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Londoners have had to put up with many strange sights over the past few weeks: flying cyclists with angel wings, people doing the Mo Farah M hand-signal, the Spice Girls, but this one takes the cake. A massive nose appeared on the Millennium Bridge this morning, sculpted partly to commemorate a noxious period in the city’s history, and partly to encourage people to find out more at a local tourist attraction.
So, to start with the history lesson: in 1898, the Thames and its tributary rivers became so badly polluted by human waste, it caused an situation known as The Great Stink, a horrific stench so purvasive and powerful it forces an Act of Parliament in order to build the sewage system on which the city currently relies.
Ben Sweet, manager of the London Dungeon, who commissioned the nose sculpture to promote its exhibition called Stinky Summer, explained that this was no ordinary toxic whiff. He told Metro: “The stench during the Great Stink was so vile that the curtains in the House of Commons were soaked in chloride of lime in a vain attempt to protect the sensitivities of MPs.
“It didn’t work and a bill was rushed through in just two weeks to fund a massive new sewer system for the city.”
He went on to explain why the London Dungeon is devoting its time to such nasal matters: “Smell is interwoven into the history of the city and until relatively recently London was an unpleasantly smelly place.
“Today we live in a very sanitised world so this summer we’re taking guests on a smelly step back in time and will be giving them a small whiff of the pongs of the past.”
These include – on special scratch ‘n’ sniff cards, no less – the smell of bubonic plague victims, the charred remains from a public execution, and the burnt everything whiff coming off the Great Fire of 1666.
Sadly they’re not doing a card representing “too much aftershave and too much perfume in a crowded elevator that already smells of urine.” You can’t have everything.
See more posts by Fraser McAlpine
Fraser has been writing and broadcasting about music and popular culture for over 15 years, first at the Top of the Pops website, and most recently for the NME, Guardian and MSN. He also wrote BBC Radio 1's Chart Blog and reviews albums for BBC Radio 2.
He is Anglophenia's current resident Brit, blogging about British slang and running around the Mall taking snaps of the crowd at the Royal Wedding, as well as reigniting a childhood passion for classic Doctor Who and cramming as much music in as he can manage.
Fraser invites you to join him on Twitter: @csi_popmusic