Saturday, December 19, 2009

The Prawn Cufflinks Review Of 2009



It's nearly Christmas, which can only mean one thing; it's time for the fourth annual Prawn Cufflinks Review Of The Year!

Yes, it's the event that's greeted with huge anticipation from literally tens of people around the world. A chance for us to categorically prove that we do not have our finger on the pulse of our generation, choosing instead to list a load of stuff that nobody else particularly cared about between last December and now. There are no guilty pleasures here, or so-bad-it's-good ironic affection. We love all of our winners, and they've genuinely made our year.

In previous years, ROTY (as we like to call it) has brought us to the attention of some of the world's rich and famous; the writer of an obscure Welsh-language comedy-drama series, a female snooker referee and the record label of a little known Country music artist. This year, who knows what could happen? All we can say is that we're keeping our fingers crossed for the man they call Pecker!

Before we begin, we simply must give an honorary mention to Robson Green. A man who has been nominated around half a dozen times in this year's ROTY, yet - and we're sure you won't mind a little spoiler here - has failed to win a single award. It's like Craig David at the 2001 BRIT Awards all over again. However, we're sure he won't be bitter and his career will not decline from this moment on. As long as there are new-born babies crying, leaves to be touched and fish to be caught, Robson will be there, believing. So, for services to Christmas, extreme fishing, wild swimming and superb middle names; we salute you, Robson Green!

And with that being said, all that's left is for us to bid you all a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year - see you in 2010!

Gareth & Louise

******************************

Sporting Event Of The Year

Previous Winners:

2006: Winter Olympics - Torino 2006

2007: World Athletics Championships

2008: Olympic Games - Beijing 2008

Nominations:

Australian Open Tennis

Dutch Open Darts

French Open Tennis

Lakeside 2009 Darts

Wimbledon Tennis

And The Winner Is...

Lakeside 2009 Darts



Television Show Of The Year

Previous Winners:

2006: Cowbois Ac Injans

2007: I'm A Celebrity...Get Me Out Of Here Now!

2008: The Bill

Nominations:

Above Suspicion

Accidentally On Purpose

A Child's Christmases In Wales

Big Brother US Season 11

Breaking The Magician's Code: Magic's Biggest Secrets Finally Revealed

Carrie Underwood's All-Star Holiday Special

Casualty

Clash of the Santas

Coach Trip

Compulsion

Coronation Street

Coronation Street Uncut

Cougar Town

Da Dick & Dom Diaries

Dancing With The Stars Season 9

Dateline - On Tour With Taylor Swift

Delia's Classic Christmas

Desperate Housewives

Extreme Fishing II With Robson Green

Gavin & Stacey Christmas Special

Glastonbury - Status Quo

Gossip Girl

Heartbeat

Home & Away

Joanna Lumley Catwoman

Kirstie's Homemade Christmas

Miranda

Mistresses

My Family

Neighbours

Not Going Out

Out Of The Blue

Robson Green's Wild Swimming Adventure

The Hairy Bikers: Twelve Days Of Christmas

Unforgiven

Wild At Heart

And The Winner Is...

Out Of The Blue



Television Moment Of The Year

Previous Winners:

2006: Cowbois Ac Injans - JoJo Gets Bent Over The Desk

2007: Matt Willis - I'm A Celebrity...Get Me Out Of Here Now! - "What Are You Going To Eat?"

2008: Children In Need - The Bill Do The Blues Brothers

Nominations:

Above Suspicion - "Sweet Pussy"

Big Brother US - Jordan wins

Big Brother US - Jeff kicks out Jessie

Big Brother US - Jessie's constant posing

Big Brother US - "Technotronics"

Coronation Street - Peter and Michelle getting it on

Coronation Street - Cardboard Eddie Windasses

Coronation Street - Becky in pink and black dress

Coronation Street - Michelle disturbed in the bath

Coronation Street - "It's my mummy!"

Coronation Street - Tyrone does Alan Partridge impression - "I don't like it!"

Coronation Street - Eddie Windass in his proposing top

Coronation Street - Rosie in cheerleader outfit

Coronation Street Uncut - "Very roomy baby!"

Da Dick & Dom Diaries - "Nice action"

Dancing With The Stars - Donny & Kym's show dance

Dancing With The Stars - Kelly & Louis' charleston

Dancing With The Stars - Louie & Chelsie's Argentine tango

Dutch Open Darts - Tony O'Shea, Willy van de Wiel and Brian "Pecker" Woods do the Nutty Boys dance with Daryll Fitton after he wins

Eastenders - Janine in stockings

Extreme Fishing With Robson Green II - X-treme Fishing in sign language

Gavin & Stacy - Do They Know It's Christmas

Hollyoaks - Gemma Bissix bouncing cleavage

Home & Away - Charlie & Joey kiss

Lakeside Darts - "High Teas With The Referees"

Not Going Out - Melanie Gutteridge guest stars

Sarah Connor Chronicles - Summer Glau in underwear

The Bill - PC Millie Brown waves her hand in front of dazed druggie

The Bill - PC Millie Brown copnapped

And The Winner Is...

Coronation Street Uncut - "Very roomy baby!"



Album Of The Year

Previous Winners:

2006: Fergie - The Dutchess

2007: Britney Spears - Blackout

2008: Hyori - It's Hyorish

Nominations:

Carrie Underwood - Play On

Colbie Caillat - Breakthrough

Donny & Marie - Donny & Marie

Katherine Jenkins - Believe

Kelly Clarkson - All I Ever Wanted

La Roux - La Roux

Little Boots - Hands

Taylor Swift - Fearless

The North - The North

And The Winner Is...

Taylor Swift - Fearless



Compilation Or Re-issue Of The Year

Previous Winners:

2008: Michael Jackson - King Of Pop

Nominations:

Erasure - Total Pop

Fleetwood Mac - The Very Best Of

Floorfillers: 80s Club Classics

Infernal - Electric Cabaret Deluxe Editiion with DVD

Katherine Jenkins - The Ultimate Collection

Ska Mania: Return Of The Rude Boy

The Bee Gees - Ultimate

Various Artists - 80s Niteclub

Various Artists - My Country

And The Winner Is...

