Flashback! Back to the 80s

I was invited round on Saturday night to my ex flatmate’s house for drinks. Before buying this flat I shared a house with him and 2 other girls. It was a depressing time: I was recuperating from severe facial surgery to remove a tumour from my saliva gland; I’d had to return to work too soon to pay the bills, and I was doing my first year of graveyard shift classes, dragging my sorry ass out at the crack of sparrow fart every morning to commute over an hour on stressy, crammed metros and buses to desolate industrial parks on the outskirts. All this within a year or so of a sudden and unexpected family bereavement. Living there didn’t help. I believe that in some way that flat was cursed. As soon as you crossed the threshold a kind of musty depression descended as though someone had thrown a mouldy old sheet over you. You could feel its stale clamminess settle onto your face within minutes. It hadn’t been decorated since about 1975 and whoever had done it then, if you’d been writing a school report for their effort, you would have written ‘could try harder.’ Although it was a spacious flat which is quite a luxury here, the lack of interior design was unforgivable. The walls looked as though they had been paint-balled with lumpy custard. It was dotted with occasional items of rickety Ikea furniture (Ikea are great, don’t get me wrong, but a whole flat of badly-put-together bookshelves, stools and tables?) Every time you put a cup of coffee down or picked up a book the furniture beneath it would twist, groan and wobble like a building caught in an earthquake. There was an inflatable denim pouffe in the living room that deflated like a marshmallow if anyone sat on it but took up at least a third of the floor space. I grew to harbour an irrational hatred for that pouffe. To add to the distressing decor in here there were forlorn posters of Ibiza and Formentera lolling off the walls. The faded images of white sand and pale blue sea, palm trees and bright sunshine were a constant reproach. Everything in the house was broken or hanging off its hinges. The drawers in my room jammed, the bathroom door used to crack open while you were on the loo with your knickers round your ankles, the fridge swung noncholantly open every time you turned your back on it, and the cutlery drawer had to be see-sawed up and down and rammed back into place with all the cutlery rattling like gnashing teeth. A Feng Shui House of Horrors.

To top it all, there were never-ending renovations going on not only outside my window in the patio below but also in the flat above, so no room in the house was safe from the banging, drilling and hammering. The landings were almost as bad as the flat, papered four floors up with grooved wallpaper in tobacco-stain yellow. There were apparently junkies who sometimes crept in to shoot up and crash out on the stairs. I never really noticed them but then one day the caretaker left a shrill note that they must be kept out at all costs as someone had found a human poo in the stairwell. Nice. In the lift someone had scratched ‘Fuck off jungle monkey Peruvians’. While moving in I was kissed in this lift, rammed in between my sofa and a handsome Columbian removals man who then proceeded to rip me off by overcharging me in a very calculated way. I still had some facial paralysis after the surgery and I had put on weight. I fell for the stacked torso and the cunning flirting and was outraged when he ripped me off. The feeling of impotence did not reside during my stay in this house; it was prolonged and heaped over with mild depression. Cold nights huddled in my room smoking joint after joint. I hoped it would end soon, and thank fully it did.

In the Winter the flat became as icy as a walk-in freezer and the central heating became a bone of contention, so small localised areas were heated expensively with electric heaters. Opening the bedroom door onto the corridoor to go for a midnight wee or to get a cup of tea made me feel like Scott pulling back the tent flap onto the Tundra. There was a dog left on its own for much of the day in the next door flat, and it used to howl and scratch incessantly. Like I said, there seemed to be some kind of curse on the place. The flat has been passed along to other friends desperate for accommodation as the original occupants have all moved out, and even now going round to visit sucks the life out of me.

The most positive things I can say about the flat are that it was in a great location- i.e on the edge of Lavapies, and my flatmates, peripheral people in a group of friends, were (and continue to be) adorable. It was several weeks before I could get any of their names right- there were only three of them, but they were called Manu, Nani and Ani. Every time I addressed one of them I felt as though I should begin with ‘Mork calling Orson… come in, Orson…’ Their names gave me instant dyslexia. All pocket-sized Andaluzes with a repertoire of hysterical laughter and exaggerated mannerisms, they filled the House of Gloom with constant giggling and good nature. They all did different jobs, but as a social group, you could describe all of them as ‘modernos’. There isn’t really a translation except ‘young and trendy’.

Manu rented the room next to mine, and was a colourful character. He was a gymn-bunny who made up for his petite size with a stacked torso, and a sculptured face. I have always loved the way Manu dresses- he is eccentric and ironic and manages to carry off looks no-one else would be seen dead in. I remember he had a louche wine-red housecoat he used to wear after gentleman-friend callers had been round. The overall effect was part Puerto Rican pimp and part Uncle Monty. To my birthday party this year he wore a denim waistcoat with primary-coloured frayed patches stitched onto it, and the back emblazoned with the lurid words ‘Look at me!’ For the New year’s Eve party this year he grew a seventies porn star moustache which bizarrely suits him and makes him look butch.

