Ben & John
Could you start by telling me about the original photograph?
I'm Ben Hudson. The photograph of me and Pam is from our wedding day, the 1st September 1995, outside Enfield registry office, with my dad, obviously, who was a guest on the day. He'd travelled by train from Newcastle for the day. The photograph's actually taken as we're going in to the registry, so we're not married in that picture, yet, it's another half an hour-ish!
Presumably you remember a fair amount about that day?
I was staying the previous night on the ridgeway, near Chingford. Pam was at her family house in Edmonton, so she'd spent the night there. I can't remember how I'd arrived at the registry, probably by Taxi with my mum, brother and sister, and my Nan, she was there as well. Pam arrived in her brother's car, which he'd attached some white ribbons to, which was quite nice.
Could you describe for me what's in the picture.
We're standing outside on the pavement, outside the registry office, the left hand entrance. There's an entrance to the left and the right, so you don't walk up to the main door directly. You'll see from the photo that I've actually spun around at someone's request I think, to have the photograph taken. As is the brides prerogative, she was a little bit late! So I'm actually spinning around on the way in with Pam. That's why it looks like I'm doing a dance step!
My dad is there on our left, he wasn't trying to get out of the frame, but he's standing in front of a sort of stone, the end of the wall basically.
He was living in Newcastle, so he'd come down for the day. I remember being inside for the ceremony with the registrar, and then we took photographs at the back, there was a garden at the back. I think the weather was quite nice. Then we, even though there was a pub on the corner, I'd quite fancied popping in to be honest, we went back to the family house in Edmonton, which was really nice. Mainly family, but our friends Carl and Jane came down from Leeds, they were staying Walthamstow. We were playing in a band at the time, and we actually playing the following day at our wedding ceremony which was on the Sunday, 2nd September.
Is it a particularly special place, is it somewhere you come back to?
We really like that area of Enfield, cos it's the old part of town. We'd visited two or three years before we got married there, cos Pam used to work nearby, so we'd come occasionally. We actually live in the borough, but we moved to the Enfield area about four years ago, so if we need to do a bit of shopping, we'll get on the bus and come over to Enfield. We've tried most of the restaurants and pubs, so we've got a few favourite haunts here. So in a way, it's our home town if you like. We don't live in London so to speak.
In that sense, it's very familiar, but does being here make you think about that day, about your dad or does it feel more day-to-day?
We don't come here that often for it not to feel special each time we do. Our friends have been with us since, Pam's brothers and sisters have been married in the registry there, some before us, some since, so that's always been a nice connection, but we definitely feel connected to the place through family events really.
"Some say it takes a year to mourn someone's passing away and I find that ridiculous. It's something you carry with you every day, and you will for the rest of your life."
I wondered if you could me a bit about your dad, what was he like? Who was he to you?
His life finished in Newcastle. I was born in Southampton, but we then grew up in Devon, so I spent my formative years there, and my dad primarily worked for the milk marketing board in Devon. Reflecting on my childhood with my brother and my sister, it was pretty tough, there wasn't a lot of income. My mum worked part-time, I can't remember when she started, but with hindsight, I'm not sure my dad was particularly happy with how he was leading his life at that time.
My parents met at Winchester School of Art, he was a creative person, and again, with hindsight, I can see that if your life isn't fulfilled in that way, then that can lead to a lot of frustration and looking back, that's sort of the place where dad felt my dad was, throughout the 70's and early 80's. He was definitely a happier person and a person that people were maybe able to get on better with when he was working, for example, at a small pottery, or doing some illustration and graphics for Devon County Council's road safety office, that sort of thing.
So, yeah, thinking about my dad during my childhood, that was tough, it was a tough relationship, it was a tough upbringing I'd say. Our relationship changed several times during my lifetime. It was quite difficult for quite a few years, but I'd say the older I got and the more life experience I had, the easier it was for me and for him maybe, to have a different sort of relationship, which, looking back, I'm very pleased about. It would have been quite easy not to have a relationship with him. It wasn't a single decision that I made to have a relationship with him, but it was almost that. I made an effort and he reciprocated. The older we both got, the more interesting and stable the relationship was, because we both had a lot of shared interests, primarily the arts, artists, exhibitions, but also being outside in the landscape, walking. We moved to Weardale, so you had the moors of County Durham, the Northumberland coast, so there was a lot of shared interest and shared personality in some senses.
