If you go through my photo album – my real photo album full of developed pictures from cameras with films – there’s one picture that stands out.
It shows a beach, and myself, and my grandad. It’s not a particularly nice day, though it’s not raining, and in the whole of the beach that is shown, we are the only people there. Grandad is crouching down with an upside-down paper cup against the sand, and I am holding another one.
I’m not sure how old I am. I used to love that red coat, but I know I grew out of it when I was six or seven. I still have a fringe but my hair is beginning to grow out of its round bob style, so I’m probably around six. Maybe only five. No older, certainly.
Aside from the coat – yes, really beach weather if you have to wear a coat – I’m wearing some strange, flowery leggings, wellington boots, and a jumper with writing on that I can’t quite read.
We’re making sandcastles with paper cups.
My grandparents were funny like this. We would arrive at places like beaches and parks when everybody else was leaving, because it was emptier then. We went to the beach when it was raining, because they didn’t trust the weather forecast and even if they did, it was less crowded when there had just been a shower. And sometimes, we went to the beach unexpectedly.
I actually have some memory of this photo, for all it was so long ago. We didn’t have buckets or spades because they were in the store instead of at the cottage and Grandad didn’t think it was worth going to get them. However, Grandma, who was always prepared, suggested that we use some spare cups from, I don’t know, a picnic or something. And spoons. Paper cups and spoons instead of buckets and spades.
They were good sandcastles (rained-on sand always sticks together better), but they were very small, and even so they took a while to make. Spoons, in proportion to cups, are not as big as spades in buckets. We used our hands as well.
But we were at the beach and I wanted to make sandcastles, and so we made sandcastles. Even though we weren’t prepared. Even though they were tiny castles that seemed so insignificant compared to that big, long stretch of deserted beach.
We were digging with spoons. We could be there for hours, and we would never make a large impact on the sand. A lot of life seems to be like that – you’re determined to do something, even though you haven’t got the right tools, and so you go ahead with what you’ve got. You build sandcastles, but they’re small and collapse easily. But that doesn’t matter, because you build them.
Sometimes, you leave it too late to start building those sandcastles, and the tide has already come in. There’s no beach left.
My grandad died on the 2nd May 2010, before I started this blog. As far as I know, I have never talked about him here, and never shared the memories I have. My grandma died yesterday morning, and prompted me to write this post.
But although it’s myself and my grandad building the sandcastles in this photograph, she was the one who took the picture and made that memory. I would not have recalled it if she hadn’t.
She’s always the one taking the pictures. My whole photo album is filled with photos of our time together and yet she’s only in one of them. One! She was always on the other side of the camera.
But if a photo brings back memories like this, then that won’t stop me remembering her. The images may be faint, but they’re there.
Because even digging with spoons can you make sandcastles.