3 July 2009


Did you ever have the feeling that there was nothing you wanted to say? Silence and solitude are greatly under-rated phenomena. In this world there is so much chattering, so much endless babbling. It's where ever you go. Telephones and mobile phones invisibly fill the air with tangled webs linking A with B and X with Y. It's as if the planet is like one of those enormous rubber band balls that bored office workers make. In pub gardens the chattering goes on, in schools, in hospitals, old people's homes, factories, shops - an endless chain of words.

But in Isabella Purves's top floor flat on Rodney Street in Edinburgh, Scotland there was complete silence for five long years. Nobody came to chatter the day away. No one telephoned. Occasionally, the whistling postman pushed mail through her letter box. It piled up on the mat. Five years worth of mail - reminders from the optician, pizza menus, voting registration cards, bank statements. And this pile would have grown bigger if it hadn't been for a plumbing fault which caused water to drip into the flat below. That's when the neighbours, the authorities, the health service, long lost acquaintances, the postman and the rest of us learnt that Isabella probably died in 2004.

On the ground floor of her tenement there is a flower shop - "Fioritalia". Its owner remembered Isabella: "She would sometimes weed the communal garden at the front of the tenements and I used to see her with a huge rucksack and big walking boots... but I never knew where she was going." ...Well do any of us know where we are going? Yet we know where Isabella finished: alone and stone dead for five long summers and five cold winters. In my estimation, we are all partly responsible and this unnoticed death is just as blameworthy as the heart-rending "Baby P" case in Haringey.
...Later, I notice that the only picture we have seen of Isabella is a passport photograph. You can tell by the squiggles to the right. Where was she going I wonder? And what sort of a life did she lead in her younger days? There must have been work, family, friends, happy occasions. How sad that it should all end in a lonesome flat where nobody, not one single soul in the entire world, thought to check on her welfare. Nonetheless, there is a steeliness in those eyes - a firmness of purpose and a certain self-belief that suggests that Isabella was perfectly self-sufficient. I hope she died peacefully in her sleep.


  1. I can't believe this poor woman died and no one knew for years...
    It doesn't seem possible the way we are so linked in to the world. Did she have no family who could check on her? Bless her soul.

  2. How bizarre and also how unbelievably sad.

  3. Anonymous3:52 am

    Like everyone else I was shocked to hear this on the news...how curious that there was no-one in her life at all that missed her enough to check on her and how sad to think of her there for such a long time......

  4. I don't know though.... if she died peacefully, why not just rest in her own much loved home, not bothering anyone?
    The truly sad thing is her obvious lack of friends.


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