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Stories posted in this category are works of fiction. Names, places, characters, events, and incidents are created by the authors' imaginations or are used fictitiously. Any resemblances to actual persons (living or dead), organizations, companies, events, or locales are entirely coincidental.
Note: While authors are asked to place warnings on their stories for some moderated content, everyone has different thresholds, and it is your responsibility as a reader to avoid stories or stop reading if something bothers you. 
The action takes place in the near present (pre-2020), with scenes in flashback in italics.

They may not mean to, but they do - 29. Twenty-Nine

It was Thomas’ suggestion that having driven to Manchester to meet the curator and conservator, they could spend the day looking around. The journey on the motorway was straight-forward for once, and it was lucky they were early as the car park Thomas was planning to use was full, so they had to find another one. Tempers got somewhat frayed, as navigating an unfamiliar cityscape and scouting for car parks highlighted differences in temperament – Keith was a ‘let’s stop and look it up properly on the map sort’ of a guy whilst Thomas was more ‘let’s turn here and see where we get to’.

Car finally parked, the journey to the gallery involved a mixed streetscape of old buildings and new, even going under the 1960s ring road, the result looking somewhat uninviting to Keith’s eyes. The gallery was part of the art school which was housed in a handsome Victorian building on a square near the university, but right by was a former cinema that had seen better days and was now a Weatherspoon’s Pub. Except they were not going to the gallery and ended up in a small coffee bar in a nearby building, which was part of the Metropolitan University.

A coffee and a sit down gave them the chance to get their breaths back. The coffee was good, though Keith was nervous and was just psyching himself up for the meeting when two young women appeared. They introduced themselves as Emma (the shorter, curvier, dark one) and Rosie (the taller, very slim, blond one), neither was what Keith had expected, they were younger, more attractive, and livelier than he’d imagined. If anyone had mentioned conservators or curators the image that popped into Keith’s had would have been boring, middle-aged blokes. Emma, the curator, proved to be down-to-earth and direct, not saying much, whereas Rosie the conservator was chattier.

But, introductions over, Emma was most direct, asking why an electrician and the CEO of an arts access charity were involved in restoring a Michael Atkinson. This caused something of a laugh, and Thomas filled in the background, and Keith went on to explain that he had a friend who specialised in restoring period models with electric motors and mechanisms just like the Atkinson.

This prompted an exclamation from Rosie, ‘Yours moves!’. It turned out that the one Jonty had photographed was one of Atkinson’s fixed assemblies, and the two women were fascinated by the idea of the moving ones. They started off sharing photographs, and Emma had brought a series of printouts covering Atkinson’s career and works, principally the ones using Perspex, electric lights and motors. Thomas grinned at Keith when they saw them, saying he was going to have lots of reading to do.

Regarding the restoration of the work, Emma was blunt. If it was privately owned, then they could do almost anything to it providing the owner consented and didn’t mind the alteration in value. This latter was tricky to assess, but the current consensus seemed to be that having the mobiles in working order was a good thing. Rosie had a comprehensive list of dos and don’ts regarding general restoration, including advice on cleaning which Keith had not thought about. He’d been going to give it a good clean the way he would have done any item he was working on; Rosie’s advice was different, and she had specific cleaning fluids both to use and to avoid.

Regarding the electrics and the motors, there were various options, but Keith sensed that when it came down to it, replacing seemed to be the safest option, though both women emphasised the need to document the state of the work before restoration, and to keep all the discarded parts (so Nico wouldn’t get the old motors to tinker with). Thomas mentioned Jonty’s name, and it turned out that as he was a student here, Emma knew him, and Keith explained the connection through one of his clients and Jonty’s wish to document the process. Both Emma and Rosie thought it a good idea, and Emma even floated the thought that it might make him a good project for his course.

They then had a second coffee and a biscuit (in Keith’s case a sticky brownie which proved embarrassing to eat in company) and chatted more generally. Emma asked them what they were doing now, and on learning they were sight-seeing, she mentioned that the Whitworth Gallery had some of Atkinson’s drawings on display at the moment. This was intriguing, and though the gallery was in the opposite direction to the city centre, the two decided to try it.

