Regarding Melissa #89

…..Previously

‘Okay. Well, you’ll need me to get off the phone to keep your line clear,’ she said, ‘but before I go, I’ll be getting up at daft o’clock tomorrow to drive back to Queenstown, return the van and get to the airport for the first flight back to Auckland. I’ll phone you from the airport. Give Tony my love.’

‘Okay,’ he said, ‘Drive safely. I’ll speak to you soon.’

True to her word, she returned to the campervan site shortly afterwards. She’d managed to capture the image she wanted. Her work in New Zealand was done.

Continued…..

PART FOUR

RETURN TO REALITY

CHAPTER SEVENTEEN

December – Return

Saturday morning in New Zealand

She didn’t fall asleep as quickly, or get as much sleep, as she’d hoped for because she kept waking, worrying about both Lucy and Jamie. When her phone alarm woke her, she struggled to keep her eyes open until she was washed and dressed.

Her journey back to Queenstown at that time in the morning was uneventful and, after the hire people had declared themselves satisfied that there was no damage that they could charge her for, their courtesy taxi returned her and her luggage to the airport.

She was relieved that she’d started her day so early. She was able to board the flight to Auckland just after eleven o’clock. It was scheduled to arrive around one in the afternoon. She was able to check-in at the international airport when she landed at Auckland and to have something to eat before her flight to Singapore was due to take-off at three-fifteen.

When she tried to phone Jamie, his phone was engaged, so she messaged him to explain her return schedule. She promised that she’d try again to phone him from Changi airport. Her flight was expected to land there about nine in the evening Singapore time – one o’clock in the afternoon at home.

Changi Airport

Mel’s flight had landed ten minutes early. She had read of all the things that she could do in the airport while she waited, but she was too anxious to be interested. Everywhere, people were walking, babies crying, loudspeakers making announcements in various languages and airline staff in their uniforms walking as if in formation with their luggage.

Mel had five hours or so to wait before she could board her flight for the final leg home. Once she had worked her way through to where she needed to be, she found somewhere to sit and phoned home. This time her call got through.

‘How’s your mum and how are you and Tony?’ she asked.

‘Mum’s still in a coma and we’re at the hospital,’ he said, ‘I’ve come out of the ward to take your call. Where are you now?’

She told him and explained that her flight was due to land in Manchester shortly after eight-thirty the following morning local time in England. He asked how she would be getting home from the airport. She said that her mum and dad would be meeting her.

‘Can I come to visit your mum at the hospital?’ she asked.

‘Yes,’ he said, ‘It would be great to see you, but there’ll be a bit of a queue. The whole family will be there, so we’ll be taking turns. Text me when you’re outside the ward if you can’t see me and I’ll come out to you.’

‘Which hospital is she in?’

Jamie named the hospital, which was in the city, and told her which floor to find. His mum was in a side ward.

‘Are you sure that I won’t be in the way?’ Mel asked.

‘No, we’ll squeeze you in,’ he said, ‘at least, I’ll want to squeeze you. I can’t wait to see you and, if Mum comes out of her coma, I know that she’d love to see you.’

She paused while a noisy luggage train went past.

‘What do you mean “if” she comes out of her coma? Do they say that she might not?’

‘Sorry!’ he said, ‘I think that they said “when”. My mind’s a mess right now.’

‘I’m sorry, Jamie. I shouldn’t be interrogating you. I’m longing to be back with you,’ she said, ‘I do hope that she’ll be okay. What do the doctors say?’

‘It’s complicated and I can’t remember everything they said. Dad can probably explain things better than I can when he sees you. For the moment, they say that she’s had some type of stroke and they need to do more tests to discover what they’re dealing with.’

‘Okay! As you say, I’ll find out more when I see you tomorrow. How is your dad anyway?’

‘He’s in shock,’ he said, ‘The doctors are a bit worried about him too. A nurse has taken his blood pressure and temperature. They told me that his blood pressure is low, his breathing is shallow and, apparently the fact that he keeps yawning and sighing are some of the symptoms of shock. They’re keeping an eye on him.’

‘You must be frantic,’ she said, ‘I’m worried about you. I do love you, you know.’

‘I love you too,’ he said, ‘Don’t you go worrying.’

‘What about Tracy?’ she asked, ‘Is she there?’ How is she?’

‘She’s here too. This is the hospital where she works if you remember – though she works on a different ward. As you’d imagine, she’s really upset. It was Tracy who realised what was happening. Because she’s a nurse, she summoned help immediately, then she phoned dad. Tracy went with mum in the ambulance – sirens and flashing blue lights apparently. We’re all just outside the ward now, while the doctors are doing some checks.’

‘What about little Elaine? Is she there too?’

‘No,’ he said, ‘Jake’s got her at home at present.’

He paused.

‘Listen,’ he said, ‘I have to go now. The doctors are just coming out from the ward. I’ll speak to you later. Bye, love.’

Jamie didn’t phone back before her flight left and she didn’t want to bother him when there would be so many things that he’d need to be doing right now.

She still had hours to wait before her flight was called, so she phoned home to let everyone know where she was and to bring them up to date about Lucy. Mel guessed that Stacy would probably be on duty, so she’d have to phone her later.

Sunday morning

Mel’s flight arrived fifteen minutes early, but those minutes were soon eaten up by a lengthy wait at baggage reclaim and then another at passport control. Eventually she passed through into the Arrivals Hall. She took a moment as she scanned the waiting crowd behind the barrier, but then noticed her mum and dad waving to her.

She made her way to them, and her dad took charge of her trolley as she hugged her mum. Her dad led them back out to his car in the car park and, in no time, they were on their way home exchanging news.

Mel’s mum was worried by her appearance. She said that she thought that her daughter had lost weight and looked thin.

She wanted Mel to go to bed as soon as they arrived – fearing jet lag – but Mel wanted to find out where Jamie was and to go and see him. When she phoned, he was at the shop, catching up with some of the online business that had been coming in while he’d been at the hospital. The nurses had told the family that, for the moment, their being at the hospital would be counter-productive; that they should go home and sleep. The nurses promised that someone would phone them when more was known.

She had some breakfast with her parents, and they continued talking about Mel’s vacation, about Lucy’s stroke, and they brought Mel up to date on what had been happening at home.

As soon as she could, after her meal, Mel drove to the shop through pouring rain. The shop was closed, but with just over a week until Christmas to go, Marcus and Alec had been busy the previous day serving customers who’d been choosing photography-related presents. Jamie was upstairs dealing with a rush of online orders. She hung up her coat and went up to see him.

Jamie was working with his computer using a split screen, monitoring and recording incoming orders on one and placing orders for new or replacement stock on the other.

He looked up to see her, rose and went to hug her.

‘God, Mel,’ he said, ‘Am I glad to see you!’

They kissed.

‘Hmm!’ she said, ‘Is that “glad to see you” because the shop’s been busy or so that you can hold my hand at the hospital to comfort you?’

He pulled away to look at her, wondering how to interpret her words and her indignant expression.

‘See you still can’t take banter,’ she said. ‘I’m pulling your leg. I know that it’s because you didn’t know what to buy me for Christmas and now you can ask me.’

‘It’s not…’ he began to protest, but she pulled him back in her arms.

She kissed him again – happy to feel his arms around her.

‘Dope!’ she said, ‘I love you, and I love how easy it is to wind you up.’

He relaxed and held her close, their heads side-by-side, their arms wrapped around each other.

‘Are we okay?’ she asked, ‘and are you okay?’

‘I’m better for you being back here,’ he said, ‘I’ve missed you so much.’

They kissed again, longer, hungrier this time.

She broke away and patted his backside.

Just then, Tony arrived and went upstairs to catch up with the paperwork from the Saturday. Before he started on it, he’d heard Jamie talking to Mel and called in to see them. He and Mel hugged each other. He was tearful as he described to Mel what had happened and how quickly Lucy had passed into unconsciousness. Mel took his hand and led him to a chair.

‘You look awful, Tony,’ she said, ‘Have you had anything to eat?’

He said that he didn’t feel hungry.

She told him that he wasn’t helping Lucy by neglecting his own health.

She asked him whether he’d like her to get anything from the supermarket for him and Jamie. He told her that Tracy was looking after that side of things, and that she’d arranged overnight with the senior nurse on the ward where she worked for her to take compassionate leave. Jake, and his mum would look after baby Elaine as and when they were needed.

Tony thanked her for coming in to the shop and said that he was sorry that her return was under such circumstances.

In turn, she apologised for being away at such a critical time. They embraced again, and then he left her and Jamie to talk.

She looked at her phone to check the time. It was turned noon.

She put her arm around Jamie.