Infernal - Electric Cabaret Deluxe Edition with DVD



Single Of The Year

Previous Winners:

2006: Chamillionaire - Ridin'

2007: Britney Spears - Gimme More

2008: Hyori - U-Go-Girl

Nominations:

Black Eyed Peas - Boom Boom Pow

Black Eyed Peas - I Gotta Feeling

Carrie Underwood - Cowboy Casanova

Carrie Underwood - Temporary Home

Cascada - Evacuate The Dancefloor

Infernal - Electric Light

Infernal - Redefinition

Katherine Jenkins - Bring Me To Life

Kellie Pickler - Best Days Of Your Life

Kelly Clarkson - My Life Would Suck Without You

Kelly Clarkson - I Do Not Hook Up

La Roux - Bulletproof

La Roux - In For The Kill

La Roux - Quicksand

Little Boots - New In Town

Little Boots - Remedy

Rolf Harris & Rick Parfitt - Christmas In The Sun

Taylor Swift - Fifteen

Taylor Swift - Love Story

Taylor Swift - Teardrops On My Guitar

Taylor Swift - You Belong With Me

And The Winner Is...

Carrie Underwood - Cowboy Casanova



Music Video Of The Year

Previous Winners:

2006: Pussycat Dolls - Buttons

2007: Britney Spears - Gimme More

2008: Hyori - U-Go-Girl

Nominations:

Britney Spears - If U Seek Amy

Black Eyed Peas - Boom Boom Pow

Black Eyed Peas - I Gotta Feeling

Carrie Underwood - Cowboy Casanova

Infernal - Electric Light

Infernal - Redefinition

Kellie Pickler - Best Days Of Your Life

Kelly Clarkson - I Do Not Hook Up

Kelly Clarkson - My Life Would Suck Without You

La Roux - Bulletproof

La Roux - In For The Kill

La Roux - Quicksand

Little Boots - New In Town

Little Boots - Remedy

Rolf Harris & Rick Parfitt - Christmas In The Sun

Taylor Swift - Love Story

Taylor Swift - Teardrops On My Guitar

Taylor Swift - You Belong With Me

The North - All That I Am

The Saturdays - Just Can't Get Enough

And The Winner Is...

Carrie Underwood - Cowboy Casanova



Game Of The Year

Previous Winners:

2006: Tomb Raider Legend

2007: Tomb Raider Anniversary 2008: Beijing 2008

And The Winner Is...

Wheelman



DVD Of The Year

Previous Winners:

2008: CHiPS - Season Two

Nominations:

Coronation Street - Romanian Holiday

Infernal - Electric Cabaret Live

Status Quo - Pictures! Live At Montreux Deluxe Edition

And The Winner Is...

Status Quo - Pictures! Live At Montreux Deluxe Edition



Live Performance Of The Year

Previous Winners:

2008: Amy Winehouse - Glastonbury

And The Winner Is...

Status Quo - Cardiff International Arena - 4th December 2009



Film Of The Year

Previous Winners:

2006: Casino Royale

2007: High School Musical 2

2008: Wanted

And The Winner Is...

17 Again



Celebrity Picture Of The Year

Previous Winners:

2007: Hayden Panettiere - Scorpion Club - Knee High Boots

2008: Hyori - It's Hyorish Promo - Knee High Socks & Pink Shoes

Nominations:

Blake Lively - Marie Claire

Blake Lively - Vogue

Blake Lively & Leighton Meester - Rolling Stone

Britney Spears - Candies

Charlize Theron - Nino Via stockings shoot

Chloe Sevigny - Nicolas Moore Shoot

Daniela Hantuchova - Sports Illustrated

Gemma Merna - Nuts

Helen Flanagan - Black and Red Shoot

Hilary Duff - Maxim Germany

Jennifer Love Hewitt - Women Rock

Jordana Brewster - Fast & Furious Shoot

Kate Hudson - Instyle

Kelly Clarkson - All I Ever Wanted Shoot

Maria Sharapova - Women's Health

Megan Fox - Esquire

Megan Fox - Jack Magazine

Michelle Trachtenberg - Mean Magazine

Roxanne Pallett - Loaded

Vin Diesel & Paul Walker - Fast & Furious Shoot

And The Winner Is...

Helen Flanagan - Black and Red Shoot





Outstanding Achievement

The Award For The Person Who Brought Most Visitors To Prawn Cufflinks In 2009

Previous Winners:


2006: Eghosa "Jose Muffy" Aimufha

2007: Siwan Morris

2008: Michaela Tabb

Nominations:

Lina Rafn

Michaela Tabb

Clare Foster

Natalie Horler

And The Winner Is...

Lina Rafn



Men Of The Year

Previous Winners:

2006: Ronnie O'Sullivan

2007: Zac Efron

2008: Rafael Nadal

And The Winners Are...

Status Quo

Francis Rossi - Rick Parfitt - John "Rhino" Edwards - Andrew Bown - Matthew Letley



Woman Of The Year

Previous Winners:

2006: Sienna Miller

2007: Hayden Panettiere

2008: Hyori

And The Winner Is...

Taylor Swift



Other People & Things We Have Enjoyed This Year But Were Ineligible For Nomination...

Bette Davis, Bonnie Tyler, Bread - Series One To Three, Carry On Films, Catherine Bach, Celine Dion, Classic Michael Jackson Pictures, Country Music, Dukes Of Hazzard, Ghost Whisperer - Season One, Goodnight Sweetheart, Grand Theft Auto - Vice City, Grand Theft Auto - Vice City Stories, John Schneider, Kelly Brook, Kym Marsh - Standing Tall, Laura Branigan, London's Burning, Madonna films, Natalie Wood, Reckless, The Bill - Classic Episodes, The Bombers, The Party Boys, Wire In The Blood.

Saturday, December 05, 2009

"I Cannae Believe It, I'm Gonna See The Quo!"

Status Quo - Cardiff International Arena - Friday, December 4th 2009

As the lights dimmed and a drone began to fill the packed hall, I suddenly felt very at home. For the first time in a decade, I was about to see Status Quo live on stage once again. I hadn't felt such excitement since the first time I saw them at Cardiff Ice Rink in 1992, at the age of twelve. This was powerful stuff.

Even back then, I felt honoured to be able to see a band that meant so much to me, that had been there all of my life (not to mention fifteen years before I was born). To think that I was still able to see them seventeen years later, weeks before my 30th birthday, was an overwhelming thought. And they hadn't even taken to the stage yet.

