Snippets. Snatches of memory.

I was reading an article discussing the archiving of the internet.

Once it was an ambition of several organisations to archive the content of everything we put online. This, however, is fanciful. Content changes continually and rapidly. Content is generated to be different for each viewer. Databases and algorithms and sales metrics alter and change what is now a very plastic medium. It is not an internet of published texts which can be indexed easily.

People try, however. And in the spirit of remembering I may write short pieces about people or events. They may be archived. They most likely will not. The internet is full of scraps and junk so these snippets are unlikely to matter to many people. They matter to me.

I would like to write about my maternal Grandmother. I never knew my father but I was close to mum’s parents and spent many years growing up living with them. Their names were Charles Lamb and Helen Lamb (nee Pennycook).

My nan was always called “Ella”. She was very short in height and quite stout. That was when I knew her. In her youth she was very petite. Her wedding dress is testament to how slender she was. A waist equivalent to my thigh.

As a young woman she danced ballet. I only know because she told me – almost whispering – on a couple of occasions. Talking about yourself and doing what I am doing here – discussing it – was to be frowned upon and treated with suspicion. It was a different time and different values.

Her brother Jim had a dance band which practiced in the attic of their large house. She came from a reasonably affluent family. Sometimes dances were arranged in the attic. This would have been in the late 1920’s through to the 1940’s. It must have been wonderful.

Sadly, Jim drank too much and had a short life. He had two sons – Ronnie and Brian – my mum’s cousins. Jim’s decline was reflected in the decline of the family’s fortunes and by the time I knew my grandmother she was living in a small flat in a tenement basement. With my “Pa”. The family business had gone and the family had drifted apart.

Nan had three children. My Uncle Bill was the eldest and he died in 1969. My Auntie Eileen did not live long, either. They all had children. My cousins still all live within 30 miles of me but we have little contact. It happens.

Perhaps the reason I reminisce on this family history is that a piano store based in Joppa, where I grew up as a young boy, is in the news today. It is selling all of it’s 300 pianos. From £300 to £40,000.

My nan played piano. Rarely, by the time I knew her. We had a small, iron framed upright piano which was kept in her bedroom. I recall her playing Rachmaninoff and Tchaikovsky. Especially Tchaikovsky. And she played it beautifully. However, she did not play it often and when she did I could sense loss and some sadness. Even as a very small boy I could sense this in the music.

Which was not how it made me feel. It brought me great joy and great pride. To this day I feel emotional when I hear a performance of the Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto #1. And for that reason I am providing a link to one of my favourite pianists performing the piece – a woman of enormous talent – Martha Argerich. As I type this tiny recollection I am struggling not to shed a tear. I still miss her very much:

Martha Argerich and the Orchestre de la Suisse Romande, 1975

Perhaps, some time in the future, an archive will be read and it will be noted that Ella Lamb played Tchaikovsky on the piano, with some gusto in spite of her diminutive size and it brought tremendous pleasure to those who heard her play.