LONDON — The Big Smoke has been smogged in. This is a rare thing. Schools are being closed, kids are being kept inside. The prime minister didn’t go for his customary jog yesterday citing health dangers and the need to “set an example.” (The mayor of London was having none of that faff and went out for his customary bike ride.)
London is not Los Angeles. It is true that at one time the pollution here was so bad that the fog lingered on the ground – for you Sherlock Holmes fans out there, that’s where the term “pea-soup” came from. It was burning coal that did it, and London burned a great deal of it. This city, for a time during the Industrial Revolution, was basically one big chimney. London earned its nickname.
But this week’s morass has not been caused by coal smoke – for that, just head north – this apparently is an attack of Saharan Dust. No, the V&A did not bring down the mummy’s curse on us all; apparently a freak confluence of events has driven a cloud of the particles up and over Europe and into London. Big Ben has been shrouded in a haze for the last few days and the smog has stretched all the way to Newcastle, where the Angel of the North has been wrapped in a shroud.
Seeing little point in going out and adding to my collection of photographs of Things That Look Like The TARDIS, I headed instead to a dusty bookstore to speak with my colleagues Jonathan Wilson and Patrick Barclay.
The occasion was the release of Paddy’s new book, “The Life and Times of Herbert Chapman,” a biography of Arsenal’s great manager. Thinking that this would be a pleasant little night out, I soon discovered that in fact, West End Lane Books was standing room only for this little soiree and two and half hours later, the three of us had nattered on, semi-authoritatively, about everything from Victorian football and the “W-M” to the NFL, the World Cup and why Costa Rica has been an unlikely beneficiary of MLS. (Mr. Wilson and I also now have a public £10 wager out, but that’s a different story.)
It was refreshing to see so many people out who not only care about football, but about books. At the end of the night WELB was cleaned out of a substantial amount of their stock, I had a nice vintage copy of “Miami Blue” by the fine noir writer Charles Willeford in my pocket for the Overground home, and everyone seemed pleased as punch. I even was able to tell a young man in the front row that the patch that he had sewn on his sleeve was actually the city of Chicago’s flag.
You can purchase your own copy of Mr. Barclay’s book here and while you’re at it, you can grab copies of Mr. Wilson’s books and mine as well.