“The QI Book Of The Dead” by John Lloyd & John Mitchinson (2009)

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“The first thing that strikes you about the Dead is just how many of them there are.”

I love a bit of trivia, and lockdown has definitely been an opportunity to use that muscle with the amount of quizzes we’ve all been doing. This book has, somehow, been sat on my shelf since its publication but I’ve only just got around to it, maybe because it’s quite a big hardback and I’m not having to carry it around at the moment. Never mind, we got here at last – a series of short biographies about some of history’s most interesting characters.

Obviously, being a creation of the team behind QI, these biographies aren’t arranged in a way we might be used to. Rather than dividing people up by their career, nationality or era, they are collated instead in ten more esoteric ways. Get ready to be introduced to…

  1. People who had absent, abusive or difficult fathers (Sigmund Freud, Ada Lovelace)
  2. People who had a positive outlook (Mary Seacole, Edward Jenner)
  3. People with unstoppable ambition (Genghis Khan, Mary Kingsley)
  4. People obsessed with sex (Tallulah Bankhead, Giacomo Casanova)
  5. People with curious diets (John Harvey Kellog, Henry Ford)
  6. People who had bodies that turned against them (Florence Nightingale, Daniel Lambert)
  7. People who had pet monkeys (Catherine de Medici, Frida Kahlo)
  8. People who were lifelong impostors and liars (Titus Oates, Princess Caraboo)
  9. People who died with no money to their name (Emma Hamilton, Karl Marx)
  10. People who were obsessed with the afterlife (Ann Lee, William Blake)

There is no real distinction made between people who are internationally famous and changed the very way we live, such as Isaac Newton and Leonardo da Vinci, and those who have been forgotten by history like James Barry and Moll Cutpurse but had fascinating lives nonetheless. The book is, of course, a treasure trove of trivia, loaded with interesting nuggets to throw out at anyone who enjoys learning something interesting but not necessarily useful. Doesn’t life just feel a little bit brighter, however, knowing that General Antontio de Santa Anna was not only President of Mexico eleven times, but also invented chewing gum, and that great explorer Mary Kingsley used to march into the villages of uncontacted tribes shouting, “It’s only me!”

Some of the most interesting figures here are the ones who have slipped entirely from the cultural conversation, or are remembered for one single thing. William Morris may have revolutionised interior design but history doesn’t so much record the fact he was once offered the role of Poet Laureate, and that Mary Seacole paid for her journey from Jamaica to England by selling pickles from a suitcase. Catherine the Great’s life was far more exciting than even the rumours suggest, and Alexander von Humboldt should be remembered for far much more than giving his name to a species of penguin. People are endlessly fascinating, and this is just a small collection of the people that humanity threw up along the way to now.

If you always wanted to know that Casanova’s memoirs finish mid-sentence, and Florence Nightingale spent more than half her life confined to bed and wrote 14,000 letters then, well, you know those now. But there are dozens more things to learn here. An excellent book to dip in and out of.

Did you know that as well as reviewing everything I read, I also write novels, too? My books blend black humour with light horror, crossing genres with ordinary characters dealing with extraordinary circumstances. Head over to wherever you buy books to take a look at my two offerings. The first, The Atomic Blood-stained Bus, introduces you to a cannibal, an ex-god and the last witches of Britain, while the second, The Third Wheel, follows Dexter who is tired of being single while all his friends get married and settle down, but has a change of priority when aliens invade the planet. I hope you enjoy!

“Question Time” by Mark Mason (2018)

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“It’s on nights like this that the pub feels even more womb-like than usual.”

I love quizzes. I’ve long had a desire to consume as much trivia is humanly possible – one of my school reports notes that I have an “unstoppable thirst for knowledge” – and often the only place is comes in useful is in the corner of the pub, two wines down, as the chap behind the bar says, “Round one, question one…” I don’t profess to be a particularly popular person, but I’ve had people beg me to join their team. My knowledge is shallow but broad, and often obscure. At one point, I could claim to have won every pub quiz I’d ever taken part in, but unfortunately after a few slightly lower finishing positions, I’ve had to adapt this to say that I’ve never lost one (i.e. never come last). I also tend to write my family a quiz most Christmases, which usually ends in an argument as they all say, “Well how are we meant to know that?” Look, sorry, it’s not my fault you don’t know there are 336 dimples on a regulation golf ball, or that the capital of Uruguay is Montevideo.

