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"Use every man after his desert, and who should 'scape whipping?"

Thursday, 1 October 2015

So, you've read the Standard….well, here's a different perspective of life on Brixton's Angell Town Estate

If you're hooked on the Evening Standard's week long series of "hard-hitting" articles on life (and death) in Brixton's Angell Town estate, I'd like to recommend some further reading….well, in this case, further listening.

Two weeks before the Standard started publishing David Cohen's vivid and highly dramatic despatches from this low-rise, 1970s estate just north of Brixton town centre,  the south-west London born-and-bred writer and broadcaster  Daniel Ruiz Tizon posted an hour-long interview with  an old friend of his - Mitchell - about his life in Angell Town. Mitchell, who moved to Angell Town as a kid, from very cramped accommodation in Battersea, gives an entirely different perspective. He loved the place, and still does.

The Standard's series is billed as giving "a unique insight into a hidden world of gang violence and community".

Unsurprisingly, the emphasis is (so far) more on the headline grabbing gang violence part of this promise, and a bit less on the community. There's a very useful guide to which gangs rule which estates, which will be invaluable to Standard-reading urban adventurers. There's even a little tuition on gang-speak.

But, to be fair, it does feature some sharp input from residents of various ages, particularly on the topics of police tactics and gentrification. 

 I worked on the edge of this estate for a while last year, and his descriptions of its strange quietness ring true…but then again, massive areas of London are eerily quiet at certain times of day.

However,  while Cohen spent one week living on the estate, staying in three different homes, Mitchell has been there for 40 years. He was one of the first residents to move in back in 1976 when the estate was brand new. What's more, he's determined to stay put on what the Standard always refers to as this "notorious" estate.

The interview is a real treat: it is two friends reminiscing, with some great stuff on Brixton and the surrounding areas in the late 70s,  80s and  90s. The real voices nail the history and sociology: what we read in urban planning texts or sociological treatises come alive when we hear Mitchell talking about the impact of removing the aerial walkways, or his encounters with a certain Willy Wonka.

This interview is a special edition of Daniel's regular show, Daniel Ruiz Tizon is Available, which kicks off again this coming Monday October 5 at 10pm on. There's an amazing archive of this show on Daniel's website which I am going to work my way through…it's all about the stuff that matters so much to anyone who is interested in being alive in London, now.

As for David Cohen….well, his articles are certainly well researched and written. They are a good example of this genre. The embedded journalist. From our own correspondent. Gritty stuff,  gangland south London. It's a good read, to be honest. It will probably win some awards in the 2016 gong-distribution season. I'm waiting for tomorrow's episode to see if he has any suggestions for reducing this  apparently insoluble nightmare of youth-on-youth crime, the stabbings, the shootings, the ricochet victims.

For the casual reader, the abiding impression will be of violence, tragedy, death, blood, and not much of the joy or just the normal daily life of people who, like Mitchell, came to this estate early on and appreciated all the new possibilities it gave to them.

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