Because I shall not be renewing my subscription to WordPress when it expires on 13 July, in order to be sure that I can complete posting of the remainder of the book, I will be providing substantially larger posts i.e., 21 usual sized posts in 11 days. I hope that you will forgive this change, because it will allow anyone who has been following the story to see it through to its conclusion. I hadn’t realised when I started just how long the story would be.
‘So,’ Mel said, ‘Tell me about Belinda – Belinda with the large…you know what. And, while you’re at it, tell me about the two clothes horses. I want to know all about them – where you met; how well you know them; why Belinda would especially have wanted you to come; and which of them you’ve slept with. But first, let me give you a kiss for being so masterful.’
A CODMANTON WOMAN ABROAD
Mid-November 2019 – A holiday to remember.
At the airport
Jamie had driven Mel and her baggage to the airport. Neither of them had much to say on the way in. Jamie was downcast at the thought of Mel being away for a month. Part of him was hoping that she wouldn’t meet anyone else on her travels – another charming, handsome, adventurous photographer perhaps – with whom she could share her dreams.
Mel, on the other hand, was anticipating the stunning views she wished to capture on media cards, hoping that she hadn’t forgotten to pack everything she’d need for the trip. She was praying also that her equipment would be safe on the journey – because of the weight and bulk of some of her gear, some of it would have to be checked in as hold-luggage.
In her cabin case, she’d only had room for essentials for the journey – she classed her lenses and full-frame camera as being as necessary as her insurance documents, make up and nightwear. If any hold luggage – including her tripod – got lost en-route, she’d have to replace it when she arrived in New Zealand and reclaim through insurance later.
Jamie remained with her until the very last moment before she went through to the Security Clearance area. He held her tightly in his embrace not wanting her to have to leave before they shared a final pre-flight kiss.
Once she’d walked through to the international area, she browsed in some of the shops before sitting in a café with a cup of coffee, keeping an eye on the list of flights being called to the gate. Through the window she watched impossibly large aircraft manoeuvring and being manoeuvred outside.
A flight of fancy
Despite her Premium Economy booking and the helpful cabin crew, the flight to Singapore seemed to last forever – as did the wailing of several infants in the economy section, separated from her only by a flimsy divider.
Even reclining in the wider reclining seats with the extra legroom, sleep was difficult, and she was unable to see anything of interest through the windows over the aircraft’s wing.
The redeeming feature of her flight was that Amy, the young American student who was seated next to her, was easy to get on with. She’d been travelling from New York and had broken her flight, staying in Liverpool for three weeks with family friends, before catching the New Zealand flight.
She was going to be backpacking around the North Island for a year or so and then flying to Melbourne for a further twelve to eighteen months in Australia. It would be her first time in New Zealand. Amy would not be having a stayover in Singapore but would be continuing on the same flight out from Changi. Amy seemed to have no fears about her plans for solo travel and, in any case, was confident that she’d be able to hook-up with people at the various hostels on her itinerary. Mel told her of her similar previous backpacking experiences after she’d left university.
When she wasn’t talking to Amy, Mel tried to sleep, but even with the lights dimmed, all around her, passengers were watching films selected from the range of those available. Many it seemed were violent stories, but whatever their nature, their flashing screens seemed unavoidable – and when she did manage to doze for a moment, it was usually when even more food and drinks were being brought around. Occasionally, her boredom was broken by the shaking and movement caused by clear air turbulence and the frequent announcements to passengers to return to their seats.
The most amusing part – also the most infuriating episode – was when she wanted to use the nearest toilet between tannoy warnings to return to her seat. She’d seen a man and a child enter just before her from the queue – there seemed always to be a queue. She waited – and waited – checking her watch after a while. Eventually they emerged, not only washed, but – both father and child – changed into pyjamas and carrying their day clothes. The things you see when you haven’t got a gun!
Arriving in Singapore, at just after eight in the morning, Singapore time, parting company with Amy was a revelation. Other than the scale of the airport and its range of amazing facilities, her first impression was of chaos with so many people milling about in all directions. She had difficulty at first understanding when, where and how she’d be re-united with her luggage, and how, in the crowd, she’d recognise her pre-booked transfer to her hotel. She was worried because the flight had arrived twenty-minutes late.
