Friday, January 11, 2013

Cold Comfort Farm

I have been working alone today and apart from the sound of occasional gunfire and neighing horses, it is disconcertingly quiet. The barn I work in usually creaks and groans, but now it is eerily silent, as if hibernating for the winter. I am sitting in a 20' by 10' garden shed, with two convector heaters on full power. I still feel cold.

The books are depressing me today. So many of them have clearly never been read and at times, it feels as if the whole publishing industry is founded on unwanted gifts. In the skip for new books are dozens of copies of the bestsellers of recent Christmases: Frankie Boyle's autobiography, a Top Gear annual, all of Dan Brown's ouevre and countless celebrity memoirs. Very few of them are well-thumbed.

During these silent afternoons of muted light and creeping coldness, I find it hard not to think about my own mortality. Dealing with the detritus of the recently deceased, I'm only too aware that one day it will be my books and photographs that will be turned into lampshades, packaging and road surfacing material.

I have asked people to start saving photos and albums, without telling them why and several things have arrived during the last week. The best was a collection of pictures of a Sussex family taken between 1927 and 1929.

None of the images are particularly remarkable, but what interests me is that they show a society in transition. The older generation - all born during the mid-Victorian age - don't appear to have change their style of dress at all. The photo below could have been taken any time in the late nineteenth century, except that the boy is holding a model plane:

As usual, there are no names, but the locations are all in Sussex. The people in these pictures, particularly the older ones, would probably have spoken with a strong rural burr that was quite different from today's sub-London accent. Click here and you'll hear a real Sussex accent.

The increasingly independent young women of the 1920s must have shocked their grandparents, who had seen their slowly-changing world completely torn apart by the First World War. It's not the past that's a foreign country, it's the future and if you live long enough, you'll be a stranger in a strange land.


Canadian Chickadee said...

Lovely photos. But don't feel sad -- take heart from the fact that the houses in the backgrounds probably still exist and are lived in and loved. And the chair with open back on which Grandmother is leaning, probably sold for a fortune in a local antique shop and found a place in another home. And so it may be with some of the books which have been discarded. Take care and God bless, xoxo Carol

Richard said...

Final image is the Brighton Metropole Hotel - taken from the now derelict West Pier.

Grey Area

Steerforth said...

Carol - You're quite right. I think I've spent too much time working on my own this week - always a mixed blessing. Sometimes I wish I was back in the bookshop.

Richard - I used to love the West Pier, which always seemed more exciting than its stuck-up neighbour. It's such a pity that someone out there was determined to ensure than it would never open again.

Canadian Chickadee said...

Steerforth, don't ever wish yourself back in a job which sounded as if it were soul-destroying. As long as we have enough to eat and can pay the rent/mortgage, there is so much more to life than money. And it sounds as if it's helping your wife and family to have closer to home and home more often.

In any case, sending you good vibrations from overseas, Carol

Rog said...

I always feel a bit sad when I come across lots of photo albums in house clearance auctions and look at all the personal detailed history that nobody in the family felt bothered enough to keep.

Steerforth said...

Carol - It wasn't always soul-destroying. I had some great colleagues and liked my employers, but things changed and the benefits of working with bright, interesting people were eventually cancelled out by the stress and frustration of working for borish, aggressive individuals.

I miss the fun of working with like-minded people. But I suppose the job I have now is otherwise ideal: completely flexible hours and no boss.

Thanks for the good vibrations.

Rog - I used to assume that the deceased had no next of kin, but that isn't always the case. It often turns out that Auntie Dolly had lots of nieces and nephews, but nobody cared.

I also feel slightly depressed going through people's book collections, particularly when they're academic ones - all that knowledge and acquired wisdom has disappeared forever in heartbeat.

The one positive note is that I can sometimes find new owners for the books. Occasionally I get emails from customers saying how delighted they are to have been reunited with a much-loved title from their past. I'd like to imagine my books giving pleasure to others in the future.

Rog said...

You've inspired a photograph based blog post!

MikeP said...

The boy with the plane has the air of Spike Milligan about him...

Paff Rine said...

I would love to know more about picture 6.
What frightens me is that so little will be left of "now". How many people print out camera and phone photographs? All the interesting normal day to day life will be lost, and it will only be newspapers etc that document our time.

Steerforth said...

Rog - It was a marvellous photo that bought back memories of my father and his colleagues at the Post Office Savings Bank HQ in Kew.

Mike - And the grandfather has a touch of Harry Secombe about him, albeit a rather svelte one.

Paff Rine - That's the odd thing. We're producing more information than ever - hard drives are struggling to keep up with the wealth of material we produce - but we're in danger of leaving little of worth, because more is less. Perhaps.

My job certainly has a limited lifespan, but hopefully it will coincide with my limited lifespan rather than end prematurely.

Little Nell said...

ntugdeed 516
But why is the boy with model aeroplane wearing what appears to be a party hat? Was it Christmas Day? The 'granfer' looks as though he worked on the land and has a rather weatherbeaten appearance.

Steerforth said...

Nell - I think you're right. I've added a link to a recording of a Sussex farm labourer born in 1881 - I'd imagine that the man in the photo sounded like him.

I've been catching up on your blog and read the sad news of your father - you wrote a lovely and moving tribute.

Little Nell said...

Thans Steerforth. I've just noticd that my comment included a stab at word verification :)