VHS, Mix Tapes and Dogs

It’s been something of a nostalgic week. My parents have been for a visit and, of course, having your parents stay with you can tend to cast you back to a certain time and place in a most disconcerting way at the best times.  On this occasion it was especially warranted because they brought with them old home videos, unedited VHS films with plenty of footage of unfocussed floors and ceilings and feet. We may film a lot of rubbish now but you watch 45minutes of a walk through the woods and you quickly realise little has changed, really.  The format, the length, yes, but our overall inability to judge what is worthy of recording? Not so much.

All the same they are precious, ceilings, feet and all. Where I have hours’ worth of two minute clips of my children, in amongst these few videos, for all their length, the passing shots of my sisters and I, my parents, are short and sweet. The camera pans past my Dad, standing tall and strong, with our beloved dog, gone over 10 years now, to focus on something in the distance and I find myself willing it back, wishing it had lingered a bit longer on those I really want to see . Wishing I hadn’t been such a stereotypical camera shy teen, ducking out of view or letting my curtain of hair swing down over my face.  That we had known to just focus on each of US a bit more. Realised that in 10 or 20 years we wouldn’t care about the rest of it.  About scenery or how beautiful the snow looked settled thick and deep on the floor of the woods, and it truly did.  How could I not know, it seems so obvious now, that I would just long to  see how we all were, together. In our family home, also gone too long ago now. The last place we were our family together. Before university and travelling and boyfriends who became husbands and babies who became children and new lives and new families and new homes.

So much has happened. So much has changed. It almost hurts my heart.  Everyone always says how they might be 30,40,50 but they still feel the same inside. I don’t know that I do. In many ways I haven’t changed at all.  My voice and manner of speaking are identical. I don’t look so different though my face lost that roundness a long time ago and gained fine lines in its place and I finally ditched the fringe. But it doesn’t feel like yesterday. It feels like a very long time ago and the girl I see on the screen looks at once like me and also like someone else, someone I used to know really well but haven’t seen in a really long time.

***

I miss my dog. I don’t think of him so often anymore but seeing him on the video brought it all back.  God I loved him. I had moved abroad a year before he died then my parents sold the house and moved away so I never went back, never saw the lack of him in our home.  The empty space on the floor where he used to sprawl or the space on the sofa next to my mum that he claimed as his own. I don’t think I could really conceive he was gone.  A couple of years ago, many years since he died, I saw a dog of the same breed. He was an Irish Setter, and a beautiful one too. I don’t think this is entirely biased; his father was a prize winning show-dog and he had inherited the gorgeous gene for sure.  I had occasionally seen others about but they never looked quite the same. Too small, coat not shiny enough, too curly, too straight.  Then this particular day I was out with H walking around, doing nothing much, and I saw this dog sat by his owners.  I went up to them and asked if I could stroke him. Explained I had lost my dog and he reminded me of him. I crouched down to stroke him, he looked up at me, and I burst into very uncharacteristic public tears. In the middle of this busy shopping street all over this random couple having a quiet coffee.  They must have thought I was nuts, but when he looked up at me he looked just like mine and it broke my heart in such an unexpected way.

Many memories of home involve walking the dog. In the woods where he used to leap and jump, a flash of deep red coat flying through the trees. Up at the bmx track near the school with my friend where we were once flashed by a creep in a shellsuit (hilarious until we had to give a detailed account to police later. Teenage me NEARLY. DIED.), over the fields next to the house, down the rocky road, along the abandoned railway embankment.  Hours and hours of walking, with friends, with my mum, and very often alone, listening to my mix tape of 90s hits on my walkman. One of those NOW THAT’S WHAT I CALL MUSIC compilations that my mum gave me every Christmas.

Then yesterday I was making dinner, and listening to the radio. And I swear they were just playing a copy of the same mixtape.  Living where I live, with local radio as it is I would not be surprised if that is exactly what they were doing.  Sleeping Satellite, Walking in Memphis.  THE SCORPIONS (Winds of Change).  Don’t judge me. Teenage me was not cool.  Especially when it came to music. I liked The Beatles and Elvis, Elton John, David Bowie and Simon and Garfunkel, The Lemonheads, Nirvana and miscellaneous Pop Hits that any self respecting teenager during grunge era would have rejected outright. I liked what I liked.  The POINT IS it was weird, coming right at the time it did.  They played these songs one after the other and I was transported back to that house, that time, those walks with my dog.  A nostalgic week for sure.

***

I miss home. I wish it was there still. I think part of me thinks if it was things would be different now, we could have preserved more of the family we were.  But mainly I just miss having that place where all the memories are, I still remember how the hallway carpet felt as I lay on my stomach playing/ rewinding/ playing tapes trying to write the lyrics down.  How we all clattered down the stairs and used the pommel to swing around the turn at the end. And how our Dad used to HATE that we did that.  How we trailed our free hand up the wall as we went up and down the stairs, leaving grubby marks, something my kids now do and which drives me as crazy as it did my Dad way back when. The truth is my parents haven’t had a steady stable home base since they left and we all three grew up and away, scattered to the winds as they say.  So we are all rarely together, and whenever we are it is as often as not in a new, different place that means nothing to us beyond being where my parents live.  As grown up as I get I still find that hard.  I miss that house so much.

***

All of this prompted by this visit, those tapes. I compare the nature of the snippets I choose to record; usually H with the kids, and I guess in their turn maybe they will wish there was more of me. In that respect I haven’t changed at all. I am still the teenager ducking out of frame, looking down and mumbling self consciously. H laughs you would think the world was watching for how nervous I look.   No, the me you see on camera isn’t the real me. I am the person who records the moments,  takes the photos and videos and is now trying to edit and compile to make it all easily accessible to look back on.  It is one of the greatest tangible things I can gift them, these  records of our life together. Before they get big and leave home and go wherever life takes them and things change forever.  I hope that when they watch our videos or look at our photos that, although I may not make frequent appearances, i am there. I hope they understand they are seeing themselves as I see them. That the way the camera follows them, lingers on their face, captures their every move; that is me.  That is me seeing them and loving them and trying to capture a million moments I want to hold onto.  I am very much there, they are looking through my eyes.

 

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