Freelance travel writer and Policy Adviser for the UK government living in Brixton. View my blog www.my-big-fat-carbon-footprint.blogspot.com for ethical and budget travel inspiration
Published March 13th 2013
Brixton feels like a different city nestled in the heart of London. It's now my nearest tube stop, and every time I go, I discover something else new. It's an intriguing suburb, and a world away from quiet, restrained Pimlico, my last home. Today I discovered that the local WH Smiths has a whole shelf of books about 'British Culture' and how to 'fit into British Society'.
Brixton is one of my favourite places in the capital, partly because I feel like I'm on holiday whenever I get on the bus and partly because there are shops that sell really cheap limes. I am very much in the minority as a middle class white girl, and I love that. As the snow fell today on the stacks of mangos, avocados and papayas in the market, it felt surreal, as though I had to remind myself that I wasn't in the backstreets of Dar Es Salaam or Dhaka, but in south London, battling off the cruel ends of a long winter.
Brixton feels like a place that has been left to fight its own battles by the council and as such, has completely developed its own character. I went to get two new keys cut in the Brixton Market last week and this wizened Turkish man grinned at me when I poked my head round his market window when I said hello. He carried on grinning when I asked him how long it would take. "About 30 seconds love", he said. This is Zone 2. Where were the waiting lists? Where was the brutally rude service? Why would I not have to come back tomorrow to see if my key would be done or not. To op it all off, he told me it would be a fiver for the two keys. How Timpson's charges a tenner per key is beyond me after visiting this friendly stall, with this lovely man, in this great community arcade.
There are more hairdressers in Brixton than druggies, and they all cater towards Black Hair Fashion. On Saturdays these hairdressers are full of women and tiny girls having their hair furiously plaited by hairdressers, while mothers gather round for a chat, getting their own hair done at the same time. These hairdressers make me feel jealous: after a trip to Brixton I feel that my hair is flat, lifeless and unadventurous and my trip to the hair salon is never a social occasion. It is a flying visit, before the hairdresser has time to tell me how flat, lifeless and unadventurous my locks really are.
The markets are full of fresh fish and meat, and, best of all, stacks of interesting veg and herbs are yours for a low price. The stall holder hands you a tray, and, like a Masterchef contestant, you fill your plastic container with all of the exciting legumes for the evening meal. And you make it up as you go along.
It's possible to buy Long Island Ice Tea cocktails in a teapot. At the same establishment you can get alcoholic knickerbocker glories. Just next door is a great place to read the Saturday paper and drink frothy coffee. Across the road is a knockout dim sum restaurant. To the left of that is a great wholefood shop. And a little way further down and turning right is a place you can buy Vegan Cupcakes. I love how when you get off the tube all you can smell is hot popcorn. I love how touts try to sell me tickets to whatever big name is playing at the Brixton Academy that night. I love the man selling incense from a dodgy makeshift table in front of Iceland and wonder what he's trying to cover up.
Brixton is full of surprises. In some ways its gentrifying fast, but in other ways this gentrification is encouraging Brixton to bloom rather than repressing it. Brixton spells out community, difference, and similarity and I love it.