Sunday, 28 September 2014

Open House London 2014

This weekend was yet another where I ended up feeling rather like I was on holiday, not in London at all. I think this feeling has to be one of my favourite things about London; the way its cultural diversity means that you often find yourself stepping outside of 'England', just by stepping into a new or less familiar area.

Although this weekend may not have been spent solely in 'new' areas, it was spent discovering new places, and proved absolutely fascinating!

Open House London is an event across the city where more than 850 buildings are open to the general public for free. I was aware of it happening last year, but as it is only for one short weekend, it passed me by before I knew it and I missed the opportunity to explore! As soon as I saw posters appearing for this year's event, I noted the dates down in my diary and made the executive decision that I was going to get involved.

Between my own ideas and helpful suggestions from a Knowledge Boy, an extensive list was compiled and a route mapped out. So our journey began!

Saturday got off to a slow start as the dreaded Cold had struck me down at the end of the week. Nevertheless, not one to mope around and feel sorry for myself, I was determined still to get out and about! So I headed to the unfamiliar territory of Canning Town for our first port of call; Trinity Wharf Buoy/Container City.

Canning Town felt a little like South Lynn extreme; an industrial area with some houses and vehicles creeping by at a steady rate. The area was very sparce, and slightly tricky to navigate as a pedestrian, but we finally wound our way out in pursuit of the wharf (which I have only recently discovered stands for 'warehouse along river front'; mind blown). We saw where we were headed long before we reached it, as brightly coloured containers poked out above old warehouse buildings with the O2 standing boldly behind, the Emirates Airline running across the river to the left. After taking a little detour for a pretty view of the O2, we swiftly walked through an organised tour in order to discover the place for ourselves. Like a film set, there was plenty to catch the eye. Not only full of interesting things to see, the area also houses some sonic art installations; one that might be likened to a minature pipe organ, played by the tide, the other a computer run composition to last 1000 years. The latter was set inside London's only lighthouse which made for a surreal experience all round!

At least an hour later, we managed to tear ourselves away so to continue our quest. It was at this point (if not before) that we realised 13 ports of call was far too ambitious if we were going to be so enthralled by each of them! Nevertheless, we also decided at this point that we were already having a great day!

Our next stop (after a very tasty lunch break at Wahaca) was one of great interest; a partially-completed station at Canary Wharf forming part of the new Crossrail network. It was here that we encountered the very well-spoken adventurers, keeping us well amused with their ridiculous comments and expectations. Having spent many years (I think, or maybe it just felt that way) living in a building site when we moved into our current family home, there is something nostalgic about the smell and sight of bare materials. Getting what felt like a special preview of the station currently without its escalators, fixed lighting, working lifts (that was a little scary) and hoards of commuters, was a very special experience indeed. I can't wait to visit again when it opens for use!

Before heading for home, we made one final stop at Samuel Johnson's house, writer of the first English dictionary, and man whose quote I knew before I knew who he was:
'When a man tires of London, he is tired of life'

I think we were both a little disappointed by the way the house has now been gutted to accommodate the museum, but there were still narrow, rickety stairs and a sweet gift shop to keep us entertained. It is interesting to think of the power held by a man who writes a dictionary!

Sunday arrived, and after an unpleasantly early start to walk the dog (which was actually more than pleasant once I was out of bed and wandering around a still slightly misty Wimbledon Common trying to spot Wombles! Not to mention the Full English upon our return), this time we began in South London at a Buddhist Temple. The fact that 4 acres of land with a Buddhist Temple in the middle of it even exists in Wimbledon was quite astonishing enough! The temple in question was small but beautiful on the outside; brilliant white with red detail and gold which glinted in the sunshine. Off came our shoes and we stepped inside where we were greeted by a very friendly Buddhist lady who drew our attention to the most vivid murals covering wall to ceiling, and a huge shrine at the front of the room.

The murals were unbelievably hypnotic, and presented a mixture of Buddhist tradition with the modern world as machine guns were held in the trunks of elephants, the Mona Lisa hid in a corner, brightly coloured mohecans stood out above a crowd of robed monks and Maggie Thatcher sat on a chair in a corner watching a crowd of worshippers. We were told that as the temple was built in the late 70's, early 80's, the artist had decided to include a large number of references to life at the time so the place would also act as a time capsule. I think we could have stayed there all day.

However, we eventually tore ourselves away again and headed back home for a re-fuel before setting off into Central London again. Having learnt our lesson from Saturday, we only had a list of 3 this time. However I don't think we were expecting to be so absorbed by the temple, so number 2 was missed and instead the next port of call was a Livery Hall; the Barber-Surgeon Hall.

I'm still not entirely sure I understand Livery Halls, but I'm intrigued so may have to do a little bit of further research. On our way to the Barber-Surgeon Hall, we passed by a few others, and they certainly are grand buildings!

Too caught up again to think about lunchtime, our stomach's suddenly reminded us that heading straight for food after our visit was a good idea. So we ended up with picnic food which we ate at St Paul's; how idyllic!

After two full days of scaling London, we were ready for home, but not before locating a cosy pub in the Leadenhall Market for a drink or two (it was only 4 o'clock at this point, after all!).

Already counting down the days to the next Open House! Although the wonderful thing about the event is that it has also opened our eyes (or mine at least) to lots of buildings and points of interest around the city that we could actually visit at any time of year; how very exciting!