Last time I saw the band at Cardiff's International Arena, it was 1996 and the Can't Stop tour. I was sixteen, had front row seats, Maddy Prior from Steeleye Span jumped down to the audience and danced with M, we inadvertently started a rumour that Alan Lancaster was going to abseil through the roof while playing the bassline from You Don't Own Me, and a busty twenty-something asked if I wanted to see her tits ("I'll just go and get my friend," I replied).

Fast forward thirteen years and it's the Pictures Exposed tour. Now I'm twenty-nine, right in the middle of the arena in line with Francis Rossi's microphone stand, Roy Wood has just powered through a greatest hits set including Fire Brigade and I Wish It Could Be Christmas Every Day (accompanied by a sexy blonde backing singer with some adorable dance moves), Alan Lancaster is only mentioned in hushed tones, and I'm married to a busty twenty-something who doesn't tend to wait for an answer before whacking 'em out.

So why did it take so long to get here? A variety of reasons, mostly to do with my health. Whilst my love of Quo has never decreased, some years ago it simply became too impractical to see the band every Christmas. But this year, that all changed.

For starters, L finally made the move from moderate to die-hard Quo fan. As a result, I re-discovered all the albums, videos and books as if I was hearing and seeing them for the first time. Repeated daily doses of Quo will do that to you. They should make it available on prescription. Then came the televised Glastonbury performance, where the band were on top form and played some old favourites. "We'll definitely have to go and see them", I thought aloud. L agreed heartily.

Then in October, fate struck. We were visiting my mother one afternoon when Marguerita Time came on the radio. So surprised to hear Quo, any Quo, our faces lit up as if they had just walked into the room. My mother obviously had a light bulb moment, and two weeks later we were presented with two tickets as an early Christmas/birthday present. A perfect way to end the year and to celebrate the vast improvements to my health.

So, back to that drone. After what felt like an eternity of clapping and cheering, a figure walked onto the stage. Despite the shadows and darkness, it was impossible not to recognise the man's impressive blonde mop of hair and the white Telecaster around his neck. Rick Parfitt entered into a lunge and began bashing out the first bars of Caroline. Then the rest of the band got into position, the drums kicked in and the power and volume didn't stop for nearly two hours.

After a couple of songs, Francis Rossi spoke to the crowd and was clearly in a brilliant mood. Bursting into a quick blast of Love Is A Many Splendored Thing, he showed off his freshly-rested voice (two weeks of shows had been cancelled due to illness prior to the Cardiff gig, leading to a degree of uncertainty in the days beforehand which no doubt helped to create such an electric atmosphere of anticipation in the arena). At one point, Rossi accepted a cigarette from an audience member, dangled it from his mouth for a moment and then spat it out over his shoulder during the introduction to Don't Drive My Car. He was clearly loving it.

Charisma is a much-overused word these days, so much so that it's easy to forget that some people genuinely do posess and exude it in bucketloads. Rossi is a perect example. He had the crowd in the palm of his hand and had more energy and enthusiasm than a lot of performers half his age. The same applied to the rest of the band. Later in the set, during Rockin' All Over The World, Rick did the same thrust of the hips movement as he did in the original promo video. It was impossible to see him as a sixty-one-year-old man, the years fell off him and it could have been 1977 again (except there was no inflatable Alan on stage this time).

The set-list was familiar to us thanks to the recent Pictures: Live At Montreux DVD, but we didn't care. It was an all-new experience for L, so she wouldn't have minded if they had just come on stage and played the same song over and over again. But even I hadn't seen songs such as Pictures Of Matchstick Men, Ice In The Sun, Mean Girl and post-2000 material such as Beginning Of The End live before, and there were a few differences on this tour, including the addition of Hold You Back, Something 'Bout You Baby I Like and Paper Plane.

Three quarters of the way through the set, Rossi announced a slower section of the show. As Rick sang Living On An Island, many of the people in front of us sat down in their seats. We remained standing and were treated to an uninterrupted view of the band for at least three songs. It was like watching a DVD on the world's biggest screen, only much, much louder and with the added bonus of Rhino looking in my direction and matching my nodding head in time with the music. Then it was back down to rockin' business with the greatest hits that got everybody standing again.

Perhaps the best tribute to the band came from the person next to me. He was a disabled man in his sixties who had come to the show on his own to see Roy Wood, but stayed for the main attraction. For the majority of both sets, he stood with the help of his walking stick. But as Quo powered through Roll Over Lay Down, he put his stick on the floor and stood freely, before clapping and singing for all he was worth. It was like the John The Revelator scene from Blues Brothers 2000. That's the power of rock. The power of Quo.

All too soon, we were singing Bye Bye Johnny to a very appreciative Rossi and then it was all over. As we walked out onto the rain-soaked streets of Cardiff, our ears ringing from the sheer volume of it all, there was only one thing left to say; "we'll definitely have to go and see them again next year."

The set-list in full:

Caroline
Something 'Bout You Baby I Like
Rain
Don't Drive My Car
Mean Girl / Softer Ride
Beginning Of The End
Hold You Back
What You're Proposing / Down The Dustpipe / Little Lady / Red Sky / Dear John / Big Fat Mama
Pictures Of Matchstick Men / Ice In The Sun
The Oriental
Creepin' Up On You
Living On An Island
In The Army Now / Drum Solo
Roll Over Lay Down
Down Down
Whatever You Want
Rockin' All Over The World


****************************************
Paper Plane
Junior's Wailing
Rock N Roll Music / Bye Bye Johnny

Saturday, October 31, 2009

I'm Not Even Supposed To Be Here Today! (Part Four)

Revised and reposted to mark the sale of Redlands News after thirty years in October 2009.

Part One: "I assure you, we are open"

Part Two: "Title dictates behaviour"

Part Three: "Sounds to me somebody needs to visit the gym"

Part Four: "Sorry, we're closed"


Juxtaposition


It has to be said that it wasn't all bad when it came to the customers. Some of them would show signs of genuinely liking me rather than just being nosey and intrusive. Some would overhear a conversation that M and I were having and would go on to start a similar conversation on their next visit to the shop. Often, I would wear a band T-Shirt to work. They always got plenty of attention, whether in the style of "Ooh, The Beatles!" or the more commonly asked "What's a Shed Seven?"

