Old Camera

Found my old camera under the chest of drawers the other day. For ages I’d thought it was broken, but it whirred into life like a little trooper when I clicked it to ‘on’. Maybe it just needed a five year snooze. Maybe I got it fixed then forgot about it. Maybe my loyalties switched from the big clunky lens to the convenient and spontaneous joys of the iphone. But there it was, in working order. “Hullo old friend”, I squinted at it.

I got it about seven years ago when I had a fancy to ‘get into photography’. It’s a good one. Big and commanding. I wanted to do it properly – learn the science and technology and craft of it all, but like a lot of things I’d like to give my time to, I didn’t. I took thousands of snaps on it, never really mastering all the funny settings or light controls or the theory behind it all. Really, I just wanted to click and see beautiful interesting things captured forever. Some pictures turned out alright in the way a good camera can occasionally make it look like you’re the one with a good eye, rather than the monkey that presses a finger on all that intricate wonder flickering inside that little box. But most were mundane and averagely shot.

The reason a little bell in my head had chimed me to look for it was because I had to try and get ‘the right shot’ for my play poster. I sort of knew what I wanted, but because the posters are going to be blown up big for the Edinburgh streets I couldn’t rely on a phone to cut the mustard.

I spent a morning in the garden, snapping away, accumulating hundreds of shots that I knew wouldn’t be quite right, but before I could see any of them properly I had to order a little lead so that I could plug the camera into my mac. I waited a couple of days. The lead arrived. It was then another day or so until I used it, pausing rather selfishly to have my birthday. Then I plugged it in.

Hundreds and hundreds of pictures flooded the screen. What a dense universe a memory card is. A matchbox sized storage facility. Keeper of memories, portal to the past.

There was a little forgotten segment of my life, laid out like glossy coloured pages. Hundreds and hundreds of bad, sad, accidentally good, funny, blurry pictures.
Parties. Christmas. Dinners. Pubs. Houses. Loved ones laughing, looking younger. My nephew, now too big to pick up, hiding in the tiny confines of a gramophone record cupboard. My niece as a newborn, eyes not yet fully open. Someone who is not in my life anymore, his face something I barely remember as anything that once touched mine, making me shudder. That skin bristle of your old life rubbing itself against your new one. That gladness that it’s not your life anymore.

That trite old saying is right; a picture speaks a thousand words. It’s trite because it’s right.

Except a bad writer couldn’t speak the volumes of one good picture in a million words.
A passable writer could maybe do something in a few thousand words.
A good writer could strike you like a bell with a hundred.
A brilliant writer could grab your heart with fifty.
A genius with five.

But a picture is a picture. It needs no words.
Perhaps it is the break you need when your whole life revolves around writing. Maybe I’ll keep it within easy reach for the next five years. Maybe it will do a better job at capturing nice things in pixels than I ever could in words. Maybe I’ll try both.


Saying Goodbye Like Charlize Theron

I went to see Mad Max last week. I thought it was going to be about a load of stinky boys racing trucks in a desert and had prepared myself to have a little snooze. When it turned out to be a feminist action movie in steampunk hyperdrive driven by a woman who was aided nominally in a few scenes by some dude called Max who was rather less mad than in need of a wash, I sat bolt upright and strapped the eff in. What a corker. Charlize Theron absolutely stole it from Tom Hardy. Afterwards I wasn’t surprised to find that the director had consulted Eve Ensler, writer of the Vagina Monologues, to ensure he didn’t end up accidentally making a film that had gratuitous boobage or passive female squealing in every other scene. Nice one, Mr Director Dude.

At the end of the film, when they’re all knackered from fighting while driving (“It’s essentially a lot of fighting while driving” – Mark Kermode), after two hours of violence, smouldering glances, and a lot of sand, Tom Hardy bids Charlize Theron goodbye by disappearing into a crowd and nodding. She watches him disappear in the crowd and nods back. And I was like “Say what? Where my kiss? Where’s my closure?”, even though I’m a dead sharp feminist who knows a film can still be good without smooching in it. But it wasn’t the fact they didn’t get it on after two hours of heady murder and on-the-spot vehicle maintenance, it was the fact they didn’t say a proper goodbye. No hug or manly pat on the back, no “thanks for saving my life repeatedly”, no kiss, no promise of coming back. Just the silent kind. A nod, then nothing. It bothered me.

But I kind of get it. Because goodbyes are hard aren’t they?

I’m going to have to say three goodbyes this week and I’m sort of dreading it.
Three of my bookshop chums are all spreading their wings and going off into the world to have adventures. My lovely Sophie is going to teach in Japan for two years. My lovely Kate is going to Thailand for a few months and then on to live in Melbourne, and my lovely Matt is accompanying Kate on the Thailand stretch because he’s been wanting to do something bold and brilliant for ages and needed a ruddy kick up the bum. So three big goodbyes all at once, with no knowing if or when I’ll see Sophie or Kate again. Regular readers of my witterings will know I am a sentimental schmuck who isn’t equipped to deal with such things.

If I try and think of a goodbye that suits, I can’t.

How do you tell them you care without sounding like an idiot? How do you say be open to people and trusting, but not too foolish, and assume that everyone is good, but don’t be too disappointed if some turn out not to be? How do you say be open to love, but don’t look for it, and be careful with your feelings, but not so wary that you won’t embrace it when it comes? How do you say do things that scare you a bit, maybe even the occasional thing that is tantalisingly dangerous but do not risk your life? To say stand near the edge, top, end, deep of things but not get so close you can’t come back, because you are not Charlize Theron in a post apocalyptic road movie and you can get hurt?

I hate goodbyes.

I might stand there waving them up the street until my hand drops off, or I might pick something invisible off their shoulder like a mum and try to say something useful like “don’t trust the tapwater, or men with bags of drugs”, or I might cry or mumble something stupid or ruffle their hair. Or I might just nod and walk away.