Oct 04

FREAKY TRIGGER TOP 25 SCARIEST THINGS – 13: Being Somewhere You Shouldn’t Be, And Hearing The Barking Of Approaching Dogs

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One of the favoured pastimes of a childhood family holiday (too old to be tucked up in bed early, too young for ten-franc bottles of wine and pursuing Dutch girls), was to round up a group of other kids, grab a load of torches and set out into the several acres of woodland that surrounded our campsite. Ostensibly, this was in search of fun and adventure, but it was mostly for the sake of scaring the younger children senseless. Tales abounded of random pit-traps hidden on the paths, vicious wild boar roaming free, that kind of thing.

So imagine our delight when, on one particularly epic exploration, we stumbled into the grounds of le chateau and found, in the middle of a large mound of earth, a door leading inside, down to what appeared to be some sort of hidden shelter. This was the most exciting thing that had ever happened to us! The tunnel seemed to go on for ages! There were bats! The girls were looking visibly scared! It was like the Goonies, only without the gangsters and booby traps and other dangerous things.

Our excitement was brought to an abrupt end. “Ssh!”, said some long-forgotten holiday friend. “That sounds like dogs barking. I swear they’re getting louder.” I’d never run so fast in all my life.

Of course, they were probably chained up after all. Security firms, by and large, do not let angry German Shepherds loose on unsuspecting intruders. The fear is all in the anticipation, the knowledge of approaching danger, the blind panic that sets as you work out whether that barking is far enough away to give you time to finish your drunken piss and get the hell out of that industrial estate. And of course, that’s exactly what they want you to think.

Cinematically, meanwhile, being chased by angry guard dogs is the inevitable fate of either the hapless buffoon, the comedy bastard or, in the case of Ed Rooney from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, both. And no one wants to end up looking like that, do they?

Oct 04


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The fear of being helpless in the face of your own rapidly approaching demise is already becoming a recurring theme of this list. Usually though, there’s a malicious influence involved somewhere, a giant maneating lizard or an axe murderer, for example. As all FT readers who have ever been up to their neck in quicksand will agree, in this case the real killer is the knowledge that the situation is entirely your fault.

Quicksand is pure stealth danger. It looks exactly like normal sand, but putting a foot wrong will see you sinking inexorably towards your doom. Its also psychological torture – there’s no pain involved in quicksand death until the fatal moment when your head goes under. The real horror lies in the knowledge of what is ahead, the slow sinking feeling (the slower the scarier, natch), the fading hope of rescue from a passer-by, friendly elephant or swooping bird of prey. And the prospect of encountering the remains of another foolhardy explorer just as you slip below the surface.

Experts say that if you do find yourself trapped in quicksand, on no account should you struggle, make rapid movements or otherwise try and extricate yourself – that will only cause you to sink faster. This is a bit like advising people to run in zigzags to escape a crocodile or stand perfectly still when faced with a grizzly bear. Frankly, it requires admirable presence of mind in a life-threatening situation.

And if the sand itself doesn’t get you, the noxious gases or circling vultures will have a good go. Glug.

Aug 04

If you overlook its swathes of parkland

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If you overlook its swathes of parkland, London and hot weather really don’t go together at all. The city’s simply too dense, the transport system painfully ill-equipped for the heat, and I have yet to be convinced of the appeal of al fresco dining next to a bus stop on Clapham High Street.

Nevertheless, I approve wholeheartedly of attempts to bend London into a more summer-friendly shape. Like this Reclaim The Beach lot, for example. Who needs Brighton when you can build sandcastles on a small stretch of mud next to Festival Pier? And the beach parties look fun – I rather like the idea of attempting to turn Southwark into a mini-Koh Samui with aid of a big sound system. I somewhat doubt that the idea of paddling in the Thames will ever take off, mind.

In related news, RIP Charlton Lido. Where does one go for a decent outdoor swim in South London these days?

Aug 04

The London That Never Was – Part 1 in an irregular series

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Perhaps I was a little harsh on the quality of some of London’s riverside architecture. Especially when you consider that once upon a time the good people of Battersea could have been given this

Aug 04

I live by the river? No chance, mate…

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At the weekend a group of us celebrated a friend’s birthday by taking two boats down the Thames, from Greenwich to Westminster, and then on from Westminster to Kew. Unless you extend the trip in both directions to the Thames Barrier and and Richmond, respectively, this is more or less as far as you can go down the river without leaving London.

The first thing that becomes obvious when you get on one of these city cruises is how few tourists there actually are onboard. Everyone on the boat with us seemed to be a Londoner – understandable when you consider that this is a view of London that the majority of us rarely actually see, and a pretty damn great one at that.

The stretch from Greenwich to Westminster is probably the most interesting – from the decaying industrial space around parts of Deptford, past the converted warehouses and multi-million pound apartments, the high-rise sprawl of the Wharf and iconic City buildings old and new overlooking several fantastic-looking riverside pubs I never knew existed.

Once you get west of the Houses of Parliament and Lambeth Palace, however, the predominance of luxury apartments seems to force out almost every trace of the city’s history. There are exceptions, notably the empty husk of Battersea Power Station, but even that’s been sitting waiting for the property developers to come calling for years now. I’m not against redevelopment along the banks of the Thames, watching the skyline from Tower Bridge evolve over the past couple of years has been pretty striking. I’d rather audacious architectural setpieces, except perhaps those as preposterous as St George’s Wharf in Vauxhall with all its Bondvillainesque bombast, than dilapidated industrial wasteland and fenced-off riverside. But it doesn’t feel like my city. The guide gleefully informs us that x bland residential tower is home to Robbie Williams or Michael Caine for three weeks a year, and while the real world may be all of two minutes walk away, this is another London, and we’re not invited.

Just as it all seems to get overwhelming, the gradual westward drift into ruralism is refreshing – tree-lined riverbanks, the occasional pub and boat house, and the rowers who remind you that the Thames is still actually used for stuff. One of the most gratifying sights along the journey is the site of Fulham’s Craven Cottage ready for the season ahead after sitting dormant for two years, the property developers finally fought off. Londoners have neglected the river for so long, it seems wasteful just to turn it into another rich person’s playground.