The Mystery of the Missing Walker on the Jack the Ripper walk
A few months ago we got a phone call about 8.30 pm one night from a man who'd nipped into the Macdonald's for a pit stop - he hadn't told his guide Judith he was doing so - and sure enough when he came out he couldn't find the group.
So he rang London Walks.
So I rang Judith – straight to answerphone.
So I rang Angela – on busy nights there are two guides on our Jack the Ripper Walk. She answered. Answered after a fashion. In other words, she was in full flow when her phone started to ring and so she just reached down and hit the answer button in order to stop the ringing. Which meant that the line was open - I could hear what she was saying. And full flow is certainly the mot juste. And the really striking thing - the important thing - is the effect it had on me: I couldn't put the phone down!
And the thing is, I know that walk very well. I used to guide it. So I knew exactly where she was and "the ground she was going over". Knew the story. Knew what'd she'd be saying. But I couldn't put the phone down. Hanging on every word.
And absolutely lost in admiration. And wonder.
Ultimately none of that - my reaction I mean - should come as any surprise: precisely because she's one of the finest actresses of our time. And has arguably the finest voice of them all. It's no accident that hers is the voice the National Gallery uses for its "audio wand" introductions to selected paintings.
And listening to her like that was, as they say, a busman's holiday for me. I know a bit about this game - I've been a London Walks guide for a long time. I'm the capo - so I necessarily have to be out there vetting new guides, etc. etc. What I'm saying is, there's probably nobody who's got more experience than I have in the matter of how guiding should be done/what makes a great guide, etc. And that necessarily means I've got impossibly high standards - that's what comes of running with the greatest pack of urban guides in the world! In short,, where I'm coming from has a great deal of bearing on what happened. On my reaction.
It bears repeating: I couldn't put the phone down. Absolutely spellbound. And that - even though I'd heard it (indeed, said it myself) hundreds and hundreds of times over the course of my very long London Walks "career".
I thought, my God, that's how it should be done - it doesn't get any better than this.
And of course it all had to do with what she was doing with that voice of hers. It was, as they say, pitch perfect. The modulation, the timbre, the timing, the bell-clearness - the way she was shaping the material in auditory terms.
An amateur will rant - he thinks excessive volume is what it's all about, is impressive. It isn't, needless to say. What ranting "achieves" is pushing people away - bludgeoning, deadening their response. What Angela was doing with her story-telling - her voice - was just the opposite: drawing them toward her - and thus into that charnel house, that blood-soaked little room in Miller's Court.. Every syllable was steely sharp. As opposed to being ranty blurry.
Oh, and to tie up the loose end: she took the call after she'd finished what she was saying at that stop, adjusted her course, picked up the stray, and even walked him to Liverpool Street station at walk's end. Walked him there because he was very green and had got separated from his daughter and son-in-law - they were with him in Judith's group when he'd gone walkabout!
A London Walk costs £10 – £8 concession. To join a London Walk, simply meet your guide at the designated tube station at the appointed time. Details of all London Walks can be found at www.walks.com.