Category Archives: Rambling on and on

I am hardcore

It’s been a funny sort of week, comrades. My grandpa’s funeral was on Tuesday, Hurricane Jack returned to the country on Friday, work has been stressy as the Dickens and in between a lot of strange things have been happening. The plan this weekend was therefore to relax as much as possible, which hasn’t quite happened.

Friday, as I say, was marked by the return of Hurricane Jack, who has been mentioned in passing in these pages before. This was celebrated in the traditional manner, i.e. helping to take care of the nation’s alcohol surplus. During the course of this evening, I was introduced to a place in Twickenham known as the Koyote bar. I suspect I was not really the target audience for the place, which is rather noisy and features scantily-clad young ladies dancing on the bar. On the plus side, it’s open late, entry is free and alcohol is at pub prices – I think most of the people in there who weren’t actively on stag nights were taking advantage of these facts, though there were one or two who seemed to be entirely there for the femininity on display. Why they’d go there when there’s a strip club down the road I don’t know.

The night ended with a trip back to Hurricane Jack’s place in Teddington, where we talked a lot of crap, ate some food and watched Thunderbirds at four in the morning. We speculated that Gordon Tracy has so little to do that he actually purposely loses his family’s possessions so that he can “rescue” them later in front of everybody. Sad really.

I eventually got to bed at six, which I believe officially means that I was up all night (Yeah! Still got it!), and strolled into Kingston via Hampton Wick, pausing only to stick my head into the vintage shop that’s opened there. No menswear, though, so continued into Kingston. I bought a really rather delicious brownie in the market, which I will pretend I did because I needed to get rid of the hangover and because I was supporting independent traders or something, but in reality it’s because I just like eating brownies. Brownie as in interestingly-textured chocolate cake, not as in young girl scout. I mean, obviously, right?

I came across a Louis Wain print in the antique market, which I would dearly love to own but can in no way justify spending money on. If any of you have enjoyed this blog so much that you’d like to give me £90 for no reason, drop me a line.

The evening was set aside for a Boys’ Night In at Shoinan’s place out in West London. Shoinan himself describes the area as being undistinguished, but I think it has a certain J. G. Ballardesque charm, but then, as I’ve described in previous entries, my taste in urban landscapes may not be entirely normal.

As well as shooting the shit, drinking a lot of beer and getting through enough Mini Cheddars to kill lesser men, we watched a few of those movies that between us, we missed out on.

Brief review:

Forgetting Sarah Marshall = Good

Scott Pilgrim vs The World = Alright, but definitely a case of style over substance.

Black Dynamite = If you have not seen this film, I order you to go away right now and watch it.

Once again, I totally failed to get to bed at a sensible time, this time finally crashing into bed at some time after seven. I am officially hardcore. What this did mean was that my original plans for today had to be curtailed somewhat – I did have to nip into town. On the way I fed my burgeoning addiction to frozen yogurt at Yog, a small chain of whimsical frozen yogurt shops that should in no way be confused with Snog, which is a small chain of whimsical frozen yogurt shops.

The Byocup

While in Fitzrovia, I saw a product known as the Byocup on sale in one of the shops. This is essentially a response to the problem of wastage that comes about as a result of the huge number of disposable coffee cups that get thrown away every day. The idea behind the Byocup is that it’s like a disposable coffee cup, except that it’s reusable. It’s made of silicon, and so won’t burn your hands when filled with hot coffee. Whereas you would throw a disposable coffee cup away, with the Byocup you simply wash it and reuse it.

Actually, I had a similar idea myself about a year ago. Although I thought that, given that the cup was supposed to be a lifetime’s possession, I could go to town a bit more on features – not slavishly adhere to the design of the disposable cup. My version was ceramic, and had the added design features of a sturdy base and a handle. A photo of the prototype may be seen on the right.

After sticking my head into Cass Art in Berwick Street, I encountered a drug dealer who tried to sell me some hash. I didn’t actually realise he was talking to me – he just sort of ambled around in a circle that happened to intersect with my path while mumbling about “hash” and “weed.” When I didn’t react, he became upset and accused me of being rude and snobbish. This means that I achieved the unusual accolade of being one of the few people against whom a drug dealer felt able to take the moral high ground. I am a “bad ass.”

