This cross stands on a hillside in rural France. I walked past it late one evening in August 2013. I couldn’t make out, or understand, enough of the text to be able to learn who it was put there for, or by. But its presence there, quite literally in the middle of French nowhere, was touching. Whoever put it there was driven to do something in lasting memory of someone important to them.
I was a boy, my bedroom faced west. I loved watching the sun set. The backdrop wasn’t the prettiest, gasometers, tower blocks, and the like.
I take a lot of sunset photos. I’d never really wondered (until now) if that was some sort of throwback to a childhood fascination. But it has to be reasonable to assume that a great many of us, even if we are unaware or in denial, are stuck in patterns of behaviour that became established when we were young.
I know, I know … this is a terrible shot. But that’s not important. I took this from the balcony of The Brook, a live music venue in Southampton, last June. I’d managed to score two tickets to see Johnny Marr and his band at one of the two small-venue ‘warm up gigs’ they were doing before they embarked on the festival circuit.
I took my eldest son with me. It was his first ever gig. Johnny Marr has been a hero and an inspiration to me since 1983, so seeing him live was a really big deal. Taking my eldest son with me made it even more special.
At the gig, someone I’d never met before recognised me from Twitter and came up to say hello. The day after, this photo got Retweeted by Johnny’s drummer Jack Mitchell. It was a great night and produced some excellent memories.
I didn’t take this photo. It was taken decades before I was born, and shows my mother as a young woman. She’s seated on the far left of the picture. I don’t know who the other women in the photo are. I’ve chosen this as my photo for May, because 3 May would have been her birthday, and is also the anniversary of her death. I wrote this piece about her a couple of years ago.
I took this photo on 8 April 2011. It shows the statue of Queen Victoria, with Windsor Castle in the background.
It’s a popular choice for tourists taking photos of their visit to Windsor. I was on my lunchbreak and – struck by how blue the sky was, and the lack of people in the vicinity – I decided to take some pics.
It was some hours later when I looked at them again, and when I looked I saw something that quite literally made the hairs on my arms stand on end and my scalp tingle.
And not in a good way.
I was standing partly in the road to take this first shot.
In the next one you can see how close I am to the statue – right next to it.
I decided to move close up to the statue, as I’d been standing in the road to take the two previous pics and a car was coming toward me. I stood next to the statue looking at it from a few different angles before taking this shot. When the car had gone I walked back across the road, pausing to take one final shot.
In the final pic you can see the figure of a woman standing next to the statue.
She is dressed in a rather unusual, striking manner. The kind of figure I think most people would agree you would notice. Especially if they were stood right in front of you.
I can’t make you believe what I’m about to write. But when I looked at that pic, a few hours after I had taken it, one thought – and only one thought – ran through my mind… she wasn’t there when I took that photo.
I would have noticed and I definitely wouldn’t have taken it had there been someone else in the frame.
One of the reasons I took those pics is that it is rare to see the statue without people milling around it. The time that elapsed between the close-up and the final shot is literally seconds. Seconds after I had been standing next to the statue examining different angles for an interesting shot.
Surely I would have noticed if there had been someone there.
And how could I have failed to notice someone dressed like that?
Did it freak me out? Yes.
Spook me, put the wind-up, give me the heebeegeebees..? Yes. Yes. Yes.
Perhaps because I (still) feel sure she wasn’t there when I took the photo. And perhaps because the figure in the photo bears more than a passing resemblance to my mother.