As I left the house this morning the sun shone bright but the air was cool. A neighbour’s culinary efforts floated to my nose: roasting coconut. I found myself for a split second in Thailand, in the back streets of Bangkok, a vat of coconut curry bubbling away on a nearby street stall. I like it when other cities appear in Londres like this, particularly a city I am as fond of as Bangkok.
The life of the alleyways was something totally different to other parts of the city, which were often colonised by suits and mobile phones and Seven-Elevens with air conditioning. Here people left their doors and windows open and the smell of cooking or laundry was always in the air. It was the smell of people living, and the women responsible for so much of it crossed your path with a ready smile and a twinkle, their work and social life inextricably one.
It would be foolish to romanticise these scenes too much: no doubt they often represented poverty, definitely gendered work, and I’m sure that dark things happen behind open doors as well as closed ones. Yet what was alluring about the streets was that they were undoubtedly made by the people who lived in them. I walk down the street near my house, lined by high walls and a row of trees, and it is clearly created by the town planners. We suffer from their mistakes and enjoy their successes but the streets are never ours. The soi life of Bangkok – the activity of the people – makes the streets, and that is why sometimes, for a few seconds, I am back there, and love it.