Regarding Melissa #92


‘Yes,’ Mel said, ‘I love him to bits, but I have to know that he really loves me too.’

‘Don’t be daft.’ Tracy said, ‘He worships the ground you walk on. Get your acts together – and soon. God! Mum will be over the Moon. This is what she’s wanted for years now. She even said so after that first time you came for a meal with us all.’

They embraced and re-joined the others, who looked at them, wondering where they’d been – and what had kept them.

At the end of the evening, Jamie asked her what she and Tracy had been discussing.

‘Don’t be nosey,’ she said, ‘Girl talk.’

She kissed him – to reassure him and to redirect his mind.


Boxing Day

No peace for the wicked! Nor for those in love, it seems. Until the shop closed – no half-day closing during the sales – it was all hands to the tills in shops like Hannays’. While Jamie was upstairs, responding online to people who had Christmas present money to spend that way, Mel and Marcus divided their roles between them, except when they had a spare moment to help the other. Marcus manned the till recording sales that Mel was making on the sales-priced items. She also dealt with the returns of unwanted gifts – thankfully not many of those. All the time, Mel was moving like a whirling dervish between customers – some of whom merely wanted advice, while others wanted help to choose what to spend their money on.

The two of them tried their best not to leave any customer standing unattended, but there were moments of near chaos. Neither Mel nor Marcus had ever seen a frenzy anything like it. At the end of their trading day, it seemed that the shop had enjoyed record-breaking net sales turnover.

When the shop doors finally closed behind the final customer, Jamie came down and thanked them both for their sterling efforts. It was a pity that Tony hadn’t seen it, but he was at home looking after Lucy. Tracy had booked the day as part of her annual leave, so she came round to the house at lunchtime to give Tony a break.

As they’d agreed on Christmas Eve, Mel and Jamie headed straight to her parents’ house for their tea. Brian and Jean welcomed Jamie – though they were much less sure of Jamie’s relationship with their daughter than his own family was.

He admired the tree and the other festive decorations and thanked her parents for their welcome. Mel had told him, while they were on the way to the house, that the cards and the gifts that she had given her mum and dad had been given as being from both of them. She’d realised that he would not have had time to have given such gifts a thought other than the wine they’d chosen together. Jean and Brian both suspected as much, but, sensitively, thanked him for the joint gifts – showing him what they’d been given to avoid any embarrassment.

During the meal, after Jean and Brian had asked what kind of day it had been for Mel and Jamie, the conversation naturally turned to questions about Lucy’s progress. Having seen Mel’s embarrassment at Jack’s teasing the previous day, her parents avoided, by prior agreement, any pointed interrogation of them, and came to their own conclusions based on what they saw.

So, after Jamie left at the end of the evening, in the privacy of their room, they compared notes.

‘Did you notice that they were holding hands when they came?’

‘What about the way she was gazing into his eyes as he was telling us about his mum?

‘And what about how he always looked at her when she was speaking – as if her words were the wisdom of Solomon?’

‘Did you see how she kept touching him lovingly whenever they agreed on something?’

‘Or how they seemed able to finish each other’s sentences?’

‘I think that there’s a lot more going on between those two than our Mel’s been letting on!’

They agreed to agree.

New Year’s Eve

The following day would be a bank holiday, but like many other shops, Hannah’s’ would be open for a slightly shorter working day, to milk whatever sales there were to be had. The shop followed the same turnover trends as most retail enterprises where the vast bulk of sales were made between Black Friday and the first week of January.

Alec offered to sit with Lucy, Neil and Fiona to allow Tony to join Mel, Jamie and Marcus at the shop. Upstairs, Tony went through the paperwork that recent days had generated – and was stunned. He felt guilty that he hadn’t been there to help his staff with what must have been madness on the sales floor.

He also had some difficulty believing how much online sales business there had been. He made a point of going down to help with customers during a crazy period mid-morning, and when the rush eased for a moment, he called them to him to thank them fulsomely for everything that they’d done.

Mel asked Marcus what his plans were for New Year’s Day – he’d booked the day off. He said that he intended to spend it in bed with his boyfriend. By three in the afternoon, the crush eased considerably, and Tony decided to close as soon as the last remaining customer had left. It was clear that most people were now preparing for their evening festivities. He thanked Marcus again and told him to go and have a good time.

Tony, Jamie and Mel got the shop ready for Thursday’s resumption of business, then he told Mel she could go while he and Jamie locked up and went home together. Jamie said that he’d pick her up from home to drive her to his house for their evening meal – and to let the New Year in.

Mel went home to shower and change to be ready for him. She thanked her mum and dad for being so understanding about her being elsewhere on this special night of the year. They both hugged and kissed her goodnight when they noticed Jamie’s car pull to a stop outside their house.

When Jamie saw her at the door he was stunned by her appearance. She leaned into the doorframe, her left hand above her head, resting on the upright, her right hand on her hip. Her red-lipsticked mouth was pouting suggestively, her freshly washed and brushed golden hair hung like spun silk, and her eyes sparkled as he’d never seen them before.

Her knee-length black dress, with slim shoulder, straps showed her curves and her slender figure to perfection – as her high heeled, strappy sandals did for her long legs.

‘Wow!’ he said, ‘You look bloody gorgeous, absolutely amazing.’

‘Don’t I always?’ she teased, but he was lost for words.

They moved towards each other, holding each other closely as they rotated while kissing passionately.

‘Well, that answers that question,’ his mum said, watching through the window from behind the half-closed curtains.

At Lucy and Tony’s home, there was a houseful to welcome the New Year – Jamie’s parents, grandparents, Tracy, Jake and Elaine were all there. Lucy looked happy and comfortable. She smiled and waved with her good arm to Mel as she entered with Jamie.

It was a bit like Christmas – people had settled into two groupings, reflecting the layout of the house. The older generation – the four grandparents were sitting and talking around the dining table – while the others were spread around the living room. Tony got up to find a couple of extra chairs. Tony and Jamie sat on these while Mel sat onto the sofa with Tracy and Jake – Elaine sat on a footstool.

Jake and Tony had been talking about the recent election and the prime minister’s policy on Northern Island in relation to Brexit. Lucy said that she’d heard too much politics – it was New Year’s Eve.