‘Come on, back to the keyboard,’ she said, ‘Connie computer will blow a fuse if she finds out you’re two-timing her with me. I’d better go home and try to get some sleep before visiting time tonight. She blew him a kiss.

‘Let me know if we’ll be able to visit tonight, won’t you?’

He promised that he would.

She left – he stood for a moment watching her leave.

Mid-afternoon, the hospital phoned – more exactly, Tracy phoned from the hospital where she’d gone in to check on her mum’s progress. She said that it would be all right for them to return. The doctors would have a word with them about what they’d found so far, but Lucy was still in a coma.

Featured Photo

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

The next set of shots will show scenes from around the town that I saw that Saturday. This is a shot of some proud scooter owners and their machines.

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 16 mm, and ISO 400.

Regarding Melissa #88

…..Previously

She had one final place to see, however, before she reached Milford and she expected it to be busy. This was The Chasm. The large car park was well occupied – including by several coaches, so she wondered whether her shots from the best viewpoints were likely to be photo-bombed by day-trippers. If that were the case, she’d need to return early the following morning when it would be quieter. The boarded walk lasted only a couple of hundred metres before she saw the roaring water dropping into a huge abyss with amazing dips and bowls, in front of vibrantly green mossy rocks. Scouting for photo-opportunities she found that the two footbridges over the Cleddau River gave her the best viewing points for the waterfall.

Continued…..

Milford Sound

Leaving the Chasm car park, she drove along the road as it descended through forest-carpeted canyons for the final seven miles or so before it reached the powered campervan park site, just short of Milford. She’d booked to stay for three nights. She wasn’t sure that she’d stay – or need to stay – all three nights, but the extra night was a little extra insurance against the torrential downpours for which it was famous.

Here, she had wi-fi available plus access to a twenty-four-hour guest kitchen, guest lounge, a coin-operated washing machine and a dryer. She checked in and had a good look around and something to eat. Most of the other people who were staying there were out exploring the area. She decided to do the same.

The weather was still warm, dry and offered a near-cloudless sky. She hoped that it would stay that way because it would mean that, in a few hours, she’d have a chance of a great sunset shot across to Mitre Peak – her dream shot.

She drove to the end of the road, parking as close as she could to where the cruise ferries berthed on the western bank of Freshwater Basin. She walked the few yards to the shore and immediately saw an ideal viewpoint across the Sound to Mitre Peak – at 1683 metres, more than a mile high.

She raised her camera and checked the scene through her viewfinder. She realised that she was going to need her ultra-wide lens to do it justice. Using the lens that was currently mounted, she’d need to do a vertical, or portrait, panorama. On reflection she decided to do a panorama like that anyway.

She wandered around the basin, checking various other possible locations to use on the other side, as far as the airport runway area. She returned to her van – and the campsite happy. Maybe she wouldn’t need all three nights.

When she got back, she sat for a while in the Guest Lounge with her notes, her iPad and a map. She’d purchased some wi-fi time from the site Reception and used it to check tide times and sunset times. She’d noticed that when she’d gone down to the shore it was still low tide. By the time she’d be settling down to do a sunset shot, the tide would be coming in quite rapidly.

She also realised that there wouldn’t be much chance of a glorious sunrise shot there because of the direction and the mountains. She drew up a checklist of what she’d need to take – the list included her new waterproof boots, plenty of spray to ward off the sandflies, and some neutral density filters to get some shots with a smooth seascape and ideal reflections.

The remainder of the afternoon, she rested, talking to other guests as they arrived, until it was time for her next meal.

Before she left for the evening, she sprayed herself liberally with midge repellent, tucked her jeans into her socks, and carried her boots, coat and a bob-cap to the car. Better safe than sorry!

When she reached the position that she’d chosen earlier, she changed into her waterproof boots and walked to the foreshore. Before she mounted her camera onto the tripod, she checked the exposure reading in its viewfinder and took a test shot before adjusting her composition and settings and trying again. There were a few high clouds, but she was hoping that, as the Sun dipped, it would light them from below, creating some beautiful sky colour later. Once she was satisfied, she set the camera up on the tripod, did some fine adjustments to her lens focus and locked it down. She then switched to manual operation, checked her settings, fitted her filter holder in readiness and tried a few shots with different filter strengths. After each, she checked for the effect that she’d created.

At first, she worked with a composition that used the material of the shoreline as foreground to provide a layered sense of depth. She then started all over again, but without a foreground – keeping the horizon central to make the best of the reflections.

Soon, she relaxed. What she was waiting for now was for the Sun to begin to drop below the peak, so that she could use a narrow lens-opening to create a sunstar effect.

Even after the Sun had set completely, she waited for the sky to turn into that indigo blue – where some light remains before total darkness – for her final Blue Hour shots.

She returned to the campsite a happy young woman. If she were unable to take a single extra photograph, she could return to northern England content. When she spoke to Jamie that evening – his breakfast time – he could sense her happiness. She made sure to let him know that she couldn’t wait to be with him again.

The following day was cloudy. She wandered around again but didn’t succeed in capturing anything as nice as she had the previous night. It was late afternoon before the cloud cleared. She was considering whether this should be her final night there. There was no guarantee that the following day would be any better and the forecast wasn’t brilliant anyway. She settled down and prepared for the night ahead.

Later, 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. Meanwhile. She’d have to keep them away from the front of her lens to avoid black spots all over her images.

She’d brought a folding stool, a thermos flask and some food from the campervan, anticipating the hours of waiting ahead. She’d set up her tripod and camera some hours before, when she’d taken some more sunset and blue hour shots.

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 night sky over Mitre Peak, reflected in Milford Sound.

Sadly, she’d arrived in the wrong season for a Milky Way shot.

If all went well, tonight would 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. She’d be resetting her lens 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, together with the main images she’d be taking soon of the tens of thousands of stars she expected. 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?’

‘So soon? It’s only four hours or so since I phoned.’ she said? ‘You must be keen. Anyway, why? What’s up?’

‘There’s something I think you should know.’

She looked at the time above the Apps screen on her phone. It would be nine in the morning UK time.

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

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

‘Oh, My God!’ she said, ‘Jamie, I’m so sorry. When was this?’

‘I got a phone call from dad about two-and-a half-hours ago,’ he said, ‘Mum’s face went funny, and she couldn’t speak properly. The ambulance came very quickly.’

‘How’s your dad?’ she asked, ‘Is he at the hospital with her?’

‘Yes. Obviously, he’s in bits worrying about her.’

‘And how are you?’ she asked.

‘I’m just stunned. I’ve never seen anyone who’s had a stroke before. This has all happened so fast.’

‘It’s just struck me,’ she said, ‘It’s Friday morning there isn’t it? What’s happening about the shop? Are you closing for the day?’

‘Yes, it’s ten o’clock here’ he said, ‘I was just opening the shop when dad phoned. Mum had only arrived at Tracy’s a few minutes before it happened. I’m looking after the shop until Grandad Alec arrives to take over, then I’m going to the hospital too. Marcus will be here with Alec.’

‘Okay. Well, you’ll need me to get off the phone to keep your line clear,’ she said, ‘but before I go, I’ll be getting up at daft o’clock tomorrow to drive back to Queenstown, return the van and get to the airport for the first flight back to Auckland. I’ll phone you from the airport. Give Tony my love.’

‘Okay,’ he said, ‘Drive safely. I’ll speak to you soon.’

True to her word, she returned to the campervan site shortly afterwards. She’d managed to capture the image she wanted. Her work in New Zealand was done.

Featured Photo

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

The next set of shots will show scenes from around the town that I saw that Saturday. This is a shot of more Saturday afternoon shoppers.

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 21 mm, and ISO 160.

Regarding Melissa #87

…..Previously

Mel had noticed the way that Jimmy had been looking at her – appraising her was how she thought of it. That evaluation made more sense now that she knew that the two weren’t together except as fellow travellers who’d be on separate paths from then on. Nevertheless, she didn’t feel threatened – she was quite flattered, but not enough to encourage his attentions. The only man she wanted to see now was Jamie.

When they all arrived back at Manapouri, they parted company – Lorna would be driving back to Queenstown, Jimmy was staying on the boat – which was also returning to Queenstown.

Mel returned to her hired van and headed off to Te Anau, where she’d booked a powered space on a holiday park with a communal kitchen and lounge.

Continued…..

Te Anau to Milford Sound

On her first day of this final leg of her time in New Zealand, Mel spent the morning in sunshine in Te Anau to do some shopping. The first thing on her list was some extra midge-repellent for herself, and some bug spray for in and around the van. She was already noticing the sandflies and she’d been warned that they’d be particularly bad around Cascade Creek and Milford Sound, where she’d be spending some time.

