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Here's another snippet to whet your appetite, from when I lived in a squat in Hackney - the Nightingale estate (the nightmare estate!)
A lot of people would pop in to visit Mal at the squat. We were all taking speed in those days and Mal had taken to dealing small amounts to his friends. One man called Kenny used to visit us. Compared to us punks, Kenny looked quite normal with tight black jeans, trainers and long curly hair, but despite this veneer of normality he was an intriguing character. He used to scale the outside of apartment blocks and tower blocks in order to break into empty properties and open a new squat for someone. We called him Rambo, although we should have called him Spiderman. How he managed to cling to those walls at great heights without falling to his death, I’ll never know, but he said it didn’t bother him.
Another regular visitor to Chez Squat was a punk who went by the charming moniker of Pus. Pus was part of the Hackney Hell Crew with whom Cheryl had stayed when she first arrived in London. A lot of the punks became what we called ‘wasters’ or ‘crusties’. A waster was someone who felt compelled to waste their life getting wasted on drugs and booze. Whereas a crusty was someone who not only neglected their appearance but bizarrely took pride in the fact. A crusty would often wear the same ripped and be-holed clothes without washing them, and would let their hair grow into matted dreadlocks. Crusties would compete over who could achieve the accolade of most crusty. Which was quite an ambition. I think Pus fell conveniently into both categories of waster and crusty, although he didn’t have the smelly dreads. Some of the Hell Crew took their quest for dismal hygiene a step further, and refused to remove their Doc Martins, even to go to sleep, for days or weeks at a time. We heard disturbing tales of people’s feet becoming gangrenous due to consistent neglect. They were always trying to outdo each other in the ultimate goal of filthiness. I have no idea why this was considered a reasonable thing to do. Strange times.
Pus turned up on our doorstep one night and ended up sleeping over, mainly because, like a bad smell (and he was a bad smell) we couldn’t get rid of him. Neither could we remove his pervasive stench from the apartment for days after his departure. He’d bought a little puppy with him, which widdled on the floor, like puppies do. Pus’s stench penetrated every corner of the apartment. We’d had to throw the windows open despite it being the middle of winter because it was a choice between breathing and freezing to death. When I awoke the next morning, Pus was still there, asleep on the floor of the living room in front of the electric fire, with both bars on full. Both bars on full! We never permitted ourselves such decadence. If we were cold we would put on additional layers of clothing. We would often sit around in our thickest jumpers and winter coats and with our duvets wrapped round us (Pongo wouldn’t have been able to control himself) huddled in front of the little fire, just one frugal bar alit to warm the entire apartment. Pus eventually left, leaving nothing but a stubborn black mark on the pillow he’d used that never, ever washed out, and a miasma that refused to budge for weeks despite open windows and weapons-grade air fresheners.
Years later we heard that Pus had been stabbed to death in an incident over drugs. Someone told me he also had AIDs. I can’t attest to the authenticity of either of those stories.
Like myself, Cheryl had gone to art school and had aspirations of being a clothes designer. She had completed a course in textiles and knew how to pattern cut. She had started making punk clothes, mainly employing black cotton drill and had her own Damage labels printed that she would sew into the garments. Cheryl knew another girl, Jan, who was making jewellery out of old computer components and circuit boards. Computers were a rare sight back then so I don’t know where these ‘old’ components were coming from. She must have bought them from the future.
We decided to pool our collective experience and stock and rent a stall in Camden Market, splitting the rent three ways, which meant we could rent a bigger stall that didn’t smell. Jan gave up after a few months as she wasn’t selling much but me and Cheryl persevered. I’d also started selling big chunky silver rings with skulls on which were (not surprisingly) popular with goths, bikers and punks. We were hardly raking it in but we made enough to cover the rent, and materials, with a few quid extra left over to get us into clubs and keep us in beer at the weekend.
Our stall was in the Electric Ballroom just by Camden Tube station. We were casual traders at first, which meant the dreaded 4am sign-up I described earlier. Luckily, Cheryl was often on her way home from a club around this time, so she’d put our names down, and I’d materialise after a few hours sleep at 9am to claim the pitch. We were eventually offered our own permanent pitch, which had previously belonged to the experimental performance art/music band Psychic TV.
On Friday and Saturday evenings, the Electric Ballroom was a nightclub and by Sunday morning it had transformed into a market. On Friday nights the club was called Full Tilt and was dedicated to gothic and alternative music – I was a frequent visitor, needless to say. I often wondered how many worse-for-wear goths had to be extricated from the toilets to make way for the market.
Trading in the Electric Ballroom was loads of fun. Every stall sold something unique, colourful or different, from spiky rubber bags to stripy tights to vintage vinyl. It was always packed with tourists but sadly there was so much competition that we struggled to make a decent living from it and eventually decided to call it a day.
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