Yesterday I took part in a library crawl – a walk around all of Lambeth’s libraries as they were transformed for the day into Fun Palaces. I wasn’t alone – I walked with the author Stella Duffy, who is one quarter of the team behind the whole Fun Palaces extravaganza (over 140 places this weekend, in England Scotland, New Zealand, Australia and New York). Her notes about the walk (much more poetic than mine…..) are what inspired the title of this – my attempt to transform my notes into something that reflects the sights, sounds, colours, smells and experiences packed into 8 hours.
Our starting point was the beautiful Carnegie Library by Ruskin Park in Herne Hill. I arrived as people were just setting up, and could see already the Fun Palace theme being brought to life: Everyone’s an artist, Everyone’s a scientist – bringing together all the diverse groups that make up a community. A football club next to an aromatherapist next to a pasta maker, kickboxing in one corner, a 10 metre cartoon being created in another – and all against a backdrop of books and noise.
Four of us set off towards Minet – walking through lovely parks and quiet, house-lined streets. The Fun Palace was buzzing: cup painting, urban-myth writing, 3D printer in action*, plus the most intricate and gorgeous pop up books I’ve ever seen (and an artist helping children to create their own).
*inspiration for my favourite line from Stella’s record of the day: “A 3-d printer that printed more libraries because libraries are where stories live and stories are what people breathe”
Next stop Durning – and on the way we were joined by another walker. This library is the perfect venue for a Fun Palace – decorated with gargoyles and gothic arches, we sang songs of crocodiles and were joined by former MP Michael English and author Sarah Waters.
No time to linger, we headed to Waterloo. No more leafy sidestreets, this was deep into the heart of built up Lambeth – busy streets and modern ugliness. Waterloo library was a haven of colour. We arrived before the Fun Palace crowds, and helped scatter golden stars ready for the space scientist to do her thing.
Walked along the Thames – past 2 other Palaces (Westminster and Lambeth) – no fun in evidence, maybe one day? Then we reached the second library funded by a victorian philanthropist – but this one made his money from sugar, not steel. Henry Tate gave his name to the Tate Gallery, and Tate South Lambeth Library.
Inside was a riot of colour, noise and smells. Lots of delicious food – including a tray of fried chicken and some wonderful portugese cake. I saw people with plates of indian food, and was invited to try african coffee. There were people playing chess, and indian head massage offered in another corner.
Next stop Clapham Library. From the front, a wall of glass, and no hint that inside is the first spiral library I’ve ever seen.
We saw zine making, balloon hats, chinese writing and heard about the intriguing serendipity strategy.
Falling behind schedule – 4 more Palaces to find before the end of the trail, and next stop was Brixton Library. The second Tate funded, and probably the noisiest and most colourful Fun Palace. Missed the group collecting Brixton memories and the lion hunters, but saw guitar lessons, jewellery made from natural ingredients, and skeleton body paint.
Onwards to Streatham – the Fun Palace taking place in a community room alongside the library (yet another Tate-funded). I saw a preserved sliver of human brain tissue through a microscope, heard storytelling, watched a huge group learning woolcraft and another making crazy animals out of vegetables. Then went exploring the library, and found their garden. Cicero would like Streatham.
Penultimate stop, and cutting it fine with our timing, we arrived in West Norwood to find science had combined with art to create architecture: a geodesic dome (plus enthusiastic children who modelled their masks and robots.).
(photo credit Toby Litt: twitter.com/tobylitt/status/650339157064159232 )
Final call, 10 minutes before closing, was Upper Norwood Library. The last group of children testing out their paper planes, but we heard tales of serious games (Dungeons and dragons), clay models and dancing.
(Photo credit: saveUNlibrary/status/650349316675141633 )
Feet aching, head buzzing, I was hugely grateful for a lift back to the station – and love the ‘completing the loop’ sight of the sign at Herne Hill station: to the Carnegie Library