A Dirty Northerner's Guide To Brixton

From Oop North to south of the river.
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From Oop North to south of the river.

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It’s weird being in London, it all seems a bit sort of, self contained. As though London is all there is and elsewhere in the country is just some grim backwater. If you’re from the Home Counties, the land beyond London is some sun-tinged Nirvana. An idea of perfection full of mum and dad and food and horse riding. If you’re from the North, you work in a mine. Once, at a bar, I laughed when a girl told me ‘Camden is the farthest north I’ve ever been.’ There’s a whole country up there guys. I should know, I came out of it. I emerged from this land of swirling mists and torrential rain about a week ago, and found myself in Brixton, an area which is rapidly becoming one of my favourite parts of London.

Of course I’d been down for the odd gig at Brixton Academy (a fantastic Blink 182 being the most memorable), but it wasn’t until I took the plunge and moved down that I really began to appreciate the place. After I’d washed the coal dust from myself, the first thing I noticed about Brixton was the culture. This place is basically the Caribbean. Before moving to Brixton, I had no idea what a salt fish patty was; now I’m buying them for a quid at 4.a.m every night after 6 Red Stripes at Hootananny’s.

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That’s another thing. Hootannany’s isn’t bad, is it? Unlike dirty northern clubs, or even North London Hipster clubs, there doesn’t really seem to be a specific clientele in this joint. Young, old and even the mentally unhinged are welcome and don’t worry about ordering a beer, just polish off your sizzurp in the beer garden. Smoke a joint, eat some great food in the beer garden, listen to some great live music; do what you will, as long as you have a good time. Even the bouncers are friendly. Just last week one of them asked me what my secret for looking young was and when I joked ‘moisturiser’ he didn’t kick my head in or call me a ‘fag’. A far cry from the Newcastle bouncers who enjoy collecting bits of teeth in their knuckles.

Don’t get me wrong, some people are a bit aggro in Brixton, but then you get the odd dickhead wherever you go. Last week a guy was yelling at a laughing young girl, ‘You don’t understand, I will stab your brother.’ If it was funny to her, it wasn’t to me and I quickly shuffled on. But, considering I live off a side road which is constantly full of dealers in bimmers, I’ve not had any trouble at all.

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Of course you do get some characters. Take this one prostitute, a skinny old black woman who staggers around all day in high leather boots, hot pants and a bikini top or the guy wrapped up in a cape I saw dancing around a knackered street cleaner the other night, or the old white boy who’d suddenly found a Jamaican accent in a beer garden full of black guys. As long as you stay on the right side of these characters you’ll be fine. If a woman with no teeth asks you for money as you’re waiting to cross the road (“What? Not even a quid?!) just shake your head, smile and wait for green. It’s all just common sense.

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If the locals are a bit sketchy during the day, they’re perhaps weirder during the weekend, especially on Friday night when the middle class white people descend on the area to kick back and listen to some reggae. It’s then that you crave the crazies rather than people banging on about stock brokering.

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Food in Brixton is another treat and deserves an article in itself. As well as the Caribbean food at Refill, there’s also the market for cheap ingredients and Brixton Village for some top international scran (although I’m not sure what Bukowski would have made of the bar bearing his name). Kaff bar is a great hangout too and if you buy a £2 latte you don’t even feel like you’re taking the piss as you hang out all day while waiting for the latest Breaking Bad to download on their Wi-Fi.

What’s great about Brixton is that all of this is so close together. Step off the tube and you’re right on the high street. Right is Brixton Academy and left is The Ritzy, a terrific cinema and bar where I plan to watch every film that ever comes out. Good food, good people, good times and great Bowie murals. What more could you want? Well, the view from my flat roof isn’t bad either.

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Check out an exclusive excerpt from Tom Ward's debut novel, 'A Departure':

'Milky light filtered in through a pane of smooth and clear glass. Golden letters spelt something out in an arch across the windowpane, but what they said was no longer important. Dust motes cast long shadows, like spiders creeping across the smooth wooden floor. A mouse crouched perfectly still amongst the shadows and the dust and cocked its head slightly to one side, as though straining to hear something; as though it could sense something as imperceptible as the way the air on the opposite side of the glass moved apart, like a curtain, as something passed through. The mouse was certain and darted away to a corner of the room, its claws leaving tiny scratches in the wooden floor.

A slight shadow flickered across the same floor, like a moth fluttering around a candle. A spider’s web appeared in the middle of the window, a tiny network of lines that grew and spread, interconnecting. The lines spread like icy fingers over the warm glass and then, as though molten, the center of the glass web bubbled and expanded and stretched out into the gloomy and dusty room. The glass had been pierced and something heavy pushed its way through, like a pin through a balloon, and clattered and rolled across the wooden floor, sending the mouse into further flight.

After this first object came a million clear shards like drops of rain, spreading through the air like diamond shrapnel, and then the golden lettering dropped from its place, and the whole window fell and folded in upon itself like waves smashing against the rocks. The tiny diamonds and flecks of gold cut through the dust that coated the wooden floor, and for a millisecond, the air was a multitude of colours, the weak milky light reflected in a thousand angles, and then, in the next millisecond, everything fell and lay still and silent across the wooden floor, as though they had never known flight.

Michael stepped over the few shards of glass still held in place in the window. First one foot and then the other and he was inside the shop.

“You can open your eyes now,” he called through the empty window.'

Check out the complete novel here.