I’ve read Mark Mason before, a few years ago enjoying his excellent Walk the Lines, in which he travels the whole of the London Underground network on foot, peppering his journey with endless trivia. I figured that a book specifically about quizzes would give me even more, and I wasn’t wrong. Broadly speaking, it’s about Mason’s travels around Britain, stopping in at all kinds of quizzes along the way. He visits the World Quizzing Championship, a quiz machine in a pub, a recording of radio music quiz Counterpoint, and speed quizzes in Edinburgh bars. All through his journey, he is attempting to answer the one question that still has him stumped: “What makes the perfect quiz question?”

Alongside this quest, however, Mason simply explores towns and cities of Britain, including Edinburgh, Southampton, Oxford and Nottingham, and doles out endless streams of trivia, sometimes about the places he’s visiting but often not. In another’s hands, this could get dull and reduce the whole endeavour to a book best dipped into when on the toilet, but it doesn’t falter once. As a trivia junkie myself, some of it I knew, such as Mr Bump’s Norwegian name (Herr Dumpidump), and which British monarch is the only one who has had their DNA taken (Richard III), but there were hundreds of other titbits I had no idea about. The Spitfire plane was originally going to be called the Shrew, Alaska has the second highest number of national parks in America after California, and that the Piccadilly branch of Waterstones, which I knew to be Europe’s biggest bookshop, has eight miles of shelving.

Question Time is a supremely interesting look at the world of quizzing and the kind of people who do it, especially those that manage to make a living out of it. Although there aren’t many celebrities in the field, we still cross paths with Kevin Ashman, one of television’s Eggheads, spot Paul Sinha of The Chase across the room, and take part in a quiz hosted by Jack Waley-Cohen, the senior question setter on my favourite TV quiz show, Only Connect. We also get to see a quiz hosted by the QI elves, who’ve taken the podcast world by storm with their spin-off show No Such Thing as a Fish. Although there is definitely a certain type of person who gets really into the act of quizzing, there does seem to be something unifying and universal about the “sport”, and the tradition of trivia is as alive and well as it ever was. People are just curious, and we all like the challenge, it seems.

It’s also inspired me once again to try and make my way to the other side of the microphone and host one myself. If you know of an opening, give me a shout.

My second novel, The Third Wheel, is now available on Amazon and Waterstones! It tells the story of Dexter, a twenty-something teacher who is struggling with the fact that he alone among his friends is single and isn’t ready to grow up. But when aliens invade, it puts a lot of his problems into perspective. Mixing comedy, science fiction and horror, the novel promises to have something for everyone. I hope you’ll check it out!

Podcasts: Part Two

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Last month I reviewed four of my favourite podcasts, and now I’m back with another four. Let’s get going!

podcast 5Podcast: Flash Forward
Number of Episodes: 15+
Release: Every other Tuesday

As humans, we seem to spend an awful lot of time worrying about the future. Will we be successful? Will we be happy? Will we survive? In Flash Forward, every episode sees host Rose Eveleth conjure up a possible future for humanity. The show combines snippets of drama as we hear the future played out as if it’s happening, and masses of interesting information, as she speaks to experts about whether the future she’s envisioned could ever become a possibility.

Episode topics covered recently include a future where everyone wore lie detectors all the time, a future where we’d eradicated mosquitoes, a future where everyone knew their date of death, and a future where paper is no longer used and everything’s digital. Some of the ideas are realistic and could happen; others are from the deepest realms of impossible science fiction, but are no less interesting to discuss. It’s actually on it’s second season, but the first isn’t available on iTunes and I haven’t got round to listening to it yet. It also has another name; Meanwhile in the Future. The first season includes such futures as what would happen if Earth gained a second moon, or if a robotic overlord banned all human weaponry.

Rose is a very chipper host, keenly interested in her subject, and the interviewees she gets are no small bones, all being important in their fields. There is such a mix of tones and emotions at play here too, but she navigates them with serious skill. Any episode is worth listening to, but to start off I’d go for “My Everything Pal” or “Love at First Bot”.

podcast 6Podcast: Richard Herring’s Leicester Square Theatre Podcast
Number of Episodes: 100
Release: Wednesdays, but currently on hiatus

There are so many people in this world that I’d love to sit down and have a chat with. While I still can’t really do it, someone who can is Richard Herring. His podcast (RHLSTP) is smart, irreverent, hilarious and pure bliss. His guest list is one that other interviewers can only dream of, and it doesn’t matter who’s sitting opposite him, they’re going to get the same treatment. Herring is capable of asking really important questions, getting to the heart of who someone is and what drives them, and where they think their careers are going, but mostly he just wants to make cock jokes and talk about seventies television. That’s not a complaint.

