Sunday, 1 January 2017

The 'Varsity...... Part I . Chronologies of Digs Late 80s

I must admit to having had probably more digs in the course of four years in the west end of the dear green place than anyone else apart from perhaps some itinerant tramp or giggilo.

Glasgow Uni was at the time still a great commuter uni'. For well over half its six or seven thousand undergraduates were concerned, the bus or the blue train home was an every night occurance with crashing out at a pals flat or sharing a taxi home the means to have a night out on the town while then scurrying back to said suburb, satellite town or hoosin' scheme.

However in the late 80s students still qaulified for Housing Benefit, their numbers not being that large at the time, and even income support in the summers. Fair rents, gosh how communist, were still in force across Glasgow, while at the same time a new breed of nouveau riche Rachmanns and Ali Abassis were buying up properties all over the urban dormitory areas around town, but most of all in the glorious West End.

Flats on White Street where Billy Connolly was brought up in Partick, could be had for twenty grand or sometimes less in those days, when the average wage in Scotland was maybe about twelve. It was a respectable  working class area then. Long time since I took the back street tour from Hillhead to Partick station via those streets I once knew so well. Yet parents were reluctant to invest in these hovels for their fledglings to live out their four years, so by in large it was Rachmans and other more reputable companies like S&D Properties who snapped up flats like 5 p' pokes. It was however amazingly cheap to live, but also we had amazingly little money to live off.

 Our grants were about 2000 pounds a year, with housing benefit that would be about 2600 or so, or with travel expenses maybe more like 3000. Many ripped off the travel expenses because the council housing benefit folk didnae talk to the grants board, who in turn had their rules about live away distances and so on, and folk to keep in a job processing those annual travel claims. One year I bought a stereo system and a flying scot 531c racing bike on my erstwhile travelling expenses, which were arbitarily calculated from either season tickets or daily rates without need to submitting more than one example of the fares.

A pal of mine was from way out Cove way, Andrew Carly was his name, and a couple of times at freshers week and another time into a dank november or december I got to crash at his place. I had dafter friday at the Uni that year so I wonder if in fact I even lasted Xmas in commuting mode. By that time I would have met other folk with digs.Andy's was near Partick station, handy for a quick get away next morning, but a hike doon the hill wi a skinful. It was I think a single end with the old lavvy put into it. Seemed to be one and a half rooms with the hot water tanking looming over the kitchenette living area, gurgling away as I frose in a chair or on the floor.

Nah, not for me, not commiuting over an hour each way. It was easier for folk from the east side of Edinbra to get there! By january I had digs! My first move out of home. I was ripe for it.

It seemed as if the first train I took with my medical student pal, Raul, up to the 'Varsity was the very moment I became a young man. I had needed an extra year at school (6th) to basically get a hold of my head, upgrade my grades and grow up, and I had a summer of working on an MOD building site under my belt, my 18th out the way, and a taste for what soon became labelled 'designer lagers' from Germany and Bohemia. My new pal was more grown up and women oriented than my outgoing gang of virgins. We had a glorious september chilling out, and then it was a class 314 not a blue train which took us up, day 1 freshers week.

Glasgow uni was familiar to me in its rich surroundings, as was Great Western Road and its 1970s asian quarter around the summit by Hillhead. By the 80s it was getting more Scottish Artisan in the shops and bohemian student with our new country men moving down to the " Pollocks" and other areas where they could concentrate their culture I guess and be nearer mosques and temples than the heathen, infidel west end. I had visited the Uni perhaps three years in a row with the annual bussed up visits which were a right of passage for youth from the connurbation. University avenue would be line with busses full of different hopeful youths, and back seat skivers looking for a day off school rather than an introduction to their prospective Alma Mater. Strathclyde on the other hand, only got one visit. It was Glasgow's gothic closters and leafy surroundings that appealed to me, and luckily the subjects I chose were better there than at the "tech".

