Monday, June 20, 2011

The Parable of the Lost Photograph

There was once a woman who had 10,000 photographs (at a very rough estimate: but definitely Lots). One day she realised that she had lost one. Rather than being satisfied with the remaining Lots she had in her albums and on her computer, she began to search the house: on tables, under beds, inside cupboards, beneath the piles and piles of papers that seemed to gather on every available surface in her rather rambling family home. Eventually she had to admit defeat; and, feeling somewhat miserable about the loss of that one photograph - which was precious to her, being a record of a happy and slightly bonkers moment in her marriage - she sat down and shared her misery with whichever of her friends happened to be on Facebook at that moment.

Some time later her husband, who (whilst a prime suspect in the development of the piles and piles of papers) could be quite an organised chap, had a brainwave; perhaps it wasn't in the house at all! Neither had it been cast into the outer darkness of the wheelybin, where there would be much wailing and gnashing of teeth (you know how it goes)... instead, it might have strayed from the carrier bag from whence it came and even now be wandering lost in the boot of the car!

And lo, it came to pass...

And when she found it, the woman gathered her virtual friends and family together and said, 'Rejoice with me! I have found my lost photograph, which means absolutely nothing to you but (you will be glad to hear) will shut me up moaning for five minutes!'

For what was lost has been found; and what was miserable now has a Great Big Bonkers Smile on her face.

Here endeth the lesson.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Photo Finish

Either you will 'get' this post, or you won't. I realise that in writing this I could well come across as entirely self-obsessed and self-pitying; or, even more so than usual.... I am writing it in a fairly miserable state of mind, so please excuse the self-indulgence (only three lines in and already far too much 'self'; but then, what else is a blog for?)

Today I lost a photograph; or rather, I realised that I had mislaid it, and probably in a place which ensured it went out with the rubbish last week. Of course, if that is not the case and it turns up, I will be delighted to share it with you. But as of this moment, it is lost forever. It was a daft photo of Richard and I, taken early in our marriage on Brighton pier, circa 1991; we have put our faces through the holes of one of those cut-outs much loved by the Victorians, a sort of 19th century photo-shop. I posed as Albert, standing with 'my' hand on Victoria (played by Richard)'s shoulder, who is seated. Of course, neither of us could see the other's face, to know how 'in character' we were. So the photo showed a po-faced Albert, nose in the air with the nasty smell of commoners up his (my) nostrils; whilst Richard provides Victoria with a crazed grinning mad-eyed expression. The combination was hilarious, though of course you will have to trust me on that one. For several years I have had it blu-tacked to the wall in my office, where it has amused many a passer-by and kept me going through dull audits and tedious spreadsheet updates.

Last Saturday I moved offices, and took the photo down. Rather than transfer it to another wall I took it home, together with other stuff in a carrier bag, with the intention of scanning it to share the full joy with fellow bloggers and facebookers. Only, I forgot; left the bag in the car, to be emptied several days later by husband who was oblivious that I had foolishly shoved the photo in the bag. I am sure it went out with the rubbish, which was collected on Monday.

So, to recap, so far I have: 1. Described a photo that you will most likely never see; 2. Shared the tedium of office life in the Dermatology Centre; 3. Shared the tedium of domestic arrangements in the Wheeler household. If you have made it thus far, congratulate yourself heartily (and try not to hate me). The reason I'm writing is not because of tedium, but because of loss. The reason I loved that photo so much was because it made me laugh, partly because the image was intrinsically ridiculous, but mainly because it was US. Us, at a moment in time, captured being ourselves - our young, funny, separate-but-together selves. We have so many photos where we are trying to smile for the camera (with, inevitably, one of us squinting or frowning or failing to look like a member of the human race), or where one of us is staring artistically off into the distance, with the slight impression of someone who is trying to remember if they need to buy more loo roll whilst attempting to solve Fermat's last theorem in their head. Staring wistfully in Ireland. Staring wistfully in Colorado. Staring wistfully in Brittany. Trust me, we have the set. But this photo...the lost photo...there was nothing wistful or artistic or contrived about it. Somehow it was our marriage, in a nutshell. We also, quite rightly, have hundreds of photos of our kids to the extent that a photo of the two of us alone is rare from the past 17 years. Now that we are beginning to imagine life after kids have left, I have become melancholic about those old photos of just the two of us.

