I heard Noel Gallagher say recently that Oasis wasn’t about the music or the band, it was the fans that made it what it was. The same is true of the record shop: it’s nothing without the customers. And, well, I wouldn’t have any tales to recount if it wasn’t for them. I’ve most probably said this in every tale: Humans are a strange breed – and I most definitely include myself in that crowd. We are irked by the smallest things, like a regular telephone customer, Mr Howard (never their real names, I remind you, but if GCHQ were to research into it they’d probably identify clues), who phones every week to see if there is a new release Now That’s What I Call Music! compilation. It doesn’t matter how many times we tell him that there won’t be a new one for a month, or so, he continues to phone. When there is a new release, say, Now That’s What I Call Disney Princess, he’ll say, “Why would I want that rubbish?” in his broad Lancastrian accent, as if we’ve phoned him to say, “S’up, Mr H, you might like this.” We have strange idiosyncrasies, such as one of my favourites that always makes me laugh: when customers ask if you have something in stock, “Yes, sure do,” and then as you pull it out of the rack they say, “There it is!” Wow, what a strange twist of fate that you should have found it in my hand . . .
If every television show gets to do it, then so do I. This is my Tales From a Record Shop Christmas Special – my favourite moments from the past year and this Christmas. Christmas is a particularly funny time. We can be more light-hearted with people – but jeez, must be careful, as will be told in the last tale – but I also find that I have to sell my soul. I have to agree with people that, yes, the new Cliff Richard album is rather fantastic. “Still got it, hasn’t he?” And that Ed Sheeran is an edgy songwriter. “Gosh, he’s like Dylan with (ginger) balls!” And that “Little Mix are one of the f—ing best new groups around,” – “Sorry, did you just swear in front of my two year old granddaughter?” “Yeah, course. Just to articulate just how much I adore their music.” (It’s tame to what I really want to tell you, ha-ha-ha). All just to sell a few records.
It might be a curious place to start, but we’ve had two customers collapse in the past month. I’ve worked in the shop for – ho-hum – nearly half of my adult life, on and off, and I’ve never once experienced that. So to have two, it was really strange. I had to stand at the door, warding off punters until the paramedics arrived with the first one of them. The other, a sweet old lady, a blanket and a glass of water set her straight. We received a Christmas card from both of them, thanking us for being of assistance, a really nice gesture. I still tried it on, though: “Have you heard the new Cliff Richard album? He’s still got it, hasn’t he?“
There are a couple of other funny ones that have happened recently. One was an old boy on the telephone. He was concerned that his mail order wouldn’t fit through his letter box. So I asked him the depth of the box – trying to discern if they would fit through. And he answered, “About three, to three-and-a-half feet from the floor.” I let it go.
Another one was when a customer said to me, “You’ve been here a long time, haven’t you?” And I said, “Yes, since about half-past-nine.” They didn’t get it and proceeded to continue: “What I meant was –“ “Yes. I know. Yes I have. Most of my adult life. I sleep here at night. In that cupboard.”
Going back to things that irk . . . Many customers will ask for recommendations. It’s what we thrive upon, in many ways. A specialist music shop should. So you might spend fifteen minutes with someone, playing them songs – demoing them on the player, not getting a guitar and saying, “It goes like this . . . Dirty old river, must you keep rolling . . .” – and they’ll listen, they’ll ask to hear a different album, they’ll listen to the first one again and then say, “I’ll check with my son. He knows a lot about music.” Bu- bu- but you’ve just heard them! Cannot you make this decision? I mean, do you like Ed Sheeran at all? Gosh, he’s like Dylan with . . . Okay, bye.”
There are two similar things that happened too. A customer comes into the shop. Someone who I have never seen before. They’re browsing, but have that look, the one that says “I’m looking for something in particular.”
“Hi,” I say. “Are you looking for anything in particular?”
Vague look in my direction as he continues to browse through the Rod Stewart section. “Erm, yeah.”
“Okay. A Rod Stewart CD?”
“No. Not really.” But not ruling Rod out then . . . “I was really after some Rudy Giovanni.” Some Italian folk singer with a David Soul hairdo who is more obscure than Little Mix’s talent.
“Any particular Rudy Giovanni CD?”
“Erm . . .” Now showing some interest in Elvis CDs. Still not making eye contact. Smells like garlic. “Not really, no.”
“Well . . . how about this one?” I say, showing him that we actually have a Rudy-whosevercaredbefore-Giovanni CD in stock. He takes it from me. Has a look at it. Screws his lips together.
“Nah. Not this one. Haven’t you got one where he sings the hits of Del Shannon?”
