Brixton

Noticing on a mobile maps application that the connecting A-road between Clapham Common and Brixton didn’t look all that long, I dismissed my fear of traffic in these parts, picked up my cycle (with its increasingly ineffective brakes), and aimed myself in the direction of where the A23.. no, the A32..  that big green road should be.  I wish my brain stored A-road numbers more effectively.  Middle-aged men pride themselves on such skills, but it’s not developing for me.  Yet.

Brixton was a place I’d meant to check out for a long time, thinking a gig would summon me there at some point, but with two weeks remaining of my London stay, it still hadn’t.  I popped in my earphones and began to weave between people sprawled out on the common and those loping through the sunshine towards the Ben & Jerry’s festival gate.

Then watchfully, I pedalled out into the snarling, give-no-inch traffic.

The connecting A-road was simple and not long; little more than a five or ten minutes spin between residential streets which slowly opened up and out.  I freewheeled down an incline into what I figured must be the centre, a heavily made up bottle blonde with hoisted short skirt to my right: either seriously craving male attention or a prostitute.  She stood out, not least because this didn’t appear like a place for such dress or try-hard glamorous style.

I dismounted at the base of the hill, looking over a surprisingly cultured looking, arty plaza; well- polished buildings neighboured less well polished buildings.  Two bike locks felt appropriate all the same.  The new sense of place was vivid, despite the proximity to the white middle-classness of Clapham and its own urbane pretentions.  Brixton had fewer, didn’t need them.

The concentration of ethnic minorities was immediately striking but the place had a vibrancy and creativity about it which other strongly black places like the downtrodden feeling Seven Sisters Road in Tottenham didn’t.  Here there were artistic hubs, even iconic places like the Academy, places of obvious congregation, wide open spaces next to narrow market streets which could quite easily fool you into thinking you weren’t in London, or even England.

I walked up the street with my earphones in.  A young black man walking at a similar pace said something.  Hello?

I unpopped my earphones: “Hello mate.”

What did he want?

“How’s it going?” he said.

“Um, good.  You ok?”

“Yeah I’m good.”

“Good.”

Perturbed by the exchange, I stopped to look at my phone and he kept walking.

Young people were, by and large, pretty.  Most looked like they were, or should be in a band.  This was a south of the river Camden, possibly with an even richer mix of people and less contrivance.  Most of these people weren’t essentially rebellious angsty middle class kids who studied other people slightly too hard.

In a narrow market street dense with butchers and meats and rivalling scents, a woman wheeled a trolley in front of her and out across the road.  A second glance revealed her to be wheeling a sack, out of which poked the rear end of what appeared to be a serious looking snake.  I couldn’t imagine this happening in Richmond.

It can be easy to feel like you stand out in your ethnicity when displaced from a native white middle class domain, especially if you’re naturally self-conscious, self-aware.  But the truth is that there are many places where nobody cares.  Places like Brixton.  I could totally understand for young and zesty folk, for those who seek and embrace life in all its forms, Brixton could be a place to live unjudged and unhampered, and to feel a rugged texture of experience.

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