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Let’s Keep It Simple

How much is too much?

- By Patsy Collins

Joanna unrolled her work before the committee. They crowded around the poster she’d designed for the forthcomin­g Norton-on-Sea Special Day.

She’d created a scene which represente­d the town. It showed its proximity to a good beach, hinted at its history, showed the range of shops already in place, and suggested many of the attraction­s which would be available on the day.

Over a clear blue sky were the words Comeforasp­ecialdayou­tatNortono­nThe date and times of the event were printed close to the bottom, followed by the event’s website address. It had been a lot to cram in, but the committee had insisted all those things were to feature.

What they’d asked for was almost impossible and Joanna had been under a great deal of stress as she worked, but she’d managed it.

“Lovely,” they said, or “very nice,” or “so pretty”. Behind every compliment Joanna could hear a silent “but”. She should have known. Lately it seemed nothing she did was right for anyone.

It was only a moment before the silent criticisms were said aloud.

“It’s maybe just a little busy, dear,” one lady said.

Joanna once again explained that including everything they’d wanted made for a complicate­d and confusing image. She reminded them she had suggested they have a watercolou­r sketch showing the view down the High Street and out to sea, with the date and website address written in the sky.

“But then it wouldn’t show the manor house. That’s a historical­ly significan­t building and quite a draw for tourists,” a gentleman said.

As the other committee members began voicing their opinions, Joanna wished she could just walk out – but some of these people were friends of her dad, so it would be his reputation as well as her own that she damaged by doing so.

“The hotel must be included. The owner is our biggest sponsor.”

“Leaving out the church would be wrong as this whole thing was the minister’s idea.”

“I’ve included everything you asked me to,” Joanna pointed out as calmly as she could.

“You have, but with the writing it’s hard to see everything. Couldn’t you just add the date to the top and not have that bottom bit?”

“There aren’t any people. I think there should be people enjoying themselves.”

Suggestion­s were made of various local personalit­ies who could be added, and that children be included.

“No youths, though. We don’t want any of them.”

“I’d like more flowers. So many residents have made a real effort with their gardens.”

“A list of the major events should be on it too, I think.” “And perhaps directions?” Eventually Joanna said, “If I can just clarify what you want… it’s a simpler design that incorporat­es everything I have already, plus a lot of extra features. You want children, but no youths. You want less writing, but for there to be more words?”

“That’s it exactly. When will you have it ready for our approval?”

“I’ll be in touch,” Joanna muttered. She packed up and left before she could say anything she might regret.

In the car park she took a few deep breaths so she could focus on driving rather than the frustratio­ns of her life. Once she was calmer, she headed home. Although she managed to drive safely, she couldn’t keep her mind free of worry.

Just before she’d been briefed to create the poster, she’d had a huge row with Larry. He’d gone away with work for two weeks and although they weren’t quite at the not-speaking stage, they’d not been in contact much.

He’d not phoned or answered her calls. All she’d had were a few texts saying he’d arrived safely and the mobile phone signal was weak. That was probably true, but if they’d not rowed she was sure he’d have found a way to contact her more often.

Usually if she’d shown signs of doing anything as idiotic as being briefed by a committee, Larry would have talked her out of it. He didn’t even know about the

“So you want a SIMPLER design with all this and EXTRA FEATURES…”

mess over the Norton-on-Sea poster. She missed talking things over with him. She just plain missed him. She didn’t blame him for being upset. What man wouldn’t be, after his fiancée announced that she didn’t want to get married after all?

Joanna did want to bemarried to Larry, she just couldn’t face the wedding. The trouble had started from the moment they’d tentativel­y announced an approximat­e date.

“But that’s during Wimbledon fortnight,” her mother had said after making a note in her diary. “I don’t see why that matters, Mum.” “Your cousin Millie might be playing.” “I still don’t see why that matters.” Cousin Millie was actually more like third cousin six times removed. They never so much as exchanged Christmas cards.

“Having her there might add a touch of class, though.”


“Well I suppose you’ll have to invite your father and it wouldn’t surprise me if he dragged that woman along.”

“Chana won’t be dragged along, she’ll be invited. You’ll expect us to invite your husband, I presume?”

“Naturally he’ll be there as he’ll be giving you away.” “No. Dad will.” A beep of the horn from the car behind her reminded Joanna she was supposed to be travelling home, not stopped at a junction lost in thought with her hands gripping the wheel and foot stamped on the brake. She waved in apology and moved forward.

Making progress with the wedding plans hadn’t been simple. Although he didn’t say so, Joanna’s father, a deeply religious man, must surely hope the service would be held in Norton-on-Sea church. Her mother would want it near her home town, over a hundred miles away. Larry’s parents were dropping hints about top hats, marquees and a string quartet. Joanna’s best friend, a redhead, had asked that pink be excluded from the bridesmaid dresses, despite it being the first choice of the bride’s sister.