Tony told everyone who would listen, what a great job Jamie and Mel had done over the Christmas period. His voice was a bit slurred – Jamie looked at the glass of whisky in his dad’s hand and wondered how many tots he’d already had. He asked Jamie to say a little about the way the online business was developing.

‘No politics and no business, eh, Dad,’ he said, ‘As Mum said, it’s New Year’s Eve.’

Tracy said, ‘Hear, hear! What I want to know is whether my brother is ready for his New Year talk with Mel.’

Mel looked at her, gobsmacked. “Where did that come from?” she wondered. This was totally unexpected. She’d only just arrived.

‘I thought that you were my friend, Tracy Hannay. You’re not playing fair. It’s not right to put Jamie under pressure like that – or here, tonight, at all.’

She turned to Lucy,

‘What do you think?’

Lucy asked Tracy to leave Jamie alone.

‘I’m sorry,’ Tracy said, ‘I didn’t mean to upset you. I should have minded my own business, but it would have been nice to have started 2020 with an engagement – some good news at last.’

‘Well, provided that he hasn’t found someone else in the meantime – and if Jamie doesn’t propose again soon, you’ll all just have to wait until February the 29th.’

Tracy and Lucy looked at each other and gasped.

Lucy laughed with delight and Tracy pointed at Jamie.

‘What are you going to do about that, brother?’

Jamie’s expression revealed his bewilderment.

‘Will someone tell me what I’ve missed?’ Tony asked Jamie.

‘I’m not sure, Dad,’ Tracy said, ‘but I think that Mel, in effect, has just proposed to Jamie.’

Mel looked at Tracy.

‘Are you satisfied?’ she asked.

‘No,’ said Tracy, ‘He hasn’t accepted yet. Come on Jamie, Marriage to Mel – Yes or No?’

‘I don’t quite understand what just happened,’ he said, ‘but Yes, of course, Yes.’


It would have been nice if the story could have had a fairy tale ending with a double wedding soon afterwards – Mel and Jamie, Jack and Elsa – but life got in the way.

On the twenty-third of January 2020, the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office advised against all but essential travel to the Chinese city of Wuhan. On the thirty-first of January, the first two cases of the Covid-19 virus in the United Kingdom were confirmed.

By the end of March, thirty-five percent of couples who had upcoming weddings had postponed and it was only in the latter half of 2021 that the double wedding took place.

By the middle of 2020 Mel and Jamie had been placed in an impossible situation. They didn’t want to continue living apart, but, as yet, they couldn’t afford a mortgage. Also they didn’t want to become trapped in paying to live in a rented home. Both sets of parents offered to let them move in together in their houses for the time being, but whichever home they chose would have imposed a ban on contact with the parents in the other home for a significant portion of the national lockdown.

When it finally became law that they would have to choose or live apart, they accepted the offer from Brian and Jean – Mel’s parents – who had the larger of the two houses.

Jack and Adele were better placed since Jack already had his own house.

The bad news continued when gyms and non-essential shops had to remain closed because of pandemic restrictions. Jean and Tracy – a teacher and a nurse could continue to go into work and Brian could do a lot of his work from home. Jack, Jamie, Mel, Tony and Marcus could not continue working in the shop. Marcus was furloughed and Mel was barred from being able to do any photography that required travel or contact with other households. Jamie was able to continue his online trading, however, and Mel enjoyed continued earnings growth from the proceeds of a range of uses which she had made of her New Zealand photographs.

It was not until mid-2021 that the shop and the gym were able to re-open for normal business.

It was in late 2021 that brother and sister, Mel and Jack, were able to fulfil their dreams and marry Jamie and Elsa. The joint weddings took place in the same parish church where Stacy had been wed. It was a small occasion, limited by the uncertainties surrounding newly emerging variants of the virus strain.

As soon as it had become possible to so, Brian had commissioned the building of a house on a small estate in Upperton, to a design he’d agreed with the couple.

Both sets of parents had given them substantial wedding gifts towards a mortgage deposit and they applied successfully in 2021, under a new government scheme, for a First Home discount on the house. There were strings attached, but it would be a home they otherwise couldn’t have afforded.

The house was completed, and enough furniture was available, by the end of 2021 – just in time for them to move in as newlyweds with their new-born baby girl, Mia.

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.

I’ll conclude Melissa’s story with a couple of photos of street entertainers in the town centre whom I saw that Saturday. My final photo is of a keyboard player’

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 53 mm, and ISO 200.

Regarding Melissa #91


Lucy had always been a strong presence, but Tracy wasn’t sure how she’d face having to depend on others for some time ahead; how she’d deal with this early warning of her mortality.

Mel asked her what support Tracy could expect from the hospital trust to be able to spend time away from work with her mum. Tracy said that the trust was being brilliant, but that, in any case, she was getting a lot of help from Jake and his mum and dad. They were looking after Elaine until she got home. She told them that she’d been glad that they’d had a chance to talk, but she’d just pop-in to see her mum for a moment to say goodnight. Jamie said that he and Mel would head off.


December – the lead up to Christmas

In the few working days remaining until Christmas Eve, Jamie, Mel and Marcus were kept busy in the shop – dealing with last minute shoppers and, behind the scenes, getting ready for the “New Year” sales that would actually begin on Boxing Day this time.

Every weekday evening, Jamie drove with Mel to the hospital to see how Lucy’s rehabilitation was progressing. Tony and Fiona spent as much time at the hospital each day as they could.

On the Saturday, after work, Mel told Jamie that she was going to do some last-minute shopping, so she’d make her own way to the hospital. She planned to wrap whatever she was able to get before bedtime that evening.

It emerged from Tony’s visit on the Saturday, that Lucy’s progress with the physiotherapist had been going so well that it was likely that she’d be allowed to leave the hospital on Christmas Eve. There had, however, been some caveats. Lucy had been doing quite well on exercises relating to climbing stairs, but the physio had asked whether there was a bed and downstairs bathroom at home for her to minimise risk until she was ready to move back upstairs. Tony had to agree that there wasn’t, but the physiotherapist had said that they’d review the situation nearer the time.

Tracy explained that the hospital would always try to get as many patients as possible home in time for times such as Christmas. Everyone’s hopes were up. Lucy was determined to be home.

Mel’s time was salami-sliced between home, work, hospital and Jamie’s. Finding time to talk to Stacy was limited, especially because her work in the police was also extremely busy in the lead up to Christmas. There had been no opportunities to get out with a camera – in fact, she had not yet completed all the tasks associated with processing and publishing her New Zealand photographs.

