The Town: A Short Memoir contributed by Kris German
It was the school summer holidays. I often think about those summers. Back when summers actually were summers, the sun did shine, the beaches were full, and people in general seemed happy.
I must’ve been about 13 when I was first allowed in town by myself with just my mates. What a time, we felt great and completely free heading for the number 32 Bayline bus to castle circus. The town was always buzzing in them days, shops we full of products, people were zooming around in their hundreds, and the whole place had an exciting feel about it.
For a kid especially, it was amazing – sweet shops, music shops, toy shops – it just had everything. Few are still there nowadays but most have gone. One that maybe not so many remember, but will hold fond memories with me forever is Skate Zone in Union Street.
For a keen skateboarder like me this shop was the first port of call on any trip to town. It had everything – racks of boards, wheels, trucks, magazines, videos, clothes, everything! I remember always being slightly scared of the owner Mr Green. He was obviously a cool guy – with the longish hair, goatee beard, surfer clothes and would quite often get to work on a longboard (how do I know that last part, normally because I was sat waiting on the wall over the road when he arrived – I just couldn’t wait to get in there).
These were the years when your parents actually wanted you out of the house. They wanted you to go play, and as long as you were back before the street lights came on there was no trouble at all. Obviously slightly earlier on Sundays because it was bath night. These were also the times when your parents encouraged (or insisted) that you got yourself a job. Most of the kids on my street including both my brothers had paper rounds (it was around the time health and safety was kicking in and people realised they could make lots of money by creating ludacris and unrealistic laws) – this latest one they came up with was that you are now not allowed to use your roller skates or skateboard on your paper round. Ridiculous. Still, that made my mind up – there was no way I was having a job that I couldn’t take my skateboard. That said, it took me all of a millisecond to know right there and then where I DID want to work. Only the best shop in town… Skate Zone !
I waited outside for what felt like hours for the shop to become empty. There was no way I was heading in there and making a fool of myself in front of people if I get turned down. And knowing Mr Green, if he was going to turn me down, he would most likely not be too bothered who would overhear if you get what I mean. I wasn’t too confident at this stage as it is and that would’ve just shattered me.
The last customers had left and this was my moment – I head in there and walk straight up to the desk. It was a battered old thing from hundreds of kids over the years plonking their skateboards on it to have it grip-taped. Also had the see-through glass to look at the independent & tracker trucks and slimeball wheels that only the older kids could afford. Mr Green was one side, I was the other – he didn’t actually say anything at that point just gave me a look that said “if you’ve got something to say boy, spit it out”. So I did, I just came out with it and asked if there were any summer jobs going? I told him I didn’t want a paper round and wanted to work in the best shop in the world, and it just happened to be his.
Those that ever met or knew Mr Green will know what I’m talking about here as they will know the type of person he was. But bearing in mind I was a 13 year old kid, trembling and had just bared my soul and asked for this little life line. He folded his arms, umm’d for a short while and then said… “come and see me tomorrow and I would have made a decision by then”. I write this with a smile as I later learnt he was testing me – he wanted to firstly see my reaction, and secondly if I had the balls to come back, as he had been asked so many times by kids asking for the chance to work there and almost always turned them down on the spot.
I returned the next day and walked up to the desk, “you came back then” he said. I told him of course, I really wanted the job after all. We had a chat for a short while before he said ok then you’ve got yourself a job, 6 weeks, 5 days, £1.50 an hour. I didn’t care how long it was and how much I was getting – I skated all the way home at about 80 mph to get back and tell my parents.
My first day at work was fantastic. I left in the morning just after Saved by the Bell on TV, that alongside Pugwalls Summer was my favourite programme at that time. Getting in behind the desk was an amazing feeling. Anyone that’s worked in those types of shops will tell you there’s something just mesmerising about that surf/skate shop smell. It’s like wet suit mixed with surf wax, mixed with new shoes type smell. Sounds weird but you have to have done it to experience it.
I asked Mr Green what should I call him, is it Mr Green, Tony, or Mr G ? I said with a cheeky grin on. His faced remained the same and said let’s just keep it Mr Green until we’re friends ok.
My jobs were to greet the customers, smile and ask them if I can help, I was to clean the stores, rack the shelves if things were running low – but my main task (daily) was to run down the sandwich shop just past McDonalds on the right and get Mr Greens lunch. Surprisingly that sandwich shop remains, which is testament to its owner, whom I see bright and early every morning setting up his tables and chairs as I too am on my way to work. He must work hard – but being in the town, the community – that’s what it’s all about, isn’t it?
We would quite often have Mr Greens dear old mother in to help out. This was where I finally saw a different, much softer side to him. A customer would put a product on the counter that for example had the price tag of £6.40 on it. This great little lady would say thank you very much dear that’s £2.80 please. I would just stand there with my mouth wide open, my head wouldn’t move but my eyes would move over towards Mr Greens direction. Mr Green would give me a knowing gentle nod, as if to say “yep, I know what’s happened, don’t worry about it”. This happened all the time, I don’t think he ever mentioned it to his dear old mum, but in that I saw something within him that I never knew existed.
As time went on and I gained more confidence, Mr Green would ask me my opinion on the skateboards to order, the different designs etc – this gave me a great deal of self-belief. And what’s more when all the ones I chose flew off the shelves this made my head swell even more. I then helped choose the trainers (normally airwalks as these were my favourites), as well as the Bauer’s and Roces roller skates (everyone had their preferred choice on these; mine were Bauer’s, although Roces were available in red and at the time, and that was pretty amazing).
I have so many great memories of the town that summer and my job at Skate Zone.
We need a town and I wish we could sort ours out once and for all. I know all about rates, and competition from the internet, and druggies, and road works, and charity shops and coffee shops etc etc and we could go forever. But we need a town. With shops. It’s a rite of passage for kids like I was at their age. It’s good for local people. Other towns do it so why can’t we? ….
Oh well, if nothing changes I’ve still got the memories.
Throughout the summer there was a song that constantly played on the radio, it will always reminds me of my summer at Skatezone and Mr Green.
As the years went by and now I’m in my 30’s I was saddened to hear that Mr Green had passed away. This was way too early and I’ll never forget the opportunity he gave me. This makes his last words to me very important to me indeed. We had had a manic day at the shop and it was my last day before heading back to the glory years of Audley Park. None of this new building and equipment rubbish – we had air-raid shelters to play in in our lunch breaks, and water fountains that had been ripped off the walls. The proper years.
Anyway, I had done all my jobs and Mr Green handed me my last brown envelope with my wages in it. We had a little chat about plans for the future – he was planning on going back to doing something with art which was where his heart always laid he said, and I was going back to school where I would wish the day to go by as fast as possible so I could get back down pretty park on my skateboard. 5pm came and it was time for me to leave. I got my rucksack and headed for the door, I shouted over my shoulder as I was leaving “many thanks for the summer job and I appreciate everything, see you soon Mr Green”, then I heard a “eh hold on, when I see you next … call me Tony will you”. This meant the world to me and I still think of this from time to time even 20 years on.
The song that kept playing that summer? It was Billy Joel – River of Dreams
This one’s for you Tony, hope you’re chilling and painting up there – take care my friend and thanks for the memories.