I celebrated my eighteenth birthday in the bar at the Higher Institute of Education (they were going to put Southampton at the beginning until some bright spark realised what the acronym would be). I had moved on from the cheap but effective barley wine days; Pernod and lemonade was my drink of choice or a snowball if I wanted something a bit sweet and sickly with cherries on the top.
On the night of my birthday I had a combination of these drinks lined up along the table when Jon, the bar manager came over to ask the reason for my celebration.
‘It’s my birthday!’ I yelled. ’I’m eighteen!’
I was hit with the realisation that I had been drinking illegally in this bar for the past two years and that Jon might be a bit peeved about it.
He smiled though, patted me on the head and told me that if I was going to throw up could I do it in the flower bed outside please?
At the end of the night a group of us staggered off for a curry (without any vomiting) and I can vaguely remember listening to one of my dear friends who decided to tell that story.
You know the one – it starts with a girl out driving with her boyfriend at night, in the middle of a forest, when they run out of petrol. The boyfriend goes off to look for a petrol station while the girl locks herself in the car and listens to the radio.
Not surprisingly, a news bulletin interrupts the radio station to say that a dangerous lunatic has escaped from an asylum (that’s what they were called in the bad old days) and that NO ONE is to approach this man.
The girl dozes off and is awakened by a rhythmic thumping on the roof of the car. Being a sensible girl and not having a torch to hand, she stays in the car.
Police cars arrive and surround the car. The girl is told to open the car door slowly and to walk towards the police car in front of her without looking back.
She does as she is told, but just as she arrives safely, she is unable to resist the temptation to look back and sees – a grinning man holding her boyfriend’s severed head in his hand and banging it on the car roof.
In addition to the subsequent nightmares, I had to get up at eight am and take my stonker of a hangover on the Birmingham through train to audition for a place at the drama school my drama teacher had attended, and where one of my friends had been studying for the past year.
I’d been making trips to London on the train since I became a teenager. I’d been as far as Leeds on the train to visit my sister. I was blasé about the trip – after all – I had just turned eighteen and was officially an adult, but a very hung-over adult who didn’t really notice how bad the weather was, nor register the severe weather warnings on the news as I was trying to get out of bed.
I was wearing my audition outfit of black knee-length boots, black tights and a black needle cord dress with a multi-coloured knitted top half – very chic but not very warm. The outfit was finished off by an all enveloping full-length brown mock beaver lamb coat that I had inherited from the mother of one of my ex-boyfriends.
In short I was wearing completely inappropriate clothing for a journey to the Midlands with a snowstorm looming.
Considering that I was travelling during the rush hour, the train trip was fairly quiet and uneventful. I dozed until Reading and then perked up a bit as the adrenalin kicked in and the hangover subsided. I even had money for a taxi from the train station to ensure that I got to the audition in time.
I was prepared.
I don’t remember much about arriving at the drama school, or the audition itself, apart from the fact that I managed to get through it without throwing up or forgetting my lines. There were other people there, some of whom looked even more bilious than I felt. We nodded nervously at each other. There were also some very loud people who had obviously met each other before and were doing the one-upmanship thing regarding the auditions they had attended. It occurred to me that if they were that talented, why were they auditioning for a small drama school in the Midlands rather than RADA or LAMDA?
I had already failed to get into either of those institutions.
The weather had worsened while I had been otherwise engaged; spouting Shakespeare and a piece from ‘Little Malcolm and His Struggle Against the Eunuchs‘ that was considered a bit daring at the time. Looking out of the window, I discovered that the world had turned very white and cold.
I had no idea whether my audition had been successful, and the only thing that really mattered was getting back to the Students’ Union bar, knocking a few back and finding out what my boyfriend had bought me for a birthday present.
Throwing on my bear of a coat and picking up my bag, I groaned as I received the news that the buses had stopped running and the very kind man sitting behind the desk in the hall had been unable to get me a taxi.
I had to walk through a snowstorm in totally unsuitable boots and a coat that grew more icicle heavy by the minute. This was not my idea of a plethora of snowballs. There weren’t many other people around; I assumed that I was the only one stupid enough to be out in such dreadful weather but I was determined that I was not going to be stranded.
When I got back to New Street Station I discovered that my through train had been cancelled due to the adverse weather conditions Up North, but that there was a train for London leaving in the next fifteen minutes and with any luck the weather Down South might be good enough for me to get a connection.
The train was packed and I stood all the way from Birmingham to Euston. I staggered across a cold, wet London to Waterloo and collapsed on a slow train that was going home – eventually.
The boyfriend met me at the station and gave me my lovingly wrapped birthday present. It was an M & S brushed nylon dressing gown of a particularly vile pale green. It was three sizes too big for me and fit only for an old and confused person to wear in a nursing home. In today’s parlance it was the most epic of fails.
Gritting my teeth, I rallied all my drama school audition experience in order to express a suitable level of gratitude and allowed him to drive me to the bar.
Once there I dumped him and his dressing gown and got well and truly plastered again.
I passed the audition.