Tuesday, 8 May 2018

Picture Post #35: The House Number

'Because things don’t appear to be the known thing; they aren’t what they seemed to be neither will they become what they might appear to become.'

Posted by Thomas Scarborough

Mountain View township, South Africa

House numbers:- laser cut aluminium, cast iron plaques, illuminated perspex, oil rubbed bronze, stencils and paint, carvings in wood. These not only identify the house, but reveal the occupant.

The number on a front door in an African township. We are immediately impressed by the attitude it expresses:- a bold and careless statement that this is no. 1251, so put that in your pipe and smoke it. 


docmartincohen said...


"I am not a number" cries the Prisoner, in the classic TV series...

“I am not a number. I am a free man” cries McGoohan, a man who finds himself living in a mysterious, self-contained, cosmopolitan community known as The Village. All the Village’s inhabitants are known merely by numbers, McGoohan is Number 6.

And the themes of "The Prisoner"? The rise of a police state, perversion of freedom of the individual, and of the science and the nature of man.

I write this in my house which 1431. That's a scientific description of the house - one thousand four hundred and thirty one meters down the road.

Thomas O. Scarborough said...

That sounds very French. In the case of no. 1251 above, this house was built as part of South Africa's Reconstruction and Development Programme. I am told that it was the 1251st house to be erected in the township. So no. 1252 lies wherever the builders went next. That could well be in another street. Which all serves to confirm the words of Albert Einstein, ‘As far as the laws of mathematics refer to reality, they are not certain; and as far as they are certain, they do not refer to reality.’

docmartincohen said...

Yes, there is a bizarre element to the French system too though. My street has only 12 houses on it! So my address seems vey misleading, and my neighbours are nos. 257 and 784 or something. "Who knows?"

Tessa den Uyl said...

Here we are 3 houses and I am 540! Were the French inspired by their Italian neighbors? The mailboxes find themselves downhill, before the counting with meters starts.

Keith said...

Not to overstate it, but I suspect there’s an anthropology-related quality to house numbers, reflecting the culture of each country. In England, my last house number was 64 — simple and unpretentious. And, in an obviously utilitarian way, sequential, indicating nothing more than mine was the 64th house on the road. In the States, my last house number was 6500 — arguably bold and brash, and unrelated to the number of houses on the road (of which there were only 6, not 6,500!). The ‘1251’ here seems to fit the latter model — though I wonder if, in counting the number of houses being built in the township, whether the developer really started with 1. Does, perhaps, the approach to numbering houses reflect cultural penchants and idiosyncrasies?

Thomas O. Scarborough said...

An interesting question, Keith. In my mind's eye, I already see a coffee table book on the subject.

Maybe the Italians, Tessa, had a prime minister with shares in number-making? That would add an interesting twist.

docmartincohen said...

"In my mind's eye, I already see a coffee table book on the subject. "

- Too late, Thomas!

docmartincohen said...

..."Its narrative will alter the way you walk around a city, as these seemingly minor, insignificant aspects of our houses and streets become links to a broad and fascinating history."

Thomas O. Scarborough said...

Well, it's nice to know one had a winning idea.

Tessa den Uyl said...

Does this tell something about our (lacking) cleverness? :-)

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