As a single parent in the 90's and early 00's treats were rare enough never mind a break away from reality. For my birthday in December 2006 I received a weekend break in London and a ticket to see Les Miserables from my mother. The downside was that she was accompanying me! I jest obviously! This would be our second trip to see the show and looking back now this was the only thing that remained unchanged by the years which had passed in between visits.
So 2 months later in February 2007 we boarded the train for Kings Cross. I got the essence of how one must feel when they run away as I physically and mentally relaxed the more miles that were put between me and the north east. I knew my boys were in safe hands; and I felt as if I was taking a trip back in time.
After depositing our bags in our hotel in Russell Square I couldn't wait to get out and about. It had been 18 years since my last trip south. Financing these trips to the capital had been the main reason for all those long days in the hairdressing salon during that hedonistic decade of my youth; the 80's. Memories of nights at the Camden Palace, being a real part of the whole new romantic scene flooded back as we made our way into central London for what should have felt like a happy homecoming.
Even the most accomplished wordsmith could not effectively describe living through that time to one who hadn't witnessed it for themselves. We were experiencing the vibe of a whole new generation who thought they could take on the world. Steve Strange, Rusty Egan, Boy George, cultural icons who played such as part in the formation of so many who now, in their late 40's and early 50's, look back on those days and feel the same as I do; that for a brief period in time we had not only found the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, we were inside it.
We all knew the coolest clubs took place during the week, Smash Hits told us so, but being hard at work as either apprentices or on YOP (Youth Opportunity Schemes) we had to be content with the weekend scene although I have to admit many a “sick day” was pulled if we saw somebody was appearing we just had to see.
In 1983 we headed south to see a certain young singer called Madonna do a gig at the Palace. A gig consisted of the dancing being interrupted for 30 minutes while an act came on and sung to backing tracks. Imagine Flashdance with an edge. Lots of black, skirts over knee length leggings, wrists weighed down with bracelets, a plethora of crucifix' and even bigger than usual mussed up hair. We had no idea we were watching the birth of a legend; this was a bone fide New Yorker playing at OUR club; we had to be there, simple as.
Just because we were young we refused to be broke and thought nothing of hopping off a train on a Saturday morning, walking into a busy cafe on Hammersmith High Street and asking them if they wanted a hand for the afternoon. At 6 we walked away with some cash in pocket to spend that night and told the owners when we would be back again. A couple of the girls looked down on the caffs, as the locals called them, and tried for shops instead. I stuck to cafes, you didn't get tips in Woolworths
My first impression of a city I had once known so well was, for want of a better word, disappointing. I told myself places change as do people, and as my last visit had been when the city sky was ablaze with Christmas lights its was bound to look different in February. The longer I walked around the more uncomfortable I felt. Walking through Hyde Park evoked another wealth of memories of sitting enthralled at Speaker's Corner not really understanding what they were talking about but feeling important just by being there.
Our youth protected us from a country that was becoming ever more fractured with the likes of the miner's strike and Thatcher's Britain. We were alerted to a crisis in countries we had only ever seen on a map thanks to Band Aid. Yet on that summer's day in Hyde Park none of it mattered except us and the difference we were going to make. In my mind’s eye however the backdrop to those long gone days bore little resemblance to what was actually in front of me now.
A we left the theatre with the intention of going somewhere to eat it really hit me how much more London had changed than I had. Garish neon lights were everywhere, music so loud your fillings rattled. Don't get me wrong London had always been a great place to party but when did it get so……distasteful?'
Now I'm no prude and have had more boozy nights out in Newcastle than I can remember, literally, but I just never considered that this hallowed turf of my youth, which always seemed a cut above the rest, could have gone down the same tawdry route. It was as I stepped over somebody in the road and heard the sound of breaking glass from inside a pub that the realisation hit me; this city that I had always held in such reverence had deteriorated in the same way as my home city but, to me anyway, seemed much much worse.
The next day I took a trip to Camden hoping to create more pleasant memories out of this trip rather than just a few hours in a theatre seat. Standing outside Koko, as the Palace was now known, I was transported back 20 years, could hear the music and physically feel the vibe. I didn't want to open my eyes again as I knew the vision would disappear, never to return.
This trip wasn't about recapturing my youth, that has gone for good, and maybe if I hadn't stayed away so long it wouldn't have been such a shock. As I made my way through the rubbish strewn streets back to Mornington Crescent tube station a lone tear rolled down my cheek and as the last note of Visage's biggest hit faded away I knew the magic was gone forever………
Guest Contributor Deb Callaghan
Ex Blitz kid now Spanish resident with memories and inner self that are at odds with what's in the mirror!