Perhaps my most favourite customer was somebody who wasn't actually a customer at all. He was the guy who delivered our bread each morning, or to give him his full name "R The Bread." This was a man who loved his music. A man who didn't care if his tastes were cool or not. A man who once spent an hour and a half in the shop discussing the lesser known works of Dexys Midnight Runners.

I hope nobody was desperate for a loaf of bread that morning.

I looked forward to his visits every day. Maybe it was because we understood each other due to us both having to get up at an unreasonable hour to deal with crabby customers. Or maybe it was because my boss knew nothing about the music we were talking about and would look at us as if we were speaking in code. And that was on a good day.

My boss would try to join in ("tell me fellas, what do you think of Paul McCartney?") but would ultimately get lost - and we weren't even trying to alienate him. Honest.



He once asked me, "who are these Belle And Sebastian people?" Days later, I overheard him giving my answer in a very authoritative tone to a customer who had asked the same question. After that, I made it my mission to give him false information. That's why many people in Penarth are under the impression that Manic Street Preachers are a Christian-Rock band.

I must have a face that makes me approachable to the criminally-minded (or, as I was often informed, I'm "safe, bra"). Just like Dante in Clerks I was propositioned by two stoner types who said, "you look cool. We should hang out - you wanna get high?" I politely turned them down, although looking back it would have been quite a good method of escaping the world of annoying customers.

Although getting the munchies in a sweet shop could have led to disastrous consequences.

Other local crims would offer me fantastic sounding deals on dodgy Rolex watches and VCRs that they "didn't want anymore." Again, I declined. If they had offered the same deals to my boss, he would have made a citizens arrest, detained them in the stock room and got the community police officer around faster than you could say "Neighbourhood Watch Spokesman."



Catharsis

If it wasn't for the fact that I had two great support units in M and L and could come home every night to play marathon sessions of Resident Evil, I don't know how else I would have released the frustration of dealing with all those annoying incidents and people. In Clerks, Dante and Randal have a huge fight which ends up with them pretty much trashing the entire shop.

I would have loved to do that. The closest I ever came to such an event was the time that M came to meet me wearing a huge backpack (I can't remember the reason behind his fashion choice that day). It had been a particularly annoying morning as my boss had been busy creating a magnificent display of Kinder Eggs ready for Easter.



When it was time to go, I grabbed my coat and signalled to M for us to get out of there. As he turned, his bag caught the edge of the Kinder display.

Time seemed to stand still.

My boss broke the silence with a deafening "Noooooooo!" as two hundred chocolate eggs with a plastic treat inside began rolling towards the door. Trying hard not to laugh, we attempted to rescue them.

The thing is, it's hard to be agile when you've got a giant rucksack on. As M turned in the other direction, he knocked another display unit over and sent hundreds of Polo and Extra Strong mints flying.

Only the Fishermen's Friends survived.

We were struggling by now to contain our hysterical laughter. My boss was struggling to contain his tears of despair.

"Just go!" he cried. "Leave it to me."

The next day, everything was back in order and a sign on the window said;

"PLEASE: NO RUCKSACKS"


Denouement

Eventually, it was time for me to move on. By 1999, I was at university and the hours I worked at the shop meant that it wasn't very practical for me. It wasn't the annoying customers who forced me to quit in the end (although they certainly didn't give me any reason to stay), it was the mad rush to get to work in Penarth at half past four after a three o'clock lecture in Cardiff.

I eventually handed in my notice to my boss during a trip to Bristol to see Yellow Submarine. He had never taken me anywhere before, but somehow I found myself saying yes when he asked if I would like to go to a rare Beatles screening at the Cribbs Causeway cinema.

What can I say? I like to see old films on a big screen. Especially trippy, psychedelic ones.

During the scene when a cartoon Ringo is driving a car up and down some stairs, I turned to my boss and said "oh, by the way, I have to hand in my notice."



He looked mortified. He didn't even enjoy hearing Hey Bulldog in glorious surround sound. To me, no song had ever sounded sweeter. I was free!

He was still sad on the journey home. So sad that he missed the junction for Cardiff and we started heading for Southampton. I was a little scared that he was potentially about to pull off some extravagant kidnap attempt to make me stay, but thankfully he turned the car around and I arrived home at midnight.

My final day in the shop was largely unremarkable. I had anticipated a street party that would be attended by every single annoying customer from over the years. But no - if my boss wouldn't close the shop during a power cut, he wasn't going to close it just because I was leaving.



M came to visit me for old time's sake and L met me from work at the end of my shift. It was a nice feeling to be out of there. I looked forward to having a lie-in. I looked forward to being able to take my time coming home from university. For the first time since I was 14, I could do whatever I liked. It felt good.

Over a decade on, I have fond memories of those days, even some of the annoying customers. My mother worked at the shop until my ex-boss sold the business in October 2009. Whenever I visited from time to time, it was exactly the same as I remembered.

Rucksacks were still frowned upon.

Looking back, the best times I had in that place were the social times. I formed friendships and relationships that outlasted the time that I worked there. A constant supply of cheese & onion Discos was a bonus too. Ultimately, I think that Randal puts it best in Clerks when he says;

"This job would be great if it wasn't for the customers."

THE END



I wasn't even supposed to be there that day...

Working the counter at Redlands News, Penarth. Christmas 1995.
Note the huge pile of Cadbury's Bar Six at the front. I still miss them.

I'm Not Even Supposed To Be Here Today! (Part Three)

Revised and reposted to mark the sale of Redlands News after thirty years in October 2009.


Part One: "I assure you, we are open"

Part Two: "Title dictates behaviour"

Part Three: "Sounds to me somebody needs to visit the gym"


Paradigm

You need to have some degree of self-confidence when working in a shop. It is a certainty that if you have the slightest of flaws, all customers will not only notice but also point it out to you. In Clerks, a customer enters the Quick Stop and tells Dante that he looks a little out of shape. As more customers come into the shop, Dante's critic ropes them in too - totally damaging his ego.

In my case, I had terrible skin. I must have been some freak of nature because, apart from my face, the rest of my body was perfectly clear. I wouldn't have minded acne in places where I could cover it up and hide away from it. But no, I had to have it all on my face.

