The Inspiration behind the Bleak House Project

Inspired by childhood memories I wrote this short piece which came to bear fruit in the ‘Bleak House project started in 2008.

Smithy’s Dad had told him that trees could be good or bad, it all depended on where they grew, they could be good in the sun bad in the shadows. Another thing he had told him was that  buildings have personalities and old ruins were just buildings on there way to becoming nature, so DON’T play in the derelict buildings by the brewery.These things we took into account as we forced the rusty corrugated iron away from the rotting window frame of Bleak house.

Inside the the air was musty and warm, at the end of the hall the ceiling had collapsed, the blue summer sky was clearly visible. Dust particles and cobwebs danced in the shafts of light as we made our way through the downstairs area of the building.

Bleak House as it had become to be known was a three story victorian house which had succumbed to the advances of nature after a German bomb had partially destroyed it in 1940. Eighteen years later the shell of the building still stood erect in the middle of the ‘bomb site’ in Greenwich. A large billboard advertising Rowntrees fruit gums and the fact that you were never alone with a Strand cigarette had been erected some years earlier to disguise the ruins that lay behind. It was easy for us agile kids to access the area by climbing over the wall by the side of the old Co-Op building.

It took the three of us to push the heavy dining room door open, the dampness of eighteen wet foggy winters had rusted the hinges tight and the rotting carpet had expanded under the door forcing it up against the frame. The noise we made startled a group of pigeons who flew around the room bumping into the walls and rotting furniture. Eggy gave the door one final good kick and this gave us enough of a gap to squeeze through. Once inside the room our eyes soon became accustomed to the dim light. After all these years the room was still full of furniture, the big dinning table had collapsed and a tree was growing through the rotting wood. Most of the dining room ceiling had fallen down along with bedroom furniture and carpet, the only light coming from the upstairs arch top windows gave us the feeling that we were inside a church. Grass and wild flowers grew in profusion in the folds of the clothing that spewed from the broken draws most of it faded and unrecognisable as things that had once been worn by people.Looking up to what was once the bedroom area the  door swung silently in the breeze, on a hook on the back of the door hung a pair of blue overalls the pockets stuffed with grass and nesting sparrows.

Gingerly we made our way to what was once a glass fronted book case. The case contained expensive leather bound books which had rotted with age. Smithy pulled one off the shelf it fell open the mildewed pages revealing pictures of African natives with lower lip plates, another showed an anatomical drawing of a prehistoric animal and trilobite fossils. We each kept a book as a souvenir, Smithy selected a book on how to make rowing boats, I had an album of Christmas cards and Eggy chose botanical drawings.

We often explored Bleak house over the next couple of years discovering its secrets like the boxes of photographs and the trunk full of old  shoes (the left foot only) but never encountered trees that were either good or bad, just trees. As time went on the contents gradually disappeared either by rotting or being taken away by other kids or vagrants. I moved away when I was 13 years of age and lost track of the area. Many years later I found myself in that part of Greenwich and searched out Bleak House, of course it had gone, replaced with a row of characterless terraced houses. Standing there looking at the space the old house had once occupied it was hard to believe that it had ever existed. And what of the people who lived there. We had often felt there presence learning about them from the artifacts and marks they had left behind. The photographs of austere looking men and women, fading portraits of young women from another age, the books and the shoes none of these things exist anymore not even my album of Christmas cards.

© 2008 arcimboldi studios

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