Sunday, 28 October 2012

Loving a London Fog

For the past few days London has been filled with a damp, thick fog and I, for one, have been loving it. Walking through streets lined with terraces houses, catching a glimpse of a famous landmark through the shifting, cloudy air, crossing the Thames enveloped in mysterious mists. It's all very dramatic and plays into my more melancholy, self-indulgent and melodramatic sides. It must be difficult to think of me as melodramatic, but there it is. I've been curling up with books, writing things that will no doubt turn out to be more angsty and forced than dark and intriguing, and there has been a veritable run on hot chocolate in our house.

Amidst all my Jack-the-Ripper-dreaming I have also been thinking about how this is the first time in a year and a half that I have seen a true, honest-to-goodness London fog. Not just a morning mist or a hazy day, but a fog thick enough to require fog lights on cars, one that disrupts flights at Heathrow and one that settles in for the long haul. Except I haven't seen a London fog. I've just seen a fog in London. Less exciting all together, until I started Google-ing "London fog." Oh, the magic of Google search and Wikipedia, is there any better way to while away a couple of hours on a Wednesday evening when you ought to be getting on with real work? I think not.
Can you spot Battersea Power Station? You might know it from Pink Floyd.
I had always thought that a fog in London would be, you know, called "a London fog." There's even a company making plenty of bank off fogs in London. No prizes for guessing which one. Instead, I found that a true "London fog" is, in fact, a disgusting green, brown, horrible, pollution laden fog. Also, there hasn't been one since the Clear Air Act was passed in 1956.

The expression "London fog" came into common use in the Victorian era when these heavy, low lying smog clouds became a real problem. According to this interesting blog (I can't vouch for its veracity, but it's fascinating reading), in 1847 a coal barge ran into Vauxhall Bridge (the spot from which my photos were taken) and sank during a thick London fog. Nasty. Fortunately, there were no such sad occurrences this week, just plenty of miserable, damp folk trudging around, wishing they hadn't been so ill-tempered about a bit of rain this summer.

From here, the story improves somewhat, though, as we head into the domain of food. From a claimed 12,000 deaths in 1952, we move to split pea soup. No kidding. Nothing gets you hungry like mass deaths from pollution. According to Wikipedia, there is a nominal connection between the smoggy fog and the soup, but it seems tenuous at best to me. Nevertheless, reading these articles is a lovely way to waste an hour if you happen to be a trivia nut like me. Nothing like a little useless information.

In the inestimable wisdom that is all things wiki, I also refer you here, to a little article on a variation of tea apparently known as a London Fog. This delectable treat is the subject of much debate as to its origin (who is having this debate is less clear), but it seems to be a mix of Earl Grey tea, milk, vanilla and water.

I'm just full of interesting information tonight, eh?

As real (non-wiki) people trudged through London this past week, though, there were no delightful, milky hot drinks or yellow-green soups. It was all damp, wet, cold misery. Well, at least after all us foreigners got over the excitement of being in a genuine, fake London fog. I did great the first day, fine the second, but by Wednesday, I was spending my evening Google-ing "London fog." I must admit, finding out that the fog could have been green-brown-yellow and infinitely unhealthy, made me feel marginally better, but I was still very ready for the sun to come back. Unfortunately, this is what the view from Vauxhall Bridge was on Wednesday:

The sun was threatening, but it didn't get through until the end of the week. And then today, oh, today. Today I didn't cross the Thames, but it was miserable once again. Dark, damp and cold. Welcome to winter in London. An old friend of mine recently moved here from southern California and I found myself assuring her at lunch that the weather doesn't get much worse than it has been for the past week.

That said, the eastern seaboard of the US is battening down the hatches for hurricane, Sandy, so I guess we can't complain about a bit of mist. While my basil plant might be dying indoors because the draft from our windows is so strong, at least we're not worried about gale force winds and flooding - or a yellow fog caused by carcinogenic pollution and coal fires. Dodged a bullet on the London fog, eh? Time to curl up with a blanket and a hot water bottle. There's very little a hot water bottle and some Jack-the-Ripper's-London-dreaming can't solve on a Sunday evening.
I'm ready for days like this, again

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