Part Two: "Title dictates behaviour"
Part Three: "Sounds to me somebody needs to visit the gym"
Part Four: "Sorry, we're closed"
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."
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;
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."
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.