The day is Saturday, the month is October and – joy of joys – it is Open House weekend. This event gives people like the Mother the chance to sit places of interest for free. Places which usually charge an entrance fee of somewhere between £5.00 and “Jesus, there’s no way I’m paying that”. The two-day event gives the oi polloi the opportunity to walk around people’s very expensive and stylish homes. They get to admire the architecture and design of a property while at the same time thinking, “Fucking hell, why can’t I live in a house like this?”
The Mother loves Open House weekend as it provides free entertainment for her and her children for two whole days. Today, the plan is to get the children out of the house very early so they can visit as many places as possible.
This isn’t the only reason for the early start. A few minutes ago, Jason came home after finishing a 12-hour night shift, and it is very important that he gets some sleep. Jason gets very upset when he is woken up post-shift and will shout things like, “Will you two kids keep the fucking noise down? I’m trying to sleep!”
The Mother is in charge of making sure the kids keep the fucking noise down, and it is a very stressful job.
“Where do you want to go then, kids?” says the Mother, handing them the Open House leaflet. Esme says she wants to go to the Eiffel Tower. The Mother must explain once again that that particular building is not in Southwark, or in fact anywhere in the London area. Aaron wants to stay at home and chill out. “Chilling out” means lying in bed all day, texting and watching videos. While chilling out, he will fix himself various snacks and as many hot chocolates as he could possibly make in one day before running out of mugs. The kitchen would end up looking like a bomb had hit it. The boy produces washing-up like China produces plastic toys!
So the Mother explains there is to be no chilling out this weekend and that he should get dressed, do his teeth and pick his bloody clothes up off the floor. The Mother feels certain she has explained the purpose of his washing basket.
In preparation for the day, the Mother has bought lots of cheap drinks and snacks from Iceland. Her plan, as always, is to show her kids you can have a fulfilling and exciting day out without spending much money. She has made some sandwiches, sliced up some fruit, printed out a map, found an umbrella, packed her bag, and is ready to go. After an hour of pissing about, the kids are ready too. Well, they are ready-ish. Aaron is dressed, not in clean clothes but at least in clothes that still fit him. Neither child has brushed their hair, but Esme has brushed their teeth, and Aaron says he has. “Come on,” says the Mother, “let’s go and see how the other half live.”
Star Jumps for Jesus
Their first stop was to a small church just past Waterloo. It’s wasn’t somewhere she’d planned to go to. It fact it wasn’t even part of the Open House Weekend, but Esme needed the toilet and the Mother had listened to about us much of Rihana on Speakerphone, as she could take. They jumped off the bus just after crossing the river. Not literally, although she had come close to taking the plunge that when they’d crossed the Thames. Aaron, had stayed on the bus telling them he’d see them later. Well he said Laters what every that fucking meant
After a quick visit to the toilet, they walk quietly into the nave. Instantly, the Mother is hit by a waft of incense. It is a strangely pleasant smell and one which instantly relaxes the Mother. As they continue walking, the smell of incense fades and another scent drifts through the air. It is the smell of the wooden pews. This smell is much stronger and follows the Mother wherever she goes. It permeates the church, lingering in every corner and crevice. The smell of the church is so different from the London streets outside.
The smell is not the only thing that’s different. Inside, there is beauty everywhere. The walls are adorned with huge, great paintings in vibrant, bold colours. Then there are the fragments of colour on the church floor, created by the beams of light coming through the stained glass windows. And overseeing all this is a magnificent gold eagle, perched high up on the lectern. Outside, it’s mostly just McDonald’s wrappers, pigeons and rain.
Just below the gigantic bird is a table covered with tiny candles burning brightly. They too help to create a calm and serenity. The Mother begins to feel relaxed, which is unusual for her, particularly when in the presence of her own children.
Esme asks what the little candles are for. The Mother, who is not a frequent visitor to this or indeed any religious building says, “I think you light a candle to remember someone who has died.”
Esme thinks this is a lovely idea and asks, “Can we light a candle for Aunty Edna?” The Mother says that they cannot light one for Edna yet as she is still alive.
“Are you sure?” asks Esme.
The Mother’s memory is not what it used to be, but she is pretty sure that particular aunt is still alive.
“I’ll call my mum tonight and check,” the Mother tells Esme, just to be on the safe side.
Next, Esme turns her attention to the paintings. The Mother attempts to explain to her daughter the religious symbolism within them, It’s not a long talk. Then, for several minutes, they walk around, looking at these great works of art. Then they both notice something almost hidden from view. Something you could easily miss if you weren’t walking as slowly as you possibly could, trying to kill time with your kids, skint on a Saturday afternoon. Tucked away in a small alcove in the corner of the church is a statue of the Virgin Mary. There she stands in a shaft of light, cradling the lifeless body of Jesus Christ in her outstretched arms.
