Mother Thames – a river full of skulls

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.

For more Thames lore check out the Totally Thames festival. And for London mysteries look up the Fortean Society

On the night of the election

We woke up at three in the morning, the sky was an industrial orange, heavy clouds reflecting all of London’s lights. The sound of thunder seeped into our dreams and woke us up with a start, heavy rain, thunder claps loud enough to make the whole building shake, purple flashes lighting up the sky, a plane in the distance. It’s the second time this summer a thunder storm has sat right over our house, the second time I’ve seen a storm like this up close. The air held a hint of release.

We checked our phones. The first results were in, Scotland was voting no. The storm moved on, but the rumbling echoed around us. I worried about my computer being plugged in and data being wiped out. I wondered about Scotland. I fell asleep.

This morning it was clear. There will be no independence. A million and a half bright hopes, a million and a half people wanting a different future. Today they woke up to the grey same-old. Perhaps it’s for the best, because after the sparkling change, the parties, the energy would have fizzled out, like it always does when real life seeps back into idealism. There would have been disappointment, confusion, tension, polarisation.

Big, bright change almost always means that someone will suffer. Some are more revolutionary than I am. I just want as many people as possible to live a comfortable, happy life.

In Scotland 85 percent of those who can vote, voted. People cared. If they can keep caring that will be the most important outcome of this election.

Things I find confusing about British people #1 – soapy dish water

I once had a conversation about how the British do their dishes at my dentist in Jakobstad. After everyone was done scraping plaque off my teeth the dental nurse asked me. “Is it really true what they show you in the TV shows?”. She sounded concerned. “Do they really do their dishes in the same soapy water and then just put them to the side to dry?”

I told her that unfortunately, this is true. After that we had a long discussion about how the Brits clearly don’t know how to do their dishes properly, which everyone of course knows is all about keeping the water running and splashing it everywhere. I admit it’s not the greenest or most economical way to do your dishes and that the lower part of my top tends to be soaked with water after I’ve done the washing up, but dammit if the pans aren’t clean when I’m done.

So. This is something I still find a little bit confusing. Where does this actually quite frugal way of doing your dishes come from? How come it’s acceptable to not clean the soap off the dishes? And why hasn’t anyone thought about importing those clever Finnish drying cabinets to this country?

Apparently even British people find this confusing.

Image via Jon Bolden.