There are many sides of London, many levels, many maps. Sometimes, London is looked through the lens of the underground. This part of the city is connected to that part through the Jubilee Line. I can get from here to there if I take the Victoria line and change at Oxford Circus. Other times the city is viewed through the lens of the road map. Well, if I follow this road I can turn on Millbank and drive past Big Ben, and if I keep going, the Eye, and then I can turn here and head on up to Regent’s Park.
Very rarely, however, unless you’re among a specific group, is London looked at as a maze of back streets and alleyways. Think back to your walk or drive to work. How often do you pass a street that you will never walk down, as if there is a glass wall separating that road from this one?
The majority of us will rarely ever venture down these roads. We live on the main streets, in our cars or buses, unable to meander through those tight spots.
The interesting thing is, the maps of the underground are available for everyone to see; the maps of the road system can be bought in the form of an A to Z. The map of the backstreets of London isn’t bought, it’s learned. The people who know them are the ones who travel them every day, knowing how to get from here to there by taking the roads that few know exist.
I’m talking about the cycle courier. The bike messenger. They ride the byways for a living. You can’t buy a map to outline where they go. You have to learn it, live it.
So next time you’re in London and a cyclist wearing a two-way radio and a backpack flies past you, appreciate the subculture that exists around us without us even realising. They are one of many in this massive city which none of us will ever truly know. This city is a mix of layers and lives intertwined and disguised among itself. It hides its secrets expertly.