July 2, 2012 by Rhi
There’s a lot of history in a home. We’ve been in our new flat for just over a month now, Mr Bint and I, and we’re already starting to feel that sensation of starting new chapters and laying down foundations for years to come. We’ve had several homes together now, and each one seems to mark a different era in both our life as a couple and as individuals.
We moved from a house that had been my childhood home, and which I had watched being built from the ground up, literally. The history of that house was entirely owned by my family. But soon, that history will be wound up, and it will be the turn of someone else to create memories in that building. The house is being sold, and my family will no longer create new experiences within those four walls. And the house will start to keep its secrets. Secrets between us and it, and secrets between the new owners and it. And never the twain shall meet. Except it might. Personally, I find it hard to move into a house without considering its history. Tracing back the story of a room, and a building, through the lives of the previous occupants-sometimes on paper through the archives, often in my own head, no names no fact, just my own imagination. I just can’t shake the feeling that I’m a temporary custodian of something which is far greater than I’ll ever be – whether I rent or own, my part in the story of a house is fleeting.
This new home we have is old. More than a hundred years old, to be exact. And I think that history is why I feel so much more at home here than I ever did in the two up, two down we’ve just left. There’s a sense that we’re just the latest story to be told in the confines of a performance space. The house is a stage, and we players strut and fret our hour upon it before we’re gone.
We know the immediate history of the house, the person who lived here right before we did, and the person before that. But when I look at the tiled fireplace in the living room, or sit down to dinner in the alcove in the kitchen which would once have housed a double bed in a recess, I sometimes try to listen to the voices of the others who once gave this as their address. How many people looked out of the same window, to see the same distant hills (although the number and size of the buildings between them and us has probably altered considerable)? What did this view look like before they rammed the M8 through the heart of Glasgow? Oh how I wish I could see more of those particular views.
There’s also a very special feeling around the fact that this is a tenement. The history of here isn’t just linked to the rooms we occupy. The shared space of the close, with its tales of arguments, weddings, births and deaths, and all life’s experiences inbetween, seems to teem with voices of people who have passed through and gone. The feet which have travelled up and down those stairs – friends, family, doctors, midwives, undertakers. Door to door salesmen with their carpet bags full of dusters, encyclopedias or the latest miracle salve or potion.
Our flat is modernised, of course. We have central heating (oh, how I love central heating!), a modern flushing toilet and a fitted kitchen. When this flat was first built, it actually did have an indoor toilet (because this, we’re told, was a well-to-do part of the city. Unlike the slums and tenements further east). The cistern would have been up high, the bath fed from a watertank above. The kitchen would have housed a range which would have been blacked regularly to keep it shiny, and the washing would have been done in the wash-house in the back court, and hung on the kitchen pully (the fixings for which are still in place today). There was a larder instead of a fridge, and the grate wouldn’t have been the sterile gloss colour it is today, instead housing a roaring fire on cold days and nights in times which pre-dated the clean air act. But the windows are the same as they were 120 years ago. The glass I look out of is floated, full of warps and imperfections. It’s the same glass that everyone else who has ever lived here would have gazed through – thinking, watching, dreaming.
In today’s society, people spend a lot of time worrying about their legacy in this world. Having children, making lots of money, success in their chosen field – any way to leave a permanent fixture on the world around them to allow people who come afterwards to say “Ah yes, they were important. Not only did they do stuff, they made sure something was left behind to prove it.” When you visit old buildings, you don’t need to think like that. Every fixture is a sign of a craftsman leaving something of themselves behind. Every room holds a silent story of a life beginning, ending, or just being lived. Those who were here might have been from a different time. Their day to day routine may be different to mine, and they may have had different ideas and dreams and realities. But the purpose, the aim, is the same.
This house is a place to be lived in. To come back to, to feel safe in. This place- this arrangement of stone and plaster and wood and glass? This place is home.