One of the best, and perhaps also the worst, things about doing this marathon is having to go all over London to get to these venues. To areas that I have never been to before, have no reason to go to again, and could possibly have spent my entire life without ever visiting.
Last night was the turn of Barnes. A place I had only vaguely heard of, and had to Google multiple times to double check that it was actually in London.
Getting off the train in a sleepy looking village didn’t help matters.
As I walked down the lane (yes, a literal lane) I felt like I was stepping back in time, all the way back to my teen years when I lived in Somerset and would take the train to visit friends in neighbouring counties, a huge bag slung over my back and the hoot of owls chasing me down the dark roads, praying that there would be a car waiting for me at the corner.
With the towering shadows cast by the woodland to my left, I could almost convince myself that I was 15 again. Almost.
Except the West Country air never smelt quite so thick, and the roar of cars just beyond the tree line helped remind me that yes, this was, technically, London.
Gradually, the lane widened. Streetlamps emerged. And houses replaced the trees.
Big old houses.
Big old Victorian houses. With decorative windows and fancy flourishes.
I followed the road further. More houses. A hair salon. A church.
So, this was Barnes.
It was tolerable, but not handsome enough to tempt me... Nu uh. No way.
But just as I was crossing Barnes off my list of places to live, I spotted something. A sign.
“The Gothic Cottage.”
Barnes is one of those former villages that at some point over the past hundred years got gobbled up by the great monster that is London. I haven’t looked that up. I don’t need to. You can see it in a thousand different ways, from the village green to the cars parked up on the pavement. But most telling up all is the lack of front gardens. Houses are built right up to the road. Or rather, the road stretches right up to the front doors of the homes that line it.
Which meant that all I could see of this Gothic Cottage was an expanse of white wall.
So, obviously I cross the road to get a look at it.
Ah. Now I see why people live here.
House-hunting now concluded satisfactorily, it was time to make my way over to the next theatre on my list. The OSO Arts Centre.
Except, where the hell was it?
I looked down at the Google Maps screen on my phone, and then up at the street. I should be there.
Except I wasn’t.
Instead I appeared to be standing in front of a rather depressing looking office block.
Trusting the theatre gods would not lead me so far astray, I checked OSO’s website.
“The OSO entrance is at the rear of the building and faces Barnes Green, so you need to walk around the corner from Côte Brasserie to find us.”
Ah ha! I could see the Côte Brasserie. I walked around the corner and…
For the first time in this marathon, I actually stopped to take a few photos of the venue’s view before the venue itself.
Even in the dark I could tell it was rather fine. A lake. Trees. A wide flat green.
I wish I hadn’t wasted my trip on a wet March evening. This is intended as a summer view, for sure.
Oh well. That’s something to look forward to for next year, I guess.
Up the stairs, through the door and I manage to almost bump into a tiny desk, standing sentinel by the entrance.
“Are you taking names?” I asked the lady behind it, noticing the print out covered in tiny check-marks.
“I am. What’s yours?”
A second later I was ticked off and handed over to the programme seller.
“Would you like a programme?”
“I would,” I said, committing myself to programme ownership before I had even asked the price.
They were two pounds. My bank-balance would survive to live another day.
“I keep my pound coins seperatly,” I explain as I open my purse. “So I'm well prepared.”
She laughed at that. “I'm very impressed,” she said sweetly.
“So am I,” I agreed. I really was. I'm not usually anywhere near so organised. But I'd had a bit of a wait while buying my afternoon slice of cake at the Sadler's cafe earlier that day, and I'd made good use of the time.
From the programme seller they tried to pass me off to the bar, but my days as a passed-parcel were destined to be over. I had no more layers to unwrap. Taking a sly sidestep I went the other direction, diving deep into the cafe, with its long wooden tables and pot plants. And signs. Little signs on all the tables. Little signs that were significantly less happy-making than The Gothic Cottage.
“Please keep the tables free for our adult customers to meet up, work, drink coffee, chat. Thank you.”
Wow, that’s… okay.
Here am I, in my thirties, and I’m back in my school uniform for the second time of an evening. Except this time I wasn’t having a slightly hung-over stumble down a country-lane, but was instead hopping from foot-to-foot outside the local petrol station, waiting for friends to finish buying up all the Quavers, as apparently bad things happen if more than three teenagers are in a shop at the same time.
Look, I’m not the most kid-friendly person in the world, so perhaps I’m the wrong person to criticise this but… no, wait. That’s exactly why I’m a great person to denounce this nonsense. I’m not a born baby-cooer and yet I still think signs like this utterly obnoxious…
Why should non-adult customers (and given the language use of the sign, there is no reason to presume they are not customers) have to give way to adults? Is their coin any less valuable?
And if they are not in fact customers, then OSO could just as well write that on the sign. “Please keep the tables free for our customers.” No need to bring age into it. Or their preferential table use for that matter.
Look, I get it. You've had a hard day and just want to sit down with your coffee in peace, but there's all these young people cluttering up the place with their weird fashions, strange words you don't understand, and cruel laughter that you're pretty sure is aimed at you. But as bad as children are, adults are worse. Let's be real, grownups are total jerks. Let's not teach kids what disrespect looks like before they've had the chance to develop it naturally.
As if to prove my point, an older couple came over to the table I was sitting at and without an "excuse me" or even a "do you mind" they dumped their belongings all over it with such force that it wobbled on its sturdy legs. All despite the fact that there was an empty table next door to us, just waiting to be cluttered up with their heavy bags.
After long minutes of table-rocking as they made themselves comfortable, one of them noticed something.
"There's no light here," the man half gasped, suddenly deciding our table was not fit for purpose. He got up, smashing the chairs around so violently that an usher rushed over to help.
Chair now fully subdued, he rampaged around, waving his programme, saying that it didn't contain any information about the play.
“There's no synopsis,” he said, failing to notice the page dedicated to introducing each of the three short plays we’d be watching that evening, and the logic of not including a synopsis in a programme. Theatre has a very long history of trying not to spoil the stories they are telling before they even have the chance to tell them. “Keep the secrets,” didn’t start with J.K. Rowling.
Somehow I don't think it's the kids that the OSO should be worrying about...
When the house eventually opened, I made sure to sit as far away from him as possible, tucking myself away at the end of a row.
The OSO's theatre is just that. A proper theatre, if a small one, with a bank of raked seats overlooking a floor-level stage. Surrounded by blackout curtains, it looks like any decent fringe venue.
Three short plays later and thoroughly Ackyborned-up, I emerged onto the green and began the short stroll back to the station, my big bag slung over my shoulder. I kicked a few twigs out of my way and huffed.
Can't wait till I'm old enough to get outta this place and move to the big city.