It is way too early on a Saturday morning for me to be awake. The sun is high in the sky and the birds outside my window are tweeting up a storm, but I am not ready for any of this nonsense.
Whatever demon possessed me to book a noon-time matinee has now vacated my body and left me to suffer through the morning all by myself.
At least I'm off somewhere rather thrilling today. Somewhere that I hadn't even heard of before this whole marathon thing. I'm going to the Crossrail Roof Gardens, which is apparently a place that not only exists, but also has a theatre. So, that's fun.
What does one wear when one goes to a roof garden? Layers, according to the email I got a few days ago from the good people at The Space who are behind the events there today. Says right here that it's covered (so no need of waterproofs, which I'm not entirely convinced I own anyway), but "it is 3 storeys above ground level so it can be a bit chilly."
I look doubtfully out the window. It doesn't look chilly. But sitting for two hours in the cold doesn't sound like much of a good time, so I stick a cropped sweatshirt over my dress and then sling on my 49er jacket on top of the whole thing. That'll do.
I don’t actually know where this place is, but thankfully the email has got me covered, with chunky paragraphs of directions both from the Canary Wharf tube station and the DLR.
“Take the large escalator up from the ticket hall,” it says. Well, there’s no mistaking that. The escalator is fucking massive. I take it.
“Turn right out of the main exit and walk through Reuters Plaza past the clocks.”
I don’t know what Reuters Plaza is, but I do see what looks like a little outcrop of clocks, planted like a walkway of trees either size of the path.
“Walk straight ahead through the set of glass doors underneath the steps and continue straight through until you come back outside.”
I spot the glass doors underneath the steps. They look dark, and a little bit grim. As if they belong to a political consultancy firm, utilising data analysis to bend democracy to their will. This is not the type of door that I would walk though. But the instructions have got me this far, might as well see where they lead me.
Turns out where they lead me is to a shopping centre.
What next? “Straight through until you come back outside.”
Okay then. Straight through it is and Ooo… they sell salt beef here. I could do with some of that. Nope. Don’t get distracted. Straight through. Off we go.
I push my way through one set of doors after another, feeling very dramatic as they swing shut after me, leaving me blinking in the bright light of Adam’s Plaza. Well, I’m guessing this is Adam’s Plaza. That’s where the instructions say I should be, so let’s just hope they’re right.
It’s quiet here. Just a few smart looking people strolling around in the shadows of skyscrapers. There’s a bridge overhead. Linking one building to another, like a relic from some dystopian film set, where the rich never stoop to walking at ground level and the rest of us are left in the shadows to fight it out over the rat droppings.
There’s a couple of sloppy fountains, the type where the water gushes over the edge and into a waiting drain without the showy travesty of flying through the air first. There’s nowhere to sit though. No benches. This square was made for walking, not hanging around in.
But I hang around all the same, leaning over the railings, looking into the murky water of the docks and feeling a bit of a rebel. A tired and slightly complacent rebel, but a rebel nonetheless.
It occurs to me, that if I’m after views, I’d probably get better ones on a roof garden than in a square, so I bring up that email again and see what it has to say for this last part of my journey.
“The entrance to Crossrail Place is in front of you,” it says.
It’s that building next to me, I suppose, now that I’ve gone off course.
“Go up the escalators to the Roof Garden and follow signs for the Performance Space.”
Well, aye aye, Captain. Will do.
I go inside. There’s a staircase. And signs for a lift. I ignore those. The email said escalators and if the email says escalators then I am damn well taking the escalators.
Ah, there they are. I see them. I hop on, and ride up in style to the first floor.
There’s a piano up here. One of those Instagram-bait painted pianos that are left out in public in the hopes that some maestro will play it and we’ll have a nice viral video to distract us from the end of the world.
The entrance to the bridge is here. The dystopian one. It’s actually a tunnel, and looks even more science fiction from this angle. Quite the dramatic visual, actually. A spaceship's corridor stretching out to infinity. There’s already someone crouching down in front of it to get a photo. I take a photo of him taking a photo. Mainly because I don’t want to wait for him to finish up.
One more set of escalators and then we’re there! At least, I think we’re there. Trees and plants and a transparent roof. If this is not the roof garden, then it’s a pretty darn good reproduction.
I wander between the bushes, following the winding path.
There’s a sign here, pointing the way to the performance space. And a giant robot. Not sure what business a robot, giant or otherwise, has in a rooftop garden, but glad this place is covered. Wouldn’t want him getting all rusty when it rains.
Turns out, I don’t need the signs. I can hear the space. It sounds like singing.
I stop, trying to make out the words. Something about knowing someone is bad news because they have tattoos. It would almost be offensive if it weren’t so hilariously sheltered.
I turn a corner and I see them. The singers. Their childish faces just about visible through the foliage. They are very young, thank goodness. I would dread to think what kind of grownup is scared of tattoos.
There’s more signs here, for the Bloom Festival. That’s why I’m here. A few days filled with free events, split into ticketed slots of a few hours each. Mine doesn’t start until noon, and I still have a few minutes left, so I go for a wander.
I don’t get far though before I find something very exciting.
A short-story machine! I do like a short-story. I even write the bloody things on occasion. Mostly as gifts (my poor friends… they are very sweet about it all, but how they must suffer). The intro above the machine claims it can print one out of a one minute’s read time, two minutes, or five minutes. Just tap the button and a short-story of that length will be printed in some eco-friendly manner, just for you.
