Based in London; Formerly of New York, Buenos Aires, Fife, and the Western Cape. Saoránach d'Éirinn.

London

A writer, blogger, historian, and web designer born in New York, educated in Argentina, Scotland, and South Africa, and now based in London. read more

Justice in the Royal Gallery

One of the great triumphs of Magna Carta was the assertion of the right of those accused of crimes to trial by one’s peers, or per legale judicium parium suorum if you insist on the Latin. For commoners this meant trial by other commoners, but for peers it meant just that: trial by other peers of the realm. It was a bit murkier for peeresses, though after the conviction for witchcraft of Eleanor, Duchess of Gloucester, (sentence: banishment to the Isle of Man) statute was passed including them in the judicial privilege of peerage.

Thanks to the ’15 and the ’45, there were a number of trials in the House of Lords in the eighteenth century, including that of the Catholic martyr Earl of Derwentwater. The whole of the nineteenth century, however, witnessed but one: the 7th Earl of Cardigan was acquitted of duelling by a jury of 120 peers. In 1901 the 2nd Earl Russell was found guilty of bigamy, and the last ever trial came in 1935 when the 26th Baron de Clifford was found not guilty of manslaughter.

Cardigan’s trial was in the temporary Lords chamber while the last two trials took place in the Royal Gallery of the Palace of Westminster (central to current debates over renovation plans). For Cardigan’s trial the Lord Chief Justice of the Queen’s Bench was appointed Lord High Steward for the occasion, while for the final two the Lord Chancellor was likewise appointed to the role in order to be presiding judge with the Attorney General prosecuting the case.

The Royal Gallery is primarily used for the State Opening of Parliament (as above) and for the occasional address to both Houses of Parliament when important figures are invited to do so. De Gaulle was famously invited to speak here to both houses rather than in the larger Westminster Hall. It is thought that this is because the walls of the Royal Gallery feature two large murals, one of the Battle of Trafalgar, the other of the Battle of Waterloo – both British victories over the French.

The most famous trial in the Royal Gallery was fictional. In the 1949 Ealing comedy “Kind Hearts and Coronets”, the 10th Duke of Chalfont is tried for the one murder in the film’s plotline he didn’t actually commit. Ealing Studios did a mock-up of the chamber for the occasion (above), which compares reasonably accurately with the Royal Gallery as set up for the Baron de Clifford’s trial in 1936 (below).

The Lords, however, were uncomfortable with exercising this judicial function and passed a bill to abolish the privilege in 1937. The Commons, facing more serious tasks, declined to give it any attention. In 1948, the Criminal Justice Act abolished trials of peers in the House of Lords, along with penal servitude, hard labour, and whipping.

June 12, 2017 2:00 pm | Link | 2 Comments »

Challoner’s House

Challoner’s House — Rather humble for an episcopal palace, but such was the function of No. 44, Old Gloucester Street in Holborn during the time of Bishop Richard Challoner.

If it seems an odd spot for London’s Catholic bishop, it can be explained by its close proximity to the chapel of the Sardinian Embassy off Lincoln’s Inn Fields. At this time, of course, the Mass was still illegal and the only places Catholics in London could worship were the embassies of the Catholic nations. To protect the underground bishop, the house in Old Gloucester Street was actually rented in the name of his housekeeper, Mrs Mary Hanne.

After a perfect breakfast on Saturday morning the sun was shining so I decided the three-and-a-half miles home from St Pancras were best managed on foot. If architectural or historical curiosities are your fancy then foot is the way to travel, and so it was by pure chance that I stumbled upon No. 44. It seemed particularly appropriate that the night before a whole gang of us — Brits, Swedes, Italians, etc. — had been drinking in the Ship Tavern in Holborn where Bishop Challoner was known to offer the occasional clandestine Mass. (more…)

March 6, 2017 12:10 pm | Link | 2 Comments »

Holy Trinity Kingsway

Holy Trinity, Kingsway

Not much information is available about this church. The architect was John Belcher but the ambitious tower was never built, nor was there much money to complete the interior.

