by Andrew Hennessey
Typical Scottish further education usually comprised of an all round hands on assault course in preparation for the career road ahead.
According to the Dean, it was going to take ‘working hard and playing hard’ and although a mere UK college, the quality of course textbooks were comparable to the best of any used even today in modern Universities.
I enjoyed for instance the fact that the Pineal gland, mankind’s so-called telepathic ‘Third Eye’ is of reptilian biochemistry, and, in physics, that atomic chemistry could be laid out in a harmonic series from as early as the late 1800’s.
For some reason perhaps to do with my personal and ongoing struggle, I had been hoping to make the world a ‘better place’, and had been working through my course material with diligence, eventually becoming the top student in the biology faculty at one point.
There was a distinct adolescent sub culture that involved the students and many headed off to the billiard rooms of Teviot Row Union in Edinburgh for the traditional pint and good student food on a fairly frequent basis.
It wasn’t that important to these guys to get grades as such, they were happy just to directly crib my stuff and then present it all scribbled and roughly written out, in the process getting better marks than I did.
I realised that perhaps I should chill out a bit more, maybe relax a little and stop using rulers and neat handwriting and stop taking such care over these exercises for that lecturer after that.
After all if someone badly copies what you do and then gets a better grade than you from a PhD then one obviously isn’t winning the popularity vote.
So with the Dean’s advice of ‘working hard and playing hard’ in mind I decided to tag along to the Teviot Row Students Union billiard room one lunch time to see if I could work on getting better marks for my ‘street cred’.
Gerald was known to be good and was definitely cool before the word was ever used and he had arranged to meet me at the bar in the billiard room in the deeps of the lower floor.
I wouldn’t get course marks for this, but at least I was somehow taking part in ‘student life’.
It was dark and dingy and somewhat smelly with tobacco and the six or so tables were pretty much unoccupied
It wasn’t that busy at this time, but then we were eating into a bit of the afternoon lecture schedule to do this.
In the background the sound of the classic Space Invaders arcade game became loud and orchestrated as the attackers went into the next phase.
The low hung lights produced six oblong batches of bright green in the dark room, and on the walls could be barely made out the blackboards for the scores and the racks of cues.
Gerald arrived, got his pint of beer and we chose our cues.
I had never played billiards before, but understood the rules and the principles from watching it on TV.
It was all down to technique and practise – which Gerald possessed in abundance.
The first two games went as expected. Aided by my misjudgements, poor position play and chaotic distribution it was obvious to me that this wasn’t looking that good for my ‘street cred’ research.
In game three, I had just missed another sitter when I felt and heard a cry of exasperation from my left and I turned round thinking that there was a spectator that we had not seen.
Indeed there was, he was a ghost, a young man in his early twenties and clearly he was totally upset by Gerald thinking he was brilliant just because he was beating a loser like me.
He was leaning against the wall in a semi transparent state totally upset and he asked me if he could have a shot.
I felt it was ok to say yes, so I invited him to give this billiard thing a go.
No doubt something he used to do a lot before he met with an untimely fate.
Suddenly, I was playing like a total megastar.
I was making double and triple bounce shots and big long distance pots and I started to totally turn this game around. I was successfully doing shunts and ricochets and finally I needed the blue at the very far end of the table to win what had been a comprehensive victory with an unmistakeably respectable score-line.
The cue ball was at the bottom end of the table, in the middle, just off the cushion and the blue ball was almost lying right on the top cushion in the middle of the table.
To pot the blue ball in the top right hand corner from this long range, there would need to be a hard and accurate kiss on its left side to send it almost at a ninety degree angle rolling half the breadth of the table into the top right pocket.
It’s a shot that pros wouldn’t usually attempt in tournaments because of the risk factor.
Gerald dared me and thanks to the assistance of my unforeseen friend I made the shot, sunk the blue and totally blew Gerald’s ego away.
I heard my friend smile then, and he left me to it, and I could see that Gerald had been shaken.
Back at College there was an opportunity to get away from it all during a Human Biology lecture. Taking my usual care with my notes, and engrossed in the process of memorising the ideas, I suddenly found myself totally out of my body and standing in the middle if the floor at the front of the class next to the lecturer.
Obviously this wasn’t too good from my point of view.
I could clearly see the whole class from the front, and the lecturer seemed to stop what he was doing briefly to look me in the eye.
