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Walking in my Street

June 23, 2011

Although I’m not going to collect lots of data, I did feel the need to at least know how many house there are in my street, how the numbering goes, where the Warren Rd address actually gives way to another at the border, and so on. I also want to be able to keep a simple tally of which households I have spoken to, and which have someone who is interested in a level of involvement.

So I found myself out in the street, with a notepad in my hand, walking slowly and making notes. It felt quite odd, and slightly uncomfortable.

I’ve walked up or down my street thousands of times – going for a walk (usually with someone else), going to the shop, visiting a friend – but I was always passing by and I always had a purpose. I’ve never lingered.

Similarly I’ve ‘done’ other people’s streets – such as when I was a census enumerator back in 1981, and perhaps first caught this slow-burning fascination with the way a hundred people with so many different stories and hobbies and jobs can live within a few yards of each other and never be mutually aware. If it’s someone else’s street and you have a reason – that’s fine too. People walk around my street, with or without badges or leaflets or notepads and data loggers. They are ‘official’ and they are strangers… so it’s OK.

For me, the discomfort came from being neither a stranger nor just an inhabitant. I was a hybrid, somewhere between not belonging enough and belonging too much to be walking so slowly past my neighbours’ houses, looking at them and writing things down. All of this was internal of course; it was a quiet time of day and the few people who were out there took no notice of me. They were doing what I normally do – “passing”. I think my most awkward moment would have been to meet a neighbour that I already knew ‘just a bit’, enough for them to wonder, but maybe not ask, what I was up to. Would I explain? Would I prematurely launch into my pitch? It never arose.

There’s a ‘close’ half way up the road – it carries the Warren Road name, whereas the continuation of the road, bending around the top to avoid the A2, has a different name, was built later. I have looked into that close as I walked past the end many many times – but I have never walked into it. I found myself doing so – in order to log the house numbers – and discovered the unusual layout, some very large front gardens at the end, and the mysterious land where the odd numbers stop and the even numbers start, but without tallying up properly. It felt odd to walk into a cul-de-sac with the purpose only of walking back out again. I would have been even more self-conscious if I hadn’t had the notebook, however small, to flourish. “Look – it’s OK – I’m not just standing and looking – in a place where I couldn’t be just passing through”. The close has a different character to the hill – I know that character now – it’s immediately become part of how I experience my street, differently, when I look out of the window and up the hill. I know it’s there, and what it’s like, and I didn’t know the latter for the last 18 years. In a very tiny way, the street will never be the same again.

I now know that there are 114 properties in Warren Road, semis and detached, bungalows and houses, and a couple of short rows. I know how the numbers work. I have noticed for the first time that the detached properties at the bottom of the road have names but not numbers, because number 1 starts further up, in one of the older-looking rows. I know that there is no number 84, but there is a gap and a fence, in the close, which hints at the missing address, like a missing tooth, and maybe a little mystery. I have walked in my street in a certain new way, attended to it differently, and in a small but perfectly noticeable way it will never be the same street again.

And that’s just the hardware! The houses, fences, signs and corners. What’s it going to be like when I start meeting more of the people, and they start meeting more of each other, and maybe doing some quite small things together? Will it change for them too? Or is this just me doing street-mindfulness?

2 Comments leave one →
  1. June 23, 2011 10:26 am

    I read China Mieville’s The City and the City recently. Reading this made me think of it immediately – if you haven’t read it, I think you would enjoy the play on seeing and unseeing your environment, where the building next door can be in a totally different and inaccessible place.

  2. njbdartford permalink*
    June 23, 2011 11:39 am

    Thanks Stefan – I just looked at a couple of reviews. I will definitely get hold of a copy of this… the book that is, not the street ;0)

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