Tuesday, 8 May 2012


I recently collected a load of books from my parents' attic.  There was an odd collection of my things left up there.  I thought I'd already cleared out all my school and college notes but I unearthed yet more, which demonstrated that once I could, up to a point, understand chemical equations of blast furnaces and translate Latin poetry, all of which has since become mysterious again.  The best thing I found was a short story neatly written in sparse French, which was the kind of thing designed to demonstrate the competent use of several tenses, but pleasingly included a wandering chicken, an unlikely coincidence and a moral at the end.

I also found my English Lit A Level books, heavily marked with cryptic notes and, on 'Wuthering Heights', bat drawings.  One of the books I wrote my coursework on, half my life ago, was 'City of the Mind' by Penelope Lively.  This is where I learned the word 'palimpsest'.  I fished it out of the bookshelf on Sunday, after the search for where Miss Silvester's house used to be.   

Matthew Halland, an architect in London, takes his daughter on weekend expeditions, visits building sites of office blocks and half-renovated Georgian terraces, reflects on the death of one relationship and the tentative beginnings of another, his past and the long turbulent past of the city.  Other stories appear, in snippets, of other people at other times in the same places.

"He is alone, and at the same time less alone.  He sees that time is what we live in, but that it is also what we carry within us.  Time is then, but it is also our own perpetual now.  We bear it in our heads and on our backs; it is our freight, our baggage, our Old Man of the Sea.  It grinds us down and buoys us up.  We cannot shuffle it off; we would be adrift without it.  We both take it with us and leave ourselves behind within it - flies in amber, fossilized admonitions and exemplars."  Penelope Lively, 'City of the Mind'   
I lost the essay long ago, I think, unless it is under another layer of old magazines, posters, notes and letters.  Are they worth keeping because they are worth keeping, or only because they have been kept for so long now?  Some of the books I gave away, One particularly destroyed book went into the recycling box.  Mostly I kept them, to read again in other places, later.

Sunday, 6 May 2012


I've lived in 9 houses and flats in Brighton and Hove, over 14 years, with 16 different people. Because Brighton is so small, I'm constantly re-treading old ground.  Friends move into streets where I used to live.  Shops and cafes change names and menus but are in the same places, visited by the same people.  My local now was the pub round the corner from my friends' house where we drank sometimes in 1999 and I work 100 yards from my university halls of residence.  My memories are set off like neural tripwires, so I smile when I walk by that wall over the railway line and take the long way round past that place where that thing happened that time. 

The 'My Brighton and Hove' site has tours which people have constructed out of their own experiences of the city, and also guides to the past city.  Past Brighton is familiar and unexpected.  Probably as elegant and squalid as now, but in different places and in different ways.  Some things that seem to be old and timeless turn out to have had a mid-life crisis with some 20th century remodelling and restoration, streets of what are now colourful and desirable houses were dark and soot-encrusted 90 years ago.  There were horses stabled in the North Laine into the 70s and nissen huts on the (much leafier) Level in the 40s and 50s.

The James Gray collection is an incredible record of past Brighton and Hove, and is worth devoting a fair bit of time to rummaging about in.  This photo, of Waterloo Place, is just excellent.  
"Developers bought most of the 1820s houses to build fresh offices, but Miss H. Silvester who had lived at No. 9 for 50 years refused all offers for her property and refused to budge. The new blocks were built either side, and her house shored up. She was in the house when the photograph was taken on 15 February 1970, some years after the offices were built. She died in March 1974, aged 89. Her house was then demolished and the offices linked up." Note by James Gray

I love the overlapping time layers and Miss Silvester's determination.  It's also pleasing that there is a bus named after James Gray.
This is what it looks like now (with scaffolding and a decorative covering): 
(Photo taken by Mr Listingslightly, who kindly perched between a flowerbed and the traffic to get the right angle on this and without any passing cars)

At the moment I am....
Listening to: Radiolab. On every bus journey to work. It is magnificent. 
Knitting:  this jumper...

....very slowly.   (If you're on Ravelry it's here)
Eating: Ginger biscuits, made from a recipe in Mary Berry's Ultimate Cake Book. Yum.