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.

The Professor and the Girls

Inscribed on the back of this photograph is a moderately barbed comment – it is in my mother’s hand: The Professor and the Girls, a reference, no doubt, to the ostentatious pipe.  My mother takes centre stage flanked left and right by Aunt Bet and Uncle Ed.  My dad is behind the lens. They were not actually related, just good friends brought together by the bombs that fell on war-torn Manchester; nor was Uncle Ed a professor.  Girls doesn’t quite ring true either.

This is Morfa Nefyn, north Wales in 1956 (finally, the correct year) which puts them in their mid-30s.  In not so many years I will be twice their age but they remain the older and wiser grown-ups.

The Prof

The photographs were printed as contacts from Kodak 117 negatives.  Scanned at 1600dpi, they reveal detail not apparent in the originals.  I am clutching a tennis ball, presumably keen to resume the interrupted game of cricket.  My sister has a half eaten banana in her hand, presumably keen to to resume feeding her face :-).

On the beach

The many-roomed house is where we stayed – a self-catering holiday home with me posing outside.  I have a wooden bat in my hand, part of a Slam! tennis trainer set, a wholly ineffective device which, if inflicted on a young Roger Federer, would have killed his brilliant career from the outset.  I remember nothing of the inside of the house except for vague memories of the attic, a place deemed out-of-bounds and ‘haunted’ just to add spice to the ruling.  I spent quite some time up there.  Looking closely at this photograph I can see no ghostly faces in the attic windows but there are two at a lower level.  I had never spotted these ‘apparitions’ before o_O.

Haunted house
(click on the images to enlarge)

Hell’s Mouth

Tish Farrell has produced a fascinating post entitled Gazing into Hell’s Mouth at Plas yn Rhiw  which got me thinking – I was reminded of an old family photograph.  My comment on Tish’s post says  I have a family photograph taken on a road above Hell’s Mouth – there is my mother, my sister, and me, leaning against the car in a pretentious fashion (makes a change from gurning I suppose). I would be 9 or 10 which makes it 1960 or thereabouts, possibly earlier. The car was the family Ford Consul, reg – RMA 803 – now I must find the picture.

This is wrong on two counts – firstly I am now fairly certain it is 1958 and we have taken a ride out from a holiday let at Morfa Nefyn.  Secondly I am gurning after all – perhaps in a satirical reference to the location, I am stretching my mouth sideways with my fingers.  A much more likely explanation is that I am pulling faces at my too-grown-up sister.  I perfected the art of the irritating younger brother at a very early age:

Hell's Mouth

The black Mk 1 Ford Consul is the first car I remember, a very solid piece of engineering prone to not starting in the winter.  Dad would eventually resort to dangling a light bulb in the engine compartment overnight to keep the temperature up. It seemed to work.  This is the insurance documentation – all very straightforward – the same document was just updated whenever the car was changed; two more Consuls followed by two Ford Corsairs. All but the last had column gear changes, something my parents insisted on long after they were a standard fitting. Creatures of habit in more ways than one were my Ma and Pa.

RMA 803


More notes from the madhouse

I appreciate this is becoming a little self-indulgent so I promise it is the last. Whilst packing away the original prints from the previous post I came across this one which I had completely forgotten.  There is something weird going on here, like the Munsters go mad on holiday.  To the left Uncle is stood to attention in his flat cap, as though about to preach a sermon, oblivious to the chaos around him. Unique in my experience, my sister has adopted my patent Quasimodo pose whilst the bemused cousin is backing off in fear of this strange girl’s antics. Aunt is hiding in the shadows of her monstrous Jaguar SS, too sozzled to emerge.  Mother, washerwoman arms folded (her description not mine), is in earnest conversation with Pop who, if I remember correctly, was stone-deaf.  I am of course putting on another performance – Dad is hiding behind the camera, probably the Brownie 127. It is a wonder  we all survived – everyone agreed, it was a miracle indeed:

7 go mad