My grandfather handed over two, reel-to-reel, audiotapes, and for the digital generation, I suggest just laughing until your head explodes at this bygone method of recording. For fifteen or more years I’d kept these reels in safe storage, their secrets hidden until the means of unravelling their contents became available. Last week they did, freshly converted onto shinny CDs. For me, this was like unearthing Tutankhamun’s treasures.
‘Maybe nowt, but thi Mam cud be on theer’. Grandfather was Welsh; I guess that’s how Welsh people living in Lancashire spoke back then.
He had a penchant for recording everyday conversations within a household of five children, with Grandmother keeping a steely grip on family proceedings. I’d been privy to similar recordings years ago via the magic of a cassette tape deck; for even younger readers, check out 'Bully's Prize Board' on Bullseye to see what you could’ve won; scrap that, you’ll just Google it anyway. What I always heard was a family without the distractions of the modern world; the Internet, game stations, digital music and mobile phones that keep us near, yet splintered. This was a family actually talking to one another, reminiscing, gossiping, laughing, and enjoying the simplicity of blood-tied social interaction.
These reel-to reel tapes held more than just nostalgia though. They were windows into a past era, a segment of understanding the person who’d carried me, fragmented memories coalescing to form a previously unknown personality. The clarity of audio isn’t brilliant, but listening over and over again, I can piece together the conversations.
Mother sounds different, not like I remembered; childlike, and then it becomes clear from the snippets of comments, together with dating the songs playing from the radio. This is the voice of a teenager, an eighteen-year-old young woman. I’m also there, but can’t be heard, it would be another month or two before I arrived, screaming, demanding and dependant – I haven’t changed.
I was ten when my mother died, she was just twenty-eight. Relatively, I’m now older than my mother, which makes for some time-bending mental mirage. A life lived, yet a future ripped away - a void, which still continues to drain energy from those left behind to this day. An eternity of could’ve been and never-where, carried along in a muse of possibilities.
Some years ago, I’d heard about a cine-film; Bullseye? Google? Take your pick! Filmed months before she died, it was tracked down and converted to DVD; and there she was, all raven-haired and smiling, just as I’d remembered. Unlike photographs, the ten minute, moving, talking picture, filmed in familiar surroundings felt so close and vivid that I could almost reach in and touch her.
The audio reels however, came as quite a shock - I hadn’t recognised my own mother’s voice. The ghosts of the past had offered up a curious voyeurism; a time before my time. This was the voice of a singing, laughing, full of life (literally) young woman, who would soon share in the playful fun with her appreciative sons. Reminisces by family members could now actually be heard, played out in a full hour of recording, courtesy of my late, wonderful grandfather.
He had provided me with my own Howard Carter moment...Treasures, that previously could only have been imagined.