TO THE EDGE AND BACK
The streets glisten, damp, miserable but strangely full of hope. Baked dry, parched in the summer months. Windswept, icy cold wintriness cuts to the core and breaks for the spring with relief. The smells and faces are never the same yet always familiar like a security blanket. The pavements I tread remind me of, twenty, thirty, forty years of treading and re-treading memories of journeys to exciting new places, familiar sites and dreaded appointments. I pass places of my childhood and an eerie sense envelops me. It’s weird; suddenly I’m ten again, going to school in North London, waiting for the 217, Cambridge Heath Road. Then I’m sixteen, on the number 29 going to The Roxy, Neil Street, Covent Garden – a girl called Catwoman, another called Tampax, my mate Vi, short for Violet going to The Vortex when The Roxy closed a year later. Going to The Rainbow, Finsbury Park-Iggy Pop, Siouxsie And The Banshees, The Heartbreakers. Going to The Blitz in Holborn early on, hairdressers night and I’m a hairdressing junior. It’s Biddy and Eve singing, the Andrew Logan set are there; I see Luciana Martinez, Duggie Fields. Later it’s the home of The New Romantic scene, but not for now, it’s ’76-‘77, Punk Rock is on the up; Covent Garden is a boarded up graveyard. A run through maze, screaming dressed up in nylon, bondage, rubber, tartan. The streets are empty back then, not so many people populating my town in those days. Things shut early, late nights at The Speakeasy- nowhere else to go to get drunk for a sixteen year old, perhaps Louise’s or The Sombrero for a disco.
A year later I go back to Covent Garden, I’m eighteen, ’78, it’s still boarded up ready for gentrification, coming down soon though. I work in a shop - P.X. There’s a rehearsal space downstairs, band music bleeds up, Chrissies down there with her Pretenders, she tells me all about it. One day Michael Jackson came by, another time some local kids locked us in for a laugh, it was Cameron McVey and his mates. I had a ‘look’ then, one of many. I hobbled around in tight, tight skirts and high, high heels from Seditionaires. I took speed and learnt to smoke. I had a good beehive. What’s his name, Paul from up north moved into Floral Street, Paul Howie and Lynn Franks had jumpers in Long Acre. There was nothing else round there then shop wise. We had Bowie on, we played Kraftwerk, we kept a lookout for new music, new makeup, the future, futuristic. Dance moves, soul static robot. Berlin, film noir. London ’79, cross-dressing melting vista of possibilities. No money, poverty breeds creativity, that’s what they say. Nevertheless perhaps it’s true, especially in London where people seem to gravitate towards seeking out an identity more vital than the one they’ve left behind. I did the same, left north London and headed uptown, central, on the Piccadilly line. London’s built on a by-line, heard someone say that somewhere, I think it’s true because there’s certain energy here in London.
I went to New York ’81, it was good-not as good as London. I went to Tokyo ’82-Bladerunner days- it was good too, not as good as London though. I was glad to come back. That was the only time I said ‘I really need to get out of town’ like you do.
One day a woman came round to my home and asked me some questions for a book she was writing, I lived in Camden by then. After living at the Warren Street and Great Titchfield Street squats we all got council flats nobody else wanted – that’s London Life. I had a flat with Stephen Jones and Lee Sheldrick. Anyway she published her book ‘A Century Of Style’ and wrote me off… what will become of me? I was only 21. Depressing. That’s London too, make or break at 21.
Nowadays I live in East London, where I was born, Hackney. Somehow I always come back here. I had a ‘pull’ in the late 70’s so I went to work at a factory at the bottom of Hackney Road; I was a ‘stitch bitch’ doing piecework at the Berketex Bridal Factory for six months. I hung out with the ‘girls’; we went to pubs, lunchtime strips. I had another urge to leave after a while but I learnt to sew fast!
All through the 80’s I lived in remarkable Camden, Godwin Court (The God Squad), Crowndale Road, N1. I had a knicker stall at Camden Lock. Them days you just turned early and got a good pitch, I shared with Holly Warburton, she had the jewels and made films, took photographs. 1983 that was, I got married to my friends boyfriend so they could stay together. Times change, two men getting married, I was the go-between for them. I liked Camden, it was a bit of a dump, we had The Music Machine on the corner, I saw Amanda Lear there, performing. Other stuff went on there too, Anthony Price had a fashion show there, it was an avant-garde palace in a way. On other times we went to Heaven up Charing Cross, the biggest gay disco in the world. Ian ‘Piggy’ Levine played, they had a laser show, lots of lights, all the disco business. Pyramid, Cha Cha’s round the back, Scarlet, Trojan, Michael ‘Maria Malapasta’, Space Princess, Jeffrey Hinton, HiNrg. Leigh Bowery came to town and stayed-Taboo, Maximus, Leicester Square-more extreme, more drugs. Mark Golding, Sue Tilly on the door. Me on the coat check for a bit with Malcolm Duffy. Rachel Auburn, Mark Lawrence, Jeffrey on the decks. Go-go dancing from Michael Clark, David La Chapelle, good times and mad. I think we all went a little mad then, some people died after all that. Aids was getting very ‘real’, death sentence an air of inevitability. ’85, ’86. Drugs too, MDMA, heroine jack up.
A lot of tinsel, that’s London, we love our veneer, we love our sleaze. Any excuse to have a party, go crazy, pile on the tat. We’d get the bus up town, hang out in Soho, go to The Pink Panther club for Christmas. Raid… walk round the corner and walk straight back in! Rent boys serving up out of date beer and a D.J. dressed up like Gary Glitter. A hole covered up with old stinking carpet, don’t stand there.
Falling over, getting back up again, we do that a lot and have a right good laugh about it. It’s all a bit seamy on the other hand everything’s the height of glamour. Walk into a pub, down a street, pass somebody famous, look sideways and glimpse someone done up to the nines or a stinky beggar on the cadge for anything. Look up and see a London sky full of doom and strange optimism, changing skylines and beautiful brutal reality.