After it was made redundant in the 1990s the church was demolished — except for the façade so obviously influenced by Santa Maria della Pace.

February 1, 2017 3:01 pm | Link | No Comments »

Floating an Idea for Parliament

Members of Parliament are currently battling one another over plans for the ‘restoration and renewal’ of the Palace of Westminster. One side, backed by management consultants and the Joint Committee report, say the whole place has to be shut down completely for years starting in 2020. The other, led by Sir Edward Leigh MP and Shailesh Vara MP, says if work is so urgent it should start immediately, but that both the Commons and the Lords should continue to meet within the Palace, preserving centuries of tradition and keeping up the dignity and ceremony for which Great Britain is known.

With ideas flowing back and forth, outsiders to the Westminster bubble have put forth their own ideas — the architect Anthony Delarue’s suggestion has received the most serious consideration so far — and the global design firm Gensler has weighed in with its own proposal.

Gensler’s idea calls for a floating slug bearing a distinct resemblance to the Gherkin to be built and moored alongside the Palace of Westminster. This floating parliament would have plenary chambers for both the House of Lords and the House of Commons as well as committee rooms and other meeting places necessary to the functioning of the legislature.

While it’s a serious idea, the floating slug is not under actual consideration but is merely a conceptual exercise put out there by Gensler. Security concerns alone would lead to its rejection, not to mention worry over the hole in the historic fabric that would need to be punched through in order to access the slug. (more…)

January 23, 2017 1:15 pm | Link | 5 Comments »

Church of St James, Spanish Place

Always interesting to see a building you know well from a perspective you’ve never seen before, as in this photo of the Church of St James, Spanish Place, taken from Manchester Mews. The church somehow seems more imposing — like a great rounded keep.

A few months ago I was corralled into some favour or other that required a bit of muscle to move this there and whatnot, the payoff of which was it afforded an opportunity to explore the triforium of this Marylebone church and see the interior of the building from an entirely new vantage point.

It also meant being able to view in better detail the beautiful stained glass windows — many of them the gift of various Spanish royals, given that this parish originates as the chapel of the Spanish embassy (hence its name).

November 7, 2016 10:35 am | Link | 2 Comments »

Johannes Kip’s View of London

View and Perspective of the City of London, Westminster, and St James’s Park

The Dutch engraver & printer Johannes Kip had worked for the stadthouder William of Orange in Amsterdam and unsurprisingly followed the prince to London after the English Revolution of 1688.

This view of London and Westminster is most notable for the unique perspective it takes: a bird’s eye view from above the Duke of Buckingham’s house, later acquired by the Crown and now, as Buckingham Palace, the primary royal residence.

This printing of Kip’s view, which comes up for auction soon at Daniel Crouch Rare Books, must have been printed after 1726 as it incorporates Gibb’s steeple of St Martin-in-the-Fields.

(more…)

October 25, 2016 12:05 pm | Link | 1 Comment »

St Pancras Town Hall

St Pancras Town Hall is an interwar classical building by the architect A.J. Thomas (of whom I know little). The façade is a little clunky but in the warmer months it’s adorned with arrangements of flowers that soften this stern civic edifice with a bit of welcome frivolity.

When the Metropolitan Borough of St Pancras was merged with the neighbouring bailiwicks of Hampstead and Holborn to form the London Borough of Camden in 1965 this was chosen as the town hall of the new entity, so it’s now referred to as Camden Town Hall.

But of course of all the buildings under the patronage of the fourteen-year-old, fourth-century martyr Pancras, the most prominent is the international railway station across the Euston Road (below) that connects this metropolis with the rest of the continent across the Channel.

