Miss Bracher

Miss Bracher lived at the bottom of our street and owned a Wolseley 150.  An ageing spinster, the Wolseley’s long face was entirely in keeping with her narrow features and thin life.  A few doors up, John Fawcett’s dad owned a Standard Vanguard.  A slightly rotund young boy with a matching father, the American inspired design, bench seats and column gear change, were custom-made for the over-size family (young John is second from the left, here).

The interior of an entirely original 1954 Standard Vanguard.

My dad’s Mk1 Ford Consul with its svelte modern lines was entirely in keeping with my view of the world and my place in it.

We lived at number 12, the duodecimal house. Years later I would come to understand the magic properties of the 1900 Series 24-bit word mainframes, supporting four 6-bit characters per word and using octal for binary short-hand, it was inherently superior to the IBM systems, which used 8-bit bytes and hex.  Not everything that is best survives. Similarly, for years I worked on X.400 based messaging systems, a significantly more elegant, reliable and efficient standard to SMTP which is used across the Internet. If I have lost you, worry not – put simply, once everything was right with the world, now I am not so sure.

That uncertainty crept in during my teenage years and never left the room.  My passion for the still image, I owe to my dad – an industrial chemist, he taught me the secrets of the dark room at a very young age.  I can still conjure him into existence with the smell of developer and fixer.  He had no real interest in cars and even less in motor sport.  When they became the centre of my existence, we effectively went our separate ways.

That separation means I struggle to connect with his ghost but there are plenty of photographs and, occasionally, words.  This from a blog post in 2013It is from a small photograph album made up of 3 x 2 inch contact prints which he put together as a young boy – they are individually captioned in a manner consistent with a 10-12 year old; this one – Mummy Daddy and Baby:

Mummy Daddy and Baby

Earlier this week I got the opportunity to sit in an Austin Ruby, a slightly later model of this car.  A wonderful machine, beautifully preserved, it would be a fictional pretence to suggest I was aware of my dad’s presence.  However, it did reinforce something I had always felt – we were born to an entirely different age.  Dad would have been 100 in 2020 – anything we shared together, is all so long ago:

Austin Ruby – the interior

Austin Ruby – the front end

Austin Ruby – engine bay

Austin Ruby – rear end


Hayling Island 1933

These images are taken from the same album as Gosport 1936.  Dad was born late 1920 so this summer on Hayling Island he would be 12 years old.  He is responsible for the delightfully composed first image.  His dad, Alfred, looks like a prohibition gangster but nothing could be further from the truth – a builder by trade and a lifelong teetotaller, he was raised in the village pub at Fyfield , Hampshire.  He knew the consequences of the demon drink and passed this valuable knowledge onto his son.  The message was too watered down by the time it reached me.

There is telling detail in the first image – the picnic basket, the football and camera case lying on the sand.  Alfred is deep in thought and stares out to sea.  Agnes appears to be asleep but look closer and she is shading her eyes from the sun with a newspaper. Perhaps she is peering at the camera – “Please Kenneth – do not take me like this! The twelve year old schoolboy labelled this image: “Hayling Forest – Edge of Desert”.

The second image must have been taken by Agnes and the “One and a half dreams” are placed dead centre – Alfred has removed his hat, a too heavy coat is draped over a deck chair and an itchy wool bathing suit hangs to dry from the beach tent; one summer long ago.

Hayling Forest ... Hayling Island ...

The fascination with these images is not confined to the past. In these eyes and the shapes of these mouths, I see not just myself but my boys.

Gosport 1936

My dad kept a photograph album from the age of nine until he was fifteen.  There is a gap and then pictures of him courting my mum start to appear in other albums; they married in 1943.

His earliest first pictures are accompanied by quirky observations in a clear precise hand that remained constant throughout his life, he was never destined for the medical profession.  As he approaches his later teens the comical asides disappear and the serious older boy simply writes pertinent information on the rear of the photographs, something I didn’t know was there until I pulled out the images for scanning.

All of them are roughly 55mm x 80mm and I assume contacts derived from 120 roll film. Despite his lifelong interest in photography there are not that many pictures in the album but film processing and printing costs would not have been cheap for a schoolboy with empty pockets.

On 31st May, Whitsun 1936, my dad, not yet sixteen, stood on the seafront at Gosport admiring the view across the water to Portsmouth.  Such was the scene that he was inspired to take a photograph.  In the foreground are local boats anchored near the town while in the distance can be seen the Naval Base and a warship moored in front of the Semaphore Tower Building.Dad's album ...

On this warm Whit Sunday he is feeling extravagant, turns to his left and captures the view northeast, towards Cosham:
Dad's album ...

A few months short of eighty years later, on a cold day in January, his son realises what he did at that precise moment in time and with a machine unimaginable in 1936, zips the two images together to see a scene that only previously existed in his father’s memory:

Dad's album ...

