Column: February 2, 2012

THERE exists somewhere the earliest sound film footage of me. I am about nine years old and I am sawing a thin piece of wood.

For four full minutes I saw away, making very little headway, and the only noise on the soundtrack is the rasp-rasp-rasp of the saw and my increasingly frequent sighs as the saw works loose and I have to push it back into the groove. Truly the boy is the father of the man.

It is the most boring footage ever filmed, with the possible exception of any Everton match under Walter Smith, and was captured by Bernard Cammack.

Every family has an Uncle Bernard, one man – and it’s always a man – who is entrusted to chronicle every family party and gathering. In those days his weapon of choice was a Eumig Super 8 cine camera, though in later years he switched to a huge camcorder.

He was never much of a cameraman and editor, but that means there are reels and reels of spliced films going back to the early 1960s, filled with faces and movement of people no longer with us, social history without interpretation, and lots of bad shirts.

There is quite a lot of Bernard in me. I am an Evertonian because he was one. I cannot frame a video shot either. And we share an inability to master our environments.

For example, our extended family went on a caravan holiday to Rhyl. I don’t know which year, every holiday when I was a boy was in Rhyl. I presumed until I was 14 that everybody outside Liverpool spoke Welsh.

My grandmother was concerned that somebody would trip over the iron steps which led up to the caravan door and pushed them under the caravan, just to be safe.

Bernard, an early riser, woke the next morning and decided to take his usual trip to the nearby newsagent’s. And so he stepped out of the caravan.

In my mind’s eye, I see Bernard like Wile E. Coyote, hanging in the air for a moment before the realisation that the steps were not beneath his feet, and he toppled forward onto the gravel.

Some years later, he, along with some other men, was called upon to push a car to get it started. This he was happy to do, and Bernard and the men commenced pushing the car down a steep hill. His reflexes were similar to my own, and when the driver signalled that he was starting the engine, he wasn’t quite quick enough to step back.

The car bolted forward. And so did Bernard, rolling over and over down the hill like the gymnast he was not.

He liked to be helpful, and would occasionally deliver leaflets on my mother’s behalf. After an incident, he discovered a fail-safe way of posting leaflets without being mauled by dogs. He would push a wooden spoon through the letterbox to hold it open, followed by the leaflet.

On occasion, the spoon would be grabbed by the dog and a struggle would ensue. Sometimes Bernard would win, sometimes not. I often wonder what the local chandler’s shop thought about the round man with the glasses who got through an awful lot of wooden spoons. Also, I wonder where the dog-owners of south Liverpool thought the mysterious wooden spoons their pets were chewing came from.

I’ve called him Bernard up to now. I never called him Bernard or even Uncle Bernard. He was Uncle E-Ar at first, because he would give me treats, so often accompanied by the words, “’Ere, y’are,” and later he was just Unc. A one-syllable name, like Mum or Dad.

It was appropriate. I lived with him for 20 years. He was a father to me, took me in when I needed a home, and doted on my own children like a grandfather.

And then he died, 10 years ago this week.

The trouble with being the family’s chronicler is that one is always behind the camera. One never actually appears on the flickering screen.

So this one’s for you, Unc.

And I never did get through that piece of wood.

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