April 11, 2016 11:00 am | Link | No Comments »

Canalside Wanderings

The sun put its hat on this weekend, and after a delicious and vaguely German breakfast by King’s Cross on Saturday I fancied a little canalside wandering. Walking the Regent’s Canal from the new Central Saint Martins all the way to Paddington, I stumbled across the Catholic Apostolic Church in Little Venice (above). It has been over ten years since I popped in to the former Edinburgh outpost of this strange and fascinating denomination, now much reduced in numbers since its apex in the late Victorian period. (more…)

April 4, 2016 7:00 pm | Link | 2 Comments »

Diary

EVERYONE was at the Opera last night. It was the final performance of a magnificent production of Il trittico, Puccini’s triptych of three one-act operas alluding to the Divine Comedy. While I go to the theatre fairly often I hadn’t been to the opera since many many moons ago when I was dating una Italiana who had a taste for it. These days, the Mad Architect is one of the handful of people I tend to go see things with. His tastes are similar to mine but he is easily irritated and always seems to pick a fight with some other member of the general public (or once, on the Eurostar, the barman – but it was actually deserved in that case). This can provide some intense amusement to the observer so long as you are prepared to disown him totally at a moment’s notice (which I have yet to do).

Anyhow, during the first interval we wandered out onto the open terrace – from whence smoking has since been banned – and who should we stumble upon but the charming and deeply fun Valentine Walsh, one of the finest art restorers in Europe, with a relation of hers. Then, but a few seconds later, our own roving reporter Alexander Shaw appeared with an old school friend. As I sometimes point out, London can feel like a delightfully small town. The Spectator’s Rod Liddle and Michael Portillo of ‘Great Railways Journeys’ fame were also in evidence, but we let them be.

But what of the opera? The first act, Il tabarro, is set on the banks of the Seine and was well sung but more than the singing I admired the highly architectural setting imagined by the mononomical set designer ‘Ultz’. (How one both derides and admires the arrogance of arrogating to oneself a single name – but then, like Hitler and Stalin, I myself am often known by surname alone.)

The second one-act opera in this triptych, Suor Angelica, was the real meat. Here is a deeply intense display of love and hatred, sin and repentance, compounding personal tragedy with the reality of mortal sin. Sadly we were deprived of the vision of the Blessed Virgin called for in Puccini’s original but it was surprising that director Richard Jones played the opera’s Catholicism straight and frank, without any of the usual modern snobbish sneering. Ermonela Jaho was powerful in the title role, convincing. Valentine was in tears.

But if Il trittico is like a three course meal then Gianni Schicchi is the delicious pudding. When Buoso Donati dies and leaves all his wealth to a monastery, his eight predatory relatives are forced to call upon the clever peasant Gianni Schicchi to use his worldly cunning to fake a new will. This is Italian farce at its most amusing but also its most beautiful and as Gianni includes the most well-known operatic song in the world – O mio babbino caro – it’s a crowd pleaser as well.

The Mad Architect noted that the English don’t really enjoy opera: they take it far too seriously, whereas the Neapolitans love it and join in the singing, even if they don’t know the words. Alexander thinks the Royal Opera House has become little more than a giant cruise ship for plutocrats and then descended into telling us his plan to sell Deptford to the French (or was it to Hong Kong?).

My only complaint was the surtitles, which often did not match the original Italian. This happens on Scandinavian crime dramas as well, in which non-blasphemous swear words are inaccurately translated as blasphemous English ones. But this is probably some contrived vogue in the realm of translators, that you mustn’t translate things as they are but to something somewhat similar but not quite the same, thus depriving you of the character of the original language.

What’s next on the agenda then? Sometime at the Old Vic, I think, and then something at the Almeida, and later on this year there’s Ryszard Kapuściński’s book on Haile Selassie, The Emperor – “I was working in the Ministry of Ceremonies then, Department of Processions…” – being done in a stage version at the Young Vic.

March 16, 2016 2:00 pm | Link | 4 Comments »

Ball

Photos thanks to S.K.

