Doris Darbyshire

The Photo Album

As I crossed the street, I heard it,
The old familier tune,
And back into the past I stepped,
That shopping afternoon.

I followed where the sound came from,
It was not hard to trace,
It led me to an antique shop,
In the busy Market Place.

The music stopped, I went inside,
I quickly looked around.
And there upon the counter,
Was the instrument of sound.

Faded, old, and battered,
The cover torn and soiled.
But the cylinder and wheels inside,
Were brigh and clean and oiled

My fingers itched to turn the key,
The owner said I may,
Then, as the old tunes filled the air,
I was again in childhood’s day.

In my Aunt’s house on holiday,
For weeks with her I stayed.
When it rained, up in the attic,
I and my cousin played.

He was a good playfellow,
He’d march and drill and sing.
He’d be a little ‘Drummer Boy,’
Or a ‘Soldier Of The King.’

In the attic there were relics,
A Harp, an old Violin,
The Drums, a Concertina,
All there to make a din.

There was a huge barometer,
For the shelf it was too tall.
Taller than myself it stood,
Propped up against the wall.

Its tubes were blocked,
It did not show, the weather hot or cold,
But it held inside, a treasure,
Of Mercury, not gold.

And this my clever cousin,
Would tap and we would fill,
A little bottle each,
To play with at our will.

We’d play a game of Silver Blobs,
Upon the attic floor.
The winner was the one whose Blob,
First reached the attic door.

But, not up in the attic,
Was the object that I craved,
On a table, in a corner,
Of the ‘Drawing Room’ it laid.

It was the Photo Album,
Which in smart and modern way,
Every family of consequence,
Showed off in proud display.

Photos of all our families,
Were firmly placed inside.
My Uncle as a bridegroom,
My Aunt shown as a bride.

There was Grandfather and Grandmother,
Cousins, Uncles, Aunts.
All posing in Victorian way,
With prim and regal stance.

We children, first as babies,
Then in stages as we grew.
And finally the snapshots,
Some taken for the view.

For my Uncle had a camera,
He was going through a phase,
Of Amateur Photograph,
Which was the latest craze.

This, then was the Album,
Which of my childhood was a part.
But not because of photos,
Was it dear unto my heart.

It was the sound of music,
Flowing from inside.
Which set my feet a dancing,
And the soul of me untied.

In the antique shop I stand entranced,
But I am far away,
Dancing to the music,
Back in my childhood day

I am dancing in the Drawing Room,
I’ve crept inside and shut the door,
I’ve turned the key and I am dancing,
As I’ve never danced before.

I dance the repetoire all through,
At the end I am in tears,
With the Blue Bells of Scotland,
Ringing in my ears.

Then as the music stops,
Back from the past I flee.
I am standing in the antique shop,
The Album here with me.

What happened to it years ago?
As a child I was not told.
Aunt, Uncle, Cousin, went abroad,
Most of their goods were sold.

All through the years I wondered,
Where it could have gone.
I’d questioned all my relatives,
Of its record, there was none.

But now, here is the Album,
I have cherished in my heart,
All through the years since childhood,
When of my life it was a part.

I close the outisde cover,
With its cylinder and wheels,
Eager to discover,
What the space inside reveals.

I release the clasp which makes secure,
The pages holding tight.
The photographs all straight and smooth,
And hidden from the light.

But, there are no photographs,
I am filled with shocked surprise,
The pages are all empty,
Nothing there to greet my eyes.

Disappointment surges through me,
I search for sign or clue.
To show me ’tis the Album,
The Album that I knew.

I quickly turn the pages,
All are empty, then I see,
In the tightness of the binding,
A tiny snapshot, IT IS ME.


Notes on this poem

Written in 1986. Originally written in 1950 as a story.

This poem recounts, in part, Doris’s holidays spent with the Woods family: Joseph, Jemima and Roland. Jemima Woods (nee Harrison) was the younger sister of Doris’s mother, Elizabeth Whitfield (nee Harrison). Her son Roland Woods, Doris’s cousin, was born in 1897 and would have been about three years older than Doris. The Woods family lived in Poolstock, Wigan in 1901 but by 1911 they had moved about 10 km south to Golborne where they had a large (for the time), six-room house. This is the likely location of the attic in which Doris and Roland played. We can draw this inference because the house Doris stayed at had a “Drawing Room,” most unlikely for a Poolstock house! The Woods family emigrated to Montreal, Canada circa 1914 as recorded in Doris’s verse.

We learn from this verse that Joseph Woods was a bit of an amateur photographer.

It is a bit of a puzzle why Doris would have been sent to stay with the Woods while her parents went on holiday, presumably to Blackpool which was the holiday location of choice at the time.