So expertly carved is the statue that the long blue robe and white dress could easily be mistaken for fabric. The Madonna is looking up at the heavens with sorrow, tears rolling down her cheeks. A small crowd of worshippers are also looking at the effigy, forming a crescent around her. The group are deep in conversation but speak only in whispers. Upon noticing the statue, Esme slips past the gathering, kneels down in front of Mary and says quietly, “I’m going to pray to Jesus.” There is a collective “Ahh” from the group, and they all turn now to look at a little girl in stripy leggings kneeling before the Mother of God. There is silence as Esme put her hands on her knees, closes her eyes, and lowers her head.
The Mother is a little surprised to see that Esme had adopted the Muslim style of prayer. Blimey, she has even taken her shoes off, well at least she’s picked up something from those RE lessons. “I just hope she’s facing Mecca,” thinks the Mother. “Of course, her grandad would be turning in his grave if he could see her now. So it was probably a good job he’d been cremated.” Ah, yes, Grandad is dead! They could have lit a candle for him if, of course, he hadn’t been such an insufferable bastard in life. Still, he is dead now – that’s the main thing.
But perhaps even her grandad’s heart would have melted looking at Esme right now. For this is truly a mesmerizing sight. For a second, not a sound can be heard in the entire church. A tiny speck of dust floats in the air and is illuminated by the shard of light from a window high up in the church. At that moment, a candle, unnoticed, silently goes out.
Also, at that moment, Esme stands up and begins jumping wildly, flailing her arms and legs around and shouting, “One, two, three, four, five!” What the fuck?! The Mother doesn’t know where to look. What the hell is she doing?
“Star jumps for Jesus,” hollers Esme, as the Mother looks away. Ah, yes, star jumps for Jesus of course. And after the star jumps come the handstands and then the cartwheels.
“Look, Mummy, watch my one-handed cartwheel.”
But the Mother is not watching. She is, in fact, walking straight to the exit. Except it is a funny kind of walk she is doing. It is the kind of walk a shoplifter might do if she’d just stuffed a bottle of vodka into the ripped lining of her coat. Not that she has ever done this of course, this is just speculation, you understand.
Later, the Mother will have a big chat with her daughter about religion and things she can and can’t do in a church, or a mosque for that matter.
Esme runs to catch up with her mum.
“Mummy,” she says, “can I ask you something?”
“Of course, darling.”
“Have we finished looking around the church now?”
“Yes, we have, sweetie.”
“Ah, good. Can I ask another question?”
“Yes,” replies the Mother.
“I just wanted to know why Jesus Christ was named after a swear word.”
“Um, well, that’s an interesting question,” says the Mother.
“God and Jesus is definitely something we need to talk about later, but right now why don’t we go and get a nice hot chocolate?”
“Yeah,” shouts Esme happily. “Is that my prize for going somewhere educational and boring with you?”
“Yes,’ sighs the Mother, “that’s your prize.”
A roof over one’s head
After spending the weekend nosing around other people’s homes, the Mother is bothered by something. Something was missing from this whole event. An absence of something, but what?
There wasn’t a lack of bespoke sapele joinery and glass. If anything, there was too much of that. Nor was there a shortage of Georgian brick houses with modern adaptations, including solar panelling. As for homes with interconnected semi-open-plan rooms, well, they were in abundance. So what was it? What did the Open House weekend lack? Then it comes to her in a flash – social housing. Where were the council flats with their cheap generic kitchens and retractable washing lines above the bath?
She has to do something about this, redress the balance as it were. There and then, she decides that next year she too will take part in the event. After all, it seems grossly unfair that rich people do not get to see how the other half live too.
There must be literally thousands of unfortunate people out there who’ve never had the opportunity to walk around a council estate. Worse still, they’ve missed out on a view of London from the 16th floor of a tower block. Yes, the bar at the Tate Modern isn’t the only place where you can get a good view of the city. It seems unfair that they should be denied this experience. With trepidation, she begins work on the visitor guide.
Originally designed and built during the Victorian era, this house once housed a very wealthy family. Several decades later, however, its appearance and the social standing of its tenants have both changed somewhat. Now owned by the Peckham Heights housing association, this once splendid property has been repurposed and made into two separate flats. Once upon a time, the house could have been the setting for a period drama. The condition on the property has deteriorated so badly now that if you saw anyone filming, you’d know a new horror film was in the making.
For anyone wondering how the shabby and rundown appearance has been achieved, the secret is several decades of poor upkeep coupled with the use of low-cost materials for any maintenance work.
First, we have the kitchen, pay attention to the creative use of space. The family has managed to create a dining area by adding in a fold-out table. The table is precariously connected to the wall using two hinges. Although there is only room at the table for one or possibly two people at a time, this isn’t necessarily a problem. Mealtimes for this family of four are simply staggered. Instead of the courses arriving at different points in the evening, the diners do.
