Irrational Encounters With The Modern World

Dubious Claims To Fame – 3

In the third part of my quest to validate my inconsequential existence with further anecdotes relating to minor brushes with “celebrity,” with some name-dropping required in order to give the exercise any kind of point, we move to the subject of comedy. The name is Billy Connolly, that’s it dropped, let’s move on.

I studied at and graduated from the RSAMD, the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama as it then was. It has now undergone a magnificently pretentious name-change, to become the RCS (or Arsey Ess) – the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland. It sounds like they should be cultivating plants.

In my third year, I trained almost exclusively in stage carpentry, and was entrusted by two friends to build them a loft bed. It was done in timber, mortised and tenoned and built to their specifications. Had it not been unceremoniously chopped up for firewood when – some years later – it wouldn’t fit in their third flat, it would have eventually outlasted their relationship. Although, given the longevity of wood, and the fact it was built to be sturdy, that’s only natural – look at the Tudor buildings that have survived centuries.

I built the bed in the Academy workshop, between my last allocation and the end of our final term, and it sat – admittedly inconveniently – there for a couple of weeks while I worked on it around some longstanding health issues. Just before it was finished, or right before it was dismantled for transportation, we graduated. As is usual these days, they conferred some honorary degrees in the same ceremony, and it so happened that the Big Yin was granted an Honorary Doctorate for his acting.

During the morning, he’d been given a tour of the building with his wife, and as they’d gone through the workshop he’d patted (or had to lay a hand on, as he squeezed past) my handiwork, and remarked “Nice bed.”

Once we had graduated in the afternoon ceremony – sixty or ninety of us – we left the hall. I managed to get close enough to congratulate Billy on his award. “Well done you,” he said, “You worked for yours. They just gave me this. Honestly, my wife’s raging – she studied for seven years to get her doctorate, and they just phone me up and give me them.”

He looked at me, as if expecting a reply, a continuation of our conversation, and I froze. Which annoys me to this day, because at the time I was living in a flat that looked directly onto the street on which he was born. I’d walked past him on an Edinburgh street once, the most famous Glaswegian of our time, only realising when I texted a friend saying that I’d seen someone who looked like him and she told me he was playing there that night. I am, or was, familiar with many of his routines and able to recite a good few of them. Yet, standing face to face, I couldn’t think of anything to say to him. After what was about half a second, but which felt like minutes, he was swept up in the surge of other graduates and families, eager to speak to our celebrated city son and get his autograph. I’d missed my chance – a flurry of signatures, and the high-heid-yins whisked him off, away to be pictured with the hoity-toity folk and away from us plebs.

The upshot of all this was, is, that Billy Connolly liked a bed I built, and then became the very first person to congratulate me on graduating.

Christ knows the degree is mostly worth fuck-all, but at least I got something out of it.




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