On Saturday night he was wearing a truly startling outfit- a pale denim jumpsuit unzipped to the elasticated and nipped-in waist that looked as though it had been dragged from the costume cupboard of Boogie Nights. The moustache remained, and added to it was high hair, rising almost to a quiff. There were another couple of mutual friends there and a group of girls who at first sight frightened me a little, an intimidating blur of glossy hair and tits. It was like Valley of the Dolls in there. One of them, who I’d met before at the House of Doom was leaping around the living room laughing raucously, flinging her hair over her shoulder and pulling expressive poses and faces as she contorted her perfect body this way and that. Exciteable was the word that sprang to mind. I am always intimidated by groups of Spanish girls anyway. They make me feel like a potato in a basket of exotic flowers. Besides, having been to a girls’ public school I have a higly developed fear of big groups of women. Spanish girls are always awesomely groomed, feminine and very loud. Some might say they err on the side of tartiness. A lot of people might say that. But coquettish, sexy and glossy, everyone agrees. They are like brightly-wrapped sweets, sticky with lipstick and tottery on their heels. It is as though you opened the toy cupboard and a whole load of Latino Barbies fell on top of you in a big tangle of hair, smooth limbs and fake boobs. As it turned out this particular pack of women were sweet and friendly, and pretty soon I was ‘one of the girls’, a status that has never sat easy with me. I am more comfortable in gangs of men. Having two brothers and their possee around when I was growing up has made me a pack animal who prefers the rough and tumble of male company to the impenetrable and incomprehensible secret world of girls.

The overall effect of heavy lipstick, tumbling hair and fakeness was augmented by the arrival of a tall transexual with a pronounced Argentinian accent. One of those lean and aggressively pretty girl/boys who can just about get away with it. For now, at least. It was casually dropped into the conversation that Manu had married her recently to enable her to get her residence papers sorted. I was pleased to note how once again the Gay Mafia has rescued one of its own. It seems so Humanistic after all, the helping hand when you arrive fresh off the boat in another continent and another country. I often wonder how life would be if women, for example, offered each other the same kind of support network all over the world.

The Barbies eventually dragged me to a club with them. I was half-undecided, but they cajoled and persuaded me to go, and I found myself queueing with them outside a club I had been to once during Euro Gay Pride a few years ago. I had been drinking heavily on Plaza Vazques de Mella, waiting for a good friend from Seville to arrive. By the time he eventually turned up, several hours late in true Andaluz fashion I could barely speak or stand up. He told me were going to a club called ‘Spank’. Given his heavy accent I thought he was telling me the club was called ‘Spunk.’

‘Are you sure they let women in, darling? I’d hate to get thrown out, it sounds a bit…’ Not that it would have been the first time I’d been the only woman in a gay space. They did let me in, but whereas my friend got in for ten euros with his flyer, they charged me fifteen.

‘Hang on-‘ he asked the cashier, ‘Why does she have to pay more? Because she’s a woman? Because she’s blond? Or is it because she’s fat?’. You had to be there, really.

This Saturday night there was a huge queue, and as we stood and stamped our feet and surveyed the crowd I wondered if it was going to be worth it after all. These days I get eye-poppingly bored in clubs as a rule. One has to be on drugs to enjoy it. Otherwise it’s just a load of people staggering around to music they don’t particularly like in poor lighting on broken bottles, hurting their eardrums. But, after a short while one of the Barbies managed to blag us into the club on someone’s guest list, and as we deposited our coats and made our way downstairs I made out the strains of New Order’s Blue Monday. Maybe this was going to bearable, maybe even fun.

‘You’ll love the music,’ Manu told me and boy was he right.

It didn’t stop at New Order, oh no. In the course of the next couple of hours we heard Pump up the Jam, Billie Jean, Siouxsie and the Banshees, The Clash ‘Should I stay or should I go’, Queen’s ‘I want to break free’, Softcell, several OMD numbers, and plenty of obscure synthesiser pop. I was in Eighties Flashback heaven. For once, my naff Embarrassing Dad dance moves were cool. People admired my flamboyant arm movements, my coy Madona-esque posing and my high camp prancing. Which, basically, is the only way I know how to dance, despite three seasons in Ibiza in my youth. The Spanish nostalgia for the 80s is almost as powerful as ours, which is another reason I love it here. Where else can you walk into a shop and hear Spandau Ballet blasted out without a trace of irony? Or go to Carrefour and be serenaded with David Bowie, Duran Duran, even Pink Floyd? For the first time in a long time I saw people weaving their way through the crowds to the dance floor grinning with genuine delight at the choice of music. The eighties theme had been confirmed when, on arrival I was introduced to the friend of a friend who commented appreciatively that I look somewhat like Cyndi Lauper, which in context was a massive compliment. I suppose I am a generic open-faced blond, so he was not so far off the mark from a culture that thinks all blonds look like Marilyn.