The driverless train to baggage reclaim fascinated her, and finding her luggage took much more time than she’d expected. Nevertheless, she managed to recover everything and to locate her air-conditioned taxi which swept her in style to her hotel. The taxi driver kept her talking all the way, explaining the economic history of the country, its relations with China, the costs of car ownership in Singapore, and how, in an emergency, the dual carriageway road would be cleared for use as a runway.
She had booked to stay at the Orchard Hotel and, having arranged with Reception to entrust most of her luggage to hotel security, she decided to wander around the city until she was ready to eat – a decision she immediately regretted. Stepping outside from the air-conditioned hotel lobby she was almost knocked back by the wall of superheated humidity that greeted her. She retreated. When she’d left Manchester, it had been on a cold, wet, November day. She hadn’t dressed to prepare for Singapore’s climate, so she made her way back to the bar.
She looked at her watch. Singapore time was seven hours ahead of time at home, so it would be getting on for two in the morning in Codmanton – too early to send WhatsApp messages or texts home to Jamie, mum and dad, or Stacy – in case the notification bleeps disturbed their sleep.
Later, having eaten, and retrieved her things from Reception, she made her way to her room, showered and changed. She unpacked her cabin-case together with some summer clothes and underwear from her suitcase. By now she was able to key in the room’s wi-fi password and to send WhatsApp messages to home to let everyone know that she’d survived the first leg of the trip. This time, she was more prepared for the climate, and took a taxi to the fabulous Marina Bay Sands Gardens by the Bay. Later again, towards evening, as she became more acclimatised, she walked back slowly towards her hotel, pausing to photograph the city skyline as office lights were switched on, and again to wander through the Chinatown market where she sat in a restaurant to enjoy authentic local food.
Back at the hotel she plugged in her iPad and the USB attachment needed to transfer her day’s image files from her camera, and from there to the Cloud. It had been her first attempt to back-up to her iPad in that way and she was relieved that it had worked so well. She even managed to take a first shot at culling her photos so she could concentrate later, on processing her “keepers”.
The two nights sleepover in Singapore offered many wonderful photo opportunities, but she was also grateful to enjoy some proper sleep before the next leg of the flight to Auckland.
Before she boarded, she found lots more photo opportunities offered by Changi airport itself.
Mel had been fascinated on her journey from Manchester by the beautiful uniforms worn by the airline cabin crew. They were nearly all impossibly beautiful, slim young women in outfits that seemed to feature blues and reds. At her hotel she’d done a web search to see if any details were available. She learned that the clothes were made of batik silk and were of a type known as sarong kebaya.
Once she’d checked-in, as she sat waiting for her ten-hour flight, she removed her small mirrorless-camera from her cabin luggage and did a spell of street photography, picking out people passing in attractive clothes or unwittingly adopting interesting poses. It was while she had her camera in her hand that she noticed a line of the airline’s cabin crew, walking in convoy, smiling and chattering. It was too good an opportunity to miss, so she quickly checked her shutter speed and fired off a volley of panning shots plus some stills. Changi was a totally different world from the Dales of home.
New Zealand – North Island
The next leg of the flight seemed to last forever – much longer than the trip from Manchester – even though it was four hours less in actual time in the air. On this part of her journey, she had a window seat and could clearly see Australia as they were passing over it. That crossing seemed to take hours too. She tried to sleep, but once more, tired children’s wailing made it difficult. The seemingly constant offers of drinks and food by the perpetually polite and smiling hostesses, and the pinging of warnings to passengers to return to their seats and re-fasten seat belts through air-turbulence, again kept her awake but tired. Arriving eventually, in bright sunshine, as she looked out over the ocean and the bays and islands north of North Island, she wished that she’d asked for a few extra weeks to spend in the north.
The customs checking procedures at Auckland were the next source of fascination for Mel. She had been warned not to try to bring any type of food into New Zealand and she’d assumed that all the other passengers would be aware of the injunction – but apparently not. The queue was frequently delayed by those who had either not read the rules or decided that they didn’t apply to them. In a couple of cases, angry passengers were told firmly by customs staff that if they didn’t bin offending items, they’d effectively be deported.