She wanted to choose some souvenirs relating to the area to take home as presents for her family and for Jamie and his mum and dad. Other than that, she wanted to make sure that the van would be properly stocked for fuel and food for the four days ahead before she headed back to Queensland and her journey home. She was worried that there might not be another chance before she returned to Te Anau – it could be six or seven days until then.

Te Anau is a pretty town and is the main visitor base for the Fjordland National Park. She made a point of visiting the Department of Conservation Visitor Centre to check her plans for her journey – and for her overnight stays on her way to and around Milford. Having spoken to the staff there, she returned to the shops to buy some waterproof footwear. She wouldn’t be taking her purchase back with her to England, but, from what she’d heard, she’d need them at Milford Sound.

Approaching lunchtime, because she knew that, from then onwards, she’d be living mainly on packed lunches, she decided to treat herself with a meal at one of the restaurants serving local seafood.

For the afternoon she wanted to look at local photo opportunities, so she bought tickets for a boat trip across Lake Te Anau to the western shores and to visit the Glowworm caves there. This involved a guided cave tour that passed the rushing water of an underground stream before continuing for a short while in silent darkness. The caves were still being carved out by the force of the river that flowed through them via a twisting network of limestone passages filled with sculpted rock, whirlpools and a roaring underground waterfall. Deeper inside the caves, beyond the roar of the water, she was taken to a silent grotto inhabited by hundreds of glow-worms, unique to New Zealand. In the subterranean darkness, they produced a glittering display. She hadn’t planned the visit, but she managed to shoot some fascinating sights to include as a diversion among her landscape images.

She returned to the holiday park to top-up her water supply, charge her batteries, do some laundry and to talk to some of the other travellers in the communal dining area before heading back to her van to phone home and to sleep.

The following morning, a somewhat overcast one, she enjoyed a leisurely breakfast before departing. She wasn’t planning to travel far before her next overnight stop at Cascade Creek campsite, but she wanted to take more photographs on the way there, based on what she’d seen on her daytrip to Milford Sound when she first arrived in Queenstown.

The winding road had many narrow sections as it passed some breath-taking scenes. The first major highlight was the Eglinton Valley, where the views changed and she could now see steep, beech covered, rocky mountains. The flat valley floor was carpeted in golden tussock – it was a surreal place.

The view ahead was unbelievable, and she could see why she’d seen so many photos that had been taken from the middle of the road. She waited, preparing her settings beforehand until the traffic allowed, and then ran out to snatch some shots for her own collection.

Further along the road she parked to take a short 400-metres or so path to the lovely Mirror Lakes. The parking bay had been well signposted. Beneath a cloudless sky, she was able to photograph outstanding reflections of the Earl Mountains on the still lake.

She still had another 35 miles to go before she reached Cascade Creek, but she was in good time.

One sight that she’d not noticed on her first visit was the Avenue of the Disappearing Mountain, where an optical illusion caused the approaching mountain to appear to become smaller rather than larger. The final photographic treat of the day was Lake Gunn. She explored it along an easy, loop nature track that took just a couple of hours including her photo-stops.

From there she headed to the Department of Conservation campsite, where she’d be staying for two nights. The facilities there were basic compared to the holiday parks where she’d stayed for much of her time in South Island. It was non- powered, had non-flush, long-drop toilets and no communal dining or laundry facilities. Water was from the stream. The other problem was sandflies. It was as well that Sam had warned her about them. Even the stuff she’d bought earlier in the day seemed to be struggling to control their attacks. Still, it was a good place to rest and look at the images she’d shot that day.

Before resting, however, she realised that she’d have time for a forty-five-minute walk along the Lake Gunn Nature Walk that started beside the campsite. The mountains that surrounded the Lake seemed almost to disappear into its surface.

As she lay in the silence of her campervan bed that night, she knew that her homesickness was getting worse. What had begun as an adventure of a lifetime had turned into an odyssey. She missed her mum, dad and Jack, she missed Jamie – she hadn’t realised how much she’d miss seeing him, hearing his voice, being held by him. She even missed the shop and wondered how Marcus was faring. She looked forward to these next couple of days though – she hoped that they wouldn’t disappoint. They were intended as the climax of her trip, but at the same time she was impatient to be home.

There were no better sites between the Cascade creek site and Milford itself so, the following day, she would be travelling towards the Homer Tunnel but, even so, she’d be returning to Cascade Creek that day after she’d taken more roadside photographs of the intervening area.

Before long, she parked briefly at The Divide. This marked the lowest, east-west pass in the Southern Alps and was the start of several well-documented walking tracks, such as the 32 km Routeburn Track.

Two kilometres further on, along a particularly winding stretch of road, around a blind corner where she had to slow, she stopped at the small parking area for Pop’s View Lookout, which had some great mountain views over the Hollyford River Valley. She knew from her planning notes that this was an excellent spot to see kea, the cheeky alpine parrots common to the higher parts of the South Island. True to form, when she turned back to her van, one of them was attacking a windscreen wiper.

Her final stop for the day, before returning to the campsite, was the Lake Marian car park, off the Milford Road, along Holyford Road. This was a longer stop for her, where she planned to walk to Lake Marian. She changed into her hiking boots and set-off. She allowed two hours each way including a stop at some waterfalls that she expected to reach after she’d crossed a swing-bridge some twenty minutes into the journey.

The reflections of the mountains reminded her very much of Mirror Lakes and provided some excellent views for photography.

On return to her van, she changed back in the shoes she wore for driving and headed back to Cascade Creek for an overnight stay.

There was even less to do there than the previous night, except to wash, change some clothes, eat and text home. Because she was now so eager to get back to England, she almost regretted making this stay. She could have continued straight to Milford Sound if she’d made fewer photo-stops. She reminded herself though, that those stops were a large part of her reason for having travelled to the other side of the world. It was memorable images of places such as the ones she’d seen that day that would enable her to augment her portfolio of saleable shots to use for stock images, photobooks, and material for magazines, prints and exhibitions.

When she set-off early the following morning, she consoled herself that she would be at Milford before evening.

Her first stop on her way was the large open car park for Monkey Creek, still within the Hollyford Valley and a little further down the Milford Road from Lake Marian Track. She topped up her water supply from the pure glacier-fed water there, before crossing the small stream into the field beyond for her photos.

She was well into her journey now, and it was just before she reached the Homer Tunnel that she parked briefly at the Gertrude Valley lookout point to capture an image of the Marian Peak and its snow-covered companion mountains.

The Homer Tunnel, shortly afterwards, marked her descent to Milford Sound. Approaching it, she saw the green light turn to red. She stopped behind a small queue. She’d heard that she might need to wait twenty minutes for the light to change, so like several other people from the cars ahead of her, she got out of her van to take some shots of the tunnel entrance and of the waterfalls descending the valleys alongside the road. Once the lights changed, she entered the sealed, one-way tunnel that took her three-quarters of a mile steeply downwards towards her destination. ‘Are we nearly there, mum?’ she thought.

She drove out of the tunnel into bright sunlight. The next few kilometres of road were even more twisting than any stretch of road so far, with a series of near hairpin bends.

She had one final place to see, however, before she reached Milford and she expected it to be busy. This was The Chasm. The large car park was well occupied – including by several coaches, so she wondered whether her shots from the best viewpoints were likely to be photo-bombed by day-trippers. If that were the case, she’d need to return early the following morning when it would be quieter. The boarded walk lasted only a couple of hundred metres before she saw the roaring water dropping into a huge abyss with amazing dips and bowls, in front of vibrantly green mossy rocks. Scouting for photo-opportunities she found that the two footbridges over the Cleddau River gave her the best viewing points for the waterfall.

Featured Photo

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

The next set of shots will show scenes from around the town that I saw that Saturday. This shot was one that I took at the open air market

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 16 mm, and ISO 320.

Regarding Melissa #86

…..Previously

Poor Jamie, she realised, would be hoping to put together a proposal that she would accept – unless he’d decided that she was a hopeless case and had already found someone less demanding – someone like Arabella, Fiona or that Belinda they’d mentioned.

“Oh, God!” she thought, “I really hope that he hasn’t done that.”

She berated herself, unable to sleep for hours – sometimes in tears – worrying that he was okay; that he wasn’t worrying; that he still loved her enough to wish to marry her.

Continued…..

Return to Twizel.

The following morning, she awoke bleary- eyed, washed her face, dressed and made her way to the dining area to make some breakfast. Some of the people who she’d met the previous night were there. Everyone seemed to want to make a fuss of her and, by the time she’d finished talking to them, it was mid -morning – time to return to the campsite at Twizel. She thanked her lucky stars that she hadn’t seen the man from the previous night. She couldn’t imagine what she’d have said or done if they’d met that morning. She wondered also what had happened to him after the whole campsite had been woken up and surrounded him.

