Working in any retail environment over the Christmas period is, to be frank, a bloody nightmare. You have to be patient in the extreme and be entirely subservient towards obviously stressed and downright rude people who’ve left their gift purchases to the last minute. Unfortunately for me, I was on the receiving end of one particular woman’s vitriol. It was the Saturday before Christmas and the queues were lengthy; I was fed up with it. The woman in question accused me of being rude; OK, I probably was, but either way she deemed it necessary to go and complain about my attitude to the general manager of the store. He was an older man who’d worked for Smiths all his life and was somewhat old-fashioned in his approach to things. I’m afraid we’d already crossed paths prior to this bollocking as I’d been deviating from the strict playlist that head office enforced throughout their stores. Rather than playing some current chart topper such as ‘The Power of Love’, by Jennifer Rush, I was entertaining customers with ‘Atom Heart Mother’ by Pink Floyd, which he didn’t appear to appreciate.
Anyway, he was clearly of the age-old opinion that the customer was always right, and I received short shrift in our brief meeting – either I towed the line, or I was to be relieved of my position. Seeing as I only had about 4 weeks left before my temporary contract was due to expire, I thought it best to be on my best behaviour for the remainder of my time there if I was to gain any kind of decent reference.
I was also missing my family; by early 1986, my Mum, Dad and sisters had moved to the snowy wastes of North Yorkshire and, whilst I was enjoying myself, I was keen to see them all again, so as soon as I’d fulfilled my contract with Smiths, I packed my shit and caught the train up to Harrogate.
By this time I was knocking on eighteen; the tricky business of deciding what the hell I was going to do for income was looming – dossing around the house wasn’t an immediate option as I was getting hassle from both parents to pull my finger out and seek some kind of gainful employment.
After scouring the local rag for potential career opportunities, the only avenue that seemed open to me was a job as a vacuum cleaner salesman. The sales techniques encouraged on the two day training course I went on with Vorwerk were unbelievable. Put it like this; your modern day consumer TV programme would have a field day! I lasted two days there.
Then there was the sous chef career in a new pub that was opening on the west side of Harrogate. I was offered the job, but when they told me that I was expected to work on Sundays with no extra pay, I made up some lame story about being a staunch christian and unfortunately there was absolutely no way that I could work on the sabbath.
However, it was all about to come good. After a few interviews with Virgin Hi-Fi in Leeds, I was told that I’d landed a position with them as a junior salesman. Again, work in a field that genuinely interested me! OK, the commute from Harrogate into Leeds was a bit of a ballache, but it was averagely well paid and I was able to play around with all that lovely audio gear. However, predictably, it all soon turned to shite. My manager turned out to be a class A cretin who enjoyed power tripping; he made my life a misery. I wasn’t hitting sales targets either, I’m simply too honest to be a salesman of any worth. Couple this information with the fact that I’d managed to get arrested for drink driving and had consequently lost my driving licence and it wasn’t really a surprise that after a rather depressing 8 months at Virgin, I was unceremoniously sacked. The manager of the store invited me to his office and told me that ‘I didn’t fit in with the Virgin ethos’.
Man, was I at a low ebb. And I didn’t have any mates, either.