The Past Is A Foreign Country
I do not know if my childhood was filled with black-and-white photographs. They were there, of course: members of my close-knit Family sitting in a pose for the photographer at Jerome’s studio in Worcester Street, Wolverhampton; or standing looking straight at a battered box-camera in a stiffly-standing group; or getting married.
Though, just sometimes, it was different.
Then suddenly, it seemed, everybody had a cheap, simple-to-use Box-Brownie. So more and more snapshots were taken. And, when colour-film came along, the nostalgia-factor of the photographs waned for me.
Mom & Dad, 9th Nov., ’37, just after his return from Australia.
This train of thought has dawned on me gradually. I was doing a quite ordinary and prosaic task a couple of days ago: mopping the kitchen floor. Rosie handed me a bunch of old newspapers to put down so that we could walk over the floor while it dried.
They were copies of the only newspaper we have in our home regularly: The Black Country Bugle. Brother-in law Terry saves ‘em for us and we bring them home when we visit Wolverhampton.
The Bugle survives on nostalgia. Articles about things long and not-so-long ago are its mainstay, with pictures – reproduced in black-and-white whether taken in colour or not – showing scenes of Black Country life.
Though I had one of my articles published in The Bugle a couple of years back, it is the pictures which enthral me. They show the heart of the many little villages which now combine into the urban sprawl which is now the West Midlands.
Yet some of those small pockets of yesteryear still survive. They still have the same shop-fronts as they did – what? – a century and more ago. They still show the small, often terraced houses in which “ordinary people” (the working-class) used to live.
Some of the photos show an almost rural landscape, even though The Black Country was seen as an industrial area when they were taken.
Seeing them – whether putting the papers down on the wet floor or looking through them sitting in my chair – I feel the Nostalgia Bug a-biting. It makes me want to go and look for “the glory that remains”.
I know where a few of these places – these once busy high-street centres of commerce and community – still stand: Wednesfield, Heath Town (that sounds rural!), Aldersley, even in Wolverhampton itself. Though they were there long before I was born, I want to go and stand and stare.
For, though I know that Wales is and should be my homeland now, “the past is always a part of the present”. And I was born and raised in the once-industrial Black Country.
KJS, 27th Nov., 2010.