Here we have a parade of relatives of every hue, from great aunts to cousins, many still living, a number dead, and one or two estranged. These are the faces of people with whom lives were spent, or by whom two generations were raised, returned to youth or brought back to life through their having been captured on 10th August 1969 in three and a half minutes of silent Super 8 footage.
A christening is an occasion, third only to weddings and funerals. Best suits and poshest dresses – worn to longer or shorter lengths depending on generation and daring – are donned, along with a variety of styles of hat. One grandmother is turned out like the Queen mother; another goes hatless, wears a white knee-length dress, stops to talk and smile into the camera, and takes photos of the party assembled outside the church afterwards.
It’s my christening, to be precise. Predominantly because it was the done thing then, rather than as a result of any strong convictions on my parents’ part, I am being inducted into a faith I no longer have, that did not make it past childhood. But I still have the bible my youngest uncle and godparent gave me that day. I spent a lot of time leafing through its thin pages as a child, fascinated more by its clean, simple line drawings of an ancient, biblical world than by the Word of the Lord. Exposure to three different religions as I was schooled, and more critically a sense that if there were a God, he had decided not to keep his eye on my family, meant that whatever faith being christened conferred upon me was lost by the age of twelve or thirteen. I remember then standing my ground one Sunday morning and telling my mother that I was not going to church again.
It seems that All Saints’ Church is close enough to our New Haw house that everyone is walking to it. My paternal grandfather waves a ‘hail fellow, well met’ greeting to camera from across the street. And standing out from the footage much less, there is my maternal grandfather, tall, grey-haired, black glasses, looking somewhat socially stiff and a little apart, certainly not at all keen to be centre-stage or filmed.
In among the older generation of relatives are my father and two of his brothers, sharp in suits, thin ties and sideburns. By a process of elimination, the eldest of the four brothers was the one tasked with filming proceedings. And he captures it all. Elderly great-aunts wear elderly great-aunt spectacles. My maternal great-grandmother, whose face has slipped, presumably because of a stroke. Outside the church, jokes are shared and smoke is puffed into the sky. His job of bringing a new soul into the fold done, we even see the vicar walking off down the road, garments flapping in the summer breeze. It’s a shame that he didn’t take the chance to dance off into the distance in the manner of Eric and Ernie at the end of their TV show, legs and arms alternately hoicked out to either side.
The tallest man in Britain at the time also seems to have attended (best observed standing next to my mother in her white sun hat at 2:23), for extra propitiousness. I thank him for that, and all my relatives, the living and the dead, for being there for me that day.