I was a bit emotional on my last day of high school at Glasgow Academy in June 1993. Most of the other boys were in the mood to celebrate as if they had just been released from a prison sentence. But I’d grown to love the school and my friends, so I was sad that it was all coming to an end.
My 6th and final year at Glasgow Academy was fairly relaxed. I started it with the idea of doing three A-Levels and studying English Literature at Cambridge University. But shortly after my interview there in December 1992, I accepted a place at Edinburgh University studying Law instead. So I didn’t really have much to do at school for my last six months there, other than to have some fun.
In 1993, “Fun” for me meant three things: gambling, drinking, and trying to snog girls. Specifically, as a 17 year old Glaswegian, that meant testing the limits of how much alcohol I could drink before I would fall over, and how much I could gamble without being completely penniless. Unfortunately for me, I didn’t get to do a lot of snogging. Probably because I was not yet aware that girls are not really attracted to extremely drunken, frequently penniless teenagers.
But there was still enough fun to be had with my school mates. I kept quite a detailed diary around that period too, I think because I believed I might never have so much fun ever again.
For example, the account in my diary from Thursday May 20th, 1993 seems to be of a fairly typical day of teenage “fun”.
I went into school in the morning, but then was easily convinced by Andy Aitken to skip an afternoon class and instead we spent a couple of hours in Ladbrokes betting on horses. We lost. Around 4pm I went back to Dougie’s house and played Super Kick Off on his Sega Megadrive with Scott. We had frozen pizza for dinner, and then Calum came to pick us up for a night on the town.
We got into Glasgow city centre about 8pm and went straight to the bookies to bet on a soccer match. Our excuse for meeting up was the FA Cup Final replay between Arsenal and Sheffield Wednesday, so I had a couple of quid each on Paul Warhurst and Carlton Palmer to score first. I lost. Anyway, we started off drinking bottles of Sol in the Corn Exchange next to Central Station, and then we were joined by some other mates from school: Myles, Nelly, Craigy, Cheesey, and Dickie.
At that time the pubs rarely ever asked for ID. In fact, I don’t think we even carried anything that had our date of births on there. You either got served by the bartender or you didn’t. And if you didn’t, you’d send up the friend who looked the oldest to go and buy drinks for everyone.
So you have nine 17 year old schoolboys, all sitting together in the corner of a pub watching the football and very quickly getting very drunk. After a few beers, we started drinking ciders and then I ordered a cocktail I had recently invented that I called the ‘Peej Cocktail’ – an unnatural mix of Gin, Southern Comfort and Lemonade. It tasted horrible going down, and even worse when it came back up, as it often did.
After an hour of making up crude football chants about David Seaman and Lee Dixon, we moved on to Junkanoos where I drank a leftover glass of red wine that I found on the bar, and then Dickie bought me my first tequila. I downed it and told him I thought I was going to throw up. Then Dickie revealed to everyone that it was just water in a shot glass. Which is pretty much the funniest joke ever when you are 17 and drunk.
After that we had more drinks at O’Henrys and then Henneseys. On the way there I tried to jump over a traffic barrier in the middle of the street and fell over into the middle of road. Again, hilarious. Cheesey was laughing so much he couldn’t talk for an hour. We ended up in October Café. It was a fairly swanky place on the top floor of Princes Square. Dougie went home as he had his driving test in the morning, and someone bought me a Long Island Ice Tea. Then things started getting sketchy.
For some reason I tried to rugby tackle Calum on the way to the toilets and smashed my head on the ground. Everyone else piled on top of us and we got kicked out.
While I was nursing my head, Nelly got my ATM card and withdrew all my money from my account – the sum total of 50 quid. Then Dickie and Jonny thought it would be funny to hang Nelly upside down by his ankles from the third floor balcony.
I genuinely don’t know how we all survived. There is no mention of any girls being part of this evening either, unsurprisingly.
After a couple more drinks at Rock Garden, Calum, Craigy, Cheesey, Jonny, Myles, Dickie, Nelly and me all got taxis back to Nelly’s house where he made us all tinned hot dogs that seemed like the most delicious meal we’d ever had. Then Cheesey threw up and blocked the sink.