The holiday park at Twizel seemed to Mel like a hotel after the more basic facilities at the Mount Cook place. It also felt safer with less chance of encountering the pest from the previous evening. It would be a longish drive to Queenstown, but she’d decided to stay another night on the campsite and have a final look at Lakes Tekapo and Pukaki before she continued her journey. The fine weather was holding – the gods of the skies were looking after her.

Once she’d completed her photography for the day. She returned to the holiday park and prepared for the next stage – cleaning the van, topping up fuel, checking tyre pressures, and purchasing some food supplies. That done, she decided to spend the remainder of the day relaxing, chatting to other tourists in the communal dining area and getting to bed early. She had originally intended to do a night shot at Tekapo using the Church of the Good Shepherd as foreground, but she was tired and needed the sleep.

She phoned home the following morning – Thursday – it would still be Wednesday evening there. Ten more nights remaining before the final leg of her flight home. She spent longer than usual speaking to Jamie and felt relieved that he still spoke as if he missed and loved her.

She sat for a while looking at a photo of the two of them that a customer had taken at a restaurant using her smartphone. She felt sick thinking about what could have happened at Mount Cook, and it now seemed more urgent to her than ever that she get back soon to Jamie’s safe arms.

The journey to Queenstown back along the Lindis Pass was uneventful. There was a lot of cloud with only intermittent sunshine breaking through, but when it did, the colours she saw – in roadside lupins, in the hills either side of the road – were amazing. On a couple of occasions, where it was possible, she stopped the van and got out to take photographs.

She took just two rest and toilet breaks on her journey – at Tarras and, not long after, at Cromwell.

She’d pre-booked a slot in north Queenstown at the same site where she’d stayed on her previous visit. This visit was mainly to ensure that she was rested and properly prepared for seven nights in the wilderness around Doubtful Sound and Milford Sound.

She wouldn’t be wild-camping in a tent or anything like it, but she really wanted some night shots of the fjords – especially one of Mitre Peak across Milford Sound. Nonetheless, just the mental image of being in such lonely places in pitch darkness worried her after her Mount Cook experience.

Her personal attack-alarms would be a lot less useful out there and she wasn’t sure how far she’d be from her campsite at the lakesides. She planned to get as close as possible in her van to her viewpoints.

Mel spoke to several other people at the holiday park to discover whether anyone there had tried already to do what she was planning, but no-one was thinking along those lines. She drove into the city and asked the staff at the visitor information centre. They looked at her as if she were crazy. They asked also if she were aware that the Milford Sound area received seven metres or so of rain each year and that the forecast was awful. It would be up to her alone – with inadequate information – to decide whether the photos truly justified the potential risk.

Eventually, sitting in a city coffee bar, she decided that she’d come so far on her trip – and this next outing would be the Big One – the “Money Shot” as they say – her main reason for being in New Zealand at all. She’d almost certainly never get another chance like this. She’d go for it.

Into the Wilderness

The following morning, in pouring rain, she set off early for Manapouri, where she’d board the lunchtime cruise trip to Doubtful Sound. She dressed for the weather in waterproof trousers and her hooded, waterproof hiking jacket. Most of her route followed the road that the coach had taken on her earlier day trip from Queenstown to Milford Sound. She remembered, from that trip, where the main passing places were that she’d wanted to photograph, but given the downpour, she decided against any tripod shots for such short stops. She was glad that she’d packed the rain cover for her camera – she’d almost certainly need it.

From Manapouri – a relatively short hop from Te Anau – she boarded a ship for a coach and cruise trip across the visually stunning Lake Manapouri to the West Arm inlet from Doubtful Sound. She’d had to do this part of the journey this way because there was no road access to the fjord.

Hoping for opportunities to expand the types of shots she could take, this time, she carried her tripod. Her camera and lenses she kept dry in her backpack that had a built-in rain-cover.

Close to the Power Station, where she disembarked from the ship, she boarded a coach that took her along the sub-alpine road over Wilmot Pass. The driver stopped from time-to-time along the ever-twisting road to allow passengers to savour and experience the impenetrable Fjordland rainforest. Cascading waterfalls, fed by the rain had to be seen to be believed. At last she was able to see Doubtful Sound shimmering far below.

Doubtful Sound, or Patea she’d been informed by the driver, dwarfs Milford Sound, spanning 40 kilometres or 25 miles from the head of the fiord to the Tasman Sea. She learned that it’s the deepest of New Zealand’s 14 fjords.

On arrival at the Fjord, she boarded a second cruise ship for a three-hour long cruise through some of the Sound’s most dramatic scenery. A guide provided a helpful and informative commentary during the cruise and pointed out some of the wealth of wildlife. She saw, and was able to photograph, kekeno – the New Zealand Fur Seals, and tawaki – the rare Fjordland Crested Penguin plus a pod of bottlenose dolphins.

Around her she felt dwarfed by the huge, sheer cliff faces, and was moved to tears by the all-pervading silence, broken only by echoing birdsong or cascading waterfalls. She had all the photographs she could have desired, but she was sad to leave such a beautiful place, one that had left her feeling humbled.

On the journey back to Manapouri, Mel fell into conversation with another passenger – a woman of a similar age to herself. She’d noticed her earlier when she’d been stood together with a man – possibly in his mid-thirties – who also joined them after a while. She’d spotted that they too were using tripods and professional-looking cameras.

During conversation, they exchanged details of where they’d been, where they were going and so on. When the man heard her name, he asked her whether she was the person who’d been featured in one of the major magazines. He’d recognised her name and had seen some of her other work. Mel soon realised that she’d seen some of his images in magazines and competitions. They exchanged screen names for a well-known web portal for photographers and it turned out that they were following each other’s work anyway. He asked if she’d followed him to New Zealand based on his plans that had been published on his website. She politely rebuked his arrogance, explaining that she was funding her trip out of the proceeds of the competition prize money.

He hadn’t realised though that she wasn’t a full-time professional. His female companion, who’d listened patiently to the conversation asked Mel about her Milford Sound intentions. She outlined her timetable and the list of shots that she regarded as her bucket-list. They’d already done the Milford Sound trip in a similar way to what Mel was planning to do.

Mel told them of her fears about personal safety and related her experience at Mount Cook. Lorna, the young woman was horrified. Mel learned that Lorna and Jimmy, the young man, weren’t travelling together – they’d only met while they were both photographing around Milford Sound. She quizzed them about matters such as being able to park close to the lakeside, how many other lone travellers she was likely to come across, and so on.

Jimmy tried to convince her that the risk was worth taking with her skills, and Lorna also suggested that she hadn’t felt in any danger out there – even before she’d teamed up with Jimmy.

Mel had noticed the way that Jimmy had been looking at her – appraising her was how she thought of it. That evaluation made more sense now that she knew that the two weren’t together except as fellow travellers who’d be on separate paths from then on. Nevertheless, she didn’t feel threatened – she was quite flattered, but not enough to encourage his attentions. The only man she wanted to see now was Jamie.

When they all arrived back at Manapouri, they parted company – Lorna would be driving back to Queenstown, Jimmy was staying on the boat – which was also returning to Queenstown.

Mel returned to her hired van and headed off to Te Anau, where she’d booked a powered space on a holiday park with a communal kitchen and lounge.

Featured Photo

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

The next set of shots will show scenes from around the town that I saw that Saturday. This image is of Hebden Bridge Train Station

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

Regarding Melissa #85

…..Previously

That evening – the previous morning in the UK – Jamie phoned to ask how she was; where she was up to with her photographic tour; and to tell her how much he was missing her. She asked him about his family and for any news about the shop. He told her that all was well at home and that two of the current month’s magazines contained nice articles about her. She said that she was missing him too and that she was more than halfway through her scheduled route.

Her final chore for the night was to make sure that everything that was rechargeable would be recharging overnight – her next overnight stay would be a non-powered site.

Continued…..

Mount Cook – Aoraki

Mel awoke the next day to glorious sunshine, a light breeze and Spring warmth. After a leisurely breakfast, she prepared a packed lunch and set off on her way to Mount Cook using the road northwards beside Lake Pukaki. She began by taking some photos from the car park for Lake Pukaki where she’d been prevented by rain from doing so the previous day.

There were several stopping points along some of the straight stretches of the road to Mount Cook where she was able to take great images across the lake. One of the best of these stopping points was Peter’s Lookout where she was able to use the winding road as a great leading line along the lake towards Mount Cook.

Because she didn’t want to arrive late at the Whitehorse Hill campsite that she’d booked, she ignored some of the online suggestions about Sealy Tarns, the Mueller Hut and Mount Ollivier. She opted instead to park at the campsite car park and hike the Hooker Valley track from there. This was almost seven miles there-and-back and included three river crossings with suspension rope bridges. These were spectacular in their own right. Mel felt that she’d made the best choice as she came across some beautiful locations along the way including views of the amazing Hooker Lake and Mount Sefton.

