The Photo Shoot by Kevin Murphy
We agreed that the next Photo-Shoot would be ‘My Retford’. My wife arrived back as two of the Photo Soc were helping me wash up. She had been on an observation visit to Nursery and told me the teacher would like me to come in tomorrow on one of my Governor visits. I asked if I would know any of the children from church. Maybe Christian, she thought. I liked that – delightful young Polish boy. I also asked if she knew what I was expected to do. “Talk about Mass preparation – checking your reading, learning your guitar parts – and doing up your fly!”
Next morning I woke up early and set off making preparations for both. ‘My Retford’ would be West Retford – the original area to the West side of the old red ford which had given the area its name. The Town is officially “East Retford”, West Retford originally being the estate of the local grandees, the Darrel Family. Evidence of this abounds and I would use it to be the focus of my shoot.
For Nursery I would find some big words from the Bible that might make them giggle – words like Methusalah and Jehosaphat – and dressing up in Sunday best, not my weekday Muppet socks.
Trinity Hospital would be the start of ‘My Retford’, but being so elegant, it is much snapped, so I would need to get an interesting angle – the big stained glass window, maybe from the rarely accessed inside of the chapel. It would have to be the start, as it was originally the Manor House of the Darrels. I will evidence this with the big sign telling us that her grandson donated it as a ‘Hospital for distressed Gentlemen’ who had served the church.
Next shot would have to be the bonsai, white-steepled, West Retford church. This would lead the eye to the Old Rectory across the road, now far too magnificent for a vicar, its maintenance now only within the budget of a present-day grandee. The mansion would have my important reference stamped on the brickwork and on all the property still owned by “Trinity Hospital” Estate, and all in my Retford – “TH” in a shield motif.
I walked past it and took a variety of shots of the motif on many buildings on Bridgegate, so named because a bridge replaced the ford to carry the “old Great North Road” out of town and cutting through the Darrel’s estate.
Other than the two hostelries, each named after one of the Dukes of this Dukeries town – the Newcastle and the Galway – almost every building is ‘branded’ “TH”. The exceptions can safely be assumed to predate the Darrel ownership. The “TH” buildings include a very pretty row of almshouses. I was almost opposite it when, happening to give closer inspection to a door than would be allowed when typically bustling into town, I noticed that the door was not a door. No it wasn’t the hoary old joke “because it was ajar,” but because it was not a door at all – but painted stone. The window to the left was a real window, a Georgian bow with a couple of bullet glass panes that I would have to get a trick shot from. The ‘shop’ behind the window was a dummy, but the items in the window were Victorian props for tourists. Tasteful, though.
As I was looking closely to find a seam between real window and fake door, Christian’s dad joined me in close inspection. Of course, he lives near here, doesn’t he? I showed him, but he laughed at my interest in ‘old stuff’ and rushed in to his family, two doors up.
In between was an old, arched, coach-house gateway. I checked this was real and, after a quick look to see I was not being watched, I nipped inside and put my back to the gate. It took my breath away. Here I found myself looking directly up a cobbled street. As Darrel would have wanted and the rents from the “TH” properties ensure, it was in original condition.
I took it in. It was gently curving away to the right, so I could mostly see the crescent comprised similar, but not all the same, Georgian houses having windows with many small panes, but something was different. It took me a minute, but then I realised what it was. All the woodwork on Trinity Hospital Properties is painted maroon and cream, and even the poorest – like the little alms houses – will have some cornice or other by way of decoration and identification – “TH”. Not this street. The brickwork was plain, and the woodwork, including doors of simple tongue and groove panels, was all black. Combined with the narrowness and overhanging eaves, it made for a gloomy prospect.
Shouting from the window above me made me jump. I leapt back against the wall under the bow. The voice then modulated. The words were Shakespeare – not shouting at me, but rehearsing lines. I had fright enough, so I sneaked back out onto Bridgegate and nipped into Christian’s house.
All was bustle inside. The family and many Polish friends were preparing for some sort of feast and paid no attention to me. Several children were already sitting cross-legged on the floor, so I joined them, taking my wallet out of my pocket to ease leg bending. It wasn’t butterflies that flew out, but a wad of old bus tickets I carried for swaps for my collection.
Christian rushed by my shoulder and looking round I noticed that he and several friends were donning altar-boy style cottas, but these had ornate blue patterns embroidered on them. I assumed this was a Polish cultural tradition. As a priest entered the room, Christian could just fit in a smile. The priest was huge – tall and wide – and had to tip-toe into the only space left – far too small for him to join the several mothers and children cross-legged, so he stood to say grace, before absenting himself. On his way to the door, I struggled up to thank him for his words and used the only Polish word I knew, one which I thought meant “Thanks” – “Pristina!”
I thought I would take the opportunity to sneak out unobserved. I looked back to check. Only Nyasha, one of our African pupils saw me and smiled.
As I got up to open the curtains on our bedroom’s view of Trinity Hospital, I asked my wife if she thought “Pristina” was spelt like that, or whether or not it was one of those East European words without a vowel – Przstna, or something. She frowned shaking her head and asked why. I explained that I had woken up thinking it and had used the word as I thought it was the Polish for “thanks”.
“How many times have I told you not to use words – especially people’s names – if you are not sure of them?”
Considering myself told off, I mused on whether, when I got to Nursery, I would get “Christian” right – he was probably baptised “Krzysztian”. How do you say that?
Reader Notes: (Please add comments)
How is this 100% a true story? (It is.)
Did I succeed in tricking you in the transition from wake to dream?
Did I succeed in bringing you back to reality?
The point of writing is partly to entertain. How much does this story succeed?