That was a good Thursday night, but it was still just a regular Thursday night. Most of us were at school the next morning and then we were all out in the West End on the Friday night too.
Another time I remember we all went out to Chimichangas on a Wednesday night and then crashed back to Dougie’s house. There must have been at least eight or nine of us staying overnight, sprawled out all over his bedroom floor. But in the morning we were woken up by Dougie’s Dad, who was an actual judge, ordering us all to get up and go to school. It’s probably the weirdest wake-up call any of us had ever had. Not least because The Judge was only wearing his underpants at the time.
I had a couple of exams that I had to take in June – A level English and Latin – and I managed to scrape a pass in both. I was also captain of the 2nd XI cricket team. I was middle order batsman and wicket-keeper, Cheesey was our pacey fast bowler, and my brother Andy was our secret weapon leg spinner. There was a reason we were not in the 1st XI – we weren’t very good. The Deputy Head of the school was in charge of our team, and he took it all a bit too seriously sometimes, but I just tried to make sure we enjoyed ourselves. That’s me in the middle with Andy on the left and Cheesey on the right.
Aside from drinking and gambling and cricket, I was starting to explore music that wasn’t in the charts too, especially American music. I was still listening to Pearl Jam, but also Smashing Pumpkins, Belly, Jane’s Addiction, and all of the other bands I’d seen on a BBC show called ‘No Nirvana’.
I remember one night I saw a new American band on Saturday Night Live that no one had heard of in the UK. I thought they were amazing and I was certain that they were going to be the hottest new thing. Then one afternoon I was in Tower Records in Glasgow, and I saw that the band were going to be playing a gig at King Tuts. I’d never really been to a real gig by myself but I decided I had to go. I convinced Nelly to come with me. There were only maybe 20 or 30 other people there but it was amazing.
My first gig. I’ll never forget it. I loved the way the band responded to the crowd energy, and how the audience encouraged the musicians. Me and Nelly jumped around like idiots, and my ears were ringing for days. I even bought a baseball hat from the merch table. The band? A little group called the ‘Spin Doctors’. Also known as one of the greatest bands of all time. Not.
I know. Look, you can’t always have Joy Division or The Smiths as your first gig.
I got my first ever job in 1993 too, stacking shelves at Marks & Spencer supermarket in Paisley. I worked a couple of nights a week and then all day on Saturday and got paid 3 quid an hour. My paycheck was 36 quid a week. I felt like a millionaire.
But on that last day of school in June 1993, I knew that things would never quite be the same again. We were kings of the castle and I didn’t want it to end. We were invincible. I thought that we were going to be friends forever, but I knew that we would all be heading off on different paths. Some of us were going to Edinburgh University, some to Aberdeen, and others were staying in Glasgow or heading down south. I didn’t think it would ever be this good again.
The last day of school was actually not my last day with Glasgow Academy. I’d signed up for a Classics tour to Greece, organized by my Latin teacher and mentor Mr. Hadcroft. And out of our group of friends, only Myles had signed up too. We flew to Greece the day after school finished.
I still have the itinerary of the trip which sets out the towns and historical sites we visited. Apparently, we went to Athens, Delphi, Epidauros, Mycenae, and Corinth, but shamefully, I can hardly remember any of the tourist stuff.
Instead, I remember that I discovered schnapps and I discovered ouzo. I remember that Myles and I got very drunk most afternoons. I remember that I snogged 3 different girls in a week, including Gail, the girl who was the subject of that lovesick love letter in Chapter 18. I remember a rooftop bar somewhere with a swimming pool that I thought was paradise on earth. But apart from that I don’t really remember anything about Greece itself.
I remember that Myles and I were pretty close too. He was the star of our class when I first met him in 1987. He was the smartest kid, he was captain of the rugby and cricket teams, and he was very good looking. Mums loved him. He was posh and I wasn’t, but he was friendly and generous and never had a bad word to say about anyone. I’d never met anyone like him before. I’d never met anyone called ‘Myles’ before either. I think everyone wanted to be Myles. I know I did.
