It was about 3.30pm and Christopher and I left school and walked down Holders Hill Road and then across the bridge over Dollis Brook, turning right along the path which ran alongside the water, its familiar trickling sound welcoming us back again on another warm afternoon. We dumped our satchels down on to a small pebble beach which jutted out forming a small chicane through which the water squeezed before being let loose for a few yards before hitting another obstacle in the form of a fallen branch swaddled in wet brown leaves causing more bubbling and rippling. The camp which we had started building on the far bank was as we had left it the day before when, with our friend, Ricky, we had sat on the dry ground and shared a packet of biscuits and a bottle of lemonade in the shade of the roof made from some old fence panels which we had found in the undergrowth.
Fifty years later, I return to the brook on another sunny day with a view to sending Jillian a message suggesting a shoot there. She agrees and the following week we meet at her house and set off to Hendon in the car with her assistant for the day, Christina Theissen. When we arrive, we are met not only by grey clouds hovering above but also by two employees of the Environment Agency who are wearing thigh-length boots and are busy clearing the banks. Fortunately, they are moving away from the place I had earmarked for the shoot the week before but they warn us against putting our hands in the water and then into our mouths because of the rats, adding merrily that luckily the recent rain had washed most of the sewage away. As I lead Jillian and Christina to the spot, heavy drops of rain begin to fall and we come together under an umbrella and listen to mothers in the adjoining parkland scuttle away with toddlers to escape the downpour.
Eventually, the rain stops and the sun re-appears and I feel relieved that the park is now devoid of visitors as it will avoid any potential embarrassment for me and them when I remove my clothes. Jillian then realises that she has not packed her memory cards for her camera and looks at me and says that she does have a polaroid camera as well as a film camera and one roll of out of date film. Shall we go back to the house and get the cards and risk the return of rain, mothers and children and the Environment Agency workers? Shall we cancel and go home and try something else or shall we work with what we've got? We go with this last choice and it changes the whole mood. We are all determined to make it work. Jillian takes test shots on polaroid and we gather round and purr over the results which bode well for the shots on film. Jillian asks me to crouch and look away and purrs again as the shutter clicks. She asks me to lie down - I go to lie on my back but she says no, on my front with my head over the water. As I lie there and look deep into the stream, the memory of those beautiful days after school with my friends replays in my head and I just know that these shots will be everything that I wished them to be.
Jillian sends me the contact sheet - I adore these images. The sallow green tinge, the arch of my back, the feeling of the passing of time. It is entirely appropriate that I am naked. It places me in a world of my own. A world of distant sounds, earthy smells and dancing light. Jillian has captured all this on one roll of film which I suppose any capable photographer could have done but not with quite the same sensitivity and understanding and that extra special something that is unique to her.
I walk home up Hendon Avenue past the house where Vera Lynn lives, across Hendon Lane and then down Gravel Hill to Church End. I look into the grocery store and see Mr Sparrow busily serving a customer and then I cross Stanhope Avenue and carry on past the Baptist Church and up to Templars Crescent. Mrs Middelton is at the door of number 5 and waves and I smile at her and she smiles back. I reach our house and my mother greets me. "Where have you been?" she asks. "Nowhere....." I feel my lip tremble as I reply. Then I stand up and brush the mud and grit off my skin and get dressed.