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Wednesday 28th May 2014

Wednesday 28th May 2014


As I struggled to think of a subject for next week's Metro column (I was going to write about changing Stewart Lee's name to Stewart Wee in the 1990 phone book, but realised that I had already written about that - I only have so many stories) I realised it's pretty much exactly 25 years since I did my Finals at University. That's a real time quake right there. I remember sitting in the lounge at 32 Hereford Road in Acton in 1989 marvelling that a whole year had passed since I'd left university. Now it's two and a half decades. So many of the memories feel fresh and recent. I drank a large slug of Abbot's Whisky every night that week to send me to sleep and felt stupidly relaxed before each paper, convinced as I was that I hadn't done anything like enough work and so was bound to fail, so none of it mattered. I really hadn't done enough work and overwhelmed by task ahead of me had more or less given up halfway through the final term and just sat outside the library drinking beer and trying to chat up a girl who I had fallen in love with, with a distinctive profile that made her look (to me) like she'd stepped out of a medieval painting. I tried to draw her (very badly as I can't draw) instead of doing any work and finally built up the courage to ask her to join me for a beer on the green. I did not impress her as I hoped. She'd been impressed by this strange, distracted figure obsessing over her, but when she met me and saw the awful cartoons I had created she wasn't as enamoured as I'd hoped.

I had read one book though. I had found some trashy tome about Rudolph Hess on the shelves of this amazing library, which suggested the man locked up in Spandeau (the prison, not the band, they were all free to come and go) was not the real Hess. This was not something that was likely to come up on the exam. I was so unprepared (which was not something that I'd experienced before as I had always been a swot at school) that I considered postponing the exams for a year and even idly (and not too seriously) killing myself to esacpe the pressure. But in the end I'd done my best to bone up on a few subjects for the last two weeks and hope for the best. And I knew that wouldn't be enough so I had accepted my fate. Everyone was amazed by my lack of nerves, but I had just stopped caring. Incredibly this attitude got me through and I somehow scraped together a decent degree. I had so little respect for it, given my lack of work, that I never went to pick it up. But I always said I will go and get it when my eldest child graduates from Oxford.... so might be a bit of a wait.

I settled on writing about what happened after my finals and the shock of realising so much time has gone.

I am not only heart-broken by the rapid passage of time, but amazed that I have survived for a quarter of a century as an independent and ostensibly grown-up human being.

In a sense I am lucky to have had these extra years, because I nearly died on the evening of my final exam. My friend Emma Kennedy decided to buck tradition and rather than greeting me outside the examination halls with a bottle of champagne, instead handed me a bottle of whisky.

I’d spent the last three years trying to prove I was clever enough to earn a degree (though I’d mainly been eating crisps and writing comedy if I’m honest), but in the next two hours would demonstrate that fancy book-learning is no match for common sense and that the a degree in Hard Knocks from the University of Life is a better qualification than a 2:1 in Modern History from Oxbridge College.

Perhaps Universities should do away with written examinations altogether and put on a series of simple but life-threatening challenges that will sort out who deserves to live. Like an academic Hunger Games.

Anyone with even the slightest glimmer of intelligence would surely have a sip of whisky and then put it away to enjoy over the next few months. I drank two-thirds of the bottle in ninety minutes.

Predictably by 7pm I was feeling a little dizzy and unwell. I had enough sense to know that I needed to get to the toilet fast, but not enough to realise that I should be kneeling in front of the bowl, not sitting on it. I spewed out the malty contents of my stomach all over the toilet floor. It spread in front of me like a Biblical flood, but with more carrots in it.

I sat watching all this happen, incredulous and unable to work out what I was doing wrong. An angry bar manager banged on the door and my friends took me outside to get some fresh air.

They were heading into town for some curry and beer and ridiculously I decided to join them. I could see no problem with that. Ah, sit in wonder at your intellectual elite readers. My contemporaries at University include the Prime Minister and the Mayor of London. They were in the Bullingdon Club where, for some members, such behaviour (and much worse) was a nightly occurrence. Though their stupidity was tinged with malice and entitlement. Who wouldn’t vote for people like that?

The alcohol would surely have killed me, but some guardian angel decided this was not my time, grabbed me by the collar and yanked me down the road to my bed. A tiny corner of my otherwise moronic brain retained a vestige of common sense.

I woke up feeling as close to death as it’s possible to be whilst conscious.

Or maybe I drifted into a coma and everything that’s happened subsequently is a weirdly unambitious dream.

So that's next week's column sorted out. Here's this week's Metro column.

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