If you wish to know Great Britain better, to start from London could be a nice idea. Try starting from its streets: neat, large, full of cars moving on what the rest of the world calls the wrong side of the road. Follow them in the right direction and you’ll find yourself watching a huge river- yup, it’s the Thames. As many other European capitals, London was built in that spot because of its favourable position, beside a river which can be followed to the sea, not too far away for easy naval trading but enough to be safe from unexpected invasions. In recent years London has focused more on its riverside, which is just as interesting: while cities like Paris always lived strictly in connection with their river, London seemed to want to forget the Thames, almost as if it were something trivial and filthy.
The Thames is quite a pretty river, so why not enjoy it more?
Jerome K. Jerome knew that well enough to write Three men in a boat, the true essence of British witty spirit, so full of humour! You can partially follow his steps on one of the several Thames cruises, just to look at London town from another perspective. As if this weren’t enough in order to be thankful to the good, old Thames, now its full mystic power appears to be back in the spotlight thanks to another novelist, Ben Aaronovitch
Rivers of London is the first instalment of a trilogy of what can be labelled as fantasy urban novels, an amusing mix between a detective story and fantasy literature. And as stated by the title, the Thames and its family play quite a central part in it. Following the first steps of constable Peter Grant on his new job with Chief Inspector Nightingale in a secret section of the Metropolitan Police Service, Aaronovitch puts together magic, murder, investigation, ghosts and, yes, river gods. The result is entertainment filled with British humour, and introduces characters who can be liked by the readers, eagerly wanting to follow them in other instalments of the (by now) trilogy. Personally, what I liked best was the way Aaronovitch depicts London and the magic truly hidden behind its walls and roads. The action revolves around Covent Garden, and the author is clever enough to deliberately play with all of the imagery linked to the area and to London in general.
“There’s no place like London” sang Sweeney Todd, the Demon Barber of Fleet Street, and everybody could agree with him just by walking through its streets. The last 007 movie, Skyfall, (see the previous instalment here) showed plenty of them, together with the underground, as well as lots of riverside, starting from the MI6 headquarters in Vauxhall, right in front of Tate Britain and not far from Westminster. Not that it’s the only English movie to show views of London by the Thames: just think of Bridget Jones walking on the Millennium Bridge or Voldemort’s minions flying over the London Eye in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. Even if mostly set miles away in the North, at Hogwarts, Scotland, the Harry Potter series has done a lot for London. Platform 9 ¾ at King’s Cross Station is now marked by a trolley vanishing into the brick wall, while the actual movie set is now open to the public. Just book your visit for the Studio Tour near Watford, between London and Luton Airport, and sense the magic of the world first created by J.K. Rowling.
Not that Rowling cannot be detached from the wizard boy who made her fortune: the UK was just hit by her first “adult” novel, Casual Vacancy, and still trying to recover from it. While being quite a bestseller, with an impressive number of copies bought even before its release, the critics were divided upon its value. What was generally described as an interesting experiment that didn’t quite work, it is set in Pagford, a fictional small country town that should act as a realistic, even cynical vision of Potter’s Privet Drive. Never judge a book by its cover is a wise suggestion, so I wait to express my opinion about it.
Let’s cross Baker Street now, waiting for Sherlock’s third season, the present-set series with Sherlock Holmes and Doc. Watson solving cases inspired by the ones written by Sir Conan Doyle. Watson, who just came back from the Iraq war, meets Sherlock Holmes, who doesn’t smoke pipe nor injects himself with cocaine, but puts on nicotine band-aids because he finds them exciting. The brilliant detective is played by Benedict Cumberbatch, who is simply perfect in genius the part, but Watson-Martin Freeman works just as well too. A Study in Scarlet becomes A study in Pink, when, even if present-set, the dark atmosphere is still that of olden times, and despite Sherlock’s long explanations the result is still really enjoyable. Walking through the London fog we arrive right in front of Ripper Street, where Jack the Ripper’s presence still lingers. The show, starring Matthew Macfayden (formerly Mr. Darcy in Wright’s Pride and Prejudice), which will be aired January 2013, brings us back to a flawless 1889 London. Produced by the BBC, the eight Ripper Street episodes narrate the detective story behind the hunt for Jack the Ripper and are set in Whitechapel, where most part of the murders took place. With a shiver down our spine let’s get back home now, ready for the unmissable Downton Abbey’s Christmas Special.