If you look under the kitchen table, you will notice a small fridge, cleverly tucked away. Tenants in the social housing sector are highly skilled at utilising tiny gaps and crevices in their accommodation. A cupboard becomes a spare bedroom. A kitchen, well, it’s not just a kitchen, more a kitchen/dining room/study area. Does this home have an outdoor space? Yes, of course, it has a dilapidated old balcony with a window box.
Until very recently, one could still find some charming little London flats which boasted a bathtub in the kitchen. This unique and unusual kitchen/bathroom design is a classic feature of post-war architecture. This ingenious idea of creating two rooms in one allows tenants to make a sandwich while also shaving their legs.
Don’t leave the kitchen withoutlooking through the windows at the view of the back garden. Notice how the poor design of the flat allows tenants to see a rear garden to which they have no access. What a pain in the arse, and best of all, this design flaw means that on the north side of the house, they can never, ever get their windows cleaned. Talk about a faux pas.
Take a peek in the corner cupboard, which is home to toiletries and medicines. This area has been created as the bathroom is so compact, it has no space for a cabinet or shelves.
Another unusual feature of the kitchen is the slanting floor. A marble would literally roll from one side to the other if you placed it in front of the washing machine. This effect has been achieved by years of neglect, subsidence, and by the housing association refusing to pay for the floor to be rehung.
Moving on to the landing, you can see a repaired plug socket. Look at the state the electrician has left the wall in, knocking the plaster out and then not giving a shit about the nuance it creates. Where’s the Poles when you need them?! This kind of workmanship is rarely seen in private homes. However, it is an exquisite feature of many Peckham Heights properties.
Now, moving along the landing to the bathroom, you will discover two massive, great bikes in the way.What a stupid place to put them.
One might ask why these aren’t in the shed in the garden.
There isn’t one.
Chained up outside?
Tried that, the last bike still got nicked.
In the downstairs hallway, perhaps?
Also tried but were informed it was a fire hazard.
Hanging up on big hooks in the stairs?
Again tried, but the brickwork and plaster were so weak that the hooks came down, and the bike fell off the wall. So you see the problem.
Still, the bathroom can be easily accessed if one simply does a little dance down the hallway, stomach in, turn, now twist and, well done, you’ve made it. Although getting in is relatively simple, if you remember the dance steps, getting out may prove more difficult. To exit, tenants must ensure their bottom is pressed up against the sink in order to allow enough space for the door to open inward. While admiring the bathroom, take some time to examine the workmanship and quality of the materials used, which are technically known as“absolute shit”. Peckham Heights, who only refurbish the bathroom every 15 years, clearly used the cheapest materials they could get their hands on. They also did the job on the fly. After three years, there are already cracks appearing in the paintwork, and the panelling is coming away.
Again, see how space has been utilised here, with the airer placed in the bath to allow clothes to dry, albeit very slowly. The tiny space at the end of the bath has been used to store a skateboard. There is even a cat litter tray in here. One wonders if Victoria Beckham ever has to find somewhere else to put the airer when she wants a bath. And where on earth she keeps her skateboard and cat litter tray.
Moving on to the front room, if you look up, you will see a motif which is repeated throughout the property – a long crack in the ceiling. The housing association has said that these cracks are “unavoidable and cannot be repaired”. This is strange as everyone on the Mother’s road who actually owns their property seems to have no difficulty in getting builders to rectify this problem.
Regardless of the worrying cracks in the ceiling, this is still a very important area of the home. What makes the front room quite distinctive is that it is also used as a study, dining area and guest bedroom. Consistent with Victorian architecture, the room boasts three large, ornate sash windows. These beautiful windows allow light to flood into the front room. They also allow the tenants to keep an eye on the street below and catch a glimpse of the gobshiteswho keep trying to break into their car.
The rustic look of the walls in the box bedroom has been created by the tenants removing three layers of dated wallpaper,revealing crumbling plaster which can be dated back to the Roman era. Sadly,the characteristic look of the rest of the propertyis not continued in this room as there is no sign of cracks in the ceiling.
The final stop is the master bedroom.Or is that what it is? Clearly, one can see a double bed at one end of the room and a child’s bed at the other. The room has been cleverly split into two bedrooms using an Ikea shelf unit, essentially creating a third bedroom in the property. Necessity is after all the mother of invention.
One must not forget the garden, which is completely inaccessible. The entrance to the front garden has been cleverly blocked with dustbins. The ugly wall which has been built around the bins is an early example of fascist architecture – a style rarely seen now. With access to the garden all but impossible, tenants can always sit on the doorstep if they want to capture that outdoor feeling. Sunbathing, however, is slightly trickier.
All in all, this property provides a unique insight into the lives of working-class people. It is a must-see in this year’s collection of properties. If you would like to visit this flat, please arrive early as long queues are expected, possibly up to an hour. Although this should be a walk in the park compared to the amount of time the tenants have been waiting to be rehoused. Six years and counting.