From the outside the house looks like all the others on this busy South London street. Look again. 575 Wandsworth Road is a house full of wonderful artwork and objects and I have been lucky enough to be invited by The National Trust to devise and run creative writing workshops there.
For copyright reasons I can’t show you any images but check out this link: http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/575-wandsworth-road/visitor-information/
575 Wandsworth Road was once the home of an amazing man called Khadambi Alsalache. He was a Kenyan–born poet, novelist and civil servant. He bought the house in the 1980s and decided to take a ‘head in the sand’ approach to a damp problem by covering over the wet patches with reclaimed floorboards. One thing led to another and the house turned into a magical work of art! If you get the chance, do go and visit this unique place.
So far I have run two sessions with some amazing young students from Grey Coat Hospital School and their teacher, and talented writer, Alex Morton. It was very inspiring to sit together around Khadambi’s dinner table and write our responses to his home.
Here are some samples of writing exercises from the students’ notebooks.
I asked them to create a tweet
Home to a multi-talented Kenyan man who spent 19 years carving artwork and special memories into the walls of his home.’
Wood. What’s so special about it? They are part of trees. Nothing more. Are you sure that’s all? 575 Wandsworth Road. That’s all that is needed to be said. #no regrets #woodisspecial #mystery’
I asked them for responses to the effect of light in rooms
‘In the living room, the thing that caught my attention was the photographs and paintings of Swan Lake. Although it was not symmetrical it was very detailed and interesting to look at. The light was reflected on to a speckle of dust because there were many patterns in the lampshade making the feel of the painting look more mystical.
The swans floated delicately on the wall and the ballerinas were carved gently into the story as their shadows hover over the monochrome photos.’
‘Clambering up the walls like overgrown moss, it blooms upon the ceiling in curves and swirls. Free and untamed. Soft sunlight dances upon the holes and dents, delicately cast around the room with the pure passion of nature, a mystical garden carved from wood. Light weaves in and out of its beauty in ribbons as paint plays with shadow.’
‘The simplicity of it all makes it all the more endearing. Circle after circle after circle. Elegant, intricate, specific, plentiful. Some are battered, some still in perfect condition. Each one probably having its own story to tell. Maybe it travelled with him on one of his great expeditions. Maybe it was purchased in a dainty gift shop. Or maybe someone close and dear to his heart made them especially for his own use.’
I told them that Khadambi painted some gazelles onto the skirting board to amuse and interest a little dog who used to visit.
‘We sigh collectively, “here it comes again.” We can hear its nails clicking against the floorboard, its heavy breathing, its fur brushing the carpet.
It’s coming up the stairs, passing the painted gazelles and sniffing them. It thinks we’re alive and that we will jump off the walls any minute.
It’s a nuisance really. Its constant licking and chewing will wear us away one day.’