It's not often you get a pleasant surprise that leaves you smiling for the whole day. At least not in Willesden.
I was up near the old GPO Research Station in Dollis Hill taking some photos for my long delayed exploration of the hidden history of this part of North West London.
A lot has happened around here; under the research station is a two floor bunker to be used by the cabinet in World War 2 if the bombing got too heavy in central London. In the research station itself the telephone engineers devised and built the Colossus super computer that was moved to Bletchley Park and helped crack the codes that ended the war.
It can easily be argued that this is where the modern computer can trace its roots. One of my favourite facts about the place is that right up into the late 1970s every public payphone in use in the UK was manufactured here.
Just across the way from the GPO building is a park with a grand, but now derelict, house (once visited by Mark Twain). Attached to this are a caf?© and an art gallery. I have to admit to being somewhat underwhelmed by the bland print and watercolour exhibitions that the gallery hosts and if it hadn't been so cold I doubt I would've bothered this time. I'm glad I did.
The whole gallery space had been transformed. In place of the usual whitewashed walls there was a long narrow corridor with a small alcove at the end. A silent telephone next to an overflowing ashtray. And everything that dull, dirty 1940s green and nicotine yellow. A little exploration; trying doors that don't open. Eventually peering into a Narnia type wardrobe door, ducking through a forest of musty hanging overcoats and out into another secret room with more telephones around a conference table.
Exquisitely rendered by new artist Laura Napier, the work, called 'Buka' did what great installation art should do in that it engaged with the viewer whilst referencing its surroundings. Given the size and presumed budgetary constraints, this installation was as much fun as Mike Nelson's blockbuster environments.
Entering it was like becoming a character in a rather odd period drama. A welcome return of mysterious telephones to Dollis Hill.
Kirk Lake is a writer, musician and filmmaker. His published books include Mickey The Mimic (2015) and The Last Night of the Leamington Licker (2018). His films include the feature films Piercing Brightness (2014) and The World We Knew (2020) and a number of award winning shorts.
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