Magazine article The Spectator

BOOKENDS A Metropolitan Menagerie

Magazine article The Spectator

BOOKENDS A Metropolitan Menagerie

Article excerpt

London has always loved its animals. James I kept elephants in St James's Park (allowed a gallon of wine per day each to get through the English winter), while as recently as Live Aid an urban myth arose that the revolving stage was pulled by horses. The capital's no different from the rest of the country; if the British showed as much concern for their fellow humans as they do for their dogs, life would be easier. The latest book tapping this market is Animal London (Square Peg, £9.99).

Not that the photographer Ianthe Ruthven has gone for fluffy or cute. Her animals are inanimate, either because they're statues, monuments, carvings, bits of graffiti or dead (pet cemetery, Hyde Park). The brief bits of accompanying text reveal, among other things, that the word 'gargoyle' comes from the French for 'throat'; that Samuel Johnson bought his cat's oysters himself to avoid turning his servants against Hodge; that people used to mistake the pelican's posture for it stabbing itself in the chest to feed its young with its own blood; and that a 19th-century circus performer stood on a horse to portray a different Shakespearean character with each lap of the ring. …

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