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Filed under Booze, Current events, Fitzrovia, Food, Literature, London, Psychogeography, Rambling on and on, Randomness, Soho, Suburbia, Weird shops, West End

The evolution of evolution

As you will no doubt be aware, Saturday was Charles Darwin’s birthday (happy 202nd, Mr Darwin!) and so to celebrate, Becky B held a loosely Darwin-themed party. My own shirt evolved several frills to frighten off predators, which seemed to work, as I am still alive. I even managed to avoid a hangover the next morning, which was impressive given that I’d started Saturday with a stonker of a headache.

Charles Darwin evolved an impressive beard towards the end of his life.

I’m something of a fan of Charles Darwin and, indeed, of evolutionary biology in general. I’m no scientist, it goes without saying if you’re a regular reader of this blog, but I take an interest. Call me an evolution groupie, if you like.

I was actually introduced to the concept at a very young age – I can’t have been much older than six or seven when I came across an ape-like man in a case in the Natural History Museum. How Wayne Rooney got in there in the first place, I shall never know, but next along was a case with a model of homo erectus therein. I expressed bemusement to the Ma, who explained that, in fact, people thousands of years ago looked like apes and, further back, actually were. This didn’t seem too ridiculous to me – if every generation looks different from the last one, well, what was so strange about the concept that we might have been apes a long time ago? After all, an ape sort of looks like a human if you squint.

[PARENTHESIS: The word “orangutan” is a Malay term meaning “man of the forest.” Which suggests that the people of Malaysia also saw the resemblance. Despite making such excellent librarians, orangutans are critically endangered and may be extinct in the wild by 2015.]

So anyway, I never found evolution to be a weird idea. Okay, it conflicted with the Bible on a lot of points, but I had the kind of nonconformist view of Christianity that was fairly typical of a British six-year-old (for instance, I thought the concept of the Father, Son and Holy Ghost all being the same person was some sort of misprint).

Actually, Charles Darwin’s own religious background is something of a curiosity in terms of how very orthodox it was. Creationists tend to view him as a kind of Antichrist who came up with his theories purely to make Baby Jesus cry, but in his early years he seriously considered becoming a vicar in the Church of England. Unusually in his family, he was entirely C of E in his views, despite his father and grandfather being freethinkers and his wider family being largely nonconformist. Even at the end of his life, he never identified as atheist, preferring to describe himself as agnostic – although some accounts suggest that he didn’t see any real difference between the two, except that people who called themselves atheists tended to be kind of jerky. A quick tour of any Internet bulletin board on the subject of religion will show that he wasn’t entirely wrong there.

There’s nothing particularly strange about the idea of someone taking an interest both in holy matters and in biology (although Kent Hovind can still piss right off). Bear in mind that your average Victorian clergyman was an educated, middle-class fellow with a decent income and not much to do during the week. If they were in a country parish, studying nature was an agreeable way to pass the time.

I thoroughly recommend a visit to Gilbert White’s house if you should find yourself near Selborne. White was an 18th century curate and also a kind of proto-ecologist, believing in the importance of studying wildlife in its natural habitat. This led him to discover that, among other things, birds migrate as opposed to, e.g. hiding underwater in the winter (a serious theory at the time).

Or if you’re looking for another vicar who paved the way for modern biology, how about the Very Reverend William Buckland? Perhaps the first British paleontologist, he disputed the suggestion that modern rock formations had been created by Noah’s flood and in 1824 discovered the fossil bones that he would name “Megalosaurus” – this was the earliest identification of dinosaurs. He also reputedly ate the mummified heart of Louis XIV. Nothing to do with religion vs. science, I just thought it was an interesting fact.

Yet another irony, considering the question of religion vs. evolution, is the fact that although Darwin is perhaps the most important name in modern biology, there was one significant place in the 19th century where his name was mud – the Natural History Museum. More specifically, in the office of the Museum’s effective founder, Richard Owen. Now, I don’t want to dis Owen for his work as a biologist, and there’s no doubt that without his diligent work (and friends in high places), the nation’s natural history collections would have remained a mere collection of trinkets and curios overseen by erratic curators in a wing of the British Museum. But he refused to believe in the concept of evolution by natural selection, firmly coming down on the side of creationism. It’s said that the reason the Natural History Museum’s facade depicts only living species on the west wing and only extinct ones on the east was because Owen refused to even passively acknowledge that they might be linked. This also goes some way to explaining why Darwin’s statue is in the tea room – it was a late addition.

