Sunday, 7 August 2011

Memories of my Father

It's been a great Sunday.

I've spent much of this quiet day re-living my youth but more so than that, doing so in the company of my father.

Dad died over 8 years ago back in June 2003 and it goes without saying that life has never been the same since. As with any family bereavement, the memories that you have of a lost loved one stays with you and helps them to live on even after death.

A Man of Photography
With Dad, we also had the added bonus of having not just those memories in our mind, but also down on film as photography and recording was one of his life-long hobbies and passions.

In his youth, Dad used to have his own dark room on our Hungerford Farm home where he would develop his own photographs. He also took photos on the old fashioned slides and every Christmas without fail as a child I would wait in anticipation for him to set up the screen and the projector in the living room to show us these slides with photos from the 1960s and 1970s.

As technology developed, Dad didn't hesitate to move with the times. By the late 1980s, the 'You've Been Framed' generation had arrived with the fashionable coming of the hand-held video recorder and Dad took to this new form of photography and filming like a duck to water.

My Memories of that Hand-Held Recorder
This is the period of his life that I recall vividly as a child growing up at that time. If he wasn't out on the farm milking the cows or bringing in the silage, he would be in his bedroom, playing with his editing suite as he put the music and the words to the images that he had taken.

Dad was an artistic man. Though he left school as soon as he could due to a dislike of the formal structures of a formal education, aged 14 in around 1950, he always had an eye for the moment.

From around 1988-1995, he filmed almost anything that moved. I have been reminded of this today by watching his video from 1993 and also his 'Official' Dyfed Shire Horse Farm video which he compiled to showcase the work of a traditional farm for visitors to watch on our open farm. In those two reams of film, there stands an example of all of the weird and wonderful things that Dad enjoyed filming. Be it life at home on the farm with the filming of the cattle going out onto grass for the first time in spring, or holidays in North Wales and Windsor and the Wye Valley with me and mum (and all of the farm visits that went with them!), or of my sister's graduation in Bath University, or of live Truck Racing (Dad's other big passion was motorsport) or of local events like Narbeth's Winter Carnival, Dad was interested and would be there with his camera to capture the moment.

Just watching these two tapes today, they spoke of a man who had an interest in human nature and in nature itself. In particular, I can always recall those videos that he would edit and put together of quiet natural moments. In the video from 1993 alone he quietly filmed the sunsets over Landshipping and Lawrenny and the Eastern Cleddau river meandering its way down through Gelli, Llawhaden, Canaston Bridge and Blackpool Mill. Nothing exciting to watch in itself you may think? But this was nature and it was clearly something that Dad enjoyed greatly.

The Music
What also resonates with me down the years and which struck home again today was the music that he would put to the footage. There would be some pieces of filming that would have no background sound but in the vast majority of cases, as well as including a written description of the event being shown, he would add a layer of fitting music that would add to the scene.

This had its greatest impact in those moments when he was filming nature. A scene of the River Teifi flowing over Cenarth Falls with the background music of a Strauss Waltz was entirely fitting for that moment. This was Dad's way. I've often said that my eclectic and wide ranging taste in music is due in large part to my Father and that can be seen in the musical pieces that he used for his home-made videos. Why do I love classical music? How come that Strauss is a particular favourite of mine? Why have I got a soft spot for pan-pipe music? Why does the Wurlitzer sound resonate so much with me? Why does ABBA'S instrumental 'Arrival' mean so much to me? Simply because these and more were the sounds that I heard throughout my childhood as my father would use them to go with his works of art.

The irony of this is that very rarely would my Dad make an appearance on film during this period because invariably it would be he who would be filming behind the camera. He did however make more of an appearance in the 'official' farm video and his commentary over it all was informative for the viewer who may have had no understanding of the farming, rural way of life. But what they captured were a glimpse into the world of my father - his interests, his passions, his loves.

It is one of my greatest frustrations that with the on-set of my busy political life over the past 8 years or so since Dad died, I have never got around to converting these VHS recordings onto DVD for posterity. Over the years, some of the videos have deteriorated and will need some work done to them before they can be converted. Some are worse than others although on the whole, they're not in bad shape. There are some like the videos I watched today that on watching them, seem as if they were only put together by my father yesterday and not 20 years ago, such is the clear quality of the picture.

So having dusted them off and reminded myself of this crucial link to my father, it's now time to guarantee that future generations can enjoy these sounds and sights of the late 1980s and early 1990s well into the 21st century.

1 comment:

  1. What a lovely, moving article written with real tenderness & understanding.

    My dad was always mad on his cine camera & apparently captured my first steps with it 42 years ago but the film was lost. For my 30th birthday he gave me a video of all that old footage including my 5th birthday party & an early Christmas. I must think about having that put onto DVD too.