This photograph was part of the set that I was to look at and comment on, I didn’t choose this series by Chris de Bode, but it awoke a memory for me. This memory was perhaps stirring from a conversation I had had with my tutor recently which subsequently referred me to this much earlier post regarding Documents.
The memory is a long way back, I would suspect I was eight or nine, or nearly both. I suppose I had suspected that something was up, there was an added tension in the air as I was told it was bedtime; I knew to go to bed, there would be no rituals of goodnight kisses or embraces, no stories to be told and, as I was the eldest child, the downstairs would therefore become the sole domain of my parents. Bedtime was usually fairly strict, but I can remember a tangible frisson in my parents collective urge for me to leave the living room and get to bed; this went on for several weeks. This sense of something had played on me for some time and one day I could bear the temptation no longer and ventured downstairs with some paltry excuse, that I cannot recall, and walked into the lounge unannounced. Their sense of surprise was palpable, they both looked up, shocked that I should come down – we weren’t encouraged to climb downstairs after bedtime was called. My mother was in her usual chair by the fireplace, my father though wasn’t in his chair, but rather at the table which was covered by, what I later learned was balsa wood and tissue paper. I was immediately turned round and told to get back upstairs, though the confusion I felt for what I saw stayed with me, almost as much as what ensued a little while later.
Some weeks later my birthday rather drudgingly came to our house, my twin sister and I never really expected very much, some coin from our grandparents and a little something from our parents – nothing else. On this occasion though my sister was given a surprisingly good present I remember and I received the normal, not much. My mother decided though to let on that there might be something more when my father came home. I don’t remember feeling any real sense of expectation, my father’s return from work was never anything to feel excited about, unless there was another transgression on my part that would involve some punishment or other. He came home and rather than sit down for some tea or other he summoned me and to my absolute surprise he showed me this hand-made glider he had been constructing during the evenings after I had gone to bed. So this was what it was. The pride of his achievement was for all to see, my sister was as surprised as me, and I suppose had wondered why what seemed such a good present to her, by normal standards, now seemed to pale beside this glorious construction of balsa and red tissue paper. The model glider was in two parts; the fuselage and wings, which were nearly six feet in length. There was a point when I thought I might be able to touch this construction of wonder, but my father was keen for us to go to the local park, man and boy, father and son, to launch this homage to the power of man’s mastery over nature and prepare for the maiden flight.
I suppose it would have been half a mile to the ‘New Park’, a large green area that had a number of amenities, including a hill in the centre, to which my father strode with an ambition similar perhaps to the Wright brothers, though in our case it might have been ‘Umney & Son’. The feeling of excitement was contagious and I was soon having to trot behind my father as he excitedly paced his way across the main road and to the park entrance, heading directly for the hill. The ascent to the summit left me breathless I’m sure, but my Father’s determination never wavered as he attached the wings to the superstructure, whose previous detached skeletal appearance through the fine application of the tissue paper, became a single body. Before me and before my eyes, this was simply the best present I would surely ever have. The glider was ready for launch, and I offered my hand to take possession of my present.
My father lifted the glider beyond my reach and with great care he brought the glider behind his head, as a Grecian javelin thrower might have done and in a single move threw the glider into the air, into the space that held us both, father and son, with anticipation. The red projectile soon moved into a beautiful arc, the nose lifted and those huge wings kept the airframe level as it climbed. The excitement soon grew to nervousness as the glider went into an ever increasing ascent, within a few seconds this delicately framed model was pointing straight up. I knew nothing of aerodynamics, maybe my father didn’t either, but we knew that when the glider stopped it’s vertical ascent it would surely head for terra firma; and faster than it had taken to get to it’s apotheosis of altitude. How it actually landed I can’t be sure for I was watching my father, and I knew that expression; I had witnessed it more times that I’ll ever want to remember. We walked over to the remains of the model and I was allowed to take home what I had been not allowed to take to the park. I knew not to try and talk to my father as we walked home and as we arrived, he deposited what he had carried into the dustbin. I followed suit with my carriage and decided it would be best for me to go straight to bed, which I did. The half crown that I had been given as a present from my grandparents was probably spent on knick knacks, I don’t remember that at all.
It’s funny how an individual image can spark a memory.