Did you feel like you had to work at the relationship? What did that look like?
It was very difficult. I lived quite close to my mum, so I'd see mum quite regularly at the time, and since my parents were divorced in 1993, there wasn't a relationship there. From my mum's point of view, it was quite hostile, which again, I can partly understand. My dad, his second partner, Hilary, that was another relationship that I to build in a lot of ways. She had two daughters, so I guess that's a universal difficulty, so there was that to cope with, which at that time was a lot easier for me as I was married, Pam and I knew each other well for quite a few years, so we were able to support each other with the difficulty of those new relationships really. Off the top of my head, that would be over a period of about 10 years, so at the end of that, our relationship with my dad and Hilary was a good one, and I viewed it that she was a member of my family and I'm certain she viewed us as members of her family. The emotional stresses of building a relationship with you dad's new partner, it, for want of a better phrase, it paid off in the end. Once that was a solid part of my life that I was quite proud of in a way, unfortunately, Hilary became ill and she was lost to cancer. So that was a very sad time. That was a family loss, another funeral, the relationship with my dad will have changed slightly there as well. In that sense it was complicated as well.
How did your dad respond in that time?
He was quite practical and stoic in a lot of ways. My dad's illness and Hilary's illness had been diagnosed within weeks of each other, and she'd had a period of treatment and remission, so it was something that they'd both lived together with and perhaps come to terms with in some sense. That remission didn't last unfortunately and she passed away in their home, although it was Hilary's home previously, and my dad was with her, as were her daughters.
"I've got a couple of close friends, who in the period of the last five years have lost their fathers, so there's, I wouldn't say it's a shared experience, because everyone's experience is really quite personal and individual, but I'm sure we've all learnt something from each other."
Just going back a bit, the nature of the relationships between your dad and the rest of the family, did that make the wedding day tricky at all?
Yeah, I'd thought long and hard at the time about how the personal logistics, if you like, would work, and as I mentioned before, our wedding was over a weekend, so we had the registry, where the photograph was taken on the Saturday and on the Sunday we had a Hindu ceremony at a small hall in Chingford. I'd taken the decision not to invite my dad to the second day, because there was an estrangement with the rest of the family, particularly my mum, sister and brother. In hindsight, that wasn't planned particularly well, as I don't think he knew about the second day, and he was made aware of that later that afternoon and I think that was quite upsetting for him. Members of Pam's family were quite surprised and a bit upset about that, but at the time, I was trying to put everybody else's thoughts and feelings more to the fore than my own, which again, with hindsight might have been an error of judgement, but it's history now. It was a difficult day in quite a few personal relationships.
I'm not involved, but it sounds like you were trying to do right by everybody and protect them, you want it to be a special day for everyone, not just yourself, it's a very selfless thing to do.
I think, yeah, looking back at it, it was done for all the right reasons. It was still a very enjoyable day, we had friends and family, and because it was one half of a wedding if you like, that wasn't our wedding night, so my good friend Carl, from Northern Ireland, had brought some, what he refers to as 'The Holy Trinity', from back home. A bottle of Bushmills, a bottle of Powers and a bottle of Paddys. I think, between the wedding party on that Saturday afternoon and evening, we pretty much demolished them!
Was your dad part of that party?
Yeah, he was, yeah! That was a really good afternoon and evening! It's not a pub now, but we did end up in The Fleece on Edmonton High Road.
You talked a bit about the things that you shared with your dad, the art and music, I wondered if you could tell me a bit more about those?
My parents had met in the mid to late sixties, around Winchester School of Art, so that was their interest and their training. They both, after that, trained as teachers, but I'm the only member of the family of five who wasn't interested in teacher training. I'm not sure of the reason for that, but I was very proud to study myself at Winchester School of Art, 30 years after they'd studied there. Talking to my dad, it had changed a lot, he didn't recognise the modern campus as it is, but I did a years Masters there, and I think he was quite proud of that, I definitely was, that fact that I'd gone back to the same place they'd studied at. It's an aside, but it's a very good course, and I was pleased to have done that at that time.