At home, her mum and dad were dressing the house for Christmas the way that they’d done since Jack and Mel had been toddlers. Jean had finished work once the school had closed until New Year and Brian had closed his office until early January.

Both were worried about Mel. She never seemed to stop from early morning until late at night. She looked as if she’d lost even more weight and she was eating hardly anything. She was seldom at home. They felt sorry for Lucy, but their concern was Mel.

On the Monday morning – the day before Christmas Eve – Jamie handed Mel some cash and asked Mel if she’d mind nipping out to buy something for Marcus. He wanted to give him a gift and a card to thank him for his hard work in the shop. Having looked at what was left in the shops and found nothing suitable, in desperation, and not really knowing what else to choose, she’d bought him a gift card for use at a well-known online shopping site, a Christmas card, and some wrapping paper and ribbon.

Towards lunchtime that day, Tony received a ‘phone call from the hospital physiotherapist who had been dealing with Lucy, informing him that an ambulance would be bringing her home that afternoon and checking that someone would be in between two and four.

The physiotherapist explained that she was confident that Lucy would be able to cope, but a paramedic would be accompanying her on the ambulance, just to assess how she could cope with the stairs at home. Lucy would be given medication to take home with her. The physio also explained that the paperwork that Lucy would be given by her consultant to bring home would include New Year appointments for speech therapy and occupational therapy.

Tony let everyone know, and Lucy’s mum and dad said that they’d come and welcome her back with Tony.

On Christmas Eve, a Tuesday night, after the shop closed and they’d had time to complete the preparations for the sales, the staff were able to sigh with relief. When Marcus left for his Christmas to begin at home, Jamie and Mel fell into each other’s arms – tired but happy. The coming few days would be the first time that they’d really have time just for themselves since her return home. They promised each other to make time over Christmas to talk about their own future.

‘We have to create some time for each other,’ he said, ‘I know how chaotic this past week has been, but I haven’t forgotten what you said before your month away. I need to show you that I’ve changed.’

‘My brain is frazzled right now,’ she said, ‘I don’t even remember what I said, or why I said it. You’ll have to remind me in January – that’s a good time for New Year resolutions.’

Before they left the shop to go to Jamie’s home to see how Lucy was getting on, now that she was out of hospital and on her own turf, they talked through how they’d divide their time on Christmas Day between their two families.

This would be Mel’s fifth Christmas with Jamie, in the years since 2015. In previous years, on Christmas Day and Boxing Day, the two had followed a pattern of having lunch with their own families but having an evening meal and the evening with the other’s family. This year, because Lucy would be unable to do the food preparation herself, a different approach was needed.

‘I’ll have to somehow square it with my mum,’ she said, ‘but would it help if I offered to come and work with Tracy in the kitchen for both Christmas and Boxing Day lunches? Feel free to say “No” if you think that my barging my way into your folks’ traditions is likely to upset anyone or anything. We can do both the evenings with my mum and dad. They won’t mind.’

‘Don’t feel that Tracy will be on her own,’ he said, ‘Fiona and Carol will be there and might not even allow Tracy to do the cookery. And with Alec and Neil coming too, Dad will need a shoehorn to squeeze everyone around the table. One extra pair of hands won’t be noticed – or missed.’

‘If you’ve got so many people coming,’ she said, ‘might it be better for me to just come to your house to join you for your evening meal? You could come to our house for tea on Boxing Day as normal.’

‘That makes sense. If there’s any change, I’ll message you,’ he said, ‘but I haven’t bought any presents for your mum and dad this year. I just never seemed to have the time. I should have, though, shouldn’t I?’

‘Don’t worry about it,’ she said, ‘All that I’ve got for your folks are some small things that I bought for them while I was away. I’ll tell you what, let’s get a couple of bottles of sprits each to take with us. What do you reckon?’

They agreed and called in at the supermarket on their way to Jamie’s house.

That evening the whole family, now understood to include Mel, was at Jamie’s house to celebrate. Tony and Tracy wanted to ensure that Lucy didn’t become overwhelmed or over-tired by so many people at once, but everyone understood the situation. Lucy herself was just grateful to be home. She’d been worried at the prospect of being kept in over Christmas.

Christmas Day

Brian and Jean let Mel sleep late. They were glad to give her a chance to rest for the first time since her return. By the time she came down to join them, Jack had arrived with Elsa. Everyone was sitting in the family living room.

Mel looked around. She hadn’t properly looked at the work her mum and dad had done putting up the decorations. The house looked lovely – comforting, good memories of Christmases past. The aroma of food being cooked drifted in from the kitchen and her mum was wearing an apron – signifying that she hadn’t finished yet. They all greeted her.

‘What time do you call this?’ Jack asked, walking over to hug her.

She held her brother tightly, feeling safer because he was there. He’d always been fiercely protective of her. When he released her, she turned and wished everyone a happy Christmas before asking her mum what she could do to help in the kitchen.

Over lunch, Mel sat next to Elsa, seeking to get to know Jack’s fiancée better and asking about any marriage preparations that might be in progress. She was told that they were hoping for a small wedding the following June.

“The month after Stacy had hers,” she thought, “Is there something in the air?”

In turn, Elsa wanted to know everything about Jamie and what there was between them. Jack saw from Mel’s face that she felt embarrassed and unable to say anything – beyond that it was still early days.

‘Early days?’ he teased, ‘You’ve been going out with him for more than four years. He must be a slow worker.’

She blushed, unhappy at Jamie being criticised.

‘It’s not that,’ she started, but Jack was straight back in.

‘So, you’re the slow one, keeping him in suspense are you?’ he asked, ‘speaking of which, where are the photos you promised me last week?’

Their dad intervened.

‘Leave the poor girl alone,’ he said, ‘Stop teasing her. You know how busy she’s been these past couple of weeks.’

Jack apologised and Elsa told Mel to take no notice of him.

After lunch, Mel and Elsa insisted on doing the clearing up in the kitchen, after which it was soon time for Mel to leave to go to Jamie’s. Jack explained to her that he’d be going to Elsa’s on Boxing Day, but Mel was to bring Jamie to visit them at his house.

When Mel arrived, Jamie’s family were effectively split between the living and dining areas of the open plan downstairs area to enable everyone to have a seat. Alec and Carol were sat with Jamie and Tony around the dining table, while Neil, Fiona, Lucy, Tracy, Jake and Elaine were in the living room.

