Wednesday, 22 December 2010

kodak ghosts

A Christmas card from my late Uncle's wife contained some photographs of my distant past.  There were two of me taken at Junior School, several of me older - one from my wedding day.  There were ones of my mother - a fantastic one of my mother, father and our first born at their Ruby Wedding Anniversary bash.  But the one included here seemed the most poignant.

All of the people in this photo have gone. This was taken on April 10th 1948 at St Mary's Church in Baldock, Hertfordshire. My mother and father's Wedding Day.  Obviously my mother and father are at the centre of the photo.  Next to my father stands his mother - a tiny lady.  I don't think my grandfather was at the wedding.  There's no one left to tell me, now. My father, like me, was a tall man - both of his parents were tiny. Next to my mother stands my maternal grandmother - I only ever really knew her as wheelchair-bound or bed-ridden.  She used to be brought over to our house for Christmas.  A victim of Parkinson's Disease.  She died when I was quite young. Next to her stands my Uncle from whose album this photo came.  I think he must have been doing National Service then.  He used to tell me funny stories that involved Russian soldiers and lots of vodka.  He passed on just before Christmas last year. The two outliers were friends of my parents - Jack and Doreen.  They disappeared from our lives when I was about 10.  They may still be alive but lost to us.  I remember bumping into them once when I was a teenager. They never got back in contact with my parents.  I don't know if there had been a falling out or not.  They just stopped seeing each other.

My father was born and lived with his mother in Letchworth.  My mother came up to Baldock with her mother from Eastbourne thanks to their Bed & Breakfast house being bombed during the war.  My Uncle had been evacuated to Baldock.  They had nowhere else to go. My mother worked during the war at The White Horse pub near the railway station in Baldock. It was a favourite haunt of American Servicemen and she served Glen Miller - the famous flying band leader - there.

My father passed on 21 years ago.  In January.  My mother outlived him by some 15 years and she died in October whilst we were away on holiday in Holland.  All of these people died in the Winter - stretching it a bit for my mother, technically Autumn, I suppose.  However, this time of the year certainly tends to be a melancholy time for us. Well, for me particularly.

I've spent a while thinking about this post - it's obviously personal.  But, I watched the wonderful BBC documentary on Ray Davies which finished a few moments ago, and towards the end they played a song he'd written what? 1968?:

people take photos of each other
just to prove they exist

I'm glad all those people existed. I'm about to raise a glass of single malt to these ghosts.

To absent friends.


Kent Wiley said...

Thanks for sharing, Dave. I've reached that point in my life where it's fun to look at photos of people who I don't know and try to figure out the relationships. Didn't do too well w/ yours, only 3 out of 7.

My mother gave me a large box of photos from all ages a few months ago. I'm not much of a record keeper, so I wonder what to do with such an archive?

Mike C. said...

I had no idea you had a Baldock / Letchworth connection, Dave -- one branch of my family lived in Baldock probably since the Iron Age (the records only go back to the 1700s...), then moved to Letchworth where my father was born (his father was a blow-in, like yours, from Scotland via Elephant & Castle).

The key to understanding wedding photos is (a) getting the certificate (parents, if present, are included, with useful info like "occupation") and (b) understanding the traditional positioning ( bride's family on the right, father behind, mother beside, etc.). It also helps to do what I did -- get the old 'uns to write the names on the back of all family photos while they still can.

There is something about old family photos that goes to the heart of what photography is, and why it's special -- I've written a few posts about this myself.

What is especially poignant is that, like our dreams, our family photos are uniquely precious to us but valueless to anyone else. When people are asked what they would go back into a burning house to rescue, the family photo album usually tops the list. But it's hard to imagine anyone risking their life for someone else's photo album...


Dave Leeke said...


Yes I've got a lot of my mother's photos that we brought away with us after clearing her house - a sobering act if ever there is one. I haven't looked at them properly but, to be honest I still can't bring myself to.


It's odd I suppose looking at other people's family photos. I rarely look at them myself. This one seemed poignant to me dropping through my letter box as it did. And, as I said, I tend to be a little more melancholy at this time of year.

Andy Wright said...

Fabulous photo Dave.I know because I knew your Mum and Dad quite well that despite the passing of the years between 1948 and when I first met them around 1971 they hadn't changed that much, really they hadn't. (Still remember your Dad's red Corsair. How many gigs did he take us to in that?)
Treasure their memory.....I know you will.

Dave Leeke said...

Thanks for that, Andy.

You too lost your father at this time of the year - I'm sure you have your own "kodak ghost" memories:

"Since you've been gone, it's been a little hard/but at last I've finally got my loneliness together"

A great song of loss by the wonderful Michael Chapman. Although that's about a lover, the lyrics stand out generally.

All those gigs! I always thought I didn't get on well with my dad but I guess I'm probably wrong. Just teenage angst, really. I wish he was around now, I'd love him to have known Hannah and Niall. And to see how successful Katie is.

Ah well, time past and time passing . . .