(still taking photos in the East End)
This place is full of holes. Holes in time, in the fabric of the modern world. Sometimes I fall through one unawares and find myself hanging between centuries, as if I had entered one of the ghost stations from below, climbed those dark stairs untrodden for ninety years and emerged into the old world..
But it's easier than that. At night this whole city, off the beaten track, loses its modern trappings entirely. Keep walking, and suddenly there are nothing but ancient buildings around you, grimed with the soot of years. Pavements slope, cracked with age, old cobblestones gleam, worn shiny with the passage of centuries. The sound of children's voices echoing on stone singing the same rhymes they chanted during the Black Death, while the echoes bounce from churches built upon the ruins of churches built upon the ruins of Roman and pagan temples, so old the tombs of fourteenth-century noblemen within them seem almost modern. The past settles on these deserted byways of the city by night like the heavy London fog of the old films: the back streets are so dimly lit the faint orange glow of the few street lamps looks like gaslight, and fantastically elongated, Jack the Ripper shadows loom on glistening black walls. They never caught him. He was never more than a figure of shadows, of rumour, of pieces of yellowing paper bearing ill-spelt messages. But he left his mark.
And the marks of his passing glow yellow on my maps in the gaslight. Four maps: 2000, 1900, 1888, 1812, following the trails of the ghost streets where my ancestors walked, lived, read about the murders. A tracery of names and places still familiar, oddly unchanged in places. Superimpose the maps and they show the holes where one can slip through, into their world. Like Jack the Ripper, they leave nothing now but shadows: yellowing records in cramped copperplate hands, blurred photographs of ghost places, old tales extracted painstakingly from faded memories. But the streets are still there, and the shadows remain. The past is all around us, in these old European cities. It's easy, sometimes, to slip out of time.