I spent a night with some old university friends in my old university town. The night that bubbled with the memories of Jarvis Cocker and Damon Alban lookalikes, has made me pine for a past that’s long gone flat.
My late teen years were a time of £1.20 Taboos and Lemonades, broken hearts and kind unappreciated eyes , that shine kinder now for someone else. I never spoke Welsh, maybe if I did I would have married a Welshman. Things would be different now. They get you those Welsh boys, with their singsong accents and hearts full of green grass and seaside. They get you hard.
My university town was Cardiff. I remember walking through the town for the first time, it seemed so small and managable compared to London. Intimate and easy, windy streets with dingy bars, and kissing on steps.
Now I’m so much older, there’s magic in those memories. Haircuts influenced by Anthea Turner and Kylie Minogue fringes. Not being able to afford tickets to an Oasis gig, but rocking up anyway, hanging around the outside, desperate for a look at a Gallagher. Singing your sout out to Neil Hannon and his Divine Comedy. Eyeliner and glitter smeared on your face after a night of enjoying someone you shouldn’t be enjoying.
My Dad posting me a Fleetwood Mac CD, and the Goddess power radiating though my tiny stereo and into my bones and blood. ‘You can do anything.’ Stevie whispers as she dances through my veins, ‘Anything.’
We all had Saturday jobs in the 90s. My first foray into work was Saturday girl in an old lady shop that sold tea-towels and big bras. I think I earned £15 a day which was given to me in a brown envelope at the end of every shift. It was the most money in the world. That with a mix of baby-sitting and waitressing, were my first footsteps into the world of work.
Then when I was 16, in between my obsessions and homework, I managed to hold down a regular evening and weekend job at a popular men’s fashion store in Ilford.
My job came an extension of my social life. I got paid somewhere around £4.50 an hour to talk to ‘fit’ customers, visiting school friends and colleagues, and on occasion, I even folded Tshirts.
Ilford was hardly a style mecca and the men’s shop I worked in was basically the best of a very limited offer. Popular for the choice of Ben Sherman shirts, 501s and Kickers shoes, it tried desperately to be hip and trendy. Management sent us tape cassettes full of eclectic mixes of LL Cool J, St Etienne and the Cardigans – horrible mixes that everyone in the store hated, staff and customers alike.
There was a lot a lot or romance going on in the stock room. I remember taking the rubbish out with a colleague and having an illicit snog in the lift on our way to the big rubbish bins. It was the first time ever I got paid to do something I shouldn’t and it felt great.
Even better was that a lot of mates worked in the neighbouring stores. We’d go and stand over the other’s till and gossip right through lunch-break and then later get dressed for a night out in the mall toilets.
I made so many friends through my Saturday job, that when I look back now, some of those Saturdays and Wednesday evenings, even the Boxing Days and Christmas Eves, these days are as important to me as those spent at school or on nights out. Somewhere subconsciously I was picking up life-skills as well as having a great time with great people. And true story – my husband always asks me to fold his jeans and T-Shirts for him as he likes my ‘professional’ style. All that training finally paid off.
*The 96 diary entry above makes me sound like the ‘bitter bitch’ – not the girl I was referring to. The poor girl had done nothing wrong but be my ex-boyfriend’s next girlfriend. She was actually lovely but I had to maintain an irrational hatred for her. Sorry!
If you’re wondering how much the 90’s high-street has changed from the high-street we love today, the answer’s not much. Sure we lost Our Price and Woolworths, but the River Island, Debenhams, Burger King – the big hitters – they still all reign supreme.
Phone numbers used to be ingrained into our psyche. Even now, I might not be able to tell you my husband’s mobile number, but I can recite my house, my three best friends, my nan and grandads and my auntie Hannah’s 90’s phone numbers. Some of those people aren’t with me any longer but their numbers remain scratched into my heart.
So when you met a boy in a club and gave him your number that meant you’d given him an cabled invite into your home. It meant when the phone rang, you had to run to it and hope you’d get it before your mum or dad answered. on those horrible occasions that your mum beat you to it, you had to cringe at her over the top posh phone voice.
It meant you had to wait in for the phone to ring and sometimes it didn’t! It meant phone messages written on scraps of paper.
He called. He really called.
Phoning someone meant huge risk of having to speak to their family members, so you only phoned people you really really liked. So when the guy you liked picked up the phone – that was a big deal.
The worse is that in the early internet days when phone and online time shared the same temperamental pathway into your home – you could either speak on the phone or chat online, but you could never do both at once. So if your mum was having a three hour conversation with your aunt, that meant you’re chat would get cut off. It also meant if your dad wanted to get online, he’d be hammering at your door impatiently until you hung up from your beau.
*In 96 some really flashy kids had mobile phones – I wasn’t one of them! Some other kids even had pagers. Below is a ‘business card’ from an old boyfriend and his friend. See the comment about the cost – this is because in the 90s we were all terrified of phone bills, especially calls to mobiles. These dicks actually used to hand these cards out to girls in clubs.
If you are enjoying these short excerpts from my 1996 diary, then why not consider beta-reading my YA novel, A Future Somewhere for me?
In 1996, I spent a lot of my time thinking and obsessing about Friday nights at an indie club tucked around the back of Ilford. A barely converted cinema, with two levels of alternative music and cheap drink. It was a magical place where anything could happen.
I grew up in this weird little corner of the world where London meets Essex. My early clubbing experiences involved bright coloured mini skirts and getting off with boys in pastel coloured shirts and curtains. But in May of 96, a much cooler friend took me with her to Supersonic, an indie/rock night that changed my life.
I was late to the party. Before the bibity-bops of indie took over, the club belonged to ‘Alcatraz’ a heavier rock and grunge night. I’m kind of glad I missed it. Making the transition from dance to indie wasn’t easy, and Supersonic was just the right balance of kitsch, disco and heartache to make me feel at home.
The folk at The Island were special. When I was sixteen, kids at my school, spent a lot of time trying to look like replicas of each other, but not there. Within those walls we knew no uniform, Doctor Martin’s , big (fake) fur coats, black lace, black T-shirts, 70s flares, Adidas tracksuits, lumberjack shirts, 60s miniskirts, you could be whoever you wanted to be.
Downstairs was indie poppy – your Blur/Oasis fare with an 11 o’clock party mega-mix normally including Abba, Madness and Dexy’s midnight runners (who didn’t loose their shit to ‘Come on Eileen’?) .
It was massive, there was a dance floor that went on for ever and a large bar that stretched the whole of the downstairs, serving cheap Jack Dee with Coke and Snakebite- purple fizz that made you feel like a child and an adult all at once.
Upstairs was for a different crowd. The smaller space thrust with metal and rock, hard kids with attitudes, their long hair flying and chains jangling, as they jumped in the air.
The stairs themselves were hideaways – you could get lost under them or fall in love or fall in sex or fall in whatever.
I fell in love countless times on a Friday night. The Island was a pick and mix of surfer dudes and grungers, brit-poppers and rockers. My favourite was a boy with spiky black hair, a 70s shirt, jeans with chains and eyeliner…he once played a Green Day song on his guitar down the phone to me. I hope he never got old.
A night at The Island cost £10 tops. We’d bus it there, walk it home, get drunk before we walked in. They were the best times of my life.
As well as being the best 90s club, The Island was also a popular music venue and bands that performed there included:
Hey 90s kids, if you love like Indie, 90s and YA, you’ll love my book A Future Somewhere.