A repost from way back today: a look at the things we have bricked up and discontinued….
My grandmother lived in a grand old Yorkshire house.
It was on a respectable middle-class street just down the road from the most exuberant set of church chimes.
It had servants bells and a pantry which smelled of marmalade cakes; and dark wooden floorboards of character.
There was one aspect of my grandmother’s rather beautiful old house which fascinated me more than any other.
You could only ever go halfway up the stairs.
The staircase had been a graceful example of its time. The stair rail was deep rich wood. It was wide: it hailed from another time.
When my father was a small boy, the top of the stairs was his scene of crime. When crossed, he would exact revenge by standing over the stairs, leaning on the stair rail, holding a book.
And as visitors passed a book would slam to the floor just behind them. How very disconcerting that must have been.
Not as disconcerting, however, as what happened to those stairs.
My grandfather died young. My grandmother, ever practical, decided the house must be divided into two flats: the lower one and the garden for my grandmother; and the upper one to be rented out to university students.
A wall was placed at the top of the stairs, so one could neither ascend or descend any longer.
They unsettled me more than I can say. There was something grotesque about a path to somewhere which was snubbed. It was the most bald example of nothingness, a demonstration of nowhere just for me. The rude wall has sat in the back of my memory all these years.
Of course, we are no strangers to such demonstrations of Nowhere here on the island. In the dying days of the seventeenth century, a tax was introduced which made blank nowheres of windows the length and breadth of the land.
It was called Act of Making Good the Deficiency of the Clipped Money, part of which was Window Tax. The reasoning was thus: glass was expensive, therefore those who could afford glass were moneyed. And it follows, then, that the number of windows in a house was a good measure of how much any household was able to contribute to the state coffers.
Everyone paid a flat rate tax of two shillings: that got you ten windows. After that, all bets were off. ten to twenty windows would set you back four shillings: and above twenty was a sizeable eight.
So people started bricking up their windows.. Look up anywhere in London or provincial towns and the buildings sport disconcerting blanks which leer down at pedestrians.
This country seems filled with blanks. When I was young, I used to drive along a breakneck dual carriageway renowned for its high accident rate.
Oh, the protests when it was closed: for the new motorway which replaced it was set to lacerate an area of outstanding scientific, historical and geographic interest.
The protesters came and went, the motorway was built, and now the dual carriageway where once I diced with death in a small battered Renault is a blank. It is being returned to the wild from whence it came. And these things don’t take long. Mother Nature is a voracious creature.
Surely, though, the ultimate blank must be when a track leads into the sea.
I exaggerate, of course. But one of the most poignant nowhere I have ever seen is the railway which used to carry the Orient Express, disembarking at the channel.
The sea had its own station. In the old days, one could get one’s passport checked at Victoria Station in London, and embark for the rest of the world.
The train would hurtle through Kent, headed for the sea, laden with the expectations of myriad travellers.
And when it arrived at the sea, there was a terminal to receive and process the huge numbers of passengers who alighted from their train, only to step onto a ship.
The area changed, and heartbreakingly the station closed.
I went to see it a little while ago. I walked past the No Entry signs and wandered across the overgrown platform, a machine for weighting luggage still parked next to the locked waiting room. Once, this was a doorway to the world. The station’s future hangs suspended in the balance now: preserve it as a heritage steam line, or bulldoze it for a new marina?
We are uncomfortable with blank places: a visual pause, a hint of what was remains unresolved; humans have turned away and perhaps that in itself makes them awkward.
It reminds us that as yet, we are stuck with just three dimensions.
We have not yet succeeded in inventing time travel.