My first full-time job after university was as a runner in London. Back in the mid-90s the film business in the UK was experiencing a renaissance, successes like Shallow Grave, The Madness of King George, Four Weddings and Trainspotting meant that anything out of the UK was hot and Soho in London was the hub of all that was film and TV. As a keen, naive runner lugging film canisters and Beta Max tapes from one editing facility to another I was very much on the outskirts of all that was cool – not much chance of me hanging out with Hugh Grant or Ewan McGregor but still it felt pretty good to be where it was ‘at’ for the first and only time in my life (to date).
These were the days of the groundbreaking BBC series, This Life, about a group of 20 something lawyers living together in South London. My friends and I loved that show and I think, thought to a degree we were living it, not that we had the money of trainee lawyers, but that we were in London, house sharing, working, experiencing stuff every day that as newly graduated first jobbers we were just not used to (no matter how hard some tried to convince otherwise). Age 22 in the big city with no authority – no wonder they made a show about it.
One night I went to a party in the basement of some club at the end of Carnaby Street, I was wearing borrowed pvc spray on trousers (eeugh on all accounts), a sheer sparkly mint green shirt and some unsuitable shoes. The shoes were unsuitable not because they were too high or too small but because they were the only other pair of shoes I owned outside of my ‘work’ shoes (trainers). I reckon I thought that the trousers would distract any prospective shoe viewers, I do have long legs. The only recollection of the party I have is that it was dull, full of people I didn’t know including the ‘friend’ I went there with and way too cool for me, but those were the days when I was so eager to experience everything London had to offer I would have gone to just about anywhere I was invited to, if it were free.
Gratis, I attended screenings of art house unknown films, gigs and comedy shows, football games, museum exhibits I also spent an inordinate time in the pub – The Old Coffee House in Beak Street and later the Red Lion in Great Windmill Street. I was determined to squish as much as I could into my life which is pretty hard on less than a hundred quid a month. The truth is that the other 98.5% of my life was spent at home watching my portable TV wrapped in a duvet to conserve fuel costs. Fond memories of searching coat pockets for loose change to buy a pint of milk/bag of crisps/ 10 Silk Cut or a bottle of Kwik Save’s wine of the week come flooding back.
The benefit of working in TV and film post production was that a) I wandered around the West End all day in all weathers so would easily pass The Knowledge (the London black cab drivers exam) for that part of London b) My wanderings resulted in many celeb sightings which was pretty incredible for a small town girl like myself c) I felt a part of what was happening, albeit as an inside outsider. The downside of all this was a) I was paid 100 quid more than the cost of my rent and monthly tube pass b) I was a skivvy to every jumped up musician, director, voice over, actor that set foot in the editing house I worked in and c) I was panicking that my degree was actually a waste of time – who needs a degree to hang around outside an edit suite whilst those inside got drunk, stoned, high and fail to produce the tape I was waiting for. Remember these were the days of very few mobile phones; internet, email etc were not part of everyday life, Britain had yet to go digital (I was carrying Beta Max tapes for god’s sake) so walking the streets meant you actually looked around you and you couldn’t bitch or brag to your mates at a minute by minute rate. Makes you pause for thought right?
1997 saw the Vanity Fair Cool Britannia issue which made everything in Britain suddenly officially cool – even the Spice Girls and Tony Blair (not so much now). The magazine was published in March 1997, I left London mid April to travel the world and re-think my career. When I returned 18 months later I caught the scrap ends of the zeitgeist but the time was over. Many of my friends had moved on or away and taking the first crappy job that came along as long as it was vaguely related to your career of choice was no longer enough.
The friends I made then are some of the most incredible people I know and in many ways it was an amazing time; the music, the buzz, the feeling of starting out. You can’t replace that. It was also exhausting, mentally demoralising and highly emotional for the group of friends I was part of. We all cared too much about what others thought of us and were trying too hard to look like we didn’t care, after all this was the age of Liam Gallagher. If I’d stayed any longer I could well have imploded, or become an escort to raise the rent money. Shudder.
Still it all made for a good pub story and at the end of the day that’s all any of us were really after.