In the midst of busy family photographs, you sometimes find a special moment: a look, a touch, a smile that can scream down the generations and remind you that the great thing about common humanity is that it is common to all.
This photograph was taken shortly after my brother, Roger, was born in 1943. He was the first of a new generation in the family and his arrival provided an opportunity for all the grandparents and uncles and aunts to gather together. I won’t name them all, they are of limited interest to those outside the family,
Focus, however on the lady with her arm in a sling – it is my grandmother, Harriet-Ellen Burnett. And focus, in particular, on that look – a look almost dangerously overloaded with pride and hope. I know the look well – I saw my grandchildren this morning.
Whilst on a walk yesterday, I got to thinking about all the things I have missed over this last lockdown year. There are, of course, family and friends, holidays in the sun, meals out and parties at home. And there is the pub: that depot of contented neutrality, that refuge from the outside world; that reading room, that meeting space, that home from home. I miss your beery smells, your casual choice of pointless chatter or drinking peace. Soon, my friend, soon, I will return.
We had a computer when I was at university. When I say “we”, I mean the university had a computer. Just the one. An enormous mainframe job which had a building to itself. If you were lucky you might get to use it once in your university career. When I say “you” would get to use it, I mean someone would use it on your behalf; normal folk weren’t let within an airlock of it. You could ask it to do things: not fun things like play space invaders or send messages to the other side of the world, but process data, calculate stuff, find patterns in numbers. Communications with the computer were by way of punched cards: bits of cardboard with holes punched in them. Once your data had been transferred to punched cards, fed into the computer and the results had eventually emerged from the other end of the machine you were given your bundle of punched cards to keep. They made good book marks. And then 51 years later, as you were sorting out some old books, one would drop out and history would hit you with a punch.
This photograph of mine of Brighouse from fifty or more years ago has always been one of my favourites, and for years I have assume that it was taken from River Street, looking west towards the town. Stuck in the fag-end of lockdown, I have little better to do with my time these days but to go through these old photos of mine, adding a sprinkling of colour here and there, and endlessly re-sorting them into virtual boxes. Which is how, yesterday, for the first time in almost 55 years, I realised that I can’t have taken this from River Street as the Brighouse flour mill would have been the other way around. I immediately went into full exploration mode, dived into Google Street View, and eventually tracked down the one remaining building in this photograph. And it turns out that I was not in River Street looking west, but in Bank Street looking east! The self-satisfied glow of achievement radiated from me for hours …. and then I realised what a sad, lockdown life I am beginning to lead.
We took a walk around Honley yesterday, with its cobbled streets and picturesque stone cottages. It was all very pretty and a welcome escape from a lockdown winter, but by the end of the walk I wasn’t sure what was real and what was imagined.
I am not sure which seaside this “seaside snap” from the 1930s was taken at. If it was any other member of my family I would say Bridlington, Scarborough , Blackpool, or – if they were being adventurous – Skegness. This, however, is Auntie Annie (left) and Uncle Harry (second from left), and they led a far more glamorous lifestyle. Harry had flirted with the performing arts, settled to become a clerical worker, and together with Annie, bought the first semi-detached house the family had ever seen, and spent their money on leather settees and decorative ornaments. This could well have been Bournemouth. Enough said!
To prove a point I made yesterday, here is a hand-coloured postcard view the Lock-keepers cottage at Salterhebble from around 1905. The artificial intelligence behind this bit of colouring would have been a studio artist, but they would have worked on the same basis as their modern AI equivalent: grass is green, sky is blue, and flowers are normally pink. I passed this scene only this morning and I am pleased to say that not all that much has changed: the cottage still guards the lock, the railway line still directs the hill and All Saints Church still looks down on the world below. And the grass is still green, but, this morning, the sky wasn’t blue.
An old negative of mine from 50 years ago with a dusting of colour provided by some Artificial Intelligence App. The results of such experiments remind me of the artificial colouring of vintage postcards during the first decade of the twentieth century: the results are not exactly accurate, but are attractive to the eye and make a change. We should equally avoid the trap of thinking that such experiments with colour somehow interfere with the “reality” of the original monochrome image: there is nothing real about a world reduced to a greyscale colour chart.