by Steve

A backstreet in London

The backstreets all have their appeal. Sometimes that appeal is obvious – they offer a shortcut from A to B, or a means of bypassing a particularly busy junction. Sometimes the appeal is more subtle.

They may not actually offer a quicker or easier route from A to B. They might seem foreboding, dangerous even. But they are probably more interesting than the main roads nearby. In their quiet they allow us to see more. Away from the hustle of a main road we can stop and observe. We can take our time. By being hidden they offer us little everyday secrets, get us closer to a place somehow. When we take a shortcut we feel like we know the place, own the place, can conquer the place.

The backstreets offer a reveal. Turn a corner and see the unexpected. A plaque marking the recording of an obscure album thirty years ago. A strange arch. A run of stairs. A strange shop. Even homes in an area where you didn’t think anyone actually lived.

Backstreet cafés have their own particular character. The old cafés look abandoned. They are faded, a little worn, look like they’ve not changed since 1973. And they probably haven’t. Only the open door gives away that they are still trading. The passing eye cannot see any staff. There might be an old boy in the corner, hunched over a cup of tea, if you’re lucky.

The new cafés seem dimly aware of this fate. They are too eager. The proprietor mans the door, talking to passers-by, attempting to coax them in. One of them showed me the wine cellar he was planning beneath the cafe. Another one urged me to tell my colleagues about his place, not realising that the very reason people go out to lunch is to avoid the people they work with.

There are a lot of closed doors on the backstreets. Inside might be an up-and-coming digital agency. Or the place might be derelict. It is not easy to tell.

There is one open door, leading to a mixed martial arts gym. The entrance is plastered with MMA magazines and ads for supplements. I have yet to see anyone enter, or anyone leave. I don’t like to loiter, though.

I took one familiar shortcut and stumbled upon what appeared to be a soft-porn photo shoot. The woman was wearing a skimpy outfit, the photographer appeared to be dressed as a chef. Maybe we was. He snapped a photo and then they huddled over the little screen on his camera, smiling at the results. Two businessmen passed and noted the spectacle approvingly. I thought the scene was more odd than erotic. I hurried towards the main road.