Tangled yarns from London's passers-through

020 : Evelyn Owen on Globe Road, Stepney Green
Born in 1983 in Birmingham. Evelyn Owen currently works as a student Why London? Because we are becoming friends. She digs the following London bits: its endless unfamiliarity, people-watching, cranes on the skyline, the Tate Modern and the place names. She is, however, a bit miffed by commuter aggression, the inconvenience of the last tube, the expense, the selfishness and the bored suits. For more info on Evelyn Owen you should send an email.

image: Evelyn Owen

“There’s not going to be enough pavement to go around.”

Crossing, I turned right and homewards. In front of me, staggering along the pavement, was an old man in a raincoat. On his head he wore one of those white caps that Muslim men often wear[1]. He had a wiry beard and a walking stick poking out from his coat at a funny angle. He lurched slightly, his hunched back rocking from side to side, hips obviously not what they were.

As he swayed to the right and I got a glimpse over his shoulder, I saw approaching from the opposite direction an elderly, papery-skinned lady in dark blue. She too had a walking stick, and was shuffling along at an even slower pace. Her white hair was perfectly set, pillar box lips pressed firmly together in concentration, watery eyes fixed on the cracks in the paving stones. Her stick waved about alarmingly as she made to plant it a little further along in preparation for her next shuffle.

I smiled to myself. ‘When these two old dears meet,’ I thought, ‘there’s not going to be enough pavement to go around. They’ll be nodding courteously and trying to edge round each other without whacking each other with their canes. How polite old people always are. No doubt there’ll be profuse apologies and great embarrassment all round.’

I slowed down, not wanting to interfere in their doddering manoeuvres. The old man took another step. They were almost parallel now. Time to negotiate the passing.

The old man hawked and spat loudly.

‘Don’t do that! That’s filthy, spitting in public[2].’

The imaginary bonds of old age and dodgy hips and walking sticks came crashing down. The old man lurched right, the old woman ploughed onward, glowering, her trusty stick forging ahead, and as she passed me, her fury scorched my bare left cheek. I nipped round her, side-stepped and pressed on past the old man, who snorted loudly as I went by. His phlegm sat wetly on the tarmac, a marker of the confrontation, soon to evaporate.

referenced works

  1. This item of headgear is known as a ‘kufi’. Apparently, Mohammed’s companions would not allow themselves to be seen with their heads uncovered, hence a range of Muslim head coverings, including the kufi, the kaffiyeh and the karakul. No other piece of Islamic millinery has provoked as much scholarly debate as the kufi, however, and it is through exchanges such as this that many come to know the true meaning of their faith and traditional costume.

  2. Or so you might think, but as this collection of quotes about Islam’s attitude to spitting suggests, he may just have been warding off Satan, or even attempting to bless the old lady he was passing (although this particular technique may only have been used by Mohammed himself).

location information

  • Name: Globe Road
  • Address: Tower Hamlets, London, E1
  • Time of story: Afternoon
  • Latitude: 51.522202463728135
  • Longitude: -0.04707813262939453
  • Map: Google Maps



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