A Portrait of a Polaroid Childhood

An old family photo sends Matt Roper back several decades to his early 1970s childhood and happy memories of both his toddler misdemeanours and an uncomplicated ‘needs-met’ life that his adult self wouldn’t mind returning to

In a shoebox in my sister’s house, a recently discovered family photo. It’s a colour photograph taken on polaroid film, probably taken around 1979/80. I’m probably around two years old – maybe slightly older – and I seem to be pointing at the camera and wondering what the hell it is and questioning why we’re all facing it. I suspect we were probably attempting to use the timer and therefore balancing the camera on something, hence my sister being cut out of most of the shot and my brother only just making the frame. It is, I suppose, a late Seventies family selfie (we were so ahead of our time).

Studying the picture a little more makes me nostalgic for a more innocent and unassuming world. Mrs. Thatcher has just been voted into office; the system of a state education has yet to sink its teeth into my world, and Europe is divided into two peoples: those belonging to communist states and those who live in democracies. But none of this seems to concern me in the photo. The likes of Kermit, Miss Piggy and Fozzie Bear have my undivided attention – and my tipple of the day is almost certainly a Dandelion & Burdock. Or if I’m round at my Nan’s house: a glass of Vimto.

How great it would be to be nearly three years old again. No need for money, sex or a drink. Socks are cleaned for you and bathtubs are filled for you. There are endless summer days and plenty of cuddles. But believe me: Holy Hell is raised if you decide to ‘polish’ the next-door neighbour’s brand new car with a house brick. And another thing I was told I got up to at this age, (to another neighbour who had a front garden blooming with beautiful tulips of all colours and varieties), was to skip around picking the heads off every single flower, one by one, leaving a garden filled with nothing but stems, pointlessly pointing up toward the skies. Terrible business, really, when I think about it. I certainly don’t go around destroying tulips these days and if I saw a kid doing that sort of thing in somebody’s garden today I’d probably be tempted to kick him up the arse. Were kids of my age were doing that sort of thing over in the communist states? I doubt it.

A couple of years ago I was in conversation with a German guy the same age as me and we were talking about our childhoods. He told me he was raised in East Berlin where his family could pick up West German shows on television and watch them in secret at home. He was tantalized by the commercials, mainly the ones for fast foods. His mother had promised him that one day, if they ever made it over to West Berlin, she would buy him a Big Mac. Well of course the Wall did come down one day, and his mother was as good as her word and walked him across to the West and bought him his burger. He then went on to tell me that not only was the burger a disappointment but the most crushing disappointment of his life.

But back to the photograph. When my mother was alive she absolutely hated me rooting about in boxes and drawers at home for stuff like this (I have a lifelong love affair with the polaroid). I don’t know why she hated me doing it. Stuff like this was always kept hidden away in her bedroom.

In the North of England the term ‘rooting’ is another word for ‘searching’, 'rummaging’ or ‘delving’. At least I think it’s a Northern word. In Australia and New Zealand, to 'root’ is to have sex. At 17 I had a girlfriend, a New Zealander, who was once horrified when on a visit up North to my parents house. I disappeared upstairs to hunt for some old photos.

“Where’s Matt?” she asked my mother. “Upstairs,” came the reply. “Probably rooting with his sister.”


Matt Roper is a British comedian based in New York City. His relationship with Lush goes back to 2011 when he performed for the muddy festival-goers of Lushfest, returning the following year to curate the line-up of the comedy stage. As he travels around the world, he shares his musings with us here in a series of writings – a sifting of thought from a restless but always seeking imagination.                      

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Twitter: @MrMattRoper
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In the North of England the term ‘rooting’ is another word for ‘searching’, 'rummaging’ or ‘delving’. At least I think it’s a Northern word. In Australia and New Zealand, to 'root’ is to have sex

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