Secret London- An Unusual Guide

Rachel Howard and Bill Nash, Jonglez, 2009

Hands up. I am not insusceptible to flattery. So I guess it’s going to be an uphill struggle to persuade you that I had already decided that this book is a must-have for every curious Londoner BEFORE I noticed that I had been both name and web-checked by the authors.

Most kind, guys – I’m aware that once stuff goes up on the net it’s public property – fair game, if you like – but it’s flattering indeed to be namechecked when I wasn’t even aware I’d ‘helped.’

Of course, now I have to ‘fess up and admit that it was actually long-term ‘Friend of the Phantom’ (sounds like a euphemism, doesn’t it…) Benedict who introduced me to the fabulous comedy ads in the window of Sabo the newsagents and took the great pics of the ‘lucky’ Gnomes of Greenwich Park, not my own discovery – so I’ve been erroneously plauded – but hey, these things happen ;-)

But onto the book. I know it looks like I’m only being nice about it because it’s nice about me – but even flicking through this slim volume in Waterstones, long before I’d actually read it, I knew I wanted it. It was the book I’d always wanted to write myself, with entries about curiosities around the whole of London clearly and entertainingly covered, including details on how to see them and other things to look for in the area.

And, unlike many ‘oddities of London’ books, this one isn’t afraid to find fault with sacred cows. Dennis Sever’s House, for example, which is one of the very, very, very best sights to see in all of London Town, has just one irritating thing – those patronising notes left all around it telling you how to ‘appreciate’ it. (“Do you get it yet?” Well, I did until your sodding sign broke the spell…) Rachel Howard and Bill Nash are in accord with myself on that one.

They also hate that awful public art that’s springing up all over London. They are right that the very worst statue of all is the soul-free The Meeting Place by Paul Day in St Pancras Station, described by the authors as “an aesthetic hybrid of Stalin and Barbara Cartland.” I wouldn’t have been so generous myself. Sadly they miss out our own local bad art, Nelson.

Seriously, folks. I’m sure many of you will have bought this already – but it is absolutely essential reading. The Greenwich section won’t tell you anything you don’t know already, but the rest is gold dust. Nip down to Greenwich Waterstones immediately, and snap up a copy in their ever-expanding (thanks to staff who actually give a damn) London section…

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