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Sunday, 27 March 2016

My strange fascination with rooftops

My strange fascination with rooftops

I am not sure when I first realised how interesting rooftops were but I was definitely a child. I could spend hours endlessly gazing out at the rooftops of the houses opposite and the tall chimney at the factory down the road. I liked the pavements when they were dark and rain was glistening in the light from the street lamps and watching people and cars go by, but the rooftops seemed the most interesting.

I do remember rooftops being mentioned in JM Barrie’s Peter Pan and we had a lovely illustrated copy of the book so there may have been a link there. I think it is quite possible, as a child, to imagine a whole mysterious world existing above the houses, shops and factories.

As I have got older I have gained an interest in architecture and the shape of buildings. White buildings, symmetrical buildings and buildings with interesting features interest me and, of course, rooftops.
The painter Christopher Wood painted a picture, in 1930, entitled “The Zebra and the Parachute” which had a very interesting white building in the background. This painting is not only quite surreal but is my favourite painting and it sparked several dreams about white buildings. Ironically it has no rooftops, just a weird collection of levels.

While sitting upstairs in Cafe Nero writing and enjoying a coffee, I realised that you could see the rooftops in the town. This is the older part of town and so much more interesting. While the big glass wall of the Peacocks Centre looks appealing, it does not have the charm of the older buildings and their eclectic mix of decades.

As the town has been developed over the years the mix of old, newer and newest buildings has merged into an interesting mix of architectural styles. The oldest rooftops are more traditional, more triangular with normal slates and sash windows in the attic rooms. You can also see the very square flat roofed buildings of the 70’s that actually look dingier than their older neighbours but have that very decade specific look about them.

The rise and fall of the different heights of rooftops with all the different ages of building and type of roofs make you wonder what building each one is for. Who lives there, what they do, does each window show a different world. Who lives and works in these buildings where the rooftops meet? Are they happy or sad or just existing? Some are offices, some are flats, some are small businesses and some do not reveal what they are. There are fire exits and railings, attics, scaffolding, decorated window surrounds, plain windows and various window adornments. Some buildings are clean, some dirty, some slates need replacing; some are a hotch potch of repairs, some painted, some unpainted.

As you daydream you can wonder if there is another world above the rooftops, hidden away above the streets in all the nooks and crannies and secret parts. A world of mystery, smoke and street lights; the old world which JM Barrie wrote about in a modern age perhaps.

In Barbara Vine’s book Grasshopper there is a lot of rooftop running and, with her brilliant flare for the unusual characters of this world, a very “other world” atmosphere to the characters lives. This is also how I imagine the secret lives of those who could, in a surreal existence, live among the chimney pots, slated roofs, hidden alcoves and fire escapes of the elevated world above our streets.

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