It’s the Friday Five! On Tuesday! Yay!

This week’s questions come from this site, and also come from a couple of weeks ago, because, well, the most recent questions (at the time of writing) were about things-that-are-extinct, and it turns out I don’t have a whole lot to say about that. I DO, however, have a lot to say about what it was like being 17-years-old, which is what the previous week’s questions were about, so here they are:

WHEN YOU WERE SEVENTEEN, HOW DID YOU SPEND MOST OF YOUR SATURDAYS? 

Ooh, let me think… when I was 17 I’d be going into my final year of high school, so I was about to say I’d have spent my Saturdays locked in my bedroom, memorising French verbs, while listening to mournful female guitar music. Then I remembered Diamonds.

Diamonds was a bar in my hometown, which billed itself as a “fun pub”. The “fun” part was that they’d serve absolutely anyone who walked in – even those of us who were blatantly under-age, and who probably SHOULD have been locked in our bedrooms memorizing French verbs, rather than squeezing ourselves onto a tiny dance floor and trying to make one Moscow Mule last all night, because that was all we could afford. The clientèle was a strange mix of drunk teenagers, bemused old men who just wanted a quiet pint, and, of course, yours truly. Here I am, all dolled up for a night at Diamonds:

me at 17

As you can see, I’ve cunningly removed most of my eyebrows with tweezers, and am – incomprehensibly – wearing a denim shirt, under a velvet blazer. Yes. Oh,and that’s Michael Stipe on the wall behind me. I was going to marry him one day. Any time I told people that, they’d immediately point out that he was probably gay – as if THAT was the only thing standing in my way. Because sure – if Michael Stipe was straight, he’d have been on the first plane to Scotland to snap up my chambray-shirted self, wouldn’t he? Don’t answer that.

I spent many a a Saturday evening in Diamonds, and it was there that I discovered my super-power, which was the ability to render myself completely invisible to the opposite sex. I, you see, was doomed to spend most of my young life as the Ugly Friend: the girl who guys totally ignore in favour of her Much Better Looking Friend. For this reason, I spent a lot of my teens and early twenties sitting in bars on my own, while the friends I’d arrived with all paired off with guys and had the time of their lives. Every so often, one of those guys would have an Ugly Friend of their own, who would be instructed to speak to me in order to get me away from the Better Looking Friend (there wasn’t just one of these, by the way: there was a whole series of them…). Because I only ever liked men who didn’t know I was alive, however, I would spur these advances with a single, icy glare, and return to my half-pint of cider. I was a real laugh riot in those days, seriously.

Anyway, of all of the Saturday evenings I spent being seventeen-years-old, two in particular stand out:

INCIDENT ONE: In which I met Prince Charming

One day, my Better Looking Friend and I were sitting in our usual corner of Diamonds, when Prince Charming walked in. No, really: this was the best looking man we’d ever seen in real life, and there he was, on our turf. Now, we knew we didn’t have a chance with the Prince. Even my Better Looking Friend (The BLF, if you will)  didn’t have THAT much more luck with men than I did, which is what made what happened next all the more extraordinary.

“That guy is totally checking you out,” said BLF. “I wonder what’s wrong with him?”

I looked over, and sure enough, Prince Charming WAS checking me out! He totally was! I almost choked on my drink, I was so shocked.

BLF and I put our heads together and discussed our tactics, finally settling on our usual method of flirtation, which was to get up and dance, while pretending we couldn’t see the object of our affections AT ALL. This tactic had never worked in the past – like, not even once – so there was absolutely no reason why it should work now, but we got up and headed for the dancefloor anyway… and Prince Charming actually followed us!

“OMG, I can’t BELIEVE he’s following you!” hissed BLF, who was really not happy at being overlooked in this manner. I mean, I was the Ugly Friend: my role was stand on the sidelines and be ignored. And yet, there was no denying it: Prince Charming was definitely looking at me – staring, in fact. I started to wonder if my skirt was tucked into my knickers or something, but nope – all was well, and now everyone else on the dance floor was looking at me, too (Many of them for the first time ever – which was funny, because I’d been going to school with most of them for six years at that point), wondering who the lucky girl who’d won the heart of Prince Charming was.

And it was ME! I couldn’t believe it! My moment had finally come, and as Prince Charming started walking across the dancefloor towards me, the crowds parting to let him through, I had never been happier. Finally, someone had noticed I was alive! And it had been love at first sight, too: he’d seen me, I’d seen him, and now here he was, being pulled towards me as if by an invisible thread – it was just like a fairytale, except one set in a grim “fun pub” above a tanning salon in a small, northern town. I continued dancing, ignoring the waves of jealousy coming at me from the direction of BLF, and sure enough, Prince Charming walked right up to me, and put his hand on my shoulder. OMG, he was actually TOUCHING me!

