Bea, who has lived in Electric Avenue in central Brixton for 50 years, spoke to the Brixton Bugle and Blog about her life there and how change has affected her formerly indominatale 83-year-old mother Lacey
My family arrived in Electric Avenue in 1966, when I was nine-years-old. My mum was born in Brixton. Housing had been very hard to get hold of and this was her first flat ever and the first time she had a flat large enough for us both to live in.
It was stunning. The Electric Avenue mansion flats then were great. There was a bedroom for each of us and a lovely balcony that I used to play on. I had a friend who lived next door and we used to play together through the bars on the balcony.
We also used to play out on the street – the days where children played out on the street. We spent a lot time up on the roof tops too, which perhaps wasn’t the best of ideas, but we were like cats. I grew up in Electric Avenue, with Jack and James my half-brothers who were born and grew up there. My older brother Richard joined us, so mum lived there with her four kids together.
It was a bit rough and ready, but all the family were at last in one place as a family. Obviously, the market was noisy in the day. Regular street market shouts about the apples and pears started in the morning and lasted the rest of the day. This went on from Monday to Saturday, with a half day on a Wednesday and a day of rest on a Sunday. The market was busy with barrow boys and even the well-known prostitutes.
Everybody knew each other and looked out for each other. But, without fail, the market was packed away and squeaky clean by 6 pm The brushes and sprayer would come through and it was done – ready for us kids to play in the street. The other peaceful days were bank holidays and public holidays like Christmas. Our lives were intertwined with the stall-holders and shops. The street was full of families, and of course we shopped in the market.
I vividly remember the night before Christmas Eve, which was always really special. The fruit and veg stalls changed to Christmas decoration stalls, selling the biggest and the best giant multi-coloured balloons and paper chains, which gave our living rooms the most sumptuous colour and festive spirit. Christmas Eve itself was a huge day for the shops and stalls. The stallholders and shop owners had a big bonfire in the street on night of the 23rd, and the traders slept in the street close by their stalls. I remember the stallholders speaking in hushed voices as they were aware of the people in the flats either side of the street.
The smell of the bonfire and roasted chestnuts was magical for us kids. All that meant the stall-holders could open up really early and work flat out the next day, then close up early and go home to celebrate Christmas.
But now there is no peace, and the noise never stops. My supremely resourceful mum, who would take no nonsense from anyone, has had enough and is avoiding returning to her beloved home in Electric Avenue. The noise never stops: 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.
I am absolutely clear the sleep deprivation from the continuous noise was a key factor in pushing my mum into a delirious psychotic episode. She was seeing and hearing horrible things. The shouting and the chopping from the butcher’s shop and the constant smell of rotting meat gave her terrifying visions of people being hacked to death in the street. She is a tormented soul.
It was a while ago that mum started telling me about what she called posh boys and girls turning up and shouting their way down the street. At first we joked about them. She also complained about the constant banging from the butcher’s shop below her. I didn’t realise how bad it was until it was too late. I didn’t realise how ill Electric Avenue was making her.
A refurbishment of the street left her with the brightest of lights shining in her bedroom window. I can’t understand why a residential avenue needed so much night-time illumination and why it was placed on the wall by the room that she slept in. Who thought that was a good idea? For a long time I didn’t realise how ill she was.
It turned out she had been going to the doctors for months, telling them she was anxious, but she was getting under the radar. I had tried to get her to move many times before, but she loves Brixton. She doesn’t want to leave, doesn’t want to go anywhere else. She always joked she wanted to be carried out feet first, but now she is terrified and doesn’t want to go home.
My brothers and I are really shocked by her terror of a place that holds so many great memories for her. My mum says: “My flat in Electric Avenue is a place where even the smallest nook and cranny has happy memories. But now I can’t bear to be there“. Electric Avenue is a place my mother loves so much, and has been her home for so very long. But this incessant noise has made it unsafe for her to come back here. It is devastating for all of us.