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In my personal experience, they certainly do.

But seriously.
Review: Londonist Drinks – A Spirited Guide to London Libation by Londonist editors, staff writers and guests. 

londonistdrinksThis new book celebrates public drinking in London: where and what Londoners imbibe when being sociable. It is largely about alcohol, but tea, coffee, chocolate, juice, water etc. do get a decent look-in. There is an interesting chapter, for example, about drinking chocolate which reminds us that swanky men-only (still) White’s Club was originally a chocolate emporium, one of the first, in fact. And an entire four page article is devoted to tea, its history, where to enjoy it and all the centuries-old markers around town reminding us of one of our national obsessions. Coffee mania came, then went, and has come again.

tea potted_500

It’s not all about boozing – far from it.

But it must be said that most of Londonist Drinks’s pages are devoted to Londoners’ enjoyment of alcohol in most of its forms.

The book comprises 68 small essays which may be consumed in any order. Editor Will Noble and veteran Editor at Large Matt Brown do most of the heavy lifting here, but there are also contributions by staffers including Laura Reynolds and Dave Haste. Myriad other writers pitch in too, for example the excellent Peter Watts who has a manly stab at the unsolvable which-is-London’s-oldest-pub conundrum. It is published in hardback and is a quality item, richly illustrated by 20 talented, professional artists. I didn’t notice at first glance that the cover, the familiar London citiscape which Londonist uses as its logo – is cleverly made up of bottles, glasses and other boozing paraphernalia.

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London’s oldest pub – that thorny old question.

Primarily, this is a guide-book of pubs and bars. That sort of book and indeed web site has been done to death. But Londonist – on its website as on here – does things differently. The dozens of pen-portraits within these pages are presented variously as oldest (see above); as pub crawls (Karl Marx, Blue Posts, Circle Line (image below), Colours of the Rainbow, Docklands Light Railway, Charles Dickens, you name it); as strangest names; on water; the best Wetherspoons; and so on. We examine wine bars, speakeasies, working men’s clubs, rooftop bars, hotel bars. Where to get the best cocktails.

And for readers of this blog, there is plenty of history too. Not only the history of all these beverages, but kings and queens; the London Beer Flood; the story behind pub names; the 18C Gin Craze; animals, death and murder.

With 68 chapters to enjoy, you can see I’ve here just scratched the surface.

Readers of Londonist will know that their style has a definite lightness of touch and humour. This shines through here, making the reading of this book even more of a pleasure. Secondly, they adore trivia, and the sharing thereof. Londonist Drinks is dripping in the stuff, but you’ll get no spoilers from me.

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One of many flimsy excuses for a good pub-crawl.

I have two quibbles which are more petty even than that word suggests:
1) There is an excellent chapter called Liquid History: A Chronology of Key Events in London Drinking. Here I discovered that my favourite pint – London Pride by Asahi Breweries (formerly Fuller’s) is actually younger than me, I had no idea! Anyway, this chapter is at the back. All historians will agree with me that it belongs at the front.
2) Use of the word ‘quaff’ (‘Once more unto the breach, Casketeers!’) Points deducted.

But seriously (again). This simply marvellous book is a sure-fire treat for all sociable Londoners and, may I suggest with Christmas looming scarily, guaranteed brownie points as a gift to your friends and family.

 


Londonist Drinks – A Spirited Guide to London Libation (192 pages) is published on 3 October by AA Media (there’s a double joke in there) with a cover price of £16.99, though available for less.

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eykalisSorry for the lack of posting of late: I’ve been overseas for three weeks. This, at least, enabled me to catch up on some reading, including this assertively-titled work by Matt Brown, which was published very recently.

Most of us who love London are aware that there are many canards out there, some of the most obvious relating to Dick Whittington, for example, or the American hotelier who purchased London Bridge. What Brown has done is to undertake as deep and wide a trawl as possible and deliver from the most obvious to the most obscure, and if you know him personally or from his writings at Londonist, you’ll realise that he’s just the man for the job. The obvious trap in a project of this kind is, of course, to come across as a didactic bore. This is something the author acknowledges in his introduction and then skillfully manages to avoid through lightness of touch and twinkleness of eye: it’s joyous to read and a book that will make you smile frequently.

