Picture This

Every picture tells a story, or so the saying goes. Maybe you have already turned the page of your 2020 Wakefield calendar to July and seen that picture. If not, don’t rush away to look now. Unless, of course, you haven’t actually purchased a calendar. In which case, make haste to the General Store, or La Forêt or any other shop in the village that purveys quality publications. Keep your fingers crossed that they haven’t sold out.

Yes, that picture tells quite a story. It’s a story of the bus buddies of the 921, the magic Transcollines bus that pre-Covid used to ferry us back and forth to work every day. It’s a story of the friendships that grew out of the chatter exchanged on daily commutes. It’s a story that’s actually been told already, by Wandering Wakefield guest blogger Hilary Jocelyn, as a Valley Voices article in the Low Down, now posted on the Transcollines website. But don’t click the link to Hilary’s article just yet, stay with me, and let me tell you the story of the picture itself.

It begins with…

One day last August a group of 14 women of a certain age paraded naked around the community centre parking lot.

No, it begins earlier than that, with some crazy plan hatched over too many glasses of wine. By the time we were making our way home on the 5:30 pm 921 bus that August afternoon, none of us could remember why we had thought a naked photo shoot was such a great idea. Although we all agreed we love Franziska Heinze’s photographic work, and the annual Wakefield nude calendar is such a worthy cause*. We were filled with trepidation, and as loud and giggly as a bunch of teenage girls on a school trip. I’m not sure we knew why we were so nervous. Was it just the thought of taking off our clothes in front of each other, or posing for the photo shoot, or something more deeply rooted in vulnerability? Whatever, the fear and excitement mounted as we pulled off the highway and the familiar sight of Tim Hortons came into view. Down Valley Drive, and the first thing we noticed was a fire truck near the spring, followed by a couple of police cars closer to the community centre,  followed by a Hydro Québec truck with a guy up in the cherry picker, seemingly inspecting the electricity wires.  It was a conspiracy, we were sure of it. Despite our best attempts to keep the photo shoot on the down low, word must have got around, and the complete spectrum of La Pêche’s essential services had turned out for the occasion.

The advance party, made up of those fortunate enough to have caught the 4:30 pm bus, stood waiting in the parking lot. An email had been sent around; Franziska thought we should bring rubber boots and brollies, so the advance party had been able to comply. We had of course been in touch with the Transcollines administration, who had promised a bus and their one female driver. But no, nothing, no bus, no female driver. The bus driver who dropped us at the parking lot had no idea of the photo shoot, and was scheduled to drive to Masham. We had to call the Transcollines office, and wait… and wait.  Fortunately, it meant that the firemen, police and Hydro guys either got bored, or finished their work and went home.

After an eternity, with the trepidation mounting, a bus showed up. But not the driver we’d hoped for.  Transcollines had sent an older gentleman. He must have been briefed, but he seemed completely unfazed by the whole idea. It seemed as though this was completely normal, as though he was a bystander to naked photo shoots most days after work.

“Anyway” he said “I’m old enough to have seen it all”, and

“Anyway, I’ve been to a nudist camp” followed by

 “Anyway, I’ll just go and sit on a bench across the way and have a smoke”.

So the moment of truth came. There is no shilly-shallying with Franziska. We ducked behind the bus against the hedge and stripped. It was like Phys Ed. at high school, except we didn’t get to pull on our gym kit. But we had our umbrellas, and hid behind those as best we could as we ran over to the bus and lined up for the first photos.

Photo credit: Franziska Heinze

Then it was on to the bus. There had been much discussion over the previous week about appropriate props. Knitting, laptops, bags, scarves, groceries, the Transcollines bus schedule; all the accoutrements of our normal commute were evaluated for their potential as cover.  Like a bevy of teenagers, there was a bit of a rush to the back seats, but Franziska soon had us sorted; those with the largest pieces of knitting were ordered to the front. We were high as kites, laughing and joking to the extent that we almost forgot it was a photo shoot, and had to be reminded occasionally to “look towards the front”, “show more shoulder”, “lower the book”.

It must have been around 6:30 or 7:00 pm by then, and the sun was dropping a little in the sky. All of a sudden, Franziska decided that the light was wrong, and that we needed to move the bus. But we were naked, and our clothes were under the hedge. After some debate, a brave volunteer was dispatched to waddle across the car park in her flip flops, wrapped in a small towel, to ask the driver if he would kindly turn the bus around. Again, it seemed as though to him this was nothing in a day’s work.  Over he came, without batting an eye in our direction, started up the engine, and drove a bus load of naked women to the other side of the car park, before heading off for another smoke.

Photo credit: Franziska Heinze.
*Now in its tenth year the Wakefield calendar has raised thousands of dollars that have gone to support important community initiatives such as the palliative care unit and the Wakefield emergency fund.

It should have ended there, a few more photos in good light, then off to the Kaffe 1870 to recover.  But no! Out of the woods behind the skateboarding park came a group of three hikers. You can just picture the moment when they noticed the clothes and bags stashed under the hedge. God knows what they thought: an abduction of bodies by aliens; a sudden sublimation of souls to heaven; a drunken race to the river. Whatever, they started to pick up our belongings: a leather briefcase, a pair of rubber boots, a bra, all were held up for closer inspection. On the bus we were having a fit, banging on the windows, and shouting. Our intrepid volunteer was dispatched once more, looking as though she had just emerged from her morning shower, and the hikers, adequately reprimanded, sheepishly slouched off. Shortly after, Franziska announced that we were done. Remember though, the bus was now the other side of the parking lot. There was nothing for it, we each bit the bullet and streaked across the parking lot to the hedge to reunite with our clothes.

Zoom capture credit: Anne-Marie Etheridge

On a recent Zoom meeting with my work team, we were discussing our current teleworking situation.  “I can tell you, I’m not missing the commute” quipped one colleague.  But I am, I miss my bus buddies, and though we have had a couple of virtual bus rides, courtesy of Zoom, who knows how long this working from home will continue, and when we will be together again. Only one or two of us still ride the bus, some of us will continue to work mostly from home even when the pandemic is over, and I suspect that some of us will retire before we return to our offices in the city.

Like all good photographs, the July calendar page marks a moment in time that can never be recaptured. But even without the photograph, we are unlikely to forget August 8, 2019. That day, the day when 14 women threw their clothes and caution to the winds and raced starkers across the community centre parking lot for the sake of the Wakefield calendar.

Gillie Griffin, July 2020.

With many thanks to Franziska Heinze and to all the ladies of the 921.