Sunday, December 02, 2007

Macabre London

So on Sunday I skipped off to the London Eye in Westminster near the Houses of Parliament. I'd always intended to 'do' the London Eye but just never got around to it. The only reason why I bought a ticket this time was to be able to purchase a ticket to see the King Tut exhibit out at the O2 in North Greenwich (subject of another post).

I decided to go whole hog and purchase a ticket with the addition of a glass of Laurent-Perrier champagne during my flight. So decadent! But heck, if you're going to do it, do it right I always say. The London Eye, if you've ever seen pictures of it, is really a giant ferris wheel that was put up during the Millenium year. It was supposed to be taken down but 7 years after the Millenium, it's still up and destined to stay up until after London hosts the Olympics.

I was so lucky, the day was absolutely beautiful, clear and sunny so I had good views all around of London all the way out to Canary Wharf, the City (including St. Paul's Cathedral) and the West End. And a glass of champagne to top it all off. It my pod was a 21st birthday party and several couples. For a minute, I felt kind of sad that I was there by myself and not with a significant other, but I decided to put all that aside and just enjoy myself. The thing about the Eye is that it moves so slowly that you can hardly feel it moving as it makes it way around, and you have no idea how high up you are until you see the next pod at the top and then you realize, Wow, I was really up there.

After the Eye, I took a stroll along the Thames to the Tate Modern, having never been there before. It's in an old powerstation about 20 minutes from the London Eye, very modern and sleek. One of the biggest draws was downstairs in the Turbine Hall, an artwork called the Shibboleth which was literally a crack in the floor from the top of the Hall to the bottom. I found this fascinating. The literature stated that the artist was using the crack to represent oppressed people, if you looked closely the walls were imbedded with barbed wire. Because the crack ran the length of the Hall, it was big in some places and smaller in others. What was interesting for me, even more than the crack itself, was watching other people react to the crack. Some people took photos, some were straddling the crack, others were leaning down examining it. I personally tried to open myself up to the Universe to find out what I was supposed to get out of the crack, but I'm sorry to say that in my case, sometimes a crack is just that, a crack!

I met up with my Chip later for Indian food on Brick Lane in the East End of London. I got so confused that he literally had to guide me to the proper street while talking to me on my cellphone!

I ended my evening taking the Jack the Ripper walking tour. If you're in London and you're interested in taking a walking tour, this is the one that I would recommend. It used to be led by Donald Rumbelow who is one of the foremost authorities on Jack the Ripper. I took the tour with him 10 years ago. Unfortunately, although the London Walks literature says that he leads the tour on Sundays, he didn't the weekend I was there, so I was a little disappointed. I was hoping to get his feelings about Patricia Cornwell's controversial books claiming that the painter Walter Sickert was the Ripper. I knew that he would have had something interesting to say even if it was just a string of expletives. The crowd was so huge though that they had to split us up into 3 groups with a different guide for each one.

I chose Andrew because he seemed the most fun and I was happy about that. I've always been interested in the Ripper. I've seen From Hell and Murder by Decree which is virtually the same movie. I read Patricia Cornwell's book, so I was familiar with all the theories of who might be the Ripper. If you haven't seen either of those movies, the most popular theory and the most enduring, primarily because it's kind of romantic and it involves the Royal family, is that the murders were committed by Sir William Gull to cover up the fact that Albert, Duke of Clarence, who was the eldest son of the Prince of Wales (future Edward VII) had entered into a marriage with a lower class woman who had a child.

If Albert had married, it would have been illegal, because the Royal Family was subject to the Royal Marriage Act to prevent them from making unsuitable marriages. Until the age of 25, a member has to have permission from the Queen to marry, and they can't marry a Catholic either, without giving up their place in the succession. Prince Michael and the current Earl of St. Andrews (son of the Duke of Kent) have both married Catholics and have had to give up their rights. The prostitutes of course were friends of Annie Chapman, Albert's beloved, and had banded together to protect her, so they had to be picked off one by one. Oh and the killings had Masonic overtones because the Masons are behind everything (see Dan Brown).

This theory has been completely debunked. Gull was in his 70's and had suffered a severe stroke. There is no evidence that Albert ever contracted an illegal marriage, although he was involved in a scandal concerning a male brothel. The other theory is that Albert himself was the Ripper, although that too has been debunked given that he was in the army at the time.

No one knows who the Ripper was. The Casebook of Jack the Ripper is one of the best web-sites around to read about the case, and the various suspects. Part of the reason that the Ripper was never caught was the fact that the crimes were committed in both the East End and the City which had two seperate police forces and still have to this day. Back then they were both territorial and wouldn't share information with each other. Also, the forensics and CSI techniques that we take for granted didn't exist. Fingerprinting was just starting to be used, and DNA wouldn't be used until the late 1970's. Also, because the case was never solved, it allows criminologists as well as novelists to put their own stamp on the story and to try and come up with the solution. It's like playing a game of Clue.

It was kind of creepy and eerie to be walking around the City and the East End at night. Like downtown New York, the place is deserted at night, particularly the City. You can just imagine what it must have been like for those poort women who were just trying to earn enough money to have a place to sleep at night and ended up murdered for their pains. Back then, poor women and men would go to doss houses at night where depending on how much money they had, they either ended up sleeping in a bed or leaning over a line. No wonder so many of them were drunk on gin.

Going to the Ten Bells pub for a pint used to part of the of the tour but the owners got fed up with so many tourists coming into gawk, so now you kind of have to go and pretend like you just weren't on the tour. I've been there before and it's kind of eerie to see the names of the victims on the wall. Seriously, I was kind of glad to get back on the tube to safety.

Thanks for reading,


No comments: