I remembered too late that it was Walk To Work Week, but not too late to walk home from work. So at five thirty I set off from the office and made my way back to Bow on foot, because hell why not. It's only five or so miles from door to door, and a fascinating journey of contrasts, through the heart of the City and on down the Whitechapel Road. Here, in order, are twenty of the more interesting folk I passed along the way.
1) A long-haired homeless man sits outside the bank entrance, patting his dog and gazing upwards at potential passing benefactors. Ignoring me, he tries his luck with a young ponytailed lad, who nods and walks on by. 2) A twenty-something office escapee in trendy specs, with a drooping rucksack on his back, weaves deftly between the pedestrians on his small blue scooter. He'll be home before me. 3) Stepping from the revolving doorway, laptop bag in hand, a suited lady whips out her phone, lights up her first post-work cigarette and breathes deeply. 4) Headphones on, and something inaudibly magnificent reverberating between her ears, a young woman skips and dances along the line of the pavement oblivious to all those around her. Office workers scatter. 5) Braided hair dangling down his back, the cycle messenger stands with pint in hand among a throng of lawyers and bankers in the roped-off zone outside an old City pub. 6) In her smart white apron, a waitress hovers outside the entrance to a packed bar with a fixed smile and a tray of canapés, welcoming jolly financial types to a wine-fuelled Friday evening. 7) Beside a hole in the shadow of a skyscraper, where another is slowly rising, a helmeted crane operative raises a concrete mixer from ground level to what will one day be the third floor. 8) It's mealtime on the move for a bristly bloke wrapped up in woolly hat and camouflage jacket, at least until the plastic container he's holding slips and his second sandwich falls directly onto the pavement. Curses ensue. 9) In the brief transition zone between the City and the East End, the last man I see in a suit is the middle-aged gent with straggly grey beard stood outside The White Hart with a beer and a roll-up. 10) A Sikh man is unloading a warehouseful of clothing from a large lorry blocking the Cycle Superhighway. He piles six boxes onto a low trolley and then pushes them up a covered alleyway past a car with a personalised numberplate. 11) Above the waist he could be any East End hipster - white and bearded with a trendy demeanour - but below the waist a pale cotton tunic flaps, as he crosses the street to attend mosque with the other believers. 12) Four young daughters mill around their mother, they all in pink, she in blinged-up black hijab. The presence of a tiny son in her pushchair suggests that what has been a lengthy sequence of pregnancies can now conclude. 13) As the Whitechapel market traders pack up for the day, piling unsold fish and clothes and six-packs of mangoes into stacks of plastic containers, he wheels his livelihood (two boxes, a wrap of canvas and a dozen long metal poles) towards the rear of a waiting van. 14) Is she walking the dogs, or are the two pit bulls walking her? Beaming broadly, the lady with the over-prominent teeth slows to a halt outside The White Hart (yes another one) to greet unexpected friends. 15) In thin white t-shirt and unbranded shorts, dressed for practicality rather than to impress, the sports-friendly university student jogs past the Co-Op to catch up with his teammates. 16) Short, squat and wide, the Asian woman's tummy bulge is I'm fairly certain a late-in-life child rather than the result of excessive calories. She's looking down, and looking down. We both try to avoid each other on the narrowed pavement, but instead drift into each other's path, "sorry". 17) The woman crossing the road in front of me has a bow in her blonde hair, a fur coat, and a wicker handbag dangling from her arm. From behind I can't work out whether she's nearer 19 or 79, plumping eventually for the latter, only to discover when she turns up a sidestreet that it was the former. 18) A short young woman in a dark suit, with what look like tears welling up in her eyes, wanders slowly off the pavement and stands behind a convenient hedge to mull over the very sad thing that clearly just happened. 19/20) I'm trying to work out why two old ladies are pointing disapprovingly at my front doorstep, and then I see the canoodling couple. He has his red baseball cap pulled down to hide illicit mouth action, and a home-made fag held behind his back, while she holds a glistening lollipop in her outstretched hand. Both are oblivious to my approach, and disperse with a broad grin after I've stepped inside.