I am not one to google myself – why bother – but a good friend did and unearthed a terrifying photograph of my 90s self.
I look like a Poundland Geri Halliwell – hair piled up on my head, huge bouncy trainers and Camden market coat with huge fur collar.
Cue the music:
I hated the Spice Girls’ music – I liked Britpop or dance music and thought pop was incredibly naff. But there is no doubt that they were a big influence – the brashness, the bravado and most of all, the bad fashion.
I put the picture on Facebook – the combination of narcissism and self deprecation is always a winning one – and people found it very entertaining. Probably because it is.
I was 27 when the photo was taken and working at the BBC. I was a researcher working on slightly bad entertainment programmes, none of which set the world on fire. I probably earned less than 25 grand a year.
But because it was the 90s,I had just bought a flat – round the corner from where I live in Kentish Town. I remember the day I went to see it – I was wearing exactly the same outfit (for want of a better word) that I am in the photo. I remember the estate agent being slightly taken aback by my appearance – I looked about 12, though sounded a lot older on the phone, largely because I smoked so many fags.
I remember moving into the flat and feeling very pleased with myself. I had owned another flat – with an ex – but this was mine. I was the free market feminist that we all aspired to be, though at the time I would have rather DIED than describe myself as a feminist. I had literally no conception that being female would never hold me back – why would it? Having said this, a couple of years later I felt rather confused as all my male colleagues started to earn a lot more money than I did. It wasn’t because I was bad at my job – I wasn’t – or lazy – I wasn’t. It just didn’t make sense….
I think at the time, I was far more interested in having a good time than anything else. I was very hedonistic in the 90s – but weren’t we all. That doesn’t mean that I was always happy – I remember a very unpleasant brush with depression when I was in my late 20s, shortly after this picture was taken. But I was given SSRIs and everything seemed a lot better in a chemical haze. Which was basically what the 90s were all about for a lot of people.
I think back and gasp at how cheap it was to enjoy yourself back then. Wages were not that great, but living costs were much less. Rents were probably about half what they are now and if you could get the money together to buy, then you were laughing. You could get a one bed flat in a relatively OK part of London for £50,000 and a two bed in a nice area for £100,000.
If you are young and reading this, you probably want to punch me – and most people my age. I am saying to you that I am genuinely sorry that you have been born into a time when it is so much harder to be young. You get some stuff for free that we had to pay for – like music and films – and our phones were absolute shit, but we had it so much easier than you did. We felt free in a way I know you do not. You are scared of what the future has to hold and we were excited. I am sorry about this – it really isn’t fair. We grew up at a time when the walls came tumbling down, when apartheid and the cold war ended. Where it was cool to be Northern and eat fried breakfasts and the worst thing you could be was middle class, or worse still posh. Everyone hated the Tories – John Major’s government limped on in a farcical fashion – and we all knew Things Can Only Get Better…
I cringe when I watch it now, but who could forget the euphoria of that night back in 1997. I was down on the South Bank and people were literally dancing in the streets the following day. We were so full of hope, brimming and bursting with it. We were high – well it was the 90s, after all.
Obviously I am older now and it is so easy to see the past though rose tinted spectacles. Life is very complicated and there were so many undercurrents that were not apparent to a hedonistic 27 year old. But what makes me sad, that I am not sure that it is possible to turn a blind eye to the bad stuff as a young person any more, because the reality is just so bleak. Yes, you can still have fun – I went to a party full of young people in their twenties last night and they were having just as much fun as we ever did. But I genuinely believe that unless you are very wealthy (or not very bright) it is hard to turn off your mind in the way it was possible to do so 20 years ago.
Obviously there are good times to be had, but I think it is harder to be as free as we were in the 90s. Which is ironic as the rhetoric of the right always involves lots of stuff about ‘freedom’ and ‘choice’. I fear that we have created a society where it is increasingly hard to be free to be yourself – yes it is easier to be gay and society is arguably less racist than it was 20 years ago – but it is harder to live a good life on average money. Which is a shame, because not everyone is cut out to be a ‘wealth creator’. Some of us are naturally creative, others practical and others caring and we all deserve to be valued.
Please excuse my sentimental ramblings – it is Christmas – and instead have a look at my book. Although it is set in modern London, the 90s are never far away.
He we see what Piers, the developer’s stooge, got up to in the 90s
Piers was struggling to sleep. The attic bedroom he shared with Francesca was stuffy and airless, despite the promises of the architect he had paid the best part of fifty grand to for the roof conversion on their Fulham terrace. This is what happened if you just couldn’t stop breeding. It was a bloody nightmare.
Piers looked at Francesca sleeping quietly beside him. What a bloody liability she had turned out to be. He vaguely hoped that she might take time to conceive – especially because they hardly had sex – but out they popped like corks from a bottle. A litter of fat pink male infants, each one louder and hungrier than the last. Baby Hugo was the greediest baby he had ever seen, his bulldog jaw permanently locked on to Francesca’s slightly saggy breasts. Such a shame as she’s had great tits before the kids came along. Really great tits.
The smart phone beeped again. Ari:
“OI FAT BOY WE NEED TO TALK. WHY YOU NO REPLY – YOU ENGLISH SO LAZY. LOL”.
There was nothing Piers hated more than text speak. Francesca sometimes used it – possibly to appear cute – and he hated it. LOL, YOLO, ROFL, IMO. Technology was part of life in the 21st century but it got on his nerves. Life had been fine without it – in fact in a lot of ways it had been better. For a start, you weren’t on call 24 hours a day. And you could get fat or bald or wear bad clothes without being on permanent display on social media. It was just all so lower class.
