The long summer of 1997 should have been some of the best days of my life. I’d just finished my law school final exams, I went on a two-week road trip to the Channel Islands and France with some of my best friends, and then we had nightly graduation parties in Edinburgh for a week.
Instead it was a period of emptiness and detachment. It was a significant moment in my life, but I couldn’t let myself feel anything. I knew what I was doing, but I was completely lost. I had all my friends around me, but I felt alone. I was there, but I wasn’t really there.
I wished that I could enjoy the moments, but I was constantly haunted by thoughts from the past, and a desire to somehow be happy again in the future.
I didn’t know how to handle it all so I drank. I drank to numb me enough to get through it. And then I hid behind my video camera and filmed everything, thinking that perhaps I might get to enjoy it sometime in the future.
I was there, but I wasn’t really there. The end result was that I can’t remember much of that summer at all, and I still can’t bring myself to watch what I recorded.
That makes writing this chapter very difficult. I have hours and hours of video footage that I shot, that I’m not in, and that I can’t watch anyway. I have virtually no diary entries. And I have very little recollection of my state of mind, other than I knew that I wanted to stay drunk for as long as possible. So this chapter might be shorter than usual.
Anyway, to continue the story, the Pump lost in the semi-final of the Edinburgh University Summer Cup on penalties. I got a concussion and then I spent every waking hour in April, May and June 1997 studying for my law school finals. The pressure of the exams, and the amount of work I had to get through, was enough to keep the demons in my mind occupied for a while. Then, finally, the exams were over, and once again, almost immediately, I needed something to quell my thoughts.
In fact I think there was probably a gap of about 7 minutes from walking out of my final law exam in Old College, and then being in the beer garden of the Pear Tree pub knocking back shots of something. But there was about a month between the end of finals and graduation week, and plans had already been made for what should have been the best vacation ever.
So as with Spring Break 1996 in New Orleans, I’d made a sober decision to stay drunk. I was still in shock over the death of my brother, but I hadn’t had the time or the inclination to do anything about it while at university. I’d decided that I would ‘deal with it’ after it was over. After everything was over.
As the end of that final year at University approached, someone organized a tour of Jersey for our soccer team (the small island off the south coast of England, not the smelly state west of Manhattan). And then someone else had booked a chateau in the south of France for our wider group of friends to celebrate the end of college.
Normally if it had been something to do with Forest Pump, our soccer team, I would have been involved in the organization, but I wasn’t. I wasn’t there. Perhaps I helped out getting our tour shirts made, but I can’t even remember doing that.
In Jersey there were about 18 of us. We drove down from Edinburgh to some port in the south of England overnight in cars and a minibus, drinking all the way. We stayed up all night and we were all drinking pints of lager on the ferry the next morning at 8am.
That’s the thing. It’s not hard to hide being an alcoholic when you are 21 years old and on a university soccer tour with 17 other lads. In normal life, one might frown on a young man knocking back drinks first thing in the morning, but on tour with the boys, it was perfectly acceptable behavior, if not encouraged.
We were in Jersey for about a week I think, and I decided that my role would be the archivist. There was also something reassuring about being able to hide behind my video camera. I was embarrassed about how bad I felt inside, and more than anything, I didn’t want to bring anyone else down.
Earlier in the year, one of the Pump had told me that I was being selfish by not talking about my feelings. I had thought I was doing everyone a favor. And that vicious circle fucked me up for months.
Anyway, one night in a curry house in Jersey, I got out my video camera and decided to interview everyone in the team. I asked everyone the same three questions.
- Who is your sexiest woman in the world?;
- What is your favorite Pump moment?; and
- If we get together in ten years time what will be your nickname, and why?
It generated some really good answers, and I can just about bring myself to watch that part. It’s one of the few times I actually appear in front of the camera when I give my answers, which were:
- “A girl I met in Texas”;
- “Thinking that I might have had something to do with bringing this bunch of lads together”; and
- ‘Oscar’ – because the only thing I knew I was going to do next was to go and write a screenplay about my life.
