There was a lot going on in the world in 1990. The Berlin Wall had fallen, the first Gulf War was kicking off, and Maggie Thatcher was on the way out as Prime Minister. But as a 15-year-old adolescent boy, I was mostly focused on getting my first snog.
The rest of the time I spent going to school, playing football, listening to new music, and fighting with my brother.
In 1990, I was in my fourth year at Glasgow Academy, and my brother was at the same school, two years below me. Andy and I were close enough in age to be able to play with each other, but I was just that big bigger and stronger to ensure that I always won.
We fought over everything though. Every morning would start with a race to get into the one bathroom in our house. My Dad would usually wake us up around 7.15am, after he was finished in the toilet. I would already be awake, listening for the snib of the bathroom door to unlock, and then I’d jump out of my room to get in there first. The toilet didn’t always smell the freshest after my Dad had done his business, but that didn’t matter to me. I just had to beat my brother.
Sometimes there might only be enough hot water for one shower. And if the water happened to turn cold during Andy’s shower, that would make my morning even sweeter. I beat him into the bathroom almost every morning. It also helped that he had to start his day with an injection of insulin because of his diabetes.
After a quick bowl of cereal, my Dad would drive us both through the south side of Glasgow to the subway station at Shields Road, as we listened to Simon Mayo on Radio 1. From there we would take the subway around to our school at the Kelvinbridge stop. Even though we were on the same train together, from the moment we left my Dad’s sight, I would completely ignore my brother. I felt that he would embarrass me. And he would ignore me too, probably for the same reason.
Glasgow Academy was an all-boys school, and every day started with Assembly for every pupil. 600 teenage boys in blue blazers would file into the main hall, find an uncomfortable wooden chair to sit on, and then have to stand to attention as the organ played to announce the arrival of the teachers.
The Rector would make a few announcements, someone would do a reading, we’d sing a hymn, and then bow our heads in prayer. I must have attended hundreds of these Assemblies during my six years at the school, but the only ones that really stand out are when someone did a really big fart.
That pretty much sums up my memories of Glasgow Academy. I just remember the really funny moments, or the times when I got in trouble. And I especially remember the times where I got in trouble for trying to be funny. I never farted in Assembly though. Or at least I never let loose with a huge, rasping, seat rattling fart heard by the entire school. I never did that, although I still think it is absolutely hilarious.
There were a couple of guys in our year that were experts at releasing a thunderous trouser trumpet at the perfect moment. It was all about timing. They had to find a moment where the entire hall was completely silent, or the Rector was taking a pause between sentences. The gaps during a long prayer usually offered an opportunity, and the inappropriateness of a loud cheek squeak during a prayer only made it funnier.
If someone hit the jackpot with a loud fart in a quiet moment, there was nothing better. We’d all be dying inside but we couldn’t be seen to laugh. There were always teachers prowling around the aisles though, looking for any disturbances, and laughing at the act was almost as bad as doing it.
I still can’t think of many things funnier than a massive, well-timed fart during Assembly.
I did get in trouble for farting once in a French class, but I didn’t actually let one rip. I somehow accidently rubbed my black leather shoes together under the desk, in a way that sounded like a toot, and then when everyone started laughing I couldn’t stop laughing myself. I tried to find a way to replicate the sound with my shoes to prove my innocence, but it wouldn’t work. So I got a detention from the teacher known as SMATE.
Every teacher had a nickname. For the teachers we liked it was usually just their first name. But SMATE was so-called because he would always say ‘See Me At The End’, to boys when they got in trouble. There was ‘Christ’ Gray, because he said ‘Christ’ a lot. There was ‘Wiggy J’, because he wore a wig. And there was ‘Mabozza’ because his last name was Ritchie – Mabozza Ritchie. There was also a teacher known as ‘Monkey’, because he looked a bit like Dr. Zaius from Planet of the Apes.
I didn’t get on well with Monkey. In fact, I didn’t get on well with quite a few of the teachers. Sometimes I would get bored in class, and I could be a bit disruptive. I wasn’t a total idiot, but if ever there was an opportunity to make my classmates laugh, I’d usually take it. Most of the time this meant putting up my hand and giving silly answers to questions, or putting up my hand and asking stupid questions of the teacher. In almost every classroom I’d start the year sitting at a desk with a friend at the back of the class, but inevitably at some point the teacher would move me down the front with the dweebs.
I’m going to credit / blame my Dad a bit for that. He was the same way at school, and often says that he decided to become a teacher because he so enjoyed making a classroom laugh. But that overriding desire I had to make my friends laugh got me into trouble a lot. I remember one day in Monkey’s English class, we were given an assignment to make up a cause that we believed in. And then we were asked to convince the whole class to support our cause.
As would often happened, I saw this as an opportunity to be silly, so I made up the name of a charity about how birds being hit by helicopters, and named it ‘Millions Of Nightingales Killed Every Year’. I stood up in front of the whole class, and the teacher, and wrote those six words on the white board, one under the other, so that it spelled out ‘M-O-N-K-E-Y’ in big letters down the left hand side. I then spoke for a couple of minutes with a straight face about my stupid charity. The teacher was not impressed. After I while, I think I learned when to make a joke, and when to shut up. But I was constantly testing out where that line was.
