When I arrived at my friends’ house for a short mid-week visit, I knew there would be lessons. The children are home-schooled and I didn’t expect it to stop just for me. I was prepared for the hustle and bustle of learning to go on around me but I didn’t expect to be in at the very heart of it.
“There’s only one thing we ask of you,” my friend told me as we sat down to tea and cookies on the rainy afternoon of my arrival. “You have to give the children one hour of tuition on the subject of your choice.”
An hour is a long lesson, I remembered that much from my childhood. So what on earth could I teach them? Not mathematics – their dad lectures in computer science. Not art, one glance at the pictures on the wall showed me that their mother has that side all sewn up. (Did I mention that she can sew, too, and make dolls from wooden spoons and crowns from leaves? There’s no end to her talents.)
I noticed that the diffuse light from the French windows was falling on my friend and her son as he sat on her knee, and I knew what I’d do. I whipped out my camera and a roll of film, and told them how people used to make photographs way back before digital. And I tried to show them exactly why I still do.
We got through the loading of the film ok, and I explained that once it’s in the camera you can’t expose it to light until it’s been developed. I took a couple of shots but it was pretty dark, so I let them look through the viewfinder and read the shutter speed indicator. I told them to focus and they asked me: what’s focus?
No, don’t google it and tell me it’s so easy to explain. I didn’t have the benefit of google. Let me tell you it’s a tricky thing to communicate but as we talked about it I got them to look through the viewfinder again and turn the focus ring and see what happened.
The next day we were to go out to the park and they’d take some photos for themselves. But first they played on swings and climbing frames and a mechanical digger in the sandpit. Then as we were about the leave the playground and make our way back through the park, I taught them something else. You knew I wouldn’t leave without teaching them the art of the self-portrait.
And as I promised the oldest two, we went stalking photos. They took the first two shots in the gallery below, and I think they did really well. Johanna looked for autumn colour in a tree groaning with red berries and Jona chose a shrubbery bursting with greens and golds. For me it was the silky leaves of a conifer and the burst of yellow on a crab apple tree.
Later we went picking apples that they were going to press by hand and make into juice at a local apple festival at the weekend. I learnt that apples taste heavenly straight off the tree, and that even when you have permission to go apple picking in a university orchard some people will complain for the love of complaint.