6 Things You Probably Didn’t Know About London

Alternate title: 6 things you probably didn’t need to know about London. With the Olympic and Paralympic Games coming to London in the very near future, let’s take a look at a few less well-known London facts.

1. London has a thousands-strong colony of parakeets

There’s been a population of feral Red-Ringed Parakeets in the UK for many years now - they can be seen across South-East England, but the largest group is in London. One theory suggests a small group escaped from the filming of the 1951 movie The African Queen.

2. Boris Johnson is the hero London deserves, but not the one it needs right now.

According to the Guardian, in November 2009 London Mayor Boris Johnson was cycling past a woman who was being threatened by a group of teenage girls wielding an iron bar. “He asked the girls what was going on, and at first they didn’t move, so I said, ‘That’s the mayor of London!’ and they ran off. They must have thought they were going to get in trouble. One dropped the bar, so Boris picked it up and cycled after them,” said Franny Armstrong, the woman who had called to Johnson for help.

3. Nearly every subway system in the world has a map like this one, because they’re nearly all based on this one.

This one’s probably fairly well-known, but you couldn’t have a London facts article without this one could you? In 1931, Tube employee Harry Beck realised that the realistically-proportioned maps the Underground used to use didn’t really matter that much - if it’s all underground, all that matters is which stations are connected to each other. Now a design classic, the diagrammatic map format has been copied and re-used the world over.

4. These people are called Pearlies - and they raise money for charity

Pearly Kings and Queens used to be apple sellers in Victorian London, who strung pearls on their hand-me-down clothes to emulate high society. Henry Croft, born in a workhouse, was the most famous Pearly King, with over 60,000 pearl buttons on his suit and hat. Today, Pearlies raise money for various London charities including Great Ormond Street Children’s Hospital.

5. London has over 10% of the world’s species of plant seeds, on ice.

The Royal Botanical Gardens at Kew, along with Wakehurst Place in West Sussex, is home to the Millennium Seed Bank. The largest of its kind, the nuke-proof Seed Bank has over one billion seeds and aims to have seeds from 25% of the world’s plant species by 2020.

6. London is being fitted with surface-to-air missiles and thousands of soldiers in preparation for the Games

As part of what Defence Secretary Philip Hammond has called a ‘multi-layered air security plan,’ Rapier High Velocity Missiles are to be installed at six sites across London, two of which are in residential areas. The Games will also see the deployment of a helicopter carrier on the Thames, fighter jets at RAF Northolt, and Puma helicopters in West London. Not including private security firms, 13,500 military personnel will be in service in London - 4,000 more than the British forces in Afghanistan.

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