So, please forgive my somewhat rambling reminiscences and let's kick off with...
- Princess Diana's death—31 August 1997
I had just finished my first year of Microbiology at the University of Edinburgh, and moved into a new flat in the Marchmont area of the city. The other flatmates were incumbents—people that I had met through the Bedlam Theatre—and, though Caro, David, Wystan, Claire and Steve were all a little older than I, we all got on very well. We were all vaguely thespian (apart from Steve) and I always describe that flat as being made up of "a clash of five massive egos—and Steve. I started writing a play based on the characters and incidents in this flat once, but I never finished: besides, it would probably have come out as a larger cast version of Withnail and I).
Caro (one of the founders of Unlimited Media) had written a play called As Good As The Next Man, which, directed by myself and her brother, David, had originally been performed in February (with myself taking one of the roles) and we had just finished performing it again during the Fringe. The performance, and the typical Fringe lifestyle of a month of consistent drinking and late nights (we were all also (occasionally) working, and also reviewing for the Three Weeks festival newspaper) had taken their toll somewhat.
Such was the background to the morning of the crash. Caro had a habit of sitting around in her pajamas and a massive woollen jumper and she was so attired that morning; sat cross-legged in one of the sofa chairs in the living-room cum kitchen, hunched over in a position that I called her "gargoyle pose".
Somewhat bleary-eyed and dressed in a blue satin dressing-gown (that I still possess) and a pair of very old red moccasins (which I do not), I slouched into the kitchen, where Caro—in her gargoyle hunch—was looking even more exhausted than I.
"Diana's dead," she intoned.
"What? Princess Diana? How?"
"Car crash." She pointed at the tiny TV, where the rolling news was reporting every single known fact about the crash—which, at that hour of the morning, was precious little. I watched for a few seconds.
"Oh," I finally said. "Do you want a cup of tea?"
So, I made the tea—mine, as was traditional, in the huge white mug that we called "The Donkey"; hers in the only slightly smaller, pale green one known as "Little Donkey"—and I joined her on the sofa, watching the drama unfold. It was essentially rather tedious: someone who I had considered a deeply selfish, boring, media-seeking tart was dead and, not entirely surprisingly, I couldn't give a shit. But, both Caro and I thought that we should probably remember where we were, just in case people asked: someone was bound to eventually.
My most violent emotion was the disgust at those collecting in London to mourn this dreadful woman: the crocodile tears, the wallowing in this fake emotion, the "whole country united in grief" attitude was, to someone of my disposition, almost unbearably kitsch, maudlin, embarrassing. And over the ensuing days, it only got worse...
It was in that flat, by the way, that I first heard of the concept of bathos.
- Margaret Thatcher's resignation—22 November 1990
I would have been thirteen at this time, and I don't remember the precise moment that I heard about it for I was boarding at Eton at this time. Each House was run like a small independent state, according to the whims of the housemaster, and ours (unlike some) did not allow boys to have televisions in their rooms (we weren't allowed a music system with separate speakers either, until you were in your A Level years). As such, we only had access to the big TV in the prefects' room ("Library" was the name given both to prefects and the room itself, though I do not recall books being particularly associated with either the place or the people).
As such, I believe that I may have read it in my morning paper—everyone took a morning paper: I, following on from my father, took The Telegraph. This paper was often pinched by one of my sport obsessed compatriots who, though he preferred one of the tabloids (I forget which: The Mail, I think) maintained that The Telegraph the best for sports coverage.
I was not particularly surprised: Thatcher's failure to win the first ballot outright had convinced me that she was likely to go—her unpopularity in the country (for even I perceived it) made her continuance impossible with such ambivalent support from her own party.
I was neither thrilled nor disappointed; I tended to support the Tories, but even then I was deeply suspicious of politicians of all stripes. I disagreed violently with the pro-EU Tories (who seemed to me to now be in the ascendant) as I viewed the EU as the most crucial issue of the day (a view which has not entirely left me today) and the prospect of a Labour government was even worse.
I munched on the huge plate of fishfingers which I had served myself, and wondered whether my Physics prep was adequate...
