Want to know a secret? I like the dirty side of town. It makes me feel like I’m in a black and white arthouse film. I feel anonymous. I feel real. I can be anyone I want to be. I like the soured faces that glare out from behind grubby lace curtains, and the kids in tracksuits just a little bit too small playing football in the street. The cheeky comments from young lads passing by and the crude inuendo often makes me smile, if not laugh out loud, because it’s so directly opposite to my own life. I like walking down the identical backstreets of the down-at-heel victorian terraces, tracing my fingers over the blackened bricks, admiring the graffiti that passes for art around there.
It’s a little like living in sandpaper, the coarseness of it takes a while to get used to, while it rubs away your corners and gets to the core of you. It exposes the truth of you. Snap, snap, snap. Celluloid snapshots of an ever-present alternative reality. I like the grit of it. There’s no pretence and no sheen. People are who they are down here. They’ve no time for strangers but hang about for long enough, blending into the brick walls and you’ll see some of the greatest acts of kindness and heroism here too. I don’t mean heroism in the way you’re thinking, I dare say. Not the sort of heroism that runs into burning buildings but the kind of heroism that thinks nothing of sacrificing its own needs and desires to give someone a happy moment or a smile. Everyday heroism, is what it is.
It’s been a while since I was there: things have moved on, passed by, grown up. I’m not the same either. But sometimes I like to go back, in my memories to how it was. Back to days of scalding teas in dirty cafes on the Coatsworth road, and a pint in a seedy pub a little way along, where the locals at the bar looked like they’d mug you given half a chance but behaved better than many of the ‘gents’ I know nowadays.
Living in the dirty side of town taught me lessons I wouldn’t have learnt anywhere else. Lessons about judging people and places. Lessons about the secrets that places like this hold. The beauty you find that most people are blind to the flourishes untended in the cracks. I suppose it tells you a little about me too, my flirtation with the seedier side of town. It becons to me, and seduces me with its whispers of secret dramas. I find myself enticed by the flashing neon promises and flirting with danger.
People walk by the dirty end of town, carefully avoiding coming in. Others scowl from the bus and wish this little blot on the landscape would shrivel up and disappear but I love it, and occasionally in my dreams, I still find myself scurrying along the road, flanked by little dirty shops, in a place that would never be trendy, but to me, was always friendly and real, especially in the middle of the night, when I went walking with my camera.