Normally, I’d never post something like this, and it was passworded, but I found the draft in my notebook and there’s something about it and the state of mind I was in (mostly very shabby) that makes me want to record it, beyond my inevitably losing said notebook, and not want to hide it, but sorry if it’s a bit much.
These thoughts are being hastily assembled on the packed 20:01 back from York, so will never rank among my finest, but here they are anyway…
I love taking photos. (You might have noticed.) If I had to try and place why, I would guess it’s something that acts as a replacement for my shoddy memory. A lot of moments I’ve enjoyed fade from my recollection, so I make sure I get them on film – because the photo can prove to me that it all actually occurred. It’s not even a conscious choice anymore, it’s a compulsion. This voice springs up and tells me to take the shot.
In my lifetime, I have probably taken tens of thousands of photographs, but for every hundred or so, there’s one that I regret not taking. Sometimes, I wasn’t quick enough, sometimes it didn’t feel right at the time, sometimes I feared that a flaming tar barrel was about to bulldoze through me. Every picture contains a story for you to tease out, but there’s always a tale behind each one you don’t take too. Here’s one for you.
The most recent photo I regretted not taking isn’t a heart stopping vista, or ridiculous (yet impressive) party spectacle or some moment of quixotic London brilliance. It was something very simple. It was something I saw when I went to the cinema the other week with this girl.
She was a friend with whom I’d had a couple of fun drunken encounters so I wasn’t quite sure what was going to happen here. I just knew that I really liked her and wanted to tell her. That would make things weird, right? But guess what? For all the world, it was just like any other time we’d gone to the cinema. I loved that! I loved that it wasn’t strange, and it wasn’t awkward (for me, anyway: you’ll have to ask her for her take on this). I mean, sure I was thinking about what I’d say afterwards for hours beforehand, and I’d made (slightly) more effort than usual, but otherwise…normal. We meet up, I give her her ticket, we have a glass of wine, we watch the film. That’s what happens. The film’s great, but a side of me wants it to end already because I’m more fascinated by what’s going to happen afterwards. Then the film does end, we comment discretely, walk out and…she has to go home. Slightly disappointing, I admit, but still I tell myself: that’s just how it goes. We sit down so that she can take off her flip flops and put on her shoes. This is so she doesn’t kill herself cycling home, which would really put a damper on the whole evening.
She’s sat across from me, about a metre or so away. The distance I distinctly remember because it was too far for me to lean into and still reach her (which, as any boy with a thing for a girl will tell you, is a slight disaster). I’m waiting for her to get up to leave.
But she doesn’t leave. She just sits there. I’m looking at her, looking at me and she is smiling.
I freeze. Partly because, despite all my thinking, I still didn’t quite know how to put what I want to say. But mostly it’s because that photographer voice has flicked on. It screams: “Look at her. Look at that smile! Take this picture right now.” I had taken pictures of her in the past, of course, but I had never seen her look like this before. A metre across from me was the most enchanting smile I have ever seen. Beautiful, bemused and encouraging all at once. I had absolutely no damn idea what it meant. ‘I can never read this girl’, I tell myself. I think about taking the picture.
Just then, my proper, less hopeless, brain kicks in sharpish and, a few short nanoseconds later, figures that look to mean “kiss me, you bloody idiot.” So I do.
As I walked home, the photo-regret arrived. What a moment to capture – completely lost! Except, almost immediately, I realise that it wasn’t. Of course it wasn’t. Because that was the sort of moment you don’t have to regret not having a picture of. That image becomes part of its own story of that person in your head that doesn’t need a photo to be remembered.
You don’t get to choose them, and they can never be displayed but I love those stories more than I love photos. They’re the real evidence of a life lived: the seemingly inconsequential vignettes that we like to keep with us, delicate flickers of memory that you reflect fondly on when you’re sad, or mad or a lifetime older.*
So I wanted to say, no matter what comes of all of this, thanks for sharing that little moment with me (even if you didn’t know that you did) – It gives me something to smile about while I sit here, increasingly crammed onto a train full of pissed Geordies, with my knees steadily approaching my ears.
P.S. Don’t worry, I think I’m pretentious too, but if I wasn’t I’d be taking up the job of someone who isn’t and that’s just not fair on them.