Everything seemed to go swimmingly well actually, apart from the hateful commuting and 1530 Psychology lectures in the big chemistry lecture theatre. That put an end to my commuting more than anything else. Not getting home til well after six, sometimes seven was out of order when a young life was to be lead. I had a new set of pals straight away, who made my live at home school mates seem a tad sad. They lived in halls like Wofson up at the Vet School and digs like on Carswell Street.

By January at least, if not December in fact, I had digs right in the midst of it all. Nr 30 Kersland street. THis was one street which both kept its grandoise appearance by in large while also having some slummy looking parts from half way along its East terrace. I lived on the NW side to begin with, which had all be sand blasted and was looking very dapper indeed. I remember now! I had crashed out on the first floor of number 28 or 32 and heard the SRC president humping his lumber through the ceiling after Daft / Dafter friday night.  Anyway, I got digs in a flat of girls, who presumed I was a post graduate and took me under their wing by in large. We even had parties. They were perhaps actually mostly in their late twenties, early thirties.

The flat did very well, through a cold but snowless winter. The kindest bird there had a boyfriend Steve, and they were inseparable and adorable working class glesga do wellers. He played mouth organ like a pro, and she was just quite a gal' - a nurse I think, as was the other chunky, frizzy type who lived there. The fourth bedroom was taken up by a neurotic German who seemed to work as a waitress and hang out with a twenty something boho crowd of minor, failing rock artists of the day. Her name was Gisella I remember perhaps correctly, perhaps not. We had a party where some older folk with psychological problems came even, was a blast. I paid 18 quid a week, seems like an old man telling his grandchildren two bob could get you a night out on the town, a tram home and a poke of chips. I got in fact 6 quid back on housing benefit. Travelling was well over 20 quid a week!

Cold it was that January -February, but nae snaw at least to talk of. A dusting of west stuff a few days. I remember ice on the inside of the window of my room, and my hair gel freezing on the way to Uni. I was poor by the end of the first month or two, until my housing benefit came in. So poor I think it was there that a bag of sugar verus a pint lost, and I cut it out of all coffee and tea consumption ever after. A joy though too to buy a wee carry out of a Friday or Saturday, and simply stick yer heid oot the windae on the back of the wally close and listen for a party. Turning up alone was usually enough to gain entry and in fact most doors were poorly gaurded. I had some real joie de vivre and first taste of real independence and complete self reliance in many ways in that flat. I became a young man there, kind of rose into a role which was laid out before me and that the girls initially allowed me.

Steve and his burd were tops in that flat.  I think he ran a music instrument shop down Lawrence street. Anyway, they moved in together and she moved out which proved an ill wind for an unwitting me.  We had a new, nippy sweetie who moved in. Newton Mairnsy type, knew one of the nurses. Too much makeup and trendy clothes. WIthin a short time there was a conference and I was asked to leave when I was actually at home at my mothers somehow, they got the number off me or looked it up. Leasky had wandered into Gisles room at night once looking for a light bulb, and also I had bought el cheapo coffee and bread to avoid making my contribution to the kitty while I waited for some housing benefit to arrive. So I talked to a lawyer and they said it might be best to just leave, or I could fihgt it if I wanted to. Also BA Knights, think it was Brian his name, the sub dean and my advisor or what ever they called it, was impressed by my conduct in consulting a lawyer (not for the last time regarding rentals either) I moved out a few weeks later, tail between legs, with my mum picking me up in her wee green Metro and various members of the Grass Cuttings society helping me move out. Kenny still lived round the corner on Cerswell street, at the really scabby end of a scabby street!