He leaned in. Time seemed to slow down: I felt his breath on my cheek, as he gently brushed the hair back from my ear and seductively whispered…

“Excuse me… would you mind if I danced with your friend? She’s absolutely gorgeous!”

And then I ran across the dance floor, jumped out the window, dug a giant hole in the ground beneath it, and crawled into it to die.

Except I didn’t, obviously. I had no choice but to slink shame-facedly back to my seat, and sit there clutching my drink and trying to pretend that, actually, I ENJOYED sitting on my own in a crowded bar! Preferred it, even! What’s that, you say? Prince Charming? Best looking man you’ve ever seen in real life? Oh, really? I mean, I can’t say I noticed…

(Nothing ever happened between BLF and Prince Charming, by the way. Like me, she was so shocked that he’d noticed her that she lost her nerve and couldn’t actually think of anything to say to him. SHAME.)

It was the first of many such incidents, but it’s the one that’s stuck in my brain, as has the second incident from what I think of as The ‘Diamonds’ Years

INCIDENT TWO: In which I meet The Wise Old Crone

It was one evening towards the end of my final year of high school. Soon I would be leaving for university, and would – hopefully – never see Diamonds again. It had been a long night, which was just winding to a close: everyone was pretty drunk and disorderly, and somehow I found myself separated from my friends and sitting next to a much older woman, who I will call The Wise Old Crone. Let’s hope she never reads this, huh?

Now, I say “much older”: you have to bear in mind here that I was 17 at the time, so anyone older than 25 was ANCIENT, and also that the W.O.C was probably much younger than she looked. There’s no kind way to say this, however, but the W.O.C – well, she had clearly lived a lot. She was one of those woman who looks like she’s right out of a movie: she was chain-smoking (You could smoke in bars back then), plastered in make-up, and spoke like she’d been drinking whiskey all night – and then eating the glass. She was AWESOME.

Somehow the W.O.C and I fell into conversation, and all of a sudden she leaned forward and grabbed my arm with her claw-like hand:

“Listen, young Padawan,” she hissed urgently. “You have to get out of here!”

“What, Diamonds?” I said, confused?

“No,” said the W.O.C. “Well, I mean, yes: because I think it’s closing in a few minutes. But no, I mean HERE.”

She named my home town, which I hated with a fiery passion, and believed to be the main reason for my continued failure to write a best-selling novel, sign a record deal, or marry Michael Stipe.

“You need to get out while you can,” said the W.O.C, glancing around as if afraid of being over-heard. “For if you do not, you’ll never make anything of your life!”

“I thought as much,” I agreed. “Tell me more, oh Wise Woman.”

“Well,” she said, “For instance: what do you want to do with your life?”

“I’m not sure,” I said. “I was thinking I’d maybe be a show-jumping detective, but my parents won’t buy me a pony, so I guess maybe just a best-selling author? They say you have to write what you know, though, and I don’t actually know ANYTHING, so…”

“And you never will if you stay here!” replied my new friend, dramatically. “Take it from me: get out! Get out while you still can! This place is not for such as you!”

And then, in a puff of smoke, she was gone. (Literally, I mean: she really was smoking a LOT…)

Because the whole thing had been so much like that scene in a movie where the young heroine meets a wise sage, who sets her upon the path to enlightenment, and also because I know a Yoda figure when I see one (Albeit a very drunk, chain-smoking Yoda in this case. It’s the side of Yoda you don’t often hear about, isn’t it?), I decided to take all of this very seriously, and spent the next couple of weeks telling everyone who’d listen that I had been granted a vision of my future by my fairy-godmother (Yes, I was mixing my movie/literary references a lot in those days), and would subsequently be getting the hell of Dodge, ASAP.

And I did, too: I moved to Edinburgh a few months later to go to university, and now here I sit – a world-famous author, who is also a show-jumping detective. And it’s all thanks to Diamonds, and the wise old woman I met there when I was 17! Oh no, wait – actually, I’m wondering now if I heard that woman right? Maybe she said, “Get me a beer,” not “Get out of here”? That would explain a LOT, now I come to think of it…

There was also this one time when I met a wicked stepmother who tried to give me a really obviously poisoned apple, and there were also four more questions I was supposed  to be answering here, but I’ve just written almost 2,000 words in response to the first one, and I’ll be absolutely AMAZED if anyone has read even this far, so I’ll maybe give the rest of the questions a miss for now. If you feel like indulging my curiosity, please feel free to tell me how YOU spent your Saturdays when you were 17?

(Actually, you know what would be cool? If you all answer that question and it turns out that YOU all met the Wise Old Crone too. Then we all band together to try to find her, and have hair-raising – and yet heart-warming – adventures along the way, featuring unicorns, bichon frise puppies, and maybe a quick stop at Topshop, because they have a skirt I like…)

43 Comments
  1. You have not aged since you were 17. I look like the Wise Old Crone compared to when I was 17 and you still look the same!

