A meeting in the Marketplace – a Short Story – Part Two

……..Previously

‘Well, there you go, man. Come back and tell everybody else what you’ve been learning. Anyway, wasn’t it you who gave that talk about rainy-day photography? Photographing things about the house?’

‘These days, I’d want to get some proper lighting gear,’ Jack says, ‘Set up a mini studio.’

Frank says nothing for a moment while he thinks. Jack makes to leave.

Continued…..

‘I’ve got to go, mate. My sciatica won’t let me stand like this. My hip and leg are killing me.’

‘If you’re that bad, you wouldn’t be much use walking about Durham would you? Listen. I’m sorry about your sciatica, but before you go, I’ve just had an idea.

Jack looks at Frank but says nothing.

Frank starts clearing a space in the back of his van..

‘Come round the back and let me show you something,’ Frank says, turning away and rummaging in the back of his van.

‘What about social distancing?’ Jack asks.

‘Bugger social distancing for a minute,’ Frank replies, ‘Come here.’

Once Jack has made his way between the stalls to the other side of Frank’s counter, he sees that his friend has pulled out a large, glass fish tank on to a clear space between other unsold stock.  The tank’s about two and a half feet long by two feet tall and the same deep.

“Not fucking likely!’ Jack says, ‘There’s no way you’re going to persuade me to start keeping tropical fish.’

‘Don’t be so bloody miserable. Who said I had tropical fish in mind anyway? Use your imagination.’

Jack stands, his arms folded, but one arm up and his knuckles under his chin. His brow is furrowed.

‘Well, go  on. Enlighten me.’

Frank turns the tank on its side so that the open-end faces Jack.

‘Enlightening! Just the word!’ Frank says, pointing to the upper glass wall of the tank.

‘Aah!’ says Jack, ‘A mini studio. A light box.’

‘Exactly!’ says Frank.

The two men talk and point, excited, animated as they exchange views about how the tank could be used – lighting from above, kitchen foil lining one or both sides to reflect the light inwards, and coloured mountboard, cut to use as backdrops and as a base.

‘How much?’ Jack asks. He’s smiling now. In his mind he’s lining up things to photograph in the tank – flowers, jewellery, food – even insects.

‘A tenner,’ Frank says.

‘How much?’ Jack repeats – the emphasis on the word ‘how’.

‘I’ll do you a mate’s rate, Jack – on one condition.’

Jack waits for the catch.

‘A fiver if you re-enrol with the group and give us a presentation with photos of how you’ve used it. We’ll all be glad to see your ugly face again. Think of the pals you’ll have to keep you company.’

‘But how am I going to get the damn thing home, Frank? I can’t carry it. Look at the size of it.’

Frank roots in his apron for a pen and paper.

‘Write your address and phone number on that,’ he says, passing them to Jack. ‘I’ll deliver it in the van personally. Will you be in at teatime?’

Jack nods as he writes. He hands the pen, paper and a five-pound note to Frank.

Covid forgotten, the two men shake hands and agree that it was nice to see each other again.

Jack has another look at the fish tank before he leaves.

Frank notices the smile on Jack’s face, and that, as he walks away, he holds himself more upright and his gait seems more purposeful.

‘I hope that he keeps his word and comes back to the flock,’ he thinks.

‘The price is right and it’s all gotta go!’ he shouts, looking around for potential customers and stuffing the paper and cash into the money bag around his waist.

Featured Photo

Another shot from our garden, also taken on Easter Day. Tulips growing up through a dandelion weed. Beauty can overcome even the toughest obstacles.

I took this on with my Pentax K-1 36 MP full-frame camera, this time using a Pentax 24-70 mm f/2.8 lens. The EXIF data are 1/20 secs @ f/3.2 and 68 mm. The ISO was 100. I used a tripod.

A meeting in the Marketplace – a Short Story – Part One

Frank is arranging items on his town square market stall. It’s in a reasonable spot – located at the far end of the market and backed up to his van. It’s the first day back for the market since the Covid restrictions were lifted in June 2020. His stall is one of twenty or so, though some haven’t yet re-opened. It’s a bright day, and the faded, striped awning over his stall flaps noisily in the stiff breeze. Not many shoppers yet – COVID has put a lot of folk off – but Frank is an optimist. He chats to Dennis on the DVD stall next to his as he works. Every now and then he pauses to encourage trade.

‘The price is right and it’s all gotta go!’ he shouts. The “all” is stretched out and louder.

Dennis laughs and shakes his head.

