John’s sister, Helen (recently having become a Dame of the Catering industry, with tiara to match, for her work as hostess at Kilmichael Hotel, Arran) and  who is preparing to move house, kindly sent him a selection of photographs of interest to him which had belonged to their late mother.   He is delighted to receive them, especially a few of his father, which are scarce.

I leaf through the photographs, having to overcome my usual discomfort at the thought of photographs of us in the hands of other people.  (Yes, I know it’s ridiculous – one’s mother isn’t exactly ‘other people’.)   For myself, I am pleased to find a photograph of John and Rory which presumably I took but of which I have no recollection, standing beside the harbour in Portsoy.

When it comes to the photographs of John as a child, before I met him, we run into a few difficulties.   He recognises his parents, his  grandparents, his sister, his aunt and uncle and cousin.   But there are some  photographs where he stands, clearly on intimate terms with others who surround him.   ‘Who are all these people?’ I ask him.  He takes the photograph and studies it.    ‘No idea.’

John has an excellent memory.   He can find his way around a city he visited for a few hours only twenty years ago.   I can remind him of some incident, or recollect say a restaurant we visited many years ago, and from my vague description, he can swiftly and accurately place it on the map.   His timing is impeccable – he almost never forgets arrangements to meet; and his arriving  to time is legendary so that the few occasions when he has been unavoidably late are tales of wonder in our family.    And yet …   he seems to have an enviable capacity to delete from his memory banks anything he deems no longer relevant in his life.

There is a school photo.   I can’t pick him out in it so I ask him about it.   ‘I’m not in it.’ he announces.

I say, ‘Helen wouldn’t have sent it if it weren’t relevant to you.’

He scans it again.    ‘No.’

I say, ‘Do you recognise anybody?’

After another long look, he says he recognises the teacher.

Given his pattern of recollection, I point out, she must have been HIS teacher.   There is no possibility of him remembering anyone else’s.

‘You must be in it,’ I suggest.    ‘Look again.’

Eventually he selects a boy.   He is small, with a thin, sharp face;  sparse hair that looks as though it might have been  sandy, and sticky out ears.  He is the only child not in school uniform.   I begin to wonder if he’s taking the proverbial here.

‘That’s not you.’

He argues that it is.   I take the photograph in exasperation.    I resort to logic.

“That is NOT you.   Firstly, that child is small.   Secondly, you don’t have sticky-out ears.  Thirdly, you mother would never have sent you to school, not in school uniform.’    He acknowledges the force of the third argument.     Eventually I look at photos of him as a child, where we know he is definitely there.    His characteristics are :  invariably among the tallest, if not THE tallest,  child in the class.   (This is somebody who asked if he ever had a problem with bullies, replied, No.    Were there no bullies at your school?   Yes.   So how did you deal with them?   I just stood up.)   He also had  a longish face but wide at the jaw line;  abundant, unruly hair;  and generally an air of suppressed  mischief about him.     John, as a child, does not look like either of his sons did and they in turn do not resemble each other.  (They are half brothers.)    The young men of the family who as children most resembled John as a child are his elder nephew, Andrew, and his elder grandson, Craig.    They are both tall with luxuriant  hair and a mischievous air.   (Of course all the members of a family show passing resemblances to each other at different times.)

I consider giving him some early photos of himself and me and asking him who those people are, but I decide not to – it would be too awful if he couldn’t identify ME!

Carefully, we put the photos in a box.    They brought us laughter and pleasure, fond memories, regret over those who are no longer with us.

Thanks to Helen for sharing them with John.

About adhocannie
I am a good natured woman with a long memory and a swift tongue. I like loooking at things and thinking about them. Also food, clothes, travel, reading, sewing. I try to see the ridiculous in things, but sobriety of reflection keeps edgting in. I have husband, children, grandchildren, friends... I feel rich in things that matter. I am a happy exile. I like writing. I do not like talking about me (though I do.). You willl be much more interesting.


  1. nan says:

    The air of suppressed mischief is still extant!

  2. adhocannie says:

    Yes. It’s a great gift to have.

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