The photo I always use as wallpaper on all my computer screens was taken by my father, one summer’s day when he decided we would all have a picnic outside instead of eating in the dining room. I’m sitting in a high chair close to a table where my three sisters are patiently waiting for their lunch. In the background, the old brick shed and the old pram which saw such good service, there being six of us children in total. I must have been eighteen months old at the time, as you can probably tell from my lack of hair. Looking a little fed up and probably hungry, Shevaun is sitting on the side of the table closest to me, and opposite her, smiling, are my two other sisters, Annette, the eldest, and Mary. Mary is in the foreground, closest of all of us to the photographer. She is wearing a short summer dress, undoubtedly home-made, and she has turned in her chair to look straight at my father. For me this picture is particularly poignant, given Mary’s eager posture: she is the only one of my siblings to have already died, and it is almost as though she is leaning slightly forward to say bravely, “I will go first into that unknown country.” I keep this wallpaper so that every day I will remember her and she will know she is loved and missed now as much as ever. Although my father always treated us equally, Mary, his youngest daughter, was probably the apple of his eye.
The photo is also important to me because it captures the first real and vivid memory of my childhood. My father was standing at the bottom of some steps, which led up to the space where he had laid out the table, and then to the right, the garden beyond. Behind him was the back door into the kitchen where my mother was preparing lunch. The table had been made by my father. He found the legs somewhere and a large rectangular piece of flat wood to make a top; you can tell this simply by looking, because the colour of the surface is different from the stained legs. There is a cloth on the table, which heightens the suggestion of a picnic. We rarely ate outdoors, but this was an exceptionally warm day. So there is novelty in the situation, an improvised gesture of parental creativity which was typical of my father, his trademark in fact.
On that day I clearly remember my father disappearing after telling my mother he wanted to take a picture, and when I heard this I began to get upset. I’m sure I bawled out something like: “No time for photos, I want my dinner.” But probably my words were far less articulate than that and more strident. My right hand is hidden by Shevaun’s head but in it I was holding my spoon and I kept banging the spoon on the tray of the high-chair as I shouted out, demanding that my dinner be served. We always used the word dinner for lunch when we were small. My father returned shortly after, brandishing his Kodak, and with a broad grin, told me to calm down and to sit still for the photo. “It’ll only take a minute, John. Lunch won’t be long.” I was not easily appeased in those days, I remember, not where food was concerned.
But that cherished minute has long gone! Only the photo remains.