I want to think that old photos reveal something. I read parts of Barthes’ Camera Lucida, from which the gist I got was: old photos reveal things. And War and Peace is about Russians.
The truth is, I don’t really. I’m drawn to old photos, but I’d be fooling myself to think that I could see the spark of something developing in my eyes, here, or that my distaste for/allergy to cats is betrayed in my holding this one like I’m trying to squeeze the life out of it. Old photos like this are uncovered and pored over when someone kills a lot of people and newspapers need a picture of the murderer as a child; any other value is debatable. If you think you can read personality from a portrait, you probably thought that about the person already. The things I can read from this photograph are: (a) that I never had eyebrows; (b) that (a) makes my forehead look comically big; (c) that my head is kinda big anyway; and (d) that all of these things combined with the cat make me look like the villain of a Saturday-morning-cartoon prequel series to James Bond.
I do remember this cat. We had her and her ‘twin’ sister: the one pictured is Tammy, the other was Tabitha. I always preferred Tammy, because she seemed a little more affectionate and Tabitha – while my grandmother maintained that they WERE twins – was more of a grey colour, which made her an old lady that I didn’t want to play with until she was the only one left of the two. Somewhere around this time period (memory is a flighty and unreliable woman) we got another cat, Alfie, when the neighbours moved away.* Alfie was basically James Dean, or Mister Darcy, or some other aloof figure who couldn’t have cared much less if anyone liked him, and would have smoked if he’d had opposable thumbs. He swept in when I was about 10 and for a while we competed with the bed for his attention, and then gave up and left him to disembowel other large animals. Tammy and Tabitha got old and sick and started doing what old sick cats do when they can’t be bothered any more; and within a couple of years of each other they were taken to the vet and not brought home again. I would say at this point that those cats were the only constantly reliable figures in a childhood that was punctuated with therapy visits, temper tantrums, and desperately futile attempts at homeopathy† – but I’m not Dave Pelzer. I had some other reliable figures (shoutout mom, dad, the academy, jesus), but I do miss those cats, enough almost to want to fictionalise them into something magical that lifted a boy out of his inexplicable moodiness/depression, and took him on wild hallucinogenic adventures. But they weren’t dogs, and even one dog would have been better than two cats.
Note also the pattern on the armchair that young me is sitting in. When you’re a youngish couple (mid-30s by this point I’d guess) and you have two kids who can’t stop fighting and throwing food at each other, you don’t buy furniture that looks nice. And if your son acts out as often as the clock-hand lands on a one-or-two-digit number, you don’t buy nice things at all. My dad tells me they revisited the Kent Show recently; my memories of past events recalled, I don’t consider it too dramatic an overstatement to say that they’re only now ready to show their faces there again.‡ I was an embarrassing kid, which I never properly apologised for, and I know that in a situation where I might have to deal with a kid in any way similar to myself from, say, 6 to 16, I would leave that kid in a ditch with an outdated paper map and the clothes on his back, so I owe it to my parents that they didn’t snap and just pummel me senseless. Therapy sessions were a last resort that nobody was really committed to: a parade of ineffectiveness led in the first place by a hippy with a cupboard full of sculpting clay; then a Santa lookalike who gave me essence of cactus-water (for some stupid fucking reason); then somone whose face I can’t remember but who had an office where I could actually sit down in a comfortable chair and not have to draw anything, by which point I was already a teenager and more interested in sleeping for 20 hours and eating and playing Final Fantasy° for the remaining 4. Fortunately for everybody involved, the problem seemed to just go away by itself at some point. It’s not a particularly inspiring story of overcoming life’s hurdles, and I don’t expect to be selling the rights for an animated retelling any time soon, but that’s what happened.
This is far from the worst childhood picture of me, by the way. There is one of me fully-painted in blue, wearing little curled-up slippers like the genie from Aladdin. Plus several from a period of teenage bloat, behoodied in black and more black, the logos of nu-metal bands I’d rather never admit to having liked across my chest. I hope that they reveal nothing about me, and that if I am ever in the news (for positive or negative reasons), they just don’t bother with the pictures.
*That house, as far as I know, is haunted. Not one family lasted more than a couple of years while I was growing up. Perhaps it was haunted by our living next to it.
†Advice based on first-hand experience: Don’t bother. Really.
‡ If I had to summarise what the Kent Show is, I suppose I could do worse than ‘agricultural expo’, because that’s the kind of place Kent is. My dad’s Facebook photos of #KS2016 are mostly of tractors and more tractors, with some nostalgic buses thrown in because why wouldn’t they? I have memories of one of these events or similar, and it’s best not to go into too much detail. In my defence, it is unusual to see anybody there under 40 enjoying themselves, who isn’t the son or daughter or close relative of a farmer. To give a very broad overview of the event in question, there was a milk stand there that I wanted to sample some milk from, and wouldn’t take no for an answer. If you know my parents, refer to them for the full colour commentary.
° IX, which I played through again recently and honestly, fuck therapy because that game is too amazing to put down.