Frank’s stall is organised chaos: too neat and the punters will assume his goods are overpriced. There’s a mixture of secondhand tools, hardware and accessories: hammers, chisels, screwdrivers, wrenches, spanners, vices, screws and nails; plus some bric-a-brac.

As he pauses to take a sip of tea from a large, chipped beaker, he notices a familiar face among the shoppers working their way along to his stall.

‘Hello!” he says to Dennis, ‘I’ve not seen him for a while.’ He points with his hand.

The man in question is Jack Swift. Frank and Jack have both been keen amateur photographers since way back. He used to see Jack at the monthly meetings of the local over-55’s digital photography group. Jack hasn’t been to a meeting for almost two years now. He’s looking older – a bit stooped and he’s walking with a slight limp.

At the moment Jack’s looking at the paperback books on Alice’s stall on the other side of Frank’s. As Jack looks up from the books, his eyes meet Frank’s friendly gaze in recognition. Frank nods to him.

‘I see you’ve got your mask on, Jack. Good lad! Some folks seem to have forgotten that the virus hasn’t gone away.’

‘Morning, Frank,’ Jack says, ’You okay?’

 Frank notices that Jack’s voice is quieter now and that he hasn’t shaved.

‘Not seen you for a while, Jack. Josie not with you?’

Jack says nothing for a minute. He just stares at Frank.

‘Didn’t you see it in the paper, Frank? She’s dead. Car accident in January eighteen months ago. Drunken driver.’

‘Oh God, Jack! I’m so sorry. How are you? How’s Clare taken it?’

Clare is Jack’s thirty something year old daughter. She was the apple of her mother’s eye.

‘Bearing up. Having to work from home. We only see each other by Skype. She’s scared of me catching the bug off her and losing me as well.’

‘Bloody Hell, Jack! How are you coping?’

‘Not well, Frank. The house is too quiet. I know Josie could nag for England, but it was only because she worried. I don’t half miss her voice and her bustling around the place.’

‘Are you managing to get out much yourself? I see you haven’t got your camera with you. You used to have it on that shoulder strap everywhere you went.’

‘Nowhere to go, Frank. Rules say only local exercise once a day. I’d hoped to get up to the North East – Scarborough, Whitby, Durham – as far as the Edinburgh bridges for a few weeks. Get me out of the house, take some photos. I’ve always wanted to do that trip. Covid’s buggered that up too. Not been my year!’

‘Come back to the group Jack. It’ll be company.’

‘You must be joking! Even if I wanted to, you lot can’t meet anyway now.’

‘True. But we meet via that Zoom app. Have you heard of it?’

‘Yes, but I’ve never used it. Any good?’

‘So-So! It doesn’t always work and Bert’s bloody useless with anything technical.’

They both laugh.

A passing community policeman looks at them and waves to Frank.

‘So, you’re not getting any use from your camera at all, Jack?’

‘Nothing to photograph worth bothering with is there?’

‘For God’s sake, Jack! What’s up with you man? That’s not like you. There’s other places round here you could go.’

‘What? Photograph boarded-up shops, streets piled high with litter and dog shit. I don’t think so.’

‘Why did you stop going to the group, Jack? You always had ideas for times like this when you were a member.’

‘I wasn’t learning anymore Frank. I was bored. I learned loads more just being out taking photos. Learning more about my camera. Trying out new approaches that I’d read about online.’

‘Well, there you go, man. Come back and tell everybody else what you’ve been learning. Anyway, wasn’t it you who gave that talk about rainy-day photography? Photographing things about the house?’

‘These days, I’d want to get some proper lighting gear; set up a mini studio.’

Frank says nothing for a moment while he thinks. Jack makes to leave.

Featured Photo

For a change I include a shot from my garden to represent the coming of Spring. The flower was on my Magnolia Stellata bush. I took the shot on Easter Sunday this year and I was reminded of it because the bush is in bloom again.

I took the photo using my Pentax K-1 36 MP full frame camera paired with a 24-70 mm f/2.8 lens. The EXIF data are 1/320 secs @ f2.8 and 70 mm. The ISO was 100 and I used a tripod.

Moving on from the Playground – A Short Story Part Two

I made my way, using the safer route across the ridge towards her. Her friend at the far side was talking to her calmly and letting her know that someone was approaching from behind her to help. I sat on the crest of the ridge just behind her for a few minutes, to assess her state of mind while talking to her.  

“Hi, I said, “My name’s Phil. I can see that you’re afraid but I’d like to work with you to deal with that. We’re going to make our way off the ridge together, taking our time but let’s just take a moment or two to get to know each other – it may help you to relax. Can we start with your name?”

“Pauline,” she said, “Please, can you help me? I’m scared of moving.”

