This piece was published in the ‘Life & Style’ section of The Guardian newspaper on 1st December 2012. It explains the story behind one of my favourite family photographs.
The original text can be read below, or click on the image of the piece in print to enlarge. Alternatively you can read the piece on The Guardian’s website, by clicking the link below:
My parents’ house is packed with family photographs, either standing in frames, hung on the walls, or in countless albums. What is unusual about this photograph is that it has for years sat loose on a shelf on the dresser in the living room, propped up against an ornament. The photograph is of my mother, the second youngest of seven siblings, and her parents, taken in 1955. They are stood on the veranda of my grandparent’s top floor flat in Eastwood, Glasgow. My grandparents were the first residents in this newly built council flat, moving in just a week before Christmas in 1951, after passing the rigorous screening process the council employed to make sure that the right calibre of people were living there.
My mother, who was born in this flat, is three years old in this photo, flanked by my grandmother, who would have been forty one, and my grandfather who was fifty nine, dressed in dungarees, no doubt having just arrived home from his job as a foreman at the local foundry.
The porthole kitchen window behind them was extremely interesting as a young child with a vivid imagination. It could be the porthole of a submarine or a portal to another world like the round window from Playschool. The entire history of my immediate family seems to have been documented in photographs in front of this window. It somehow became the de facto photographic backdrop for all family photos.
The long veranda, with one residence at each end, acted as long, safe, enclosed play area for my mother to push her smart dolls pram up and down, or my uncles and aunties to ride their bicycles and scooters along; a tradition that my sister and I continued with gusto. In bad weather we moved indoors, utilising the long corridor that ran the length of the flat, much to the chagrin of the neighbours below.
The west-facing veranda would be bathed in sunlight in the afternoons, and with uninterrupted views over the school playing fields opposite, we would often arrive to find my grandmother sat out on the veranda in a deckchair, enjoying the sunshine with front row seats to a game of schoolboy rugby.
I visited my family in Glasgow two or three times a year when I was a child, usually with my parents and sister, although occasionally I would take the train from the West Midlands with my Gran, who would travel down to collect me, and spend a week with her on my own – what an adventure! We would visit the excellent Transport Museum, the diverse and ever-changing Burrell Collection, and the living time capsule that is the Charles Rennie Mackintosh designed Scotland Street School.
I will always consider Glasgow my second home, and always felt particularly at home in my Gran’s flat. When my Gran passed away, we helped clear the flat, shortly after her funeral. It was so strange seeing the large, three-bedroomed flat empty. It didn’t seem like the same place, for somewhere that was always so full of life and held so many happy memories for my family and me. I wonder whether the new tenants had to undergo such rigorous screening by the council, before being allowed access to their new home, and if they would call it home for as long as my Gran did.