She could hear the older generation, as usual rehearsing their pasts. She heard Duncan’s name being mentioned and remembrance of his role in the family business.

Tony had obviously done his best with the decorations and the tree, but to Mel’s eyes, they lacked a woman’s touch. She felt sure that Lucy would have done things better, but she understood the constraints of the situation.

She could see that Lucy was the centre of everyone’s attention in the living room – made more necessary by the difficulties she was having expressing herself. She seemed relieved to see Mel and attempted to stand to greet her, but she was urged to sit down and take it easy. This clearly exasperated her, and she had a mini tantrum trying to express her frustration.

Jamie came into the living room and started to lead her into the dining area, but Lucy exploded, making it clear that she wanted Mel to sit next to her for a while. Neil brought a footstool for Mel. Lucy took Mel’s hands in hers and wished her a Merry Christmas – as clearly as she was able.

She looked Mel in the eyes, wanting to know whether she’d had the talk with Jamie yet.

I’m sorry,’ Mel said, ‘but I can’t really remember what this talk was going to be about. Jamie mentioned something about it to me too, and I told him that we could talk better in the New Year when we had more time.’

‘Well make sure that you do,’ Lucy instructed her, ‘and let me know how he gets on.’

This started off a string of hypotheses about what “the talk” could have been about, but they weren’t given any clues by the embarrassed couple.

Other than that, the evening passed pleasantly enough, as such gatherings often do, revisiting old memories.

While the older generation relived their pasts, Tracy left Elaine with Fiona, and took Mel on one side to ask what Lucy had been on about earlier.

‘I’ve been trying to remember,’ Mel said, ‘I do know that Jamie proposed, and I do recollect that I told him that I didn’t think that he was ready for marriage – something like that. I suspect that I must have given him some sort of to-do-list of things to think about if he were serious.’

Tracy put her hand over her mouth to stifle a laugh.

‘Honestly?’ she asked, ‘What did Jamie say?’

‘That’s the thing,’ she said, ‘I can’t remember. One thing that I’m sure of is that I said that, if he felt that I had a cheek asking, or that I was asking too much, he should find someone else.’

‘OMG!’ Tracy said, ‘Wowser! But you two seem totally together at the moment, or am I mistaken?’

‘No, not at all. Can I tell you something in total confidence?’

Tracy nodded,

‘When I was in New Zealand, we kept in touch every day, but one night, towards the end of the trip, I had a terrible fright – this was while I was out taking photographs. It was late, pitch black and I was alone. Out of nowhere, this guy approached me by surprise and seemed to be trying to come on to me. I was nearly shitting myself. He kept coming nearer despite me telling him to go away and leave me alone.’

Tracy had both hands to her face in horror, imagining the scene.

‘Luckily,’ Mel continued, I had a rape alarm, and I pulled the pin. It woke the entire campsite, but it saved me. The bloke didn’t know which way to turn. Anyway, as you can imagine, I didn’t sleep easily that night. The point I’m getting to with this story is that I knew I had to get back to Jamie as soon as possible. I’d always thought of him as a bit dull – staid. That night, dull and staid became the most wonderful values I wanted from a man, and I prayed that Jamie hadn’t met anyone else.’

‘You’re not wrong,’ Tracy said, ‘Heroes are okay in books, but when you need someone to be faithful and reliable – to be there to listen to your worries and so on, it’s different.’

‘Have you told Jamie about what happened?’

‘I’ll have to tell him. I said to him that relationships like marriage have to be built on trust and total honesty. How could I face him if I didn’t tell him, and he later finds out from someone else? In any case, I’d despise myself for being a hypocrite. But I’m scared of what he’ll think of me.’

‘Listen, girl,’ Tracy said, ‘You tell him. You’ll feel better if you do, and he’ll be so horrified at what could have happened that he’ll just want to protect you more than ever. He totally loves you.’

She thought for a moment, taking in all that she had heard.

‘So, are you going to accept his proposal now?’

‘What proposal? I turned him down last time he asked. I don’t know if he’ll ever want to ask again. I think that’s what Lucy’s so interested about.’

Tracy laughed.

‘I remember you saying that you are a career girl and that you’re off men. Have you changed?’

‘I suppose I have, but I’m not going public on that. Things between me and Jamie seem great at present, but I don’t know whether it’s because he’s been worried about his mum, and he just needs me to comfort him.’

‘You’re dodging the question, girl. Do you love him?’

‘Yes,’ Mel said, ‘I love him to bits, but I have to know that he really loves me too.’

‘Don’t be daft.’ Tracy said, ‘He worships the ground you walk on. Get your acts together – and soon. God! Mum will be over the Moon. This is what she’s wanted for years now. She even said so after that first time you came for a meal with us all.’

They embraced and re-joined the others, who looked at them, wondering where they’d been – and what had kept them.

At the end of the evening, Jamie asked her what she and Tracy had been discussing.

‘Don’t be nosey,’ she said, ‘Girl talk.’

She kissed him – to reassure him and to redirect his mind.

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.

I’ll conclude Melissa’s story with a couple of photos of street entertainers in the town centre whom I saw that Saturday. Firstly a guitar player’

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 39 mm, and ISO 400.

Regarding Melissa #90


‘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.


Saturday evening at the hospital

Her mum had a meal waiting for Mel when she got back. While she was eating, she told her mum and dad what was happening at the hospital – and that she’d probably go to visit straight after her evening meal. Her mum was still worried, because she’d just returned from the other side of the world and would be jet-lagged – even though Mel had promised to try to get some shuteye when she’d eaten.

While she was resting, Jamie phoned and spoke to Jean to say that the doctors had said it would be okay now for the family to visit. He asked her to let Mel know.

When Mel arrived at the hospital, she had to wait outside the ward for a while because waiting was limited at the bedside. She sat with Jamie and with Neil, Lucy’s dad.

Tony, Tracy and Fiona, Lucy’s mum, were in the ward.

Jamie explained what the doctors had said. It had been a good job that Tracy had acted so quickly. There had been a blockage in a blood vessel providing oxygen to the brain. The doctors had carried out a series of scans and other tests and had then induced a coma to relieve pressure in the brain while they provided some treatment using a catheter from her groin up to the blockage to remove it. They expected that Lucy would only remain in the coma until her brain had had time to respond to the medication she was being given.

