Thursday, November 17, 2005

In Search of Smog

To celebrate the new blog title here are soem choice London smog/fog quotes

In the third week of November, in the year 1895, a dense yellow fog settled down upon London. From the Monday to the Thursday I doubt whether it was ever possible from our windows in Baker Street to see the loom of the opposite houses. The first day Holmes had spent in cross-indexing his huge book of references. The second and third had been patiently occupied upon a subject which he hand recently made his hobby—the music of the Middle Ages. But when, for the fourth time, after pushing back our chairs from breakfast we saw the greasy, heavy brown swirl still drifting past us and condensing in oily drops upon the window- panes, my comrade’s impatient and active nature could endure this drab existence no longer. He paced restlessly about our sitting- room in a fever of suppressed energy, biting his nails, tapping the furniture, and chafing against inaction.“Nothing of interest in the paper, Watson?” he said. (Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, "The Adventure of the Bruce-Partington Plans")

Fog everywhere. Fog up the river, where it flows among green airs and meadows; fog down the river, where it rolls defiled among the tiers of shipping and the waterside pollutions of a great (and dirty) city. Fog on the Essex marshes, fog on the Kentish heights. Fog creeping into the cabooses of collier-brigs; fog lying out on the yards and hovering in the rigging of great ships; fog drooping on the gunwales of barges and small boats. Fog in the eyes and throats of ancient Greenwich pensioners, wheezing by the firesides of their wards; fog in the stem and bowl of the afternoon pipe of the wrathful skipper, down in his close cabin; fog cruelly pinching the toes and fingers of his shivering little 'prentice boy on deck. Chance people on the bridges peeping over the parapets into a nether sky of fog, with fog all round them, as if they were up in a balloon and hanging in the misty clouds. (Charles Dickens, Bleak House)

To artists the fog is London's best friend. Not the black fog, but the other. For there are two distinct London fogs-the fog that chokes and blinds, and the fog that shrouds. The fog that enters into every corner of the house and coats all the metal work with a dark slime, and sets us coughing and rubbing our eyes-for that there is nothing to say. It brings with it too much dirt, too much unhealthiness, for any kind of welcome to be possible. "Hell is a city much like London," I quoted to myself in one of the worst of such fogs, as I groped by the railings of the Park in the Bayswater Road. The traffic, which I could not see, was rumbling past, and every now and then a man, close by but invisible, would call out a word of warning, or some one would ask in startled tones where he was. The hellishness of it consisted in being of life and yet not in it-a stranger in a muffled land. It is had enough for ordinary way farers in such a fog as that; but one has only to imagine what it is to be in charge of a vehicle, to see how much worse one's lot might be.

But the other fog-the fog that veils but does not obliterate, the fog that softens but does not soil, the fog whose beautifying properties Whistler may he said to have discovered-that can be a delight and a joy. Seen through this gentle mist London becomes a city of romance. All that is ugly and hard in her architecture, all that is dingy and repellent in her colour, disappears.
(Edward Verrall Lucas, A Wanderer In London)

“…In this inimitable island there was a certain mixture of fog and beer and soot which, however odd it might sound, was the national aroma, and was most agreeable to the nostril; and she used to lift the sleeve of her British overcoat and bury her nose in it, to inhale the clear, fine odour of the wool “(Henry James, Portrait of a Lady)

“Then, in London, above all what I love is the fog ... It is the fog that gives it its magnificent breadth. Those massive regular blocks become grandiose within that mysterious cloak “ (Claude Monet, 1840–1926)

…the snow had warned me of other dangers. I could not go abroad in snow-it would settle on me and expose me. Rain, too, would make me a watery outline, a glistening surface of a man-a bubble. And fog-I should be like a fainter bubble in a fog, a surface, a greasy glimmer of humanity. Moreover, as I went abroad-in the London air-I gathered dirt about my ankles, floating smuts and dust upon my skin. I did not know how long it would be before I should become visible from that cause also. (H G Wells, The Invisible Man)

It was a cold morning of the early spring, and we sat after breakfast on either side of a cheery fire in the old room at Baker Street. A thick fog rolled down between the lines of dun-colored houses, and the opposing windows loomed like dark, shapeless blurs through the heavy yellow wreaths. Our gas was lit and shone on the white cloth and glimmer of china and metal, for the table had not been cleared yet.” (Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, "The Adventure Of the Copper Beeches")

The voices in the air of unseen busmen and carmen and draymen take on a rounder heartiness excelling their own best efforts when they are visible men, and the policemen loom up in the fog with added grandeur. They require it all, for there is a spirit of misrule abroad; newsboys play tricks and cry strange news, and strait-laced citizens find themselves in public houses, strange companionships are formed, judges and prisoners on bail lose their way and are reported missing at the courts, people go to the wrong theatres, accidents occur and the ambulance gets lost. Cats come out into busy streets and sit on the pavement as if it was night. Anachronisms like torches and links appear. Only twenty years ago a man going home about midnight in a fog saw a glare of torches and a body of men passed with King Edward walking in the middle. The torches were carried by footmen and policemen; then came the king, heavily wrapped up, with two of his gentlemen; then more policemen; then some stragglers of the night, attracted by curiosity or by the chance of a safe guide to Buckingham Palace. The procession came so silently out of the fog and vanished into it again that the spectator later in the night was not sure that he had not imagined it. But it was King Edward, who had been dining with a Court lady in Portman Square, and, finding it impossible to go by carriage in the fog, had decided to summon torches and a guard and walk just as a Stuart king would have done. (James Bone, The London Perambulator)

The yellow fog that rubs its back upon the window-panes,
The yellow smoke that rubs its muzzle on the window-panes
Licked its tongue into the corners of the evening,
Lingered upon the pools that stand in drains,
Let fall upon its back the soot that falls from chimneys,
Slipped by the terrace, made a sudden leap,
And seeing that it was a soft October night,
Curled once about the house, and fell asleep.
'The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock', T.S. Eliot

"Poor buildings,lose themselves in the dim sky, and the tall chimneys become campanili, and the warehouses are palaces in the night, and the whole city hangs in the heavens."

