Autumn, 1926


I found Donald in the local market on Saturday. He is riding a bicycle on the beach at Bognor, on October 1st 1926. The shadow is lengthening with the sun low to the west, so I think we can safely say this is late afternoon. The sun is bright (and Donald may even be squinting) so perhaps we are in the midst of an Indian summer. At this point, it would be tempting to hunt out the 1926 weather data – however, I don’t want to colour my reaction to this lovely photograph. I’ll stick with what I have.

On the reverse it says, “On the sands at Bognor. Oct.1.26”, with the date underlined. Above, added later in different handwriting, it simply says, “Donald”. I think Donald is about 14, but his tweed jacket, jumper and tie, glasses and slick backed hair make him look older. Behind him is the sea and, faintly in the distance, the pier. Is it his birthday? Is the bike a present, or has he hired it for the day? It is a very smart bike, with an alluring gleam to the handlebars, a splendid shiny lamp and an enormous bell.

He is clearly cycling slowly, presumably for the benefit of the photographer – his arms and body tense as he tries to stay upright, but his feet are moving fast enough to blur in the shot. Best of all is his terrific grin. He’s had a great day, and I will allow myself to believe that he has a large portion of fish and chips to look forward to, before catching the train home in the fading autumn light.

Two fat ladies

Meanwhile, a few hundred miles away in the Fens, two formidable women are posing outside in similar light. Why the Fens? Well, the brickwork looks like the sandy clay you find in Ely, Soham, Little Downham and surrounds and (even more dubiously) they have a distinctly rural feel about them. But, whilst solid and of the earth, they both have shiny shoes and the elder of the two has a smart coat and wonderful hat. Sunday best maybe?

I found this in the same market place (in the heart of the Fens) as I found Donald, but about a year ago. The pictures could have been taken on that very same day, but I suspect that this is a few years later. The hat, which seems to me as if it belongs to the twenties, already looks out of date, and the glasses give it a thirties feel. Of course, I have no evidence at all to support this theory…

The younger woman has ruddy cheeks, and a sewn patch on her skirt – these aren’t wealthy women. The hole in the brickwork behind them, and the shabby gate on the left gives credence to this. Along with the wire looping in along the wall, and the bare earth on the ground, this is a practical place – no lawn, or flower beds. A place of work. They look like they’ve worked hard – possibly, in the case of the woman on the left, that very day. Her sleeves are rolled up, and she isn’t in her hat and smart coat. Are they related? Yes, surely they are! Look at their mouths, their noses, their posture! Mother and daughter, no question.

Still the morning for these two, by my reckoning and, although there is no suggestion of anything as cheerful as fish and chips, they will eat well before the day is out. Something hearty, possibly involving dumplings.

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