I could see that she was pale, perspiring and trembling.

“Listen carefully, Pauline. There’s a couple of ways of getting you off safely. We can talk about those in a minute. First off, there’s no rush. I’m going to ask you a few questions about yourself and how you got to be sat here. Is that okay with you.”

She agreed. I told her that I was going to make my way ahead of her so that she could see who she was talking to. She seemed okay with that, so I moved forwards, standing on the ledge

I started by asking where she’d come from, and how long she’d been sat there. She told me that she was from St Helens in Merseyside and that she’d only been sitting there for about ten minutes when I arrived.

“St Helens?” I asked, “There’s a coincidence. That’s where I’m from.”

That was the moment of mutual recognition. Before me was Pauline from the classroom, from the playground – if anything more beautiful than ever.

“Oh, my God!” I said, “fancy meeting you here.”

She stared at me. “Phil King? I don’t believe it.”

“Well, that’s something we can talk about later.”

I explained why it would be too dangerous to try to go back, and talked her through the safer way of going forward using the lower ledge. I then told her that if she really couldn’t face that option, I’d use my whistle to signal our need for help and stay with her until the emergency services arrived. They might want to airlift her by helicopter. She said she was still scared, but asked how she could get onto the lower ledge. I told her that I’d hold onto her arm if she held on tightly to the ridge but slowly swung her right leg across it while sliding downwards towards the ledge – so as to stand beside me. She’d then be looking across the ridge towards the sheer drop. As soon as she was down on the ledge, she visibly relaxed. She held my arm however, as we edged forward and soon reached her friend. By that point she had stopped trembling and had some colour in her face.

“By God, Pauline,” her friend Jill said, “that’s a risky way to meet a fella.”

Between us we got across the Pinnacles, over the next summit and to the col of Bwlch Glas at the foot of the remaining path up to Snowdon itself.

As we walked, we’d caught up with what we’d done with our lives since school. The girls decided that, at that junction, they’d had enough excitement for one day, so we made our way down the Llanberis path to catch a Sherpa bus back to our cars. Jill, who lived in Wigan, had brought Pauline in her car, but it seemed to make sense for Pauline to return home with me as we only lived half a mile from each other.

Well, that was fifty years ago. We celebrated our Golden Wedding last month with our children and grandchildren.  It makes you wonder whether if something is meant to happen, fate will find a way of bringing it about.

Featured Photo

I thought that this photo might put today’s episode in perspective. I took it in September 2014 when I was walking the Snowdon Horseshoe myself with a friend. It shows Harry, having a break just before Crib Goch starts in earnest and shows two of the three Pinnacles rising at the far side. Beyond, and in the distance Mount Snowdon towers above the scene. Carnedd Ugain rises to the right and, to the left, the level stretch of the Watkin path leads the way back to Y Lliwedd’s peaks.

At this time I didn’t own a dslr and snapped the shot with a Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ60 at 1/500 secs. The focal length was 4.3 mm and the aperture was f/3.3 with an ISO of 100.

Moving on from the playground – A Short Story Part One

I was always shy at school. My brother was the extrovert, fearless sporty one. I remained close to the school wall at playtime with a few classmates. Two years older than I am, he was usually with fellow athletes. Girls adored him and he could get away with murder teasing them. It was as if they craved being singled out by him to be made fun of. They’d blush with pleasure and gaze up at him, doe-eyed, eager for more. I could never have got away with anything like the way he treated them.

The upside of having an elder brother at school was that I didn’t get picked on by older kids – at least while he was still at that school. By the time he moved on to secondary school I was two years older and less of a target. The downside was that I never got to be noticed by the girl I adored. I would always be in Graham’s shadow even after he left.

Pauline was taller than I was, slim, clear-complexioned, long dark hair and lovely grey eyes. The only reason that she ever seemed to smile at me was so that she could copy off me when we had classroom tests. Eventually, we were separated by our eleven-plus examination results. For those too young to remember, in England in the 1940s and 1950s, there was a compulsory ‘scholarship’ examination for that age group to decide which children should be selected for ‘Grammar’ schools. The remainder would attend State or faith-based secondary schools. From among the grammar school kids, further exams, four or five years later, decided which pupils were suitable for university entrance. I passed for the local boys’ grammar school. Socialisation with pupils of the girl’s’ grammar school was, technically at least, forbidden though that rule was generally ignored in practice. Pauline went to the girl’s secondary school and it was years before we were to meet again.