After Jersey, most of us continued on to the chateau in France. Again I filmed a lot of my friends doing funny things, but I don’t remember much else. I remember having no money, and having to borrow cash from a lot of people. I think that Jonny, Nelly, Doctor Dave and me played a lot of poker and drank large gin and tonics most nights. I remember that I made a mix-tape for the poker room.
There must have been about 35 people there that week, and we all got the final grades from our degrees at various stages during the week. Our group covered pretty much every degree available, from medicine to maths, from german to geography. I think that Nelly and I were the only two who had studied law. We knew that our results from Law School would be released on the Wednesday morning. This was pre-internet days of course, so the only way for us to find out our scores was to call into the Law School office, and to politely ask them to look at the noticeboard for our names.
This was also pre-cell phones and there was no landline in the chateau. The only connection to the outside world was a payphone in the nearest town, about a half hour walk from where we were staying.
I didn’t want to be around anyone else when I got my results, not even Nelly. I’d found an old bike in a shed behind the chateau, and so on the Wednesday morning, I got up early, probably still drunk from the night before, grabbed the bike and set off down the road by myself.
Maybe I thought it would be quite a good image for me to remember, pedaling away through the early morning French countryside, on my way to discover whether my four years at university had been an academic success or a failure.
But I wasn’t riding an upright French peasant’s bike with a basket in the front, wearing a beret. Nor was I wearing a yellow cycling jersey bestride a Tour de France style racing bike. Instead, I had on my pyjamas, a pair of socks, and I was riding a small, pink bicycle that probably belonged to a 9 year old girl. Again, I wasn’t all there.
Fortunately, my friend Rich, aka ‘Baldy Scams’, had had a similar idea to find out his results on his own. He drove past me in his car struggling to stay upright on this child’s bike, and he offered me a lift to the phone box. We took turns filling the slot with French coins to call long distance to Edinburgh, and we both received good news. We both got a 2:1, (upper second class honours), the second highest grades available. Come on! I’d done it. I think I was happy, but probably more relieved than anything else.
The rest of the week isn’t even a haze, it’s a complete blank. Again, I have hours of raw video footage but I still can’t watch it, and it brings back no memories for me. Perhaps I’ll share it with my friends one day, but I just don’t recognize the person in it who looks like me and talks like me.
We got back to Edinburgh and then the graduation balls and parties started. It seemed to last for two weeks and somewhere in the middle of that my friend Ali came to visit from Austin. Again, no memory.
I do remember the night after my graduation, I stayed up all night and then we went to watch my friend Dougie play cricket for Scotland against Australia in Edinburgh in our kilts. Dougie hit a boundary off Glenn McGrath and I nearly streaked on the field. Then it rained and we all kept drinking.
Musically, Oasis had just released their first single from ‘Be Here Now’. It was a stupidly long and loud song about nothing, but I loved it. That and the chilling darkness of Radiohead’s ‘OK Computer’ was all I listened to that summer.
For some reason I missed saying goodbye to a lot of my friends. Maybe I didn’t want to say goodbye, or maybe I just wasn’t there. There was one big last night out I did write about on the Sunday night after everyone had graduated. All of the English and Irish folk were about to leave, and soon it was to be just the Scots left. We all went out to the Golf Tavern in Bruntsfield, one of my favorite pubs.
There were a couple of guys playing acoustic guitar, and somehow we took over from them, and started singing Oasis songs to the entire pub, which may have been just us anyway. I think that was the moment that most of us realized it was the end, and there were a lot of a tears that night.
Any drip of emotion at that time was enough to burst the damn for me. I made a note in my sporadic diary that I went outside to be alone, something I know I did a lot. My friend Pyob came outside to try and find me, and we went for a walk and got lost. I’ve got absolutely no memory of that.
The next day I went home to Barrhead and signed on. The day after that I woke up sober for the first time in a month.
I was completely exhausted and I owed a lot of people money. I was tired of not being myself. I was tired of not being present. I needed to get away, but I was broke. So I knew I had to find a job where I could make money fast.
I answered an ad in the newspaper for a job at an “American style bar”. And on my 22nd birthday, I moved back in with my parents and started work as a waiter at TGI Fridays in Glasgow. My goal was to make enough money to be able to go as far away as possible. To find a way to be myself again. And to write.