A global family album: How Whitehall crowd-sourced an invasion


Click to follow
The Independent Online

The phrase “Every picture tells a story” is particularly true for the Sri Lankan-born artist and writer Roma Tearne.

It was about 10 years ago that Tearne found and bought a collection of old photographs in a market near her home in Oxford. Later, walking through the antique shops in London’s Camden Passage, she chanced upon an album of pictures of the same family, named on the back as the Maudsleys. Research led Tearne to discover that the family had died out, so she set about fictionalising their lives for her new novel, The Last Pier (published next month).

Currently, Tearne is working as a writer in residence at the Imperial War Museum and now another cache of pictures has captured her imagination. “Archivists around me kept talking about Duxford,” Tearne says. “I asked them what was kept there and one of them told me that that was where they kept all the stuff that the public was asked to send in.”

Curiosity piqued, Tearne went to Duxford and discovered more than 3,700 boxes of photos submitted by the British public after an appeal on the radio during the Second World War. “The Ministry of Defence asked people for their snaps of holidays in Europe. They used them to see, for example, if roads were wide enough for tanks.” Tearne is now archiving these pictures for a project called Wish You Were Here. “It was the Google Earth of its day,” she says.

The Maine event

Fancy living among the mountains and lakes of Maine? Then it might be worth entering the competition to win the 210-year-old Center Lovell Inn, which can be yours for $125 and a stamp.

The hotel’s current owner, Janice Sage, won the building and business in 1993 when she entered an essay-writing competition hosted by the previous owners. Now that she is ready to retire, Sage has decided to find her successor in the same way, asking prospective owners to write in and tell her, in no more than 200 words, why they think they are suitable.

“When I won it,” Sage tells me, “the judges said that my essay conveyed the ability that I could run the inn as a successful business,” she says.

Sage needs about 7,500 entries to reach the estate agent’s valuation of the property. Does she have any tips for anyone thinking of entering (closing date 7 May) from the UK? “Well, I wouldn’t want to give anyone an advantage,” she says, “but the key for me is that the essay comes from the heart and is not what they think I want to hear.” 

Feud for thought

Ever on the look-out for new ways to kill what little spare time I have, last week I chanced upon Google Feud, a website that is as infuriating as it is addictive.

The site uses the Family Fortunes format (called Family Feud in the US, hence the name), meaning it will give you the start of a Google search and you have to predict how Google would autocomplete it.

Choose the “names” category, for example, and the search bar might show you “Jennifer”, meaning you have to guess the most popular answers based on the number of Google searches (the top three is Lawrence, Lopez, Aniston). Three wrong answers and you’re out, with the aim being to amass as many points as possible.

Beware, though. One of the teasers in the “questions” category is “How do you fake a …”. And if you’re feeling like the top answer to that is a no-brainer, you should know that it’s “fever” and that what you’re thinking does not even figure.

A prayer for the living

With many people posting Terry Pratchett’s circumspect take on death, it’s worth noting that a little-known neurosurgeon and writer called Paul Kalanithi also died last week. He was 37 years old. In his last column for Stanford Medicine magazine, “Before I Go”, he wrote this message to his infant daughter, Cady:

“When you come to one of the many moments in life when you must give an account of yourself, provide a ledger of what you have been, and done, and meant to the world, do not, I pray, discount that you filled a dying man’s days with a sated joy, a joy unknown to me in all my prior years, a joy that does not hunger for more, but rests, satisfied. Right now, that is an enormous thing.”

Say it ain’t so, Joe

In the first of these columns (1 December 2013), I pointed out that somebody really ought to make a reality TV show in which they give Joey Essex a mental makeover. It should be called, I suggested, Educating Joey Essex.

Last week, browsing through the channels, I saw that they have now done exactly that. I await my royalty cheque from ITV2.

No rhyme or reason

Another in a regular series of limericks based on recent events:

Though he’s still got a fair bit of clout,

Clarkson’s future is subject to doubt,

Cos his latest mis-steak,

Means they’ve slammed on the brake,

Well they did say one strike and you’re out.