Who and where?

Remember the days when camera’s only came out on special occasions?  We took them to weddings and holidays, and missed thousands of other photo opportunities, because cameras were bulky, fiddly and expensive.

My parents stored our developed pictures and negatives in a shoe box.  Occasionally we put some in albums, but even then, we rarely bothered to identify anything or anyone.  What was the need, we knew who we were, didn’t we?

Shuffling through them only a few years later, though, we discovered how fleeting the importance of those moments are. Who was that fourth child sitting by the sandcastle, in a green anorak?  Where was it taken?  Why were they with us?

red shoesI thought I knew some of the answers.  There was a slice of leg wearing a scarlet shoe in the right corner.  ‘That’s Aunty Deb,’ I said to mum. ‘Remember those heels?  She insisted on wearing them on the beach.  So this must be Gill.’

Mum nodded, ‘We stayed at a B&B in Blackpool,’ she said.  ‘Soggy bacon sandwiches, and the man with the kiss-me-slowly hat.’

‘That was Torbay,’ said Matt. ‘It rained for four days, and Gill cheated in our monopoly marathon.’

‘Did she?’

‘You caught her stealing from the bank and tipped the board up,’ said Matt.

Clive nodded, ‘I remember that.  We’d been playing for two days.  Gill was furious, and wouldn’t speak to you for the rest of the holiday.  The KMS-hat bloke was called Harry, and he had no thumb.  He said it had been shot off by a sniper, in the war.’

Matt said, ‘He told me he’d got frostbite while he was climbing Everest.  He said he was glad of the cold wind, as he was too self-conscious about his missing toes to go paddling.’

‘That doesn’t look like Blackpool beach, or Torbay,’ I said.  ‘Looks more like Weymouth, to me.’

What?’ said Matt. ‘No way.’

Clive shook his head. ‘Definitely not. That’s Barmouth.’

‘Actually,’ said mum, ‘you’re all wrong.  It was Blackpool.  That was the first and last holiday I had with Debs.’

‘Why?’

‘Turned out Harry had followed her.  He took that photo, then they went off to buy ice-creams and we didn’t see them again until five days later as we were about to drive home.’

I said, ‘But I remember her on the beach, in those shoes.’

‘Only on the first afternoon.  It rained for the next three and a half days, and I was on my own with you four children.’

‘Where was Dad?’

‘Posted to Germany for the summer.’  Mum sighed. ‘Poor little Gill.  I wonder what happened to her?’

‘She got stuck in our album,’ I said, as I slotted the picture into place and scribbled our names in the box beside it.

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4 thoughts on “Who and where?

  1. I remember having a Brownie box camera which I took everywhere but always had trouble taking out the film! My brother has the family album and we have similar conversations. Out stamping ground was Filey and the east Yorkshire coast. Ah the memories, you’ve made me feel so nostalgic.

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  2. Cath, this is a lovely snapshot (sorry, had to be done) of family reminiscence. A fine example of ‘showing not telling’ us how family members remember things so differently and from diverse emotional perspectives. I love the image of Auntie Deb on the beach in her red stilettos. The narrator has a fondly bemused recollection of this while Mum just recalls her resentment. I was reminded of when Hayley first visited Bridge Farm and was trudging through the mud in high heels; still, better not stray into Ambridge…
    You remind us of the importance of records. Just a name, date and place scribbled on the back of a photograph can be helpful when sorting through the remnants of someone’s life. And even before that poignant point, it can be interesting for young relatives to encounter their ancestors. And to see how they fit in to the family tree. I can just about recognize a couple of generations back: my granny helping me to build a sandcastle, Auntie Bertha in a deckchair with never a concession to beachwear. After that, there are many strangers.
    I’ve been dealing with a lot of secondhand books lately. I find I’m really loving the older ones whose previous owners have annotated the margins or front pages. One fabulous find has been a man who drew delightful sketches of a nautical nature, illustrating how he felt about the book and the memories it conjured.
    Cameras and images are everywhere now. It’s the result of this technological age and is undoubtedly here to stay. Still, I find myself wistfully thinking of that time when taking a photo was a big deal; when you had to be selective because you only had a limited number of shots on your film. You had to wait while they were developed and only then did you find out if your precious snaps were good or not. And as for sharing them…that was a massive undertaking.
    Thanks Cath, you’ve brought back some special memories.

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  3. Thanks, Ruth, for such a comprehensive and appreciative response. You picked up on everything I tried to say, and more. I’d forgotten about Hayley, perhaps it was lingering in my subconscious, along with a favourite saying of my grandmother’s, about red hats!

    I do envy you the discovery of the nautical note-maker. It’s one of the reasons I love second-hand books. Plus, I’m always looking out to see if I might stumble upon one with an ancestor’s name in.

    Will there be some bookshop posts? I do hope so.

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