From a review point of view, the danger here is spoilers. So I will just mention that there are bits which debunk beliefs relating to Guy Fawkes, Dick Turpin, Hitler, the Great Fire (topical), Bob Holness, Boris, Napoleon and Boudicca. That’s a tiny percentage of it. There is tons more, nicely arranged thematically into 10 chapters, including an important section which throws a huge bucket of freezing water over the most idiotic trivia fed to tourists.

I think my knowledge of the capital is pretty good on the whole, so it was occasionally disappointing – but in a nice way – to discover that some things I believed turn out to be complete bollocks (nylon, Jeremy Bentham); and other new things (to me) of which I was completely unaware (Green Park and flowers; Jimi’s parakeets). I’m sure you too can look forward to similar triumphs and disasters, and treat those two impostors just the same.

So lots of juicy and factual content, then, but also room for editorialising. There is one item in particular which takes a sideswipe at Victor Meldrews like me who dislike change, in this instance relating to names of areas. It’s a point well made, as is the book itself which is very nicely designed, illustrated, printed and bound.

Well-written, knowledgeable, amusing, authoritative. This is a fine book to own and one which friends will thank you for as a gift. And mean it.

Everything You Know About London is Wrong (192pp) by Matt Brown is published by Batsford with a cover price of £9.99. It can be purchased directly from the publishers www.pavilionbooks.com, in good and some bad bookshops, and on Amazon.

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Last night four teams from four quarters of London duked it out in a University Challenge-style quiz at Museum of London, organised by Matt Brown of Londonist. I was honoured to have been invited to lead the West London team. Although my team-mates were most canny at London knowledge, we were bested by the South – a very powerful line-up who went on to win the competition comfortably. It was a great idea, a fabulous, very well-attended evening –  and I do hope Matt thinks about making it an annual fixture.

Update 9 July: Londonist report on this event. Includes example questions.

the londoner challenge

The Londoner Challenge

Matt Brown, quizmeister.

http://bit.ly/oKGAJR

West is Best. Only not this time. I appear to be sleeping on the job.

The Londoner Challenge

Picture round. Our question. We answered Tate Modern; alas, the answer was Tate Britain. A Francis Bacon item, but you know that.

The Londoner Challenge

The Winners. Very brainy.

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This promises to be a fabulous event taking place on 5 July at Museum of London. The brainchild of quiz-crazy, mad-for-London Matt Brown of the mighty Londonist web site, the idea is that teams representing North, South, East and West London will duke it out in a University Challenge style test of London knowledge. I have the privilege of captaining the wonderful West and need four stout and hearty team mates (three plus one reserve) to compensate for my inadequacies. You may of course wish to play for one of the other sides. Whatever the case, or if you’d prefer just to come for the jeering and cheering – find out more here. It’ll be massive fun. Oh, and there’s also a Facebook page here.

The Londoner Challenge - West

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Once again, a full house at The Bell in Spitalfields were subjected to – I think it’s safe to say – a superb evening’s historical entertainment. Nigel Jones, author of a new book on the Tower of London, kicked off proceedings with some highly amusing anecdotes about escapees over the centuries from what most people don’t realise was a somewhat leaky prison. Ruairidh Anderson reprised his appearance from History in the Pub I with a set of brilliant songs and stories from London’s old East End. Ruairidh is also doing a series for Londonist about the Olympic boroughs under the Folk Olympics strand. Here’s an example. We were treated with not one, but two balladeers. For then Henry Skewes gave us a song about an appalling death in the 18C St Giles workhouse. This was by way of introduction to Professor Tim Hitchcock‘s talk: The Workhouse Cruelty: Death and outrage in early 18th century St Giles all about the introduction and social impact of this peculiarly British institution. A deeply absorbing topic.

The evening was spiced with Matt Brown’s speed quiz, whose topic was the history of Christmas in London. Challenging questions which our audience rose to magnificently. The winner received a signed copy of Nigel Jones’ above-mentioned book. The runners-up got snazzy t-shirts, kindly provided by Londonist. We also had two prize draws: a signed copy of  Tales from the Hanging Court by Tim Hitchcock and Robert Shoemaker; and a year’s membership to London Historians, won by Christina Torres. Welcome, Christina!

