Wednesday, 8 February 2012

WHEN LOVE IS LITERALLY IN THE AIR

You're probably sick of Valentine's Day themed posts already. I definitely am. But I'd like to think that the focus of this will be something a little more absorbing than giant balloons and washi tape love hearts.

This post is inspired by some graffiti that's become a bit of a monument in Sheffield. I first saw it whilst having a nosey round one of the city's most famous constructions - Park Hill - as part of a module I was studying at the time. Today, it's a Grade II listed building - supposedly the largest in Europe - being partially redeveloped by ├╝ber-trendy Urban Splash, but the estate has gained a bit of a reputation over the years. Built between 1957 and 1961, it replaced the neglected tenements common in pre-war Britain, rife with crime and poverty, with 'streets in the sky' - aspirational, modern living spaces with front terraces wide enough to drive a milk float down.


The area went into serious decline with the financial recession and dwindling industry of the 80s and 90s, and once again became notorious for its high levels of crime. Although council housing, the local authority had real problems tenanting the flats and it wasn't until 1998 when the Grade II listing was awarded that the area began to see its fortunes reverse.

When I visited the partially-derelict site in early 2010, one of the things that struck me was the sheer number and density of empty flats and how, most poignantly, all of these had once been homes. Not to get all sentimental, but seeing curtains still hanging from some of the windows and television aerials and satellite dishes still strapped onto balconies was really disquieting.


Aside from the distant hum of the renovation works, the area was totally silent and, on such a sunny day, the peace of the whole place felt weirdly out of sync when you consider the number of people that have lived here over the last fifty years.

But it wasn't a history lesson that I wanted to give you! Well, a little one. But whilst this is all essential knowledge, the focus of this post is not the buildings but something which was written on them. Look closely at the photo below! Do you see the two walkways stretching between the buildings? Good. Can you make out the graffiti on the top one? No?


Well, don't worry, because I took a closer one for you:


CLARE MIDDLETON 
I LOVE YOU
WILL U MARRY ME

I'd forgotten all about it until I heard a documentary on Radio 4 over the summer; it's still available to listen to online here. They try to find the couple behind the graffiti and the story it reveals is incredibly  poignant (even if the presenter's enthusiasm verges on fetishism at times).


Urban Splash have immortalised the graffiti in neon, but they've missed off 'Clare Middleton' and, as you can hear from the programme, the people who knew her have mixed views. Hearing the tale behind the graffiti and the tragedy that befell the couple, lighting it up feels a little tawdry; on the other hand, being unknown for so long, people have naturally come to identify it in their own way. It's a tricky one - do we recognise it by the story that made it or the emotion it represents? The presenter also suggests it's become an artwork, but the narrative behind it is so flawed and human that I think viewing it in this was risks stylising beyond all reality. To me, the permanence of the writing seems to serve as a way of holding on to a particular moment - bringing people to reflect on the stories that the places around us hold, romantic or otherwise.

***

So, now, a playlist to acknowledge that, while love is undoubtedly brilliant, it doesn't always work out. There'll always be something to remind us of the good times, though - just like the graffiti at Park Hill. And this playlist (sort of).


1. Piazza, New York Catcher - Belle & Sebastian
2. An Anniversary Away - Reverie Sound Revue
3. Put a Penny in the Slot - Fionn Regan
4. Baby Birch - Joanna Newsom
5. Rose Gives a Lily - Yuck
6. It's Okay - Land of Talk
7. Hold On - Angus & Julia Stone
8. Dance to the Morning Light - Slow Club
9. Last Broadcast - Doves
10. The Desperate Kingdom of Love - PJ Harvey

Image via Painted Sparrow

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