An abstract list of moments that led up to me arriving at the age of 45 last week, items 21 to 30. The first lot and second lot seem to have been well-received. It’s proving incredibly interesting to write about myself, something I’ve never found easy before. More to follow!
21. I lost an afternoon to absinthe
When absinthe was reintroduced to the Scottish market, it was seemly that the Daily Record, being the country’s national newspaper, should take a bottle onto the streets and see what the readers thought of it. But not before a certain editor and I tried it first. Being uncouth sorts, we didn’t know anything about sugar and spoons and all that – we only knew that it was strong as fuck, potentially hallucinogenic, and that we’d better behave because we had a paper to put out. So we had a capful each. That was enough. Within moments a certain editor was telling me he couldn’t see, and I had to assume it was him talking because I couldn’t see either. We decided to go for a walk, and I can only imagine how that looked as we staggered in italics through the open-plan office towards the lifts, then onto the Clydeside below. In Glaswegian wisdom, the only thing that can fend off a bad drinking experience is more drink, so we meandered into the pub, and that’s all I remember until, somehow, a few hours later, I came to at my desk and we were well into putting the paper out. I never touched absinthe again.
22. I found a second home in the Lake District
The Golden Rule in Ambleside is the best pub in the world. I may well be taking the Solid Rock Cafe in Glasgow for granted, since I’ve spent so much time there, but the Solid’s character changes rapidly, year by year, while the Rule has remained the Rule since around 1723. I love it so much I wrote The Rule Book – one of my best-selling titles – about the place. But I have to pick one moment, and it’s this, and it’s about the way the staff deal with the strange cross-section of social groups who drink there. Not only is the Rule a local for regulars, it’s a tourist destination for visitors; and, inevitably, some people just don’t get it. One night there were a group of very tall folk in, self-focused, self-aggrandising, and only interested in what people did for a living because, in their world, that was what defined a person. They pushed past people when they wanted served and they continued their conversation over the top of everyone, including staff, who could just, it would seem, bloody well wait until they were summoned. (You probably know the type.) At one point they called for two bottles of prosecco, and six “nice” glasses, the suggestion being that the pub didn’t have any such things. The member of staff serving replied immediately: “Would you like a shiny tray?” Ignoring the laughter around them, they responded that such an item would indeed be appropriate. They did indeed get their shiny tray. But they’d been defined and contained by that point, and no one was bothered any more. I’d love to live in Ambleside and drink in the Golden Rule every day, but I’d never get any work done.
23. I helped burn down a music venue
2008… I’m not sure if I was on speaking terms with the Sensational Alex Harvey Band or not (I’d moved on to The Rezillos), but I wanted a favour so I pretended I was. SAHB were playing the Liquid Room in Edinburgh, and I wanted my own band to get the support slot. But it was a little emotionally steep for me, to be watching my former band setting up, going about their business with some new crew, a new manager and even a new lineup. There are some very subtle and cunning tricks crew can play on a band they don’t like. And as soon as my band started playing, I realised a few had been set up for me. Loyaltles change; how very sad. Ah well. I struggled to keep the drumkit in position while I played, and it was actually quite a decent performance, I thought. Just as we finished, clouds of smoke began billowing into the venue, the fire alarm went off, and we were all told to leave. It wasn’t a drill – the restaurant above had caught fire and the building was soon blazing. I know some of the SAHB people hadn’t wanted me in the room, but that was a bit much, I thought… (Legal aside: the fire was NOT SAHB’s fault, and that’s a fact!) It took hours to establish what was going on, and that we weren’t likely to get our equipment back – and when we did, about a year later, most of it was trashed. In the meantime, the drinking session we enjoyed to mark such an experience was exceptional, and the whole night was later labelled “an event” by one participant (who went in a huff because someone had left a mini-statement hanging out of a bank machine, showing that said someone had £30,000 in their account, and my friend believed the someone had only left it there as a boast). But I was the last person to leave the Liquid Room stage, at least until it re-opened a few years later.
24. I played with the Pope’s ba’
2004… On honeymoon in Rome, the wife and I visited the Vatican museum, where we discovered a massive globular sculpture in the gardens. It’s called Sphere Within Sphere, and it had red ropes tied around it to keep people away. A security guard beckoned to me, opened one of the ropes for me, and told me to push the exterior sphere. I thought, “Aye, right, make the stupid tourist push something that doesn’t move, watch him go on his kite, and kill yourself laughing,” and I managed to transmit that idea with a couple of deft hand movements. No, he insisted, push it! So I did. And it moved – and how it moved! It was amazing. And from that moment on I could proudly say that I played with the Pope’s ball. (Later that day the wife and I discovered a lovely little wine bar, where we were treated like long-lost friends. Everyone had a great time, except for one couple who appeared to argue, loudly, all night, every night. Turns out they were very much in love and that’s just how they did things, and the locals all regarded them as a private treasure. I wonder if that inspired the wife and I into becoming the same thing, because, for a while, we were…)
25. My brother came back from jail
There’s a long story about a miscarriage of justice that I won’t go into here, but one of my wee brothers (I have five, and a wee sister; I’m the eldest) had to spend a few weeks in a young offenders’ institution. Over the years I’d shared a bedroom with him, we lived through a bitter fight involving large batteries being thrown, a furious chase with a golf club as a weapon, the alleged accidental collapse of a Star Wars shuttle I’d lovingly built; the destruction of a very early and valuable Walter Scott book when it was used as an air gun target; and a thousand other stupid wee boy adventures. But that had all been before. During his brush with the law he’d grown up very quickly, and as a result, I suppose, so had I. It was great having a room to myself – I shoved his bed up against the wall and enjoyed the space, which in the house of a family of eight was a magnificent thing. I didn’t know what to say the day he came back home. He sat on his bed, I sat on mine, both of us with backs to the same wall, facing blankly at the other wall. I thought that, since I was the eldest, and technically the host to a guest, I should start the conversation. “So… what was it like?” I asked. There was a pause. Then he said: “There was this guy. We called him Strawberry. Because he was.” I doubt my brother and I have ever had a serious conversation, or fight, since that moment. And we’ve never needed them either.
