There are more ways for a man to meet his demise than one might think. The first time Johnny Barker picked up a camera he couldn’t have known he was setting in motion a chain of events that would ultimately lead to his.
July 1981. Great British Summertime is in full swing, and eight year old Johnny is sitting on the wall outside his terraced house in his grey flannel shorts, watching as his mother, sister and a cacophony of other female relatives and neighbours prepare for the annual street party.
“Come on Johnny,” his sister Sally scolds as she simultaneously pulls a string of brightly coloured bunting out of the front door and sets off down the road. Johnny watches open-mouthed as the bunting keeps on coming out of the front door as if by magic, until Auntie Pauline appears at the other end of it and delivers a well-aimed kick to Johnny’s behind as she passes by.
“Oh good Lord, Pauline!” Johnny’s mother exclaims, running back into the house with the enthusiasm of an athlete. “I’ve clean forgot about the trifle!”
Johnny slides off his perch and scuffs his shoe against the wall, loosening some pebbles which tumble in a mini avalanche onto the Tarmac beneath. He shoves his hands into his pockets and sighs.
“What’s wrong with you boy?” Auntie Pauline asks with a less than playful cuff around Johnny’s ear. Not a slight woman, the body weight behind the gesture almost sends him flying, and an expression somewhere between shock and satisfaction briefly registers on the old woman’s pinched face.
“Nowt,” Johnny says with a shrug, “besides being having ‘owt to do.” He dodges yet another swipe and half skips, half runs down the road to his friend Terry’s house.
Two hours later and the street party’s in full swing, with crackly music blaring from Tom Warner’s old wireless radio. The scotch eggs, sausages and cucumber sandwiches have all but been devoured and the small children are tucking into the jelly and ice cream.
Distracted by the sight of an unfamiliar man in their midst, Johnny pushes his plate to one side. The man sidles up beside him and gives him a wink. He is wearing a long cream mac that is completely at odds with the warmth of the day, and in his hand he holds the biggest camera Johnny has ever seen.
“You like this?” asks the man, his mouth widening into a crooked grin. Johnny nods, and the man holds the camera out in front of him like a prize. “Why don’t you have a go at taking a picture with it?”
Johnny gulps and looks down at the camera. He takes it from the man and gingerly removes the lens cap. Holding it to his face he squints and looks through the viewfinder, pointing the camera into the crowd of people.
And then he sees her. She is sitting at the far end of the table, her hair in blonde pigtails tied with red ribbon. She is wearing a blue gingham dress with a lace collar, and a smudge of her mother’s red lipstick stains her lips pink.
As I said at the beginning of this story, there are more ways for a man to meet his demise than one might think. And that day when he set eyes on Jenny Warner, somewhere deep down in his subconscious, Johnny knew he had met his.