Days treasured by the slide rule
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.