One of the reasons that she’d chosen to camp overnight was to try to get a sharp starry night shot across Mount Cook. The site was located a couple of miles from Mount Cook Village. It had great views across to Mount Sefton and, looking across in the direction that she’d hiked earlier, of the Mount Cook Range across its East Ridge. There were also flush toilets and a huge dining/kitchen area.

The weather conditions were great in one respect – it was the beginning of the New-Moon period so there would be no moonlight to contend with – in pitch blackness, getting sharp, point images of stars would be easy, especially with the current lack of appreciable cloud cover. On the other hand, there would be no moonlight to illuminate Mount Cook as the foreground subject.

Just outside the campsite, there was a place where she’d be able to get an amazing view of the mountain from the middle of the road. At that time of night, there would be hardly any traffic passing, and she could stay at the roadside just long enough to take some sunset and some early blue hour photos without any need to stay in the road-centre.

Scouting the area, for her starry sky shots, she decided that she’d need to find somewhere on the campsite itself – but somewhere shaded from lights being used by other campers. She noticed a mound in the campsite grounds, where she could get her static shots from. She could spend the remainder of the blue hour until pitch darkness there. It was a spot where she could stay with her camera in a fixed position on her tripod, and, with luck, it would be a position where she was unlikely to be disturbed for ninety-minutes or so. Sunset would be shortly after nine-fifteen, but total darkness wouldn’t be until close to midnight.

The other matter of concern was her personal safety. The total darkness of New-Moon was the other factor dictating that she’d need to be somewhere close to other campers. She clipped her attack-alarm to her belt. Even given a lack of moonlight there would be other campers within earshot.

She managed to take her sunset and blue-hour photos without any problems – only two cars passed during the hour she was there. Once she’d returned to the site, she parked the van and took her full-frame camera, tripod, some cleaning gear, her headtorch and a flask of coffee with her to the dark place she’d chosen earlier across the way. She also took a folding chair.

She was warmly dressed when she set up her tripod and focused on the brightest of the early stars she could see – taking and previewing test shots until she was totally satisfied. Once that was done, she locked the focus on her lens and took a shot of the mountain. It stood tall and proud between a Vee of intervening peaks. That shot would be her foreground in case she later needed to create a composite image later. She then changed to manual mode and set her lens to be wide-open, to gather the maximum light that would be possible in the dark. She then opted for a usable sensitivity. Her only setting from then on would be her shutter speed. Because of the Earth’s rotation, stars appear to move across the night sky in such a way that an exposure of any longer than twenty-five seconds would result in streaky – not point – stars.

At around twenty minutes before midnight, Mel took her final capture. She’d taken about a dozen more before that, at different stages of nightfall, checking for sharpness on her preview screen each time. It was as she was returning her gear to her backpack that she heard footsteps approaching. She froze, hoping that whoever it was hadn’t noticed her.

Unfortunately, he – it was a man – had seen her.

‘Well, hi there!’ he called. His accent was a mix of American or Canadian and Irish. ‘I saw the light from your head torch earlier and wondered who else was awake at this time.’

Mel didn’t reply, hoping that her silence would let him know that his presence was unwelcome.

‘My name’s Sean,’ he told her, ‘What are you doing out here in the dark? Do you mind me asking?’

‘I’m getting ready to go back to my van,’ she replied, and continued with finishing her packing. Everything was now stored except for her chair, her flask and her tripod. She picked up the tripod, thinking that it would make a useful weapon if it were needed.

‘I guess I can see why you’re here,’ he said. ‘You been taking photos of Aoraki? With that snow showing up so bright I guess it’d make a good picture.’

She didn’t respond.

‘You’re not very sociable are you,’ he said moving a bit closer. He was now about three metres – ten feet away. ‘From your voice I bet you’re English. You’re a long way from home. Are you on your own here?’

‘Look,’ she said, ‘It’s late. I don’t know you and I don’t feel comfortable with you approaching me and asking me all these questions. Please go away, back to your van or your tent and leave me alone.’

‘Well now,’ he said, moving closer, ‘That’s not very sociable. What if I don’t choose to leave?’

Mel moved her hand to the alarm on her belt loop and pulled the pin. Immediately the site was filled by a 140-decibel scream.

‘Shit!’ the man said, ‘Why the fuck did you have to do that. I was only trying to be friendly.’

He started to move away, but by this time, lights were going on everywhere around and there were people approaching to find out what was happening. The man held his arms up in truce mode as some burly campers got nearer.

Mel switched off the alarm and switched her headtorch back on – so that she could be seen and so that she would be better able to identify the man later. He was now surrounded.

‘Listen,’ he said, ‘she’s crazy. I saw she was alone and was just being friendly and offering some company.’

Mel stood, shaking, with her arms folded. A couple of women had come up to her to ask if she were all right. Another man pushed through the crowd, identifying himself as the Park Ranger. He asked the man for identification and the details of his van. The Ranger and the women then escorted Mel away to ask her what had happened. One of them carried her chair and tripod.

She was able to confirm that the man had not actually touched her before she’d set off her alarm, but that his menacing manner and refusal to leave had frightened her.

The Ranger told her that she’d done the right thing and praised her for taking the precaution of wearing the alarm. He asked Mel what she wanted to do about what had happened – if she wanted to report the matter to the police.

‘I’ve been thinking about that while we’ve been talking,’ she said. If I report him, I’ll have to go into Queenstown and, if they charge him, I’d have to cancel the remainder of my itinerary and stay in the island to give evidence.’

‘I doubt that they’d charge him,’ the Ranger said, but the threat of you reporting him hanging over him might give him a real scare.’

‘Listen,’ she told him, ‘Thanks for your help and suggestions. However, I’m sure that getting this incident reported isn’t something that you want either. It won’t help the camp’s image if it gets a reputation for being unsafe for woman.’

‘That’s true,’ he said. ‘Do you want to leave it at that then?’

She said that all she wanted now was to feel safe and to get some sleep.

One of the women had brought a flask top filled with tea and milk.

‘You’re still trembling, love,’ the middle-aged woman said in a northern English accent. ‘Drink this – and keep your alarm next to you when you sleep, but I really don’t think that you’ll get any more trouble now.’

The Ranger asked when Mel would be leaving – she told him that it would be the following morning.

He asked what her plans were and said that he hoped that she’d enjoy the rest of her stay in New Zealand. She thanked him for his assistance. He left, but some of the women stayed to make sure that Mel was properly recovered from her shock.

By the time she got herself and her kit stowed for the night, it was turned one in the morning. She realised what time it would be at home – early afternoon – so she phoned her mum and then Jamie. She’d decided not to tell them about her exciting – if terrifying adventure, but she needed the comfort of hearing their voices. She wished that Jamie had been with her.

When she lay on her bed later, it was a long time before she could find the comfort of sleep.

She thought back to what she’d said to Jamie when he’d proposed. On reflection, her words came across to her as having been arrogant. “What the Hell was I thinking?” she asked herself. “Talk about airs and graces!” The more she thought about it, the more she realised that he was the perfect partner for her. The barriers that she’d constructed around herself against men had kept her from fully recognising Jamie’s virtues. Yes, he had faults, but so had she. She re-evaluated her antagonism to marriage. All of a sudden, the security it offered seemed more valuable than she’d ever been prepared to credit.

She wondered whether he’d still have wanted her if she’d been raped – worse still if she’d become pregnant as a result. She realised how shocked her parents would have been. As for Tony and Lucy, would they have seen her as reckless and her judgement as being poor.

She wondered how, or if, she’d ever have recovered mentally from such an experience. Lying there, she wondered whether she was really prepared for the Milford trip.

Poor Jamie, she realised, would be hoping to put together a proposal that she would accept – unless he’d decided that she was a hopeless case and had already found someone less demanding – someone like Arabella, Fiona or that Belinda they’d mentioned.

“Oh, God!” she thought, “I really hope that he hasn’t done that.”

She berated herself, unable to sleep for hours – sometimes in tears – worrying that he was okay; that he wasn’t worrying; that he still loved her enough to wish to marry her.

Featured Photo

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

The next set of shots will show scenes from around the town that I saw that Saturday.

For all these shots, I used my Pentax KP 24 MP cropped sensor camera twinned with a Pentax 16-85 mm f/3.5-5.6 mm lens. The EXIF data for this photo were 1/160 secs @ f/11, focal length 26 mm, and ISO 400.

Regarding Melissa #84

…..Previously

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 with her wi-fi video calls for the following morning – or evening their time.

Continued…..

On to Lakes Wanaka and Hawea

The following day she drove, taking New Zealand’s highest main road through Arrowtown, one of the country’s most atmospheric old towns where she stopped to take some photos. From the road, she was able to keep stopping to take yet more shots.

