Tuesday, 17 August 2010

An Ode to Knox Overstreet

Old Cliftonians, Clifton Thirds Cricket Team, 1903-1904. An amazing group picture. I could write a book, I think (or a chapter at the very least) for each one of these faces. So evocative, so characteristic are the looks, these lives from the past. And what names! The back row includes the likes of John Henry Board (third from left), Gerald Herbert Douglas Metcalfe, Clifford Oswald Bretelle, Henry John Carew Gribble (second from right), Wilfred Fabian Waite. Middle Row: Joseph John Leech Harvey, E.N.N.Sellman, Cecil Leecroft Watkins Baker (Captain), Stuart Bertram Sleeman. Front: Edward Alfred Harris, Edward Featherstone Briggs (third from the right), J. Merrick Lucas.

Mr Keating: Now I'd like you to step forward over here. They're not that different from you, are they? Same haircuts. Full of hormones, just like you. Invincible, just like you feel. The world is their oyster. They believe they're destined for great things, just like many of you. Their eyes are full of hope, just like you. Did they wait until it was too late to make from their lives even one iota of what they were capable? Because, you see gentlemen, these boys are now fertilizing daffodils...But if you listen real close, you can hear them whisper their legacy to you...

Anonymous Halloween Party, turn of the century, from Being Human: Enigmatic Images of People by Unknown Photographers

Mr Keating (cont.): Go on, lean in.

Listen, you hear it?

Carpe --- hear it? --- Carpe, carpe diem, seize the day boys, make your lives extraordinary.

The Clifton Club website states enigmatically that the above is "a mystery photograph from between 1903-05. Clifton with unknown opposition." It occurs to me that there is a life, a vitality, in these pictures that is very rare in posed group photographs. A rugged, if somehow ghostly, intimacy. A thoroughly English earthiness, like the tumbling of fallen leaves from those trees in the background. Or like the whispers of these men coming down the through years, perhaps, their strange, outdated accents curling in your ear with haunting muscularity...It seems a vaguely Sebaldian backdrop somehow, all those tattered trees, perhaps hinting at battle-scarred fields to come...It also occurs to me that I look a little like the young man sitting in the front row, third from the left, with the doppleganger's stare. He's hunkering down in his jacket, as I'm sure I myself would have been, setting himself apart from the rest of the team.

(A gardener by trade, John Henry Board played 6 tests for England, making his debut against South Africa in 1899. It was, in fact, on a return trip from South Africa in 1924 aboard the Kenilworth Castle ship that he had a heart attack and died.)

(Henry John Carew Gribble came from a long line of cricketers. It seems he lived in Clifton until about 1888, when he moved to Courthorpe Villas, Wimbledon, and became a member of the London Stock Exchange. In 1925 he was living at Briarwood, Udnet Park, Teddington. He died there on 12th June 1942.)

(Edward Featherstone Briggs attained what was, at the time, a record altitude of 14,920 feet in a Bleriot aircraft on March 11th, 1914. Eight months later, he was taken as a POW at Friedrichshafen. Apparently, Briggs's son Michael died in 1941 piloting a Spitfire IIA P8049 in Yorkshire, while he himself died of natural causes in 1963.)

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