What is it with London tourists and their matching outfits? Do they normally dress like oversized siblings? Or is the colour-coordinated anorak/rucksack/wrap-around-sunglasses look a fashion statement reserved purely to pose in front of red telephone boxes and meander down Oxford Street with the urgency of a doped-up snail?
Perhaps this perplexing ‘tourist-chic’ is designed to match the perplexed expression that goes with staring at oversized maps and foreign street signs? Whatever the case, their indiscretion when it comes to blending in with locals has much to be desired.
Surely one should distract from the fact one’s carrying a sparkly new state-of-the-art video camera and wads of cash strapped to one’s (often fairly oversized) midriff in the form of a bum bag (or ‘fanny bag’ as the Americans so endearingly label them) as equally as unstylish as one’s outfit? Instead they may as well walk around with blaring sirens on their heads and flashing lights screaming ‘rob me!’
The Germans and the Americans are the worst culprits. I should know. I had to spend three hours with a troop of them last week when I was a tourist for the evening and joined a Jack the Ripper expedition in the East End.
It all began in Victoria (of all places, not exactly the East End, but hey, what do the tourists know?) where a group of about 20 or so ‘criminals against fashion’ clambered onto a coach at the mercy of tour guide John and driver Martin.
Our host pair made quite the comedy duo: “Martin is going to bring everybody home from the East End tonight, and that’s a good thing I assure you! I hope you all have a very unpleasant evening,” John recited in his warm and friendly, if overly rehearsed, tones.
On arriving at the London Eye we clambered onto a cruise boat that took us along the river, past plenty of Thames-side landmarks such as the National Theatre, Shakespeare’s Globe, the Tate and St Paul’s (it was the perfect, warm summer’s evening for such leisurely jaunts) before an educational pause at the Tower of London.
I received quite the scolding when I made the mistake of sitting in one of the German tourist’s seats when we hopped back on the bus to Whitechapel. “That’s my seat. Please move!” she cried and glared at me as if I’d taken her little fanny bag and thrown it in the Thames (believe me I was tempted). These Germans are a serious bunch and are obviously very protective of their coach seats.
Feeling dejected from the group I – seemingly the only ‘Londoner’ on the tour (the only one with any dress sense) – stuck closely to John’s side as he guided us from St Boltoph’s Church to Mitre Square (the scene of one of the Ripper killings), then to Wentworth Dwellings where victim Catherine Eddos’ apron was found on the ground under the famous ‘Jews’ writing – a crucial clue in the case.
John filled us in on plenty of Ripper trivia along the way, as he divulged details of the ‘From Hell’ letter sent to the press – supposedly from the Ripper himself – and dissected theories about some of the prime suspects in the case.
Lastly we visited the murder scene of the so-called final victim of Jack the Ripper: Mary Jane Kelly, at what was once Dorsett Street, Spitalfields. All that is left now is a thoroughfare separating a sports shop from a car park. Looking at the scene you wouldn’t think it is that of one of the most famous serial killings of all time. All that’s left is a sign reading ‘Danger Forklift Truck’ alongside wooden crates and a couple of rubbish skips.
John knows his stuff, and fills us in on the Ten Bells pub nearby, where all of the victims were known to drink, and the doss house opposite, where Mary Kelly is believed to have briefly stayed.
I can’t take my eyes off the two German tourists in their matching outfits, who – listening to John’s dark accounts of the Ripper murders in all their gory detail (he’s a great story teller) look truly shocked by what they’ve heard: Hopefully shocked enough to never return to London ever again…
The Chills and Thrills in London: Jack the Ripper Tour is operated by isango!
Tel: 0870 049 2331