The walk took some time, but it gave them a chance to chat about what they had learned, and what to say to Alison; having notes and advice from Rosie was a great help. Keith was still somewhat nervous, but Emma had pointed out that there were so few Atkinson mobiles, and they were so distinctive to the artist that restoring each one would be some sort of journey, no matter who was doing it.

Their walk and talk kept getting interrupted as they passed buildings to look at, from the modern to the old. Keith was impressed with the Victorian buildings of the university, not realising at first that their walk had taken them from one university to the other, but he also wanted to identify what the other buildings were, whilst Thomas would point out aspects of the design of the more modern buildings. By the time they reached the museum, in its leafy park, they were ready for some sustenance and were pleased to find the museum café.

Keith thought that the front of the museum looked a bit grim, it reminded him of a town hall, but as they walked through following signs to the café it changed into something more modern. Thomas kept noticing details of the art on display, but Keith was focused on his stomach. The café was a surprise, light and modern with terrific views of the trees in the park, which seemed to make their soup and sandwich go down even better. Keith decided he preferred the light, modern atmosphere to the rather oppressive highly elaborate Victorian décor of the café at Leeds Art Gallery, which led to a surprising discussion with Thomas about architecture, design, and its influence on food.

But they had some Michael Atkinsons to see, and finally found the display upstairs, it was a small exhibition devoted to Pop Art in print and on paper, with highlights from the museum’s collection along with a few loan items. The Atkinsons were a surprise, nothing like the sculpture but the display noted that the series of drawings was related to some of Atkinson’s sculpture, so it left them rather curious as to what the rest of his work was like. The other works in the display held Thomas’ attention for some time, but Keith found himself drawn to an adjacent Highlights of the Collection display, and Thomas eventually found him peering intently at a couple of pictures by William Blake which seemed almost drug-induced in their level of fantasy.

“Fancy having that on your wall?” Thomas grinned at Keith.

“Not really”, Keith looked up and stood back from the Blake images, “it’s a bit too strange and scary. Made me wonder what he was on?”

“What he was on?”

“Yeah, that one looks like something you’d dream up when on drugs!”

Almost inevitably, their exploration of the gallery, turned somewhat into a game, considering what the picture might look like on their walls, and Keith found it gave him a new way of looking at the images whilst he and Thomas had all sorts of arguments, of the entertaining variety, about what they saw. Unfortunately, when they got to the shop Keith found that none of the images he’d really liked were available as pictures, but he did buy a selection of postcards, not really knowing what he was going to do with them.

Driving back, it felt strange that Thomas and he were together, strange but enjoyable. They ate together, buying a take-away when they reached town, but it was a quiet night, sleeping separately as both had early starts.


After a horrendously busy Thursday, which had included an argument with a client about what should and shouldn’t be done, Keith was relieved that they were able to have a kick about in the evening. But it wasn’t an ordinary one, Thomas was hoping to be there. Thomas had flatly refused to join in, saying that his football skills were nil, but he watched, joked with the lads and they all ended up in their usual pub.

Nothing particular was said, of course, Keith’s relationship with his mates wasn’t really like that. They talked about football, some politics, and TV. Thomas proved to have a surprising knowledge of the latter, thanks to his sister-in-law’s fondness for what she privately referred to as ‘trash television’. Keith only heard the phrase from Thomas later, and in the pub had simply marvelled at his boyfriend’s seemingly random knowledge. Afterwards, his various mates let Keith know that Thomas was a great bloke.

Then they got back to their separate but adjacent homes to find a message from Alison. Keith went to find Thomas, only to bump into him coming over to find Keith. Alison had messaged them both. The school governors planned an informal meeting tomorrow evening, to chat about the Michael Atkinson, sorry for the short notice but availability had been difficult. Could Keith come?

Keith’s heart rather lurched when he’d read the message, he’d known the meeting was coming but it all felt a bit formal and interview like. Still, he agreed, and Thomas phoned Alison.

By the time Keith got to the school on Friday evening, he was no more relaxed. Thomas was working, but nearby and they’d arranged that he’d hang around till the meeting was over, and Alison had said Thomas should drop in when they’d finished the more formal business. The use of the word formal hadn’t made Keith feel any easier, so when Alison showed him into her office, he got a surprise.

Grouped haphazardly around the table by the window were five people, chatting and drinking wine with a couple of wine bottles, bags of crisps, and a hunk of cheese on the table. All eyes turned to him as he entered, and Keith realised he knew one of the five, it was Isobel Bonner. Of course, she had a Michael Atkinson connection.

