Christmas Eve, not Hallowe'en, is the night Londoners tell ghost stories:
The city’s occasional creepiness has been actively fabricated, a product of its history of destruction and haphazard rebuilding. It has long been a canvas for only semi-realized grand designs, from Christopher Wren’s 17th century plans to turn the city into a second Florence to 1970s schemes to flatten historic Covent Garden Market. Destruction in the form of fires, bombing and brutal redevelopment have also reshaped the city, scorching the past away supposedly to replace it with a brighter, sunnier future.
That future never quite arrives. Great schemes get their ambitions slashed, while traces of the past are never truly effaced. London thus resembles an architectural lumber room whose random contents are waiting to be sorted into their correct order. Cottages still cower under the expressway and graveyards are shaken by passing trains. Glass and steel towers may rise, but they do so over pits full of plague corpses or along the line of old ditches once filled with dead dogs. Everywhere there are semi-effaced reminders of the past, sometimes delightful, sometimes sullen and (to the suggestible mind) resentful.
London has so many of these part-effaced remnants that it’s no wonder stories get spun around them. It’s so easy here to imagine the fields being paved over, the bombs falling, the wrecking ball swinging, and the old inhabitants being moved on. With old housing projects being demolished, skyscrapers rising and rent hikes scattering people from their old neighbourhoods, London is still changing radically, of course. And I sometimes wonder what we present day Londoners are leaving behind of ourselves, and whether it too might give future residents the shivers on a dark night.
It also has throngs of the living tonight. I just pushed my way through Covent Garden and Soho, completely underestimating the crowds. Most of the places I'd like to hang out this afternoon close early, but apparently the tourist center of London is open for business. I'm sure there are a few ghosts there as well...