Now, I'm sure that you are like me and would not go up to a complete stranger and say "bloody hell, what a horrible looking face you've got!" You might think it, but you understand that it would be insulting to voice those thoughts. However, I had the discomfort of being stared at and commented on by Penarth's massive population of indiscreet, ham-fisted residents. Some would try the sympathetic approach of "Oh, poor you, it must hurt so much" ("not as much as your words", I would think). Others would just blurt it out - "God, shouldn't you go and see someone about that?" As if it wasn't bad enough that I already felt self-conscious without anybody pointing out my blatant imperfections, my ego then had to take an additional battering each time a customer came in. You know, just to rub salt in the wound.

I was never sure whether to take it as a compliment when years later, after my skin had cleared up, customers would come in and say "Oh - are you new here?" Even today, I'll see somebody in the street who used to come in the shop and they'll say "Don't I know you from somewhere?" When I remind them who I am, the response is always the same - "Oh, you used to have terrible skin, didn't you? You poor thing!"

Of course, at 6'3" I am also rather tall. You can see that I had nowhere to hide. I had all the usual comments ("what's the weather like up there?") and they grated just as anything would after five repetitive years. Perhaps the strangest conversation that ever occurred as a result of my height was the one I had with three very posh gentlemen on their way to Glamorgan Golf Club. It went a little something like this:

Golfer: I say old chap, aren't you tall? What are you? 6'2, 6'3?
Me: Yes, I'm 6'3.
Golfer: Bally hell! Are you a golfer?
Me: No, video game golf is my limit.
Golfer: Damn shame, old bean. Damn shame. The chaps were hoping you could make up the numbers!



Whimsy

By now it is clear that in the comparison between Clerks and my life, I was Dante and M was Randal. It is only correct therefore that L was Veronica - Dante's long suffering girlfriend. I started dating L when I was 17. She was a friend of LF and we had got to know each other over a number of boring Saturday afternoons at the shop. It wasn't long before she became a regular VIP guest at Club Redlands News each week.

At first, L would run all the errands that I didn't have time to do. Hence her trips into Cardiff to buy CDs or to track down rare vinyl copies of The Best Of David Essex because I had an obsession with the song Rock On. Soon she decided that it would be more fun to hang out at the shop for hours. She had seen the fun M was having and she wanted a piece of the action. So, our Party Of Three was born.

Maybe it wasn't the best idea to have my porno-obsessed best friend and my curvaceous girlfriend in the same room, but we had fun all the same. If staring at L's arse all afternoon kept M away from the copies of Razzle then so be it. Soon the shop became full of flirting and sexual tension. The customers must have noticed too - one night, as I was locking up the shop with L and M, two little boys looked at the three of us and asked "are you going to go home and shag?" to which M replied "Yes!".

You've never seen two pairs of eyes light up so fast.

And in case you're wondering - yes, L and I are still together.

Quandary

Whilst there were many things that I would have liked to have done to the many annoying customers, I never wished any of them dead. That would have just been bad for business. Dante had to deal with a deceased customer and seeing how he coped, I'm glad I never had to be in the same situation.

I came close to having to telephone the undertaker once (and by that I mean the funeral director, not the American wrestler). A man came into the shop, slightly worse for wear after a long day of drinking in the pub across the road. He bought his things and left. However, it was a wet day. A very wet day. The step outside the shop was soaking. As this man stumbled out of the door, he lost his footing and fell on the pavement. Had he been sober I'm sure that he would have just got back up onto his feet. That would have been too simple though (and not a very interesting story). No, in his drunken stupor the man decided that he was in an episode of Starsky And Hutch. As he hit the pavement, he did a full 360 degree roll. Into the road. As a double decker bus was coming along.

I couldn't look.

I hid my face and waited for the horrible noise that was sure to follow. Miraculously, the bus missed his head by less than an inch. It must have been his lucky day. He lay in the road for a minute. Passers-by just stared in shock. Finally he began moving. He slowly got to his feet, brushed himself down and composed himself. As he crossed the road on his return to the pub, he shouted "your shop is a bloody death trap!"

Lamentation

Actually, he was right in a way. The shop wasn't necessarily a death trap but it was certainly a haven for illness. The thing is, our boss was a little bit tight. If something went wrong he would prefer to try and fix it himself rather than get a professional in. That was the reason why an already flickering fluorescent light began to flicker even more, giving me the most incredible headaches after each shift. In the summer, we had no fans or air conditioning (he didn't see the economic sense) so it was a melt-fest for both me and the chocolate. In the winter, it was freezing because a) he would insist on leaving the door open and b) having been told that fans can have a warming effect in the winter, he finally bought a cooling system which turned the place into a freezer from October to March.

I hope that our customers liked rock solid chocolate.

Perhaps the worst moment was the morning of my 18th birthday. It was bad enough that my boss had made mock-up newspaper billboards saying "COOL AT 18 - GARETH SPEAKS!" and posted them all over the shop and surrounding area. However, it was also the day that we suffered one of the longest power cuts in recent history. Rather than keep the shop closed, I was ordered to light some fifty-year-old oil lamps and sell the newspapers from the pavement outside. Strangely, as my shift ended, the power returned. To this day I'm still not entirely sure that it wasn't just one big birthday wind-up.



Randal asks Dante the same question in Clerks as both M and L asked me: "Why don't you quit?" The thing is, I knew that it could be a lot worse. Compared to other shop workers, I was on easy street. Apart from the many annoyances, I was really getting paid to hang out with my friends and eat as many sweets as I liked (well OK, I helped myself to as many sweets as I liked).

So I stayed there, but not for much longer. Eventually I saw sense. But that's another story...

Part Four: "Sorry, we're closed"

I'm Not Even Supposed To Be Here Today! (Part Two)

Revised and reposted to mark the sale of Redlands News after thirty years in October 2009.


Part One: "I assure you, we are open"

Part Two: "Title dictates behaviour"


Vagary

For me, one of the best scenes in Clerks was the depiction of the strange behaviour that many customers exhibit when looking around a shop. Until I saw the film, I was under the impression that these antics were exclusive to Redlands News. It was some help (not much, but some) to see that other shop staff have had to put up with these annoying habits. It didn't stop the customers grating on my nerves, but it did help to stop the belief that these people had been sent from Hell to make my life a misery.