The Cusackian table used to be the only one having our pre-ball drinks at the Cavalry & Guards Club (thanks to Maj Ibbs & Capt de Stacpoole) but this year the place was choc-a-bloc with ballgoers. Our ladies were looking particularly lovely, though there were moments when various of their fur accoutrements were redeployed as judges’ wigs and sentence was passed on those worth of condemnation.

Despite the rather late hour I left the after-party, I somehow made it to the 11 o’clock mass at the Oratory the following morning and noticed a somewhat depleted congregation (though added to by the presence of Gerald Warner up from Scotland). Very wisely the ball organisers arrange a special afternoon mass at 2 o’clock for survivors, but by the time it commenced I had not only already fulfilled my Sunday obligation but also downed a delicious plate of pappardelle and was en route back home to bed and further recovery.

January 11, 2016 11:30 am | Link | 2 Comments »

Diary

It is truly a sad thing for a summer to end, and yet it is an inevitable part of the endless cycle of life. July was full of its annual rites: two weeks in Lebanon and then the traditional festivities associated with the return of the OMV contingent from Lourdes — jugs of Pimm’s at the Scarsdale followed by the manic dinner, drinks, dancing, and smoking at Pag’s late into the night. Miss S. had always avoided the Pag’s part of the festivities, decrying it as a futile attempt to prolong the jollity. She decided to come along this year, however, and enjoyed it so much she stayed well past two in the morning. In fact, I think she was still there when I left.

So it didn’t really seem like summer really kicked off until August. (more…)

November 15, 2013 7:30 pm | Link | 7 Comments »

St Paul’s Gothicised

Victorian England went mad for the medieval, often neglecting or destroying buildings and structures of classical design along the way. Wren’s classical rood screen for Westminster Abbey is probably no great loss, but just imagine if his masterpiece, St Paul’s Cathedral, had been gothicised.

Just such was imagined by the architectural sketch artist C.A. Nicholson in two drawings he sent to the Architectural Record (albeit in the 1910s, not the Victorian era). Nicholson was inspired by an image printed in a previous issue of the Record showing the front of Peterborough Cathedral transformed into a classic design.

Of course before the Great Fire, Old St Paul’s was a Gothic cathedral.

September 25, 2013 6:30 pm | Link | 3 Comments »

Curiosity Killed the Cat

Or: our love/hate relationship with the Phoenix, Chelsea

It was an unusually warm evening for a night in March, which is to say that it was not horrendously cold and you could tarry a while outside without fear of frostbite. Given the nature of his job, Nicholas is not frequently free to socialise, as he has to be doing certain things in certain places at certain times, which sometimes involves being in Greece or a sudden trip to Anguilla (“I’m not doing any more Caribbean islands — I’m fucking tired of them.”). But when he does manage to free himself from indentured servitude, we often find ourselves at the Phoenix on Smith Street.

All sensible right-minded people love the Phoenix and hate the Phoenix. It is a wonderful place, comfortable and delightful, yet somehow attracts the very worst and most tiresome lot of humanity. “Look at these estate agents,” Nicholas moans in the put-on snobbery which has become one of his traits. “They all live in Fulham I’m sure.” (Which is rich, as I live even beyond Fulham). Kit and H. were dining there with Ivo & la B a week or two earlier (or later) and such was the tiresomeness of the crowd that Kit texted Ivo “What a bunch of overgrown yuppies” (or something along those lines).

It’s delightful during the day, and there was one afternoon not long ago when, sauntering down the King’s Road, I ran into Prof. Pink on his way to John Lewis and managed to waylay him into an enjoyable conversation at the Phoenix over two large glasses of the house white. But during the evening the crowd gets so horrendously up-itself that it almost becomes an attraction in itself. “It’s ten o’clock on a Friday night. Shall we drop in to Smith Street and see how awful everyone is?” The experience ends up infecting one with a reverse snobbery almost as snobbish and pretentious as the pretentious snobbery one is reacting against in the first place.

