A Curious Guide to London
By Simon Leyland
Bantam Press, £9.99 hardback
Fans of oddball facts and historical peculiarities will enjoy this collection of weird and occasionally wonderful facts about London. Fittingly (there’s bound to be an answer or two for pub quizzers within these pages), this book was born on a stormy night in a London drinking den, when Leyland heard a collection of stories so surprising that he guessed them to be fictions.
A few hours of research proved that fact was indeed stranger than fiction — so he set out to find out what else he could learn about England’s capital city.
If you want to know why you can never tell the time in Bermondsy, or what on earth the Chelsea Physic Garden has to do with the cult Sci-Fi film Day of the Triffids, this book will tell you. If you want to find the only statue in London that has a squint, or the only one carrying an umbrella, let Leyland be your guide.
And guide you he will, for the book’s divided into neighbourhoods, and maps are provided, making this a great addition to your carry-on bag if you’re the kind of traveler who wants to see beyond the tried, tested, and often trite tourist destinations and get to know London’s eccentricities a bit better.
Having read quite a few, similar books, I found some of these stories familiar, and the author’s tone a tad dry, but the few hours I spent in his company were enjoyable. The story that amused and surprised me the most revealed that once upon a time, before toilets were properly invented, you could approach a man or woman who was wearing a black cape and carrying a bucket. “For the price of a farthing you could sit on the bucket while they stood above and covered you with their cape, thereby protecting your modesty.”
And you thought you hated your job?