Sunday, 21 October 2007

Jack the Ripper

While the whole world and his bored wife was watching the rugby (ouch for England), I was instead one of a pack of people attending a Jack the Ripper walk through the City of London.

It appears that the City of London is home to several scurrying packs of walkers come the weekend. I spied at least four separate walks criss-crossing between Tower Hill and Liverpool Street, and those were just the ones we bumped into, who knows how many others were infecting the city? It is all rather odd…

The tour was organised by London Walks, and is on the premise that you don’t book, you just turn up exactly at the right time at the meeting point. Of course, you wonder what happens if no one shows, but this is obviously not a problem for this successful company, as we rounded the corner at 7pm sharp and there were bleeding hundreds of people milling around waiting to walk in a serial killer’s shoes. Okay, there were about sixty, but that is still a goodly number of people just showing up on the off chance. It was so many that the tour guide summoned another tour guide up, as if by magic, and we were split in two, and off into the misty night…

Or rather, off into the well-lit and non-misty night, heralded by the happy cheers of South Africans watching the rugby accompanied by a few jugs of lager. The main problem is that the area has changed so much in almost 120 years that it is pretty unrecognisable as the area the infamous Jack the Ripper once stalked. It was hard to paint the impression of smog choked alleyways on top of sanitised and shiny office blocks. Still, our tour guide gave it a good go, and the moment he described the first murder, the audience fell silent, perhaps as everyone remembered this wasn’t actually an attraction, but once a real story.

It made me feel a bit strange to be honest, as these poor women were killed, yet here were we all, using their grisly murders as a Saturday night diversion between pub one and pub two. Does more than a hundred years difference make it less meaningful? It shouldn’t at all, but the distance of time and the fact the area is so changed does make things feel less real. However, there are places along the walk where old London still breathes, and when you happen upon these old buildings and shop fronts you do stop and wonder at it all.

'Jack' would have seen this building

Lots of theories were advanced and retreated as to who the real ripper was during the walk. I have no idea (like I would! Obviously one walk in and I’m an expert!), but to imagine what that part of London was like, dark as pitch apart from flickers of gaslight, looming buildings, riddled with tiny alleys, most people blotting out their existence on gin… to walk the streets must have been truly terrifying, let alone have the spectre of a killer hanging over the city.

The Gerkin, view from the walk

Oh, and I cannot sleep (funny that, eh?), so I decided to write some more of chapter 8, in case you are wondering. Might as well strike while the fire’s hot, eh?

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