There was a moment during the ride that was to remain in her mind for the remainder of her stay in New Zealand. On a quiet, straight stretch of the road, she saw two backpackers ahead, turning and hoping to thumb a lift. Her instinct was to stop and offer them a ride – at least as far as Wanaka. After less than a second, she decided against it.

At home, she was sure that she would have agreed to help, but then again, even there, she’d read about increased incidents of carjacking. That was at home, in an urban setting. Here, on the other side of the world, she was a woman alone. She remembered something that Sam had said when they’d met in Queenstown that first day.

‘Listen,’ she’d told her, ‘In most of the areas you’re planning to visit you’ll be in the wilderness. You’ll be vulnerable to all kinds of risk, and the dangers of car crashes and falls are not the worst of them. Be prepared.’

After a moment’s thought about what those risks might include, Mel had realised that Sam was right.

‘What am I supposed to do, Sam,’ she’d asked, ‘Should I buy some pepper-spray?’

‘God no!’ Sam had said, ‘Here in NZ, it’s illegal to sell, buy or possess that stuff. If you get attacked, you’d have a better self-defence claim if you used a gun. But do you really want to risk your time waiting to be tried for defending yourself anyway?’

Sam had, however, made one suggestion that Mel had acted on while she was shopping – and that was to buy a personal attack alarm. In fact she purchased a pack of three 140 decibel rape alarms that she’d be able to clip to a belt-loop on her hiking trousers.              

Mel had processed all this in her mind before she even reached the hitchhikers, and she didn’t even slow down.

“It could be an ambush,” she thought, “they could be druggies who’d steal my kit even if they didn’t actually attack me. I’ll risk a bad conscience rather than my life or my gear – especially my gear.”

She continued after that, via Cardrona, to the city of Wanaka where she parked-up for a couple of days in a Holiday Park while she explored the area. Because it was not yet mid-day, once she’d registered with the site, she carried her larger, full-frame camera and her tripod down to the city’s scenic lakeside.

She intended to take some shots of the world-famous Wanaka Tree, but called into a restaurant first to have something to eat, and to familiarise herself with her surroundings and bearings. From where she was there was a wonderful view across the lake to Mount Aspiring. She decided that she’d certainly capture some images of that after lunch.

She picked her gear up and made her way down to the lakeside, walked up and down for a while to choose a suitable viewpoint, then set up her tripod and photographed the beautiful scene. Even from there, she thought that she could just make out the Wanaka Tree to her left and around the bay.

After only a few minutes’ walk further on, she passed a signpost confirming that she was headed in the right direction. As she neared her objective, she could see that several people were already taking photographs of the tree. Some were using smartphones, some compact cameras, while others had their cameras mounted on tripods using a variety of lenses depending on the image they wanted to frame in their viewfinder.

Mel had photographed other instances of “lone trees” at home – two at Buttermere, and others on the limestone pavement at Malham and beside Llyn Padarn at Llanberis, Snowdonia. In each of the home-grown variety though, tree stems were spindlier and had fewer leaves. None of them had a mountain backdrop quite as dramatic as this Wanaka tree.

She moved her tripod several time between shots. It seemed almost impossible to take a bad image of the tree – unless someone photo-bombed your shot by walking in front of your camera while your shutter was open.

She didn’t expect to get decent sunrise or sunset shots from where she was but expected that there would be opportunities elsewhere in the course of the next couple of days. Once she’d taken as many shots as she wanted from the local lakeside, she decided to buy something she could take back to the holiday park with her. They’d told her at Reception that there was a communal kitchen & lounge with a toaster, an oven and hotplates.

On her return, she cooked herself the food she’d purchased, then went to sit in the shared lounge and watched the evening news on the large, flatscreen television. She got talking to some of the other people in the room and exchanged stories about where they’d been and where they were headed next.

Later, she used the communal facilities to have a shower then returned to her campervan to get an early night. Before she slept, she checked her messages and sent replies. One of the messages had been a fairly long one from Jamie. In it he said that he was glad that she was safe, that she was enjoying her trip and taking lots of great photos, but that he was missing her. Lucy and Tony had asked to be remembered to her also. He told her that he loved her very much and was counting the days until she returned.

The following day, after using the communal facilities at the holiday park for a wash and some breakfast, she set off early, westwards then to the north, to get some photos from Roy’s Peak Lookout before heading further north later in the day. She’d been advised that there would be a hike of up to three hours each way from the Roy’s Peak car park, but that the views would be worth it. They were, but she couldn’t stay long after she’d taken her photos before making her way up to Glendhu Bay Lookout for some sunset shots.

Mel stayed overnight back at the holiday park because she planned a long day around Lake Hawea the following day. Once more, because she wasn’t confident about the facilities at her next overnight stop, she did her laundry at the holiday park laundromat. She couldn’t risk having wet or even damp clothes in the van because of possible condensation problems.

Lake Hawea was near to, and was similar in size to, Lake Wanaka and ran parallel to it on its western side. She started at a car park, taking photos at the southernmost point of the lake, then made her way northwards on Highway 6 to a viewpoint about halfway up towards The Neck – her next photo-opportunity. The Neck itself was a narrowing of the gap between the two lakes and was said to be the point at which they were once joined. It was there that she got some stunning shots with pebbles beneath the clear water as the foreground to her image of the lake and the mountains beyond.

Thanks to the empty road and lack of tourists to obstruct her shots, she returned earlier than she’d expected to the holiday park campsite. When she’d consulted her itinerary and her maps, she decided to rest up at the campsite, refuel and stay overnight there rather than undertake what she expected to be a tiring drive northward to her next campsite. Since the site had free facilities, she took the opportunity to tidy up, vacuum the inside of the van, use the car wash and check tyre pressures. She paid once more to get her laundry done there – it was becoming a significant unforeseen cost of her trip, but she couldn’t see any alternative.

With those chores out of the way she ate, touched base with folks at home and snuggled into her bed for the night.

Twizel – Lakes Tekapo, Pukaki and Mount Cook

Mel had an early breakfast, checked her packing and set off for Twizel, her next base. According to her map it was only ninety miles or so – just over 140 kilometres via the Lindis Pass, so she guessed that she’d be there by lunchtime, even if she stopped every now and then to take yet more photographs – which she did, stopping for a while at a roadside parking place on the highest point of the pass. The views were breath taking. She also paused briefly to take some shots of a huge number of lupins in and around a dried-up riverbed. The lupins were to become a feature of her time in the area, stretching for mile after colourful mile. Someone had told her that some New Zealanders called tourists “Lupies” because of their constant cries of “Look at the lupins”.

Twizel itself was quite a small town, though it seemed to be the largest town in the Mackenzie District. Its usefulness to Mel was that it was the nearest sizeable own to Lakes Pukaki and Tekapo, where she planned to spend the next couple of days. The holiday park where she was expected, had a hard-surface powered base with adequate facilities for the time she’d be staying there, including a communal kitchen and dining area, an ablution block, laundry, dump point and wi-fi.

She booked-in, had some lunch then drove-off for a detour from her planned itinerary to look at Lake Benmore. Her viewpoint wasn’t as scenic as any of the other lakes she’d been looking at until then, though she could see what she believed to be her first sight of the Southern Alps north of Mount Cook. She sat by the lakeside for a while watching anglers fish from their boats, power boats speeding around the lake and gliders flying overhead.

Her second diversion of the afternoon was to the Clay Cliffs of Omarama. These were spectacular “Badlands” scenes and easily rewarded the extra mileage. They looked like something out of a science fiction film set. When she got back to the holiday park, she cooked her evening meal in the communal area and ate it at the picnic table where she got talking to a couple from Kent, England, who were heading southwards to Cromwell the following day. They were in New Zealand for three months and had been visiting family in Turangi, near Taupo in the North Island.

After eating, Mel prepared a packed lunch to take with her the following day. She didn’t expect that there would be any places to buy lunch where she was going. She then returned to her van to check her phone for messages and to reply where needed. She also wanted an early night in bed.

Because of the time difference between Yorkshire and New Zealand, she left it until eight before she started her nightly check that all was well at home. Stacy and Connor were preparing for Christmas; her mum and dad were both getting ready for work as were Tony and Jamie. Lucy had already left to go to Tracy’s house to see to Elaine.

Mel was now into the third week of her trip, and the following morning, when she woke, she had slept well and no longer felt jetlagged. She rose early to drive to Lake Tekapo – which would be the farthest point from Queenstown that she’d be visiting in the South Island. Her first stop when she arrived was the car park, from which she walked the short distance towards the Church of the Good Shepherd. She’d heard from some of the people she’d met at the holiday park that, by mid-morning, the area around the Church would be overrun by coachloads of tourists arriving one after the other – all wanting to photograph it.

Her first impressions were again of the brilliant colours of the lupins that seemed to grow everywhere around her – and of the amazing green colour of the lake, contrasting with the snow-capped peaks of the Southern Alps beyond. The light from the partly clouded sky was bright, but the movement of the lupins in the stiff breeze would mean that she might need to experiment with her shutter speed settings and perhaps merge a couple of shots in Photoshop when she got home. She made a note on her phone of the image numbers in question and of what was needed.

The Church had the lake and the lupins as its backdrop. Rocks and tussocks of grass were its foreground. It was no wonder that so many visitors wanted a photograph of it. She was sorry that it was no longer open for tourists to enter and photograph the view of the lake through the windows at the rear of the building.

Mel had seen amazing photos of the night sky that used the Church as a foreground – but the Milky Way wouldn’t be visible during the month of her visit.

She scouted the areas close to the Church in order to select photogenic viewpoints and capture the images she wanted, then she looked around to see what else was on offer. She noticed an attractive bridge across a run-off leading to a dam from the lake and took some shots of it. She then took short walks along the shoreline of both east and west sides of the lake, selecting areas where there were pebbles below the waterline and other places where there was a rocky foreground – in both cases looking for good angles across the lake to the mountains. Of course, she took lots of photos of the lupins – often from a kneeling, or even a prone, position.

Mel was finished at Lake Tekapo by lunchtime. By that time she’d seen groups of university graduates dressed in caps and gowns as well as brides and grooms in their wedding clothes – all posing in front of the church. So, she decided to drive the short distance to Lake Pukaki to make a start on the images she wanted to take from near the car park. Getting those shots bagged on her media cards would save time for her drive towards Mount Cook the following day. She wasn’t expecting the drive to be long in distance, but she’d planned a couple of hikes away from the road while she was travelling.

She’d been hoping to photograph Mount Cook to the north of the lake from the car park, but by the time she arrived, black clouds hid most of the mountains around the lake. Mount Cook was all but invisible and white low clouds scudded across its probable position. It was also starting to rain, so she left the car and snapped a couple of shots before conditions worsened.

Back in the car, she ate her packed lunch and waited to see whether the afternoon would bring an improvement.

The afternoon had been no better, so after a couple of hours she decided to write-off the rest of the day and to spend the time at the campsite, importing images that she’d taken so far into her iPad and uploading them to the Cloud. Any remaining time, she’d use to start culling the hundreds of photos and to categorise the “keepers” into collections.

That evening – the previous morning in the UK – Jamie phoned to ask how she was, where she was up to with her photographic tour, and to tell her how much he was missing her. She asked him about his family and for any news about the shop. He told her that all was well at home and that two of the current month’s magazines contained nice articles about her. She said that she was missing him too and that she was more than halfway through her scheduled route.

Her final chore for the night was to make sure that everything that was rechargeable was recharging overnight – her next overnight stay would be a non-powered site.

Featured Photo

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

This next shot views the canal framed by an overhead road bridge.

For all these shots, I used my Pentax KP 24 MP cropped sensor camera twinned with a Pentax 16-85 mm f/3.5-5.6 mm lens. The EXIF data for this photo were 1/20 secs @ f/11, focal length 16 mm, and ISO 400.

Regarding Melissa #83

PLEASE NOTE

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.

…..Previously

‘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.’

Continued…..

 PART THREE

A CODMANTON WOMAN ABROAD

CHAPTER SIXTEEN

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

Queenstown

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.

Featured Photo

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

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

Regarding Melissa #82

…..Previously

‘Of course I do,’ she said, ‘but the more we can talk about things and sort out our differences by talking, the easier the effort will be. I just want you to see that you need to start thinking and talking now, not leaving it all to me. We can’t just leave our future together completely to chance.’ She put her arm around his shoulders, ‘Do you still love bossy me?’

‘With all my heart, boss,’ he said.

They laughed and continued their lunch – both of them feeling lighter at heart.

Continued…..

A chat with Stacy

‘How’re you doing?’ Mel asked, ‘and how’s your fella and the little one?’

They were at Stacy’s house. Connor had taken Amber to his mum’s.

‘I’m fine,’ Stacy said, ‘Connor’s wishing he could get early retirement to be able to spend more time with us and to get round to doing some jobs that need sorting round the house.’

‘Like what?’ Mel asked.

‘Oh, you know, making Amber’s room more of a toddler’s room than a baby’s. Making things safer – she’s into everything at present – she’s a determined little demon. And argue? She’s born to be a trades union boss.’

‘At three?’ Not long now before she’ll be at school.’

‘Mmm! I pity the teachers.’

They laughed.

‘And what have you been up to?’ Stacy asked, ‘Not engaged yet?’

‘Don’t you start. I was summoned to Jamie’s house by his mum. He was upset when we got back from the lakes: poor lamb.’

‘No!’ Stacy said, ‘a “Leave my son alone” telling-off?

‘Not quite. More a “Why is he so upset?” opening gambit.

‘And why was he so upset. What have you been saying to him?’

‘I told her that he’d proposed – for the second time – while we were away – and that I’d given him a long list of all the reasons that he’s not marriageable yet. I left him with a sort of ultimatum. I said that he had to change – or else. I told him that if he agrees to my terms, he’ll need to let me know after Christmas when I’m back. I also said that if he decides to look for someone more pliable when I’m away, he should go ahead and do it.’

‘You didn’t?’ Stacy, astonished, looked at Mel to see if she was joking. ‘Did you? Really? Jesus! Mel, love, you’re taking a risk aren’t you? Suppose he takes you at your word?’

‘Okay, I’ll be sad, but not as sad as I’d be if he promised to change but didn’t. Suppose that I married him and had kids with him, but two years down the line, I felt that I’d had enough and wanted to walk out.’

‘The thing is though,’ Stacy said, ‘Even if the two of you seemed perfect to each other right now, everybody changes once they’re married. You’ll try to change things that don’t bother you now – he’ll be the same. I’m sure that he’ll probably do most of the changing if you encourage him nicely.’

‘Well, I’d like to see him making a start on getting his act together now.’

‘What did his mum say?’

‘Oh, she was lovely about it – she seemed to agree with what I’d said to him. Anyway, it ended with her asking if I might still say “Yes” to him soon and I told her that I probably would.’

‘Did that satisfy her?’

‘She was over the Moon. She said she’d love me as a daughter-in-law.’

‘Wow! She really wants him married, doesn’t she?’

‘Oi! She really wants him to be married to me – not to just any hussy.’

Stacy laughed.

‘You’ve clearly got your feet under the table there.’

‘Don’t get me wrong. Lucy’s great. We get along really well. She just wants the best for Jamie. And I’m the best for him aren’t I?’

Stacy stretched her hands over Mel’s head.

‘I’m not certain that we’d get a veil and tiara anywhere big enough for that head.’

July – A blast from the past.

Mel was doing some desk research to do with her forthcoming journey to the other side of the world. It was the end of Summer Term and the start of the long school break. There hadn’t been many customers that afternoon – perhaps something to do with the school holidays, or it could be the weather. Record breaking temperatures were forecast for the weekend. It was already hot and humid.

She looked up when the door alarm sounded and watched as two attractive young women entered. They were about her own age, a blonde and a redhead, both with long silky hair. They wore long floaty dresses to match the weather, over long, bare, tanned legs and sandals. The clothes looked expensive as did their handbags. They didn’t look like photographers or even like anyone who’d be interested in buying a camera. Real model material, the pair of them. It would be more likely that someone would be photographing them. She asked how she could assist them.

‘Is Jamie in?’ the blonde asked. Her accent suggested a private school education and her poise and manner indicated that she was used to getting her own way.

‘He’s upstairs,’ Mel said, ‘I’ll phone him to see if he’s free. Who shall I say is asking?’

‘Just tell him that it’s Fiona and Arabella,’ the redhead said, ‘he’ll know who you mean.’

Mel noted that her perfume smelled as expensive as her dress.

Mel passed on the message, wondering, as she did so, what place two women who looked like that played in Jamie’s life.

‘Hmm!’ Jamie said when she phoned, ‘Now that’s a blast from the past. Tell them I’ll be down in a moment or two.’

‘Is business usually as slack as this?’ the redhead asked when Melissa replaced the receiver.

‘Far from it,’ Mel replied loyally, and suggested the probable reasons.

The women turned and went to look at the display of smartphones.

When Jamie came down, they turned their heads as one, and smiled revealing a lot of very white teeth.

‘Jamie Hannay,’ the blonde said, ‘Where have you been hiding lately? It’s been ages.’

‘Mostly here,’ he said, ‘You must have known where I’d be.’

