Time (Clock of the Heart)

“Don’t put your head on my shoulder
Sink me in a river of tears
This could be the best place yet
But you must overcome your fears”

Culture Club

The 80’s – the era that introduced the world to Margaret Thatcher and Lady Diana Spencer – both women for different reasons had a profound effect on the British Isles.

A house could be purchased for just under £30,000 in 1980, the average yearly salary was a little over £4,500. Within a decade – the so-called ‘boom’ years – house prices rocketed.  If you lived in the posh parts of London you were ok – the ‘loadsamoney’ culture thrived in the south of the country. The culture of self-serving, greed and individualism was encouraged. ‘There is no such thing as community’ who will ever forget the bitter legacy of the Thatcher years.

It is November 1982 and I am on a date at the Ilford Palais on the borderline of Essex and London’s east-end.

Time (Clock of the Heart) the haunting vocal of the enigmatic Boy George and his Culture Club, icons of the early eighties was the record being played. Every time I hear the opening few bars of this track, I am back on that dance floor. All swirly, flirty and very likely quite giddy too. Such a great record for swaying in an uncoordinated rhythm but managing to look good nevertheless…

The Palais.  Even the word conjures up a bygone era – a step back into the glitzy and glorious days of balconied ballrooms, sprung parquet floors and gold lame curtains. The DJ was the star on a Friday night – what a memorable time it was for pop culture in Britain.  In its day the Palais would have been packed with old time ballroom dancing probably on a Tuesday evening, bingo on Wednesday and then a disco for the teens and 20-somethings on a Friday night.

Peter Kay’s Phoenix Nights revisited.

Frequented by the local heroes of that era, the Palais for 30-odd years was host to (amongst others) the players of West Ham United. The days when footballers mixed with the guys on the terraces at Upton Park, the ‘chicken run’ smart guys from the Boleyn ground’s east stand. World Cup heroes, the West Ham triumvirate, Bobby Moore, Geoff Hurst and Martin Peters were said to have been guests at the Palais and another Hammers’ legend Harry Redknapp has referred to his nights dancing with his future wife, Sandra at the Ilford night-spot.

My beau on that evening in November ‘82 was a paratrooper, a guy I had met a few months earlier when he returned from the Falklands conflict. Another historical event etched into our memories of the early ‘80’s; Margaret Thatcher’s tub-thumping extravaganza.

We had met a few weeks earlier at The Room of the Top – my usual Ilford haunt but for our mid-week date we settled on the 80’s DJ night at the Palais. He lived in Seven Kings as I recall – two stops up from Ilford on the mainline train from Romford to Liverpool Street and the City of London.

It was quite a chilly early autumn night and I would have most likely have been wearing the fashion of the new romantics – all very Visage or Spandau Ballet! Those heavy eye-lined,  blue eye-shadowed, big -haired Bananarama days. Imagine being 22 years old – footloose and fancy free (as the saying goes) and dating a guy who was a hero from the Battle of Goose Green – 2 Para no less –remember them? Big H and his heroes – the guys mentioned in dispatches.

At the time I was working as a trainee reporter on the Barking & Dagenham Post.  The Falklands conflict was big news for us, many of our ‘brave boys’ were from east London and it was down to us cub reporters to descend upon the returning troops, muddied and bloodied and do what reporters do best: persuade them to tell all.

‘Battles from the south Atlantic’ as told to our roving reporters.  It should be noted that many of those ‘exclusives’ were likely elicited by the prowling hack pack at work, picking up a few tawdry tales from the bars and nightclubs. After a few pints of special brew and a rum and coke, we usually managed to encourage the spirit of free and easy conversation. That was me and my mate, pen and notebooks never far from our eager mitts…

I should say at this point I do not intend to name friends, foes or lovers in my posts. They may not choose to be reminded of our perhaps (not so callow) youth…

