The First …

I can be fairly certain this was the first photograph I ever took.  It is in the back garden at Alstead Avenue and I would be using the only camera the family owned for years – the Kodak Brownie 127” Be careful, don’t drop it, press the shutter once, don’t forget to wind it on” would have been just a selection of the instructions received from my ever-vigilant mother.  In perfect nosey-neighbour fashion, Mrs Hillier is watching proceedings from an upper window.  She would have felt very much at home in the Stasi.

The trellis fence in the background divided east from west and would take my weight for all the years it was necessary.  Retrieval of footballs, tennis balls, paper aeroplanes and cricket stumps/harpoons was a constant necessity and inevitably resulted in shouted orders from either side of the divide.  Children in the 1950s were at best tolerated, always mistrusted, invariably harshly punished.  We knew our place.

Mr Hillier was ex-RAF and ‘affectionately’ known as “Hillybum” – I have no idea why. He drove a cream Mk VIII Hillman Minx at a time when all cars were black.  The connection between Hillman, Hillier and Hillybum was reassuringly alliterative, entirely logical.  He would pass away not long after this was taken but not before we all ended up on the same beach in Wales one bright summer.  This was entirely by coincidence, happy or otherwise.  The gathering from left to right comprises Mrs Hillier (taking notes), their daughter Joy (eternally single), me (performing cat impressions), sister Pat (eating as always), mother (presiding over the sandwich tin), ‘Hillybum’, cousin Brian, uncle Ed and aunt Bet:

I learned to keep a distance from mother – an arm’s length being the absolute minimum.  I seem to have been caught off-guard in this frozen moment.  I am dangerously within striking distance.  My behaviour was a constant cause for concern and always threatened the involvement of a third party if my dad was not immediately available.

In my teenage years, the dynamics had not changed. I can’t remember which particular boundary I had crossed or to which mortal sin I had succumbed but, mother was determined to fetch an outsider ‘to sort me out’.  I was used to these threats and was fairly sure this one was empty but I made my escape regardless.  A few minutes later, Kent cigarette in hand, from the darkness of the alleyway across the road I saw my mother return, alone and without a house key.  Hysterical shouts echoed across the street – “What are you doing in there, don’t play with matches, you will set the house on fire – ROBIN, LET, ME, IN!”  Her leaps of the imagination finally overwhelmed any sense of reason as the night air filled with the sound of breaking glass.  If I wasn’t before, I was certainly in trouble now.


  1. easyweimaraner · November 22, 2018

    how great that so much memories are still with you… I still have my first photo too it shows a lot of heaven and a part of the head of my father… my mom is not in the photo, she was to small to make it to my first try to became ansel adams ;O)

    • northumbrianlight · November 24, 2018

      I wonder how much I would remember without the images to prod the memory – there is a magic to old photographics. I would like to see your first – there is a story behind every one.

  2. J.D. Riso · November 22, 2018

    Your memories shine through your words and photos. Both humorous and painful. Always stay out of striking distance. Good advice to take into adulthood. That first photo had me laughing. No self respecting British neighborhood is without at least one nosy neighbor and yours was right next door. We have them in America, but they are less prevalent and they don’t own their nosiness with as much vigor. Maybe we’re just more self absorbed over here. Thanks for the always entertaining peek into your past.

    • northumbrianlight · November 24, 2018

      Thanks for your kind words Julie – I was plagued by nosy neighbours for all the time I lived at home, a symptom of small minds. Mostly I look back in amusement and exasperation at all that futile discipline – I don’t think it changed me for the better, probably the reverse.

  3. sustainabilitea · November 22, 2018

    We had nosy neighbors in the US as well. They were always peeking out to see what was going on so we called them the Peekers. They had a little annoying dog that they used to let come and poop in our yard. My dad told them to keep it in their yard but they never did, so one day he shot it in the bum with a BB gun, injuring nothing but its pride. They were outraged, but the dog never come into our yard again. I think now that such an incident would result in a call to the police, etc., as everyone is ready to be outraged and insulted at any little thing, none of which is ever their fault.

    Thanks for sharing some memories and bring some of mine to mind.


    • northumbrianlight · November 24, 2018

      Love that story Janet – your dad took exactly the right approach 🙂

  4. petergreyphotography · November 22, 2018

    Wow! Great story and great picture(s)!

  5. Su Leslie · November 22, 2018

    This is such a lovely reflection on these photos. I have a feeling my mother probably was (is) the neighbourhood’s “Mrs Hillier”.
    I’m a few years younger than you, but my childhood was certainly much more like yours than that of kids now. We hardly ever get stuff (and kids) coming from over the fence because children round here don’t seem to actually play outside.

    • northumbrianlight · November 24, 2018

      Strange isn’t it – getting outside was all we thought about, there being no chance of proper mischief and adventure indoors. The winters went on forever with only snow adding the possibility of excitement – that’s probably why I love it so much. Thanks, as ever, for stopping by and taking the time to comment.

      • Su Leslie · November 24, 2018

        That’s exactly it; adventure began outside the door. In Auckland, where it’s never really cold, we were just sent out in the morning, rain or shine, and told to be home for dinner. I don’t know what our mothers thought we were doing, but it’s probably just as well they didn’t know.

  6. mostlymonochrome · November 22, 2018

    Very good read and photo. Brings back some memories of my own.

    • northumbrianlight · November 24, 2018

      Many thanks, much appreciated – pleased when these ramblings strike a chord.

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