Introductions were made, but Keith immediately forgot everyone’s names and it didn’t really seem to matter. There was Isobel, of course, who gave Keith a brisk handshake; a sturdy woman in late middle age with very short, pepper and salt hair, and a surprisingly deep, resonant voice but Keith’s eyes were drawn in guilty fascination to her huge bosom; a slim, nervous middle-aged man, thinning on top with what seemed like a stammer; a warmly friendly-looking 40-something woman whose eyes twinkled and finally a hearty man with a substantial moustache.

The sturdy middle-aged woman was local and proclaimed that her being a governor was an act of support for the school, two others were parents of former students, whilst the guy with the moustache was a local businessman. None were quite what Keith expected, nor was the meeting. Things started with Keith being helped to a glass of wine and offered food, with various discussions about the wine and the food, where it had come from and other chatter hardly relevant to the meeting. It was friendly and convivial, and the business seemed to slide into the meeting. Alison kept loose control of things, allowing the businessman to bring up all sorts of random questions, and giving the big-bosomed woman space to go into alarming detail about how busy she was and what she was doing and why she couldn’t do more for the school.

But finally, Keith was able to say his piece, going over what he’d learned from Nico and from the two women on Wednesday, as well as some other points which had come up such as the difficulty they were going to have sourcing replacement lamps. To John’s comment about using modern LED lights, Keith explained that the light was totally different and that at the moment Nico had a source of lamps, but these would run out eventually, and then they would have to look at more expensive solutions.

Money was the problem. Isobel’s presence was explained when she started asking Keith direct questions about costs. It seemed that she and her husband were paying for much of the restoration. Luckily, Keith had had time to put everything down in a spreadsheet. Thomas had pointed him in the right direction, and he’d sort of got the hang of them, leastways it made him look more professional.

Talk gradually wound down and Keith was rather pleased that Thomas appeared, they were sociable and chatted for a bit, but Thomas had had a long day and Keith wanted to get home and unwind. But as they were saying goodbyes (again, rather a protracted business), Isobel Bonner approached and asked for a quiet word.

She ran a ladies’ group which met for lunch and had a programme of evening talks. Next Thursday the speaker for the talk she had planned had fallen through and she had persuaded a lecturer from Leeds Art College to talk about Michael Atkinson, would Keith come and say a few words about the planned restoration. It didn’t have to be much, but the ladies would be thrilled to hear what the issues and problems were, something like what he said tonight?

She looked expectantly at Keith, with a straight directness that reminded him of his old headmistress, and it made Keith feel it would be difficult, or churlish to say no. He could hardly say he’d miss his weekly football with his mates; in all honesty, he’d missed that plenty of times. Keith looked over at Thomas who seemed encouraging.

Keith agreed, emphasising that he’d never done anything like it before.

Thomas had had a lift from a colleague, he and YAFA were in the middle of another big project and one of the patrons lived near enough to give Thomas lifts, so Thomas was able to travel home with Keith, who gave him a potted version of the meeting. Thomas had met a couple of the governors so was able to fill in some of the gaps. But there was also the lecture, Thomas was positive about it and said that Keith should draft something based on his notes for the meeting and he could practice on Thomas.

Copyright © 2024 Robert Hugill; All Rights Reserved.
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This is one of my earliest stories and I remain rather fond of Keith and Thomas. There are something over 30 chapters to share; as ever, I am always delighted to hear from readers with comments and suggestions.
Stories posted in this category are works of fiction. Names, places, characters, events, and incidents are created by the authors' imaginations or are used fictitiously. Any resemblances to actual persons (living or dead), organizations, companies, events, or locales are entirely coincidental.
Note: While authors are asked to place warnings on their stories for some moderated content, everyone has different thresholds, and it is your responsibility as a reader to avoid stories or stop reading if something bothers you. 
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Wow! Keith has come a long way. From living with his mates, to getting his own place, coming out publicly, a boyfriend, presenting to school boards and lady's groups.

Keith's growth has been phenomenal. Loving it. ❤️ 

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On 6/20/2024 at 7:30 AM, Doha said:

Keith's growth has been phenomenal. Loving it. ❤️

Me too!!!!!

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