As I was saying, it was a warm evening and Nicholas managed to find an ideal parking spot within sight just round the corner on Woodfall Street. I think it was a Friday or a Saturday so naturally the place was packed inside and I’m partial to the occasional Dunhill so enjoying an exceptionally refreshing cider outdoors with a cigarette was the obvious way forward. I lit up and Nikolai — very generously, as I’m sure it was my round — went inside to brave the crowds in search of drink. Now the curious thing about the smoking ban is that it has turned previously insular cells of humanity — smokers, that is — into a sort-of fraternité universelle. People who have absolutely nothing in common but for being at the same drinking establishment now, for better or worse, through the medium of tobacco, enjoy a recognisable commonality which can frequently turn conversational.

A little Spanish man with a moustache had a party inside celebrating his birthday — 31st, I think — and he ventured outdoors for a smoke and somehow or other conversation was initiated. A pleasant enough fellow but his chat was unexceptional and was suddenly interrupted by the arrival by cab of two tall-ish and rather fashionable Azeri girls, who may have been friends of friends of his or may have had nothing to do with him at all. Being a chatty Spaniard (and perhaps a bit ambitious) he engaged them in conversation almost as soon as they alighted their cab.

After the innocuous pleasantries of introduction all round he eventually asked the Azeri duette, “So where do you girls live?” “Knightsbridge” they replied. “Ah, cool, I’m in Knightsbridge a lot,” our Spanish friend replied as Nicholas, turning away, launched upon a severe, disapproving rolling of the eyes. “Why?” I interjected, somewhat mischievously pricking the balloon of his pretentiousness. After all: what possible excuse could anyone who neither works nor lives there reasonably have for being in Knightsbridge a lot? He turned towards me and with an irritated smile said “My friend, you are too curious; you ask too many questions.”

The Azeri girls remained unconvinced of him, and the birthday boy, having finished his cigarette (which I think came from my pack), sheepishly returned inside where his presumed friends had doubtless continued the celebration of his birth in his brief absence.

But we still all love the Phoenix.

June 14, 2013 1:45 pm | Link | 3 Comments »

No. 6, Burlington Gardens

Sir James Pennethorne’s University of London

German university buildings are an (admittedly unusual) obsession of mine, and I’ve often thought that No. 6 Burlington Gardens is London’s closest answer to your typical nineteenth-century Teutonic academy’s Hauptgebäude. And the connection is appropriate enough, as No. 6 was built in 1867-1870 for the University of London in what had once been the back garden of Burlington House (which at the same time became home to the Royal Academy of Arts). Despite the building’s Germanic form, the architect Sir James Pennethorne decorated the structure in Italianate detail, providing the University with a lecture theatre, examination halls, and a head office. Pennethorne died just a year after drafting this design, and his fellow architects described it as his “most complete and most successful design”.

The University of London was founded as a federal entity in 1836 to grant degrees to the students of the secularist, free-thinking University College and its rival, the Anglican royalist King’s College. It now is composed of eighteen colleges, ten institutes, and a number of other ‘central bodies’, with over 135,000 students.

Since its founding, the University had been dependent upon the government’s purse for funding, as well as for housing. Accomodation was provided in Somerset House, then Marlborough House, before evacuating to temporary quarters in Burlington House and elsewhere. It was not until the 1860s that Parliament approved the appropriate grant for a purpose-built home for the University to be erected in the rear garden of Burlington House. (more…)

May 29, 2013 4:30 pm | Link | 5 Comments »

The Lady Altar

The Oratory Church of the Immaculate Heart of Mary,
Brompton Road, London

In the south transept of the Brompton Oratory is the altar dedicated to the Blessed Virgin, perhaps the finest altar in the entire church. It is a favourite place for getting in a few prayers and offering a candle or two or three or four. At the end of Solemn Vespers & Benediction on Sunday afternoon (above) it is where the Prayer for England is said and the Marian antiphon sung.

