As the frigid February days surround me, I'm trying to make the most of the bitterly cold winter -no easy thing, as I live in the second coldest capital city in the world - Ottawa! But we always manage to make the best of the snow and ice and each year we celebrate Winterlude. On a basic level, Winterlude celebrate the freezing of the Rideau Canal - the world's longest outdoor skating rink and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. From this, Winterlude has grown into festival with diverse events - from concerts to ice sculpting contests. It's along this theme that I review this week's book: The Frozen Thames by Helen Humphries (who lives very close to Ottawa, in nearby Kingston!)
This book is actually a collection of forty vignettes, each one telling a story of for every time the River Thames froze solid. Starting in 1142, under seize and on the brink of starvation, Queen Matilda escapes in the nick of time, using a freshly frozen Thames as part of her plan. Over the years, we hear the story of kings and commoners, princes and peasants whose lives are transformed when the river freezes. You gain such an appreciation for the hardships and joys that have transpired over the years. Everyday aspects of life -frolicking with friends, fighting the plague, grappling with the authorities - are written in detail as warm as the ice is cold. And the extraordinary events - such as Henry the VIII rushing back into London when Catherine of Aragon dies - are made even more magical when you envision the royal carriage being pulled down the middle of the frozen river.
One theme that reoccurs is that of the Frost Fair - festivities set on the banks of the river, booths selling wares and offering treats on the frozen ice itself. While Ottawa is more apt to sell BeaverTails pastries than roast ox, I can still appreciate the common theme of community fun. The Thames has only ever frozen solid 40 times in recorded history and, in many cases, seeing it was a once in a lifetime experience.
This book felt like a hidden gem which, once discovered, I couldn't put down. The stories are vivid, charming, gentle, and evocative I think this would be the perfect book for a business traveler with a hectic schedule - they can dip in and out of the stories without having to commit too much time. And it would be even better for anyone travelling to London and bemoaning the chilly damp weather. Chances are, if they Thames isn't frozen, the weather isn't too bad after all!
You can buy this book through my Amazon Store, or through your local bookstore.