It’s Sunday in the city of London, the heart of the old medieval city. The streets are quiet. All the bankers and the office workers are somewhere else, the restaurants and cafes serving them are empty. The buses are fast and every sound echoes between fat stone buildings. The white dome of Saint Pauls in the distance is attracting every backpack wearing tourist within a mile. There are tours on guided buses, someone wearing the british colours standing on the top deck, microphone in hand. All the tourists seem to nod and pay attention. It’s a nice day for sightseeing. Clear and autumn bright.
I’m heading to the river, to a talk about the myths and mysteries of the Thames. I’m going with Madicken and we climb onto the HMS President which is rocking gently at the Victoria Embankment. Somehow that gentle rocking is disturbing enough to make both of us feel slightly seasick.
It’s not even noon, the boat is packed. We learn that thirty to fifty bodies are discovered in the river every year. We learn that the Thames used to be a sacred river, a sort of Ganges, where the celts dumped ceremonial objects. The river was a way to another world. Camelot has been placed in Westminster. Arthur and his knights in London.
Perhaps that’s why the river is also full of skulls. Lots and lots and lots of human skulls resting in the riverbed. Strangely though there are no bodies and no one seems to know where all the skulls come from.
There are more stories. What we see around us today on the shores of the river are many islands. Every place which ends on an ea or ey used to be an island, Battersea, Bermondsey. It’s just like on Orkney where the ey is a leftover from my ancestors. En ö, öy, ey, an island. London Bridge could have fallen down when it was invaded by vikings and King Canute saved the country by commanding the tide and drowning his enemies, no I’m getting ahead of myself here. That’s not really how the story goes.
There are so many stories in this city, mysteries, hidden lore, hidden history. I walk these streets and I only see today, I only ever scrape the surface. But there are layers and layers of lives and thoughts, hopes and dreams, going down deep into the mud underneath our feet. This place has been a metropolis for centuries. All that energy is stored within stone walls, all those lives, loves, fears, the worship, the ambition, it’s all still here. And I love it. That’s what makes this city great.