The Lady Altar was designed and built in 1693 by Francesco Corbarelli of Florence and his sons Domenico and Antonio and for nearly two centuries stood in the Chapel of the Rosary in the Church of St Dominic in Brescia. That church was demolished in 1883, and the London Congregation of the Oratory purchased the altar two years beforehand for £1,550.

The statue of Our Lady of Victories holding the Holy Child had previously stood in the old Oratory church in King William Street, and the central space of the reredos was slightly modified to house it. The Old and New Worlds are represented in the flanking statues, which are of St Pius V and St Rose of Lima — both by the Venetian late-baroque sculptor Orazio Marinali. The statues of St Dominic and St Catherine of Siena which now rest in niches facing the altar were previously united to it, and are by the Tyrolean Thomas Ruer.

April 7, 2013 11:00 pm | Link | 3 Comments »

London Lately

From a Pimlico rooftop, Friday afternoon.

At lunch, Friday.

A Saturday Mass in St Wilfrid’s Chapel, the Oratory.

A surprisingly sunny afternoon, yesterday in Ennismore Gardens.

February 18, 2013 5:30 pm | Link | 1 Comment »

A Bill Committee in the Commons

A Bill Committee meeting in one of the richly decorated committee rooms of the Palace of Westminster. The Minister is standing, rattling on in an explanatory defence of his government’s bill. Ostensibly these committees exist so that MPs can examine legislation in line-by-line detail and raise questions about whatever points or aspects they believe might cause problems if enacted.

“The question is that Clause 15 stands as part of the Bill.”

The Chairman, an MP of considerable experience, presides, assisted by a retinue of civil servants. He chews a pen and stokes his brow, frustrated by the boredom of the subject at hand. He is perhaps thinking of the weekend and the extreme unlikeliness that he will get down to the coast, and his sailboat, given the inclement weather.

A Scottish Member rises on a Point and the Minister yields the floor. Concerns are expressed about the precise meaning of Subclause 36 Paragraph C and insinuations made about potential costs. The Minister rises and suggests the Member’s criticism is excessively harsh. He then concedes he may have been imprecise in his explanation of the process involved in Subclause 36 Paragraph C.

The Doorkeeper, absurdly and arcanely attired in white tie, tails, and with the royal arms hanging from a gold chain round his neck, wears thick-rimmed glasses and leans back on a desk in a carefree fashion, blissfully paying little attention to the point the Hon. Gentleman has made in response to the proposed amendment.

“Just for the sake of clarity, we are not now talking about Amendment 13?”
“I have no intention of moving Amendment 13.”
“On a Point of Order then, Mr Chair, is it proper that the Member discuss Amendments 21 and 26 when he is not moving Amendment 13, which is the first Amendment to be considered?”

The Chairman corrects that it is perfectly alright for the Member to discuss whichever amendment he would like.

There are at least eleven civil servants in the room. One on the side hands a paper to another. He reads it and nods approvingly before passing it on to the civil servant next to the Chair. Another Member rises to discuss Amendment 54 Clause C.

“There’s an important role for an independent body to exercise scrutiny over this area and it would be wise for it to have a statutory basis.”

The entire proceedings are overshadowed by the continual sound of shuffling papers. One Member doodles on the day’s order-paper. A journalist leaves. The Member stops doodling and consults his iPhone. Then the Minister is grateful for that point. He is surprised but aware, since he was given this junior ministerial role, by the frequency with which this matter has arisen and has spoken before the relevant Select Committee.

Another Member’s face is illuminated by the glow of the iPad he is leaning over.

“Now before I become too Churchillian,” the Minister continues, “I think we’d better turn to the matter of the Amendments. Now the Honourable Member has, perhaps understandably, raised the point…”

A female Member smiles and shares a jest with one of her party colleagues. The Doorkeeper’s shift ends and he is replaced by one of his bearded confrères. The civil servant beside the Chairman folds a paper and stares unthinkingly into the distance.

“In respect for the Hon. Gentleman’s desire for continuing debate and discussion with the relevant authorities…”
“He hasn’t addressed my point about Subsection 2!”