If this was what working hard and playing hard really meant then I recognised that maybe I wasn’t on a level playing field at all.
It was my plan to complete the course and then move onto other graduate and post-graduate studies.
The next issue on my busy schedule was that romance thingy everybody seemed to be enjoying, but after I found out the girl I was flirting with could change her eye colour before the days of colour contacts from translucent ginger brown to milky green at a moments notice I could see that maybe some people didn’t need to use hair dyes.
With year two exams coming up my promising faculty grades boded well for my career, which depended on moving to a University. Our Biochemistry lecturer Dr Drac had been explaining to the class his experimental cure for hangovers based on the sugar called dextrose in honey. He then waxed eloquently about the incoming exams. He said that he knew someone who felt so pressurised during an exam that he just sat there for an hour and a half writing his name over and over and over.
The day of our biochemistry exam came, Dr Drac handed the papers out, and as usual, reasonably confident that my hundred plus hours of revision would at least enable me to have a good mark I started out on my exam.
For some reason though, I could just not concentrate, could not focus on the exam paper question and could not recall any of my notes.
As the minutes ticked by, I struggled to recall anything at all, then eventually started seeing photographically clear images of my crib notes.
Still nothing written though.
This was a bit disconcerting because looking across the room; I could see John reading stuff straight from the textbook under his table.
One would think that at the very least I could do the same kind of transcription.
With virtually nothing written on my exam paper the allotted time ended, and as I handed my paper over to Dr Drac, I recalled what he had said about the person who just wrote his name over and over and over.
What a strange co-incidence.
For the first time in my student life I totally failed an exam with 39%, but someone then benevolently gave me another 1% to make it a pass.
Overwhelmed by all this generosity and mind control I made it to the end of year two and into the season of summer placements.
Not long after that, Dr Drac’s life changed for the worse. Feeling that his marriage had broken down, he was caught poisoning cartons of drinks in a supermarket with one of his biochemical concoctions and promptly lost his job and was sent to prison.
My course, officially called a sandwich course that included industrial placements at various scientific laboratories usually offered their students a degree of more nutritional relish and refreshment on their sandwich placement.
I was approached by the director of studies for the course a Dr Lovey who had found a summer placement for me at a Viral Research Lab at Newbattle Abbey. It was doing laboratory assistance to the research on the tomato mosaic virus. The centre had many greenhouses under lights and sterile conditions and was considered quite an important job.
What I didn’t know, but many years later found out from a local, was that the laboratory was a military black op.
The place was actually full of men in black who had been abducting locals and that there were other extensive human and alien stuff going on underground.
Strange military personnel were sometimes seen there too, and when the lab closed down in the late seventies, officials sealed the area, and people moved on, so that stuff could be moved out.
The tomato thing was likely to be just a cover for the other stuff that was alleged to be going on.
Who knows, they say that cannabis plants look a bit like tomatoes.
For some reason at that time my own inner spiritual guidance made me miss the job interview.
I didn’t know where the place was, and was going to get a lift, but the lift never happened etc as this was not on any regular bus route.
Director of studies Dr Lovey was on my case just shortly after that asking me exactly what I had said to these wonderful people to make them put in such a complaint about the abuse that I had given them when I had turned up for the interview.
I don’t know if Dr Lovey knew of the provenance of this outrageous tomato sauce but at the time I was glad that I had not been interviewed by or gone to work for these strange people.
At that time, my night time sleep was occasionally interrupted by poltergeist disturbances, strange lady ghosts in Victorian garb, monks with hoods etc etc in other words the usual suspects. There was that and a bit of levitation and the manifestation of a three-foot black hole at the bottom of my bed. It seemed to pull at me trying to drag me into its pit but I held fast and prayed to God and my guardian Angel and I remained safe.
The psychic nonsense was merely a bit of party entertainment on life’s happy journey.
I knew that I had been born with a Covenant that I had made with God written in my soul. Time seemed to stop around me one night in my room. It was as if the lighting became a bit grainy and stippled and I could see through the packets of light. My heart rate fell to about three beats per minute in time that was relative to me, but I felt secure in that no matter what it was all about, you’re never alone.
There is a constant battle between the forces of Light and the forces of darkness.
Another fact of life is that in places academic there seem to be some very talented people with the extraordinary capacity to influence your results for the good or the bad.
What they appear to be selling is another story.
One wonders what the men in black had in mind, but then I was going to get another opportunity to find out.