|TinyXtin in Privas, 1976|
Today Pluvialis took me out to the Storage Unit of Doom, a permanently marooned shipping container dropped neatly with its doomed brethren into a square of gravel in Sawston. At the end of 2009 everything but the girl was stuffed into it. I left with 30kg of baggage and a letter from the Home Office legally requiring my airline to put me on a flight.
Storage units are an absolutely terrible idea. Take it from me. They are the superboss you have to defeat at the end of this particular level of The Game of Middle-Class.
Anyway. We came back with a carful of stuff, the superboss took a few hits, and eventually I shall kill it dead and advance to level Reinforcing Upstairs Because of All The Books.
Like a pillock I started with the boxes and boxes of photographs. I made a pile on the floor. So many photographs, slishing across one another like shale with blu-tack tailings. A clipping of my grandmother's engagement announcement, incuding a shot of her wearing the hell out of a superb hat. The announcement remarks that my grandmother's soon-to-be sister-in-law is a noted golfer, as one does. A photograph of my parents on their wedding day, taken by a newspaper photographer. This year they have been divorced for as long as they were married: twenty-two years. My mum was twenty-two on her wedding day.
Such a strange, uncertain historical record. You consider sorting them into the important and the less-important until you realise that has everything to do with this moment and nothing to do with anything that's happened to you. Old forgotten boyfriends and poses in dresses you bought for some terribly inconsequential black-tie thing that felt essential to memorialise, Christmas carols with friends you haven't seen for ten years and here is a picture of a tree. It's ... a tree? Maybe it meant something to me. Maybe next time I see it I won't even remember that I had this moment of bemusement and will say, oh look! The tree in that amazing botanical garden where we ...
The round-edged sepia-faded shots of TinyXtin's childhood, yellow Humphrey Bear wellies and bright green velour, my round brown eyes staring thoughtfully and smilelessly at everything until I learn to do camera-face in about 1979, a terrible simper against my little brother's delightful open grin. Spindly me in the 80s before the boobs, sand and school uniforms and hair that I didn't know what to do with then, either. Handbags I Have Owned. Pluvialis and me at country fairs. Grade 3 class photograph, 1981, plaits and rictus. Germany, 2010. I am thin. Camera-face. Everything is hard. My brother's wedding, 2003. Pictures of Cambridge that I took of things I've since seen a thousand thousand times, but I cannot throw away because they are emblems of the time before I had any idea that these things I am snapping like a tourist will soon be the very furniture of my life. A B&B in New Zealand. New Zealand? Holy shit, yes, the autumn before Cambridge. Autumn, winter, autumn, winter 2001. A picture of the B&B dog. Her name was Oboe, because as my host had said, a hole at each end; sudden, wholecloth memory from nowhere out of nothing which is why I can't throw out even the mysterious, slightly out-of-focus tree.
Pictures of my nieces, whose whole lives have unfolded on the other side of the world. They go with the pictures of Cambridge, a perversely shared chronology that seems impossible. I hold the photographs in my hands, for these are different, these leaves of their lives, for they are pictures made acts, enveloped and stamped, addressed to me and thrown across the aery thinness to forge a memory by stealth.
I should have started with the disassembled coffee table.