Rudy is so obscure and insignificant that even his own mother gave her collection of CDs away to charity, who couldn’t sell them in their THREE FOR 50p bin. This guy wants one, I’ve got one, right here . . . and it’s “not quite what he’s looking for”. I’ve a word for people like him. You’ve probably heard it said in Guy Ritchie’s films.
The similar one that I had earlier in year was just a crazy waste of time. So, the phone rings . . .
“Hi. The (record shop). Good morning.”
“Good morning. I was looking for some Enya CDs.” Was looking for, I want to ask? Not am looking for? What happened when you were looking for them? But it’s my day job. Grammar can be set aside in the daytime. It’s not an irk; it entertains me just thinking about explaining past participles. He’s been rambling on whilst I’ve been smirking at my internal dialogue.
“Sorry, yes: Enya CDs. We’ve got a few here. What one are you looking for?”
“What’s available?” he asks. So I run through the ones that we have in stock. “No, not any those,” he replies. So I look up Enya’s catalogue of titles, her complete discography, everything that she’s ever recorded, including songs used on soundtracks, guest appearances, songs she featured on with her family band, Clannad, choral pieces she used to sing in the convent when she was twelve. “No not those,” he says.
“Well, that’s everything that Enya has ever sung, I’m afraid.” I tap my finger on the counter, listening to him think. You know when you’re on the phone and you can hear people think? He’s a thinker. He’s thinking.
“She’s not got one called There’s a Tree in County Clare?”
Ah, a declarative question, of which I agree . . . I have just confirmed that there is not. This gentleman could have saved us both a lot of time – mostly me, because he seems like he has a lot of time on his hands – if he’d just said, “Hello there, I’m looking for a Enya CD entitled the clearly made-up name There’s a Tree in County Clare.”
Oh yeah, we’ve got that in stock. Right next to our range of Rudy Giovanni CDs.
We had a priceless one the other day. A woman with lipstick applied so badly that it was pretty much eyeshadow came in. She looked like she’d been dragged through a bush backwards and then used to stir paint. But she had a big smile and was clearly absolutely nuts. Already I’m thinking that this won’t be simple, but won’t be boring, either.
“Oh, hi!” she says, and sets of laughing. A bit early in the day for hallucinogenic trips, I was thinking, but that’s just me.
“Hello. How may I help you?” That must have been pretty funny, too, because she’s roaring. Oh well, the shop’s empty. “Ha-ha . . . yeah. Can I help you?”
She proceeded to tell me that her boyfriend had played her a song on YouTube the previous day and that she would like to find it for him.
“What’s it called?” I ask. “Who’s it by?”
She didn’t know. She didn’t know a damn thing about it. So she proceeded to sing . . . no, attempted to sing it. I can’t really summon the clarity here to describe exactly what it was that I heard coming out of her mouth. All I can say is that it was f-(Little Mix)-ing terrible! It was like the Benny Hill theme song being sung by Boris Johnson.
“Not really bringing anything to mind,” I replied. “Can you, uh, sing it again, please?” Because you’re crazy and I’m loving it. When I asked her again to describe it but without the singing, she said that it was by a sixties group, but they could have been from the thirties, actually, and it goes like this! And she set off again. A bit uncertain, but not holding back at all.
“I’d love to record you and have it for my collection,” I said. “But I haven’t got the slightest idea what it is that you’re looking for. Couldn’t you ask your boyfriend what it is?”
“I want it to be a surprise,” she said.
“Just bloody sing for him then.” Next.
At this time of year, you often get people in with lists. So, unlike the previous would-be customer, these are people who don’t know what it is that they want but at least they’ve got it written down. With this one in particular, I just couldn’t stop laughing. Spying a list, I asked a lady if I can help her. She said that he son-in-law wants a particular CD. Sure. What is it?
“Neil Morrissey.” It rings a bell immediately. But I’m thinking of the actor Neil Morrissey, comedian, voice of Bob the Builder.
“Neil Morrissey?” I ask. “Bob the Builder?”
“That’s what it’s got written down here. My daughter phoned me and that’s what she said that he wants. His new album.”
Well, if Alexander Armstrong and Bradley Walsh have one . . . So I go and look it up. Sure enough, Neil Morrissey has quite a few CDs. But all in the guise of Bob. Erm?
“We can get them for you,” I say. “But . . . son-in law? Can you tell me anything else about it?”
“Yes,” she said. “Neil Morrissey. He’s Irish. Wears a trilby. Grumpy sod . . .”
“Ah. You mean Van Morrison.”
