Hammersmith Palais, London 1980
Only my dreams satisfy the real need of my heart
The week I turned eighteen, I got on a plane to London. There was stuff going on at home I needed to leave behind, though at the time I didn’t appreciate the way that stuff has a tendency to come with you. Wherever you go, there you are.
A relative gave me an old jigsaw puzzle with a faded picture of Trafalgar Square on the box when I was nine. The hours I spent poring over crumbs of colour – turquoise for the fountain, red for the doubledecker bus – clearly sowed a subconscious seed of London as a happening metropolis [with Nelson’s Column apparently its epicentre]. Unlike the picture on the box, however, the lure of London didn’t fade for me over the years, it just got stronger.
Huddled round the stereo in his room as teens, my brother and I would kindle a lifelong crush on indie music; sharing airmailed copies of the NME, discussing the post-punk music scene. But mostly we listened, safely out of our father’s reach, to music that was new. And definitively ours. London was the place where all of this happened; it was the hub of youth culture, the hallowed stage where the bands all played. I had as much to run to as I had to run from.
It felt quite brave striking out on my own for the other side of the world. But then, stumbling around in a haze of jetlag and elation days after arrival, I was cornered by a couple of wideboys in cheap suits. Huge, blunt and intimidating, they talked fast, stole my money and left me in the street. I have never felt more clueless or unworldly than I did as I watched them walk off, laughing.
Everyone seemed so streetwise. All I had was chronic uncertainty and no sense of direction. I could have easily come unzipped at that point; instead I resolved to get a firmer grip on things. Each day I shoved on my Docs and headphones and walked the streets. I learned how all the boroughs interconnected like a giant jigsaw, mentally ticking off the sights: saucy Soho, stately Knightsbridge, the grimy Houses of Parliament and the sluggish, tea-coloured Thames. Everything was smaller and dirtier than expected and most Londoners, it seemed, would go miles out of their way to avoid talking to a stranger.
For three weeks I wandered the city like a ghost, as though the other me from far away had died and these streets were my heaven. I got a job and moved from squalid hostel to squalid bedsit. I built myself a defensive fortress: hands in pockets, head down, wal