Monday, 11 January 2010

Stuffed Chickens and Shittle-cock

The big news of the day is that I've lost a kilo of weight. Crumbs, that surely can’t be the only thing I’ve got to say for myself? Ah yes, on the way back from the gym I got stuck in a snow drift whilst trying to turn my car around and ended up having to dig myself out with a spade whilst a very unhelpful man twitched his curtains and looked concerned. This anecdote will confuse most Londoners. The snow has all but disappeared across much of the capital, but Highgate is greedily hanging on to its quota. It fits the whole oldy-worldy vibe up here. 17th Century houses look great with a dusting of snow, besides, all the residents have limitless supplies of Wellies, flat caps and 4x4s. These accoutrements go with the territory of being called Tristan. Plus, even more excitingly, Highgate is the only place in the world which is haunted by a dead chicken, stuffed to the gills with snow. I kid you not! Something to do with the death of Francis Bacon and his obsession with methods of refrigeration. Read about it here. This all happened in the early 17th Century, so perhaps even Pepys, who was a big fan of ghost stories, had heard the sorry tale!

On this day in 1660, Pepys was also busy exercising. No gym for him, however. He was playing a game of Shittle-cocks, which I thought might well be something to do with Bacon's stuffed chicken, but in fact turns out to be an incredibly violent pre-cursor to Badminton, which I'd love to have a razz at, having once been a bit of a badminton ace myself. At the age of six. When I played my Mum. When her back was bad.

Pepys spends the rest of the day trying to track people down in the City, leaving notes with porters, and calling in at various ale houses and cafes. It shows how mobile phones and the internet have revolutionised the world. I'd be fed up to the back teeth if I had to spend an entire afternoon following someone's scent across London. It's a social way of going about, however. Pepys was never short of friends and relatives to bump into as he went about his business. 350 years ago, whilst searching for someone else, he called in to see one Mr Crowly who had "now grown a very great loon and very tame", by which I can only assume he means a bird and not a human of the psychotic variety.

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