It was just afternoon, New Zealand time, when Mel walked out of the airport and directly across the road to the Novotel Airport hotel and arranged to deposit her bags with hotel security until check-in time. After a quick snack – she was amazed that she was still hungry after all the food that she’d eaten on the plane – she took a taxi-trip to downtown Auckland with her camera. She’d only booked for a stay of two nights, and she wanted to make the most of her brief stay in the city. She wouldn’t be staying overnight on her return trip home.
She made sure to visit and take a trip up the Sky Tower – like a gigantic needle pointing to the few high clouds. The glass elevator whisked her in no time to the observation deck where she was able to take panoramic shots of the city. She also later photographed the many skyscrapers from pavement level, but she also made sure to visit some of the city’s earlier architecture, such as the Ferry Building and St Patrick’s Cathedral.
The main images she wanted, however, were of the harbour at sunset and shortly thereafter. Before then, she needed to return to the hotel, take her luggage to her room and have a few hours’ sleep.
The food in the hotel restaurant was excellent, but once she’d eaten, she found another taxi to take her on the unexpectedly long journey to Northcote Point for the spectacular views of the Bridge and of Waitemata Harbour.
Back at her hotel that night she sent WhatsApp messages home, knowing that, because of the twelve hours or so time difference, they possibly wouldn’t be read for hours. While she was in Auckland she again made the most of the possible photo-opportunities, but she also tried to make up for the sleep she had missed and to beat jetlag as much as possible.
New Zealand – South Island
It seemed no time before she was in the air again, a two-hour hop from Auckland to Queenstown in the south of South Island. In the bright Spring sunshine, she enjoyed what she could see from the air of the ground below and of the sea crossing.
Before she’d even arrived in New Zealand, Mel had been aware that she’d be following in the footsteps of hundreds of other professional photographers before her. She wasn’t a New Zealander, and she had only a few weeks holiday for her time there, so her only hope of making the most of that time had been to do some online research as to the best photo locations.
She’d been lucky. There were some excellently-documented internet accounts of photo-trips to various parts of South Island. Many of these had included photographs, itineraries, places to stay, places to eat and journey times.
But, although there was a plethora of beautiful images online, what Mel aimed for was to choose, capture and present her own take on the views. After all, she reasoned, the weather, time of day, angle of light and the way she chose to take her images would make them unique. Even taking a shot from just a few yards distant from previous visitors would make a difference.
At Queenstown airport, she walked out to the waiting shuttle bus which took her straight to the rental company’s office where she collected her pre-booked hire campervan.
She’d paid extra to hire a three-berth petrol-engined Toyota with a shower and toilet. It also had a fully equipped kitchen and a double bed. Once she’d sorted through all the procedural bits of the agreement she was on her way. She’d worked out her itinerary before she’d left home and found a holiday park with a powered campervan base on the northern tip of Queenstown’s Lake Wakatipu – one of the few places near the city where overnight parking for campervans like hers was allowed. She’d have to drive into the city for any daytime-only parking spots that would be convenient to the places from which she wished to take her first images. She knew that she wanted a mix of postcard-type shots for stock images and for travel industry sales, but she was mainly after the photobook art-quality stuff that brought kudos and magazine sales.
Straightaway she captured some great shots of the lake’s steamship TSS Earnslaw. She decided that it would be worth investing in a ride on it as a handy way to find out about the mountains around the lake and afterwards remaining for a few hours around the lake in the Spring sunshine before returning to sleep. There were plenty of adventure type opportunities around Queenstown, but she was realistic enough to realise that the accident risk was too great. In any case there were plenty of less risky photo hotspots to explore in the area before she moved on.
One problem she got to know quite quickly around the lake was the midges. Another photographer noticed Mel frantically swatting some away while she was trying to focus her camera lens. She came across to Mel.
‘You’re new in the area?’ the woman asked.
‘Yes, first day in South Island,’ Mel replied.
They got talking. The other photographer, Sam, found out where Mel was hoping to travel, and Mel learned from her that there were some items of kit she’d need to buy if she were to cope with some types of circumstance that she’d not really given much thought to before coming.
