A rogues' gallery of mountebanks, charlatans and scoundrels
Of all the animals of prey, man is the only sociable one.
Every one of us preys upon his neighbour, and yet we herd together.
The Beggar's Opera: John Gay
Monday, 16 March 2009
The water lapped slowly above the parapet and against the sandbags. Here and there it began to trickle through onto the pavements....Presently there could be little doubt what was going to happen. Some of the watching crowd withdrew, but many of them remained, in a wavering fascination. When the breakthrough came, it occurred in a dozen places on the North Bank almost simultaneously.
So begins the account of the flooding of London from John Wyndham’s 1953 science fiction classic The Kraken Wakes, inspired by the storm of March 16, 1947, when a combination of melting snow, heavy rain and a tidal surge caused severe widespread flooding in East Anglia. Wyndham describes the disintegration of British society as sea levels rise; the futile attempts to build ever higher flood barriers, the abandoning of London and other low-lying cities and the eventual breakdown of law and order.
Now we hear that sea levels may rise by up to a metre by 2100 and go on rising at increasing speed, Wyndham’s description may become unintentionally prophetic. We have already experienced the Orwellian doublethink of modern politics – Big Brother’s chocolate ration, anyone? – and the arrival of soma a.k.a. ecstasy and a host of legal anti-depressants. Now once more we find ourselves facing the dystopian visions of half a century ago – only, thankfully, minus the invading aliens.
Macheath, the notorious highwayman, has retired from a life of crime and can now be found behind the bar of Peachum's Tavern, favourite haunt of the rakes, rogues and vagabonds of 18th century Newgate and setting of 'The Beggars' Opera'. Visitors are always welcome; help yourself to a virtual tankard of ale and read on...