Wednesday, October 24, 2012

1989: Later

Cheam, Stratford, Mill Hill, Gravesend, East Putney, Southgate, Dunmow, Wapping, Neasden, Holloway, Canonbury, Bloomsbury, Barnsbury, Hackney, Clapham, Walthamstow, Queens Park, Richmond... You name it we went to a party there. We'd go anywhere for a party.

But why?

We were still in student mode reallly, with everyone you knew flat or housesharing and throwing parties pell mell because, well, that's what you did to enjoy yourself. And you didn't want to miss out, did you?

I was always a fan of the house party though in London I only ever had one of my own. It proved to be too stressful. No one ever turned up to these things before pub closing time so me and my flatmates sat nervously twiddling our thumbs waiting for the arrivals. We needn't have worried. It turned out to be a roaring success, much to the chagrin of our neighbours.

In our rather staid, smart block they were going to bed as everyone was loudly arriving, already drunk and in the mood to drink some more. Naturally, I'd made tapes. We danced to Need You Tonight and The Only Way Is Up (always a floor-filler at the time). Things died down at about 2.30 only to have someone pop on a record half an hour later. The building manager led a pitchfork wielding mob of angry residents, who were unceremoniously told to fuck off. We nearly got chucked out for that. We were the scourge of Albany Mansions for quite some time. At least the police weren't called or we'd definitely been out on our ear.

But never again. I'd rather go to other people's parties. 1989, my second year in London, and I'd made an awful lot of friends so far, which was nice. But things were moving on a bit. The houseparty was becoming as scarce as hens' teeth as people bought their own places - still possible to do in centralish London back then - or shacked up with partners. The party season was coming to an end.

Nonetheless, we'd travel miles to go to parties. We'd take buses, trains, walk, arrange to meet people in the oddest places and if you didn't find each other, so be it. No mobile phones back then. If you didn't turn up, you didn't turn up and it would be unlikely you'd find out the reason why until the next day.

So we were going to a workmate's party in Brixton. I'd only been there a couple of months but already it was party central. But I'd never been to Brixton before. I knew about it: riots, muggings, scary people. As it turned out it wasn't even down in Brixton itself, but that Acre Lane bit between Clapham and Streatham, but the girl who was throwing it thought she was terribly trendy and rather adventurous so to her it was Brixton. I think she's a solicitor in Hertfordshire now.

Lots of workmates were going, but all coming from different directions. So forcing ourselves to turn out into the cold night air after a relaxing early evening comfort TV fest which included Blind Date and Noel's Houseparty, the future Mrs P and I set off for a pub in Streatham we'd arranged to meet them in. We'd never been in it before. We'd never go in it again either. It was busy, but full of middle-aged locals. We clearly were not the demographic, and a request for a couple of pints was met with a sneer and a mimicking of my voice. But we got them and necked them as a shellsuit army mustered. I'm not sure I'd ever felt so uncomfortable in my life up to that point.

Making a swift exit we gave up on our pals and jumped on a convoluted bus to 'Brixton', finally finding this basement flat. It wasn't very busy knew no one. Oh, we knew one person. The office dullard and her ghastly trainee insurance broker husband who was publicly cruel to her. I got his point. She only wore make-up at weekends and drove a minibus of young offenders.

The first thing she did was point out a damp patch on the ceiling and remark that Liz should watch out for that or it could turn nasty. I reached for my mixtape.

Still doing the awfully rude thing of enforcing my music on people whether they liked it or not I popped it on and we danced to Voodoo Ray. Just the two of us. I saw a couple snigger on the sidelines (I still get embarrassed when I think of this. Who the hell did I think I was? A major tit, that's who). We went and sat on the stairs. 

More people arrived, but no one we really knew except a couple of girls from work I knew to say hello too. What were we doing? Why were we travelling so far to go to things that we didn't really want to go to in the first place but thought it rude not to? Wouldn't it have been nicer staying in tonight? We wouldn't have to hide our cans in the oven and drink everyone else's and we wouldn't have to shiver at the night bus stop. We were getting too old for all this. We were having a St Elmo's Fire moment. It was a turning point. It was time to be a bit more selective. Ruislip? Forget it. Yeading? Walk on by. Burnt Oak? See ya!

It has served us well ever since.


  1. That 'Voodoo Ray dancing moment' will keep me laughing all day...I can so vividly imagine that (as I might well have done it myself). It was one of those tunes that we all thought we looked great dancing to...

    And you're spot-on about the lemming-like urge to gallop from one end of the Central Line to the other in blind pursuit of parties. I too often ended up at Burnt Oak (Arnos Grove was another) at two in the morning, bored and cold and rapidly sobering up as I realised I had no way of getting home until the tube opened up again. Horrible.

  2. I never looked great dancing to anything.