Pentax K3ii 24 MP camera with a a 16-85 mm f’3.5-5.6 telephoto lens. The EXIF data were 1/500 secs @f/6.7 and 48 mm, The ISO was 200.

The photo of the Heron among reeds on the Sankey Canal, Blackbrook Branch, St Helens is one I took in March this year using my Pentax KP 24 MP camera and a 35 mm f/2 prime lens. The EXIF data were 1/60 secs @ f/14 and ISO 500.

Regarding Melissa #2

CHAPTER ONE

April, 2015 Codmanton, Northern England

Shadows spoiling the sunshine

‘What on God’s earth am I going to do, Craig?’ she asked, kneeling to take a photo. A swan was on its nest with its mate, among reeds on the far side of the canal. Every now and then it stretched  its long neck to select another piece of reed to add to the nest.

‘Well, for a start, stop playing with that fucking thing,’ Craig responded, charming as ever.

The “fucking thing” in question was Melissa’s pride and joy  – a second-hand Mamiya Pro SD medium format film camera. It had accompanied her through her photography degree course. She wasn’t going to tell Craig just now – but if it came to a choice between him and the camera, then goodbye Craig.

‘I’m not playing, mate, I’m practicing and building my CV,’ she answered.

‘Don’t be daft, Mel’ he argued, ‘Nobody uses antiques like that to take photos – they have these things called smartphones with amazing cameras.’

‘You want to be a languages teacher, Craig,’ she came back on him instantly, ‘Who needs to learn languages when they can use translation apps on those same smartphones?’

He wanted the last word though – he always did, ‘Pressing a button on a camera isn’t the same thing as using fluent face to face conversation.’

The April afternoon light, subdued for the moment behind thin, high cloud, meant that the beautiful bird, perfectly reflected along with the reeds would provide a great shot for her postgraduate portfolio. She sat back down beside Craig – though she resented his attitude..

He and Melissa – whom everyone knew as Mel – were looking across the canal, watching the birds. They sat on bin bags, though the ground was quite dry now after several successive dry days following Easter. Their arms were wrapped around  their knees, which were pulled up in front of them. It wasn’t a particularly beautiful stretch of water. Created by armies of labourers in the nineteenth century, to enable cargoes of coal and textiles to be ferried profitably between sources and users, it had been allowed to fall into neglect.  Melissa and Craig, however, weren’t discussing economic history so much as their personal current economic status.

You wouldn’t put them together at first glance – or perhaps even a second glance. Melissa Harrington, mid-twenties and unemployed was beautiful by any standards. Five-foot ten, long blonde hair, blue-eyed, slim and long-legged she could probably have had her pick of single young men in the town. She could probably have had her pick almost anywhere – even from married men.

Craig Whittaker was of a similar height and build and while his long straggly hair would not have looked out of place on a rock star – he was not a rock star. He was also unemployed but with his stubble, narrow face and thin lips he often looked sullen. He wasn’t ugly and he wasn’t conventionally handsome – you’d just have wondered, superficially perhaps, what a girl like that would have seen in him.

They’d started going out together a couple of years before, after a party, and still saw each other regularly, but the relationship had never moved on to anything particularly romantic or permanent. The way things were playing out, they were never likely to do so.

Featured Photo

I’ve tried to make today’s photo fit the setting of the story for a change. This is a shot that I took in March of this year while I was dog-walking along a local canal. I was using my Pentax 24 MP cropped sensor camera with a 35 mm full-frame prime lens. I don’t pretend to be a pro photographer as I’ve imagined Melissa to be.

The shutter speed was 1/200 secs @ f/13 and ISO 3200.

Regarding Melissa #1

PROLOGUE

2019 Milford Sound, South Island New Zealand

Melissa swatted away the bugs that surrounded her despite the repellent spray and cream that she’d applied liberally. She hoped that, as night fell,she might get some respite. She’d brought a folding stool, a thermos flask and some food from the hired campervan, anticipating the hours of waiting ahead. She’d set up her tripod and camera some hours before,

The weather looked as if it would hold for once, and the cloud cover was minimal. She’d been lucky with the shots she’d taken earlier – some spectacular reflections in tidal pools on the beach. All she wanted now was nightfall and a jaw-droppingly beautiful capture of the Milky Way over Mitre Peak, reflected in Milford Sound.

Tonight looked likely to be her final night in New Zealand’s Fjordland. So far, she had several hundred images that she expected to be able to sell when she returned to the UK. Life was looking good. She shivered – time to add an extra layer for warmth. So far, her shots tonight included a gorgeous sunset over the Sound. She’d be checking focus shortly using an early star, but first she moved to set up her camera for a foreground shot. That photo would be merged in software later with her images the Milky Way and its galactic core among tens of thousands of stars. Her attention was diverted when she heard the notification from her smartphone. Her caller ID told her it was Jamie.

‘Hi, Mel,’ he said, ‘Where are you?’

‘Why, Jamie? What’s up?’ She was a bit annoyed. She was supposed to be on annual leave.

‘There’s something I think you should know,’ he said, then repeated his earlier question, ‘Where are you?’

She told him, looking at the time above the App’s screen. It would be nine in the morning UK time.

