Archive for the ‘the box’ Tag

Return to The Box – Three Imaginary Boys

The next handful of photos from The Box.

beach trio bathers england vintage photograph

It’s certainly in Britain – it has postcard printing on the reverse including “British Made”. It has the feel of a South coast town – maybe Kent. Or perhaps further West. I don’t recognise the people – if anyone is related it’s the boy. It could be my grandfather, Ian, whose box this was. On the back of the photo in pencil is written I Harris in childish, non-joined-up handwriting.

The swimming costumes are old-fashionedly modest one-pieces. The man on the right’s has something written on it – tantalisingly all we can see under his folded arms is “S S”. His Chaplin (or perhaps slightly broader than Chaplin) moustache is of a time. The man on the left is pretty dench.

In the background are equally modestly dressed female bathers. The beach looks fairly rammed and tents or huts take up plenty of space. The scene is redolent of Victorian England though probably it is the early 20s (if that boy is my grandfather – who was born in 1915). The house on the right looks pre-Victorian, probably Georgian.

It’s striking that the photographer is in the water too, so presumably he’s using light-weight equipment without a tripod. His (I assume) composition is slightly eccentric with nearly half the shot made up of shallow sea.

In the sea is the number T668. It doesn’t feel like it’s on the surface of the print. There are tiny white dots in the figures as if it’s been scratched into something. No idea what T668 signifies.

toy car vintage photo

This next one has also got postcard printing on the back but no handwriting: Post Card – For Correspondence – Address Only. There is just an inky fingerprint – adult – my grandfather’s I hope.

I don’t recognise the boy – he looks less like my family than the bathing boy above.

The sleeves of his knitted jumper are noticeably short – bad knitter or hand-me-down? He has leather boots, shorts, and that cap, so perfect for driving.

The cycleable car is very old fashioned – more carriage than automobile, with its carriage lantern, thin wheels and boxy body-work. It is nicely finished with its striping, detailed radiator and number plate. So quite a posh looking toy.

It looks like he’s in a front garden, with no fence between it and the street, US-style. No sign of big-boy cars in the road. An open, quiet corner of a bygone age.

choc and marie vintage family photograph

These boys I do recognise for sure – and their parents. The taller boy is my grandfather so this must be around 1926/7. The shorter one is his brother Henry, born 1921. Henry became a gardener. He had a magical death – went to White Hart Lane with one of his sons for football and Spurs actually won; went home and did his garden; took a snooze in his favourite armchair – and never woke up again. Way to go. And a lovely man.

The father is Choc Harris (name origin was in The Box). He was a working class man from Dagenham, a cabinetmaker.

The mother, my great-grandmother Marie, was profoundly deaf. I believe this made Ian’s aka Pop’s upbringing difficult in some ways. I think she was quite angry. Her maiden name was Cohen which probably explains how come it is her line I can follow furthest back in the family tree I have been working on sporadically for some years. Her line currently goes back to 1544 in Prague. If she had a religious lineage, perhaps they keep much better records. Her antecedents founded both UCL (university, with Jeremy Bentham) and UCH (hospital) in London where both my boys were born.

Her face is very reminiscent of my grandfather as an adult. She looks slightly taller than my great-grandfather and fairly masculine. They were both born in 1886, making them about 40 in this photo. It looks like they are in a back garden, which may be in Becontree, Essex.

My grandfather, with a hand on both their shoulders, seems to be holding the family together. He’s the smartly dressed one in the group with a jacket and expansive wings-of-a-dove collar (ironic, as in later life he never gave a stuff about what he wore, in contrast to the other (German) grandpa who was positively dapper). He is the darker, solid centre among their pale clothes, the anchor.

Dispatch from The Box

The daily thing is not quite working for me, so for this dispatch from The Box I’ve selected the next two documents (a telegram and a hand-written letter) and the next two photographs to make up a bit for the inactivity of the last three days.