It’s currently on hold, and will be back this month, but over the last 100 episodes, guests have ranked from up-and-coming comedians like Joe Lycett, Sara Pascoe and Roisin Conaty, to really high-profile guests like Stephen Fry, Eddie Izzard and Harry Shearer. While the guests are generally pulled from the world of comedy, there have also been academics (Mary Beard), TV presenters (Louis Theroux) and fellow podcasters (Helen Zaltzman and Olly Mann). While a lot of it seems to be Herring asking people if they’d rather have a hand made of ham or an armpit that produced sun cream, he nonetheless always gets a great interview.

Particularly wonderful episodes include Stephen Fry (for which the podcast got noticed by the mainstream press when Fry admitted to recently attempting suicide), Armando Iannucci & Graham Linehan (if only for Linehan’s Bob Dole anecdote), Louis Theroux (which contains a lot about Jimmy Saville), and Miles Jupp (who is distraught at Herring’s obsession with Balamory). Frankly, if you’ve ever liked anyone in comedy, chances are they’re in here somewhere.

While I’m a bit too young to have been able to appreciate Richard Herring the first time round – indeed, I didn’t know he had a lot of success in the nineties until I started listening to this – it’s clear that the rest of the comedy industry worships him and he seems to be on good terms with all his guests. They’re really good fun, but if you’re listening in public, be prepared to get some odd looks.

podcast 7Podcast: Serial
Number of Episodes: 20+

If there’s ever been a podcast that changed the nature of the genre and showed people what it was really capable of, it’s Serial. Everyone else has already talked about how wonderful this is, but in case you’ve been living under a rock with limited Internet access, here’s what you need to know.

Serial is the brainchild of Sarah Koenig, a journalist and producer who was asked to look into the case of Adnan Syed. He was arrested in 1999 for the murder of his ex-girlfriend, Hae Min Lee, a student in Baltimore, Maryland. Syed pleaded his innocence, but was given a life sentence in 2000. He is, as expected from this verdict, still in prison. Koenig looks into the case and begins to see that things aren’t as simple as they seem, so week by week goes back and visits the locations, speaks to the people who were involved at the time (although she wonders how much anyone can remember after 15 years) and talks directly to Syed himself. Koenig fishes up evidence, theories, information that was missed or ignored during the trial, and tries to piece together what really happened.

It’s hugely compelling, and I’ve already forced so many of my friends to listen to it. Not one of them was disappointed. It isn’t a spoiler at this point to say that when the series finishes, Koenig doesn’t give us an answer. She has presented to us all the evidence, and we can make up our own minds. The thing that makes this particularly compelling? In my social circle, we can’t agree on whether Syed was innocent or guilty. With our own backgrounds and ideas, we’ve chosen our own answers, for better or worse.

There is a second series, but it’s about a completely unrelated story, and while I haven’t listened to it, everyone I know who has says that it doesn’t compare at all to the first. So, please do listen to the first series of this, but then don’t feel an obligation to continue. It’s simply incredible listening.

podcast 8Podcast: No Such Thing As A Fish
Number of Episodes: 100+
Release: Every Friday

One of the greatest shows on TV is QI, simple as that. John Lloyd, the brains behind it (and, frankly, every excellent British comedy show of the last forty years) has declared it more a way of life than a show, and so it has expanded in many directions, including books, websites and clubs. A podcast was a logical step. Hosted by four of the QI researchers (the “elves”) – Dan, Anna, Andy and James – every week they take a bizarre fact that they’ve discovered and for about thirty to forty-five minutes discuss them and any other facts they’ve found related to each core fact. Prone to tangents and base humour when the opportunity arises, this is nonetheless one of the smartest and funniest podcasts ever.

The hosts have great chemistry, and while Anna and James are primarily researchers, Andy is an improv comic, and host Dan is a stand-up. They’re all blisteringly intelligent though, and can dredge up facts off hand about any topic, no matter how far from the original point they go. They also occasionally record the shows in front of a live audience (and I can tell you first hand, they are hugely entertaining evenings, having been to one myself) and now have their own TV show, No Such Thing As The News, which is in the same format, but with a more topical edge.

