My father lent the Super 8 movie camera to his eldest brother, and in the late 1960s, they took it on holiday to Menton, in the south of France. Accompanying them were my paternal grandparents, and my aunt and uncle’s adopted son, Michael.
Michael was a year or two older than me, but he is no longer with us. I don’t know enough of the path his life took nor of his interior to presume to tell the story of his early death, but even now, I miss his life-and-soul presence at family dos. In boyhood he was the cousin to whom I was closest, and alongside our respective younger brothers, we spent long hours playing at soldiers in our respective gardens. In early teenage years I remember him having copies of a couple of seven inch records that I coveted – ‘Absolute beginners’ and ‘Love will tear us apart’ – but after that we met too infrequently to know anything substantial about each other’s life, times or indeed struggles. Having brought three children of his own into the world, his death was a shock. Shocking in its abruptness, and shocking in its finality. How much more so for those who knew him so much better than me.
Here he is simply a happy, two year old boy playing on a French beach, loved by parents and grandparents alike. He has made the acquaintance of a German boy of the same age, and he is absorbed in back and forth bucket and spade activity. In another scene, his father lies on a lilo with Michael atop his chest, while in what looks to be one of the more staged shots, against a backdrop of photogenic bougainvillea, he walks between his mother and grandmother, holding their hands as the elder of the two women admires the flowers. Much less staged is the camera catching his bottom being wiped.
The holiday looks to have been as beautiful as any in the south of France should. The coastline – the way the houses are set into the hillside – has the look of Italy about it (and indeed, Menton was once part of the Republic of Genoa). My uncle adds to the stylish feel by sporting the same kind of Fred Perry cotton pique short-sleeve shirt that I took to wearing when I was roughly the same age as he is in this footage. Top button done up, as fashion dictated.
At home after the holiday, they find an English summer nearly as hot as the one they left behind. While the poodle eats treats standing on the selfsame lilo, Michael runs the length of his grandparents’ garden. That life-and-soul joy of later years is already writ large on his little face.