The Saturday Goth: Laura Craik Writes About Not Following The Herd, Taken From Issue 63
Yasmine, King’s Road 1984 by Derek Ridgers
The world is divided into two sorts of people: those who think the world is divided into two sorts of people, and those who realise that this is simplistic bullshit. But let us be simplistic bullshitters for a moment, and imagine that the world is, in fact, divided into two sorts of people: those who want to look like everyone else, and those who want to look different.
I used to think that the people who wanted to look different were automatically more interesting than the people who wanted to look the same. “Baaaa,” I’d bleat (in my head) upon seeing Jeni G, Jenny C and Julia E with the same perm, the same jeans and the same school shoes. My abiding memory of school is of girls walking around with jumpers draped round their shoulders, the Monday-to-Friday regulation-navy ones dictated by our uniform list replaced with pastel shades of pink, lemon and blue on weekends. To say the girls in my school were ovine is an insult to sheep. Everyone had overdone it with the Sun In. Everyone loved frosted pink lipstick. And everyone wore jeans. But not me. I’d decided jeans were boring, and that I wouldn’t set foot in a pair until I was 30. Quite why 30 was the specified watershed, I can’t remember. I can only assume that my 15-year-old self equated 30 with old age, and on reaching it, your outward appearance would cease to matter any more, because you were too busy cooking fish fingers, ferrying kids to hockey matches and just generally staving off impending death.
The main reason I didn’t wear jeans, pastel-coloured jumpers and frosted lipstick wasn’t because I’d dismissed them as boring, however. It was because I wasn’t allowed to. I was a goth, and you couldn’t be a goth in pastels. Whoever heard of a goth who wore lemon? Ian Curtis would turn in his grave.
Goths didn’t shop in happy-clappy pastel emporia such as Miss Selfridge or River Island: if they lived in Edinburgh, they shopped in Oxfam, Armstrong’s or Cockburn Street Market, aka goth mecca. It was clear even to the most clueless decipherer of social and sartorial codes that all goths wore black. You didn’t need to be Ted Polhemus to figure out that their uniform largely consisted of chewed-up biker jackets, black lace gloves, black tube skirts, black T-shirts (holes optional), black fishnets and pointy black boots with buckles that jingle-jangled as you walked. Cheap earrings that left your lobes tinged green were another must, as were cheap silver bangles, a crucifix, a rosary and a studded belt or wristband. Make-up was heavy and dramatic: a red lip, a pale face, an eye underlined with kohl.
Like all the most ill-advised decisions in my life, the one to become a goth had been made on account of a boy. I can’t remember when I first set eyes on Ali Watt (not his real name – or am I double bluffing?), but I think it was probably at Buster Browns’ Under Age Disco. This was an Edinburgh institution, a place where kids from the city’s many private schools could mingle, drink nonalcoholic cocktails and dance to the 12-inch of Tainted Love. It was particularly beloved of kids who went to same-sex schools. I went to a co-ed school, but was still in thrall to the allure of fresh meat. And there was no fresher meat than the boys from Edinburgh Academy.
Ali went to Edinburgh Academy. I thought he was the most beautiful boy I had ever seen. He had cheekbones like geometry. Everything about him was angular, from his clavicles to his pointy black shoes to his sticky-up hair, black as a porcupine, although I’ve just googled porcupines and their hair is grey. His was definitely black: pitch black, with the sort of dull, matte finish that indicated he’d had help from a bottle. Amid a sea of boys in polite pastel shirts and chinos, he looked mysterious, dangerous and enigmatic. All of the clichés.
By the time school was out for summer, my friends and I had all developed suitably doomed yet all-consuming crushes on the Edinburgh
Academy boys, and decided to make it our life’s work to hang out with them. Since this was never actually going to happen, we had to content ourselves with the next best thing, which was accidentally bumping into them as frequently as possible. So they drank in a pub called Mad Hatters? We, too, would drink in Mad Hatters. With a bit of extra make-up, we could pass for 18. So they were planning to go to the Punks Picnic next Saturday? See you there, boys.