The way it happened was totally by chance. At twenty-three, I’d finished all my exams and had a good job in the Civil-Service. Together with a few colleagues, I’d taken up hill-walking as a hobby. We’d often hire a small coach on Saturdays to take us to the Lake District, Snowdonia or the Peak District. Less often we’d head out to the North Yorkshire Dales. One Saturday, when there was no trip planned, and the mountain weather forecast was good, I set off early – very early – in my car to get a parking slot at Pen-y-Pass. I wanted to have a go at the Snowdon Horseshoe – a tricky hike over three linked peaks. The first hurdle was the Bad Step up to Crib Goch. A rough English translation of Crib Goch is Red Ridge, and it’s quite a ridge even in good weather. In poor weather it’s a nasty razor-edge arête with a history of serious injuries, even fatalities, for inexperienced or poorly equipped walkers. Still, it pays to get there early.  By ten a.m. you can get queues of people wanting to have a go.

As I say, I was there early, and by just after nine I was at the start of the ridge, but I was surprised to see that two other people had got there before me. Both were clearly young women who seemed to be properly dressed for the day. One had reached the first Pinnacle at the far side of the 200 metre long ridge, but had not yet started to tackle it. The other was sat astride the middle of the ridge – one leg either side and a drop of several hundred metres to her right. The drop to her left wasn’t quite as steep or as great. I realised quickly that she had ‘frozen’ – sometimes people suddenly realise the potential danger and fear locks them into immobility. All along the ridge it’s possible to follow a narrow ledge, a few feet below, in safety, with the top at hand height, but for anyone who’s been walking along the top and, part way across, is struck with that kind of terror, the safer option doesn’t always seem to be available as a way forward.

Featured Photo

I took this shot on the approach to Billinge Beacon, the highest point in the area and roughly halfway between St Helens and Wigan.

I used my Pentax KP camera and a 35 mm f/2 lens. The EXIF data were 1/250 @ f/4 and ISO 200

Grandad’s Attic – A Short Story

Grandad has died. There doesn’t appear to be a will, so Mavis expects that she, as his sole child, will probably inherit everything under intestacy rules. She goes to see a solicitor and he agrees with her interpretation. Mavis decides that she will sell his house once probate has been granted. The proceeds will pay off the mortgage, and she and Simon – her partner and stepdad to her twenty-three years old daughter Diana – will be able to have the foreign holidays they’ve wanted for a while. Diana isn’t included in her mother’s holiday plans. Diana and Simon don’t get on together. Diana still blames Simon for being the reason her mum and dad split up ten years ago.

Mavis finds a copy of grandad’s house keys that he gave her some time back and she, Simon and Diana go for a look around his now empty house – to see what they can find to put for sale on eBay. There wasn’t much, he hadn’t been well-to-do. Diana asks them if she can have a look round in the loft. Her mum agrees, but tells her to be careful not to break anything.

Diana opens the loft hatch with the hooked pole that stands beside the set of drawers on the landing. She lowers the loft ladder, reaches up for the extension lead that’s in the attic beside the hatch and unwinds it as she brings it down. She plugs it in using the socket on the landing. Ascending the ladder again, she sees there are some shelves attached to the wall along the inside of  one of the gable ends. She has to move several boxes and bin bags to get to the shelves. There are some box files, some books and some lever arch files, most of which are covered in dust. There doesn’t seem to be anything much in them – mainly old paperwork he’s hoarded. Her attention moves to the large, heavy family Bible.

She’s never seen it before, so she takes it off the shelf and opens it to see what’s special about it. In the first few pages there are handwritten details of grandad’s family tree. As she turns a few more pages, a manilla envelope falls out. Out of curiosity she opens it and discovers two rings and a couple of folded, stapled, A4 sheets of typed paper.

She carries the paper and the envelope to below the light bulb- to be able to read it better. It’s grandad’s last will and testament – dated two years previously. She considers shouting down to her mum to tell her what she’s found but, out of curiosity, she decides instead to have a read of it. She’d never seen anyone’s will before and wonders whether her grandad has left anything for her.

To her astonishment, she sees these words,  “I appoint Messrs Smith and Sons to be employed as Solicitors in the estate,” then, reading further, “I give free of Inheritance Tax  to my grandchild Diana Thomson,  my property known as…..”. She gasps. Grandad has left his house to her. She reads on. The will also, “Gives, Devises and Bequeaths” Diana enough money to support her through university or in her career. As it happens, she had graduated the previous summer, but the money will come in handy anyway. Diana cannot believe her eyes. Further on she sees that her grandad  has also left a lesser sum of money to his daughter Mavis – her mum. Diana is amazed. Her mum will be furious.

