Monday 25 January 2016

Lagos, Nigeria 1973. A moment in time, captured on film

I've noticed a trend very recently of people changing their profile pictures on facebook to photos of themselves as children. It's lovely to see, and it has got me to thinking.

When we were kids, our dad always had the camera handy, and as a result our childhoods are well documented. I love looking back at the old photos, and it is absolutely true that they prompt memories, so that with some photos, I can actually remember the circumstances at the time of the photo.

Fast forward to my twenties and thirties, from which I have practically no photos. There's probably a good twenty years of my life which went undocumented. Sometimes when I look back at diairies, I see the names of people who I can't even remember any more. They have come and gone, leaving no trace.

A large factor in this was a huge reluctance to be photographed myself. I always looked awful, like a gurning rabbit caught in the headlights. Plenty of chins but no eyes. And the more photos I saw like this, the less I wanted to be photographed. At weddings, I'd stand at the back in the group photos, behind all the tall men.

But I regret it now. I wish I had photos of those people who have been part of my life. I wish I had photos of me, no matter how awful, because they are the doors to the memories.
A case in point; the first photo on this post was my original facebook profile picture. I can tell you that it was taken in 1973 at Tarqua Bay, an island paradise, just off Lagos, Nigeria, only accessible by boat.

I was six years old and that day I was captured in the middle of building a massive sandcastle, a very impressive monument with doors and windows and shell decorations to make it pretty. I was sat just outside the clubhouse, down the stairs to the right, and the water I kept putting in the moat, kept disappearing into the sand. My dad said 'smile' and this is what he got, for his troubles.
Once my father interrupted me, I decided it was a good time to enquire about a snack. He was definitely the softer touch. Look, success. Mr Crispy no less! They were good crisps and are a still a weakness of mine. Chocolate I can take or leave, but crisps? Stand aside, I'm approaching the buffet table at a pace.

Tarqua Bay was a regular gig for us. Every Sunday, we would wait on the jetty at the Ambassador's residence in Ikoyi, Lagos. Eventually a little banana boat would arrive and we would get on board, put on our life jackets and set sail across the lagoon for the beach. We would end up in the bay at Tarqua. There we would disembark in the water, wade to the shore and then walk all the way up to the wooden clubhouse, where there were surfboards, refreshments and sun loungers. 

Once at the clubhouse, we would grab a surfboard, walk down to the beach, and, provided there were no red flags, get in and do a bit of body surfing. The waves in Nigeria are pretty impressive, matched only by the jelly fish. Most weeks you'd come out pink from the stings and feeling slightly radioactive, but it would wear off eventually.
Same day. This is a picture of my sister, she's talking to one of the older girls and is just about to blow a bubble with her gum.

Here I am with my mum. I approached her saying 'Muuuuum.....Muuuuumy'. Her response, which I remember very clearly, was: 'The grown ups are talking, you'll have to wait a minute.' Which I was happy to do, because I rather enjoyed listening in on grown up conversations, and then when she was ready to speak to me, she said, 'what do you want?' I didn't actually have anything to say, because all I'd wanted was a bit of attention, so I carried on munching my Mr Crispys :)
I'm so happy that I have the pictures to match my memories, and I guess the point I'm making is that despite struggling with the whole idea of selfies and the negative connotations attached, I don't want to lose any more years or memories. I don't want to get to 70 and not know what I was doing, what I looked like or who I spent time with at 40 or 50 or 60. If the means of remembering is to take photos of myself posing around in frocks, I guess I'm going to have to swallow my misgivings and gurn and bear it.

Anyway, to come back to those photos of kids on facebook, have you got any great photos with stories attached? I'd love to hear them or even better, how about doing a blog post? Who fancies joining in?

ps: fun fact. Wings recorded their Band on the Run album in Lagos, Nigeria in 1973. I'm still waiting for that to come up in a pub quiz.

pps: I'll be round to see what you've all been up to soon.

Sunday 3 January 2016

It's grim (weather) up north

I'm the type of person who wants to go places and see things. If there's a travel programme, or a documentary or a film set somewhere I haven't visited, I point at the screen and say, 'I want to go there'. It doesn't need to be glamorous or exotic, although those characteristics please me immensely, but interesting and new to me will do just as well if that is what is on offer.
That's the Transporter Bridge in Middlesbrough. There are only six working examples in the world. Your car drives onto a platform and then is swung across the river, dangling from that top structure. Sadly it was shut or we could have tried it. 
I like to paraphrase Holly Golightly, so I usually follow 'I want to go there' with 'Besides, I've never been to .... before'. In her case it was Brazil, which for the record, I want to go to.
So, anyway, when we were up north at Christmas and the prospect of a Boxing Day walk loomed, I had a plan. I mean there's nothing wrong with Redcar; they filmed that long scene from Atonement there, which lends it interest, and at Saltburn, there's always some yarn-bombing and a marvellous smell of fish and chips, but I've been to both of them before.
The grade II listed art deco clock tower at Seaton Carew, with ladies and gents' lavatories conveniently located at the base
So this year I suggested Hartlepool via Seaton Carew, based on a recommendation from my friend Gina.
It was 'orrible weather. It rained all day on Christmas day and Boxing day, in fact a lot of the north of the country have suffered terrible floods as a consequence, and some of the roads were rather waterlogged, but it got us out of the house and despite general amusement at our destination, it proved a pleasing adventure.
Toilet chic. If that hasn't been submitted for the Turner prize, someone's missed a trick
Since I was driving, inevitably we took a wrong turn, but that turned out well, because we were able to see the imposing industrial landscape at close quarters.
Some views had me pretending we were on a road trip across America, maybe in oil producing country like Texas or somewhere with heavy industry like Detroit. Other times looking through the mist and marshlands to the towers on the horizon I felt as though we were in the Wizard of Oz. It wasn't glamorous, but it did have a kind of bleak beauty, which I found rather exciting.
I know what you're thinking. Uncanny, huh?
Unfortunately we didn't get to see the tall ships at Hartlepool, because the Maritime experience was shut, but we did witness a lot of seagulls enjoying puddles, so the trip wasn't entirely wasted.
Have you heard the story which gives Hartlepudlians their nickname?
Other than that it's mainly been eating, drinking and watching films.

The Butler: oh my goodness, what an amazing film. Forest Whittaker and Oprah Winfrey put in mesmerising performances.
The Sapphires: really enjoyed the costumes and the singing and was rooting for those girls from the word go.
The Hundred Foot Journey: France, food, romance, comedy. A lovely way to spend an afternoon. At the end I got up and cooked pasta with panache.
Italian for Beginners: sweet, sweet Danish film, with happy endings.
I've still got the Grand Budapest Hotel to look forward to.

So anyway, it's 2016. Better be a good one or I'll want to know why. While we're on the subject, anybody got any interesting travel plans you want to tell me about?