In Clerks, we are shown a man who is looking for the perfect pack of eggs. He opens each pack, shakes and examines each egg and smashes any that he does not approve of. Thankfully, Redlands News did not sell eggs so I was spared this sort of behaviour. If we had sold eggs, you can bet that not only would I have been in charge of dealing with the customer, but also with cleaning up the mess afterwards. So I can at least be thankful for that.

One type of customer that I did have to deal with (and also appeared in Clerks) was the Milk Maid. These are the people who are on a constant quest to find the perfect pint of milk. The milk bottles at the front of the fridge are immediately shunned by the customer as they are considered to be too old. The milk on the second row is examined but ultimately refused too. No, these people are not happy until they have taken every single bottle of milk out of the fridge until they are faced with that one magic example of super-dated milk.

Except they're not. That milk will have been delivered on exactly the same day as all the other bottles. If they're lucky, the bottle that the customer finally decides to buy may be, say, ten minutes fresher than the others. But ultimately, there is no difference. And if that wasn't bad enough, they wouldn't even put all the other bottles back, leaving me to do it. And guess what? Half an hour later somebody else would come in and repeat the process all over again.

To make matters worse, my boss had to be awkward. Instead of just using the sell-by date on the milk as a judge of freshness, he used a letter system too. Each day, a sticker with a letter from A to G representing each day of the week was placed on the lid of each milk bottle. At first this system was just for the benefit of staff, but customers sooned realised what the letters meant. This led to conversations such as:

Customer: What day is it?
Me: Saturday.
Customer: No. What DAY is it?
Me: Sat-ur-day.
Customer: No. What LETTER DAY is it?

Half the time I knew what they meant and just did it on purpose to antagonise them. This would leave them standing in the middle of the shop trying to count the letters on their one hand while counting the days on the other. A bit like Joey Tribbiani in that episode of Friends when he invents his method of remembering days ("Monday - One Day, Tuesday - Two Day, Wednesday - Huh, what day? - Thursday - Third Day").

At the end of one particular day, there was only one bottle of milk left. The customer still did the counting and while they were in the process of doing so, another customer came in and bought the milk without a second thought. How I laughed. Why couldn't all customers be that decisive?

The other customer annoyance was the way in which they paid. Some people would come for their cigarettes and pay for them entirely with pennies. Others would come in for a 10p sweet mix and offer a £20 ("I haven't got anything smaller"). However, the most annoying customers were the ones who would simply slam their money down on the counter (even though I would be standing there with my hand out) with not even a "thank you," but would still expect me to put all their goods in a bag for them, give them the change in their hand and still have a jolly smile for them.

So much for treating others as you wish to be treated in return.



Purgation

When faced with people and circumstances such as those described, it is really hard to stay in control. The problem is that customers always think that they're the first to say an (un)funny joke or ask a trivial question. With these people it is best to just give a polite smile or laugh and hope that they go away quickly. It is best not to call them an annoying customer and spit in their face, as Randal does in Clerks, no matter how much your conscience tells you that it is the correct thing to do.

The only time that I did offend a customer was actually quite unintentionally. I was in the stock room getting ready to bring some things through to the shop when I dropped a two litre bottle of apple Tango on my foot. Not only did it hurt, but it also exploded and sprayed me and the stockroom with sticky fizzy pop.

Without thinking, and not actually caring if any customers were in the shop, I let rip with a massive "FUCKING......HELL!" which lasted for about ten seconds and was surely heard on the other side of the Severn Bridge. Once I had calmed down, there was a long silence and I then heard an elderly lady say "I will never come to this shop again. This has highly offended me."

Of course, she was back again the following week when she wanted her new bingo card, but suffice to say I haven't had a drink of apple Tango since.

Speaking of bingo cards, they were often the things that offended customers more than any offensive language or bad attitude. Not just bingo cards either. Free CDs, free scratchcards, Sunday supplements - if they were supposed to get something free and they didn't receive it, that was reason enough for them to never come to the shop again. They wouldn't even ask if we had a replacement (which we usually did). No, they would take their custom elsewhere. One man was so angered because his fishing magazine was missing a free bait box that he actually left town and hasn't been seen since.

It almost makes me feel quite guilty that I took the box home to use as storage for my guitar plectrums. Almost.

Malaise

There is nothing more depressing than working in a shop on a hot Saturday afternoon and seeing all your friends going off to the beach, or the cinema, or anywhere equally exciting. Dante knew this feeling - he was supposed to be playing hockey on the day that his boss roped him in to working. However, he also had a great solution - get all his friends to come to him and play hockey on the roof of the shop.

This was also my solution. Unfortunately, the roof of Redlands News was not flat. This ruled out any kind of sporting activity. Not that any of my friends owned a hockey stick between them. However, it did not stop my film-making friends setting up their equipment on the pavement outside and recording footage of passers-by.

Other friends would come to meet me for school and form a little crowd outside the shop just so they could be amongst the first to read that week's edition of the NME.

During 1997, I was in a band called The Five O'Clock Heroes (not to be confused with the current American band of the same name - we played Beatles, Who, Jam and Small Faces covers. M was our lead singer but couldn't actually sing - so he rapped instead. You are missing out if you haven't heard Yellow Submarine gangsta style).

One day, I was so unhappy because I had to miss a rehearsal that the band came to me and had an impromptu busk outside. That was my signal to hurry up and finish for the day. Our drummer even brought his bongos to give it that real MTV Unplugged feel. It also kept the customers away for a bit which, ultimately, was all that mattered.

Harbinger

"Do you have a toilet in here?" - a question that I always dreaded. My boss had a list of rules pinned to a board that needed to be adhered to even if the world was about to end. These rules were the metaphorical foundations on which Redlands News had been built (the physical foundations were the remains of an old garage).

Most of the rules were tedious things to do with cleaning and shelf stacking. However, the two big ones were:

- Do not let anyone in the side door - not even a delivery - sneak thieves are about!
- Never let anybody use the staff toilet - sneak thieves are about!

I was never entirely sure why he had such paranoia about sneak thieves. In fact, I was never certain of the exact definition of a sneak thief. But then I also never quite understood why he also insisted on spelling Pepsi as "Pepsie," so I let it slide.

It wasn't so much that the rules were a problem, it was more a fact that we were not allowed to tell anybody about them (in true Fight Club / Book Review Club style). His theory was that if you told people they couldn't go out there, they would presume that there was something worth stealing. I'd like to see a sneak thief trying to discreetly get away with a few hundred litres of pop - I had enough trouble with that one bottle.

