Back before I became part of the exciting world of the railway, I spent a few years working in the “Entertainment Retail Industry” – in other words, a record shop. You see, after I’d dropped out of University, I applied for lots of job and got a couple of serious offers – one being a full-time job in a bank, or a part-time job at the Virgin Megastore in Coventry. Now, being the young naive fool I was, I picked the part-time job because I thought it would be the start of my career in “the music industry”. I now wish I had the ability to time travel just so that I could go back and laugh in my own face. Still, I gave it a good shot and worked my way up to Assistant Manager (still being paid peanuts) before self-destructing… or being driven to by long hours and too much responsibility for too little reward. Anyway, I digress. I did have some good and memorable times working for Mr. Branson (actually, it was owned by the WH Smith Group at the time) – not many, but a few. Okay, maybe not a few, but at least one… and here it is.
In 1995, I worked at the Virgin Megastore in Kingston-upon-Thames on the Customer Services desk. Well, not on it, more behind it, actually. Moving “down south” was the only way I could get a full-time position in the company, so I ended up moving down to the nice, but very expensive Kingston-upon-Thames, renting a grubby room in a flat which I shared with a family of silverfish. Anyway, one of our “regulars” was a guy who used to come in who was a bit wild haired and mental. He used to purchase low-priced CDs for a pocket full of change which he said he played at the “discos” he ran for the fellow inmates of his “home”. He often had about three or four quid in coppers and small-value coins, which we’d painstakingly count for him and then tell him how much he had to spend. Needless to say, he wasn’t one of our favourite customers.
Anyway, this person came in on one hot, sticky afternoon and he reeked, as usual. If you’ve ever not washed your pillowcase for a couple of weeks and noticed a bit of a funny smell – well, he smelled like that, only multiplied by French cheese. He strode up to the counter and was, as usual, after some suggestions for his “disco”. I think my suggestion was Boney M (70s disco was his favourite type of music) and he disappeared into the store to find something by that group.
In the meantime, as I was sorting out my customer orders, I noticed a bearded man in a nice black hat climb the stairs and start browsing my floor (well, not the floor, the products on the floor), accompanied by a couple of rather young, fairly attractive ladies. It took me a couple of seconds to realise who it was, but it soon dawned on me that it was Maurice Gibb of The Bee Gees. Anyway, he and his young companions started gathering lots of CDs, videos and Laserdiscs (anyone remember them? They were like DVDs, only about three hundred times the size and you could store less information on them) and then brought them up, slowly, to the counter. Maurice said hello and I returned the greeting, telling him that I was a fan and so was my Mum (cool, eh?). He was very friendly and I started putting the items through the till. I was at about the halfway point when my fuzzy-haired, stinky, insane, near-dribbling regular came back up to the counter and started to demand my immediate attention.
“Oi”, he said. Yes, “Oi”. Charming. I smiled and gestured towards his Royal Bee Gee-ness. “Yes, I’m with someone at the moment, if you’ll just wait, I’ll be with you in a minute”. “Oi!”, he said, a little more forcefully. I looked at Maurice and he smiled, saying, “I don’t mind if you want to serve him in the meantime”. So, after thanking the man in the nice hat, I went and asked what the whiffy wanker wanted. He put his Boney M CD in front of me and then, as was the norm, emptied his pockets of change, all over the counter and (thankfully) only spilling a few coins on the floor.
After grudgingly counting the change whist periodically smiling and nodding at Maurice to let him know that I hadn’t forgotten him, I had to inform Harry Ramp that the Boney M CD was about £6 and that he only had just over £3. He asked me what I could suggest for that money. I suggested Chicory Tip, he said no. I suggested Abba, he said no. I suggested Earth, Wind and Fire. Again, no. I was out of ideas. All of a sudden, Maurice Gibb leaned over to the mental patient with a bit of a knowing smile and said, “What about The Bee Gees?”
The bloke looked outraged and shouted, spittle flying, “The Bee Gees?!? I don’t want anything by those POOFS!”.
I could have died.
Thankfully, Maurice thought it was hysterical and thanked me afterwards for the entertainment. So, Maurice Gibb. Nice bloke. Nice hat. Good sense of humour. Definitely not a poof.