    1. Ah, I’m sure that’s not true! I think it helps that I’ve basically NEVER changed my hair – it’s been the same (non) style, give or take a couple of inches here and there, since I was a teenager, which tricks people into thinking I look just the same!

  2. I had a WOG (Weird Old Guy) rather than a WOC. My first university had a duck pond, and my first year there I spent an inordinate amount of time feeding ducks. (And drinking. Not simultaneously.) The WOG in question approached me, insistent that I should “take care of my soldier.” (Cue Andrews Sisters.) He went on about it for some considerable time. The hangup, of course, was that I had no soldier, knew no soldiers, and couldn’t have found you a soldier if you paid me. Fast forward a handful of years and the former sailor I married took up soldiering. Spooky prescience? Perhaps. More likely the WOG had the same conversation with a tree the next day. (Sorry no puppies or Topshop. I’ll do better next time.)

    1. OK, so I’m thinking the WOG and the WOC are probably related – maybe even the same person, because men quite often seem to disguise themselves as Wise Old Crones in fairytales. The fact that his prediction ACTUALLY CAME TRUE in this case is even more evidence of that 😉

  3. Heh. I remember that 17 year old girl vividly. And hear echoes of her in what you wrote today!

    Am now trying to work out if I was an Ugly Friend…

  4. Such a long time ago. It was the early 80s and I was living in suburban London, waiting for life to start. I’d discovered punk, albeit the tail end of it, and I was totally phased by older, weatherbeaten types who’d been on the punk scene since 1976. How I envied them! Being a teenager was horrible looking back on it, identifying your tribe etc, but a necessary step you becoming yourself.

    I love the idea of the Wise Older Someone dispensing advice from the future. I can’t remember anyone as such myself, but I’m sure I would’ve been very surprised to be told that I wouldn’t feel or think the way I did forever or have bright blue hair in my forties! 🙂

    1. Yeah, being a teenager really is the pits! I always hear people saying it’s the best years of your life, but even back then I used to think, “OMG, I REALLY hope not!” (I actually DO still think and feel the same way about a lot of things, mind you, just not with nearly the same level of intensity. I sometimes think I just skipped the whole “growing up” bit!)

  5. the wise old crone story was fab, in our local there was a creepy old man called Eric who used to sit in the corner and demand beer. he had a hareem of teenagers around him (assuming he slipped them beer too) but he was our equivelent. for sure. just less informative, unless you just applied the “dont want to end up like him” to it!

  6. I’m 17 right now and I spend most of my Saturday nights binge-watching movies/TV shows/youtube videos at home. That’s what you get when you’re shy, introverted and live in a country where cool parties are held on Fridays or weekdays. I’ve gone to seven parties in three years- what a party animal I am. My mum totally has to force to stay at home. She doesn’t force me to leave. Not at all. (She totally does sometimes)

  7. I totally had one of those pubs – although they served us when we were 14 (I’m not exaggerating)… until someone’s mum (not mine, to my utter amazement), phoned and told them not to serve the bunch of (quite obviously, as we were wearing our uniform) schoolkids or they’d take them to court. It was fun while it lasted… and I highly doubt my outfits were better than yours! At one point I definitely went around in head-to-toe denim… Never had a WOC approach though. Feel a bit cheated now. Was definitely the ugly friend, though…

    1. Your WOC moment is maybe still to come! I honestly think the pubs in my town would’ve had to have closed down if they didn’t sell under-agers – those were the only people you ever saw in them!

  8. You must be a Highlander because you literally look identical to when you were seventeen. Your face is obviously thinner and more adult, but you look the same. Good genes!

  9. I LOVE THIS BLOG.

    This post is amazing. hilarious. just everything.

    At 17 – gawd – I was literally riding around with boys in cars and getting busted by cops for parking. We also frequented a bowling place or I would watch said boys play basketball. There was literally nothing to do in my town.

  10. your posts are getting funnier and funnier and bring back many memories. It is a long time since I was seventeen, but I used to spend my Saturday afternoons with friends in a local town, looking at cheap clothes and make-up and listening to new releases in the music shop. On Saturday nights we spent an hour getting ready to go out to a pub in the next town where we would also drink a single Moscow mule. At about 9pm we went on to the dance place where we girls danced together until two lads tapped us on the shoulder. One night as we passed the two dreamboats, wearing very sharp suits, I felt a tap on my shoulder. I turned nonchalantly towards the person who had tapped me, put my arm on his shoulder and carried on with the rhythm of the dance only to discover I had latched on to another pair of girls. The shame and embarrassment!! My friend was standing dumbfounded where I had left her as were the two girls I had latched on to. But worse was to come in the next dance when the two dreamboats did actually tap us and we danced with them. The boy with my friend commented that I was a bit keen.