The portly Doorkeeper moves with surprising adroitness in delivering a note from a Member to a civil servant across the room. The Minister’s PPS hands him a relevant paper. The Chairman smiles in response to one of the Minister’s light-hearted remarks.

“I’m sure the Minister will agree that this is not the beginning of the end but merely the end of the beginning.”
“If only!” a Member interjects.

It is 3:32pm. The MPs will be here for hours yet.

February 4, 2013 10:00 pm | Link | 3 Comments »

Don Bosco in London

Just went to venerate the relics of Don Bosco, which are doing a UK-wide tour organised by the Salesian order. There was quite a crowd waiting for the Saint’s earthly remains to be unveiled at 2 o’clock — suprising for early afternoon on a workday. Before the relics were even made viewable there were pilgrims huddled around the veiled reliquary, whom the organisers eventually had to shoo away in order to organise some proper veneration.

The faithful are able to venerate the relics at Westminster Cathedral from 2:00pm to 8:30pm today and tomorrow only, after which they will spend the next two days at St. George’s Cathedral in Southwark before returning to Italy.

January 11, 2013 3:20 pm | Link | 2 Comments »

Fit for a Duke in Covent Garden

Russell House, No. 43, King Street

This apartment occupies the piano nobile of a 1716 house designed by Thomas Archer for the Earl of Orford, then First Lord of the Admiralty. He obtained the lease for the site from his uncle, the Duke of Bedford, on condition he tear down the house located there and build a new one. Batty Langley, the eighteenth-century garden designer and prolific commentator hated it, and devoted over 200 words of his Grub Street Journal (26 September 1734) to slagging it off. The Grade II*-listed building looks onto Covent Garden Piazza and has seen a number of uses over the years. (more…)

November 13, 2012 9:03 pm | Link | 3 Comments »

London’s Fallen Water

A cursory investigation into the metropolis’s drinking water yields results that veer towards the somewhat disturbing

by ALEXANDER SHAW in London

UNDERSTANDING enables self-preservation, but occasionally leads us out of Eden too. Thus, I’m not encouraging you to understand how London’s water is recycled, I’m merely tempting you to.

Education is like lighting a fire, not filling a bucket. One realisation leads to another:

Q: What happens when the ice cubes melt in a brimming Tumbler of Scotch?
A: Nothing – so the disappearance of the polar icecap won’t raise sea levels. So I can drive an eight-litre Bentley after all.
Q: What happens when two cars each travelling at 30mph collide head on head?
A: The Bentley’s CD player skips a track and someone spends the afternoon picking a Nissan Micra out of the radiator.

Point by point, basic wisdom allows us to unpick the paranoid egalitarian ideas subversively presented by the Marxist GCSE Physics curriculum.

However, I am horrified that, even with my impeccable logic, it has taken me three years to realise that London’s recycled potable water supply harbours a rather dirty secret. It was the lime scale in the kettle which gave it away. We all know that, as with many cities, London recycles its water. But why, after the process of evaporation and recondensation, does limescale remain in the supply? The answer, to my unutterable horror, is that it is not recycled by evaporation.

I’ve given up trying to get straight answers from Thames Water about exactly what goes on. Like the pro-choice lobby and socialist economists, they gloss over all manner of sins with a vast lexicon of euphemisms.

For ‘carbonaceous waste,’ read: diarrhoearic faeces comprised of doner kebabs and salted French fries, crammed past cankerous lips by nail-bitten greasy fingers of obese female students in bus stops at 3am. For ‘nitrogenous waste,’ read: cheap lager, churned through proletarian digestive systems whose uncircumcised owners moan with relief as the steel urinal tangs of ammonia – gobs of chewing gum and Mayfair fag butts collecting at the foot of the drain. After a brief sifting and filtering, these ‘wastes’ then gush out of London showerheads. The final confluence of the city’s vomit is on my own pale, patrician flesh.

