When I was 18

This could have several posts dedicated to it. It was one of the biggest years of my life and I look back on it now knowing that I didn’t know how good I had it.

This post could have several different titles:

Still a virgin

The 6 months of sitting at a desk and wanking and studying

Learning to drink Guinness at 17

The frantic search for someone to take to my Grads

What’ll I do in University?

Becoming an adult.

To set the scene it’s 1988 and I’m in my final year of school. I am doing pretty well at the sciences (chemistry, maths and physics in particular) and I’m not too bad at english either. The rest are going ok but because of either crappy teachers (french) or a lack of any interest by me (Irish) I’m never going to set the world on fire.

One of my top 5 teachers is a fella called Dan O’Regan. He’s writing a book on maths physics and we’re testing the questions out by studying maths physics after school twice a week. There we sit, the future engineers and doctors of Ireland eating mars bars and marathon bars as a Tom Selleck look-alike teaches us vectors and differential equations. They were happy days – another one of those teachers who treated you like an adult and with respect and reaped the rewards with loyalty from the pupils.

All of this was going on with a background noise of a raging sex drive that was getting no outlet except through Pam and her 5 sisters. One of my serious worries at the time was that I’d end up with a huge right bicep and a wasted left hand side. I wasn’t alone in this worry. I’d guess of the 58 people in my year in school about 57 or 56 were completely inexperienced in the ways of women. Sex education was generally through either your biology book or any stash of porn you could get your hands on. We thought that things like menstrual cycles were some sort of competitor to Raleigh. For anyone not blessed with the natural Viagra that is the blood stream of a teenage boy you’ve got to remember that you could count the amount of time you weren’t thinking about sex rather than were thinking about it.

I had to decide what I wanted to do in university (having finally seen sense and realising that I’d have either sawn off or nailed my hands to each other so a trade was out of the question). It was really more of a question of what I didn’t want to do. I had no desire to play with money (business), poke around in other people’s mouths (dentistry), poke around in other peoples other holes (medicine), play with test tubes (science) or sit around being unemployed for 5 years (arts) so I ended up applying for engineering.

I once heard someone describe the leaving cert as the most stressful exam of your life. It is certainly that. The stress is mainly applied by society but also because it is the fulcrum around which your future rotates. The exams themselves are hard questions about simple concepts as fits a bunch of 17 and 18 year olds. As you get older you sit exams that are simple questions about hard concepts.

The exams came and went and we had a summer of waiting around for the results. We had to find girls for our Grads dance so we spent the summer out drinking larger and trying to impress the ladies. To a man we all failed to find any women. We couldn’t score at 4 feet in front of a barn door. Hopeless is what we were.  At the last minute the grads were cancelled. It was the closest I ever came to winning the lottery. Don’t get me wrong, I had my girl picked out but I’m glad I didn’t have to pull the trigger and actually ask her. (never liked rejection, you see).

Earlier in the year I managed to convince the parents of two of my friends, Tom (now living in Edinburgh) and Eoghan (Living in Cork but working in Wicklow) that I would be able to take their two sons on an inter railing trip to Corsica. We set off  the day after the results came out by catching the ferry from Cork to Le Harve. 3 17 year olds, a thomas cook rail timetable and some brochures from the French embassy in Dublin (back then, with no internet you had to write to the  embassy looking for brochures on camp sites in Corsica. And, fair dues to them, they wrote back with the brochures).

We caught the train from Le Harve to Paris and after a trip across Paris to the Gare D’Austerlitz where we frantically looked for the over nighter to Nice. I remember asking one station attendant if he spoke english. He replied by asking if we spoke french. We did. But very badly.

He showed us to the train.

One of the images of my life that will flash before my eyes as I draw my last breadth was the scene that awaited me as I woke that morning as the train coasted along the Mediterranean Cote d’Azur.  It was a vision of nirvana. People lazily sauntering to the beach as we chugged past on the way to our future.

We had a day to put down in Nice  – our ferry sailed at midnight – so we stashed our bags at the railway station and did what any bunch of 17 year old dopes would do. We got fleeced by somebody ‘just over the border from Italy’ who needed 50 francs until the banks opened on Monday


we picked up a lone Danish back packer.

Who travelled to Corsica with us

And slept in the flysheet of our 3 man tent.

How would we get rid of him?

We had to have a 3 man summit – standing in the sea where Neils, our Danish Pastry wouldn’t hear us.

We nominated Tom to tell Neils that our flysheet was where we planned to keep our pots and pans and not some random Danish guy. So Tom did his duty and Neils slung his hook and we went back to a camping holiday that could have been called ‘3 virgins go camping’

We were off the booze because of  a combination of over indulgence (I had slept in a hedge covered in vomit an few weeks earlier having misjudged the amount of larger I could drink) or abstinence (vague sense of loyalty to our parents) so we were drinking litres of a thing called Panache – a larger/lemonade shandy.

Next to us in the camp site were two amazing French girls. They used to smile  at us.  Say Bon Jour to us in the morning and sit near us topless on the beach.

So what did we do?

We did what any 17 year old virgins would do.

We used to swim 20m out to sea and tread water staring back at their tits and dreaming about how much sex we’d have with them if only there weren’t 3 of us and 2 of them (like it would have made any difference anyway).

The rest of 1988 will have to wait for another post.



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