Friday, September 02, 2005

A Picture that says more than just a few words - Part 1

You may have wondered why I chose to represent myself by that strange black and white picture of an odd little boy in such bizarre attire? Well, whether you did or not, let me tell you.

Firstly, it’s one of the earliest pictures I have of myself where there is any semblance of character or personality. Earlier pictures tend to be of the ‘baby blob’ variety, the sort that you find in thousands of baby albums put together in the sixties. So, in terms of a pictorial depiction of the start of a life’s journey, it’s about the best I could find.  Secondly, using a more recent pic that describes the here and now would just be off-putting to those who don’t know me (probably to those that know me too) and they may feel no inclination to read the accompanying text. Thirdly, I don’t actually have any pics of myself that are more recent than about 4 years old. I could, of course, get one taken or see if any of my friends have any more recent pics but I think, for the time being, I’ll stick to the one that I’m using.

So, since you are stuck with that picture for the moment, let me just say that it says a lot about where I come from and that it brings back a flood of memories about my childhood – there is a lot of truth to that saying, ‘a picture is worth more than a thousand words’. But, before I discuss it in any more detail, let me give you the uncropped version:

Matola, Mozambique
Ok, now we have the whole picture, much the same as before apart from the dog in the foreground and a bit more of the house in the background. Now class, before we get down to analysing the picture in detail, you may like to know that the picture was taken in Matola, a small town outside Maputo (called Lourenco Marques at the time), Mozambique. For the time being, that's irrelevant. Ok, now that we're going to analyse the picture, to help you along, there are a few things that you must look out for:

  • Strange hat
  • Strange trousers
  • Strange dog
  • Part of house jutting outwards, just to left of child's head
  • Elongated plants at foot of jutting out piece
  • Large trees behind child
  • Expanse of lawn below trees
  • Smaller tree to right of large trees
  • House in the distance behind the trees


  • There are more things to this picture but we will stick to those topics for the time being. There may not be enough time to cover them all in detail now but we can leave what we don't finish now for a later session.

    The Strange Hat belonged to my mother, it was her riding cap. I think my mother loved her horses (and other animals) more than she loved her kids. That's probably an unfair exagerration but I do know that she was still show-jumping when 8 month's pregnant with me. I also know that I was put on a horse long before I could walk, something that may account for my bandiness. One thing I'm sure of though, is that she definitely loved her horses more than my father. More of that another time. Some years later, I got given my own riding cap. It was dark brown rather than black - I didn't like it!

    The Strange Trousers belonged to my father. My father was painfully thin throughout his life and, consequently, hardly ever wore shorts. I don't think anyone minded about that apart from the monkey but that didn't bother my father. More about the monkey later.

    The Strange Dog was one of several dogs we had at the time. Her name was Stinker, a name I chose for her. I don't remember where she came from but, as you can see, her lineage spoke of the gutter rather than the high table. In Africa, mongrels like that, especially the ones with the long curly tails were referred to as 'kaia dogs', 'African pavement specials', 'a Heinz 57 (or was it 59?)' and another name also starting with a 'k' but best not said in more politically correct times. Stinker had to put up with Phemy, Snip and Snap, all of them dogs, the monkey, lots of cats, a motley bunch of chickens and 4 horses. She seemed ok with it.

    The Part of the House jutting Outwards was the covered verandah. It was where the family entertained each other when not sleeping, eating, cooking or using the bathroom or toilet. One chair was reserved for my father who, quiet at the best of times, became a forbidding presence when reading the paper or listening to the NEWS. The room was forever dusty and very untidy as my mother did all her woodcraft there. The sitting room was hardly ever used apart from at Christmas or when someone vaguely important visited. No, it wasn't one of those sitting rooms where the furniture was covered in drapes/plastic most of the time! It was just sort of 'over there' but hardly ever used.

    The Elongated plants at foot of jutting out piece were a motley bunch of aloes, ferns and mother-in-law's tongue. Out of view were the equally vile cannas. My mother enjoyed bits of the garden but neglected vast areas of it; my father ignored it altogether and the gardener was actually the 'horse-boy' so he didn't garden. Now, you may have noticed that mother-in-law's tongue have enjoyed quite a renaissance in recent years and are to be seen in many a trendy bar or hotel lobby. In the UK, of course, they are indoor plants. Well, having grown up with them in their previous heyday, so to speak, relegates them to a sort of limbo with the likes of Abba and other bits of sixties/seventies stuff like dinner services with bold geometric patterns in brown and orange. I was there when such things were 'part of the scene', I hated them then so I find it difficult to like them now. I mean, I can appreciate the retro-ness, the post-modernism, the ironicism and, even, the actual quality associated with such things (not all of them!) but having hated them then, I just can't make myself like them now.

    Ok, I think that we are running out of time now so we will have to continue the discussion another time. Make sure you think about the picture and what has been said about it before we next get together.

    Go here for Part 2.

    7 Comments:

    Blogger JP said...

    I have only two things to say (and I sounds like Ru Paul)...

    1. I still don't understand why you were wearing those trousers, and when I say wearing I mean...actually I don't know what I mean. Answer the question!

    2. Why is it that you have two hands today, when clearly you were Mr Stumpy in your youth? Have you ever regretted growing a second hand?

    5:12 pm  
    Blogger Reluctant Nomad said...

    1. I spent a lot of my childhood running around stark naked (some things do change!) My father's trousers were at hand when the picture was taken. This has something to do with the monkey - all will be revealed at a later stage.
    2. If I had a sick sense of humour, I'd say I was a thalidomide baby but, as I don't, I'll just blame it on perspective.

    6:05 pm  
    Anonymous Jeffery Amico said...

    Enjoyed reading your posts.

    6:48 pm  
    Blogger society freak said...

    Oh my word! The hand thing! I thought that was such a nice pic and now the honorable JP has thrown a completely different light on it!

    Possible solutions...

    a - the dog has the hand
    b - the hand is actually on holiday and was due to return the following tuesday
    c - you are in fact Jeremy Beadle. (I'm sorry for your loss)

    12:39 am  
    Anonymous lady caroleena la marveleena said...

    Hello. I was searching for carrot cake recipes and came upon your page and it's LOVELY! Gorgeous-looking cake, too. I'm a mom who bakes and I live in upstate NY. I'm a bit confused by your site location, though...the main page seems to be Amsterdam (?) and from the content it seems you are in London...whereabouts are you actually? And don't assume I'm American (I am but only just), I'm actually Canadian. A horse of a different color, though 4-legged all the same (if one continues the analogy). I have 2 legs, and 2 citizenships. Maybe that adds up to 4 legs. I don't know.
    Anyway, love your site and will revisit!

    7:33 am  
    Anonymous price per head said...

    I really appreciate it, I visit more often for updates, keep up the great work!

    12:59 am  
    Blogger Annette Clubley said...

    Excellent. As someone who had an almost as weird childhood... I enjoyed the post and the photo. Brings back memories

    9:48 pm  

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