Although in the 1860s Owen’s views were those of an intelligent if conservative scientist, within a few decades they would become less and less credible and a hundred years later would have been abandoned by all except fundies and cranks. These days, the museum even has a research centre named after Darwin.

For all the likes of Richard Dawkins might complain about a rising tendency towards fundamentalism and the rejection of evolution, I don’t think there’s that great a risk in this country. Britain is an essentially secular nation – the Archbishop of Canterbury himself admits to the truth of evolution (so does the Pope, by the way). There might be Bible-bashers ranting about how Darwin burns in hell even as we speak, and there might be scientists being patronising and rude to religious folk, but for the majority of the nation, I don’t think we really give a damn.

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Filed under 18th century, 19th century, Buildings and architecture, Flora and Fauna, Food, History, Kensington, London, Notable Londoners, Plants and animals, Rambling on and on

‘Til you drop

I’ve had an utterly boring weekend where I saw no one, went nowhere (nowhere special, anyway) and did nothing (useful). Yesterday consisted of a trip to Kingston and today of a trip to Camden followed by a long and pointless walk from Angel to Kennington via a circuitous route. I’d love to say that I reached some sort of exciting conclusion or saw something really interesting, but no.

Compounding matters somewhat is a delay in payment of my wages, which means I’m subsisting at poor person level (or at least, the middle-class London version of “poor”) until Wednesday. Not necessarily a problem, except my birthday falls on Tuesday and I’d quite like to enjoy myself a bit. Having said that, for possibly the first time I’m utterly indifferent to the day, possibly because it’s one of those non-milestone years that serves only to remind me that I’m edging ever-closer to 30 and am notably not a multi-millionnaire yet.

So you’ll have to forgive me for the fact that this entry may come across as slightly bad-tempered. There’s just something about wandering around shopping centres filled with people who are younger or richer or both-er than you that depresses. I hope I’m not turning into one of those Grumpy Old Men, because 28 is far too young for that sort of thing. Not to mention the fact that I hate this industry that’s been built around whining about everything. Don’t get me wrong, I like satire – I love satire. But honestly, if I see one more comedy programme about a writer who’s depressed because his housekeeper isn’t up to scratch and the BBC feel his latest script needs work, I’m going to kidnap the author and drop them in Afghanistan just to give them some fucking perspective.

Wait, that entire rant makes me a hypocrite. Damn.

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Filed under Camden, Current events, Not even trying to be on-topic, Only loosely about London, Rambling on and on, Randomness

Peninsula Envy

I had Tuesday off, and like most people, I decided to take advantage of this time by exploring desolate post-industrial wasteland. I invested in a shipping venture last year from Anatoly “Nickname” Chugarov (I think I mentioned that in the previous entry). Anyway, the whole thing seemed a bit dodgy to me, so I decided to pull out and asked Anatoly to give me my 5% of the venture now. I’ll admit I’m not too hot on this investment lark. Anatoly said he’d meet me on the Greenwich Peninsula with my share, so I thought I’d take advantage of this to kill two birds with one stone.

I don’t know why, but I’ve always been fascinated by industrial urban desolation. This might explain why I find Amy Winehouse strangely attractive. The Greenwich Peninsula has long been known for these qualities, as I discovered myself when I ended up here by accident some years ago (put it this way – the Dome hadn’t yet opened). I was curious to see how it had changed in the intervening time.

As you can see in the photo above, it’s what we psychogeographer-types call “hostile.” Once you step out of North Greenwich Tube Station, you’ve basically got lots of roads, fences and barriers on all sides – not exactly hospitable to pedestrians. Once you finally get down to the river, you can see that this far east, London is still a working port.

On the right you can see Trinity Buoy Wharf, one of the oddities of London. Circled in purple are a couple of lightships, what they’re doing there I have no idea. Circled in green is the Bow Creek Lighthouse, the only inland lighthouse in the United Kingdom. I really wish I could have got a bit closer. Some other time, maybe.