(click on the images to enlarge – but not by much – something has changed in WordPress and not for the better 😦 )

Every picture …

… tells a story, no matter how short.  This photograph of my Dad was taken some time in the mid sixties. A reserved character, a man less likely to take a ‘selfie’ is hard to imagine, but this image looks distinctly set up and posed, not least because the armchair is positioned directly in front of the TV.  I can only imagine this was an assignment for the camera club – ‘this week gentlemen, we will use the tripod and timer to produce a self portrait in natural light‘.  Not bloody likely would be my Dad’s instinctive reaction but he would eventually soften as he did in most things.

A keen amateur photographer, he was also a compulsive reader.  The trip to the local library on a Saturday morning was a lifelong ritual.  For this image he has chosen a Fodor travel guide gripped by Senior Service stained fingers.

The TV was a Grundig, our window on the world.  It was this device that told us of JFK’s assassination, gripped us as England beat West Germany in 1966 and was intolerably switched off when Bob Dylan first appeared on the BBC. Every Monday and Wednesday evening at 7:30pm it was tuned to Granada TV for Coronation Street.

The TV is no more but the brass snuff box on its top remains. The most unlikely objects survive us.


Gone …

but not forgotten.  This is an unusual image, unique among the family archive for its outward display of affection. Their emotional roles were reversed; my dad was the soft place to fall, my mother the disciplinarian. My upbringing was unbalanced – “just wait until your dad gets home” held no perils for me.

They could argue enthusiastically and, frequently, I was the subject of the disagreement. My dad was a constant voice of reason but his exasperation could, in extremis, set him afire. Ultimately though, he was always fiercely loyal to mum and I learned, too early, not to depend on anyone.

And yet, I still miss them both.


Jonathon Meades captures this generation perfectly in An Encyclopaedia of Myself :

Two world wars, economic depressions, genocidal dictators, material privations, the ominpresence of death … enduring such stuff is not propitious for the embrace of affective ostentation, for the desire to get in touch with our inner entitlements, for the infantile need to share our pain, for the comfy validation of our self-pity, for the slovenly annihilating of our restraint, for the quashing of our shame.

For the public exposure of our past, for the tortuous excuses we make 😉

Travel theme: Play

I accept this post has nothing to do with travel except in the sense of time.  It is just an excuse to post this picture of a play, one of several I find intriguing.  My Dad was a scientist by education and natural inclination; an industrial chemist, his entire working life was spent at ICI at a time when chemistry was a new frontier, the IT of its day.

He had no interest in the arts, I never heard him sing, he very rarely went to the cinema and I don’t remember my parents ever going to the theatre.  And yet, here he is taking part in an ICI Trafford Park amateur dramatics production, front of stage (he is on the right).  I would guess this was taken in the immediate post-war years and is one of several productions he participated in – I have another picture of him dressed as a vicar, a most unlikely role.

I imagine this is a ‘whodunnit’ – Colonel Mustard, in the lounge with a bottle of whiskey. My Dad looks so young and innocent I assume he did it.  Any suggestions for the name of the play would be gratefully received – however unlikely :-):

ICI Play

My Dad

Today, 26th November, is my Dad’s birthday; he would have been 92.  A lifetime beneath the industrial blanket of Trafford Park and a twenty-a-day man for much of his life, he left us ten years ago.  This is by far and away my favourite picture of him; it seems to capture his essence – a reserved and quiet man, beneath this almost shy exterior he was caring, intelligent and intensely capable.  It was taken beneath the dappled light of a generous plum tree in the early 1980s at a too infrequent family gathering.  I have admired no one else more.

Dad and Matt

The ‘cherub’ with the golden ringlets is our Matthew, yes a boy; such is the fate of children born to the hippy generation.  He looks a mite different now.

In my assessment of others I always look for the same qualities I found in my Dad.  My sporting heroes have a certain sameness of character:  Jim Clark, Dan Gurney, Ronnie Peterson, Bobby Charlton, Arthur Ashe, Ernie Els.  None of them brash, all quiet men with immense talent and a steely determination.  Dad was captain of cricket and football at Andover Grammar and continued playing both through university and his early career at ICI.  Given any opportunity Mum would remind an assembled audience that Dad was ‘at the football‘ when I was being born which always struck me as the preferential choice of spectator sport.  That is not quite true, he was playing football, but the story doesn’t work if I am not economical with the truth.  This puts me in mind of my favourite and too oft repeated Peter Tinniswood (1936-2003) lines for Uncle Mort from I Didn’t Know You CaredDelivered by the great Robin Bailey (1919-1999), this is also not true:

Carter Brandon:  Were you there for the birth Uncle Mort?
Uncle Mort:  Good God no lad, t’were bad enough being at conception

(Apologies to pedants – the quote is from memory and may not be quite as Peter Tinniswood intended).