You know what it’s like. It’s late. You’ve been scanning some old family photographs. You’re tired, but not quite ready for bed just yet. And anyway, there are a still a couple of millimetres of that 10 year old Laphroaig left in the glass. It would be a shame to rush it. It’s important to have some alcohol gel on the inside, as well as the outside, in these difficult times. So you start messing. There is that photo of your mother, father and brother in all its sepia dullness. Why don’t we give my mother a nice coloured coat? And wouldn’t my father look good in a red check shirt? And as for little Roger, bless him, why not a yellow raincoat?
In the cold light of the following morning, you know that the original is more authentic, you know that some of the colours look a bit silly. But, what the hell! It’s about time that someone put some colour into the family tree. Now, it’s just a matter of waiting for my brother to email me to point out that the coat was green, not yellow!
The last two frames of the strip of negatives from the winter of 1964/65 reveal how I can be so sure of both the date and the place. They show the destination of my walk, which was to my brothers’ new house in East Street, Lightcliffe. I may be neither a rock, nor an island (thank you Paul and Art for accompanying me in my walk), but at least at the end of my walk I can have the pleasure of watching Roger dig up rocks from his back yard.
I can remember the project well: he was clearing the yard to make room for the boat he was about to build there. By the Spring of 1965, the boat was well on the way to completion, and later that year it was starting its journey around the canals of northern Britain.
It was replaced by further boats, each of increasing size and complexity, and they would eventually take my brother and his family to the other side of the world. He will probably be reading this post from his island home in the West Indies: with memories of all those years ago …. and trying hard to remember what on earth snow is.
The entrance to the Grand Pier at Weston-Super-Mare in England. The photo dates from the mid 1930s, and the couple standing in front of the “Mirth” sign are my Uncle and Aunt, Frank and Miriam Fieldhouse. The miserable chap who is the embodiment of anything but “Enjoyment” is, happily, unknown. From the posters on display, it appears that Sir Malcolm Campbell’s record-breaking car “Bluebird” was being exhibited on the pier at the time. There may be a distinct lack of mirth and enjoyment, but this little sepia print is certainly full of life.
Uncle Harry was the nearest you could get to a celebrity in our family. For a time in the early 1930s he “trod the boards“, being part of a concert party that did the rounds of the seaside pier halls of Britain. He was never top of the bill, his job was to provide piano accompaniment to true stars like Miss Dorothy Woodhill, “the charming soprano” and Will Kimber, “the well-known Yorkshire baritone“. His name just about lives on in the form of a brief review of the Silhouettes Concert Party in the Bognar Regis Observer of the 17th June 1931. You can find it on page 4, just next to the advert for grey flannel trousers at 14/11 a pair.
He was not understood in working class Bradford in the late 1920s and early 1930s for either his desire to become an entertainer, or, I suspect, for his sexuality. After a couple of years touring the minor concert halls of Britain, he was constrained into a job as a clerk in a coal merchant’s office, and marriage to my father’s sister, Annie-Elizabeth. If J.B. Priestley had been writing their story it would have no doubt finished with a jolly sing-song around a piano; but, in reality, it was more like an Alan Bennet Talking Heads monologue. Bennet would have made much play of that advert for grey flannel trousers, and Miss Dorothy Woodhall, the charming soprano.
My weekly instalment of a photograph from each year of my life is an appropriate one as, on Fathers’ Day, it features my father, Albert, and me. It is doubly appropriate because his birthday would have been next week – he was born on the 25th June 1911. Happy Birthday, Happy Fathers’ Day.
Given that it’s my birthday, and given that I can’t spend the day in the pub trying to ignore the onset of old age, I though I would revel in the passing of years by finding a photograph of myself from every year of my life. This will have to be a weekly project, so I will start with this one from 1948 which shows me having just come out of hospital. If I do a year every week, I should be up to date by the time that this lockdown is nearing an end!
My mother, Gladys, on a motorbike in the 1930s. The pencilled caption on the back says it’s my mother, and the photograph was taken in Lancaster. The album it comes from is one of my mothers. It looks like my mother. My software’s facial recognition confirms it is my mother. But my mother, astride a powerful motorbike, young, without the cares of family: it is all so difficult to take in.
An old family photograph which must date back to the mid 1930s. The man in the photograph is Charlie Pitts, I am not sure about the woman next to him. It was taken in Blue Anchor, a village in Somerset, when my parents were on a motorbike holiday with Charlie and his lady friend.
Family history – dripping with memories. Aunty Annie in that hat, Uncle Harry in that suit, my wife to be in that dress: all set against the background of an asbestos garage. My father (left) is wearing a suit so it must have been a special occasion. The date will be about 1970 which doesn’t coincide with any important birthdays or anniversaries. No matter – a moment in time captured forever.