When I was 21

1991. What can I say. I now had a girl friend. I was no longer a virgin (held out as long as I could) and I was over the halfway point in college.


Now, college is supposed to be about learning some new life skill – playing in the sand pit (civil engineering), fisting cows (veterinary), making home brew (science), wet carpentry (orthopaedic surgery) or learning to flip burgers/work in Waterstones (Arts) – but the main thing you learn in university is the skill of putting off until tomorrow what could be better done today. – dossing as it would be called in the vernacular and procrastination as Hamlet would say.


If you ever get you hands on a book called ‘The colour of memory’ by Geoff Dyer (about a bunch of friends living on the dole in Brixton in the 1980’s) there is a passage where our hero postulates that skiving is an inherent human trait. In fact, he says, as he is fired from another pointless job the skiving is often harder than the job itself. He reckons that even a heart surgeon is tempted to leave out the odd valve so he can get to the golf course a bit quicker.


Lets skip a few valves!

The other thing a university education gives you is a badly damaged liver. The easiest way to get cheap drink back then was to be a member of a club or society where the breweries would offer you cheap kegs or beer vouchers as a sponsorship of whatever event you had thought up. In the most extreme case we actually set up a trampolining club, secured funding, travelled to Belfast and went drinking for the weekend. We weren’t alone. Galway was at it as well. Although they were at it for most things anyway.

There were some clubs where the aura of booze didn’t draw the right crowd – squash club, chess club – no show by the breweries here.

I remember once donating blood and then going drinking.  – it works – until you crash the bicycle.

Windsurfing on the other hand. Now that was a drinking club. We were (when I say we, you can exclude me) pretty good at the old planche a voile as well but I remember one weekend we went down to a place called Glenbeigh, near where Thomas lives and we didn’t even bring the windsurfing gear. We left it in the pub back in Cork. If you ever need to know how to drink slops out of a kitchen basin for a whole weekend in November drop me a line. I can help.


Still, no damage done – if you exclude damage to the holiday homes.


1991 also saw my first proper job (held out as long as I could on this one as well). I was now a Student Engineer with Cork County Council. This job involved sitting in a portakabin for 3 months stirring shit.


I mean literally stirring shit.


The County Council were carrying out a pilot project to see if Anaerobic Digestion would pay it’s way as a way of dealing with some industrial and municipal wastes they had. For this pilot project the had to have someone who would sit in a room with the shit every morning carrying out basic tests and make sure the waste was being properly stirred. In my spare time I had to climb up a ladder to the top of the outdoor test unit and punch holes in the crust of shit that had formed over night.


Try it. With a bad hangover.


It builds character.


Or something like that.


The only up-side to this summer of shit was I now had enough information to be able to complete a final year project on the subject (which, in turn, lead to my better than expected final exam results).



The end of 1991 was the start of my love affair with Tom Waits. When I say love affair I am obviously talking about the unrequited type of the non-sexual variety. This love affair reached it’s climax ~(again, non-sexual) in 2008 when I named my only son Tom. Not Thomas, not Tomás. Just Tom.


I got a cassette of Big Time from my brother, the Golden Pencil.


Imagine if you can, new year’s eve/morning at about 3 in the morning, a holiday home at the tip of the Dingle peninsula. Everyone is asleep except for me and Tom (my friend from the Corsica trip) and were eating scrambled eggs with spaghetti. Tom Waits is playing in the background.


The past is a memory and the future is completely unknown.


We are care free.


Big Time.



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