Sunday, January 18, 2009

A night out for Grandma

In an effort to do some onsite research for her latest novel, Joanna Trollope decided to hit a London club. Oddly, the 65 year-old seems to get it:

Of course, I had to see for myself. With some trepidation - what kind of nutter would they think I was? - I rang a club recommended for house music, behind London's Ladbroke Grove. The male voice the other end didn't miss a beat. I'd be very welcome, he said. There'd be a couple of complimentary tickets waiting for me at 11pm on the door. He hoped I'd have a good time.

I put on black jeans and my spectacles, and took a friend and a notebook. I know why I took a friend and a notebook, but I wonder why I chose my specs: something to hide behind? Something to distance myself?

The club was in a series of basements almost under the A40, with a forbiddingly roped-off entrance guarded by hefty black men in suits. We were waved in, and down past a bored-looking girl guarding racks of metal coathangers, to the club itself.

It was dark. Very dark. The only lights were red. The walls were black, with white graphics - 'You cool brigade', 'Keep it unreal'. There were white Formica-topped tables round the edge, and a dais with black leather sofas labelled 'Reserved'.

The only real light - red again --was around the DJ, a pallid young man, fag in mouth, loose shirt over trousers, ceaselessly adjusting his controls.

And there was the beat. It wasn't so much deafening as huge. It gets you right in the breast bone, as if it's inside your body as well as your head. More an experience, somehow, than music.

The dance floor was full, boys in narrow jeans and T-shirts, girls in dresses and 4in heels, or jeans and trainers, all weirdly splashed with violet-coloured strobe lighting swinging back and forth across them. I couldn't help wondering what a medieval painter, with religion on his mind, would have made of the scene.

But the kids, like puppies scenting a novelty, were swarming round me in minutes. What was I doing? Why'd I got a notebook? Did I want to dance? Was I going to put them in my story? Would I send their mum a copy?


In the girls' lavatories, all flat surfaces such as cisterns were carefully hidden behind hardboard panels. A pretty Vietnamese girl was cleaning up.

'Don't you mind this?' I asked her, 'Don't you hate cleaning up after everyone?'

She looked up at me, her eyes shining. 'I love being in the club! I love it here!'

They do love it. They love the energy and the belonging, and the commitment to this primal language of beat and movement. They love the darkness and the danger because both are quite glamorous when you are invincibly young.

I left with mobile numbers and sweet messages, from Dan and Ben and Fran and Darren and Emma, and, more importantly, with some understanding of how compelling the rite of modern dance music is, to those of the right age for it.