On Exploration of Old Houses and the Origins of an Enquiring Mind
Updated: Jun 21, 2019
One of my delights as a child was exploring abandoned houses. There seem to have been a great many in the neighbourhoods I grew up in, at least one on every street, so that there was always some new territory to explore. I was attracted by the element of surprise, the excitement and the fear of being discovered, and the more tantalising fear of what might be encountered in a dark room, behind a closed door. These quests were often undertaken with friends, particularly if the house was one we had designate as haunted. But sometimes I would be brave enough to go on my own. If I found some colourful broken window glass or an old penny that was payback enough for the fears. Looking back on these explorations I wonder if they had in them the seeds of my future vocation. I believe that I approached them with an enquiring mind, although my questions were perhaps rather different from the type of questions I ask today when exploring habitats abandoned for a somewhat longer time by their former residents. One discovery I made back then suggests to me that the roots of my lifelong interest in the past were already there. In one house in a seaside neighbourhood where I was vacationing with a friend, along with the usual broken furniture and empty beer bottles on a kitchen sink, I came across a pile of newspapers. They were dated to the mid-fifties and the only thing I recall is that there was a photograph of the former American president (Eisenhower). I don't know what happened to those newspapers; I suppose I kept them for some time. But I do distinctly recall the excitement they sparked in me. They were probably only about ten years old when I came across them, but they were history, something from the past. Many years later when I was living in an old house in the Bukharian quarter in Jerusalem, on repairing the leaky roof I found a hoard of First World War illustrated papers which were considerably older and rather more interesting, and which I still possess, but I think that the excitement of that first discovery was greater.