It’s lived rent free in my head since it first aired in 1999.
Finding it available online has been the highlight of the week, nay, the highlight of all the years since first watching it.
It’s a long watch – over three, 1 hour episodes; but, if memory serves me at all well, the incredible writing, stellar cast, and eternal themes will make this weekend’s viewing well worth while.
This technically flawless and beautifully acted work was the first of three long-format television plays which gained Stephen Poliakoff a much wider audience and consolidated his reputation as one of Britain’s foremost writers. All three plays deal with themes of family and history, but Shooting the Past is the most contemporary and the most political.
The series is a heartfelt cry against what Poliakoff sees as the rampant philistinism of capitalism that has gradually infiltrated British attitudes towards culture and heritage. The photo archive seems to represent the ‘old’ Britain, with its eccentricities and core values – a portrait which could come straight out of an Ealing film – while the American company is the hard face of the market, with Anderson as the anti-hero who eventually sees the light in an audience-pleasing conclusion. But there’s a sense of urgency underneath the somewhat wish-fulfilling narrative which suggests a darker reality; Oswald’s despair and attempted suicide have a ring of truth which bring us up short.
Happened across the above the other day, and was happy to discover that I’m not alone, having stored someone else’s memories for far longer than may be healthy…
When I was a student, one of the housemates, let’s call him Dave (for that is his name…), went to an auction to pick up an extra wardrobe. Unbeknown to him; you buy the wardrobe, you get the contents!
Come delivery day, and the driver is well pleased to discover we’re on the top floor. After much struggling, wardrobe is deposited in front hall. Delivery guy isn’t for taking it any further, and strops off in a haze of sweat and four-letter salutations.
Dave wanders into the kitchen and asks for a helping hand. He can’t budge the wardrobe.
He’d gone all out.
This thing was over 10′ tall and 8′ wide and made of solid oak.
Three of us couldn’t shift it (God knows how the delivery guy and his mate managed up four floors!)
That’s the point at which Dave suggested emptying it…(I know; but he was only half way through a PhD in Biomedical Science… so we gave him a break…)
By the time he returns with the key, the entire house is eagerly gathered in front of the wardrobe.
Turns out, Dave hadn’t bought a wardrobe; he’d bought a veritable time capsule. One, if the ranked furs, cocktail and flapper dresses, sequined felt hats and fedoras were anything to go by, originated in the 1930’s. (Bridget knew these things… OK?)
Having recovered from the refreshing blast of camphor, Dave revealed that a friend, who worked at a vintage shop, had agreed to take the lot. We set about decanting everything into bin bags; hardly the care deserved by these items so valued by someone for so long.
Bridget (knowing these things) took charge of the process.
The devil makes work for idle hands, however, and with so many onlookers it didn’t take long for an entire backstory for the unknown owner to develop as each item was revealed, carefully folded, and stowed in the ever increasing pile of bin bags.
The emptying was almost complete when, among the dregs of assorted scarves in the bottom drawer, appeared a pocket sized photo album.
Even Bridget, with all her care, absent-mindedly found herself about to drop the album in the bag dedicated to “unrecoverable” items…
The album held about a dozen black and white pictures, probably 4″ x 2″, carefully inserted into the holding slots.
One loose image, having run out of allotted space, hadn’t fared quite as well as the others but was preserved well enough with its companions.
And it was… GLORIOUS.
Whatever, likely half mocking, backstory had been developed during the emptying of the wardrobe, simply couldn’t match up to the actual story contained within the half dozen card pages of that album.
All of the pictures had been taken on the same day.
(Fuck, I’m tearing up just thinking about it. Is that why I’ve avoided writing the real point for so long?)
The album records a riotous picnic, among what appears to be sand dunes. Or perhaps several riotous picnics, as some of the images are clearly taken on heather moorland. In these latter images, a Model T forms a welcome windbreak as hair flies, uncontrollable.
But none of these pictures shows the view. There is only one point of interest in all of them.