‘Will she be okay when she recovers consciousness,’ Mel asked.

‘They can’t give us guarantees, and they’ll need to assess her at that stage,’ he replied.

‘How’s your dad now?’ she asked.

‘I think that he’s relieved in one way but worried in another. He’s glad that they think they caught the blockage before the brain was too badly deprived of oxygen, but worried about the remaining possibilities of long-term damage.

‘How do you mean?’ she asked.

‘From what I gathered,’ he said, ‘she’ll probably have at least some degree of paralysis on the right side of her body – her arm, leg or both could be affected. That could affect her writing and maybe her walking.’

‘Oh, my God,’ she said, ‘Poor Lucy. How long for?’

‘I’ll come to that in a minute,’ he said, ‘because there could be other problems – such as her speech and memory loss.’

‘Christ!’ she exclaimed, ‘That’s awful.’

‘The doctors can’t tell us more about how likely any of these problems will be, but they assured us that most strokes are associated with some degree of recovery. It will depend on how severely damaged the brain was. They mentioned rehabilitation programmes like speech therapy, occupational therapy and physical therapy. Those could take months to make real progress.’

Not long afterwards, Tony, Fiona and Tracy emerged from the ward and told the others that they could go in.

Mel was shocked when she saw Lucy. Jamie and Neil had seen her earlier. Although Lucy looked peaceful, there seemed to be machines, displays and noises all around her, and all manner of tubes connected to her. Jamie took Mel’s hand and explained, as well as he could, their various purposes. The doctors had said that they should talk to her as she might be able to hear them – and in any case it might be therapeutic for them as family. So, they did. After a while, Jamie said to Mel that she must be tired and offered to drive her home. She thanked him for his concern but said that she’d be okay driving herself and that she’d come again the following day. She left feeling guilty yet knew that there was nothing that she could have done to help by staying.

Sunday morning at home

Mel slept late and her mum and dad left her to do so – keen to let her body and mind have a chance to recover both from her time in New Zealand and the shock of Lucy’s stroke.

When she came down, it was close to lunchtime and Jack was due to be joining them with his fiancée, Elsa. It would be the first time that Mel had met her. She went to help her mum in the kitchen – her dad was still ploughing his way through the Sunday morning papers. Already, she could smell the lamb roasting in the oven and the vegetables. Her mum was parboiling some potatoes ready to use for roast potatoes. There wasn’t much remaining for Mel to do except to lay the table with cutlery, condiments and wineglasses.

Over the meal, she plied Elsa with questions to get to know her better until Jack begged her to allow Elsa to eat her lunch in peace. Elsa, however, wanted to know all about Mel’s vacation. Most of what she had to say was about places she’d visited and things she’d seen. When she came to describe the scene at the Mount Cook campsite when she’d had to use her personal attack alarm, her mum’s face turned white with shock and her mouth opened in horror.

Mel had to recount all that had led up to it again plus the immediate response of the other people of the holiday park. Jack was furious that his sister had experienced such fear, and her dad hoped that Mel would make sure not to take on any future outings to such lonely places alone. Elsa said that Mel had been very brave and wanted to see the photos that she’d taken. Mel said that she’d send copies of the best shots to Jack via an internet portal once they’d all been culled, processed and sorted into collections.

The rest of the conversation was about Lucy. Brian felt the need to tease Mel by describing Lucy to Elsa as Mel’s future mother-in-law. She squirmed on her chair and blushed radish-red with embarrassment as she tried to change the subject. Jean told Brian to leave Mel alone – Lucy’s stroke was no laughing matter. Brian agreed that she was right and apologised.

The topic moved on to Christmas preparations and arrangements. Jean realised that, for Jamie’s family, this would be one to remember for all the wrong reasons. She couldn’t see how they’d be able to celebrate at all and wished that there were a way for her to help. She also remembered that she still hadn’t bought Jamie anything as a present but wondered whether any gift other than his mum’s recovery would be appropriate.

After lunch, leaving everyone else downstairs to relax and talk, Mel went upstairs to phone Stacy to see if she were free to talk. She answered Mel’s call immediately. She was with Connor, after lunch in the hotel where they’d had their wedding reception.

Because of where she was, and her being with Connor, it wasn’t a good time to relate all the details of her trip to Stacy, so the conversation was more of a quick catchup. Stacy was sorry to hear about Lucy and asked Mel to pass on her best wishes to the family. She also asked how Jamie was taking it and how it was affecting his relationship with her.

Mel said that, in the circumstances, she felt that any romantic developments would have to be put on the back-burner. She said that it looked like being a crap Christmas.

Thursday 19th December – evening visiting.

For the following days, the family had agreed that, while Lucy remained in a coma, and was stable and comfortable, the best thing to do would be to try to carry on life as normal as possible. Tony and his mum and dad would visit each afternoon to monitor Lucy’s progress and report her status by phone messages. Jamie and Mel would visit each evening, but work in their usual roles in the shop, with Marcus helping, during the daytime.

The amount of business taken on the shopfloor in those last few days in the lead-up to Christmas was at record levels, and Jamie’s online business was almost equal in value. Stock was disappearing from the shelves almost as quickly as it was arriving.

During Thursday afternoon, Tony phoned Jamie at the shop to say that the doctors were bringing Lucy out of her coma, but she’d probably be at least confused to begin with, so he shouldn’t raise his hopes too high just yet.

Jamie went to the office to check the shop’s CCTV and saw that Mel and Marcus were both been busy with customers.

He went down to lend a hand at the till and, when there was an opportunity, he told Mel the news. They hugged each other with delight.

‘Get a room you two,’ Marcus suggested.

They looked at each other and laughed.

At close of business, Jamie suggested to her that he’d pick her up that evening and drive her to the hospital – as he’d been doing all week.

Once again, when they arrived, they had to wait outside for a while because of visiting restrictions, but when they went in, they were thrilled to see Lucy sitting propped up on pillows.

She smiled at them and waved them to come and sit down. Her face sagged slightly on one side, and it seemed as if that was affecting her speech, which was laboured. She seemed to be finding difficulty in choosing and articulating her words and it was clearly frustrating her. Her eyes betrayed that frustration and sometimes her body shook with the effort it was taking – trying to remember words and trying to say them. It was as if her brain knew what it wanted to get across, but she recognised that she couldn’t get her mouth to say the words.

