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?
I 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.’
‘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.’
‘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.