Tuesday, 27 September 2011

Photo Finish?

Take a look at the photograph published here.

It's taken on Coronation Day, 1953. The golden age of bunting. If you are under 50 then please Google, “bunting”. If you are over 50 then please ask someone under 50 what “Google” is. If you're 50 today and slap bang in the middle – Happy Birthday!

A street race for the women of Cambria Crescent, Northampton, following on from the Coronation celebration street party that day for all of the residents. Pretty unremarkable, I'm sure you will agree, in so much as thousands of events were taking place the length and breadth of Britain and the Empire simultaneously. All the pink parts of the world map having colourful street parties and street races and having them eternally set in black and white.

I've only recently discovered this photograph online and it has literally stopped me in my tracks, a bit like the women who are captured here forever in theirs.

My grandparents and mother lived in Cambria Crescent in 1953. In fact in other photographs discovered from the same day I have found my mother, dressed as the Queen of Hearts, celebrating with pirates, chimney sweeps, beggars and other fancily-dressed children.

The photograph I'm drawing your attention to shows my grandmother, right of the picture, looking slightly to her right with her right arm across her chest as she races all the other women of the street. She's the one in the black shoes if you still can't place her. I give this description for me as much as you because this is not the image of my “nan” that is in my minds eye. Although she is many years passed now she was always an old lady as I was growing up. Dispensing sound advice, quiet wisdom, hard-boiled sweets and soft cuddles. Your archetypal, matriarchal Grandmother. Just like yours, I'm sure, but here she is sprinting the length of the street, and without her fluffy slippers or furry ankle boots too.

And that's just the point.

We tend to fix a person, long gone, with an historic stare that is almost entirely focused on the last part of their life. We discard or can't comprehend that our aged relatives once partied and raced the days away long before we came along and invented the same things for the very first time.

That's a dangerous thing to do because it won't be long before we are just photographs (coloured ones, admittedly, and probably JPEG's) being focused on by our distant offspring who can't quite believe that their dusty old grandparent, that spent most of their time asleep in the chair, did once really ride that banana boat off the coast of Ibiza wearing nothing more than a pair of sunglasses and a smile.

Same party, different time. Party on.

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