She tried to explain, by a mixture of mime and words, that she was conscious about her appearance, her speech and her clumsiness – fearful about whether she’d ever fully recover.

Tony had described the situation to them during his phone call earlier. He’d said that one of her arms wasn’t working properly – as if it was partly paralysed. Lucy could move it, but not properly control it, and a nurse had explained that she’d also need some form of support to be able to walk for a while. All of that would have to wait until she’d had some further assessment and physio sessions to help her regain the use of her limbs.

Mel sat by her side and held her hand as they talked, and Lucy seemed as delighted to see her as she was to see Jamie. After a while though, it became clear that the effort was tiring Lucy, and they both gave her a hug before they left, promising to return the following day.

When they re-entered the waiting area, Tracy was waiting, in her nurse’s uniform, to go in following them. She’d not long since come off shift. They explained to her how tired her mum was becoming. Mel could see the tears forming in Tracy’s eyes. She turned and the three of them went to sit down and talk. Mel put her arm around Tracy’s shoulders and held her as she sobbed. Her mum’s stroke had really upset her, and she was worried about her prospects for recovery.

She understood better than they did, with her experience as a nurse, what it would be like for her mum at the moment, but it didn’t make it any easier for her.

She explained to them the various forms of therapy that Lucy faced. She described the exercises and massage necessary to assist her to get back the use of her arms and legs; the speech therapy work; and the therapies to help her regain independence with basic things such as getting dressed, bathing and preparing meals.

To complement all that kind of work, continued support and patience from the family would be essential – she said that she’d already started asking around for advice from different nursing specialists she knew. She mentioned that she’d heard of some local support groups, but she didn’t think that her mum would be willing to join any of them.

Lucy had always been a strong presence, but Tracy wasn’t sure how she’d face having to depend on others for some time ahead; how she’d deal with this early warning of her mortality.

Mel asked her what support Tracy could expect from the hospital trust to be able to spend time away from work with her mum. Tracy said that the trust was being brilliant, but that, in any case, she was getting a lot of help from Jake and his mum and dad. They were looking after Elaine until she got home. She told them that she’d been glad that they’d had a chance to talk, but she’d just pop-in to see her mum for a moment to say goodnight. Jamie said that he and Mel would head off.

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 people enjoying the sunshine while relaxing at a local café.

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 48 mm, and ISO 160.

Regarding Melissa #89


‘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.





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


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.


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 #86


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.


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


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.


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


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.


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


Because I shall not be renewing my subscription to WordPress when it expires on 13 July, in order to be sure that I can complete posting of the remainder of the book, I will be providing substantially larger posts i.e., 21 usual sized posts in 11 days. I hope that you will forgive this change, because it will allow anyone who has been following the story to see it through to its conclusion. I hadn’t realised when I started just how long the story would be.


‘So,’ Mel said, ‘Tell me about Belinda – Belinda with the large…you know what. And, while you’re at it, tell me about the two clothes horses. I want to know all about them – where you met; how well you know them; why Belinda would especially have wanted you to come; and which of them you’ve slept with. But first, let me give you a kiss for being so masterful.’





Mid-November 2019 – A holiday to remember.

At the airport

Jamie had driven Mel and her baggage to the airport. Neither of them had much to say on the way in. Jamie was downcast at the thought of Mel being away for a month. Part of him was hoping that she wouldn’t meet anyone else on her travels – another charming, handsome, adventurous photographer perhaps – with whom she could share her dreams.

Mel, on the other hand, was anticipating the stunning views she wished to capture on media cards, hoping that she hadn’t forgotten to pack everything she’d need for the trip. She was praying also that her equipment would be safe on the journey – because of the weight and bulk of some of her gear, some of it would have to be checked in as hold-luggage.

In her cabin case, she’d only had room for essentials for the journey – she classed her lenses and full-frame camera as being as necessary as her insurance documents, make up and nightwear. If any hold luggage – including her tripod – got lost en-route, she’d have to replace it when she arrived in New Zealand and reclaim through insurance later.

Jamie remained with her until the very last moment before she went through to the Security Clearance area. He held her tightly in his embrace not wanting her to have to leave before they shared a final pre-flight kiss.

Once she’d walked through to the international area, she browsed in some of the shops before sitting in a café with a cup of coffee, keeping an eye on the list of flights being called to the gate. Through the window she watched impossibly large aircraft manoeuvring and being manoeuvred outside.

A flight of fancy

Despite her Premium Economy booking and the helpful cabin crew, the flight to Singapore seemed to last forever – as did the wailing of several infants in the economy section, separated from her only by a flimsy divider.

Even reclining in the wider reclining seats with the extra legroom, sleep was difficult, and she was unable to see anything of interest through the windows over the aircraft’s wing.

The redeeming feature of her flight was that Amy, the young American student who was seated next to her, was easy to get on with. She’d been travelling from New York and had broken her flight, staying in Liverpool for three weeks with family friends, before catching the New Zealand flight.

She was going to be backpacking around the North Island for a year or so and then flying to Melbourne for a further twelve to eighteen months in Australia. It would be her first time in New Zealand. Amy would not be having a stayover in Singapore but would be continuing on the same flight out from Changi. Amy seemed to have no fears about her plans for solo travel and, in any case, was confident that she’d be able to hook-up with people at the various hostels on her itinerary. Mel told her of her similar previous backpacking experiences after she’d left university.

When she wasn’t talking to Amy, Mel tried to sleep, but even with the lights dimmed, all around her, passengers were watching films selected from the range of those available. Many it seemed were violent stories, but whatever their nature, their flashing screens seemed unavoidable – and when she did manage to doze for a moment, it was usually when even more food and drinks were being brought around. Occasionally, her boredom was broken by the shaking and movement caused by clear air turbulence and the frequent announcements to passengers to return to their seats.

The most amusing part – also the most infuriating episode – was when she wanted to use the nearest toilet between tannoy warnings to return to her seat. She’d seen a man and a child enter just before her from the queue – there seemed always to be a queue. She waited – and waited – checking her watch after a while. Eventually they emerged, not only washed, but – both father and child – changed into pyjamas and carrying their day clothes. The things you see when you haven’t got a gun!

