Picture This

In which our hero unexpectedly ponders whether nostalgia will ever be as good as it used to be. Or something.

As a single man, my living room had a floor with a carpet. As a married man, our living room had a wooden floor with a rug. As a married man and a Dad, we have the same wooden floor and rug, only buried somewhere beneath the stage that the daily bookshelf and toy cupboard Jenga game is played out on. Stuff, piled as high as my head, ready to topple should any integral component be pulled too soon. And it always does, especially if I’m anywhere in the vicinity. 

Clearing up the debris of one such collapse I discovered, peeking through a scattering of Peppa Pig jigsaw pieces and Duplo blocks, a mysterious red book. With two dogs on the front. 

It was an album. An album of images and forgotten memories. Memories captured then printed out at Boots the Chemist or lovingly cut from the local newspaper. Memories preserved beneath the sticky yellowing cellophane sheets that have served to protect them since the seventies. My childhood photo album no less. Blimey. An antique.

After a few minutes flicking and reminiscing, I closed the book, placed it back on the shelf, and booted the other junk behind the curtains. Tidy.

Then something dawned on me. There it was. My childhood, captured in a single volume held in my hand. A couple of dozen pages, with fewer stills than the average modern parent posts of Pop Tarts being shovelled into their jam-smeared toddler’s mouths by Thursday each week.

Technology in the olden days. Shove a miserly 24 or 36 exposure film into the camera at the start of the summer holidays, chuck in the suitcase and off you go. Three years later, the camera would resurface. Cue the well-drilled ritual of snapping flowers, feet, the lawn or some nearby ducks just to use up the film. Nip it down to the chemists, then wait a week for the “Photo Lottery” results to be drawn.

‘What have we got?”

Well, nineteen blurry shots of the Kagool clad family in grotty British seaside towns, heads predictably decapitated thanks to the erratic pocket Kodak viewfinder. Some perfectly exposed snaps of this season’s Clarks Commandos. And a mallard as the bonus ball.

The olden days. Much the same as when my one year old or my wife gets their hands on the camera today then. Ahem. Fast forwarding the Betamax to the present, a time with digital “the wireless” and colour internets….

Waking up. SNAP SNAP. Getting dressed. SNAP, SNAP. Breakfasting. SNAP, SNAP, CRACKLE and POP. Bath time. Erm, best not. 

As Dad, I am (rightly) put in charge of the family’s technology. Primarily the remote control, but sometimes the camera. SNAP, SNAP. There you go. Lovely.

Being in charge of the camera means that I don’t feature in any snaps, which is good and bad for the same reason. But if, one day, my fate is sealed when I accidentally step into the road only to be ploughed down by a steamroller parade, migrating wildebeest, and a Norwegian marching band, will my children remember what I looked like in years to come? A bit flat I would think.

“There’s got to be a picture of your Dad somewhere. Pass me the old album. See. Beaumaris beach. 1977. He didn’t change a bit.”

Looking back at my own holiday snaps, I fondly recall (the Director’s Cut of) happy family times. Ice-creams and dodgem cars. Sandcastles and chips on the seafront. It’s almost as if the sand in the face, tantrums, sunburn, more tantrums and the never to be mentioned again near-death pool incident didn’t happen. Marvellous.

Almost everything is recorded in one form or another these days. Never before has a generation that has achieved so little documented it in such meticulous detail. And we’re all guilty. Well, not me so much. But you lot all are, definitely.

The technology allows us to upload, download, and share without a care. And it’s great. Or is it? Really?

When this year’s toddler crop Bloom into their teens, the more socially aware may feel a strange paranoia that they have been the star of a 21st Century Truman Show reboot all along. First steps, learning to talk or learning to read, shoplifting their first “pick and mix” bag from Woolworths. If we as parents are not careful, every key life moment or mistake made will be out there somewhere. For all eternity. For all to see.

Or will the opposite be true? With their past, current, and future existences so immediate and disposable, will this generation even have a single album with a couple of dozen pages of pictures to look back on when they are parents themselves?  And will our little one’s childhoods simply sail slowly away into cyberspace, never to be discovered again?

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