Sunday, August 22, 2010

The Frozen Thames

The title: The Frozen Thames
The author: Helen Humphries
Publication: McClelland and Stewart, 2007
Got it from: Hannelore's, July 2010

Between 1142 and 1895, the River Thames froze numerous times. This short book, so small you can almost fit it in your pocket, documents each of these freezings in
little vignettes. Each story is almost like poetry, a "long meditation on the nature of ice." Some are told in first person and some in third, and almost all of them are based on real life historical fact or anecdotes. In one, Queen Elizabeth practices her bow and arrow with a maid, in another lovers meet upon the ice in a time of plague, and in many frost fairs and fun are sobered by tales of unlucky people falling through the ice.

One can't help feeling sad that the Thames will never freeze again. Pollution, global warming, a new London Bridge and alteration of the river bed have all worked to ensure the Thames remains open even in cold winters. Still, I can't help being fascinated by the thought that at one time, whole villages were constructed on the ice, even if for just a short time (the main street was called - what else?- Freezeland Street). With descriptions of beds so cold the sheets froze solid, this is a book best read in the summer for a dose of chilliness.

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