Monday, 10 March 2014


This is going to be a difficult one to express because it's kind of a nebulous concept, but I'm willing to give it a go if you are.  Ready?  Do houses, neighbourhoods and places have a particular 'ambiance' all their own, or does it all depend on the 'eye of the beholder'?

Oh dear, lost your interest already?  I'll persevere.  When I was about 13, the area I lived in had a particular 'feel' about it.  When I moved house in 1972, aged 13 and a half, that 'atmosphere', 'feeling', 'mood' - call it what you will - continued in my new home and street, and I've wondered over the years whether that was something to do with both houses sitting atop a hill.

You see, when I'd come out of either of those houses, I'd stand at the top of a hill and view the horizon in the distance, giving me a feeling of being 'master of all I surveyed'.  As I walked down (literally) either of those streets, the horizon became less visible on the descent, and it's only natural to wonder if my similar experiences of both places is what resulted in my parallel perceptions of them.

Or was it nothing to do with that?  Was it just where I was 'at' in my head at that particular time in my life, and was it me projecting my own subjective perceptions onto both neighbourhoods that accounts for how I regarded them at the time, rather than how they objectively were?  In short, was it how I imagined them rather than how they really were that determined my perceptions?

Had I lived in either of those houses at different times in my life than when I did, perhaps I'd have 'sensed' and responded to those surroundings in another way;  perhaps the ambiance, as it appeared to me, would have been different at 19 than it was at 13, who knows?

Perhaps we just 'see', 'sense', 'feel', 'experience', etc., things in particular ways at different times in our lives, irrespective of how things happen to be.  Could it be that we project our own sense of a place onto it, rather than respond to how that place actually is?  All I know is that, these days, whenever I walk down either of the two streets mentioned, although I can remember how things 'used to be', I'm all too painfully aware that they seem different somehow, in ways that I can't fully articulate.

Of course, other contributory factors must be considered, one being that at the foot of the first hill was a school I attended as a boy in the 1960s.  At that time, WHAM! comic was reprinting the adventures of The FANTASTIC FOUR, and on winter afternoons after school I would see the building interiors lit up in the darkness as the cleaners set about their business.

From the top of the second hill (but farther away) I could see another school of a similar design, which, when viewed in the same wintry conditions, reminded me of the school in my previous neighbourhood.  At the time (early '70s), The MIGHTY WORLD Of MARVEL was reprinting those same FF tales, so perhaps the 'deja- vu' type sensation created in my subconscious can hardly be considered surprising.  Then again, maybe not.
When we look back on our childhoods much later in life, summers always seem to have been longer, skies bluer, winters whiter, Christmases snowier, etc. - but were they?  Or is it simply the case that's how we viewed things at the time (or imagine them later), rather they actually were?  Time changes all things, alas, but oft-times far too quickly.

Anyone got any thoughts on the matter?  (Presuming, of course, that I managed to express my thoughts in any way resembling a coherent one.)


Kid said...

No comments - obviously not, then.

TC said...

I would say it's largely a case of "the eye of the beholder." I doubt if an object or a place has an objective ambiance that is perceived the same way by different people. One person's "cozy" house seems "cramped" to another, one person's "peace and quiet" is "boredom" to another, and so on. And your "master of all I survey" feeling would not have been shared by someone with severe vertigo.

So I wouldn't say that you "imagined" things differently from what they were, but we do project our perceptions onto things, and how they affect us is determined in part by our attitudes and experiences.

And we've both sometimes made comments along the lines of, "I associate Detective Comics #354 and Adventure Comics #347 with my late grandparents' home, because I read them while visiting there during summer vacation," or, "I'm sentimental about Avengers #83, because my mother brought it home for me when I was laid up with the flu." That kind of association.

And, of course, as adults, our memories are clouded by nostalgia, and we tend to remember childhood as simpler and more carefree than it was. We remember the holidays, and forget what seemed at the time like an eternity of schoolwork.

Speaking of how we perceive things differently as adults than as kids, here's an oddity: when I was a child, we often visited my maternal grandparents on weekends and holidays. On the way there, we passed over a short bridge. That is, I remembered it that way for years. Then, a few years ago, I drove over that same bridge, and it was much longer than I remembered. You would think it would seem the other way around. The world usually is perceived as a much bigger place when one is a child.

Kid said...

Well, full marks, TC, for being brave enough to comment on a post that everyone else ignored. I'm still not sure whether one's perceptions of a place are as a result of either one thing or the other, or perhaps a combination of various factors, but it won't stop me from trying to work it out.

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