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john davies
notes from a small vicar
from a parish
in Liverpool, UK

    Monday, August 06, 2007
    A claim on a hole in the sky

    Cujus est solum, ejus est usque ad coelum et ad inferos ("Whoever owns the ground, it is his from the depths of the earth to the heights of the sky.")

    I had this legal dictum in mind as I passed the site of the old St John's House today, once officially the sickest building in Europe, and where I worked for five years suffering frequent colds because of the ventilation hotspots / icespots, and dodgy stomachs through the legionella traces in the water. No wonder they demolished it eventually; the only wonder was why it took them so long.

    I had this legal dictum in mind because Eyal Weizman quotes it at the front of his new book Hollow Land: Israel's Architecture of Occupation, an apt introduction to what looks like a great work of geopolitical investigation.

    But passing the place where St John's house once stood I got to wondering about who owns that air space now. I mean 'owns' in a more than legal sense; more in recognition of the way that when we worked there that space was 'ours', our conversations, our routines, our industry (our skiving and conniving), gave that space its 'air' (while the air conditioning system gave out its sickness).

    Rather like the spaces once occupied by people's homes in the recently-demolished tower blocks in our area, I think that these bits of sky freshly appearing above the rubble can't be neutral space. They may be clear now but while memory and spirit endure they'll never be empty. I suspect that the gulls gliding through there today still encounter an arena of voices spoken, loves requited and lost, toil, joys and tears. So ok, in law, the air space on the SJH site is now owned by the government's PFI 'partners'. But I think I and my ex-collegues have still got quite a claim on that hole in the sky over Merton Road, Bootle.