My parents have a number of photograph albums at home. They date from the time when on family occasions or on holiday the camera would emerge, a film would be put in and a few snaps taken. It was the days when you took the finished film along to the chemist and then waited with huge anticipation for the day when you would collect the packet of prints and with trembling hands see what you had taken. Mum would look through them first – ‘I’m ripping that one up’ she would regularly say. ‘Let us see it first’ we’d plead – but no. She didn’t like how she looked in it! Then there were the under exposed and over exposed pictures; the ones taken, by mistake one assumes, of feet. But amongst them were a few worthy of being mounted in the photo album, with its back paper pages. Mum would write in white ink so that we would remember, where and when – ‘Cromer 1968’, ‘Andrew’s baptism September 1957’, ‘Jane and Stuart’s wedding 1981’.
We sometimes take the photo album out and flick through the pages and the pictures. It reminds me of what Dylan Thomas says in ‘Under Milk Wood’ where he describes photographs as
‘the yellowing dickybird-watching
pictures of the dead.’
It’s a book of memories, a book of the past and often an uncomfortable experience as you look at what they record. ‘I was slimmer then’, ‘I thought I looked so good in that!’, ‘Don’t I look like grandpa did then’, ‘What did I think I was doing?’
Now we have a camera in every device we carry with us. We snap interesting and uninteresting things and it eats up the memory on our phone or computer. We Instagram pictures, post them on Facebook, use them to illustrate our Tweets. I have thousands of pictures I never look at, I don’t print them out and give them the recognition that comes in putting them into a special book because they are special pictures. Our family photo album ends when we got a digital camera and I suppose this computer on which I write is my album and the Cloud is where I store them.
Unless I make them public my pictures are private. Clergy live semi-public lives, of course, but, generally, we are not of sufficient interest to people for our own pictures to become the object of interest. And I’m glad about that. I wouldn’t want all of my photos to be public – some of them are frankly embarrassing. I look dreadful with long hair in my flared trousers – it’s bad enough seeing myself but I don’t want others to see it. Well meaning aunts and uncles make us do ridiculous things in front of the camera, its not only the family cat who might be dressed up for a ‘funny picture’ we do it to each other as well. But no one sees my mistakes or my ridiculousness.
Of course, for those who live out their lives with the public looking on there is no place to hide. Everything they say and do can be picked over, analysed and criticised. That, I suppose, is part of the price of celebrity.
One of the joys of this summer so far was to be invited to a Garden Party at Buckingham Palace. As the day approached I watched the weather forecast on my phone change from rain to sun, and as we queued to be admitted to the Palace and its garden the sun shone on the wonderful cross section of our society invited that afternoon to take tea with the Queen.
We stood on the lawn, enjoying good sandwiches, cake and a delicious cup of tea. Then the moment arrived and Her Majesty The Queen with the Duke of Edinburgh and other members of the Royal Family emerged onto the terrace and we sang the National Anthem. The emotion of that moved me. Ok, I admit, I am a royalist. But in that moment I was simply immensely proud of who we are as a people and enormously grateful to the Queen for her personal leadership of us and the exemplary leadership she has given as a Christian.
It is a great year as we approach the day, in just a few weeks time, when Her Majesty becomes our longest serving monarch. I am glad to be a ‘new-Elizabethan’ and proud that she is my Queen.
So what do I make of the front cover of The Sun this weekend and that picture of the young princesses and what appear to be Nazi salutes? We live in a society with a free press and I give thanks for that. We rely upon the press for pressing for the truth; in days when it looks like Freedom of Information legislation might be under attack from those for whom it has proved to be inconvenient.
Who knows what was happening when that home movie was made; who knows what it all meant, what Uncle David had asked them to do? All I know is that through the war the Royal Family gave united and wonderful leadership to the nation; all I know is that for all these years the Queen has been a magnificent Head of State and represented the United Kingdom in a way that has captured the hearts and loyalty of people around the world, even amongst those not her Subjects. All I know is that as she stood on the terrace of the Palace and as she stood in the nave of Southwark Cathedral it was a privilege to sing ‘God save the Queen’ and a privilege to offer that prayer day by day.
And I thank God that no one digs through my own photo album for a photo of ‘public interest’.
This is one of the prayers for Her Majesty The Queen in the Book of Common Prayer and I offer it with thanksgiving.
O Lord, our heavenly Father, high and mighty, King of kings, Lord of lords, the only Ruler of princes, who dost from thy throne behold all the dwellers upon earth: Most heartily we beseech thee with thy favour to behold our most gracious Sovereign Lady, Queen ELIZABETH; and so replenish her with the grace of thy Holy Spirit, that she may alway incline to thy will, and walk in thy way. Endue her plenteously with heavenly gifts; grant her in health and wealth long to live; strengthen her that she may vanquish and overcome all her enemies; and finally after this life she may attain everlasting joy and felicity; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.