49277840557_c24ae9f5d8_o me and dad

This one is 1963 or 1964. That’s me on the right, my dad on the left. It was taken at 2A Selvage Lane, Mill Hill, London NW7 (that was the full extent of the postcode back then), my childhood home. I remember those curtains from later but not the drawers. My dad’s haircut and glasses look pretty 60s to me, the vestiges of 50s quiff styles with regard to the hair, a predictive touch of the Ipcress File in those specs.

49277640021_21bf9e4273_o school assembly

The second photo looks like a school assembly. The Post Card / Correspondence / Address print on the back doesn’t give too many clues as to the vintage. My grandfather Ian would have been this age in the early 20s but this has more the 40s feel about it so it’s possible it is my mum’s school (except she was at an all-girls school for most of her school career) or my uncle John’s. The Chinese lanterns are an odd touch – was the hall decorated specially or was this not a school hall? It looks like they may be watching a performance, with which several are clearly engaging emotionally and almost all are giving their attention. Standing adults punctuate the scene, they have the teacher vibe. The crowd is mixed boys and girls, though with big blocks of boys together. Many seem in school uniform of some kind; lots of hats are being worn indoors, especially by the girls. I can only see one child in glasses (John Lennon-style – extreme right, half-way up). There are no non-white kids in sight.

49277840682_8b762e16be_k telegram ma

This is a telegram from my grandfather Ian (when he was still called Isadore in 1940 – he changed his name by deed poll on 14th October 1949 at a cost of ten shillings. His hit-rate on job applications immediately went up.) The off-the-shelf design of the celebratory telegram form is a bit more holiday than Watford. So this was sent from Watford where my mum was born (not sure why, I think they were still living in Dagenham – maybe the war-time demands on hospitals meant you had to travel further to give birth).

In March 1940 Hitler was planning the invasion of Norway and Denmark. Meat rationing had just started in Britain. A German air raid on Scapa Flow in the Orkney Islands resulted in the first British civilian casualties of the war. Within two months Dunkirk will be under way and by September the Blitz will be unleashed.

On 26th March 1940, the day after my mother’s birth, this telegram is sent home to my great-grandmother in Dagenham, 30 miles away to the east. Is 6.54 the time? morning? how did he pull that off?

The concision is almost poetic: GIRL BOTH FINE

Now 79 years on there’s some irony and poignancy in the message. The younger is far from fine. She’s only a couple of days out of another hospital – UCH in London which two of said great-grandmother’s forebears were involved in founding in 1834, one of whom served as its treasurer for 18 years. Both my sons were born at University College Hospital.

49277166588_dca995a50e_k letter rita

This address in Paddington where my grandmother Rita lived was above A & J Falk, a tobacconist owned by her father (Jacob Falk).  This letter is written a month before her marriage – see wedding menu at Murray’s in first Box post. So by 1938 postcodes in London had evolved from London W to the likes to London W.2 but not yet added the next 3 characters of the modern postcode.

Although it is addressed to My Dear Ma I think this is to her prospective mother-in-law, the same as the telegram above. Her mother-in-law-to-be was profoundly deaf and that I believe made her life really difficult, and her children’s – Isadore and Henry referred to in this letter. Rita was born in June 1916 so had just turned 22 when she wrote this.

The fact that she is fantasising about having her own dressing table aligns well with the Rita I knew – she always had pretty objects on her dressing table, plenty of silver on the art deco wooden (walnut?) piece of mirrored furniture. She always used the acronym P.G. Cheerio I don’t recall her saying.

It was thoughtful of her to remember Henry, Ian’s younger brother. He was a lovely bloke and had one of the most splendid deaths I know. He goes to White Hart Lane with his son to watch a Spurs match and they win. He goes home and tinkers a bit in his garden – his profession was as a gardener. He goes in to have a rest in the armchair in front of the fireplace. He falls asleep. Forever. Way to go…

 

 

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