The photograph ...

Spyros Andre, Ainsdale 1947

The photograph (right) is taken of my father and I, when I was about 3, on the dunes at Ainsdale beach, near Southport and throughout my latter life it has periodically popped into my memory, haunting me somewhat. I remember very little of this period of my life and nothing of this particular event.

Southport is a town whose suburbs change little. As an adult, I have walked along its streets on the kind of sunny morning that evokes nostalgic memories of times gone; the wide pavements invite me to linger over the sweeping front gardens leading to mysterious old houses, occasionally a cottage or a terraced row. As an older boy of nine, I was at school here. There was a board, nailed to a large, handsome tree in the front garden proclaiming 'Fairlea School for Boys & Girls'

How often did I visit Southport with my father? Was the photograph evidence of the only time we went to the beach together? Southport beach was just that – always beach, there never seemed to be any sea to splash about in. I can imagine a stressed Creator thinking ... 'Right, let's see ... sand, dunes, spiky grass, ... er ... I think that's everything. I pronounce this beach finished. The sea? ... oh ... no. I really don't want to spoil them with that as well!" To give the Almighty the credit deserved, the dunes were spectacular. A maze of paths through gulleys and hills that could lead anywhere and sometimes led nowhere. Sand in your shoes and socks, jumping from the edge of ever-crumbling sand walls ..... these were the memories of this great sand kingdom and its powerful sentry – the couch grass – which would cut your legs and arms mercilessly in the protection of its domain.

AndreImogen 2

I originally mislaid the photograph, and some others of the two of us together, but I have recently found them. My father, with whom I recall spending little time as a child, does not remember the events leading to the picture and indeed is very reluctant to talk about early times with me at all. I put this down squarely to his not being at peace with himself, perhaps due to his never coming to terms with the past. What happened over this early period to court such reluctance, I probably will never know. I do believe that we are the products of what we were and thus learning something of what went before enables us to understand ourselves better now and thus to better prepare for the future.

I have finally exorcised the original demon memory ... by having a photograph taken of me with my daughter Imogen on the dunes at Southport (left). I wonder whether she will view it forty years on and remember its significance. I hope so. 

Perhaps she will do the same with a child of hers. It's a romantic notion but I feel it helps to put my very existence into perspective.

The original photograph doesn't haunt me in the same way now.


© Andre Francis 2012