Nor is it the 1930s anymore; the dress style is clearly ’50s. Yet nothing from the latter era had surfaced from the inner depths of the wardrobe.
Three young women, in their mid-late 30s, likely sisters, attend the picnic(s).
Two of them take control of the camera in turn.
The off duty photographer looks so happy. Laughing, enjoying the freedom of the moment, revelling in the warmth and companionship of the day.
In every image, the third sister. She pays no heed to either of her sisters. She is lost in her own world; brushing her hair, checking her reflection in a hand mirror, neither noticing nor interacting with the camera.
She relishes the cake, yet seems completely unaware of her loving sister’s presence.
That love?; that much leaps out of every image.
The “spare picture”, creased, worn, (looked at more often than the others?); has only one sitter.
They have managed to settle her. It’s one of the beach shots. She isn’t fiddling, or distracted, or slack jawed; but looks directly into the camera, a vague, non-committed smile that excludes the eyes.
And yet; there is something there; missing in the others; a connection; an animation of the senses; a moment of genuine, honest, recognition; a vague amusement at something going on behind the camera, perhaps?
In that image; she becomes.
And because of that image, the revelation contained in the others broke me.
Who were they?
Was one of them the owner of the wardrobe?
Probably not, as they would only have been in their mid-late 60s by that time. Early 70s at a push.
So… maybe… yes.
And that made me sad.
But why would they have kept the wardrobe contents as a 1930s exhibit?
And why didn’t any of their relatives (did none of them have children?) want any of it; not even the picture book?
And that made me sad.
And that’s when I realised I’d acquired a photo album.
Full of memories for someone…
Through the years, I tried various means to trace the family in the hope of returning the images; to no avail.
In ’99 inspired by Stephen Poliakoff’s “Shooting the Past“, starring Timothy Spall, I contacted what few picture libraries I could track down.
None of them wanted them (not enough to count as a “collection”, not notable subjects); but…
Spall’s character would have got it!
Poliakoff would have got it!
Through all this, the little album accompanied us on several house moves.
Till that disastrous move; when so much, including the album of stranger’s memories was lost.
I like to think someone else found the album.
I like to think they occasionally come across it and wonder why they keep it, but can’t seem to find a reason to let it go.
And, though it’s been out of my possession for over 20 years now; the faces remain so vividly imprinted in my memory, they feel closer than family.
Even though I don’t know who they were; when I finally depart this world, there will be no-one (barring the fabled finder above) to remember them.
Shortest of the year in Northern climes, and sacred in these parts through most of humankind’s religious history; marking, as it does, the beginning of a return to light after the long fall into darkness.
For the Zoroastrians, it was Ahura Mazda who brought light and fire (truth and wisdom) to humankind; the supreme, Creator God of a duo-theistic pair. The other, Ahriman, brought only darkness, seeking to destroy all that Ahura Mazda had created.
Odd then, that as YHWH gained precedence, the light bearer became Lucifer; effectively subverting Ahura Mazda to the role of his own nemesis. It doesn’t end there, of course; it couldn’t end there.
Christ, bringer of light to all mankind, he who shall ultimately defeat that very same Lucifer at the end of days, subverted any remaining deities of the North who dared be born on this day.
Seems that religion is one long history of light defeating light presented in the form of darkness.
The primal duality may not be a duality at all.
Build your pyre high, Ahriman; for tomorrow the eye of Ahura Mazda will be longer upon thee, and he shall know what thee have done.
Fear not, for unto you is born this day, in the City of David, a Saviour.
Really enjoyed my conversation with Gary, so if you have 40 minutes to spare, or just like ear wigging in on what other people are talking about (isn’t it always the way?), have a listen to the bits that could be published below.
If you enjoyed it, give Gary a follow – his regular podcasts include the great and the good of a diverse community of various esoteric interests (and me!)
