As soon as one nnoodl event is over it's time to start promoting the next. Well, how do you follow something like axe throwing? I like to try and give people a mix of the type of activities they do with nnoodl, so that they can open their eyes to different experiences and things don't get weighted towards the physical for example. Well I had already planned what my May activity was going to be ..but the question was where to host it? Ideally I like to give people an insight into a place in London that they might not be familiar with. And so May's adventure proved to be no exception. I briefed my nnoodl adventurers to meet at the Finnish Church in Rotherhithe. The idea here was that it was close to our actual activity starting point, but wouldn't have people pre-judging what the experience might actually be. So, I made it clear that being Scandinavian or religious was not a pre requisite, as this was just a handy starting point, but definitely one worth having a look at whilst they were waiting. I remember being introduced to this quirky little gem a few years ago -
I can't think of any other churches that have a lovely shop and a sauna, and I think they're all missing a trick!
Coffees bought, it was a short walk to our starting location which was the Brunel Museum. I had only really discovered this hub of engineering history a few months ago when I was looking for a venue for a charity event. A tiny little exterior belies the scale of this place. The Museum is an educational charity run by volunteers and tells the story of one of the world’s great engineering dynasties. Brunel organised the world’s first underground concert party here in 1827, and the Museum celebrates and interprets music and theatre as well as engineering. Our team were firstly given a guided tour around the charming herb garden, set on top of the Brunel Museum, this is an idyllic haven of plants and herbs. Under the expert eye of Lottie Muir, aka the Cocktail Gardener, this delightful venue hosts ‘Midnight Apothecary’ events. Our group were given a show round and insight into this magical botanical world before being handed over to Tim, one of the Brunel Museum volunteers who led them through the history of this unique venue.
The Engine House was designed by Sir Marc Isambard Brunel to be part of the infrastructure of the Thames Tunnel. It held steam-powered pumps used to extract water from the tunnel. When it opened in 1843 the Thames Tunnel was described as the Eighth Wonder of the World. People came from far and wide to see the first tunnel under a river. On the first day, fifty thousand people descended the staircase and paid a penny to walk through the tunnel. This was the most successful visitor attraction in the world, where people bought souvenirs and listened to the entertainment in the cross-tunnel arches. The trade of the world came up the Thames, and there were three thousand tall masted ships in the river everyday. A tunnel was the only to get cargo across the river without stopping the tall masted ships, but no-one had tunnelled under a river before. Brunel invented the Miners’ Cage, or tunnelling shield. Miners would dig inside a protective frame, and bricklayers would build the wall as they advanced. Horses would pull loaded carts down huge double helix ramps down into the tunnel and across to the other side.
Work started in 1825 but conditions were appalling. The Tunnel flooded five times, and in the worst flood six men drowned and Isambard Kingdom Brunel barely escaped with his life. The tunnel finally opened eighteen years later in 1843, but only for pedestrians. They ran out of money and could not afford to build the ramps to get cargo into the cargo tunnel. The East London Railway company bought the tunnel in 1865 with the intention of digging new tunnels to link up from the North and South to link the Thames Tunnel to the national railway network. Four years later, in 1869, trains started to run through the tunnel meant for horses and carts. In 1869 electric trains had not yet appeared on the national network, so the trains running through the tunnel were hauled by steam engines. In 1913 the railway was electrified and incorporated into the London Underground as the East London Line, making the Thames Tunnel the oldest tunnel in the oldest underground system in the world.
Ah, but this was only the start of the adventure. Our highly knowledgable and enthusiastic volunteer guide, Tim, then took our group down into the real jewel in the crown of this museum - the Grand Entrance Hall. This was the world’s first underground theatre, which long before trains, the chamber echoed with applause for acrobats, tightrope walkers and serenaders.
What better venue then to have...a singing workshop! Despite the presence of a baby grand piano in this highly atmospheric space, our group still had no idea what was in store for them. I handed out some of Lottie's wonderful cocktails (the aptly named 'Rhubarbara Streisand') to loosen everyone up as I announced the next part of their adventure. This is the part I half love and half dread as I wait for the whoops of excitement, mixed in with slight gasps of trepidation. But this is what nnoodl is all about, having that ever so slight fear of doing something that you might never have considered. I reassured everyone that they were in very safe hands with the singing teacher, Matt Thompson. In fact I was first introduced to him in my own nnoodl adventure about 18 months ago when I went to him VERY nervously for my first ever singing lesson. As someone who really tries to avoid public speaking, this was one of the challenges which I had feared most. Matt, however, has completely turned me around into someone who now has regular lessons and has joined his choir. I find singing so cathartic!
Matt, true to form, made everyone feel very relaxed (or was it the cocktails?) by leading us through some fun vocal exercises (hence the 'May, May, May reference in the title). We then continued our warm up by singing Let it Be - the classic Beatles song. There was certainly something about the acoustics in this fantastic venue which added to the atmosphere. Matt then had us trying a simple harmony and already people were getting into their stride, and even getting slightly competitive dare I say. We then moved onto our next piece which was Son of a Preacher Man by Dusty Springfield. There were some tricky parts in this song in the timing, but everyone embraced the challenge and once again we split into a harmony part. It is always so satisfying when you hear voices come together like this. As I looked around I could see everyone smiling as they sang their hearts out. As we wrapped up the singing workshop, Matt's main question about whether people had enjoyed it or not was directed at the whole group, but mainly one of our more apprehensive members. He enthusiastically replied 'I LOVED it!' And that, my friends is what nnoodl is all about and reminds me of the power of pushing yourself ever so slightly out of your comfort zone. I get such a rewarding feeling when I see people react in this way, and possibly even find themselves a new hobby or passion as I did.
Every nnoodl adventure ends with a bit of food and drink, which is a great time to compare stories and share experiences. We headed just across the road to the quirky Mayflower pub for some drinks and tapas, where spirits were high. As one of our group quipped "What an adventure! I knew we were in for a surprise but wasn't expecting such a fun morning out....and it's still only lunchtime!" There were cheers all around.
Bookings are now open for the next adventure on Saturday 15th July, but what could it be..?? There's only one way to find out, www.nnoodl.co.uk !
Denise Yeats is an events professional with over 18 years of creating inspiring events ranging from arts events at Tate to Tower Running races. She recently undertook a personal challenge called 'The Secret Life' which involved doing a new pursuit every week which is chosen at random by an allocated colour and number. This has led onto the creation of 'nnoodl - discovering your secret london life' where people are led on surprise activities...