Sunday, September 18, 2011

Open House London 2011

If you're really organized, you would have hit all the Open House London hotspots this weekend and taken advantage of free entry to hundreds of buildings in London that aren't usually open to the public, like the Bank of England, for example, or the 120 Fleet Street which was formerly headquarters of the Daily Express -its particular art deco design still drawing sighs of awe today.  I visited 120 Fleet Street and the Freemasons' Hall in Covent Garden with Iain about two or three years ago during Open House London; we completed a tour of both and usually these tours are quite loosely structured so that people have the chance to wander and explore/experience the buildings themselves.  It's truly a magnificent thing and I wish that I put more effort into planning and attending this event each year.  But I suppose it's one of those cases of taking where I live for granted.

But this morning, after a leisurely lunch at Gail's in Exmouth Market, John and I stumbled upon an Open House event taking place at the Oak Room in New River Head - former boardroom to London's 17th-century water house.  Unbeknownst to us, it was pre-bookings only (meaning: one of the rare occasions where you need to sign up and register to view some of the more popular attractions) but we tagged along, pretending to be part of the - might I add - small group.  That is, until a busybody blew our cover.

"Is everyone here?" asked the guide from Thames Water.  "I think there are a few latecomers but we'll get started anyway."  "THESE two just joined in, I don't think THEY'VE booked," said a dumpy, red-haired woman at the front of the group, pointing an accusing finger at us.  Her similarly overweight husband carrying a plastic Shakespeare's Globe bag swiveled his cartoon-sheep-t-shirt-torso (sorry, I couldn't help but point out this one, infuriating detail) towards us to glare.  "I didn't see them being checked in outside," the fat woman continued.  I started laughing involuntarily.  I'm so bad.  I just didn't know there were vigilant Open House London Gestapo patrolling the sites.  "Oh, did you book?" asked the guide kindly, whilst the group of six stared at us.  "No, no," said John apologetically, shaking his head.  The woman looked gleeful and shook her head.  "Well, that's quite alright, don't worry, you can still join!  We just ask that people book in case we turn out to have a big group," said the guide kindly.  The woman spluttered and turned an angry red, shrugging her shoulders and gesticulating with her hands.  Ah yes, you pathetic person.  Suck it (sorry, mom - I won't ever use that language again, but it's so appropriate in this instance).

Anyway, it turns out that this building that I walk past every day on my route to work was once home to the Metropolitan Water Board and that the grassy area it faces was a reservoir.  Who would have known?  Today, the offices have been converted into luxury apartments (and luxurious they are, I can assure you - I saw a photo in the lobby of one for sale ... list price of £2.5 million) and the Oak Room is open for the residents' use.  I envisioned my very own karaoke party there until The Giant Pimple (what I decided to rename the nosy woman) began snapping hundreds of photos (USING FLASH) in the revered Oak Room.  The guide explained the history behind the intricate carvings that decorated the walls of the room and drew our attention to the ornate plaster depicting country scenes and the ceiling, which featured two coats of arms and a portrait of William the III, staring benevolently down at those sitting at the table of the boardroom.

Exiting New River Head, John and I felt slightly better about having attended just one Open House event and left The Giant Pimple to torture the guide with her incessant and unnecessary questions.  Until next year ...

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