Janet’s Ashes – A Short Story- Part Five

Previously……….

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

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

Continued……….

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Linda’s husband stayed in Melbourne with the children.

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

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

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

Featured Photo

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

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

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

Janet’s Ashes – A Short Story- Part Four

Previously……

When the taxi arrived at her flat, even her eyes seemed to plead with me as she asked me to come in with her to talk for a while. She said that she wasn’t ready to be alone just yet. She kept apologising for how she was. My own heart was breaking to see her like this. She held my hand as we mounted the stairs to her first floor flat.

She apologised for the state of the living room. Her hairdressing equipment took up one corner. There were lots of framed family photographs and she explained each image while we waited for the pizza delivery I’d ordered. When it arrived, we ate it on our knees as she quizzed me about my life. We’d never got around to that properly.

Continued……….

There wasn’t much to tell. I’m divorced, no children, no siblings. I see my parents once a week usually. I’m also a workaholic, so the nearest I get to socialising is gossip with the neighbours  as I garden or when we pass in the street.

Janet asked me to stay and be introduced to her sister. She’d mentioned me in her email. I was happy to oblige. I’d never before in my life become as involved with anyone as I was becoming with Janet. I couldn’t even analyse myself what I felt as we talked. It was comforting, but more than friendship, she was undeniably attractive, but it wasn’t lust. It wasn’t just pity either -although that did play a part. I enjoyed being with her, watching how her movements and expressions changed to reflect movements in her moods.

The ding-dong sound of an incoming Skype call found us sitting side by side on her sofa. Janet’s tablet lay open on a tiled coffee table in front of us. She picked up the iPad to answer the call. Linda was as blonde as Janet was flaming auburn, but their faces and body types declared their relationship. Linda asked immediately about the diagnosis and prognosis.

“Christ, sis!” she said, “That’s awful. How do you feel about it?”

Janet went through with her the conversations she’d had with me. She was spooked by the idea of death but was even more frightened by a dread of pain, of utter helplessness and dependence on others. She told Linda how she didn’t know what to decide about her treatment options.  As a nurse, Linda was able to say a bit more about her own, admittedly few, experiences of caring for patients with advanced, cancerous brain tumours. A couple of times, Linda addressed me directly. She spoke as if she assumed that Janet and I were an item. Neither of us disabused her of the notion – though later we laughed about it. Linda said that if Janet became incapable of coherent speech or thought – as was possible – I was to become her contact. We exchanged details.

When the call ended, Janet started sobbing again. She said how what Linda had described had filled her with fear. For a while she lay in my arms. Occasionally I’d get up to make us a hot drink or one of us would need the toilet.

Later, Janet asked would I mind staying the night. She said again that she was afraid to be alone with her fears  It wasn’t, she said, that she wanted sex, simply for the company of someone to hold her while she tried to sleep. Only moments later, however, she said that she’d changed her mind.

“Jesus Robbie,” she said, “within days they’ll want to admit me into hospital. If I can’t have sex now, I might never get to have it again. God! I never thought I’d be pleading for a bloke to fuck me, but I’m pleading now”

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

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

Featured Photo

Well, it wouldn’t be Liverpool without the Beatles, would it? The statues stand near the Museum of Liverpool. I took this shot with a camera that I traded in a while back – a 24 MP Pentax K3-ii. I used a Pentax 16-85 mm f/3.5-5.6 lens.

The EXIF data are 1/100 secs @ f4 and 16 mm,. The ISO was 100. The shot was tripod mounted.

Janet’s Ashes – A Short Story- Part Three

Previously……..

“How do I know that you’re not some weirdo trying to groom me?” she asked.

“Well,” I said, “I haven’t asked you for your name or address. I haven’t asked you for your phone number.” I took out one of my business cards and passed it across to her.

“If you phone me, you can block your Caller ID, so you can stay as anonymous as it suits you. I’m just offering a friendly ear.”

Continued…….

“It’s okay,” she said, “I trust you.” She smiled and reached across to touch my hand.

“Thank you for being so nice,” she said, “If thinking about things tonight starts to bother me, I’ll take up your kind offer. By the way, I’m Janet Kerr. Lovely to meet you Robbie.”

We chatted for the remainder of our journey and before we parted company at the station car park I wished her, “Good luck for tomorrow in case I don’t hear from you tonight.”

Janet did phone, about eight that evening. Not being face-to-face seemed to make it easier for us to speak freely. I learned about her mum and dad – and how they’d split up, how her mum had died: ovarian cancer. I learned about her sister, Linda – all about how close they’d been as children and about Linda’s family in Melbourne. I learned many more things too – about her life, where she lived and her phone number. Before we ended the call we’d arranged to meet on the train again, the following day, on the way to her appointment. I’d be going with her for support: to wait while she saw the consultant and then for her to tell me about the results as we made our way back. One advantage of my job was this kind of flexibility: I only ever give clients a rough timescale for their reports – nature of the job

When Janet emerged from seeing her consultant, she was trembling and needed to sit down again. She leaned forwards, her head in her hands, her fingers moving through  her hair.  I asked what was wrong and she burst into tears. Her shoulders shook as she sobbed, trying to get the words out. I put my arm around her and she allowed her head to rest on my shoulder. When she was able to speak coherently, she said she’d been diagnosed with a stage four brain tumour. They’d spoken of surgery and chemotherapy but it had spread like a spider. It was terminal – something called glioblastoma, apparently, but they weren’t prepared even to guess a timeline. The specialist had asked her to think about surgery, whether to consent. He’d outlined her options and their respective consequences. He said they’d phone her once they knew what she wanted to do, to arrange for a bed.

