South London

Sarah Mussi & why South London is the best, weirdest, funnest, most dangerous and crazy place to live.

Don’t ask me why I came to live in Brixton.  I don’t know. Maybe it was growing up near Cheltenham and feeling that Cotswold life was just too dinky to be true.  Maybe it was living in West Africa (all those years) and needing to be somewhere where you can buy shito pepper and kenke.  Like I said I don’t know.

What I do know is that it is not a place for the faint hearted, not a place for the worry warts or the xenophobes, because South London has it all, including so much street crime you’d think sometimes my own dear Loughborough Junction was just one open prison yard. And I’ve seen it all as well.  I’ve seen street mugging, neighbours kids stabbed, my children’s street mates get shot at (through a car door too), killed, buried, go to prison for armed bank robbery, for smuggling cocaine, for hiding guns, for dealing drugs and handling stolen goods.  I’ve seen crack heads and crack dens and bought more copies of the Big Issue than I care to remember. Here’s how:

I first started living in Brixton when I was a student at the Royal College of Art.  In those days I lived on the notorious Front Line, No 60, Atlantic road in a flat nearly opposite the old Red Records. It was great fun and I was only mugged once.  The two boys who mugged me were very skilful. One came from the right and shouldered me, the other kicked my bag out of my hand.  It was all done so fast; I had to stop and clap.  I mean, only the very lucky can ever hope to be mugged by anyone so professional.

Ten years later, after I’d lived in Cameroon and Nigeria, I came back to live in Brixton again.  This time in the des-res area of Poet’s Corner, 371, Shakespeare Road. That street was a bit too long and lonely (and I was near the Loughborough Junction end). I had a small son and I was a lot more nervous. I only ever went out in daylight. That is until the Brixton Riots.  On that night I’d been up having a jar or three in what is now the Hobgoblin near Tulse Hill. With my son in his push chair I tried for home.  I only made it as far as Spencer Road.  The rest of the night I spent shaking in a virtual stranger’s front room, and in the morning saw first hand the burned out cars and broken shops and seriously worried policemen.

Another twelve years past and I returned from Ghana, this time I came to live in the Myatt’s Fields area (and not the posh end).  I still live there, when not in Ghana. It’s strange living on the cusp of huge affluence and clout ( Lord Avebury at one end and Elijah Kerr at the other) and in the midst of perhaps some of the most serious gang cultures ever.  I remember when the PDC (Peel Dem Crew) of Angel Town came streaming into my flat (um, hello, why did I open the door?) looking for my son, knives in hand, hidden in long black socks.  Luckily for my son, he was out.

And now I work in Lewisham.  My students have never enjoyed the peace and smugness of Cotswold life, nor (some of them) the joy of balmy tropical nights.  But all of them have lived in the rough tough city, south of the river. They continue to educate me about the place I love. Yes, I live and work in the real underbelly of society where what you see is what you get, and nobody tries to pretend it isn’t. It’s a place of great truth and hope, where you can be who you want, and do what you do, and everyone accepts you for who you are. It’s also a place of great despair and great hopelessness. I wouldn’t recommend it, but I don’t think I’ll ever leave!

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