Arriving in Singapore, at just after eight in the morning, Singapore time, parting company with Amy was a revelation. Other than the scale of the airport and its range of amazing facilities, her first impression was of chaos with so many people milling about in all directions. She had difficulty at first understanding when, where and how she’d be re-united with her luggage, and how, in the crowd, she’d recognise her pre-booked transfer to her hotel. She was worried because the flight had arrived twenty-minutes late.

The driverless train to baggage reclaim fascinated her, and finding her luggage took much more time than she’d expected. Nevertheless, she managed to recover everything and to locate her air-conditioned taxi which swept her in style to her hotel. The taxi driver kept her talking all the way, explaining the economic history of the country, its relations with China, the costs of car ownership in Singapore, and how, in an emergency, the dual carriageway road would be cleared for use as a runway.

She had booked to stay at the Orchard Hotel and, having arranged with Reception to entrust most of her luggage to hotel security, she decided to wander around the city until she was ready to eat – a decision she immediately regretted. Stepping outside from the air-conditioned hotel lobby she was almost knocked back by the wall of superheated humidity that greeted her. She retreated. When she’d left Manchester, it had been on a cold, wet, November day. She hadn’t dressed to prepare for Singapore’s climate, so she made her way back to the bar.

She looked at her watch. Singapore time was seven hours ahead of time at home, so it would be getting on for two in the morning in Codmanton – too early to send WhatsApp messages or texts home to Jamie, mum and dad, or Stacy – in case the notification bleeps disturbed their sleep.

Later, having eaten, and retrieved her things from Reception, she made her way to her room, showered and changed. She unpacked her cabin-case together with some summer clothes and underwear from her suitcase. By now she was able to key in the room’s wi-fi password and to send WhatsApp messages to home to let everyone know that she’d survived the first leg of the trip. This time, she was more prepared for the climate, and took a taxi to the fabulous Marina Bay Sands Gardens by the Bay. Later again, towards evening, as she became more acclimatised, she walked back slowly towards her hotel, pausing to photograph the city skyline as office lights were switched on, and again to wander through the Chinatown market where she sat in a restaurant to enjoy authentic local food.

Back at the hotel she plugged in her iPad and the USB attachment needed to transfer her day’s image files from her camera, and from there to the Cloud. It had been her first attempt to back-up to her iPad in that way and she was relieved that it had worked so well. She even managed to take a first shot at culling her photos so she could concentrate later, on processing her “keepers”.

The two nights sleepover in Singapore offered many wonderful photo opportunities, but she was also grateful to enjoy some proper sleep before the next leg of the flight to Auckland.

Before she boarded, she found lots more photo opportunities offered by Changi airport itself.

Mel had been fascinated on her journey from Manchester by the beautiful uniforms worn by the airline cabin crew. They were nearly all impossibly beautiful, slim young women in outfits that seemed to feature blues and reds. At her hotel she’d done a web search to see if any details were available. She learned that the clothes were made of batik silk and were of a type known as sarong kebaya.

Once she’d checked-in, as she sat waiting for her ten-hour flight, she removed her small mirrorless-camera from her cabin luggage and did a spell of street photography, picking out people passing in attractive clothes or unwittingly adopting interesting poses. It was while she had her camera in her hand that she noticed a line of the airline’s cabin crew, walking in convoy, smiling and chattering. It was too good an opportunity to miss, so she quickly checked her shutter speed and fired off a volley of panning shots plus some stills. Changi was a totally different world from the Dales of home.

New Zealand – North Island

The next leg of the flight seemed to last forever – much longer than the trip from Manchester – even though it was four hours less in actual time in the air. On this part of her journey, she had a window seat and could clearly see Australia as they were passing over it. That crossing seemed to take hours too. She tried to sleep, but once more, tired children’s wailing made it difficult. The seemingly constant offers of drinks and food by the perpetually polite and smiling hostesses, and the pinging of warnings to passengers to return to their seats and re-fasten seat belts through air-turbulence, again kept her awake but tired. Arriving eventually, in bright sunshine, as she looked out over the ocean and the bays and islands north of North Island, she wished that she’d asked for a few extra weeks to spend in the north.

The customs checking procedures at Auckland were the next source of fascination for Mel. She had been warned not to try to bring any type of food into New Zealand and she’d assumed that all the other passengers would be aware of the injunction – but apparently not. The queue was frequently delayed by those who had either not read the rules or decided that they didn’t apply to them. In a couple of cases, angry passengers were told firmly by customs staff that if they didn’t bin offending items, they’d effectively be deported.

It was just afternoon, New Zealand time, when Mel walked out of the airport and directly across the road to the Novotel Airport hotel and arranged to deposit her bags with hotel security until check-in time. After a quick snack – she was amazed that she was still hungry after all the food that she’d eaten on the plane – she took a taxi-trip to downtown Auckland with her camera. She’d only booked for a stay of two nights, and she wanted to make the most of her brief stay in the city. She wouldn’t be staying overnight on her return trip home.

She made sure to visit and take a trip up the Sky Tower – like a gigantic needle pointing to the few high clouds. The glass elevator whisked her in no time to the observation deck where she was able to take panoramic shots of the city. She also later photographed the many skyscrapers from pavement level, but she also made sure to visit some of the city’s earlier architecture, such as the Ferry Building and St Patrick’s Cathedral.

The main images she wanted, however, were of the harbour at sunset and shortly thereafter. Before then, she needed to return to the hotel, take her luggage to her room and have a few hours’ sleep.

The food in the hotel restaurant was excellent, but once she’d eaten, she found another taxi to take her on the unexpectedly long journey to Northcote Point for the spectacular views of the Bridge and of Waitemata Harbour.

Back at her hotel that night she sent WhatsApp messages home, knowing that, because of the twelve hours or so time difference, they possibly wouldn’t be read for hours. While she was in Auckland she again made the most of the possible photo-opportunities, but she also tried to make up for the sleep she had missed and to beat jetlag as much as possible.

New Zealand – South Island


It seemed no time before she was in the air again, a two-hour hop from Auckland to Queenstown in the south of South Island. In the bright Spring sunshine, she enjoyed what she could see from the air of the ground below and of the sea crossing.

Before she’d even arrived in New Zealand, Mel had been aware that she’d be following in the footsteps of hundreds of other professional photographers before her. She wasn’t a New Zealander, and she had only a few weeks holiday for her time there, so her only hope of making the most of that time had been to do some online research as to the best photo locations.

