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London’s top ten invisible curiosities

Posted at 12:45 pm, August 31, 2014 in Fun London

hayward gallery

1 ‘Untitled (A Curse)’
In 2012 the Hayward Gallery exhibited a 1992 artwork by American conceptualist Tom Friedman. The twist: the piece was an 11-inch-diameter sphere of space, which the artist had paid a witch to put a curse on. Amazingly, in 2001 it sold at auction for £22,325. Whoever bought it was pretty savvy: it requires next to no dusting, it goes with any design scheme and the cat will be happy too. Or totally freaked.

Platform 9 1/3 in the newly refurbished Kings Cross concourse

2. Platform 9¾
Run headlong into the brick wall between platforms 9 and 10 at King’s Cross and (if you time it just right) you’ll arrive on this hallowed part of the capital’s railway network, where every September the Hogwarts Express whisks young wannabe wizards off to their studies. The portal doesn’t allow just anyone through, though, so to prevent any muggle injuries a photo-op has been set up nearby with a sawn-off luggage trolley bolted to the wall. Bless.

Dans Le Noir

3. Dinner at Dans le Noir
Clerkenwell’s famously bizarre eatery invites punters to scoff a three-course meal in complete darkness. The idea is that when deprived of sight, diners’ other senses are heightened, enhancing the gastronomic experience. Critics haven’t always been too kind about the food on offer, but on the plus side, it’s a lot easier to sneak off without leaving a tip.

4. Invisible ink
In 1915, boffins at MI6 were wrestling with the problem of developing a new kind of invisible ink, which would enable agents in the field to communicate without fear of interception. According to Keith Jeffery’s history of the institution, a breakthrough was made when it was discovered that human semen worked perfectly. The boss who commissioned the research: Sir Mansfield Cumming. Oh yeah.

5. Ley lines
Some people of a mystical bent believe the country is crisscrossed by a web of unseen lines of energy, created by the alignment of sites of historical significance. Archaeologist Alfred Watkins, who coined the term in the 1920s, attested to a Strand ley linking St Martin-in-the-Fields in the west with Arnold Circus in the east. And in Martin Langfield’s novel ‘The Secret Fire’, the central villain identifies a line connecting all the churches in the nursery rhyme ‘Oranges and Lemons’. Spooky/nonsense.

6. The Great Stink
For most of their history, Londoners thought nothing of dumping raw sewage into the Thames. However, by the 1850s the population had ballooned to three million, meaning, basically, a lot of shit in the water. The scorching summer of 1858 caused the effluvia to ferment, making London so pungent that parliament made plans to flee the city. When autumn came and the stench abated, MPs commissioned an unprecedented infrastructure project to solve the problem: the remarkable sewer system we still use to this day (sort of an HS2 for our number twos).

7. The Prime Meridian
Established in 1851 by Sir George Airy as a reference point for astronomical observations, the imaginary line which passes through Greenwich defines time everywhere on earth. So anyone catching a flight in Beijing, keeping a dentist’s appointment in LA or meeting a hot date in Johannesburg is setting their watches by this south-east London selfie opportunity.

8. The Screaming Nun
Security guards at the Royal Academy on Piccadilly have long complained of mysterious slamming doors and disembodied shrieks – so much so that in the past some even wore headphones on their nightly patrols to block out the screams. It’s believed the ghost of a deceased nun is to blame. It’s definitely not posses of pissed girls from Kent unable to get into the now-closed Trocadero.

9. The Invisible House
Earlier this summer Lewisham Council granted planning permission for two disused garages in Brockley to be converted into London’s first ‘invisible house’. The plans, by architects JaK Studio, ingeniously use mirrors so the building blends perfectly into its surroundings. All very well until you stumble home drunk and are unable to find not just your keys, but your entire house.

10. The River Tyburn
One of London’s ‘lost rivers’, the ancient Tyburn is now mostly built over. But eccentric property developer James Bowdidge, in his role as honorary secretary of the Tyburn Angling Society, has proposed to uncover the river and restore it as a fishing stream. The only drawback is this would involve the demolition of around £1 billion worth of prime London property, including Buckingham Palace. Can’t see Her Maj going for that, somehow.

Take a look at more of London’s top tens here.

By Andy Hill

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