It might not disturb me so much if the water were sent back to the same house, or even the same postcode. At least in Chelsea, we would be drinking the urbane fruits of some anorexic supermodel’s colonic. But no, the city’s water is pooled in something called the ‘Thames Water Ring Main,’ which sounds ghastly, and is so huge that it reaches down to somewhere called ‘zone four.’
I have read an account of the process used to purify our sewage on Thames Water’s website. First they filter it ‘through a rake’ (right, OK), and then ‘most of the solids are removed by settlement.’ After that, they skim off the cleaner bit of what, by then, is basically an un-shaken-up shit smoothie and pump it through a gravel pit of bacteria. Then they send it back to my house.
The internet consensus seems to be that, on average, our tap water has gone round this system approximately seven times and, for those who still have diehard faith in the system, people start to feel nauseous when they drink 11th generation water. So yes, it does get muckier each time.

“Well, if we don’t get ill it must be alright,” a friend of mine concluded, taking a defiant swig of the tap water she’d just ordered in a café. It seems this may also be the underlying philosophy of Thames Water. I find it an unsettlingly laissez faire approach.

The U.S Geological Survey discovered that the dozens of trace chemicals – often derived from medication – which slip through modern filtration processes amount to ‘only a thimble full in an Olympic pool.’

Only!?! If that thimble were of blood, a shark would smell it. If it were Polonium 210, it would be enough to wipe out the entire city. And, heavens above, any folk who take homeopathy seriously will consider that sort of dilution the medical equivalent to downing a pint of dysentery or bathing in the cesspit of a Kinshasa prison.

Furthermore, the ‘fresh’ water that is brought in to our supply from the Thames contains the only-slightly-treated sewage of the settlements upstream. I’m going to guess that 95% of the female populations of Reading, Cowley, Slough and Swindon perform some type of medical injunction upon their reproductive system every Saturday (or Sunday morning, God forbid). And, of course, what goes in must come out.

A Drinking Water Inspectorate report submitted to Defra in 2007 proclaims that our UK filtration techniques ‘can result in removal rates of more than 90% for a wide variety of pharmaceuticals.’ Oh, good! Only less than 10% gets back in! Further down the report, we read: ‘Very limited data were available for the concentrations of pharmaceuticals or illegal drugs in UK drinking waters, but data from the rest of Europe and the USA have shown that concentrations in finished drinking water at treatment works are generally =100 ng.l-1’ (which sounds like another euphemism to me). The report continues to say that the filtration processes are ‘not specifically designed to remove pharmaceuticals and several compounds have been reported in finished drinking water.’

The report is available in summary here. I was retching and gagging by the third paragraph.

It comes as little surprise to me that our perverse society seems more preoccupied with the treatment of the ‘sludge’ which is siphoned out, than the ‘water’ which is pumped back in to our taps. The Thames Water reports abound with the ‘European Sludge Directive,’ the worthy ‘good chemical status,’ and not forgetting, of course, the all-important ‘Safe Sludge Matrix.’ I have already expounded upon the true meaning of ‘carbonaceous’ and ‘nitrogenous,’ so I will spare you my reflections on ‘sludge.’

In order for my water to be clean, it must be broken down to a molecular level, de-ionised, re-ionised, blessed by a bishop, and prayed over by a virgin.

However, I have identified two brands of bottled water which almost meet the standards which we must now demanded from natural sources: Tasmanian Rain ($11 a bottle), is captured from the ‘purest skies on earth,’ and doesn’t touch the ground before it gets to the bottle. Only problem is: what if a bunch of Aussies on stag-night fly a smoky old Cessna over the rain catchment facility? Perhaps better is 10 Thousand BC ($14 a bottle) – or the hippy’s dilemma, as I call it – because it’s extracted from a glacier and derives its purity from having been frozen since before the fall of man.

Or, of course, you could just give up drinking water, as I did years ago.

October 30, 2012 8:38 pm | Link | 3 Comments »
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