Aside from playing the fool, my other favorite thing at school was playing sports, and football (soccer) in particular. All the boys in Glasgow Academy were divided up into one of four nominal Houses, (like in Harry Potter), and I was in Temple House. Each House would compete against the other Houses at everything from badminton to chess to swimming. And I lived for those competitions.
My friend Jonny Graham was also in Temple, and we both took everything very seriously. He was much more skillful at everything than me, but I had the energy and the passion to win. Together we made a good team.
The highlight of every year for me was House Football. Once a year, we’d play three games of five a side football against boys from the other Houses in our year group. Glasgow Academy was a rugby school, and this was the only time it ever acknowledged the existence of soccer as a sport. Football was my game, and so I made it a point of principle to never lose to those rugger buggers. I’d run around like a maniac, slide tackling everyone on the rock hard astro turf, leaving my shins and knees torn up and bloody after every game.
Apparently it was obvious to everyone else how much those games meant to me, because our football games would attract a crowd of people who would cheer when I got kicked, and boo when I scored. But in six years of house football, Temple only lost one game, and I scored in every one of them. I doubt there is any record of those games, other than my diaries, so good luck to anyone that wants to dispute that.
In my final year at Glasgow Academy, I was appointed House Captain of Temple, one of my proudest moments. I loved the responsibility of being a leader, and I used to spend my lunchtimes going around and cheering on the 1st year Temple volleyball team or our 3rd year debating team.
School would end around 4pm unless we had rugby or cricket out at Anniesland. Every night I’d take the subway or the train back into Glasgow city center, and then catch another train back to Barrhead, getting home around 6. We’d eat dinner as a family at the table, and then separate to do homework, and watch TV. If my Mum and Dad were watching something boring in the living room, then I’d have to fight my brother to watch something else on tiny black and white TV we shared. Again I usually won those fights. The one time I remember losing a fight was when I punched my wee brother on the head and fractured my finger.
We did agree on some things though. We agreed that Blackadder and Red Dwarf were the funniest things on TV. We could even watch soccer and American football together, although of course we supported rival teams.
He and I had always listened to a lot of pop music and I used to record the chart show of the radio on a Sunday night, but when I was 15, I started to get into some alternative stuff. I still loved Guns n Roses, but I also liked Dee Lite and De La Soul. Glaswegians might also remember that 1990 was the year that Glasgow was the ‘City of Culture’ and there was a big Scottish music festival in the summer called the Big Day. I didn’t go, but I watched and recorded the whole thing on TV on repeat.
At weekends, I was still too young to be going out drinking. On Friday nights, after football club, I would always take the train over to my friend Scott’s house in Newlands, and hang out with Dougie and Calum. Scott’s Dad had a snooker room with a full size snooker table, and the four of us would take turns to bring over pizza and crisps and Irn Bru. For hours, we’d just mess around playing snooker and darts all night listening to Radio Clyde. I think our parents probably liked the fact that they knew where we were on a Friday night.
Girls didn’t really feature much in our lives at that time. We knew that girls existed, but we didn’t know much beyond that. We wanted to know more about them, but we just didn’t know where to start.
But it was in the second half of 1990 that some of us started going out to nightclubs in Glasgow city center on Saturday nights. We were not old enough to get into the real clubs, but some places would have an under-18s night in the club between 7-10pm. They would only serve soft drinks, and then they would kick everyone out before the real clubbing started.
And there were girls there! But it was not until 1990, when I was 15, that I actually kissed a girl for the first time. November 3rd, 1990 to be exact. I went out with my friend Myles to an underage night called ‘Experience’ at the Champion nightclub. At first, I didn’t like it all.
The music was too loud and I was way too nervous to dance. So I just sat around uncomfortably trying to talk with friends and look cool, sipping on a diet coke. Then I met Donna. Or maybe she met me. I think her friend started snogging (making out) with one of my friends. In fact, we might have been the only two people sitting on a big couch who were not snogging.
We started talking about something, and then I asked her if she wanted to ‘get off’ with me. That’s another Glaswegian phrase that means ‘making out’. She didn’t answer. She just started getting off with me. I’d finally done it. I was snogging a girl.
Relief was my immediate feeling. Then I remember wanting to try and retain the moment forever. So I made a mental note to memorize what song was playing at the time. Maybe I thought that it would be ‘our song’, or that it would be significant in some way. It wasn’t. It was ‘Groovy Train’ by The Farm. I’ve never liked that song.
Anyway, a couple of days later I phoned Donna up and asked her to ‘go out with me’. Amazingly she said yes, although I couldn’t really remember what she looked like. She went to another private school in the city, and for a couple of weeks we’d meet up in Central Station on the way home from school. We even went to see Ghost one Saturday afternoon on Sauchiehall Street, and sat on the back row.
But then in December 1990, I got a late night call from one of Donna’s friends. She told me that Donna didn’t want to go out with me any more. That was that. There wasn’t any reason given, and I was left to try and figure that out for myself. It would be nearly two more years of shitty underage club nights, before I got another snog.
Again, as I write this chapter, I’m reflecting on whether I’ve actually changed much since I was 15. I still like snogging, I still love football, and I still think that farts, when executed properly, are pretty much the funniest things in the world.
I suppose the biggest difference is that I think I’ve finally learned when to shut up. I have realized that if I think of a joke in my head, I don’t always have to say it out loud. That’s taken me a long time though, and it appears that my 5-year-old daughter may have inherited my same sense of inappropriate humor. Hopefully she mature a lot quicker than I did.