The will went on to deliver another shock however. It stated that the reason grandad had not left the house to his daughter Mavis was because Mavis had lied about him. The will said that Mavis had told people that grandad was demented, and that he was unable to look after himself. She’d tried to get him put in a home, but the Social Services workers and his doctor had ruled that he was of sound mind.  Because of Mavis’s malicious deviousness, he was leaving her only the token amount mentioned in his will, together with her mother’s rings, enclosed in the envelope.

Diana puts the envelope and its contents in her back pocket, then transfers it  to her coat pocket on her way downstairs, after closing up the loft door. She’ll take it to the solicitor in the morning. No point in leaving it lying around is there?

Featured Photo

A change of place today. Covid restrictions were still in place when I took this shot so it was still local to where I live. I was walking from Carr Mill, St Helens, Merseyside, via a woodland area known as The Goyt, on my way to a local hill and its beacon at Billinge, Wigan. I have shown a photo of this bridge at Happy Valley, Carr Mill before, but this time I managed to get this shot while a train was crossing the viaduct. I’m still using my Pentax KP 24 MP cropped sensor camera with a 35 mm f/2 full-frame lens. The EXIF data for this shot are 1/200 secs @f/16 and ISO 800.

Have you ever had one of those days? A Short Story

That afternoon, my Dad’s radio was blasting out “Have you ever had one of those days” and I knew how Elvis felt. The previous night Sophie had dumped me – by text: no reason given. I phoned her of course – twice. The first time she closed the call as soon as she heard it was me calling. The second time, she gave me an earful. She’d heard all about me and Holly Banks – ‘all over each other on the bus yesterday’. She didn’t give me a chance to explain. Told me to sod off – she was barring my calls.

I knew what had happened. Living on our estate rumours spread faster than wildfire – and with each telling they get embroidered. The truth of it was that I had been sat next to Holly on the bus the day before. We both attended the same university, but the only subject we had in common was English.

 It had been our last day there before the summer break. Like all the other students we were on an end-of-year high and we did have a laugh together. That’s all there was to it. Holly is well out of my class dating-wise and I know it. I never thought any more about it until Sophie accused me.

So far, so bad. I decided to walk to the library to do some reading for my final year. I left the estate and had just got onto the main road into town when this guy, two or three years older and three inches taller than me, crossed the road and stood in front of me.

“I know who you are,” he said, balling his fist, “I’ve been looking for you. You’ve been spreading gossip about my sister you wanker.”

I assume it was Holly’s brother but I never got the chance to ask because he belted me in the belly with one fist and on the chin with the other before walking off.

I got up off the floor, holding my stomach, staggering, and watching his departing figure.

“Watch where you’re going,” came a voice from behind me and, as I turned, a shaven-headed bloke pushed me to one side. I was groggy anyway and went down again.

This time, I hadn’t even had time to get to my feet when a group of youngsters from the estate who, known to all and sundry as trouble, decided that I was a fair target and started kicking me from all directions. The last one I remembered later was a kick to the head.

I woke up on a hospital trolley, being checked over by an A and E doctor and a nurse. They decided that I needed to be admitted to check for concussion damage. Later that afternoon a pretty Irish girl, Aileen, a student nurse about my age came to check some readings and asked if I’d like a cup of tea. When she brought it, she stopped to chat for a while, asking what I remembered. She fairly howled laughing at my tale of woes before apologising.

“I shouldn’t laugh,” she said, “and it must still hurt a lot, but it’s like something to out of a comic.”

Before the end of her shift, she came back a couple of times for a chat and, by the time I was discharged at lunchtime today, we’d arranged a date. I’ll be seeing her tonight.

Featured Photo

Today I present a photo of a tree that I saw as I walked around Carr Mill Dam, St Helens, Merseyside. I was struck by the colour contrast against its surroundings and the persistence of its leaves.

As with all of this series of shots, I used my Pentax KP camera and a 35 mm f/2 lens.

The EXIF data are 1/200 secs @ f/11 and ISO 2000.

A Bus Journey – A Short Story

NEVER LET A ROW……..

The queue for the bus was long and, by the time I managed to board it, my wet hair was plastered to my head and rain was dripping from my raincoat. I tapped my bus pass on the panel next to the driver’s compartment and collected my ticket. Other passengers ahead of me were still trying to find seats when the driver closed the doors with a loud hiss and edged out into the roadway

Every now and then I was thrown forwards and backwards by the bus’s jerky progress through the traffic.

I made my way towards the rear of the vehicle and, finally, reached the one remaining seat. Even before I got there, however, I felt disappointment. The woman whom I’d be sat next to was Beryl Thompson, a former neighbour. My late wife and Beryl had never got on and they hadn’t spoken for ages when Eileen and I had moved house ten years ago.

