A Little Giant Called Harry

by Jim Graves on 20 August 2012

Rollei 35SE

Harry, my grandson was a whopper when he was born. In recognition of the arduous experience of his birth, my daughter was granted a private room in the West London Hospital. The great and the good of the maternity community paid homage like the Maji* of old but without the gifts! Harry was gift enough after all.

My wife and I travelled south and performed our grand parental duties over a number of weeks. One morning, after a good feed, Harry was put in his pram where he refused to do anything but bawl his head off. Granddad was ordered to take him out and I set off to a background cacophony from my infant grandchild.

I had no idea where I was going but wherever we went the din unsettled the bird population and drowned the noise of the London traffic; or so it seemed. After at least a couple of miles, I turned in desperation at a tube station in Chiswick and hoped that I could reach home before the Noise Abatement Society filed a complaint.

Suddenly there was silence! Fast asleep! Relief! But there was another pleasant surprise: a camera shop! Inside I spotted a Rollei 35SE and feeling that I’d earned a treat, bought it there and then.

When I reached base I received the customary “Not another camera” from my well-beloved wife but seeing a sleeping Harry, she decided that he was worth a dozen Rolleis. I named the camera “Harry” in honour of the occasion.

It wasn’t the first Rollei 35 I had owned. A former colleague had been sold a Tessar version some years earlier – mis-sold in fact. She offered it to me but refused to take the full price I’d suggested and I had it for half its value.

A dealer once dismissed the Rollei 35 as “ T’small and only fit for my old lady’s handbag ”. Although it performed very well, I wasn’t unduly bothered when my other daughter “borrowed” it. Whereupon it did indeed disappear into her handbag and only became mine again when it needed a repair to its battery compartment. It was promptly “borrowed” again and has remained there since. Even her husband confided in me that his wife was very protective of the Rollei. I urged him not to give up hope of using it himself one day.

Keeping old cameras on the road can be a tiresome business. Parts become unavailable, batteries obsolete and meters beyond repair and so on. My years with the SE have been peppered with genuine surprises at the quality of the slide or print and frustration at niggling problems. For example the LED ceased to function a year or so ago but it was only at the third attempt that I found a mechanic with the necessary know-how to repair the fault. When the batteries became difficult to obtain, I was put in contact with a Minox dealer who sold adapters which used deaf aid batteries. These exhausted pretty quickly but worked well.

Last year my wife and I broke our journey home from holiday, stopping for a few days in West London. Harry, now a strapping teenager had become a keen tennis player and I used the SE to take a few shots of him in action.

I was obliged to stand outside the court netting and poke the Rollei through the mesh. When I examined the negatives I found only one worthy of enlargement. (I am not the best sports photographer on the planet!)

The image on the negative required considerable enlargement and out of curiosity, I racked the enlarger head to its maximum height and realised that the image on the masking frame seemed pretty sharp. The quality of the 10” x 8” print, a section of an enlargement of 24” x 18” or so astonished me!

The Rollei, called Harry, was a little giant too! When I told Harry the background of the story he chuckled then examined the print. “I must improve my back hand” was all he said.

* Maji – The Three Kings from the Bible story.

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