Two years ago at about this time of year, my younger son Stephen and I fell into a shortlived but lovely habit of running to Brixton; it is exactly 4 miles from my home. two rights and a left. We would have a good look through the market, visit the KnightWebb art gallery, an impossibly tiny place filled with fabulous things (I long for one of Rufus Knight-Webb’s sculptures of recovered treasures from the Thames) and take the Tube home, laden with treats. Sweets, unusual vegetables, Spanish ham, and best of all, Auntie Roslyn’s banana cake. I remember dancing to Eddy Grant’s Electric Avenue as a child. To stand on Electric Avenue now is a thrill. Once I made Stephen cross over the high street to see the Bowie mural. He was unimpressed. However, in January, when this mural became destination-most-necessary following David Bowie’s death, Stephen was rather pleased to be able to say to his classmates, “yeah, I know where it is. Already been there.”
I was invited to tour the home of a Brixton artist, Lesley Hilling, a while back. A sculptor who uses bits and pieces that she finds, recycled material of all sorts, pianos, cabinets, furniture, bric a brac to create magnificent pieces of intrict beauty. Her home is also her work space. So didn’t even suggest I would be allowed to take photos. Instead, I chatted with her partner and ate some delicious homemade cake. And admired. Admired the bespoke doors most of all. Panels filled with personal items. Like the little altars found throughout Latin America. In one case, an old wooden door inlaid with the contents of a beloved granny’s mantlepiece. All the precious things she had saved: small toys, cards and letters from children and grandchildren, photos, treasures of a life well lived. Made into something that was to become part of the fabric of a home. What a beautiful memorial.
Brixton is home to both an O2 and the Electric, small venues perfect for non-stadium gigs. Kate Tempest, the Queen of the spoken word, cut her teeth performing in Brixton. I was lucky enough to catch her local-girl-done-good show at the Electric, last February. Angry, passionate, funny, eloquent. My kind of girl. Brixton’s kind of girl.
But Brixton is under siege. From the developers. It seems every week more market stall holders are being served with eviction papers. Because that land under the railway arches has become prime real estate. Because what South London lacks is retail space for chain stores and expensive flats. Because until every corner looks just like every other corner, and unafforable to all but the super rich, we won’t be happy. (yes, sarcasm).
In an effort to keep some of this gentrification at bay, a collection of shipping containers on Brixton Station Road were transformed, 10 months ago, into a food and vintage clothing market. Pop Brixton. I took my teen girl along yesterday, for the Make Do and Mend Easter Fair. A bit of hipster heaven in an otherwise Afro-Caribbean market. Not bad, but not exactly local flavor either. For that we headed back to Electric Avenue, where there wasn’t a whole banana cake left for me to buy, “have to get here early, love,” a passer by told me. But, with the encouragement of everyone who happened to be standing round, the stall owner managed to find, within baskets and boxes stashed all round the tiny tent, 12 sections. A whole cake after all.
No reluctantly employed sulky teens here. In the market you get proper banter. You aren’t just buying something, you are engaging with another person. I like a yap with a stranger, a habit I have inherited from my father, who can’t resist starting a conversation. And that is what I love best about Brixton. Nothing happens without a chat, a joke, a laugh, a word of advice, a connection. Generousity of spirit. A rare thing these days. Something to be treasured, treasured and enjoyed….until the developers get their way.