26. The Dunblane massacre
1996… It had been a normal morning at the Daily Record until the snaps started coming in. News stories have lives – they move. This one moved in a stuttering wave from the news desk across the editorial floor, leaving a static sense of shock after it. It couldn’t be happening. Not here. Not really. But the Dunblane massacre had indeed happened, and it was the duty of a newspaper to report it. There was a free edition of the Record that afternoon, because the readers needed to know; it wasn’t a business-led moment (you wouldn’t get that any more). That meant two newspapers had to be produced. It was a difficult day. I don’t remember the details but I remember the sense of wading through jelly to put two papers out when it just didn’t seem right to be doing anything workaday at all. I remember the way we all looked after each other in the pub later. And I remember realising that, while the rest of the world could only react in shock, hold their kids close and wonder how anything could come to this, we’d actually had it better than most, because we could actually DO something about what had happened – we could do our jobs. I never felt the sense of journalistic responsibility so keenly, and I probably never will again; and, given the circumstances required to provide the feeling, that’s a good thing.
27. The day I discovered beer
I was quite a late starter when it comes to drinking. I was nearly 18. It was at the wedding of a friend’s sister, and I recall the unpleasantness of realising my body wasn’t responding properly, until someone told me that’s what was meant to happen. I always regarded myself as quite a quiet young man – others may disagree! – but when we woke up in the friend’s house the next morning, there were roadworks in the middle of the living room. Seems that, on encountering them on the way home, I’d marshalled our quad of mates into lifting the cones, lamps and barriers, then recreating the exact scene indoors. Seems I’d been difficult to disagree with on the matter, and it had been deemed, by people older and very much larger than me, that they’d best do what I told them. I like beer – English ale, given the choice, since it’s warmer and flatter than most, and usually has a lower alcohol content, and it can be enjoyed, for longer, and for the taste. I also like pubs for their essential community role. A good pub is like a gang hut, hidden away from the world, where everyone’s on your side. (Most of the time.) The Mass Observation organisation carrier out a large-scale survey of British pub use in the 20th century, and concluded that the majority of people who go to pubs do it for the social functions and not for the drink. I was pleased to discover that, and I agree with the sentiment.
28. I didn’t go to university
I love learning. I love discovering new concepts. I feel uncomfortable if I encounter something without being able to at least guess at the basic principles that allow it to exist or operate. It was once said of Douglas Adams that he didn’t want to be told anything, and wanted to work everything out for himself instead. That’s me, that is. It was regarded as a very important matter that, having done well at school, I should go to university. I knew I didn’t want to. I couldn’t explain why. (Now I know it’s because I have a very strong sense of self, and I trust my instincts enough to believe that, if I can’t see myself in a situation, I shouldn’t go into it. And today I act on those senses, while back then I didn’t because I didn’t know how they worked.) When I said I wasn’t going, my mum was very upset – she felt I was throwing away a massive opportunity. If I was, it was an opportunity I didn’t want, but of course how could I understand or express that, being so young? I like to think I did well out of it, and I’m glad I was able to find my own way into the world. Every single one of us Kielty kids are brilliant, creative, intelligent, inspiring and fun (although I’m by far the best at all of it), and that’s because of the way we were brought up. Mum and Dad did great!
29. I bought a drumkit
1988… £40, I recall, and worth half that. Pushed in a shopping trolley to rehearsals in various halls across Cumbernauld. Sounded dreadful. Looked worse. I put L plates on it and that just reduced the value. But… the noise! That’s me making that noise! The world will be silent because I’m hitting plastic circles with sticks, and it might just sound a wee bit like Motorhead’s Killed By Death. (A wee, wee, wee bit.) I remember getting the awful contraption home, taking a while to work out where the hexagonal metal posts went in, and how you stuck drums to them; then, on ensuring Mum and Dad were out, hitting it for the first time. Hear that? That’s ME!
30. Big George shot a stranger down
George Ross Watt, known as Big George, was a world-class blues guitarist and singer with a character to match his massive talent. His gig rider was “a bottle of Southern Comfort whenever I ask for one.” One night in a Sauchiehall Street pub I met a guy who’d taken a year out from college in California to do a bit of travelling. He wanted to know if the blues had reached Scotland. I was able to tell him yes it fucking had some say it came from here – and that he should hear Big George before he travelled on. It so happened that George was playing in Hamilton, about 20 miles out of Glasgow, the following night. So we went. During the break I asked George if he might dedicate a song to my Californian companion. Later on in the show, George asked if the guy from Santa Monica would make himself known. “Did you come to Scotland to hear the blues?” he asked my friend. My friend said yes. “You shouldn’t have fucking bothered,” said George. “We’re over in Santa Monica next month.” It snowed on the way home. My friend wished me luck of my life and said I had a traveller’s spirit within me. I didn’t believe him. I’m not so sure now.