As Pulp’s Jarvis Cocker warned in ‘Common People’ – in which a middle-class girl seeks the novelty of working-class life – nobody likes a tourist. But having just left home I launched myself into a North London community of squatters with anthropological zeal. As a young teenager I’d loved Penelope Spheeris’ 1984 film Suburbia about a group of punk outcasts. Now I’d infiltrated such a group. My handler was called Fiona.
I’d met Fiona through the NME penpal ads. She had bleached dreads with shaved sides, and wore furry day-glo shorts with tons of hoops up her ears ... exactly like me. Her room in a dingy council flat was cheered up with bright appliques of 1960s-style flowers. The drug-taking was cheerful, too. If we were going out to a rave she’d make us both a berry-flavoured squash and then shake some speed into it, a nice little ritual in front of the telly. I’d swirl the squash around the glass to pick up all the fine powder. Even with the artificial berries working over-time, we’d have to try hard not to gag.
Speed was the drug of choice among the squatters, since it was only five quid a gram and was dealt prolifically among our number. I say ‘our’ number, but I believe I was the only person whose father was paying their rent and a weekly allowance as they studied at university.
Unlike the raggle-taggle urchins of Suburbia who stole from supermarkets, lived fast and died young, this crew was made up of seasoned employment-dodgers in their thirties who had been teen- agers when punk hit in the mid-1970s. The music of choice by then, which I couldn’t abide, was some really filthy techno: kind of punk, mark II. I’d find myself trailing Fiona and the others to illegal warehouse raves in Dalston, purely because that was where the drugs were going.
Pills didn’t make me want to dance or have sex; they just made me want to smoke. I’d stand there, puffing on the sidelines of some industrial tomb bisected by jittery green lasers. I wished they’d go to a nice cosy pub; somewhere with proper working toilets. Here, the toilet was a car park, where girls with lollipops in their mouths and pigtails stuck perpendicularly on their heads waited their turn to piss behind a van, at which point their traitorous kidneys would leave them hanging in a fruitless squat.
I scribbled notes on my fag packet, listening to the music build up to some horrible, squelching crescendo that seemed to get everybody excited. The smells come back to me now. Benson & Hedges, stale Red Stripe breath, wet German shepherds and smoke machines. I wore Body Shop white musk to mask it all and smoked my nice, clean, white menthols.