These rules led to the need for inventing many excuses for why a customer could not use the shop toilet (after all, just saying "no - we do not have a toilet" would not have given them the best impression of the hygiene standards).

Eventually, the preferred excuse was that the shop had plumbing problems. This would be enough to get rid of the customer. I'm not entirely sure what we would have done if that person had come back another day, still in need of relief. I probably would have just passed them a bucket and turned my back - that would be less embarrassing than thinking up another poor excuse.

Maybe our boss had the right idea, though. Dante let a customer use the shop toilet in Clerks and it didn't turn out well at all...

Perspicacity

Perhaps the worst thing about working in a newsagents was the fact that customers seemed to forget that you hadn't actually personally written all the newspapers.



In Clerks, a customer tells Dante and Randal about a newspaper headline which said that the world was going to end. The next day, when the world had not ended, the same newspaper said that Earth had been saved by a "Koala Fish Mutant Bird Thing." As neither of them had read the story, they had no idea what he was talking about.

This happened to me all the time. If a customer didn't understand a word, they would ask me what it meant. If they didn't agree with an editorial opinion, they would verbally attack me. If I hadn't read a tiny one-paragraph story on page forty-two of The Telegraph, they would look at me as if they expected me to go and stand in the corner and wear a Dunce hat.

And that was just the national newspapers. If it was a story in one of the local papers it was even worse. I would be expected not only to know about the story and the person, but also any extra gossip that may have been left out of the article. It was always my dream to be involved in a local scandal - an illicit affair maybe, or LOCAL SHOP ASSISTANT IN SEVEN-IN-A-BED ROMP - but knowing my luck it would have been the one time that they didn't want to talk about the news. Or the Penarth Times wouldn't find it interesting enough.

Typical.

Part Three: "Sounds to me somebody needs to visit the gym"

Part Four: "Sorry, we're closed"

I'm Not Even Supposed To Be Here Today! (Part One)

Revised and reposted to mark the sale of Redlands News after thirty years in October 2009.

"Just because they serve you doesn't mean they like you"

The tagline of Clerks, Kevin Smith's 1994 feature-length debut, is possibly one of the most accurate statements ever made. Although one of the funniest comedies of the nineties, anybody who has ever worked in a shop, bar or indeed any kind of public service will know that truth is stranger (and funnier) than fiction. Only a man who previously worked in customer service could have made this film. It could be used as a therapy aid. It could also be used as a training aid, not just for staff but for the customers. Above all, it could be my autobiography.

Part One: "I assure you, we are open"

Dante

Dante Hicks is the protagonist in Clerks. Apart from Friends' Chandler Bing, I don't think that I have ever known another fictional character who is more like me. (OK, the guy from Mean Girls who sings Christina Aguilera's Beautiful comes close, but we'll ignore that for now).

Dante works at Quick Stop, a local convenience store that is frequented by all manner of customers. I did the same job from the age of fourteen until I turned twenty. The only difference was that instead of Quick Stop, I worked in a small Penarth establishment by the name of Redlands News.

Clerks begins with Dante getting an early morning phone call. It's supposed to be his day off but his boss needs him to work. Dante is promised that it will only be for the morning, but as the film progresses it becomes clear that he is going to be there for the long haul.

This kind of thing happened to me all the time. I was only supposed to work weekday mornings and Saturday afternoons, but eventually I would end up getting roped in to do the odd Thursday afternoon ("LB has failed her GCSEs, could you cover for her?") or a Sunday morning ("LF just remembered she has to go to church, could you cover for her?") or an entire Saturday ("Oh, I just decided to go to Symonds Yat for the weekend, could you cover for me?"). Of course, I knew that those GCSEs had really been passed and LB was going to get disgracefully drunk, or that LF hadn't suddenly found God - she had a hangover. Symonds Yat was true though. For some reason, my boss loved that place in the mid-nineties. Either way, I could never say no. My ego told me that they couldn't do without me. My common sense told me that I was just the cheapest member of staff.

Whatever the reason, I would find myself having to cancel all my plans and instead spend my day having to wrestle with a set of dodgy shutters on the front of the shop or chase up missing newspapers from the supplier. Just like Dante.

Vilification

One of Dante's first encounters of the day is a representative from Chewley's Chewing Gum. A man who hovers around the counter and confronts all cigarette purchasers with a decayed lung. His aim of course is to make those smokers buy his gum instead of cigarettes. In Clerks, Dante ends up being bombarded by cigarettes as the Chewley's rep has convinced everybody that Dante is the death dealer.

In reality I absolutely hated sales reps. It was always my fantasy to bombard them with their products. Be it Pepsi, cigarettes or Mars bars. I wanted to throw the whole stock at them.

You live by the KitKat, you die by the KitKat.

They were all the same. Pulling up outside in their shiny Mazda, they’d get out, guarding their briefcase with their life and wearing a suit that was clearly the only one that they owned.

Entering the shop, they would look me and the stock up and down.

"Are you the owner or manager?" they would ask.

"Neither" I would reply.

"Is the owner or manager here?"

"No."

Immediately, the perma-grin would disappear from their face. They knew that they would either leave with no sale or would have to come back another day.

Instead of just doing the sensible thing (leaving, never to return), they would still have to make their visit worthwhile. Therefore, I would have to endure comments such as "you know, if you just moved these Double Deckers half a centimetre to the left, you would increase your sales by 500 per cent."

Every time this happened, I always felt an urge to grab the nearest road cone and use it as a megaphone to shout "STOP TELLING ME WHAT TO DO!" However, I did manage to restrain myself. I promised myself that if I ever was the owner of a shop, I would ban all sales representatives.

Better yet, I wouldn't buy a shop in the first place.

Jay And Silent Bob

The two characters who became synonymous with Kevin Smith's later films originally appeared in Clerks. They were two stoners who liked to hang around outside the Quick Stop, talking rubbish to each other (well, Jay did the talking) and shouting comments to passers-by ("Hey, Grizzly Adams!").

Redlands News had more than its fair share of these types. It wasn‘t the teenagers of the town who posed the majority of the problems, though. No, it was a selection of Penarth’s pensioner population. OAPs who really should have known better.

