‘So are you going to come tonight or what?’ he said, as I turned to walk to the tube station… ‘11 o’clock, under the arches at Hungerford bridge, I’ll see you there.’
It was very hard in those days to stay up all night in London, you had to know where to look to find the young vampires…
I didn’t know how to behave or dress. You could not grow up here in London without understanding that there was a secret city, a freaky underground that came out like glow-worm after dark, the muscle men, the lipsticked drag boys, the girls with green hair, dyed-blond platinum queens, gold-painted things of no obvious sex.
Looking back over that summer, I remember almost everything I wore. I can recount my whole wardrobe, but this night is a blank. I changed and changed and changed until the bed was piled with discarded clothes, mountains of silks, crepes velvets, belts, scarves, high-heeled shoes, jeans, bell-bottom trousers, bras and knickers. Deep uncertainty about what to put on has wiped clean the memory’s slate and what the final choice was.
observations: A book with this title is a natural for the blog, and Linda Grant is a favourite writer round here anyway – see here for her recent marvellous Upstairs at the Party, and her short memoir, How I Murdered My Library, greatly enjoyed by blog readers. This one – Booker shortlisted in 2008 – tells the story of Vivien Kovacs, a classic Grant heroine: I loved this description of her:
I was planning to apply to study philosophy at university because of all that lonely thinking in my bedroom, but then I started to try on characters in novels for a day or two, to see how they fitted. I’d dress like them, think like them, walk around being Emma Bovary, with no understanding at all of either provincial life or farming, but boredom I knew very well.Bizarrely, Vivien reminded me of an Anita Brookner woman – a solitary, clever, bookish girl with immigrant parents in a big mansion flat in London - the last person I would associate with Grant, though this is a much more enjoyable book than any by Brookner.
It also takes in the story of a figure of a slum landlord clearly based on Peter Rachman, and draws a great picture of London life in the 1960s and 70s. In particular, the lost and last years before the 1979 election and the start of the Thatcher years: she brought back memories of the years of Rock Against Racism, the Anti-Nazi League, the Blair Peach demo.
And of course there are great clothes descriptions throughout – buying them, finding them, discovering vintage.
I arrived at university in a crepe de Chine cocktail dress and created an instant, sensational impression. Now life begins, I thought, and yes, it did.The picture is from a few years later, and is an advert for tea, but the variety of outfits seemed to fit with the book.