Given her ceaseless trembling and the way she was gripping my hands, I told her that I was going to order a taxi for us. I checked her address and postcode. She thanked me. On the way to her flat she told me more about the chemotherapy and the surgery options. She also showed me, on her phone, the email from her sister arranging a Skype call for mid-evening.

When the taxi arrived at her flat, even her eyes seemed to plead with me as she asked me to come in with her to talk for a while. She said that she wasn’t ready to be alone just yet. She kept apologising for how she was. My own heart was breaking to see her like this. She held my hand as we mounted the stairs to her first floor flat.

She apologised for the state of the living room. Her hairdressing equipment took up one corner. There were lots of framed family photographs and she explained each image while we waited for the pizza delivery I’d ordered. When it arrived, we ate it on our knees as she quizzed me about my life. We’d never got around to that properly.

Featured Photo

If you’re going to photograph Liverpool, you need to show an image of the waterfront. The Blue Hour is a good time and a panorama lets you include a good part of the skyline. So, that’s what I’m offering today. I took the shot with my Pentax 24 MP K3-ii camera and a Pentax 16-85 mm f/3.5-5.6 lens.

The EXIF data were 1 second @ f/8 and 55 mm. The ISO was 100. The shot was tripod mounted and was merged in Lightroom as a panorama from a three-image vertical series.

Janet’s Ashes – A Short Story- Part Two

Previously…………

“Hi,” I said, “You needn’t have waited. Have you been here long?”

“You cheeky bugger,” she said, “I’m sorry I woke you up now,” but she was laughing as she turned away.

“I’ll start again,” I said, “Fancy meeting you again. How did you get on at the hospital?”

Continued…….

“They put me through a battery of tests and I have to go back in two days for another appointment with a specialist.”

“Perhaps it’s just to let you know the results,” I said, “It still might not be anything serious.”

When the train doors hissed open we managed to get a seat together again.

Once the train was underway, I asked some more about the tests and she talked me through them. I didn’t say anything, but I was thinking that it didn’t sound like they’d be sending her home from her next visit with a pack of paracetamol.

She looked pale and, from her clenched fists and the way she kept biting her lip I inferred that she was worried.

“I’m being nosey again,” I said, “but what are you going to tell your family?”

“I don’t have any family here,” she said, “My mum’s dead and my dad left us years ago to go God alone knows where.”

“Oops” I said, “Foot in mouth time. Who else will you be going home to or seeing tonight then?”

“Just my empty flat,” she said, “My sister lives in Australia now. She’s a nurse.”

“Boyfriends? Workmates? Neighbours?” I asked.

“You really are a nosy sod, aren’t you?” she said.

“I did warn you, but I’ll shut up if you want some peace and quiet to think.”

She used her fingers to tick-off points: “Boyfriends? – not for months now. Workmates? – none. I’m self-employed as a hairdresser working at clients’ own homes. Neighbours? – none that I talk to. I’m a hermit. I’ll email my sister tonight and set up a Skype call.”

She pouted, pushing out her lower lip. “Lonely little me.”

“Aaaw” I said, “Diddums. Listen, nosey me again. Feel free to tell me to bugger off – or worse – but, if I give you my phone number, will you ring me, text me, whatever – if you feel that you want someone to talk to.”

“Phone you?” she burst out laughing, “I don’t even know your name or anything about you.”

“Well, okay” I said, “Fair point. I’m Robbie Davidson. If you phone me, you can find out as much as you want to know. You’ll also be able to tell me your name, but only if you want to.”

She placed her elbows on the table between us and rested her chin on her splayed hands. She looked at me, jutting her chin out.

“How do I know that you’re not some weirdo trying to groom me?” she asked.

“Well,” I said, “I haven’t asked you for your name or address. I haven’t asked you for your phone number.” I took out one of my business cards and passed it across to her.

“If you phone me, you can block your Caller ID, so you can stay as anonymous as it suits you. I’m just offering a friendly ear.”

Featured Photo

Merseyrail is the best way of getting around in Liverpool and surrounding areas, so I’ve included a flavour of that with this shot, taken with my former 24 MP Pentax K3-ii with a 16-85 mm f/3.5-5.6 lens.

The EXIF data were 1/4 secs @f/4.5 and 28mm. The ISO was 100. This shot was tripod mounted but was a compromise. I didn’t want high ISO noise but the available light wasn’t brilliant so I used a fairly wide aperture and sacrificed shutter speed to get a better overall exposure. I wanted to capture the way the train lights illuminated the tiled walls and ceiling but the slow shutter speed led to the train, its movement and it’s destination light being blurred. I didn’t get much chance of a re-take of the following train because the platform staff were unhappy about me taking tripod mounted photos anyway.

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

……..Previously

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

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

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

Continued…..

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

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

Jack looks at Frank but says nothing.

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

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

‘What about social distancing?’ Jack asks.

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

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

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

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

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

‘Well, go  on. Enlighten me.’

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

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

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

‘Exactly!’ says Frank.

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

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

‘A tenner,’ Frank says.

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

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

Jack waits for the catch.

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

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

Frank roots in his apron for a pen and paper.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Featured Photo

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

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

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

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

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

Dennis laughs and shakes his head.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

They both laugh.

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

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

‘Nothing to photograph worth bothering with is there?’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Featured Photo

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

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

Moving on from the Playground – A Short Story Part Two

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Featured Photo

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

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

Moving on from the playground – A Short Story Part One

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

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

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

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

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

Featured Photo

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

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

Grandad’s Attic – A Short Story

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Featured Photo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Featured Photo

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

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

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