I looked around me on the dance floor and it was full of fey boys with asymetrical haircuts, and slightly freaky girls in bright colours with bows in their hair. They weren’t quite bright enough to be authentic though, they still looked too pretty, not like a dogs’ dinner like we used to look. Maybe this is just the 80s with a 2010 twist. I was impressed by a tall, pale boy with a well-constructed Bauhaus look- suited, with his Bryan Ferry hair swept back off his face, in braces, a tie and sharp shoes. The go-go dancers (who of course, were friends of Manu’s and came and kissed each of us when introduced) were fabulous. Forget all this buffed gymn body nonsense covered in baby Oil and thrusting at you. These boys looked utterly horrendous. They were dressed in white pants (and I mean pants, not American ‘pants’) and bandages, wrapped up all the way round their torsos, necks and heads, with a splash of flourescent yellow or shocking pink wig sticking out of one side of their head. They both wore lots of lip gloss and eye make up, and consequently it looked as though someone had mummified a pair of New Romantics. When installed on the podiums they didn’t so much dance as writhe disdainfully, which to me, gave them extra points. The eighties was all about posing, darling, and being very serious about it too. I loved them for their lack of glamour.

On the video screens there was a medley of Madonna’s ‘erotica’, with a piece by Yoko Ono which involved clips of flabby bottoms being spanked repeatedly, a clip from some fabulously kitsch sado-maso flick that appeared to have Ursula Andress in all her glory in a spangly bikini and face mask slapping some clean-shaven businessmen about the face, and a kitsch Spanish film with lots of female soldiers. We danced and we danced. For the next couple of hours I wavered between feeling like a teenager back in a genuine eighties school disco, and feeling like an elderly aunt who doesn’t get out much, who’s been taken out to to a musical hall performance by her nephews and nieces and can’t stop saying

‘So kind of you to think of me, I’m having a lovely time, so kind…’

I was no longer a dinosaur, or someone in the background at the club who the youngsters feel a bit sorry for. I was cool. No-one even batted an eyelid when I began pogo-ing with Manu to the Clash. They did look, yes, heads were turned in our direction. I like to think they were thinking ‘That’s authentic punk, that is. She was there.’ rather than ‘Fuck me, your auntie on speed!’

Talking of speed, the ambience was soon distorted by a German band called Chicks on Speed who were d-j-ing. All I can say is: it looked like she was. And I would have preferred her on Valium, quite frankly. She caterwauled her way through several Blondie numbers and a version of Burning Down the house. Then came what seemed like a lifetime of repetitive electro mix versions of 80s hits. She had obviously thought long and hard about her outfit, and on that count nobody could fault her. She wore a Bowiesque yellow Hello Spaceman jacket with impossible shoulder pads and black geometric designs printed all over it. On her head was a jauntily-tilted asymetrical hat in the same colours. Her  face was painted with an aggressive stripe of rouge, and heavy eye make up. She had square-jawed, androgynous features, almost could have been a pretty boy, but when she sang (and I use that term loosely) you could hear she was a woman. As she ploughed through her increasingly turgid set people slowly gave up dancing and wandered off the dancefloor. Slowly but surely she killed the atmosphere, sufficating it until it twitched and then lay still. Just goes to show there’s always someone waiting in the wings to spoil your fun. It was a shame her choice of music was so shite, as she was evidently a huge fan of the 80s and looked the part. But an outfit and a quirky name are not everything, dear. The eighties were about fashion and posing but they were also about talent. And the music. Let’s not forget those things. I think it was Eddie Izzard who talked about the wafer-thin line between being achingly cool (and he should know, as he is precisely that) and a total tosspot. The Chick on Speed, I am afraid, crossed than line. And I also crossed it, but I met her going in the opposite direction. For one night only I was cool. Cooler, in fact, than when I was doing it the first time round.

It took me back to a school disco my cousin took me to when I was about 13, in what must have been 1982. It was my first disco, I think. As I was dancing, giving it my best moves, a boy wandered over and leant in conspiratorially to tell me something. I smiled and cocked my head to catch the hoped-for compliment/ offer of a Shandy/ request for a date, and he said,
‘You dance like a tadpole in a bucket, you do.’
The casual cruelty of children…. At least this time, as I pogo-ed with Manu to the Clash, there were no teenage boys around to insult me. Sometimes things are almost better the second time round than the first. I find that hard to believe about the 80s, but given the enthusiasm of the Spanish ‘modernos’ for this decade, they may be onto something.

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2 Responses to “Flashback! Back to the 80s”

  1. I don’t know how I stumbled across this particular blog, nor do I really care. I found it. I have subscribed and am beyond excited. I laughed so hard something other than pee came out.

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