Just before I started sixth form, my old school building was knocked down. This was not a problem, because we had a spiffy new one to move into. At the time, I was so gleeful that the Dickensian gymnasium had been reduced to rubble and the sports department crammed into a basement that I didn't really have time for nostalgia.
But last weekend I went to a farewell party for another building soon destined for the dust, in an area of London about to be reduxed and redeveloped in time for the Olympics. Looks like the sports department got the last laugh.
This was not much of a building – a dank and slightly manky warehouse on the edge of Hackney at the far end of a cul-de-sac near a housing estate – but it had played host to parties of the sort that some might call iconic. I prefer to avoid that word, unless in reference to religious figurines, but I'm prepared to use it in this context; that warehouse had become a sort of church in itself.
It was, until recently, inhabited by a group of friends from university. Being creative, hip and middle-class sorts, they had ended up living in the disused office block (naturellement!) with no rubbish collections, very little furniture and toilets better suited to a train station. I was, of course, painfully jealous of those with the ability to live in this way, and quite liked the idea of having three toilet cubicles in a row at my disposal. But whenever I left those parties, caked in the sort of industrial grime more usually found on a building site, and pulled the door shut behind me, only to have it fall off its hinges into my hands, I was inordinately happy to return to my own chintzy little flat, which has a telly and working radiators. And wasn't full of gurning strangers.
As we pulled up in a taxi (three had refused to take us there, on the basis that they might get lost – which bodes well for Olympic visitors), there were hordes of revellers making their way to the venue, like George Romero's zombies heading to the mall. "I remember climbing over that wall to sneak in," I heard one zombie reminisce nearby, "but I got thrown out anyway because I landed on a bouncer's head on the other side."
"I tried that once too," sighed another. "But my trendy Parka got caught on the fence and ripped."
Needless to say, it was a specific sort of crowd: a post-university, creative industries and media-bound, heady selection of the jeunesse d'orée. Plus me and my boyfriend. "Look at that old raver!" he said, nudging me and talking out the corner of his mouth. "Look at his clothes, it's just like the 1990s, I bet he knew Bez." Nudge, nudge, nudge.
The old raver in question was indeed decked out in grungy plaid, DayGlo and stonewash denim, but was also about 23. "No," I countered from the corner of my mouth, "he's just dressed like Bez. That's the look they channel now, the ravers."
When we got inside and met up with our usual pack of party-goers, I realised with a poignant stab in the gut that it was only right for this warehouse to be closing down. That it, like us, was rather past its prime, brilliant though the night turned out to be. Two of our friends had left their baby at home and turned up in a Prius; another had spent the day repotting her windowboxes; one had to get a train to a conference the next day; yet another was worried about the industrial grime coating the hem of her Prada trousers. Compared with the pack of sweaty, nubile, vest-and-shorts-clad youngsters queuing outside, we were practically 100 years old – more, if you were to count collectively.
While we were happy to give the place a send-off, we were less happy with what it might take with it – namely, our youth. From the back door, we looked out across the canal at the new order, the hulk of the new Stratford shopping mall glinting in the half-light of dawn, and thought of the car park that would be built in the wound the warehouse would leave in its wake.
Three hours later, my boyfriend bounced up to me. "We don't go out enough any more," he said. "Look how fun this is." We surveyed the scene, sweat dripping from the walls, a bike hanging inexplicably on wires from the ceiling, an inflatable life-size Shrek dummy propped up behind the makeshift bar.
Back when these parties started, I was an intern working on magazines for free. I did shifts in a local pub for money, and went for a dance after last orders. I then went back to work at the pub when it was all over the next day. There are some aspects of my youth I'm happy to leave behind. But there are others I'm just not ready to say goodbye to. I hope the Olympics are worth it.