London’s Most Useless Information No.2
Whenever someone comes up with a fun, original thing to do, it seems as if London passes a law against it. To be fair, with such an immense number of people crammed into small winding streets I can see why hoverboards were banned, but there was a time when 1970s nightclubs held rollerblade races around traffic-filled Leicester Square. I happen to know that. Ahem.
So some of the things still banned – mainly because they haven’t come off the statute books – include owning a pack of cards within a mile of stores of explosives and standing on your windowsills, presumably to clean them.
You can’t officially hire a taxi while it’s moving. The London Hackney Carriages Act 1843 states even if a licensed taxi has its “for hire” light on, the driver is only allowed to seek trade when it’s at a standstill. It’s a rule overlooked by coppers who have better ways of using their time.
You’re not allowed to drop dead in the Houses of Parliament, either, which will come as surprising news to many of the peers who are still there.
More famously, you shouldn’t carry a plank down a pavement. Section 54 of the Metropolitan Police Act bans you from carrying ladders, hoops and wheels. It was never a problem for the stars of Eric Sykes’ ‘The Plank‘, a 45-minute silent comedy film filled with familiar faces. It was about carrying a planking proved popular enough to warrant a remake a few years later.
You’re not supposed to get pissed in a pub if the publican knows you are doing so, but you can carry on drinking if s/he doesn’t notice. You can’t eat chocolates on a bus or go to a fancy dress party as a soldier or sailor because of the Seamen’s and Soldiers’ False Characters Act 1906.
But there’s a bigger problem with all of this; outmoded British by-laws are disregarded, but still make the funny pages. The old chestnut about women peeing in coppers’ helmets has its origin in such a lost law, and is trotted out along with the rest in listicles of peculiar Britishness.
We want to believe that Britain is peculiar because we treasure peculiarity and align it to original thinking. This alone is meant to power us through a post-Brexit world in which funny little England retains trading power based on nothing more than a Dunkirk spirit. So yes, London by-laws and cockney slang are amusing, but they’re false advertising, in much the same way as Hollywood can still be referred to as ‘Tinseltown’.