On the left you can see a contrast between old and new Docklands. In the background, the Canary Wharf development is very visible. In the foreground, an old pier used for loading barges. This has been turned into a sort of wildlife preserve , part of a general policy to bring the area back to nature. After a century and a half of pollution, this is a motion I applaud. An interesting scheme in place elsewhere on the peninsula is to resist erosion by binding the mud with naturally-occurring plant life rather than artificial walls.

There was something unutterably surreal about the view on the right, almost post-apocalyptic. Although many industries have occupied the Peninsula, and several still do, the big one was gasworks – more gas was produced here in the mid-twentieth century than anywhere else in the world (insert fart joke if required). When North Sea gas was discovered, the gasworks were rendered obsolete. Though there are a few remnants here and there, most of the ground has been built over or – as here – cleared in anticipation of new development. This is another of those transitional things that I think is quite important to capture.

Now, this is taking psychogeographical hostility to the limit. You see that flooded road between the heaps of sand there? Yeah, that’s the footpath. I’m not joking. It was at this point that I began to get heartily sick of post-industrial wasteland. No, wait, I tell a lie…

this was when I got heartily sick of post-industrial wasteland. Readers may note the highly unsuitable choice of trousers. Consider also that this was actually quite early on in the scramble through floodwater/over sandbanks. By the end I was considering suicide, or at least buying a decent pair of boots.

On the right is an aggregate… tower… loading… thing. I don’t know what it is, if I’m honest. It has a conveyor belt. By this stage I was starting to go a little bit mad, I think. God only knows why I took a picture here.

In fact, I think I’m going to skip the next few photos. They mostly consist of mud and concrete. I found some rails where a crane once went, that was about it.

However, I did eventually find something more interesting, for a given value of “interesting.”

And here it is. These strange steel structures are on Enderby’s Wharf, once the location of a submarine cable works. Which made cables, you see, for going underwater. It’s quite interesting. I think, anyway.

The wharf is preserved now, but was locked up when I was passing. The actual works buildings are boarded up, which is lame.

Here is a breaker’s yard for boats. Again, not sure exactly what my thinking was in taking a photo here. This is actually one of the nicer photos.

I think I might have photographed this because it was a landmark I remembered from the previous visit. I also recall a chemical plant, which seemed to have closed down since then. I remember passing under some sort of loading-pipe-rig-type thing that was no longer there.

This is another of those “observe the contrast between the old Docklands and the new” photos. On one side of the road, grotty industry. On the other, shiny new flats. It makes you think. Specifically, it makes you think, “Christ, imagine having to look at that grotty industry every morning.”

Ah, now, this is interesting. This is Greenwich Power Station, built to supply electricity to the London Underground and London County Council Tramways from 1910. Despite its antiquated nature, it is still used as a backup supply. Architecturally, I think the main body of the plant is actually quite pleasant. Certainly compared to some of the eyesores I saw earlier (“eyesores I saw”… dear me).

And here we are at historic Maritime Greenwich. Incidentally, if you wondered how I came to be on the Greenwich Peninsula back in 1999, the simple answer was that I wanted to get here, and figured that North Greenwich wouldn’t be too far away. As the crow flies, it’s not. But when it’s cold and bleak and the path is muddy and the route winds around many huge obstacles, well, let’s just say it wasn’t worth avoiding the change of trains. And here endeth the lesson.

Oh, wait, the investment thing. Well, Anatoly was as good as his word, and did indeed give me my 5% share.

Son of a bitch.

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Filed under 19th century, 20th Century, Buildings and architecture, East End and Docklands, Flora and Fauna, Geography, History, Lies, London, London Underground, Photos, Port of London, Psychogeography, Rambling on and on, Randomness, Rivers, Thames, Transport

Kill or cure

Now, if there’s one question I get asked more than any other, it’s “What, in your experience, is the best hangover cure?” Actually, that’s a lie, it’s “Are you sure you’re a qualified gynaecologist?” But that’s not relevant right now.

Hangovers are a bugger. Indeed, the Latin term for hangover is “sodomia summa sodomiae” or “bugger above all buggers,” and I’d actually be offended if after all we’ve been through, you felt the need to check to see that I hadn’t just made that up. Anyway, it’s the second day of January, and if you’re anything like me, you started the year badly in need of a hangover cure.