  11. I was working in a pub. Nothing exciting to mention there. But I do have that superpower 10 times over. Not only am I invisible to all but nobody has ever asked me permission to get with a friend. Because I am that invisible

    1. I am that friend too. I have days when I think I look pretty ok but then I meet up with friends and am reminded that I am the invisible one when with them.

      We should set-up a support group!

  12. You are an awesome story teller! I think this is one of my new favorite posts 🙂 and if you were the “ugly” friend, there really is no hope for the rest of us 😉

    17 me would have been at home playing civilization on the computer for 7 hours straight (thats about how long it would take me to finish a game) eating dill pickles (One of my favorite snacks). No bars, no parties.

  13. Your stories sound an awful lot like me as a teenager. I once had such an encounter with a WOC, who must have been at least sixty, in a pub while dancing with my friends. It was a week day so the place was pretty empty and except for me, my two friends and the WOC no one was dancing. It was quite entertaining to watch her be so carefree. After a while she comes up to us and bestows the following wisdom unto us: “Enjoy being young! Do whatever you want to do and don’t let anyone hold you back! But especially, get with a lot of guys!” (Her phrasing was actually more vulgar than that) very interesting advice… It made us laugh quite a lot

  14. I came across your blog a couple of months ago, probably through yet another search related to my obsession with full skirts and cropped cardigans…
    But the more of your blogs I read I realise how similar we are, in personality as much as fashion preference!
    I loved this story about the small-town bar and Prince Charming. I too was the lesser-stunning of an inseparable pair when I was 17, going to Dickie Doodle’s (God knows why they called it that!) in the town where my gorgeous best friend lived, and I had many a similar experience with either guys preferring her or creepy old men! Our relationship is still like that, probably why I try to only see her when I feel I look good, and minimise going to bars with her.
    But hey, my Mum says I’m the family ‘ugly duckling’, so maybe one day soon I will grow into my looks!
    Looking forward to the next blog post 🙂

      1. Ah, that’s so funny – my mum used to always tell me I’d “grow into myself” too! Still waiting for that to happen, but thanks for your kind comment 🙂

  15. Love this post! I was the ugly friend, and my best friend was the one who always got the guys. So much so that in what I thought was a moment of descriptive brilliance I told her that boys were attracted to her “like flies are attracted to rotting meat”. Funnily enough, she wasn’t at all flattered!

  16. Hi there! I am new to your blog because a reader pointed it out to me in a recent reader survey I did and I must say: I love it! I moved to the US from Germany and almost three years ago and have spend my absolute favorite vacation ever in Scotland a couple years back. I clicked through your blog for quite some time and I love everything! This story is so interesting and fun to read! I was just thinking back to my high school years the other day and got a bit nostalgic. How fun and carefree those moments were! (Although we of course thought that nothing could be more stressful than those said men moments).

    Keep up your great work! I am totally going to link up to your blog once I publish those survey results!

    Liv

    http://www.lovealwaysliv.com

  17. Totally identifying with you … being the UGLY friend (but ofcourse, you are not actually ugly, so huge consolation…also… Terry!) especially on liking someone who doesn’t know i exist (only ever liked anyone twice in my life… once when i was 16…. and the stupid second time is going on now… am in my forties… ). Someone take me out back and shoot me already, there seriously has got to be some kind of age limit on these things!

  18. I think the “Ugly Friend Syndrome” has nothing to do with one’s looks (hint: your picture!) and everything to do with how loud and sociable you manage to come across. As a teenager I just felt that being quiet was the ultimate teenage-boy repellent! So I went and mastered the totally-enjoying-sitting-here-by-myself act too. It still comes in handy until now – like when you wait for someone in a café and they’re late… like a pro!

  19. This is probably not the best post to add this comment to, but I was wondering if you had ever come across Review? They are an Australian brand http://www.review-australia.com, which is great for me, living in NZ! I absolutely love their clothes, I just did another big order, I think most of the clothes in my wardrobe come from Review! They are gorgeous clothes and very well made, and come super fast in cute boxes. I just thought it looks like your kind of style as well 🙂

  20. Wow, you were so pretty at seventeen! I was in my acne-ridden, greasy-haired, chubby goth phase…

    Anyway! I actually met Michael Stipe at Starbucks in Athens, Georgia (I was in college at University of Georgia there), and even if he wouldn’t have dated you, he totally would have complimented your hair! I’m a fellow redhead, and he said I had pretty hair. So there is that…

  21. You. Are. HILARIOUS. Your wit is truly spellbinding! You had me from the top and swept me swiftly to the end. You have a gift, my friend, and I am so glad to have found you. Thanks for blogging!

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