There I am, sitting on my smiling grand-mother’s knee, looking suitably Churchillian and staring unflinchingly at the camera.
The yellowing photograph is 3″by 2″ with a white border on three sides, creased and dog-eared. What used to be called a contact print. As far as I’m aware, it’s the earliest known picture of me. I am new to the world so it would most probably have been taken in the summer of 1942. There are three of us in the frame. My grand-mother,aged 44, hair pulled back and parted down the centre who’s sitting on what could well have been the doorstep of our house in Burnley. I’m dressed in pale baby clothes, boot-eed feet sticking out in front and then, at the bottom of the picture, my uncle Ernie, or rather his head of cropped hair, the photographer having cut him off at the nose. Head tilted to one side, he’s squinting into the northern sunlight.He would have been 5 years old, a late arrival into my grandmother’s life as I was an early one into my mother’s.
There’s the sepia me again,a couple of years later,this time with my mother. I’m sitting perched outside on a downstairs window ledge , my bare legs dangling down from the sill and I’m holding onto a banjo. From the angle of the shadows, it must be about noon and although the sun is shining, I’m well wrapped up in a small, double-breasted overcoat. I’ve grown a head of blonde hair now . My young mother leans in towards me keeping me safe, one arm round the small of my back, the other hand supporting the neck of the banjo. She’s wearing a short coat, the shoulders fashionably padded. Her hair piled up luxuriantly on the top of her head. Behind us, a net-curtained window and the dark lime-stoned walls of the house.
A year or two later, perhaps I’m about three, there we are again, this time in front of studio drapes, bathed in the artificial light of a formal portrait. I’m standing on something while my mother sits. My right arm is around the back of her shoulders, my left hand is thrust into the pocket of my trousers. Dressed informally but smartly for the occasion. I’m wearing a pale-colored, knitted jumper, buttoned tight at the neck with a large, turned-over collar. We’re looking confidently and happily into the camera. My mother,looking proud and ridiculously young, still has her hair piled high,40’s style and wears a large button ear-ring.