London’s Strangest Tales

Tom Quinn, Portico, 2008

This book is what I call a ‘dipper.’ It’s the sort of book I keep by the bed for little nuggets of information when I’m sleepy but not sleepy enough.

And very neatly-filleted the nuggets are too. It’s the sort of history book that makes serious historian splutter and spluff, as it leaves out all the boring bits and just lists the quirky, puerile, scatological, trivial and downright weird stuff that stands out in a thousand years of London Life (there is a whole series of similar books, ranging from Science’s Strangest Inventions, through Poker’s Strangest Hands to Golf’s Strangest Rounds – a slim volume, I suspect…)

For hardened Londonphiles, many of these stories will be familiar, but most of them stand being told again and again and I have to say that much as I’d like to be snooty and say ‘This is not serious history so it must be bad for you,’ in the same way as sweeties rot your teeth, they also taste very good – and once you start scoffing ‘em you just can’t stop.

I find myself dipping into London’s Strangest Tales more often than I care to admit. I never use a bookmark – I just plough in and see what I can find, be it Bumper Harris, Shiteburn Lane or Napoleon’s Soap.

The top of the cover says ‘For your reading pleasure…’ You know, I do find myself pleasured by this. But that probably says more about me than I’d like…

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