Usually at this point, someone says that the best cure for a hangover is simply not to drink. This is ridiculous. I mean, would you tell a cancer patient that the best cure for cancer is not to get cancer? In my experience, the fun of an awesome party far outweighs the agony of the hangover. If not, then that was a bad party and you should have left before you got drunk. If you’re having a bad time sober, you’ll have a bad time drunk.

But the fact is that alcohol is a holy thing. What did Jesus turn the water into? Here’s a clue: not Diet Coke.

[PARENTHESIS: Ah, but what about Islam? Well, there has been some debate over what exactly was meant by the prohibition in the Qu’ran. Some scholars have argued that drinking is fine as long as you don’t get drunk. Others have argued that “intoxicants” can be taken to mean any substance that affects the mind, which also includes coffee. Admittedly no interpretation really allows you to get roaring drunk, I just thought that whole passage was interesting]

If you want to go further back, you know how we raise our glasses to someone? That may actually be one of the oldest rituals humanity has. You see, alcohol actually dates back to the very early days of civilisation – one theory actually has it that we moved from hunter-gathering to agriculture purely so we could cultivate grain and make beer.

Whether you subscribe to this theory or not, alcohol was certainly one of our earliest inventions, and possibly our first interesting invention. To those early settlers, fermentation was a mystical process, not properly understood and believed to be the result of direct divine intervention. Thus, the custom was to offer part of every batch of beer to the gods who had provided it. And that, my friends, is why to this day we raise our glasses when we wish to salute someone.

17th century German hangover cure. Still in use in parts of Slough.

The most obvious religious comparison in the context of hangovers is that of karma. You have a wicked-awesome time the previous night, then you feel like death the following morning. Well, alcohol is technically a poison (so is water if you have too much of it, so there), so it’s probably going to have some negative effects. Your man alcohol is broken down in the liver into acetaldehyde and then into acetate. Once all the night’s alcohol is metabolised into acetate, you’re home and dry (literally). Unfortunately, the process of metabolising alcohol requires an enzyme known as  nicotinic acid derivative, which your body has in limited supply. If you drink enough alcohol to deplete your reserves of NID, you’ll get drunk and then you’ll get sick. Given that the average body can only metabolise one unit every two hours, expect happiness and then sadness if you’re out partying.

Alcohol is a diuretic, and will basically dehydrate you over the course of a night. It’ll also deplete a lot of the vitamins and minerals that the adverts are always telling us we need, and increased insulin production will see that your blood sugar levels will go way down. Your brain will readjust itself to the depressant effects of the alcohol, but will probably not have enough time to adjust back by the morning.

Complicating matters further are congeners – without getting too technical, these are what we’ll call impurities that make it much harder for your body to deal with alcohol. As a general rule, the darker your drink, the more c0ngeners it has. Port is very high, vodka is very low. This is the origin of the dread disorder known as “red wine headache.”

You should by now have some idea of why you have a hangover. Having said that, if you actually do have a hangover, you probably shouldn’t be staring at a computer screen.

Now, to combat a hangover. Firstly, it is recommended to have something to eat before you go out. This should top up your body’s store of what the hangover will take away. Some recommend eating something greasy to line your stomach. My great-granddad used to swear by two pints of milk before going out to the pub.

Then prepare yourself for the return. Do not allow yourself, upon returning to a party, to simply fall into bed. Yes, I know how tempting it is, but keep reminding yourself throughout the evening that you have to take preventative measures. Have them ready by your bed if needs be. The preventative measures I would recommend are:

1. Two pints of water.

2. A glass of effervescent vitamin C.

3. Two ibuprofen.

4. A sandwich, preferably something with protein. Chicken salad seems to work.

The water will take care of the dehydration, the vitamin C and the sandwich will take care of the nutrients your body will lose and ibuprofen is anti-inflammatory. Vitamin C will also take care of the congeners.

Now, if you haven’t done this before bed, you’ll have to do it in the morning when you actually have the hangover, in which case you have my sympathies. I’d recommend if possible doing these things and then returning to bed so you don’t have to think about how dreadful you feel while your miserable carcass mends itself.

