Hurricane Memories by Mark Piggott

The great hurricane of 87 was thirty years ago today. One of our authors, Mark Piggott, recalls where he was that day for some surprising reasons...

Ophelia looks set to dwindle to a whimper as it approaches the UK, 30 years to the day since the Great Hurricane of ’87 (storms weren’t blessed with names then) left a trail of devastation in its wake. 18 people died, 15 million trees were felled and Michael Fish’s reputation never quite recovered.

I have vivid memories of that hurricane. I was 20, and had only been in London for two years; I attended a youth project in Old Street where I met people who would be friends for decades. We had set up a magazine for young people called FSM: I had dipped my toe into the waters of journalism, writing for The Observer and Guardian and appearing on a “yoof” TV show called Network 7.

Despite this early success, I had yet to fully convince myself I was no longer a yob: still wore hoodies and trainers, drank lager and fought in the street. When a friend arrived from Yorkshire with some tabs of acid, it seemed a natural thing to neck them in the youth centre toilets. As we emerged, the rather marvellous lady who ran the project, an heir to a brewing dynasty, cornered me and Bob.

“I just wanted to say how marvellous it is,” she gushed in her plumy, Duncan Terrace accent, “that not all young people are feckless, drug-taking layabouts. It’s so good that you’re doing such positive things here Mark.”

By now she was beginning to look a little strange, so Bob and I escaped.

“I didn’t know you were called Mark,” said Bob. My nickname since about the age of five had been Lester, as in Piggott: some people in my home town (Hebden Bridge) still call me Lester and have no idea of my name.

Catching a bus, we wandered across rainy Hampstead Heath then along Kentish Town Road, giggling, in hysterics. We walked down through Soho and along the river, smoking joints which added to the trip, which still appeared to be accumulating as little dots of LSD clogged in the bloodstream were flushed by exercise into the brain. We decided we’d best go back to the squat – which wasn’t actually a squat, though it was condemned – in Archway, which meant taking a rush hour tube where we were squashed against commuters, trying not to lose it.

At the squat I shared with some of the others from the youth centre, which was cold, dirty and Home, we smoked more dope, drank vodka, listened to music: first Joy Division, which we had to turn off because it was so gloomy, then buoyant dance music and (for some reason) an interview I’d conducted with Spear of Destiny’s Kirk Brandon a few days earlier. The trip was if anything spreading, taking over our worlds: I’d have been happy to lie in my own filth, but Bob had other ideas: somehow I’d acquired two free tickets to the Hippodrome and Bob wanted to see what it was like.

Against my will I agreed, and we went back down West. All I remember about the Hippodrome was the stunning waitresses in tutus, most of them transvestites.  We found it difficult to speak to each other, let alone anyone else, and decided to leave and go home.

As we emerged into Leicester Square, we were blown back into the wall. Something strange was happening, not only the drugs: we walked up Tottenham Court Road as the wind howled, and trees flew overhead, and debris smashed windows, and then all the lights went out: loots congregated in doorways, the wind howled, and when you were tripping it felt like the end of the world.

“Is is like this… every week in London, Lester?” muttered Bob.

I said it was. We walked back to King’s Cross and up York Way, to a flat in an estate where my friends lived. I was hoping Vicky might be there: I’d fancied her since she arrived at the project. No such luck: only Biagio, a Doors-obsessed Italian kid from the Cally and Ken, a young India man with a moustache, pleasant disposition and complete lack of conversation.

Ken went to bed and we smoked dope with Biagio, who was utterly un-phased by our tripping, the hurricane or the power cut. He smiled mischievously. “What if the hurricane has knocked out the nuclear power stations? It could be another Chernobyl, radiation on the wind…”

Bob and I swallowed nervously. It seemed eminently possible. We began to come down, down, down: until suddenly we re-emerged into ourselves, two scruffy Yorkshiremen in stinking clothes, skint, hungover, and laughing: because, after all, we were only 20.

Bob went off to Miami, where he’s now a successful developer; I became an unsuccessful author, who used some of the images of that hurricane in my first novel, Fire Horses, published 20 years later. You are supposed to learn something from these momentous events: you are supposed to end with a message, a moral. So here is mine:

Don’t take acid during a hurricane.

Mark Piggott is an author and journalist