“Good God,” I thought, “that’s all I need. An appointment with the solicitor, a deluge of rain and Beryl Thompson. With luck she’ll blank me, pretending she doesn’t recognise me. Otherwise I can expect an ear-bashing.”

The rain-laden clouds and steamed-up windows justified the yellowish illumination of the bus’s overhead lights. A pervasive, muggy smell of wet passengers added to my dread of the forty minutes or so of the journey ahead.

I removed my sodden coat, folded it, reached up and placed it on the overhead rack. I couldn’t delay matters any longer so I made to sit down. I glanced across towards my enforced travel companion to see if she  would be acknowledging me. “Too late,” I thought. She’d clearly been watching me as I parked my coat above.

“Michael Bradbury,” she said, “I don’t believe it. Has she let you out on you own then?”

“Morning, Beryl,” I replied as civilly as I could, “You’ve not changed much.”

“I don’t know whether to be flattered or insulted,” she said.

I didn’t elaborate.

“You two were always inseparable,” she said, “when you weren’t at work. Where is she? Why isn’t she with you?”

“She’d have a job Beryl,” I said, “Eileen died two years ago.”

Her hands flew to her face. Her eyes were wide open, staring at me.

“Shit Michael. I’m sorry. How? What happened?”

“Heart attack. Died in her sleep.”

“Oh my God,” she said, “She was a year younger than me.”

She was quiet for a few moments – a near miracle from what I remembered of her.

“Like I said Michael, I’m so sorry. Wait till I tell Billy. I feel awful that it’s been so long since I saw her to talk to. It’s only a couple of days since we were looking at a photo of us all at a Turkey and Tinsel party.”

“Listen Beryl. No offence, but you’re the reason we moved away. You never stopped interfering. It drove her to despair.”

“How can you say such a thing?” she said.

“Don’t go acting offended Beryl. You don’t have a sensitive bone in your body.”

“I don’t know what you mean,” she said.

“Come off it,” I said, “You wanted to dictate where she shopped, how much she should pay for things, where we should go for holidays, how she should bring up Joanne, even what she should be eating. That’s just a small sample. You never knew where to draw the line. And you’d get where water couldn’t. Any time we had visitors you always invited yourself round to make yourself guest of honour in charge of conversation, talking over anybody else who was speaking. The last straw was when her mum died and you tried to tell her how to organise the funeral.”

“Bloody Hell Michael, you’ve changed,” she said, “You were always quiet as a church mouse.”

“True. When Eileen was alive, if I’d said what was on my mind, she’d have been mortified. She hated confrontation or risking upsetting folks. She’s not here now, Beryl, so I can speak freely.”

“Is that true Michael? Is that why you moved up here? To get away from me.?”

“God’s honour. It was the only way we could get some peace?”

“Michael I was really upset when you and Eileen left. Both me and Billy. He’s always saying how he misses you both. I’m sorry. Genuinely. You know, Billy told me that he thought that I was the reason you left. He’s always blamed me, but I couldn’t accept it.”

Beryl paused and wiped a tear from her eye. A woman on the seat in front on the window side, turned to glance towards me. She smiled. It confirmed what I’d thought – that she’d been listening. Her and the woman next to her.

“Michael, You’ve shocked me. Hearing it from you. I’m devastated. I wish I’d listened to Billy more and realised. Now it’s too late. I’ll never be able to say sorry to her. I can tell you though, and I am – really, I promise. I am deeply sorry for the damage I’ve done. Me and my big mouth. But it’s too late to make things right with Eileen.”

She paused again. Now the tears were running freely down her cheeks. She had a tissue to her eyes.

“Do you think that you could ever forgive me?”

I’d never seen Beryl so shamefaced. I don’t have it in me to bear grudges so I gave her the reassurance she wanted and changed the subject.

“How are the twins?”

“Thanks for asking, Michael. They’re both well. It’s their fiftieth birthday’s a week on Friday. We’re having a party for them at our house. Would you come? Please. Billy would be so happy to see you again. I would too of course, but it would be special for him. And the twins would be delighted.

As I’ve always said, life’s too short for bitterness or anger – and Eileen wouldn’t have wanted me to say No. So I agreed.

Featured Photo

Today, I feature a another photo from my walk between Carr Mill and Billinge. This shot shows the Mason’ Arms public house at Chadwick Green near Birchley. The pub was closed, of course, because of Covid restrictions. By now, I was well on my way towards my destination at Billinge Beacon – the highest point between St Helens and Wigan.