I guess I was back home until the new term, and just couldnt get a job that summer. Summer over, me Raul and Kenny decided to get digs together. We experienced an 'open viewing' at Ruskin Terrace and I called " how can we get this, I have a cheque book with me" and grant being cleared monies, we secured us a flat infront of dozens of others. It was a shit hole by most means, a basement, just under the flat to the rather famous nautical Rex Lyons..... but in  grand spot and with enough room. Me and the boy had the big room, where various sexual escapades would play out with or without flatmate at home. I walked in a couple of times on your man deep into some bird or other, and got spotted being given felatio from the street above. The kitchen was only ig enough for one at a time, and the back yard was like somethign from a slimy horror film, we rarely dared go out. There were two attempted break ins atleast- one a guy tapping the windows about 11pm one night. I rusehd out in a combat jacket with the biggest kitchen knife we had and a skid lid and doc martens on each end of my 6 foot bean pole and he was long gone, to be replaced by a student and her twee family moving in up the stairs!  Dave Taggart from Cove lived in another one of "Mr Fox's" hovels two doors up, where the roof caved in or leaked and they got a few months free rent.

It was a very, very cold winter too and it was freezing there with no shower I think or a tiny hot water tank. I used to take trips to Martin student house above Hillhead high to shower, until one of the "christian" fellowship types there switched the water off and on and complained about my misuse of their electricity. Kenny liked listening to music until late. Kenny disliked washing up dishes. I seem to remember we had to pay a months rent for him. THe winter was bitter, often minus twelve in january, and the last smog I ever remember developed around the city, mostly lead infused petrol fumes in days prior to catalytic convertors and common rail diesels. Anwyway me and your man decided kenny was a freeloading, later nighter and we wanted a nicer flat and really, I think a place with our own rooms. There may have been some arguiement about an agreement to rotate rooms, which kenny took posession being four fiths, and being a bit of a git as he could be, wanted to stay put.

The people I will take more time to write about in future. This is more on my very frequent moves.

After this by March I seem to remember, I got new digs in a bigger flat share back on Kersland street for the entry to the all serious second year. I think it was 35, one door down on the opposite side. I saw Gisle a couple of times, and that chunky bird would appear. Steve and his lush lady would say hello to me for years to come, I think they bought a flat in Govan I used to see them at Partick station mostly across the underground platform or on the way in. The flat was infamous after those years, it was owned by the manager of the big Koh-i-Noor at Charing Cross, Ali Abassi or the like. I think it was bedsit style leases, something I did not understand could involve a common kitchen and loo.

This was a flat taken up by hell students and I also started misbehaving. It was like the young ones crossed with national lampoon's Animal House. There was a Canadian and a Tobermorian installed, and another less well fitting type of girl who soon moved out with her telecoms engineer boyfriend. They boys liek body building and set fire to the grill often, it being used for steak and liver grills with no concept of ever being emptied for fat and shite. Eventually they also had a chip pan fire, and there was soot all over the place and grease on the floor where they had tried to estinguish it. The glass above the grand door got kicked out in a football match, and we just took out the broken edges and hoped the boss man wouldnt notice. The neighbours complained of course all the time. But Ali worked all the hours god gave so was not in and the students just gave shit back and denied it all.

 It lasted until term end of second year when kenny took up with a pal of a pal from St Andrews uni, a posh and arrogant chap from Broughty Ferry who drove his dads volvo 240 and thought of it as being a 'big boys car' not for the hoi palloi. I did a tour of Edinburgh and st andrews on one pair of undies and shirt with a borrowed leather jacket that spring. Edinburgh had featured on the scene all of second year because Kenny's girlfriend big San' (sandra) had started Uni there a year below us. She had a small student accom' flat, where a girl got raped by a 'christian fellowship' ex offender. So that went pear shaped eventually. In the course of that summer, Kenny went off travelling and they kind of split up, and I slyly and an bit badly coined in and used a terrible thing, I grassed on him a bit for his wandering ways out of kind of spite and to seal the deal with big San, with whom I think we had a better kind of tone than between them. We used to talk a lot. More on this soon.

