Nearly everyone knows about the London Eye. Looking over the rooftops from here I can see it winking between two chimneys. And of course the London Nose (or the Soho noses) have become a quite common dinner conversation topic of late. But I was walking with a friend the other day in Lincoln's inn fields and we were discussing the much lesser known "London Finger".
I like Lincoln's Inn Fields a lot. As a youngster, I remember back in the prehistoric era (the nineteen eighties as you would call it), it was the unlikely location for a citadel of homeless people as was the Waterloo roundabout (now the site of the gleaming I-max cinema**). It is funny how times change isn't it? I mean one of the reasons I liked the anti-capitalist protest at St Pauls last year was that it reminded me of those times when central London was not so corporate and hygenically controlled. I was as apolitical then as I am now (albeit for reasons of age) but it seemed to be an era in which the city authorities were much kinder to the dispossessed. Camden, who control Lincoln's Inn and a bit of Clerkenwell, must have almost encouraged them given the extensiveness of their cardboard shanty town. But then property prices took off and everything changed. A memory of the time does linger on as there is still a nightly soup kitchen in the square(organised by the Hari-Krishnas I believe).
On a more bloody note, it has a personally squeamish association. During one of the darker nights of a personal apocalypse a few years back I dreamt of a scarlet road leading from my place through the centre of town to the West. I dreamt that me and my friend and then housemate Glen Duncan were walking along it and as we passed Lincoln's Inn, we witnessed the horrific execution of Anthony Babington. He was a young, idealistic, romantic Catholic (er, I guess that was the connection) but a bit thick and ended up disembowelled with his head on a pole on London Bridge after leading a failed plot against Elizabeth I.
I later discovered that this road, which leads from Shoreditch right through to Ealing, passes many such old execution sites and in fact Lincoln's Inn Fields seems to have retained some of its visceral memories. For instance, it is still home to the Royal College of Surgeons and the grisly Hunterian collection - a sort of cross between a medical museum and a freak show. For a while it exhibited a 'Yeti's Finger'. This was obtained from a Himalayan monastery by the explorer Peter Byrne who, in an incredible tale of Indiana Jones style derring-do, had to substitute a human digit or it in order to avoid a curse. In an even more bizarre twist, the finger was smuggled to London hidden in the lingerie of the the wife of movie star James Stewart. It then disappeared for many years before re-surfacing in a display case at the Hunterian.
It's a Wonderful Life. You really can't make this stuff up can you?
The finger came from a large, ancient withered hand which the monks in the monastery concerned believed to be that of a Yeti or 'abominable snowman'. DNA testing established the finger to be in fact of human origin (yes I know that means it probably still has a fascinating history but it is one of the reasons I dislike science.) Anyway, it has disappeared again. If you find it, do let me know won't you? The lingerie too.
On a somewhat related note, and given that it may be too late as tickets are limited, if you like this sort of thing, join us at Westminster Arts Library next Thursday 28th March for "London Bone" - an exploration of the skeletal underneath this city's flesh.
More details are here
Now think on.
**Lest we forget, this was always a musical place: Ray Davies set "Waterloo Sunset" nearby and it was here that Gavin Bryars found and recorded the tramp who sang the heartbreaking "Jesus blood never failed me yet"