Season 2, Episode 2 of the Magical World of G. Michael Vasey is out this morning. It features a lovely conversation with Allan Pringle, who trained as a Zuni shaman. Please do give it a listen and if you enjoy it, please do share it around. I’ve know Allan for some time and I always […]
Having sort of stumbled onto a method of connecting with Slavic God forms after reading Alan Richardson’s ‘Dark Magery’, I am convinced that this is a powerful magical method of work. I chose the duality Perun and Veles and by taking on the form of each god in turn, I discovered more magic and synchronicity that I had eve done before. I wrote this up in a short book called Chasing Dragons in Moravia which is available in Kindle format and shortly, in paperback. In it, you will get a sense for how what appeared to be random visits and events were actually synchronicities that opened up a whole world of understanding.
I wasn’t able to communicate everything. Some of it is for me alone and some things are too big an experience to even begin to describe with any spiritual depth. I’d need a Vulcan mind meld to do…
Our last visit of a weekend that seemed to have flown by all too quickly was to a little church on the edge of Aberdeen. The sun finally decided to show its face… though it still managed to rain anyway, but at least we had blue skies through the roofless ruins of St Fergus’ Church.
Originally built around eight hundred years ago, the old parish church of Dyce sits high above a bend in the river Don. It was a place of Christian worship long before the present church was built…and possibly already a sacred or significant site in the pre-Christian era. Little now remains of the church apart from its shell, with the curious doorway to the east, where the altar would normally be situated.
Fergus the Pict was an Irish bishop, responsible for bringing Christianity to many in this area of Scotland. He may be the same Fergus…
It looked, for a while, as if we might escape being rained on at our second site of the morning, but no… that would have been too much to ask The ritual cleansing would continue. We were heading for another recumbent circle, with a few unusual features… Loanhead of Daviot.
The car park was full so I parked the car at a little distance and we walked back, arriving to find the group listening to a ghost story about the lady seen in the woods through which we would walk to the circle. The trees could not have been there when the circle was constructed, or they would have blocked the view of the moon and made the recumbent redundant, but they do provide a beautiful approach and backdrop to the stones. The green lawn opens out beyond the shadows of the trees on a spectacular site.
The weather was looking none too promising for the final day of the workshop, but at least it wasn’t really raining. It seemed incredible, under the heavy grey of the sky, that we’d had the clear weather-window the night before, just long enough to show us a starlit sky above the stone circle.
We had another visit to a stone circle after breakfast, but this one was quite a bit different…and suburban. I want to state here and now, that to have quite so much archaeology concentrated in Abereenshire seems a little unfair, when the place where I live has virtually nothing for miles. North or south yes, but not here. Oh, it is probably all there under the surface… ploughed and sown by centuries of farmers, but little of it is visible. It can be rather frustrating at times.
A few stars twinkled above Inverurie as our group gathered for dinner. It wasn’t even raining much. That probably explains why, some time after nine o’clock, when the moonless night had well and truly fallen, four people would once again walk the path up to the stone circle at Easter Aquhorthies…
We arrive first and, switching off the lights of the car, allow our eyes to gradually become accustomed to the complete lack of artificial light. We have torches, but they seem an intrusion somehow and will only be used to navigate the potholed track. There is no moon tonight and the little town is far enough distant, and set low enough in the landscape, to be invisible. Even the lights of Aberdeen make only a smudge of sickly ochre on the far horizon. We can see very little… only the ink-black silhouettes of the…
We had returned to Easter Aquhorthies for a second visit. It was still raining, but this time the sky was much brighter than the iron-grey deluge of the day before and there was already a sense of revisiting an old friend as we each returned to our stones. For myself, I was pondering some of the things we had learned here the day before… beginning with a rather obvious question from Running Elk.
“Where does the sun rise?” He was answered by silence. Twelve intelligent, fairly well-educated people had all apparently reached the same conclusion. The answer was so obvious that stating it was obviously going to turn out badly. Only the dog grinned. The sun rises in the east… that’s what we learn in school and that’s exactly what we think we see whenever we watch a dawn. Only, apparently, it isn’t. Who knew?