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Tall stories from a ‘whys’ man

I’m on the hunt for Vikings.

Those blond, bearded coves fond of horned helmets, pillaging Saxon belongings and riding around in long boats with sails like French tablecloths – a description that will be familiar to fans of Asterix, Hollywood films of the late 50s, or those who have crossed the Wandle river in Earlsfield.

It was as I was strolling across the Wandle River on Penwith Road with my son the other day that these Viking raiders reared their rather magnificent heads. ‘Why?’ asked my son, eyeing the metal Viking heads that line the bridge with deep suspicion. Choosing to think this enquiry was the product of genuine curiosity (and not that we were re-entering the dreaded ‘why’ stage which inevitably ends up with questions like why do we have milk on cereal and why do our cats bring in dead mice), I tried to answer. ‘Well, once upon a time Viking raiders sailed up the Thames, then turned left up the Wandle and when they got to this place they found their path was blocked by a bridge. On it were the good burghers of Earlsfield who stood and told these fearsome raiders that they could go no further. Now, these Vikings weren’t used to being told what to do and soon a great battle began: swords crashed on shields, arrows rained down, buildings were burnt and smoke filled the air… but when it cleared the Vikings had left and the people of Earlsfield were safe. All that was left behind were the helmets of the Vikings who had fled in such haste, and so the locals rounded them up and placed them on the bridge as a warning to those that followed. And so we see them today…’ I rounded off, pretty pleased with my storytelling, only to be met by the inevitable… ‘Why?’

As I slowly exhaled, I realised that I had aroused my own curiosity (if not my son’s) and would quite like to know the real reason for the Vikings’ presence on this bridge over the Wandle. So, if any knowledgeable readers out there could help with this, then I would happily publish their findings. Until then, I am simply left wondering, ‘whyyyyyyyy?’

Have a wonderful October.

Jon Watt is editor of the Clapham & Battersea and Fulham editions of Time & Leisure Magazine.