Authors: Quinn Wilde
A Year in Fife Park
First published in Great Britain by Willow Ink, 2010.
© 2000-2010 Quinn Wilde
(ISBNs apply to ePub version only)
I remember absolutely every moment, detail and event written in this book. Sometimes the pacing is uneven. Some chapters are very short. That is because nothing has been altered.
That said, of course, all the characters, events and situations portrayed within this book are entirely fictitious and not based on any real experiences, persons, or places.
Except for Fife Park. That place really did exist, although I may for legal reasons be writing about a different one.
The Big Three Oh
I am a grown man. I have a house, and a well paying job. I am desperately unhappy.
I’m unhappy all of the time, but that doesn’t stop me from enjoying myself. If you can’t see past that contradiction, you are probably one of the many people who would never guess that I’m unhappy. You probably don’t believe me, even now. If you knew me, you’d believe it even less. Thanks a lot. This Oscar-winning performance is for jerks like you.
I am not having a mid-life crisis. I am thirty years old. As it turns out, that is not particularly old, and it doesn’t make me unhappy. Just sometimes, I wonder how I spent the last ten years. But this is not an age thing. I’m glad I’m thirty. People take me seriously. At first, anyway.
I bought a house at the worst time in history, because it was the right time for me. I knew it was the worst time in history. Other people said it was the best. I waxed lyrical about it at the time – sometimes, I said, you just have to do what’s right for you. It’s right for everyone, people said, houses only ever go up in value! Now that the crash has happened, everybody else saw it coming and I’m the idiot. That doesn’t make me unhappy. That makes me feel smug and unappreciated. Plus, I like owning my house. I would have paid double to end my hate-hate relationship with estate agents and landlords.
I appear to be good at my job because, frankly, most people are not. They are the smart ones. Being good at your job is an awful idea. You will only ever get extra work by being good at something, and you will be passed over for promotion because you’re too damn valuable to lose. That doesn’t make me unhappy. That makes me exhausted. If I end up having a breakdown, that
make me unhappy, but I expect that by then I’ll be too far gone to care.
For a long time I simply had no idea why I was unhappy, and no notion to do anything about it. I thought there was just something wrong with me. But then I remembered that there had been a time when I felt differently. There was a time in my life when I felt happy, all of the time, even when I was miserable. Ten years have passed. Now mostly the feeling I get, when I think back to St. Andrews, is that I have momentarily lost something of great importance.
Sometimes these days I walk from room to room, looking for something I had just seconds ago. And sometimes, doing so, I find it. That’s the best explanation I have for what follows.
It will be a mess of memories, as best they are remembered. It will be a scattershot of histories, because I do not know what parts I can afford to leave out. There are mistakes and faux pas, damages and destruction, passions and revelations, longing and belonging, love, mystery, tragedy, respect, and just a tiny little bit of sex which has been romanticised and overstated to the point of hyperbole, and in any case was had by other people.
It can start like this: I spent a year in Fife Park. Nothing at all happened, and nothing ever changed me more.
New Term, New Quinine
Every year in St. Andrews had a different theme; every year had a different feel, a different texture, a different atmosphere. The year in Fife Park, which I will consistently refer to as ‘Second Year’, was a sophomore journey of borderline psychosis. Only an idiot could be nostalgic about some of the memories I will recount.
I am just such an idiot. I can still recall the élan of those days with a trip through my MP3s folder. Guided by Frank’s discerning taste, I still dearly hold on to The Delgados, Belle and Sebastian, six cover versions of Aha’s
Take On Me
, and a funny mashup of Star Trek dialogue that makes it sound like Spock is boldly fucking Captain Kirk in the ass.
I was in new territory, all that second year, because I’d been so lost in the first. I’m not proud of the person I used to be. I didn’t know much about the world, but I knew just about enough to be a douchebag. I used to blame everyone but myself when my blindnesses caught up with me. I used to scream and wail with entitlement. I used to be a little shit. And I am lucky, so very lucky, that I did not simply grow into the fullness of adulthood without being made aware of that, as most people do.
When I finally caught up with myself, at the end of the first year in St. Andrews, and at the beginning of this book, I was a damn mess. You should know this. I was happy, all of the time, even when I was miserable; it’s true. But I was miserable kind of a lot, as well.
I made more mistakes in that first year than I’ve ever made. So many that it was sometimes impossible to tell where I’d gone wrong, or what to learn from them. I am fortunate to have had friends who were in equal parts forgiving and critical, or else I might have never known.
A lot of Freshers died in that first year. Seven or eight, I think. A few fell off cliffs. One of them was one of us, though I never knew him well enough. There weren’t many other years like ours. For one guy, it was at the very beginning of the year, away on an introductory Mountaineering Club field trip, held even before any lectures had begun. His parents were still in town, in fact. I can’t imagine anything worse. Then again, some poor chap got hit in the chest with a football and died on the spot. All of which goes to show that you can never tell how things are going to work out.
Home of Golf
I stood in the hallway of Fife Park 7, braced against the screams coming from the kitchen, but not yet braced enough to enter.
‘You fucking cunting bitching fuck.’ So came the next wave of expletives.
It was followed by a series of crashes, some isolated thumps, an almost comic tinkling of glass, and several further crashes.
‘You cunting fucking mothercunting shit fucker!’
My hand hovered over the handle.
‘Who’s he shouting at?’ Mart asked, behind me. ‘What’s going on?’
‘Nothing,’ I said. ‘It is what it is.’
‘Very Zen,’ Mart said, unimpressed. ‘You should get in there. He might hurt himself.’
I pushed the door, and a spray of porcelain flew past my nose, right to left. It was
porcelain. Another mug hit the door before it was half open. I poked my head around the door.
‘Hello,’ I said.
It wasn’t any time for reason. It wasn’t any time for smalltalk. Another mug was lightly tossed, and he spun the golf club round to intercept it. I pulled my head back into the hallway just in time.
‘Fucking bastarding shiteating cuntbreathing fucking cocksores.’
When you use the word cunt as frequently as an angry Scotsman, it can be hard to find something stronger, for those
‘Cocksores, huh?’ Mart said.
‘Are you okay in there?’ I called through, voice raised and strained - like he’d been in the shower for forty minutes. Another fracturing crash.
‘Hello?’ Mart shouted after.
I looked in again.
The cupboard doors were off, and three more kicks took out the drawers, bam, bam, and bam. The 7 Iron came down hard on the edge of the work surface.
It cracked, shards flew off. It was chipboard underneath. I shut the door firmly.
‘We’re going to let him work it out,’ I said. ‘Whatever it is. I don’t care about the kitchen. It’s not mine.’
‘And the plates?’
‘Yes, they’re mine. That changes nothing.’
The crashes came for minutes on end. Eventually they slowed, like almost-done popcorn. Mart reached for the door handle.
‘Give him a minute,’ I said. We gave him two.
Frank emerged from the kitchen. The picture of composure.
‘Should have used a six,’ he said, tossing me the club.
There was trouble, later.
‘If I live to be a thousand, I will never understand this,’ said the wrinkled killjoy at Residential Services. She looked like she had just about a year to prove herself right.
‘Neither will I,’ I told her, honestly. ‘It’s just shit that happened.’
Fife Park, at the time, was the cheapest student accommodation in the UK. [We paid around twenty-nine pounds per week, a figure which will become less connected to reality with every passing year, until one day I’ll simply have to refer to it as ‘old money’.] That does not make the final repair bill, which eventually tallied up at significantly more than a year’s rent, any less impressive.
The park is a shitty set of early 1970s buildings, modelled on your average pebble-dashed, papier-mâché suburban Scottish council estate. At the time of writing, Fife Park is fast approaching its final year on this earth, and has been around nearly forty years longer than I would have expected it to last in the brisk winds of Fife.
Each house has six bedrooms; three up, three down; two toilets (with one shower between them); a kitchen which can comfortably seat four, as long as nobody is trying to cook; and a hallway, with a flight of stairs. At the top of the flight of stairs is a sheer drop, made ‘safe’ by a little wooden barrier which cuts off just below the average person’s centre of gravity.
The walls are made of painted cardboard. The rooms, and the two miniature corridors separating them, were carpeted in some kind of rough green hair which, barefoot, was oddly painful to walk on. The upstairs toilet was floored with something blue and slightly spongy.
We had the upstairs of Fife Park Seven. I was in Room Five. My partners in crime at the start of that year were Craig McCartney, and Frank McQueen.
Craig has the physical build of the undead. Tall and broad-shouldered but utterly emaciated, he carries himself with a slight shrug, and arms that suggest they are reaching out towards you, even when at his side; a posture that makes him seem permanently ready to spring.
He’s got just a trace of that bad guy streak that women like. This is fundamentally because he is a bad guy. It is also, in part, because he is highly, and deliberately, mysterious. It was no surprise when he announced his mysterious past – in as many words – and then shortly into the year started dating a mysterious girl. Years later, he got a mysterious job. This also came as no surprise, although if the job is anything like the girl, he’d have been better off staying at home and stabbing himself with a fork from nine to five.
Craig once told us he had left Dundee because he killed a man. Anyone can say they killed a man. Some guy called Robin told us he killed a man, one night. We called him Bobby Bullshit for four years on the back of that. We didn’t call Craig a damn thing, just in case.
Craig is also capable of the unexpected – or perhaps it would be more fair to say that he never ceases to amaze me. The unexpected was something we both celebrated, back then. We would drink to Random together, and Random would find us. Looking back, I can see how much this meant to me. It is the paradox of the gambler; when something is random, there is hope beyond one’s own means. At nineteen, that was probably just the hope that I’d get laid, or at least home. But ten years on, finding myself desperate and hoping for hope itself, I wonder if it would be as easy as raising a glass with a friend, to feel so free again.