She’d been lucky. There were some excellently-documented internet accounts of photo-trips to various parts of South Island. Many of these had included photographs, itineraries, places to stay, places to eat and journey times.

But, although there was a plethora of beautiful images online, what Mel aimed for was to choose, capture and present her own take on the views. After all, she reasoned, the weather, time of day, angle of light and the way she chose to take her images would make them unique. Even taking a shot from just a few yards distant from previous visitors would make a difference.

At Queenstown airport, she walked out to the waiting shuttle bus which took her straight to the rental company’s office where she collected her pre-booked hire campervan.

She’d paid extra to hire a three-berth petrol-engined Toyota with a shower and toilet. It also had a fully equipped kitchen and a double bed. Once she’d sorted through all the procedural bits of the agreement she was on her way. She’d worked out her itinerary before she’d left home and found a holiday park with a powered campervan base on the northern tip of Queenstown’s Lake Wakatipu – one of the few places near the city where overnight parking for campervans like hers was allowed. She’d have to drive into the city for any daytime-only parking spots that would be convenient to the places from which she wished to take her first images. She knew that she wanted a mix of postcard-type shots for stock images and for travel industry sales, but she was mainly after the photobook art-quality stuff that brought kudos and magazine sales.

Straightaway she captured some great shots of the lake’s steamship TSS Earnslaw. She decided that it would be worth investing in a ride on it as a handy way to find out about the mountains around the lake and afterwards remaining for a few hours around the lake in the Spring sunshine before returning to sleep. There were plenty of adventure type opportunities around Queenstown, but she was realistic enough to realise that the accident risk was too great. In any case there were plenty of less risky photo hotspots to explore in the area before she moved on.

One problem she got to know quite quickly around the lake was the midges. Another photographer noticed Mel frantically swatting some away while she was trying to focus her camera lens. She came across to Mel.

‘You’re new in the area?’ the woman asked.

‘Yes, first day in South Island,’ Mel replied.

They got talking. The other photographer, Sam, found out where Mel was hoping to travel, and Mel learned from her that there were some items of kit she’d need to buy if she were to cope with some types of circumstance that she’d not really given much thought to before coming.

‘You need to be ready for the micro-climate around Milford Sound,’ Sam warned her. ‘It rains more than half the year. You’ll need a plan to keep yourself comfortable and your gear dry. The midges are vicious, and, if you’re not careful, the bites will stay sore for weeks. If you go on one of the cruises, those boats rock like buggery – so, get yourself a camera bean bag while you’re here to help stabilise your tripod if you’re thinking of using it.’

Sam had lots of other tips about campsites, viewpoints and about which of the cruise trips were best value for money. Mel thanked her – it had been a useful half hour. In particular, she changed her mind about the paddleboat trip.

Mel decided to do some shopping, and treated herself to a rain cover for her camera and a dry bag to hold all her gear when it wasn’t being used. She also bought food, a supply of insect repellent, and a few other necessities suggested by Sam. Before she went back to the van with her new supplies, she booked herself on a small-group day coach-cruise tour that would give her a preview of the area between Queenstown and Milford Sound. It would last for more than twelve hours but wouldn’t cost that much more than the paddleboat would have done.

Her next priority though was to get some sleep. She returned to the holiday park, did her laundry which had been building up since she left home, ate some of the food she’d purchased and settled down for the night.

The following day she arrived early for the day tour. She felt better for the sleep she’d managed – the van was more comfortable than she’d expected. She’d sprayed herself liberally with insect repellent and hoped that its advertised twenty-four-hour protection would hold good. She’d also brought the camera rain cover and weather protection for herself given the forecast.

Part of the day was travel by coach – the downside being the rain streaming down the coach windows. There were, though, several stops for photography of both scenery and wildlife that were worthwhile. Learning that there was only one road there-and-back between Queenstown and Milford Sound, she made a point of remembering the most interesting stopping places on both sides of the road.

Being British, she was less impressed than some by the famous Homer Tunnel – she’d travelled through longer and better engineered tunnels at home. The views though, leading to the Tunnel and emerging from it were spectacular.

She found Milford Sound breathtakingly beautiful, even in the rain. Hundreds of waterfalls cascaded from a stunning backdrop of gigantic mountains into the clear green waters of the Sound. There were seals and many different types of bird including New Zealand Keas. By the side of the water, she watched, and photographed of course, a bride, groom and their wedding party as they made their way back up to their car, the bride lifting the hem of her white gown with one hand and clutching flowers in the other. Her groom held her forearm to steady her progress.

The air on the Sound was damp, and the cloud and falling water created a magical misty veil over the scene. Occasionally, the rain would pause, and, in those breaks, sunlight illuminated the reflections of the mountains on the surface of the water.

Sam had been right – the camera beanbag did help tremendously to steady her tripod. It wasn’t always possible to get clear shots because there were so many other boats about, but even they provided a worthwhile foreground and perspective to her shots.

The coach stopped at Te Anau on the return leg, and she had a chance to briefly scout for photo opportunities for when she returned as part of her final itinerary.

The cruise had been a great idea and, on arrival back at Queenstown, she couldn’t wait to return to her campervan. She wanted to upload her images onto her iPad and then visit an internet café she’d noticed the day before where she could back the photos up to her Cloud service. While the photo files were uploading, she changed out of her wet clothes and put them through the laundry.

She found a local restaurant where she could eat her evening meal, plan for the following day and compose some messages for people at home – her mum and dad, Stacy, Jamie and Lucy. She’d been so absorbed by what she’d seen that she hadn’t given Jamie a thought all day.

On her third and fourth full days in Queenstown she opted for some local sightseeing. Firstly, she went to One Mile Car Park for a shot of the lake with its mountains backdrop, then a four-mile-plus hike up 1300 feet to Queenstown Hill and lastly for that day, to Queenstown Gardens for a night shot of the city. The fourth day she took a drive up to Glenorchy via Bennet’s Bluff. On her return, before sleep, she did her laundry, topped up with water, petrol and food for the next leg of her route and sent her messages home.

Each night she had sent home news of her day and had attached a couple of her favourite images – ones that she’d edited in the tablet version of her processing software. The feedback that she’d received, especially from Jamie, had been ecstatic. Everyone wished that they could be with her.

Stacy and Jamie both arranged wi-fi video calls with her for the following morning – or evening their time.

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


‘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.


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.