I would arrive at the shop at 7.45am ready for an 8am start. More often than not, the pensioners would be there already. "What time do you call this?" was the phrase that always greeted me. A phrase that I still have nightmares about today. I always politely laughed at them, but this changed from a huge false guffaw in 1994 to a "humph!" by 1999. Yes, it really was that draining.

In addition to this, they would wolf-whistle at anything in a skirt (regardless of whether the female in question was 17 or 70) and yell "what else did you get for Christmas?!" if any driver dared to beep their horn at another car on the busy main road outside the shop.



These old boys were like something out of Last Of The Summer Wine. One of them even looked like Compo, complete with a bobble hat. Plus there was an old woman who could have given Nora Batty a run for her money when it came to her dress sense. Honestly, all they needed was an old tin bath (perhaps on wheels) and you would have thought you were in a constant time warp where it was always half past six on a Sunday night and you had to go and have a bath before the theme tune to Highway started. Yes, that horrible Sunday evening feeling when you knew the weekend was over and you had to go to school the next morning.

I experienced that every day of my teenage years.

Randal

Randal is Dante's good friend. In Clerks, he works in a video store near the Quick Stop. He is pretty much the only person who can help Dante to achieve some level of sanity.

If Dante was just like me, then Randal was just like my friend M. He didn't work in a video store (he actually worked at Asda) but he would come to the shop and hang out for the duration of my shift. He could often be found near the chocolate counter with his copy of the South Wales Echo sprawled all over the Boosts and Walnut Whips. If somebody wanted to purchase either of those delicacies (not very likely - I think I only sold one Whip in a five year period), he would begrudgingly move aside and let them take one.

However, his favourite hobby was to read the porn selection. Unfortunately, with the shop being so small, he couldn't really do this very discreetly. Plus, considering he was such a porno buff, his other problem was that he was very nervous about taking it down from the top shelf. This would lead to a series of events which would play out something like this:

M approaches shelf ===> Customer comes in, M backs off ===> Customer leaves, M returns to shelf ===> M gets a touch on a copy of Fiesta ===> Customer comes in ===> M takes down a copy of Railway Modeller and casually flicks through the pages.

Eventually he would manage to get what he wanted. Not truly appreciating the fact that Redlands News was a shop frequented by men of a more delicate age, able to have a heart attack at a moment's notice, M would then stand in the corner with his copy of Fiesta (or Mayfair, or Club International - the "classier" titles) mumbling to himself. I would be serving some elderly chap with his 12.5 grams of Golden Virginia or a tin of Snuff, while M would be there saying "bloody hell" or "God, they're as big as my head" or "how bendy is she?!"

Thankfully he stopped short at holding up the centrefold and saying "I think you can see her kidneys" but in all other respects he was just like Randal.

Syntax

When he wasn't busy with his porn, M and I would have in-depth discussions that could last for hours. Sometimes we would do impressions of awkward customers who had just been in the shop. Other times the discussion would be about a particularly attractive female customer. But the majority of our debates were about our big mutual interest - films and television. During these conversations, we quickly learnt a valuable lesson - a customer believes that just because you serve them, you also want to include them in your life.

In Clerks, Dante and Randall learn this lesson during a discussion about Star Wars. When trying to decide which is better out of Empire Strikes Back and Return Of The Jedi, a customer who has been eavesdropping decides that he has to join in with the conversation:

Customer: Excuse me, I don't mean to interrupt, but what are you talking about?
Randal: The ending of Return Of The Jedi.
Dante: My friend here is trying to convince me that any independent contractors working on the uncompleted Death Star were innocent victims when it was destroyed by the Rebels.

The scene continues with the customer (who happens to be a contractor) giving an in-depth account of his experiences on real-life building sites and giving advice on what he would do in a similar situation.

In our case, we were having a conversation about The Two Ronnies. We both agreed that Barker and Corbett were very under-rated and that some of their sketches were better than Morecambe and Wise. A customer, only hearing the last few words of the conversation, gave us a most fearsome look.

"You boys need a history lesson!" she said. "The Two Ronnies better than Morecambe and Wise? I have never heard anything so outrageous in my life! My husband was a Morecambe and Wise nut! He would turn in his grave if he could hear you now!"

She then walked out of the shop with her head held high. We never did get the chance to have a more in-depth discussion with her. I suppose we'll never know who was right...

Part Two: "Title dictates behaviour"

Part Three: "Sounds to me somebody needs to visit the gym"

Part Four: "Sorry, we're closed"

Sunday, July 05, 2009

Prawn In The Mirror

Flashback: Michael Jackson Prawn Cufflinks HQ was shocked last month when we heard that one of our favourite artists, Michael Jackson, had died. We've been fans for as long as we can remember and gave him a gallery on the site in late 2007. Since his death hundreds of high quality pictures have surfaced and we finally have a section of Prawn Cufflinks worthy of the man we call Mike. First up are 200 photoshoots, most of which we'd never seen before, from the 60's to his 2007 Ebony magazine shoot. The later pictures show Mike's love of dressing up, with costumes ranging from Elizabethan royalty to Samurai warrior. The earlier photos are a colourful explosion of 70's and 80's fashion, with lots of smiles and afros! :) Next are around 200 live photos from his Bad, Dangerous and HIStory world tours as well as performances with his brothers, plus television and awards shows. Our favourites have to be the late 80's Bad-era shots - all the leather and buckles do something funny to Louise! Also included are two large pictures from the rehearsals for the This Is It tour, which would have started this month. Just over 200 candid pictures have also been added, mostly from red carpet and backstage events. Michael's been pictured with some of the most famous women in the world, including Diana Ross, Elizabeth Taylor, Madonna and Britney Spears. There are also some shots of him shyly meeting Princess Diana backstage at a show in London where he gave her two Bad tour jackets for the young princes William and Harry. The newer photos include the press conference where the London shows were announced in March 2009. We've also added dedicated pages for Michael's feature films, The Wiz, an adaptation of The Wizard of Oz with an all-black cast, and Moonwalker, a huge Mike-fest including the long version of the spectacular Smooth Criminal video. It's such a shame that it took his death to get all these pictures, but it's a great reminder of why Michael Jackson became one of our favourites and one of the most famous men in history.
Who's bad?!

Prawn Cufflinks on eBay

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