Skip to content

Corona Diaries: ah g’won, take another one, just to be sure!

April 20, 2020
My parents, Velden 1962

You might think from the title of this post that I’m writing about some poisonous medication that Donald Trump is urging his people to take. Actually, it’s about my next Man Project, which is sorting the photos.

It’s difficult to concentrate on anything on when my beloved is banging on the eves and rattling the rafters like a demented exorcist in a vain attempt to repel the resident squirrel, with shrieks of “out, out!” and “shoo!” interlaced with words I couldn’t possibly repeat on this very well-mannered blog.

But needs must, so regardless of the background noise I’m starting to assemble folders of pics from old laptops and internal disc drives.

I did a similar exercise once before, but that was back in 2002, before digital photography really took a grip. Using a scanner and a clunky old desktop with a large (for that time) disk, I spent weeks digitising family pictures.

I started with daguerreotypes of ancient forbears, most of them dressed up like Queen Victoria and Prince Albert and glowering sternly alongside their cowed offspring at the camera. I then moved on to the jauntier Edwardian photos, and then to the Brownie era, as grandparents and their friends posed at tea parties, on windswept hills and on daring visits to Paris.

My arrival, and that of my siblings coincided with colour. My father’s Kodachrome slides were of even more daring holidays – skiing trips (as above), Gibraltar, Austria and Paris again, along with much-loved Cornwall and North Wales. There were slides of home, many of them from the garden in the huge house he bought for three thousand quid in 1956, and then lost ten years later when his career broke into smithereens.

And cars, each of them slightly bigger than the previous one, attested to the rise in his fortunes, far more impressive than the old green Volvo he drove at the end of his life, whose dodgy suspension led me to suggest to him that it had had a stroke, at which he roared with laughter.

The slides continued after I left home, but gradually gave way to more modest colour prints, which he continued to take until he died.

I, on the other hand, became someone rarely photographed. Even if, as the current fad demands, I’d wanted to post a picture of myself at twenty on Twitter, I wouldn’t have been able to find one. What our kids don’t realise is that for those with limited means photographs were not cheap. I probably have as many passport photos from that decade as I have normal snapshots.

Then, as I turned thirty, came Saudi Arabia, which meant more money, and, though not necessarily as a consequence, marriage and kids. And loads of photos. So it was for the next couple of decades before the first clunky digital cameras came on the market, a few years after those massive, brick-shaped mobile phones.

Which takes us to the point at which I digitised the few thousand extant family photos, put them on CDs and sent them to my siblings. My wife contributed a stack of similar photos from her family, which introduced an Irish dimension to the archive. Job done, I thought.

Since then, of course, the phone camera gradually gained its stranglehold. We have cameras all over the house, from big SLRs and pocket models, all sadly neglected, testaments to the death of an industry. My kids went semi-retro at first. They persuaded us to buy them big digital cameras that looked much like the old ones, but even they have largely abandoned them in favour of the seductive charms of Apple and Android.

So in this time of plague, I’ve decided to assemble memories of the past eighteen years from our vast junkyard of digital pics. There are several reasons why this will not be as simple a project as the original one.

First, every picture has about six analogues. Whereas in days gone by, unless you were a professional, you wouldn’t dream of wasting a roll of film on one subject out of fear that you didn’t get the subject right the first time. Now it’s “ah g’won, take another one just in case”. And another one, and so on ad nauseam. Which means that of ten thousand pics, nine thousand are virtual duplicates that you must delete unless you’re prepared to scroll through them to get to the next subject.

Our offspring are even more prolific than us. Our first and only grandson is two and a bit. His mother must have at least twenty thousand photos of him. It’s not as if one day he goes paragliding and the next disappears down a pothole. Out of those twenty thousand you could maybe get down to a couple of hundred worth saving for posterity as markers of his development and all-round lovable cuteness. But our daughter wouldn’t agree. For her, every picture is sacred.

Second, the job of assembling them is daunting. Every so often, I dump stuff from the mobile on to the laptop. But I often fail to delete them from the mobile, or I forget which I’ve copied over. So every successive dump contains duplicates, all of which must be weeded out before one even gets to the job of putting them in some kind of order. Also, when you copy them over, depending on how you do it there’s a risk that the files immediately acquire the date on which they were copied, rather than when they were taken.

Third, how do you categorise them? By date, month, year, event, human subject(s)? Do you leave the job to a photo app, that hoovers up all your pics from everywhere and dumps them into a set of simplistically predetermined silos? Or do you do it the hard way?

And finally, if you have so many pics, and your memory is fading, how do you place those people and events into any kind of context without obvious clues as to when and where they were taken? With thirty thousand photos, how long would it take for you to label each one with “Bert, Joe and Glenda at Grandad’s sixtieth wedding anniversary, 1936” as our ancestors did on the back of their snaps. And who the hell were Bert, Joe and Glenda anyway?

So despite the myriad of images, you’re still reliant on the unreliable memories of the elderly to untangle the web of relationships that the images represent. And, frighteningly, the unreliable memories now belong to us.

Is this herculean effort even worth worrying about? Why should our kids and their kids want to know about some party we went to in 1993, about who was there and who threw up over who? Why should we be over-curious about their parties, and what terrifying things they did on their holidays?

At any other time than now, perhaps I would leave these random images to fester where they lie, like the contents of an ancient drain in Pompeii. If they disappeared for whatever reason, there would be literally trillions more that will give digital archaeologists more than enough material to gain a comprehensive picture of what life was like before the pandemic sent the world as we knew it tumbling down.

But for my own satisfaction I’m going to sort them out anyway, no matter who cares or not. Because if I’m ever tempted to feel sorry for myself at this time of isolation, I can be reminded that my life up to now has been pretty damn good, and if the coronavirus were to bring it to a premature end, I’d have very little to complain about.

From → History, Media, Travel, UK

  1. Margaret permalink

    Steve, lovely to see a photo of your parents in 1962, given that I did not meet them until the ’90s.

    I hope you’ll have decades ahead of you to continue your diaries; and hoping that in the years to come they will be replaced by more pleasant life events.

    M 😊

    • You’re too kind Margaret. Decades? That would truly be a victory against the odds, but hope springs eternal. S

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: