The Little World – You Can Lay New Bricks On Old Walls

My recent project of building a 1:18 scale model of a house I once lived in went very well – better than I had expected. It is now sitting in my studio ready for the next phase of my art – tabletop photography.

But once I had completed the actual build i realised that the miniatureist has a wonderful facility that other people may miss out on – we can go back in time and rebuild memories.

Some people never want to do that – they have had experiences that they wish would go away. They actively bury them by various means. You can’t re-write history – unless you are a Soviet Ministry of Propaganda – but sometimes you can add extra pages to what is there to modify it – or at least to understand it.

Thus my researches into the model house I built. From a vague image on Google that sparked my memory, through to more images, and then the discovery of an advertising page from the 1950’s that named the house and showed plans of it. I experienced a re-awakening of mental images of the colours, surface textures, and relationships of the place. I’ve almost recalled the furniture positioning – and can certainly remember the downstairs playroom where I had my toys and games.

It is a bit creepy, as well, to look a Google Earth images of the house standing and flourishing 58 years later, and to realise that I could probably open the front door, walk past the startled present owner, and go to the kitchen, bathroom, and any other part of the place unbidden. A stalker on the other side of the planet…Out of consideration for them, I will not do it…

As I built the miniature I started to undersand more of the layout and dimensions of the place – things I would have had not knowledge of in the 50’s; the size of lumber, the types of roofing, the plumbing layout adopted to give the shortest and cheapest run of pipes. Because, make no mistake about it…the theme of this sort of house was economy and quick build and any corner that might have been available to be cut…was. And I would be willing to bet that there are houses built today that are just a few computer strokes away from this design – and probably assembled from cheaper materials.

Still, it has lasted 58 years and still has someone in there…and here…

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The Google Earth Eye In The Sky

If you are a young reader of this column you can go off and pluck your nose hair or chase Pokemon – you already know all about what I am going to discuss.

The rest of us can gather around and plan how to disguise our activities from secret spies. Not that we will succeed, you understand, but it is nice to dream. This thought is brought to you by my activity today in researching my history on the net.

It wasn’t a case of looking up my criminal record ( in my case the most criminal one I have was put out by The Carpenters…) or my academic career. I have forgotten most of my misdemeanors and I suspect the authorities have too. I promise to put the Statue Of Liberty back…

No, it was the curiosity I had about an old house I lived in during 1959. I used the Google Earth program to go back to the old city and then easily traced the neighbour hood and street we lived on. It must be a pretty slow town since the Cold War ended – nothing has changed since then. I could still trace my route to school and to my friend’s houses and the old place we lived in is exactly the same – save for a couple of newish cars parked in the driveway.

This, combined with the chance sighting of an advertisement on the net for the company who built the house in the late 1950’s, has enabled me to draw up plans for a 1:18th model. It is weird enough to do this in any case, but doubly so to be able to do it by measuring the image on the computer and to note the colour of the structure. I am not going to make exactly the same house – that creeps me out. But I will do one from the same builder.

I do feel a little weird looking so intently at someone else’s place half the world and 60 years away. I can even see the address on the letter box…and I can recall the exact layout of the inside of the house. It’s like very old stalking…

So. Go out into the back yard of your place right now. Is it a fit sight for the rest of the world? Is it time to get rid of the still and the old car on the blocks? Should you give up sunbathing in the nude?

Google Earth And The Frugal Traveller

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I am not a frugal person – but I admire those who are. The idea of conservative values and careful use of resources to live a good life seems to be closer to the ideals that my parents held than I have been able to attempt. I get distracted by a desire to own more and more things and I suspect that I lose out on a lot of inner peace thereby.

I’m not entirely lost, however, and I have hope for the future. Oddly enough it is a hope that somewhat limits me. Let me explain.

I emigrated to Australia in the 1960’s from Western Canada. Settled down here, got an education, got married, have a family. Became an Australian citizen, worked for 40 years, retired for 8 days, and am back in harness. State law grants me a big annual holiday and pays me to take it, and conventional wisdom tells me that I should use this opportunity to travel. I have been getting a lot lately from acquaintances who think I should visit Western Canada again…presumably to soak up the nostalgia.

Maybe – but this sort of trip also soaks up about $ 20,000 and I privately wonder if it would deliver more algia than I want for the money. I have happy memories of a good childhood, and I think if I were to try to recapture it I would fail. The chief actors in my childhood – my parents – are long passed away. Their brothers and sisters are gone. The cousins left are strangers to me and I would only expect to see them if they were passing through Australia and wanted a bed for a week…

The houses I lived in and the neighbourhoods I frequented might still exist, but would be 50+ years older. Time enough to go to hell or come back again – the buildings would either be gone or in terrible shape. The people I knew would be scattered to the winds all over Canada. It is hard to conceive of anything that would reward a trip.

Yet….there is always the curiosity…and the irrational little thought that you would find the old school yard…

Enter the Google Earth program. Whether you go for the sneaky vertical spy shot or the intrusive street view – or just the map view – you can look at where you were. I have done just that – walked to my third-grade school from our old house. And to the drug store. And caught the bus downtown. I was horrified at one stage to see the old house razed and a new two-story one go up but I have reconciled myself with the fact that I did see it in the old place before it went. Note that the Calgary school board have not improved the appearance of the school since I was 8…

It is interesting to see that in 50 years they have also not altered scrap-ends of streets where we tobogganed in winter – and it is impossible to remove some of the big hills and valleys where we played. It is also interesting to see which points of the city have not grown in 50 years…not fancy sections either. I guess unattractive land is just that.

The Google Earth takes me all over the western part of Canada and the US to find old haunts – I can trace my way as I did in my childhood, and in doing so most of the build-up of nostalgia goes away. The need to spend big to relive it is no more – I can be frugal and spend the $ 20,000 on toy cars and girls in sequinned costumes. Now who could argue with the financial morality of that?