Every week we went on picnics in the summertime. Kids around would come and say, “Are you going to the picnic?” “Yes.” And you either got a bottle of lemonade or water, whatever, and took that with you. And sandwiches, you know, and things like that. And go off through the, what we used to call the meadows, they call them fields now, and go to different places. Neddy’s well, there was a place called Neddy’s well. At Neddy’s well there was a natural spring. And the natural spring, my dad used to go there and you could get watercress. And then he used to go across the bridge and down into the field, across from our house, and pick mushrooms. But now from what I can gather its all built up with houses. Well along that what they called the cinder path that’s the way I used to go to school. Over the bridge, down the cinder path and up to the railway station. Over the railway bridge and the school was there on the right hand side. It was what was called a Church of England endowed school. That meant that the church paid for the school where the church never paid for the Catholic school, the Catholic people had to look after their own. And they used to go round their parishioners tocollect money off them to look after their church, the Catholics did. I mean we used to collect money but we didn’t collect it like they did, you know go around the houses. I used to deliver the church magazine at one time. In one of the magazines, but I don’t think I have one, its got my name in. It says about people who delivered the magazines and its got my name in.
“I’d run up the street when the mill was about to close and stand outside waiting for my mother. And people coming out and saying, “Hello there, your mam won’t be long”. And then maybe one would come out another different night and, “oh, your mam’s going to be a long time cause she’s had a smash.”
“And what you call a smash was the shuttle had come out of the reeds and broken all the cotton. And they used to have to bring all them through the reeds again and tie them. And if it was too bad a smash they would change it and start again, if it was too bad. But if it wasn’t too bad they’d mend it and then comb it. But that part when the cloth was taken off the loom itself it was cut out. ”
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.
I work shifts, 12 hour shifts. That’s three days a week. Which means I have spare time during the week to do stuff I enjoy. On most of my days off I go to visit my mam. She lives with three dogs. In a house we moved into in 1970, when I was 6. She’ll never leave it, except when the inevitable happens. She’s 88 so that time is creeping closer. It scares me because then I will be parentless. What will I do? I’m not sure I will cope very well. I dread it. I can’t even bear to think about it. What will I do with her house? I grew up in it. It holds so many memories. My dog, Rebel, which I got when I was 13 (alot happens when you’re 13 I’ve decided) is buried there. As are 3 other dogs, all of which I knew. There’s also a piglet, Betsy, buried in the garden (that’s another story) and a hamster and I think some gold fish. How do you let go of that?
My mam is from a certain generation. She likes to speak her mind. She’s also very loud (probably because she’s as deaf as a post) It can be embarrassing, especially when out. She’ll talk about people who are no more then a foot away, not polite comments either, and you just want a hole to swallow you up. It used to annoy me but now, even though I cringe inside, I just let her get on with it. Last time I spoke to her about it she stopped speaking to me for the rest of the day. She’s from that generation, isn’t she, not afraid to speak their mind. She’s stubborn too. Even though I’m quite happy to help around the house so often refuses to let me do anything for her. I get away with the gardening mind. That she struggles with. Its the getting up and down you see, not good for old bones. Sometimes I tell her I’m off to the toilet and then I sneak off to do the washing up, or the hoovering, or dusting. I get caught out of course because she wonders why I’m taking so long and she comes to find me. Can never get away with anything me.
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.
Did you ever get that feeling? It sort of hits you a few years after taking photographs. Its a kind of like “I think I’m finally doing something right” feeling. I’m feeling that right now. I don’t know where it came from. I took a couple of photos, had an article in the local rag and bang it suddenly hit me, I’m finally getting it right.
Its not just taking the right photograph its the pleasure that comes with it. The joy you get when you see a photograph you’ve taken and it says to you what you’ve been trying to say for months.
The Road To Blackhall or Following my Father’s Footsteps has been like, and still is like, rediscovering who I am. I love walking the streets of Blackhall, talking to people, taking their photographs. They are what my life is all about, they are what made me. This is my past, my present and my future. I am working class and proud to be it. I am part of a working class community. I belong.
I remember seeing a photograph of me as a baby sat on a blanket in the front garden. This photograph reminds me of that moment. The present and the past meet head on. A photograph of a child that I do not know and may never see again brings me a personal moment from my own childhood. One simple little photograph that says you’re doing what you set out to do.