They called the monitors in my school “Ephors”. “Ephors” for fucks sake. The religious guides of ancient Sparta. If you were looking for private school pretention then this was vehemently it. Anyway it was all over and those rich cunts gave me £800 as some sort of scholarship for my year abroad.
The Gap Year is a curious thing and in my experience there are two types:
Where you pay lots of money to go to an underdeveloped country where you build roads, teach in an orphanage etc.
Where you are paid lots of money to do very little work in another private school in another country. My lack of human empathy led me to option 2 because, apart from anything, I was able to live in Australia for year, play lots of sport and drink lots of alcohol. What more could you want?
People attach too much profundity to the “Gap Year”, a soul-searching meander in between school (where I did no work, drank and tried to fuck everything that moved) and university, where the valuable knowledge of my schooling proved more than useful. Anyway, what I am getting at is that it bears little resemblance to any facet of life and is in fact a supposed coming-of-age ritual for middle class kids whose accent is, for some reason, indelibly attractive in the former dominions of empire. People attach this buy-one-get-one-free attitude to Gap Year’s as if they are some sort of life changing experience that can be referenced at any soulless corporate finance job in the world. Honestly, I was in it for sex, booze and doing what I wanted all the time. Plus you get paid on holidays.
I made my way down to Sydney for New Year. Fortunately a couple of mates from school also had this idea so I arranged to meet them on one of the islands around the harbour where we would watch the apparently spectacular fireworks. We had booze, food and, courtesy of another like-minded middle class person, a place to stay.
What we didn’t have was a cooling system in which to put drinks and the 35 degree weather led to complete contamination of all foodstuffs within 15 minutes. In the face of such adversity great minds find great solutions. The only way around this particular speed bump was to get through the beers as fast as possible before they warmed up. Easy.
The former criminal utopia that is Australia has taken a great many facets from their venerable older sister in the north, and attitude to boozing is one piece of Anglo-Saxon hedonism that survived both the prison hulks and the voyage. Picture Wood Green or Harlesden with way better weather and less Albanians and you have the rough approximation of an Aussie high street, festooned as it is with little alcohol shops (bottle-Os) set up pretty much everywhere. We took it in turns. One of us went to get the first 24 crate of VB and when it was finished the next would go and so on. Though it wasn’t raised at the time, the issue of buying the third “round” with 48 bottles of beer flowing between us was one that nobody wished to address head on. Time went on until 2 empty pallets and some cellophane signalled to me that I indeed was the unlucky one as I stumbled off into the Sydney sun looking for more, unnecessary beer.
As I walked off into the balmy evening, I had little idea that this moment would be the last I would remember for some time.
Being so pissed you can’t remember anything is a funny double standard. Dubbed as “banter” by the upper-middle classes, the idea of voluntarily eroding your cognitive capacity is a laugh for those destined to be dentists/ doctors/ accountants, whereas seeing someone so pissed at the back of a bus that they might not make some dead-end job is abhorrent to the very people who do the exact same, albeit for more money. Anyway the point I am trying to make is that I was really pissed.
I woke up on somebody’s doorstep with a puddle of vomit and piss next to me with all my personal belongings lying in front of me in a well-organised line. Very dazed but less drunk I got up and wandered back into the streets unknown. Hazy but happy to be alive, my ears were filled with the distant sound of my own moniker.
Yes, Angus. Me. The forgotten name of a forgotten past. Here with me in the beautiful summer evening.
I looked around and a policewoman in a police van was screaming my name and before I knew it I was rammed into the back of the van and driven off to a field.
It turns out when you let some kid loose into the world from a mediocre country, say for example, Scotland, the only thing the guy can long for is said diet of fish ’n’ chips, beige food and terrible sport. The positive utopia of Australia’s island continent paradise doesn’t even come into it when compared to say, Dunfermline or Campbeltown. The diligent Sydney PD had been alerted to some drunk, Scottish guy walking the streets screaming racially offensive slurs at Australians whilst lamenting the greatness of Scotland. Alba gu Braith.
That answered why I was in the van but how on earth did she know my name? Angus being a fair leftover from the Scottish Diaspora.
In retrospect it would have been nice to think that my friends had contacted the authorities in my absence, but I knew that frankly they probably just got even more steaming and fucked each other, free from the burden of the third party. So the policewoman’s knowledge was still incredible, however it transpired that they had already talked to me and in a panic I had done the old “bolt for freedom”, a prerequisite of Antipodean culture, jumped into someone’s front yard and passed out.
I can’t account what I might have said, but I had pissed on the lawn and thrown up on the porch. Something in my head screamed that I might have completed the holy trinity of befouling but I figured I shouldn’t tell what they (or I) didn’t know.
It turned out that this particular escapade was not unusual for festive Australia. The police were exceptionally sound, gave me some water and sent me on my way at which point the fireworks started, not the main event, these were the pre-fireworks that start at 9 o’clock, embarrassingly early to have already burnt myself out.
A quick look at my phone showed over 50 missed calls and texts from my friends so at least I hadn’t been forgotten. Maybe they hadn’t even fucked or, even better, they had, and it had been a Victoria Bitter inspired disaster. Either they were fucking annoyed when they realised I hadn’t brought back more booze but to be honest I was so stunned by the experience that more alcohol was definitely not necessary and anyway I’m pretty sure we had some warmies from before.
Free from the arms of the law the night passed well. With a mouth scented of vomit I even managed to pull which speaks volumes for the legions of clueless, posh girls that think that Listerine and stomach lining taste the same. Looking through my camera after the night and two beautiful women had the audacity to prop my head up and take selfies with my unconscious self.
Then I got a text from a schoolmate who was building a monastery in Sri Lanka or Senegal, I don’t remember.
“Happy Nw Yr”
Something in my mind stopped and thought about the cycle of misery, hope, despair and optimism that he must be experiencing now. Something that I couldn’t possibly comprehend. Something true. Something real. Something that one could only get from genuine human empathy,
Then some blond girl gave me a can of lager. We pulled, I fingered her then passed out.
Cover image courtesy of Chuan Chew via Flickr