If you have to go to work, you’re a bit screwed. Speaking as a hangover veteran, there are few things worse than being at work with a hangover. The classic folk remedy in such cases is black coffee. I disagree – caffeine can constrict the blood vessels. In Scotland they swear by Irn-Bru, which contains caffeine but also the life-giving substances known as quinine and sugar. A full English breakfast is highly recommended by many, but you may find this a little difficult to stomach.

Speaking personally, the hangover cure I favour goes thus:

1. Wake up. Drink two pints of water and take two ibuprofen. Return to bed.

2. Wake up again half an hour later. Have a shower, as you stink.

3. Walk to the supermarket. This will get oxygen moving around the body.

4. Acquire milkshake, aforementioned chicken salad sandwich, fruit salad and can of Pepsi, Cherry Coke or Irn-Bru.

5. Consume slowly.

6. Watch Withnail & I.

The simple fact is, though, there’s no hard-and-fast cure that works for everyone, and frankly a lot of curing a hangover simply involves gritting your teeth and enduring it. There’s no such thing as a free lunch, and if you party hard then you’ve got to take the consequences. Sad but true.

One last tip: if you’re going to bunk off work, be creative. Every manager knows that “food poisoning” means “hangover.”

Anyway, assuming you’re feeling better, enjoy 2011. Here’s hoping it ends like 2010, in a drunken stupor.

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Filed under Booze, Current events, Food, Medicine, Only loosely about London, Rambling on and on, Randomness, Science

Ice, Ice Baby

Winter, it would seem, is well and truly here. I am basing this purely on the heinous amount of snow outside. Of course, this isn’t entirely unexpected – it’s been brass-monkeys cold for a while now. I’m not a religious guy, but on Saturday, with my hands purple and aching with cold, I had cause to thank God for Primark and their inexpensive gloves. Later that day I took the terrible photo above, showing that City Road Basin in Islington was partially frozen.

Back in “The Day,” (i.e. up until about the mid-20th century) frozen canals and rivers were a serious issue. Canals in particular, which don’t flow like a river, were vulnerable to icing up. This had obvious economic consequences for trade, particularly before the advent of decent roads and railways. The low-tech but cunning solution was to apply brute force and a certain amount of wiggling. This was achieved using the canal icebreaker, or “rocker,” as they were known in the business.

The rocker was like a shortened narrowboat, but instead of a cargo area, it simply had a long bar. The bow sloped upwards. A team of men would stand either side, holding on to the bar. When the rocker came to ice, the bow would ride up on top of the ice and the men would rock back and forth to break it (hence the vessel’s nickname). This was usually sufficient for all but the most Arctic conditions in London.

[PARENTHESIS: Did you know that the word “Arctic” comes from the Latin word for polar bear, “arcta.” Arctic literally means “place where there are polar bears.” Antarctic means “place where there are no polar bears.” Now you know.]

Now, earlier this year I wrote about the frost fairs that were held on the Thames when it froze over in winter. The idea of the river freezing over sounds like the sort of thing that went out with breeches and snufftaking. In fact, the end of the frozen Thames can be put down to several factors. Firstly, and perhaps most importantly, the river flows that much faster these days. The construction of the Embankments north and south of the river has constrained it, which, if you recall your school physics lessons, speeds the flow up. The old London Bridge, which had lots of arches and waterwheels to slow things down, has been demolished and replaced twice – the new one allowing freer flow and also, interestingly, possessing heating elements for the road over it.

Industry since the dawn of the steam age has discharged a lot of hot water – and other products – into the Thames, raising the overall temperature. I would imagine residential and commercial premises, with their heating and lighting, are contributing factors as well – but I’m no scientist.

And down in South London, the draining of the Lambeth marshes (commemorated with the street called Lower Marsh in Waterloo) has meant that ice no longer forms along the banks there, preventing the freeze from getting a foothold, or whatever it is that freezes do.