I immediately hit the five minute button.
The one minute button is lit up though.
Perhaps they are out of stock of the five minutes.
I try the one minute button instead.
I walk back to the performance space to watch the end of the singing.
It’s fairly open here, with nothing but the plants to shade the stage from view.
The kids finish and file off stage.
It’s time to go in.
No one stops me as I squeeze myself through the leaving audience-members. No one asks for my name, or to check that I have a ticket. I don’t suppose it matters when it’s free.
Two steps in though, and my path is cut off.
Someone is blocking the way in.
She’s grabbed one of the festival-workers wearing a Bloom Festival t-shirt. She’s talking very fast. It’s something very important.
She wants to leave flyers on the benches.
I wait for her to finish. And wait... And wait...
Who knew there was so much to say about flyers.
Eventually she moves enough to let me pass and I go in.
It’s very much a garden theatre. A floor level stage, with curved benches on three levels, backed by a wall of greenery. It’s like a mini amphitheatre, except more garden centre than gladiatorial. I pick my favourite seat, third row - right at the end. Which here is a nice little corner, cuddled up with the leaves.
A Bloom t-shirt wearer comes out and begs the seated audience to stay. “There’s lots more coming up,” he says invitingly. “Stay. Please!”
There aren’t many people left.
I mean, it’s a small venue. Only three rows and not all three go all the way around. The third row could probably only fit ten people if they were intent on getting cosy, but still.
There are some kids on stage. They give a short play about trainers. It’s cute.
Parents watch their offspring through the medium of their phone cameras.
People walk past the theatre. Some pushing buggies. A few stop to look in, just as I had done, but none cross the threshold.
I can’t blame them. Two people wearing Bloom t-shirts are blocking the entrance. Their backs turned to the gap in the fence. There’s no way a buggy could pass through without them having to ask for the Bloomers to move.
The children finish their play.
There’s another changeover of the audience.
It’s a younger crowd now. Teens.
The stage is empty. And remains so. No one knows who’s meant to go on first.
The teenagers are all called to the front to work out the order they’ll be going on. This goes on for quite some time.
Straws drawn, and first victim selected, a Spotify ad blasts over the sound system.
The young performer makes a swift joke about it as she struggles with the microphone.
Something tells me that these guys haven’t had the chance to rehearse in this space. Sound checks are presumably just a test of coolness round this way.
There’s a crunch of broken twigs behind me, I turn around and find a photographer lurking amongst the vegetation, like a creeping pervert on Hampstead Heath.
I turn back around.
A woman pushing a pram manages to inch her way into the space by using the other entrance, thereby avoiding the Bloomers.
That brings the grand total of people in the audience not directly involved in the performance up to three.
The photographer must have climbed their way out of the boscage, because they are now down by the stage.
I scroll through Twitter while I wait for the next act to begin. I see a photo of me. Sitting in the third row of the Crossrail Roof Gardens. Presumably the work of the creeping photographer.
I look longing at the group of old people, laden down with shopping, sauntering past. They pause, watch one of the performers sing a song, and then move on.
Another woman arrives. She’s also a bit older, and carrying a great number of bags. She takes a seat on the bottom bench, and then, after a moment of consideration, picks up the largest of the bags, climbs up the benches, and then dumps it in the second row, blocking my exit, before going back to her seat.
Gradually, more people arrive. They go sit by the older lady. She greets them all with a lifted hand and a wide smile, until one half of the space is packed with what looks like three generations of a single family.
The teens finish their set. Within seconds, every single one of them has gone.
The next performer arrives, and she starts setting up a table full of props.
The family all get up and take up new positions in the middle of the benches. The prime spots, head on to the stage.
With the bag to my left, and the family everywhere else, I am utterly trapped.
There’s no one else here. Just me, the family, the Bloomers, the creeping photographer, and a single performer: a spoken word artist.
I seem to have found myself in a private performance.
One of the group looks around at me, her eyes scraping up and down as if trying to work out how I had managed to wangle my way into their family show. Frankly, I’m wondering the same thing.
The spoken word artist asks us to raise our hands if we believe in luck. I’m not sure I believe in anything right now, least of all luck. I keep my arm down.
The poem is all about the serendipitous-stuff apparently. Not that I can tell. I hear a lot of words, but over the sound of the breeze blowing itself through the roof gardens, I can’t figure out how any of them join together.
The microphone stands unused and unnoticed as the performer's words are lost to the wind.
A few minutes later, the words stop and we all applaud.
Our performer goes over to one of the Bloomers and whispers something.
“Are you finished?” asks the Bloomer.
She is indeed, finished.
The Bloomer comes forward to the mic and draws the session to a close.
It’s time for me to get out of here.
“Excuse me,” I say to the woman boxing me in. I stumble over the bag, down the steps, and flee.
But then I stop.
There is one last mystery to solve.
I walk out, past the performance space, leaving the gardens behind me.
There, up ahead, is a sign. “Giant Robot.”
It’s a cafe.
Perhaps I can get myself a salt beef sandwich, u think as I hurry back down the escalators, past the sloppy foundation, under the tunnel, and back through the shopping centre.
I stand before the salt beef place.
Of course it is.
I trudge back to the tube station, sans salt beef sandwich.
At least I got another theatre checked off the list today.