Fear not, dear readers. That is not a command. After all, I don’t know you that well. And I really think that sort of thing must be between mutually understanding adults of the grown-up variety. Above tis a reference to the 3 part mini series called Filth, which was introduced by the History man of the hour, Dan Snow. I’m not sure why they keep producing Dan Snow. Perhaps they think he is posh totty, if you like your men with pointy noises, rower’s shoulders and a receding hairline. Either way, we are clearly stuck with him. And he is good – although on the episode of Filth dealing with the shit of London’s own medieval quagmires, not a story about the police force which I had expected, he appeared to be struggling with a heavy cold.
Either that or the noxious fumes of poop had blocked his sinuses. For this was a show that reeked of squelches and faeces-filled bogs, that farted and shat it’s way into describing the ingredients of a common or garden 14th century London street (urine, animal entrails, peasants’ shoes, human poos). Never have I been so grateful that we didn’t have smell-o-vision. The ideal audience for Filth would have been a 12 year old, short-sighted boy whose idea of a good hobby is holding a live gerbil over a bunsen burner, and who luxuriates in the awfulness of the nastiness of poo. Then why was it put on at 9pm at night? Fools. First of all, Dan put on his terribly smart “wellies” and marched up and down on a lot of poo as if his History PhD depended on it. “That smell,” he boomed, as he approached a mound of the stuff, “is basically poo particles in the air attacking my nose!”. Then he marched into Cross Nest Sewage Works looking as shocked and gentlemanly as possible. “What is this place?!” he laments, sounding close to tears, to Jill Sterry, a no-nonsense woman in the sewage work’s employ who has a countenance that suggests she has stared out many a shit in her time.
Dan investigated a pipe full of really horrible crap-related stuff. “The last thing I want to do is spray it all over myself…..” Indeed. “Here it comes! Like Mr Whippy!” Well, Dan, I bet you’ve had dates like that before. Anyway, it was more like Mr Shitty, as Dan excitedly filled up another jar with what appeared to be poo ectoplasm. The scriptwriters chose an unfortunate choice of words when it was Dan’s turn to investigate poo-dealings, as he said the answers were “deep within the bowels of London’s Metropolitan Archive”. After poo research (poosearch?) he sits in a library and talked about a lady called Alice Wade. I shudder to think of the sewage awfulness that came out of Alice Wade. It must have beena disgusting and depraved thing, because D Snow had to put on latex white gloves like gynaecologists wear for a cervical sweep before he could pick up the piece of paper to read about it. Apparently, Alice Wade “didn’t really want to pipe her waste into the streets.” Oh Alice, cheers. That’s big of you. Anyway, the fate of Alice “The Crapper” Wade was nothing compared with feckless Richard , who, at some point in the 1370s, sat on his home-made latrine, only for it to collapse. Richard “dropped into his own excrement and drowned”. D Snow referred to this as an “unfortunate accident”. No, DS. An unfortunate accident is leaving your quiche in the oven for too long, or ordering polenta when one really wanted the cheesecake. Dying by inhaling your own poo is nothing short of a medieval, 14th century toilet tragedy, my friend.
D Snow did do very well however. Even when he had to decapitate a dead pig. Not that that put him off, of course. He is not faint hearted. “I’ll never eat pork again…..” he said, “……in the same way.” Blimey, ladies, he’s hardcore. Anyone who can hold a warm, still-palpitating cluster of dead pig’s entrails in his hand and still only think of when he’s next going to eat the rest of the pig with a bit of sage and onion has a heroically strong constitution. Even when a naked medieval bottom hoved into view and farted at the camera in a reconstruction of Ebbgate Lane – an enormous medieval latrine that now probably sits (sorry, squits) on the site of Whistler in Liverpool Street, or Pret A Manger at Tower Hill – D snow held his dignity together with the Cambridge tones of his voiceover. These latrines were particularly badly planned, explained DS. Although they “kept their own walls clean” an intrinsic part of the latrines design was shitting on nearby pedestrians. The squalor and inability of London to contain itself was alarming. Basically, I am surprised the city has not melted away, reduced into liquid nothingness by the volume of medieval sewage. London was predominantly built on stone and wood and human crap. Much of it may be under our feet now. I thought my shoes smelt odd.Next I have to catch up on the Paris and New York episode, but London came first, as it always does in herewith bloggery. I don’t mind if we see more of Dan Snow. I am particularly fond of his double acts with his father, for those of you who remember my irate Blitz entry on this blog some time ago – https://thelondonbluebird.wordpress.com/2010/09/16/the-bomber-will-always-get-through/ and as the powers that be at the BBC seem to have thrust him upon us as the Boffin of the Hour than I am pleased to welcome him into my living room.
The overwhelming sense I got from this programme was how civilized and clean and wonderful our modern lives in London truly are. Every morning, the city of ours rolls out of beds, coughs up some city-sputum, and hails a new day. By the time we poke our ungrateful noses over the top of the duvet, the well-oiled machine that is London has been at work for three or four hours, flushing through water pipes, warming up stations, refuelling tube trains, and cleaning our buses and workstations. People like to have a bit of a moan about London – the uncivilized aspect of it, the fuel, the pestilence, the dirt. Veer away from them, my friends, for they are as full of shit as Alice “The Crapper” Wade. When it comes to cleanliness, no city is better than us at clearing up shit at miraculous rates. And if you don’t believe me, check out the steaming piles of horse droppings on the Mall on Royal Wedding Day, when London will be covered with bits of the Household Cavalry’s nervous bowels (and that’s just the riders). I just hope the Duke of Edinburgh can contain himself. Needless to say, by 8am on Saturday morning they’d have swept up all the Royal defecation they can find, and the Mall will gleam again, as rose-pink and fragrant as a baby’s bottom. Perhaps we are so good at clearing up shits because we’ve had so much practice at doing it.
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