Memories we might edit, one day...
Somewhere buried in the storage container that houses those of our belongings we can’t fit on the boat, but which we may well need when – or if – we return to dry land, are some large cardboard boxes that are very precious to us.
There, in dozens of scrapbooks, photo albums and envelopes of prints and negatives is the story of 40 years of family life. In our last house, it filled an antique oak chest to bursting. One day we will sit down and sift through this mountain of memories to try and organise them into something more accessible.
I now have a growing mountain of boating pictures to add to the collection. Not in cardboard boxes but on CDs, hard drives and the computer I’m using to write this column. Stored under my fingers are no less than 10,000 images – three quarters of them related to boating. I still can’t get my head around this digital world (let alone ‘cloud’ storage) which can cram so much into so little.
Will I ever sort them out? I really don’t know. The great strength of digital photography – that one can take pictures so easily – is also its great weakness: you end up with so many. Saving them on to the computer is the easy bit; editing them down is much, much harder. I try, I really do but I rarely succeed.
I love taking photos and treated myself to an excellent Canon Powershot bridge – camera last year, largely because of the wildlife photography potential afforded by its fantastic zoom lens. The canals are a great location for photographing wildlife, even if most of it is rather camera-shy. After a year of trying, I finally managed my first decent shot of a kingfisher to go with the dozens of blurry, grainy ones!
Sunrises and sunset shots taken over water are often very special – I seem to have hundreds of ’em – as well as scenic views, shots of the boat moored here, there and everywhere, and of Seadog Brian (generally sleeping in a spot of well chosen sunshine).
But what I have most of is shots of our chimney, plank and pole on virtually every canal in England and Wales. When I started blogging some years back, a blogger friend sent me a joking message: “now I expect to see hundreds of photos showing the roof of the boat.” I laughed – I’d seen his pictures – but he was right. When you spend most of your day at the tiller then you can’t help but snap the view ahead – along the roof.
What I don’t have is many pictures of the various incidents and minor dramas we’ve been involved in over the years. When you’re trying to pole off a mudbank, bow hauling through thick weed on the Middle Level or rushing to help a hireboat crew who are getting caught on a lock cill, you can’t shout “hold everything” while you skip off and take some snaps. Even when I fell overboard on the Thames I couldn’t take a ‘selfie’ as my camera-phone was in my pocket, fast-filling with river water.
What I don’t have either is many pictures of me. It’s a little sad, if you reflect on it, that in so many family photo albums, there’s a rarely seen family member, who’s the one busy behind his camera.
That’s one virtue of the camera-phone selfie, though I can think of few others. Mrs B has an iPad, which does take nice pics, as does my iPhone but it’s just point and hope in sunshine for you can see nothing on the screen.
But a far greater shortcoming of modern photography, I think, is its impermanence. Our kids snap away then post their pictures on Facebook or Instagram but what happens then? Will they just have to rely on Facebook reminding them that they have memories to look back on? One day we will look through our chest of memories but I wonder if they will be able to.
Enough philosophising, I must get back to cataloguing my 10,000 JPEGs.
‘When you’re rushing to help a hireboat getting caught on a cill, you can’t shout “hold everything” while you take photos’