The road to enlightenment is a very difficult one. Sometimes it can be a case of one step forward, and two steps back. But even though the road is often strewn with obstacles we must keep on, because one day the road will become easier to walk along.
When things go wrong I often dwell on the negatives. But I see it as a test. If I can get past the negatives then the spirit will grow stronger and next time the negatives won’t seem as bad.
This series of photographs is developing into something very special. Not only do I love the images and what they represent but going out into nature and taking them is allowing me to get closer to nature. And it is through nature that I believe my path takes me. Maybe its a two way street. I seek enlightenment so I go out into nature to take photographs and by doing so I discover something about myself which enables me to move forward on that path.
I experiment with a lot of different photography, sometimes some of what I do falls by the wayside. But I am always drawn to nature. Nature is my saviour.
Today I took my little mam to the pictures. She loves going to the pictures. Normally it is a scary movie we go to watch. Today was no different. She loves scary movies, although she often complains that they are not scary enough. Time is running out, she’s 88, well 87 actually. Her birthday is in 3 weeks time and then she’ll officially be 88. We got there at one pm, the film was due to start at quarter past. They hadn’t even opened up. I don’t know how these places make any money. Oh yes I do. Nearly 20 pounds it cost, for an adult and senior citizen ticket, one small diet coke and a cuppa. Yes that’s how they make their money. I remember the days when……….. well you get my drift.
My mam walks with a stick so I have to get her seated and then go back for the refreshments. She hates climbing the stairs to get to a seat but she doesn’t like to sit too close to the screen so up we go, my little mam hanging onto my arm and using her stick to help her up. She chooses where we sit even though our tickets said we were to sit elsewhere. I told the man when he asked which seats we wanted that we’d sit wherever my little mam decided to sit regardless. He laughed. Not sure I like this new practice of asking people where they want to sit. The film seemed to take ages to start and then eventually we were off. The sound is so intense sometimes but why of why does my mam insist on talking loudly during the quiet scenes. Yes its embarrassing, but haven’t our parents embarrassed us all out lives. When the film finished we waited until everyone had gone and then slowly made our way down from the gods, back to terra firma. And we followed the same routine, stopping off at pizza hut on the way back to the car so my mam can take a pizza home for her tea. Its little things like this that I will remember with fondness, and maybe shed a tear or two, when the inevitable happens. My mam doesn’t understand why I want to take photos of her. But I do, she’s my mam, and these are my memories.
My dad was born in the next village up from Blackhall. His dad was from Sunderland. I know little about my grandfather (he was knocked down and killed in Blackhall long before I was born) but in them days, men, and their families, moved around from pit to pit, going where the work was. And there was plenty work to be had in Blackhall. So when my dad was a young boy they loaded all their meagre possessions onto a cart and headed off down the road to Blackhall.
My grandfather worked in the pit whilst my dad, and his siblings, went off to the ‘school with the tin roof’. Like many people back then they were very poor. My grandfather was a Quaker and I remember my Auntie Margaret telling me that one Christmas when they had nothing a hamper was delivered to them courtesy of the Quaker Society. When I didn’t get what I expected for Christmas I was often regaled with tales of how I should be grateful, that back in the day kids only got an orange or a few nuts or, if they were really lucky, a comic in their stocking.
In the summer they were give a butty with either jam on, although many a time they could only afford to put a bit of butter on it. And then they were gone, off out to play, never seen for the rest of the day, finding simple fun in building dens or climbing
trees, or as my Auntie Margaret told me once, putting a pin on the railway tracks to see what would happen when the train ran over it.