He should have been our school captain, the leader of our year group, but in a bizarre typo accident, the headmaster gave it someone else called Miles.
Anyway, a few weeks after Myles and I got back from Greece, we went together to a summer camp in Struan with the SSC – the Scottish Schoolboys Club. It was a camp that I’d been to every summer for the past 5 or 6 years and Myles and I had progressed from young campers to tent leaders to camp leaders during that time.
I loved those camps. Again it was just boys, and it was just a week of playing sports all day long. When it got dark, the whole camp would gather together in the biggest tent for a show that always seemed to be hosted by the funniest people in the camp. It was called ‘Sing-Song’ and the 2-hour nightly shows would consist of comedy sketches, games, stories, as well as new and old songs.
Myles and I had done a couple of sketches at the shows in the past, so when we arrived a day or two before the camp to help with all the set-up, we thought we would probably be asked to do those bits again. I remember Myles and I asking the Camp Director who was going to host the ‘Sing Song’ that year. And he looked at us and said: ‘You are’.
For a few minutes we tried to convince him that this was a bad idea. But then it was explained to us that if we hosted the shows, then we didn’t have to do any other chores. We didn’t have to put up tents, or cook, or wash dishes, or clean the toilets. All we had to do was put together a 2-hour performance and entertain 50 teenage boys every night for a week
So we agreed. And it was one of the best weeks of my life.
There have been a lot of times since then where I’ve been at a crossroads in a career, or unhappy with the direction my life was taking. And often the advice or counsel I receive is to do what I love. Or to think about the time in my past when I was happiest, and to try to incorporate that into my present. Without a doubt, one of the moments I think about is that week in Struan.
It was a daydream. For the first half of the day we would play football or baseball with everyone else, and then at some point in the early afternoon, Myles and I would find ourselves a quiet spot on a hill that overlooked the campsite and start to plan that evening’s show.
We’d have a blank piece of paper and just sit there in the sun coming up with ideas to make people laugh. A lot of our sketches were based on things I’d seen on TV from shows like Fry and Laurie or Absolutely or Monty Python. But there were no phones or Internet, so we just had to try and rewrite them from memory.
I think about sitting on that hill in the sun a lot. And I still love that feeling of having a blank piece of paper and creating something out of nothing.
So Myles and I would come up with ideas for the show and then go about convincing others to participate with us. Then at night, the whole camp would gather in the big tent and we’d take the stage to host the entertainment. The audience was entirely teenage boys so you might imagine the sort of humor we attempted. I loved everything about it. I loved making people laugh. I loved making Myles laugh. And I loved the idolization we received. For a week, in that remote field in the north of Scotland, Myles and I were A-list celebrities.
The other big event that summer was seeing U2 at Celtic Park in the east end of Glasgow. Me and Nelly were obsessed with U2 at the time. Achtung Baby was the soundtrack to our final year at school and after a few drinks we would often try and act out some of U2’s stage moves together. Nelly would be Bono and I would be The Edge, which morphed into “The Peej” one night, a nickname that some people still know me by.
Nelly and I went to the U2 stadium gig with Jonny and Nelly’s girlfriend Jayne. We jumped the queue and managed to get wristbands for the section at the very front of the stage. PJ Harvey and the Utah Saints were the support acts but we were only there for one reason. I’d never been to a stadium gig before and it was mind blowing. I’m pretty sure there was a moment when Bono looked right at me too. I also knew that there was a point during ‘Where The Streets Have No Name’ when all the floodlights would be turned on and the whole stadium would be illuminated for the first time. I remember grabbing my friends and putting my arms around them and telling them to turn around and face the crowd, just as everyone was lit up. It was beautiful. Such a rush. We were all on a high for days after that. Jonny didn’t take his U2 wristband off for a month.
What a summer. So many firsts. So many good friends. I had nothing to do but have fun and make memories. Life seemed very simple, very innocent. But in September it was time for me to depart that somewhat sheltered existence. To leave home for the first time, and venture into the unknown world of university life. To my surprise, it would be even more fun than school.