[murmur] in Leith

Hilaire Belloc, On London and the Houses in it:

There are so many strange doors that should be familiar doors. Turning sometimes into some street where one has turned for years to find at a very well-know number windows of a certain aspect and little details in the drab exterior of the house, every one of which was familiar as a smile, one is (by mere association of years and of a gesture repeated a thousand times) in the act of coming to the steps and of seeking an entry. The whole place is as much one’s friend and as much indicative of one’s friend as would be his clothes or his voiceor any ohter external thing. He is not there, and the house is worse than empty. London grows full of such houses as a man grows older. Most of us have other losses sharper still, which men of other cities know less well, for most of us pass and repass the house in which we were born, or where as children we gathered all the strongest impressions of life. It is impossible to believe that other souls inheriting the effect of those familiar rooms. It is worse than a death; it is a kind of treason.

Coles Corner, the Mercury nominated album by Richard Hawley, taps into this melancholy. Coles Corner is a spot in Sheffield where people come to meet, hang-out, date, fall in love.

Those private stories which take place in the bustling city, is the subject matter of a Toronto art project, [murmur], which is coming to Leith later this year. Interesting things, ‘the stuff of life’, do not just happen on communal street corners, but sometimes behind the closed doors and curtains that Belloc walked by, and that we walk by every day. The [murmur] team records the stories of ordinary citizens, then places a small plaque near the place where those stories happened (similar, I suppose, to the blue signs we see on buildings around the country which signify the birth-place or death-place of famous residents – I wonder if there is one to Belloc?) However, the [murmur] plaques have a telephone number and a code on each plaque, so passers-by can call the number, and listen to a true story about the street-corner, pub, shop or tenement in front of them.

In a way, [murmur] is the reverse of Hilaire Belloc’s complaint. You are not on the outside, looking into an alien present. Instead, you are the present, and the stories allow some connection to those who have gone before.

Here I sit, tapping away at my keyboard, listening to MP3s, in a flat that is one-hundred years old. I wonder who else lived, ate and loved here?

2 Replies to “[murmur] in Leith”

  1. Hi Rob – I felt like that at my old house which was turn of the century and rambling and never completely quiet even if I was alone in it. Just before my husband died, he found a framed sepia photograph of an extremely elegant lady in the loft, we put her on the wall, and when Katy and I moved, we brought her with us. I’d sold the house for development, so if we’d left her there, she wouldn’t have had a home any more.

    This house is a little newer, a typical between-the-wars semi, and it was lived in by the tiny Pearse family for over 50 years, they brought up their family here, and there’s no feeling of mystery at all. Comfortable, but I miss the atmosphere. Katy wrote a great post that describes the ‘feel’ of the old house pretty well perfectly.

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