Before that, our shared interest in art and exhibitions was one that we were able to talk about and share, so however we were both feeling on a particular day, at least there was a commonality there that we could pick up on again and again. That was very enjoyable, and something that I really miss, that's one of the things that I miss. I know that he'd be interested in what I'm doing and I'd be interested in the latest exhibitions or a new gallery that he may have found.
You showed me a postcard earlier, could you tell me a bit more about that?
Dad sent us a postcard, that was part of his collection, he'd collected cards and postcards over the years, that probably started before I was born. He refers to the card, in as much, within the card (that he had written), that he could always find a card to match an occasion or someone's holiday for example, and he was able to do that with our last canal holiday when he was alive. It was one of the short pieces of his own words which I was able to read out at his funeral, which I thought was quite apt. He'd actually written that card three weeks before he passed away, so that's quite important to me and that's why I've kept that.
When we first talked, you mentioned having being the executor for your dad, which isn't something people talk about very often.
John, my dad, he'd asked me if I was happy to be his executor, and without thinking particularly or doing any research into what that meant, I agreed and said yes, I was happy to do it, because he'd asked me. I remember, we were invited to a meal at his good friends Richard and Cathy's house in Newcastle, again, this was only weeks before my dad's passing. I remember, we all laughed around the table, he was making a joke about the amount of stuff that I was going to have to sort out, and it was a joke at the time, but probably I was the only one that didn't laugh that much. And so it transpired. My dad was, he might have referred to himself as a collector or recycler, but in the cold light of day, my dad was a hoarder, and that was quite a shock, something to behold. I'd visited the house that he'd lived in, that previous ten years, and not really been aware of the magnitude of what that meant. So that was a practical element of dealing with dad's estate, there were other administrative details, as well as practical ones, but it was quite a complicated process. The house that he lived in and passed away in, he didn't own. The Wallsend flat that he did own he'd left to rack and ruin, so that was a property that was quite straight forward to sell, but it was quite a complicated process that took about 15 months, so in a way, I don't feel I was able to start any sort of mourning process until that was finished really.
So that process really interrupted your emotional engagement with what had happened?
I think there was so much to do, and bearing in mind I was living in Enfield and my dad's estate and life was in Newcastle. In the May to September of the year that he passed away, once his illness was terminal, we were travelling up to Newcastle every two weeks, and that takes a physical toll in itself, as well as a mental one. It was an exhausting fifteen month period. I'm sure I was in the process of mourning as well, so it was quite a complicated and stressful time really.
I think the worst bit was the department of work and pensions, because you die with a certain amount of assets, maybe, but because of his illness and his age, he was also having some benefits, so the first person that came knocking was the DWP. Talking to people since who've lost parents of family members, they're experience has been quite similar, the department of work and pensions are quite hard work! I suppose it's taxpayers money, so you can understand it from one point of view.
It's not the first thing you want to have to deal with though is it?
"I know how supportive these particular friends were at the time, and in a way, they are every time we meet, because once you've lost a parent, or anyone you love, that's it then, you life is changed in that respect."
Moving on from that a little bit, do you have any dates, routines or places that you use to remember him in any way?
His birthday, and funnily enough, my parents wedding anniversary. It's 1st June, and his birthday is 7th June. We scattered his ashes on his birthday, the year after he died. My dad loved Dorset and the Jurassic Coast, and he took us as a young family each year really, camping, so we scattered Dad's ashes on Studland. We actually had a conversation about where he'd like his ashes scattered, and I'm sure if we'd agreed there would have been three locations around the country, but we managed to talk him out of that! It was early in the morning, clear blue sky, the sun was shining, Catherine, my mum, Pam & I, and my brother scattered his ashes on Studland Beach on his birthday, so that was really quite nice.
So is that somewhere you go back to now?
I haven't since. For me, not to see the sea in over a year is something I need to rectify. That won't be season dependant, I need to see the sea. That's part of living and working in an urban environment.