With over 100 episodes now, and that’s without including the special short episodes they did with information about each country taking part in the 2014 World Cup, there’s plenty to be getting on with here. They also occasionally turn up with a special guest, including Victoria Coren Mitchell, Simon Rich or John Lloyd himself. It’s the best way to learn without realising you’re learning.

More podcasts next month!

Podcasts: Part One

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Hello! So here’s something I’ve never reviewed before: podcasts! I’ve been fairly late to the podcast game, not getting into them until late 2014 but then devouring them by the score over last year. I’ve decided to share my favourite podcasts here, perhaps at the start of each month, and give you a brief precis of what they’re about. Some you’ll have heard of before, others perhaps not. So, let’s crack on with the first four.

podcast 1Podcast: Thinking Sideways
Number of Episodes: 150+
Release: Every Thursday

Thinking Sideways is a newer podcast for me and it specialises in tales of the unexplained. Basically, wherever there’s an unanswered question or a mystery that has never been solved, this podcast will step in, give you the facts and try to come to a conclusion that explains the puzzle. The hosts are Steve, Devin and Joe, three smart and funny (the best descriptors for a podcaster, I find) Americans who claim to have no formal training in investigation, but are simply interested in the world. I confess that I haven’t listened to many of the episodes yet, but what I’ve heard so far is brilliant. Each week, we are introduced to a new mystery and one of the team runs through all the facts we have about it, with the second half of the podcast dedicated to potential theories.

Episodes have covered everything from what happened to the Mary Celeste, where the Voynich Manuscript comes from and what it means, how the Max Headroom broadcast intrusion was achieved, the disappearance of Lord Lucan, and the suspicious deaths of Kurt Cobain and Princess Diana. Episode lengths range from twenty minutes to over two hours, although most are about an hour long. If there’s ever a question you’ve wanted answered, then this is the podcast for you.

If you want a flavour of the podcast without committing right away, the “Santa Claus” episode just a quarter of an hour long and gives you an idea of what to expect. I also highly recommend “Taman Shud”, about a man who was discovered dead on a beach with no identification and all the labels cut from his clothes, and, because it’s me, I also suggest “Agatha Christie Disappearance” for suggestions on what really happened to her.

podcast 2Podcast: The Allusionist
Number of Episodes: 35
Release: Fortnightly

This podcast is hosted by Helen Zaltzman, who most of you probably know better as one third of Answer Me This, a podcast I’ll cover another time. Helen is obsessed with language and grammar, and this podcast is her pet project to delve deeper into its murky waters and pull up something shiny. Each fortnight, she selects a topic related to language and explores its history and usage, and fills your brain with trivia you never knew you needed. Most episodes include an interview with someone related to whatever she’s discussing.

There’s an episode for everyone here, and they’re only ever 15-20 minutes long, but she packs so much into that short space of time. These are bite-sized nuggets of joy; both genuinely funny and genuinely interesting. Helen is potentially the only person who could make a discussion on the use of spaces between words interesting. Some particularly good episodes include: “The Writing on the Wall”, which talks about the display signs used next to objects in museums; “Crosswords”, which goes into detail on how to make a good crossword and how to write cryptic clues”; and “Toki Pona” in which she and guest Nate DiMeo try to learn one of the world’s smallest languages in just a few hours.

While usually light-hearted, a few episodes take on a more serious tone, such as “Pride”, which deals with the usage of that word in the LGBT community, or “Step Away”, which tries to argue for a better term than “step-parent”, which conjures up all the connotations Disney have imbued it with over the years. You can dip in and out of the series in any order; you’ll find yourself wanting to listen to them all anyway.

podcast 3Podcast: Stuff You Should Know
Number of Episodes: 800+
Release: Tuesday and Thursday

Have you ever wondered if lethal injection is really humane? Do you want to know who gets to name the continents? Do you have questions about pinball, maggots, werewolves, AIDS, collective hysteria, electricity or anything in between? Well, Stuff You Should Know has you covered. Josh and Chuck are on hand twice a week with a new topic that they’ve researched and want to tell you all about.

