This photo of my mother looks like a still from a Hitchcock movie. Her short blond hair has something of a Kim Novak and Janet Leigh vibe, and the off-camera stare gives it a curious, anxious edge as if she’s just seen Anthony Perkins with a kitchen knife.
I’ve always thought this was an unusual picture, and not a little mysterious. I recognize the location as the hallway of my grandparent’s council flat in White City, but I’ve no idea why it was taken. These days people are constantly taking photos of even the most humdrum aspects of their lives, but in the past the camera usually only came out to record events and gatherings: on holiday, a party, a wedding etc. This would have been shot on my Grandmother’s Box Brownie which was the first cheap, snapshot camera and enabled photos like this, but why photograph my mother staring into space in a hallway, not even looking at the camera?
The truth is probably quite mundane — using up the last frame on a roll of film? — but I like to think someone in the family was being arty and liked the light in the hallway, or perhaps my mother was a budding Cindy Sherman.
Every picture tells a story, but I think this one will remain a mystery.
One look at an old photo of London will tell you the past was a dirtier place: Soot-covered buildings, smog, everyone smoking. But I never knew it was so bad that sweets came in specially reinforced, anti-dirt wrappers.
Those loveable popsters Saint Etienne have become quite the movie producers in recent years, having made three films about London in collaboration with director Paul Kelly. They’re hard to come by in the States so I’ve only seen the first one Finisterre, an impressionistic tribute to the city which I highly recommend.
Their new one How We Used To Live uses old footage from the BFI Library to tell the story of London’s past during the ‘New Elizabethan’ age from the 1950s to the Thatcher era — a sort of prequel to Finisterre — and looks absolutely marvelous.
The film has been selected to be part of the London Film Festival and lucky Londoners (or anyone in town at the time) can get to see it next month. I’m sure I shall see it myself eventually if it ever makes its way to this side of the pond in some form or other.
There were “No Ball Games” signs on my estate too which we ignored just like these kids, and if I had a penny for every time some old lady told me to “get yer hair cut!” I’d have enough to buy a quarter of cough candy. I’m surprised none of them deployed the deadly weapon that was “I know where you live, I’m telling your mum!”
Amazing colour film of London shot way back in 1927, though apart from the red of the buses the only colours in evidence seem to be grey and brown.
London still looked a lot like that until fairly recently. For most of my life St. Paul’s, Westminster Abbey, Tower Bridge, and every old building in the city were that same dirty, sooty colour and I think they all look a bit fake now since they’ve been cleaned up, as if the “real” buildings have been replaced by Disney versions.
I don’t think it’s the cheapest anymore, last time I had a portion of chips it cost me a pound — a pound! for a bag of chips! — and having fish with it will set you back a fiver in London, so it’s probably not the working-class staple it once was. There used to be a line going out the door of my local chip shop (which is still there!) every Friday night with people buying fish and chips for the whole family, that’d cost quite a few quid now.
But I suppose “cheap” is all relative, I still remember the day chips went up from 10p to 12p. My mum sent me and my sister to the chippie one night to get some chips for our tea, both of us clutching a 10p coin in our eager little hands, only to find when we got there that they had gone up in price and we had to go back home to get the extra money. You could say we were crying all the way from the chip shop. Ho ho.
Did you ever do this when you were a kid? Go into a chip shop right before they closed and ask “Got any chips left?” When they said “Yes” you shouted “Serves you right for cooking so many!” and then run out of the shop. Oh, what wits we were.