What was it like for you when I asked you to find a photograph for the project?
Reading the article about the Loved&Lost project, I knew immediately that that images was pertinent, that was the image. It all made sense immediately really to use that image and get in touch with you.
And what was it like today, going back there, retaking it?
I really enjoying being at the registry, and Enfield town, it's been good, the sun is shining today, it's been really nice.
We're sat in a pub garden, having a chat and life's alright!
Yeah, all good!
Have photographs of your dad been important in remembering? Do have them around to look at them often?
I hadn't before. We've got some photographs, I think it might be the Pembrokeshire coast for his 60th. Hilary was alive, with her younger daughter and her boyfriend at the time, we spent a weekend up there to celebrate that and we've got photos somewhere. Going through his things, when we were clearing out the house in Heaton, I found one of my parents wedding photographs, so I was able to frame that myself at work, so that is, for me, the document of my parents. 1st June 1968, black and white, in my Nan Evan's back garden in Eastleigh, so that's really quite special to me now, as is this photo. Those photographs I see in the house now, so there's an importance there.
Is there anything else you wanted to talk about?
It's quite exhausting. Maybe because of that fifteen month period, if it comes to an administrative task now, I'm immediately drained before I start doing it so I know for a fact that that's linked, a physiological link to that period. I'm capable of doing it still, but I have to allocate specific time to do it and I'm aware myself that it will be an exhausting thing to do, even though it's nothing to do with someone's estate.
So would you say there's an emotional tiredness there that comes with that?
I'd say so, yeah, an emotional tiredness.
Is that a new concept for you?
Probably not, but I realise what it is now. Previously, it might have manifested itself in a different way, or I might have dealt with it in a different way, but now I'm able to, well, I know what it is, so that's far more healthy for you mental state. If you know why, then you're able to deal with it in a more positive, productive and less stressful way.
I can really relate to that, that really resonates with me. I suppose I was fairly young when my dad died, I was 22, so the notion of that emotional weight in any scenario was new. I found myself really getting worn out and having to, like you said, learn to look after yourself in a way. There's lots of practical things like eating and sleeping, which, sometimes are easier than others when you're grieving, but just appreciating that putting yourself in certain scenarios you're going to get worn out and you need to find ways, maybe you need to be around certain people or need to be on your own for a while to find some space in order to recuperate that energy? Does that make sense?
Yeah, it does. I've got a couple of close friends, who in the period of the last five years have lost their fathers, so there's, I wouldn't say it's a shared experience, because everyone's experience is really quite personal and individual, but I'm sure we've all learnt something from each other. I know how supportive these particular friends were at the time, and in a way, they are every time we meet, because once you've lost a parent, or anyone you love, that's it then, you life is changed in that respect. The whole concept of mourning is one I'm quite interested in. Some say it takes a year to mourn someone's passing away and I find that ridiculous. It's something you carry with you every day, and you will for the rest of your life. In a way, that's comforting, but at other times it can be exhausting.
The notion that there's any sort of timescale in which life might return, as you said, it'll never be the same again, you're going to be marked by it. There's obviously different ways to deal with it, but you're never going to get to the point where you think, OK, life's back to normal, because it's changed forever. It sounds like you had some good friends around you, were you able to talk about everything with them?
Yeah, we did. On occasion, because my friend Karl lives in Leeds, that's on the way to Newcastle really, so a couple of times I'd stop there just for some rest basically. We might discuss it, we might not discuss, but more often than not, when we did it was with some hilarity about some aspect of him passing. Karl was surprised and disappointed that I returned what would be Class A opiates to the local health authority! He would have much preferred me to let him sort through them, so we had a good laugh about that!
Karl is also a cider maker, and my dad's apple trees were laden at the time of his death. I haven't discovered the variety yet but this apple's flesh is pink through and through, so I harvested the apples and dropped them off in Leeds on the way back and he turned them into cider, which turned out to be a pink cider. The pub where he drinks most often in Leeds, the Chemic, they had a pride festival, so they bottled it and marketed it as 'Pri-der', this pink cider, and again, that's another thing to remember about my dad, he would have loved that!