Sunday, 5 December 2010

Things the dead do in Balham

I've lived in Balham for almost six years now. But I've been aware of the place for a lot longer. Because of Peter Sellers and the whole Gateway to the South hilarity - well, hilarity if you're a taxi driver or a relative of a certain age. It's Balham's own particular calling card. Ha ha etc. There's plenty of real history here, too.

I have lived for the past few years in a flat in a grand old building, built in 1859 on a street which was once - until over-crowding demanded their demolition - a rolling boulevard of huge dwellings (now it's a run-down thoroughfare of light industry and christmas tree sellers). That aside, Balham is - apart from the odd false Luftwaffe-supplied rotten tooth - reasonably attractive and cohesive architecturally (especially the posh bits).

I'm interested in this stuff, unashamedly. And so one fine day, I was idly googling Balham (I'd obviously tired of searching for my own name) and a postcard of the high street in the first decade of the twentieth century popped up, on sale for 50p on eBay. I bought it. And then found there were loads more available. I bought them, for a few pence each and then stared at them. And kept buying them. Whoever these postcard hawkers are, they now know me and my OCD and it's increasingly hard to find any at a reasonable price. But I now have quite a collection.

Yet what do you do with these things? I used one for the banner at the top of this blog. I've got a few artfully displayed on various walls, but most are just in a box, which seems like a shame.

Then I found the brilliant How To Be A Retronaut. It's a sort of clearing house for historical ephemera. Lots of great stuff there - I've watched this Friese-Greene video thousands of times. Amongst all the other oddments are images where people have over-layed historical scenes with contemporary shots of the same location. With a quick bit of Photoshop magic, it's reasonably easy to create a sort of Soulwax-esque ghostly mash-up. And I thought I'd have a go; my Photoshop skillz are reasonably dreadful, but it makes me feel pretty happy, sitting at my shiny iMac playing with professional software for cool people with thick-rimmed glasses - the sort of left-brain people who ride the Charing Cross branch of the Northern Line (like me).

Here's the first result - click on it to get a bigger view and stare at pictures of the long dead walking the streets of Balham. And a tram, which makes me simultanously happy and sad. Happy because trams are excellent; sad because the lines were ripped up in the fifties. I'd love to commute on a tram.

I'm rather proud, even though this is quite clearly rubbish. Fortuantely, there are lots more to come, whether you like it or not. I promise they'll get better.

1 comment:

  1. I was just googling my latest postcode, Balham, & looking for information on it's history & stumbled across your excellent blog! I love this! I am also a fanatic when it comes to knowing the history of places in which I find myself living & having lived the SW11 area for the last 4 years I, also, was aware of Balham before moving here... I am also a fan of Retronaut & get lost in that website again & again... it is so lovely to see a street I know well reproduced in the manner of so many pics I've enjoyed before! I cannot wait to see more of your work! (by the way - I am a photoshop virgin so I have no idea how you did this!!! I am in awe!) Thank you ~Mem x


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