I wouldn't have thought about it at the time if we hadn't been talking about John Travolta. We'd been talking about John Travolta all the way round Brixton market, pausing to say, "Good Lord, I never knew those cone things came ready-braided" and, "Eugh. Those fish have been on the floor."
Brixton Market has a romance to it that I've never got over. It was the first place in London I really liked. I found London a bit underwhelming when I first arrived here from the sticks. I didn't have a job, and felt, leaving university into a recession, that I didn't have much by way of a future. I lived in a flat in Bayswater with a city lawyer who used to ask me to go out whenever he had people round, and I did a succession of temp jobs for agencies who paid me roughly a third of what they charged the customer. I spent six weeks filing in a shipping agency on Moorgate before anyone asked me my name. And, what's more, Wham! had split up.
Then, one late spring afternoon, I found myself on Electric Avenue with one of the Nicholases, and I suddenly realised I'd cracked it. Here were the crowds and the boom- boxes and the gaudy colours and the unfamiliar foods I'd begun to despair of finding. And, what's more, I could afford them.
Nich wore leather jackets and had a fifth-hand Cortina which he drove very badly. I haven't seen him in years.
We loaded up with plantains and red snapper and skinny chickens and went home for a feast. In the kitchen, he started sniffing. "The fish is in the fridge, isn't it? "Mmm." "So why can I still smell it?" "Dunno." He sniffed around me, spatula in hand. "Oh, good god," he said, "you didn't wear espadrilles in there, did you?"
So it was a Saturday afternoon, and Isabelle and I had been whiling away the sunshine hours at Get Shorty, which is why we were talking about John Travolta. My friends have decided to have crushes on John Travolta since Pulp Fiction, and have got as competitive about the degree of their crushes as they used to be over making gagging noises about him after Grease. "Look," I was saying, "Saturday Night Fever was the first 18 I ever got in to. I saw it three times." "Yes," said Isa, "but I bet you didn't practise the moves in your bedroom." She got me on that. I actually used to practise being a Four Top in my bedroom, when I wasn't practising the bare-toothed grimace of Farrah Fawcett Major. God, that woman looked like a mummified corpse when she smiled.
We finished with the market and peeled across the road into the pound shop. The pound shop is paradise. Its non-existent frontage hides a cavernous expanse of pirate booty. That day, the corridor going up to the front door was covered in posters of a space alien with limpid eyes, a big smile and a spliff between its fingers. The caption reads, "Take me to your dealer". Now, that's worth a pound of anyone's money.
I sometimes wonder if the British Empire would ever have happened if there had been pound shops back then. Would everyone have been so keen on strapping on their muskets and heading for the unknown, if they could have stocked up on speedy noodles at four packets for a pound and washed them down with three-litre bottles of cola? Would we have wanted to quell other races, if we'd been able to fight mock battles with yellow plastic tridents instead? Just think: if Brits had been able to buy 24 pan scourers at just over 4p each in the 16th century, the native Americans would probably still be sitting on their own uranium deposits today.
We walked through, scanning the groaning shelves for essentials. "I think the thing I like about him," said Isa, "is that slight paunchiness. I mean, he lives in Hollywood, so he obviously spends his entire life working out, but there's something ever so slightly gone to seed about him. You always think a button's about to pop off somewhere." "The Kostner effect, you mean?" "Well, except that John Travolta would never wear tights."
We stopped in front of one of the better combos. In a row hung packs of three nylon mesh sieves, a slotted spoon, a dozen matchboxes, a dolls' house bed, assorted drill bits and four rolls of Sellotape. All for a pound. I fingered a six-pack of dusters, remembered that I don't dust and put them back. "What I like is the eyes," I said. "They look blue and shiny from a distance and then you get close and you realise there's a serious psychotic behind them." "Oh, yeah, and that mouth that goes all curly at the corners, and the way that darling dimple puckers when he threatens someone."
The shop's PA system swapped briefly from dub to "How Deep is Your Love". The Take That version. We sang along, because we know all the words. Two teenage girls with wet-look grease in their loose curls were singing along beside us. "Of course," I said, "I've got the original version of this. I bought it the first time I had a crush on John." "Hmm," said Isa. "That really sums it up, doesn't it? I mean," she waved her hand dismissively over a stack of leopard-skin pencils, "it's not like you're going to get Howard or Jason starring in a Tarantino in 20 years, are you?" "Yeah. Bloody short-termers, Take That. No staying power." "Not like John, I bet," said Isa, and we both cackled.
There was a gasp beside us, and the singing stopped. We looked over our shoulders. The teens were staring at us open-mouthed. Their eyes were full of tearsReuse content