I then made a big mistake coming into August time, being a little in and out of Glasgow and having just been on a conservation voluntary holiday at Glen Garry. I decided to move in with one of the kersland street lunatics in the flat his Canadian parents bought him, down on Dumbarton road near the stations. That was a mistake. He brought a fricking street dog home which shat all over the place, nice as it was, and like my long lost Rusty. His pals eat all the food I had bought with my back dated income support. I mean all the food bar a can of tuna I had spent at least twenty quid on at the paki's up the road. It seemed a long way to go. Anyhows it was fun for the pre uni time, and I had an escapade with a bird I met somewhere on a night out, including a fantastic introductioin to muff diving. I decided to move out for various reasons, and consulted a lawyer before writing to his parents in Canada. They wrote back threatening all for the sake of paying the rest of the lease, I went to the lawyer again and just walked away from it all with an easy conscious. Third year began then and I was back commuting for a while, and also dating big San, the first love of my life if truth be told.

I got 'emergency' digs a few weeks in, having sealed the deal with big san at Rauls new Cresswell street digs one damp early october day. Durex gold I remember, and she wanted to use spermidical cream ffs! The digs were mature student digs up at the kink and blind alley on Great George Street, where one may have presumed it should have continued its southward momentum, but chicaned instead towards the library, leaving a dreary and anonymous little cul-de-sac like an appendix to our intestine. There were two middle easterns, an algerian Arab and a "I am not Arab" lunatic called Hedda, who came from Lebanon and studied middle eastern history and politics, and was a better translator of some old scripts apparently than the imperial forecomers, shedding light on some interesting stuff. The third of four rooms was occupied by a welsh guy a year below me, who was a typical chancer student who probably never graduated. I met him four years later too, he had a commone pal James who was a waster who I managed to pass his degrees by some miracle of cramming and staying off sauce for a few days. Big San visited but found the Arab a bit creepy and didnt like welshy much either. It was temporary, and I got both a live away grant and the chance to live at my brothers new fancy flat beside Reith hall (i think) on Botanic crescent, very much a North Kelvinside address! Me and san, and also nearly another love interest from Loch Gilphead, had a romantic few months in, erm, that bed up in the loft room.

At this time the only other Uni accomodations I took were at the field station near Rowardennan and the rather odd giant alpaca incident on a dark night back from the boozer. Kenny was with his next love by then, Caroline from Snechie, and I was largely forgiven. We were now young, competent people perhaps not best suited to academia, but perhaps perfect academics as we presented our joint paper based study on retino balstoma, and discussed careers and life with the lecturers. Clutterbuck and the likes then, some traditional geneticists on their last academic legs. It was welcome refrain from Glesga and cleared the air with big kenny and me, for a while at least, as Caroline had taken up his affections and rendered him a milder chap than had been at our altercations at Level 8 where he wanted to punch me for going out with his ex, big San'.

Big San' herself got new digs on Caus'yside street, south of where she had been. Here we did a lot of pizza eating and shagging, and some more shagging between the odd pizza. Edinburgh was buzzing with posh english students and life in general, so was also a welcome distraction every other weekend or more at the time of the winter of 1988-1989. My flat was a real haven although it was maybe mot ideal for studying in fact, and lacked party potential. My brother approved of BIg San, being single at the time I remember having been through a few years continental separation and divorce. It was peaceful and ultra middle class to be there, yet just a wee dander over the kelvin past the Beeb to the Varsity.

However all good things come abruptly to an end, and my brother was a little annoyed about me leaving the odd dish undone after toast or cereal breakfasts, and found that his best mates had sold up in Helensbra' and needed digs in which to gestate her baby and muster a mortgage down payment. So what had been too good to be true according to Sandra, prove to be just so, and by the end of April after just four months or so, I was ousted and back home commuting. Big San dumped me in May. My academic year collapsed into dissarray already by lack of interest from the department in us as undergrads.  I pleaded with Sutcliff, my tutor, but he was a git. I scraped through on exams over year work and labs, and passed luckily the resit of Psychology I had defferred a year. Otherwise no degree! THird time lucky.

