Thursday, April 14, 2011

Colourful Black & White Memories

Back in the summer of '52 when a slippery but still loveable little Silverback came kicking and screaming into the world, many things were a whole lot different from how they are today. Considering the geek I am now, the obvious examples tend to be electronic items like computers, televisions, mp3 players and the like.

But my world in post war Norn Iron was even different from other parts of the UK and before my memories become completely replaced by fluffy clouds and butterflies, I'll try and leave them here for posterity....or to put it another way, my 3 regular readers.

I think that in the 50's and early 60's, my brain hadn't evolved enough to cope with colour and as a result, I can only recall my childhood memories as a mix of sepia and black & white. The few photographic aids to my memories are also, of course, in black & white as either colour film hadn't been invented then, or more likely, we couldn't afford it.

And so I grew up in the Norn Iron version of "How Green Was My Valley" except there were no mines or people singing at the drop of a slate and actually nothing similar at all except for the sheep. We had sheep. And cows. Lots of cows.

Because although we lived in a town, a very small town, the area around us was agricultural and most of my relatives were farmers. My mum was 1 of 12 and her family home was a farm we revisited religiously every Sunday.....after Mass as it happens. Or more accurately, after the Sunday morning fry up which came after Sunday Mass.

This was our version of the Ulster Fry and started out using the mostly solidified leftover lard which had congealed nicely in the big pan from the previous fry. The little left over bits of meat and egg were just a bonus and were supplemented by new thick rashers of bacon and sausage links freshly acquired from a visit to the local butcher's (Olpherts) on the way home from church.
A few duck eggs and thick slices of soda bread (thrown into the pan when all other items had been removed to soak up the juices and crisp up the edges) would complete the meal.
That was the normal Sunday, butchers, fry up and off out to 'home farm' to see granny and whoever else happened to be there. All in black & white remember.

I have no memories of granny in colour at all. The farm house living room is also just a black & white memory for me as it was perpetually dark and granny would be sitting in her chair in a corner, knitting or praying or......well that was it really. The huge peat burning Aga range would be giving out heat and delicious smells if we'd arrived at the right time and even a bit of light when the front 'door' would be opened to throw in a few more blocks of peat.

I'd be in a (dark obviously) corner somewhere trying to avoid being seen or spoken to as granny, due to her exalted position as head of this large and getting larger dynasty, was quite a scary figure to me. I think this is why, years later, I could relate to how young Pip reacted to Miss Havisham in Great Expectations and although the farm wasn't exactly a copy of Satis House, in many ways it always remained a dark and unwelcoming place to me and I had very mixed emotions having to go there.

That's not to say I didn't have many happy times there. I did. Pointedly when I'd be on my own, wandering around the outbuildings, the lanes and the fields in one of the many worlds created by playing kids everywhere. I also had fun helping out when help was needed, with hay bailing and potato picking days to the fore. I'd be in the field with 'the others' walking behind the huge red Massey Ferguson combine harvester and when it dropped a bale of hay like some sort of mechanical pooping machine, I'd help to position it with others to form stacks all over the field.

I don't ever remember the days of loose haystacks and I left farm work long before the days of those huge circular rolls you see in fields now. I was a child of the hay bale and THOSE memories are in vivid colour. The yellow hay fields seemed to fill my view, broken only by the green hedges which divided them. The bright red combine harvester stood out against the clear blue sky as every bailing day seemed to be a gloriously hot day back then.

On my solo excursions, I'd move the bales around to form a fort or a long tunnel of some sort and had great fun with these natural lego bricks. In those pre Narnia and definitely pre PC days, I could enter my own exotic worlds, impossibly populated by red Indians and spacemen, eskimos and cowboys and be taken away from the black & white world I lived in the rest of the time.

The potato machine was something else. This slow moving behemoth went along the rows of buried potatoes, dug them up and deposited them at the start of a conveyor belt which vibrated to dislodge the soil that came up with each spud. We'd all be standing along the length of this belt and would feed the potatoes down our own small shoot and into bags. Once full, these heavy bags would then be tied and moved aside so another empty bag could be positioned under the shoot and so the process went on. Everyone had a task to perform and when working smoothly, it was an impressive sight to behold.

This farm work would easily offset the Ulster fry ups and other 'unhealthy' meals we ate back then and despite the majority of my family suffering from and dying from heart related diseases, they mostly lived to ripe old ages and that has to be down to leading active farming lives.

Farming is not an easy career path or at least it wasn't back then and was even worse before the advent of mechanical aids. I'm not so sure about it now as European farmers seem to make fortunes from NOT farming their land and being paid for NOT growing crops or producing produce. Subsidies is the watch word and more and more land is being turned over to the creation of holiday homes so that townies can spend a few days becoming rural versions of City Slickers.

Here are 3 old photos I've dug up from an external hard drive. The first is one I've posted before and shows my maternal grandfather and grandmother and their 12 children. Seeing as I've just mentioned granny, I thought it only fair to show her. She is second from the left on the back row and the girl holding the baby is my mother.

Next up is another photo I've posted before but, as it is relevant, here it is again. The nun driving the combine is my aunt Louisa but sadly, I can't pick her out in the previous group photo.

Showing that my wit didn't just start recently, the title I gave to that photo was "Louisa Combines Both Her Habits." Maybe I should've stuck to farming !

And finally, here is a compilation image combining (again with the combining !!) several of those tiny b&w photos you'd get back from the chemist back in those days. I'm not sure why they had to be so small when the negatives were standard 110 (no idea what that means but it just popped into my head) but maybe we still had rationing so soon after the war as Kitchener had used all the paper supplies for his poster campaign ! Just a thought.

Anyway in any individual photo in this montage containing kids, I'm the smallest one and the bigger male would be my brother. And before you ask, it was the done thing in my world to be posed with my hands joined in prayer in pretty much any formal photo. Apologies for the knees but I wasn't allowed to wear long pants till I was 27.

I plan to return to Norn Iron this summer to show a couple of my friends the places that I've talked about both in this blog and face to face. Ballymoney, my town home for 18 years, the house there where my father lived for 36 years and my mother for 53 years before their respective deaths, my primary school and adjoining church, my old and thankfully much changed boarding school and, of course, THE farm.

I may be showing them everything with rose coloured glasses but I'm sure when it comes to the farm, I'll still be seeing it in black and white. I'll let you know.


Daphne said...

Fascinating post and I love all the photos too. The one of your mother's large family is wonderful - I bet there weren't many of them all together. Your post and the photos are so evocative of a different, lost world and it was great to read.

Steph said...

Great post and beautiful pictures!

rhymeswithplague said...

What a great post! I love old pictures, and these are some wonderful ones, especially the one of your mother's entire family. I want to state for the record that I was not at all physically attracted to or frightened by your knees.

I remember things in color, except for programs on television, which were all in black-and-white.

I would have called that photo with the red tractor/combine thingy "Hay, Sister!" (see, it's a play on words of "Hey, Sister!" and...oh, forget it).

open face helmets said...

Old is Gold. Long live your wonderful golden memories.

Open Face Off Road Helmets said...

I rememberer my old days.That was so free.NO tension just playing with friends

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