Henry: We will send a fresh husband to the widow as soon as the weather permits.
Henry: Now, as he was saying... Min. Min, hold this chicken. Be careful, she's- What?
Minnie: I don't know why you have to carry a chicken around, Henry.
Henry: Well it's the fog, Min. I always carry one when there's a fog.
Minnie: What- what for?
Henry: Because chickens can't see where they're going in a fog. Unless it's a fog chicken, and there's no such thing as a fog chicken.
Minnie: What are you talking about? There was no fog today!
Henry: Well, this isn't a fog chicken!
Minnie: What?
Henry: It's not a fog chicken!
(The Goons, The Mountain Eaters)

FOGS are, no doubt, not peculiar to London. Even Paris itself can occasionally turn out very respectable work in this way, and the American visitor to England will probably think, in passing the banks of Newfoundland, that he had very little to learn on the subject of fog. But what Mr. Guppy called “a London particular” and what is more usually known to the natives as a “pea-souper”, will very speedily dispel any hallucination of this sort. As the east wind brings up the exhalations of the Essex and Kentish marshes, and as the damp-laden winter air prevents the dispersion of the partly consumed carbon from hundreds of thousands of chimneys, the strangest atmospheric compound known to science fills the valley of the Thames. At such times almost all the senses have their share of trouble. Not only does a strange and worse than Cimmerian darkness hide familiar landmarks from the sights, but the taste and sense of smell are offended by the unhallowed compound of flavours, and all things become greasy and clammy to the touch. During the continuance of a real London fog – which may be black, gray, or more probably orange-coloured – the happiest man is he who stays at home. But if business – there is no such things as out of doors pleasure during the continuance of a London fog – should compel a sally into the streets, one caution should be carefully observed. Mr. Catlin, well known for his connection with the Indian Tribes of North America, once promulgated into print a theory, that a royal road to long life was, sleeping or waking, to keep the mouth as much as possible closed. This advice, whatever its value may be generally should always be followed when a London fog has to be encountered. Nothing could be more deleterious to the lungs an the air-passages then the wholesale inhalation of the foul air and floating carbon, which, combined, form a London fog. In this connection it may be taken as an axiom that the nose is Nature’s respirator. The extraordinary effect which the fogs of the winter of 1879-1880 had upon the health of Londoners will be long remembered. It is almost unnecessary to add that the dangers of the streets, great at all times, are immeasurably increased in foggy weather; and that the advantages of being able to dive into that unnatural darkness after a successful robbery, are thoroughly appreciated by the predatory classes (Charles Dickens, Dictionary of London)

There were nights of damp and drizzle, and then thick fogs, beautiful, isolating grey-white veils, turning every yard of pavement into a private room. Grand indeed were those fogs, things to rejoice at mightily. Since then it was no longer a thing for public scorn when two young people hurried along arm in arm, and one could do a thousand impudent, significant things with varying pressure and the fondling of a little hand (a hand in a greatly mended glove of cheap kid). Then indeed one seemed to be nearer that elusive something that threaded it all together. And the dangers of the street corners, the horses looming up suddenly out of the dark, the carters with lanterns on their horses' heads, the street lamps, blurred smoky orange at one 5 nearest, and vanishing at twenty yards into dim haze, seemed to accentuate the infinite need of protection on the part of a delicate young lady who had already traversed three winters of fogs thornily alone. Moreover, one could come right down the quiet street where she lived, with a delightful sense of enterprise. The fogs passed all too soon into a hard frost, into nights of starlight and presently moonlight, when the lamps looked hard, flashing like rows of yellow gems, and their reflections and the glare of the shop windows were sharp and frosty, and even the stars hard and bright, snapping noiselessly (if one may say so) instead of twinkling. A jacket trimmed with imitation Astrachan replaced Ethel's lighter coat, and a round cap of Astrachan her hat, and her eyes shone hard and bright, and her forehead was broad and white beneath it. It was exhilarating, but one got home too soon, and so the way from Chelsea to Clapham was lengthened, first into a loop of side streets, and then when the first pulverulent snows told that Christmas was at hand, into a new loop down King's Road, and once even through the Brompton Road and Sloane Street, where the shops were full of decorations and entertaining things. (H. G. Wells, Love and Mr Lewisham)


Henry Cooper said...

If you're thinking of doing one for Brut, this is good:
"I went out the other night to a night club and after my shower before i went out i smothered my self with this stuff, i was smelling lovely.
anyway i ended up pulling this cracking bird and before i got off with her she ask me what cologne i was wearing. when she said that i knew i had pulled and i put it all down to Brut Original. My dad used to wear it in the seventies and he says that he used to pull loads of girls with it, so if it worked for him im sure it works for anyone because he aint the best looking bloke in the world. im thinking of getting some bubble bathe if they make it."
A review by 'fireman' on Faberge Brut After Shave Original

ps said...

The back of the upstairs of the bus used to reek of the stuff in the 70's....anyway enough about the "cologne" back to work!

ps said...

and that means you in the study collection as well!

Steven Ball said...

I don't know what you mean.