Alex Court extols the virtues of London’s lesser-known Brixton
You’ve been there, done that and got the t-shirt. You bought the white t-shirt, I suspect – the one that reads, “My boyfriend went to London and all I got was this lousy t-shirt”. Cool. The fact your Facebook status says ‘Single’, and it was you yourself that visited London and bought the t-shirt (lousy as it may be), is irrelevant.
You saw Big Ben, the Thames, the Houses of Parliament and the London Eye. You tumbled onto the Tube and agreed to ‘mind the gap’. You strolled past Notting Hill’s blue door and then boarded your Ryanair flight home.
Rushing to tick these landmarks off your list, you missed the truth of the town. You didn’t see the smoky alleys tourist operators obligingly hide you from. My advice is to pocket the guide book. Take the Victoria tube line from Victoria train station four stops southbound, and re-surface in Brixton.
This pocket of Afro-Jamaican markets is unparalleled. Imagine Moore St (minus the Irish knackers screaming “grand”) spanning for miles. Turn left out of the Tube station, past a supermarket, and take the first lane left.
Smells will stun you instantly: a mix of cranberries, mixed spices, raw fish, cooking vegetables and sweaty socks. Reggae music is mixed with voices singing and voices selling. You may be confronted by Christian fanatics intent on bringing you into God’s embrace. A keen salesman might be certain you need 15 packs of red hair extensions. If not, maybe a mobile?
No matter how well-travelled you are, you will see vegetables and carcasses you never knew existed. Halal butchers, with broad bushy beards, will wield sharp swords for dicing their produce.
The open street quickly reaches an intersection. Great graphic graffiti! Cross the road and catapult into the covered market. It’s another world; you can buy anything from a perm to 12” records – along with a tambourines, a root beer and a mop. There is music and an exciting hubbub. Fragrances, not all legal, are not for the frail.
Visit Rosie’s café and she’ll let you choose the music. I once asked, pointing at a bottle I didn’t recognise, if it was beer. The answer I received in an accent which encompassed Spain, Portugal and Austria was “there is no alcohol in this house.” I ordered orange juice and mushroom risotto. Scrumptious.
Bar seats face the wide windows. Grab something tasty and watch the passing characters. You don’t need a book or iPod – all the entertainment you will want is there already: tall, gangly Rastas with dreadlocks and rotting teeth; plump African woman colourfully covered in sheets and headdresses; orthodox Jews, kippah and all; Football-loving, track suit wearing geezers. Which one of these secluded strangers is you?
When you’ve had your fill, pay the bill – it’ll be cheaper than anywhere else in this sprawling city of millions – and hop back on the Tube. Westminster Bridge and Buckingham Palace will look far more alive.