Larry had suggested they have a simple, inexpensiv­e wedding rather than start married life in debt. Joanna had yelled that, as it wasn’t possible to please everyone, they’d just not bother at all. That would save money, arguments and a bitter divorce like the one her mother had put her father through.

Rememberin­g that scene, Joanna’s hands were once again frozen on the wheel and her foot jammed right down on the brake. Fortunatel­y she’d arrived home by then. She slammed the car door, locked it and went inside.

She was greeted by evidence that the last week had been spent on artwork rather than housework. A waste of time that had been! Joanna shoved a load of washing in the machine, collected abandoned crockery and washed it, then emptied the overflowin­g bin. With

the house looking a little less abandoned, she filled the kettle and dropped two slices of bread in the toaster.

A minute later, she smelled burning. A crust had come off the slice she’d put in the previous day, and must be wedged in the toaster. The smoke alarm went off and Joanna flapped a tea towel underneath it. The clamour of the alarm was joined by the insistent beeping which told her the washing machine had finished its cycle.

She couldn’t stop both of them at once. Trying to do so was no more possible than taking everyone’s wishes into account over the wedding, or the publicity poster.

Once peace was restored, Joanna made herself a mug of tea. At least the kettle simply did its job and shut up. Everyone was happy with that and never expected or wanted more. Joanna rather wished she were a kettle.

In a way, she used to be. When Larry first proposed, she’d accepted but said she wanted to concentrat­e on her business. “Can we live together for a year or so first?” “Sure – if you like,” he’d said. They’d not asked anyone’s opinion. No one had objected, or made things difficult.

She sent a TEXT: So sorry. Love you. Want to MARRY YOU and be a KETTLE

She and Larry had been very happy.

When she first began creating commercial artwork she insisted on working with a single client and to a clear brief. Her work had been highly praised. Then had come all the wedding hassle and the mess over the poster. Nomore. She sent a text. Sosorry.Loveyou. Wanttomarr­yyouandbea­kettle.XXX.

A while later she got a reply. Loveyou tooKettle???Hometonigh­txox.

As she waited, she started to think. Of all the opinions she’d received about the wedding, only one really mattered; Larry’s. Well, hers too of course, but she’d been so caught up in what everyone else wanted she’d hardly given it a thought.

Larry was right, she decided. Getting into debt to please other people, who’d likely not be satisfied anyway, was silly. What she really wanted was to be Larry’s wife. She’d like rings on their fingers, a photo on the mantelpiec­e and memories of a happy day, but even those weren’t vital. The only thing which truly mattered was that she share her life with Larry.

When he came home, they set to work planning their wedding and sorting out the mess over the poster.

The committee compromise­d on Joanna’s insistence that she liaise with just one of them. They said the hotel owner and church minister could decide.

“Sounds reasonable,” Larry agreed when she told him. “Those two probably know something about weddings, too.”

Three months later, all their friends and family arrived at Norton-onSea. First there were prayers in the church to bless the forthcomin­g wedding, for those who wished to attend. Everyone did, even Joanna’s mother, though she did manage things so as not to sit next to Chana.

The wedding itself was an informal affair, held in a marquee in the hotel grounds. As it had been erected for the town’s Special Day rather than their own, Joanna and Larry weren’t charged extra for it. Joanna’s mum and stepdad booked a two-night stay, so as not to have to travel on the day.

The bridesmaid­s wore dresses in the same style, but in each girl’s choice of colour. Joanna’s father gave her away. Her stepfather was delighted to be asked to read a fun poem he had composed.

Later the best man read out messages, including one from cousin Millie at Wimbledon who’d got through to the quarter-finals in the mixed doubles.

Joanna’s mother only made one snide comment about Chana.

“I see she didn’t wear a proper hat, just one of those fascinator things.”

“That’s right. She told me she didn’t want to eclipse the mother of the bride – not that she could, of course.” “She said that? Maybe I misjudged her.” Half an hour later, the photograph­er caught a candid shot of the two women giggling together at Joanna’s dad trying to dance with the youngest bridesmaid, who held him firmly around the knees.

A string quartet, along with other members of the school music group, played during the reception. They were rehearsing for the town event, on the following day. The committee, it seemed, had relented about youths – as well as the poster design.

As Joanna and Larry were leaving, she saw her work on display in the hotel lobby. The last photo in their wedding album was of the newlyweds either side of a poster showing the High Street and the view down to the sea. In the sky were the words CometoNort­on-on-Seaforaspe­cialday.

“That’s exactly what we’ve done,” Larry said, pulling her close.

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