It is hard to even contemplate how the Room at the Top was ever given a licence.  It was on the top floor of a department store on Ilford High Street and the way in and out for the hundreds who were crammed in every Friday and Saturday night was via a lift…I imagine today’s health and safety officials would break out in a clammy sweat  if asked to even look around this hotbed of potential horror – add an extra 10 points on the risk register – we were all merrily puffing away on our B&H and Rothmans indoors back then…

Suffice to say I liked this guy.  He was ‘proper east London, a salt of the earth’ type and everyone who knew me was questioning why I might be dating a soldier…truth is he really was one of the good guys, uncomplicated, funny and kind.  When I was 22 I didn’t seem to mind being ‘looked out for’ either. We had met when he ‘rescued’ me and my mate from a potentially ugly scene when the marines and the paras had locked horns at The Room at the Top nightclub a few weeks previously. The British troops, united just weeks earlier in Port Stanley, were spoiling for a fight back home and that sad – but only too familiar, ‘settling scores’ the ego driven male rutting ritual: ‘wanna -fight? We-woz -better- than -you- oh-yeah-prove it.’ All so very tedious:  the kind of animalistic behaviour only ever a greater spectacle in a wildlife documentary with David Attenborough providing the whispering voiceover.

The story hit the front page of The Barking & Dagenham Post and the following week – probably naively in retrospect – we returned to the club only to be met with an army of testosterone-fuelled guys ready to write the sequel in their own words. My friend and I were literally plucked from a baying crowd and syphoned away into a waiting car by this smart young man – utrinque paratus – to quote the motto of the 2nd battalion, Paratroop regiment. He was always one step ahead. He didn’t want to fight and always proved to be the peace-maker.

swds

I spent a good deal of time that summer with this guy – my man in shining armour – at barbecues, in pub gardens drinking Strongbow cider and chilling out at my flat in Romford. As I recall there was plenty of raucous singing to Dexy’s Come on Eileen and Annie I’m not Your Daddy by Kid Creole and the CoconutsHe was witty and wise and to this day I am still completely enamoured with anyone who can make me laugh – even if it’s at the expense of my own idiosyncratic self. Our night at the Ilford Palais was unusual in that we were on our own for the evening, he wasn’t watching out for his mates in 2 and 3 para who always seemed to get into some scrap, my super-hero always at-the-ready to step in and break up the chance of an unseemly brawl.

So, there we were on the dancefloor at the Palais, and Time (Clock of the Heart) the follow-up to Do You Really Want to Hurt Me?  echoed out across the hall. Happy and uncomplicated days … our brief liaison did run its time of course but I have fond memories and have wondered over the years what became of the man from 2 Para…

Culture Club and Soft Cell were most definitely my bands of the early 80’s. (I have always wished I had dreamt up the title The Church of the Poison Mind.  Another early Culture Club classic!) However, it is not their better known songs that resonate – Soft Cell’s Tainted Love is undoubtedly in the top 10 of memorable 80’s tracks but it is the haunting and faintly misogynistic Say Hello, Wave Goodbye in 1982 that is the more memorable as far as I’m concerned. I am pretty sure there were times when I would have been standing in the door of the pink flamingo wearing a cocktail skirt – to echo the words of the song. The so-so love was most definitely a reference point for me – another unrequited love affair – and continual repeats of the vinyl single on a tinny record player in my bedroom.

Another feature of the golden years of record collections is the memorable sleeves of those 7-inch vinyl 45 singles. Precious indeed.  I’ve got a fair few and they will stay with me forever.

Whenever I hear those ‘80’s classics, I am transported back to the Ilford Palais in November 1982, where a young soldier and a cub reporter danced themselves into a hypnotic trance.  It was never going to be forever but that potent memory still lingers whenever I hear the lyric:

‘Time makes lovers feel like they’ve got something real 
But you and me we know they’ve got nothing but time

 And time won’t give me time’

 

Sharing this memory with Reilly Carver (a fellow Culture Club devotee!)

 

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