Days trea­sured by the slide rule

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Travel - Ju­lia Pa­trick

NOT long af­ter World War II, in the early 1950s, over­seas travel was an ex­pen­sive rar­ity; ev­ery­one went by sea and it took five or six weeks to get to Europe from Aus­tralia. Friends had par­ties to farewell trav­ellers and, months later, more par­ties to wel­come them home.

Ev­ery­one went to Eng­land; nowhere else was men­tioned, as nowhere else re­ally ex­isted ex­cept, oc­ca­sion­ally, France. But the French thought we were English, so were less than ac­com­mo­dat­ing and have been ac­cused of re­main­ing so ever since.

Once home, friends showed only cur­sory in­ter­est in hear­ing about the trip, but the trav­ellers made up for it by as­sum­ing ev­ery­one wanted to see it. So pho­to­graphs were pro­duced on the barest pre­text or none at all.

Af­ter pho­tos of West­min­ster Abbey came rus­tic Eng­land, thatched cot­tages and, in­evitably, the Lake Dis­trict. With or with­out daf­fodils, this was a favourite and one or two peo­ple would mur­mur a line or two of Wordsworth as a bit of dis­creet one-up­man­ship.

Pho­to­graphs were of­ten taken with a clutch of un­knowns, with whom the trav­ellers had been sight­see­ing, who they would never see again but who they in­sisted on nam­ing in­di­vid­u­ally and ex­plain­ing: ‘‘ That was Cyn­thia in the blue. She was mar­ried to Ken­neth.’’ Then it had to be ex­plained he wasn’t in the photo as he was tak­ing it.

Peo­ple were re­ferred to in the past tense as if they were now dead; they may have been, too, as it was months since the photo had been taken.

Then colour slides be­came pop­u­lar. The trav­ellers or­gan­ised slide evenings at their homes be­fore sat­is­fy­ingly cap­tive au­di­ences. Slides seemed to fo­cus on land­scapes rather than per­son­al­i­ties.

A slide was fre­quently put in up­side down, so apolo­getic noises were made as it was righted, al­though of­ten that seemed to make lit­tle dif­fer­ence.

Moun­tains were cut through the mid­dle and seen with­out their tops, al­though the au­di­ence would be as­sured they were snow­capped. The Chelsea Flower Show (an­other favourite) seemed to con­sist only of roses pho­tographed from ev­ery con­ceiv­able an­gle.

Homemade cream sponges were brought out to the im­pris­oned au­di­ence at 10pm sharp.

For a while, home-movie cam­eras were all the go, bring­ing with them more evenings of trav­ellers’ tales.

The moviemak­ers were no more pro­fes­sional than the slide pho­tog­ra­phers, and ob­jects or peo­ple of­ten be­came oddly de­formed or un­recog­nis­able.

But af­ter a short while, lug­ging the cam­era around be­came too much of a chore and home-movie cam­eras were forgotten or went to garage sales.

Some peo­ple started buy­ing post­cards. Then came the Po­laroids that de­vel­oped pho­tos on the spot. Why do peo­ple get ex­cited when they see some­one in a photo who is stand­ing right be­side them?

Nowa­days, the com­puter means dig­i­tal pho­tos whiz across the world in a flash and you be­come the guest-who-wasn’tthere at yes­ter­day’s wed­ding party in Florence.

But with just your­self for com­pany, look­ing at pho­tos of other peo­ple’s happy events can be strangely lone­some.

I find my­self feel­ing nos­tal­gic for the old days and think­ing that even a slide evening would be more de­sir­able, fun and friendly than com­muning with a com­puter.

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