- Attack on the twin towers—11 September 2001
In 1998, I dropped out of university—convinced that Microbiology really wasn't for me, and that a stunning career in graphic design beckoned instead. After a year, the Marchmont flat had disintegrated—the power of the egos, like a collection of similarly charged magnets, breaking us apart and firing us in opposite directions (and we remained essentially out of communication for over a year—even Claire and David, then boyfriend and girlfriend, and now husband and wife, split up)—fuelled by rows over money and pride (and not helped by my very heavy drinking—which was, in fact, bordering on alcoholism. Again).
I found myself living—through a series of coincidences and the help of a rather older girl who I'd been sleeping with, on and off—with a married couple only a few years older than myself. Although I was not drinking so much (mainly limited by a lack of funds), I was smoking gear quite regularly with the husband, in between looking for my dream job.
As it happened, I settled for the first vaguely suitable job that I could get, working in a small printhouse in the south side of Edinburgh. That had actually been a good day: I had become friendly with one of the barmaids in the Greyfriars Bobby pub (another student drop-out who was hanging around the city waiting for her life to start), and I was going out for her birthday that night.
So, when I went for the interview and they asked me "what time tomorrow can you start?", in the expectation of a big night's drinking, I harumphed and made an excuse about having a meeting closing off a freelance job that morning, and could I call them about 1pm? No problem.
We had the birthday party, I got on very well with the girl in question, we kissed and so, by the end of that night, I had got both a new girlfriend and a new job. That was a good day.
By September 2001, that girl had long-gone (another one who couldn't stand my drinking. She's married now, with a child and living in Brussels) and I was, I think, going out with someone else (who's drinking was worse, by far, than mine had been) and the job was beginning to lose its lustre somewhat.
The workplace was split into two—both in terms of the building and the people. The printers, including the boss, were salt-of-the-earth Scots and boisterous. Myself (the designer and Mac operator) and the guy who dealt with the film and plates for the presses, Terry, were rather quieter. Having become bored by Radio One's tediously short playlist and Chris Moyles, we had switched to listening to Radio Scotland.
This was mainly talk radio, and we particularly enjoyed an afternoon programme hosted by Leslie Riddoch; as an interviewer of politicos, Leslie was like Jeremy Paxman in a really bad mood and she was great: listening to her ripping Margot MacDonald to shreds over the MSPs' massive salary rise remains a beautiful moment.
Anyway, it was her show that we were listening to when she suddenly broke off and said that they were getting reports of a plane hitting the World Trade Center. Whether it was an accident or not was unknown, as was the extent of the damage... No! Wait! A second plane has hit the towers! This appears to be deliberate... Oh my god... Terry and I raced through to the print room, where the boys had the ancient telly on, and we started to see the footage, and hear about the other attacks...
Well, it was a bit of excitement, but did it really affect us? Well, I was flying to London that Friday in order to see my brother's band play a gig—although they had been playing around London for about a year, I had never seen them. However, I had left quite a small window, and the banning of hand luggage meant that, after my somewhat epic journey, I arrived at the pub just as they had finished playing their set. It was thoroughly irritating.
I have covered this issue before, in fact; I'm not one to feel lots of emotion for people I do not know and I did not find the whole things particularly upsetting or harrowing. It was simply another big event in the history of the world and what happened next was likely to be rather more important. The event was a catalyst, the first big blow in a war, the first skirmishes of which had been fought in fringe theatres for at least ten years previously.
- England's World Cup Semi Final v Germany in—4 July 1990
I'm not sure if I remember this one or not, to be honest. I remember some England vs. Germany game in which there was a penalty shoot-out. I was at some club in Tunbridge Wells, and I remember people crowding around a portable TV that someone had brought with them. But was it this one? I honestly can't remember—I can't even place it in the context of other events...
- President Kennedy's Assassination—22 November 1963
My parents were 13 and I was not even conceived of. So, unless someone wants to give me hypnotherapy and see if I was living another life then, I doubt that we shall ever know...
So, that's enough of my ramblings: I shall, in fact, nominate another five—of an assortment of ages—to pass this on to.
Over to you, chaps...