That summer I got both a job at the York Hill labs and also a nearby flat, and life was perfect in the hot summer of 1989. I lived in a delapadated flat with Sandra Stag (phwwoooar! quite a girl), a yuppie electrical engineer from Bearsden called "mouser" and a catholic girl with crakcing tits. I filled 21 years while there, and had party attended by all and sundry. I felt almost like a humble and shy king holding court. I also had a job at Dales, and spent every moment outside work either eating or cycling, and could make it to balloch and back in under two hours at one point from Anniesland. I became super fit as a means of exercising my deamons from the broken heart of Sandras demise, and even burried the hatchet with her. Once in my wee side bedroom, filled by a  half an' bed and a chest of drawers I dreamt that I dived down a waterfall into a deep pool of water and was washed of my despair and free of Sandra.

I remaned single really, with just a few flings thereafter until my next love, in 1992.

The lease was out on the room from someone returning from Summer work elsewhere, so I sought various digs and accepted 'bed sitting' . It was a final compromise to have a place near to studies, where I could use the library and sports facilities within a tiny short way of my bed and frying pan. Spock visited and we did a grolsch night, with him spewing all over my armchair. I lasted an entire academic year there, at the hest of Mrs Usmani, and lived with a mixed bunch of more square third year students. John Mac from Lewis, a chap from darwn south ( a novelty to be cherished in Glesga at that time) and a mech engineer from middle scotia. It became my bolt hole for the longest duration for some time before and to come in fact, and it was a it stupid of me to move home tae ma maws in hindsight.

It was the most stable flat, while the most anarchic was without a doubt 35 Kersland St. I even wallpaperd kenny's slippers to the wall one night for a laugh. At the time big kenny was writing a diary he showed me, in an old lab book, with "The Varsity" written on it. He said he would give it to his own kids when they were ready for Uni, to show them how it was and let them learn. It seemed more pained, pretentious and arrogant in the passages I read than actual experiential or factual prose. Anyway I wonder if he did end up giving this to his offspring, and if indeed my own will ever read this? Is there much to learn from our generation now? It is like looking back to the fricking fifites when we were students then! Some things dont change about student life, buit having to work is one thing. Most folk I knew had a job to get some extra pin money, or to travel in the summer. Now folk seem to need it to even pay their rents and eat a crust or two. Universities have become ever more higher margin business it seems, with the endless stream of hopefuls as their cash cow.

If anything, as was Kenny's intention in his diary, this is all about chronicling  a journey into adulthood which is glorious for those who can still travel that way and have enough time for enjoying the journey along the way. My last flat indeed says a lot in terms of maturity. Sensibly appointed for a hard studying, hard training, medium hard drinking guy, it was a compromise in many ways, unlikely to impress any potential second love of my life. Yet it was stable, and a good decision despite this, perhaps the best decision.

My life has been sullied by bad decisions, rushed into..... going into things under false impressions that things will work out..... or with rose tinted glasses....... or with heart before spreadsheet in particular. Things going wrong and ending up costing me, because I couldnt see how bad a situation I was getting into or that I needed time to look for alternatives rather than working myself into a hole. Loves which rendered my feelings usually a Greek Tragedy rather than perhaps having seen them for not being quite right for me in the first place. Accepting not just second best, but innappropos delux.  I leapt into a few below average situations on my own impulsiveness it has to be said while thinking of all those digs in four short years at Glasgow Uni, while not weighing up alternatives or the pros and cons of each. Bad luck in life is often not really that as such, but one misguided choice leading to a small, catastrophic chain of events, or to at least a set of uncomfortable, awkward outcomes. For better or for worse, it was all a series of great and often comical experiences where I mixed with the greatest folk I know, the 'wegies, and the undergraduate populace of the 'Varsity on the Gilmorehill.