Before you ask, yes I am well aware that there are people in the world with Real Problems. I am also aware of global warming, the debt crisis, the situation in the Middle East, poverty, famine and disease...OK OK this isn't ever a twitch on the needle of global suffering. And to be honest, it doesn't rate on the scale of things I am concerned about closer to home, either. But today, I feel sad. Sad that I will never look at that photo again. Sad that I cannot share it with anyone. And sad that I can't ever go back to the young, funny person who put their face through a hole and pretended to be a po-faced Prince Albert, while her young, funny life partner smiled manically next to her in the most unconvincing impression since Kim Jong-Il shared his Captain Jack Sparrow.

Thursday, June 02, 2011

The Usual Suspect

I like to have a little look at the stats about this blog. It's fascinating to see where people are when they look at what I've written, and what interests them the most. You're a strange lot, you are; of all the posts I've written, the most popular by far is a little throwaway comment on the health-giving properties (or not) of breakfast cereal. It wasn't big, clever, funny or even particularly interesting - just something to keep me writing, whilst nothing much happened - yet time and again it gets hits, mainly because people insist on searching for info on cereal. Strange.

Far more worrying, however, is the fact that several people have found my blog recently whilst searching for 'Arrest of Tracy Wheeler', or 'Tracy Wheeler mug shot'. I've found the mug shot, and I have to say - it's not pretty; though I doubt that I'd look my best either with no make-up under harsh lighting, and with a number stamped across my bosom.

So then I tried to find out what this Floridan Tracy Wheeler had done. OK she's got absolutely no link with me, other than a name - and that one 'e' down - but I felt a strange sympathy with her, if only because searching for her had led someone to me. But my second search found a SECOND felon - this time in Indiana, and this time with a full complement of 'E's'. Tracey Wheeler had been sentenced to 35 years in jail for possessing and dealing in cocaine, as well as 'maintaining a common nuisance' (well, who hasn't done that?). Her appeal in 2009 was turned down; so there she sits, still.

I guess many of us at some point have idly googled ourselves, perhaps with the hope that the little we do in the world has earned us a smidge of fame, or perhaps to see the road less travelled. Someone else with our name is the doppelganger we never had, the self we could have been. Up until now Tracey Wheeler has been a byword for safe and dull; achieving moderate success in sports, in creative design, and in complementary medicine. I am delighted to see that in 2008 Tracey Wheeler was advertising a gelding that on first glance looked half reasonable, according to a reader of Horse and Hound. She does a mean haircut. She's a college lecturer. She is paying too much for her electricity. And occasionally she writes a dermatology article or some poetry, and tells you about her cats.

I've been thinking a lot lately about the small moments or spurious reasons on which we base major decisions, that can turn a life in one direction or another. I went to Nottingham University, where I met Richard; but it was nearly Leeds. The decision came down to whether I wanted to go to Fontainebleau for the field course (Leeds), or Bavaria (Nottingham). Of course, that was the one year the usual field course professor took a sabbatical and the stand-in took us to (roll that drum...) Skegness. Without that decision I would not have met Richard; and our kids, these particular kids or similar versions, would not exist. No doubt you can think of similar instances in your own life. It is exquisitely poignant to think that such major personal matters rest on such numbskull moments. It is somehow more painful that a completely random event, because it seems as though we are in charge - which is, frankly, terrifying.

So... given slightly different circumstances could I be trading in horses, or cocaine? Could I be an expert reflexologist, or hairdresser, or doing fairly well at a chosen sport? Could I be standing terrified under the glare of a police camera flashgun, contemplating what I had done and what it would cost me?

Or would I just be paying too much for my electricity?