It’s Saturday morning and I’m trying to claw my way back to civilisation from Leytonstone when my phone dies. I’m starting to give up on my social plans until I hear my name shouted. Hannnah, who I have been trying to reach since 9am, is now bizarrely stood in front of me on Bethnal Green Road. The universe is feeling really sorry for me today.
She was under the impression we were meeting in the evening, so her and her boyfriend are on their way to breakfast but I tag along. We sit down the road from the infamous E Pellicci caf, on an outside table because even though it is 1 degrees and November-the sun is shining; this is England!
We are discussing the horrific London Bridge stabbings of the day before and the shooting of the perpetrator, when we hear two noises which sound like gunshots but aren’t quite loud enough. From behind one of the street vendors there’s a commotion and someone’s shouting “I’m gonna fuck you up, yeah watch, I’ll fuck you up”. A double decker bus with ‘Gangster Tours’ emblazoned on the front pulls up in front of us. We’re all feeling a bit slow this morning but eventually piece two and two together when a jovial man sporting a fake gold tooth waves a starting gun at us.
This is a performance as part of a tour of the east end, apparently in memory of the Cray Twins. I thought me and my mates were just having breakfast. Turns out, along with many others we had also become a spectacle to tourists who were enjoying a safari of how people really live in this part of London, with the occasional pantomime re-enactment of assault. Less than 24 hours following a high-profile attack in which several people lost their lives and more were injured, this doesn’t feel right. Not to mention the fact that fatal stabbings and gun crime is a real, endemic problem in London. Using this sad truth as fodder for a fun day out is just the beginnings of the dark tourism industry and an area of lively debate.
How should we revisit notorious places? Is voyeurism a legitimate way to learn?