100 Watt Club, abandoned, Black Cat Cabaret, exploring, headdress, hospital, Lena Mae, photography, urban exploration
Last week was a tricky mix of injury, dead ends and cancelled shows. I injured my neck and shoulder picking up my enormous baby and although logic says, “Don’t pick him up then!” in practice, with a husband away on tour, you have to just get on with it. So by Wednesday I was in a real bind, I had a show that evening so gingerly I packed my case and hopped on a train to London. As I pulled into Fenchurch Street, the gig was also pulled – the utter joys, so unimpressed. The next night I was hosting at Proud Cabaret which I scraped through with a heady mix of codeine, prosecco and Dr Theatre, I don’t recommend it. On the Friday, in agony, I was doing my final night of Black Cat Cabaret and I was damned if I was going to miss it. My shoulder and neck were so stiff that I couldn’t even put on my costume bodice and the rather audience participatory number ran a real risk of ‘accidental nipple’! By the Saturday, I had to call time and pull my spot at the Wet Spot, such a shame as it is a marvellous gig and I have always had a ball there.
On Sunday, I’d arranged to do a photoshoot at an abandoned hospital in north Essex. I’m not sure I gave it the right amount of consideration before getting involved. In my mind we’d be strolling down a gravel path and through an helpfully unlocked gate but the reality was so, so, SO different. I met the lovely Lena Mae (Producer of the 100 Watt Club) at the station along with the photographer, Simon (who is a keen urban explorer and made a great guide!) and we made our way to the abandoned hospital. We ducked along a muddy alley that ran along the back of some houses and came to the gap in the fence. It was blocked up, so we had to shimmy over a six foot fence further along, landing in knee deep grass the other side. Then we had to cross about half a mile of open ground, previously wasteland but now covered in (thankfully empty) machinery and churned up mud. The mud was ankle deep and my converse were soggy and waterlogged – I wished that I owned boots! We came to a ravine and there was no way across, so we had to go around, a long way around. Eventually after twenty minutes or so we came to the perimeter fence but to our dismay all the regular climbing in points had been blocked up or filled in. We sent Simon on a reccy whilst Lena and I had a quick (and quiet) meeting about future shows. We began to wonder, after a considerable time passed, what had happened to our guide. Had he been caught? Walked off site? Then, as we discussed our options, the phone rang and the news was good. He’d found an easier corner. We trudged through the mud, carrying our bags and met him by the fence. It was close to the road so the chance of being discovered was high. The fence was about 7 foot high and topped with rather vicious looking spikes but there was a spikeless gap and, each egged on by the (faux?) confidence of the other, Lena and I said we’d give it a shot. After all, we’d walked through mud for the past hour, there was no way I was giving up now. So we gingerly climbed over, adrenaline surging and giggling nervously. After a long drop the other side, we were in. We high-fived and dashed for cover.
We wound around a long bend and came across the front of the hospital. It was eerily silent, the black windows gazing down at us, many lacking their panes and the remains of which littered the ground before us.
We crossed the overgrown courtyard and came to an open door, Simon chivalrously said “Ladies first”, and I stepped through the door and promptly fell through the floor, smacking myself in the head with my gold-topped vintage cane that I’d brought along for the photoshoot, (I now have a lovely black eye!). We decide to abandon that building and headed along to the main hospital block. Once inside, the damp was palpable and the silence was deafening. It was so still, with just the occasional bird or rustle from the undergrowth which encroached on the building. Everywhere nature had started to reclaim the bricks and mortar, with ivy creeping through the broken windows and mould growing on the walls.
We wandered along the forgotten passages, stumbling across decaying rooms in which to shoot as well as finding beautiful period features, pretty fireplaces and stunning balustrades. I had brought with me a fabulous red gown and a headdress made by the very talented Vicky Butterfly.
As we meandered our way further and further in to the labyrinthine building, we became aware of the cold creeping into our bones and there was a distinct change in the light as daylight began to fade. Both Lena and I decided that we needed to get out before it got too dark and as we left, we realised that we had lost our bearings and we were going in circles. I started to feel a little claustrophobic and needed to get out! We found a door, any door, and the relief I felt as we got into the open air was immense. We slowly made our way back to the fence, not caring if security caught us, as they’d let us out the front gate! Sadly, no security so we had to get back over the fence, which by now was slippery with misty rain. We got over and merrily made our way back feeling rather exhilarated.
My shoes were ruined, I’d stepped on a nail. My feet were filthy, cold and wet. My neck was aching and I had a black eye but I’d do it again in a heart beat.
What an amazing chance to see such grand building left to decay – such a waste, such a loss.
Until next time.