Monday, 18 July 2016

The Sudden Unbearable Sadness of Photographs

`Sinead has sent some photos,’ The Husband called up the stairs just as I was sitting down before the laptop determined to get on with writing something – anything, perhaps even the beginning of the new novel provisionally titled `Does Anyone Here Speak Portuguese?’ `Photos of what?’ `Of all of us…..on The Ghan, at Alice Springs, and lots from Edinburgh and London.’ I opened the packet gingerly and out spilled at least three dozen images. The Ghan in all its magnificence, stretching for almost a mile under unbearable heat. The two of us boarding the train, navigating the narrow corridors, exploring the restaurant car, sipping cocktails in the bar and the same scenes all over again, this time Sinead with her father. A number of images featuring the extraordinarily extravagant meals served on board. Several of us getting ready for bed – oh the excitement of nights on board a train! Then, the train trip over and done with, oddly unfamiliar pictures of Patrick, Seamus and Sinead together in London, on buses, in pubs, in restaurants, looking only slightly self-conscious to be together for the first time in years. Other hostelry and transport pictures featuring Yang at the side of Seamus and he looking just a tiny bit proprietorial, a strange mixture of protectiveness and possessiveness. More photos spilled forth, this time with a background that was distinctly Edinburgh. The `children’ breakfasting together in the strangely rustic bar of the Grassmarket Hotel. Some lovely pictures of Patrick with his cousin Merlin, those two so alike they could be twins and then again this time with Seamus too – he looking quite different from the cousinly duo. Me with Merlin or was it Patrick? I had to stop momentarily to establish which one of them it might be. Yang and Kyunghee together looking for all the world as if they had known each other for years and had not simply met for the first time just days previously. Then Edinburgh was left behind and we were all back in London once more, the last visit to The Mayflower, the last lunch together at The Pheasant captured for ever. A strangely evocative photo of Patrick hesitating before the door of 26 Northampton Square the place where he was conceived, he now pretending to reach for the knocker. Oddly uplifting that image, he defiantly at the door as a man at the place we had been hounded from when he was five months embryonic, both of us under attack from his now reassuringly deceased father. `Lovely pictures aren’t they?’ announced The Husband emerging from below with his lunchtime sandwich and a precariously balanced cup of coffee. I nodded but could not speak being suddenly taken by surprise by the final images – The Husband himself wearing my brother’s green gumboots and posing outside The Lodge at Cape Wrath. Both of us with Bernard and Irene in a restaurant somewhere in Edinburgh in late 2014. Sinead and Bernard sharing coffee and conversation together. And finally Bernard and me laughing at some clever quip, some banter between us that invariably bored those around us. Bernard before the advent of that final unhappy year of his life. Startled by surprise and a little surge of tears, I searched for words and could not find them so simply nodded but more emphatically. The Husband took the pile of photos from me and began to bite into his sandwich.

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