The worst ever Christmas moment was when a man came into the shop at about 4pm on Christmas Eve. We’re handing out glasses of wine by now. The seasonal shopping is nearly done. The end of the frantic running around is nearly in sight. But there are always a few stragglers, looking for the last minute gift. Never a problem; we’ll help where we can. So this guy lives in Dubai . . .
He wants to take It’s a Wonderful Life back to Dubai. The perfect Christmas movie for the perfect Christmas moment. And whaddyaknow, we’ve one left in stock. Furthermore, it’s the version with the original black and white and a ‘colorized’ version. (Yeah, why would you . . . ? Never mind.) He can board his seven hour flight knowing what’s in store for him at the other. Only, he can’t possibly know. But he let us know later when he came back in January and said:
“That copy of It’s a Wonderful Life that you sold me on Christmas Eve and I took back with me on my seven hour flight to Dubai and it was really going to make the most memorable family Christmas that we could ever possible have? The case didn’t have a disc in it.” (Not even the ‘colorized’ version.)
Now, I’m not passing the buck here: I didn’t do it. Wasn’t me. Nuh-uh. Go and Little Mix yourself if you think it was. I double-check everything, all the time. And then triple-check it after that. I’m a pedant. And I’m proud of the job that I do (only because you don’t know what I’m thinking, ha-ha). It doesn’t matter who it was – blame the part-timers – and the man from Dubai saw the funny side. It still comes up every year, the memory of that incident. Even though it definitely wasn’t me who served him, I’ll never forget the man from Dubai . . .
I’ve been looking forward to writing this Christmas Special. I jot down notes as the days go by, waiting for you to give me the perfect tale to use – because they are all true (shamelessly embellished, of course, but true). We see a few needless tantrums. We have more than our fair share of people who just take it all a bit too seriously. And last week I had a lady throw me the fodder. She is not a regular customer. I’ve never spoken to her before.
The thing that rankles most with me is cutter-innerers. Interrupters. They ask you a question and, as you’re answering, they go again with their irrelevant and repetitive nonsense. I can’t stand it: it’s impolite and obnoxious. Usually it’s the most boring people who do it, too. Give me a lady with lipstick smeared up her cheeks, who can’t sing for Cliff, over someone who likes the sound of their own voice a bit too much any day of the week. It happens on the phone quite a lot.
Interior. Record shop. Busy with customers.
The phone rings
Me: Good morning, the (Record Shop).
Mrs Barlow (for no particular reason, GCHQ): I need a DVD for Christmas.
Me: Okay, No problem. What are –
Mrs Barlow: I need it for Christmas, desperately.
Me: Okay. Sure. What is that you’re –
Mrs Barlow: It’s for my brother-in-law. I’ve looked everywhere. Amazon haven’t got it. No one’s got it in stock.
*Now, word of advice here, consumers: when you go into a shop and say something like “I’ve looked everywhere”, the person behind the counter immediately runs a thought process that goes: “So you’ve left us until last, out of all of your possible options. Your priority is online, so that you don’t have to leave your house; then you’ll have tried the chain stores, but they don’t give a Cliff about you – they just want to sell their surplus supply of X-Factor winners / losers CDs; so now you’ve had to resort to speaking to a lowly independent retailer, for whom the customer is king (See Noel’s quote in the opening sentences), even though you don’t want to because you assume that you’ll have to pay an extra pound, maybe, for parking; even though independent retailers are what defines retail. I’ve got a real, live muppet here . . .”
Me: Well, we might be able to –
Mrs Barlow: Have you got it in stock?
Me: I don’t what it is that you’re looking for.
Mrs Barlow: War of the Worlds. The DVD.
Me: Okay, is the film or the –
Mrs Barlow: No. It’s not the film. I don’t want the film. I want the stage musical.
*Okay. So I now know that everywhere she’s phoned they’ve tried to flog her the Tom Cruise film. And probably a spare copy of, I don’t know, whoever won The Voice last year. I also know that this is one fraught lady. The tension in her voice is making the phone line tremor.
Me: The one from a few years ago, with Liam Neeson?
Mrs Barlow: No. I. Do. Not. Want. The. Version. With . . . Him.
Me: Liam Neeson.
Mrs Barlow: Whoever it is. I want the version with Justin Hayward. No one’s got it.
Me: Oh, okay. I can look to see –
Mrs Barlow: The Justin Hayward version. Nothing else will do.
Me: O –
Mrs Barlow: Bah –
Me: O –
Mrs Barlow: Bah –
Me: O –
Mrs Barlow: Bah –
Me: Humbug? (A second of silence) Okay, it looks like it’s –
Mrs Barlow: Don’t tell me that you can’t get it.