My dad was quiet and studious and he was offered a place at grammar school but, like many boys of that age, he chose to leave and go work at the pit. For young boys, and girls, fetching money home was more important than education. And with the exception of a stint in the army at the tail end of the second world war he remained working at the pit until an accident put paid to his working life . It was a Sunday and he shouldn’t really have been working. He’d swapped a shift to help out a mate. One of the wagons had cut loose. He managed to jump out of the way but his foot got caught and the wheel sliced through it. What was left of his boot was the only thing holding his foot together and if it wasn’t for the insistence of the pit doctor to keep it on he would have lost his foot altogether. He was kept in hospital for a while. He got gangrene and had to have numerous skin grafts but, eventually, he was discharged home, complete with a limp and a walking stick. But that didn’t stop him wanting to return to work. He felt he was quite capable of working on the surface if only they’d let him but he was refused, pensioned off, and that was the end of his working career at the age of 57.
Trying to write a narrative to accompany this project is, for me, so difficult.
The Road to Blackhall
For many years Blackhall was no more than a village to pass through, very rarely stopping, only maybe to visit the Co-op for bread, or milk, things you run out of or have forgotten to buy at the large supermarket in the neighbouring town. I never noticed the inhabitants, never wondered who they were or what their lives were like in this ex-pit village. But I have a history that connects me to this place. It is filled with memories of my dad, Albert Anson. He lived here, he worked here, he is buried here.
I wanted to reconnect with him, with my history. I wanted to rediscover lost memories, create new ones. I have a large collection of black and white photos, some taken when we were kids, happily laughing as we played on the beach, in the garden, or sat on the back doorstep. Amongst them are photos of relatives and people I do not know, all long gone. But in these photos I find a connection with my dad. I find a connection with my past.
And now I can add to that collection of photographs. These photos that I have taken are the now of Blackhall, the people and their lives. They help me to rediscover my dad and his past, and they reconnect me to him in such a way that I could never imagine happening.
Blackhall is a survivor. Once it had a pit but now it is long gone. Once the people had employment on their doorsteps but now that is gone too. My dad was born in a neighbouring village. His dad was from Sunderland. I know little about my grandfather (he was knocked down and killed in Blackhall long before I was born) In them days men, and their families, moved around from pit to pit, going where the work was.
I have decided to end my project on Blackhall. It has been a splendid time and I have learned such a lot and met such lovely people. But I need to concentrate on other projects now. What I would like to do is write a piece to accompany the project so that it is all complete. I will still visit Blackhall and its people and still take photographs but I would like to round it all up so that it feels all ready to face the world. I had a dry run for an exhibition which was highly enjoyable but I am now looking forward to the next stage and showing people the work and what was behind it.
To say that I have grown as a person whilst doing the project is an understatement. I have learned such a lot, about people, about Blackhall, about myself. Who would ever have thought that I would have the nerve to walk into such a male orientated preserve as the Navy Club whilst the men took part in their weekly quiz. Colourful language, smoking, drinking, and there I was in the midst of it.
And I have met some wonderful people, like Jean and Stephen Riley, mother and son who own and work in the top fish shop. And of course the lovely Dot, such a vibrant character, always smiling.
To undertake a project like this would not have been possible without them all. How lucky am I to have this heritage right on my doorstep. And its all thanks to my lovely father. God bless him.
Thank you so much to Carol who runs Blackhall Library for allowing me to show some of the photographs that I have taken in Blackhall. It was such an honour and a pleasure. And the best bit about it was having some of the people that I’d taken photographs of come along. It was so nice to see them and that made my day. It was a bit of a whirlwind getting them ready for exhibition as I only had two weeks but I got there in the end. And even thought it was for just one night I am hoping to have them on display again soon so that more people can see them. It was a very proud moment and I hope that if my Dad was looking down he’d feel proud of me.
If your parents or grandparents are still alive ask them about their lives. Ask them where they came from, what they did, how they lived. Because one day they won’t be around to ask. And you may not think it but our heritage is important. We are what we are because of our parents and our grandparents. Values get passed down, traditions get passed down. Don’t leave it until tomorrow because tomorrow doesn’t come for everyone.
My biggest regret is not finding out about my dads history. And now here I am doing this project on Blackhall and I know very little about my family when they lived there. I get snippets of information from the Blackhall folk and I treasure every one, but how I wished I had asked him when he was alive about his life.