Thursday, November 24, 2016

Throwback Thursday - Loot and Pip

That's my brother and I,

just to show I wasn't always scowling. This is a studio photograph taken by my Uncle Jack, the family photographer, and I would guess that the 69 in the serial number he has given it refers to 1969, when I would have been in my eighth year, and Pip, my brother Philip, now usually just Phil, would have been about ten. He wasn't called Pip much after a very young age, except by my dad, it embarrassed him. Once Mrs Grange, a large, jolly, generous and cultivated friend of our family, saw Phil on Berkhamsted High Street with a couple of his mates when he was about seventeen and called out 'Hello Pippy!', much to his shame and chagrin, of course. Mrs Grange had wanted to be my godmother when I was born, but my mother in a fit of integrity for which I never quite forgave her, said no, I was not going to be christened, she didn't believe in it any more and wasn't going to go through the motions. Mrs Grange delighted me when I was sixteen by seating me on her chaise longue and offering me a cigarette in front of my parents. It would have been worth being hailed in the street as Looty to have been on the receiving end of Mrs Grange's indulgence and patronage, but it was not to be.

There are a whole series of these photos of us and our parents (one of which is in the post about my mum a couple of years ago), for which we were all obviously scrubbed and brushed and dressed in our best (that dress was finely patterned velveteen in rich blues, greens and purples, still my favourite colours, though I was disinclined towards pretty dresses by then), with a range of expressions from the serious to the hilarious. They are really very nice photos; I often think that Jack was a rather bad photographer of people because his heart wasn't in it, but these are mostly warm and attractive. I don't know what he was saying or doing to amuse us, typically Phil has given way to pure mirth first, but my smile is genuine, if a bit vague. In the next one I am open-mouthed with laughter too.

Mum once said to me when I was in a particularly lugubrious and miserable phase, probably a bit older than I am in this photo: 'You know you can be a depressing person. Philip can drive you mad sometimes but at least he's not depressing'. I know this sounds harsh, I probably was driving her to distraction and I'm really not fishing for sympathy about it! Nevertheless, despite this and the frowning photographs, my abiding memory of childhood, at least where my interactions with Philip were concerned, were largely of this pure merriment that you can see in his face here. Laughter was one of his principal driving forces, along with learning and cleverness; he ruled our television watching like a dictator, (I was scarcely allowed to know of the existence of ITV, only BBC passed muster) but more even than the geeky (the word didn't exist then), improving tenor of Blue Peter and Tomorrow's World, it was the funny stuff that had him yelling up the stairs or down the garden ' Loot! Tom and Jerry/Dad's Army/ Morecambe and Wise...' or whatever. He would get so excited watching something he found particularly uproarious that he would bounce up and down, higher and higher, in his seat, and my dad would say with exasperation 'Pip, can you not do that to the furniture!'

We went through the motions of scrapping, big brother, little sister; physical fights when we were small, in which in fact he was as inhibited as a well brought up puppy, I was rarely hurt and indeed rather relished it if I could claim to be, since as smaller, younger and female I would inevitably get sympathy from everyone else in the family and he would get told off. I never felt unsafe. My sister still laughs and does an imitation of a six-year-old Philip protesting 'Favouwitithm!' when she hauled us apart. (Her other favourite quote from him at this age was when she brought some particularly gifted older design students home from college and they found themselves interviewed by him with intense scrutiny. After they had left he remarked to her 'I didn't know you had such intelligent friends!'). I also remember a time when we were perhaps in our teens, on a caravan holiday, when we decided to have an insult joust; we sat face to face and came up with the most imaginative names we could for each other. I finally called him an amoeba, and he graciously conceded the match to me. And another holiday moment, when we were very little, a warm summer evening when we were out and about, and he said 'Loot, I wish you weren't my sister.' 'Why?' 'Because you're nice.'

Despite my dolorous and tragedy-queen moments, when I was in disgrace with fortune and my classmates' eyes, which led to my mother's comment about our respective characters, I think in many ways I found childhood and school easier than he did. His particular cleverness, his unmoderated excitement which caused him to bounce on the furniture when Jerry got Tom caught in the mousehole and which still distinguishes his speech and manner now, his curly hair, all made him different in a time when I think perhaps it was harder to be different than it is now. But he didn't whinge, he found things to make him laugh, he got cleverer, he went to Cambridge and he married Angela, a mathematician at least as clever as he is. They live, as far as I can tell, happily ever after.

We see each other only now and then, but I think we hold each other in real affection. When I'm around him, I try a bit too hard to be clever and funny.


Zhoen said...

I envy you a good brother, and range of memories. You are both lovely.

Dale said...

What a wonderful post!

Catalyst said...

How often it is with older brothers.

Avus said...

I was an only child. It never bothered me a bit when young, but sometimes now (and after reading your post, Lucy) I wish I had siblings. All my precendants are now dead, I have many descendants but no "anchors" to my past.

Natalie d'Arbeloff said...

Lucy, I'm speechless with admiration at how sympathetically insightful and observant your memories are. I feel as if I almost know your brother and parents, however, little Loot is more mysterious, perhaps intentionally so. How, for instance, did you 'drive your mother to distraction'? I want to know!

The photo is a gem.

the polish chick said...


Roderick Robinson said...

There's a play by Giraudoux called (in French) The Trojan War Will Not Take Place. It was translated by Christopher Fry and retitled Tiger At The Gates. In it two characters set out to insult each other. Both engage in literary and mythic allusions that become more and more extreme, and each laughs off these wordy assaults. One of them pauses then says slowly and distinctly: "You're short, you'll never get rid of those spots and your breath smells." And the other starts to draw his sword...

"Amoeba" suggests you didn't get past the first stage of the insult joust. Which, given the warmth you feel, then and now, for Philip, seems in retrospect to be a good thing.

This is a beautifully remembered piece. I can recall the same approximate phase with my two brothers but none of it is happy. The disintegration of my parents' marriage seemed to permeate the whole family although we, the kids, didn't realise it at the time. As young children we took this to be the norm; decades later one looks around and recognises the long-term effects, thankful that time has a deadening effect although, of course, nothing is ever entirely erased.

There's no such such thing as a normal family but there are those where the atmosphere is on the whole beneficial. The dialogue that passed between you and Philip suggests just that. And, to take a monster speculative leap towards judgment, those benefits are apparent in what you write, the way you you write and the things you remember. I love the phrase "in disgrace with fortune" but the fact that you've fashioned it (or are quoting it) suggests a degree of detachment, always a useful facility.