‘I’ve never seen your office,’ the redhead said, ‘Aren’t you going to show us? I’m sure that your assistant here can get us something cool to drink while we have a little chat and catch up on things.’

Mel looked up from what she was doing and stood, indignantly, with her hands on her hips. Jamie noticed and smiled.

‘Mel is our professional photographer, not my assistant,’ he said, ‘She doesn’t make drinks for visitors – or even for me for that matter. Unfortunately, Marcus, Mel’s assistant, isn’t in this afternoon. It’s his half-day. Perhaps we can meet somewhere where people are paid to do things like that.’

Mel looked at him and felt a mixture of gratitude and of pride in him.

‘Strangely enough, Jamie,’ the blonde said, ‘that’s really why we’re here. You remember Belinda – Belinda with the large…’ she indicated her breasts – ‘of course you do. Well, anyway, Belinda’s involved in this cancer charity and she’s organising a fundraising barbecue on the beach at Meols on the Wirral this Saturday, mid-afternoon ‘til whenever. We promised that we’d ask you to come. She asked us especially. You will come, won’t you?’

He glanced at Mel. She was standing with her arms folded across her chest and her lip curled.

‘I’m most terribly sorry, ladies,’ he said, ‘but Mel and I will be working in the shop all Saturday afternoon and we’ll be babysitting in the evening for a friend of ours. Please tell Belinda that it was most kind of her to think of us.’

Fiona and Arabella turned to look at Mel, who was smiling radiantly.

‘What?’ Fiona said, ‘You and her?’ She nodded her head towards Mel. Her eyebrows had risen to her fringe.

‘Melissa and I,’ he confirmed.

‘You kept that quiet,’ Arabella said, ‘Hello, Mel. Nice to meet you.’

She held out her hand. Mel looked at it but left it stranded in the air. She smiled and gave them a little wave.

‘’Bye now,’ she said, ‘Do visit again.’

They went to leave the shop, turning to look again at Mel as they passed through the door.

‘Would you really have taken them somewhere for a drink and a chat?’ she asked.

‘I’d have taken them to the greasy spoon place round the corner,’ he said, ‘They wouldn’t have even risked dirtying their dresses sitting in there.’

They both laughed.

‘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.’

Featured Photo

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

This next shot is another scene from the canal that runs through the town. A narrowboat has entered the lock and one of the passengers, standing on the canalside, pulls on a rope to steady the boat as the water level in the lock rises. The person remaining in the boat controls the boat’s engine.

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 16 mm, and ISO 320.

Regarding Melissa #81

…..Previously

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

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

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

Continued…..

A chat with Lucy

On the Monday following her talk with Jamie, Mel was getting ready for work when Lucy phoned her.

‘Hi, Mel,’ she said, ‘Do we have time for a chat?’

‘Well, I have to be at the shop for eight-thirty,’ she said, ‘Is it urgent?’

Mel wasn’t looking forward to this chat, given the events of the weekend.

‘Don’t worry about that, love,’ Lucy said, ‘I’ve told Tony to expect you when he sees you. Do you fancy coming round for a coffee?’

Mel knew that this wasn’t really a request so much as a summons, so she agreed and said that she’d be there in half-an-hour or so. She wondered whether Jamie would be there and whether she was in for a lecture from an angry Lucy.

When Lucy opened the door and beckoned her inside, she hugged Mel and led her to the kitchen.

Once Lucy had finished sorting some refreshments, they went into the living room where Elaine was sat on a rug colouring-in pages of a children’s book. There was no sign of anyone else being in the house.

When they were seated, beside each other on the sofa, Lucy opened the conversation.

‘Oh, my God, Mel,’ she said, ‘You must tell me what happened at the cottage. When Jamie came home last night, he looked shell-shocked. We could hardly get a word out of him. We’d expected him to be grinning all over his face – he usually is after he’s been with you. Have you two had a row?’

Mel gave Jamie’s mum chapter and verse.

‘He proposed?’ Lucy asked, eyebrows raised almost to her hairline. ‘I didn’t know he had it in him.’

‘It wasn’t the first time, ‘she said, ‘Didn’t he tell you? The first time was that weekend we had in the Lakes three years ago. You didn’t know?’ she asked.

‘No, not a word,’ Lucy said.

Mel told Lucy what she’d told Jamie on that occasion.’

Lucy touched Mel’s knee.

‘Anyway, good for you, girl,’ she said, ‘You’ve put my mind at rest. I’ve often thought a lot along those lines myself, but I didn’t say anything to him, for fear of upsetting him. As you say, he gets very defensive and easily upset.’

Mel told Lucy that she’d half expected her to be angry.

‘Not at all, Mel,’ she said, ‘you did right to tell him. He won’t be able to turn round later and say that he hadn’t been warned.’

She asked Mel if she wanted her cup refilling. Mel chose to take this as a sign that Lucy wanted to say more, so she agreed.

‘When you said, “not yet” to his proposal, what did you really mean?’ Lucy asked next.

‘Well, I wasn’t just rejecting him outright. You know, don’t you that we’ve been saving up to be able to live together. I didn’t say no to that, but I didn’t want to give him false hope about actual marriage,’ she said.

‘Yes, Mel,’ Lucy said, ‘but did you really mean it when you told him that you might say “yes” sometime soon – provided that he agrees to your conditions? I suppose that I’m asking whether you really love him enough to marry him anyway – even then?’

‘Listen, Lucy’ she said, ‘I love him to bits, I really do, and yes, if we can agree on basics, I’d marry him like a shot, but he needs to think about what I’ve said and wake up. This isn’t a fairy tale.’

Lucy reached across to put her arm around Mel and hugged her.

‘Oh, Mel, I understand what you said about church weddings, but it is my dearest wish to see you two married,’ she said. ‘so I really hope that he takes notice of you and does some serious thinking. I won’t say anything to Jamie, about what you’ve said, but would you mind if I tell Tony? I’ll certainly have a word with Jamie to push him in the right direction.’

Mel agreed, feeling relieved that Lucy had been so supportive.

‘You know, Mel,’ Lucy said, ‘You’ve made me truly happy and given me some hope. I’d love to have you as a daughter-in-law – you’re like a daughter already.’

‘And you’ve been like a second mum to me,’ Mel said.

‘So, will you and Jamie be okay staying together whatever you decide?’ Lucy asked.

‘For my part, certainly,’ Mel said, ‘I can’t speak for Jamie. Maybe he’ll think that I’m too much like hard work and start looking elsewhere for love, but if he wants to show me that he’s man enough to accept my conditions, he’d better act like a grown-up too and not sulk about it.’

‘You’ll still always come to see us won’t you?’ Lucy asked. ‘You know how Tracy loves to see you – to have another woman about the same age to talk to? And little Elaine sees you now as Auntie Mel.’

They both laughed and Lucy told Mel that she’d better get off to work so that Jamie didn’t get too suspicious.

Later at the shop

‘What’s going on?’ Jamie asked when Mel arrived later than usual. ‘Dad said that you’d rung to explain that you’d be late in and that he’d help out until you got here.’

Mel hadn’t been sure what Jamie would have known, so she had to think on her feet and said that it was stuff that needed doing as part of getting ready for the New Zealand trip. He didn’t enquire further, and she didn’t elaborate – she just got on with the day’s work.

They sat in the park at lunchtime. She noticed that Jamie was even quieter than his usual self.

‘Hey,’ she said, ‘What’s up with you? Penny for them.’

He smiled. ‘I’m sorry. You gave me a lot to think about the other day. I hardly slept last night, worrying. Am I really such hard work?’

‘No, my love. You’re not hard work but getting our relationship right will take some effort on both our parts. There’s a lot to think about if we are ever to get married. Don’t you agree?’

‘Oh, absolutely,’ he said, ‘I don’t disagree with anything you said. I feel stupid for not thinking things through as clearly as you have. Do you forgive me?’

‘Of course I do,’ she said, ‘but the more we can talk about things and sort out our differences by talking, the easier the effort will be. I just want you to see that you need to start thinking and talking now, not leaving it all to me. We can’t just leave our future together completely to chance.’

She put her arm around his shoulders.

‘Do you still love bossy me?’

‘With all my heart, boss,’ he said.

They laughed and continued their lunch – both of them feeling lighter at heart.

Featured Photo

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

This next shot is another scene from the canal that runs through the town. Narrowboats and other vessels are moored at the canalside. The chimney of a former factory dominates the foreground and gaily painted windows brighten more distant buildings. A man, walking a dog, approaches along the 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 35 mm, and ISO 400.

Regarding Melissa #80

…..Previously

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

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

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

She threw her arms around him.

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

Continued…..

May – another proposal and an ultimatum

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

She smiled at him to reassure him.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

She paused, squeezing his hand.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Featured Photo

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

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

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