An unplanned week in Southampton - but isn't much of what we find interesting in life unplanned?

Shamrock Marina and Saxon Wharf sit side by side, the first a home for gleaming yachts, powerboats and, for the moment, Ahimsa, the second a commercial yard where Ardent sits awaiting new parts for her rear end.

Shamrock resembles a conventional up-market marina: spotless pontoons, a couple of restaurants, a chandlery and the usual conveniences. But it lies in an industrial enclave and is a centre of marine expertise. Workshops and specialist suppliers ring the marina:sailmaking, metal fabrication, marine electronics, diesel servicing and repair, electrical equipment, liferafts, rigging and so on; and beyond, within walking distance, are wholesale distributors of anything a builder, carpenter, machinist, engineer or mechanic might desire in the way of tools and equipment.

Within walking distance too is the Southampton Football Stadium - a gleaming modern structure strangely at odds with the old gasometers next door, and the single-story, red-brick factories and warehouses among which it stands.

A few hundred metres beyond the stadium, we come to a second-hand car lot, and then a corner store with peeling maroon paint on the doors and window-frames. Through the window, we see four tiny oriental technicians seated at benches surrounded by dremels, brushes and gaping, toothy examples of the denture-maker's art. With intense concentration they are shaping and cleaning pink, mouth-shaped palates embedded with white teeth. Subversive thoughts occur about illicit cloning and the clandestine manufacture of body parts, though the surroundings suggest a more mundane reality. Despite the spotless cleanliness of the laboratory, we judge from its dreary facade and its location in an anonymous corner of an industrial zone, that fashioning dentures is not an especially profitable trade.

Crossing a railway bridge, we find ourselves in a commercial area of small stores, hairdressing salons and take-away restaurants. Situated on Southampton's periphery - in what we take to be the 'wrong' side of town - the area consists essentially of two streets at right angles. In the first are several tiny antique shops and an art gallery, a large pub offering Sky TV, a couple of hairdressers - and a garishly-decorated 'licenced' sex shop with a man and a woman painted on each side of the second-floor window. Below this unengaging couple, a text in large red letters assures passers-by that both sexes will find within a range of suitably stimulating products.

On the wall of a defunct bookstore, a plaque informs us that between 1987 and 1993 the area was a designated regeneration zone. But the empty premises outnumber those in business, and one building - with a large shrub protruding from its gable - has been crudely scaffolded to prevent it from toppling into the street. Outside the art gallery, a man in his forties wearing baggy clothes and a melancholy expression, draws a final puff at his cigarette, drops the stub on the pavement and then retreats into the interior. There are no customers in in sight.

Round the corner, we find ourselves in a village high street; though one that - apart from a Tesco 'Éxpress'and a chain betting shop - consists entirely of independent businesses. The scale is small, the prices low, the ambitions modest. A first glance offers little to the visitor beyond an impression of spareness and poverty. Linger a while, however, and the eyes adjust, the light brightens and the view improves. At the greengrocer's we fill a shopping-bag with fruit and vegetables for what amounts to no more than loose change. The proprietoress of the bakery welcomes us with a smile and chats to us as if we were regulars. A Kurdish hairdresser from northern Iraq cuts our hair with deft professionalism, answers our questions about the politics of his country, and invites us to come again. Polish, Russian and Chinese food stores offer indecipherable specialities from their homelands. In the street, Somalis, Kurds, Hindus, Russians, Poles and Chinese intermingle with Brits. No one is expensively-dressed. Everyone is unfailingly polite and cheerful as if, no matter one's origin or colour, the mere fact of being there is evidence enough of one's humanity.

We dined at a little Kurdish restaurant where we were served smilingly by a waiter who employed his few words of English to guide us to the tastiest dishes. And we came away charmed by the warmth of the service, by the simple but delicious cuisine and by a sense that nowhere would we be more welcome or feel more at home than in this unassuming little street in what must be one of Southampton's least prepossessing neighbourhoods.