By Chumki Banerjee
Learning to love again: A London broad abroad, desperately seeking soul succour and something to eat.
The first visitation: Thigh high boots and vinyl. It’ll end in tears and a police raid
My first unintentional attempt at being a Scouser was when I ran away from the capital; my place of birth and almost growing up; to become a sound engineer.
Though I had ostensibly lived away before, at Manchester University, that had been an existential existence of concentrated, concertinaed coming of age; an unprepared collision with the whole of the rest of the world, beyond four sheltered walls.
Enrolled for electronic engineering, immersed in a world full of boys and booze, bewildered by bulges in trousers, and tongues that did more than talk, my mind was diverted from chasing the atom, towards a more fundamental education; how to apply eyeliner like Siouxie Sioux, how to squeeze myself into sex shop extreme S&M inspired daily attire, how to sweep my hair up in a reinforced birds nest, how to drink neat gin without going blind, and how to survive without sleep.
Whisked away in Wizard of Oz whirlwind, bumped back to earth, dazed and confused, far from Yellow Brick Road to Emerald City, I emerged from this maelstrom acclimatised to alcohol, but as ill equipped as ever to face reality, not really sure where I had been nor where I was heading.
The one straw I clung to through it all, which kept me afloat in this sea awash with emotion, was music. True and constant lover through stormy weather, besotted by a teenage daydream it was towards its Liverpool arms I fled, when I went to seek if not fortune, but thigh high boots and a future in vinyl.
Driving away from home, with no particular plan, except S.O.S. Davies Street, Liverpool, scrawled on a scrap of paper, I carried with me on the coach little more than a bundle of unsuitable clothes and a burden of hope that, in what I imagined was a high tech recording studio, I would materialise my metier and emerge fully equipped, butterfly from chrysalis.
Magnetised by my mirage it was immaterial to me where or what Liverpool was; ever geographically challenged; my Manchester experience might as well have been off planet; I had imagined that the whole of the country was one large London, so Liverpool proved a shock to the system.
Estranged, deranged, delinquent, abandoned to a lonely, eked out twilight existence in barely habitable Sefton Park bedsit; badgered, propositioned, cheated and double rented by scandalously audacious, presumptuously egotistical fake bake landlords, a horny, ruined Richard Burton lookalike hulk, in pretentious gold Roller, who loved to make me leap in the street by honking his horn.
Seeking familiar food reassurance to temper solitude, Liverpool seemed bereft of even such small comforts. True there was: a scattering of smelly, mostly less than sparkling St John’s flatulent fish, mongrel meat and withered, weathered fruit and veg. stalls; steamy Armadillo’s comforting whole food, welcome all embrace, where the sous-chef took pity for a peck on the cheek; desiccated un-drizzled lemon cake at Keith’s, assuming deep fascination for dust caked panes, taken for diluted coffee, fearing abduction by deeply spaced out, psychotic photographer, seeking practice ‘model’ in Sefton Park setting; sunny side up Sunshine Cafe, where treated by a friendlier face, I shed tears at the smell of sizzling bacon, vision of bright yellow yolk, clagging to intense orange, shining like beacon through memory; and Maranto’s where, having starved for a week, I saved enough for solace in a longed for lonely solo, tomato tangy starter Bolognese and small glass of tart red, sad simulacra of remembrance, but still brief glimpse of home.
Desperately seeking serendipitous sound, without courage or cash for clubs, I missed the record shop on every street corner culture of London; I missed rifling through their random selections; I missed stalking Soho for surreal and rare vinyl.
Some of London’s euphonious emporiums, such as Sister Ray, could be intimidating, but none prepared me with the courage required to climb steep Button Street stairs, to pluck Probe’s star from its glowering sky. Still, in extremis, I girded soaring stilettos, shucked up pencil skirt, and shakingly arose to heights of dark delight.
Days spent prowling Probe, lingering longingly in HMV or Virgin’s vinyl section, enforcedly slimmed to shadow of my former self, shielding shyness in sheath of skintight trousers and lascivious laced bodice, slashed by safety pins, lashed by looping chains, teetering on searing stilettos, waist length hair tortured into back combed beehive, nails red hot needles, face a mask of Siouxie Sioux makeup, needless to say, those disastrous days of desirous disguise did not deliver my dreams, despite many days and nights lurking in backstreet sound studios and dank, down by the docks derelict warehouse practice rooms.
But, in trying and failing, I met some incredible musical people who, for better or worse, according to your attitude, made me the way I am today.