Sunday, February 12, 2006


First written, 26th July 1994
We sat recently watching people on skis; little children growing up on prairies, in towns with straight streets and wooden houses; men and boys in baseball caps; proud hunters with guns and grisly trophies; skimming across lagoons in hovercraft; holidaying in low, broad, tail-finned 1950's cars; visiting snow-capped stony peaks with endless trees, white waters, blue lakes, foreign and fascinating. Images of uncles, aunts and cousins on a screen -- old-style silent cine-films transferred to video.

I first remember standing on a rough, wooden floor, looking through the glass at a world of green fields and hedgerows, with ambitions of school, outdoor play, and summer days. I recall, later, black-and-cream buses open at the rear, conductors who swung down from mysterious, smoky upper decks like circus acrobats; the whirling of ticket machines, old pennies and ringing bells; the vast, coloured episodes of town, stalls, and shops that bound goods in knotted string and brown paper.

And there it suddenly all was, like a waking dream, a mere minute or two on screen -- stuffed in between Canadian memories -- 1968, and a trip home for my Aunt and her husband -- and their new cine-camera. A miracle. A fright. And completely unexpected.

Edmondstown appeared on film, the grey, streaked walls of the factory flowing by. The broken, crumbling boundaries of the golf club to the left; lamp standards ending before the last bend at the school.

Then, a seeming dreamscape with my brother, aged 12, posing with a golf stick in the front field; cousin Phillip, his sidekick, scurrying out of shot. My mother, sisters, aunt, strolling through the door onto the path, 1960's teenage fashions. And then...!

A child, two years old, led by an older sister, warily eyeing the camera, making for the safety of the great outdoors... Me...

A moving, living, breathing Me, from days before family photographs were affordable. A Me I'd never seen. A child before letters or numbers or school; before much speech even.

And though I knew them well, here, somehow made more real, for all to see, were my green fields and hedgerows, thistles, the middle gate we swore was haunted, the land rising beyond the road to blue horizons. Here were the whitewashed walls, the rendering flaked and weathered, the path at that time a mere track across the grass to the granite doorstep, concrete posts strung with wire to keep out sheep, the yard with its iron gates and byres.

The film moved to dead relations smiling for the camera; the scenery of mountains, strangely devoid of trees; hay-cocks nestled in fields yet to see a tractor; a gathering of Sunday families at picnics, the cars long since turned to scrap or rusted in sheds; a vision of Dublin in 1968; a garda in long, white gloves directing traffic; buses in brown and cream livery jostling along; the square, plastic shop-signs overhead; crowds with short skirts, platform shoes, impossible hair-do's, horn-rimmed spectacles, flared suits and trousers, the women in hats; the colours, shapes and visions of earliest memory. A time machine; a window to my past; a scene no less startling than if someone were to project images directly from my mind onto a screen overdubbed with music. I sat there, enthralled to the end.

Visiting that time, those early years I recall in sights and sounds, in smells of kitchens and cowsheds, I feel again the textures of the time; the crawling playground path that was my home; the outer world an unknown thing; I think of the wide-eyed journeys to the city; the strange sounds of traffic and hawkers; the hand-held, child's-eye view of things I alone keep. To see them come alive on film is a wonder indeed, unsettling as a half-remembered dream -- a dream that can be rewound and played; stilled; examined. Is that the ghost we see on film by the gate? Or are they all ghosts, those times, fondly remembered, the faults hidden away in hope of forgetfulness, but shivering somewhere in darkness someday to be forever gone?


Anonymous said...

Wonderful memory Willie. Being your big sister I remember all of the home movie of us being taped. Or is that the correct way of saying it. Uncle Leslie from Canada was on the other end of the camera. You were so cute ! Thank you for sending me a copy of that special time. I have looked at it numerous times since. My hair style then could have been better ! Did you notice your other big sister's earings ? Very 60s.

Willie_W said...

I'll have to dig out a copy of that video sometime soon and look at it again.