Me: If you give me a chance I might.
Mrs Barlow: If anyone else tells me that they can’t get it, I’ll –
Me: Be very upset. I understand. What I’ve been trying to tell you is that one of our suppliers – I’ve been having a look whilst we’ve been . . .erm . . . I’ve been having a look – they have one copy left in stock. Now, I can –
Mrs Barlow: I’ll do anything.
*Jeez, she is tense. This can happen at Christmas. It could possibly be the end of the world if she doesn’t get what she desperately needs. Nothing else will do. Not Liam Neeson. Not Tom Cruise. Oh damn, I can’t help myself.
Me: Are you sure you don’t want the Tom Cruise version?
Mrs Barlow: I. Do. Not. Want. Any. Thing. Except. For –
*I can hear a foot stomping . . .
Me: It’s okay. I was only . . . Hello? (She’s not interrupted me for, what? Five seconds?)
Mrs Barlow: Can you get it? I really need it. I’m going to Wales for Christmas. And if I don’t take that DVD with me, there’ll be hell.
Me: Hell? Oh now, think of the sentiments of the Band Aid song. The only gift they’ll get this –
Mrs Barlow: I’ll pay for postage. I’ll do anything. Can you ask them if I can pay postage and they send it straight to me? I’ll do that. I’ll pay whatever they want . . .
*Believe me, this is barely exaggerated. I was in a good mood. I really did mention Band Aid.
Me: They can’t really send it directly to –
Mrs Barlow: Well when can I collect it from you? (*When may I, damn you.) I’ll leave for Wales after you close on Christmas Eve, if that’s what it takes. I’m supposed to be leaving on Wednesday. But If I have to –
Me: Well, I’ve got that last copy that they had in stock on order for you. Now, I can’t guarantee –
Mrs Barlow: Well how can you guarantee it? How can you guarantee it? I’ll do whatever it takes. How can it be guaranteed?
Me: It’s their last copy. They supply the entire country. The last copy might have been there until five minutes ago. It might not have updated on the system. It might have already gone. And due to the importance of you getting this DVD in time, I’d hate to –
Mrs Barlow: Get it for me. Just get it. Whatever you have to do.
Me: But as I just explained –
Mrs Barlow: I want this DVD.
Me: I know. Really. But if it’s already been bought by another shop . . .
*There was a moment of silence.
Mrs Barlow: Find out if someone else has it. I’ll buy it from them.
Me: It doesn’t really work like that. Look I’ll –
Mrs Barlow: Bah –
Me: I’ll –
Mrs Barlow: Bah –
Me: I’ll speaktothesupplierassoonasIcangetoffthephoneandmakesurethatwecangetitokay?
Mrs Barlow: What if you don’t? What if you don’t?
Me: Like I said, I’d hate to guarantee it and then –
Mrs Barlow: Guarantee it.
Me: Alright, I guarantee it.
Mrs Barlow: Really?
Me: If that’s what you’d like to hear, then yes.
Mrs Barlow: So it will definitely come? When can I collect it?
Me: I’m not sure. I can’t . . . guarantee a time. Bye!
It really was a very long phone call, for a very little thing. Perhaps I’ve just never been in that desperate a situation, certainly over a DVD. I’m really not a fan of musicals, either, to be honest. War of the Worlds is a good story, though. But why would you want to dress up and sing about it? Don’t get it. Anyway, did it arrive on time for Mrs Barlow? I’ll tell you in a minute.
In that situation it is really tempting to say to Mrs Barlow, “If it’s so darn important, then why did you wait until nine days before Christmas to order it? I mean, there will be hell, no? And no Phil Collins CD or Liam Neeson DVD could ever replace the disappointment, yes? So if you needed it so badly, wouldn’t it have made sense to leave yourself a little more time?” Some people really do feel the pressure, I understand that. I don’t mean to sound obtuse. But this situation was so dramatic for a gosh-darn DVD. I just think that there are some things that are more important than that. Sharing and giving, they’re important. But does it have to always come in gift form? Is it really ever that important? Come on Noddy, give us all an “IT’S CHRISTMAS!” And then I’ll happily tell you that we got the DVD for Mrs Barlow within two days. She collected it on Monday and was really grateful. She looked a little drawn, but I glimpsed happiness. I hope that she gets to relax over Christmas. Even whilst watching that Cliff . . .
Merry Christmas, everybody. I hope to tell you a few more Tales From a Record Shop in the New Year. Or maybe Tales From a Phill-osophy Shop. And always remember: SUPPORT INDEPENDENT RETAIL!