‘You need to be ready for the micro-climate around Milford Sound,’ Sam warned her. ‘It rains more than half the year. You’ll need a plan to keep yourself comfortable and your gear dry. The midges are vicious, and, if you’re not careful, the bites will stay sore for weeks. If you go on one of the cruises, those boats rock like buggery – so, get yourself a camera bean bag while you’re here to help stabilise your tripod if you’re thinking of using it.’
Sam had lots of other tips about campsites, viewpoints and about which of the cruise trips were best value for money. Mel thanked her – it had been a useful half hour. In particular, she changed her mind about the paddleboat trip.
Mel decided to do some shopping, and treated herself to a rain cover for her camera and a dry bag to hold all her gear when it wasn’t being used. She also bought food, a supply of insect repellent, and a few other necessities suggested by Sam. Before she went back to the van with her new supplies, she booked herself on a small-group day coach-cruise tour that would give her a preview of the area between Queenstown and Milford Sound. It would last for more than twelve hours but wouldn’t cost that much more than the paddleboat would have done.
Her next priority though was to get some sleep. She returned to the holiday park, did her laundry which had been building up since she left home, ate some of the food she’d purchased and settled down for the night.
The following day she arrived early for the day tour. She felt better for the sleep she’d managed – the van was more comfortable than she’d expected. She’d sprayed herself liberally with insect repellent and hoped that its advertised twenty-four-hour protection would hold good. She’d also brought the camera rain cover and weather protection for herself given the forecast.
Part of the day was travel by coach – the downside being the rain streaming down the coach windows. There were, though, several stops for photography of both scenery and wildlife that were worthwhile. Learning that there was only one road there-and-back between Queenstown and Milford Sound, she made a point of remembering the most interesting stopping places on both sides of the road.
Being British, she was less impressed than some by the famous Homer Tunnel – she’d travelled through longer and better engineered tunnels at home. The views though, leading to the Tunnel and emerging from it were spectacular.
She found Milford Sound breathtakingly beautiful, even in the rain. Hundreds of waterfalls cascaded from a stunning backdrop of gigantic mountains into the clear green waters of the Sound. There were seals and many different types of bird including New Zealand Keas. By the side of the water, she watched, and photographed of course, a bride, groom and their wedding party as they made their way back up to their car, the bride lifting the hem of her white gown with one hand and clutching flowers in the other. Her groom held her forearm to steady her progress.
The air on the Sound was damp, and the cloud and falling water created a magical misty veil over the scene. Occasionally, the rain would pause, and, in those breaks, sunlight illuminated the reflections of the mountains on the surface of the water.
Sam had been right – the camera beanbag did help tremendously to steady her tripod. It wasn’t always possible to get clear shots because there were so many other boats about, but even they provided a worthwhile foreground and perspective to her shots.
The coach stopped at Te Anau on the return leg, and she had a chance to briefly scout for photo opportunities for when she returned as part of her final itinerary.
The cruise had been a great idea and, on arrival back at Queenstown, she couldn’t wait to return to her campervan. She wanted to upload her images onto her iPad and then visit an internet café she’d noticed the day before where she could back the photos up to her Cloud service. While the photo files were uploading, she changed out of her wet clothes and put them through the laundry.
She found a local restaurant where she could eat her evening meal, plan for the following day and compose some messages for people at home – her mum and dad, Stacy, Jamie and Lucy. She’d been so absorbed by what she’d seen that she hadn’t given Jamie a thought all day.
On her third and fourth full days in Queenstown she opted for some local sightseeing. Firstly, she went to One Mile Car Park for a shot of the lake with its mountains backdrop, then a four-mile-plus hike up 1300 feet to Queenstown Hill and lastly for that day, to Queenstown Gardens for a night shot of the city. The fourth day she took a drive up to Glenorchy via Bennet’s Bluff. On her return, before sleep, she did her laundry, topped up with water, petrol and food for the next leg of her route and sent her messages home.
Each night she had sent home news of her day and had attached a couple of her favourite images – ones that she’d edited in the tablet version of her processing software. The feedback that she’d received, especially from Jamie, had been ecstatic. Everyone wished that they could be with her.
Stacy and Jamie both arranged wi-fi video calls with her for the following morning – or evening their time.
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. Narrowboats moored on the canal are reflected in it. People in the distance approach along the shaded canal path.
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 23 mm, and ISO 400.