As for all the shots in this series I used my Pentax KP camera and a 35 mm f/2 lens. The EXIF data are 1/320 secs @ f/8 and ISO 400.

Her Party Piece – A Short Story

Clarissa was perched on the edge of her chair. She was angry. The middle-aged man at the front was making it up as he was going along. What was that aphorism: ‘You can tell when a politician’s lying – his lips are moving.’?

It was the local Member of Parliament’s monthly constituency meeting day. For once, it was taking the form of a public presentation in the town centre library. He was talking about his party’s proposed changes to their health policy. They were going to work miracles, if you believed him, and they’d save taxpayers’ money into the bargain. Those in the audience were seated, socially distanced and masked, following the initial  lockdown.

Someone had pulled down a whiteboard for him and he was using a laptop and a table projector to display graphs of how they’d reduce bed-blocking, open new wards and reduce the need for Accident and Emergency patients to wait for treatment on trollies or in ambulances.

He paused for questions. The first few had obviously been asked by coached and carefully chosen constituency party members. Clarissa eventually managed to get the Chairman’s attention. Her appearance had probably helped – she was young, tall, pretty and well dressed, with nicely cut short blonde hair – every inch a typical target voter.

‘Please state your name, occupation and question,’ the elderly, silver-haired Chairman asked. Someone passed Clarissa the roving microphone.

‘Clarissa Tredegar,’ she said, ‘second year trainee nurse, I want to know where all these extra nurses you speak of will come from and when will they actually be trained and working on wards?’

The MP extolled the Government’s plans to award trainee nurses a non-repayable £5,000 annual grant to attract new entrants. He gave no details of the number of nurses expected to take up the offer. He smiled to her as if expecting applause.

Clarissa pointed out the shortcoming in his answer and told him that his figures did not recognise the number of existing qualified nurses who were leaving the profession – in fact, even if his optimism about take-up were justified, in reality, there would be thousands of nurses fewer employed. The Chairman tried to stop her flow, but she was on a roll. She spoke of the nurses and trainees who were quitting or sick because of Covid, and the fact that trainees were not receiving all the practical training they had been promised. They were being treated as unpaid healthcare workers yet were expected to continue to pay their course fees and accrue Student Loan debt. ‘Please fund the NHS properly,’ she told him, ‘instead of asking people to clap us.’

One of the party workers was trying to get to her in order to wrest the microphone from her grasp.

Her final words to the microphone were, ‘By the way, my friend has been recording this meeting on her phone. It’s uploading to YouTube as I speak and a copy will also be on its way to the “Guardian.”’ The politician sat and put his head in his hands.

Featured Photo

Another photo from my walk between Carr Mill and Billinge. This photo is of reflections in puddles on a path framed by the railway bridge beneath which the path leads to the village of Garswood (that wasn’t the direction I was headed in just a path that I passed on my way).

As with all the photos from that walk I took all the shots with my Pentax KP 24 MP apsc camera and a 35 mm f/2 lens. The EXIF data are 1/200 @f/11 and ISO 3200.

The Phoenix Time #63

Previously…….

‘You don’t fool me,’ she said,  pointing at him, her voice raised, ‘I’ve watched you two – the way you talk and the way you dance. Any closer together and someone would have called the police.’

‘Mmm,’ he said, ‘our dancing. Well, yes, I can see what you mean. Listen, we’re both beginners, we’re both rubbish at dancing and we know it – but we try to have a laugh camping it up. You and most of the others take it too seriously. It isn’t Strictly Come Dancing is it?’

……..Continued

Charlotte was lost for words.

‘Anyway,’ he said, ‘I didn’t come here for a row, but I’m beginning to think that you only asked me to come and help with the grass because a row is what you were looking for. Well, I’m not falling for it. You can have a row with yourself. I’ll see you when I see you.’

He picked up his coat. Charlotte was furious. She grabbed his arm.

‘Where do you think you’re going? Don’t you dare turn your back on me. I’ve not finished.’

Frank was angry now.

‘Let go of me you mad cow,’

She smacked his face.

‘I’ll give you cow,’ she screamed.

‘Just mad then,’ he countered.

She smacked him again but harder this time.

‘Oi!’ he said, ‘That’s enough. You try that again and you’ll get smacked back.’

She raised her hand to hit him but he grabbed her wrist, yanked his other arm free and raised it to smack her, but she grabbed his wrist.

They each struggled to free their captured arms, their bodies rotating with the effort. As they pulled, their angry faces moved closer together. It was Frank who broke the tension.

‘Are you dancing?’ he asked as they struggled.

