Empty Chairs

It is Christmas 1961 and I am, as ever, behind the camera.  This was the year I was given a flash unit to fit the family Kodak Brownie Cresta.  A sizeable attachment with a large reflector, it fired off one-time flash bulbs. Filled with fine magnesium wire and oxygen, a small current was sufficient to instigate the flash – all very satisfying to a boy who liked playing with fire..

You can tell I am responsible – it is taken from a low angle and the subjects tend to occupy centre stage.  I had not yet learned the rule of thirds  In the first image, dad is seated far left smoking one of the many Kensitas that would eventually take him.  He is at the beginning of his forties while mum, sat next to him, is still in her thirties.  My sister is too busy eating to take notice of younger brother’s antics but boyfriend Ricky is smiling keenly at the camera, also with cigarette in hand, possibly one of dad’s.  A too well-presented eighteen year old, I knew big sister could do better.

Cigarettes were socially acceptable at home but there was little or no drink. My teenage smoking habit went undetected until I tried Blue Book, a brand for “the discerning smoker”.  Each packet contained Turkish, Russian Egyptian and Havana blends.  An afternoon smoking these with an equally discerning friend and the house smelled like a souk.

It is the end of Christmas dinner and house-proud mother has already cleared most of the table.  The posh sideboard, table and chairs from Kendal Milne, Manchester;  the Regency striped wallpaper; the Wedgwood dinner service; the Peter Scott print; the understated decorations – all in the best possible taste.

Ricky took his time to leave – another three years before he abandoned my sister and her life took flight.  Now everyone has gone – empty clothes that drape and fall on empty chairs.

The ‘posh’ dining room

The living room – always coal fires burning

Big sister and boyfriend, Ricky – driving gloves and a too smart coat


  1. sustainabilitea · June 21, 2020

    Hopefully lots of good memories about those you miss so much, Robin. Thanks for the Don McLean bit. I do like his music and lyrics


    • northumbrianlight · June 22, 2020

      These images certainly bring it all back, Janet. That first Don McLean album was so good, it was as though he put everything he had into it and there was nothing more. He never climbed those heights again.

  2. jelleybaby · June 21, 2020

    1961, fourteen and because my Father and Grandfather ran small one man businesses And we all lived together and I must add I was an only child, Christmases were for taking photos of my grandparents and my parents, and occasionally their friends would arrive for the the all too infamous Christmas Drinks so most duly had their photos taken. Just arrived home and found the link, to your post, we have been out breaking the law, a mad 12 mile drive through the back roads in the Boxster with the roof off towards Hereford, and England, then a pleasant drive back via Ross on Wye, and then the backroads home via Skenfrith and Cross Ash.

    • northumbrianlight · June 22, 2020

      Good to know the rebel is alive and well – good on yer. I have got so cheesed off with the “news” that I have stopped listening. Consequently, I have no idea what is allowed and what isn’t 🙂

  3. J.D. Riso · June 21, 2020

    Bittersweet nostalgia. There are many hidden facets to every photo.

    • northumbrianlight · June 22, 2020

      Exactly Julie – there is a chapter of a book in each one. I don’t remember ever seeing these printed before – they are produced from 120 negs on a standard flatbed scanner, so surprisingly detailed

  4. Thom Hickey · June 30, 2020

    Such nostalgic power in old photographs and often surprising the memories triggered.

    Regards Thom

    • northumbrianlight · July 1, 2020

      Yes, even the most mundane images acquire enormous significance over time.

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