Proceedings were brought to a close when landlord Glyn had to beg the remaining hard-liners to vacate his pub at about 11:30! A splendid evening. Many thanks to our speakers and singers, all superb; a big thank you to Matt Brown for being MC and preventing anarchy; but thanks most of all to all who came and supported our event. I hope you had as great a time as I did and we look forward to the next one, we’re thinking February 2012.

Here are some pictures. I don’t think the light in The Bell and my camera get on very well, but you get the idea.

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Tower of London tales by Nigel Jones. Pic by Peter Stone

history in the pub london historians

Ruairidh Anderson: songs from the old East End

history in the pub

Ruairidh Anderson

history in the pub

Matt Brown tests the audience with the speed quiz...

history in the pub

...and is later on amused by some of the answers.

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A moving ballad from Henry Skewes

history in the pub

Prof Tim Hitchcock captivates the audience

history in the pub

Tim Hitchcock

history in the pub london historians

There was plenty of intelligent Q & A

history in the pub london historians

Prizes!

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MoL is playing a blinder at the moment with at least three excellent exhibitions: London Street Photography, Street Cries, and Hand-drawn London. All are Free. Much as I enjoyed Street Photography, I went when if first opened and it was in the school holiday, completely packed out, so I shall write about that another time.

Street Criesuntil 31 July

hot pudding seller by Paul Sandby

Hot Pudding Seller by Paul Sandby

This exhibition mainly comprises about 80 illustrations of street vendors dating from the late 17C through to the late-Georgian era. The main illustrators featured are Marcellus Laroon (1648 – 1702); Paul Sandby (1731 – 1809); Thomas Rowlandson (1757 – 1827) and Francis Wheatley (1747 – 1801). Most of the images are quite small, typically 8″ x 10″, and rendered in pen and ink or engravings. Connoisseurs of historic commercial art will enjoy the skill and talent of the artists, but in the most part the appreciation and the point of the show is what it tells us socially about the street poor of London, how they dressed, what they sold (huge variety) and what people thought of them. This last point is important, because by and large, what was missing was pity. On the one hand, they are depicted as figures of fun (Sandby, Rowlandson). In contrast, Wheatley conveys his subjects as noble figures, the only difference between them and their customers being their clothes. Nowhere is this more starkly demonstrated in Sandby’s cartoonic rendition of the mackerel seller (it is funny), and Wheatley’s treatment of the same subject.

Most of the illustrations are captioned, often in both English and French in order to capitalise on both markets.

Rare Mackarel Three a Groat or Four for Sixpence!

chants Sandby’s mackerel crone.

… a stick to beat Your Wives or Dust Your Clothes!

bawls the cane seller. (!!)

In addition to the artists mentioned, there are also some canvases, some quite large, showing more panoramic street scenes – for example a particularly good one of Covent Garden by John Collet (1725 – 1780) with excellent single vanishing point perspective.

Hand-drawn Londonuntil 11 September
This display is in the foyer of the museum. It has been mounted in partnership with Londonist. It features 13 contemporary maps of London drawn by Londoners, some amateurs, others professional illustrators. The maps are a selection from many that have been submitted and they are all excellent. Most feature the centre of town but some contributors have focused on their own neighbourhood.  What is enjoyable about them is that they are all based on very personal and individualistic ideas, which may be visual, informative, amusing or all of these things.

london first by julia forte

Possibly the most historical one, and hence my favourite: London Firsts by Julia Forte.

The Hand-drawn London project is ongoing and Londonist encourages its readers to have a go. And I think I shall, stand aside Monsieur Rocque!

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I didn’t mention it at the time because it hadn’t been posted, but when I visited St Sepulchre last week, I was interviewed by the excellent Mr N Quentin Woolf for his Londonist Out Loud series. I have to say I was nervous as all hell, never having done this before, but I suppose I had better get used to it. It turned out much better than had feared. After 30 years in London I thought my Zimbabwean accent had reduced to a gentle twang, in my mind’s ear a sort of  African Neil MacGregor. Not so.

So if you’re ever so slightly curious about what I look and sound like and to find out a bit more about London Historians, dear reader, go here.

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