‘Are you asking?’ she answered.

They both relaxed and fell into each other’s arms, laughing.

‘Daft bat,’ he said, as she wrapped her arms around his neck.

They kissed fiercely, his arms pulling her close to him.

‘For God’s sake Frank, come home,’ she said, ‘I’ve missed you so much.’

‘I’ve missed you too,’ he said.

‘I was so jealous when I saw you so happy with Janice. I was miserable and lonely.’

‘I know,’ he said. ‘Me too. There isn’t – hasn’t been – anything going on with Janice.’

‘Will you come back?’ she asked.

‘Will you allow me to help you?’ he asked.

‘I’m sorry I drove you away. I even missed you being in the kitchen.’

‘About that,’ he said, ‘I’ve been thinking about how we could get some builders in to make the kitchen and dining room easier for us both to work in.’

She hugged him tightly and kissed him again.

‘The family’s coming for their usual Sunday meal tomorrow,’ she said, ‘Would you like to make some of your rice dish?’

Well! That’s the end of this story. Love, like the Phoenix was apparently burned up but rose from the ashes.

Tomorrow, I’ll post one of my short stories. I have begun a longer story to replace the Phoenix Time, but I still don’t know where it’s going. In the meantime, while I make more headway, I do have a couple of other short stories to tell.

Featured Photo

Today I show another view along the Sankey Canal bank near Earlestown. Ted, my daughter’s Japanese Spitz dog, who was my companion on the walk, photobombed the shot – but I think that his cheeky face added to it.

I used my Pentax KP 64 MP cropped sensor camera and my 35 mm f/2 full-frame lens that. The shutter speed was 1/200 @ f/13 The ISO was 3200.

The Phoenix Time #62

Previously…….

‘Yes, Well? What of it?’ She was standing with her back to the kitchen sink, her arms folded across her chest, her face set in a sneer..

‘That’s almost three weeks ago; three weeks and I haven’t had a civil word off you since then Charlie. I sent you a text, offering to take you out for a meal but you sent me a really snotty reply. Okay, you wanted to see Gloria and spend some time on your own with her. That was fine, but there was no need for the way you expressed it.’

‘You’re right,’ she said. I do remember now, but I regretted it the moment I sent it. I’m sorry.’

‘Wow!’ he said, ‘At last. An apology from Charlotte the Great. Did you really think that I was going to go out of my way to speak to you after that?’

……..Continued

‘Well,’ she replied, ‘did you really think that I’d fall over myself to speak to you after you stalked me to the Dance Group and then went out of your way to seduce that Janice piece. Next thing I hear is that you’re moving in with her neighbour to be nearer to her.’

‘Word gets round fast I see, but I didn’t stalk you. You’d said how much you’d enjoyed going to the dance class, and it sounded as if it might be a good way to meet other people. You couldn’t wait to tell me how many men you’d met. I thought that I’d give it a try too, without cramping your style with your widowers’.

‘So that’s why you spent so much time chatting up Janice. It was to avoid cramping my style was it?’ she said, ‘Rubbish, you didn’t even notice me.’

‘There’s no need to be so nasty. I did notice you, but I didn’t think that you’d want your new friends to know who I was. Anyway, Janice is not a ‘piece’ – she’s a lonely widow with a great sense of humour. I enjoy her company, but I’ve not been chatting her up and I’ve never tried to seduce her – we just got talking when we were registering and found that we got on well together.’

Charlotte pulled a disbelieving face as he paused for breath.

‘Anyway, it was you who said that it was time that I moved out of Gloria’s house. I agreed with you, but finding a suitable place to rent is a nightmare. Janice merely recommended me to Mrs Edwards as a short-term tenant to replace one who is about to move into a new home.’

‘You don’t fool me,’ she said,  pointing at him, her voice raised, ‘I’ve watched you two – the way you talk and the way you dance. Any closer together and someone would have called the police.’

‘Mmm,’ he said, ‘our dancing. Well, yes, I can see what you mean. Listen, we’re both beginners, we’re both rubbish at dancing and we know it – but we try to have a laugh camping it up. You and most of the others take it too seriously. It isn’t Strictly Come Dancing is it?’

Featured Photo

Today I show another view from the Earlestown walk – this time along the canal bank. I liked the reflections.

I used my Pentax KP 64 MP cropped sensor camera and a 35 mm f/2 full-frame lens that I’m finding really useful in these times when it would be breaching lockdown to take a tripod with me. It’s light and compact – and it isn’t a hassle to try to take photographs while holding a dog on a lead. The shutter speed was 1/200 @ f/13 The ISO was 6400.