ACCORDING TO my mum’s note in block capitals pencilled on the strawboard back of this little picture, this is ‘Vine Cottage, Sutton-cum-Lound, Retford, Notts. (As it was until 1969)’ It’s also signed on the back in ballpoint pen ‘Drawn by Richard A Bell’.
It was drawn in the early 1970s, when I was at Leeds College of Art. At that time my grandma and granddad (my dad’s mum & dad) had moved out of the cottage to a bungalow so, when granddad asked me to repair a cardboard box that he used to keep his hearing aid in (hearing aids were rather cumbersome in those days), I decided to decorate it with a drawing of their old home. I pasted a hand-coloured photocopy of it on the box lid. I often used a fine Gillot 1950 nib at that time and Special Brown Pelikan Indian Ink. Those comma-like dots above the roof are thrips or thunder-flies which found there way into the frame when the picture hung in the bungalow.
I was able to reconstruct the appearance of the cottage by looking at various old photographs of members of the family standing in front of various corners of it. I made the frame too. I was quite handy in those days.
Mother’s Day Album
With Mother’s Day (the British version) coming up soon, I’ve been going through some of those photographs today, scanning original box camera negatives, for a little album.
One or two of the negatives have probably never been seen as they were half frames at the end of the roll, so I hope my mum gets some surprises looking through these.
Looking at them on my new monitor, I’m seeing them as they’ve never been seen before, as the negatives were always contact printed same size, a little over 2 inches by 3. On the screen I feel they take on a 1950s cinematic quality. They’ve got a more sophisticated patina to them than the colour prints that would replace black and white ‘snapshots’ in the 1960s and 1970s.
I feel as if they are stills from a movie, a movie with a meticulous art department because all the costumes and props are so perfectly of the period. And (if it had been a movie) the casting director had an eye for character. I feel that my Grandma Bell is the perfect storybook granny, rosy cheeked and twinkly eyed, saying things like ‘Ho, ho, hum!’ and ‘Where the Dickens had he gone?!’ and even ‘Who’s been leaving all these tranklements about?’ (tranklements being an old dialect word for ‘bits and pieces’).
She’s even wearing a gingham dress – regulation country granny costume, i would guess – in this photograph, standing by the towering hollyhocks in the tiny front garden, with granddad sitting in rustic porch in the dappled shade of the vine (or is it a creeper?) that gave the cottage its name.
Billy the Pig
Grandma and granddad were given a piglet, the runt of the litter, to rear and I was delighted when I came across the negative of this photograph of my dad looking at the pig, Billy, in his sty on my granddad’s allotment.
When Billy’s time came, every bit of the pig was used. I remember that one of my grandma’s favourites was brawn, a kind of potted meat made from the pig’s head.
The majority of these old photographs are simply of relatives posing self-consciously for the camera but for the album I’ve looked for anything that doesn’t come into that category.
This sun-drenched photograph of granddad, my mum’s old school friend ‘Auntie’ Jean and my dad, is so unlike most of the other snapshots, which rarely show any adults behaving naturally. Jean is evidently, as I always remember her, making some drily witty comment, causing even my generally serious-looking granddad to smile, while my dad sits drinking tea, smoking a cigarette and looking into the middle-distance, very much as you’d expect an ex-army man who has spent several years in the North African desert to do.