Piers thought back to his own youth. He had graduated from Exeter University in 1995 with a 2:2 in Geography and moved into a shared house in West Kensington. It was such fun. Nights out on the Fulham Road, in Notting Hill and Sloane Square. Bars in Knightsbridge and Chelsea full of leggy blonde girls in little black dresses. Cocktails and Marlboro Lights and the occasional line of Charlie. The job at the estate agents in Maida Vale showing Euro trash round mansion flats. Then the lucky break when a chum of Uncle Harry’s told him they were hiring at the agency. An advertising agency in Soho. A little bit vulgar but such fun.
Friday was party day in the agency. Drinks were free in the in-house bar – beer, wine, Stoli, Bolly, you name it. The slightly brash girls from North London with big hair that threw themselves at him and offered to nosh him off in the loos. Piers shuddered. He really didn’t like it when women behaved like that.
And then there were the client outings to strip clubs in the East End – where sad eyed young women removed their undergarments to the hits of the day. He remembered one particularly melancholy stripper removing her knickers to the Verve’s Bittersweet Symphony in The Griffin, a skanky strip pub favoured by public school boys. She had slightly droopy tits and a stretch marks on her belly. Obviously someone’s mother. Piers grimaced. How frightfully common to have a mother like that. He hoped her children were in a home!
Piers had a very silly girlfriend in the agency days. Her name was Dotty (the irony was completely lost on her) and she cooked directors’ lunches in the City. She was blonde and rosy cheeked and shared a flat with a load of girls from boarding school. Piers used to buy her dinners in French restaurants on the Fulham Road – Dotty was always starving – and blouses from Laura Ashley. He gave her flowers and pearls but only fucked her when he was very, very drunk. Dotty didn’t mind as she found sex a bit boring and was glad that Piers wasn’t like the chaps at work who were always trying to grope her tits and pinch her arse. The City wasn’t like it had been when Daddy worked there; now it was full of aggressive Americans and feral Essex boys who did coke in the executive bathrooms and called her ‘Princess’ and ‘Treacle’. At least soft blonde Piers was a gentleman, though Dotty wished he’d jolly well hurry up and ask her to marry him – Mummy had two children at her age. Dotty was bored of working and wanted to get on with the more important job of breeding. Piers always changed the subject when she dropped hints about weddings or engagement rings; Dotty guessed his mind was elsewhere.
But sometimes Piers preferred to walk on the wild side, straying far, far away from the safe streets of West London. He had recently discovered Brixton. It really was not the sort of place that a young executive should be walking through at 11 o’clock on a Wednesday night. Sirens wailed, music boomed out of speeding cars and a palpable sense of danger hang in the air. Now it is genteel, full of artisan bread shops and yoga studios. In the way that Dalston, Hackney and Hoxton are genteel. But back in the 90s Brixton had an edge and was the last place you’d expect Piers to be wandering about late at night.
Piers didn’t give a fuck. He was high and free as a bird. He’d got totally trashed in the agency bar on free champagne given out because they’d won a new account – for frozen peas. Ghastly – Piers hated the fact that all the products they seemed to promote were so bloody common. Frozen peas, frozen fish, sanitary towels, bleach, packet soups, package holidays. Advertising was at times so lower class. Obviously it was a terribly fashionable thing to do and many of his colleagues had been to elite schools and universities, but there was something really rather horrid about it.
After the champagne, Piers had gone to the loos – he winced at the word ‘toilets’ which is how the brash Jewish girl from Southgate who was always trying to ‘nosh him off’ described them. Said Jewish girl – Becky – had whipped out a wrap of coke and proceeded to ram it up her big Jewish nose. Such a loud girl and so over sexed – Piers found her really rather frightening. The coke was good though – she knew people who knew people – and soon Piers was incredibly high. It was moreish and he bought a 50 quid bag off Becky. It was time to leave the agency and go out into the night.
Piers walked through the crowded streets of Soho and descended into Oxford Circus. Down he went, further and further into London’s seamy underbelly. He was flying and didn’t give a shit about Dotty or work or any of the many other things that made him sick with anxiety. He knew exactly where he wanted to go.
Inside the club men in black leather danced in cages, while men with their tops off gyrated around them. The club smelt of sweat, poppers and cheap aftershave. It smelt of sex and hedonism and soon Piers’s normally awkward body was taken over by the pounding house music playing at deafening levels. A big man covered in tattoos began ruffling his blonde floppy hair, while another began stroking his backside. Piers moaned; the sensations were electric, light years away from the fumbling he had to endure with Dotty. Tattoo man rammed his tongue in Piers’ mouth, while his friend put his hand between Piers’s legs. It felt so good – even better than it had at boarding school. These chaps knew what they were doing unlike the boys who had wanked him off when he was a teenager. Piers felt light headed; he knew what they were doing was terribly wrong but it felt incredibly good. He felt lost in a chemical haze and hypnotised by the pounding music and sensory overload.
Piers noticed that tattoo man had pierced nipples – but then so did everyone in the club. Even silly Dotty was talking about getting a navel ring, though Piers didn’t have the heart (or the interest) to tell her that it wouldn’t look good on her rather tubby midriff. Maybe he had a pierced penis? The thought gripped Piers with terror – and immediately made his cock stand to attention. What were these men going to do to him? He had read stories of men being raped on the tube – urban myth said that there was a certain carriage on the Northern Line where bad things happened late at night. And here he was in a club full of predatory homosexuals, some of them almost naked. What on earth was he doing here? Piers started to panic, but felt compelled to stay. He couldn’t leave now – he had started, so he had jolly well better finished.
Piers turned and looked at Francesca’s slumbering form. Dotty had dumped him after he had tried to climb through the window of her Battersea flat share at 4am, obviously high on drugs. Dotty didn’t like drugs. He had met Francesca at a supper party a year later; she was quite a bit older than him and obviously desperate to get married. Just what he needed. With Francesca on his arm, his secret would be safe for ever.