‘It’s my last night here in New Zealand, Jamie. I’ll  be at Milford Sound until midnight or later. Is it urgent?’

‘My mum’s in a coma in hospital,’ he told her.

Featured Image

Today’s image is one that I’ve used before. Obviously it’s not Milford Sound in New Zealand – we never got that far South. The image is of Twr Mawr on Ynys Llanddwyn, Anglesey, Wales – my first – and so far – only attempt at Milky Way photography. Not as cold as Fjordland but damn cold anyway at that time of night , even in August.

I took the photo on an entry-level 16 MP Pentax K50 dslr – all I had in August 2018 when I took the shot at close to midnight. I was using the camera with a Sigma 10-20 mm f/3.5 lens at 20 mm and f/3.5. The shutter speed was 25 secs and the ISO 6400.

Janet’s Ashes – A Short Story- Part Five

Previously……….

In her room we undressed each other slowly, shyly – exploring each other’s bodies with our eyes and our hands before she suddenly pulled me on top of her, on to her bed.

Later, snuggled beneath her duvet, we discussed death, the possibility of an afterlife – and what that could possibly be like. She questioned why she’d ever lived if she were just going to disappear forever.

Continued……….

We had a couple of good days together after that. The best one was when I drove us to Liverpool and we had a round-trip on the ferry. We laughed and joked. She asked me to take a selfie of the two of us. A nearby passenger saw us and she took a couple photos of us in each other’s arms. I copied them onto a pen drive and had some prints made and framed.

Only days later, she was admitted to hospital. By that time surgery had been ruled out of the question. She’d brought the photos of us to have by her bedside. She was treated with aggressive chemotherapy for a while.

Dressed in her green hospital nightwear, she asked me if I’d stop coming to see her if she lost all her hair. I told her I’d love her for the rest of her life and that I’d be there to the end.

“Given that I’ll be dead anytime soon, I don’t suppose that it was much to ask was it?” She laughed and reached to tickle me.

Her condition worsened over the coming days and weeks. Nurses were checking on her much more frequently, and equipment started to surround her with flashing displays, buzzes and beeps. Before she eventually passed into a coma, we had time to discuss things like funeral arrangements and a death notice in the local paper. I spoke a local vicar about officiating at the crematorium. There would be no point in hymns – neither of us expected there to be enough people there to justify singing anyway. My mum and dad came to see her and said that they’d come to the service. She wanted to be cremated and told me where to scatter her ashes.

Meanwhile, I looked after the flat for Janet and cancelled her appointments with her clients..

I’d known Janet for only a few weeks before she went into coma. During that time, I had come to realise that what I felt for her was a love I’d never expected and deeper than I could have dreamed of. Chaste kisses, hugs and  words were all we had now to express that love, but I was sure that Janet loved me too.

When we were apart, it was as if a part of me was missing. I’d come to need the touch of her hand, her lilting local accent, her laughter when a jokey remark tickled her.  As her condition worsened, conversation became more difficult. She’d lost weight and was often asleep when I came. Often I had to wait while her clothes, dressings or bedding were changed. I missed our discussions and the ongoing process of learning about each other. Occasionally, I was still greeted with the sight of a lovely smile. It lifted my heart every time –  only for my joy to crash as I saw  the lines in her face and the arching of her body in response to pain. My whole being ached whenever she cried in agony.

In the end the coma came almost as a blessing. I wept for the Janet I’d been losing hour-by-hour but I was glad that, at last, she’d know peace in the time before she’d know nothing anymore.

I’d phoned Linda a couple of days before the coma began, that Janet was starting to slip away. She travelled across to spend whatever time was left for her to be with Janet.

Linda’s husband stayed in Melbourne with the children.

It was, as expected, a quiet funeral. Linda and I read eulogies – in my case, I said what she’d come to mean to me.  Those gathered were the vicar,  Linda, myself, my parents and a couple of her clients.

When the curtains closed around her coffin, I wailed like a child, totally unashamed.  Linda and I comforted each other as best we could as we left and thanked everyone for coming.  The undertaker dropped us off at a local pub where my mum and dad joined us for a sandwich and a chance to drink a farewell toast.

A week later, before Linda returned to the other side of the world, she came with me to Liverpool where we reconstructed the ferry trip that Janet had been on with me.  As seagulls screamed and swooped, as the ferry’s horn sounded, as the vessel rose and fell in the gentle swell of the Mersey, we took turns to dip our hands into the urn that the undertakers had brought containing Janet’s ashes, and we scattered them into the breeze that carried them across the murky waves to the final resting place that Janet had requested.

Featured Photo

I conclude this series of Liverpool photographs in the only possible way – with a photograph Snowdrop one of the Mersey Ferries. I took this shot in September, 2015 with my old Pentax K50, 16 MP camera and its 18-55 mm f/3.5-5.6 kit lens.

The EXIF data were 1/100 secs @ f/22 and 55 mm. The ISO was 400.

Janet’s Ashes was the last of my short stories. Tomorrow I’ll start to serialise my latest longer story – Regarding Melissa. As of today, I’m some 16,000 words into the tale. I have no idea yet how long it will be or how exactly it will end. I hope that I’ll be able to get a complete worthwhile story out of it. If not, I may have to resort to asking those of you who actually read my posts to suggest how to continue the tale.