Setting the Goalposts

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Today’s photograph was taken in the backs behind my flat of goalposts, at 12.30 on a bitter cold white day with an icy east wind.

Yesterday would have been the 105th birthday of my father. In a few days time it will be my 59th birthday and this weekend the 9th birthday of my friend’s daughter Saleena, who spends a lot of time here, or used to, but as she is getting a bit older is spending more time with friends.

Not having children it has been fascinating to watch her (and her year younger brother’s) development. Because they are not mine but have spent a great deal of time with me, I can see them fairly dispassionately. I was very interested in what they were like when they were 18 months old, as that is when my birth mother gave me up for adoption and I was taken by my grandmother to a Dr Barnardo’s home in Bristol. I have no recollection of that time, there is something, but I don’t know if it is just knowing what happened, and a story I tell myself. I wanted to see what understanding of the environment around me I may have known. I have a couple of pictures my birth mother gave me of me with her, but little has been discussed, it is the past.

Last Sunday I watched Big Fish on Film 4. I’ve seen it in two bits previously, but this time watched it all the way through. I like it better than any other of Tim Burton’s films, I don’t know the book and would be interested to read it. It tells of a man whose father is dying, his father has usually been absent, but when home told the most fantastical stories about his life, which eventually the son didn’t believe and wants the truth before the parting. Of course he finds that the stories were real, just a bit enhanced to improve them. Big Fish has a sentimental aspect that I think is necessary, it aims arrows at the senses and finds the bull’s eye, certainly enough to bring tears to my eyes!

Is that as writers, artists, photographers we are doing, enhancing the reality we see around us and in our lives to make them preferable to what actually happened?

I don’t remember my father ever telling any story. He wrote very fine music, was a talented amateur watercolourist, a brilliant mathematician, member of the Royal Astronomical Society, but not a fantasticalist (is that a word, if not it should be). In many ways the father in Big Fish and mine were complete opposites, and yet had the same goals in working for us as a family. I remember how proud he was after I got my 2/1 BA(hons) degree in Fine Art, he understood that having a top quality degree in pure maths and spending his working life teaching at a college. It isn’t really until one is at an age that we knew our fathers and mothers that we see the world closer to where they saw it. My father was 49 when my parents adopted me, so I knew him as an ‘older’ man and I was only 25 when he died. Big Fish showed an ‘adult’ relationship between father and son, and yet the child-father relationship could never leave, until the father became dependent on the son to complete his story.

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