They are excellent hosts. Josh has a very soothing, sleepy voice that gives you the impression of a wise man imparting his knowledge interspersed with dry quips, and Chuck is there keeping him awake with more of his own facts and jokes. They can take any topic and make it interesting because, frankly, all topics are interesting. It’s going to be a long time before I make it through all the episodes, but the thirty or forty I’ve listened to so far have been wonderful. They’re great for commuting, as you feel your time isn’t wasted – you’re learning and becoming a better person all the time! To give you an example of the variety here, in the last month alone they released episodes about cats, labour strikes, the Big Bang, kin selection, tornadoes and lead. Episodes typically last half an hour to an hour.

It’s impossible really to suggest an episode to start with, so just think of a topic you’re interested in and have a rummage. If you do want to just dive in and try something at random, I suggest “What makes us yawn?”, “How Royalty Works” or “How Jim Henson Worked”. Their medical-based episodes are also particularly great.

podcast 4Podcast: Kraken
Number of Episodes: 100+
Release: Every Sunday

I always feel Kraken ought to be better known than it is. Hosted by four guys – Mazin, Craig, Joel and Ian – each week they take a topic and share their opinions on it, with the second half of the episode dedicated to a related question, in search of an answer or at least something sensible. The thing they discuss can be a film, a book, an article, a person, or something a bit more bizarre, but generally comes from the field of “culture, technology and that”.

The related questions are always interesting and bring up so many issues regarding things that aren’t even related, as well as those that are. This is a podcast that enjoys a tangent. Some examples of related things and questions include “Amy Winehouse / Do we kill our celebrities?”, “Game of Thrones / How far is too far?” and “Adventure Time / Are we becoming a culture of children?”. Sometimes they’re far more simplistic, such as, “Christmas / What do you want for Christmas?” or more recently, “Brexit / In or out?” There are also occasional episodes that have a twist, such as one in which they play Dungeons & Dragons while discussing games, or a recent episode about William Shakespeare which was recorded while in the audience of a play, a gimmick that treads the fine line between being hilarious and ambitious, to simply being impossibly rude. It leads to a very tense episode in which you wonder at what point they’re going to be thrown out of the theatre.

The four guys all have their own voices and opinions. Mazin seems the most level-headed but is plagued by strange dreams, which become the focus of an episode themselves at one point. Craig has given up on films entirely and doesn’t want anything to do with them anymore. Joel is obsessed with the power of stories and will throw this into the conversation whenever possible. And Ian usually hasn’t seen or read whatever they’re talking about, but if he has, will invariably deem it “alright”. Good episodes to start on are “London / What’s the worst thing about living in a city?” and “Swearing / Do words have power?” If you want to see just how strange it gets, look for the episode “A stick / Is this the greatest stick?” Later episodes are generally better than earlier ones – once they’ve established the template for an episode – but they’re all worth a go. Even if you don’t know about the topic they’re discussing, odds are it won’t matter. Soon they’ll be arguing that chicken should be free or plague pits are thrifty instead of racist. Just listen and laugh.

I’ll be back on this next month with four more podcasts.

“Walk The Lines” by Mark Mason (2013)

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Because you're mine...

Because you’re mine…

“Brixton Tube station, 11.30 on a Wednesday morning.”

The London Underground is one of the things that London is most famous for. The map is one of the most recognisable images on the planet, and everyone who’s ever been to London has at least one memory (whether it be good or bad) of something that happened to them on that famous Tube. It’s been there in one form or another for 151 years, and to lose it would be to lose London. Mark Mason has similar feelings towards the network and has now set himself a challenge: he will visit all 269 stations on the map on foot. That is, he’ll perform a tribute to the Underground by not using it. Honestly, it’s not quite as nutty as it sounds.

Starting with the Victoria line, Mason begins his journey northwards and, from the moment he takes that first step outside Brixton, he realises that there is no going back and he will now have to do them all. He must criss-cross London several times, and even leave the city on some occasions (the Metropoliton line ends in Buckinghamshire, and the Central lines slips out as far as Essex), but eventually he will have visited every single station.

It’s an interesting concept, and a brilliant, slightly different look at one of the best cities in the world. Mason relearns his London map, saying that when you get on the Tube, it’s difficult to judge how close things are to each other. Hell, only this week did I realise that you could walk from Buckingham Palace to Covent Garden in no time at all, but because usually we use the Tube for most of our journeys, we disappear underground and then pop up again somewhere that seems entirely different. As we know, in Zone 1 in particular, it’s quicker to walk than take the Tube.

The book is packed with endless trivia which is perfect for a nerd like me, who loves anything about the Tube. Obviously, everyone knows that Victoria is the busiest station on the network, the Jubilee is the only one to cross all the other lines, and that St John’s Wood is the only station that doesn’t contain any of the letters in the word “mackerel”, but there’s so much more. At Leytonstone station, there are mosaics dedicated to the life and works of Alfred Hitchcock. The deepest station is Hampstead, the shallowest lift is at Chalk Farm, and the least-used station is Roding Valley, getting fewer passengers passing through in a year than Victoria does in a day. Not only is there Tube trivia, but also general London trivia as well, as Mason visits the sights of the city, from St Paul’s and the Tower of London, to Cafe Diana and Tony Blair’s house, outside which stands a policeman with a sub-machine gun.

Mason’s journey was undertaken in 2011, which doesn’t sound like very long ago, but the book just shows how quickly the city changes. At his time of writing, Thatcher is still alive, the Shard isn’t finished, and he muses on the coming of the Olympic Games, which for him are still a year away. It’s an ever-shifting city, and that’s what makes it so wonderful.

I’m a fan of any love letter to London – I’ve written enough of my own – and this is a wonderful tribute to the city. It’s also quite inspirational. I’m no walker, but I’ve set myself a challenge off the back of this book. As today is my 26th birthday, I intend to now visit every single station on the network (excluding Overground, undecided on the DLR) before my next birthday. And to get us all in the mood, I found this song by Jay Foreman which lists every single station. Enjoy that, read the book, and I’ll see you on the Tube sometime!

“London’s Strangest Tales” by Tom Quinn (2006)

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London-s-Strangest-Tales

Have you heard the one about…

London has a history stretching back some two thousand years, and that’s a long time for any city to still be sitting about. In that time, it’s bound to pick up a curious habit or two. This book is, as you may have guessed, all about the strangest aspects of the city.

This book came into my possession last summer and I’m almost sad I didn’t get round to reading it sooner. That’s the trouble with having such a long reading list. Anyway, I’ve discussed before about how much I love London, and I certainly read enough books set there, but this book has opened my eyes to parts of London that I’ve never seen or even known about. Some of the stories I was vaguely familiar with, but a lot of this is brand new.

The book follows the formula of very short snippets of information, between one and four pages long, that share some weird fact about the city. They are listed in vague chronological order, from 950 to 2007. A lot of them are about laws that have never been repealed (officially, all clocks in the city must be blue and gold, under a law issued by Henry VIII), old buildings, eccentric residents or notable shops. Everyone’s here as well, with facts about most of the monarchs who have called the city home, and then numerous celebrities from the last thousand years, in particular Charles Dickens, who appears to be absolutely everywhere in London during the nineteenth century.

There’s the story of the teacher who refused to bow to the king because he felt he students would then feel there was someone more important than him. There’s the sewage works designed both inside and out to look like an Eastern Orthodox Church, the jockeys who ate tapeworms to keep their weight down, the fact that you technically can’t be arrested for owing debt in Pall Mall, the statues of Charles I and Oliver Cromwell that all but face each other, and an explanation as to why Cromwell’s has been consigned to the Pit, and also the statue of Peter Pan that, for legal reasons, doesn’t exist.

Colourful characters include Elizabeth I, baring her breasts to all and sundry, Ben Jonson who was buried standing up, the fashionable Beau Brummell who couldn’t remember the faces of the men he commanded in battle, Edward VII who enjoyed pretending to be a fireman and Nell Gwynn, the most loved of all Charles II’s mistresses. And that’s just the famous ones! There’s plenty of eccentric commoners too, from the man who kept his house filled with animals, to the man so miserly he only changed his clothes when the rotted off his body.

It’s a fascinating romp through the most interesting city on Earth, but the author, Tom Quinn, has opinions and he isn’t going to hide them. He routinely shows his disgust at the habit London’s developers have for pulling down beautiful old buildings and installing blocks of metal and glass in their place. It’s no wonder that there is very little of London left that was build before the 1700s. Quinn also has a habit of repeating himself in numerous stories, but I think that is more to do with the nature of the book. Although I read it cover to cover, many people will probably dip in and out, so some things need to be explained again.

These are but small complaints about what is a hugely interesting book. I can’t wait to get back to London and find some of these places, from the spot where milk was sold fresh from the cow for centuries in St James’s Park, to the statue of Mary Queen of Scots that, somehow, always has fresh flowers in her hands, although no one quite knows where they come from.