London Walk

I am walking again. Bedford Square to Charing Cross Station. One foot in front of another, one step at a time, through the much rehearsed theatre that is a Tuesday evening’s traffic in Bloomsbury. Amongst the chaotic and yet orderly patterns of commuters, I slip down the dimly lit side street of Short Gardens and onto Mercer Street before making my way through Covent Garden and towards the river. The ground beneath quietly falls away behind, soon to be forgotten, as the ground in front welcomely presents itself, inviting the impressions of my steps. Rarely do I take notice of my trodden path, but it is surely there providing evidence, however minute, of my actions. Fresh impressions of myself are left minutely etched onto the pathway, determined to become part of a collage amongst those that have, and those that will make their way as I did.

The back streets of Convent Garden have a respiratory quality about them as they draw people in and out like heavy breaths. The streets are void one minute and full the next. With this comes a sensuous temporality, which I have come to know, and enjoy. Each time I weave through the streets I enter familiar, and yet ultimately unique sensescapes created by mine and other’s presence in this space. I become part of a fleeting sensescape that I will no doubt recognise in the future but momentarily forget once it is gone.

Freshly brewed coffee wafts my way as the cobbles beneath my feet play subtle havoc with the folds of my shoes. The unmistakable pulse of a near-by black cab begins to judder over the stones, alerting the street of its passing. Those made unaware by the sensory distractions of engaging phone calls or pulsating earphones, are immediately caught out, only to be subjected to a short, and not necessarily sweet, beep of the horn to which all but the most obtuse of bodily receptors could not ignore.Sharp gusts of wind funnel through these streets, carrying with them snippets of amalgamated sound to which the origin is impossible to properly identify. It is only with knowing what’s round the next corner, from having regularly walked this route, that I can guess; the clanging of pots and pans, the unheard shouts of a big issue vendor, and the underlying thud of techno music oozing intermittently from the open doors of near-by trainer retailers.

Although the abrasive nature of the wind reminds me it’s still winter, I’m still thankful it’s not raining. At times, the rain has a habit of taking precedence, seemingly washing away all other sensorium. In truth, a downpour would enrich the experience, creating or reawakening previously unfelt textures. Unfortunately these textures are rarely felt positively; particularly on a cold February evening.

I take this way to avoid the majority of the crowds. Visible to see two streets down, they funnel through the city like disobedient ants, darting into shops and stopping wherever they please. This route, for a time at least, distances me from that sensory overload. And yet, this being London, seldom do I find myself alone. I am amongst the adventurers of the pack; those bored by the beaten track, curious for the next corner. Charging on, I convince myself that I am not one of the touristic voyeurs paying to be here; I am a Londoner and these routes are for me.

After the knowing buzz, I almost fall flat upon the cobbles in an attempt to read an email on the go. I react by not reacting. Don’t make a scene I think. The girl plotting her own way to the left. She senses the fall, anticipates, and maybe even encourages it. I hear her giggle and exchange an uneasy smile. It’s apparent that I sense the world as it senses me. My actions are not my own but part of something larger; one strand of thread constituting a tiny stitch of life’s sensorial web.

Michael Duggan