London’s lost rivers

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A while ago i stumbled across a book about the rivers that used to run through London. This place was once criss-crossed by streams and rivers leading to the Thames. Over the years many of them have been drained, pushed underground, hidden and destroyed. But some are still there, underneath our feet.

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The Tyburn

The river Tyburn, runs from Hamptstead through Regent’s Park towards the heart of the city, Mayfair, Green Park and Westminster. There is also a bit underneath Buckingham Palace where its path is unknown.

In the middle ages Oxford Street used to be called Tyburn Road and some suggest the river crosses the street in the area around Marbel Arch, where the road has a small dip.

The river has also been spotted in other places. When Grays antiques on Davies Street was renovated in the 1970s a stream was supposedly discovered running through its basement. Apparently the river can still be found in said basement, complete with goldfish.

The outfall into the Thames can be seen west of Vauxhall Bridge, where a plaque lists the river’s route.

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River Fleet

This is perhaps the best known of London’s hidden rivers. It also flows from Hampstead Heath and in to the Thames at Blackfriars Bridge. It was a major river in Roman times and is named after the Anglo-Saxon word fleot, which means estuary. Now days it’s slightly less majestic and exists as a large underground sewer.

What’s left of the river flows down through Camden Town and continues to King’s Cross, beside the church of St Pancras, which is said to be one of Europe’s most ancient sites of Christian worship, dating back as the early fourth century.

After King’s Cross the Fleet follows the line of King’s Cross Road, down to Farringdon Road to the Thames where it spills into river from an anonymous arch hidden beneath Blackfriars Bridge.

When the Metropolitan Line was built in 1862 the river was buried under Farringdon Road, supposedly you can still hear water through a grating in the front of the Coach and Horses pub on Ray Street.

london's lost rivers Image via pinterest.

River Walbrook

The Walbrook is one of London’s shortest rivers and it’s a bit of a mystery. I’ve included it here because it’s one of the old rivers that run through the areas of London I know well. It’s not clear where it once flowed, but it’s thought to have started somewhere near the junction of Curtain Road and Holywell Lane in Shoreditch.

It’s possible that Shoreditch was named after a sewer ditch which flowed into the Walbrook. Like most of the city’s old rivers it’s now a sewer.

For more information about London’s rivers check out the London’s Lost Rivers website.

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A little letter to London

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Hi London,

We normally don’t communicate like this, but for a while I’ve felt like writing you a letter. You’ve changed, or perhaps I’ve changed. Maybe we’ve both changed. Do you remember, back when we first met, those endless bus journeys when there was always something interesting around the corner? It’s not the same anymore.

I see you spending a lot of time with people who have a lot more money than I do and I feel left out. Perhaps there’s always been this side to you. I just didn’t notice it when I was younger and more naive.

I’ve thought about leaving you sometimes. I would be lying if I didn’t admit that. I plan ahead, I play out different scenarios in my head, what would it be like, where could we go, and every time I come back to you.

I think about having to leave the grocery shops and cafes where people know my name. Of leaving behind streets that feel more like home than any I have walked before in my life. I think about silly things like leaving that pub in Spitalfields where Jack the Ripper’s victims used to drink or the bombed out church in the graveyard close to our house. I think about your history, which is long and eventful. I think about the drills and cranes changing you, giving you nips and tucks and facelifts so you’re even more attractive to those new people you’ve started hanging out with recently.

You know, London, my problem is that I don’t know what to do. I don’t want to leave you, but you’re making it difficult to stay. Sometimes I wonder if you’ve always been a bit cruel like this and if that’s what makes you so goddamn interesting.

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Oh pineapple you horribly devious fruit

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There aren’t many things I don’t like just because of the way they taste, but there is one fruit I can’t stand. I’m sorry pineapple, but it’s you, with your sweet, yellow tropical flesh and your prickly skin. Unfortunately pineapple has always made an appearance in my life just before I get a stomach bug.

Strike 1 against the humble pineapple

The first time was my eighteenth birthday party. I know what you might be thinking, eighteenth birthday parties are normally followed by a bit of vomiting. This was different. I had some pineapple upside-down cake with my relatives, was floored by stomach pains and spent the rest of the day laying in a dark room. That was a couple of days before I was due to fly to Cambridge for an interview at the university. I was ill, seriously nervous and, I realise now, not very prepared for what studying English at Clare college would have meant. I flew out in the end, my dad booking a last minute ticket so he could come with me, and I walked around wide-eyed and amazed. I flunked the two interviews by babbling nonsense about Beowulf and then I flew home again.

Strike 2 against the pineapple

After that I avoided pineapple for many years, until I was working late at YLE one night and the only thing that looked appetising in the cafeteria was a plastic tub full of fresh pineapple. How bad can it be, I thought? Next thing I know I’m in a Mexican restaurant in town with some friends, running to the loo to … yes you guess it, vomit. I’m still amazed I managed to get the tram home that night and I spent the next week or so recovering, during which time I read many self-help books and decided it was probably a good idea to quit my job and move to the UK.

