I grew up on the Beautiful Game. I’m of the generation whose pre-Premier League childhood memories associate the game with dodgy perms and mullets (hello Chris Waddle…), the final years of standing on the terraces as the norm in the top flight, and the weekly Saturday afternoon ritual of listening to the wonderful James Alexander Gordon read the classified football results on the radio. It wasn’t a girl’s world back then, but I was still utterly entranced by it all.
It’s quite odd what strikes an emotional chord sometimes. I surprised myself last night by being genuinely upset to hear that there has been a large fire at the Stables Market in Camden, north London. It seems the fire broke out at about 8pm yesterday evening in the roof voids at the Chalk Farm Road end of the market, and the flames and smoke were soon visible for miles around – which resulted in hundreds of people being evacuated from the surrounding area. According to the BBC, ten fire engines and more than 70 firefighters were sent in to tackle it (which suggests it was a pretty big fire), eventually getting the blaze under control several hours later. Considering that yesterday was a beautiful, hot early summer day in London, the area around the market must have been very busy even at that late hour. It is quite amazing that no-one, it seems, was hurt in the incident. However, I suspect that many livelihoods and many memories have been destroyed by this blaze.
Camden is a part of this city that I know very well, and the markets there have long been an essential place to visit if you were ever an alternative kid in London – it certainly was an important and formative place for me. When I was growing up, Camden Market was one of only a few places in London where you could actually get such hard-to-find alternative essentials as black nail polish, extreme metal band t-shirts, bootleg albums of highly dubious origin, proper flared trousers, hair dye in colours never to be found in nature, glow-under-UV-light hoodies, stash tins with wonky-looking cannabis leaves painted on them and the kind of pungent Indian incense that sets smoke alarms off in ten seconds flat – amongst a vast plethora of other random things that you never knew existed, let alone that you wanted!
There was always a definite hippy kind of vibe about the place, almost as soon as you walked out of the tube station. Admittedly though, to actually get from the tube station to the Lock Market and the Stables Market you’d have to run the gauntlet of dodgy-looking geezers offering you something herbal that was allegedly weed, ageing punks with dogs on strings drinking Special Brew and shouting at people (the punks, not the dogs!), and, of course, the odd confused tourist standing in the middle of the pavement intently studying an upside down A-Z – but that was all part of the Camden Experience in the early 1990s.
In many ways, I guess I was naive…
This did actually happen – and it changed the way I view the media forever.
Some background: my secondary school was (and still is) less than half a mile away from the Sky TV HQ in west London. It was August 1994, and I’d already picked up my A-Level results and was hanging around outside the school, ostentatiously smoking and waiting for some friends. Suddenly, a Sky News crew showed up at the school gates, cameraman and besuited reporter in tow, to get some ‘reaction’ from staff and students in the usual fashion.
They asked me and a fellow student if we would like to be interviewed on camera. Excitedly (and rather stupidly – remember, I was only 18 at the time!), I said yes. In retrospect, it was obvious why they chose me – I looked like a freak. I was heavily into grunge and metal at the time, and dressed like it. Badly.
I can still remember the outfit I was wearing that day – battered black DMs with multi-coloured laces and about three pairs of socks, black leggings, a black and white patterned miniskirt, my old Pearl Jam t-shirt (covered in hot rock burns), a baggy blue checked shirt, a truly ridiculous black and white floppy hat, and John Lennon-style shades (which didn’t suit me).