So this year, for the first time ever, I wrote a list of the places I wanted to check out for open house and then on Saturday morning set out to visit them. It was quite a surreal and interesting experience. In total, I visited 7 places, each special in its own way. I stuck to the south of London (mainly the south east) and with the overground trains down I found most the places I picked to be relatively quiet.
I think open house is a fantastic initiative, to be able to access places that may otherwise be inaccessible- however I hafta admit for me there were a few things I wasn't so sure about. I wasn't really sure about all the doors being open. It seemed almost too easy. See I like to make impromptu visits, I like to knock on doors and barge into places I'm not supposed to barge into, I like to ask questions, to connect with the place, and to the people that make a place a place, I like to render a space my own- I don't like being bound by time, to be watching the clock, or wondering what my next stop will be. I don't like tours. Often they seem too ordinary, - dare I say it, dull! Rather, it's so much better to just discover places and experience them on your own accord, on your own terms- I'm not sure if open house enables you to do that. I guess it's a bit more rigid and impersonal- of course it has to be!
Nevertheless, throughout my open house journey I discovered some really fantastic places and met some interesting people and learnt more about some of London's hidden secrets, microcosms of activity and movement. For me, the best thing about open house, is the fact that through it, I've discovered even more amazing places. This is where my journey took me....
1) Oily Cart- the magical headquarters of a theatre company. Oily Cart is fifteen minutes away from where I live, yet I never knew it existed until I stumbled across it in the open house guide. It was the gold lift that really captured my imagination and the concept behind the theatre. Oily Cart works entirely with children, many with complex disabilities, and often behind closed doors in special schools. Technically the doors weren't open when I got there 10am on the dot. I rung the buzzer and this young guy came down and let me in, he said he was still putting the signs up and I that I was free to explore. I did, and as I wandered in, there in front of me stood the glorious gold lift, I walked up and met a woman and her kids. She kindly showed me around the empty workshops where they build sets and costumes for their magical plays comprised of water and smoke and music and colour, a while later, I left (sadly, not via the lift)
2) I noticed that Burntwood school, my old secondary school was on the list for open house. I didn't plan on going, but seeing as the theatre was relatively close to it and my bus wasn't coming, I decided to take a detour. It was really strange being there, I felt like I was trespassing. I spent years breaking out of my school and now here I was breaking into it, the irony! There were music students everywhere, I think there was a concert taking place. There was no sign of tour guides or green stickers. One lady said to me 'are you lost?' there outside the hall of my old school, once a dump, now an academy- so cold and unfamiliar. I nodded. Yes, I am. I'm lost. I think I spent a total of 5 minutes in my school before escaping. I headed to Elephant and Castle and got the bus to Peckham, and my next stop.
3) Caroline Gardens Chapel. Everything about this place was beautiful, beautiful and sad and atmospheric and melancholic and holy. When I walked inside, I gazed around in admiration, I sat on a wooden chair, I took photos, and wandered and looked to the coloured eastern peeling paint, the broken stained glass windows. Caroline Gardens Chapel was everything I wanted it to be- and more.
4) After a long time waiting for a rail replacement bus and relatively quick journey through the south east, I ended up outside my next stop, the Brunel Museum. I noticed a whole group of people going down some funny stairs when I got there and so I followed them on a whim and ended up in the shaft of a tunnel with the people. I think I accidentally attached myself onto a tour. I sat awkwardly wondering if I'd get kicked out as a man spoke about the audacious Isambard Kingdom Brunel, the dreamer, the visionary, the pioneer- the man who created the tunnel under the river, through which people walked, and children played, the circus, the fairground- magic....london....mystique
5) Next up I was joined by a friend and together we headed to Sands Picture Library and Film Studio. Sands is a world of its own, with its cosy secret cinema, and stacks and stacks of pictures and the set and costumes and dyes and bits and pieces and strange and wonderful characters - a labyrinth, a self-contained creative microcosm, lost in time, though it very much isn't. I'd been wanting to visit Sands for years, and was really glad I finally made it.
6) St Mary's Church- we popped into this grand, beautiful church, by a playground and a graveyard I know well, memories of times gone by- peace perfect peace and in solitude, where we are least alone.
7) Our final stop was the Old Mortuary, we were the last people in. The Old Mortuary. It was a bit grey and morbid, but not nearly as grey and morbid as I imagined it would be. She told us about dead bodies hung, drained, washed up on river shores. Time and time ago- a strange end to a strange day.
In the end I visited only a few places on my list, but most of the places I wanted to visit are open all year round, alternatively you can book an appointment. I guess its just about making the effort and making the time. In a rush, its hard to absorb the beauty of the places, and often others' experiences will effect yours, better then to go it alone, at your own pace, when the world is unaware- See everyday has potential to be open house. Knock on doors, don't wait for them to be open. Still, I'm glad I gave it a go and I'm glad I picked south london! South is king! On a (not so) different note I still haven't started gotten anywhere with my guide book, but I'm planning on getting somewhere with it....eventually.