I have moved house. Since 1981, when Mrs Howe and I purchased our home in Brixton, just after the most violent riots in modern British history, house prices have gone into fantasyland. Selling up and shifting residence 15 minutes away has realised a reasonable amount of "spondulicks".
Yet I remain within the borough, and I keep abreast of the drama of central Brixton. I stood at the bus stop atop Brixton Hill with my daughter and a friend within hours of moving. A tall African vagrant with glazed eyes approached. Something clicked. I eased up on the balls of both feet, shoulders square, hands loose, and severely unnerved. I moved to my daughter's side, stomach churning, until he shouldered past. Within half an hour we met again, face to face in central Brixton. My daughter had gone off on a frolic of her own. He stood directly in front of me and I wouldn't budge.
Within 48 hours, a madman with a blade ran amok. I don't think it was him. But the hazards of Brixton life are intensified by new immigrants, shell-shocked by the mayhem in their countries of origin. Outside the Tube station is a pavement hostel for the homeless, with its open-air cardboard beds. Marijuana is not the cause. It is the mentally ill, disorientated from the ravages of civil war.
Two days before I left my old home, armed police patrolled the block. A helicopter hovered above. Some young men had been involved in an armed robbery. They got away, parked the car around the corner from my house and sat in a local cafe enjoying a meal. The police got two of them; a third escaped. The entire locale was surrounded for hours and at any moment, one felt, guns might be blazing.
Yet the professional middle classes still flock to Brixton. Perhaps the headiness of youth, the proximity to the Victoria Tube line, and the lust for adventure explain this huge migration. Local kids are finding it difficult to get school places for next year. A demonstration was called; it comprised, apart from two black women, whites with middle-class accents.
I am glad to be out of the eye of the storm. My old home had become a local advice centre. It had reached the stage where I never answered the doorbell except on appointment. A slight retreat to the margins will help me get my memoirs finished. But I shall stay within striking distance of south London's capital, and I won't deprive NS readers of tales from its beating heart.