That being said, I was surprised to learn how recent the last big freeze was. In fact, it was 1963. This was the coldest winter since 1740. Roads and railways were, as you might imagine, choked up. Rivers fared little better, and even the sea was frozen at Margate and Chatham (the Navy employed an icebreaker at the latter). The Thames, as you can see above in this view at Windsor, was no exception. At Oxford, one chap managed to drive a car across the river. The docks in London iced up like many others, driving prices of imported goods up. Kingston saw ice skating on the river, and bicycle races were held at Hampton. Below right may be seen boas iced up near Hampton Wick.

Will climate change result in us seeing another freeze like 1963, or are such sights finally confined to the history books? Well I don’t know.

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A splash of Cologne

Enjoyable though the High Society exhibition was, it wasn’t exactly a full day out. Having opened the doors of perception and the like, Izzi and I felt the urge to do something to fill out those awkward late-afternoon-early-evening hours. That period that’s too late for afternoon stuff, but too early for evening stuff. Izzi suggested that a trip to the Cologne Christmas Market on the South Bank would be just the ticket, and I agreed.

Sign's out of date, mate.

While there is no shortage of German Christmas markets, particularly around Christmas (which I believe to be no coincidence), the one on the South Bank is worth a look by virtue of its size and location. It lies roughly between the London Eye and Waterloo Bridge, stopping a little short of both.

I find the South Bank a little awkward to get to from Waterloo Station. You have to duck down alleys, climb stairs, cross busy roads, traverse via subways or some combination thereof, none of which are particularly inviting. I blame the architects. Anyway, having finally got there, we scouted things out.

The Magic Roundabout is easily explained by modern science.

A stall that instantly attracted our attention was one selling gingerbread. Izzi took the opportunity to do some Christmas shopping, in the process acquiring rather more gingerbread than is considered sensible for one person to possess. I was rather taken by the gingerbread houses they had – I didn’t dare to believe that such things existed in this world. We consciously resisted the chocolate fountains, which as you may know are a device of Satan to lead immortal souls to hell. Izzi did reason that strawberries and apples are both fruit, and therefore the benefits of the fountain could be made to outweigh the costs. We did not pursue this line of reasoning any further.

I was rather impressed by a stand that sold nothing but watches, and found myself making a mental shopping list. You know what I rather like? Those ladies’ watches you get that come on chains. I think those look rather nifty. Personally, I favour something fairly plain in the watch line – those pocket watches with the Union Jack cast into the case are unspeakably naff.

I impressed no one with my inability to do a simple wooden puzzle on one of the stalls. I did briefly consider the purchase of a wooden tie. It’s hard to explain one of these things if you’ve never seen one before. It’s a piece of wood, carved into the shape of a tie and segmented for flexibility, the whole being attached to the neck by means of elastic.

I was also very tempted by a Venetian-style ceramic mask, and may yet return. It was one of those commedia del’arte jobbies, you know the sort of thing. This one was particularly grotesque – I believe the character it portrays is “Il Dottore,” which takes its visual inspiration from the seventeenth century plague doctors’ protective mask. Izzi, too, was this close to buying a lacy number. But while she thought it was nice, she didn’t think it was £30-nice, if you catch my drift.

There was also a stall selling liquorice, making much of its apparent health virtues – reducing stress, weight loss and the like. Quite apart from the fact that this is pseudoscientific bollocks with absolutely no basis in reality, this was just a sweet shop. The fellow wasn’t selling liquorice pills or even liquorice root. We’re talking liquorice allsorts here, people. I suppose in a sense he deserves something for sheer balls-out audacity, but I take my liquorice very seriously and so cannot support his enterprise.

"Rink." Now there's a funny word.

To go into everything we saw and did would take a long time and wouldn’t be very interesting anyway, so let it suffice that it’s a great place for getting those quirky stocking filler-type gifts as well as being a pleasant couple of hours in its own right. Combine it with a visit to the National Theatre, the Royal Festival Hall or any of the myriad other leisure facilities on the South Bank and you got yourself a day out. If that doesn’t float your boat, there’s an ice skating rink just in front of the London Eye, which is an unrivalled opportunity to test the resilience of your coccyx.

It runs until 23rd December, so you’ve got plenty of time. Tell them I sent ya. They won’t know who I am, but you know.

Further Reading

http://www.xmas-markets.com/en/ – The official site.

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Filed under Current events, Food, London, Markets, Rambling on and on, tourism, Waterloo and Southwark, Weird shops