Writing this now, some decades later, I almost feel as though I imagined the Punks Picnic, so improbable does it sound. But in the 1980s, for one afternoon every summer, hundreds of punks, goths and metalheads really did converge on Edinburgh’s Princes Street Gardens to drink snakebite, eat chips, discuss the music of Bauhaus and do whatever else punks, goths and metalheads do when they get together, and nobody from Edinburgh City Council seemed to want to stop them. Which was nice, because despite the intimidating nature of their apparel (casual Saturday-afternoon shoppers would stare horrified over the railings, transfixed by all the shaved heads, pierced noses, studded belts and blue mohicans), the Punks Picnic was a peaceful affair. Sure, there were a few rats scuttling around, but if you could overlook the goths’ weird obsession with rodents, it was a convivial way to spend an afternoon.
Needless to say, I had dressed for the occasion with great care, in a black tube skirt, high-necked black lace blouse, black fishnets and pointy black shoes, adding every cheap piece of silver jewellery I and my mother owned. Never mind the balmy June heat: goths didn’t do summer, so neither would I. My mother hadn’t been pleased: “Walk up the road quickly, before the neighbours see you” – which wasn’t easy in a tube skirt, but I waddled as fast as I could, trying not to break into a sweat lest it messed with my too- pale, thick foundation.
The pièce de résistance of my look was my hair. Thanks to half a can of Elnett (when it came to caring for the environment, goths weren’t the only subculture who lacked benign intent, even if their hairstyles did more to destroy the ozone layer than those of mods or casuals), my lank brown hair stood upright, as though I’d been hugging a Van de Graaff generator. To this stunning look I’d added thick pink and blue stripes, carefully sprayed on with cans of Crazy Color. I felt immortal. I looked ridiculous.
It took us a while to find Ali and his friends. And then, when we did spot them, it took us another 15 minutes to pluck up the courage to approach. “We’ll just sit near them,” we decided. “We won’t actually speak. We’ll just…” We didn’t know what we’d “just” do, but in the event, the navigation of this tricky social situation – how to insouciantly integrate four clueless 15-year-olds into a much larger group of older, worldly-wise and better-looking boys – was taken out of our hands. Somehow, one of Ali’s inner circle spotted us and, with a winning smile, beckoned us over.
With hindsight, I can appreciate that it’s hard to fly under the radar, appear nonchalant or, to any degree, seem cool when your hair is sticking up vertically from your head and sprayed in tragically uneven neon pink and blue stripes. Alas, 15-year-old me approached the group with the guilelessness and enthusiasm of a dog being offered a string of sausages. “Hello,” said the boy, who was called Adrian. “We’ve seen you before. At Buster Browns. Do you go to Watson’s?” We nodded mutely. “I like your hair,” said Adrian, turning to me. Pause. “Did you do it yourself?” The others started snickering. “Um yeah,” I said, cheeks colouring under the foundation. “With crayon?” asked Adrian. “Or is it… finger paint?” More snickering. “Crazy Color,” I said. “From Cockburn Street Market.” Adrian smiled. “Aww bless,” he said. “Fucking Saturday Goth.”
As blows go, this was both low and crushing. It was clear what he meant: I was a part-timer, uncommitted, with no real interest in Fields of the Nephilim or The Damned (true), only in it for the fashion (also true). I was a 15-year-old brunette at a school where dyed hair resulted in instant suspension, a spray-on rebel who morphed back into a goody two-shoes by Monday morning. No matter that Ali’s sister had once told me that Ali sometimes coloured his own hair black with a marker pen: Adrian knew better than to pick on someone his own size. My humiliation was absolute.
I remained a goth throughout the summer, and all the way into the next, eventually replacing my black leather and lace with cycling shorts, stripy tights, a spiral perm, a white polo neck and an MA1 flying jacket, like a bad white Scottish facsimile of Neneh Cherry. Buffalo came late to Edinburgh, but when it did, my stance was ready. Shit, but ready.
My crush on Ali blew over long ago, and yet I find I’m still a goth at heart. I still love wearing black, I still paint wings of black liquid Rimmel over my crow’s feet and I still strongly relate to Wednesday Addams. If you asked me how best to define a goth, I’d probably say they are people who have no desire to fit in – who never did, never will, and are OK with that. I’ve met loathsome mods, aggressive bikers, monstrous plastics and bitchy Brosettes, but I’ve never met a goth I didn’t like. I’m glad I found my people – even if I don’t dress like them any more.
Taken from Issue 63 – MONIED, SOCIETY, SUBMIT – on newsstands now.