Strike 3 against the pineapple

On Monday Gerry and my brother had brought home a fresh pineapple. They encouraged me to eat some and I said no, telling them my story about what the fruit had put me through in the past. I only sniffed a piece and the memories started flooding back. I didn’t eat any.

The next day, which was the day before Gerry and I were due to fly to Finland for a short holiday, I woke up and felt bad, really bad. What followed was what someone else described as all the hangovers in your life coming back to visit you at once. We ended up not going to Finland.

So here I am. Finally feeling a bit better, wondering what kind of strange random chanceness is at work here. I’m starting to think pineapple and stress is not a winning combination.

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One of my biggest problems or how to deal with that angry toddler inside you

I’ve been reading a lot about super volcanos lately. This is Mount Ararat erupting by Sako Tchilingirian, found on pinterest.

It snowed this morning, big heavy flakes. It’s the worst sort of weather in this town, it keeps people indoors, only brave Londoners who have to work or desperately want their morning paper and a coffee hide behind umbrellas and hurry along the pavements. It snowed and then it stopped and now it’s just cold and grey. I’m in the studio. The heating is still not working, but at least we’ve bought a fan heater, it keeps my toes nice and toasty.

I’m writing, but I’m lagging slightly behind my target of 2000 words per day. After a marathon sprint during the last two weeks I hit some kind of wall on Thursday and Friday. Every time I sat down to write I experienced what can best be described as my inner angry three-year-old clenching her fists and shouting “I just don’t want to do anything”. I’m not sure if you’ve ever experienced this particular kind of vicious inner procrastinator, but if you have you know she (or he) can be a bit tricky to deal with. I’ve spent two days reading British newspapers, looking up interesting flats on Airbnb and reading about super volcanoes.

There are a couple of texts I need to edit. I have a finished manuscript sitting on the hard-drive, waiting for me to pay it even the tiniest bit of attention. I’ve written a couple of short stories I’d like to send out. But every time I start thinking about doing that final edit, about perhaps getting them ready for readers who aren’t my immediate family that angry three-year-old appears again.

I know what’s going on here. I’m afraid of being judged, of what people might think and feel when they read my writing, so I leave it all sitting on my hard-drive. I’m not alone here. I’m not the first person to runaway and hide because I fear rejection.

So I need to come up with a strategy, something that will appease that angry three-year-old. How do parents deal with screaming toddlers? Well I just googled “how to deal with angry three year old” and a lot of interesting stuff came up.

Among other things:

Don’t judge the child for their anger

The anger is the problem, not the angry child. So … the procrastination is the problem, not my fear of rejection? Basically feel the fear and do it anyway.

Find the anger triggers

“Work together to try to find out what triggers the anger. You’ll learn to recognise the early warning signs that anger is starting to rise.” (From the NHS website)

In other words – don’t focus on the end result, focus on the work, when the end result triggers anxiety.

Have a specific goal

“You could have a star chart on the wall and reward your child with stickers for keeping anger away for a whole hour, then gradually move to half a day, then a day and so on.”

Yes, I know lots of writers do this, they reward themselves in different ways for reaching their word targets. Would a glass of wine for every short story sent out work? Ice cream? Pancakes with maple syrup and bacon? A full hour of reading about super volcanos on Wikipedia? I’m sure I can find some kind of bribe that works.

Praise your child

“Praise your child’s efforts and your own efforts, no matter how small. This will build your child’s confidence in the battle against anger.”

This makes sense, we all know it makes sense and yet we never do it. Give yourself some positive feedback every now and then.

In the end the main thing is to keep writing, to ignore the temper tantrums, to not give in to angry toddlers and to always have some ice cream in the fridge. So… 2000 more words, here we go!

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Fifteen-year-old delusions and tea

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When I was fifteen I read about Sylvia Plath writing in her cold flat in London, the water pipes freezing on the outside of the building because it was such a harsh winter (one of the coldest in centuries). I used to think this sounded intriguing and I daydreamed about sitting in a cold flat somewhere in the UK, typing away with fingerless mittens and drinking lots of tea. I now realise that fifteen is a delusional age.

This is the coldest it’s been in London all winter. It doesn’t compare to the minus 20 degrees and snow hammering my hometown at the moment, but it is still quite an unfortunate time for the heating in the studio to break down. So here I am typing away wearing layers of woolly jumpers, my scarf, several socks and I’m still freezing. The only thing that makes it a bit more bearable is to drink lots and lots of tea. It’s not exactly lovely or glamorous or even that interesting, but then again not many things you idolise when you’re fifteen will be.

I have learned one thing though. Tea is great.

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