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

A penny for them

This photograph is of no great significance other than it is one of my first.  The camera angle has nothing to do with considered composition and everything to do with the height of the photographer, probably under four feet at the time.

The camera was the family Kodak 127 Brownie, a bakelite plastic viewfinder device produced in their millions during the 1950s.  I can still remember the slightly sticky feel of the shutter and the stiffness of the wind-on mechanism – don’t forget to wind-on to the next exposure!

The woman on the left is my mum – Peg, Peggy, Marion or Marian – see earlier post.  She is dressed in a “good quality” coat, almost certainly from Kendals sale in Manchester. How I dreaded that number 78 bus ride from Altrincham to be kitted out in “smart bargains” – the seeds of my obsession with the scruffy casual look.

The imposing lady to the right is ‘Win’, short for Winifred, she is married to the diminutive Fred, hesitant in the background.  Measuring tape in hand, Fred was a keen DIY man in the mold of Barry Bucknell.  Fred and Winifred, it was like they were made for each other, an inevitable and intended union.  Not so many years later Fred died in his sleep; poor Win awoke next to a dead man.  Close to hysterics she ran down the road to Peg, the first port of call in a crisis.  Stoic Peg always knew what to do – she made tea, calmed the distraught Win and walked up the road to place pennies on his eyes.

Mum with the Beasleys