I’m walking to the office on a non-descript working day, the only sounds in my ears are the beats of my Spotify account. It’s warm and sticky and grey, the city’s essence rejoices in its weather attributes.
I’ve already been past St James Park with its ducks sleeping on one leg and their eyes open and the charcoal baby swans shaking their feathers to clean off the greenish algae of the pond. The neon yellow men have been hosing down Trafalgar Square from the impromptu parties and the chalk writings of the night before. Chinatown has greeted me with a waft of juices fermenting at the bottom of the restaurant bins. An excited French lady is pointing at the lanterns to her daughter and acting photographer: ‘LE CARTIER CHINOIS’.
One block and I am now in Soho, there is a man pushing his bicycle talking to himself while pointing at the traffic; his moustache is purple and his eyes are hidden behind protective goggles. I can detect hints of urine in the air, they’re stronger in dark passages and well-sheltered doors where buckets of soapy water are waiting to be poured over.
Under rainbow coloured flags, store windows are promoting bucket sizes of lubricants and underwear that covers everything but what you’d expect. Men with exceptionally round bottoms pose in happy hour posters. A few streets down, exotic dancers show their bikinis off on the front of establishments with giant Xs marked on their fronts. In the relative quietness of the morning, vans offload the day’s produce in back alleys. And amidst this, the Soho children ran around with their school bags dragging on the pavement. Some of them are holding the hands of their parents, some of them try to catch up with their siblings who are already a step ahead. They walk by the neon ‘SPANKING’ lights and the nipple tassels, walking by nooks that smell of piss, waving hello at the frozen fish in crates, fish that’s going to end up in tapas plates for lunch.
The mums and dads hold their hands non-chalantly or just let them walk ahead and the Soho children do just that – their heads don’t turn at the sight of fishnet stalkings and latex masks. Their eyes have been accustomed to the city’s red light district, their stomachs are less likely to turn at the smell of vomit that’s drying out around the corner of the pub.
And there I am, walking through this part of the city that I love because it’s messy and dirty and real and I want to stop the Soho children and high-five them. And tell them that no matter what happens in their lives to come – whether they’ll score high on their A levels, ditch uni for an endless gap year, create their own start-up – they will always have a head start. Nothing can scare the city child – except maybe for a cockroach on his first trip to Thailand or Mexico or Greece.
So I push on, I’m almost there now, I have to walk by Bar Italia and the Big Issue guy that’s stationed outside of Pret, wait patiently for my turn to enter Soho square for the other commuters sleep-walking on their way to work and in a few blocks unlock the big blue door and say good morning and enter the working day routine.
Some days, my walking commute serves as a re-affirmation of my love for this city, while I walk the same paths and yet imperceptible differences make it not a Sisyphus trail but a never-ending journey of London discoveries.